Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 8: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 3)

3

Richard and I make our enchanted, abbreviated love as often as we can, building a catalog of safe places where we can linger without fear of discovery. Our favorite is the graveyard behind St. Mary’s. We trek to the farthest corner, to the section reserved for the nuns and priests who served the parish over the years. We encamp under a headstone and embrace, clinging to each other and our special summer. We joke the nuns under us, for we always choose a nun’s grave, watch us with envy, regretting the pleasures they sacrificed in exchange for an eternal bliss we’re both not certain of, agreeing it’s better to have it here and now.

Suddenly I am in the backseat of the DeSantis sedan, snuggling as best I can manage with Richard under the surveillance of the rearview mirror, pulling into the entrance of Rider University.

I’ve seen photos, but being on the campus and knowing this will be Richard’s home for four years, and in a year mine too, takes my breath away. Really, for a moment, gazing at the red brick buildings, at the small city of learning, I cannot breathe. Richard senses the hitch in my chest and acknowledges my excitement with a bolstering squeeze. I nod and smile, but my stomach turns, for it strikes me that I’m driving into my worst nightmare: girls slightly older than me, most prettier than me, more stylish than me, and with countenances speaking of seductive intelligence certainly surpassing my own materialize everywhere.  I keep the brown tide sloshing in my gut down; what I don’t need now is an embarrassing display of my insecurity. Richard is staring at me. I detect curiosity in his arched eyebrows.

“Nervous,” I say, and the admission pacifies my stomach.

“Hey, I’m the one who should have the jitters.”

He holds up a shaky hand. I grab it and squeeze.

“Thanks,” he says, “I’m calmer already.”

Mr. DeSantis parks in the lot behind the Student Union. We go in and his parents buy us sodas and we leave with them to explore the campus. It’s a surprisingly large and circumnavigating on foot takes more than an hour. We stop in the library and the size of it overwhelms me. I have never seen so many books under one roof; the library in Creek Falls holds maybe five thousand volumes. We finish at his dormitory. The dormitories, he tells me, are named after successful graduates who have donated to the school. His is Olsen Hall and he is in the A section. We climb three flights of stairs and find his room at the end of the corridor farthest from the communal bathroom.

On the way up I saw lots of girls, and now as we walk down the hall for a closer inspection of his room, I hear girls’ voices. Richard informs me the dormitories are coed, but not to worry. Girls and boys live on different floors. In Olsen A, girls are on the second floor, girls sandwiched between two floors of boys. He acts as if I should be reassured. My stomach troubles me again.

He wants to stroll the campus with me, but I’m too unsettled, too worried, too obsessed with the girls on the second floor. I mention it’s time we help his parents, who are at the car removing Richard’s bags from the trunk. He jokes they’re probably having the time of their lives, happy to be ridding themselves of him. I suggest we take a look at the second floor.

“Good idea,” he says. “Get a look at where you might be living next year.”

The floor is a duplicate of Richard’s. Young women are everywhere. Parents accompany the women. Younger men are with a few of them. But most—pretty and apparently unattached—are the young predators who disturb me. They’re not here as much for a traditional education and a diploma as for a man and a wedding ring, I think. I am terrorized by the idea any one of them could and would steal Richard from me. I might trust Richard, but I also know he is a boy and susceptible to determined women. I’m desperate to concoct a way to bind Richard to me, to transform the beautiful girls into anathema in his sight.

I take Richard’s hand, lead him off the offending floor, up the stairs, and into his room. I check the door for a lock and push in the bottom. I don’t feel entirely secure, but I am on a mission to strengthen my relationship with Richard, to insure it will survive the nine months he will be away from me.

I say coyly, at his bed, sitting on it, patting the mattress. “I’ll miss you, Richard.”

He sits next to me. He kisses me. I begin to unbutton my blouse. He covers my hand with his.

“What are you doing?”

I respond by playing with the button.

“You don’t want to do this,” he says.

I nod that I do.

“I don’t,” he says, removing his hand and standing.

“Why not?”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do. I really do. It’s not easy saying no. But not here and not for your reason.”

“My reason. My reason is I love you.”

He shakes his head and sits. “Stop with the button. Your reason is you don’t trust me. No, no, don’t say anything. Don’t deny it. I can imagine what you’re thinking.” He points at the floor.

“Richard, I’m not—”

“Babe, I’m not blaming you for not trusting me. I mean, not entirely trusting me. But you don’t have to worry, okay. I love you. And I don’t want you doing anything you’ll regret.”

“I won’t—”

“I’m Richard, Babe, the guy you’ve been dating for nearly two years, the guy you’ve shut down half a dozen times. It’s my turn now,” he says.

“You don’t want to?”

“I want to, more than anything. But I won’t. I can read your mind, Babe.”

“Don’t say what you see there, please.”

He opens his arms to me. “Come here.”

I slide close to him and he embraces me and what suffuses me is faith. I can trust Richard in the Olsen A den of lionesses.

As he kisses me, the doorknob rattles.

“Richard?” his mother calls.

Richard shrugs, goes to the door and lets his parents in.

“We didn’t mean to disturb you two.”

“We’re done with our goodbyes,” he says.

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Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 8: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 1 and 2)

1

It is a few days after the 4th of July, the middle of summer and already I am lonely. I am missing Richard, though he and I are together every weekend, and often a couple of nights each week. In September, Richard leaves for college in New Jersey, where he will study business. He has professed his love for me and assured me nothing will come between us. He has everything planned, he’s told me. I will follow him down to New Jersey and attend the same university next year. I’ll study to be a teacher, which is what I want; teaching is my choice; taking my degree at the same university as Richard is our mutual idea. We will be together for three years. When he graduates, we will get engaged. When I graduate, we will marry.

I should be very happy, but I am apprehensive.

First is the separation. Since the day I met Richard at the bus stop waiting for Number 13, he and I have never been apart, not for so much as a couple of days. Richard and I have been one, and to not be one, to again be separate people, unsettles me.

I have no worries about myself, of what I will do alone. No boy at Creek Falls High School compares to Richard. During the years we have been a couple, no one but Richard has attracted me. Before Richard, boys never seemed particularly interested in me. After Richard and I began dating, boys noticed me. Once, I would have reveled in the attention; but no longer, not with Richard as my boyfriend.

My second concern is that Richard and I have never been completely intimate, though we have been on the borderline. Closest was the past 4th. We were in my bedroom. My parents were miles away, outside town at my aunt and uncle’s place, a small ten-acre farm, traditional site of our big family barbecue. Richard and I began the day there. I introduced him around, almost like table visits at a wedding reception, except we weren’t carrying a cookie tray, and I was only imagining what my wedding might be like. Richard was tremendous: social, gregarious with my aunts, thoughtful and respectful with my uncles, endearing with my little cousins. He consumed huge quantities of potato salad, more hamburgers and hotdogs than any boy ought to; gulped a six-pack of soda; and managed to play a full nine innings of softball with the family, our traditional men vs. women contest. At six, I feigned illness, an upset stomach. Everybody kidded it was Richard who should have the stomachache, and he took the ribbing with grace and charming humor. He offered to drop me at home and everybody commented on his consideration and manners in allowing my parents to stay and enjoy the evening.

My house was silent, still, and thick with noiseless summer air when we entered. Upstairs was different. The windows were open and through them we heard the night’s breeze rustle the trees, almost symphonic, low and dreamy, like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s nocturne. The breeze through the window was moist, palpably ripe, in addition to melodic. In my bedroom, I lowered the venetian blinds and drew my curtains before switching on my bedstead lamp. Richard snickered at my bed, and I admit it had crossed my mind that he might. But it was a gentle and loving little chuckle, uttered with a tugging hug. It was me, he declared, me because I was a princess and deserved that accoutrement of royalty—a canopy bed.

Richard proved himself a tender and respectful lover, who settled for kissing and fondling, though he might have gone farther with me. We were on my bed for more than an hour, under the deep blue canopy dotted with pale blue five-point stars, the edges outlined in silver thread. They sparkled in the low lamplight. Richard insisted we keep the lamp lit; part of the pleasure, he said, was seeing, and, of course, he was right; seeing intensified each kiss, each caress. I believed I could never tire of gazing on Richard or listening to him, or the sensuality of his hand stroking and petting me. He imagined us in an enchanted forest, a strange and wonderful reserve for young lovers, where we could read our future written on the silver undersides of star leaves arched over us. Traced on the constellation I saw our life together, long and fulfilled.

Richard is a romantic and I love him dearly for it.

But his wondrous trait is another of my concerns, and really the crux of my vexation. Everybody yearns for romantic love. Angie and I surely do, and I think we are like everybody, or at least we are like most girls, except Rosemary. Angie and I discuss the subject a lot, about how we wish our lives will turn out. And invariably it resolves to life with loving partners who remain romantic until death parts us. Maybe ours is an unrealistic desire, but we indulge in it and believe, for us, it is possible. And with Richard, I am more convinced than ever.

Yet college, Richard away, adrift, and romantic by nature—I fear it portends trouble for me. Richard, I’ve come to believe, is a boy who cannot live without a girl. The moment he sets foot on campus, the touch of his toe on the ground will announce his presence to every girl at the school. It will be as if an electric current of desire radiates through the earth and enters each girl through her feet, is absorbed by her blood, and flows instantly to her heart; she will know he is on campus, available to her, and in need of her.

2

Richard and I are driving around Creek Falls, aimlessly, no destination in mind, just to be together. I’m leaning on him, head is on his shoulder, and I feel his every movement as he steers the car and navigates corners. Richard doesn’t own a car, which is why he gets his rides from Bobby. However, Richard is a charming boy—a young man, I should say, nearly in college. He has exploited his skills to win over my parents, and my father has allowed him to use our car, acceding to Richard’s argument that he would be off to college soon and he and I won’t have much time together, which makes me happy, since I don’t like Richard being beholden to Bobby McFarlane. My parents have come to respect my love for Richard. Angie has chortled over this and eyed me with undisguised envy, for she has never dated a boy her parents have found suitable.

Richard plays the radio loud, and tonight he’s cranked it higher than usual. I reach and lower the volume until we barely hear it above the wind whishing by the open windows.

“I’m a little worried,” I say.

“Don’t worry even a tiny bit,” he says, glancing down at me, running his eyes up and down me, smiling. “We’ll return your father’s car to him good as new. Better than new because I’ll stop by the Robo-Wash on the way home.”

“I mean I’m worried about us, about you going away and what will become of us.”

“You know what will happen. We’ll go to school. We’ll graduate. I’ll land a good job. And we’ll get married when you graduate. We’ve talked about it.”

“I know that’s what we’ve said. But it’s the first year, when you’re … when we won’t be like this.”

“Babe,” he says, the first time I notice he’d developed the habit of referring to me as his baby, or babe, and I love the endearment, “I’ll be too busy studying. You know me, Babe, I’m a worker. Nose to the grindstone and all that.”

He glances at me and sees he hasn’t allayed my concern.

“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you drive down with my parents and me? You’re going there anyway next year. It’ll give you a chance to scout out the campus.”

“Really, your parents won’t mind?”

“Hell, no, excuse my French. They adore you, Babe. They think you’re the reason I’m going. You know, you kept me on the straight and narrow.”

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 7: WAIKIKI, HAWAII (Part 5)

5

Commotion wakes me up. It is room service wheeling in a table. Richard enters from the bathroom. He is shaved and dressed. He accepts the bill, signs, and closes the door behind the bellman. I know I am awake but the glimpse of the bellman makes me doubt it.

I ask Richard, “Wasn’t he strange?”

Richard’s picking at the toast and fruit on the table, half listening to me. “No,” he answers, “strange how?”

“Oh, the uniform, I guess.”

Richard lifts the covers off the plates. “These scrambled eggs look good. You ready for breakfast?”

He wheels the table to the bed. I perch on the edge and Richard pulls up a chair. We face each other, though I am a bit higher and look down on him and the table. He pours us coffee. I sip my juice. He begins on his eggs. Warmth suffuses me. Here we are having a new experience, a first experience together, and the coziness I feel is happiness and endearment for him.

Another new experience for both of us is the airplane ride. La Guardia is confusing but we manage to check our luggage, two of mine and one of his, and get to the airplane. We sit side by side and I am in the seat next to the window. Richard says, “This will be fun.” However, there is a falsetto in his voice that hints me he is afraid. He grasps my hand and squeezes and I wonder whether he is offering me solace or seeking it for himself. I settle on the notion it is a little of both. We are indeed a couple. Takeoff, our very first ever, is harrowing: the speed, the swaying, noises like the plane is about to breakup, the sensation of being airborne without any connection to the earth, all nearly overwhelm us and definitely shred any sophistication I might be pretending. Once the clouds are below us and the sun shines bright yellow, we laugh at our silliness. When the flight attendant asks if we would like a drink, we eagerly respond “Yes,” and consume a couple before landing in San Francisco. By the time we arrive in Honolulu, we are old hands at flying and barely flinch as the airplane’s wheels screech under us.

We take a cab from the airport to Waikiki and the fare surprises us. In addition to our first airplane ride, a taxicab ride is rare for us. Actually, after Richard pays the driver and we have exited, I confess it is my first time in a taxicab. When you’ve lived in Creek Falls your entire life, except for college, where you’ve resided pretty much on campus, you don’t have need for taxis.

We enter the hotel and I am enchanted. I selected the Royal Hawaiian because I wanted a special place for the first days of our marriage, a setting steeped in romance, and the hotel doesn’t disappoint me. I immediately fall in love with its oddly blue façade that blends with the clear blue sky and the ocean behind it, so it’s impossible to distinguish the three from each other; with its old-world charm; even with its slight aroma of fustiness. How many couples exactly like us have consummated their marriages here.” Now I am eager to settle in our room and take Richard in my arms. I glance at him expecting to see my excitement reflecting back at me. He catches my gaze and smiles weakly.

“Smells funny,” he says, “kind of old, like somebody died in the lobby.” He notices emotion welling in me. He laughs. “Only joking, Babe. The place is great, really tropical.” He gives me a squeeze. “Beautiful blue Hawaii.”

We check in and a bellman shows us to our room. When he leaves, I begin unpacking. Richard, who is behind me, touches my shoulders and turns me. He says, “It can wait. We’ve got more important things to do.” He leans into me. Gently, he kisses me. I drape my arms over his shoulders and he pulls me close to him, a snug melding embrace, never letting up on the kiss, burrowing into me. I have loved the way Richard kisses me from the first. He starts with a soft brush and slowly applies more pressure until I think I can’t endure more and then parts my lips with his tongue and slides into my mouth, not deeply, not aggressively, but tentatively, as if at any moment he might withdraw, and he has me yearning for him to thrust deeper, and finally, when he does, I melt. He removes his tongue from my mouth and brushes his lips along the high bone of my cheek up to my ear. His warm breath enters me and mingles with and amplifies the flame he has ignited in me and I have only one thought, to undress.

Richard is clairvoyant. “I want to take off your clothes,” he breathes. My throat is thick and scorching and I can’t nudge a word through it. Languidly, I nod, and instantly his hands are on the buttons of the summer shift I’m wearing. When he’s unbuttoned me, I attempt shrugging off the garment, but he moves his hands to my shoulders and holds it in place. He turns me. He eases the shift off my shoulders and it glides down me and settles in a puddle around me. He kisses my neck. I push against him, offering more flesh to his lips. He brings his arms under mine and cups my bra-encased breasts. I want him to free me, to hurry up and do it, but he lingers on my neck. Only after I’m squirming and moaning does he pull his arms from under my mine and moves up my back to the clasp of my bra. Deftly, he undoes the two hooks and delicately guides the bra off my shoulders. He releases it and it floats down, settles in the puddle.

He steps back. I turn and he stares at me intently, and I prickle with discomfort. It’s as if I am on stage, under a bright spot; I have lines to deliver, lines I’ve memorized and spoken over and over to ensure I would not forget them at the crucial moment, and I have forgotten them.

“Babe, you’re beautiful,” he says, “more beautiful than I dreamed; and I’ve dreamed so much of you and me like this.”

The urge to seize him and pull him down onto the bed and make love to him is nearly irresistible, but as I lift my arms to act on my desire he reaches up and begins unbuttoning his shirt, and I see he is fully clothed and I am the one almost naked. Desire becomes embarrassment, and in an instant, as he’s peeling his shirt from his shoulders, lustful desire again. He undoes his belt, removes his trousers and his underwear in one motion and his socks too and flings the ball of clothing somewhere; I don’t know where because I can’t take my eyes off his chest, fight to focus my eyes on his chest, not allow my eyes to drift.

Richard, naked Richard, embraces me. He is hot and moist. The air in the room is tropical and close, almost wet. He covers my mouth with his, pressing the full length of himself against me. We stick together as he dances me backwards to the bed, and when my legs touch the mattress, he urges me onto it. We unglue and I sit. He kneels. He stops kissing me, leans back, and hooks his thumbs on the elastic band of my underpants. He pulls them down my legs, over my feet, and off. I attempt to scoot back on the bed. He clamps his hands on my legs and shakes his head. He opens my legs and runs his tongue up my thigh.

Time drifts as Richard absorbs me completely. I think only of him, of this hands, his mouth, his penis, his motions on me, against me, in me, and after a while I am free to release my passion; I wiggle and groan and clutch and squeeze and writhe; Richard smiles and finally grimaces; and when I glance at the window, I see the sun is setting and it is early evening, dusk, the room is blue; we’ve been in bed the entire day, drifting in and out of the day; not even in the bed, for we never pulled down the counterpane, just twisted and rumpled it. Both of us are moist, covered with lovely, glistening sheens of sweat; and in the deepening blue light we glow young, healthy, with a lifetime of this glorious romping ahead of us.

Richard asks, “Hungry?”

For an instant, I don’t know how to answer him. No, I am not hungry for love. I was hungry, but no more.

“Dinner?” he prompts, laughing at me.

I nod.

“You or me first?” he asks, pointing at the bathroom.

“You. I want to lie here for a while.”

He hoists himself over me, slowly descends onto me, and kisses me long and hard, as if he plans to start over. Then he pushes off.

The room in the dusty blue of approaching evening, and the fulfilling residue of our lovemaking, the pleasant weary after-effect of straining under Richard, all have me in a serene reverie. I lay my head on a pillow and it invites me to doze. But I don’t want to sleep; I don’t want this blissful interlude to end, to relegate this delightful time just yet to jumbled memory.

I rewind the day. I marvel at Richard’s expertise. He knew exactly what would excite me. He knew everything about making love, and I, with no experience, knew nothing, but what I’ve read. Richard is a kind, considerate, and wonderfully expert lover, I chant to myself. As I do, “expert” grows into a giant. I wonder how Richard acquired his skill. Experience is the answer that makes sense. He has made love before. But boys are different than girls. They make love. Many are indiscriminate lovers. It is the act they crave and that excites them. The meaning of it is lost on them until they are older, Richard’s and my age. I’m almost convinced, except … except I expected him to be rough, his attempts to satisfy me amateurish, his movements shy and tentative. Yet, he was smooth, bold, commanding, but tender, too. He understood my carnal cravings better than I did; more, he revealed them to me, and kindled within me a longing to satisfy them every day of our marriage.

My misgivings of yesterday reemerge; ugly, poisonous weeds resistant to eradication. And the most virulent of them is Julie. I know everything about Julie. Probing her life was my personal business, and I was as relentless about sniffing out her miscreant deeds as a southern bloodhound snuffing the dust in pursuit of a criminal. She was tall and beautiful. She possessed flaming red hair; not dull red, near red you might mistake for brunette; but hair the shade of fire, startling tongues of the stuff. Her eyes were green, and her complexion was fair, yet not the least bit transparent, not the skin through which veins showed; she was creamy and alluring. She was slim and athletic. When she graduated, she was captain of the swim team. She was smart, too, academically successful without much effort. She majored in English and minored in economics. She even found time to participate in the university’s theater program and managed a starring role in a drama in her senior year. What distressed me most … Julie was an ideal. I think I disliked her most for this. She was desirable and irresistible, qualities I envied.

I admit I was merciless about her with Richard, when he was away at Rider and I was in Creek Falls. He phoned me weekly. Most of each conversation was reassuring romantic massaging. However, periodically, I slipped in a question about Julie, whether he saw her on campus or talked to her. He assured me repeatedly the incident in the catacomb wasn’t what it seemed, and he avoided Julie. Occasionally, I’d add a question about the girls on floor two of Olsen A, which elicited laughs from him, as if I was nuts to imagine they could interest him. None, he professed, held a candle to me. I always hung up reassured, until the next week.

When I began classes at Rider, I kept a watchful eye on Richard. Most of the time we were together. Though we shared few classes, we ate and studied together. In my freshman year, I made lots of friends. By second semester, I had a cadre that would look out for my interests. Rarely could Richard engage in an activity without details getting back to me. I even befriended Julie, happier to have my enemy by my side than roaming free. By these means, and breaking up with him and taking him back, I reassured myself of Richard’s fidelity.

Yet, here I am, on my honeymoon, after making love to my new husband for the first time, on the brink of a long, fruitful, loving, and passionate life together—here I am doubting him again, because he proved himself too consummate a lover, as if his passion for me is insufficient to account for his performance. I hurt at the suspicion he honed his talent in Julie’s bed, and perhaps in the beds of unnamed Olsen A girls.

Now I find myself embittered, aching to confront Richard as he comes out of the bathroom.

But he is ebullient, and he’s adorable, wrapped in a sky blue towel, beaten pink from his shower. He kneels on the bed, arches over me, leans down to me, and lightly kisses my lips. Can he taste my bile? “No, he deepens the kiss. He smells fresh and sweet, Hawaiian fruity, like a pineapple. His presence and attention wipe my mind clean of suspicions and acrimony; I’m warm again, and I raise my arms to embrace him. I should push him away, but I am compelled to pull him onto to me, to merge him into me. I love him, and the loved are worthy of forgiveness.

He yanks away, leaving me excited and yearning.

“Better get going, Babe,” he says, hopping off the bed. “Let’s see a little of Waikiki before dinner.”

Reluctantly, I roll off the bed. Standing, Richard’s stare reminds me I am naked. I flush. He throws a hand over his eyes and laughs. He comes to me and cups my face in his hands.

“You’re beautiful. I’m so happy you married me.” He brushes my lips with his and I don’t feel exposed anymore. “Go,” he commands and lightly pats my rear. I trot into the bathroom.

Steam roils above me, curling to the ceiling and the mirror fogs, except where Richard earlier cleared a spot to shave. He’s a neat man; he stores his razor and shaving cream in his kit. The tub is clean. He must have wiped it down. Considerate, too, he’s left me plenty of towels. I decide I need to soak, to have hot water, almost unbearably hot, leach the last of my melancholy, the last of my distrust.

I crack the door and shout, “Richard, I’m taking a bath.” He doesn’t respond, or maybe he doesn’t hear me. I shut it and draw my bath. While the tub fills, I shave my legs at the sink with Richard’s razor.

I haven’t worn a stitch of clothing since Richard undressed me hours ago. I marvel at my immodesty, how little it troubles me, as I test the water with my toes. I am not a woman to prance around naked, yet, here I am in Hawaii in a hotel with a man, and he is just beyond the door that I’ve left unlocked in case he might not have dressed and wishes to enter and repeat our lovemaking. I am amazed with myself as I settle into the tub. The water heats me. Beads of sweat sprout on my forehead and my upper lip. I am comfortable, more comfortable than I have ever been and I wonder how my life could be better and why I worry so much.

I am in the tub for a while and it is very quiet, the only sound the burble of the water around me when I shift. Then I hear creaking and I glance at the door. The doorknob is turning, rotating very slowly, tentatively is how I perceive the movement. I’m amused. Richard might be shy about entering the bathroom with me in the tub. I close my eyes and smile, and as I do I hear the door open, followed by light footsteps. I open my eyes, expecting Richard.

“I have something for you,” says the man dressed in garish blue, topped oddly for a bellman by a fedora. He shocks me and I slide down into the tub, nearly submerging myself, grateful it is soapy and opaque. He has snapped the brim down and tilted his head. Only his mouth is visible. In his hands is a dress, a bright blue cocktail dress. I should be on the verge of screaming, but, instead, I am strangely calm. I ask, “Is it from my husband?”

“Yes,” he answers. His voice is raspy, his reply gurgling, as if riding to me on a wave of phlegm, a voice at once alien and familiar.

“Please leave it on the hook on the back of the door,” I say. I am relaxed, but why I should be, I can’t explain.

He obeys my instructions. As he leaves, he says, “Your husband asks you meet him on the green in the front of the hotel.”

I listen for the room door to latch. I wait a moment before climbing out of the tub.

I dry myself quickly. With the towel around me, I peer into the room. It’s empty. I’m not relieved because I’m not worried, only curious why Richard would have someone, a man, deliver the dress. I don’t believe Richard expected the man to present the dress to me while I was in the tub. Richard probably expected I would be finished, perhaps even dressed. The surprise is rather nice, very thoughtful of my new husband.

I carry the dress into the room and lay it on the bed. Such a sweet gesture, but I’m not fond of blue. I can’t recall whether I ever mentioned this to Richard. I suppose he should be a bit intuitive about my color preferences, as we’ve known each other quite a long time. I hardly ever wear blue. And when I do, it’s usually a dark shade, very muted, certainly not the color of a dazzling summer sky, the hue of the dress on the bed.

But it is a gift, and thoughtful of Richard, so I can’t complain and can’t not wear it.

It’s cut lower than I am accustomed to. I put it on and examine myself in the mirror. While it may not be my favorite color, it does flatter me. I wonder if Richard sees something in me I’ve never recognized in myself.

I leave the room excited and happy.

As I exit the hotel, I see Richard. He’s on the far side of the circle formed in front of the hotel by Don Ho Street. I wave to him and he waves back, urging me to hurry up.

I start toward him and he does the most peculiar thing. He begins walking up Don Ho Street without waiting for me. I call for him to stop but he walks away faster. I don’t know what to make of his behavior. Maybe it’s part of whatever surprise he has planned for me. I walk as fast as I am able to catch up to him.

I pass out of the circle and continue up the street. Ahead, Richard turns onto Royal Hawaiian Avenue. As I step onto the avenue, he disappears. I see him one minute and the next he is gone, vanished. But people don’t evaporate. He must have gone somewhere. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is here. Maybe he ducked inside. Maybe it is part of the surprise, a game he’s expecting me to play, that he’ll tease me about later over dinner.

I am so engaged with the mystery and speculation over his disappearance it is not until this moment I realize I am the only person on the avenue. I spin around searching for people, but there is not a soul.

Except for a car, a car idling noisily in the intersection with Kalakaua. It’s bright blue, a match for my dress, and the only car around.

As I stare, the car suddenly roars to life and begins accelerating at me. I’m frozen where I stand next to the shopping center, immobilized by both the advancing car and the complete void of people, feeling trapped. I’m on the sidewalk and next to me is a concrete wall.

I look around, hunting for a place where I can duck into, a place where I can feel safe. As I turn back, I see the car is nearly on me, and worse, its left wheels have jumped the curb.

I scream for Richard. I sense a tug at my arm, a mild pain, a weird sensation of an object in my arm, something small and metallic. I rub my arm and there’s nothing but my bare skin numbed with goose bumps.

I cry for Richard as I turn and run, and I continue crying for him as the car scoops under me; as I slide along its dented hood and hit the windshield; as I roll over and see a man laughing at me, a man in blue like the one who delivered the dress, his face reticulated behind the spider-webbed windshield; as I surf over the roof, down the rear, and off the trunk onto the sidewalk.

Lying on the sidewalk, I watch the car speed onto Don Ho Street toward the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and as my eyes are shutting people materialize, including Richard, who waves at me, not to come to him, but to bid me farewell.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 7: WAIKIKI, HAWAII  (Part 3 and 4)

3

I was fine, until last night. I dreamt about what Richard might have done behind my back at Rider, and worst, what he might do after we married. How could I marry a man I did not trust entirely, and move with him to New Jersey, disconnecting myself from those I knew with concrete certainty loved me, would protect me, would counsel me, and console me should something horrible occur?

I finish my shower, dry off, slip on my robe, and enter the room in emotional turmoil. My mother and aunt are helping Angie and Rosemary with their hair, piling it high on their heads. I’ll be next. I wanted everybody to look natural, but my mother objected. Special occasions demanded different and fancy hairstyles, and what could be more special than a wedding. The entire idea was to dress up, to fulfill a dream. I suppose my dream was simple: a quiet life as a wife and mother in a nice home surrounded by family, a life with a man who loved and respected me. That was all I wanted. Getting made up struck me as setting out on a false premise. My mother is a hard woman to deny, though, and I am next in line for gussying.

My mother and aunt finish with Angie and Rosemary and are flustered and panicked. They study themselves in the full-length mirror mounted on the back of the door. Angie and Rosemary urge them to leave and attend to themselves; they’ll fix my hair and dress me. After all, it’s their duty as bridesmaids. Besides, they say, we, the three of us need a last time together as single friends.

But my mother and aunt persist.

“Mom, Aunt Louise, would you mind stopping for a few minutes. I want to talk to Angie and Rosemary.”

“We’re running out of time, Alyce,” warns my mother, fussing with my hair, frowning, soliciting Aunt Louise’s support with her eyes.

“I know that,” unable to contain my irritation.

“That’s no way … “

I hold up my hands to stop my mother. “I really, really need a couple of minutes with my friends.”

Angie wraps an arm around my mother’s waist. “Brides,” she intones. “maybe a minute’s not such a bad idea.”

My mother yields. “Okay, but not too long.” She tugs Aunt Louise and they leave, but not before my mother points at her Timex.

After the door closes, my head drops to my chest. Tears leak from my eyes. Angie takes my arm and sits me on the bed. Rosemary joins us and they bracket me. They embrace me and nearly simultaneously comfort me with their collective wisdom accumulated serving as bridesmaids in several weddings. I am experiencing normal pre-wedding jitters; it’s a tremendous step, they console, giving up my single life and my parent’s home for a man. When I see everyone in the church and Richard awaiting me on the altar, joy will suffuse me and I will know I am doing the right thing.

I want to believe them. They are my best friends and they love me. I cry I want to believe them, and they, moved, join in my sobbing, until the volume of our weeping reaches a crescendo that penetrates the door and drifts to the ears of my mother and aunt, who have gone no farther than the threshold. They barge in and stand over the three of us lined up like soggy dolls on the end of the bed. My mother impatiently asks what is causing this scene and warns if we continue we’ll ruin our makeup and we don’t have another hour to reapply it. Rosemary announces I have doubts. My mother and aunt in unison minimize the self-reproach by blurting everybody has had doubts about their marriage and if they’d given into their own misgivings none of us would be here, nobody would, and Creek Falls would be a ghost town. They order us—with compassion—to dry our eyes and help me dress. Everything is as it should be. Everything is normal. What we—I—are experiencing is part of the wedding ritual. A wedding day morning would not be complete without tears of fear. They reassure we are not alone. Richard probably feels the same. I hope not. I can imagine Bobby has gleefully done his best to push him to escape while possible. Maybe Richard will not show, and I will be left standing in the vestibule devastated. I want to cry harder but restrain myself as Angie and Rosemary have dried up, and because now I know I need to marry Richard. Everybody agrees I have the eleventh hour jitters. It is time to move on.

I had insisted on a white limousine; Richard preferred black. Executive black is what he called it. I told him white was the color of joy and happiness, and I was wearing white, and I wanted to ride encased in white, and he would have plenty of black when he became an executive. So the sight of the long white Cadillac restores my spirits for more than one reason.

Walking toward it with Angie next to me and Rosemary behind shouldering my train, I must be sighing, or my eyes are ablaze like 4th of July sparklers, for Angie says, “You see what we mean.” I nod delirious ascent. What does love have to do with fulfillment. Not much if measured by my jubilant heart. The ride seems worth it. My shallowness embarrasses me.

We enter the limo with as much decorum as we can manage, trussed as we are. Our chauffeur treats us as if we are special, celebrities I think. I’ve never experienced such a sensation of extraordinariness. I’ve never experienced luxury of any kind, as my parents are frugal. Angie and Rosemary flank me. We require a moment to arrange the skirts of our gowns and the driver is wonderfully indulgent. Rosemary squeals when she spots the Asti Spumante chilling in an ice bucket suspended on the side, hung from a bar stocked with a bottle each of scotch, bourbon, gin, and vodka. Angie and Rosemary lean forward in the direction of the liquor, and they remind me of daisies turning toward light. A sip of the Asti would be calming, but then I picture us stumbling down the aisle. I suggest we wait, and they accede, but not without grumbling.

Standing in the back of the church gazing down the aisle past the pews filled with people who love Richard and me and up to the altar where Richard and Tuck, Bobby’s substitute, wait, I realize everybody is right. I tingle with elation. My heart pounds. My grip on my bouquet tightens and I have to consciously relax my hands for fear of strangling the flowers. Richard has never looked more handsome than at this moment. He’s in a black morning coat and gray vest. Even from the back of the church, I can see the black studs in his snowy shirt. His shoes shine under black trousers. He’s more than the Richard I’ve known and whom I love, I do, and whom I am certain, in this moment, loves me. He is the Richard of my fantasy. He is too handsome to look at for long yet so handsome he rivets my attention, though staring hurts my eyes the way the sun does. I imagine his love for me radiating from him; it coalesces in an aura around him and accounts for his glow. In his eyes I imagine our future stretching out for years, a lifetime of happiness, success, and some heartache, but also wonderful rejoicing at its resolution.

Engaged as I am, I do not notice my father sidle next to me. I don’t feel his arm reach around my waist and nudge me. It isn’t until he asks, “Honey, are you okay?” that I recognize him, and smile, pat his hand matronly, and answer, “More than okay, Daddy.” I can’t describe my emotions to him, and I don’t try. The way he squeezes my waist, I know I don’t have too.

The wedding march strikes up—Richard doesn’t care much for my selection, circus music he calls it, but I am a traditionalist and would not feel completely married without it. We step off and onto the white runner the groomsmen unrolled before stationing themselves at the head of the aisle to escort Angie and Rosemary. Down we strut and as we pass the pews I can’t help noting the disproportionateness of the assemblage. My family and friends pack the pews nearly to the back of the church, while Richard’s hardly fill a few. Unsurprising, since Richard’s Staten Island people don’t know the DeSantis’s live in Creek Falls.

At the altar, my father pauses, lifts my veil and kisses me. My veil is short, the hem resting just above my chin. It is possible to raise it a mere inch and kiss me goodbye. However, my father draws it up so high I fear for an instant he will pull it off my head. He is staging a show for Richard, demonstrating how sorrowful he is to lose me, what a hole my absence will leave in our family, and how fortunate Richard is I consented to marry him.

When I cross over to Richard, he clasps my father’s hand firmly and, to reinforce his words, clamps his other hand on my father’s forearm. He says, “Thank, I am indeed a fortunate man.” I smile and flush.

Richard leads me to the matching prie-dieu and Father McLaughlin behind them, though I am aware of little as I fasten onto Richard’s “Indeed.” It’s a word foreign to Richard’s vocabulary; the word, the syntax, is speech I have not heard him use until today. It tells me he must have considered what he would say to my father, and crafted the sentence to emphasize how much he values me and our relationship. Though on his way to a big time sales career, he isn’t facile with words; though, doubtless, that will come.  “Indeed” strengthens my love for him and my certainty about my decision and our future.

I must appear lost, for Father McLaughlin has to ask me twice if I will take Richard as my husband. Richard nudges me the second time and I consent clumsily, not exactly the romantic way I envisioned the ceremony. We are on the runner again before I absorb what has transpired. What memories will I have of my wedding other than concerns and speculations?

Then we are in the white limo, the entire wedding party together. Angie and Rosemary are boisterous. They urge Richard to hurry and open the Asti. Deftly, he removes the wire cage and slowly twists the cork, producing a faint pop without spillage. He operates expertly and I wonder where he acquired his skill. He’s never opened champagne for me before. Has he for someone else, maybe Julie, maybe Olsen A’s second floor coeds.? My suspicions refuse to stop shadowing me.

Richard kisses me, deeply, passionately, and his love surges through us, completing us. How can I doubt my husband? As if through a wall, I hear our friends hooting, Tuck and Danny appealing to Angie and Rosemary for kisses, Angie giving in to Tuck, Rosemary allowing Danny to peck her cheek.

For me, our reception duplicates the ceremony. It whisks by, leaving me to puzzle over the event, each component of it a disjointed murky memory.

4

We are in the hotel room, my room this morning, our room tonight. He is kissing me so deeply I have to push him away to breathe. He switches to hugging me and fiercely nuzzling my neck. His eyes, locked onto me in the beginning, drift. I follow them to the bed, a double. I understand it is our wedding night and he wishes to consummate our marriage. I want to as well. Yet, I hesitate and resist as he attempts maneuvering me onto the bed. My desire for Richard is tremendously powerful. But this hotel, this room doesn’t seem right to me. We are traveling to a destination, to beautiful, warm Hawaii, to paradise. It is there where our marriage will really begin. But how do I express my feelings; that we aren’t alone in the room; that my mother and aunt linger; that I smell their perfumes; that on the bed I see Angie and Rosemary; that here and now seems tawdry to me; that it’s too reminiscent of barbaric custom; that our parents, our friends, and our guests lurk under our window; that everybody awaits the flourishing of the stained sheet; that starting here is wrong?

I can’t. Maybe I don’t want to. Maybe if he loves me, he should sense my reluctance. And doesn’t he know it’s midnight and we have to be up at six to drive to La Guardia to catch our flight to San Francisco? He couldn’t possibly want our first night to be slap and dash. That is what it will be, slap and dash, and crude, and pornographic.

I pull away.

“Richard, I’m tired, and tomorrow is such an early day.”

He stares at me, runs his eyes up and down me, his expression impenetrably blank, as if he is studying a column of hieroglyphics, or I am something repulsive. But, no, neither, for he approaches me, as if I haven’t spoken, and he caresses my cheek, leans forward to kiss me.

“No, I’m too tired. All I want now is to change and sleep.”

He pleads, with a hint of angry undertone, “But it’s our wedding night.”

I acknowledge it is, but I am not the least bit amorous.

“Richard, I want our first night to be perfect, to be a perfect memory.”

Again he regards me as if I am bizarre, something that has dropped in from another century. “Everybody does it on their wedding night, Babe. It’s not natural waiting. I’ve already waited long enough.”

I retreat a step to demonstrate my firmness. He clenches his fists loosely. I anticipate he will attack me, sweep me up in his arms, rudely toss me on the bed, and pounce on me, like a harlequin rogue. But, no, what nonsense. Richard loves me. I love him. He will honor my wishes.

I’m relieved when he sits on the edge of the bed and concedes, “Maybe you’re right, Babe. I could pass out.” He falls back and does. I don’t know which is worse—aggressive or comatose Richard.

I undress and prepare for bed. I contemplate undressing him, but decide against it; if he wakes as I remove his clothing he will take it to mean I have reconsidered. I cautiously roll Richard onto what forever will be his side. I slip in next to him and fall into a dreamless sleep.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 7: WAIKIKI, HAWAII  (Part 1 and 2)

1

It is the September morning and I am afraid to open my eyes. I’ve just awoken and I lie in bed with them clamped shut. I squeeze so tightly that I see huge floaters sailing on the circumference of my eyeballs. Perhaps I am harming myself, but I simply cannot open them on anything less than a perfect world. Not today, not the day I have dreamed of. It is September 25 and the prediction is for bright, sunny, and warm weather. I pray it is.

I must rise and leave this bed, which isn’t my bed. It is a bed in a hotel in Roosevelt. It is a very nice hotel Richard and I picked. We agreed staying where we were having our reception would be best. We vowed to enjoy our wedding and didn’t want anything like the prospect of a long drive spoiling our evening. Now, however, I harbor the tiniest regrets, for I wish I were waking at home, one last time in the comforting familiar.

Finally, I have no choice but to slide from the bed, because somebody is pounding on the door. I survey the room. I see my wedding gown. The concerns plaguing me dispel. I admire the dress as I stumble to the door. I hope it will help me look beautiful.

I open the door and my mother and Aunt Louise rush in. Both are dressed, caked with makeup, and ready. They express shock when I tell them I haven’t showered yet. As my mother shoos me into the bathroom, my aunt phones room service and the last I hear is scrambled eggs. I hope she doesn’t expect me to eat them.

In the privacy of the bathroom, I hunch over the toilet bowl and dry heave a couple of times, quietly. Today, however, my mother’s senses are heightened; she is acutely tuned to me.

“What are you doing in there?”

Your wedding day is a joyful day, she warned last week, but it will be nerve racking. She, of course, is referring to the arrangements, to my desire to have everything go off perfectly.  Actually, I am in a panic and the arrangements have nothing to do with the fear roiling in my gut. It’s Richard.

I yell I’m fine, just bride’s nerves. She shouts for me to get in the shower under hot water and I will be restored to good humors. I push up from the bowl and start the shower. Voices explode on the other side of the door and shortly banging rattles it. Angie and Rosemary are announcing their arrival and their impatience. Their presence and antics relieve me. I undress and step in the shower and discover, to a large extend, my mother is right. I am relaxing.

2

It was this past Wednesday. Richard and I were in a booth at The Steakhouse. Ordinarily, he takes me to the drugstore or the coffee shop when we eat out. But we were at The Steakhouse because Richard had a surprise for me. Honestly, I could not fathom his surprise as the biggest surprise was transpiring on Saturday: We were marrying. We had a tumultuous relationship through college, but by my senior year we were a committed couple. Richard was back in Creek Falls with a decent job in the marketing department of the local electric company and we saw each other frequently. After I graduated, I returned to Creek Falls and life—our life—was blissful. We didn’t live together but we may as well have; we were with each other every day.

Richard ordered us drinks and, as we waited, chatted desultorily. I playfully attempted wheedling his surprise from him. He insisted it required the accompaniment of a drink. When our drinks arrived—two frothy beers, the height of indulgence for us—he held up his, encouraged me to do the same, and announced, touching my frosty stein with his, “I landed a good job, Babe.”

“Richard, I know you have a good job,” I said.

He laughed. “The electric company. Please, that was temporary until I located the job.”

I stared at him blankly, unable to imagine what he considered his ideal job. After a moment, I quietly asked, “I thought you had the job.”

“How does a hundred thousand a year sound?”

“One hundred thousand dollars?” I thought about Fred and the trouble Richard claimed brought them from Staten Island to Creek Falls.

“You don’t believe me. You don’t think I’m worth a hundred grand?”

I knew this about Richard, had observed it a few times: Doubts about his abilities caused him to retreat into a redoubt of self-defense and anger. Sometimes, like when I commented on the appropriateness of his blue prom tux, he lashed out. This time he examined me, eyed me up and down, paused occasionally, as if he’d discovered a defect, and was zooming in for closer inspection, vacillating about my worthiness to receive what he was about to bestow upon me.

“Oh, no,” I said. “It just seems like a lot of money. I mean a lot for starting out.”

“I don’t mean right now. I mean in a couple of years, maybe sooner if things break my way.” He extended a hand. I took it. “I mean, if things go our way. We’re a team, Babe. You and me against the world. And the world had better watch out.”

“What’s the job?” I asked.

“Pharmaceuticals,” he said.

“Where’s there a drug company around here?” I asked, bewildered

“There aren’t any. But a couple of the biggest are in New Jersey.”

“New Jersey!”

He laughed. “Keep it down, Babe. Look, it’s not like you don’t know Jersey. You’ve been living there for four years.”

Yes, I thought, and longing to return home to Creek Falls and to him, lonely for home and my family.

“I got the job through college connections. Someone I know from Olsen A. They thought about me when the position opened, gave me a call, and they put a good word in for me. It’s a great opportunity.”

I made out every other word or so after the first “they.” He was referring to one person but using the plural pronoun, and I could not help puzzling over why. Actually, I could barely suppress my suspicion.

“A hundred thousand dollar opportunity,” I repeated. It was hard to fathom. I doubted the Creek Falls Bank and Trust held as much in its vault.

He glared at me. “You don’t believe I can do it, do you?”

I shook my head. “I have faith in you, Richard, but maybe not as much as they do.” I couldn’t help myself; my suspicion overcame me.

“What’s that mean?”

“Is ‘they’ a he or she, or maybe a group of your friends got together and encouraged you?”

Richard’s face drooped: his eyelids lowered, his mouth turned down, his cheeks sunk. He’d tormented me with this expression several times while we were together at Rider. I’d mope around for several days sick, aching as if stricken with the flu or mono, infected with the suspicion he was sneaking around with a girl—a girl from Olsen A, where he lived the entire time he attended Rider; or with Julie, who he insisted from the day I caught them together in the catacombs of the library was variously a study mate, a tutor, or a friend. Often, I disparaged myself as a fool for believing him. Angie and Rosemary would agree: I was an idiot for taking him back, for sticking with him. They marveled that I couldn’t find someone better at the school. I did try a few times, when my misgivings about Richard fortified me with the courage to break off our relationship.

“I thought you’d be happy for me. Anybody else would recognize this as good news, a great shot at a really good life, a prosperous life.” He paused until he was satisfied a pall of guilt had descended over me. He understood me and how to manipulate me, how to twist me up and turn me around until I mistrusted myself and conceded maybe it was me, maybe the problem was me and my need to be the center of his world, until I wondered if I was nothing more than a colossal black hole of neediness.

“I am happy, Richard,” I conceded, without much conviction.

He squeezed my hand. “I understand, Babe. You’ve pretty much been away from home for four year and here I come along and spring this on you. You were probably looking forward to living near your parents, mine too, and having that family thing, Sunday dinners at the parents, good family times like that.”

Yes, it was part of my disappointment, maybe not the biggest, but certainly there. I nodded, tentatively.

“Sure,” he said, clamping his free hand over his heart. “I pledge we’ll visit the folks at least once a month, maybe more, but once a month for sure. And they can always visit us. With what I’ll be pulling down, we can afford a big house in Jersey. Hell, we can have your parents and girlfriends down at the same time it’ll be that big.”

It was late, we’d finished our dinner, and Richard had managed to transport us of miles and years beyond the big move and more miles and time past Julie and maybe others I would never know about. I left The Steakhouse moderately happy, committed, and certainly excited about Saturday.

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Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 6: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 7, 8, and 9)

7

I am busy for days searching for a marriage counselor, though Richard is so thoughtful and attentive and kind, and loving, I wonder if we need one. Sometimes, like now when I should be phoning and interviewing counselors, I am dreaming of our last time making love, most recently this morning. I have never been happier. I have forgiven him everything. I’ve told him so. It is Richard who insists on a counselor. A good counselor will complete our reconciliation. I am hunting, happily.

8

Richard enters the kitchen, where I am finishing dinner preparations. He stretches his arms around my bulging stomach and kisses and playfully licks my nape of my neck.

“I’m famished,” he moans.

“Well, if you let me go …” I’m squirming for release, but not particularly hard.

“For you, Babe. I’ve never loved you more than at this moment.”

He twirls me and kisses me, pressing my lips until I fear they will burst; then he parts them and plunges his tongue into my mouth. We embrace and twist in each other’s arms. We stop only when the rumbling pot of water boils over and sizzles for my attention.

I work at the stove while he washes up in the downstairs bath. When he returns, I have dinner on the table. It’s another of his favorites, macaroni in a thick meat sauce, salad, crusty Italian bread, and Chianti for him and grape juice for me.

“How you doing on the marriage counselor?” he asks, munching rigatoni. “Al dente, the way I like them.” He sips his wine. “So, how about it?”

“I’ve talked to six. I don’t know, Richard, none seem right for us. Maybe we don’t need one.”

“Now, come on, Babe.” He reaches for my hand and pats it. “Maybe you don’t need counseling, but the sinner here certainly does. You too, if just to settle your mind about me and our future.”

I nod. I shake my head. I’m undecided and noncommittal. I’m happy and afraid a counselor might ruin our domestic state, which has transformed into blissfulness, into the marriage I have dreamed of.

“I asked around,” he says.

“About a marriage counselor?”

“Don’t worry, nobody will know it’s for us. I said it was for a friend.”

“As if anybody would believe that.”

He shrugs, as if to say, who cares?

But, upon consideration, I think perhaps a counselor would be just the thing to spur on and cement our wonderfully reinvigorated union, and also prepare us for the challenges when Samantha arrives. I have dutifully read books on birthing and the first year, and the relationship between husband and wife, and how the arrival of new life affects parents.

“Okay,” I say, “you’re right, Richard. It will be a wonderful experience for us.”

9

The counselor’s name is Margaret Johnson. She is a PhD psychologist and her office is in Princeton. I have arranged for us to meet her, and today is the day and I am dressing. I will meet Richard at her office on Nassau Street at two.

I’m pretty large now and dressing properly is challenging. I want to look nice, but no matter what I wear I never feel nice. I study myself in the mirror. Instead of an attractive woman in a red two-piece outfit, I see … yes, it’s a Volkswagen.

Richard has been kind and considerate. He has adored me for weeks. He has thrown himself into preparing for Samantha. He’s decorated a bedroom for her, even accepted Sam might be Samantha and painted the room in neutral green and yellow.

But, facing the mirror, I have emerged from the haze of his reanimated affection. I have examined myself. I have discovered I am wounded. It is as if I have a huge gash in my chest, sutured for sure with banns of his renewed adoration, his mea maxima culpa for the sins he has visited upon me. The wound is healing. But it still hurts to gaze back upon events: Julie, the Trentonian, the Howard Johnson’s, and the instigator of it all, Volkswagen.

I’ve applied my makeup, but I see I will have to redo my face. It’s streaked. Before the mirror, I heave up tears for an eternity, until at last I have pumped myself dry. In the bathroom, I wash and remake my face. I say to the image of me reflected in the mirror, “We really do need Margaret Johnson.”

I check my watch as I trundle to the front door. I am running late. I may be weighted and slow, but thank goodness my car suffers no infirmities.

I am on the road into Princeton, the very road that has led to this moment. I am smiling, for in a twisted way what he inflicted upon us he imposed on an already sickened and endangered body—body, for really, I see Richard and me as one, unable to exist without each other.

I am going on like this and close to the intersection with U.S. 1 when an explosion startles me. It is as if someone has lobbed a bomb in the rear of my car. I am shaking and frazzled and my heart is spiking as my car swerves. The rear-end is creeping around, seemingly intent on smacking the driver’s door and hurtling me across the seat into passenger’s door. I have been balancing on an emotional razor the entire day and now I topple off and shriek with terror as if pierced and sliced by the honed blade of my worse fears. Instinctively, I steer into the swerve, surprised this bit of emergency wisdom has stuck with me, and my car straightens. “Thank God,” I exhale in a deep sigh of relief the road isn’t crowded.

My car, however, is far from right. It is bucking and rattling and the wheel I grip is protesting my control. I think I may have a flat. I limp onto the shoulder. I sit for a minute or two. There’s no more rush. If it is a flat, in my condition, I’ll have to call for help. I breathe and calm myself and find I am quite relaxed after a while. Why I should be, I really can’t say, or really can’t admit to myself. I draw deeper, relaxing breaths and rub my stomach. “Some excitement, Samantha, but everything is fine now. You know, someday I’ll be teaching you how to drive.” I smile. “Oh, but I can wait for that day because it will mean …”

I find myself veering off in another direction. “What is the rule of the road?” I ask myself, strangely at ease, even though I have never been one for missing, let alone arriving late for, an appointment. And such a monumental engagement it is awaiting me. Yet, I sit here calm and warm and at peace. I suppose I feel as I do because, really, I don’t want to meet with Richard and the counselor, who I have begun thinking of as his counselor. I don’t want to know anything more than I do. I’m happy. My life is perfect. I don’t wish to have it disrupted by a counselor, by more truth than I can bear.

Then the rule of the road occurs to me: Step out of your disabled car and stand away from it, well off the shoulder. I climb out onto the shoulder and fiddle with my phone. I confront the keypad and am utterly confounded. Who am I to call? Richard? Richard isn’t much of a mechanic. Now, Bobby, despicable, corrupted and corrupting Bobby, he was a grease monkey of the first order. Those nails of his, I see them, grimy black things he couldn’t clean even with his pocketknife, though he tried mightily and on every occasion, the blade nearly an eleventh finger.

Such a distraction this, conjuring up a name to call, that I am not aware of the car flying down the road, approaching me at frightening velocity, until the growl of its engine is too loud to ignore. I glance up the road curious and a little miffed to find the inconsiderate driver who is disturbing my peace. It is a horrid blue car, a shade natural for a bright summer sky, an odd Howard Johnson’s roof, but totally inappropriate for a car. No wonder Detroit had such trouble, painting cars such tasteless colors. And I realize the blue car is spraying rocks and dirt behind it as it runs recklessly onto the shoulder, the very ground upon which I am stranded and standing. The car is on me before I can think I have made a terrible mistake lingering at the driver’s door. In the instant of realization, the blue car launches my car down the shoulder. I can’t even exclaim an “Oh” before I am scooped up onto the hood of the blue car clutching my phone as if it possesses some power to save me. I slide up the hood and catch a glimpse of the driver doing this to me. It is a man dressed to match his car, a blue man, hat, shirt, pants, all blue. I shatter his windshield with my head and shoulders, which somehow I think is okay, as Samantha lies protected and safe in my belly. I rocket up and over the roof, bounce off the trunk, and land on the ground, splayed on my back like a hunted animal prepared for gutting. I can’t move my broken arms but I do bring their phantoms to my belly that is still whole. I try to articulate my last thought but I know it never leaves my mouth and dies in my brain with me, my last regret and last wish: “Samantha, I’m sorry.”

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Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 6: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 5)

5

I maneuver three car lengths behind him and follow him to U.S. 1. Traffic is heavier than earlier but I am able to keep him in view. I compliment myself on my tailing skills.

We cruise past the Trenton city limit, still on 1. Suddenly, his right flasher blinks and he abruptly pulls off the highway into a parking lot. I’m so intent on staying with him I don’t notice where we are until he’s parked. I idle at the edge of the lot. The building is ugly; a collection of doors, each featuring faded paint that probably was bright blue once. From my car, I can smell the mildew inside. It’s a Howard Johnson’s, the entire worn affair squatting under a strange blue roof, brighter and newer than the structure, gleaming, almost pristine and indestructible like plastic, and wrong, very wrong, though I can’t say why.

He sits in his car for several minutes. I check my watch as a familiar car pulls into the lot. I watch the car park next to Richard. I’m not concerned Richard will spot me. No, I could actually be a Volkswagen, a bright red bug, and he wouldn’t notice me, because the car and the Julie facsimile in it commands his attention.

He gets out of his car and saunters around to her driver’s side. He bends into the window and talks to her. Then he leaves her sitting in the car and strolls into the office.

My stomach began roiling the moment she pulled into the parking lot. Now the acid threatens to burn its way up my esophagus and fly from my mouth. I’m sure it could etch the inside of my windshield with the variety of epithets I’d like to hurl in Richard’s face. I’m temperate toward her, though. Maybe Richard has deceived her. Maybe she believes she has discovered the man she has dreamed of. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow and this will have been nothing more than a nightmare, a symptom of my insecurity, and Richard will be what I desire, my devoted and loyal husband.

He emerges from the office and waves a card in her direction. The woman exits her car and as she closes the door she extinguishes the spark of hope in me.

They are on the second floor in the room three doors from the end over the office. I can imagine Richard removing his suit that I picked up from the cleaners yesterday at his insistence. For this I wonder, to impress her? I can picture him undressing her, removing every stitch she wears, that I don’t believe is much, a woman like her accustomed to someone removing her clothing. I can hear Richard’s calculated banter. Your perfume is sweet, but not as sweet as you. Your bra, your bra just drives me nutty, Julie, or whatever her name is. Oh, those panties, what are they? Oh, you’re killing me with them. Your skin, too soft, smooth, luscious, too maddening. I am mad, mad crazy for you Babe.

I am sitting here, my face bathed in my tears, my hands gripping the steering wheel and trembling, my legs, too, in time with them. I am torturing myself with the Howard Johnson’s room looming over me. Why? I’ve witnessed everything. My fears are reality. I must leave to preserve my sanity. I start the car and creep out of the lot onto U.S. 1 and drive haltingly to Cranbury.