In the summer of 1991, I was seventeen years old and proudly unemployed. When my junior year of high school ended in May, I informed my mother that instead of getting a part-time job, I’d be taking the summer off to relax. My reasoning was that I needed a chance to get my head together before my senior year, a year that Sister Jane Ann had warned “would be no picnic.”
“Are you planning on doing some extra studying?” my mother asked. Her question caught me off guard.
“Yeah,” I’d answered, with as much conviction as I could muster. “I’ll be studying. Out by the pool.”
I had yet to realize that my mother wasn’t quite the idiot I’d taken her for. Like most teenagers, I’d decided my parents were completely brain-dead around the time I hit puberty.
Looking back, I now know that my mother was just highly adept at picking her battles. Unlike my friends’ parents, she didn’t get uptight about small things like black polish on my toenails, or my penchant for rolling the waists of my school uniform skirts so that the hem hovered well above the knee. She saved her freak-outs for special occasions, like the time she caught me smoking in my bedroom, or when she discovered that the boy I’d dated the previous summer was a 21-year-old college student.
I was relieved when my proposed sabbatical didn’t seem to faze her. “Enjoy it while you can, Keri,” she said, shrugging. “This is the last real summer you’ll have.”
Experience had taught me how precious summertime was. Last year I’d foolishly
sacrificed my three months of freedom to take a job slinging pasta for minimum wage. This year, I told myself, I wouldn’t waste a single minute of valuable leisure time on anything resembling work.
I spent the first few weeks of summer lolling by the pool, listening to the Dead Milkmen on my headphones and reading Jackie Collins novels while I carefully cultivated the deep, golden tan of my dreams. On cloudy days I’d stay inside and make mix tapes for my friend Zak, who would often drop by to keep me company. We’d camp out in front of the TV, sucking down Dr. Pepper and watching old reruns of Welcome Back, Kotter, a show for which we developed an odd fixation.
“Freddie Washington is the coolest,” Zak would remark. “He reminds me a lot of myself.”
“No, you’re more like Horshack,” I’d say, just to mess with him. “You have the same nose.”
By the time July rolled around, I surprised myself by growing weary of my chosen routine.
“It’s too late to get a job now,” my mother reminded me, when I had the gall to complain. “School starts next month.”
Zak and I started hanging out more and more, spending our evenings searching for an antidote to our mid-summer boredom. We were slowly discovering that there wasn’t a plethora of options for those of us restricted by youth and meager allowance money.
One night, Zak pinched a sixer of Tropical Berry wine coolers from his mother’s stash.
“She won’t find out, will she?” I worried aloud. Like most of my Catholic girlfriends, I fancied myself more of a rebel than I actually was.
“I doubt it,” said Zak. “She doesn’t keep track of the stuff in the basement fridge.”
Our contraband securely tucked beneath the front seat of his Ford Escort, Zak and patrolled the suburban streets, looking for a suitable place to do a little underage drinking.
Finally, I had a sudden revelation and suggested the deserted parking lot of my old elementary school, and idea that Zak enthusiastically approved.
“Oh Flynn, you are so twisted!” he howled (he’d recently taken to calling me by my last name). “Let’s do it!”
As Zak eased the Escort to a stop behind the sprawling one-story building, I was struck by how little it had changed in the years since my sixth-grade graduation.
“Everything looks the same,” I said, marveling at the same basketball goal, the same row of swings, the same jungle gym painted the same shade of bright yellow that made it glow in the waning light. I found it comforting that this little corner of my childhood had remained untouched, while everything else was changing so fast it was impossible to keep up. Even though I was on the verge of turning eighteen, I often felt just as scared and uncertain as the gangly, awkward kid I’d been the last time I’d passed through the doors of St. John’s Elementary.
Zak and I climbed to the top of the Day-Glo jungle gym to break open our now-lukewarm wine coolers. They tasted similar to the Hi-C I used to consume by the gallon as a child, when the artificially flavored drink was considered the wise choice for mothers too health-conscious to ply their kids with Kool-Aid. Buzzed and giggling, Zak and I perched atop the jungle gym lighting each other’s cigarettes and reading the graffiti scrawled across the bright yellow bars. “Grant and Megan K. are in LOVE” was spelled out in loopy, girlish script with a thick permanent marker. Next to this proclamation someone (a schoolyard cynic—or perhaps even Grant himself) had penned, simply, “I don’t think so.”
Reeling from the low alcohol content of the wine coolers and the July humidity, we retreated to Zak’s car. He fired up the engine so we could bask in the breeze of the Escort’s asthmatic air conditioner and fiddled with the radio tuner, settling on a station playing one of his current favorites, “Right Here, Right Now,” the big song of the summer by a British band called Jesus Jones.
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be
We sat quietly for a while, smoking and nodding our heads to the music. After a few moments, Zak spoke up.
“Do you want to fool around?”
I looked at him, surprised. Zak and I had never exchanged anything more than a friendly hug. I didn’t think of him in a romantic way, and I’d assumed he felt the same about me. Besides, when we first started hanging out together last winter he was dating my friend Stacy, and I fervently believed in honoring that unspoken rule about not going after your friends’ exes.
Still, Zak was kind of cute. And Stacy would be transferring to a new school in the fall.
“Okay,” I answered, shrugging.
He stared at me wordlessly for a moment, then smiled, turned up the music on the
radio, and leaned in for a kiss. He tasted, predictably, of tropical berry and cigarettes. I could already tell this was a mistake.
“This feels weird,” I said as we climbed into the backseat. “I sort of think of you as a brother.”
“You don’t have a brother, so how would you know?” Zak reasoned.
An hour later I rolled off him, sweaty and panting.
“This isn’t working,” I told him, frustrated.
“Screw it then,” he huffed, pulling up his jeans. After that, we never spoke of our failed attempt at consummating our friendship, and we never tried it again.
A few days later Zak and I were flipping through CDs at Coconuts Records. He had heard an old Clash song on the radio, and decided immediately that he needed to find the corresponding album.
“That old guy’s totally checking me out,” I commented idly, nodding at a man in a blue polo shirt a few aisles away. Zak spun around to look. “Don’t!” I hissed, mortified by his lack of subtlety.
“No he’s not,” Zak said, turning back to the row of CDs he’d been perusing. “He’s just weird.”
He actually looked pretty normal to me, I thought, eyeing him surreptitiously as I pretended to study an old Blondie record. He was old—way over 30 by the looks of him—but kind of cute, despite his advanced age. He sort of looked like Dennis Quaid, an object of my teenage lust since Postcards From the Edge.
“Stop staring, freak,” Zak admonished. “He’s not even looking at you.”
“Whatever,” I countered, and skulked off.
I was inspecting the poster display at the back of the store—glossy snaps of dead-eyed swimsuit models alongside images of popular heavy metal bands I had no use for—when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and came face to face with Dennis Quaid’s polo-shirted look-alike.
“Sorry to startle you,” he said, peering down at me curiously. “I just wanted to get your opinion.”
I frowned, confused. “I don’t work here.”
His face relaxed into a crinkly smile. “I know. I just want the opinion of someone
younger. I’m a little out of touch.”
“Sure,” I told him uncertainly.
He held up a shrink-wrapped cassette single of “Right Here, Right Now.” “This is that song they play on WTTS, right?”
“Yeah, they play it sometimes,” I replied. “It’s a pretty good song.”
He looked down at the tape in his hand. “Yes, I like it too. I wanted to get it for my son.”
He has a son who’s into Jesus Jones? Wow, this guy must be old.
“What other kinds of music do you like?” he asked me.
“I don’t know. The Smiths, Dead Milkmen, Violent Femmes—stuff like that.” I told him, doubting that an older preppy-looking guy like him would even know any of those bands.
Mr. Polo smiled, nodding enthusiastically. “Oh, I love the Smiths. Although I gotta say, Morrissey’s solo stuff isn’t bad, either.”
I blinked, surprised. “Yeah, he’s pretty good,” I agreed, wondering how in the world he knew about the Morrissey or the Smiths. He was obviously cooler than he looked.
“See, I’m pretty hip, aren’t I?” he asked, as if he’d read my mind. “My name’s Jim,” he said. “And you are?”
“Keri,” I replied, flattered that he seemed to be flirting with me.
“Is that your boyfriend?” he asked nodding towards Zak.
I snorted and laughed, in a don’t-be-silly sort of way. “No, we’re just friends.”
“You look like you could still be in high school. How old are you?”
How old was I? Seventeen? No, that wouldn’t do.
“Eighteen,” I said confidently. What the hell, it would be true in a few months.
“Would you like to have dinner with me tonight, Keri?”
Whoa, that came out of left field. I wasn’t used to guys who asked right up front, just like that. Even the college guy I dated last summer had to flirt with me for a few weeks before asking for my number. It’s just how things were done.
“Well?” he said, eyebrows raised.
“Hold on,” I told him, and went skipping over to Zak.
“That guy just asked me out!”
“What?” Zak said, surprised. He was still where I’d left him, banging through the CD racks.
“The old guy. He wants to have dinner with me tonight.”
Zak cast a narrow-eyed glance in Jim’s direction.
“I don’t know, Keri,” he cautioned. “What if he is weird?”
I knew what he meant. Weird, as in date-rape/serial killer weird. I’d been warned about guys like that. Guys who looked normal, and were anything but. Still though, he was a father. How weird could he afford to be, with a kid and everything?
“Listen,” I said, a plan slowly percolating in my head. “If you get me home so I can shower and change, you could drop me off close by and I can have dinner with him here in Broad Ripple. Then we meet back here a half-hour before my curfew so you can drive me home. That way I wouldn’t have to go anywhere in his car.”
Zak pondered this for a few moments, then let out a long sigh.
“Okay,” he said, nodding slowly. “But you owe me a sixer for this one, Flynn.”
Zak got me home in just enough time for me to shower, makeup and powder myself. He then taxied me back to Broad Ripple, where I made him drop me off around the corner from Coconuts in order to spare Jim an eyeful of Zak’s car. It didn’t fit with the image I was trying to project that evening: an independent young woman of the world, too cool to bum rides from friends in battered Escorts.
“Meet me back here at 11:30,” I told Zak, feeling like I was about to embark on a top-secret mission. “Don’t forget.”
Jim was standing on the sidewalk in front of Coconuts, leaning against the display window. He’d changed into khaki slacks and a butter-yellow Oxford shirt, looking like someone’s rich dad.
“Well, don’t you look nice,” he said, leaning down to kiss my cheek.
“Thanks,” I said, my face flushing. I had that same nervous flutter I always got when I was about to do something scary and brave. It was the same sensation I felt when I auditioned for the school play, or the first time my mom let me drive to the store alone.
“I thought we’d go for some Chinese,” Jim said casually, taking my hand. “You like Chinese?”
“Yeah, Wok n’ Roll is good,” I offered.
Jim shook his head. “Actually, there’s a much better place over on Township Line Road. China Palace, do you know it?”
“Oh,” I said, taken aback. “I think I’d rather stay in Broad Ripple.”
“Come on, you’ll like it,” he said, tugging at my hand. “My car’s just over here.”
I relented, despite my original plan not to leave the neighborhood. He was probably harmless, I told myself. Besides, I was carrying perfume. I’d read inCosmopolitan that perfume could be used like mace, if you sprayed it directly in the eyes of an attacker. If this guy started getting creepy I’d blast him in the face with Ciara eau de toilette, then throw open his car door and run like hell.
Jim unlocked the door of a gargantuan black Cadillac. As I slid into the front seat, I noticed discarded newspapers and leather binders scattered across the back seat. It’s fine, I thought. After all, what kind of hardened criminal rapist read The Wall Street Journal?
I leaned back in my seat, willing myself to relax.
“I’m thinking about getting a new car,” said Jim, turning the key in the ignition. “Something sexy, like a Porsche. What do you think?”
I nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, Porsches are cool,” I said. “But Corvettes are my favorite. The old ones, like the one James Dean had.”
“That was a Porsche, actually.”
“It was? Oh. Okay then,” I said, feeling stupid. “You should get a Porsche. The fifties kind.” I cringed inwardly, thinking how dorky I must sound.
“Pardon?” said Jim.
“You should get a 1950′s Porsche, if you can. They’re cooler.” I nodded, trying to sound authoritative.
Jim looked thoughtful as he guided the car down the tree-lined streets of the north side.
Great, I’ve blown it already. He thinks I’m stupid.
“You’re right,” he said after a moment, casting a sideways glance at me. “If I get one, I’ll let you drive it. How’s that sound?”
I smiled, feeling a surge of excitement. The sophisticated older man was going to let me drive his Porsche, and he barely even knew me. I must be coming off better than I thought. I didn’t tell him I couldn’t drive a stick shift. That didn’t matter though; I could learn.
“So,” I said, bolstered by his faith in my knowledge of sports cars and driving ability, “how old are you?”
“How old am I?” he repeated, the way I did when my mom asked me a question I didn’t want to answer. Suddenly Jim seemed intent on watching the road. I stared at his profile, undeterred by the obvious ploy.
“I know you’re older than me, anyway.”
He broke into a grin, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “You think so?”
“Come on, I told you my age,” I prodded.
“Okay, okay,” he said, finally meeting my gaze. “I’m forty-two.”
“Oh my God!” I blurted, before I could stop myself. “Sorry,” I said, catching sight of his startled expression. “I just didn’t think you were that old.”
I thought he’d be mad, but he just chuckled good-naturedly. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I didn’t know if I meant it as a compliment. I’d guessed him to be 35, tops. Forty-two was almost as old as my stepfather.
Jim pulled into the parking lot of China Palace, swung open his door, and jogged around the back of the car. Before I unhooked my seatbelt, he was holding my door open.
“Thanks,” I mumbled as I slid out, unaccustomed to such gallantry.
“I feel like I’m eighteen,” Jim said, placing a hand on the small of my back and guiding me through the door of the restaurant.
I felt at least eighteen. Hell, maybe even nineteen or twenty. This is cool, I thought, relishing the curious looks we received from other diners as the hostess led us to our table.
“How about a bottle of wine?” Jim asked me as I was arranging the napkin in my lap.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you think they’ll card me?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said, looking amused. “Just leave it to me.”
I sat stiffly as Jim ordered a bottle of Chardonnay from the waiter, who just nodded and scurried off without giving me a second glance. I let out a sigh of relief, and Jim reached across the table and laid a hand over mine.
“You need to relax, Keri,” he said, smiling. Yes, I did need to relax. This is what classy grown-ups do, I told myself. They eat at nice restaurants and drink wine. No more Taco Bell and dollar movie dates for me. Like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I had to learn sophistication.
When the wine arrived, the first glass disappeared down my throat in three gulps. Jim quickly moved to refill it, twisting the bottle elegantly to keep it from dripping. I raised my glass in an impromptu toast.
“To good times,” I giggled.
“To good times and new friends,” Jim said, sounding like a magazine ad. He clinked his glass with mine.
Jim began telling me about his job as the public relations manager for a large downtown brokerage firm.
“Public relations is like advertising, right?”
“Well, a little bit. I don’t do any advertising, though. My job is to entertain clients and make sure everyone’s happy.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but it sounded like fun. Maybe when I graduated I could get a job entertaining clients and keeping people happy. I’d be pretty good at that.
“Whoa, slow down there, girl. I’m having trouble keeping up,” Jim said as I drained my second glass of wine. I smiled, dragged my napkin across my mouth and held out my glass for more. Jim shook his head, but he was grinning as he reached for the bottle. This time though, he stopped pouring at the halfway mark.
“Oh, come on,” I protested. “That’s not enough.”
“It’s half-full,” he said. “Or half-empty, if you’re a pessimist.”
“I’m a pessimist!” I declared, spreading my arms wide.
“That’s it for now,” Jim said. “You need to let me catch up.”
I burped delicately.
The food arrived, and I dug in hungrily, devouring the egg rolls and vegetable fried rice in between swigs of wine.
“I’m going to New Orleans for a conference in September,” Jim said. “How’d you like to come with me?”
I nearly choked on a bean sprout. “Come with you?” I said, wide-eyed. What would I tell my parents? Could I even pull off something like that? “I’d love to, but I don’t know if I could work it out.” Did this guy even remember that I had parents?
“Well,” Jim said slowly, his fork poised in mid-air. “Maybe if we put our heads together, we can come up with a plan. What do you think?”
I think I liked the way he thought. “Yeah, maybe we can.” I smiled down at my plate, imagining my friends’ reactions. ‘Oh, I can’t come to your party this weekend—I’ll be in New Orleans with my rich boyfriend.’
“This is the best Chinese food I’ve ever had,” I said, scraping up the last bit of rice.
Jim gazed at me over his half-finished plate of egg foo young. “You’re really beautiful,” he said, out of nowhere.
I laughed at his somber expression. “Whatever. I’m sure you say that to all the girls.”
“No, I mean it,” he said, frowning. “Why would I lie?”
I laughed again. I couldn’t help it, he looked so serious. “I don’t know, you tell me.”
I grasped for my wine, and Jim reached over and took hold of my wrist, clutching it tightly.
“Keri, I promise you,” he said, staring at me intently. “I am not a liar.”
I stopped laughing. He was starting to freak me out a little.
“Fine. I believe you.”
He loosened his grip on my wrist, his eyes softening. “It’s just that, well—I like you a lot. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea about me.”
I shifted in my chair. “I don’t have the wrong idea,” I said slowly, not quite sure what he was getting at.
I carefully extracted my hand and leaned back, busying myself with the cloth napkin in my lap. I could feel his eyes on me.
“Have some more wine,” he said finally, upending the last of the bottle into my glass. I picked it up gingerly, swirling the amber liquid around like I’d seen people do in movies. I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t like the silence.
“So,” I said nervously. “What’s your son’s name?”
“Jeremy. He’s twelve.” Jim replied.
“Cool. Do you have any other kids?”
“Yes, I have a daughter. Courtney. She’s six.”
“Oh really?” I said, with too much enthusiasm. “I used to babysit a little girl named Courtney when I was fourteen.”
Jim broke into a smile. “Is that right?”
I nodded eagerly, as if this were the most exciting thing about me. “She lived in our neighborhood for a while, but then she and her family moved to Colorado,” I babbled.
“I see,” he said, nodding.
I really wanted to ask Jim about the ex-wife he hadn’t mentioned. I assumed there was an ex-wife, if there were kids. He didn’t wear a wedding band, of course, and there was no telltale line on his tanned ring finger. Zak had expressed misgivings about Jim’s marital status, so I’d made sure to check his hands when we were in the car.
Our waiter breezed by and dropped off the check and two fortune cookies. Grateful for the distraction, I seized my cookie and snapped it in half, taking care to avoid tearing the little fortune inside.
“You will soon be crossing the great waters,” I read aloud. “What does yours say?”
Jim broke open his cookie.
“You’re not going to believe this,” he said, squinting at the strip of paper. “It says, ‘You will meet a beautiful girl named Keri.’”
I laughed, relieved that he was back to normal.
“Hey,” he leaned forward, eyes gleaming. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“Okay, but we have to watch the time,” I reminded him.
“Don’t worry,” he said, squeezing my hand. “I’ll take care of you.”
Jim steered the car south along College Avenue. I closed my eyes, leaning back in my seat and savoring the floaty, dizzy feeling in my head. At that moment, I didn’t care if my parents found out about my wild night with a forty-two year old public relations executive. Hell, I’d be old enough to vote in a few months, I thought. If I was nearly old enough to vote, I was old enough to go out with whomever I wanted.
“You all right?” Jim asked.
“Fabulous,” I said, without opening my eyes. “I’m having a blast.”
I felt his hand on my bare thigh. “That’s what I like to hear.” His hand was heavy and warm.
“Where are we going?”
“I know a little wine bar bar I think you might enjoy.”
“Awesome. I could use a little more wine.”
When I opened my eyes, we were outside The Aristocrat, a fancy pub in between downtown and Broad Ripple.
“Watch out for the puddles,” Jim said as he helped me from the Cadillac.
He guided me to a table in a smoky back corner, then gestured to the bar. “More Chardonnay?”
“Definitely!” I told him, beaming.
I didn’t know it was possible for me to be this drunk and still feel good. The only other time I’d gotten really wasted was last summer, when Julie Dalton and I broke into her father’s liquor cabinet and mixed ourselves a thermos of Crown and Coke. We then went to the movies, the thermos tucked inside Julie’s jean jacket as we filed nervously past the pimply ushers. The lights went down and we had a great time passing the thermos back and forth between us, giggling at our own chutzpah. Then—right in the middle of Days of Thunder—I had to race to the ladies’ room and puke up whiskey-flavored popcorn kernals and chocolate covered raisins. It wasn’t fun.
“Here we are,” Jim said, returning with two glasses of wine.
He slid into the booth next to me.
“To your beautiful smile,” he said, touching his glass to mine.
I rolled my eyes. “You are so cheesy.”
We sipped our drinks and Jim talked about New Orleans.
“I think you’d like it. There’s a daiquiri stand on Bourbon Street, and they give you your drink in a plastic cup so you can just walk around the French Quarter with your daiquiri.”
“You mean, they let you walk around drinking booze in public?” I marveled.
“Absolutely. It’s a great place. And did you know the drinking age in Louisiana is eighteen?”
“Eighteen?” I said, getting excited. “I won’t even need to use a fake ID,” Then, realizing that I’d said that too loudly, I affected a startled expression and put my hand over my mouth in mock embarrassment.
Jim laughed. “There’s also this cool bar in the French Quarter. Pat O’Brien’s. They make the best Hurricanes. Have you ever had a hurricane? Rum, vodka, orange juice, grenadine, triple sec?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
“Believe me, you’d know if you had one.” he sat back in his seat and rubbed his chin. “I bet it’d be fun to get a few Hurricanes into you.”
I licked my wine-flavored lips and smiled at him. “Are you saying I’m a fun drunk?”
He took my hand. “Oh, I’m sure you’re fun all the time.” He looked at me a moment. “Why don’t we have another glass of wine?”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said, bouncing excitedly in my seat like a little kid. I watched Jim slide out of the booth and walk up to the bar. I didn’t want to think about curfew. This was turning out to be fun.
After downing that drink, I propped my chin in my hand and stared at Jim. My head was so light, it took some effort to hold it steady. “So,” I said, gesturing to the bar and all its patrons, “is this your hang out?”
“I come here sometimes. Nice atmosphere, good neighborhood, close to home.”
“Where do you live?”
“Not far from here, actually.”
“House or apartment?”
Jim studied me. “House,” he replied, after a moment. “You know the governor’s mansion on Meridian? I’m just a few houses down.”
My mouth dropped open. “You live next to the governor?”
Jim nodded. “I never really see him, though. He’s probably too busy to socialize much.”
I thought about the the modest two bedroom condo I shared with my mom and stepfather. “Wow. Your house must be pretty big.”
“I guess so. Five bedrooms and a guest room.”
“Five bedrooms?” I echoed. “What do you need five bedrooms for?”
“Well, it’s an old house. People tended to have more kids back when it was built. And they usually had a housekeeper living there, too.”
“Do you have a housekeeper who lives with you?” I asked him, picturing Alice from The Brady Bunch.
Jim laughed. “You’re cute. No, there’s no housekeeper.”
“Can I see it sometime?”
His face darkened. “Maybe.”
Screw it, I thought. I had to know. “Does your ex-wife live there?”
“What?” he said.
“Your ex-wife. Did she get the house?”
He frowned, and I wondered if that was a bad thing to ask someone. “Yeah,” Jim said finally. “She has the house now. It’s probably not a good idea to take you there.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you really divorced?”
“I’m separated,” Jim said. He looked down at his hands. He suddenly seemed a lot older, even older than forty-two.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked about that.”
Jim shook his head. “Don’t apologize, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Don’t you worry about a thing.” He reached over and brushed a strand of hair from my face, smiling tightly.
I looked down at my empty glass. “Should we have another?”
“We should probably get going,” Jim said, tipping back the rest of his wine.
“What time is it?” I asked, looking around for a clock.
“Eleven,” he said, smoothing the front of his Oxford shirt.
“Only eleven? We have time for one more.”
Jim smiled faintly. “I know, but I’d rather go someplace quiet for a while. What do you think?”
“Let’s just take a drive,” he said.
I stood up, and the entire room seemed to tilt on its side.
Jim grabbed my arm. “Hey, steady there,” he said, chuckling. I held onto him tight as we made our way back to his car.
He opened the passenger door and I climbed into the front seat, feeling tired and a little sick. Please, just don’t let me throw up, I pleaded silently. I didn’t think this guy would talk to me again if I puked all over his car and ruined everything.
Jim opened his door and jumped into the driver’s side, making the car shake. I grimaced, feeling the reverberations in my belly. He fired up the engine and turned north on College.
“We’re going back to Broad Ripple?” I asked. I hoped so; Jim had mentioned driving around, but now I wasn’t so sure my stomach could handle it.
“That’s where we’re headed,” Jim confirmed. I nodded and sat back in my seat, relieved. I probably wouldn’t have to wait long if he dropped me off at Coconuts now. Zak might even be there already. He was usually early.
Jim flipped on the radio and began stabbing at the buttons, one hand on the wheel. “Try WTTS,” I suggested. He didn’t seem to hear me; he just kept fiddling with the buttons, settling finally on a lite rock station at the top of the dial.
Soft saxophone music filled the car. I looked over at Jim, disgusted.
“Kenny G.?” I asked, incredulous. Where was the guy I’d met in the record store, the one who’d known all about Morrissey and The Smiths?
Jim shrugged, easing to a stop at a traffic light. “I just feel like listening to something mellow.”
I couldn’t believe he listened to this elevator music. I couldn’t stand it. It seemed to upset my stomach even more. I took a deep, shuddery breath, willing myself to feel better.
All the sudden we were stopped. I looked around, startled.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, feeling uneasy.
“Relax, it’s not even 11:15. We got a little time.”
“Where are we?”
“Not far from Coconuts. Hey, take it easy—everything’s okay,” he said, his voice gone all gentle and quiet.
I gripped the window frame and pressed my forehead to the glass, trying to see outside. I spied an unlit sign that read THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT VIDEO. I breathed a small sigh of relief. We were in the parking lot behind the video store that used to be an auto body shop. Coconuts was just a few blocks away.
I turned back to Jim and forced a smile. Despite my intoxication, I was feeling strangely alert. Jim had shocked me right out of my drunken shell.
“Hey, nice smile. That’s more like it.” He reached over and cupped my chin in his hand.
Ugh. I had never been out with anyone so cheesy. Byron the college guy was a nerd, but even he was never this bad.
Then Jim leaned over and kissed me. It happened so quickly, it took me a moment to react. He had his tongue in my mouth and was moving it around and around in circles, like that weird William kid I made out with at camp when I was fourteen. I tilted my head to the side and moved my tongue and lips half-heartedly against Jim’s, wondering if he knew that he kissed like a fourteen-year-old kid.
After a few moments I pushed him away. I couldn’t stand the taste of his mouth anymore. It was making me feel sicker
“I don’t feel good,” I said, my voice all whimpery. I thought, I just kissed a forty-two-year-old man.
Jim reached over and slid his hand under my blouse. “Don’t you trust me?” he asked as he ran his fingers over my belly. I looked down at his hand, then up at him. This was worse than the kiss. Way worse.
“I don’t feel good,” I said again, more urgently this time.
Jim made an exaggerated sad face. “Awww, you feel pretty nice to me.” He slid his hand north and began working his fingers under my bra.
I sat stock still, a potent mixture of shame, fear, and nausea welling up inside of me.
“Just relax,” Jim cajoled, squeezing my left breast. “You don’t have anything to worry about with me.”
Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” was playing. I hated that song.
“Beautiful,” Jim murmured. His lips were parted and his eyes were closed, like he was already in ecstasy. “You have lovely tits.”
His voice was making me even sicker. I reached a hand behind me, feeling for the cold metal of the door handle.
“You’re so sweet,” Jim whispered, eyes still closed, and leaned in for another kiss.
It was too much for me: my spinning head, my sour stomach, the lingering aroma of alcohol and egg foo young on Jim’s breath, the creepy lite rock on the radio, and the middle-aged hands going where I’d only let a few other (much younger) hands wander. I couldn’t take any more.
I threw my weight against the car door and flung it open, tumbling outside onto the pavement. I crouched there for a moment. I discovered I had scraped my knee and it was all sticky with blood, little bits of sand and dirt stucking to it.
Jim came charging around the back of the car.
“Oh honey! Oh! Are you all right? I’m so sorry.” He bent down and grabbed both of my hands, trying to pull me to my feet.
“I meant to do that,” I croaked, then realized it sounded like I was trying to be funny.
Jim let out a surprised laugh and took a step back. “What?”
I studied him a moment, still crouched on the ground. He bent down and tried again to help me up.
“Don’t move me,” I snapped, jerking my arm from his grasp.
And then I puked. Big time. It went all over the pavement next to Jim’s car, some of it splattering on the Cadillac’s front tire, some catching Jim’s brown leather shoes. He tried to jump back, but he wasn’t fast enough.
I knelt there in the aftershock, palms on the blacktop, coughing and sputtering. My nose and throat burned, and my head was throbbing. I did notice with some relief that my stomach was no longer hurting.
“Christ almighty,” I heard Jim say. “This is not good.”
This is what Zak called ‘laughing at the ground.’ I thought about this as I huddled there. It was a funny expression.
I looked up at Jim. He looked pissed off and confused.
“Just give me a minute,” I said, wiping my nose on the back of my hand. I managed to avoid getting any puke on my clothes. That was a bright spot, at least. Although I’d have to get Zak to make a quick stop at the drugstore on the way home so I could buy some gum and mouthwash. I didn’t want to risk my mom catching a whiff of my breath. I was glad I had that bottle of Ciara on me, too. That would come in handy.
“Hello?” Jim said, all snotty. He was staring down at me, waving his hand like he was flagging me down.
I put my hand against the side of his car to steady myself. “Okay,” I said, carefully rising to my feet. “I think I’m okay now.”
“Jim stared at me. “You sure?”
I nodded slowly, and turned to climb through the still-open car door. I settled back in my seat and Jim slammed my door shut. I watched through the rearview mirror as he trudged back around to the driver’s side. He’s not kissing me again, I thought, steeling myself. He’s not kissing me, and he’s definitely not touching me.
Jim got in the car and regarded me silently for a moment, then he started to lean towards me. My hands flew up in front my face, blocking him.
“Sorry,” I said flatly. “I’m not in the mood.” I couldn’t believe he was still trying to mack on me. After all that.
Jim just looked at me, eyes wide. Then he shook his head and started up the engine. He guided the car out of the deserted lot and onto the street, headed towards Coconuts.
“I thought I’d have more fun with you,” he remarked, his eyes on the road.
“Me too,” I said shortly.
We were silent the rest of the way.
Jim pulled the car into the Coconuts’ parking lot. I saw Zak’s car right away. He was sitting in the Escort, already there, waiting. I smiled gratefully.
Jim pulled the Cadillac to a stop a few feet away from the Escort. Zak looked up, just noticing us. He was smoking a cigarette.
I threw open the car door.
“Maybe we can do this again when you’re older.” Jim said.
I turned back to look at him, ass on the car seat, feet on the ground, ready to run.
“Maybe you should go fuck yourself,” I told him. I said this because Zak was watching, because I meant it, and because I never ever wanted to see Jim again.
Jim raised his eyebrows and looked as if he were about to say something, but I didn’t want to hear it. I jumped out, slammed the door of the Cadillac, then dashed over to where Zak waited.
“Can I have a smoke?” I asked breathlessly as I climbed into the passenger seat.
Zak pulled a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket and handed me one.“What happened?” he asked, watching with amusement as Jim revved his engine and peeled noisily out of the parking lot. “He looked pissed.”
I fired up the cigarette, blew out a long stream of smoke, and began recounting the events of the evening. I left out the part about Jim putting his hand up my blouse, though. I didn’t feel like telling anyone about that. Not even Zak.
“So he got mad at you for puking? That’s stupid.” Zak mused as he started up the car. “I knew the guy was lame.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You were right this time.”
Zak began joining me by the pool in a belated effort to achieve some semblance of color before school started at the end of the month. I shook my head skeptically as I watched him slather his pale arms with suntan oil.
“It won’t work,” I told him. “You should have started earlier in the summer. Now you’ll just burn.”
“I never burn,” said Zak confidently, pushing his sunglasses on top of his head and leaning back in the plastic chaise lounge.
I stood up and stretched.
“I’m going in,” I announced.
I dove into the deep end and stayed there, feeling my belly brush the concrete as I swam along the bottom of the pool, a catfish in a neon-pink bikini. I wished I could just stay down there in my silent underwater haven, far away from the rest of the world.
I stayed under as long as I could manage it, then reluctantly pointed my body upwards and slowly drifted to the surface. I paddled around for a while, swam a few laps, then climbed the metal ladder onto the deck. My feet left a wet trail in my wake as I padded over to rejoin Zak.
“Erica Shultz is having a party tonight,” he said, dabbing sunscreen onto his nose. “Do you want to go?”
“Not really,” I answered, wrapping myself in my faded Bugs Bunny beach towel and settling back in my chair.
“Yeah, me neither,” Zak said after a moment.
A cloud drifted in front of the sun, and I studied the shadows it created on the floor of the pool. I thought about what my mother said about this being my last real summer. I didn’t want her to be right, but I knew now that she was.
“I’d rather just stay here,” I told Zak. I leaned back and closed my eyes, basking in the waning heat of the late afternoon sun.
Thanks, That Was Fun
A new novel by Andie Nash
Now available on Kindle