They’re in the kitchen. She’s supposed to be
watching Delia, but Delia’s off somewhere, really,
who cares where she is? And she’s wearing a little
white tank top. No, black. With some 80s rock group
on it. The Cure – Depeche Mode – the Smiths.
He makes the first move, because he’s brave like that and they’ve known each other so long, why not? She’s easy to lift up onto the counter, easy to lean back against the dish rack.
Does Carl do this, he asks her between kisses, as he slides the shoulder of the tank top down and follows the new line of cotton. Has he ever done this? What about, what about, what about?
And of course she says no, humming alto in her throat, her head back and her blond hair winding around the silverware. Oh Ephram. It’s never been like this.
* * *
Or he takes her to the theater in Denver. Some snazzy play he picks, because he knows art and stuff. She wears a white dress with a short beaded fringe that sways when she walks. White heeled sandals and no stockings.
In between acts (they have a private box, of course, why not?) he leans over and whispers to her, I thought you liked my dad.
And she smiles at him and puts her hand on his thigh. It’s all the answer he wants, really. But she says, your dad’s a nice guy, Ephram. Really. But compared to you –
And then she’s kissing him during the musical interlude, so hard that he forgets where he is, what day it is, the fact that without her he’s a loser with a bad haircut.
* * *
Because he’s a manly man with outdoorsy experience, he takes her to a convenient Colorado bluff and they watch the sunset come down over the mountains like liquid copper. She wears very short shorts and a long flannel shirt. When it gets cooler, she pulls the shirt down partway over her bent knees, but he can still see the white line of her thighs in the twilight.
She tells him things that she’s never told anyone. Confesses. He makes the right noises and she ends up crying on his shoulder. He helps her get over the gay husband. Makes it better -- oh, much, much better, in detail.
He spends a lot of time at her house, waiting for her to come home from work. He plays with Sam when she’s at work. He’s good for her. He’s great. And when he goes to college, she cries and promises to visit him.
And then when he comes back for Christmas, she comes over to the house in a red satin Chinese dress and tells him, You were gone, and I didn’t know what to do, and she puts her arm around his dad and he grins the way he does.
I’m with Andy now, she says. You were gone. And she grins infectiously and turns her back on him.
* * *
Ephram starts awake as the bus jolts over a pothole. Freaking Colorado roads get potholes as big as quarries, what with the freezing and thawing in the springtime.
Across the aisle, Colin points at his mouth and grimaces. Ephram inspects his own lip and realizes that he’s been drooling. He puts his head down and waits for his stop. The bus jolts and swerves, making him wonder if it is just going to fall apart like in the cartoons, but it arrives in one piece.
As he exits down the front steps, he stops dead on the last stair, causing the kid behind him to curse loudly. It doesn’t matter. He can barely make his legs move, and his backpack slips off his shoulder and down his arm.
The kid behind him finally snaps, "Move your slow ass, Brown!" and he takes the last, jerky step from the bus to the sidewalk. He steps forward, stops. Hears the bus door hiss shut and the motor rumble off toward the next stop. Ephram shoves his bookbag back up onto his shoulder and begins the shuffle up the sidewalk to his house, thinking, please, please, please, but knowing there is no way out of it.
He passes not a foot from Nina, where she is checking her mailbox. She wears track pants and a short sleeved shirt. He can read the blue faux-vintage logo that slopes along her chest: "Surfing in Maui - - Wish You Were Here!" Ephram loathes and despises faux-vintage shirts. On her, they look more than edible.
As he walks by quickly, head down, she looks up and smiles at him. Maternally.
"Hey Ephram. How was school?"
"Fine," he mumbles, and goes by her, goes into the house, up to his room. Shuts the door. Lays on his bed. And begins again.
. . . He passes not a foot from Nina, where she is checking her mailbox. She wears a black skirt, flared and very short, and a spaghetti-strap white shirt with little sparkles sewn on. As he saunters by, holding her eyes with his, she gives him a grin full of promises. "Hey Ephram, come in the house and tell me about school," she says. . . .
Note: As I think about it, I'm pretty sure that Ephram doesn't ride the bus. So, pffft. Whatever. If he does, hey, it's canon. If not . . . well, I'm just here to torture the poor skinny lad. Cut me some slack.