Katherine told me to wash my face with Dove soap and a hand towel. She said to scrub hard. In front of the mirror, I popped a small zit where my right nostril met my upper lip before pulling the shower curtain open. The steam rolled out in a large cloud and spiraled up toward the beckoning petals of the exhaust fan. It was still light out. The fogged glass of the bathroom window reduced the sun to an orange ball in its upper right-hand corner. The curtain screeched closed, and I was alone for a moment. The hand towel was rough against my sunburned face. Katherine had perfect, porcelain, smooth skin. I scrubbed hard and ignored the tiny spots of blood. I rinsed the towel off and hung it from the small metal shower hook before she arrived.
At first, she was clothed. The same blue tank top. The same white bra strap. She bent over and the same white panties peeked out above the rim of the same khaki shorts. She was silent. My eyes closed hard, forced. I began to sweat as the warm water poured over my shoulders and into the slowly growing pool at my feet. She smiled and bent over again. This time, as she rose, she was in only the white underwear and she was saying my name exactly as she’d said it earlier. Her white teeth parted to let the smallest, softest sliver of her red tongue push through, only to be rewound again, repeated. I saw her reach behind her back to unhook her bra. She did it twice in a row; the second time was slower and she tilted her head back as she did it. The white sliver. The small strap falling off a freckled shoulder. Katherine was there for a moment too, with her, and then she was gone. Kelly came. I closed my eyes harder. Things sped up. They were showing me something. Kelly helped her with the strap and then Kelly was gone too and it was just me and the new girl. I laid her down gently and smiled. She looked different looking up at me, flatter, wider—still soft and simple and beautiful. I kissed her neck and felt her hands guide me to where she wanted me. She breathed in sharply, but not with the high-pitched, painful tinge that Katherine’s cry had. It was low and warm and relief. The muscles behind my eyes quickly locked the lids firmly against each other and my skin flushed. My legs felt like Jello. I stuttered forward before regaining my balance. I rinsed my hands under the spray of the shower. I reached for the bar of soap and raised up on to my tip toes to breath in the cooler air outside the steam. I heard my mother’s footsteps in the hall outside.
The window of my room looked out into the Douglas fir in the backyard. A squirrel on the branch nearest my windowsill worked loudly on a black walnut. I heard her steps again before she knocked on the door. “One minute.”
“Dad’s going to get pizza for dinner.”
“I’m eating at Katherine’s.”
“That’s the third time in a week, Simon.” She sounded frustrated. I hadn’t done anything I could remember.
“Her mom keeps inviting me.”
“OK.” She turned and walked back toward the living room. I pictured her throwing her hands up and shaking her head. I could have slept then. I was still wrapped in a towel and looking out the window. My muscles felt limp. Something hung over me. Guilt was too strong a word and it was devoid of all the other things taking up space in my mind. I ran my hands back and forth in my hair, shaking out the water. I pulled on my black Adidas t-shirt because it fit firm against my chest and made me feel strong not fat. Katherine loved the shirt. She usually placed her head right where the leafy symbol was, in the middle of my chest, when we hugged.
“It smells like you,” she told me last time I wore it.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s good. It makes me think of you.”
“I’m wearing it.”
“Yeah, thanks Sherlock.”
The phone rang. I pulled my jeans over my boxers and hoped the heat would wear off quickly. “Simon?”
“Phone.” I shut the door behind me. At the end of the hall, mom’s arm hung over the back of the couch lazily, slowly waving the phone in my direction. “It’s Zach.”
“Thanks.” She didn’t turn her head from the TV. The garage door opened and the trunk of my dad’s Impala crept backwards toward the street.
“Weren’t you just playing basketball with them?”
“Yup.” She shook her head. She was smiling. I could tell, from behind her, by the lift in her ears. “Hey, Z.” I walked back to my room.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Just got out of the shower.”
“Good. You smelled like shit.”
“OK.” I could hear Tomb Raider being played in the background. Stew was over. I used to hang there all day. “What’s the plan?”
“Dude.” His tone brought it back to me. Stew had stolen some weed from his older brother and we were supposed to smoke it tonight. Zach and I had never smoked.
“Right. I’m going to Katherine’s for dinner.”
“Cool. After that, I’ve got nothing.” My hands were sweating. I held the phone in my right hand, pressed hard into my ear, as I let my jeans fall to the ground around me and pulled my dirty cargo khaki shorts from the hamper. “Why don’t we do it at the school?”
“Other people are always smoking there, and it’s dark at night.”
“They smoke cigs dude.”
“I know. Won’t it kind of blend in?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Well let’s meet there and we’ll figure it out.”
“Later.” He’d hung up before I even said it. The squirrel dropped the nut and watched it fall, frozen on his branch. I didn’t want to smoke pot. Katherine was going to kill me, and I knew I was going to tell her.
“Simon?” Mom shouted down the hall.
“I’m coming.” I carried the cordless back and tossed it on the couch cushion next her. It nearly bounced and fell to the floor. I lunged toward it and then froze as it settled. She gave me her look. I lowered my head. “Sorry.” Her profile smiled at me. “I’m heading over. I’ll be there until dark, and then we’re all meeting at the school.” I nodded toward the out-of-sight playground.
“Katherine’s parents are there?”
“Yes. You ask every time.”
“Whatever. Yeah, and I’ll be home by one.”
“You said one this year. I haven’t been late.” I hated the whine that entered my voice.
“Fine.” I put my hand on the nob and turned. I was forgetting something. I waited a second but it didn’t show. I was out the door before it came to me: I was supposed to bring a lighter. I smiled as I jogged toward Katherine’s, thinking that I knew where to get one.
The afternoon heat had given way. The strong west wind pushed more cool, dry air through the gorge and up against the mountainsides. The pines stood upright while the smaller trees danced below them. Mr. G. waved with a large grill spatula in hand. I waved back without breaking stride. A blue Honda I didn’t recognize waited at the stop sign on Sixth as I passed. It signaled left and turned away from me. I took a right on Fifth toward her house. Katherine was standing in the front yard as if she’d been waiting for me to arrive. I was early. “Hey handsome,” she said quickly, looking back toward her house as I arrived. She raised up on to her tip toes and her lips touched mine. I was sweating—breathing hard. “You ran here?”
“In a rush?”
“I just felt like it.” I smiled at her. She looked into my eyes. I thought of Zach. It felt like people were always reading something I didn’t know was written there.
“OK.” she said. She leaned in quickly and hugged me. I ran my hands down the backs of her arms. She shivered. “I missed you today.”
“I missed you too.”
“What did you guys do?”
“We just played basketball and messed around. Actually,” I laughed awkwardly, “We’re going to meet tonight, too.”
“Yeah. Kelly called. Stew called her I guess. The playground?” She was disappointed.
“We’ll have all evening here. Your parents are here anyway, right?”
“Yeah.” Now she was sad. “But they’re always here and we always—.” She had never intended to finish the sentence. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders in place of the words.
“I know. We probably still can.” She smiled a little at that.
“I don’t mean to be needy.” She lowered her head. Only the collar of her red t-shirt was visible under the hoodie she’d zipped almost all the way up. She wore my favorite shorts. They were small and grey, made out of sweatshirt material. They were soft against my hand and hardly there when I didn’t want them to be. She looked up and down at herself and then smiled at me.
“You’re not needy. Come on.”
“You wore my favorite shirt.”
“You wore my favorite shorts.” Foreplay. Her cheeks were almost the color of her t-shirt. Her short, blonde hair hung firm in the impotent wind. “Your fingernails match your shirt.”
“Toenails too,” she said, holding a foot out for me to see. Her legs were freshly lotioned. They glistened. She giggled at my shaking head. “Come on,” she said. She turned to walk in the house. She took a few steps. I could see the outline of her underwear through the thin shorts. I was feeling less tired.
“Hey.” She stopped and took two steps backwards without turning around. She tried to make it look like things were in rewind, but her arms moved in the wrong direction.
“Stew and Zach have—.”
“Kelly told me,” she said quickly.
“Told you what?”
“Come on Simon, I know. I don’t want to do that. You shouldn’t either, but I told her you probably would.” I must have looked confused. I felt angry, but I wasn’t sure why. My face was warm.
“I just wanted to tell you.”
“I appreciate that. I already know. You know it’s stupid, right?”
“They’re my best friends. It might be fun.”
“It’s stupid, but I’m not trying to control you. Do what you want.” I kissed her on the lips before I was aware of what I was doing. It was firmer this time, less sweaty. She smiled and then quickly, purposely wiped it away. I kissed her again to bring it back. “What’s that for?” She said it with cheer and genuine curiosity, but she didn’t wait for an answer. She turned and bounced toward the house. The back of her legs were less formed, more amorphous. I wanted to run my hands down her thighs. I wanted to run my finger along the outline of her underwear. A U-Haul came down Pine toward me. It signaled left as if it were turning on Fifth, but it continued farther west and turned down Sixth. Katherine held the screen door open. “We’re having pizza,” she said as I passed. Her house smelled like her. Her dad nodded from his chair in the corner of the living room. “Mom?” she shouted past him, toward the kitchen.
“Is he here?”
“Yeah. We’ll be on the porch.” She looked up at me when she said it—her smile like a wink.
“I’ll order the pizza. Your father is picking it up.” Her mom aimed the second part with a twist in tone. It became an instruction for the portly guy in the chair. He shook his head at me. I smiled before turning sharply and heading through the open glass doors to the porch. Katherine bent over toward a candle sitting in the middle of the table on the porch. She tried to flick the Bic lighter next to it to life, but it just sputtered.
“You have to hold the button down.”
“I’ve got it,” she said. It sparked to life. She lit the candle and dropped the yellow Bic back on the table. She sunk into the cushion next to me and leaned over, planting a kiss on my cheek. My hand slid up the back of her shirt to find her back, then her stomach. I ran my index finger under the elastic at the hip of her shorts. I felt her skin goosebump. She kissed my neck slowly, wet. My eyes remained locked but unfocused on the lighter and the dancing candle flame.
go back to part one here.
go to part three here.