Even on my last leg, I managed a burst of energy, trying to outrun the memory of my own words.
Part of me wanted to take it back. I hadn't looked at John's face when I shouted at him. I hadn't seen the dark look of pain. But I could imagine. This macho pride thing was very fragile, I knew. I'd hit him where it hurt, in front of the older men he was trying desperately to be like.
Then I remembered the twisted body in the very small space of the mangled car, and I wanted to shove John harder.
Done. I reached the wall of handprints and walked around it to cool down. I half expected the ghost of Johnafter to round the bend toward me.
We hadn't met in the park since that first afternoon. One night I'd asked him whether he was trying to avoid seeing me there. He'd responded like the honest do-gooder he was. Sometimes he had to stay late at the police station to finish paperwork for the arrests he'd made and reports he'd taken that night. So he didn't get to bed until mid-morning. He was still asleep when I went running.
He ran later in the afternoon, when he woke up. I wasn't willing to stay later and lose sleep to see him, any more than he was willing to get up early and lose sleep to see me. I guess we both understood that our relationship was built entirely on witty repartee, and neither of us thought we could be witty on four hours of shut-eye.
Wait a minute—what was I thinking? What relationship? We probably didn't even have an appointment for sex anymore. John was gone, back into the yearbook from whence he sprung. And I didn't look forward to spending my last night on patrol with Officer After.
My cell phone rang.
"John!" I exclaimed, sprinting to my motorcycle at the edge of the parking lot and pawing through my bag. We'd exchanged numbers in case another suspect tried to bash the door of the cop car while John wasn't around. "Hello?"
"Hey!" Tiffany said. "I was afraid you'd be asleep, but you sound wide awake."
I tried not to huff out my disappointment. Wiping wet blue strands out of my eyes, I said, "I just finished my run."
"You're running this week, even with everything else going on?"
"Well? Do you have leukemia?"
I held the phone at arm's length and frowned at it. If Tiffany knew why I ran, I was even more transparent than I'd thought. I brought the phone back to my ear. "Not today."
"That's good. How about last night? Were you okay last night? I've never seen anyone that mad."
I kicked my handprint on the wall. "Thanks to John." I should have been kicking John's handprint, but it was too high.
"He went after you, you know. On your way to the fire truck, you looked like you were about to fall over those orange cones. But I called him back. I was afraid you'd hit him again and get in trouble."
"I'm a threat, all right." I felt my face flush at the thought of John coming after me. He cared, he cared! He cared so much that he made me faint on purpose! I was pathetic.
Tiffany cleared her throat. "Listen, I wanted your advice on something."
I laughed heartily. "Yeah, I'm a regular Dear Abby. Shoot."
"Brian still isn't speaking to me. He won't return my calls. But right before we went to the bridge, he had started hinting every other word that he and I should have sex—"
I knew what she was getting at. "No."
"—and he was trying to convince me to do it. But I didn't want to." "No."
"Now, to get back together with him—"
"—I thought I might tell him I've changed my mind." "Earth to Tiffany!"
"Why not?" she exclaimed. Translation: If you can have sex with a drug offender, why can’t I have sex with the salutatorian?
"I could probably think of twenty reasons. Since I haven't slept today, I can think of only three. First, you don't want to get back together with someone who gives you the Silent Treatment."
"The Silent Treatment isn't so bad."
"Obviously it's driving you crazy. Second, you're trying to get drunk and have sex because everyone else is doing it. At least, you think everyone else is doing it, because they're bragging about it. But you need to do what's right for you."
There was silence on the other end of the line. I waited for her to thank me for my infinite wisdom. Instead, she said, "I thought I could count on your support. You wear a T-shirt that says Peer Pressure."
"Today I'm going to peer pressure you into not doing something rather than doing something. Look, I use m protection when I have sex. It's over, and I never think much about it again. With you, it would be different. You would use a condom, it wouldn't break, and there would be no problems. The next day, you would go to the doctor to make sure you weren't pregnant and didn't have AIDS. You would go back every day for a month." I raised my voice over Tiffany's giggles. Three years later, you would still be obsessing that you were having a delayed reaction. You might be pregnant and you might have AIDS. You would do everything you could to keep Brian from breaking up with you. because if he did. he might call your mama and tell her you weren't a virgin."
"Am I that obvious?" Tiffany asked.
"Yes. And I'm not saying that's a bad way to be. I could probably use a little obsessive worry in my life. It would make me more balanced."
I realized with a start that I'd been pacing madly up and down the parking lot, as if Tiffany's sex life really concerned me.
I walked back to my motorcycle and continued, "I'm saying you would not be comfortable with casual sex. Or whatever we're talking about here. The National Honor Society version of prostitution. When it's right, you won't have to call me to check. You'll know. And here's the third reason you shouldn't do it. Sex isn't that great."
She was quiet. "Touch My Body" played in the background, like she'd been psyching herself up. "Oh, come on."
"It's supposed to be no good the first time. I thought you were way past that."
I laughed shortly. "Thanks, Tiff. It's still no good."
"Then why are you doing it?" she shrieked.
A gust of wind made me shiver in my wet sweatshirt. "I want to make sure I've lived, in case I don't have a lot of life left."
"You told me you finished jogging and you don't have leukemia!"
"I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"That sounds a lot like obsessive worry," she said.
"About this particular thing."
"It's a pretty intense particular thing, Meg."
"Yeah, well, you're one to talk. Go ahead and proposition Brian, and I'll tell the whole school you're a beer-swilling slut-whore."
She hung up on me.
I was just stuffing the phone back into my bag when it rang again. I clicked it on. "Okay, you're not a slut-whore. If you're going to run with the big dogs, you have to learn to take a joke."
Silence on the other end of the line again. But no "Touch My Body."
My heart stopped. "John?" I asked.
"The other one," Eric said.
My heart beat again, slowly. "Oh, hey! I've been expecting your call. And I take back what I said about you not being a slut-whore."
"Right back at ya," he said. "Booty call." "I ain't no hollaback girl." "Yes, you are."
A cop car cruised slowly by the park. Not John, of course. Some lucky soul on day shift. But my heart stopped again for the split second before I realized it wasn't him.
I was far gone. And I needed to come back. Otherwise I'd end up like Tiffany, making sacrifices on a boy's behalf.
"Okay, I guess I am. I need some sleep first, though."
"Leave your motorcycle at the police station tonight," Eric said. "I'll pick you up there at nine, and I'll have you back at the beginning of John's shift—when—ten?"
It never took Eric long.
"I couldn't get any pot," he warned me. "I'll have some beer, though."
"Are you crazy?" A couple of elderly ladies speed-walking on the track in sequined workout suits turned to stare at me. I lowered my voice. "I can't drink beer and then ride around for eight hours with John."
"Then I guess we'll have to do it sober." I could almost hear Eric shudder as he hung up.
That night, I walked to the drugstore across the street from Eggstra! Eggstra! and bought condoms. I always brought condoms. Eric was liable to forget them and not care. Somehow I had known this about him from the very beginning.
Then I rode my motorcycle to the police station, as we'd agreed. Eric was fifteen minutes late picking me up, as predicted. And he would be fifteen minutes late dropping me off again, so John was sure to be steamed.
That was Eric's plan, and it was good.
I didn't even say anything when he turned the Beamer onto the dirt road and parked in the clearing beside the bridge.
He cut the engine and turned to me. At least, it sounded like he turned to me. Clouds covered the moon and stars. With the engine and the dashboard lights off, the darkness was total and heavy.
"This time I want you to take all your clothes off," he said, "not just pull your pants down six inches."
His tone was light. But for some reason, I took the words as a warning. I needed to see the look on his face.
"That's not how I do it," I said.
"I want you to do it my way this time."
"What? No foreplay?" I asked drily.
"Foreplay," he murmured, like this was a new idea.
And then he kissed me.
I wished I hadn't brought up foreplay. Eric was not a good kisser. Too wet, too deep, too much tongue, too too too. His hands were already in my shirt, like there was no point in easing me into the mood, like I was just some little high school senior with blue hair and a reputation for putting out.
I kept my eyes closed and thought of John. The way those sleepy dark eyes would watch me as he put his hands down my shirt. The way he would take his time.
Honestly, it was no use. There was this whirling dervish in the way.
I pulled back from the kiss, but Eric followed me. I turned my head. He put his tongue in my ear. Finally I pressed one hand on his chest and held him off. "Give us a moment, won't you?" I said in a bad British accent, to lift the mood.
"What's the problem?" he growled, mouth still to my ear. "You want me to send you flowers now?"
Oh, yuck. "I just can't do this. I don't have the least desire to have sex with you when I'm not drunk."
His hands stopped in my shirt. Then started again. "Is tonight your last night with John? I'll call you tomorrow."
I couldn't believe this. I'd just told him I wasn't attracted to him when I was sober. He didn't care.
He had to know there was something going on with me and John—or there had been. I couldn't help but pronounce John's name with a dreamy drawl. Eric didn't trap me in the elevator in the ninth grade, but it was legendary. Just let Eric try to trap me. Just let him try.
Eric probably had sex with Angie last night, and he didn't care about (hat, either.
I wouldn't have cared a week ago. But suddenly I did.
I gripped his wrists and tried to extract him from my shirt. "No, I don't think you should call me anymore."
He pressed me harder. I began to have a creepy feeling, full of fear. I'd expected him to pout, maybe, or tell me I was a stupid bitch. T hadn't expected him to keep insisting yes when I said no.
John's definition of a domestic flashed through my mind.
"Are you breaking up with me?" Eric hissed.
"I would, but I don't think I can," I said, keeping my voice even. "You need a relationship before you can break up."
We glared at each other. I could see him now in the cold dark. His eyes glittered and hardened. I had pushed until his control was gone, and there was nothing left but anger.
He was going to do something.
Feeling the pads of his fingers push into my flesh and my heartbeat pound in my ears, I tried to think through the fear. He was twice as big as me. Still. I didn't remember exactly what I'd done to Todd Pemberton when he tried to
He pulled his hands out of my shirt and settled back on his side of the car.
"You shouldn't play games with me," he said snippily. "My dad knows every health inspector in the county. He could ruin Eggstra! Eggstra! like snapping his fingers."
That's when I really felt relieved. I'd thought he was going to hurt me. But if he was only going to be petty, I could handle that, easy.
"Eric," I said. "News flash. Your father does not give a shit about you. He does not give a shit whether you break up with your girlfriend. I've seen the way he looks at my hair. He'll be grateful my hair isn't associated with your family anymore."
"Hey. My father bailed me out of jail. Your father left you there to rot."
That stung, but I managed, "Your father didn't want to be further embarrassed. My parents are old hands at being embarrassed by me."
His jaw moved a little in the dim night, like he was chewing on something. He reached toward me, and I flinched back. But he was only reaching across me to pull a sandwich bag of pot out of the glove compartment.
"You were holding out on me," I said.
He fished a rolled joint and a lighter out of the loose weed. "Oh, shit. I forgot I lied to you. You want some? Maybe you'll change your mind about, you know. The other thing."