Here’s Chapter 4.
Aaron was one of the better men. At first, his unannounced visits to the house irritated me, but I came to appreciate his company. We didn’t converse much, but just having him around was pleasant. He sat in the living room and played on his phone or watched my mom’s TV while I vacuumed the rugs and washed the walls. He felt guilty after a while, though, and insisted on helping somehow. I didn’t want him getting underfoot, so I found a good job for him.
“You can move some of the junk in the garage,” I told him. “I’d like to try and get the car dug out of there.”
He took to it. Where I was intimidated, he was motivated. He opened a decent berth about the old Taurus after just two visits. Never mind that he’d simply thrown most of the old art supplies on the side of the house; it was work that I hadn’t wanted to handle myself.
“How’d I do?” he said. His face and hair were sweaty.
“Great! Thanks, Aaron! I thought I’d never get this thing free.” I hugged him. His body jolted with surprise in my arms, and then he returned the affection. His right hand found a tight spot on my back and rubbed it. This made me a little uncomfortable, and I kindly broke the embrace.
I wanted to test the car, and I got the urge to shoo Aaron off. Of course, I thought better of that.
“Do you want to go for a drive?” I asked him.
He turned into a puppy dog at that one.
I don’t know how long the car sat buried, but it didn’t have any problems starting and running. I drove randomly, just enjoying the memories that sprung up from each road. Aaron suggested that we “hit a Taco Bell or something,” and I agreed. We didn’t want to eat in the restaurant, so we used the drive-thru and picked up a couple of burritos. Then I continued the circuit I’d made up.
Aaron was already sucking down his food. “Let’s find a shady spot so you can eat too,” he said.
We turned onto Clemens Road and saw the huge mounds of earth that had been dragged around for the new overpass.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this,” said Aaron. “They’re screwing up all the roads. My mom says she can never find the actual freeway entrance now.”
“Well how about here?” I said. I pointed to the empty space that was dug out beneath the new bridge. The road was not prepared, and everywhere it was just plain old deserts of dirt. The massive concrete support beam shot up like a monolith. Above it, a web of scaffolding cast a nice cool place to park.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” said Aaron.
“There are no crews around. Why not?”
I pulled the car off the road. The bumps we hit on the graded dirt didn’t dissuade Aaron from finishing his burrito, though he took a few saucy blows to the face for his determination. I took us underneath the infant bridge and killed the engine.
“Sorry I couldn’t wait for you,” Aaron said. “I was seriously craving this.” He turned his face out the window and let out a quick belch.
“You might want to wipe your face,” I said.
He pulled down the ceiling mirror and attended to the taco sauce on his cheeks. He reached into the bag to take some napkins, and then handed me my burrito. I unwrapped it completely, lifted it, and took a bite. I must have picked the wrong end to start from, because a sizable dollop of filling squirted out from the other side and onto my lap. Some of it got on the seat too. “Oh great,” I said. “Sour cream and everything.”
“Oh crap, man,” said Aaron. “They never fold those things right.”
I put the food back in the bag. “Let me have some of those napkins,” I told Aaron. I set to work wiping off my pants. Then I unbuckled my safety belt, opened the car door, and started scrubbing at the stain on the seat. I knew it wouldn’t come out dry, though, and I gave up. I sopped up as much taco sauce and beef bits as I could and crumpled the napkin. Then I got back in the seat and slammed the door.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?” said Aaron.
“No, I’m not hungry anymore,” I answered.
I stared out the windshield at a wisp of wind-swirled dust and listened to the cars zooming by on the freeway. We sat in silence for about a minute. Then Aaron cleared his throat.
“Have you been doing okay?” he asked. His tone was cautious.
“As best as I can be,” I said, and it was true.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You seem really edgy to me.”
I sighed and decided to let a wall fall. “I guess I haven’t been adjusting well. To life, I mean. I keep having bad dreams.”
“Being in other places, with other people. Cities and families I’ve never seen before. Or being a different person myself. I look in the mirror and see a different face. Sometimes I like the change, but other times it scares me.” I was a little shocked at myself for saying this, but I guess I needed to.
“Why does it scare you?”
“Sometimes I find out that I’ve changed into a man, or that all of my features have been smoothed away, like an egg.”
Aaron shifted in his seat. “Wow. What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know. Dreams are weird. It probably doesn’t mean anything.”
“Where’s your necklace?”
“Your necklace you used to wear.” He meant the gold cross.
“Oh, I put that away. Just didn’t feel like wearing it anymore.”
Aaron looked down at his own lap for a long time. I could tell he wanted to breach a new, sensitive subject, so I waited for him to build up his courage. “Do you…feel guilty about coming back?” he asked.
I told him the truth. “Sometimes, yes.”
“What did your mom say?”
“I haven’t spoken to her yet.”
Aaron started. “You haven’t? You mean she doesn’t even know you’re back?”
“She might know, but she’s been at her studio since I returned, so I haven’t seen her.”
“Is she working on something big?”
“She’s always working on something, and it’s always big to her.”
“Are you pissed at her?”
I thought this one over for a bit. “No. She’s just doing what she does.”
Here Aaron saw his opening. “Well,” he began, and he set his right hand on mine, “I don’t want you to feel bad about coming back.”
I didn’t withdraw from his touch, but I didn’t feel like acknowledging it either. I glanced at his eyes. I saw the same goofy kid from high school, the one who dreamed only of playing Xbox and getting laid. At the same time, though, I saw someone who loved me, and who might want to show it now and then. Especially now. I quickly looked back out the windshield.
“I thought about you a lot since you left,” he said. He spoke very carefully, choosing his words like he was stepping down a steep hill. “I figured it’d be a waste of time to patch things up over the summer, when I thought you were leaving. Now that you’re back, though, I was hoping you might want to try again or something.”
I closed my eyes, sighed through my nose, and let another wall drop. I placed my left hand on top of Aaron’s right. I opened my eyes and turned my head and he was already there. His kiss felt the same as I remembered it, eager, thoughtful, shallow. Not so shallow I couldn’t swim in it, though. I swam until I got lost. Lost was good.
I was wearing a ponytail, and I felt his left hand climb to my scrunchy and pull it loose. My hair fell about my neck and shoulders. He kept his fingers on the back of my head and stroked my scalp. I found this tremendously relaxing, so my muscles slackened and my breathing slowed. His right hand joined the other, and together they tugged at my hair very gently. This felt nice too. I thought that I would fade away and appear somewhere else, in some city or with some family where I belonged and felt happy. I even moaned a little.
Then there was a sudden pressure. Allen’s – I mean, Aaron’s – lips fell away from mine, and I realized he was pushing my head forward. Forward and down. My eyes snapped open, and I saw his rigid penis, excited and curious, stabbing up at me from his thicket of black, stringy pubic hair.
“Stop!” I yelled, and pulled my head out of his grip. I drew back as far as I could from him until my shoulder blades were flat against the driver’s side window. He stared at me with enormous, guilty eyes, and after a second’s thought, rapidly pulled up and refastened his pants.
“What the fuck are you thinking?” I said.
“I’m sorry.” He repeated it again and again.
“Just get out.”
He wouldn’t stop apologizing, so I reached past him and opened his door for him. He shut up and got out. He stood there, a timid mannequin peeking in at me through the passenger’s side window. I looked at his crotch and was glad to see that his erection was stamped dead.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said.
I slammed his door. Then I started the car and pumped the gas, which made the engine roar. I backed out from under the bridge and pulled left. I heard rocks spew up into my wheel wells. Then I threw her in drive and swept onto Clemens Road, leaving him and his penis in the dirt.
He never came by after that.
Thinking about it now, I realize that I was probably too tough on Aaron. I really shouldn’t have expected a different outcome from that situation, and to his credit, he did stop when I told him to. Besides, I’m not certain that it was Aaron I was angry at.
There was a stupidity in him, a wiry wheel of stupidity that I saw in his face, which stood as an example of everything I knew about the world, and that’s what set me off. I guess that I sometimes hope that someone I know will put their arms out and stop that wheel from taking a grip and rolling, but every time I think that might happen, I am unceremoniously let down.