After the movie they walked to Huntley’s for ice cream. Not far, but on the other side of town, since it was nearer to her house. He’d paid for the tickets and ice cream for both of them though she had said several times she thought they should go Dutch. They ordered sundaes without looking at the menu.
This was Saturday, the day after he had the fight with his father. Pushing one another, back and forth like boys on a vacant lot, banging their heads up against the walls in the hallway and then falling against the door and into the bathroom onto the cold tile floor. His mother had watched them and told them to stop. Cried for them to stop. Nobody had bled and no one talked about it afterward.
In the theater, his arm fell asleep on the hard metallic back of her seat and he had to move it. Slowly. And she seemed not to notice it at all.
At home, in just a few months, his mother will take his father’s double-edged razor blade in her shaking fingers to strike it across her wrist, hoping to make her big getaway, and he will find her and force the razor from her hand and the ambulance will come and take her to the hospital with the siren going.
The girl’s name was Karen. Karen Leary,. She was in his English class, where Mrs. Larrivee talked a lot about Jesus in class. And Mary Magdalene. As if everyone must know who that was, and he thought maybe it was just Jesus’ mother she was talking about. He figured Karen would know for sure. She had a gold cross she wore draped over the top button of her blouse.
After the movie they sat in a booth at Huntley’s, talking, until the ice cream came, about the movie and the actors. She said that sometimes after a movie, she feels weird like she’s been changed somehow. As if she’s become one of the actresses. Like in the movie they just saw where Anne Baxter plays this woman named Eve. Eve Harrington. And then when they left the theater, out on the sidewalk, it was like she had become Eve. Walking like her. Smelling the air and feeling the breeze against her face like she would. Noticing the light through the clouds like Eve might. Her voice like hers. The accent she had.
He told her that he sometimes feels the same way.
They talked as if he hadn’t touched her. Hadn’t touched her breast. His hand on the front of her pale blue cotton blouse in the flickering light of the movie screen.
She hadn’t moved at all when he did that. He’d felt the fabric slide smoothly over the firm curve of her bra. They both just stared straight ahead at the screen, from their seats in back row.
He liked watching the way she put her fists on her hips with the other cheerleaders, leaning forward and shouting out the ‘I can’t hear you’ cheer imploring the crowd to yell louder and they would shout it again it again and again, each time louder until all at once they’d clap and leap up, with their heads back, their faces turned to one side, their hips forward and their legs kicking up behind them, their wide-pleated white-wool skirts flaring out, and the pompoms in their hands shaking in front of their thick sweaters with the big letter ‘E’ and their breasts pushing forward.
And, sitting across from her, when the ice cream came and she began to spoon it to her small round lips, he thought, looking at her, her eyes large and brown with kindness, about how he had felt and how she might have felt when he had touched her for that brief moment. And then after.
How warm and thrilled and scared he had felt. And then he wondered. Wondered if she felt the same way and why she hadn’t moved at all, not even to take his hand away or to move closer or to turn toward him or away from him or anything at all.
And, what had he expected anyway? That she would hold his hand and smile? Or put her arms around him and he would feel the softness of her against him and he’d smell her skin and her hair and that would comfort him and he would feel so good about her and about touching her and being with her, and that he would feel okay about himself?
He wanted to feel okay about himself.
When they finished the last of the ice cream he left a quarter on the table and he walked her home, past the post office and the library.
It was still light out. Warm. And he had two dollars and fifty cents left in his pocket. And he rubbed the coins together between his fingers and thought about her while he walked back to his house along the Old Post Road where the high school was and boys were there smoking and talking on the steps.