Another story written for a competition.
He asks her to be his girlfriend. Her grin is wider than the moon.
They sit on the couch for ages. His hand is on her cheek, stroking softly. Their eyes are locked. She has never done this with anybody else before – just stare into each other’s eyes without fear or embarrassment. She examines the whorls of colour around his pupils. She wants to do something for him. She leans forward and kisses him. It’s wonderful.
On Saturday, his mother invites her to dinner. They have burgers and the canary is allowed out of its cage. It poops on the pool table. His father laughs and gets equipment to clean up the mess.
“Jeez, what a show,” she thinks she hears him say as he watches his father. But nobody else hears and she can’t figure out what it means.
They eat dinner outside. Both his parents work at an auto repair shop. His Dad’s hands have the look of permanent dirtiness, his nails cut to the stub. His Mum hunches into her cardigan and doesn’t say much. They all smoke, including his sister who is 17.
She tries not to wave away the smoke too often. She laughs louder than the others at his Dad’s jokes. She tries to help with the washing up but they shoo her off.
Without meaning to, she stays the night. They watch a movie, spooning in his bed. His hands are warm and gentle, probing but cautious. They kiss endlessly.
His sister walks in on them mid-kiss and she is mortified but those two just laugh. “He really likes you,” says his sister. “He talks about you all the time.”
On Wednesday she meets some of his friends. Small plastic packets appear. They talk about “Dodge” who supplied the packets. The bong bubbles softly and she watches all their eyes change – a sort of net of peace descends.
She has nothing to add to the conversation but they are kind to her. He is protective, not letting them offer her the bong. “She’s not like that,” he says.
“Like what?” she wants to ask. But she knows.
They talk about an AFL match she didn’t watch although she knows (from her work colleagues) that St Kilda won and that St Kilda fans are surprised and thrilled. She sits there looking pleasant, wondering if she might go and play the piano that’s in the living room.
One Friday they go underwear shopping. He wants to see her in a g-string. As they drive, she says “I’m not like that” hoping he’ll remember his own words. But he looks blankly at her. “Like what?” he wants to know. She blushes.
Finding a carpark seems to take a month. “Fuck!” she swears as another spot gets taken before they get there.
He laughs. “I’ve never heard you swear before! It’s sexy!”
She feels patronised and irritable. She thinks about telling him that she can smell pot on his breath.
In the air-conditioned centre she buys him a milkshake and herself a coffee. They wander together slurping at their drinks. He hugs her to him. Sometimes he kisses her ear. Eventually she lets him lead her into a lingerie shop.
They choose something that is plain but suits his imagination. When she pays, she can’t look at the shop assistant. She gets home, and throws the plastic bag into the bottom of her wardrobe and imagines never taking it out again.
The skink that lives on her bedroom wall blinks at her.
The phone rings. Her sister is coming to visit. “I want to meet this guy you’ve told me about. He sounds really nice.”
“He’s going away that weekend,” she lies, twining the phone cord around her fingers. He never goes away.
He wins some money at a card game the next weekend and is determined to spend it on her. He takes her out for dinner, choosing a local Indian place that she said she liked. They eat Rogan Josh and basmati rice. His foot finds her ankle under the table. She jerks away, her body behaving without her will. He just keeps looking at her, his expression so kind.
“Sorry,” she mutters. “I don’t know why I do that.” “Can I meet your sister on the weekend?” he asks. “Ummm…” Her face is hot.
“Are you ashamed of me?” he asks without being angry.
“No!” But she stops herself, determined to be honest. “I mean, I don’t think my family would like certain things. Like the pot. And the smoking. And you being on the dole. And that makes me feel awkward. Your family is so kind to me. And you’re…” she chokes. Tears catch in the light of the candle.
“And I’m?” he asks, smiling now. His hand is stroking hers across the table. The waiter comes to clear their things but sees it’s an intimate moment and veers off.
“You’re so lovely!” she blurts. “I never thought anybody would like me the way you do.”
He moves his chair around beside hers and hugs her. “It’s okay,” he murmurs. “We’ll figure it out.”
The plastic bag is still in the bottom of her wardrobe. She stares at it and pushes it further towards the back with her toe. Every time they’re together he remembers it and says “You like to keep a man in suspense!” She always laughs. A rotten little laugh filled with untruth.
Her sister arrives. They talk about their parents, family friends, a house that her sister is thinking of buying. They eat salad for lunch, facing each other on the couch. Her sister smells of soap and coriander.
He is coming to dinner. He promises not to smoke or mention bongs. He says he’s been applying for jobs and that she makes him a better person.
She bakes a whole chicken and they continue chatting while peeling vegetables. Earlier they picked nasturtiums in the garden and found a tiny vase. The dark wooden table looks pretty.
Her sister tells her about a family friend who had a skiing accident two years ago and whose shoulder gives him constant pain. “Evelyn told me that the only thing that helps is marijuana. But he can’t get it legally. It’s so crazy.”
Just then they hear his car pull up outside.
At dinner, he is charming but he drinks more wine than usual. By the time they settle on the couch for coffee, his voice is loud and his jokes are getting crass. In front of her sister he lovingly caresses her breast. She pulls away, angry and embarrassed. “Not now!” she hisses.
“I’ll wait for you in the bedroom,” he says and wobbles down the hall. Her sister says nothing – the worst possible thing to say.
When she goes to bed he is lying face-down, snoring. She slips in beside him. She stares at him for a long time before turning off the light. And then, crying, she begins to stroke his hair and apologise silently.
Even although her sister is in the same house and she can smell the wine on his breath, she gets out the g-string and puts it on and snuggles up to him, determined try harder to meet him in the middle.
He doesn’t wake up. But he does put his arm around her and snuffles into her hair. She holds his arm tightly, tears still leaking from the corners of her eyes.
She’s up before him, and chatting to her sister over cups of tea. Eventually he appears, his dark hair tousled, his eyes a bit red. He is quiet but attentive.
Soon after lunch, her sister leaves for the 3 hour drive home, and they sit together on the couch, limbs tangled up together. He says “Do you mind if I smoke?” and then jabs her in the ribs. “Just kidding!”
Her smile is limp. He kisses her gently.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he whispers, stroking her calf. “I was so nervous!” “I know,” she says. “I’m sorry too. I’m so uptight.”
His hand is exploring her backside through her loose cotton pants.
“Hang on a minute!” he grins at her. “When’s the fashion show?” “The thing is,” she says, “tickets sold out last night.”
He tickles her and she runs away to the bedroom with him in pursuit.
Later, they lie together watching the blinking lizard on the wall.
“My sister told me yesterday that a friend of the family’s is taking marijuana for pain,” she says.
“Yeah. Didn’t you know? It’s great for pain.”
“Is that why you smoke it?”
He stares at her for a long time. His hand is absently stroking her stomach. She notices how long his eyelashes are against the pillow.
“Not physical pain,” he says eventually. He leans over and kisses her. “Or at least,” he amends. “Only occasionally a pain in the arse.”
She giggles. His hand moves lower. She doesn’t press any further.