Julie sat on the couch. “So how you been?”
Time to bullshit. “Not bad. I was just up in Seattle last week.”
I expected a follow-up question. You know, something like, “Oh, what were you doing in Seattle?” I was even working on a story about how this guy that Jake and I knew from high school was at U-Dub.
But then she hit me with this: “You gonna try to sneak another kiss from me?”
I had no story for that.
She walked toward me, a mischievous smile on her face. “I know it was you,” she said. And then she moved closer – close enough that I could feel her hot breath on my ear lobe. “You ever do that again and I’ll cut your balls off.” As she disappeared into the back bedroom I was caught somewhere between arousal and shitting my pants.
Part of me wanted to follow her. The other part of me was relieved when Jake came through the front door. “Ready?” he said.
“Jules, we’re leaving.”
“Okay,” she shouted. “Have fun!”
In the car, Jake pulled out his wallet. “I’m gonna speed,” he said, extracting a driver’s license in the name of one Colin Williams. I considered telling him what Julie told me, but before I could open my mouth, he started up the car and spoke. “So. My mom.”
That changed the mood a little. I offered condolences, which always feel phony to me.
“I was seven, so it was a long time ago.” He put the car in drive. “Not that it didn’t fuck me up.”
I ventured further. “How did she die?”
“Breast cancer. She was 37.”
Maggie lost her mom to cancer soon after we started dating. It’s a shitty way to go – lots of waiting around only to find out your most recent source of hope has evaporated. And then the doctors come in and tell you there’s a chance that this other thing might work. But then it doesn’t work.
I’d much rather get stabbed in the neck in an alley fight.
I remember going to the hospital with Maggie once or twice. Her mom’s room was decked out in the requisite flowers and balloons, marking exaggerated celebrations of small victories. I must have spent a lot of time staring at the walls and ceiling “˜cause I remember this spring-themed strip of wallpaper running along the top of all four walls. It was full of songbirds dispersed amongst foliage and flowering branches. And since it was a repeating pattern (apparently installed by someone who didn’t appreciate continuity), every once in a while you’d see half a bird, its body sliced off with the precision of a utility knife.
When I pointed it out to Maggie, she just smiled and said she loved me. Her mom was dying. An angry outburst would have been justified. In fact, she had every right to lambast me for my insensitivity, to tell me she didn’t care about my quasi-neurotic distaste for asymmetry at the moment.
I tell you, for all my lusting after limber young women like Julie, there was really no beating Maggie. College was draining every last bit of my funds, and with my reduced hours of work, she was pretty much paying our rent. Meanwhile, here I was rewarding her sacrifice with a joyride I’d have to keep a secret.
And I was still kind of picturing Julie naked.