“One other thing, Tom. Very important.”
“You need to know where you stand with that guy Philbrick, Tom. He gave you a shovel and told you to walk behind the ox cart, and you’re doing it. I gave him a chance to put his ass on the line, and he wouldn’t do it. Wake up, Tom. Assert yourself.”
“Charlie, you have to understand what a terrible position you’re putting us all in.”
“Get out, Tom.”
He clicked off. We all watched him come out through the main doors and start back toward the cars.
Philbrick came over to him and put a hand on his arm. Tom shook it off. A lot of the kids smiled at that. I was past smiling. I wanted to be home in my bed and dreaming all of this.
“Sandra,” I said. “I believe you were telling us about your affaire de coeur with Ted.”
Ted threw a dark glance at me. “You don’t want to say anything, Sandy. He’s just trying to make all of us look dirty like he is. He’s sick and full of germs. Don’t let him infect you with what he’s got.”
She smiled. She was really radiant when she smiled like a child. I felt a bitter nostalgia, not for her, exactly, or for any imagined purity (Dale Evans panties and all that), but for something I could not precisely put my hand on. Her, maybe. Whatever it was, it made me feel ashamed.
“But I want to,” she said. “I want to get it on, too. I always have.”
It was eleven o’clock on the nose. The activity outside seemed to have died. I was sitting well back from the windows now. I thought Philbrick would give me my hour. He wouldn’t dare do anything else now. I felt better, the pain in my chest receding a little. But my head felt very strange, as if my brains were running with-out coolant and overheating like a big hot rod engine in the desert. At times I was almost tempted to feel (foolish conceit) that I was holding them myself, by sheer willpower. Now I know, of course, that nothing could have been further from the truth. I had one real hostage that day, and his name was Ted Jones.
“We just did it,” Sandra said, looking down at her desk and tracing the en-gravings there with a shaped thumbnail. I could see the part in her hair. She parted it on the side, like a boy. “Ted asked me to go to the Wonderland dance with him, and I said I would. I had a new formal.” She looked at me reproachfully. “You never asked me, Charlie. ”
Could it be that I was shot in the padlock only ten minutes ago? I had an insane urge to ask them if it had really happened. How strange they all were!
“So we went to that, and afterward we went to the Hawaiian Hut. Ted knows the man who runs it and got us cocktails. Just like the grown-ups.” It was hard to tell if there was sarcasm in her voice or not.
Ted’s face was carefully blank, but the others were looking at him as if they were seeing a strange bug.
Here was a kid, one of their own, who knew the man who runs it. Corky Herald was obviously chewing it and not liking it.
“I didn’t think I’d like the drinks, because everybody says liquor tastes horrible at first, but I did. I had a gin fizz, and it tickled my nose.” She looked pensively in front of her. “There were little straws in it, red ones, and I didn’t know if you drank through them or just stirred your drink with them, until Ted told me.
It was a very nice time. Ted talked about how nice it was playing golf at Poland Springs. He said he’d take me sometime and teach me the game, if I wanted.”
Ted was curling and uncurling his lip again, doglike.
“He wasn’t, you know, fresh or anything. He kissed me good night, though, and he wasn’t a bit nervous
about it. Some boys are just miserable all the way home, wondering if they should try to kiss you good night or not. I always kissed them, just so they wouldn’t feel bad. If they were yucky, I just pretended I was licking a letter.”
I remembered the first time I took Sandy Cross out, to the regular Saturday-night dance at the high school. I had been miserable all the way home, wondering if I should kiss her good night or not. I finally didn’t.
“After that, we went out three more times. Ted was very nice. He could always think of funny things to say, but he never told dirty jokes or anything, you know, like that. We did some necking, and that was all. Then I didn’t see him to go out with for a long time, not until this April. He asked me if I wanted to go to the Rollerdrome in Lewiston.”
I had wanted to ask her to go to the Wonderland dance with me, but I hadn’t dared. Joe, who always got dates when he wanted them, kept saying why don’t you, and I kept getting more nervous and kept telling him to fuck off. Finally I got up the stuff to call her house, but I had to hang up the telephone after one ring and run to the bathroom and throw up. As I told you, my stomach is bad.
“We were having a pretty blah time, when all of a sudden these kids got into an argument on the middle of the floor, ” Sandra said. “Harlow boys and Lewiston boys, I think. Anyway, a big fight started. Some of them were fighting on their roller skates, but most of them had taken them off. The man who runs it came out and said if they didn’t stop, he was going to close. People were getting bloody noses and skating around and kicking people that had fallen down, and punching and yelling horrible things. And all the time, the jukebox was turned up real loud, playing Rolling Stones music.”
She paused, and then went on: “Ted and I were standing in one corner of the floor, by the bandstand.
They have live music on Saturday nights, you know. This one boy skated by, wearing a black jacket. He had long hair and pimples. He laughed and waved at Ted when he went by and yelled, ‘Fuck her, buddy, I did!’ And Ted just reached out and popped him upside the head. The kid went skating right into the middle part of the rink and tripped over some kid’s shoes and fell on his head. Anyway, Ted was looking at me, and his eyes were, you know, almost bugging out of his head. He was grinning. You know, that’s really the only time I ever really saw Ted grin, like he was having a good time.
“Ted goes to me, ‘I’ll be right back,’ and he walks across the rink to that inside part where the kid who said that was still getting up. Ted grabbed him by the back of the jacket and . . . I don’t know . . . started to yank him back and forth . . . and the kid couldn’t turn around . . . and Ted just kept yanking him back and forth, and that kid’s head was bouncing, and then his jacket ripped right down the middle. And he goes, ‘I’ll kill you for ripping my best jacket, you m. f.’ So Ted hit him again, and the kid fell down, and Ted threw the piece of his jacket he was holding right down on top of him. Then he came back to where I was standing, and we left. We drove out into Auburn to a gravel pit he knew about. It was on that road to Lost Valley, I think. Then we did it. In the back seat.”
She was tracing the graffiti on her desk again. “It didn’t hurt very much. I thought it would, but it didn’t. It was nice. ” She sounded as if she were discussing a Walt Disney feature film, one of those with all the cute little animals. Only, this one was starring Ted Jones as the Bald-Headed Woodchuck.
“He didn’t use one of those things like he said he would, but I didn’t get preg-nant or anything. ”
Slow red was beginning to creep out of the collar of Ted’s khaki army shirt, spreading up his neck and over his cheeks. His face remained fumingly expres-sionless.
Sandra’s hands made slow, languorous gestures. I suddenly knew that her nat-ural habitat would be in a porch hammock at the very August height of summer, temperature ninety-two in the shade, reading a book (or perhaps just staring out at the heat shimmer rising over the road), a can of Seven-Up beside her with an elbow straw in it, dressed in cool white short-shorts and a brief halter with the straps pushed down, small diamonds of sweat stippled across the upper swell of her breasts and her lower stomach ….