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9 •

L o o s e G i r l

Anything can happen, anything at all. We ride the elevator to Milo’s floor, our hearts fluttering in our chests.

Milo answers the door, and my heart sinks. I imagined him as much cuter, a boy from the movies. Instead he is short and freckled, like me. In the living room, the boys are watching Eraserhead, that bizarre David Lynch film about a man who discovers he has fathered a mutant infant. We sit awkwardly on the couch, clutching our purses on our laps. I can’t follow the storyline at all. Instead, the strange images horrify me: the grotesque baby, the woman with swollen cheeks.

Eventually, we begin to couple up. Ashley goes off with Geoff, Liz with Dylan, and Milo is left with me. I am used to this, being the one not chosen. It’s not that I’m not pretty in my own way. I’m just not notable. A year earlier the boys in my classroom divided us girls into three categories: love, like, and hate. They spent their free reading time huddled around a table and decided which category each of us belonged to. We girls sat at our desks, trying our hardest to read, but really we were all listening hard for our names to come up. Liz, who has blond hair and unfreckled, pale skin was put in the “love” column.

When the boys agreed she should be listed there, we all nodded to ourselves. It was no surprise. One sad, awkward girl, a girl who was so tall all the crotches of her tights peeked out below jumpers that were too short, was sequestered to “hate,” which again was no surprise.

Silently, I hoped they would shock everyone and put me under “love,”

like Liz. But they didn’t. I was clumped with everyone else under

“like.” Unexceptional and invisible. Not meant to be loved.

Milo takes my hand and we climb the stairs to his small, cluttered bedroom. He presses Play on his tape player, and the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” fills the room. We sit on his bed and, though I have no attraction for him at all, I allow him to kiss me.

His tongue is clumsy and unpleasant in my mouth. It is my first kiss, and it isn’t at all what I expected. But I stay with it, eager for the experience. He pushes up my shirt and touches my tiny, sensitive nipple with two fingers. Just as he pushes me down on the bed,


10 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n just as I feel the strange pressure against my leg of his erection through his jeans, there’s a knock at the door. I feel a vague relief at being stopped. Milo, though, frustrated at the interruption, opens the door in a huff.

Liz and Ashley stand there, jean jackets on.

“What the fuck?” Milo says.

“We’re going.” Liz looks at me, ignoring him. Then, to him,

“Your friend’s an asshole.”

“What happened?” I ask.

“Ashley told Geoff no, but he kept pushing.”

I look at Ashley who stands beside Liz, her jaw tight. She is clearly upset.

“He wanted to do more than kiss,” she says.

I frown, hoping Milo won’t say anything about the fact that I just allowed him to put his hands on my breasts. Instead he says, “Why don’t you stay and they can go?”

I smile at him appreciatively, but when I look back at my friends, Liz is scowling. “I can’t,” I say. “But thanks.”

“Fine,” Milo says. I find my jacket and we go to the door. I wait for him to say something as we leave, like he wants to see me again or wants my number. But he just slams the door after us.

“Fuck you,” Liz says as we make our way down the hall. “He was always an asshole. I don’t know what I was thinking.” Ashley and I look at each other and laugh, relieved that it’s just the three of us again.

By the time we are outside, it is one thirty a.m. The streets are still lively, but the subway is deserted. Back at the Port Authority, we are conspicuously out of place at this time of night. The buses that travel across the bridge back into New Jersey only come every two hours, so we hang out in the dirty, fluorescent-lit terminal, waiting amid the drug-hungry beggars and the homeless who had found shelter for the night.

Eventually the bus does come, and we ride over the bridge and


11 •

L o o s e G i r l

back toward my house, trying to stay awake. At the top of Closter Dock Road, though, when there is nobody left on the bus but us, the bus stops and the doors exhale open. “Everyone out,” the driver says.

We sit up, confused. We’re going to Harrington Park. But when I ask, the driver informs us that after midnight this is as far as he goes.

We try pleading with him to take us anyway, just this once, but he refuses, probably thinking we shouldn’t be out there in the first place, three young girls all alone.

So we step down off the bus, and the doors sigh closed. We stand by the side of the road. The air is cool, the night silent. No laughing, no made-up women, no couples and passionate kisses. Just the soft rustling of the leaves as a breeze lifts them. We’re ten miles from my house. Ashley starts crying. Liz and I look at each other, trying to determine what to do. Liz sees it first: a few hundred feet down the way is a gas station with the sign open 24 hours. We whoop and run toward it, purses banging against our hips. We walk into the office where there are two young men smoking and playing cards. Their eyes light up as we walk in—one, two, three girls, all dressed up in miniskirts. The desk where they sit is metal with a fake wood top. A small, grainy, black-and-white television murmurs on the desk. They clearly weren’t expecting anything like this tonight.

“Well, well,” the larger one says. He is blond, his face young.

“What do we have here?” He glances over at the other one who is dark-haired, skinny, and wearing glasses. That one raises his eyebrows. Liz tells them our story, how we went to the city to meet guys, how they treated us badly, and how now we are stuck here, ten miles from my house. We need a ride home. The clock on the wall reads 4:00 a.m. The two men exchange a smile.

“We can’t just leave the station,” the blond one says. “Right?”

“That’s right.” The other one nods, his eyes moving from girl to girl.

“You’ll have to wait until five,” the blond one continues. “That’s when we get off.”


12 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n His face breaks into a smile, and he starts laughing. I can see his teeth are stained yellow. “Get it?” he says to his friend. “That’s when we get off.” The other one laughs, nodding his head.

The three of us huddle.

“I don’t know,” Ashley says. She’s uncomfortable.

“What else can we do?” Liz frowns.

“They’re strange men.” Ashley has been warned as we all have: Don’t get into cars with strange men.

“C’mere,” the blond one says to me when I look back at them. Liz and Ashley widen their eyes at me. Liz giggles.

“What?” I say. Usually Liz is the one getting the attention.

“C’mere,” he says again, more insistent.

I bite my lip and sidle up to the desk, unsure what to think.

“How old are you?” he asks, his eyes holding mine.

“Why?” I say.

“Just answer me,” he says. “How old?”

This close I can see the age in his face, a weathered darkness that makes him look older than he probably is.

“Sixteen,” I lie. I hear Liz giggle again behind me.

“Is that right,” he says. He presses his lips together. Clearly he doesn’t believe me.

“We all are,” Liz says, but he doesn’t take his eyes off me.

“You’re still jailbait,” the other one says. “Right, Tim?”

“That she is.” Tim winks at me.

I look down at the desk. Someone has carved into it with a razor: D loves G.

“That’s gross,” Ashley says. She grabs my arm and shoots Tim a look. “We’ll be sitting over here until you can take us home.” Ashley pulls Liz and me to the other side of the room, and the three of us sit on the ground against the wall. Eventually a car pulls into the station. Loud music streams out the windows, and the boys and girls inside yell to one another. Tim goes out to get them gas. The other one, named Gary, ignores us, keeping his eyes on the grainy television.


13 •

L o o s e G i r l

“We’re not really sixteen,” Ashley says suddenly, and Liz smacks her arm.

“No duh,” Gary says and snorts.

We look at each other. “How did you know?” I ask.

Gary shrugs. “Sixteen-year-old girls wouldn’t be stuck at a gas station in the middle of the night. They’d know somebody who could drive them home.”

I feel defensive. “Not every girl.”

Gary snorts again. “Oh, yes they do. You girls get whatever you want.”

I look down at my legs, which are tucked up under me. It sure doesn’t feel like I can have what I want. But I like the idea, stash it away in my mind to come back to later. It is an idea I might need.

Later, Liz and Ashley go around back to the gas station bathroom.

I’m alone with Tim. He watches me. I look out the window, pretending I’m not aware of his gaze. I cross my legs and smooth my hair, then fold my arms in front of me.

“You sure are a pretty girl,” he says.

I shrug. Nobody’s ever called me pretty before.

“You’ll be an even prettier woman.”

I shift my weight to my left foot and stare at the window. Outside, it is dead quiet, still dark. I watch the shadowy figure of Gary locking one of the tanks.

“Why are you standing all the way over there?” Tim asks.

“Because I want to,” I say. I look straight into his eyes. My heart is pounding inside my chest.

“Come over here.”

I move toward him, my arms wrapped around my waist.

“Come sit on my lap,” he says softly.

“No,” I mumble, my throat tightening.

He raises his eyebrows, starting to turn away, looking, perhaps, for one of my friends.


14 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” I blurt.

He laughs, a deep, grown-up laugh. “Oh, yes. I would indeed.”

That’s when Liz and Ashley come back in. I let out my breath, unaware I’ve been holding it. I look down at my suede boots. I can still feel something like sparks beneath my skin, as though I’m made of electricity. That power again, coursing through me. I’m not attracted to him. In fact, I’m repulsed for the most part. But I like how he saved this talk for me. Not Liz, my pretty friend, not Ashley, who already hates him. Just plain, unremarkable me.

Finally, five o’clock comes. They take their time, locking drawers, sweeping the floor. At five fifteen, the next shift arrives and Tim un-locks the doors of his tan-colored Chevy. We three girls pile into the back. Tim looks back at me from the driver’s seat.

“Sit up here with me.”

I shake my head. Ashley sets her mouth and looks out the window. She’s getting tired of this, of the games and flirtations. We all are. It’s been a long night. There’s another feeling too: a growing nervousness, the knowledge we’re at Tim’s will. He can take us anywhere he wants.

“Gary, get in back,” Tim says, ignoring me. “Kerry’s sitting there.”

Gary opens my door, annoyed. “Well?”

I look at Liz.

“Just go, or we’ll never get out of here,” she says.

Tim smiles when I sit next to him, and I smile back, afraid to upset him. Then he sets a hand on my leg. I look down. His hand is dirty from oil changes, and the skin looks cracked and raw. My muscles go taut. In my head, I start praying: Just get us home soon.

“Tell me where to turn,” he says, but when I tell him, he drives right past the street. He laughs, looking back at Gary, and he takes his hand back from my leg to pound it on the wheel. I hold my breath as he stops short, does a three-point turn, and goes back to the turn. “Just kidding!” he yells.


15 •

L o o s e G i r l

I close my eyes, thinking of Liz and Ashley in the backseat. They don’t know I flirted, enticing him. If something happens, it will be my fault. Three girls in a strange man’s car. Three girls killed.

“It’ll be OK,” I hear Liz whisper, always the older sister.

At the next turn he does it again. We’re only a few miles from my house now, yet it seems a hundred miles away.

Finally, at the end of my street, he stops the car. “Hmm,” he says to Gary. “Maybe I won’t take them home after all.” Gary laughs nervously.

“Come on,” I say. “That’s not funny.”

That’s when Tim notices me again, and he puts his hand back on my thigh. I can hear Ashley crying softly behind me. His hand inches beneath my skirt, toward my crotch.

“OK, OK,” he says. “I guess I’ll take you all the way.” He grins.

“Get it, Gary? I’ll take them all the way.”

I squirm, but it’s no use. His coarse fingers worm up to my underwear, scratching and grabbing as I try to pull away. They’re my best underwear, lavender in color, and he traces the edges with his fingertips. I put them on that evening with the thought that just maybe I would get to third base with one of the boys from the city.

It seems a long time ago that we were in my house, full of expecta-tion, getting ready for the night. Now he holds his fingers against my crotch—not inside, just against—letting me know he is there. I clench my body, my eyes turned to the window. I want to scream, to push his hand away, but I’m too afraid. Too afraid if I don’t give in, he won’t let me go at all. But there’s something else, too, something growing inside me, something I don’t really want to admit: There’s another part that’s not afraid at all. I almost like it. I know what’s happening isn’t right. But his touch is an inevitable result of the evening. It is my greatest hope—to be wanted. And here, with this repulsive older man, I am getting that. He holds his hand there like he owns me, but really, silently, I’m the one who owns him.

Tim drives slowly, his hand up my skirt, along my street. Where


16 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n before I gave directions, I don’t now. I don’t want him knowing which house is mine. When he is within a few hundred feet, I say hoarsely, “This is fine.”

“Yeah?” He turns to me, an intimate, almost friendly look on his face, a look that suggests we are sharing something special. I keep my own face even.

“Stop the car,” I say. Tim smiles, a menacing smile, but he does. I throw open the door and pull away from him, and I hear Liz and Ashley open the door in back. His hand slips away, and I feel the slow release of my muscles, the relief, like air squeaking out from an almost bursting balloon. The sky is lightening. Birds sing a crazed chorus from the trees. Ashley, Liz, and I run up my driveway, looking back a few times to make sure the car leaves, which it does. My mother is asleep, unaware, so we sneak in, using this as our excuse to not speak about what happened. I pull out cots and sleeping bags, and the three of us lie with our eyes closed, our bodies exhausted, but unable to sleep. I cup my hand over my crotch, aware of the ghost of pressure I still feel there. When my mother wakes, I figure, I’ll come up with some story: Ashley’s mother drove us here early so she can clean their house, and now we’re tired because we’ve been up all night telling ghost stories. Some story suggesting we’re still young, untouched, still safe from our own desires and from the world of men.

BOOK: loose
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