Authors: Kaui Hart Hemmings
He wants to say, “You won’t be madly in love with the woman you thought you’d be madly in love with forever. And she won’t be madly in love with you. She’ll just be mad. And, one day, you’ll come home not knowing what she’s just done to you. It will make you furious and you’ll yell at the dog for no reason. You’ll gaze at your sleeping toddler for company. Your sleeping toddler will be your best friend. You’ll tell him: “I love your mother, but only because another man might.”
“Getting old,” Henry says, looking at these boys, who can run fast, jump high, eat like shit. “It will be a shocker.” He may be upsetting
the boys. They look worried as they chew their food. Tupp cleans up the fridge. The apple.
“It’s got some perks, though,” Henry says, but he knows he doesn’t sound convincing.
Shipley cuts in. “I hear you should go for the softball girls and tell them everyone thinks they’re lesbians and then they’ll do it with you to prove they’re not.”
“But what if they are?” his son asks.
“Then it’s still a score ’cause you get to do it with a lesbian.”
Ross falls off the edge of his stool, and everyone laughs then looks around nervously, and then Henry really knows that they’ve been drinking. Ross grins and smooths his black hair back, returns to his chair.
“You can’t drink,” Henry says. The boys all look down. His son’s face flushes—he has that same giveaway skin. “I mean, when you’re old. When I was in college I could really knock ’em back—me and my buddy, Chavez—we’d drink a case of Bud Light every night. A case each. Every single night. No way could I do that now.”
The boys all smile except for Shipley, who opens his mouth and after a pause lets out a belch that sounds like a foghorn. His son still seems a little nervous, and Henry wonders if it’s in response to “Chavez.” Who’s Chavez? he must be wondering. The thing is, when it comes down to it, he and Chavez would have kicked his son’s ass if his son had been, say, in a McDonald’s one night and he happened to look at them the wrong way. Henry grew up in Concord. He didn’t like city boys like his son, with their private schools and preppy clothes and longish hair. His son skis and drives a brand-new Escalade. His ass would have been demolished. But he loves him now, of course, as an adult. It’s just that his kids, the way they live, it’s all just a little foreign to him. The apple fell far, far away from the tree. Then smashed into a Sub-Zero.
He supposes his eighteen-year-old daughter isn’t as conventional. He passed her room the other day and heard her friend Jillian say, “Did you see what she was wearing? It was camouflage, but purple, and I went up to her and was all, ‘That’s cute.’ ”
“Glamouflage,” he heard his daughter say in an annoyed voice. “That’s what it’s called. And who the fuck cares?”
Her spirit reminded him of Kate’s when he first met her.
His son is eyeing him, and he wonders if he knows he and his mom are having problems. If he can feel the tension between them.
“What else, Dad?” his son asks. “What else is wrong with your life?”
Yeah. He knows.
“Nothing. I’m just shooting the bull.”
“So were you a player or something?” Shipley asks.
Henry thinks of Shipley’s mother, her rich brown hair like a desk in a banker’s office. They grew apart, he endured her more than liked her, and then she introduced him to Kate. Kate had good taste in music. That’s what he liked about her immediately. She was funny, too. Sharp. He remembers she’d get so wasted on this nasty pink wine and he’d have to carry her from the car to the bed, up those damn steps off Fillmore. She was light, though a bit heavier when she was drunk. It made him feel like she trusted him with all of her weight.
“I guess I kind of was a player,” Henry says. “But I was a good guy.” He gives the boys a sarcastic smile. “I loved ’em all.”
He takes another bite of his sandwich and sees Kate in the doorway looking at him. His confidence in front of the boys whittles down to a splinter. He can never be someone else in front of her.
“You loved them all, huh?” She has her arms crossed over her chest as she always does these days. The boys look in her direction, then focus on putting the food into their mouths as soberly as possible. Except for Tupp, who says, “Hi, Mrs. Hale. Mr. Hale here was just giving us some fatherly advice.”
“Oh?” She’s drunk as well. They’re
all drunk in the kitchen. Henry can feel mayonnaise in the corner of his mouth and he decides to leave it there. Fuck it.
“What kind of advice?” she asks.
“Advice on girls,” Tom says.
Kate laughs that kind of hateful laugh meant to shrink his balls. Henry wants to push her. He actually wants to harm her because of this laugh, but then he realizes what he really wants to do is take her into his arms and say, “Let’s laugh for real! Remember we used to do that?” But then he catches her eye and doesn’t want to hold her anymore. He’s right back to his abusive thoughts.
“So, what’s the advice? What gems has my husband handed to you tonight?”
“Stay away from the cheerleaders,” Shipley says.
“Go for the ugly ones,” Tupp says. “They’ll put out.”
“I did not say that.”
“Are you eating?” Kate asks. “You just ate.”
“I did not just eat. What we did was not called eating.”
“The punks, the rebels,” Shipley continues. “The loners.”
“You’re teaching them how to get laid?”
Henry can feel his son staring at him, a sad, sharp stare. He remembers when his son was preschool age he liked to eat his dinner on Henry’s lap. This would bother him, but after a few beers he’d like it, especially if they were out with other families. A few beers would make most annoying things endearing, and he suspects that’s a parenting tool no one really gives a lot of credit to. Beer.
“You want to know what to do?” Kate says.
The boys laugh weakly, like an old lady has just made a knock-knock joke, and then the room is silent. Henry thought it was always silent, but now that the chewing and munching has stopped, it really is. Kate walks up to Ross, the quietest of the boys, the most handsome as well.
Everyone in the room knows it. He has mahogany skin and all the things girls like on boys: long lashes, water polo physique, thick head of hair, crater-size dimples, the works. Ross is basically set for life. Kate stands in front of him. She’s wearing her pajamas, which are fitted cotton pants and a matching shirt. Her hair is pulled back with a headband, and she looks girlish and confident, like a tennis player.
“You tell her how hot she is,” Kate says. “Not beautiful, or pretty, or nice, but sexy. You tell her she’s driving you up the wall. You can even be lewd. Try to hold her, touch her. It will make her feel good, and after a while you know what will happen? She’ll fantasize about you.”
“Yeah,” Tupp says. “Yeah, right.”
“Listen,” Kate says. “Boys. You’re all we think about. We have grand fantasies about kissing you and walking with you and being held by you in public. You bring us flowers in front of all our girlfriends, you hold our hands, you drive our cars. We think about this when we go to bed at night, trying to force it into our dreams. We want you as much as you want us. Trust me.”
Ross moves back on his chair, and closes his legs.
“So,” Kate says. “When the girl walks into class, say out loud, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing to me?’ Embarrass the girl, draw attention to her.”
Henry watches them hanging on every word. His son has stopped eating his sundae. Tupp and Shipley keep glancing at each other and grinning. Ross looks down as though being chastised.
“Then after a week or so, slowly turn your attention away,” Kate says. “Look at another girl. Flirt with her, but don’t say the same things you said to the first girl, just turn your attention a bit, but stay friendly, stay nice. Act like you tried, but failed.”
“But what if it works right away?” Tupp asks. “I mean what if she’s good to go?”
Henry says. He wants to tell them that he hadn’t had to do any of these things to get Kate in bed. She was in it just a few hours after meeting him. They had flirted with each other all night. When she brought him to her apartment, he tried to think of things to say that would impress her, but she just lunged at him. He didn’t have to say a word. Afterward she said she moved so swiftly because the more a guy spoke the less she liked him and she didn’t want that to happen with Henry.
“She won’t be good to go,” Kate says. “She’s a good girl. A pretty, popular girl. The stakes are raised with this one. She has a lot to lose. You must build the foundation.”
“Jesus, Kate,” Henry says.
She ignores him and slurs on. “Then,” she says. “Are you ready? Are you with me?”
The boys nod.
“Give it to me, Mrs. Hale!” Shipley says. “Let me hear it!”
“We’re with you,” Henry says. “What does the boy do next? Say they’re at a party in Russian Hill. There are plenty of rooms. Hallways. What happens next, Kate?”
She looks at Henry, but not with a scorching glare. Her gaze is soft and unreadable, supple—it could be saying either this or that. She turns away and faces Shipley, but she seems different now. Slow, distracted and sad.
“Then, once you’ve given her attention and backed off, try to be at the same party as her. See that she’s having a good time. Perhaps engage in casual conversation. Be chipper and occupied. Have identical interactions with other girls. Run into her every now and then, but be busy, have fun. Believe me. She’ll be watching you.”
“Then what?” his son asks. His eyes are watery as if he’s been in front of a campfire all night. He acts pissed off when he’s mortified. “Then what do you do, Mom?”
Henry sees her caught off guard a little, perhaps by his tone, or because she’s forgotten he’s here, her son is here, her baby boy, who used to eat on Dad’s lap. She looks at Henry, then around at everyone, as if at once realizing all eyes are on her. But they usually are anyway. She’s beautiful, polished, thin, too thin. Every now and then she gets a pimple on her chin, right in the same spot. This has happened for as long as he’s known her, and now he looks forward to its appearance—the only thing about her that’s stayed the same.
“Then you’re going to notice that this girl is looking for you, you know, talking to her friends in a way that you know is a performance. A show for you. A show that says,
I’m having a great time.
But you’ll be able to see through this. In fact, she may look a bit disappointed, a little unhappy. She misses your attention. She misses you. That’s when you make your move. Maybe the girl’s at the bar getting another drink, or by the keg, or whatever.”
Ross raises his eyebrows.
“Oh, please,” she says. “Like I don’t know.”
“Or,” Tupp says. “Say she’s getting some fresh air because she drank too many root beer floats. That’s what we usually drink, Mrs. Hale.”
“Okay,” Kate says. “So, she’s getting fresh air. Though it’s okay if she’s with other people. Talking to a group of friends. It’s more eventful this way, and then when people ask, ‘What was that all about?’ she’ll have a secret and she’ll love this secret because it gives her something to think about. Something different than the things she thinks about every single day.”
Henry clears his throat. “Kate, I think we should head upstairs. I think we should go,” but she talks right over him:
“Approach the girl and take her hand unexpectedly,” she says. “Without saying anything lead her down a hallway. She’ll laugh. She’ll say, ‘What’s going on?’ but don’t answer. Don’t say a word. Then, when you’ve found a place away from the group, stop walking. Face the girl.
Hold her shoulders. She’ll know what’s happening. Move her against the wall, and without hesitating, kiss her. The girl will kiss you back. I promise you. Don’t kiss her kindly. Don’t be delicate. Bump your teeth against hers, make her mouth stretch. Kiss her violently, desperately, like what’s meant to happen is finally, finally happening. Try to swallow her whole. Touch the sides of her body. Move your hands up and down. Hook her leg around your body and press yourself in. Let her feel you.”
“Jesus Christ, Mom!” his son says.
And Kate blinks. It’s like watching someone come about of hypnosis.
“Is that how it’s done?” Henry asks.
“Yes,” his wife says. “That’s how it’s done.”
He can see the boys’ chests moving up and down.
“So, then what?” Henry asks. “What happens now?” He remembers her flushed face in the hallway, her silence during the car ride home. She gazed out the window the entire time with an expression of grief except for one moment when she smiled quickly to herself.
“After the boy has conned her into thinking she’s special, what will the girl do?” he asks. “What is she willing to do?”
“Forget it,” his son says. He stands, and his chair falls to the floor. He startles, then picks it back up. His body is rigid, on edge, but his face is wilted and lost. He has chocolate on his cheek. His friends look at him anxiously, as if they know he could blow their already blown cover. His son swaggers to the fridge. The other boys try not to laugh. Henry could care less. They should be drinking. It’s what you should do at this age. At least this is something his childhood could have in common with his son’s. Poor kids, rich kids, they all like to get lit.
“Forget all this,” his son says. “I don’t want to deal with that bullshit anyway. Fuck girls. I’ve got everything I need.”
“Yeah,” Ross says, quietly. “Your hand and your shower.”
The boys laugh. Tupp punches Ross’s leg and says, “May the force be with you, Hands Solo.”
Kate looks like she hasn’t even heard what the boys are saying.
“But I want to know,” Henry says. “I want to know what the girl will do. The story isn’t over yet.”
They all look at Henry’s wife, her cool skin, her sharp eyes. She’s a fortress, standing there. She looks like a stranger. The woman before him is not his wife.
“The girl will do anything,” she says. “Because she’s never felt so wanted. It’s not about the boy. It’s about the boy showing her it’s not too late. She can be anything, anyone. She’s still alive.”
“So does she fuck him?” Henry asks.
“Whoa!” Shipley says.