Last Night at the Circle Cinema (2 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
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••••

Outside the Circle Cinema, I remembered Bertucci's crumpled cotton sweater. I slid it on fast before it got too wet. The maroon cotton hung past my waist and over my hands. Bertucci was tall but too awkward to be recruited for basketball, but so ridiculously smart that he'd won the Gleason Physics Scholarship to UC–Berkeley. The sweater provided instant relief from my shaking. Bertucci was always doing that, thinking of what you needed. Sometimes even before you'd thought of it yourself. Giving you the shirt off his back.

“Hey, Bertucci,” I whispered and pretended to thwack him with one of the too-long sleeves.

“Livvy,” he said. He was the only one who called me that except for my grandpa who died. And probably if anyone else tried to use that name I'd have corrected them.

But with Bertucci it was okay.

I had met him before I met Codman, but he and Codman were already friends since before me. Since they both referred to each other by their last names, I followed suit, even though I had never pictured myself as one of those girls who used last names like she was trying to be one of the guys. It just sort of happened.

Plus, everyone called Bertucci Bertucci. They gave him shirts and placemats and advertising posters from that chain pizza place even though it had absolutely zero to do with him and his family. When a franchise opened near school, Bertucci just shook his head. Codman said “Fuck” for him, because that's what he felt. Bertucci didn't even enjoy Italian food. He hated tomatoes and he was allergic to gluten, both of which were in practically everything on the menu.

Lightning illuminated the Circle Cinema's giant entryway, displaying for us the dark and barren inside. It was easy to see why Bertucci had picked this place, as though he and the building shared a spirit: cool, retro, sort of closed up but appealing. He'd been the one to orchestrate most of our outings here. In the blue halo of light, he was impossible to ignore.

“Freaked you out, didn't I?”

2

Codman

I was never good at endings. Witness my proclivity for pressing
repeat
on songs, eating leftovers until they are beyond expired, and the need I had to drag the night out as long as possible, lingering in the deserted parking lot with the ragged trees, their limbs bending with each rainy gust.

It wasn't just that we were about to cap-'n'-gown it. More that I felt as though we—the three of us—were standing on a precipice, and I had no idea who—or what—was on the other side. I also had no idea how to get across. Possibly this is a shit-ass metaphor I'd have been better off editing out of existence.

Olivia whispered something I didn't catch. Her shirt was soaked through, so I was sorry to see Bertucci's old sweater appear because it covered up her epic chest and also because, like so many things Bertucci did, it made me look like a dick. I was the guy who hadn't offered her something warm to wear. “Fucking Bertucci. Leave it to you to nearly miss your own farewell party.”

“It's now or never.
Allons-y?
” I asked. Olivia looked different—not just because I hadn't laid eyes on her in a while but because she had changed. It was inevitable, I guess, and maybe if I'd been by her side more recently it wouldn't have been so obvious, but she was older somehow. Not withdrawn, but more mature. Worn.

“Lest we forget you speak French,” Olivia winced. Bertucci rolled his eyes.


C'est vrai
, I do speak of this language.”

“Okay,
frère
,” Olivia nudged me in the butt with her knee. I liked that she still felt able to touch me even though I'd been the one to pull away the last time we had hugged. And when did I get to be her brother? Or maybe
frère
was just the first French word that popped into her mind. Fuck me.

The Circle appeared to have been designed by someone who was Greek or drunk or both. The original building was a cinderblock box that gave all the appeal of a jail. Over the years, considerable effort had gone into hiding the building's boxy essence. There were columns—too many to be structurally necessary—and vacant platforms where large potted plants used to be. Large windows had been added at the front, possibly so that when you stood in line to buy tickets, you didn't feel trapped. Exterior stairs had sprouted haphazardly for emergency egress, and various coats of paint inevitably flaked off in the summer heat. It was pretty much a mess.

I cupped my hands on one of the windows. A wrecking crew had started tearing the Sheetrock down inside, and a few pockmarked ceiling squares dangled down. It occurred to me that this outing might not be the best idea, but I knew we had to go through with it. I owed him at least that much.

I yanked on the door, surprised and then not. “Locked, in fact.”

I could practically feel Bertucci's glare behind me, the same look he'd given our fetal pig before we'd dissected it. “Uh, yeah, because it's late, closed, and about to be condemned.”

“It's not condemned,” Olivia said. She pressed her hands to the glass and peered inside then jerked back like she'd seen something bad. “It's just going out of business. Like everything else in this town.”

Of course Bertucci had thought ahead, or at least it seemed that way, and he led us around the side of the building where the overhang sheltered us from the deluge and the doors were held closed with a chain.

And of course, tucked behind one of the concrete angles were bolt cutters.

“Bertucci thinks of of everything,” I said. “Nutbarrel.”

“Bertucci, my hero,” Olivia said but looked at me while she said it. I knew she'd texted him before, but it was too weird to bring that up. Who am I to say who she should and shouldn't auto-correct with?

The chains around the door were kind of pathetic. If it hadn't been pouring or night or our last adventure as a threesome, maybe it would have felt lame. But when we snipped through the metal and the lock slid to the ground, it was kind of a brave moment. And I was glad he'd been the one to suggest we do it, and glad I'd been the one to cut the proverbial chain.

“My friends.” Bertucci had said this every time we'd met here. His arms were ridiculously long, and he was forever gesturing with them, sort of a demented mayor.

I fought the urge to shiver. The rain had made my hair flop down over one eye; rivulets ran down my face. I put my hand on the U-shaped door handle. My hands were girly compared to Bertucci's. “Once we go in, there's no turning back.” Bertucci thought I owed him hours for a day I didn't like to think about, and now he was claiming my time. Eight hours. No matter what. A guy code? Sort of. Maybe I did owe him.

“At least there'll be Junior Mints,” Olivia said. Bertucci ignored her. He let Olivia get away with any comment, every arm thwack, every change of plans. Maybe it seemed that way because I was inclined to let her get away with nothing.

Bertucci gripped the door like he was fighting against gravity or something.

“Enough drama,” I said and pushed him aside—not an easy thing since he's got a half-foot on me easy and his presence towers over everything—and opened the door.

3

Bertucci

In AP Bio, Codman and I ended up partners for the fetal pig dissection. That wasn't his plan—being partners—but that's how it went down. I wasn't all that into investigating the innards of some creature who'd hardly had a shot at being alive, but Codman practically leaped into my lap.

“Hang back,” I'd told him. “Wait.”

The girls who either actually felt sickened at the thought of the dissection or just thought they had a shot at getting out of the lab clustered by Ms. Finnerman's desk. I figured if I looked like I wasn't doing anything, Finnerman might partner me with one of these delicate creatures. One thing might lead to another. Not that I'd follow through, but still.

Codman was nothing if not clueless, though. He claimed a lab table and pig in a tray in our names and grabbed the scalpel, before I even had a chance to inch closer to Livvy's friend Marta or Florida Kessler. I had a little thing for Florida. She was oddly pretty, with a small face and nice hips. She also shaved the underside of her hair. One day she'd be all nice-girl-in-a-button-down-sweater and the next she'd pull her ropey hair up, showcasing her half-shaved head. It was like she was two girls in one ....

But Codman's overt enthusiasm for dissection made sure I didn't wind up anywhere near Florida or her hair. Instead, Codman and I worked our way through the ten-page lab. Well, I worked, mostly in my head and a couple pages ahead of Codman, who eventually gave up after the novelty of the scalpel wore off and the tedium of the worksheet set it in. I knew I'd let him copy whenever I decided to fill in my own. People—the Gleason Scholarship committee, for example—were drawn to my work ethic for a reason.

••••

“First things first,” Livvy said. Her voice was wobbly, like she was scared or cold or both, but she tried to cover her nerves by slipping behind the first of the snack counters. “Bertucci, let me guess—Junior Mints?”

I was about to say something disarming about a welcome change of pace, but Codman corrected her first.

“Twizzlers for Bertucci, of course.”

Livvy frowned. It occurred to me then that she wanted to be the one who knew my go-to candy, that maybe she and Codman competed that way. Or maybe she'd just forgotten.

“Here—allow me.” I joined her behind the counter, fumbling around the fake butter vats in search of popcorn kernels while Olivia eyed me and the paraphrenalia with interest.

“You're not seriously thinking of making popcorn, are you?” Codman shook another box of sugar-crusted whatevers into the popcorn tub.

I shrugged. I hadn't been planning on it, but everything from Codman sounded like a dare, as though he couldn't quite believe I would be able to do much of anything.

“Not yet.” Livvy pushed herself between the popcorn maker and me, the dampness of her—my—sweater tangible. “Besides, popcorn's more like our main course. We have all night to eat, let's just get hors d'oeuvres now.”

“I assume the French was for my benefit,” Codman said. He was frowning into a box Sno-Caps.

“The hors part was,” Livvy said and grinned at me.

She had this way of smiling that I liked to think was unique to her smiling at me. That somehow her smiling at me made everything feel better, more normal.

Lightning flashed and Livvy shuddered. “Christ, I'm already freaked out,” Livvy said, a little too loud. “I mean, how sad is that? The girl is scared. Ugh.”

“It's not your fault you're a walking cliché,” Codman said. He put a small popcorn bag on his head. I tried to swipe it off his head but he ducked.

“Let's think about this for a second,” I said. “Livvy, you're only weirded out because it's night, right?”

“It's not just that it's night,” she continued. “I mean, let's be real, this is trespassing. It's ... illegal. Like what we're doing now is against the law. Permanent record kind of thing. Plus, you know ...” She let her voice trail off. Neither of us continued for her.

I leaned on the glass counter, looking down at the boxes of candy. It was depressing that all of it was still organized. No one had thought to clear it. Maybe you can't resell candy that's been under heat lights for God knows how long, but looking at the rows of brightly colored boxes that were supposed to be treats, even at nearly five bucks a pop, I felt empty. “So we've got night, criminality, what else?”

We sat, not saying much else until Codman snapped his fingers. “Motive?”

4

Livvy

Did we have to go in? No. Did I
feel
like we had to? Yes. But why?

Bertucci's e-mail in my back pocket made certain I knew the night was for keeps.

Bertucci was always going on about how you have two selves, the one who wants to be a certain way and the one who just is. And how in life it's really your job to merge the two. But all I knew, standing there with Bertucci's soaking-wet sweater arms stretched nearly to the floor, was that I was terrified. And also that I had to tough it out. I'd dealt with worse, right?

“Aut vincere aut mori,”
Bertucci had said to me before many a horror movie in this very theater. He loved Latin, the dead language.

“Either to conquer or to die,” I said, leaning on the glass counter to steady myself. Fair enough, but what was the point? Why was I doing this?

“You look ghastly,” Codman said when he reached through the sliding door into the popcorn popper.

I tried not to be wounded, but there were my two selves again: the one who wished desperately to have Codman think I looked beautiful all rain-wet in an oversized sweater, and the one who wanted not to care. “Well, I do my best,” I told him. “Plus, you're the one eating beyond-expired popcorn.”

“This shit's so industrial it has no expiration date,” Codman said and flicked a piece up in the air.

“Well, I have one,” Bertucci said. He leaned on the display case with his arms crossed, eyeing us coolly.

“One what?” Codman asked, shaking a box of chocolate-covered cookie dough bites as though warding off evil spirits.

I was pretty sure I was going to throw up if we didn't just get on with this. “Are you going to do that all night?” I asked Codman as he shook another box.

“Do what?” Codman asked. He stopped right in front of me, so close I could smell his breath. So close I could have leaned in and—once and for all—felt his lips on mine.

“Nothing,” I sighed. “We need to come up with a plan. Unless ... do we have one?” I looked to see where Bertucci might want to go next. The long, black corridor under the sign that read “Theaters 1–5”? Or upstairs to the pathetic art gallery with white plastic patio furniture?

I turned back to the candy counter. Maybe I'd just stuff myself full of old Sno-Caps. I took out a movie-sized box of Twizzlers and set them on the counter for Bertucci. Bertucci was capable of eating massive quantities. I'd seen Bertucci's great buffalo chicken wing extravaganza. I'd competed with him in the late night marshmallow-in-the-mouth competition at Codman's. He sang along, mouth full of marshmallows, to that Elvis Costello record, messing up the lyrics so
murder
sounded like
mustard
,
pretending
like
preventing
. Codman wimped out of our competition, instead watching as Bertucci and I had shoved marshmallows into our mouths while the lyrics spun all around us. In a moment of either pure competition or maybe desire, Bertucci had grabbed the plastic marshmallow bag from me and then reached for my face. One by one he tucked more marshmallows into my mouth, pudging out my cheeks rodent-style, slipping one between my gums and upper lip. I blushed because it was hard work keeping the stupid marshmallows in without choking, but also because Bertucci's large hand on my face felt good. His oddly gray eyes fixed onto mine, and the song and Codman and even the silly stunt we were pulling faded into the background. Bertucci continued to feed me. But in the end, he won. Not that he ever said as much. I counted the saliva-coated marshmallows and knew I'd lost. But it didn't matter. When I really tried, I could still feel his hands on my face.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
7.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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