Pioneers pt. 6
Being broke meant making serious changes to my life style. For one, I couldn’t afford to eat on campus anymore. Eric’s mom would bring him some canned goods every couple of weeks and there was always left over pizza in the kitchenette but I wasn’t going to be paying five dollars for a turkey and cheese at the deli in Red Square anymore no matter how delicious they were. I couldn’t afford the captive audience mark up.
Fortunately, cheeseburgers were two for a dollar at Burger King. Throw in a Whitman’s chocolate bar from the Pay ‘N Save and I could live off of a buck fifty a day. It wasn’t ideal but when it comes right down to it calories are more important that quantity or quality.
I was at the Burger King the next time I saw Gina. She came in with her whole crew. I was standing in line and she spun me around. Her eyes were dewy wet from tears and she gave me kissed me. I knew she felt bad about how she had acted but I didn’t care. I was just happy to see her.
Public displays of affection are only embarrassing for the people witnessing them. I knew everyone’s eyes were upon us. My girl loves me. They can stare all they want.
Gina made a point of introducing me to everyone. Billy was there, as were Rachel and Sandy. I got to meet Jimmy and Kevin, who went to Ballard High occasionally, and Travaris who dropped out of Garfield his sophomore year. When Vince, a metal head who sold weed at the Space Port, came in later, the nine of us took over a whole corner of the restaurant.
Gina and I sat on one side of a booth across from Billy and Travaris. Billy was the de-facto leader of the group. He was deliberate and earnest in his speech. I could tell he was trying to suss me out. The conversation insignificant, mostly just small talk although I was asked to recall my misadventures for everyone’s amusement, I knew my words and reactions were being measured. He was protective of his friends and he wanted to be sure that Gina was with a good guy. Gina wanted us to like each other and I wanted him to like me too if no other reason than to please her.
Travaris couldn’t care less. He was Billy’s best friend but they were completely different people. Billy was punk rock serious blond uber mensch. Travaris was tall skinny black peroxide afro trench coat effeminate with one dangling ear ring. He looked like Ranking Roger and was flamboyant like Prince. I thought there might be something about extremes reaching around the spectrum to come together but the truth is they were both genuine souls. There was an honesty in who they were and they recognized in each other a struggle that they shared in common.
Everything made T laugh and T made everyone laugh with him. While we sat there he drew his name with condiment packets on the wall. Billy saw this and he reached over to dip a fry in the ketchup cursive letters. T jumped up, standing on the plastic bench and yelled “Don’t fry my T, B! Don’t fry my T, B!” until a worker came from behind the counter and asked us to quiet down. Billy plopped the fry in his mouth and bit down with great aplomb. These were my people.
Thanksgiving was less than a week away and Eric was going to be staying with his mother. I would have the room all to myself and I asked Gina if she would stay with me. She said she’d try but gave me a wry little smile that meant yes. I was so excited at the thought of having her alone to myself, were we didn’t need to steal our moments. I told her to come by Wednesday night. Eric was not expected back until Sunday.
Eric had figured out that there was something going on between Gina and myself but how much he knew was a mystery. We never approached the subject. The three of us had been friends so long it felt awkward
I wonder if he felt me mentally pushing him out the door. I all but packed his bags myself. Eric did not want to spend Thanksgiving with his mom in Burien. He didn’t want to meet her environmental sciences hippy professor boyfriend. His dad was going to bring whatever teaching assistant he happened to be sleeping with to dinner. The whole lot of them were going to prove how adult they could be in the messed up world of post marital madness.
Eric used to say that he hated his parents. He didn’t. They were two people so absorbed in their own lives that they never bothered to think that their actions affected others. When they got divorced each of them kept stressing to Eric how important it was that they find their own happiness apart, as if making oneself the center of the universe was the key to successfully navigating through life. Both of them were selfish and Eric felt sorry for their ignorance and shallowness. His real obligation to his parents was to be a witness.
Eric’s mother hated me but, then again she hated all his friends. Of course, I was nearly all his friends. Whenever she would come by I’d take off. She would not have approved of me living here. Fortunately, she always called first. That’s why it took us by surprise when she knocked.
Eric rushed me into the closet. We had been sharing a cigarette so he threw out the window and stuffed the ashtray in a desk drawer. Luckily my bed was made and the room was clean, the way Gina likes it, so there was very little trace of my occupancy. Music was playing so I doubt that she heard us rustling about.
Peering through the slats in the closet door I saw her enter the room.
“Hello. Are you ready?” She asked Eric.
“I’m good to go.”
“Is there someone in here with you?”
“Have you been smoking? Your face is flushed.”
“I burned some incense, sandalwood. I think it was old. Kind of musty. I live in a dorm full of guys. It stinks if you don’t try to mask the smells. I was doing sit ups when you knocked. I’m trying to stay in shape.”
Eric could always think fast on his feet. I was nervous watching her pace back and forth.
“Okay.” She said, buying the ruse. “I brought some groceries for you. Do you want me to put them away?”
“Nah. Leave the bag on the table. I’ll put it away when I get back. Right now, I just want to get on the road.”
When they left I gave out a loud gasping groan. I had been hiding in the pantry. It was too close for comfort. I rifled through the bag. There were cans of soup, cup o’ soups, saltines, and a jar of peanuts. It was plenty of food for Gina and me.
I was so excitable I couldn’t sit still. I showered extra thoroughly. I picked and preened and shaved and clipped until my body was near flawless. I even used mousse in my hair. I rearranged to room multiple times to create the perfect look, leaving out the right albums and right books and then changing them up in different combinations. I was all about atmosphere.
Eventually, I ran out of things to do. I needed to keep myself preoccupied. I picked up an abandoned copy of The Idiot someone left on a bench and started to thumb through it. When it got dark I lit a tea candle I’d stolen from a bistro to add a little ambience on what was supposed to be a very special night.
Russian literature is dense and it kept my mind from wandering. Every time I put the book down I’d ask myself, “Where is she?” and I’d go back to reading. I didn’t want to obsess. Anticipation turns to poison if it builds up. I fell asleep fully clothed on top of the bed while the flickering flame suffocated in melting wax.
It was early when Gina showed up. She could tell from my crumpled attire and solemn expression that I had been waiting for her.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” She said.
I tried to shake off my sleepiness and break out of my mope with a smile.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it last night. I told you I’d try. Sandy’s mom thinks I’m at my folks, like that would happen. Anyways, I gotta go back Saturday. The lady is crazy. She’s got some huge Jesus bug. I went to church last night. Can you fucking believe it? I don’t think I can stay there much longer.”
As she spoke she started to undress and before long was standing in front of me completely naked.
“I know you’re bummed about last night.” She continued. “I think the best way to cheer you up is for us to do it otherwise you’re going to spend all day looking at me wondering when we’re going to have sex. So, let’s get it out of the way.”
I was awestruck by her paleness. The grey winter daylight cast muted shadows across her smooth skin. Her edges were softened by the filaments of small hairs nearly invisible to sight.
“Hurry up and get naked. It’s my turn to stare at you.”
We slid under the covers of my bed together and spent all morning there. It wasn’t like the first time. We weren’t fucked up. We took our time. It was slow and deliberate and beautiful in all the ways I expected it to be.
Afterwards we laid there for a while. She let me be the big spoon for a change. I was enchanted by the smell of her hair and the deep curve where her neck met her shoulder. She held my hand to her chest and I could feel the rhythmic beating of her heart between deep sighing breathes.
“What’s for dinner?” She asked.
“I think I have more stuffing.”
“You are so stupid!” She pushed my hand away and sat up.
“We have chicken noodle soup or chili. And, I think there is a cheese and crackers somewhere around here. You know the kind with the little plastic stick. I like to eat the crackers separately and then just scoop out the cheese. We can split it.”
Gina looked at the clock and started to get dressed.
“Put your clothes on.” She told me. “We don’t have much time.”
I did as she asked and together we rushed out the door. The Safeway was on the other side of campus and closed at 2 pm on Thanksgiving. We got there just in time. The store was packed full of people buying last minute items.
Before we went in I stopped her and confessed, “I don’t know how to tell you this but, whatever you have in mind I can’t afford to buy much. “
“We’re not paying for anything.” She said in a little devil voice. “They are way too busy to check for shoplifters. When we go in we’ll split up. I need you to get bread and maybe some fruit. You’ve got a big coat so you should have no trouble hiding it. Just be subtle. I’m going to head to the other side of the store, pick up some things, and meet you by customer service.”
She gave me a quick Kiss and said, “Be cool.”
I’d never shoplifted before. Growing up I knew plenty of kids who did. Sometimes they’d steal right in front of me but, I wasn’t one of them. I always assumed I’d get caught. I have a nervous personality that tends to give me away. This wasn’t lifting a pack of gum or a candy bar. I didn’t know how I was going to pull this off.
Fortunately, everyone was too wrapped up in their own business to pay attention to me. I’d take an item, hold it in my hands, and then when the moment was right I’d tuck it into one of the deep inner pockets of my trench coat. Then I’d grab something else off the shelf quickly. That way if someone did look at me it seemed like I was still carrying it.
In no time at all I had my stuff and met Gina by the front of the store. We walked out together and no one blinked an eye at us, just like she predicted. We walked a couple blocks away before we stopped and took stock of our bounty.
“How’d it go?” She asked.
“No sweat. I got a package of dinner rolls and a bag of grapes.”
“Perfect! I got a bottle of wine, real cheese, none of that fake crap, and a summer sausage.”
I was amazed she got away with it because once she told me all the things she took it was blatantly obvious her shirt was full of contraband. She reached in and pulled out a two pound sausage and waved it in front of my face.
“Mine’s bigger than yours.”
“So are your balls.” I countered. “I have one other thing that wasn’t on my list.” I reached into my coat and pulled out a can of whipped cream.
“I don’t know what you had planned for that but I’m not getting all sticky, pervert.”
“Maybe, a little sticky?” I inquired.
She snapped it out of my hand, shook it, pulled of the top, and took a big hit of nitrous and handed it to me. I sucked the last of it out and she took the can and threw it in a trash can.
We took a minute, leaning on each other for support and then once the rush passed we went home, and had a proper meal. It was the best Thanksgiving I ever had. It was perfect.
Eric came home the next morning. Gina and I were still tucked in when we both arose to see him at the foot of the bed. What’s worse is that his mother was standing right next to him.
“I should have guessed this was going to happen.” He said with a drolly when what he really wanted to say was “Oh, fuck.”
His mother took a furious look at us and marched back into the hallway.
“Eric, I want to speak with you, now.” She said in a stern tone that echoed through the empty building.
Eric hung his head and walked out the door, shutting it behind him. Gina and I raced about getting dressed. An empty win bottle lay on its side on the table along with a smattering of uneaten food and the ashtray was in clear view. We cleaned as quickly as we could.
We could hear Eric getting yelled at. I heard her say clearly, “I don’t want them here.” I couldn’t make out what Eric was saying but I felt bad for him. I felt bad for us too. Why is it when good things happen they are immediately followed by shit, I kept asking myself. Why does God always have to even the score? Why can’t I just have one in the win column for change?
Gina and I were packed and ready to leave when Eric walked back in.
“Where are you going? He asked.
“Getting the hell out of here.” Gina replied.
“Don’t worry about it. She’s gone. She’s not coming back. I told her it was my business if I let my friends crash at my place.”
“She’s okay with that?” I asked.
“No. She is really pissed. But, she’ll get over it. Or, not. I don’t care.”
Eric reached into the back of his bottom desk drawer and pulled out his bong.
“So, what’s new with you two?” He asked.
We got high and spent the next couple of days hanging out until Gina went back to Sandy’s. Eric teased us a little. Gina and I would steal kisses when we were alone but we kept the sexy stuff to a minimum. There’s a time and place for everything and it can change in an instant.