In the Pink
You were such a girl. Every year growing up it seemed to be more—more pink, new lace ribbons, skirts with gigantic daisies—there in that mock horse-paddock neighborhood. Alamo Ranchette North, the builders called it. Five-acre mini-ranches, big enough to board a horse or two—a stage-set version of real ranches, the kind we saw on TV—on Dallas.
You wouldn’t hang with our pack—Mack, Emmett, and me—even though we had girls too—Abby, Susan, and Joelle—because we slung water balloons and made mud pies. Because we got dirty. We couldn’t figure out your frilliness, with your cowgirl mother and carpenter father.
Sometimes the girls wanted to play house and we would agree to play, but only to be fathers who were policemen, and if you played, you always had to be the mom, wearing the lace-trimmed apron you bought at the Atkinson’s garage sale. Your own mother stood in her Wranglers on the wraparound porch of your expansive old farmhouse—the house at the end of our street, the one the builders hadn’t gotten their greedy mitts on, still with its original fifty acres. She stood tall in her hand-tooled Lucchese boots, looking out to the horse barn and corral and flicking her Camel butts into one of the untrimmed box bushes below the rail. You didn’t even like to ride horses, although sometimes you would just to please her. Still, you wore your good white pants and then cried when they got dirty. Your brother Chet, a year older, just wanted to arm-wrestle or teach you to shoot hoops. And your way-older sister Marla had gone off to college on a softball scholarship, playing second base. She knew how to slide. With all that, we expected you to be a booted, denim girl who would play army with us and not be afraid to go home with grass stains.
Our pack had a secret handshake and a rallying cry, Silverado Warriors Walk on Fire. On rare occasion, you joined us. Mostly you played with your girlfriends Lilly and Winnie, girls that were imported into the neighborhood by mothers driving wood-paneled station wagons. These girls were just like you, curled and bowed and unwilling to get dirty. You holed up in your big pink bedroom carefully trimming paper dolls with blunt-end scissors and combing the fakely silken hair of your Barbies.
We got older, of course, and scattered to colleges. Emmett went off to the Navy and Joelle the Coast Guard. The rest of us went to State and roomed together in freshman dorms. I kept your yearbook picture in my copy of Catcher in the Rye. I hadn’t read that book, but it looked smart on the shelf. You went to a small private college seven hours away by car. During breaks and summers, I saw glimpses of you in the ranchette neighborhood—a shadowed profile in the passenger seat—but never at the parties we got invited to by the high-school friends who never left town.
We all graduated from college within a year of each other. Joelle became a nurse on a boat crew in the Gulf of Mexico. She married the captain of her crew. The rest of us returned to the ranchette neighborhood with our boxes of textbooks and dreams for careers in big cities, citing it as just a stop on the way. In the end, no one from our pack had to fly home for the ten-year reunion, except Joelle, because no one had left like they said.
And now here you are, standing in this banquet room in a sleeveless, mid-calf green dress clinging to your same high-school slimness. Your hair is up and decorated with tiny pink butterfly clips. Pearls ring your neck and you wear a yellow orchid wristlet. You are here with Edward Longhouse, Jr., who was a year ahead of us. You stand apart and seem to barely know him, which I’m hoping is true. We’ve come to the reunion as a pack, of course, that hasn’t changed, except Mack not being with us. Out of deference to Emmett, we don’t talk about Mack and the accident. We never have.
You are still so fucking gorgeous. You are the kind of girl even our girls admitted was beautiful. They had never blamed us. All these years, I’d kept to myself about what exactly I would give just to touch you. That I’d trade every girl I ever kissed, which isn’t many, I admit, for my lips on yours, just once. Once is all I allow myself, because I know you’d never really want to be with me.
During junior high, you barely spoke to us. We’d all outgrown the few things you would do with us in grade school—Ouija Board Halloween, our occasional spelling bee, the times we let you apply flower decals to our arms, even us boys because we could wash them off and we liked you that close. I always let you put them on both arms. I always let you take your time.
We saw you at school, your eyelids weighted by shimmering pinks or blues, your hair curled perfectly in the latest style. I longed for you to talk to me, corner me in the hall, close enough to smell the perfume I was sure you wore. I stared at you, employing angles so the others couldn’t tell. You were so pretty and so damn out of reach, twirling away from us in your lace anklets, ruffled short blouses, two perfect circles of blush on both cheeks.
We continued to play our touch football and field hockey on the Parson’s grown-in grazing patch, and skateboard on our flat street, using driveway curb-cuts to pretend we were really good. The girls, too. We were all one kind, and while they may have worn a touch of mascara or dabbed some of their mother’s Chanel No. 5 on their necks, they got dirty with us, they laughed loud and didn’t care if they snorted, they went with us to watch minor league baseball, bringing their mitts.
Through the locker room grapevine, we heard you were selective with boys, good at pushing away roving hands and lips. You dated Tom Gruver for a few months. He was class treasurer and wore ironed jeans and skinny ties. He gave you a rose in center hall every Monday. It was rumored he respected your morals, even though we weren’t sure what morals were, especially yours. I thought about kissing you. Wondered if you wore that flavored lip gloss, and if you did, hoping it was cherry.
You were the prettiest girl in school; there was no doubt about that. Even the pale math geeks knew this and talked about you like they had a chance, dreaming to the ceiling through their coke-bottle lenses. I made anagrams of your name on the inside fold of my Pee-Chee, under the multiplication table.
Senior year came to a close and the six of us went to the prom together, paired up randomly, full of bootleg whisky we passed around in the car beforehand. We pretended this was how we planned it, when really, we just didn’t have dates. How we acted with each other, loud and street-smart, was not the way we each were inside, in quiet places like bottom bunks and empty monkey bars.
We saw you at the prom, briefly, your palm in Greg Olson’s, the blonde and zit-free swim-team captain. We danced with our girls in a circle, pulling up our cummerbunds and flicking our bangs. All that whisky kept me from remembering to keep looking for you. Later Emmett and I went outside the dance hall to the pint we’d stashed in the fourth hedge from the wall. We found it where we’d left it, nesting on a low branch, and beyond the hedgerow, we smelled the pot. Of course, we’d tried it, but it wasn’t in our routine, none of us seemed to care about its pursuit, the way we did with whisky. We pushed our heads through an opening in the hedge and it was you and Greg, leaning against the brick, passing a joint, his hand high enough up your skirt to be massaging your perfect ass. You slightly moaned and slightly laughed and your hips were moving into his crotch.
In the morning, we weren’t sure of our story when we told the others—against our pounding heads and dry mouths, and how much it didn’t seem like you to be stoned or taken.
With the exception of Joelle, this is just another night out for us, the way we roam from bar to bar in town, meet for a game of pool, maybe a swim in the Deschutes on a warm summer day. Now we circle the room, talk to the people we haven’t seen in an exact decade. They are fatter, balder, burdened. The people we’ve had high hopes for have disappointed, except one, who is a lobbyist in Washington. They must look at us the same way. I manage the second shift at the biggest laundry in the region, but, well, it’s still just washing the shirts of deliverymen. Abby’s masters in computer science had gone into raising three girls. And Susan’s pulling beers at Jake’s Roadhouse.
We talk to our old “friends,” trying to remember names and poking each other unnoticeably (we hope) when we meet someone who has gained an unruly amount of weight or sports a tight perm. All the while I keep you in sight, my head turned so the others can’t notice. The way you toss your head, the long curls lightly jumping across your back. The way you gracefully scoot away from Edward when he tries to take your arm, or so I imagine. I want to make sure you don’t leave the reunion, keep my hopes open. I relax with a couple whiskeys to get comfortable with my youth swarming around me.
Then in a jostle of handshakes and crowding of spousal introductions, I am next to you. Edward Jr. is across the room at the bar refilling glasses and Joelle is behind me. You give us both a dainty four-finger shake. Joelle moves away to talk to Raymond, a former tailback she dated once, and I am alone with you. Your hands are empty because your drink is being refilled. You push a stray piece of hair back. Stare at me. Smile. We use the weather default to break the silence and discuss the heat. I can feel sweat in my armpits and hope it isn’t blotching my shirt. The hotel doesn’t seem to have the air conditioner running. Then suddenly you say come outside and we walk out and down to the man-made pond. Ducks waddle around the rim, leaving a trail of shit I make sure not to step in. You walk us to the small dock. I lean my elbow on the rail, hoping to look casual. Smell your flowery perfume, just like I imagined years ago and again tonight. You seem too fragile to touch. You are still so slender, so light, like thin-rimmed glassware. I imagine you being a virgin, me showing you how.
You open your gold clutch purse, take out a cigarette and a lighter, and hand me the lighter. I look away to keep from showing my surprise about your smoking. I hate the smell, the dependence, the cancer threats, and still I light the cigarette for you.
We talk in trivia, for the time of the cigarette. You say let’s leave, will I go with you? You can’t stand so much high school around you except me, you say, with a tittery laugh. I smile and you pull on my hand, leading me off the dock and across the grass to your car. You drive us to a bar out on the highway. I would have pegged you to pick a place that serves drinks with paper umbrellas.
You know the bartender and order your “usual,” which turns out to be a pint of Coors and a shot of Cuervo. Men stare and ask you to dance but you stay with me. We drink more, mine just beer but you keep the shots coming, lighting a cigarette to escort each one down. We talk some, chit-chat variety, but mostly the music is too loud for anything but shouting. When you’ve pushed a fifty at “Mel,” I drive us back to your parents’ house because you tell me to. They’re in Florida. I always liked you, Randy, you say, mushing my name so it comes out Rainday. Always.
You keep looking out the window of the car like you are alone. I get out of the car but you don’t. I open your door and you turn your legs out to the driveway, then just sit, needing me to elbow you upright. We walk through the old house, you hanging on my arm and shoulder. A hay-smell in the house, but nice. You lean into me, like you mean it, not staggering like I expect. Then we are up the stairs and in your old room, moving fast to the canopy bed, kissing and stripping off our clothes. You mount me. We fuck like crazy people. You moan and even scream once and I wonder if the horses hear and then I come and I think you have, too, draped on top, me shrinking inside you.
In the morning, we wake with our dry throats and throbbing heads, yours worse than mine, you say, I’ll betcha. You are too nauseous to make love again. Don’t, you say, when I move on top of you. But you manage to get up and make us eggs. I lie on the bed counting the giant pink roses on the wall. Then I walk downstairs, following the back hall to the kitchen. I stop in the doorway to watch you moving bacon in the pan. You cook in a short turquoise robe with a ruffled hem. You've brushed your hair. Shifting your weight back and forth on those slender tan legs. The cooking bacon crackles. The big sleeves of the robe have been rolled up, away from the grease; your beautiful long fingers hold the spatula. Your hands turn, flipping, you've done this before. Along your open wrists, I can see the stripes of perfectly raised pink skin. You’ve done this before.