by Adam Hunault
At the Rutledge High School graduation, talk of college and future plans was all but put aside because what had happened was too fresh in everyone’s mind. The teenagers and their parents were still gossiping about three of the students’ classmates: about how Terry Yanow had made a fool of himself, about how Joel Breitzer was a freak and a pervert, and about Allison Sparks.
Few remembered it but on that same football field eight months earlier, a sunny October afternoon, Allison Sparks had overheard one of the players saying he’d like to fuck her. She was a popular girl, photographer for the school paper. She was pretty, with hazel eyes, short brown hair, and a mouth that always hinted a smile, and she was sharp as a tack, got good grades without really trying. She spent her time snapping pictures of things with the beat up digital camera she carried everywhere—anything that caught her eye would be painstakingly captured from every angle. She was sensitive to little details, saw what she guessed others didn’t see in a small Wisconsin farm town where everyone seemed to see pretty much the same thing.
She was photographing the rust under the football field’s bleachers when the kid said he wanted to fuck her. He was Terry Yanow, the school’s second best wide receiver. Blond farm boys like Terry were a dime a dozen in Rutledge as far as Allison was concerned but it hadn’t stopped five of the hottest, most popular girls in the school’s little aristocracy from ending up in the sack with Terry (if you believed the rumors). The fact that two of them were older and had become cheerleaders at University of Wisconsin hadn’t hurt his reputation.
“I’d need to see a complete medical work-up for STDs first!” Allison shouted when she overheard him. Terry reddened. His friends were still teasing him when she left the field.
Her boyfriend Joel Breitzer chuckled when she told him the story. “I’m glad you handled it,” said Joel, “’cause I’d hate to have to kick his ass,” and they both laughed.
Joel was so skinny he looked like a stick figure, all the more so because he usually dressed in black. His sandy blond hair was always a mess, his skin only beginning to clear up from a holocaust of acne. How this gangly, asocial bookworm who helped in the library after school had ever come to date Allison was a mystery to their classmates. It was Allison who had asked him out. There was no shortage of curly-haired, square-jawed, square-shouldered squares. As with everything else, details had drawn her in: his pointed nose and widely spaced eyes, his electrified hair and the way his skinny torso felt when she wrapped her arms around it from behind. Joel got her attention by recommending books, which Allison found unbelievably hot. He was the son of a U-W literature professor, and he lent her Burroughs and Balzac and Henry Miller, books that offered her a world of ideas that no one in Wisconsin seemed to know about, or, at any rate, to acknowledge. Allison loved him for his thoughtfulness, for his gentleness. No one else could offer her that. And if their sex life was still a work-in-progress—for they had “done it” in the utmost secrecy after she had read Tropic of Cancer—it would start to work eventually, Allison thought.
Two weeks later Terry found Allison alone after school in the school paper’s cluttered work room. They hadn’t spoken since the football field. When he appeared, Allison realized she’d been hoping to see him. “Aren’t you missing football practice?” Allison said sharply. Terry was uncharacteristically nervous and she wanted to see him squirm some more.
“Yeah,” Terry said. “Um, I want you to know I’m really sorry about what you heard me say. Sometimes when guys start talking, they—”
“What do you want?” said Allison.
Terry dug around in his back pack for a moment and handed her a large white envelope. Allison looked at it suspiciously, then opened it. It was a report from a free clinic. It certified Terry free of sexually transmitted disease.
“I really like you,” said Terry. Allison was, for once, at a loss for a reply. “I know there are a lot of rumors about me but they’re not all true and I always used, you know, protection and stuff, and I never, ever talked about it, even with the guys on the—”
“How romantic,” said Allison, shoving report back in the envelope and handing it back to him.
“It was supposed to be, you know, cute.”
“You’re totally different than anyone I know and I really—”
“You’re already going with Alyssa Dover,” said Allison.
“We broke up,” said Terry.
Joel appeared at the doorway of the office. Terry looked at him and back at Allison. She scowled at him. “Um, excuse me, I gotta go,” he mumbled.
Allison’s face softened when Terry’s back was turned. He walked to the door with his head hanging, and he said an awkward, “How’s it going, man?” to Joel, who didn’t answer. That’s the most pathetic proposition I’ve ever seen, Allison thought. It elevated her opinion of Terry a little. His reputation was ninety-nine percent bullshit if that was the best he could do talking to a girl he liked. And it was kind of touching that he’d apologize and humiliate himself with medical tests when rejection was certain.
“Was that jerk bothering you?” asked Joel.
“No,” said Allison. “He isn’t really such a jerk.”
Allison’s father owned a small construction company and made his living building additions on people’s houses. An active member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Mr. Sparks never lacked clients from the congregation. It was a conservative church that embraced many ideas the greater part of the Lutheran church had abandoned a half century ago. Divorce, though a fact of life for many of the congregation, was officially condemned. Women weren’t allowed to be ministers. They weren’t allowed to be elected to the Church Council. Though they were allowed to teach at Immanuel School, only a man was allowed to be principal there.
Allison had gone to Immanuel School, a tiny, mediocre, faith-based school, until her parents had split up, then gone to the public school so her tuition money could pay lawyers. Her father had tried everything but there was no way around it. Mr. Sparks had been a member of the congregation from birth. His faith was unshakable. The first time Allison questioned her father about the church’s doctrine, he’d replied, “That’s just the way it is—if you don’t do what the church says, you could go to hell.” She’d only confuse herself if she kept reading too much, he added. After that Allison hid her books whenever possible. She never questioned the church’s dogma in front of her father again. She wasn’t afraid of being punished. It made her feel bad that her father feared, dreaded, in fact, that his only child would burn eternally in hell if he failed as a father.
The chief of the congregation was Pastor Petersen, an old man who had spent forty years in the Rutledge pulpit. In the mid ’80s the church had split over his refusal to accept any reform and half the congregation had opened another church. Frequently Pastor Peterson’s sermons strayed onto political ground. He declared divine opinions on abortion, divorce, stem-cell research, or the war in Iraq which, as far as Pastor Petersen was concerned, was a war to spread President Bush’s Christian values to the backwaters of the Middle East where they were so badly needed. Though Rutledge was Republican through and through these words caused some stir, especially after one of the young men Petersen convinced to enlist lost a leg in fighting near Basra.
Allison went to church dutifully and pretended to pay attention. Although her parents thought they had hidden it from her Allison knew why they had divorced. Her father had been having affairs with two students at the University of Wisconsin, women half his age, had spent over fifteen thousand dollars on them, taken them on dates, bought them nice clothes and paid their rent when the money they got from their parents couldn’t cover it. One of the girls’ boyfriends had jealously followed Mr. Sparks home one night, all the way from Madison to Rutledge, and told Allison’s mom everything.
After she found out about the affairs, it was impossible for Allison to look at the church as anything but a sham. How many listening piously to Petersen’s sermons had done something similar? She spent the church service daydreaming about Joel, her friends, or the book she was reading. Now she found herself thinking of Terry.
She saw him every day that week in history class, the one subject where this B student excelled. Terry could expound on the causes of the Civil War for hours if the teacher didn’t stop him. He was curious about the past. She caught him looking at her and when he saw she had noticed he lowered his eyes apologetically. He didn’t try to talk to her after class.
She thought about him one day after making love with Joel. What would that be like with Terry?
That weekend she rode with friends to Madison and shopped for clothes. After a few hours Allison said she was going to Borders, which guaranteed no one would tag along. She went to a small shop called Afterglow on the outskirts of the downtown, showing a fake ID intended for buying beer to get in.
The store was lit like a dungeon. It mostly sold videos, DVDs in large packaging featuring pictures of muscular men with giant penises and women with surrealistic breasts. There were also dildos, which looked like malformed, oversized cocks, some raunchy tee shirts and other novelties, and a small sado-masochism section which was always crawling with nerdy-looking University of Wisconsin students. Otherwise the clients were mostly middle-aged men, sad looking ones who didn’t have the courage to stare at her when she walked in and made themselves more conspicuous by looking absolutely anywhere else. Allison wondered if her father had ever stopped here.
The first time she had come here, so shy and so nervous, Allison had nearly fled before she could notice a small counter in the back. While the rest of the store was decorated to suggest filth and degenerate naughtiness, this counter was nearly pharmaceutical in its order and cleanliness. A earthy tapestry hung from the wall behind it and the entire area was enveloped in a warm pocket of red and purple light. In a glass case and on shelves was displayed an impressive variety of vibrators. The woman who ran the counter was named Harper. She was twenty-eight, a U-W alum who dressed in black with heavy eye shadow, purple hair, sleeve tattoos covering her arms, piercings in her tongue, nose, and left eyebrow, and a broad smile of pearly white teeth. The smile instantly torpedoed the cliché Harper had tried so hard to become.
Allison had been looking for a vibrator when she came here the first time: a sex guide Joel had bought said it would help her have an orgasm. Harper had guessed she was under age and had helped her anyway. On the first visit, Allison had wanted to get out as soon as possible but when that vibrator didn’t have the desired effect she had returned. To help her choose a second Harper had to ask questions that Allison was too embarrassed to answer out loud. Allison wrote notes and passed them across the counter while Harper shocked her by using the words “cock,” “pussy” and “clit” out loud. The second vibrator had behaved as hoped but Allison had come back anyway, many times, to discuss her problems. Harper was the only one who would understand. She was from Milwaukee and had lived twenty “chaste” years before “finding” herself in her junior year at Wisconsin. She was on a mission to make sure Allison had an easier time. She accomplished the mission by saying things that stunned Allison. “If the right girl comes along, don’t say no. A good man’s hard to find, you know what I mean?”
Harper didn’t disappoint when Allison told her she felt bad because she was thinking about another boy. “Sounds like you’re just curious,” said Harper. “Why not just do this Terry guy one time and get it out of your system?”
“What about Joel?” asked Allison.
“That would kill him.”
“If he really loves you, if he knows you love him, then what does anything else matter? Love isn’t an endangered resource, you know what I mean? There’s plenty to go around.”
Two weeks later Allison asked if she could go to the bathroom in the middle of math class. She went to Terry’s locker instead and, making sure the hall was completely deserted, she slipped a note in through one of the narrow slots in the door.
Terry met her that afternoon at the foot of the water tower on the outskirts of Rutledge. He had skipped football practice to come.
As he got out of his truck Allison felt like she might suddenly start trembling or giggling. “Did you tell anyone you were meeting me?” she asked, trying to sound calm and nonchalant.
“Good,” said Allison. “Here’s the deal. I appreciate that you’re interested enough in me to say what you did in the journalism room. I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”
“That’s okay,” said Terry.
“I think you’re cute,” said Allison. “They say a lot of things about you and I’m curious if they’re true or not. So here’s my offer. Let’s make out one time. I’m not promising anything after that. You’ll just have to wait and see. Also, you can’t tell anyone. No matter what happens next, it has to stay a complete secret. If any rumors start going around I’ll know who started them. If that happens, you’ll have to go a long ways away for college to escape the rumors I start about you, get me?”
Harper liked to say that even a man with a million stratagems to break down a woman’s defenses finds himself tongue-tied and befuddled when a woman directly says what she wants. A nod was Terry’s answer. Allison suppressed another fit of nervous giggles.
“Good,” said Allison, and she climbed on her bike.
“Where are you going?” asked Terry, more confused than ever.
“I have to tell my boyfriend,” said Allison. She saw Terry looked alarmed. “Nothing’s going to happen unless he agrees. You’ll hear from me.”
That’s how it’s done, Allison thought to herself. Cool as a cucumber. Five minutes later she got off her bike and threw up in a drainage ditch. She sat beside the side of the road a long time, shaking all over despite the perfect Indian summer weather. Maybe I should forget the whole thing, she thought. If I can barely keep it together to talk to Terry, what am I going to do about Joel?
She had planned to talk to Joel that day. Instead she walked her bike four miles to her house, stopping frequently to take pictures, distracting herself from what she knew she had to do next. “How can you date two guys?” she had asked Harper.
“Short of being a cheating bitch, there’s only one way,” Harper had said. “You gotta ask. Sometimes it ain’t pretty.”
When she rang Joel’s doorbell the next afternoon he came to the door with a book in his hand and kissed her hello. She had meant to walk home from school with him but she had chickened out, hidden, and only worked up the courage to show up at his house after practicing what she was going to say for an hour. She hoped it wouldn’t sound too rehearsed.
“My father won’t be home until later tonight,” said Joel with the hint of a suggestion.
She kissed him again. “Sounds fun,” she said, with the same warmth.
Forty-five minutes later they came out of Joel’s room, went to the kitchen and Allison beamed at her skinny boy as he poured her a glass of lemonade and then she told him that Terry Yanow had a crush on her, that she had thought about it and decided she had a crush on him. “Can I go on a date with him?”
“Sorry?” said Joel, frozen with the glass of lemonade in his hand, unsure if she was joking.
“I want your permission.”
“You’re serious?” Joel set the glass of lemonade on the kitchen counter. “Are you asking if you can cheat on me?”
“I don’t want to cheat on you,” said Allison. “That’s why I’m asking.”
“The answer’s no!”
“Please don’t be mad.”
“Am I supposed to say it’s okay?”
“Can’t you like two people?”
“What about your dad and those students?” said Joel. “You think he still loved your mom?”
“Yeah. I think he did, in a way.”
“I bet your mom thinks he betrayed her,” said Joel.
“He was just so, like, wrapped up in all that religious crap that he couldn’t say what he wanted,” said Allison. “That’s why I’m asking.”
“So it would have been okay if he said, ‘Honey, I love you but I wanna bone some coeds, would that be all right’?”
“Why not?” There were tears on her face.
“You think your mom would have said yes to that?”
“I might have,” said Allison. “Why not? You really think that one person can be everything another person wants?”
Mad as Joel was, ideas he considered radical were his weakness. They excited him. Allison could see his anger slip as his mind started working. “Maybe one person can’t be everything,” he said finally, “but if I came to you and asked to sleep with another girl, what would you say?”
“I asked for a date!”
“You’d say no,” said Joel. “You’d be really pissed.”
“Maybe,” said Allison. “Maybe if it caught me off guard. But that’d be wrong. You love me. Why should I care what you do or who else you love? It doesn’t matter.” She took a step towards him and put a hand on his face, saying, “I love you, Joel.” It seemed sort of stupid to her, like something somebody would do in a movie. She couldn’t think of anything else to do or say, though. Everything she had rehearsed had deserted her. Joel had once joked that you can’t trust someone who doesn’t say stupid things when they’re in love. The whole situation was dumb, anyway.
“Why a dumb jock?”
“He’s not dumb,” Allison began. “I mean, he is dumb but he’s not dumb.” She took a deep breath. “Maybe ’cause he doesn’t think too much.”
“Like we do,” said Joel. “I mean, listen to us!”
“We think too much,” said Allison with a tired laugh.
“He wanted me, he knew it, he did something about it. It wasn’t romantic or anything. I basically laughed in his face, but he didn’t care.”
There was another question in Joel’s eyes that he wouldn’t ask. “What?” she said.
“Do you love him more than me?” he asked. There wasn’t any anger or even any resentment but his voice was thick from the effort it took for him to drag the question out.
“No way! Not the same,” said Allison. She’d never tried to compare the way she felt about Joel and Terry. It didn’t even compute.
“Are you sure?”
“I definitely don’t,” said Allison. “I just… It’s not the same feeling. Not at all.”
Joel nodded slowly.
Allison said, “I’m just talking crazy, aren’t I?” She started crying again. She was all nerves now. She felt like she had the day before after talking to Terry. She hoped she didn’t throw up again. “Can we just forget I said it? I must be out of my mind.”
Joel said nothing. His face looked frozen, his eyes fixed a couple inches beside her and but far away like he was looking at another galaxy. “But it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?” he said.
Allison wasn’t sure. Joel had almost talked her out of it.
“If we were friends,” Joel went on, “I wouldn’t care if you made another friend. Why should this be any different? I mean, it is and it isn’t. I mean, you know what I mean?”
“I think so,” said Allison.
“I mean, look at Henry Miller.” One of Joel’s favorite authors. “He was in love with a couple of women. And he was sleeping with, like, everybody.”
“Are you saying yes?”
“Just one date?” asked Joel.
“Then we’ll talk again?”
“Talking sucks,” said Allison, wiping her tears with a tissue.
“It sure does,” said Joel. “I want to talk to him. I want to make sure he really likes you.”
“I want to make sure,” said Joel again. “Girls always think they know what guys are thinking but sometimes you haven’t got a clue.”
The next day Terry skipped football practice again though the coach had told him he’d be on the bench for Friday night’s game if he missed another practice that week. He went to the water tower like the second note he’d found in his locker said but Joel was waiting there, not Allison. Terry considered driving away. Maybe he could make it back to practice in time to play on Friday, and he didn’t see how the conversation coming up would be worth having. He stopped his truck anyway and got out. He’d done what he felt he had to and, all other considerations aside, he was an honest kid and it didn’t seem right to him to avoid the consequences.
“Are you here to fight me or something?” he asked.
“No,” said Joel.
“Look, man,” said Terry, “it was nothing personal or anything.”
“I know. Tell me what you think about Allison.”
“What? Like, why?”
“Just do it,” said Joel.
“Okay. Fine,” said Terry. “She’s… I mean, she’s pretty, and…” He faltered. “This is really weird, dude,” he said.
“What do you like about her?” said Joel.
“She’s… I dunno, man,” said Terry, but he did. Joel could already see he did from how embarrassed he was to talk about it.
“You broke up with your girlfriend so you could ask her out,” he said. “Isn’t there something you like about her?”
“Well, yeah,” said Terry. He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Her camera, I guess.” He would have rather Joel take a swing at him. Having a conversation like this was bad enough with a girl but with another guy it was damn near torture. He could see Joel waiting for him to elaborate. “She’s always taking pictures of stuff, little stuff. Sometimes you hear girls making fun of her because she’ll be, like, in a ditch and, you know, taking a picture of an old hubcap or something. But the same girls’ll try to be friends with her, I guess ’cause they’re jealous or something.” It started to come out more and more easily. “And she’ll say things when she’s talking to you and it’ll be like she sees something you said, maybe something stupid but she sees it like the hubcap. It’s just some little detail, but it’s special to her. Beautiful, I guess. She wants to, like, snap a picture and keep it.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. He cleared his throat nervously. “You know?”
They got in Terry’s truck and drove to Pete’s, a diner outside of town where Allison was waiting for them. They ordered burgers in awkward silence, were telling funny stories and laughing by the time they ate them and, as they shared dessert, Allison was sure it would work out between the three of them. She kissed Joel goodbye and left with Terry. They saw a movie and made out for a long time.
That evening she swung by Joel’s house.
“I love you,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“I am,” said Joel, like it surprised him a little, like he wasn’t supposed to be. “How was it?”
“It was great,” said Allison.
“I’m glad,” he said, smiling, and kissed her.
Football season ended and within a few weeks the first snow was on the ground. It continued to fall all winter. All winter the students at the high school were surprised to see Terry spending so much time with Allison and Joel. They did everything together—took trips to Madison in Terry’s truck, played board games on snowy afternoons at Joel’s living room, haunted Pete’s Diner, sometimes all evening right up until Allison’s curfew. The teachers noticed too, when Terry’s grade in English came up to an A-minus thanks to Joel’s tutoring.
Allison and Terry scoured the town after school on foot or in Terry’s truck, taking pictures. Terry had become her favorite subject and a whole series of pictures of him against Rutledge’s snowy winter landscapes took form on her camera’s memory card. Whenever there was a thaw the two would play one-on-one basketball behind the school. None of this interfered with Joel and Allison’s tradition of homework parties or their standard Thursday evening date of reading short stories aloud to one another. Then the mood would strike and they would blow off these activities to go bowling, the whole trio together, or just lie in the warm sunlight that poured through the skylight in Joel’s house and cuddle, Allison between her two boyfriends.
Allison wasn’t a bit surprised that their strange relationship worked. Terry, on the other hand, was amazed. He’d been cheated on before and been so angry he imagined strangling his ex. Why wasn’t he jealous now? He couldn’t figure it out. He knew that a real man would want to beat the shit out of Joel. Instead the two of them were planning a trip to Chicago together for opening day at Wrigley Field.
A few weeks after Allison and Terry’s first date Joel had floated a theory about how they were rebelling against society which tried to control kids like them and adults too by making them monogamous, ashamed of sex, all because society had a vested interest in keeping the lines of inheritance clear. Terry didn’t quite get this and Allison thought it was intellectual bullshit but didn’t say so. She didn’t hate society. She hadn’t fallen in love with these two wonderful boys because she wanted to destroy it. She felt very strongly about both of them, but two very separate feelings, two very different kinds of love. Joel got intellectual again and said that half of love is the other person, the specific things you love about them; so it goes to figure that every time you fall in love it would be a different feeling. “The only kind of person who thinks all love’s the same,” said Joel, “is a person who’s only in love with the idea of being in love.” Allison liked this explanation and she thought about it every time she heard a sentimental Emmylou Harris song about heartbreak and loss on the radio of her father’s car. There wasn’t much in popular music that moved her anymore, nor on television where the lives of high schoolers are continuous dramas of break-ups and jealous love triangles. Harper laughed when Allison mentioned this on one trip to the sex shop. She agreed.
“Maybe you should date someone else too,” Allison said to Joel one day.
“Maybe,” Joel said. “You think I could pull it off?”
“I sure do, stud. You can burn a woman down when you put your mind to it.”
In the old days Joel had felt insecure about the way he made love but when Terry came into the picture, when he didn’t feel like she was depending on him and only him, Joel felt the pressure go away and finally got the hang of it.
“Yeah, I’d date somebody else,” he said now. “If it was the right person. I’m too much of a misanthrope, that’s my problem.”
Allison made the same offer to Terry. It seemed only fair, she said. “Yeah,” he said, “I should do that.” But he never did. When Allison asked him a few months later he said he guessed he was just brought up to only want to date one woman at a time, even if Allison spent half of her time with Joel. For some reason he didn’t feel like keeping score. So no one else joined them after school at their regular spot in the booth in the back of Pete’s Diner.
Harper had a way of making tactless questions seem okay and Allison didn’t blink any more when Harper said, “So, you’re fucking them both?”
“Yep,” Allison said. She hadn’t been to the shop for a couple of months but she was ready to try some new toys. “It took me a while to get, like, comfortable enough with Terry to, you know… But I did!”
“Well, good for you,” said Harper. “And how’s it going?”
“No problems? Jealousy?”
“No,” said Allison. “It’s weird.”
“I know,” said Harper. “You think it isn’t possible and then it turns out to be so easy. At least when you agree up front. It’s harder when you start out monogamous. I’m glad Joel took it so well.”
Allison said it wasn’t that surprising. Confronted with a new idea, Joel wasn’t one to let jealousy override curiosity.
“What about the two of them?” asked Harper. “They gettin’ it on?”
“No!” said Allison, sticking out her tongue as if to gag.
“Not even a little? They don’t get in the mood when the three of you are together?”
“We don’t do it together.”
“Really?” said Harper. “You don’t know what you’re missing, girl.”
Allison smiled and said, “I don’t think they’re ready for that.”
“But you’re ready, right?” said Harper and Allison blushed. “I’ve got a great way to bring up the subject,” said Harper. “A friend of mine is having a party at her parents’ house in McFarland. You know where that is?” It was a suburb of Madison. “How about you and the boys drop by.” What kind of party was it? “What kind do you think? Look, you stop in, you keep your clothes on unless the mood takes you. There’ll be all kinds of people standing around and talking. They’re friendly and they won’t push you, I promise.” Harper smiled wickedly. “With any luck it will give Joel and Terry tons of new ideas.”
Allison, Joel and Terry piled in the pick-up truck two weeks later. After an hour’s drive from Rutledge it took nearly as much to find the right house in the winding, hilly roads of McFarland’s wooded neighborhoods. At the door all they had to say was that Harper invited them and they were ushered in.
The dining room was for socialization only, the hostess explained, while the living room was for “vanilla” love making. The upstairs—her parents’ enormous bedroom when they weren’t on vacation, said the hostess with a grin—was for sado-masochism, bondage, discipline and anything else you could dream up on the kinkier side. “Of course you can watch,” said the hostess after Allison asked. “Come find me and my girlfriend later. We’ll put on a show for you.” Terry said they definitely would.
The guests were all in their twenties from what Allison could see. In the living room only a few couples had started necking. Almost everybody was in the dining room eating hors d’oeuvres and talking. On the table with the food Allison saw bowls overflowing with condoms, dental dams and rubber gloves. There were bowls in every room of the house, ten times this many people couldn’t have used them all, Allison thought.
The dining room was where they found Harper who introduced them to her girlfriends and boyfriend.
“What’s your name?” Joel asked the boyfriend.
“Don’t have one,” he said.
“He doesn’t deserve a name,” said Harper, pinched his nipple hard and twisted.
“What do we call you?” said Allison.
“Harper’s lover,” he said.
Harper wouldn’t touch him except to cause pain and made him watch as she had sex with her girlfriends and several others. The rest of the night he was tour guide to Allison, Joel and Terry. Most of the time they stayed in the dining room, meeting people, chatting. He took them into the living room to watch whenever something hot was happening. He took them upstairs briefly when some living legends of the University kink scene started “playing,” then brought them right back down, apologizing all the way. Everyone they met tried to put them at ease, told them funny stories about his or her first party, spread gossip and legend about other guests. After a half an hour Allison and Joel where fairly comfortable though neither mentioned participating. Terry, the Don Juan of Rutledge High School, looked like he’d like to throw up.
Then there were cops. Allison didn’t even remember hearing the doorbell ring but suddenly they were in every room of the house demanding to see everyone’s identification while the hostess screamed at them. Allison found out later from Harper’s lover that it wasn’t the first party at the house and a conservative neighbor “with a stick up her ass,” as Harper’s lover put it, had called in a noise complaint although there was no noise to speak of. “The cops must’a been in cahoots with Nancy Reagan next door,” said Harper’s lover. “Seven police cars—that’s like half the McFarland P. D.!” The hostess was a first year law student. She shouted to high heaven that the cops didn’t have the right to barge in and card people but the embarrassed naked couples cared more about leaving as quickly as possible than the finer points of the law and complied. Terry was already eighteen and Allison showed them her fake ID, a real Wisconsin driver’s license with the last number of her birth year imperceptibly altered. Joel wasn’t a drinker. He was two weeks shy of eighteen and didn’t own a fake ID. They arrested him, and the hostess too.
Joel’s dad hired a lawyer who had the minor charges against him dropped. Having been caught with a minor at her sex party the hostess had bigger problems—the trial created enough of a scandal that she transferred law schools after, luckily, the judge followed the letter of the law and dismissed the charges because of the illegal search.
Being off the hook with the cops wasn’t much consolation to Joel when his dad came to the police station to get him. Dr. Breitzer exploded when Joel was released from lock-up then drove an hour in absolute silence and at home that night apologized for his outburst, entirely caused by worry, and started asking questions. Why was Joel at that party? Who had invited him? How had he gotten to Madison? Joel wouldn’t answer. It was late, he was tired, he said. He went to bed.
The next day was Sunday. Joel woke up at ten-thirty to find his dad had made pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. “You had a bad enough night without me getting on your case,” Dr. Breitzer said as they ate. “I gotta remember you’re not a kid anymore. You’re almost eighteen. Just, no more trips to the police station, okay? And no sex parties while you’re under my roof!”
“Okay,” said Joel. “You know, I didn’t even do anything there.”
“I know, I believe you,” said Dr. Breitzer. “Hey, let me make it up to you. The trail you love over in Verne is perfect. Plenty of mud! Let’s throw the bikes in the car and head over there.”
The trail was better than Joel’s dad promised. They were all smiles as they put their mud caked bikes back on the car’s bike rack, changed into clean clothes behind some trees and cleaned the mud from their faces and arms at the trailhead’s spigot. On the drive home Dr. Breitzer turned on a classic rock station and Joel made fun of him for being old. Dr. Breitzer asked if he wanted to get Greek pizza at one of their favorite restaurants before heading back to Rutledge but Joel had promised to meet Allison and Terry.
“Terry?” asked Joel’s dad. “He’s that football player, isn’t he? Since when have the two of you been such good friends?”
Joel paused for a long moment. “I gotta tell you something,” he said finally. “We’re friends because we’re both dating Allison. That’s how I heard about the party. Allison was invited by one of her friends. I was there with her and Terry. We just went to meet people like us. Like, for guidance.”
Dr. Breitzer looked pretty shocked so Joel started to recite some of the things he’d read and his own theories. By the time they got home he was wishing he hadn’t said anything. “I’m going to call Allison and Terry’s parents,” said Dr. Breitzer. Joel protested. His dad said, “Don’t you think they have a right to know what their children are doing? You could be endangering your health!”
Allison was doing her homework at the dinning room table when her father answered the phone. Ten seconds into the conversation his eyes fell on her and she knew what was coming. “A sex party! In Madison! You told me you were studying with Joel. And who the hell is this other boy? I only let you see Joel because you promised me you’d be pure until marriage!”
“Who was that?” Allison demanded.
“It was Joel’s father!”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Allison.
“Oh? Doesn’t he? You’re not dating Joel and this Terry kid? You didn’t go to, to an orgy with them in Madison yesterday when you were supposed to be studying? Did you sleep with them?”
“That’s none of your business!”
“The hell it isn’t, young lady,” said Mr. Sparks in a voice that made Allison wilt.
Allison was thrown in her room long enough for her father to make a phone call then led to the car. They tore across town. Pastor Petersen met them at the church door. In his office the pastor sat in silence after Mr. Sparks explained the emergency. Allison’s father paced rapidly back in forth, turning now and then to jab an accusing finger at her. “This is your mother’s fault!” he said. “It’s because she left the church after we divorced. Every summer up there in Minneapolis she’s letting you skip Sunday worship, filling your head with new ideas—”
“You blame Mom?” Allison shot back, finding her venom again. “Which one of you was sleeping with two coeds in Madison?” It was said to hurt him, not to argue. Arguing wouldn’t get her anywhere now.
“What did she tell you?”
“I knew the whole time!” said Allison. “I heard the two of you shouting about it! If you want to punish me, punish me, but stop pretending to be something you aren’t, it’s embarrassing!”
Allison’s father lowered himself into a chair across the desk from Pastor Petersen. None of them said anything.
“God’s punishing me,” Mr. Sparks said at last.
“That’s bullshit,” said Allison.
“Shut up!” said her father. “He’s punishing me for my sins, isn’t he, Pastor?”
Petersen folded his hands and though he said nothing his look pronounced his judgment on both of them.
“Can I save my daughter?” asked Mr. Sparks.
“Perhaps,” said Petersen. Allison started to interrupt but with a voice hardened by decades of sermons without the aid of a microphone Petersen intoned, “You will be silent,” and Allison said nothing more.
Enrolling at Immanuel School in mid-March still required paying an entire year’s tuition unfortunately, Pastor Petersen explained. That was fine by Allison’s father. The Pastor had supplied him with information about fighting sex addiction in women and the materials, which Allison was forced to read, emphasized the importance of removing the source of temptation. If you have inappropriate feelings about a male friend, it advised, end the friendship. If you’re attracted to a man at work, find another job. The money for the private school came from a fund which Allison had hoped, with financial aid, might send her to an in-state college like University of Wisconsin. Though her grades were good enough it was a moot point now. For Mr. Sparks, Madison, Wisconsin was Babylon and Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah all wrapped up in one. It was the land of shadow where he’d wandered at the time when he was most lost, where he’d committed the worst sins imaginable against God and against his family. He’d be damned if his girl would go there now.
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon Allison was excused from classes and driven by her father an hour and a half to a faith-based counseling center where she had to talk to a counselor named Marnie about her problem.
“Addiction is a very powerful force,” Marnie told her. “Sexual sin is very tempting and the devil knows it.”
But Allison didn’t consider it sin. “If you weren’t ashamed of your behavior, why were you so secretive?” said Marnie.
“You allowed those two boys to abuse and degrade you,” Marnie said. “You sought a relationship without the caring and the commitment one person can give to another.”
Arguing with Marnie was useless. Combativeness led to new anti-depressants which Marnie said would suppress her out-of-control sexual desire. The pills were a pain in the ass. It was far better to feign cooperation. Smile and nod.
Besides the counseling sessions and school she was confined to the house. Mr. Sparks disconnected all the phones except the one in his office, then locked the office door. “Pastor Petersen said it’ll help you,” he explained. Terry came to the door three times and was turned away. Joel was turned away too and when his father started to show up Mr. Sparks screamed at him and threatened to get a restraining order against his son.
Allison had to cut class to talk to Joel. She waited outside his house until he came shuffling home from school, eyes cast downward thoughtfully, kicking a pebble ahead of him. She smiled as she watched him and it seemed like the first time she’d smiled in weeks. Joel’s eyes lit up when he noticed her. She loved that. He still kept lemonade in the fridge and he served her a glass in the kitchen, where they’d first discussed Terry. Joel poured himself a glass and they sat on stools at the kitchen counter.
“It’s a total nightmare,” Allison said. “He takes me to school every morning and he picks me up every afternoon and I have to take theology and they make me see a counselor every week.”
Allison laughed. “It really sticks in the counselor’s craw that you’re Jewish. She, like, can’t stop bringing it up.”
“Fuck,” said Joel.
“Yeah,” said Allison. “It sucks.”
They sat there for a moment. Joel held her hand.
“Did you hear about Terry?” Joel asked.
“Yeah,” said Allison.
“He’s a total bastard. I can’t believe I helped him with English.”
“It’s not his fault,” said Allison.
“He did want to tell you when they started going out,” said Joel. “He tried to call but your dad picked up the phone. So he sent some e-mails.”
“Dad took away my computer.”
“He even sent a letter.”
“I guess my dad’s opening my mail too,” said Allison and she started to cry. Joel pushed his stool back, stood and hugged her, rocking her gently back and forth. Terry’s new girlfriend had made it clear she didn’t intend to share him and he’d agreed, Joel told her. When Joel talked to him Terry had said, “I just want something normal.”
Allison stopped crying after a few minutes. Joel sat again holding her hand.
“You’re eighteen now,” said Allison suddenly. “Do you ever just want to say screw high school and screw college and screw my parents and screw everything and just move some place like Madison or Minneapolis or Chicago and live the way you want to? Would you like to do that?”
“I…” Joel said. After a moment he said, “I don’t…” and broke off again. The front door opened and his dad came in. Joel took his hand away from Allison’s as his father entered the room.
“Allison,” said Dr. Breitzer, “you shouldn’t be here. Should I call your dad to pick you up?”
“No,” said Allison. “I’m leaving.” She got her backpack and jacket.
“Allison,” said Dr. Breitzer. “I wanted to say I’m sorry about what’s happened. I think your father overreacted. I tried to talk to him but…”
“Yeah,” said Allison. “Thanks.”
“He had a right to know,” said Dr. Breitzer.
“Sure,” Allison said and walked out of the house.
Dr. Breitzer shook his head and looked at his son. He’d never seen Joel so miserable. “Dad, can I—” Joel said, and Dr. Breitzer said, “Go.” Joel caught her before she reached the sidewalk.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” said Allison. “It’s your whole future. I shouldn’t have asked you. Will you do something for me?”
Allison handed him a note. He unfolded the piece of paper and started to read the instructions she’d written. He looked up at her with a question in his eyes but then read the rest of the note and stuck it in his back pocket. “I’ll help you,” he said. He stared at her and felt sad and happy and nothing all at once. There was too much to say and there was nothing to say.
“Well,” said Joel, “see ya.”
“See ya,” Allison said.
Several weeks later it was Allison’s birthday. It was a Thursday. She left school at lunchtime and went to the small parking lot where her father sat in his SUV to take her to her counseling appointment. He handed her a cupcake with a burning candle and said, “Happy eighteenth, kiddo.” She blew out the candle and ate the cupcake and her father said, “I wanted you to know I’m proud of you. I know it’s hard.”
Allison smiled tenderly at her father. “Dad, I want to thank you,” she said. “For, you know, everything. Trying to save me from hell and everything. That means something to me.”
When they arrived at the counseling center her father said, “I’ll be back to get you in two hours.” She learned over and took him by surprise with a kiss on the cheek. She waved as she went inside.
In the pastel, potpourri-scented waiting room she didn’t sign her name on the clipboard at the reception desk. Marnie would think she hadn’t shown up. Allison walked down a hall to the bathrooms and out a fire door. Harper and Harper’s lover were waiting for her in Harper’s lover’s beat-up green Ford. Joel had followed her instructions and called them.
“Happy birthday,” Harper and her lover said together as she got in. “Welcome to adulthood,” said Harper. Both of them handed her presents she didn’t need to open right away since it was clear through the wrapping paper that one was a book and the other, Harper’s, was suspiciously phallic.
“Are you sure about this, honey?” Harper asked.
“Of course,” said Allison. But she had no idea where she was going. Terry wouldn’t be there, that was clear, nor her father, nor probably even Joel but Allison didn’t care. I’ll be there, wherever I end up, she thought, catching a glimpse of her father in his car, his head buried in a newspaper, as Harper’s lover drove out of the parking lot. It was enough that she’d be there, not hiding, not lying, not secretive, she’d just be there, just her.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Adam Hunault.