Identical, p.20

Identical, page 20



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  You mean like a party? You know

  how I feel about underage parties.

  He’ll never go for a party, not

  even chaperoned. “No, no party.

  To take the little kids trick-or-treating.”

  He thinks a second, then says,

  I guess that’s okay. But not late.

  He stands there, head cocked,

  waiting for me to respond. “My

  dad says okay. We’ll talk later.”

  I Don’t Want to Hang Up

  But I have to.

  Will she understand?

  She seems to. Okay.

  But she’s not

  quite ready to hang up

  either. One question.

  Daddy has retreated

  to the kitchen, but he’ll

  notice if I keep talking.

  I force my voice real

  low. “One quick one.”

  Are you all right?

  What does she know?

  How can I answer?

  “Yes…no…gotta go.”

  I’m Running Really Late

  So I do something I never do.

  “Daddy, I hate to ask you,

  but I’m kind of late for work.

  Could you possibly give me a ride?”

  Then I top off the lie, “Shelby’s

  mom will pick me up after

  and bring me home later.”

  I’ll get home one way or another.

  Daddy scowls and Hannah

  reacts. I’ll give you a ride.

  That way we can talk

  about your mom’s reception.

  I don’t want to talk to Hannah.

  I don’t want her to give me a ride.

  But Daddy seals the deal. Great

  idea. And I’ll start making calls.

  Damn, damn, damn. I hate

  when I’m left without a choice.

  But that’s the situation now.

  I follow Hannah out the door,

  and down the block to her Mitsubishi

  Mirage. Red, of course. Black leather

  interior. And still a mediocre ride.

  Mediocre. Just right for her.

  Thank God it’s only several blocks.

  Hannah yammers on and on about

  food and how much champagne

  we should order and

  Can you help me out with

  a guest list? I have no idea

  who your mother’s friends

  are. I assume she’ll invite

  her business acquaintances.

  Oh, and what about the press?

  Should I contact them? Oh, no,

  your father will probably want to.

  And on and on some more.

  And I can’t concentrate on

  one-tenth of what she says

  because the only thing I can

  think about right now is my

  grandmother. A stranger, but

  somehow not. Her voice is a

  memory, tucked away so deep

  inside that trying to extricate

  it makes my head pound.

  And it feels like once I pry it

  up, a crater will be left behind.

  I Thank Hannah for the Ride

  Go on inside. Preparations

  are well underway, and an

  excited buzz carries along

  the corridors. Sheesh. You’d

  think the old folks would leave

  Halloween to the little kids,

  but no. Any excuse to get out

  of their rooms and party, huh?

  So, okay, that isn’t so strange

  after all. I head straight for

  the dining room to see how

  the decorations are coming

  along. I am not surprised

  to see William flanked by

  five elderly femme fatales,

  hanging cardboard skeletons.

  What snatches my immediate

  attention is Greta, hand in hand

  with the same gentleman who

  visited a few weeks ago. They

  look like a definite thing.

  When she spies me, Greta

  waves me over. Kaeleigh,

  dear, I want you to meet

  Lars. We are old friends.

  Speak for yourself, woman,

  scolds Lars in a heavy Danish

  accent. I myself am forever young,

  especially now that I’ve found you

  again. He turns his attention to me.

  So happy to meet you. Greta

  has told me so much about you.

  No wonder she loves him.

  He loves her, and that little

  bit of wisdom comes from

  more than his words. It’s

  written all over his face.

  “Good to meet you, too.

  And I think you’re both

  forever young.”

  Greta beams but says, In our

  hearts, perhaps. But my body

  reminds me regularly of just

  how many years I have worn it.

  No matter. My Lars has found me.

  I can leave this world satisfied.


  Not sure what that is or how

  to find it, and I sincerely doubt

  that it will ever apply to me.

  I look at them, so in love, and I


  about Ian. Where is he right

  now? Who is he talking to?

  What is he talking about?

  Why should I even


  as long as every now and

  again he thinks about me,

  pulls me from a place

  deep in his heart? Does he


  what I’m doing? Does he care

  that I’ve hung paper pumpkins,

  lit jack-o’-lanterns, baked cookies?

  I want to call him, tell him I


  him. But no, I won’t do

  that, won’t set myself up

  for disappointment. If

  he’s changed his mind, I


  want to know. Anyway,

  I’ve got to go. I say good-bye,

  hurry away from the All Hallows

  Eve celebration, into the night,

  close the door behind me.


  Lawler’s House

  Isn’t at all what I expected.

  It’s not small, not really. And

  it’s definitely not untidy. I


  I watch too much TV. Aren’t

  all single guys supposed to be

  slobs? Not Lawler. No, not

  at all. His yard is tended with


  and I doubt he makes enough

  money to afford a service.

  His Charger, parked on the street,

  is washed, polished. Spotless. I


  if dirt and bug guts just slide

  right off it. I wonder if lowdown

  slides right off him, or if he

  worries about it. I would


  to know if he’s even a little

  worried about inviting me

  here, about what the neighbors

  might think. Personally, I


  give one good damn about

  gossip. So I walk right up, ring

  the bell, head on inside,

  close the door

  behind me.

  He’s Gone for Over an Hour

  Between doorbell rings

  and candy grabs, I roam

  room to room, sitting in chairs,

  straightening photos, opening

  drawers and touching

  their contents, trying to

  absorb Lawler by osmosis.

  The last room I enter

  is his bedroom. Like everythin

  else, it is tidy. Spare. Few

  embellishments but the wandering

  star quilt, in sapphire and rose,

  and matching throw pillows.

  I flop onto the bed, settle

  into the hand-sewn luxury.

  Who gave him such a personal

  gift? Mother? Grandmother?

  No, this feels like the remnant

  of a lover. Resentment swells

  and I bury my head in his pillow,

  seek his familiar leather scent,

  breathe it in. In. In. Smother myself

  in leather perfumed eiderdown.

  The Doorbell Interrupts

  My Lawler-scented reverie.

  I go to answer, expecting a knee-

  high Cinderella or Spiderman.

  Instead I find a half-dozen

  people my age. A couple wear

  masks—a blood-scarred monster,

  a long-fanged werewolf, a Dumbo-

  eared George W. Bush. The rest

  assume they don’t need costumes

  to look horrific, and that includes

  my dearest friend Madison. At

  the sight of me, her jaw drops.

  This isn’t where you live, is it?

  No Hey, how’s it going, just

  demon-eyed inquisition.

  Don’t suppose there’s any use

  lying or denying. “No, it’s not.

  I’m just answering the door.”

  I have no idea if she knows who

  does live here, but I’m not

  volunteering the information.

  As if reading my mind, Madison

  asks, Well, whose house is it?

  They all wait for the answer.

  The answer I really don’t plan

  to give. But as I try to formulate

  a reply, Lawler’s Charger pulls

  against the curb. The jig, as

  they say, is up. And so, I’m pretty

  sure, is any notion of hanging

  around now that he’s home. Anger

  erupts like Vesuvius. “So do you

  freaks want candy or what?”

  The car door shuts and all attention

  turns to Lawler, tall and frigging

  gorgeous beneath his new haircut.

  Madison turns back to me, and

  the smile on her face is not exactly

  friendly. You’ve got to be kidding.

  Mr. Lawler arrives, all charm. Hey,

  guys. A little old for trick-or-treat,

  aren’t you? Well, help yourselves.

  Wouldn’t want you to knock over

  any little kids for their candy.

  He smiles and puts handfuls

  of the sweet stuff into their

  pillowcases. Anyway, I don’t

  need junk food lying around

  the house. I’ll just eat it, you

  know? Thanks for stopping

  by. See you all on Monday.

  Dismissed! Then he turns

  to me. Thanks so much for

  watching the place. I sure

  didn’t need any kids playing

  tricks on me. He takes my arm.

  Come back inside and I’ll pay you.


  And I wouldn’t expect

  anything less. Still, I suspect

  Madison, et al. are lurking

  nearby somewhere, waiting

  to see when and if I leave.

  No Lawler tonight.

  “The haircut looks great.”

  What else can I say?

  He stands very close to me,

  looks down into my eyes.

  Thanks. I had hoped you

  could stay for a while, but now…

  “I know. It’s okay.” Oh

  yeah, real okay. I swear

  I will strangle Madison

  one of these days. “Oh,

  and you don’t have to pay

  me anything. I was happy

  to help out.” Happy to lie

  on your bed, your pillow.

  But Now I Have to Go

  And we both know it, and we know

  it has to be sooner rather than later.

  Do you need a ride home?

  I’d planned on staying out later.

  Much later. But somehow I don’t

  feel like calling Mick or Ty.

  Somehow, going home and fantasizing

  about Lawler will be more

  than enough action for one night.

  “Okay. If you think it’s safe

  to leave your house empty.”

  I’ll leave the candy on the front porch.

  We walk to the car, far apart,

  but the street appears deserted,

  except for a few kids well down

  the block. “Trick-or-treat seems to

  end earlier and earlier every year.”

  I think that started with 9/11.

  He opens the passenger door,

  every molecule the gentleman.

  I’m pretty damn sure no guy

  has ever done that for me

  before. “Thank you.”

  But of course, milady.

  I might as well melt right now.

  Even without Lawler in it yet,

  the Charger smells like him.

  I think I could just curl up and die

  right here in the cushy front seat.

  I know this relationship can never

  work out. But, oh, how I want it to.

  Lawler gets in, starts the car, drives

  me home. And although there is so

  much to say, neither of us dares

  attempt it. The silence crushes.

  Finally I chance resting my hand

  on his thigh. “I find older men

  very attractive, you know.”

  He smiles. Older than what?

  I Know He Has More to Say

  I’ve got plenty more to say too,

  but I’m afraid if I do I’ll jinx

  myself. Still, home isn’t so

  far and my curiosity is killing

  me. “So…what do you think?”

  About what?

  Is he playing coy? He has to

  know what I’m talking about.

  This game isn’t that complicated.

  “About us.” Okay. Said it.

  He sucks in a deep breath.

  There isn’t an “us.”

  Now see? Went and jinxed

  it. Oh, well. What’s jinxed

  is jinxed. Might as well push

  things right out into the open.

  “I thought there might be…

  could be, anyway. Kind of

  seemed like things were

  moving that way.” Enough

  already. Let him talk.

  Lawler Pulls Over

  A couple of blocks from home.

  I don’t move to get out of the car,

  and he turns to face me.

  You are a stunning temptation, not

  to mention an amazing distraction.

  You’re bright, beautiful, adventurous.

  I am totally drawn to you, and if you

  were eighteen and not my student,

  I’d go out with you in a hot second….

  No! He’s brushing me off.

  I want to yell, but I get the feeling

  a soft question might work better.

  “What if we were really careful?”

  I can’t believe he’s about to

  withdraw from the game.

  You saw what happened tonight.

  I guess that was an eye-opener

  for me. Ours is a very small school,

  in a very small town. Secrets are

  difficult to keep here, especially

  this kind of secret. I’m really

  sorry that I led you on. There’s just

  something about you. Something…

njured, despite how

  together you always appear to be.

  I wanted to help you. To heal whatever’s

  broken in you. To make you whole.

  Whole. No one can do that

  for me. God, why did he have

  to go and get so serious?

  Game over. I lose. What am

  I going to do? Throw a tantrum?

  “Okay. I understand. But if you

  ever change your mind, you know

  where to find me, at least during

  second block.” Side-out.

  A Man with Morals

  Or maybe just a coward.

  Either way, lucky me,

  I had to go and fall for

  him. History will not be

  nearly as much fun from

  now on. In fact, I’m not

  sure how I’ll go to class,

  listen to his lectures, ace

  his pop quizzes, etc. etc.,

  without staring at his pecs

  or better yet, his gluteus.

  Then again, I can still stare,

  still fantasize, still dream,

  can’t I?

  Anyway, Lawler Seems

  Like the “fall in love, settle

  down, and have three kids

  with a picket fence” kinda

  guy. Definitely not my type.

  Not that I’m sure exactly

  what my type is. Other


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