He was very calm, and he had little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and unruly blond hair, and a big bushy mustache, and Melody thought he was the most interesting man she'd ever seen. When she talked to him at the parties she found out he'd been a surfer, and a rock climber, and that he'd crewed across the Atlantic on a private yacht. He'd wandered around the Far East. He'd worked on an oil rig. He'd been in Peace Corps in Africa.
He came to all the parties. Melody thought at first that he was best friends with her father, though she later found out her father could barely tolerate him. Gary liked to sit at one end of the kitchen table and listen, and drink. He didn't get loud or obnoxious, but he drank himself into oblivion. He could drink anyone under the table, especially himself. One morning, after a party, Melody found him in the yard, by the hedge, next to a pool of vomit. She shook him awake.
He looked up at her and blinked. "Too bright. Less light," he said.
"Here," she said. "I'll help you." She tried to lift him up, but he was too big.
He pulled his knees under him so he was on all fours, his hands under his shoulders, and then sat back on his heels for a minute. He covered his face with his hands.
"I'll help you," she said.
He looked up at her from under his tangled eyebrows. His hair was a mess. She wanted to comb it, and bathe him, and tuck him into bed and feed him soup until he felt better.
He looked down at the ground for a while, then stood. His motion was strong and smooth, the same as always. He didn't look hung over. "I'll go home."
"I'll come with you."
"I want to help."
He touched his forehead with the palm of one hand, winced, and set off on the little path through the bushes at the corner of the yard. She walked behind him, then, after they crossed Fifteenth Stree, beside him. They went down New York street, and crossed Thirteenth. He lived in a little rental house that sat on cinder blocks. On the outside a few of the white asbestos shingles had fallen off, green paint showing underneath.
He opened the front door. It wasn't locked. "I'm home," he said. "Now you go home."
"I'll make you some tea."
"I don't have any tea."
She followed him in. The front door opened into the living room, which contained only a sofa, an armchair, and a television set. On the left was a fireplace, with a large photograph of a mountain hanging above it.
"What's that?" she asked.
"The Diamond. Long's Peak. Colorado."
There was a brown cliff in the middle. It looked steep and tall. "Have you climbed that?"
She walked over, to look at it more closely. "Show me where."
He sat in the armchair and didn't answer.
There were two doors at the back of the room. The left one led to the bedroom, the right to the kitchen. She looked through the cabinets -- cans of creamed corn, cans of beans, a big bag of rice, some spaghetti. Cooking oil, salt and pepper, tobasco sauce, chili pepper and vinegar. No tea. She opened the refrigerator. Nothing but a dozen eggs, butter, and beer.
In the front room Gary had tilted back his recliner and fallen asleep. Melody closed the door behind her and went home. She took a few tea bags, a pound of hamburger, three potatoes, a tomato, lettuce and onions, and a loaf of bread. With all these in a mesh bag she headed back.
The door was still unlocked and Gary was still asleep. Melody unloaded the food on the kitchen table. He had an iron skillet and a big pot, and she started water boiling while she cooked hamburgers. The meat had browned on one side when he came in the kitchen. A skinny cat followed him and rubbed against Melody's leg.
"What are you doing?" Gary asked.
"Are you nuts?"
"I thought you'd be hungry when you woke up."
"I can't eat that shit. I'm hung over."
She looked down at the meat. "I hate to waste it." She hoped -- expected -- to see a tear drop into the pan and sizzle. Maybe that would change his mind. She rubbed her wrist across her eyes.
"Go home. Get out of here. You could get me in a lot of trouble."
"I'm just cooking!" she shouted. "I didn't do anything!", spatula trembling in her fist.
"You don't have to do anything. I've been through this before."
He reached past her and turned off the stove. "I did a year in jail. I was twenty. She was fifteen."
She looked at his shoes. Scuffed desert boots. She looked up at his face. God he was big. A big sexy teddy bear. She wanted to snuggle up with him.
"You're a freshman, right?" he asked.
"Fifteen?" he asked. She didn't answer. "I'm almost forty." He waited. "Look, every so often some girl thinks I'm really cool, for some reason. I'm not. You understand? I'm not cool. I just look like I should be. Get it?"
"No. What about all that interesting stuff you did?"
"Like climbing the Diamond? It doesn't mean anything. That's why I quit."
"I don't understand."
"Give yourself twenty years. You will." He took her arm and pushed her out the door. "Don't come back."
She knocked, but he wouldn't answer. "My bag!" she yelled. "I need my bag. The bag in the kitchen."
A minute later he handed her the bag, with the food in it, and shut the door. The bolt turned.
Why wouldn't he respond to her? Men always did, unless they were the kind of men who didn't like girls. She couldn't remember when she'd first noticed that men didn't look at her the way they looked at other girls, but she'd been very young. They looked longer, and they looked hungry, and they smiled at her. They weren't just looking and smiling -- they wanted something. She liked that. Now she knew what those looks meant, and she liked men. She liked everything about them. She was glad they liked her.
She knew that Gary managed the Juicery downtown, so she started going there after school and on weekends. He'd make the other person wait on her, except when he was the only one there. Then he'd stare over her head until she ordered, and make her beverage, and give her the change without saying anything, without even looking at her. She would sit in the tiny front area, unless it was full and she had to sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk. She'd watch him. She did this for a week, until one day they were the only two in the place. She'd been sitting at the table long enough and finished her drink and got up to put it in the trash. He was staring at her but his face wasn't moving. At least he was recognizing her presence, although the way he was looking through her was creepy.
" 'Bye," she said.
He just went on staring.
He did that the next day, too -- lookly inertly at her, instead of ignoring her. She decided to give up, because the stare was unnerving, but he crooked a finger at her as she was leaving. She wasn't sure what to do. There was no one else around.
"Come here," he said. She didn't move, and he repeated, "Come here."
She went. He leaned on the counter. His face was so close that she felt his breath. He had a bump on one eyelid, and big ropy veins in his arms and hands. The stubble on his face looked like sandpaper. She wondered what it would feel like against her skin.
"What do you want?" he asked.
She hadn't thought it through. What did she want? She said, "To be around you."
"I don't know. I... I like you."
She didn't want to say he was like a big fuzzy teddy bear and she wanted him to hold her.
"You want to fuck me?" he asked.
She stared at his hands. They were the size of her face.
"Are you a virgin?"
She shook her head no. She'd started having sex at age twelve.
"I'm too big for you," he said. "You couldn't take it." He stepped back and unzipped his pants and fished inside and pulled out his penis. Even with some of it still in his pants, it was huge, way bigger than the boys she knew. "See?" he said. "Think you could handle it?"
She looked up at his face and nodded yes.
He sighed and pushed it back inside his boxers, squirming a bit to get it in. "No you couldn't. You'd need stitches. Now get out of here. And don't come back."
She cried herself to sleep that night. She thought about him all the time, the way he looked, the slow way he moved, his big body and muscles and his hair. She wondered if he was right. She wondered if he could get his penis in her. She wondered if it would hurt. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. She wasn't exactly sure what she felt.
She stopped going to the Juicery, and started spying on his house at night. Usually he came home around eight and cooked whatever he brought home from the grocery -- a frozen pizza or a TV dinner or something like the cans of food she'd seen in his kitchen. Then he'd go in the front room and drink beer and watch the tube. The picture was good, and he had a black wire running into the back, so he had cable. Mostly he watched action movies, but sometimes he watched the History Channel, if the program was about World War II. He'd drink five or six beers, and get up a couple of times to go to the bathroom, which was in back, off the bedroom. Then he'd sit down and watch more TV. He led a boring life. She wondered why he never went anywhere or had any friends over. Every second night he would get dumbbells and other weights out of the closet and exercise before he ate and drank. His arms were huge. He was ripped on his chest and back, too. He had a rubber thing he attached to the bedroom door frame, and he'd use that after he'd finished with the weights. He did crunches and stretching exercises on the floor. Then he would put the equipment away and eat dinner and watch the tube until he fell asleep in his recliner or turned off the TV and went to bed.
He usually slept soundly. She knew, because she threw sticks at his windows and he rarely stirred. Since he didn't lock the door before he went to bed, one night when he turned out the lights and went to sleep she waited and threw sticks again. She didn't hear any movement, so she went in the front door. She thought she would be safe, because he'd drunk a six-pack; he would be fast asleep. When she was just outside his bedroom door a board creaked. He stopped snoring, then rolled over on his side. She wasn't sure she could take her foot off the board without it making it creak again, and maybe waking him. She stood frozen as long as she had the patience, thinking I wish I'd practiced being still, like Gabriel, and lifted her foot. The floor creaked. He shot out of bed and grabbed her wrists.
"Look who came to visit."
"That hurts," she whined.
"There's more," he said.
She tried to fight. He was unbuttoning her shirt and it was what she'd thought about, but he was too rough and she didn't want this to happen this way. She wanted to be the one to take off her own clothes, or encourage him to. But she wasn't -- he was, without asking, and without leading up to it. Everything she did was futile. He held both of her hands in one of his, and ignored her writhing. He was at least twice her weight, and whatever she did, he ignored. She twisted, she tried to free her hands, she kicked, but nothing helped. He pushed her against the wall, pinning her there with that beefy hand clamped on her wrists, letting go only to pull her shirt off. All she could do was slow him as he tugged at her clothes and switched the hand he was holding her with. In later years she would learn how to stomp on a foot, or knee a groin, or stick a finger in an eye. But she hadn't learned these yet; she couldn't fend him off.
When he had her naked, he held both her wrists above her head, one-handed, while he pulled down his boxers with the other hand.
His penis was limp. He dropped her on the bed and spread her legs and rubbed his penis against her crotch, but it wouldn't stiffen.
"Too much beer," he muttered. His breath stank of it. He was crushing her with his weight. She hit his chest.
"Off," she said. "Can't breathe."
He rolled sideways and lay next to her. She took a great sobbing breath and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Are you okay?" he said.
She only wanted to be in her own room, snuggled up under the covers and clutching the old brown teddy bear her mother had given her, all soft and shapeless with the black nose rubbed white from years of cuddling. She wanted to creep down the hall and listen at her parents' door for daddy snoring. She wanted to crawl in with Gabe and curl up with him until she fell asleep and he woke her and sent her back to her own room.
" 'Okay'?" she echoed.
"Yeah. Are you okay?"
How stupid could a man be?
"What's wrong?" He rubbed the flat of his hand up and down her back.
She jumped out of bed and started gathering her clothes.
"Where are you going?"
She shook her head.
"Come on," he pleaded. "Talk to me."
"I have to go home."
"Wait." He rolled out of bed and she ran but he was quicker. He carried her back to the bed, where he set her on his lap. He had his arms around her, and he was being gentle, but she couldn't get free. He crooned and held her like a baby. He kept on like that until she gave up the struggle.
"Talk to me," he said. He pushed her head up, pressing with his thumb under her chin. "What's wrong? Are you disappointed? Sometimes it's like that when a man has too much to drink."
The idea that she'd be disappointed was so ludicrous she started to laugh.
"That's better." He smiled. "Not so bad, is it?"
"No," she said, "but I have to go home. What if my parents notice? It's past my curfew." She didn't have a curfew, and her parents never did bed checks, but he wouldn't know that.
He laid her on the bed. "I'll do this first. You'll like it." He kissed her between the legs.
No one had ever done this to her. She tried to get up, but she couldn't; he had his hands around her waist. She lay back, hating this, and hating him, but unable to escape. She was at his mercy, and at the mercy of the things he was doing to her with his lips and tongue, until finally she stopped struggling and lay back, filling with the hot swelling until she had an orgasm, hating him.
He let her go, and she dressed. He smiled and kissed her, but she turned her head at the last second so he kissed her cheek instead.
She ran home, and up the stairs and into her room, where she curled up in a ball under the sheet and clutched her old brown bear. She wanted to talk to Gabe, but she was afraid to tell him what had happened. That would start a lot of bad things. She had to keep this a secret, even from him.
Gary came to the party the next weekend and she stayed upstairs in her room. There was a knock on her door and she didn't answer until her father said her name and knocked again. She went to the door and grabbed him and held herself to him.
"Why aren't you downstairs?" he asked. "You're the party girl. You're acting like Clover, keeping to yourself."
Usually she wouldn't have cared if someone likened her to Clover. They were so different she would have thought any comparison was silly. She snapped at him, "I'm not like her! That stuck-up bitch."
"What's bothering you?"
"Come on. Tell me."
She was afraid her father would attack Gary and end up in jail if she told him. "I can't. Please, daddy, I can't."
"What can I do?"
He hugged her again, for a long time. A song ended downstairs and she heard a whoop; it sounded like Buzz. She wanted to be in the kitchen, dancing and enjoying the party, but she couldn't, not with Gary there.
She wrote a letter that night and sealed it in an envelope:
Stay away. If you come near me I'll tell my father what
you did. I'm serious. Don't come to the parties.
Monday, after school, when she knew he'd be at work, she put it in his mailbox and ran home.
Two months went by. Her mother said, "A letter came for you today."
"It's on the table." She pointed at it and went back to grading papers.
Melody took the letter to her room.
The postmark said Chicago. No return address. The family had been to
Chicago on vacation the year before and Melody had made a friend during
the trip, a girl they'd met at the Field Museum, who'd spent several
days with them, showing them the city. Melody had written her,
but Fran had never written back. She read the letter in her room.
I tried to tell you it was a mistake but you wouldn't listen.
You had to keep going. You had to keep teasing. How many times
do you think you can do that before a man gives up and does it
with you? Jesus, have you looked at yourself? How long
do you think a man can resist that body? I'm just a man. I'm sorry
you got scared. I'm sorry you changed your mind. But how was I
supposed to know? God damn you. I don't trust you. Now I had to
leave Lawrence. I liked Lawrence. But I couldn't take the
chance. You could turn me in and they'd put me back in the pen.
Fuck you. I hope you get what's coming to you. Somebody should
get you good. A whole bunch of guys. I'd pay to see that.
She tore up the letter and flushed the pieces down the toilet.
At dinner her mother asked who the letter was from and what
was in it, and Melody pretended it was from her friend:
"Oh, you know. Stuff about her parents and her brother. School.
Nothing special," and her mother nodded and the dinner conversation
switched to Gabe's baseball practice. Melody was glad she wouldn't have to
hide anything now; she'd had to lie about the letter, but she told
herself it was necessary. The truth was impossible. She wondered
what she'd ever seen in the man.