I got the job like this: Mr. O'Connor, my English teacher, called Mrs. Sipala, a woman he knew, and told her about me, and she called me and told me I had a job if I wanted one. I told her yes.
I dug up a bowtie and black slacks in the basement, in my Dad's old things. The pants were a little big in the waist, but the length was just right.
At three o'clock on my first day of work, I got in the shower. I rubbed my mom's deep-cleansing peach scrub on my face. Bath products were the one thing she splurged on and the one thing she got anal about. Once I left a jar of these raspberry bath crystals open while I took a shower and water got into them and melted them into goop. It was the only time she ever hit me.
She had so many facial scrubs that I thought she wouldn't notice, and I didn't use too much. I was hoping to get rid of some blackheads I had before I went to work. After I rinsed off the scrub, I squeezed my blackheads and they came out pretty easily. The Stanley House was a high-class restaurant.
I stayed in the shower. I've always loved it, the hot water and the steam. I wrapped a towel around my head, closed my eyes. I jerked off to take my mind off things, then I washed my body again, this time with a loofa. It left me raw but I felt clean.
After I got out I sprawled out on the floor in my towels and smoked some Newports. I was nervous. I'd never known a rich person in my life, except an Uncle we used to go on picnics with, but he dealt drugs, so he didn't count.
At four I called Joey, who promised he'd be waiting for me outside the restaurant at eleven o'clock. That made me feel good.
At four-thirty I said goodbye to my mom, who was more nervous than I was. I think she was weirded out that I was growing up, but she'd been weird and nervous all the time lately, since her boyfriend dumped her. Right before I walked out the door, she said, "I'll stay up for you, I want to know how it went, call me if something goes wrong." I'd worked as a short order cook one summer at a city pool, but this was my first job that could possibly go on forever, and I think that scared her. Mr. O'Connor told me the waiters there sometimes made seven hundred dollars a week. But sometimes I thought my mom was just nervous about restaurants in general. She never went out to eat. When I was a short order cook I burned my wrist on the grill once, and she practically had a heart attack when I told her about it. She told me that that's what you get working in restaurants, they never take care of their workers, it's not safe employment.
At five I was there. I felt a little stupid walking over there in my bowtie, but I had my jacket on so I don't think people could tell. When I saw the restaurant, I got a little sick to my stomach. It was an old Victorian house, painted off-white with white trim on the windows. Three floors, a huge smoking chimney on top. I could see chandeliers hanging inside through the windows. I checked my fingernails -- I realized I'd forgotten to scrub them. But they were clean.
Mrs. Sipala was fat, which for some reason made me feel better. "Bobby," she said, "it's good to meet you. Mr. O'Connor had wonderful things to say about you."
I tried to smile. Mr. O'Connor always exaggerated. When he wrote letters of recommendation to colleges, he always wrote that the student was the best writer, the best track runner, the most well-rounded student he'd ever known in his twenty years of teaching. So I didn't know what he'd told Mrs. Sipala.
"Well, today we'll pair you up with a busboy and waiter, and you'll watch them and see how it's done and maybe by the end of the night you'll be ready to go at it by yourself. It's not that hard, so just relax, everyone here is very nice." Mrs. Sipala had a sweet, warm voice. She got up from the chair in the coat check and took me out into the hall, then led me into the kitchen, where the light was really bright. Everywhere else in the restaurant there were soft lights and candles.
"This is the kitchen. The cooks are doing prep work." There were three cooks, not at all like I imagined cooks to be. They were small and young and kind of ugly, unshaven, dressed in fancy starched white aprons and hats. "Everyone," she said, "everyone, this is Bobby. He's our new busboy." Everyone smiled, a few people said hi, but no one stopped what they were doing.
Then she showed me the basement, where they made the salads and heated up the bread, in an old, crusty black oven in the back, around a corner. She showed me the walk-in, a big refrigerator where they kept meats and cheeses and cakes and big vats of different salad dressings.
Then she introduced me to Blake and said she had to go because the first reservations were for five-thirty. Blake was tall and skinny with blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked cute.
"First thing is smoke a cigarette," he said, and he took me out into the parking lot in the back. Across the street was an old brick church with an old graveyard and tall, pretty trees.
"This is a good job," he said.
"You only get four twenty-five an hour, but you make twenty percent of the tips the waiter you're working with gets, so if they get two hundred, you get forty. So it comes out to sixty bucks for six hours."
"Sometimes you get with the bad waiters, like Valerie. She has a lisp and shit, and she tips you like ten percent. She's totally cheap. I hate her."
I just nodded.
"You go to school?"
"What year are you?"
"Yeah, I graduated two years ago."
"Okay, we should get started."
We were matched with Valerie. Mrs. Sipala had a little sheet that told you who you were working with. Blake said, "Shit," when he saw it, in front of Mrs. Sipala, who didn't say anything.
Valerie did have a lisp. "Hi Bobby, nice to meet you," she said when I said hello, and that was it; she walked right past me into the kitchen. "Nice" sounded like "nishe." Blake told me we were assigned to room two tonight, which was good because it was on the first floor and usually the richer people sat downstairs, and the people with less money, who weren't as well-dressed, were seated upstairs.
Blake took me into the basement. "This is how you do the bread. It's really easy." He took a loaf of French bread out of a waxy paper bag and cut four thick slices and put them in the oven. "Try to make them thick, but not too thick. That's it. If it's really busy, you have to go up while the bread is heating up to fill water and clear plates and stuff, but usually it's not that busy so you can just hang out here while the bread heats up. It's my favorite part, hanging out down here, getting away from everyone, just like smoking, waiting for the bread and stuff, whatever. The bread should get a little golden but not burnt."
Blake lit a cigarette. "Valerie is such a fucking bitch. She never gets laid, I heard her crying about it like two nights ago. She was talking to Anne. She's such a cunt."
"Anne. The boss."
"Oh, Mrs. Sipala," I said.
Blake knocked the orange head of his cigarette off, put the rest of it on top of a wooden beam. "Okay," he said. "This is the hard part." He took two big silver spoons in the palm of his hand, and held them together. "You serve the bread with the spoons like this. It's a little like chopsticks. You have to make sure you have a grip on the bread, 'cuz when you put it on the plate you don't want to drop it. All right, try taking the bread out."
I took the spoons and put them in my hand like he did. Then he opened the oven and I reached in. "It's all in the thumb and forefinger," he said. I was nervous. I got a hold on one of the pieces and dropped it into the basket. "Don't let go until you're at the bottom, you don't want it to drop." I did it again and I did it better.
you got it," he said.
The night went fast: refill water glasses if they get more than half empty, replace ashtrays as soon as there's one cigarette in it, clear dinner plates (only when the diner puts his knife and fork diagonally on the plate, tongs pointing up), place coffee cups and saucers down. There was always something to do. The coolest thing was crumbing the table. Blake said it was called a "crumber." It looked a little like a nail file, except slightly curved, and you used it to scrape the bread crumbs off the tablecloth onto a small plate.
Valerie hadn't said anything to me all night. Even when she wanted me to do something, like refill the water glasses on table six, she would stand there with me and Blake and say, "I want Bobby to fill the water glasses on table six," and not even look at me. She always talked like she was in a huge hurry.
She stopped me right after I'd stripped the tablecloths; I was carrying six of them, on my way down to the hamper.
"Good work tonight."
"You don't get tipped tonight because you're training." She moved close to me. "Also, I don't know if anyone said anything to you, but you should never wear a T-shirt with lettering on it under your white shirt. It doesn't look professional."
I went red. "Oh. Okay."
"It's okay... also..." It'sh okay. Alsho. "Did Blake say anything to you about anything?"
I didn't know what she meant. I didn't say anything.
She looked around, leaned in further; I could feel her breath on me. "It's just that I get the idea he doesn't like working with me. It affects his work, you can tell. And that doesn't help with the patrons. Did he say anything?"
I don't know why I told her, why I just didn't say, "Nope." I think there was something about her lisp that made everything she said sound more serious or important than it would have otherwise. Maybe it just made me feel sorry for her.
"Well, I don't think you're his favorite to work with. But he didn't say anything bad or anything." My voice sounded small.
"I knew it," she said. "That kid. Well, get those down there. See you tomorrow." She went into the kitchen. I felt a little gross. I walked down into the basement with the bundle of tablecloths.
Joey was waiting for me with a bottle of wine. I got into the Ford.
"How was it?"
"I'm exhausted," I said, but my voice was excited. I was tired but I was pumped. I leaned my head into Joey's arm. He had a big arm. He started the truck and giggled.
"I am so tired."
Joey was mad at first that I started working, because he works during the day, and thought there would be no time for the two of us. He's twenty-eight, and says the age thing is weird but you only live once, so follow your heart. We met at the Kinko's where he works; I was picking up copies of a little comic book I'd done, and he'd looked at it and thought it was really cool, and we hung out that night and then started getting together all the time. We just hit it off, and it's still going great after two months. Joey says he doesn't want any hearts to break, that he wants it to be his first relationship where no one gets sad. So I don't call him my boyfriend, because he hates that word, but other than not saying the word "boyfriend," that's pretty much what he is to me. He's my first love, I guess. "I'm more than a boyfriend," he always tells me. "I'm a friend."
As we drove back towards my house he asked me all about work, and I told him about Blake and Valerie and Mrs. Sipala, how they all seemed nice but also a little weird, like they took everything too seriously.
"What were the people who eat there like?"
"I didn't get too good a chance to watch. I was really busy. But they all seemed rich."
"Well, they seemed rich because they are."
We stopped at the cove and drank the bottle of wine, sitting in the back of the truck at the edge of the water. It was warm out and there weren't too many bugs. There was a cluster of fireflies on the far edge of the forest, right below the highway overpass. I stared at them.
"I had a shitty day at work," Joey said.
"My boss is just flipping my shit."
"What'd he do?"
"I can tell he thinks I'm slacking off. One of the copiers is down, one of the big ones, and he expects that to have no impact. He expects us to fill orders in the same amount of time. Whatever." Joey lit a cigarette and laughed. He laughs in this way which is really not laughing -- it's like he's about to say "sonofabitch" or "fucking jerk" but instead just breathes quick a couple times, makes a weird growl in his throat.
"You see anyone?" he said.
He flicked his cigarette away and it burst into orange on the gravel. Then he reached over and opened me up, and I reached over and did the same. He had big red fingers that were always cold. He always had papercuts, too. Sometimes I'd put his fingers in my mouth after he worked. That was his favorite.
"God, I could finish pretty soon," he said, his voice strained in that way when you're about to come. I wasn't close to coming, but he'd had all night to recuperate from work. I was still kind of there, feeling that excitement of the job.
I put my mouth on his and he kissed me hard back. I loved kissing him. He never let me put my mouth on his penis, or his on mine, because he said that was too much. That didn't really bother me. Besides, I couldn't imagine anything feeling much better than this. I put my hands on the lower part of his ass for a while, and when I told him I was ready we came together. My whole body shook. We cleaned up with one of Joey's socks and finished off the bottle of wine and then he drove me home.
In the morning I started breakfast so in case my mom got mad at me for getting home late, she couldn't be too mad. When I'd gotten home around one, she was asleep on the couch with a magazine on top of her chest. It was open to an article called "How To Cheat On Your Husband, and Why It's Okay." She looked deep asleep. I didn't want to wake her up. I also have this fear that my mom can smell the cum on my hands or something, no matter how much I clean them.
"What is that?"
"Eggs and peppers."
"Did you put any jalapeño sauce in them?" she said. She looked like hell, hadn't put on her makeup yet.
"No," I said, as I scooped some out onto the plate.
"What time did you get home?"
"Not too late. But you were asleep."
"I fell asleep," she said.
We sat down at the table. I had coffee, she had orange juice, we both lit cigarettes.
"These are good."
A fat black carpenter ant crawled across the table. "Godammit," she said. "The exterminators came."
I flicked it away.
"Those fucking exterminators stinking up the house."
Usually in the morning my mom was pretty energized. She'd get up and do her aerobics tape and shower and come down all ready for work.
"So you haven't said anything about work. Must have been okay, then."
"It was good."
"Did you go out with Joey afterwards?"
She paused and snuffed out her cigarette. "Do we have any bacon?"
"No, I already looked."
"I keep not buying the foods I want." She looked at me with a sad smile on her face. "I buckled."
"I shouldn't talk to you about this stuff. You shouldn't hear about this stuff."
"Why did you buckle?"
She nodded yes but said, "I don't know. I just called. I called him. I heard in the background, I heard this woman. I'm sure of it. He tried to tell me no one was there. I didn't say anything about it."
She'd really loved Steve. She thought they were going to get married. He took her on a trip to Montreal, and I think she thought he was going to propose there, even though they'd only dated six months. Two days after they got back, he dumped her because he said she was damaged. My mother kept bringing up that word, "damaged," every day.
"What did he say?"
"He said he'd like to have coffee with me. I tried to make a joke. I asked him if he was sure it was safe to have coffee with a damaged woman. He said 'decaf' was. It was this whole stupid conversation of jokes. I was trying to laugh so it wouldn't sound like I was so desperate. I'm not that desperate. No, I am desperate."
"So how did you leave it?"
"We're gonna have coffee next week, I guess. He said he wanted to. It was like he was stabbing me when I talked to him. Every word. Like I was being thrown into a wall."
She grinned widely and stuck her tongue out at me and bugged out her eyes. I laughed. Then she cleared her plate, got up and turned on the faucet. She'd barely eaten anything.
"So things are good with Joey?"
"They're fine," I said.
"That's good. When's he coming over for supper?"
I'd never let my mom meet him. I thought she wouldn't like him.
"It's a little harder since I'm working at night."
"Well, brunch or something."
I noticed a little pimple on my mother's elbow as she scrubbed the dishes. "My work has been hell, speaking of work. The budget came out, you know, and the state is cutting funding a little, and so the town is cutting funding too, of course, and they want to take away our part time secretary, which is like eight thousand dollars, but it's an incredible help to us. You listening to me?"
She turned and looked at me and smiled. "Yes!" I said. "Why would I not be listening?" She laughed and went back to the dishes.
"So, anyway, it just means a lot more work for the rest of us in the office, if it goes through. We're appealing to the town in a few days, at the council meeting. Their parks budget is totally bloated, you know, to please all the parents whose kids play sports. It's not like the kids we help have parents who call the town council."
My mom worked in the Department of Youth Services, which basically arranged counseling for troubled kids, or programs for kids to keep them out of trouble, after-school stuff. The water started steaming up around her head now. She scrubbed the frying pan hard. I thought she looked so beautiful. After everything, her body was still so smooth and clean and small.
In algebra I wrote in my journal for Mr. O'Connor. It was second semester, and I wasn't in his composition class anymore, but he told me he'd like it if I kept writing in it and handing it in, so I did.
I wrote a little about work and a little about Joey. Mr. O'Connor had started to ask me to meet him outside of class. The first time it happened, I thought he was going to tell me I should see a counselor or something because of what I wrote about, but instead he told me it was a great journal. He said it was the most honest he'd ever read in his twenty years of teaching, and that he'd be honored to get to know me outside of class. So every once in a while we hung out for a few minutes after school and smoked, but not as much lately because he was coaching outdoor track. He smoked and coached track, which was just one weird thing about him, there were other things. In the morning he'd always drive his Harley to the front entrance of the school and talk to kids, mostly girls, and he'd be wearing his sunglasses and his leather jacket. I always tried to avoid him in the morning because it seemed so stupid, the way he'd park his motorcycle there and show off to all the freshmen. Most of the time I'd just put the journal in his mailbox and he'd bring it back the next morning.
He'd written on the last page of my journal, This is the first time you've mentioned your father. I would like to hear more. I didn't have too many memories, so I told him about how I remembered driving with my Dad in his Fiat, up to Bear Mountain, the way he'd eat a whole apple in four or five bites and then whip the core out the window, how he'd hold a can of beer between his legs. I couldn't remember actually hiking up the mountain at all. I didn't feel much emotion about it.
At the beginning of third period, I dropped the journal off in Mr. O'Connor's mailbox. School was ending in three days. I was going to miss writing in the journal.
As soon as I got to work, Mrs. Sipala told me that Blake wanted to see me in the basement. He was stirring a big vat of salad dressing when I got down there.
He turned to me, not smiling, then moved in really close to me.
"Listen, I have to tell you something," he said, and he grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pushed me hard against the cold door of the walk-in. I heard one of my buttons pop off and hit the floor.
He took his hands off me but stayed real close to me. "Valerie had a talk with me when I got to work, about my attitude." His breath was gross. I looked down.
"She told me it was you who said stuff about me."
I didn't say anything. I wondered if anyone would come down and see. The door burned cold into the back of my neck.
"If I ever hear that you said anything about me to anyone, I'll kick your fucking ass. You understand?"
"Yeah," I said.
He turned away and went back to the spoon and the vat of dressing. "Fucking flamer," he said, under his breath, but I heard it. I didn't know where to go. I just stood there for a second, dumb. "Here," he said.
He looked back at me. "What I'm doing is, this is like a strainer spoon, and I'm just going through the dressing with it to make sure no bugs fell in."
"Okay," I said. He turned back around. I ran up the stairs and into the bathroom, which was small and dark and had a lock on it. It smelled really heavily like sweet flowers. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt totally stupid, in my stupid bowtie. I felt like a girl and a jerk.
I almost cried but I kept not-crying just as I was about to. Then I just took some breaths. I was really shaken. I couldn't believe he did that, not afraid of anyone coming down and seeing him, or that I'd tell someone what he did. I stayed in the bathroom till I'd straightened myself out. I walked out with a fake smile on my face. Mrs. Sipala told me I was working alone tonight, with Valerie, and because it was Monday it would probably be slow, so not to worry.
The whole night was a blur. I kept replaying the scene in my mind. I felt red and sick. Whenever I passed Blake, I kept my head down. I hated that I had thought he was cute. There weren't too many people in the restaurant, mostly women in our section except for one table, so it hadn't been too stressful. I smiled a lot. Valerie didn't say that much to me, and at the end of the night she gave me twenty dollars and apologized for it being so slow. After work, I called Joey from the payphone, but he wasn't home. He'd left a message for me on his machine.
"Hi, this is Joey. If this is Bobby, an old friend is in town and gave me a call so I went out to drinks with him. I should be home at around one, so call me then. Everyone else just leave a message." I called at one, one-thirty, and two, but he wasn't home. My body was tired, even though my mind wasn't, but I got to sleep after not too long.
On Tuesday morning I went into the office and my journal was there in Mr. O'Connor's mailbox. I turned to the last page: These details are very illuminating, but you seem a little distanced from them. Look back and see how your descriptions of your dad differ from those of your mother and Joey. Why do you think this is? Also, I want to hear less what happened than how you feel about it. What do you feel about the world? What are your opinions about it? Then, in a different color ink: Let's arrange for a way for you to keep writing this summer. I'd like to keep reading!
Tuesday was another "slow night," so Blake and I were the only busboys working. I was still scared of Blake. He seemed to me like one of these people who just flips out. Blake was with Valerie tonight, and I was paired with Sam, in the smoking room. Sam was nice -- he was fat, and he chain smoked Parliament cigarettes. He was a really fast waiter because he'd leave his cigarette burning at the bar in the back when he took orders and served food, and wanted to get back to it before it had burned out.
After I'd finished carefully spooning the bread onto the bread plates of three middle-aged men in dark suits, one of them called, in a loud, happy voice: "Hey, hey, kid, come back here."
I turned around, dropped the spoons into the empty basket.
"I want a pack of cigarettes."
He took a ten out of his thin black wallet. "Do you have Pall Malls?"
"I think so."
"Okay, a pack of Pall Malls." He handed me the ten. "And you can keep the change."
"Jesus, Frank," one of the men said.
"Well -- I'll tip you when you bring back the change."
"Okay," I said. I walked to the back. Sam passed me in the hall with a tray of soup. "These soup people want more bread," he said. Then Valerie came out from the other dining room. "Bobby, can you fill up the water for me? I don't know where Blake went."
"Okay, um, I just have to get some bread."
"You can put the bread in and come up and do the water," she said, and she flew through the kitchen door.
I stopped for a second. Okay, I thought: put the bread in; get the cigarettes out of the machine; fill the water glasses. And I also had to change the ashtrays at the tables in the smoking room.
I walked down to the basement trying to hear for sounds of Blake. I'd been trying to avoid him because every time I saw him I got a sick, weak feeling again, and it had been getting worse as time went on, not better. At the bottom of the stairs, I turned down the hall to see the edge of the oven. I could see Blake's leg around the wall, his black pants and black shoes and blue socks. I took a deep breath and walked a few steps towards the oven. I thought I should wait and do the water and get the cigarettes first. I thought about turning around. But then I thought I should just go and do the bread and not care. I'd have to be working with Blake for a long time.
I walked forward, slowly. Blake's leg was shaking. I had that weird feeling in me, but I kept walking, just breathing deep. I could see him from the back but he couldn't see me. At first I thought he had an itch but then I saw the side of his face, scrunched up tight, his jaw hanging down. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, his hand at his crotch, in a fist, moving fast, and his breathing getting loud.
I did not know whether to go or stay. I thought if I moved, he would hear me. Then I couldn't move, like I was stuck. He looked quickly behind him, then back, then back again, and his whole face changed, like it was coming back from someplace far away.
"Fuck! What the fuck are you doing sneaking up on me!" He turned fully away from me. I opened the oven door. There were three black pieces of smoking bread inside. He grabbed them. "Fuck."
"It's okay," I said.
"Make me three pieces," he said.
"Table nine, three pieces."
He left. I cut seven pieces of bread. I knew they were too thin but I didn't care. I put them in the oven. I realized I was still holding the ten dollar bill in my hand. I walked up the stairs. Sam was smoking a cigarette. "Those ashtrays don't look good," he said.
"I know. I need change."
"I need three dollars. For the cigarette machine. I have a ten."
"We don't have time for this. This isn't even a busy night." He counted out twelve quarters for me and gave me seven in change.
I went to the machine and slid in the quarters. Blake passed and ran down the stairs. I pulled the metal knob and the Pall Malls dropped down. I went behind the bar and shoveled ice into the water pitcher and filled it with tap water. In my mind I thought of what I'd just seen. Blake came up the stairs with the seven pieces of bread in the basket, the spoons in his hand. Valerie flew by him. "You are really pushing it," she said to him. I followed Blake into the smoking room. I handed the man his cigarettes.
"Thank you," he said, taking the five for himself and handing me two.
"There you go, Frank," his friend said.
"Hey, whatever, what do I know?" he said.
"More water?" I said. From the corner of my eye, I saw Blake leave the room.
"Sure, why not?" the man said.
I filled their water glasses. I went from table to table, filling half-full glasses to the lip. Everywhere I saw crumbs. I needed to crumb. First I had to change the ashtrays. Salad plates needed clearing, and one table was already ordering coffee and dessert. I just kept going. I didn't stop to think.
I'd talked to Joey in the afternoon. He'd apologized about last night, saying he drank too much and lost track of time. We made tentative plans for after work. I told him I'd call him after work, but I decided to just ride my bike straight to his house. The cooks had leftover scallops, so they cooked me grilled scallops on a bed of sautéed beets, carrots, and radicchio. They also gave me a leftover piece of flourless chocolate cake in a raspberry sauce, which was my favorite -- I'd taken a hunk from a dessert plate I'd cleared my first night there. They wrapped it all up for me in tinfoil and put it in a bag. Joey could have the scallops. We'd share the cake.
The whole ride over, I thought of my mom sitting at home watching TV, reading a magazine, falling asleep. Why wouldn't anyone love her? Then I thought of my Dad. What did Mr. O'Connor want to know? How was I supposed to remember things if I couldn't remember? How are you supposed to remember how you felt? I can imagine how I felt but I can't remember.
Joey lived in an apartment building across from the Ground Round, about twenty minutes from my house. I parked my bike outside and didn't bother to lock it. I buzzed 3A.
"Come up!" The door buzzed and I pushed in. I felt manic again, like I'd felt after my first night of work. I rode the elevator up to the third floor. At the end of the dark hall, Bobby's door was open and I could hear laughing. He came into the door.
"Bobby!" He came out and gave me a hug. I held the food to the side and looked into the room. "Bobby, this is my friend Tom. Tom, this is Bobby."
Tom was a short man with a mustache wearing a "Rocky Hill Diving Team" jacket. He had a hard handshake. "I've heard a lot about you."
"I thought you were gonna call," Joey said.
"I thought I'd surprise you," I said. "I have a surprise."
"What is it?"
"Oh, shit! I love scallops. Here, sit. We were watching the golf highlights. I'll get forks."
Joey went into the kitchen. I sat down on the couch and Tom sat in a stuffed chair Joey and I had found at a church tag sale. "Joey says you're working at a pretty fancy restaurant."
"Yeah," I said.
"Three forks," Joey said. He sat down next to me.
"The cake is for us," I said.
"Yeah. Flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce."
"Dig in," Joey said. He unwrapped the scallops.
"This looks good," Tom said. "This certainly looks good."
We all ate the food. I thought Tom ate too much. He wouldn't stop talking. "This is so good. Mmm. And scallops are really good for you, especially the way these are prepared, without butter or anything. Man, could you get me a job here?" And on and on. Joey laughed too much at what he said.
"Tell Bobby what you've been doing," Joey said. Then Joey got the clicker and started going through the channels.
"Oh, I was actually in Spain, teaching at this university there, this diving team, like a kind of exchange program. It was totally great."
"Wow," I said. "Hablas español?"
"Uh, no," he said, laughing. "I picked up a few phrases, but I don't speak it. You take it in school?"
"Yeah," I said. I kept looking at Tom's mustache, like the kind people have in pictures from the 70s.
"Oh god, have you seen this new infomercial? It's Erik Estrada and this psychic."
We all looked over at it for a minute. Tom said, "Wow, that's hilarious," then took another scallop. Joey flipped through more channels.
"Anyway, something else," Tom said, leaning in and pretending to be saying something private. "European men are hot. I don't know what it is, but they're so different from American men. They're a lot more open in lots of ways."
There was only one more scallop. I picked it up like a marshmallow and popped it into my mouth. Tom put down his fork.
"So, as you can imagine, I had a great time, in more ways than one. Wow, those scallops were great. Do I get a piece of the cake?"
I knew he'd ask. I unwrapped the cake and then went to the bathroom to take a piss. I could hear them laughing from the bathroom, real loud. I came out and told Joey I was going to go home. He said, "Okay," and got up. Tom stood up. "You know what," he said, "I really should get going." He had a hunk of chocolate on his mustache.
"You sure?" Joey said.
"Yeah. It's great to meet you, Bobby."
"Yeah, you too," I said.
"I'll give you a call in a few days," Tom said.
"Here, I'll walk you to the door," Joey said. They went off. I sat down on the couch and took off my shoes and stretched. I picked at what was left of the cake.
My mom was asleep on the couch, the phone next to her. I wanted her to sleep in her own bed.
I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. I felt dirty and sweaty from riding and my fingertips smelled like food. I lay down in the bottom of the tub and wrapped a towel around my head and turned on the water with my foot. The hot water showered down onto me. I reached into the small canister of pink bath crystals and scattered them on the floor, pushed up the drain with my big toe. The tub began to fill. Steam filled my nose. My eyes were open but it was black. The steam smelled like flowers.
I must have stayed in the tub for an hour and a half, draining and refilling it as the hot water shot down, drifting off into sleep and then back again. When I finally woke up for good I stood up fast, caught my balance, and scrubbed myself hard, washed my hair till I could feel my scalp burning.
I toweled off and then climbed into bed. I wondered for a second where I'd put my journal and then I realized that I'd left it at work, in the coat room. Tomorrow was the next to last day of school and I wanted to write to Mr. O'Connor because no matter what he said, I knew we wouldn't keep up with things in the summer.
I found some plain paper in my desk and started.
Dear Mr. O'Connor. I'm feeling kind of bad tonight, partially because this journal is ending and I want you to keep reading it and even though you say you will this summer, people say things all the time. My mom is still torn up over Steve. I had a really weird night at work which I wanted to tell you about. Basically this busboy Blake was masturbating in the basement of the restaurant and I discovered him. The day before he'd almost beat me up because of something I'd said that he heard about. He freaked out when I caught him. He got really mad but was also embarrassed, and we didn't say anything the rest of the night to each other. I remembered him saying his favorite part of the job was standing down there waiting for the bread to heat up. The restaurant got really busy for some reason. I wasn't used to it but I think I did okay. After work I went to Joey's house. A friend of his named Tom, who's the diving coach at Rocky Hill High School, was over, which upset me. But he left pretty soon after I got there. Then Joey and I watched Conan O'Brien on TV. I wanted to have sex but he didn't want to, he said it was too late and he was too tired and he'd had too much to drink. He explained to me that Tom had been away for three months and had just gotten back into town, and that they'd once dated for a few weeks, but it hadn't worked out, and now they were friends. I asked Joey to hold me so he held me for a little while. Then he said he had to go to sleep. I was still sad when I left. I thought more about Blake. I couldn't tell
I put down the pen. Midway through writing I got an erection and it wasn't going away. I pulled my T-shirt out from under my bed and started jerking off. At first I imagined myself jerking Joey off while he put his fingers in my mouth. Then Blake came into my head. I was a little confused but I kept following it. I imagined that before he saw me I took out my own dick, and he turned around and saw me and got a smile on his face. Then he touched me and I touched him and we came together, standing up, falling against each other afterwards because we both went so weak.
I came and wiped the old shirt hard over me and stuffed it back under the mattress. For a few minutes I did nothing, just lay there, feeling my body, feeling that buzz. Then I picked up the pen again.
if it was really funny or really sad. Maybe it was both. It was weird. I keep thinking about you wanting me to write about my father, but I don't know what to say. He wasn't a good father. I remember crying a lot. Then he left. In fact, I haven't cried since he left. I have never heard from him again. He went to Florida. I don't know what opinions I have of the world. I don't know if I've ever thought about it. Sometimes I think the world is terrible and sometimes I think it's just fine, what are you going to do? Joey told me last week that he's going to take me camping to celebrate the end of school. I remember all of us once going camping, my father, my mother, and me. My father drank Budweiser beer and we played hide and go seek in the woods. He taught me how to catch dragonflies with a tennis racket and told me he was going to teach me about Indian smoke signals but I don't think he ever did actually. I got a lot of mosquito bites and my dad got stung by a wasp and took the stinger out with the scissors in his pocketknife. We got a speeding ticket on the way home and my father swore about it and my mother told him to shut up. I knew she was telling him to shut up because she didn't want me to hear swear words and I got sad. I don't think I remember anything else.
I put down the pen. I was too tired. I placed the paper and the pen on my night table, shut out the light and got under my sheet. I could feel myself getting hard again. I held myself, I didn't stroke it, I just held myself tight until I went soft, and then I fell asleep.
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