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Post Road Magazine #32

Herrenvolk

Timothy Scott


With her blue eyes, Oxford shoes, and the pink ribbons she wore in her hair, Ludwicka Kuplicki, or L.K. as we came to call her, looked like one of the illustrations in our reading textbook, Broad Horizons, and Hughey had his eye on her from the moment she arrived in our seventh grade classroom at St. Paul's. He liked his girls white and blond. Unlike those girls, though, L.K. wasn't impish or animated. She'd come to Detroit from Poland, and barely spoke English. Our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Crenshaw, didn't seem too thrilled about having another student dumped on her in the middle of the year, especially one she had to repeat everything twice to. She was strict, wore dashikis and super long, press-on nails, and had once gotten in trouble for refusing to lead our class in the Pledge of Allegiance. Since all the desks had been taken, she put L.K. at the end of a long table where the Habitrail and aquarium sat. In class, she never made eye contact, and when called on, looked so nervous that it made everyone uncomfortable, and teachers gave up. At recess, she'd sit by herself against the rectory wall, reading a book. After school, her father would be waiting in a brown Cutlass and whisk her home. Hughey tried to chat her up a few times, to "lay his rap" on her, but she'd just shake her head and walk away. I think she was afraid of him.

Hughey and I had been friends since second grade. We had birthdays that were just two days apart (June 10th and 12th), had scored the same composite (97) three times on our SRAs, and both had older brothers who'd died (Hughey's in Vietnam when we were in first grade, mine of spinal meningitis the following year). Our similarities, though, ended there. Hughey was black, me, white. He was on the tall side, and very muscular, while I was short, with chipmunk cheeks and a roll of baby fat that hung over the clasp on my corduroys. Outside of school, he wore silk shirts and tight tank tops, while I stubbornly stuck with cartoon character t-shirts I'd ordered from a cereal box. He was outgoing and fearless; I was shy and trouble-averse.

My initial reaction to most of Hughey's schemes was to beg off. "Let's take my dad's car for a drive downtown," he said once, when his parents went out of town. "I should get home," I said. "I have to feed Napoleon." (Napoleon was my salamander. I fed him flies that I'd catch in my hand, then dash against the pavement). "Really, Russell? Really?" Hughey would say. Then he'd wheedle, cajole, and humiliate me, until he got his way, and we'd do something like take a two-hour joyride in his dad's gold Lincoln, cruising down Woodward past strip joints and party stores, stopping at Pelzer's for a bag of Funyuns and an Orange Crush, before docking the battleship back in the garage—it was tricky, too, you had to stop the moment the front windshield hit the tennis ball on a string, or it wouldn't fit, but Hughey did it. We were eleven years old.

At St. Paul's, the nuns had it in for Hughey, and vice versa. In third grade, when he got into a fight with Doug Dozier, a fifth grader, Sr. Annalise pulled him off him by his Afro, ripping out a chunk, leaving a divot on his scalp. Hughey never forgot it, and two years later, walking by her empty classroom, he looked around, popped in, and took a leak into her coffee pot. At recess, we watched through her ground floor window as she took a sip of coffee, grimaced, and spat it out in the sink. We dined on the image for months, taking sips of water, making faces, and spitting it out, then laughing our asses off. In sixth grade, Hughey organized games of "knockout" on the playground, where one person would bend over and hyperventilate, while the other would squeeze his chest from behind, making him, briefly, pass out. When Quentin Meeks hit his head on the asphalt on the way down and needed seven stitches, Sr. Beatrice, the principal, got wind of it, and made Hughey play by himself in the courtyard for the rest of the year, like a little convict.

For as long as I'd known him, Hughey had wanted to play professional football. In his basement, he'd work out until his arms and legs were shaking, then lie down on the floor until he had the strength to walk back up the stairs, where he'd gorge himself on hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and canned tuna. That winter, I finally joined him, and the two of us spent hours down there, spotting and coaxing each other, paging through issues of Muscle & Fitness (smiling, striated photos of Frank Zane and Robby Robinson), while listening to Hughey's older sister's Commodores and Earth, Wind, and Fire albums.

He was the last of six kids, and nine years younger than his closest sibling. His father was a middle school principal, who'd played a few seasons in the CFL, and now walked with a limp. He always called me "young man," I think because he could never remember my name. His mother was a nurse at Beaumont, and very overweight. She wore enormous, brightly-colored caftans, and called me "honey." Their first three kids had turned out fine—two doctors and an engineer at GM—the next two, not so much. Hughey's older brother had joined the army to kick a heroin habit, and his sister had run away with the Moonies while still in high school. When the soldier came home in a body bag, and the Moonie came home and sat on the couch for a year eating Pringles and catching up on her soaps, Hughey's parents sort of threw in the towel, and from then on, he'd raised himself. He was the most self-sufficient kid you could imagine. He bought all his own clothes, cooked for himself, did his own laundry. At my house one day, he was appalled to see my mother ironing my shirts, and took it upon himself to teach me how to iron ("No, not up and down, back and forth"), further endearing himself to mom.

They loved him, my parents. He was confident and polite—"articulate," to use the white parents' favorite term—and he told great stories (a "raconteur," mom called him). Over dinner—which he ate more often at my house than his own, he and my dad, a European history professor at Wayne State, would argue politics and economics. A merciless capitalist, Hughey had no patience for most social programs and had scoffed when the nuns asked us to collect money in our mite boxes to give away to poor people. Since he was ten, he'd been getting up at five-thirty to deliver the Free Press, and had saved enough money to buy a motorcycle, which he intended to do on his sixteenth birthday. "Hughey's a heartless s.o.b.," my dad would joke, "but he is consistent." My mother, who spoke French and was a gourmet cook, got a kick out of him, too. I'd bring him home for lunch sometimes, and while mom served us up veal with sherry-mushroom sauce or ham and Gruy√®re soufflé (she went through a serious Julia Child phase), the three of us would watch Gambit on TV, with our host, Wink Martindale. Once, Wink announced that if the contestant got the answer correct, he'd win a new car. "And if your answer is incorrect," Hughey chimed in, "we will take away your presently-owned car." Mom about died laughing.

Some things, though, Hughey simply couldn't do on his own. When he made the finals in the state Punt, Pass, and Kick competition, it was my dad who drove him to the Silverdome to compete. When he needed a sponsor for Confirmation, it was my mom who stood behind him, her right hand on his shoulder. Hughey had realized that something was missing in his life, and just as he did with everything else he wanted, he went out and got it—a family, mine.

That summer, the summer we both turned thirteen, it was L.K. that Hughey wanted. I had my first job, working nights as a busboy at the Detroit Golf Club, and Hughey was unloading produce at Kroger's after his paper route, so we had our afternoons free, and after lifting weights one day, Hughey decided we should ride our bikes over to L.K.'s house.

She lived in a brick colonial over on Muirland, a somewhat stately house for our neighborhood. Ours was one of the last in the city still integrated. Since the riots ten years before, white families had been fleeing the city in droves, but in our neighborhood—anchored by St. Paul's—many had stayed. It wasn't all kumbaya, but in the summer, we had block parties, where the adults grilled on their front lawns, or sat around in aluminum chairs, smoking cigarettes and drinking Stroh's, while the kids rode their bikes in the street, ran through sprinklers, or if someone had arranged it through the city, splashed around in the Swimmobile. In the spring, we had alley clean-up days, and in the winter we shoveled the walks and driveways of our elderly neighbors. In the fall, on the night before Halloween each year—Devil's Night in Detroit, a traditional night of vandalism and fires—the men in the neighborhood stood guard on their front porches and in the alleys, some with guns, and others, like my father, with just flashlights or whistles.

It was Devil's Night the previous fall when I'd first seen L.K.'s father. He'd bought the house and moved in a few months before L.K. and her mother arrived. My own mother, who never drove, had picked me up from school that day. It was already getting dark when we drove by the Dougherty's old house, where the For Sale sign had been down for weeks. He was sitting out on the front stoop, a middle-aged, receding-hairline blond guy in a polyester suit and cheap, tasseled loafers. I saw mom's reaction go from "wow, white people moving into the neighborhood" to "uh, oh" as he picked a pistol off his lap, displayed it across his chest, and mad dogged us all the way down the block. It wasn't unusual to see our neighbors packing on Devil's Night, but it was the stare that unsettled us.

While Hughey rang the doorbell, I hung back and pretended to be very interested in their shrubbery. L.K.'s mother answered, the chain still on, and an I-don't-want-to-buy-any-raffle-tickets look. She was a tall, brown-haired woman in a blue housecoat, like a uniform, and she spoke in a thick Polish accent. When Hughey asked if L.K. was home, she looked flummoxed, and after a long pause, asked, "Why?" Hughey smiled and shrugged. "Just wanted to say hi." She left, and, after a much longer pause, L.K. came out, looking as nervous and confused as she did when Mrs. Crenshaw asked her to go outside and clap the erasers. "Avon calling," Hughey said. Then, "You order the chicken chow mein?" And finally, "Trick or treat!" which made L.K. smile, and before long, the three of us were sitting on her front stoop, talking.

At first, it was mostly Hughey doing the talking, but, as the summer wore on, L.K. opened up. For the first time, it seemed, this only child had someone to talk to. Slowly, the girl we'd been staring at for five months—this distant, mysterious beauty—became a real person. She told us about growing up in Krakow, how clean the city was, how little crime there was, but also how small their apartment had been, and how all it seemed they ate was pierogi and pickled vegetables. She told us how hard it was learning English, how she felt betrayed by words like "recipe" and "castle," that Mrs. Crenshaw had told her parents she should transfer to public school because she was "clearly special ed." L.K. showed us childhood photos, her fossil and igneous rock collections, an arrowhead she'd dug up in her back yard. She said she wanted to be an archaeologist, like her father had wanted to be, before the communists earmarked him for the food service industry. She said that there was no TV in her house, but always music, and we'd hear it sometimes, usually polka, sometimes classical. Her parents had wanted her to play the accordion, but she'd talked them into the piano, and had been taking lessons for years. We talked her into playing for us one day, and listened to her through an open living room window. She played something she called, "Grande Valse brillante," and it was incredible to me that someone my age could do something like that. When I looked over at Hughey, he had his eyes closed, a smile on his face. We were never allowed inside their house—which always bothered Hughey, he thought it was because he was black—but her mother would bring us out lemonade and punchkis, which we loved. She started calling me "Roossell," and Hughey "Moossell"—her nickname, "muscle," for him. When L.K.'s father would get home—he owned a couple of KFC's on Livernois, and a bakery in Hamtramck—he'd make a big show out of stepping over our plates and glasses, grunt something to L.K. about dinner, and always make sure we saw the .38 he kept under his suit coat, for his frequent trips to the bank with the receipts.

Hughey was, as with everything else, way ahead of me with girls. He was making out in fourth grade, feeling girls up in sixth, oral sex by seventh, and on the cusp of losing his virginity that summer. There were girls—Phyllis Crump and Angie Brookins—who I knew he'd used for sex, and others—Margie Rimelspach and Jocelyn Bright—who I knew he'd liked, but with L.K., I'd never seen him so smitten. He talked about her all the time, and all he wanted to do was be with her. After our workouts, he'd shower and put on Hai Karate before we went over to see her. He talked Jimmy Ponkowki's mom into teaching him how to say, "You look beautiful" in Polish. For her birthday in July, Hughey dug deep into his motorcycle money, and bought L.K. a microscope—not the cheap plastic kind, either, but a heavy, steel one he'd had his doctor brother order from a lab—which her father promptly made her give him back.

When Hughey asked her why he had "such a stick up his ass," L.K. said her father wasn't such a bad guy, but that he'd had a hard life. When he was just a little boy, she said, he'd been taken from his parents by the Nazis, and sent to live with a German family, where he'd been beaten for speaking Polish. After the war, he'd made it back to Poland, but had never found his family. Because of this, L.K. said, he was very protective of his own family. In his business dealings too, she said, he'd become distrustful of certain people. "Like who?" I made the mistake of asking. She looked away. Jews, she said, he found "untrustworthy"; blacks, "unindustrious."

Hughey had been reclining on the steps, and sat up."That's pretty ignorant," he said. "He has had some bad experiences," L.K. said, "with those people." She appeared to be defending him, and quickly caught herself. "But you are right, Hughey," she added, in her contractionless English, "it is extremely ignorant." The moment lingered uncomfortably. Hughey leaned back and closed his eyes. "Tell your dad," he said, "there's a KKK meeting tonight in Dearborn. They're electing a new Imperial Wizard, in case he's interested."

That night, I asked my father about what L.K. had said, about the Nazis. With dad, a comment about the weather could lead to an hour-long discourse on the Crimean War, so I wasn't too surprised to sit through half of World War II to learn that it was true: the Nazis had kidnapped children with certain desired features—blond hair and blue eyes, a specific shape to their skull—for "Germanization," while others could be sent to labor or concentration camps, where they could be murdered, or have medical experiments performed on them, just like the Jews. "You might say," dad said about L.K.'s father, "that he was one of the lucky ones." The Nazis, he explained, had a racial hierarchy that placed Aryans (the "Herrenvolk," or master race) at the top. He started to tell me more, but mom raised her hand and asked if there would be a midterm, and then it was time for bed.

Growing up in Detroit, it was impossible not to be aware of race. Walking home from school, I'd been honkey'd and cracker'd countless times by kids from the local public elementary school, and sometimes beaten up, while at the suburban barbershop where my mother took me for my haircuts, I'd listen to the barbers wax on about the "niggers," and how they should all be taken "back to Africa, whence they came." That summer, working at the Detroit Golf Club, I had to be blind not to see that all the members were white, and many of the employees black. Though there were jobs aplenty, and the money was good, Hughey had never worked there, and I never asked why.

One day, Hughey asked me to wait at the sidewalk, while he rang L.K.'s doorbell. He wanted to ask her to go with him. She refused, though, playing up the friendship/big brother angle on him, and it cut Hughey deep. He began lashing out at both of us. He started making up obscene counter-lyrics to the polka music coming from her house ("round, firm, and fully packed / it was hanging from my sack / someone stole my kishka!"), and whenever L.K. said something remotely unintelligent, he'd call her, "special ed." With me, whenever I hesitated to do something he wanted—distract the cashier at Pelzer's while he pinched a forty, or keep watch outside Phyllis Crump's house while she gave him head—Hughey would skip the wheedling and cajoling, and go straight to humiliation. "What's that between your legs, Russell?" he'd ask. "Is it a dick? Or is it a pussy?"

Secretly, I was glad she'd turned him down. A lot was changing for me, too. My older brother, Danny, had been the kind of kid who performed magic tricks, acted in school plays, and with very little coaxing, would sing "Hey, Jude" at talent shows and my parents' parties. He was universally-liked, and a doting older brother who, for the first seven years of my life, did all the talking for me. Shortly after he died, Hughey came into my life, and it was out of one shadow, into another. Maybe it was puberty, maybe my first job, or maybe L.K., but that summer, something clicked. I looked in the mirror and saw not just hair on my pits and around my balls, but with all the weightlifting, I had cuts and veins on my forearms and biceps. My face didn't look so soft anymore, my cheeks so pinchable. Then, too, there were the erections. At St. Paul's, we'd been taught that our carnal urges needed to be "sublimated"—redirected into something positive, like chores or Our Fathers—and that in no case were we boys supposed to touch our erections, and for years, I'd reached for a piece of toilet paper in the middle of the night, in order to sinlessly aim my piss boner at the toilet. Now, though, the erections were different, diurnal and unpredictable, and could not be sublimated simply by emptying my bladder. Watching episodes of Wonder Woman in the den with my parents, paging through the illustrations in Danny's old Mad Magazines, or simply catching a glimpse of the right billboard or album cover, and there I was. Alone in the house one rainy day, I wandered into my father's office, lay on his sheepskin rug, and with photos of FDR and Winston Churchill looking down on me, humped it until I came. It felt like knockout, only better.

In August, when we had a few days in the nineties, L.K. came out one afternoon in shorts and bare feet, her hair long, shiny, and ribbonless, a slight hoarseness to her voice from a lingering summer cold. "Boys," she said, "I thought you would never get here." I think it surprised even her, her use of an American idiom, the forwardness of her comment, but she didn't shy away from it, and leaned back, stretched out her legs, and lifted her face to the sun, like a girl in a Coppertone ad. It was at that moment I realized that I, too, was in love with her.

By football season, Hughey had gotten so big that he was no longer allowed to play in our CYO games, where the league had a weight limit. He played in just one game, a non-league, pre-season one, and hit the opposing team's running back so hard, he knocked him out. Their coach called his team off the field, they got on their bus, and left. While Hughey was relegated to charting plays and substitutions on the sidelines, I snuck into a starting cornerback position.

In the fall issue of our blurry, mimeographed school newspaper—the "Super Snooper" section—it was proclaimed that "Hughey Harris, Steve Marable, and Russell Brennan have captured the hearts of the girls in junior high." I had my first kiss, Dana Pruitt, a black girl, behind the St. Vincent De Paul bin one morning before school. She put her tongue in my ear, just as the bell rang. Margie Rimelspach grapevined that she wanted to go with me, but I grapevined back that I wasn't interested. I was starting to think I had a chance with L.K.

Our friendship with her had done wonders for her social status, too, and on the playground that first month, we'd see her with Margie, Jocelyn, and the other popular eighth grade girls in their spot along the Livernois fence. A game had begun that involved tying little pieces of yarn around each other's wrists—yellow yarn meant that someone was your friend, red yarn that you liked them. L.K. had offered Hughey her yellow yarn, but he'd refused, saying he was "holding out for red."

Our own friendship, mine and Hughey's, was deteriorating. I'd grown tired of his insults, tired of my role as his fool, his wing man, his lookout. In the face of his manipulations, I now stood firm, or simply walked away. Worse, for him, I stopped inviting him over, and, when my parents asked about him, I said they should invite him over themselves, have him move in, adopt him for all I cared.

By mid-October, our football season was winding down. We were 2-6, Hughey had dislocated his shoulder, and I'd lost my starting position to a sixth grader. "Hey, Russ," Hughey said, "why don't we skip practice and hang out?" It was a warm, hazy day, Indian summer, and we were out on the playground, staring across at the Livernois fence, which wasn't the same without L.K. there—her cold had turned into pneumonia, and she'd been home all week recovering. That morning, we'd taken our high school entrance exams, and Hughey and I had listed different schools as our first choice. It saddened me, this reminder of us going our separate ways. I saw Hughey bracing for my usual excuse. "Yeah, okay," I said.

After school, we ducked over to a scrubby little playground off Six Mile, the kind with broken glass and cigarillo filters all over the ground, the word "fuck" scratched into every conceivable surface. At one time, they'd tried for a "space" theme to the place, and in the middle was a tall slide with a rocket ship-like canopy. Hughey suggested we go up there to check out the view, and when we did, he produced a joint that he'd stolen from his sister's purse. It was classic Hughey, withholding information that he knew would make me chicken out. He sat down and lit up. "It's easy, Russ, watch." He took a hit, leaned his head back, exhaled, and held it out to me. I'd snuck a few of my mom's Winstons over the years, but never this. Still, I couldn't bear to go back to our old dynamics, so, without thinking, I took it, and inhaled. We passed it back and forth, and when we were done, Hughey smiled and said, "Congratulations, grasshopper!"

Soon, our little rocket ship lifted off, and we were soaring above our neighborhood. "There's my house!" I said. "There's the team, practicing," Hughey said. "Hey, Mr. Kirkland," I yelled. "Fuck you!" "Look," Hughey said, his voice softening, "there's L.K.'s house." He turned to me: his eyes were red, sleepy. "Let's go see her," he said. "She's sick," I laughed. "Plus, we reek." Hughey thought for a second. "I can fix this," he said. He reached into his pocket and took out his little spray bottle of Hai Karate. He closed his eyes, sprayed himself all over, then pointed the nozzle at me. "Don't you fucking—" I said, but of course, he did, and there was nowhere for me to hide. "Dick," I said. "I'm going home." I sounded pouty, unmanly. "Punchkis, Russ," Hughey said, "Think about the punchkis." We hadn't eaten since before noon. "Besides," Hughey said, "you can't go home. You're supposed to be at practice."

As we walked, we picked up acorns, and threw them at stop signs and parked cars. There was a warm glow over our neighborhood, sunlight filtering through the trees, the smell of burning leaves. I felt happy and relaxed, and vowed to smoke pot every day for the rest of my life.

"You know what I wish?" Hughey said.

"What?"

"I wish that everyone on earth was the same race, the same color. That there was just one race, one color."

I'd never heard him get sentimental like this, and I felt tender toward Hughey for the first time. In his mind, I knew, race was what stood between him and L.K. But I'd already decided that, when she came back to school, I was going to ask L.K. to go with me. If being white gave me an advantage with her, so be it.

"That'd be sweet," I said.

He threw his acorn at a car, where it pinged off the hood. "Shit hurts," he said, wincing and rubbing his shoulder.

At L.K.'s house, we rang the doorbell and knocked, but no one answered. "Maybe they're at the doctor's," I said. We sat down on the stoop to commiserate. It was getting dark. My stomach growled. "I think it's cassoulet tonight," I finally said, standing up. "Want to come over?"

But Hughey wasn't listening. He got up, and walked around the side of the house. Most of the homes in our neighborhood had been built in the thirties, and had milk chutes—small, square openings with latched metal doors on either side—built into them. I'd shown Hughey once how, if locked out of my own house, I could open the exterior door, pound on the interior one hard enough to jar loose the latch, open it, and climb through. The Kuplicki's chute was next to their side door. Hughey opened the chute, tried my trick, and after a couple of hard hits, it sprang open. He looked inside, then back at me. "You'll have to do it," he said. "There's no way I'll fit."

"Are you crazy?" I said. Then, stupidly, "We don't even know where they keep the punchkis."

"In the bathroom, Russ. Just climb in, and open the door for me."

I looked inside: there was a landing, then just a few steps up to the kitchen. "No way," I said.

"It's cool, Russ," Hughey said. He stared at the house for a few moments, then started walking away. That's when I realized it wasn't about the punchkis for him. He just wanted to go inside their house, to do what had been forbidden to him, for reasons he found intolerable.

"Hey," I called, and before he could turn around, dove in.

I landed on my hands, got up, and opened the door. I scrambled up the steps, and, like a thief on TV, quickly began opening and closing cabinets—Campbell's soup, Dinty Moore, Rice-a-Roni, sugar, and spices, but no punchkis. I turned for the fridge: Hughey was casually looking over their photos. One in particular had caught his eye, one L.K. had shown us earlier, that we'd both lingered over. It was L.K., sitting in a field somewhere, Poland, I guess, looking up at the camera, and smiling. The photo was black and white and unremarkable, except for the fact that she looked completely adorable. I reached for it just before he did, grabbed it, and shoved it into my pocket. Hughey turned, and for a second, I thought he was going to hit me, but then we heard the front door opening. We ran to the side door, bolted out, and kept running, all the way home.

That night, I couldn't sleep. I'd skipped practice, smoked weed, broken into someone's house, and stolen something. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt exhilarated. I slid out of bed, and did pushups until I was exhausted, then went into the bathroom and admired my flushed muscles. Back in my room, I stared at my new photo for a while before turning off the lights. Just before falling asleep, my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I looked around—at the Snoopy and Woodstock "Best Friends" poster, the pictures-of-me mobile I'd built in a long ago art class, the fluorescent Tot Finder sticker affixed to my window—and thought, Really, Russell? Really?

The next day, walking home after practice, a brown Cutlass pulled up next to us, and L.K.'s father got out. He walked over and pointed his pistol in Hughey's face. Hughey didn't even blink. "I smell you in my house," he said. "You come near my house or daughter again"—he paused, made a firing motion—"pow." To cover his bases, he glared at me for a second, then got back in his car and left. We continued walking, and gradually my legs stopped shaking. "I'm hungry," Hughey said. "What's your mom making, tonight?"

A few days later, when L.K. came back to school, she cornered me and asked if I had anything to do with the break-in. No, I lied. Then I asked her to go with me. She said yes, and I did what I'd been wanting to do all summer, maybe since I first saw her: I buried my face in her long, blond hair, rubbed my cheek against it, ran my fingers through it, inhaled it.

Her parents had her on lockdown, and I had it in mind to spare Hughey's feelings, so we tried to keep things secret—passing notes, stealing kisses before school, holding hands under the lunch table. But it wasn't enough, so I hatched a plan where I told my parents I'd made the basketball team, and L.K. told hers she'd joined the band, and, as long as she was out front of school at 5:00 each night for her father to pick her up, and I walked in the door around the same time, we had an hour and half together. The problem was finding someplace to go. We tried the rocket ship slide, but the druggies and winos that came by scared L.K., so we tried the playground at Hampton, the local elementary school, but got honkey'd and otherwise harassed, and I almost got into a fight, so, as it was getting colder, we tried a Hardees on Six Mile, but the manager said we'd have to order more than a small fries if we planned on staying for an hour.

"You don't have to keep hiding it from me," Hughey, who really was playing on the basketball team, said to me one day. "I know you're going with L.K., I'm not stupid." It was a Saturday, and we were lifting weights in his basement. By this time, Hughey had maxed out the space on his barbell, and had begun tying weights to the ends of it with twine looped through the holes. I couldn't even spot him, it was so much weight. He seemed okay with things, so I told him about my dilemma with L.K. He squeezed out the last few reps on a set of bench presses, sat up, and ran a sweat band across his forehead. "You can bring her here," he said. "My parents and sister won't be home, and I'll be at practice." I looked around: there was a bean bag chair, a couch, a lava lamp, a clock radio, and the record player. Hughey's parents kept the thermostat set to tropical, so it was even cozy warm. "The spare key's under the Geranium, in the garage."

L.K. and I, we clung to each other down there like two drowning swimmers, a pair of repressed loners who'd spent too much time in the shadows of others, or alone in our rooms with our rocks or pet lizards. With Lionel Ritchie—less sappy, more soulful then—crooning to us in the dark, we opened our mouths to each other, roamed our hands over each other's bodies, and ground our crotches together. After, I'd lie there and watch the numbers flip on the clock radio, dreading when it hit 4:40, and we'd have to get up and head our separate ways, L.K. back to school, and me, home.

We went on like this for almost two months, until the last day of school before Christmas break, a blindingly sunny day following two days of off-and-on snowfall. She and I were walking to Hughey's house for the last of our—to use a word of my mother's—rendez-vous, before a two-week hiatus I was dreading. Everyone else seemed to be in a good mood, though, including Hughey, who bounded up to us, put his arms around us, and announced that not only had practice been cancelled, but he'd procured another joint from his sister's purse, and not only could we smoke it with him, but we could do it as his house, since his parents had left that morning for their timeshare in Florida. Things had been kind of weird the past few weeks with L.K., her begging off a couple of our visits, saying she wanted to hang out with her new friends ("It is not good every day, Roossell, to have you on top of me"), while I couldn't comprehend anything better than dry humping with her in Hughey's basement. I'd been up most of the night, worrying what was going on. I looked over at her. L.K. shrugged.

It was her first time, too, so I played the expert, and before long the three of us were laughing our asses off, making fun of teachers, nuns, and each other. We made L.K. say things like "Blow me" and "Yo mama," because they sounded hilarious in her accented English, and because she had the giggles so bad she could barely talk. Hughey fired up the turntable, and we took turns dancing to "September" and "Shining Star," while the other two clapped, just like on Soul Train. L.K. was terrible, but she didn't seem to care. Nobody did, and I felt that closeness again, like I'd felt that day with Hughey, but now for both of them. At a certain point, I sat on the bean bag chair, leaned my head back, and drifted off. When I woke up, it was dark, "Reasons" was playing, and I looked at the clock radio: 5:34. I sat up. By the light of the lava lamp, I could see L.K. and Hughey slow dancing. Hughey leaned down and kissed her, and she kissed him back. I don't know if they even noticed me leaving, and I didn't care.

Outside, it was cold, but my face was hot with humiliation. Do not cry, I thought. I may have screamed or moaned, probably something in between. It was snowing again, I saw Christmas lights in people's windows, and I thought about how lonely and miserable this vacation was going to be. I'd gone just over a block, when I saw the brown Cutlass coming slowly up the street. Fuck him, I thought. I was ready for anything. He stopped in front of me, and rolled down his window. He looked angry and scared. He asked me if I'd seen his daughter. Yes, I said, I had. And I told him exactly where.



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