The next evening I was sitting in my bedroom. The house was empty except for me and the cat. My dad was still at work. My mom was either off volunteering here or volunteering there. Or she was out with friends. They were probably drinking white wine and bitching about living in Squirrel Hill and having husbands who worked late, and kids that never came out of their rooms. I was eating another pre-packaged dinner. It was eggplant parm this time. I was eating it and missing the home cooked smells of our house back when I was younger. I was sitting at my computer too. There was a blank Microsoft Word page staring me in the face. I was trying to play writer again, except I had nothing to say about anything. I didn’t want to be any kind of artist in that moment. I just wanted to be what Amanda Evarts wanted me to be. Then I heard Calvin’s car roll up the street and his crappy rap music assaulted the evening air.
“Amanda left a message for me,” Calvin began, when I got in the car. “She wanted me to call you and for us to get together tonight.”
“Amanda wants to hang out with us. She told me to call you and see what you’re doing tonight.”
“Did you see her today?”
Calvin shrugged. “Briefly. I’m not too cool with Amanda right now because she blew me off last night, and I had to eat it on both Pirates tickets.”
“Sorry about mine.”
“It’s okay. At least you were up front and said you weren’t coming. But Amanda was all down with the game from the start, you know?”
“She probably had woman problems.”
“How’d you know?”
“Anyway, me and Steve tried calling you last night, but we couldn’t get through.”
“I had my phone off.”
I pictured Amanda moaning beneath me, as our lips and bodies touched. “I just had a long day at the library, and I was sort of done talking to people when I got home.”
Then Calvin and I grew silent. Just tell him, Javorski. But something held me back. I was scared. Calvin wasn’t an intimidating guy or anything, so I wasn’t worried about him acting out against me. Well, at least I wasn’t worried about being able to defend myself. I just didn’t want to have to. I looked at my old friend, as he drove down Phillips. Poor Calvin whom I’d known since nine years old, who was the only other kid on the playground still into baseball cards. Poor Calvin DeFlino who was so hapless with girls even though his family had money and a nice house in Shadyside. Poor Calvin who was thin and going bald at eighteen, who was in love with Amanda Evarts, a girl I’d practically seen naked in less than a week of knowing her.
And what was Amanda’s deal anyway? She had no right calling Calvin. Telling him was my deal. Setting things up was my operation. Something about Amanda calling Calvin made me not trust her so much in that moment. But I knew, even sitting there, that once this was all over and I came home and called Amanda and told her that the deed was done, she’d come over to my house. She’d come to my bedroom. And I’d be her slave again for as long as she’d have me.
“So are we seeing her tonight or what?” I asked.
“Maybe later,” Calvin said.
“Then where are we going?”
“Before you get pissed, check this out. Steve got us fake I.D.s!”
“Why would he do that?”
“Alex, man, you don’t know the half of it. But you know how Steve’s mother is a big high roller in Atlantic City, right?”
“Yes. At least I know Steve’s father sends her there quite often.”
He nodded at this. “Well, Mrs. Scanlon has all of this complimentary stuff coming her way. Free room, free meals, free shows, all this stuff.”
“So we’re all going to Atlantic City!” Calvin said, excitedly. He slammed his steering wheel and turned the rap music up a notch. The car vibrated.
“When?” I shouted.
“Like two weeks from now.” I didn’t say anything. He turned to me. “Alex, you don’t even seem excited!”
“You just told me,” I said, turning the music down.
“I know. But now you know, and you’re still not excited.”
“With the fake I.D.s we’ll be able to gamble. And drink! Do you know that Atlantic City has strip clubs where the chicks can get completely naked...at least I think they do.”
“It’s totally cool. Please don’t back out on this. It’s like the last thing we’ll do before we all start college.”
“But we’re all going to college in Pittsburgh. And you’re not even going to college,” I said.
“Not yet. But I will. Anyway, Alex, come on. It’s Atlantic City.”
“Let me think about it,” I said.
We pulled into the lot across from the Metro. We got out of the car, and walked into the joint without a word. It was Monday night. Hardly anyone was in the place. The world was too exhausted from the weekend; only fools and diehards were out. But the Metro continued on in perpetual Saturday. Loud bass played and rap music wailed throughout. Mostly there were just packs of guys in the joint with their hats on backward. They were hoisting sodas like they were beers. They were loud and white, and called each other nigga. They talked about how high they always got. A few girls milled around too, trying to attract the guys. What fools.
Steve was sitting at a back table with Tom McDannen and George Rubio. What a trio they were. Two guys who couldn’t be more out of place at the Metro if they tried, and one who thought he was the godfather. Steve was sitting there with his oily black hair slicked back. He was squinting because his glasses weren’t strong enough, or because the steroids had completely taken over his brain. Steve was wearing a blue polo shirt and white jean shorts. He looked like he was going on a golf outing with one of his dad’s cronies. I looked at him and he nodded and grinned. If things went down badly with Calvin, at least I wouldn’t have to suffer Steve Scanlon anymore.
“There they are!” Steve shouted, in his grating voice. He stood up and slapped Calvin five.
“Jav-or-ski! ‘Sup bra!” Steve put his fist out for a real cool guy pound. I did it, but I felt like a moron.
“Show him,” Calvin said.
Steve whipped out a little stack of slick cards from his back pocket. “Check these out, Javorski!”
He handed me one of the I.D.s. It wasn’t badly done. At least it had my picture on it, albeit my graduation picture. I was in a suit and tie. I guess whatever bouncer carded us in Atlantic City would either be a functioning moron, or would have tales to tell about the group of evangelicals casing the casinos and strip clubs.
“These are.... well done?” I said.
“Damned right they are!” Steve said, taking the card back. “One of the warehouse truckers has a business on the side. Dude, I even made sure it said we were twenty-three so we wouldn’t be so conspicuous.”
“Gimme mine,” George said. He reached with one of his stained, fat hands.
“Hell no! You think I’m a fool? You get the I.D.s when we get to A.C.” Then Steve turned back to me. “So are you in?”
I said nothing at first. I thought about the guys going to Atlantic City, and the freedom I’d have with Amanda. It was only two weeks away. Heck, I could just let things slide with Amanda and not tell Calvin, or at least not worry about it for another fourteen days. But Amanda wouldn’t have that, would she? She’d already called Calvin behind my back. No, it had to be tonight. Everything had to be tonight.
“Javorski!” Steve said to wake me. “Why the hesitation, dude?”
“I was just thinking about things,” I said. “About getting off work and stuff.”
“To hell with work!”
“Easy for you guys to say.”
But then Calvin’s cell phone rang. My heart stopped. He and I both looked down at it. Amanda Evarts. I could feel the sweat start to pour out of me, even in the air-conditioned nightmare of The Metro. I could feel the bile rise too.
“Excuse me, fellas,” Calvin said, standing. He had a wry smile on his face. “It’s Amanda. She’s been jockin' me all night.”
Then he picked up his phone and headed toward the lobby. I watched him go. I looked back every few seconds to see what I could see. Tom talked to me, but I didn’t care. George teased me, but he didn’t exist. Steve laughed and talked about Atlantic City, but really those three guys existed in a void for me. It was Amanda, Calvin and I, and no one mattered at that moment. Neither did any of my hipster pals. Noah could have his apartment.
Calvin walked back in the club. I couldn’t gauge his expression. Then my cell phone rang. I looked down at it sitting there on the table. But I knew whom it was. I grabbed the phone quickly so that none of the other guys could see that it was Amanda Evarts. I got up. I headed toward the lobby. When Calvin passed he made a motion for me, and I flinched like nobody’s business. But it was just a friendly tap on the shoulder. Still, my reaction made him laugh out loud.
“What did you tell Calvin?” I asked.
“Well, hello and good evening to you too,” Amanda answered.
“Come on, what did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Then why did you call?”
“I was curious where you boys were at.”
“Duh? Calvin told me. Interesting choice of places to have such a profound conversation.”
“I haven’t said anything yet.”
“I gathered that. Why not?”
I sighed. “Because Steve Scanlon and the rest of the moron crew are here, and they are all planning this big trip to Atlantic City in two weeks and Steven got everyone fake I.D.s, so we’re all here and he’s doing that and....”
“Alex, you sound flustered. Just tell Calvin and go home, and let the rest take care of itself,” Amanda said.
“I didn’t drive.”
“Well, then tell Calvin, call me back, and I’ll come and get you.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Couldn’t it just wait until after Atlantic City?”
“Not if you want to keep seeing me, it can’t,” Amanda said. “I don’t sneak around. And I don’t want to put up with any worry or guilt.”
“Cool. So go tell Calvin and then call me back. We can go back to my place. My parents are in Nashville this week. They’re on some kinda lame honky-tonk tour.”
“Why didn’t you say anything about that?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Amanda said. Then she made a kissing sound and hung up her phone.
I went back in the club. The guys were all at the table mesmerized by their fake I.D.s. All eyes were me when I sat down, but I wasn’t so nervous this time. I knew Calvin didn’t know anything. I wasn’t going back toward a den full of lions. I’d just pull him aside. Calvin and I would go into the lobby, and I’d finesse the situation. Everything would turn out all right. And then I’d be at Amanda Evarts’ doing God knows what, but enjoying every last morsel of it.
“So are you in or out, Javorski?” Steve asked.
“I’m in,” I said. But I wasn’t sure if I was or not. I just didn’t want to keep this strand of conversation going. “Cal, could I talk to you outside?”
He gave me a strange look, but got up from his seat all the same. “Sure.”
We went outside. Smallman Street was dead, except for workers at the fruit packing plant showing up for their long shifts. I lit a cigarette and watched as sad, worn men got out of beaten cars with bags full of food, and made their way toward rickety, old garage doors. It seemed like such sadness to have this be your fate, to load crates as the beautiful city glowed behind you, and young women prowled the night. My father told me that if I didn’t do well in school, I’d end up working a job like one of the ones at the fruit packing plant, instead of going to college. Well, I did well in school and it didn’t seem to matter. As for college, who could think about college with Amanda Evarts around?
I chose to be direct. “She came to see me yesterday.”
“Who?” Calvin asked.
“She came to your house?”
“She came to my work…and then she came to my house. We’re just friends,” I continued. “Nothing really happened. But I did want to talk to you about her, before things started to happen.”
“You want things to happen?”
“I don’t get it.”
I said nothing. I looked away.
“Well, that’s just great,” Calvin finally spat. “I...I feel like a fool. Amanda played me.”
I turned back. “Amanda didn’t play you, Cal. She was never your girlfriend. You never kissed her or took her out on a regular date, or anything.”
“No, you got to do that.”
“Nothing happened.” Again, there were visions of Amanda Evarts in my room. Her shirt off and on my floor. Her bra hanging above her breasts. My jeans unbuttoned. Her jeans unbuttoned.
“You’re lying to me.”
“I’m not,” I said.
“Jesus.” Calvin walked a few paces away. It was silly but I braced myself thinking he’d charge right back at me. I thought maybe I watched too many movies.
“Alex, just shut up a moment. I...I need to process this.”
He was silent about a minute. The dead air drove me nuts with worry, and concern that my friendship was over and done with. Nervously, I stubbed out my cigarette. I continued watching the fruit packing workers arrive for their night shift
“Calvin, I need to know if you’re cool with this,” I finally said. “I need to know where you stand.”
“And if I’m not cool with any of this?”
“Then I’ll call it off with Amanda. I’ll call her right now, and tell her how you feel. I’ll tell her my friendship is more important.” And I would’ve done it too. I couldn’t be too sure that I wouldn’t be calling Amanda Evarts the next day, but I’d at least make a good show of it for my friend.
“You never should’ve started it.”
“I know. But it’s a little too late now.”
“I really like her,” I said.
“Me too.” Then Calvin left me hanging longer. He paced then stopped to stare out at the city. I was done looking at the night. “It’s cool,” he finally whispered.
“Really?” I asked. “Me and Amanda?”
“Yes.” He looked at me like I was dumb. Maybe I was, but I wanted to hear him say it. Me and Amanda. Alex Javorski and Amanda Evarts. “That’s what you wanted to hear, right? You like Amanda and she likes you, and you want to....”
“Something like that,” I interrupted.
He shook his head.
“I don’t want your pity. I mean me and Amanda are probably just friends anyway, right?”
“Probably better friends than you think.”
“I knew this was gonna happen. I knew it from that night at the bar,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized again. “I didn’t plan on this. But I really like her, and I think she feels the same.”
“I’m sure she does...at least for now.”
He nodded. “Well listen, Alex. I’m gonna go back inside the Metro. When you come back in, just don’t say anything to the guys, okay? I’m kinda embarrassed right now.”
“I won’t,” I said. “But I’m not coming back inside the club. I’m leaving soon.”
“Where are you going?” Calvin said. “Oh.” His fine sleuthing deductions saved us another painful moment. “What should I tell the guys?”
“Tell them my dad called, or something.”
“Yeah. Anyway, tell Amanda I said hi.”
“I will. Hey, Cal? Are you sure about all of this?”
“I really don’t know,” he said. Then he went back inside the Metro.
I paced around the club’s ramp way a little bit. I was still feeling nervous in a thousand different ways. Amanda was mine, but at what cost? Calvin said he was fine. He didn’t seem so fine. I wouldn’t sound fine either if I thought I had a girl like Amanda Evarts, only to lose her to my loser friend. It all seemed so easy too. Calvin had to be harboring some serious pain and anger toward me. I felt guilty. But after a few minutes of it, I couldn’t contain myself. I pulled out my cell. I found Amanda’s number. She answered on the second ring.
“I talked to Calvin,” I said. “He’s fine with us.”
“Bet you feel a little silly about cooling things down last night?” Amanda said.
“I don’t know what I feel right now.”
“Am I coming to get you?”
“When can you be here?”
“I can be out the door as soon as we get off the phone.”
Amanda hung up. I paced some more. I lit another smoke and it hung out of my mouth. I was unsure of what to make of anything. I didn’t feel too safe in what had transpired this evening. It was all too much to think about. I didn’t care to think. I didn’t want to think. I was in too animalistic a condition to offer any deep reflection. I wanted warm flesh and youthful sex. I even quit feeling guilty about Calvin as I took my place on a stoop to wait. I was like a hungry animal, ready for his feast.