Back in Pittsburgh I tried to tell Amanda about everything that had happened in Atlantic City, but her only response was to strip down to her underwear in my bedroom. She mentioned nothing to me about her evening at the 31st Street Pub, and I didn’t say a word about Calvin or guilt. Amanda simply brushed off everything with long kisses. She shut us up by running her hands and mouth along my body. Then I kissed her neck and my fingers reached in her panties. I moved them in and out of Amanda. I had such control that she came instantly. Then it was my turn. I flipped over. Amanda sunk below my belly. She pulled at me until I felt raw and used up.
We did it for a long time. I stared up into the vacant white of my ceiling trying not to think, as Amanda rocked back and forth. She kept at it until she began to moan like someone dying. She pressed harder into my pelvis, and called out my name. I hated my name. What did it mean anymore? Alex was soiled and cruel. Alex was disloyal and only concerned with himself. Alex was jealous and insecure. Alex was possessive and a world-class drunk. Alex was...
“Hey,” Amanda said.
“What?” I answered waking from my funk. Then I looked up and I was out of her. I was limp and useless.
She sighed and got off of me. She lay on her back and pulled me over to her, and I got on top. Amanda grabbed me hard and tried to get me excited again. I didn’t think I would, but it worked. Then she put me back in. I went slowly at first, but then she prodded me into going faster. I went so quick that my hips hurt, and sweat dripped from my head onto her face. All the thoughts came back. Alex is a worm. Alex is a statutory rapist. Alex will never leave his bedroom. Alex hangs with hipsters. Alex hangs with fools. Alex loves no one and doesn’t know who he is. Soon I was limp again.
“Jesus Christ!” she shouted. “What is with you?”
I rolled over on my back. “I don’t know. It’s not...it’s just not right.”
Amanda gave me a dirty look. “What isn’t right?” Then her eyes brightened viciously. “Oh, oh I get it. Can’t screw the sixteen-year-old now, huh?”
“That’s not it.”
“Then what is it?”
“I just feel guilty.”
“Is this about Calvin again?”
Amanda sat up. She took my cigarettes off my nightstand and lit one. When I met Amanda Evarts, she didn’t smoke. Three weeks later and she was a pro, breaking my parent’s house rules as well. “This is about Calvin, isn’t it? Maybe you should date him, and I’ll go out and get a real guy.”
“Don’t say that,” I said. “Please don’t be that way.”
“How else should I be, Alex? I mean this is beyond ridiculous.”
I sat up in bed. I grabbed my own cigarette, but at least Amanda was kind enough to let me light mine off of hers. “You didn’t see him in Atlantic City. You didn’t see how sad and pathetic he was.”
“Yes. I don’t care about Calvin. He could come in here now and start crying, and I wouldn’t give a shit,” Amanda said.
She got out of bed. Her body looked lithe and amazing. What a fool you are to not reach and take this, Alex Javorski. What a fool. “I’m not cruel. I’m honest,” she said. “And you should be, too.”
“I’m trying to be honest,” I said. “I’m trying to tell you what happened in...”
“Not about Calvin! Not about Atlantic City! About me, Alex! Be honest about me!”
“I...” But what Amanda said took me by surprise. What did she mean, honest about her?
“Do you want to be with me?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, quickly. And it was true. I just wanted the guilt and jealousy to go away.
“Then we shouldn’t be having these problems.”
“But we are.” I got out of bed and started dressing. “I want to be with you, but my old friends hate me now. I want to be with you, but you don’t want to talk about any of that. I want to be with you, but...”
“Ugh!” Amanda shouted. “Stop whining, Alex!” Instantly she calmed and came over to me. “I’ll try and be more understanding, okay?”
“But you have to try too. You can’t go forward and then see poor, sad Calvin, and fall back. You’re not letting yourself enjoy things. You’re not enjoying me, that’s for certain.”
“I...I am,” I said. But then she stifled whatever else I was going to say with a kiss.
Then we went to the Cage. I thought it was a dumb idea, but Amanda wanted to go. I never just dropped in at the Cage. I always had to let Noah know ahead of time. Things had obviously changed. To my surprise, we got into with no problem. Noah wasn’t even behind the bar. He was sitting with a group of friends at a back table. He waved us over. The guy working the bar looked like a biker. I’d never seen him before. He was tall and thin with a shaved head, and a long coal-black goatee.
“Hey, baby,” he said to Amanda. Then he leaned over the bar and kissed her on the cheek. It stunned me. How much had happened since Atlantic City? The whole world seemed nuts.
“Alex, this is Bill,” Amanda said. Bill? The Bill?
He extended a sturdy, tattoo-filled arm. We shook hands. It seemed like he was trying to break mine off. “So you’re the boyfriend, huh?” Bill looked me over. He was smiling at me. Or was that a smirk?
I looked at Amanda. “Is this...?”
“Yes, this is my friend, Bill. The one I was hanging out with,” she said. “Noah was cool enough to help him get a job.”
“How old is he?” I whispered.
“I’m thirty-one,” Bill said. That was definitely a smirk on his face. Then he reached down and grabbed us two bottles of Iron. He didn’t even ask what we wanted. I guess he didn’t have to. “I’ll actually be thirty-two in a few weeks.”
“Great,” I said, taking the beer. Amanda and I started over toward Noah’s table, and when we were far enough away from Bill, I asked, “How do you know a thirty-one year old?”
“He was one of the truckers at Roadwise.... until recently,” Amanda said, laughing.
“So you’re taking employees from Calvin and Steve’s dads?”
“No, I helped a friend get a better job. Noah said I might be able to waitress here, too, which would be nice because then I won’t have to deal with Calvin on my own.”
“But you’re sixteen,” I said. “You can’t waitress in a bar until you’re eighteen.”
Amanda turned to me. There was violence in her eyes. “Yeah, well, Noah and his bosses don’t know I’m only sixteen. And the job pays under the table, so I’m expecting it’ll stay that way.”
“I’m serious, Alex.”
“I don’t doubt that you are.”
Noah grabbed a couple of chairs and we joined everyone. Amanda sat next to Noah. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this a week or so ago. I sat on her other side. It was cool, I guess. I mean despite my temporary insanity in Atlantic City, I didn’t really suspect anything was happening between the two of them. Bill, at the bar; I wasn’t so cool with Bill. Looking at him again, it put me in a mood. I could feel myself getting angry. I no longer wanted to be in the Cage. I wanted to be home. It didn’t even matter if Amanda was with me or not. I looked at her. She was laughing and talking up a storm with some of the girls at the table. Every once in a while Noah would say something, and Amanda would laugh and touch his shoulder. I hated the way she touched his shoulder. She could have all of them.
I went back up to the bar to get a couple more beers. Bill didn’t say much to me, except to ask me a little about Atlantic City. I told him some crap about casinos, but I really didn’t want to talk about Atlantic City anymore. Maybe I should’ve told Bill about the private club. I should’ve told him how I told all my friends about Amanda Evarts, and how much she liked having sex with me. Maybe he wouldn’t have been too surprised to hear it. I turned to go back to the table, and there was Noah standing right on my heel.
“Boo!” he shouted. Then he put his arm around me. “Don’t look so pissy, Big Al.”
“Sorry,” I said, my eyes going past him to the table. Amanda was practically sitting on top of Karl. “Things have been a little weird lately.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said. Bill handed him a beer, but he put it down on the bar. “Wanna go outside and have a smoke? Get some air?”
I set my beer on the bar. “Yeah.”
We went outside. The night air felt cool. This was odd for Pittsburgh in the summer. Noah and I stood in front of the Cage. We didn’t say anything. Noah let me smoke in silence. He smoked too, taking tight tugs on the cig, pulling at it, flicking the ash. He watched families going down Forbes with Italian Ices or ice cream. He watched the girls go by dressed in their summer dresses, with their hands full of Starbucks drinks and cell phones. Most of them stared at him and smiled. Noah just had that way.
“So what’s bugging you, Big Al,” he finally said.
“Take your pick,” I said.
“I’m gonna go with a small, cute blonde girl.”
“You’d be right.”
Noah smiled a little, dipped his head. “Aw, man, it can’t be that bad. You’re gettin’ some at least, right? You’re just being too heavy about it. Check it, Big Al; one of the things I like about you is your intensity. But you don’t need it with this chick, Amanda. Just have a good time.”
“That’s the problem. We don’t have a good time. Hell, we don’t even really date. We just get together. We argue about Calvin or something else stupid.”
Noah gave me an odd look. “Why are you arguing about Calvin?” Then his eyes lit up. “Oh, I forgot. You have to stop doing this. What’s done is done. You were at least a man about it. You went to Calvin and talked to him, before things really heated up with Amanda. He said he was cool, remember?” I nodded. “So, yeah, end of story then.”
“You weren’t in Atlantic City, though,” I said. “You didn’t see.”
Noah shrugged. “I wasn’t in Atlantic City, true. But I’m here. And I can see you blowing it with this chick, Big Al. If you keep it up, man, that Amanda is the kind that’ll just cut you off. She’ll scrape you away like a piece of crap off the bottom of her boot.”
“What?” I asked, startled. “What did she tell you?”
“Nothing.” Noah opened the door to the Cage. Laughter and jukebox music boomed into the night. “I just know the type.”
We stayed for a few more hours with music and laughter, and more and more beer. I loosened up considerably. I had never really drunk this much before, but lately I’d been putting it away. Amanda and I seemed to get along better too. She snuggled into me a lot, and kissed me in front of everyone. We held hands, and sometimes we got frisky below the table. It was fun.
Hanging out and getting drunk made me understand why I liked all of these people. There was no stupid talk about getting laid or casinos, or chicks. The people here talked about art and music, and about college classes. And while I wasn’t an equal, the more I got to know everyone, the better they treated me. I decided once and for all to forget Calvin and the rest of the guys. They’d come around. And if they didn’t, I had a whole new world to immerse myself in. I had Amanda Evarts.
Then Noah decided we were taking the party to his apartment. Being on your own and legal, in every sense of the word, was awesome. You could just decided to have a party, buy beer, smokes, and stay out all night. Me? I had to text my folks and tell them a lie. I told them that I was staying at Calvin’s. Amanda left a message for her parents too. I don’t know what she told them. I’m sure no one would buy it. But that was a problem for another day and time.
I drank more beer at the party. Noah gave me shots as well. He kept running up to me with two little glasses of dark liquor, and we’d do a shot. Then he’d laugh, call me Big Al, and he’d go off and get two more. I looked around. No one else was doing shots with Noah. Gene, Karl, and Killian were all huddled around a vintage turntable, listening to some record, and taking soft tugs on their imported beer. Amanda was with her new hipster friends, and they were all talking. About what, I didn’t have a clue. Bill was with them. I wasn’t worried about him anymore. Amanda would look up at me and smile or lick her lips and softly bite the bottom one, or else she’d blow me a kiss. Then Noah would come back with another round, and everything would start all over again.
I got really screwed up in no time. Everything was a blur. I couldn’t really understand a thing people were saying. I looked toward where Amanda was, and she wasn’t there. Bill was still there, though, so I wasn’t freaked about it. I swayed and waited for Noah to come back with another round of shots, but it seemed he quit doing that. Where was Noah? I decided to look for him. I remember walking. I was doing well too, except chairs and tables and people, and sofas kept getting in my way. I felt hands on me. I think it was Gene or Karl. It was definitely Karl. I could tell by his laugh. He took me into the dining room, and set me down on that weird sofa seat. It felt like I was there forever. Then Noah came back. And Amanda was in the other room again.
“What do you think?” Noah said to someone.
“I think the boy is gone,” someone said.
Then hands were on me again. I walked some stairs. Soon it was warm and soft, and dark around me.
“Where’s Amanda?” I asked.
“She’s downstairs,” Noah said.
“Where am I?”
“In my room. You’re done partying tonight, okay? I put a bucket by the bed. Do not puke on my bed, Big Al. Try to sleep it off.”
“Okay,” I said.
And then Noah was gone.