But Amanda didn’t stay away.
I was in my bedroom a few nights later. I could’ve been writing or listening to music, or maybe catching up with a friend. I’d thought about calling Calvin a few times since Amanda drove away from me, but what could I say to him that didn’t make me look like a fool? Or make our friendship seem more a sham? As for Noah, well, I didn’t hear from him at all. In truth I was doing nothing. I wasn’t grounded, per se. How does one ground a college-bound adult? But my gallivanting around the city, my sleepovers at the apartment of legal-yet-not-really-legal adults, my flagrant breaking of the no smoking/sex rule, made me public enemy number one around the homestead at Phillips Avenue. My parents weren’t really big on catching sight of me, and I wasn’t huge on seeing them either. I went to work. They went to work. I took my meals in some greasy joint near the library, and they seemed to have rekindled this wine-and-foreign-food dinnertime thing. I was never invited to it. I figured it was best to lay low. So I stayed in my room and my parents stayed downstairs. At least they were home more, I guess. College was going to be a long four years if I didn’t get that apartment.
Anyway, there was a knock on my door. I thought it would be my mom or dad. I thought they were ready for a truce. I didn’t really want a truce. I wanted room and board in some small college up north. I wanted my dad to silently hand me enough rent money to supplement what I’d earned so that I could pack a truck, call Noah, and then go out to celebrate at the Cage. I wanted something to happen to break the funk I’d been in since Amanda Evarts pushed me off her naked body, and stormed out of my life. One should be careful what they wish for.
“Come in,” I said.
There was a slight hesitation then Amanda opened my door. Christ if she didn’t look great. Blonde hair like silk coming down just below the chin. She’d obviously had it cut. Amanda was wearing a blue and white sundress that clung to each and every curve on her body, which clearly showed the outline of a thong underneath. There was no bra either, and probably the richest tan I’d seen on a Pittsburgh girl in my lifetime. Amanda had obviously been living well since we ended. I swear I started salivating right then and there, as I ogled her. It felt like I was really and truly seeing Amanda Evarts’ beauty for the first time. I wanted her back so badly. So badly, that I forgot the fights, the name-calling, the awkward moments. I forgot everything. It was amnesia brought upon by loneliness, confinement, and having a pretty girl front and center in my room. Then Amanda gave me an embarrassed smile. I turned away, too, but it was like pulling teeth to turn my head.
“Hey,” she said, softly.
“Hey.” Let bygones be bygones.
“Do you want to take a walk or something?”
It was a nice night outside. It was humid, of course, and the sky was void of stars. Stars got lost sometimes in the pink hue cast from the city of Pittsburgh. Amanda and I walked up Phillips Avenue, and then onto the long slope of Shady Avenue. Apartments were illuminated. Young people were having parties and being loud. Music wafted through the air. Private homes hung behind bushes, but inside you could see the muted blue of the television set as the tired working-class put another solemn evening in America to bed. I reached for Amanda’s hand as we walked, but it felt cold and limp, so I let it go after a block. She didn’t seem to care one way or the other. Finally she stopped when we got to Forbes Avenue. People were suddenly all around us, going into restaurants and bars. I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t angling for a private moment here.
“I need to apologize to you,” Amanda finally said. She took out two cigarettes, and lit them. She handed one to me.
“No need to apologize,” I answered. I took a drag. “Things have just been bad between us. I guess I didn’t expect to have such a reaction to dating someone my friend was into. But you have to understand, I feel like I broke some male code.”
Amanda exhaled her smoke deeply then she sighed. “You’re still on that,” she said, quietly.
“Calvin...and this guilt. You think I’m here because of that? You think we broke up because of that?”
“Did we break up?” I asked.
“Is this negotiable?
She shook her head. No.
“So there’s nothing that I can say to make this better?” It’s funny. A few days ago when she stormed off, I was okay. But now, in the quiet after the storm, I actually believed things could work out for Amanda and I again. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Amanda said. “If you think about it.”
“No, I believe I’m pretty dense,” I answered. “I think you need to tell me.”
She had a few more drags on her smoke, but didn’t speak. Was it hard for Amanda to come here and face me like this? Because I know it was hard for me to sit and have to hear it. I got tight. Amanda still didn’t speak. I got worried she’d go mute. I hated when people were being vague with me. I guess I believed that if you had something to say, spit it out, and be on your way.
“I’m seeing someone else,” Amanda finally said. On the other hand, directness wasn’t always good either. “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“When did it happen?” I asked.
“What does it matter?”
I clenched my teeth hard. “Trust me, it matters.”
Amanda turned to me. She looked cold. “So if I said it happened while you were in Atlantic City, then it would make a difference? Or if I said it happened last night?”
“Which one was it?”
“I don’t want to say,” she answered. “And I don’t have to say. Maybe it was both.”
“Did you sleep with him?” Amanda just looked at me. She wasn’t giving that away, either. I was free to come up with my own conclusions, which I did, in vast and varied locations and positions. All the various guys, and all the various positions; they made me nuts. “Amanda?”
“Why did you even come here tonight? Why tell me any of this? I mean you had a free pass. You drove away and you never had to come back.”
“I’m here because I owe you an explanation, as to why I got so distant and cold so fast.”
“So why did you?”
She shrugged. “Because I’m immature? Because I’m only sixteen, and pretty much out of my league in all social situations?”
“That’s why you slept with someone else behind my back?”
“I didn’t say I did that,” Amanda said.
“You didn’t deny it either,” I said.
“Alex, I’m just not the kind of girl you’re looking for. I think maybe Calvin put some idea into your head, and when we met you just went with it.”
“That’s bullshit. You’re just using all of this stuff as a crutch.”
“Speak for yourself,” she said.
“We’re not talking about me.”
“Fine. Then maybe I just didn’t want to be saddled with some guy that I just met, right before my freshman year of college, where I’d have a whole campus of guys to choose from.”
That was when I stood up. Amanda had given me her explanation, and she’d managed to drudge up my old, sorry past at the same time. I didn’t need or want any more details from her about how or why she cheated on me. I needed to leave. Maybe I needed to go to the Cage, and have Noah sort this out with me. I couldn’t believe he was right about her. “So you explained,” I said, bitterly. “Good night.”
Amanda rose too. “You can hate me if you want, but my coming here is a favor to you.”
“Yeah? And how is that?”
“Because I’m seeing Noah,” she said, quietly.
I might’ve staggered a bit. I wasn’t in a lot of fights when I was a kid, maybe a few minor scrapes. And I don’t want to brag, but I never really took a hit. I usually did the hitting. A few punches, a couple slaps to the face, someone would cry, their mother would come out, my mother would come out, and then the whole thing would be over and done with. But when Amanda Evarts told me that she was seeing Noah that, in effect, they were sleeping together, I felt like someone had given me a good left and right combo. I took one to the face on that, and a nice blow to the gut. I wanted to vomit and go down for the count.
“It just happened,” Amanda said.
“These things happen,” I answered, trying to recover. “They happen all the time.”
Amanda made a step forward, and I took a step back. “You and I really never got along, Alex. We were done before we started because of all of this Calvin stuff. So Noah and I saw each other a little bit. We tried to stop. Then I worked the Cage last night, and....I went home with him again.”
“It’s that simple.”
I breathed deep. “It’s not that simple to me.”
“But it’s what happened.”
“He’s my goddamned friend!” I shouted. I never shouted. People stopped on the street to look at me, then they moved on.
“I know that.”
“I hang out with the guy all the time! Christ, I’m supposed to move into the apartment!”
“You were never going to get that place.” Amanda shifted uncomfortably. She was really good at cruelty. “Noah just strung you along because that’s what you wanted to hear. That guy, Killian, he’s moving in there next month.”
“You’re a liar.”
“Not about any of this.”
“Well I don’t want the damned place anyway,” I lied. Amanda Evarts didn’t deserve to see me fall. Then I backed away a little bit.
“I know what that apartment meant to you,” she said.
“At least you know, Alex,” she said. “At least there are no illusions.”
“Yeah, who needs those?”
Amanda shrugged. She didn’t care. She never cared.
“Does Noah know you’re telling me all of this?”
“He knows I plan on telling you at some point.”
“And he’s fine with that?”
“Let’s just say, Noah, doesn’t carry any guilt around with him.”
Hit a man when he’s down, I thought. That’s the old Amanda Evarts spirit. “Are you seeing him tonight?”
“Why?” She gave me a cautious look.
“Because I want to talk to him.”
“You know that’s not a good idea right now.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’ve had a good idea all summer.”
Amanda shook her head. “You’re an idiot.”
“I know but...” I never finished the thought. Amanda brushed past me and began walking away up Shady, her last bit of damage done to perfection. “Did you ever care about me?” I called out.
She stopped and turned to face me. “I tried.” Then Amanda Evarts began walking again. Gone, gone, gone.
I went back and sat on the bench. It seemed that more and more people were on the street now. I felt suffocated. Then, in a few moments, like the pierce of a deep stab wound, Amanda Evarts’ car came barreling down the street. As bad luck would have it, she got stuck at a red light. We were almost parallel. I glared into the car, but she kept facing forward. I could hear our music coming out of her windows, and she was on her cell phone. She was laughing and smiling. There was no residual anger left on her face. Amanda’s hands were clean of the blood, and I was a ghost. She was talking to someone on the other end of that phone, and, goddamn it, I was sure I knew who it was. Noah. He was making her happy. He was making her laugh, at least for now. Then the light changed and Amanda drove off. I stayed on the bench a few more moments, before I got up and began walking down Forbes.
The Cage was dead when I got there. There were a couple of drunks at the bar, and a few couples in booths eating food. Noah was at the other end of the bar. He was flirting with the other waitress, this cute redhead named, Gloria. When she saw me, Gloria, stopped talking and she tapped Noah on the shoulder. He turned with a grin but lost it as soon as we made eye contact.
“Hey Big Al.”
“I’m not getting the apartment, am I?”
Noah stared at me. All the color drained from his face. “This isn’t the time or place for this.”
“I’m not here for a fight,” I said. “I just want to hear the truth.”
“You’re not getting the room. The truth is you have a bedroom at home, and Killian needs a place. He and Clara broke up, and she wants him out. The poor guy is actually sleeping on my couch now.”
“So that’s it?”
I sat down on a stool. “Give me an beer,” I said. Noah stared at me blankly. “It’s the least you can do for me.” He got me a beer and slammed it down on the bar. Foam rose up, but I grabbed it in time.
“That’s the last one.” He pointed at the bottle of Iron. “You don’t come here anymore, okay?”
“Fine.” I took a pull on the beer, but then I couldn’t contain myself. “How could you hook up with Amanda behind my back?”
Noah sighed then was silent a moment. “She told me you were through.”
“You were with her when I was in Atlantic City!”
“That was a mistake. We didn’t sleep together that night.”
“That’s not what Amanda says.”
“What can I say, Big Al? The girl is a liar.”
“And you were my friend.”
“I’m still your friend.”
“No you’re not.”
“I am,” he said. “And when you’re done being mad you’ll realize it.”
“No you’re not,” I said. “Friends don’t do this to each other.”
“Fine.” Noah wiped the bar, nervously. “Amanda is just a girl anyway.”
“She was my girl.”
He laughed. “I don’t think Amanda Evarts is anybody’s girl.”
“That’s just an excuse,” I said. “You’re just trying to make yourself feel better.”
“No,” he said. “I’m trying to make you feel better.”
“You couldn’t if you tried.”
“I warned you about that girl.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know. But I didn’t think you were warning me about you, too.”
Suddenly Noah’s face turned red. “It just happened, okay. I can’t apologize for it.... I...I won’t. Amanda, and me, we’ve been happening for a long time, in bits and pieces. We just finally realized it last night.”
God, hearing that made my stomach churn. “So you love her or something?
“No,” he answered. “Guys don’t love girls like that.”
“Maybe I could’ve.”
“You never had a shot.”
“Christ.” I finished my beer then got up and made for the door.
“Big Al,” Noah called. I stopped. “Don’t be this way. You guys were done.”
“Why her?” I asked. “Why Amanda when you have your pick of all the hipsters chicks in Pittsburgh?”
He was still a moment. “She was different. Amanda was different from all those other girls.”
“No one’s really different,” I said. Then I grabbed the Cage’s door. My hand was shaking.
“Come on, Big Al. Don’t be childish about this.”
I shook my head, sadly. “I’m not the child. Amanda is.”
“She’s only sixteen,” I said.
Noah laughed. “Yeah, sure she is.”
“Now you’re lying,” he said. But I could see in his eyes that he believed I might be right. “Amanda Evarts is eighteen. She’s going to college.”
“Ask her to tell you the story about that,” I said. “It’s a good one.”
Then I walked out of the bar.
There was really nowhere for me to go. I stood on the corner of Forbes and Murray Avenues for a moment to collect my thoughts. I looked back inside the Cage. Noah was already flirting with Gloria again. He had no conscience. I mean I didn’t expect Noah to be wailing on the bar or anything, but maybe a small touch of solemn contemplation would’ve been nice. Screw it. I guess he and Amanda Evarts deserved each other. It stung to think it, but it was probably true. Still, I needed somewhere to drown my sorrows. Almost by instinct I called Calvin on his cell. Of course I got no answer. He and Steve were probably checking the phone, watching my number come up, and ignoring it. But I really felt a strong need for my old friends in that moment. So I called Calvin’s house. I got his mother. She told me the guys were at the Metro. So that’s where I went.
The Metro was pretty dead. It always was in the middle of the week. A couple of guys were huddled at tables, laughing and being guys, and there were a few groups of girls hanging around; a pack of them were dancing in the back of the place. It was pretty easy to spot my friends. They were at a table around the middle of the club. Calvin was there, of course, and Steve; Tom McDannen and George Rubio rounded out the group. There was even an extra chair at the table. I was hoping it could be mine.
“Hey,” I said when I got over to them.
“Dude,” Steve said, in his grating, gravel voice. All would be well. “Are you lost?”
Okay, it would be a little hard.
“No,” I said. “I figured you guys would be down here. I tried to call, but...”
“.... I couldn’t get through,” I finished.
Steve laughed. “That should’ve been your first clue.”
“Come on, guys. You can’t be this mad at me.” I looked at Calvin, but he had his head down. “I made a mistake. It was an error in judgment.”
“You were thinkin’ with the wrong head, Javorski,” George said. Then he laughed that giggle I hated. But he was right.
I nodded, and then I really humbled myself. “If it means anything, Amanda and I are through. That so-called friend of mine, Noah; she’s seeing him now.”
“Justice served,” Steve said. He smirked. Then he got up from the table and left.
“Cal?” I said. Calvin still hadn’t lifted his head to look at me. “Come on, Cal.”
Tom McDannen tapped George on the shoulder. “Come on, jaggoff, let’s go see if we can find some chicks.” George gave Tom an odd look. But then he nodded, and the two of them were gone too.
“Calvin,” I started again.
He looked up at me. “I know you’re sorry, Alex. And I believe you. It’s just.... it’s just.... I was really into Amanda. I know I told you it was cool that you saw her, but it was wrong. And I guess once you saw how much it hurt me; I thought maybe you’d realize it. But you didn’t. Or, if you did, you didn’t do much about it. You actually made it worse.”
I sat down at the table. “I’m an ass. What can I say? But I learned my lesson, Calvin. I got it thrown right back in my face.”
“I know. And I’m sorry,” he said. Calvin’s pity tore at me. “I guess I feel like I’m happy it was you instead of me, you know?”
“But I’m still mad. Alex, you were, like, my oldest friend.”
“I am your oldest friend,” I said.
Calvin nodded. “But you went ahead and did this without even really thinking about it.” Then he was quiet a moment. “What kind of person does that make you?”
I thought about it a second. “A guy who makes mistakes?”
“Maybe a guy who doesn’t give a crap about his friends,” he added.
“It’s not as harsh as all of that.” Then I found myself saying something that Noah said. It was funny. I mean it wasn’t really funny, but funny all things considered. “Amanda Evarts is just a girl. You and me, we’re like.... like...brothers.”
Calvin nodded. “I know. That’s why it hurts so much.” Then he got up from the table.
“But you said you were cool with it,” I said, falling back on my old, tired argument. “Just give me some time, Alex,” Calvin said. “Okay?”
I kicked at the floor. “Christ, I feel like I’m breaking up again.” He winced. All right, no minimal homosexual references. “Look, Cal, can you and I hang out some time and talk. Maybe we could do something next weekend.”
“Us guys are going to see the Pirates next weekend.”
“That would be cool.”
“We didn’t get you a ticket.”
“I understand,” I said. “Well, I’m at your disposal.”
“Maybe I’ll give you a call or something, some other time.”
“I’d like that.”
Then Calvin left the table, too. And I was really alone.
I got up and looked at my old pals. They were all huddled by a bar that sold soft drinks. None of them were looking at me. I made to leave. When I walked by, Tom glanced at me. He looked concerned. Maybe all would be okay, or maybe his care would pass once I stepped outside the Metro’s door. I looked at Calvin. He looked at me too. But then he turned and started talking to Steve and George. He said something and George giggled. Then Calvin had his good old innocent smile back.
I got outside the Metro. It was late. The dockworkers were arriving for the graveyard shift at the fruit processing plant. I probably should’ve taken the bus back to Squirrel Hill, but I decided to walk. Pittsburgh looked beautiful. It looked illuminated in the hot, glowing summer night. Every street was bathed in the amber hue of streetlights and neon. Each home that I passed gave off a warm feeling of hope. For a moment I was happy. I was content with the carnage that I had been through, and maybe even for what I put others through. I guess it had to happen.
But I knew in my heart of hearts that everything would work out all right. Calvin would call me and we’d be shouting about how bad the Pirates were in a few weeks. I was suddenly hopeful for the life that followed Amanda Evarts, Noah Banks, and the rest of those hipsters. I thought about them. I thought about the way they moved through the city streets carelessly, their hearts and minds full of the madness of the night just before dawn hit. Then I thought about my old friends too. I realized they were just the same. No one was special. I certainly wasn’t special. No one was different. We all just were. And sometimes we needed each other, and sometimes we had to let go and find something else for a while. Then I thought about what I was going to find next, and about a young life of irreplaceable joy and sorrow. And I wondered about it all. I wondered.