Amanda and I began in earnest after that night, if earnest is a good word to use. We developed patterns. If I worked days she’d meet me for lunch. Mostly we’d make out in Schenley Park as our food got cold or wilted in the hot summer sun. When Amanda worked at night, she’d ride over to my house after, and we’d sequester ourselves in my bedroom. We did what we did best, which was groping and petting and letting more and more articles of our clothes slip off as the nights progressed. My parent’s were either unwise to it all, or they simply didn’t care. Some nights they weren’t home. When they were they regarded Amanda enough. They were nice to her, but I don’t think it ever registered with my folks that there’d been a switch, that Sarah Browne was gone and Amanda Evarts had slipped into her place. I know that’s not true. But it seemed like it was. Maybe I was subconsciously worried that I’d let Amanda slip into Sarah’s place too quickly.
We didn’t date. I didn’t take her to the movies. We didn’t go to dinner or McDonald’s, and we didn’t go for long walks on hot summer nights. Once we went to a kid’s playground after dark, but we were only there for a few minutes before the cops kicked us out. I wasn’t even sure why Amanda wanted to go. In truth, I didn’t really know much about her except for what Calvin had told me. I hadn’t met Amanda’s parents yet, or her friends. She didn’t seem to have any interests, or tangible concerns. But then what did Amanda really know about me? Nothing. Plus she made me nervous at times. She was too nonchalant. It was like once the challenge with Calvin was gone, so went whatever budding interest Amanda had in me beyond certain things. Maybe I was just being paranoid.
“When is it going to happen, then?” She asked me, on one particularly paranoid night.
“I just want to take it slow, you know?” I said.
“How much slower can it get? It’s been almost two weeks.”
“Some couples go months before they do it.”
“We’re a couple?”
“I think we are.”
Then Amanda climbed back on top of me. Neither of us had anything on. “Then let’s do what couples do. Come on, Alex, I’m, like, frustrated or something.”
“You’re frustrated?” I laughed.
She kissed my chest and began slowing making her way downward. “We’ve done everything but,” she said, in a sexy whisper. “I don’t see the point in waiting, you know, if we’re a couple and all.”
“I know,” I said, bringing Amanda back up toward me. We kissed. “I just want to make sure everything is right. Like we need to get to know each other more.”
“Ugh.” She rolled off of me. We lay on our backs, watching the boredom of my ceiling. “Everything is all right, Alex! Calvin was cool with us. We see each other all the time. Soon it’ll be fall in you’ll be in school, and....”
“You’ll be in school too,” I added.
“Let me finish,” Amanda said, turning to face me. She rubbed my chest. I was learning quickly that Amanda Evarts could be harsh one minute and soft the next. “I’m just trying to tell you that there’s no need for worry because it’s all right. The planets are aligned and shit. I’m getting to know you, and you’re getting to know me. The only thing lacking is this right here.” Amanda reached low but she was gentle. “And I’m starting to need that.”
“I know but...”
“You’re the guy, Alex!” She snapped, sitting up. She turned and looked down at me. “You should be bugging me about sex. It shouldn’t be the other way around!”
So I sat up too. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I took you to my parent’s house, alone. And all we did was kiss and watch TV.”
“Have you even bought condoms yet?”
“I didn’t think...”
“So if something did happen,” she interrupted. “We couldn’t even do anything if we wanted to.”
“I’ve been meaning to get them,” I said. “I just wanted to make sure that everything was...”
“Stop interrupting me!”
“Then get some condoms and fuck me!”
Then there was silence in the room. Outside cars moved and busses moved. The world was moving along at its own pace. In my room there was nothing but torment and sexual torture, brought on by the unnatural state of our union. I still felt guilty over Calvin. I couldn’t really tell her how guilty I felt. I mean I hadn’t heard from Calvin in nearly two weeks. The last time that happened, he was in summer camp. We had Atlantic City coming up in a few days too. How would that go over?
Amanda laughed. “This is so silly.”
I laughed too, but nothing was really funny to me. “I know.”
She caressed my face. “I guess I just want you to know that I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Soon,” I said. Then I looked at my alarm clock. “I mean it’s not like we had time tonight anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Karl’s gonna be here in under an hour.” Amanda gave me a strange look. “Noah’s show is tonight.”
“Right,” she said, getting out of bed. I lay there and watched Amanda Evarts get dressed. I even felt guilty for doing that. Alex Javorski was a bag of guilt and paranoia. “Tonight we’re flipping the other half of your weird social coin.”
Karl came about thirty minutes later. We went to this all ages club right in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. There was a huge line outside the door, but we didn’t have to wait because we were on Noah’s guest list. That was pretty cool, even though I expected it. It felt decent to be able to walk past all of those clamoring kids out in the hot summer night. We felt like celebrities. I even clutched Amanda closer just in case anyone wanted a red carpet picture or something. But inside the club it was a different story. The bouncer carded us. While he was checking Karl’s fake I.D., I frantically searched for Noah. There was no sign of him anywhere. Amanda and I ended up stamped, and the bouncer put these tight neon green bracelets on our wrists just to let the world know we were only eighteen; I felt marked and singled out.
“Why didn’t you wait outside,” Noah asked, when we finally found him. Actually Karl found him in the above twenty-one section of the club. “I specifically said to wait outside.”
“I forgot,” I said.
Noah looked at our bracelets as if disgusted. “And now look at the two of you.”
“Are you always a dick?” Amanda asked.
Noah looked at her and smiled. “Hello, kitty.”
She rolled her eyes. “Obviously you are.”
Noah looked at me again. “Let me see what I can do.”
Then he walked off. It was just Amanda and I in the under twenty-one section of the club, along with hordes of strangers. We weren’t celebrities anymore. We were back to earth with the masses. We looked like two eighteen year old kids that were having a bad time together.
“We should’ve stayed in your bedroom,” Amanda said.
“I know,” I mumbled. “Sorry.”
She shrugged. “I just don’t quite see what you like about these guys. I know you keep telling me that they are nice, and I guess I believe you to an extent, but I just don’t see the connection. You’re not like them, Alex. You don’t walk around trying to be hip and cool, and know all the right bands.” Amanda looked around the club in disgust. “These people are all poseurs.”
“I know,” I said again.
“Haven’t you ever wanted something different? Or to be anyone different?”
“Well, I have. Not different per se, but there are things about me that guys like Calvin and Steve, and the rest of them can’t relate to.”
Amanda shrugged. “So, like, you need a new set of friends?”
“Not a new set,” I began. “I just need a different set from time to time. New people and new experiences.”
“Okay,” she said, drawing the word out. I felt like I was being placated. I get honest with Amanda and she mocks it. “But you write. These people are all music snobs.”
“They’re into some other stuff I’m into.”
“So are a lot of other people.”
“What’s that mean?”
She sighed. “It doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it just means that people aren’t all that original.”
Then Noah came back over. He got on my case a little bit more about not waiting outside. I hated when he got this way. His attitude made me think that Amanda was right about him, about all of them. Killian Cromier was there too, and we exchanged nods while Noah kept riding us about bouncers and how his hands were tied. Beer or no beer, this show was going to suck. I wanted to point to Killian and show Amanda this scene wasn’t really so foreign to me. I wanted to say to her, see, Killian is a writer. I do belong. But what difference would it have made? Her mind was made up about Noah and the guys. We couldn’t really go back to Calvin right now. Our only option was to stick this out and get to know each other like I thought we’d be doing. It’s what I really wanted, right?
Then I felt dizzy.
“I need to step outside,” I said. “It’s hot in here and I think I might pass out.”
“Are you all right?” Noah asked.
“Yeah, this place is just too packed.”
“Okay, man, we’ll be right here when you get back.”
I looked at Amanda. She looked away and said nothing. There was no offer to step outside with me. There wasn’t even a look of concern on her face. It was like she’d rather stay inside with guys she didn’t know well and professed a budding dislike for, then step outside with me. The way she turned away made me feel pathetic. She made me feel like I couldn’t handle Noah or a night out, like I couldn’t handle her needs in the bedroom, like maybe I couldn’t
handle Sarah all those years. Amanda looked away from me, and all I felt around me was failure.
I stayed outside long enough to feel right. I didn’t think about Amanda Evarts anymore. I was sick of mulling things over. If she were a mistake, time would tell. Instead, I stood outside the club and watched Karl act the fool for bunches of hipsters. Karl kept playing the part of the drunken buffoon. He was laughing and carrying on. He was telling outrageous stories about being out late on the empty streets of Pittsburgh. The hipsters were hardly laughing. It was like they were too uptight and concerned about their appearance to be seen in public showing the slightest loss of control. None of them acknowledged me, even though we’d all been to so many places together now that it was embarrassing. I didn’t belong amongst these people, I thought. This wasn’t art. This was playing art. In that moment, I resolved to make art on my own, in my own way. If only I didn’t want that spare bedroom in Noah’s place so badly.
When I got back inside the club, Amanda and Noah were nowhere to be found. I scanned the swarms of kid. They all looked hypnotized by the band on the stage. I scanned their heads hoping to see the shag of Noah’s hair, or the soft blonde of Amanda Evarts’. But I saw nothing. I saw swarms of flesh I couldn’t recognize. A mixture of nerves and anger rose in me. Then I pushed toward the crowd to get over to the above twenty-one section. It was this cramped bar area behind a fence. I tried scanning the bar. No Noah. No Amanda. I went around to the opening of the bar, but the bouncer caught one look at my stamp and bracelet and he started giving me shit. So I walked away and I just stood there.
I turned around. Noah and Amanda were coming through the crowd toward me. He was holding her hand, but I think it was just so the two of them could wade through the masses. Still, I didn’t like it very much. When they got to me, Noah let go.
“I thought you guys were gonna wait,” I said.
“We did,” Amanda answered. “But you never came back, so...”
“We went looking for you, Big Al,” Noah interrupted. It was cute how they were already finishing each other’s sentences. It was more like a little bothersome. I mean Sarah never knew what I was going to say from one sentence to the next. Anyway, I told myself to make nothing of it.
“Did you check outside?” I asked.
“We didn’t get there,” Amanda said.
“But that’s where I said I’d be.”
Noah shrugged. “Well, you’re here now and that’s all that counts.” He looked at his watch. “On that note, I have to get backstage.”
“Break a leg,” Amanda said. Noah winked at her. He nodded at me. Then he was gone. Amanda turned to me. “Noah isn’t so bad after all.”
“I’ll bet,” I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I didn’t answer. It was best not to speak. I just reached my hand down and took Amanda’s, like Noah had it before. She accepted. And then we got lost in the crowd.
The show wasn’t much. I couldn’t concentrate on it. I guess Noah’s band, the Constructivists, played all right. It wasn’t my kind of music, you know. It was less my kind of music after I’d seen Noah and Amanda together. It was innocent, yes, but it struck a chord with me. I didn’t like seeing the girl I was dating with another guy. Then I felt myself glaring at Noah as he played his obtuse songs to the masses of lemmings lining the stage. I looked at Amanda. Even she looked taken in.
We didn’t hang out after the show. I had Karl drive us back to my place. The plan was to get dropped off, maybe kiss Amanda a little bit at her car (if she even wanted to), and then go inside and shake off the night. It seemed a good plan. It was a safe guilt-free plan. I liked this plan.
“Do you think your parents are home?” Amanda asked.
I checked the street. Dad’s car was there. Mom’s car was there. “Yep.”
“Do you think they’re up?”
I checked the house. Not a light was on. “Probably not.”
“Are you grasping my line of questions here, Alex?”
“I think I get it.”
“Because you are leaving for Atlantic City tomorrow night, and it’ll be a few days before we get the chance again.”
We walked down the street to a convenience store on Murray Avenue, and I bought condoms. Then we got home, and went inside. We didn’t go to my room, though. I took Amanda downstairs to the game room. There was a big foldout couch there. I unfolded the thing. Then Amanda and I began to go at it again. Clothes came off quickly. Places were touched. There were moans and aches. It was all happening so quickly. Amanda Evarts was a woman possessed. I hate to admit this, but a part of me felt like I wasn’t even the goal here, like I was even the object of this game. I got nervous again. I thought about poor Calvin’s face at the Metro. I thought about Noah and Amanda coming through the crowd together. I couldn’t keep myself going. Finally I just stopped.
“What? What now, Alex?” Amanda asked.
“Keep your voice down,” I whispered. I got off of her and sat at the edge of the bed.
“What am I doing wrong?”
I turned to face her. Amanda was scrunched up on the bed, concealing everything that had been mine moments ago. She looked really vulnerable then and there, unlike Amanda Evarts at all.
“It’s not you,” I said. “It’s still me.”
“What is it?”
I stood up. “I don’t even want to say at this point.”
I didn’t wait for Amanda’s response. We had a bathroom off the game room, and inside was a shower. I needed a hot shower. So I turned the water on and stepped inside. In a moment, Amanda was in there too. She began washing my back and then my front. I did hers. We were soft with each other, like children petting animals. We kissed. I could taste the soap, the hot water, and the night on Amanda Evarts. This is what I imagined she and I would be like. The feeling overwhelmed me. Pretty quickly she had me worked up again.
“Ready?” she asked.
We got out of the shower. We didn’t even dry off. Amanda Evarts took my hand and led me to the bed in the game room. She had me get on my back. Then she straddled me and grabbed the convenience store bag. Amanda took out the condoms. It felt cold when she put one on me; I was always shocked by that feeling. Then Amanda smiled. She leaned down and began kissing my neck. Things progressed steadily from there. I didn’t have any problems this time.