It was four in the morning. I awoke with a start. Amanda Evarts was next to me. She was snoring away. I sat upright and wiped the sleep out of my eyes to see. But it really did no good. The room was almost pitch black. There was a faint light coming from underneath the game room door. This meant that my dad was up and about. He did this a lot. The man was hardly home, but when he was it was either for a meal or for wrestling insomnia. My dad’s ordeals made me afraid to go to college and get a job. I wanted nothing to do with being wide awake at two, three, or four in the morning worrying about some goddamned job. Then I looked down at Amanda again. She stirred. I got a little bit panicked. And I realized I had bigger fish to fry than worrying about what the distant future would bring.
“Amanda,” I whispered, shaking her.
“Hmm,” she answered, groggily.
“It’s four in the morning. You have to get up.”
“What?” Then she was bolt upright with me. “What? Shit! Shit!” She made to get out of bed, but I grabbed her arm. “What are you doing? I have to go home.”
“I need to make sure the coast is clear.”
I pointed toward the crack under the door. “My old man. He’s up.”
“Just let me go and scope it out.”
“Sure,” Amanda said. She fell back down on her back. “I’ll just stay here.”
I got out of bed and quickly dressed. Then I left the game room, and took the stairs slowly. I could smell coffee. The news was on. I heard the morning paper rustling, too. If my dad had insomnia, the morning paper carrier was just as bad. Never a day went by where that paper wasn’t laying on the front porch waiting for him. My dad and the paper carrier were simpatico. They were fellow travelers from the sad hours of night into morning.
“Come here,” my old man said, the second I reached the climax of the stairs.
“Couldn’t sleep again?” I asked, coming into the kitchen. There it all was: glossy round table, brand new granite-tiled floor, small television with blonde newscaster, the sports page of the Post-Gazette, my old man in a shirt and tie with a big cup of coffee next to him.
“I slept fine.”
I nodded. “Well, it’s about time for that.” Then I went a grabbed a cup of coffee while my old man watched me.
“I see you’re up early, son.”
“Right. I’m going to tell you this one time. You need to get Amanda out of here before your mother gets up.”
“Huh?” The sound of Amanda’s name coming out of his mouth shocked me. I was surprised my father actually knew it.
“Amanda. She has to leave...now.”
“Okay. We...we were just talking and we fell asleep,” I said.
He looked at me like that was the biggest damned lie he ever heard. “Be that as it may, it still looks incriminating. I know you’re eighteen, Alex, but you still live be the rules of this house.”
“Yeah, but I’ll be in college in the fall.”
He shrugged. “That means nothing to me. It certainly doesn’t mean girls are gonna start staying over the night. Your mother and I aren’t running a bordello.”
“But I’m an adult.”
“I know. But you’re an adult who chose to stay home for school. So you live by the rules of the house.”
He glared at me. “That’s the choice you made. You had every opportunity to go away to school, but you chose to take the easy route and enroll in Pitt. I told you at the time that if you were staying in town then I wasn’t going to pay for room and board when you had it here. It wasn’t economical.”
“You could hook me up with the rent money to live at Noah’s,” I said. “It would be cheaper.”
He laughed slowly at that one. “Yes, Noah. I’m afraid that’s not happening on my dime, son.”
“What if I paid for it myself?”
“That’s your choice,” my dad said. Then he rustled the paper, and I knew the conversation would be ending soon. “But as I see it, working part-time, spending your nights out later than you should, and taking stupid trips to places like Atlantic City aren’t really insuring a financial foundation for living on your own.”
“I’ll make it work.”
But he wasn’t listening. He already had his head buried back in his paper. I grabbed my coffee cup and made for the basement door. When I was half way down, he said, “Alex, I’m getting your mother up in fifteen minutes.”
Then I was back in the game room. The light was on and Amanda Evarts was already dressed to go. I handed her my coffee, and she took it. Neither of us exchanged a word. Finally, we walked the steps back up into the kitchen. The television was still on and the paper was still resting on the table, but at least my dad had the decency to make himself scarce.
“What time are you leaving tonight?” Amanda asked me, when we were at her car.
“I think Calvin is supposed to come by around nine, and then we’re staying at Steve’s and leaving early tomorrow,” I said. “Provided I’m still included.”
“Are you nervous about seeing Calvin?”
“Easy for you to say. You see him all the time.”
“Yes. So just imagine that I have it worse than you.” Then Amanda leaned back against her car. She grabbed my shirt and pulled me toward her. We kissed like mad. We must’ve looked like two lunatics going at it in the rich, dewy morn. “Last night was amazing.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I really needed that.”
“I want to see you today,” she said. “Do you work?”
“Just in the evening.” Amanda released her grip on me and we regained composure. “If I’m allowed to come back out, what do you say we spend the day together?”
“No parents around.”
“I’ll be back around noon.”
Amanda kissed me again. She got in her car and started the engine. Music played. I couldn’t make it out, but I knew that I liked the music. She played this band a lot, and whenever I heard them they reminded me of her. Then Amanda winked at me. I closed her car door, and backed away. Then she was gone.
Around eleven my cell phone rang. I dragged myself out of the game room bed (no point in going to my own room) to get it. Amanda Evarts.
“Were you sleeping?” she asked.
“Where are you?”
“McDonald’s. Want anything?”
“Fries coming up.”
Twenty minutes later, Amanda Evarts was back in my house and back down in the game room. My clothes were on the floor. Amanda’s clothes were on the floor. And the McDonalds’s bag laid on a coffee table, as we made love again. I noticed that her clothes were the same ones she had on last night. I asked about that. Apparently, Amanda had gone home, and her mother really gave her shit about coming in so late. So she said she fixed herself up a bit, and left. She spent the morning hours driving around Pittsburgh. Amanda told me she fell asleep in her car in Schenley Park. It all seemed a little extreme to me.
“But doesn’t your mother care that you’re eighteen?” I asked.
“Did your father care?” Amanda asked in return.
I grabbed the McDonald’s bag and handed Amanda her food. It was cold. My fries were cold too. But we still ate. It was good simply because we were together and no one was around to hassle us. My guilt over Calvin had all but vanished, and would hopefully stay that way. Amanda even seemed kinder and sweeter once I finally gave her what she wanted. I don’t know why I held out so long. I mean guilt or no guilt; I was a guy for Christ sake!
“Does Noah have a girlfriend?” Amanda asked.
“Wow, that question seems out of nowhere.”
“I was just asking. I think maybe I misjudged the guy.”
“Gee, really?” I said, sarcastically.
Amanda looked at me and rolled her eyes. “It happens, Alex. Some people just don’t make good first impressions. You’re friend, Noah, is one of those people.”
I had the last of my cold fries. “Told you he was all right.”
“I admit I was wrong,” she said. “He’s still a little condescending, though, toward you. It’s like he uses his age to throw his weight around and impress. I mean it’s not like he’s even that much older.”
“Do you think he does that?” I asked. “For real?”
“Yes,” Amanda said. “But he’s still an all right guy.” Then we were quiet a moment. “So does Noah have a girlfriend or what?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes. Why?”
“I think I know someone he would like.”
Amanda and I stayed in bed a little longer and then we got up. I fixed up the game room and then we left the house. Who knew where we were going? I think we just wanted to soak in the hours together before I was gone for the weekend. We played music in the car and laughed. At streetlights we made out until the light turned green, and people began honking their horns. Pittsburgh was blue and beautiful out. Amanda drove us up to Mt. Washington. We parked and walked along the promenade kissing, talking, and holding hands as Pittsburgh glowed below us. Planes carrying people all over the world flew overhead. I was overjoyed and as happy as I had been in a long time. I forgot what this could feel like. Who was Sarah Browne? Who was anybody that came before Amanda Evarts?
Her cell phone rang. “Shit, it’s my mother.”
She picked it up and walked a few paces ahead of me. It didn’t matter though because I could still hear her mother yelling. Then Amanda started yelling back. It got loud and violent, as the two Evarts women went back and forth on the phone. Christ, I thought. It was only a late night out. It was a simple mistake. I looked at Amanda. She was crying a little bit. It was the first time I saw her cry. Tears made her look vulnerable. Then she hung up the phone and came over to me.
“We have to make a pit stop,” she said.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Amanda wiped away tears. “It’s okay now.”
“Where are we going?”
“I have to stop home. My mother needs me to sign these papers, and....”
“Alex, will you just let me finish!” she shouted. Then she calmed herself. “I’ll only be a few minutes. But here’s the deal, you can’t come inside with me.”
“Why?” I asked.
Amanda laughed. “Because I’d like my mother to meet you on a day where she doesn’t want to rip your balls off.”
So we drove to Amanda’s house. She lived over on the South Side in an area of steep streets called the “Slopes”. All of the homes looked the same on the Slopes. They all had pale Aluminum-siding with big front windows, and long, concrete front porches. I did as instructed. I stayed in the car. Like the last Evarts battle royal, it wouldn’t have mattered where I was. I could hear Amanda and her mother going at it again. It was decidedly about me. It was decidedly about last night. I couldn’t make out much other than the words “Amanda,” “Alex,” and “young,” but the tone was enough to let me know that Amanda was going through the shit again.
I wanted to go inside the Evarts’ house and help her. I wanted to explain. I wanted Mrs. Evarts to meet me, and see that it wasn’t so bad. I wanted her to see that I cared about Amanda, and that maybe I was falling in love with her daughter. But I stayed where I was because if my plan backfired, I was afraid of the wrath Amanda would bring down upon me. Anyway, none of this would matter once some time had passed, and I was in Noah’s apartment. Amanda and I would be free to do, as we liked. I started fantasizing about it, but then Amanda came to the car and slammed the door.
“Everything okay still?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s just dandy. Were you and the rest of the neighborhood entertained?”
“I can’t speak for the rest, but I wasn’t.”
“Don’t try to be cute right now.”
“God, I hate her.”
“That’s not true.”
She squinted at me, as if she were looking at a bug. “You don’t know anything about it.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” I was having another one of those moments where I realized I didn’t know much about Amanda Evarts either. “So where to?”
Her face softened a little. “Let’s go back to your place. I need you to make love to me.”
We went back to my parents’, the opening scene of where everything went wrong. The night before, Noah’s concert, it all seemed a million years ago. Amanda and I went to my bedroom, and as soon as I closed the door she started taking off her clothes. I did too. Then Amanda and I were naked in front of each other. She came over to me and we started kissing. I thought, all things considered, that this moment would be soft and sensual, and a real moment of connection between she and I. But it was sad and mechanical. Amanda’s lips had no passion. We got on the bed and she took a condom out of my wallet. She climbed on top of me. Our movements were mechanical too. It was over quick. Then we just laid there in the silence of the world. We were a couple of robots controlled by everything around us.
“Alex, can I have a cigarette?” Amanda asked. She knew the rules, I knew the rules, but I got us both one anyway. “Thanks.”
“I think we’re entitled to break the rules, after the day we’ve been having,” I said.
“Yeah. Fuck them all.” Then Amanda sighed. “Alex, I need to tell you something.”
“Oh boy,” I said. I got nervous. I’d heard that phrase before from a girl, and what I was told was never good. At least Amanda couldn’t tell me that she didn’t love me, and wipe away three years in the process.
“Please just listen.”
“Is it bad?”
“You’ll have to be the judge of that.”
I closed my eyes. It was like I was waiting for a blow to the face. “Okay, what is it?”
“Alex, open your eyes.” I did. Amanda Evarts was staring at me. “I’m sixteen.”
“As in years old?”
“Oh, Christ.” I sat up and took a long drag on my smoke. “But how? I mean why lie?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Well, can I hear them?” I imagined Mrs. Evarts building a solid statutory rape case against me after, of course, cutting my balls off.
Amanda sat up and had a pull on her smoke. “It’s my mother. See, she started me in school a year earlier than the other kids because some child psychologist friend of hers said I was advanced for my age. My mother, ever the social climber, took this to mean that I was a genius. Two years after that, my mother petitioned the school district to advance me another grade, which, based on my grades, they gladly did.”
“So are you a genius?” I asked, because, what else could I say?
Amanda laughed. “No. Maybe I could’ve been, but being two years younger than everyone else, starting high school at twelve, and pretty much feeling out of place all the time, has made me little more than just average.”
“But you’re still going to Pitt this fall?”
She nodded. “Yes, I’ll be a sixteen-year-old mathematics major.”
“Wow.” I finished my smoke and Amanda and I were quiet a moment. “I...I’m not sure what to do with any of this information.”
She touched my shoulder. “I told you this because I care about you, Alex, and I wanted you to know. Plus, I thought you already knew because my mother basically announced it to the world during our fight.”
“I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Yeah, I know.” Amanda took a last drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out. “What difference does it make now?”
“You’re sixteen,” I said. “You’re a minor.”
“Yeah, about that. I don’t want you to worry. My mother trusts me. I mean she put me in this situation, so she has to give a little, you know?”
“But last night?”
“She was mad, sure. But mostly she was mad because I didn’t call to let her know where I was.”
“So we’re good?”
“Yes. They’ll be no charges filed your way.”
Then she looked at me oddly. “You’re surprisingly calm about all of this.”
“What can you do? Everybody has their secrets,” I said. But I still felt a little dizzy and stomach-sick. And I still wasn’t so sure I’d have my balls after I met Mrs. Evarts.
“But still. Aren’t you even the slightest bit pissed at me?”
“Would you like me to be?”
“No,” Amanda said. “But it would probably make sense if you were.”
“I guess it would.”
She looked at me. “Now you have to tell me something deep and dark about yourself.”
But I didn’t. I moved the ashtray and pulled Amanda closer to me. She leaned her head up. She looked so sad and fragile that I couldn’t possibly be mad at her. I was actually the opposite. What she told me showed me that we were getting closer. Amanda trusted me. I leaned my head down. I kissed her and we kept it going for a long time. I was convinced that I’d fallen in love with Amanda Evarts at that moment, and maybe she was falling in love with me. What would sixteen matter in two years when we were both on campus, and planning our futures? It was good to think that far ahead, to think of us that way. But then we fell back on the bed, and it was good to do other things too.
“Alex,” Amanda began, “are you sure you’re not mad at me?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“You’re a good guy. It kind of scares me a little”
“Don’t be scared. Then I laid Amanda on her back. “I think I love you.”
She didn’t say anything to that. But she kissed me deeply and I knew where she was coming from.