I often pretended Maura Dominiak’s nooks and crannies house were mine. Big, rustic, rife with wood, and usually empty of parental supervision. Full of antique stoves and stained glass and porcelain knobs. After fall’s football games, we’d drive up to the detached garage with the warped edges that never shut properly, park behind the Peugeot, and scatter snow on the walk to the side door that opened to an impossibly chubby sectional. To the right of the couch, three rough-hewn driftwood stairs led to a paneled bathroom that was as homey and warm as a bathroom could hope to be, no plastic seat cozy there, not like at my house. Up more stairs behind the couch was a small pocket room with a bar in the corner, bedecked with green-lidded lamps and unmonitored — at least we hoped — bottles of tart alcohol.
I’d fallen asleep on that rotund, bouncy couch, more times than I’ll ever recall at this age, usually head to head or toe to toe with any number of other friends who stayed the night. Laura’s brother, a few years older, watched over us girls like a father hawk, her sister was the homecoming queen. When her parents stayed home, they treated us like the silly friend who babbles about nothing, bemusedly and with good-natured maintenance. On warm nights, and on snow nights too, a group of us walked through a thin line of cabin homes and trees to a small lake where we’d drink fizzy cans of beer and skip rocks, or huddle, waiting for one of the guys to offer up his white pleather and brown felt letter jacket.
Angst and jealousy, sheepishness, quiet moroseness, arrogance; they all found their way into those nights, hanging on nearby branches, dripping with the ice, blazing in the sun. Often, I’d think we left those things by the lake, but each of us carried them with us, back into the house, and into the nooks and crannies where we’d sit as couples, or trios, or some of us, by ourselves, too fizzy to care.
It was on the sleeper’s couch that I found myself, listening to Let’s Hear it for the Boy, remembering how I botched the pom pom tryouts, knowing I’d never be that girl, when Tommy sidled over, brushing my leg with his blue cords. Up to then, I’d only kissed my golden retriever, Nugget, but I knew Sweet Valley High when I saw it. I kept my eyes trained on his tan suede shoes, the ankle-top ones with the big tongue, and I didn’t move, those shoes were my spot in the dance. Talk buzzed the air between us and I tried to swat it. What’s going on? Where’s Laura? What are you doing? Did you have fun at the football game? Are you going to Homecoming? On and on.
My eyes stayed to the ground until he cupped me under the chin and told me to look him in the face. I found an eyelash and concentrated on it, avoiding his pupils at all costs. So I guess I didn’t see it coming. In seconds, I tasted wet muscle in my mouth. Flexing, contracting, active. An OCD germophobe in the making, I considered the saliva pooling in the corners of the mouth, but maybe it was supposed to be like this: messy, disturbingly robust, moist. An awful lot like Nugget.
Tommy tasted like Dum Dums and sure enough, FD&C Red #40 stained his lips, which made my dried spit tainted mouth twitch. Soon the muscle retracted, and I swiped the back of my palm over my mouth. I saw him kissing Lauretta a half hour later, so I went to my favorite bucolic bathroom and scrubbed the pink off my hand.