“He looks like a drug dealer,” Kelly said. She was kind of uptight, the mother of the cheerleading squad. Any man not wearing a letter jacket was dangerous, in her opinion. “He's got that wild look,” Rina said in a low voice. “Yes, he does,” Kelly agreed, like it was a bad thing. Then she said, “Does it still smell back there, Caitlin?” Rogerson was still watching us, as if the sight of a earful of girls ogling him did not faze him in the least. I wanted to think he was only looking at me, but I couldn't be sure. “No,” I answered her softly, as we rounded the bays and pulled onto the road. Then I turned in my seat and watched this Rogerson disappear, car length by car length, out of sight.
“Looks like we didn't miss much,” Rina said as we came into the party. Most of the football team was in the dining room, bouncing quarters off what looked like an antique table. In the living room Melissa Cooper, school slut, was already making out with Donald Teller, who'd thrown the winning pass that night. Everyone was looking at me, patting me on the back as I passed, and making jokes about my fall. I felt prickly and strange, and each hand that touched me seemed heavy and hot against my skin. “Chad!” I heard Kelly yell from behind me, and then she was off like a shot down the hallway to the kitchen. Chad was sitting on the floor, up against the refrigerator, a beer clutched in his hands. He looked like he was asleep. She knelt down beside him and made sure he was breathing, then pulled him to his feet. Kelly was what I later learned was called co-?dependent. “There's Mike,” Rina whispered, poking me in the side. I looked over to the dining room, where Mike was sitting and watching us. He waved, smiling, in his letter jacket. Mike was a nice guy but very, very bland. Like a big saltine cracker. “Come on,” Rina said, taking my hand and pulling me behind her into the dining room, where Bill Skerrit was at the head of the table. “There you are!” he said, and she immediately sat down in his lap and took a swig of his beer, while his hands moved easily around her waist. “Give me that quarter,” she called out, wriggling in his lap. Mike, on the end, slid it across to her. “That's my girl,” Bill said. “Caitlin,” Rina said in a low voice, and when I looked at her she cocked her head very obviously toward Mike. “Go on.” And so I did, working my way around the table, squeezing past chairs and bodies to sit in the chair next to him. “Hi,” I said. “Hi.” He smiled and lay his hand loosely along the back of my chair. This was all arranged. I had learned there was no room for chaos theory or chance in the carefully choreographed world of jock love. I sat there with Mike, but I still felt strange. Like every inch of me was alert, on guard, ready for what might happen next. By the time Rogerson appeared in the open doorway of the dining room it was like I'd been waiting for him, wasn't even really surprised to see him standing there in the next room, hands in his pockets. I had this crazy thought that he'd come for me. “Hey, Bill,” one of the running backs, Jeremy Light, called out. “Someone here to see you.” Bill Skerrit turned around, with Rina still in his lap. “Oh, hey, man. Hold on.” We were all looking at Rogerson. And as he scanned the room, all of Jackson High's best and brightest, he saw me. “Who is that?” Mike Evans asked me, and without even really realizing it, I pulled out from under his arm, one quick movement, costing him all the progress he'd slowly attained in the last thirty minutes. “I don't know,” I said. “Excuse me.” And I stood up and squeezed back around the table, then pushed my way into the kitchen. It was littered with beer cans and empty Bud twelve-?packs. There was a small, scared-?looking dog on a blue blanket in the corner who looked up, distressed, upon seeing me. I walked across the kitchen toward the bathroom, and as I passed the hallway that led to the front door I saw Bill Skerrit, quarterback, handing a few folded bills over to Rogerson, who handed him something back in return. Then they just stood there, by the door, talking, before Bill turned back to the dining room. Rogerson put the money in his pocket and turned to the door, pushing it open. “Caitlin?” I looked at the door to the dining room and saw Mike Evans standing there, beer in hand. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said quickly, and as I spoke Rogerson turned back from the open door, seeing me. “I was, um, cold.”
“Cold?” Mike looked around the room, as if he might see something to corroborate this, like icicles or penguins. “Yeah,” I said. I glanced back at Rogerson. “The door's open.”
“Oh.” We faced off across the shiny tiled floor as the tiny dog made a squeaking noise and lay back down, closing its eyes. “Well,” Mike said, “you can have this.” And with that, he slid off his letter jacket, holding it out to me like an offering. And I stood there, frozen. From the open front door, Rogerson was watching me. I looked over at him. “Hey,” he mouthed soundlessly, smiling that wicked smile again. “Come on.” Mike was still holding the jacket out to me, and now he started to come closer. This was a Big Deal. It meant we were together, that I was his girl, and would lead to Homecoming Dances and proms and a hundred Saturday nights, a big class ring on a chain around my neck. I knew this. I'd seen Cass do it all before.
“Here,” he said, holding the jacket up so that I could slide right in. He shook it a little bit, encouraging me, and then said, “Go ahead.” I glanced back at Rogerson. He lifted his chin at me, smiling. It was a gesture I would associate with him for the rest of my life. And I saw myself, then, setting out across uncharted territory, places Cass had never been or seen or even heard of. My world was suddenly wide and limitless, as vast as the sky and stars I'd been dazzled by earlier, and it all started there with the door he was holding open for me. “I'm sorry,” I said to Mike Evans and his jacket as I walked down the hallway to where Rogerson was standing, ready to help me along as I stepped past him and into the night.
As I walked down the front walk with Rogerson, across the yard to his car, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that back inside the house Rina was probably mad at me for thwarting her plans, and Mike Evans had most likely already put his jacket back on and reported to everyone that in my fall I'd whacked my head and was now, clearly, insane. “So,” Rogerson said to me. He seemed to be laughing at me, or so I thought, and suddenly I felt completely idiotic. He leaned against his car and said, “What now?” I stood there in the cold, in my little skirt, my hair pulled back in matching school- color barrettes. And I thought of Rina, the only woman I knew who always told men exactly what she wanted. So I tossed my head the way she did and said, “Give me a ride home?”