“Yeah, well,” Rogerson said. “I'm here now.”
“Good,” the guy said. He had that classic All-?American look, blond, blue-?eyed, tall, creamy skin. “What you got for me?” Rogerson reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag of pot, then held it up and shook it, evening out its contents. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did: He was serving cookies at Senior Days for “something,” but I'd imagined parking tickets or ten miles over the speed limit. He put the bag on the desk and slid it across to the blond guy, who picked it up and examined it, flicking the small green buds with his finger through the plastic. “How much?” he said. “Seventy-?five,” Rogerson told him. “And a pinch for me.” The guy nodded. “Okay,” he said. Then he looked at the redheaded girl, who stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray and hopped off the desk, reaching into her back pocket for a wad of money, which she handed to him. He counted a few bills off, folded them, and slid them across the desk to Rogerson, who counted them quickly himself before sliding them into his own pocket. The guy sat back down, opened the Baggie, and started to pack the bowl. The redheaded girl looked at me, smiled, and said, “I'm Lauren.”
“Caitlin,” I said. “Hi.”
“Rogerson's so polite,” she said sarcastically, reaching out to poke him with her finger. As I looked more closely at the pictures on the shelves I could see she was in several of them: one in a soccer uniform with a ball in her lap, another in a long white dress, sitting on a green stretch of grass, her arms full of roses.
“Sorry,” Rogerson said. “This is Caitlin. Caitlin, Lauren and Walter.”
“Hi,” Walter said to me, and I realized suddenly I recognized him from the Perkins football team, which had creamed us three weeks earlier at home. Lauren lit another cigarette, blowing smoke toward the picture of her holding the roses, while Walter packed the bowl and handed it to Rogerson, a lighter balanced on top of it. He took a hit and handed it to me. “No, thanks,” I said. “You sure?” he asked. “Yeah.” He shrugged. “She's a cheerleader,” he explained to Lauren as he handed her the bowl. She took a big hit and promptly started coughing, her face turning red. “She's got a reputation to protect.”
“And she's going out with you?” Lauren said, between hacks. “I know,” Rogerson said. “Must be the hair.”
“Must be,” Lauren said, picking up her pack of cigarettes and shaking one out into her hand. “ 'Cause we know it's not your charm.”
“Ha,” Rogerson said, his expression flat. “Ha, ha,” she said, and smiled at me. I smiled back, still not quite sure I was in on the joke. Later, after we'd left and gotten back into the car, I said, “So Walter plays for the football team, right? How long have you known him?” He looked at me and half-?smiled, then reached to shake a cigarette out of the pack wedged under the visor. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “you ask a lot of questions.”
“I do not,” I said indignantly. I didn't even know why he bothered to ask me out. It was like I wasn't even there. “You, like, haven't even talked to me since you picked me up.”
“Talked?” he said. The lighter popped out with a click and he reached forward to grab it.
“Yes.” He pressed the lighter to the cigarette. “Okay, then. What do you want to talk about?”
“I... I don't know,” I said. “I mean it's not like I want sparkling conversation....” He raised his eyebrows at me, replacing the lighter. There was something so striking about him. Even the smallest gesture or expression seemed important. “But,” I added, getting back to the point, “I just wondered why you asked me out tonight, if you didn't really want me here. That's all.” He thought about this. “You want to know why I asked you out?”
“Well,” I said, rethinking that. Now I wasn't so sure I wanted the answer to that particular question. “Not necessatily.” He put out the cigarette in the ashtray, then turned a bit so he was facing me. “Do you want me to take you home?” I looked back at the house. It was huge, the windows all lit up, shapes and bodies moving back and forth across the yellow light inside. Every other Saturday night I'd been at a party just like this with Rina, in another part of town, playing quarters and waiting for something to happen. “No,” I said. “I'm fine.”
“All right then,” he said easily, starting up the engine. “I've gotta go by one more place, but that's it. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Okay.” And he put his hand on my leg, his fingers spread across my knee, as he put the car in gear and drove us away.
The next place was a trailer, out in the country. We crossed over Topper Lake, past the radio towers and several cow pastures before finally turning onto a dirt road so riddled with potholes we slowed to a crawl navigating them. “Lost my tailpipe here last spring,” Rogerson explained as we bumped along. “Real pain in the ass.”
I nodded as we crested a huge crater, my head rising up to whack the ceiling so hard it brought tears to my eyes. Finally we pulled into a short dirt driveway, parking right outside a white double-?wide with a rusted swing set and a warped baby pool in the yard. “You better stay here,” he said to me as I reached to open my door. “I'll be just a second, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, glancing around me. I could see only woods, a huge crescent moon overhead, and another trailerthis one yellow, and more rustedthrough a few scrubby pines to my left. The trailer door opened as Rogerson walked up the steps, revealing a stocky blond woman with a baby on her hip. She had her hair pulled up on top of her head, Pebbles Flintstone- style, and was wearing a faded Gucci T-?shirt and jeans. The baby reached out for Roger-?son as he stepped inside and she shifted him to her other hip, his pacifier falling out of his mouth and down the steps in the process. She didn't notice, and he was still reaching for it, his face twisted in a cry, as she let the door fall shut. I sat there in the car for eighteen and a half minutes. I knew this because the glowing blue clock on the dash was right in front of me, and I felt like I was watching my life tick away, minute by minute, in a place where I could stay forever and no one could ever find me. i was so fixated on this that I jumped, my heart racing, when Rogerson tapped on the windshield in front of my face. “Sorry about that,” he said as he got inside. “Got held up.”