“Oh, yes,” she said absently, as if she wasn't really listening, still looking at something over my head. “He likes those.” The door opened behind me, letting out two caterers and in Roger-?son, finally, who looked across the room at me and smiled. I had this wild thought that he was the only one in all this chaos who was just like me, and that was comforting and profound all at once. “Hey,” he said as he came closer, reaching to grab something off a passing tray and pop it in his mouth. “Doing okay?”
“Rogerson, darling,” Mrs. Biscoe said, reaching over to smooth her hand over his hair. “Did you apologize to your father?”
“Yep,” he said, still chewing. “Man, those triangle things are good, Mom.”
She looked at me. “Phyllo,” she explained, as if proving a point, before letting her hand drop onto his shoulder. “Oh,” I said. “Right.”
“We're gonna go out back, okay?” Rogerson said, as his mother took another sip of wine, distracted. The kitchen was so noisy, full of voices and clanging, oven doors slamming shut, but she didn't seem to hear any of it. “Yes, okay,” she said, snapping to and standing up straighter to fluff that one bit of her bangs again. “But stay close. Right?”
“Right,” Rogerson said, reaching for my hand and winding his tightly around it before leading me through a group of caterers to a door across the room. When I looked back I could see Mrs. Biscoe standing in front of the swinging kitchen door, framed for a second against the movement and color of the party. The door swung out behind her and for a moment it was like everything froze and she was just there, suspended. Then the door started to swing back and she stepped through, disappearing like a dove in a magician's handkerchief.
Rogerson took me back to the pool house, where he lived. His room was probably the neatest I'd ever seen in my life. It looked like you could run a white-?gloved fingertip over any surface and never find one fleck of dust, with everything having a place and an order, from the CDs stacked alphabetically on the shelves over his bed to the way the towels were folded in the bathroom. It was the kind of place where you were conscious not to disrupt the neat vacuum lines on the carpet ot the perfectly plumped pillowssitting at exactly forty-?five-?degree angleson the couch. I would have assumed it was a maid's doing, but the first thing Rogerson did when we walked in was bend down to fix the base of a coatrack by the door so that its stand fit squarely in the middle of a tile there. This was all his.
I went to use the bathroommarveling at the shiny chrome sink and fixtures, the sharp cleanliness of the mirrorand when I came out someone was knocking at the door. “Hold on,” Rogerson said, starting back across the room, but the door was already opening and Rogerson's fatherthe older man I'd seen at the center of the party, telling jokes came in. He was wearing a golf sweater with a little gold insignia on it and dress pants and loafers. He couldn't see me.
“I told you to be here at seven o'clock,” he said to Rogerson, crossing the room with smooth strides. His face was pinkly red, flushed. Rogerson glanced at me, quickly, and the look on his face strange and unsteady made me step back instinctively into the darkness of the bathroom, my hand resting on the cool countertop there. “Dad,” he said. “I”
“Look at me when I'm talking to you!” Mr. Biscoe said, and right as he crossed my line of vision, his face now beet-?red, he suddenly reached out and hit Rogerson, hard, across the temple. Rogerson's neck snapped back reflexively, and he lifted a hand to shield himself. “When I say you are to be somewhere, you are there. Understood?” Rogerson, hand over his face, nodded. I felt my stomach turning. I wasn't even sure I was breathing. “Are we clear?” Mr. Biscoe bellowed. I could see one vein, taut, sticking up in his neck. “Look at me.”
“Yes,” Rogerson said, and his father reached over, irritated, and snatched his hand away from his face, gripping his wrist. “Yes. I understand.”
“Good,” his father said. “Then we're clear.” He dropped Roger-?son's wrist, then reached up to hook a finger around his own collar, adjusting it, before turning back toward the door. I kept my eyes on the tiled bathroom floor, studying the colors: black and white, over and over, like a chessboard. I stayed still until I heard the door slam, and Rogerson stumbled backward to the bed, sitting down and spreading his fingers over the side of his face. I walked out of the bathroom and went to sit beside him, but he wouldn't look at me. “Rogerson,” I said, turning to face him. “Let me see.”
“Don't touch me,” he said in a low voice. “I'm fine.” His eyes were so dark, the place where he'd been hit flushed and red. “Please,” I said. “Come on.”
“Don't,” he said, but when I reached over and put my hand over his he didn't shake me off. “Don't touch me.”
“Rogerson,” I said, slowly pulling his hand away. I could feel his pulse beating at his temple under my forefinger, the skin red and hot there. “Don't touch me,” he said, so softly this time, and I took my finger and traced his eyebrow where he'd taken the brunt of the hit, the same way Cass had done to me so many times, her face changing as she saw again what she'd done. “Don't.”
“Shh,” I said. “Don't touch me,” he whispered. “Don't.” But he was already leaning in, as my own hand worked to cover the hurt, his eyes closing as his forehead hit my chest and my finger traced the spot again and again that I knew so well.
I never told anyone what happened at Rogerson's. But from then on, we were together. We didn't talk about it: It was just understood. In that one moment I'd seen some part of him that he kept hidden from the rest of the worldbehind his cool face, his bored manner, his hair. I'd edged in past it all, and now I found my own place there. The next Monday, after cheerleading practice, I walked outside to find Rogerson parked in front of the gym. He was leaning against his car, smoking a cigarette, waiting for me. I hadn't asked him to pick me up. But there he was.
“Oh, my God,” Kelly Brandt said as we came to the main doors. She and Chad had made up and exchanged “friendship rings.” She kept flashing hers around, wanting everyone to ask about it. “What is be doing here?“ ”I told you Caitlin had a big weekend,“ Rina said slyly, poking me in the side. I'd told only her about our date, and as much as she might have wanted us to both date football players, she loved the idea of me with Rogerson. It was just forbidden and wild enough to appeal to her. ”That was him you were talking about?“ Kelly said incredulously. Outside, Rogerson flicked his cigarette and turned around, leaning his head back to look up at the gray November sky. ”I mean, Caitlin, he's ...“ ”He's what?“ Rina said, as a pack of soccer players crossed between us and Rogerson, jogging. They were all blond or dark-?haired, tall and athletic, moving in perfect synchronicity. When Rogerson came back into view he was watching them pass, his hair blowing in the wind, an expression I couldn't make out on his face. ”Tell us what he is, Kelly.“ ”Well,“ Kelly said, lowering her voice and brushing her hair back with her friendship ring hand, ”I've just heard some stories, that's all. He's been in trouble, you know. Like with the police. I mean, I have this friend at Perkins Day, and she said ...“ But I wasn't even listening, already pushing through the doors into the cold air. Rogerson stood up from where he was leaning when he saw me. He had told me himself about his ”long stories,” and I didn't care. I myself had no stories of my own yet, but I was ready. More than ready. That first week, whenever I thought about him, I remembered brushing my finger over his eyebrow, tracing the hurt, trying to give back what his father had taken away. Now I'd take that bit of Roger-?son and hold it close to me. That fall, as I struggled to leave Cass's shadow behind once and for all, he was just what I needed. From that day on, Rogerson was suddenly just there. He drove me home every day. He came over from Perkins at lunch to take me out and called me every nightusually more than once and then again before I went to bed. On Fridays he came to my games, home or away, and stood off to the side of the bleachers, watching me cartwheel and cheer while he leaned against the fence, smoking cigarettes and waiting for me. We never really went on “dates,” exactly: With Rogerson, it was all about being in motion. Going from party to party, place to place. Sometimes I stayed in the car, but more often now I came in and was introduced. To the college guys in the dorm room with the huge Bob Slarley poster and the couch that smelled like rancid beer. To the woman who lived in that trailer and her little boy, Bennett, who sat quietly on the floor, playing with a plastic phone as she weighed bags of pot on a digital scale. And to so many others, whose faces and names I would never remember. They blurred together, weekend after weekend, as Rogerson made his rounds. Sometimes I missed the whole movie-?restaurant-?mini-?golf-?basketball-?game kind of dating lifestyle. But this was just how it was with Rogerson. He had a lot of nervous energy, business to attend to, and frankly I couldn't really picture him standing in front of a windmill at Jungle Golf, lining up his shot. That was more of a Mike Evans thing, and I'd made my choice there. So I was happy to be with Rogerson, in transit, always with a bit of a buzz and his hand on my knee. It was just fine. “So what do you guys do, anyway?” Rina always asked me. Her quarterback was a date kind of guythey were always going out to dinner, or to the movies, or double-?dating with other couples. I couldn't see Rogerson doing that, either. “I don't know,” I told her. “We just hang out.” That was the only way I could describe it. Most of the time spent with Rogerson was in the car, him driving and me in the passenger seat, his fingers, spread across my knee. He'd take me to McDonald's and buy me chocolate shakes, which he already knew were my favorite, or drive us out to Topper Lake, where we'd take the car onto the flats and listen to the radio. The only time we ever argued was about music. Rogerson liked classic rock. Pink Floyd, his favorite, depressed the hell out of me. So whenever he left me alone in the car, engine running, I'd change the station to G103, cranking it up to fill the air around me with bouncy pop tunes, the kind that get stuck in your head all day and all night long, like a soundtrack in your dreams. Rogerson would come out of the Quik Zip, or down the stairs of someone's apartment, and head for the car. I'd watch his expression change as he got closer, hearing the strains of one of my baby-?baby-?oh-?please-?baby songs. “Oh, my God,” he said to me once as he flopped into the driver's seat, pulling the door shut behind him. “What is this shit?”