“Number one in the country,” I told him smugly, even as he reached forward, hitting one of the preset buttons. Suddenly we were surrounded by the sound of funereal gonging, interwoven with some woman moaning. “See,” he said, pointing to the radio, “now that's music.”
“No,” i told him, hitting another presetthe one I'd changed a few days earlier, when he'd been busy pumping gas“this is.” But it wasn't. Instead, it was some woman singing about dandruff control. “Nice,” he said, snapping his fingers as if it was just so catchy. “Better than most of the stuff you listen to.”
“Shut up,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don't even know why you like that,” he said, cranking the engine. “I don't even know why I like you,” I replied, as the dandruff song finally ended. “Yes, you do,” he said, turning his head to back us out of the parking lot. “I do?”
“Yeah.” He smiled at me. “It's the hair.” And then he changed the station again. My mother tut-?tutted, worrying about me being out too much, until my father reminded her that Cass, too, had dated and managed to juggle her various responsibilities. Still, whenever the phone rang past nine, I'd watch a ripple pass over my mother's face, or hear her sigh just loudly enough so we could all hear it. Within a week I'd stopped riding home with the team and squad, leaving instead in the BMW with him. We'd pull up beside the bus at a stoplight and I'd see everyone grouped in the back, laughing and talking, and know that Rina was probably on someone's lap, that Kelly and Chad were making out, and that Coach Harrock was halfheartedly telling everyone to quiet down, please, and reflect on the game. Rina would always look out and wave, smiling, but the rest of the girls and the team just looked down at us, lips moving and brows instantly furrowing as they discussed me. “God, they're all staring,” I said to Rogerson the first time it happened. “I don't even want to know what they're saying.”
“Why do you care?” he said, switching gears with a squealhe drove like a crazy personas we moved up the smooth orange of the bus. “They're a bunch of idiots. I don't know why you'd want to hang out with them anyway.” That was Rogerson, or so I was learning. He divided the world coolly into black or white, no grays or middle ground. People were either cool or assholes, situations good or bad. My friends, and my life at school, consistently fell into each of the latter. His friends were older, more interesting, and, most importantly, not jocks or cheerleaders. When we did go to parties where I'd see Rina or Kelly Brandt or anyone else from the squad, it was always awkward. They'd want me to stay, pulling up a chair, handing over the quarter so I could take a bounce. But Rogerson was always impatient, finishing whatever business he had and heading straight to the door, making it clear he was ready to go. Now, as we passed them, I looked up at the bus windows, seeing the faces I'd spent the last few months with: Kelly, Mike Evans, Melinda, the offensive line. And they all looked right back at me, still staring, as if we were some strange culture to be studied and discussed. Whenever Rogerson trashed them I didn't know what to say. I wasn't even sure why I'd hung out with them. It had just sort of happened, like everything else in my life. Now, with him, I felt finally like I was making my own choices, living wide awake after being in a dreamworld so long. I kept my eyes on the faces in the windows of the bus, staring back hard as Rogerson hit the gas, shifting gears again, and we were gone, leaving them to be just a bright orange speck in the sideview mirror, falling farther and farther behind me.
I got home after practice one unseasonably warm afternoon in mid-?November to find our back glass patio door open and my mother and Boo sitting outside in lawn chairs. The garden plot in the side yard had been turned over, and a few packages of flower bulbs lay nearby, some open, a trowel abandoned at the foot of my mother's chair. From the kitchen I could see the TV was on in the living room, low volume: Lamont Whipper came on at six sharp. The warm air was blowing through the back door, stirring the stale air of our house with the smell of a misplaced spring. Outside, however, it was already starting to get dark, the sky streaked with deep pinks and grays. “Oh, Boo, you're awful,” my mother was saying, her voice drifting into the kitchen. The chairs were arranged so their backs were to me, just the top of their headsmy mother's, carefully coiffed and in a bun, Boo's, wild red with a couple of chopsticks poking out at strange angles peeking over and visible from where I was standing by the counter. “You mastered pottery,” Boo said. “I think coed massage is the next logical step.”
“Boo, really,” my mother said. “What would Jack say?” Boo considered this, then chuckled. “Okay, so massage is out. For now. How about... introduction to aromatherapy?”
“Using scents to calm and ease,” Boo explained, flipping the page. “But it can get kind of smelly and boring. How about cake decorating?”
“Too fattening,” my mother said, and Boo clucked her tongue, agreeing.
“Well, are you specifically interested in anything?” Boo asked her. “I don't know,” my mother said. “Cassandra and I had always talked about taking a photography class. She said my family pictures were so bad, since I always cut off people's heads. We were going to do it over the summer, but then she went to the beach, and was so busy there, and then ...” Then her voice just dropped off, suddenly, and i could hear Boo turning pages, smoothly, one right after another. Neither one of them said anything as I crossed the kitchen to the fridge, opened it, then shut it again. “I've written her five times now,” my mother said suddenly, and as I turned to look out at them again I saw it was getting dark more quickly now, harder to make out their shapes against the sunset. “I never know what to say. It's so hard to put it into words.”
“She'll write when she's ready,” Boo said, turning another page. I was sure she couldn't even see the words in front of her, now. “I still can't believe she could have been unhappy. I mean, when we went to buy those pillow shams for Yale, she was so excited. Just as excited as me. I know she was.” There was something so lonely in her voice, something that made me look back out at her suddenly. But it was so dark I couldn't even make her out, and this made me sadder still. “I don't think it was about you,” Boo said softly, and I could tell by her tone that she'd said it before, often, in just the same way. “Then what could it have been, that she couldn't tell me? What?”