“You say that every year,” he said, laughing. “No. This year, it's true. I can feel it,” she replied. “California, here we come!”
“Happy New Year,” Rogerson said, and then he kissed me. But for the first time since all of this had startedthe hittings, and the sex it was different. I still felt something, but not like I had before. I was wary now. “Happy New Year,” I'd responded, like the robot I felt I was becoming. I looked down at my necklace, running my fingers over the patterned squares. Even though it had just been days earlier, Christmas Eveand those gentle hands on my neckalready seemed like another world. The next day he bought me a CD and took me to the movies, where he held my hand, his fingers locked around mine. I couldn't focus on the film, something about the apocalypse and only one man who could save all humanity. Instead I kept looking at Rogerson, the light flickering across his face, and wondering what lay ahead for us, and me. There was no pattern, no way of knowing when to expect it. After New Year's a week passed until the next time, then just a couple of days, then two weeks. Whenever he did hit me, I could count on him being sorry for at least twenty-?four hours: a safe period on which I had come to rely, like home base. Those were the good days. But once they were over, all bets were off. But no matter what we were doing, the fact that he hit me was always on my mind. When we had sex, especially, I couldn't push it out of my mind, however badly I wanted to. The Rogerson kissing me or stroking my stomach couldn't be the same one who lashed out so easily, who pushed me up against walls or smacked me. It seemed incongruous, against all logic, like a theorem you could never prove in geometry. And in the moments afterward, as we lay there together, I'd hold him so close, as if just by tangling myself with him I could keep that Rogerson with me, banishing the other forever. But no matter how hard I tried, he always managed to slip away. It got to be that sex was the only time I could count on being safe. And it never lasted long enough. Then we'd be driving, stoned, on our way somewhere, and then somewhere else after that. Before it had been exciting, new, to always be in transit. But now I felt like I was drifting, sucked down by an undertow, and too far out to swim back to the shore. I never even tried to change the station anymore, instead letting his music fill my ears and all the spaces between us, heavy and thick, like a haze. Wake up, Caitlin. Mr. Lensing wasn't the only one who'd noticed. “Caitlin?” my mother would say to me at the dinner table, as I pushed around my food, my sleeves pulled tight to my wrists even though she kept the heat cranked and there was a fire crackling and snapping right behind me. My mother was cold-?blooded. “Honey, are you okay? Aren't you hungry?”
“Caitlin!” the dance coach would bark as I flubbed another cartwheel or missed a step, finishing out the clumsy death throes of my cheerleading career. “Get with it, O'Koren! What's the matter with you?”
“Caitlin,” Boo would say, trying to hide the hurt in her face as i shrank back from her in photography classthe only time I ever saw her anymorewhen she tried to squeeze my arm or shoulder, saying hello in her touchy way. “I miss you.”
“Caitlin?” Rina would ask in our one shared class, history, fanning her hand over my eyes as I zoned out, half-?listening to her detail another dramatic blow-?up with Jeff. “Hello?”
“Caitlin,” Corinna would say. “Hand me that lighter.”
“Caitlin,” Stewart had said more than once, “you look like you really, desperately, are in need of some wheat germ. Seriously.” And finally, the one voice to which I snapped to attention, every time.
“Caitlin,” Rogerson would say, and I'd listen so hard, trying to tell just by the cadence what might happen when we were alone. “Come on.” Wake up, Caitlin, Mr. Lensing had said. But what he didn't understand was that this dreamland was preferable, walking through this life half-?sleeping, everything at arm's length or farther away. I understood those mermaids. I didn't care if they sang to me. All I wanted was to block out all the human voices as they called my name again and again, pulling me upward into light, to drown.
I had known since December that punctuality could mean the best or worst of things for me with Rogerson. But now things were getting harder. Rogerson picked me up for lunch every day right at noon. This gave me exactly five minutes to get from my trigonometry class, which was on one side of campus, through the packed hallways and crowded courtyard to the small turnaround near the auto mechanics classroom where he always waited for me. But no matter how quickly I left classeven after changing my seat, so I was right by the door and could leap up the second the bell ranghe always managed to get there first. I'd round the corner, out of breath, to see the car parked there, engine idling. I'd know Roger-?son was behind those tinted windows, waiting and watching.
Sometimes, it was just a little rough: a blocking bruise. Other times, a hard foul. And if things were really badfull contact. It was always easier for me to think about it this way. Sports was my father cheering Saturday morning football, Cass lifting the all-?state trophy over her head, our entire family at university basketball games, roaring with the crowd. Sports were safe, even when Roger-?son wasn't. Even the days that I skipped fourth period so I was there first, sitting under the little scrubby tree by the curb when he pulled in, it didn't seem to make him any happier. It was like he wanted to be mad, so he'd have an excuse to do what he did to me. And he was doing it more and more often, as winter headed into spring. The bruise on my arm I'd gotten courtesy of Mrs. Dennis, my trig teacher, who insisted on keeping me after class a few days earlier to discuss my lack of class participation and a failing quiz grade. I started skipping her class, because it was easier. I'd sit under that tree, my knees pulled tight against my chest and smoke cigarettes, my eyes fixed on the entrance to the turnaround. There were rules of play here, technical fouls, illegal movements. I had to be careful.
I couldn't talk to anyone because if Rogerson saw me he'd assume I was (A) flirting or (B) discussing him. One day Richard Spellman, class president, tried to sit down and talk to me about some stupid group project we were doing for English. I just shook him off, edging farther and farther away: I knew I could guarantee myself full contact plus a few hard fouls if Rogerson saw us there together. But Richard just kept talking, oblivious, while I picked at grass blades, my stomach churning, and hid behind my sunglasses, pretending I was invisible. I was getting good at that. When he finally left it was only a matter of seconds before Rogerson pulled in. So close. So, so close. The only person I ever really spoke to at school anymore was Rina, and not much at that. “Let's go out tonight, just us girls,” she said to me one day, as we sat together under my tree. The bell had just rung and she'd plopped down next to me, strerching her long legs out in front of her. “I can't,” I said. “Why not?” She fumbled in her purse for her sunglassesblack with cat's-?eye- shaped frames and tiny rhinestones in the cornersand put them on, leaning her head back to look up into the mild winter sun. “I've got plans with Rogerson,” I said. “You always have plans with Rogerson,” she said. “We haven't done a girls' night in forever, Caitlin. I'm in withdrawal here.”