“Yeah,” I said, as he hit the gas and we sped toward town, his big convertible sucking up the road beneath us. “I do.” We might have talked on the way home: I don't really remember. My mind was already working my defense, figuring the play, setting the pick and the run and shoot. As we got closer to town, the pine trees and flat fields giving way to asphalt and strip malls, I could feel the dread that had been building in me all afternoon finally fill me up. And by the time we got to my house, every muscle in my body was tight and I could hear my heart beating. I had a crazy thought to tell Jeff to just keep going, gunning past what was waiting for me, driving on and on to someplace safe. But I knew Rogerson would find me. He always did. There were cars parked all up and down the street for the party, but I could see Rogerson right in front of the walk. The BMW was right by the mailbox, windows up, engine off. “You know, ”Jeff said in his slow drawl as he pulled into Boo and Stewart's driveway to turn around, “Rina was just a little tipsy is all. You shouldn't hold it against her.”
“I don't,” I said, opening my door before he'd even come to a full stop. The sight of Rogerson waiting for me, just like all those times at the turnaround, filled me with a fear that clenched hard in my chest, like a fist closing over something tightly. “Thanks for the ride, Jeff.”
“Looks like quite a party,” he said, nodding at my parents' backyard, where I could see the tentstill standingall lit up, with peopie milling around beneath it. Someone was playing the piano, tinkling and sweet, and it was slowly getting dark. The perfect Fool's night. “Yeah,” I said, already backing away from the car. “It always is.” The grass was wet on my feet as I ran across it, with Jeff yelling good-?bye behind me. My house was all lit up to my right, and I knew that inside it smelled like potpourri, all those dolls arranged in their intimate groups. Rogerson's car was dark as I came up on it, with that eerie green glow from the dash lights coming from inside. I opened the passenger door and got in, shutting it quietly behind me. He didn't say anything. I turned to face him, ready with my explanation, the defense I'd drawn out in the long walk and ride home: I tried to call you, I couldn't get here, I'm sorry. But I didn't even get a word out before he turned, with the face I'd never captured on filmwrenched and angryand slapped me across the face. It was hard enough to push me back against my door, which hadn't shut completely and so fell open just a bit. I reached out behind me to try and grab the handle, but he was already coming at me again. “Where the hell have you been?” he said, moving so close that his breath was in my face, hot and smoky-?smelling. He grabbed me by the front of my dress, yanking me even closer to him, the fabric bunching in his fist, bulging through his fingers. “I have been waiting for you for an hour.”
“Rina,” I said quickly, gasping, “Rina invited me to the lake, I tried to call you”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he screamed, and then pushed me away from him, hard, so that I fell back against the door again and this time it swung open fully, making a loud, scraping noise against the sidewalk. I felt myself tumbling backward, losing balance even before I hit the pavement, my elbows grinding as I tried to catch myself. My face still stung, my dress bunched up at my chest, and then he was suddenly out of the car, standing over me. “Get up,” he said, and behind me I could hear the party, the piano, now with voices singing along. “Get up!”
“Rogerson,” I said as I struggled to my feet. “Please”
“Get up!” he yelled, and grabbed me by the arm, yanking me toward him. I tried to duck my head, to turn away, but he was too fast for me. I saw his fist coming and it hit me right over my left eye, sending a flurry of stars and colors across my vision. I slid down, out of his grasp, onto the grass: It was wet and slimy against my bare skin. I lifted my head and he was standing over me, breathing hard. I knew I should get up before someone saw us but somehow I couldn't move, like those voicesall those voiceswere suddenly shaking me awake, pulling me to the surface. It was the first time he'd done it out in the open, not inside the car or a room, and the vastness of everything, fresh air and space, made me pull myself tighter, smaller.
“Goddammit, Caitlin,” he said, glancing at the house, then back at me. “Get up right now.” I tried to roll away from him onto my side, in the hopes of getting to my feet, but everything hurt all at once: my face, my fingers, the back of my head, my eye, my arms, my skin itself. Each place he'd ever struck me, like old war wounds on rainy days. He nudged me with his toe, in the small of my back. “Come on,” he said quietly. And I remembered the first time he'd said it, when all this had started, standing by that open door: Come on. “No,” I said into the grass, trying to tuck every bit of me in and hide, to sink into the cracks of the sidewalk beneath me. “Get up,” he said again, a bit louder, and now the nudge was hard, more like a kick. I rolled a bit, curling tighter, and closed my eyes. Out in the tent, the song went on to the rousing finish, then a burst of laughter and applause. “Get up, Caitlin,” he said, and I closed my eyes as tight as I could, clenching my teeth, thinking of anything else. Corinna, standing on a cliff in California with the blue, blue water stretched out ahead of her, with even Mexico in sight. Cass in New York, sitting in her window with a million lights spread out behind her. And then, finally me, left behind again. And look what I had become. I jammed my hand in my jacket pocket, bracing myself for the next hit, and felt something. Something grainy and small, sticking to the tips of my fingers: the sand from Commons Park. Oh, Cass, I thought. I miss you so, so much. “Caitlin,” Rogerson said, and I snapped back to reality as he reached down and yanked at my jacket, trying to pull me up with it. But I just shook it off, letting it slide over my arms and away from me, keeping the sand in my hand. My bare skin was cool, exposed under the streetlight with the white of the dress and the green ivy almost glowing. I was tired. Worn thin, my springs broken, spokes shattered. I felt old and brittle. I braced myself, waiting for the next kick, the next punch. I didn't care if it was the last thing I ever felt. “Caitlin,” Rogerson said again, and I felt him draw his foot back, readying. “I told you to” And that was as far as he got before I heard it. The thumping of footsteps, running up the lawn toward me: It seemed like I could hear it through the grass, like leaning your ear to a railroad track and feeling the train coming, miles away. As the noise got closer I could hear ragged breaths, and then a voice. It was my mother. “Stop it!” she said, her tone steady and loud. “You stop that right now.”