Monday, August 12, 2013

The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Eighth Interlude


The Cold Inside
Eighth Interlude
by Al Bruno III


Saturday December 3, 1994


Her father and stepmother were watching a movie, the Griffins' big old tabby cat asleep at their feet. None of them noticed Drew sneaking out but she didn’t relax until she clicked the back door closed behind her.

Nothing could get in her way tonight, not when she'd gotten the call she had been waiting for since she was twelve years old. Again she thanked God for her private phone line, although her parents had never suspected it would be used for something like this. 

Drew's father had bought her first personal computer two years ago, a modem a year after that and since then she had been an obsessive BBSer. She loved having her PC dial out and link up with electronic bulletin board systems, poking around at various stored files and Fidonet postings.  The larger BBS's had chatting, allowing her to talk to the administrators and other computer users in ASCII text. There was one in particular BBS up in Saratoga called Electric Avenue that had become a regular haunt of hers. It was more than a simple BBS, it could support up to twenty-one users at a time! Of course only subscribers could stay on and chat for an unlimited duration, everyone else got logged out after half an hour. 

Her parents quickly tired of having their phone constantly tied up so they got her a separate line. That way she could BBS and chat to her heart's content. As a gift her stepmother also paid for and set up an Electric Avenue subscription under her name so everyone on the BBS thought that Drew was someone else, an older woman, mature and normal looking.

The BBS could be a real relief after hanging out with the Magnificent Seven all day. They were great guys, she loved them all to pieces- even Tristam- but they could be so damn geeky. It was nice to have some adult conversation.

Much as Drew loved her world of computers and BBSes she always kept the second line open for an hour after school and all Saturday night just in case Evan called. Only he had the number, it was their private line.

It was how Evan Crawford called her when he needed to be taken care of.

The Crawford’s and Griffin’s had been neighbors since 1981, the two families had hit it off and often shared barbecues and day trips. They each had one child and no plans for others so it seemed natural that little Drew and Evan would become playmates.

More than that. Drew thought, Friends. Best friends. She tiptoed across her back yard and hopped the fence to the Crawford's. Skirting along the side of the house, she rapped cautiously on the garage door.

Evan and Drew had adventures, mischief and even a private school. They shared tragedies too, both of them having lost a parent, her to cancer and Evan to an ugly divorce. For almost ten years they were inseparable. Evan defended her when other kids picked on her because of the ludicrously named birthmark on her cheek; What kind of a medical term was a Port-Wine Stain anyway? The Griffin’s gave Evan a place to retreat to when his stepfather was in one of his sour moods.

Drew rapped on the garage door again. Where is he? She wondered, He never keeps me waiting.

Junior High had changed everything, just like Drew had expected it to. When he turned thirteen he grew tall and wide shouldered and his sudden interest in sports gave him little time for her. Soon enough he stopped coming over to visit. Then he began to refuse to make eye contact with her when they passed in the hall, it didn't matter if he was alone or if there was a girl on his arm. It was like he didn't see her, like she didn't matter anymore. The worst of all was when he joined in with the kids making fun of her, when he took the things she'd shared and used them to cut her to pieces. He was the one that had given her that awful nickname, 'Smudge'. Eventually she got tired of crying herself to sleep and she moved on; she found new friends but none of them could ever be a substitute for Evan.

Drew worried as she stood out there in the dark and the cold if this all wasn't some final cruel prank. Where was he? He said he'd be waiting for her.

He didn't sound right on the phone that's for sure. She thought, he sounded drunk and upset.

But that was all the more reason to keep waiting wasn't it? Maybe now he would realize that she would always be there for him, that she was more than just the girl who would drop everything just to sneak over to his house and suck his cock. Not that she'd ever planned for that, it just sort of happened.

It had started over the summer; she had been in her room, tinkering with her computer when she heard the buzz of a lawnmower. Parting the Venetian blinds with her fingers she peered out to see Evan mowing the lawn. If Evan didn't do it his Mom tried to and that was a recipe for broken equipment and flying stones. Drew watched him work, first cutting the backyard, the side yard and then the front. Halfway through the job he took off his shirt. Drew grinned a little at the sight of him. It wasn't the first time she'd watched him in secret, she'd watched him in every season, yearning to speak to him as he raked leaves and shoveled snow.

Just as he was wrapping up she'd acted on a crazy impulse; going down to the kitchen and pouring a tall glass of lemonade. Then before she could lose her courage she walked outside. What was the harm in offering it to him? He must be thirsty. What was wrong with offering a drink to a childhood friend? So what if he said no? So what if he laughed at her? How much more could he hurt her now? 

By the time Drew got outside he had already retreated back to the garage. She crossed for her yard into his, drops of lemonade splashing against her wrist, the cut crass felt pleasant against her bare feet. She caught her reflection in the side window of Evan's car. She smiled a little at what she saw; dressed in shorts and a peasant blouse. She didn’t look half bad. That was the utter bitch of it. If you saw her from the right angle she was one of the prettiest girls in school, otherwise she was just Smudge.

Evan had been surprised to see her but grateful for the lemonade. He spoke her like she was a person, but he made sure to shut the garage door first.

Maybe it was that, or maybe it was just she had never wanted anyone or anything so much in her life. Whatever the reason, as he drank the lemonade, she reached out and undid the buckle to his jeans.

And he nearly choked to death on an ice cube right there. Drew remembered with a sly smile, But where is he now?

A whisper startled her, almost sent her running back to her house, “Drew!”

“Evan?”

“Come here.”

“Where are you?”

“Back by the barbecue pit.”

She found her way through the darkened yard, she had to repress the urge to tiptoe. Evan was crouching next to the grill, she couldn't see his face at all. “Stay down until we're out of sight.”

“I don't understand- Why are you hiding?”

“I didn't want our parents to see us.”

“Oh.”

“My car is parked the next block over. We have to cut through the woods. You remember our old shortcut?”

Drew grinned, “OK. Yeah.”

He stood, “Come on.”

“Wait.” She looked back to her house, “What are we doing? I thought we were just going up to your room.”

“No. I'll explain in the car.” He took her by the hand and she went willingly.

That afternoon a summer ago she had left him weak in the knees and it had been easier than she had ever imagined. It wasn't like she'd ever even kissed a boy before but between her stepmother's collection of trashy romance novels and cable TV she had more than enough information at her disposal. Things developed slowly but by September Drew was taking care of him once, sometimes twice a week. He never kissed her, he never touched her below her beltline but in his own way he was sweet to her.

Only when there was no one watching of course, and Drew understood that. Sometimes they talked, mostly about music or their families, never about school. When Drew told him she was saving her virginity for him he’d blushed.

Now, following him through the woods Drew had to wonder, Is he taking me to a hotel? To go parking?

They got into Evan's GTO, she was almost heartbroken when he let go of her hand. He started the engine and cranked up the heat. She said, “I wish you had told me ahead of time about this. I could have worn something special.”

“That's OK.” He started driving, he seemed to be concentrating a little to hard on moving in a straight line. His eyes looked he'd been crying.

“I love you.” Drew just blurted it out, she couldn't have stopped speaking those words if she'd wanted to. “It doesn't matter if you ever love me back. I just wanted you to know that sometimes thinking of you is all that gets me through the day.”

The only reply Evan made was a strangled grunt, he tooled along from one side street to another keeping his speeds well below the posted limit.

“Evan?”

“I'll be your first I promise.”

“What are you talking about?” She glanced out the window at the passing road signs, “Where are you taking me?”

“We're going to a party at Fred Trager's place.”

“You're taking me to a party? Why?”

“I-” At the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Grove Street he pulled over, “I'm going to be your first but there are other guys at the party I want you to take care of too.”

Drew recoiled, “What?”

“I'm in trouble Drew. Ever since I got kicked off the football team I've been in trouble. They don't like me. Not really.” His fingers tightened on the steering wheel.

“What does that have to do with me?”

“They only keep me around because I can get drugs but that's not enough. I was stupid and I bragged I could get them a girl. A girl that could take care of all of them just because I'd asked her to. A girl that really knew what she was doing.”

“Why do you think I'd ever do something like that?”

“Ronnie and Pam have it in for me. If they get their way I'll be sitting at your table by the Spring.”

“Would that be so bad?”

He put his hand on her knee, “Yes. I'm not like you. You're strong. You can take it. People make fun of you all day and you don't care. I couldn't be like that. I'd kill myself.”

“Don't talk that way. Don't you ever talk that way.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad. They're all good looking guys. Plus, some of them are still virgins too. You'd be their first. You'd be what every girl after has to compare to. No one would ever look at you the same way again.”

She could see the party house from here; it was the only place on the block with all its lights still on and cars crowded in and around the driveway. Everything she'd ever been taught told her to punch Evan square in the nose and walk home. She opened her car door but he caught her hand and drew her close to him. When he kissed her it was like little electric shocks were radiating through her body.

“Maybe I love you too.” He said, “I dunno, I don't think about things like that. But you gotta know we're never gonna be boyfriend-girlfriend, that we're never gonna get married and stuff.”

“How can you talk to me like this?”

“Because you're good to me and I want to be good to you.” He caressed her unblemished cheek with the back of his hand, “You're a smart girl. You know this is the closest you'll ever get.”

“Evan…”

“They'll all be gentle, no one will do anything sick or mean. They'll all wear protection. I'll watch out for you.” With that he got out of the car and walked around to her side.

Drew couldn’t move, she couldn’t think. Was this going to be her lot in life? To be pitied and never loved? To be the butt of jokes and never the center of attention? Could she ever really hope for more?

It might not be so bad. She thought uneasily, and he needs me. He really needs me.

Evan opened the passenger side door and took her by the hand. They slowly walked to the house, all the while he assured her again and again everything would be all right.

At the front steps she paused, she almost turned and ran.

Evan smiled as he led her inside, to a sea of familiar, expectant faces. Evan got her a beer and made sure everyone felt at ease. Soon enough Drew found herself the life of the party. 



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