Previously in Calvin’s Ghost – 10 / Jasper
Stripped played a concert at Dillon Gym late October of Eli’s senior year. He’d slipped Cecilia a note in class a few days before the event. He’d been sliding toward the back of the classroom, eying the seat open between Bobby Princess and Shiree, but Cecilia swiveled her hip into the aisle, timing her move to ensure he brushed against her. Eli stopped, his heart a snare drum.
“Hey,” Cecilia said. She peered up at him, that slow, honeyed head nod, eyes widening, lips plumping and parting, one hand resting lightly on the desktop, her forefinger an inchworm, curling and straightening, quietly, gently, but with a physical urgency that reliably felled him.
She arched her back fetchingly (inchworm finger self-similar and fractal to snakelike back), enough to the draw the hem of her skirt six inches higher on her legs, stretching her neck and shoulder muscles languidly, as if still sleep-drunk, lifting her face toward him, hair falling to one side, brushing aside strands whisping her face.
“What’s up?” she said.
“Hey Cecilia.” In the moment, Eli realized, he had nothing to say to her. Or rather, he had everything to say to her, but the words smashed into each other, a 30-car pile-up, fucking fender-gender-bender for the ages. He pressed on toward the rear of the room. Cecilia grabbed his wrist, requisitioning him.
“What?” Eli burbled.
Cecilia smiled shyly (or was it slyly), peering directly into his eyes, holding his gaze, not speaking, her position outwardly submissive, but both equally aware she was entirely in control. Once satisfied she’d communicated to him her availability, she released his wrist and in that moment the force responsible for keeping him alive slid from him like a bedsheet, moved by tidal forces he could barely comprehend.
Eli gulped, steadied himself, returning to himself, once again feeling movement and energy in the classroom, now comprehending that he and Cecilia had for a moment been together in a quantum bubble almost womb-like, for a moment the world outside of them, there but not there, poised for annihilation.
He settled next to Bobby Princess and exhaled. Bobby Princess chuckled. “Man, the heat almost melted me. You and Cecilia about to start a thermonuclear war.”
Eli shook his head, still without words, consumed by an oceanic sensation of the energy surging beneath each human interaction, beneath each moment in time, energy entirely indifferent to the shallow universe of nouns, verbs, participles, and prepositions in which he traded.
Fuck English, he thought. He tore a sheet of paper from his notebook, scribbled a single sentence, folded it in half, stood up and walked toward the classroom door. On his way out, he handed Cecilia the note. I’ll take you to Stripped next Saturday.
* * *
Next Saturday was the day before Halloween.
“Eli needs the car tonight,” Martha said to Tobias at dinner.
Evangeline had removed the large plates from the table and was now serving a green salad topped with red radishes and purple onions on to a stack of smaller plates. That the Wheeler family ate salad when other families ate dessert never failed to amuse and amaze Eli’s friends. “Rabbit,” they had taken to calling him.
“I imagine that’s fine,” Tobias said mildly. He pursed his lips, wiping his mouth with a napkin. Tobias’s state of mind was uncommonly relaxed on this evening, perhaps because Lawrence was spending the night with Jasper’s family on Hodge Road. Lawrence had continued through October to attend his teen therapy sessions. He was doing well, the counsellors said. Doing better, at least. Owning his mistakes and poor decisions and working to focus on constructive steps he could take to get a more positive groove going. While Tobias might reasonably have questioned the breeziness of these evaluations of his son, he was himself struggling mightily to regain solid ground in his own relationship with Lawrence, and so not inclined to apply similar standards of rigor to counsellor statements as he would have required from his students or his fellow historians.
Lawrence had also been going regularly to school – Eli could attest to this, since he had resumed walking to school with Lawrence in the mornings. And Tobias had spent a few weekend afternoons earlier in October on photo shoots in Herrontown Woods with Lawrence. They’d enjoyed each other’s company, Tobias reported to Martha, and so Tobias allowed himself to imagine all was well. Or at least better.
“What time will you be home, Eli?”
“Not sure,” said Eli, which meant as late as possible.
“Well, let’s try to make it before midnight, okay? Hell Night, you know. Let’s not tarry for the magistrate.”
* * *
Eli drove to Cecilia’s house, a modest tree-shaded Cape Cod on a one-block street not far from where he lived. Two plump pumpkins squatted on the steps, on either side of the front door, cleverly carved and illuminated incarnations of the muses, one smiling, one frowning.
He waited in the foyer with Cecilia’s parents while she finished dressing upstairs. Eli liked the parents. Carl and Catherine were youngish and good-looking (which somehow counted for a lot in Eli’s overheated state). They were also pleasantly indifferent to Eli and his intentions regarding their daughter (possibly because they knew Cecilia’s intentions were the only ones counting for much that evening).With her parents in the foyer, and then alone with Eli in the car, Cecilia was also kind and quiet, for the most part discarding the ingénue persona she brought to school. She and Eli spoke of prosaic teenage matters. Classes. Friends. College plans. Cecilia was a good student. She would be a social worker. Like her mother.
On their way to the concert, Eli and Cecilia trailed a white van heading west on Nassau Street, cargo door wide open, two boys seated in the cargo bay, cigarettes dangling from their lips, legs dangling from the edge of the bay, a stack of egg cartons resting next to one of the boys. When they turned on to Alexander Road, the van veered right toward Bayard Lane.
“That’s Mick Miller’s van,” Eli said. “Ready to commit Hell Night mayhem.”
Cecilia laughed. “Your good friend, Mick Miller,” she said.
“What do you think of him?”
“I don’t know. He’s got that hot body.” She glanced at Eli, still smiling. “Not really my type, though.”
“Yeah? What’s your type?”
“Oh, I like the skinny, studious, nerdy type. Brainy boys are sexy.”
* * *
Stripped was the Cali roots band assembled by members of the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and the Doobie Brothers, a polished, laid-back rock-blues ensemble. Rumors that Jackson Browne would perform with the band in Princeton had boosted interest, shifting the venue from Alexander Hall to Dillon Gym.
Eli guided Cecilia through the fortress doors of the gym, intoxicated by her nearness, proud to be seen with her. She was unadorned. No jewelry or makeup. Hair down. Wearing a simple cable-knit cardigan over a loose, untucked white cotton button-down shirt (more buttoned-down than buttoned-up, Eli noticed), and green wide-wale men’s cords sporting cuffs and pleats. Completing the look with black Chuck Taylors. Eli thought she looked fantastic.
The concert was also fantastic, the musicians clearly enjoying the opportunity to mix it up and play longer, less scripted songs, half the time just jamming. Never knowing who might next join the band on stage – whether Tom Johnston, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Glenn Frey, or Jackson Browne – heightened crowd spirits and fueled between Eli and Cecilia the antic giddiness of kids doing something grown-up for the first time and finding it to be far better than they even could have imagined.
As the concert progressed, Eli and Cecilia leaned more closely together, shouting and laughing almost as a single person. And when Stevie Nicks demurely walked from the shadows to the microphone for the first encore, Eli couldn’t help thinking how much – with her slender, sultry frame, blonde hair, apple cheeks, and pouty lips – she resembled Cecilia. Goddess of the gloaming, he thought.
* * *
Shortly before midnight, Eli parked in front of Cecilia’s house, Brown-Eyed Girl quietly played the radio. Someone had soaped the windows of her parents’ cars and toilet paper draped the sallow branches of the elms and maples dotting her front yard. An orange harvest moon hung just over the trees, almost visibly speeding through cloud wisps toward its shallow southern summit.
Shouts and rough, raucous laughter rebounded toward them from blocks away, with sounds of smashing pumpkins, pulp and seeds bleeding on to sidewalks. But the pumpkin muses on the Cape Cod porch remained intact, safely and warmly and placidly aglow. Neither abused nor amused.
Eli and Cecilia still occupied the warm cocoon the musicians and songs had spun about them during the concert. Cecilia smiled at Eli, her eyes wide and warmly inviting. He smiled awkwardly in return, half-shrugging. She laughed. “You retard. I want you to kiss me.” She leaned into Eli, parting her lips as they met his mouth, pressing her chest into his, holding his shoulders to ensure he would not escape, making their intimacy both safe and precious. She gently nibbled his ear. “Rabbit,” she murmured. “You’re my Rabbit.”
Eli allowed Cecilia to lead. She dropped her hand to his belt and held the buckle for a moment, seeking purchase, then softly stroked his bulge, encouraging it to grow until fully a stalk, her fingers now sliding rhythmically up and down its full length. She paused. Unbuttoning her sweater and her shirt, unzipping her pants, she placed Eli’s hand on her belly, guiding it slowly down into the loose opening of her trousers, resting it on the humid forest mound, cotton canopy dampening as he grazed it with his fingers.
Cecilia reclaimed his hand and guided it up her waist, Eli responding to its curves and slopes as she breathed deeply and rhythmically. She placed his hand on her breast, his palm and fingertips brushing her nipple, mysterious magical portal come alive, welcoming Eli, lifting and straining toward him. When Cecilia moaned and once more flattened her chest against his, he slid his hand under her bra and released the breast from its silk and pressed his hand more wantonly against her flesh, their bodies urgently communicating, chest to chest, hand to breast, salty tears filling his eyes and spilling down his cheeks. When they finished, windows steaming, Cecilia zipped her pants and buttoned her shirt and once more held Eli in her open, trusting gaze. “Good-night my Rabbit,” she said. “Run fast.”
Next in Calvin’s Ghost – 12 / Hell Night