"So," I said, trying to break the ice, "a movie, then?"
"Sure," Todd said. "There's that freaky new horror movie - the sequel to the one with the knife-fingered guy. What's that called?"
"Nightmare On Elm Street?" I said. "You know I'll have nightmares. Plus I've heard the sequel kind of sucked."
"You're scared of everything," he said. "C'mon. It'll be fun. You can even bury your face in my shoulder if things get too scary."
I sighed and tried to smile. He was trying to be nice at least.
"Sure, why not?" I said, shrugging. "I don't need to sleep right away, anyhow. I can probably watch something lame on television until I'm too tired to care about Freddy What's-His-Name coming to get me."
"That's my girl," he said, putting one hand on my knee while keeping the other on the steering wheel. I almost flinched but once I realized what he was doing, it seemed a nice enough gesture. I let him hold my hand while until we pulled up to the theater.
I was at the table with Todd, staring awkwardly down into my water. It wasn't like I wasn't curious about Asha's financial need or her family issues - I'd guessed that one had to do with the other, but that's all I could figure out on my own. But I felt like Asha should be able to tell me herself and I didn't want to know until she trusted me with the information. Rhonda was right on the money when she called Todd an asshole. I didn't think much of him, either, but I could be very friendly as long as it allowed me to continue my friendship with Asha.
"Sorry about that," he said. "Guess I was out of line."
I shrugged and smiled, all the while thinking no kidding, douchebag. He had a charming smile when he grinned back at me, though. I decided that I should try steer the conversation away from Asha.
"Don't worry about it," I said. "So...what do you plan to do after high school, Todd?"
"You sound like Ash's dad," he said with a smirk. I balked.
"Sorry," I said. "I was just --"
"No, no. It's okay. That's a good question. My dad makes really good money and he's promised me that I can pretty much go to any college I choose. But I'm still set on State. They have a decent basketball team if I decide to take the sports route, but they have engineering classes. I'd like to do that, or if I want to do something more creative, maybe advertising. My uncle does that and it seems like a good future."
"That's cool," I said. "What about if Asha is going to New York, though? You don't wanna go with her?"
"Are you kidding? Asha's great and all, but I'm not getting tied to any chick while I'm still young. Know what I mean? Of course you do, right? We're practically both men here. I just can't see myself being with any one girl at a time right now. Sure, someday I'll settle but not until I'm at least...what? Like forty-something?"
"Oh.You guys seemed...I dunno," I looked in the direction Asha had gone. "I thought you were serious."
"Not serious. We're just having fun, Asha and me. I mean, we're not exclusive. I see other girls, she's welcome to see other guys."
I had my doubts that Asha was aware of the lack of exclusivity and absence of monogamy in their relationship. At least, she'd never mentioned it. I wasn't planning to blow the whistle on the guy right away.What reason would she have to believe me, anyway?
Right about then, Shelby came by on her way to another table. I saw her slip a piece of paper to Todd. He unfolded it, read it and then, smiling, placed it in his coat pocket.
"What was that?" I said, smiling conspiratorially. "Got a hot date?"
"Not yet, but maybe soon," he said. I laughed along with him, as if we were in on the joke together. In reality, I felt disgusted by this jerk.
Rhonda and Asha came back then and we all started to leave together. Out in the parking lot, Asha suddenly wanted to be alone with Todd and was trying to get me to give Rhonda a ride home.
"Um, sure. No problem," I told her.
At that point, I knew I'd do pretty much anything for Asha. She looked up at me, but the window rolled up and there was that between us. I watched as Todd's car pulled away and left me and Rhonda standing there. It seemed best to just enjoy my new companion for the evening - only I was tired, confused and annoyed. Confused about my feelings for Asha and annoyed that her boyfriend was such an asshole - and, of course, to tell her would probably make me the enemy. Plus, it's not as if she would be interested in me either way. What was the point in screwing up a perfectly good friendship when nothing good could possibly come of it?
"Did you want to just take me home or did you have something else in mind?" Rhonda said, interrupting my reverie.
"Would you...want to do something else? I mean, I'm out of ideas for tonight but I've been very uninspired lately."
"You wanna get coffee or something? Or maybe...maybe go to the park and...park?"
I couldn't stop thinking about the whole Asha thing - maybe I needed a distraction.
"Where do you think Todd and Asha are going?" I asked, watching the road as if maybe I could will them to come back.
"Oh who knows?" she said. "Probably the drive-in - that's where a lot of folks around here still go to make out. It's been around since my parents were in high school."
"Hmn," I said. It occured to me that if we went there I could keep an eye on anything that Todd may do. But that sounded even crazy to me - what did I think he'd do exactly? And if he does anything, what would I do? Despite this, I still couldn't seem to help myself from suggesting it.
"Would you by chance like to go to a movie with me?" I said. Luckily, she didn't seem to notice the correlation between one thought and the next. Instead, she beamed.
"I'd love to!" she said. It took me a moment to realize what it might mean to her. She was thinking I wanted to make out with her. I couldn't force myself to be honest - which felt really manipulative and just rotten. I wasn't sure how I could frame things without giving myself away and I just wasn't ready for that yet.
She followed me to my car and she took charge of the radio while I drove. She stopped on a song by Culture Club and lit a cigarette.
"Does Asha smoke?" I asked her.
"Not really," she said. "But she did take a few drags off my Camels tonight. I think she's just being rebellious."
"So that explains the drinking, too?"
"I think the problem with that was just that she discovered butterscotch schnapps and it was too good to resist. She overindulged instead."
I smiled, but then sighed. I wanted to say something about Todd but wasn't sure how to begin.
"Rhonda, hey...do you like this Todd guy?"
"What? Oh. Hmn, not really. He seems like kind of a jerk."
"Yeah. I got the feeling that he'd hit on the waitress and anyone else in the room if it happened that Asha wasn't around."
She was quiet. I hoped I hadn't said too much. Maybe she didn't dislike him quite as much as I did.
"Betsy, can we stop the car? Up here? Just for a minute," she said finally.
I pulled over and turned everything off.
"You need to throw up? I mean, are you okay?" I probably sounded pretty nervous.
"It's not that," she said. "I just realized something. I am not interested in being a stand-in for my cousin."
"What?" I said.
"You! You are totally into her. I'm not blind, Betsy."
"That's not it...I mean, it's not why I don't like him. I just don't think he's a very good guy for her."
"Asha's never expressed an interest in...I mean, I think she's completely straight. And anyway, Todd's sort of a status symbol."
"What does that mean?" I said.
"It means that Asha doesn't like being part of the social class she's in. That's why she's dating Todd - to be part of the popular crowd, to be accepted and in the long run, she knows that's what opens doors for you. It's who you know."
"You think that's all that matters to her? It doesn't seem like Asha. You think she cares about that?"
"I think everyone cares about that. Maybe even you?"
"I don't care about that," I said. "But clearly you do."
"Not as much now as I did in high school - it's how I know where she's coming from on it and why I haven't said as much as I'd like to about what an asshole Todd is."
"I guess I don't understand how someone like you can hold onto that kind of prejudice at any point in your life. Were you out?"
"You mean did people know I was gay?" she said. "Probably. I had short hair and I played basketball and I had never dated a guy. I didn't really get harassed about it like some people I knew did. I knew not to hang out with those people who were getting harassed- it was a survival thing."
"But you realize it was wrong?" I said.
"I do," she said, thoughtfully. "I hated seeing the effeminate guys pushed around by the jocks or the...I guess we'd call them butch? These girls that got snide remarks from that whole jock crowd, even the jocks' girlfriends. I hated it. But I wasn't willing to hang out with those girls, either - they were their own group. They did their own thing and everyone knew. I didn't want them to know about me. Not yet. Not for sure. Speculation without certainty is fine. I could always just deny, deny. So I just became a jock myself and made fun of the others. I'm not proud of myself, but it feels terrible to be alone like that in high school."
"Which is why," I said, "it would have been nice if those you separated yourself from so willingly would've brought out some compassion in you."
"Nice, Betsy. How great it must be to be so morally superior, but you know what? You can take your self-righteousness and shove it. You didn't go to my school, you didn't know me and you don't know me now. And maybe everyone at your school knows about you and you are the Mother-freakin'-Superior of all the gay and questioning students at your school, but it's not so easy for everybody else."
She was really pissed. She grabbed the door handle and jumped out of the car, shuffling as fast as she could in her stiletto boots across the street. I sat there a moment, going over what she'd said and really, she was right. Who the hell was I to judge her and anything she did in high school - that's the worst time in your life for almost everyone and we all do things we hope don't define us for the rest of our lives.