Chapter 6 – February 6K

Rune opened the refrigerator door, peered inside. “You want a soda? We got diet, and some regular. My dad only drinks regular, says diet soda gives you cancer.” He heard her footsteps across the tiled floor, approaching. “We have juice too. My brother only drinks juice, he doesn’t like any soda, of any kind.” He heard her stopping just outside the door. “We got milk too, only skim — ”

He felt pressure on the outside of the door. He looked up, saw only her face. A gentle smile, patient eyes speaking a silent command. Close that goddamn door already.

“OK.” He closed the goddamn door. And then she was on him, clasping his cheeks in her palms and pulling them together, her mouth finding his gracefully, like one of her perfectly executed lunges, landing deftly on its target, but unlike the other times they had kissed she did not pull back, she pressed on, her tongue thrusting forward and finding his, he nearly gagged from the surprise but recovered, locked onto her lips, pressed hard, bending her head back willingly, the scent of her strawberry chocolate hair filling his heaving lungs.

And then she did pull back, her eyes darting to her right, in the direction of the living room. He grasped her left elbow and led her to the couch (making sure on the way that the opaque curtains were drawn across the bay windows that faced the front of the house), grabbed her by the shoulders and eased them both down to the cushions. And as they kissed again, he realized not only that he had no idea what he was doing, but Annie knew this as well and didn’t mind, she was taking the lead, and at some time during their caressing (he lost track of time, had no idea how long they had been on the couch before hearing his mother’s car in the driveway) it came to him, it’s just like fencing practice, she knows exactly what to do and I’m just making it up as I go along. And when they rose from couch, tucking their clothes back into place and smoothing each other’s hair as his mother walked in from the garage, Rune felt satisfied yet hungry, as eager and confident as he could ever remember feeling.

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Chapter 6 – February 6J

They walked together in the afternoon winter sun, confident yet safe opinions of their teachers, television shows, and pop music bobbing within the flotsam and jetsam of their conversation.

“This way.” Rune took Annie’s hand, led her away from the icy sidewalk into a broad field of snow, blades of wild grass appearing above the white surface like tufts of stubble on a poorly shaved face. “Subdivision hasn’t begun selling these lots — ” he let go of her hand as he nearly fell in the deep snow — “we can cut across, to my house.” Their legs plunging with each step up to their knees, but Annie seemed to enjoy the effort as much as he did.

Two pairs of snowprints, leading from the field through the back of the yard, around the house and up to the front steps. Rune grunted with pleasure when he saw the sun had already melted that morning’s snowfall on the driveway and front steps. “No shoveling.” And the garage door was closed, neither of his parents was home early.

“You don’t have someone come plow for you?” Annie sounded confused.

“Not unless it’s real bad.” He retrieved keys from a chest pocket on his jacket. “My dad pays this guy by the push.” Turned the key in the lock. “But he doesn’t like to do it, says we need to watch our budget.”

He pushed the front door open, stomped snow from his boots before walking into the house. The boot bench to the left was covered with jackets, sweaters, scarves; Rune swept his arm across, clearing the bench, winter clothing scattering across the tiled floor of the entry. He sat, slid across the bench, patted the empty space to his right with his hand. Annie sat quickly, and moments later they had left their heavy boots and bulky jackets behind them, as they walked into the kitchen.

Chapter 6 – February 6I

Rune raised his upper body suddenly, looked down at Annie. Her cheeks apple pink, lips strawberry red. He lowered his body to kiss her again, but her mittened hand against his chest stopped his descent.

“It’s cold.” Her wool cap had fallen off, there was snow in her brown hair, like puffs of dissolved marshmallows in hot chocolate. “We’re what, ten minutes from your house?”

Knees digging into the snow between Annie’s legs, raising his body. “Five, if we hurry.” Grasping her right arm, he raised himself to his feet, lifting her at the same time. She picked up her cap, then her backpack, he held out his arm and she snuggled into him, the two of them resuming their walk down the icy sidewalk.

“You think anyone saw us?” Her tone was playfully curious, as if she were daring anyone who had seen them to come forward.

Rune looked around. “This stretch’s pretty quiet. Lots of trees, what few houses are ranches, no high windows. Not much traffic, didn’t hear any cars passing.”

She squeezed his torso with both arms. “You like playing detective, don’t you?”

Rune laughed, squeezed her back. “I like to pay attention, is what I do.”

Chapter 6 – February 6H

SUNDAY!” And propelled by a giggle, Annie did exactly what Rune expected she would so — thrusting her arms forward into his chest, she hurled him into the snowbank behind him.

He didn’t resist, let the slight momentum of the push propel him backwards and down. He spread his arms as he fell, and as he landed he grabbed a ball of snow in both hands, lifted his body quickly and threw both at Annie.

The snowball on her left was far wide, and she deftly dodged the other, then rushed forward and with another giggle landed on top of Rune. The two teens wrestled playfully, white puffs of snow flying around them, only the sounds of swishing jackets, mock groaning, and Annie’s giggle filling the crisp winter air around them.

He grabbed hold of her shoulders, locked his legs with her and twisted their knotted bodies until he lay on top of her. He thrust his arms into the snowbank and thrust his body upward, looked down upon her.

Her face was a landscape of eager invitation.

Rune all but fell on top of her, their teeth nearly colliding as his mouth descended on her. They had kissed several times in the past few months, but he had never kissed her before with such passion.

Chapter 6 – February 6G

Annie hooked her right arm around Rune’s left, the two teens holding and drinking from their bottles with their opposite hands. Rune noted how symmetrical they looked, almost exactly the same height, both wearing stocking caps, even the same style of jacket (mid-thigh length, no hood). Boots landing into crunchy snow at the same time.

“You were born in June?” His question more a statement.

“Yeah, the thirteenth.”

“Huh.” Rune squinted as they crossed the barrier of shade into another patch of late-afternoon winter sunlight. He tapped the chest of his jacket with his bottled hand. “Mine’s the nineteenth. We were born the same week.”

“Huh.” A patch of clear sidewalk where the sun had melted the snow. “Wednesday.”

Rune nearly stopped, considering the possible meanings of Annie’s one-word response. Did she think today was Wednesday — this is Annie, not Butch. Was something happening next Wednesday — normal school week, next tournament’s not until the end of the month.

“You were born on Wednesday.” Dammit, he really wanted to figure that out before she told him, like an exasperated teacher. “The thirteenth was a Thursday, I looked it up. So the nineteenth, that had to be a Wednesday.”

“Yeah, I know.” No, I didn’t.

“So we weren’t born the same week. You were one week after me.” She was speaking with that confident tone he often found irritating.

“Huh.” Their feet were back in the shade, boots stepping into white crunchiness again. “But that’s only if you think that weeks begin on Mondays.”

“They don’t.” She stopped, turned to face him, an odd look on her face. “The weeks begin on Sundays.” Hearing the hyperbolic indignation in her voice convinced Rune that her face conveyed mock seriousness.

He put his hands on his hips. “Monday.” He raised his hands above his head. “Everybody knows that.” He looked around where they had stopped, saw they were surrounded by almost pristine gentle snow, no glint of ice or mixture of salt and gravel. She wanted us to stop here.

Chapter 6 – February 6F

They had walked a block away from the school, had come into the small commercial district that had grown and contracted over the decades in direct proportion to the size changes of the Bark Bay High School student population.

“Want a drink?” Rune pointed with his free right hand at a door to a convenience store. Annie nodded, released her hold of his left arm.

Rune routinely stopped at the store on his afternoon walks home. Snacks, drinks. Warm-up or dry-off break during bad weather. Comic books (never as good a selection as what he and Butch found during their visits to Page Turners, but there were the occasional finds), sometimes magazines, and, on those afternoons where he was the only customer in the store, a furtive peek at the pornography at the back of the rack.

He and Annie got drinks from coolers, brought them to the register. “Hello Annie.” Rune looked up suddenly, amazed.

“Hey Ronna.” Rune looked at the slightly overweight woman behind the register, as if to make sure that this was indeed the same person who had been behind that register most of the time he had been there for he didn’t know how long (months, at least a year certainly). Yes, it was her. She had a name tag, RONNA. Rune had never noticed before.

“How’s Gandy?” Ronna scooped the change that Rune and Annie had placed on the counter into her hand.

“She’s fine.” Annie took her bottle of diet iced tea from the counter. “I’m teaching there, on Wednesdays.”

“Toddlers?” Ronna suddenly spoke with more animation than Rune had ever heard from her before. Annie nodded. “Well, my daughter’s turning five next year, maybe we’ll see you there!”

“Great!” Annie seemed genuinely pleased as she left the store with Rune.  

Chapter 6 – February 6E

As he and Annie exited the school building through the two rows of double-glass doors, Rune could not escape the feeling that he was being led, almost pulled into the frigid afternoon air. He wasn’t comfortable with the feeling, but when she flicked her head away from him and he felt her long pony-tail flapping against the back of his jacket, and his nose caught that scent that was so distinctively hers, the prospect of going along for the ride seemed suddenly pleasing.

“How’s the election going?” It seemed as much a spontaneous eruption as a question. Annie’s head snapped back, and for a moment Rune saw consternation in her face.

But only a moment. “It just started. Only been a few weeks since my dad’s announcement. He’s on the phone a lot, talking to reporters all over the state.” She laughed. “My father’s never been this popular!”

“My dad still feels bad about what he said to him at the Christmas party.”

“Really.” Her voice was suddenly as cold and brittle as the icy snow that crunched under their boots. “What do you think about what he said?”

She knows, he realized. Some politicians are corrupt, others are idiots, but the worst are corrupt idiots — I just hope you’re not an idiot. His father hadn’t said a word about what he’d said. “I think he was drunk.”

“I think you’re right.” He felt her squeeze his arm, as they walked into a patch of sunshine which temporarily blinded them. “And I don’t think we should talk about the election any more.”

“Fine by me.” They had walked into a shaded area again, their eyes adjusting to the residual spots in their vision. “How’d you know where to find me?”

Annie laughed. “Oh that’s easy. You’re a creature of habit, Rune — you leave at the same time, through the same door, every day. Except Tuesday.” Fencing practice.

Chapter 6 – February 6D

The disbelieving recognition of her designer athletic shoes (the one visible part of her where she was unafraid to display her family’s wealth) came to him at the same time he heard her voice. “Hey.” Rune looked up, saw Annie standing in front of the glass exit door he used every afternoon to begin his walk home from school.

She was leaning on her left leg, the right turned slightly outward, her right hand holding her left wrist at waist level in front of her gray down jacket. One backpack strap pulling down from the back of her left shoulder. A wool cap on her head, her long brown pony-tail hanging back from it, as if attached.

Her look was serious as his eyes caught hers. It was a look he recognized, but not from her, someone else had — Coach Dan. Just before reminding him, again, to get his arm fully extended before beginning his lunge. But that look quickly dissolved into a bright smile.

“Ready to go?”

Rune shook his head, made no attempt to conceal his confusion. “What — where did you want to go?”

“Home.” She blinked shook her head. “Sorry. Your home.”

Rune widened his eyes. “You’re giving me a ride home?”

“Nah.” She stepped forward, extending her right arm and hooking Rune’s left. “My parents went up to the city this afternoon. Something about the election, had to meet the campaign manager.” She twisted, tugged at Rune, propelled him forward with her. “Usually go to Gandy’s gym on days like this, but today I was like, let’s do something different, go to Rune’s house.” She pulled on her backpack. “We can study together.”  With the hook of her arm, she pulled him close to her, as they approached the glass door. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “And we can be alone.”

Chapter 6 – February 6C

“Joining us today?” At the sound of Mr. Ratner’s voice, Rune turned and hurried into the classroom, taking his usual place in the front row.

Whenever he had the opportunity, Rune chose to sit at the front of the class. Partly due to his contrarian nature, partly because he found it easier to stay awake, but primarily because it suited his nature. He was often alone, in some classes surrounded by empty desks on most if not all sides. It was easier for him to get lost in his thoughts, sitting apart from the low chatter of other students, the drone of the teacher’s lecture the only distraction he had to ignore. School was boring, the classes pathetically easy and comically uninspiring. He performed well on tests and quizzes, not from a desire for academic achievement (college was to be an obligation, as it was for his older sister now and would be for his younger brother years later) but rather the knowledge that scoring well would compensate for low scores on his homework, too mundane and degrading to warrant serious consideration.

“Anyone care to answer?” Mr. Ratner’s voice was directed over his head, towards the rear of the class. Rune glanced at the board, knew without thinking the answer, making himself ready should he eventually be called upon. He sensed hands rising in the air behind him, felt confident someone would get the right answer — Mike perhaps, and if not him Tori for sure. The question was right in their sweet spots.

Rune looked down at his notebook, began doodling, geometric patterns without lifting his pen. Boring, yes, but there was also a peaceful solitude to class time that he enjoyed.

Chapter 6 – February 6B

“You going to Page Turner’s tonight?” Local bookstore, independent, family run for three generations. New comics every Tuesday. With fencing practice on Tuesdays and Butch’s Bible studies on Wednesdays, Rune and he typically went on Thursdays.

“Can’t.” Rune was carrying a notebook and textbook in his right hand, turned them to face Butch. “Trig test tomorrow, gotta study.”

“Oh!” Round face looking inward, as if physically searching for words. “There’s a retreat this weekend, gotta leave right after school, won’t be back until Sunday afternoon. We’re going camping!” Red lips wet with spittle.

“That’s great.” Turn the backs back, rest them on hip. “Have fun.”

“Wait.” Rune kept walking, as if he hadn’t heard him. “Annie told me, that if I was to see you, then she told me to tell you, she had something to say to you.”

BRRRRRIIIIING. Rune stopped, turned and glared at Butch. Ned Samuelson rushed past him into the classroom, almost ran into him. Didn’t notice.

“What does Annie want?”

“Oh! I . . . don’t know. She didn’t say.” Butch looked quickly over his shoulder. “Hey, I gotta go to class.” And he did.