No Chinook Chapter 6
No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.
“Can you get me a beer?” Kate asked. I could barely hear her. With all the people around us, and the electro blaring out from every angle, I had to wonder why people bothered to open their mouths. But people were yelling all around us. Conversations seemed to swell in every direction, indecipherable because of the noise, but not far enough to be ignored. Kate drank Kokanee before, so I figured she’d like that again.
“I can’t believe you remembered!” she said when I got back from the bar. She swigged and clinked me. “Thanks, man!”
After we’d got back to her place, had sex and were laying there, cuddling, she said she wanted to dance. This came out of nowhere, but I went along with it. She got dressed in a low cut t-shirt, black jeans, slip-on black shoes, and off we went. She said she loved this place, how busy it was.
“What kind of music do you like?” she asked as we drove.
“Oh,” I said, lying. “nothing really specific. I like whatever.”
“Good,” she said. “This place specializes in whatever.”
Kate had dragged me out onto the dance floor, her beer playing the part of the naked mermaid on the front of ships. I followed Kate following her drink.
“You’re really good,” I think she said, after a few songs.
“Thanks,” I mouthed, but she wasn’t paying attention to my lips. There was no use actually saying anything with the blanket of volume around us. “You’re beautiful,” I mouthed.
She smiled, but I’m not sure she understood. Her hair was down again and she flung it in every direction. She danced with a freedom I never really thought she had to show. Whatever it was she was doing, it gave us some room.
In no time, we were both sweating. We were at a club that was a flea-market during the day, so the walls had signs advertising used clothing and bargains. Strobe lights and foggy smoke were above us, and we danced surrounded with people wearing an assortment of dress shirts and other club gear, hammered, high, or both, yelling and moving with the music.
“Are you all right?” Kate might have said. She noticed me looking around, looking uncomfortable. I didn’t come out to clubs that often, especially the underground converted warehouses like this one. “Who are you looking for? I’m right here!”
“What?” I yelled.
“I’m right here!” she screamed, and finally I heard her voice. I don’t really know why I was looking around. I guess I was just taking it in, but her insistency forced me to kiss her. It’s not like I needed an excuse at this point, but some things she did prompted me to kiss her more than others. We kept dancing. It was all there was to do.
My phone kept ringing. It rang just about all night. I let it ring because I wanted Shawn to know that I knew he was calling. I didn’t want him to think I left the phone at home or had turned it off for the night. Every now and then I’d open it up, let him hear a second of music, and then hang up. Kate never seemed particularly interested as to why I was doing this. Mostly her eyes were closed or focused on her beer or on my chest.
She pulled my shirt and drew me in closer as we danced. Her crotch rubbed up against my leg. No eye contact. As the phone vibrated in my pocket, she cupped it and smiled.
“Don’t get it,” she said. She said this in my ear so loud it hurt. She could have whispered.
I couldn’t have known what Kate was generally like after sex, but I figured that if she stayed awake, all she’d want to do was have more sex. Her hands dangled from my neck and she stared right at me, but even then I knew she wasn’t looking at me as a person; there was no intimacy there. Even then, I knew deep down that I was only her means to some end. But wrapped in that moment, she made feel like I had a place. The objectification was nice, actually, because at least it was honest.
Shawn had used me. Before I’d finally figured it out, I thought it was love. It wasn’t love, this thing between Kate and me. It was carnal, and that was fine.
Way back in high school, the first thing Carly told me to do was to shut up so that she could kiss me. She knew it was lame, but it still worked. I shut up. This was before I quit smoking; we were smoking outside the school and I mentioned something about wanting to burn the entire place down. I was just shooting the shit out there, but I imagined exactly how I’d do it. Halfway through it she told me to shut up, and that was the beginning of me and her. The entire week after that, all we did was make out under a tree near the parking lot where she kept her bike.
The first thing Shawn did was kiss me, too. I met Shawn in this bar I wasn’t even supposed to be at. It was late and I was going home, but I didn’t have any change for the subway. I ducked into this bar to break a twenty, and Shawn came up and ordered a few beers. “And one more for this guy,” he said, and before I could refuse, he kissed me on the cheek in his joking, frat-boy imitation, and before I knew it, I was sitting beside him and three other guys, arguing about art I’d never see.
But Kate was different, because the first thing Kate did was show interest in my writing. Even that slight interest made mountains of difference. She wouldn’t kiss me for almost six years. I knew it was no coincidence that she was the one I thought of the most.
None of my friends called it pathetic outright, but I knew they thought my constant moaning about Kate early in college couldn’t be anything else. I remember one of them saying “Scott, trust me. For every guy, there is a girl that got away. The details might be different, but overall it’s always the same story: guy likes girl; girl probably doesn’t like guy; guy eventually gets rejected by girl and bitches about it to his buddies while getting wasted.”
Now, I could say that they were wrong about this one incident in my life. Kate was right in front of me. She’d kissed me a hundred times in the last two days. The past was just empty context. I was in a world only I knew, but I could share it with her. I could open up to Kate. I could be honest. I could be loved. Also, she’d slept with me, twice.
She grabbed my hair and bit my lower lip, half-laughing and half-snarled. Her hands were on my hands, my ass, my back, my chest. Her nails were sharp. Of course people stared. I think I was bleeding, but the phone kept ringing.
She didn’t stop until she noticed the mark on my arm.
“What the hell is that?” she yelled. I tried to shrug it off, but she grabbed my arm and led me to the entranceway where the music was quieter.
“That,” she said, pointing to the burned mark. “That wasn’t there this morning. What happened?”
“I, um,” I muttered, both wondering why I hadn’t thought of a cover-up and why she hadn’t noticed it when we were naked earlier. “It was an accident.”
“Really,” she said, not questioning so much as interrogating.
“It’s a cigarette burn,” I said.
“You don’t smoke.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t burn myself with a cigarette.”
“You did this to yourself?” she asked, equally worried and visibly re-evaluating who she’d hooked up with for the evening.
“Yeah, well,” I said. “There weren’t any chairs to throw into a wall.”
She took a second to process my explanation, and get her own idea of what it might mean. Then she reached into my pocket and stole my phone.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What do you think?” she said. “I’m checking to see what your ex-girlfriend’s name is.”
I tried to grab the phone from her. I told her, “There’s no girl.”
“Look, I get it. I never asked if you were seeing somebody. I didn’t think you might be going through the same thing as I was. Hey, maybe that makes all of this easier, you know? We’ve got something really big in common, if that’s the case. I just want to know.”
I stopped lunging for my phone, because I’d just realized she understood something I was only now grasping. What had brought us together was our common heartbreak. It was shitty things leading to good things, and the reinforcement of my spectrum was enough for me to let her flip open my phone and look around for my missed call list.
I could tell by her confused look that the list required some explanation. I said, “Shawn, right?”
“Yeah, but why? What does he want? And why weren’t you answering?”
I began to head outside, and Kate followed. I knew if this situation got any closer to the truth, we should move the proceedings outdoors. “I think he’s mad at me,” I said, trying not to give too much away. “I stormed out of his place today. We had a fight.”
“Oh my god,” she said. “Are you hurt?”
Kate followed me. We got to the door and felt the cold night air. I said, “No, nobody hit anyone.”
“Then how was it a fight?”
“We just yelled.”
“But you’re guys. Don’t guys hit each other when they fight?”
“Not all guys,” I said.
“Well, you should answer it and get it over with,” she said. “You know, be a man about it or something.”
“I don’t want to be a man about it,” I said. “I really can’t talk to him right now. Or ever.”
Kate laughed. “I had no idea you were this melodramatic.”
My roommates in college might have been wrong about every guy having a girl that gets away, but they were right about most other things. Once, Jesse, the only one of them I really liked, told me a story of when he was a kid. He was walking along on the CN railway tracks, about half a mile away from his house.. He was maybe 8 or whatever. These trains come through all the time, and Jesse always got out of the way long before the train came close. Only there was this one time when he felt something completely different. It was the same sort of day as any other, and he didn’t really feel any differently, but for whatever reason, he didn’t move.
Some thought rippled through his brain that was much heavier than the average 8-year-old should be thinking: what’s really going to happen to me if I don’t get out of the way? And even at 8, he knew there was nobody around that could really tell him what it would be like to die, or what it would be like afterwards. He knew it would hurt, surely, but it was the after that was the biggest mystery.
He still got out of the way long before any real sense of danger set in. And really, he only stayed on the tracks a few seconds longer than normal, and it still took the train a good five minutes to hit the spot where he had been standing. Still, none of that made his childhood moment of great philosophical transcendence any less terrifying. He was absolutely right. It’s possible to know what it would feel like to be hit by the train, but what followed was anybody’s guess. That’s why, when I saw in her eyes that she’d put two and two together and began to dial Shawn’s number on my phone, I headed outside to her car. I sort of had an idea of how she would initially react to the news of my little affair, but had absolutely no idea what would happen after.
“Hi Shawn, it’s Kate,” she began. “Why have you been harassing Scott all night?”
I quickly asked for her keys, and she tossed them to me. I got in, and I could see her inching towards the driver’s side. I was about to open the door, but then I saw her hand pause in front of the window. At that moment, Kate knew everything, and it had stopped her in her tracks.
This would be my bar story, to be told with slight variances every time I drank with new friends. Drinking with people meant meeting other people, which meant leaving the house, which meant being okay enough to stop crying and get on with life. This imaginary string of events gave me the most comfort. The rest came from knowing that I’d done relatively little wrong. It’s not likely that either Kate or Shawn would be telling their hypothetical future bar friends about how manipulative or abusive I was, and how happy they were now that I was gone. Even though I was the other man in one relationship and the rebound in the other, I figured that I’d played both parts well enough to dispel any blame.
The funny thing is, the image of all of us in the future made me realize that I was just as willing and knowledgeable as Shawn in what we were doing. I mean, he never did actually leave Mark, did he? It really was just as much my fault that I landed in this situation. If Kate slid into the driver’s seat in a few minutes and told me that she never wants to see me again, it would be my fault. It would be my fault because I wanted to be with Shawn and didn’t tell her, and because I really had no right to be with her in the first place. We belonged on opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s exactly where we’d return. Her car felt warm even with the engine off. I saw her shadow through the back window, pacing.
I wasn’t innocent. Sure, I’d tell people I was completely victimized; but even as it all unfolded, I knew I was to blame. Without me, Shawn would probably be happy with Mark, and Kate would be doing something other than having rebound sex. Maybe she’d be going after Ray. Maybe she’d grab his new girlfriend by the roots of her hair and break her back against a wall. Kate was the strongest woman I’d ever met. She could have carried this car home on her back if she got angry enough to do it. I couldn’t imagine her having the sort of sex she was having with me without a certain amount of rage. I could hear feet crunching on the snow outside, behind me. Her reflection in the rear window gave away nothing.
She hung up the phone and walked to the driver’s side of the car. The door creaked open and slammed shut. There were goose bumps on her arms. She cracked her neck to one side. Still, there was no way I was speaking first.
“All right,” she said. “I guess I lost my own bet.”
“What?” In this moment, one word at a time was all I could manage. I know I wanted to explain everything to her before she had a chance to speak, but at the same time knew there was never a chance I had that sort of strength.
“Last night, when I kissed you, I thought that I had it figured out. I mean, sure, I’d been dumped, and yeah that fucking hurt, but I guess I always knew he had it in him to do something like that. Ray was just the kind of character where cheating was part of the package. I should have seen it coming, dating a guy like that, living with him. It didn’t matter to him; he could cheat on you and leave just like that. You still don’t see it coming and it still breaks your heart, but in hindsight, it makes sense. You know what I mean?”
Of course I knew what she meant.
“Anyways,” she said. “When I kissed you, I thought I knew you; I mean, in a way, I’ve known you for years, right? I never stopped to wonder if you’d changed. I just kind of took you at face value.”
I could see the whole thing coming. She wasn’t good at the long speeches. She wanted to call me a big fucking asshole and tell me to find my own ride home. She would have said the same thing back in high school.
“But people do change,” she said, “People do grow up and beyond what anyone might think they could turn out to be, right?”
I’d caught my breath, and remembered where I stood in my own big mess. “So what are you trying to say, Kate?”
She coughed, and started the car. She only turned on the heat, and I could immediately feel it on my toes. “I wish you had been honest with me, Scott.”
She sounded hurt, but it felt like I’d known what to say to this for years. “I’m sorry, Kate. But I’ve been a little windswept here. In the last day or so, you’ve completely blown my entire world apart. It’s easy for other things to lose their importance, you know? It’s easy not to mention something.”
“Oh, like your fucking boyfriend?” she said, blowing the fuse I hoped I would never see ignited. “How does that particular piece of information become completely lost in the course of one day? Huh? Explain that one to me, please!”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Shawn is not my boyfriend.”
“Sure, he isn’t now,” she said. “Not after you stormed out on him today and did what we did last night and tonight and oh, my God, I can’t believe you. You son of a bitch!”
She was screaming, but neither of us moved from our seats. We both knew there was so much more to say, and both of us knew that something had to be resolved. Shawn was lying to more people than I thought.
“Okay, fine, here’s some truth,” I said. “I am not Shawn’s boyfriend. I never have been. This guy Mark is Shawn’s boyfriend. Yes, I’ve been seeing Shawn, and it’s been happening for quite a while now and I thought he and I were really close. But that’s the thing. It was all sort of in my head, you know? He was just fucking using me, and today when I went over to his place, I pretty much made him choose between Mark and me, and he picked Mark. Do you know why I did that?”
She shook her head.
I said, “Last night, I got caught up in the moment in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. You made me feel like Shawn had never made me feel. And you know what that is? It’s the knowledge that there is nothing beyond the surface. You didn’t sleep with me for any alternate reasons, you know? I know exactly what last night was and I’m fine with that because it was honest. That’s why I went straight to Shawn’s. I wanted everything to be as honest as possible.”
She relaxed, allowing her body to rest on the seat. “Is that everything?” she asked. “Is this you being as honest as possible?”
“I’m being honest, but I’m not even close to giving it my all. You know, for a while I even thought I was in love with him. Not lately — I’d been doubting the entire situation for some time, but it is like you said, right? Even if you do see something bad coming, you still convince yourself so deeply that everything will end up exactly as you’ve pictured it, and you believe it. Then it hits you that the one you think you love doesn’t love you back, is really just using you for whatever he needs at the time, and when it comes down to choosing who he really wants to be with, it’s the easiest decision in the world.” I flopped back in the seat, unable to find the energy to look at her reaction.
“I’m floored,” she said. “I really am. There’s absolutely no way I could’ve known you were this fucked up.”
“Yeah, well, same to you.”
We both sat there for a minute, just breathing the hot air. I couldn’t see out of the windows. The fog was layered with more fog. If there were cops around, it was a miracle we weren’t busted for hot boxing or fucking.
Other than Shawn’s strange definition of our relationship, I really did think I had everything figured out. “I want you to say yes to something,” she said, calmly. “And I want you to say yes to it before you hear what it is.”
“Yes.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but her car was warm and this hadn’t ended up being an altogether horrible experience.
“And you can’t go back on it,” she sat up in her seat, “I mean, you could, but it would be really fucking lame of you.”
“Yes, I said.”
“I want you to stay with me for a week,” she said. It felt like an anticlimax. For a second I thought she’d want all of us to fuck or something in order to get it out of our systems.
“Of course,” I said. “That’s no problem.”
“And I don’t want you to see Shawn during that time.”
“I don’t want to see him again, ever,” I said.
“That’s very sweet, Scott,” she said, taking out her compact to apply some lipstick. “But we both know you will. Still, I think you can go a week.”
“It’s really no problem.”
“Actually,” she added. “I don’t want you to see anybody this week. I mean, go to work and do all the things you need to do. Just consider my home your home. Don’t go home. Don’t go to things you can cancel. Get out of your book club or whatever.”
“I’m not part of a book club,” I sneered. “What if I had a dog?”
“Do you have a dog?”
“I have a goldfish.”
She took a long breath and let it out. “I want you to let it die, Scott. I want your goldfish to die because you were too busy fucking me.”
I was never particularly high on the damn thing anyway. “It’s just a goldfish,” I said.
“So that’s a yes?” she asked.
“For the seventh time.”
Kate turned on the radio. More dance music. I kept agreeing with her, thinking how this was all going to work out. This would be the beginning of something I’d wanted longer than anything else. Somewhere, mostly in places where the idea of my spectrum rang loudest, I knew that in no uncertain terms I had allowed myself to be happy.