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Saturday, April 18, 1998
By Paul Ford
Neil and Caroline were arguing in the car, about Caroline's ex-lover, Bill. The argument slowed down, and Neil opened the window to let the wind hit his eyes.
"Sticking your head out the window like a dog," said Caroline. This was an apology. Neil gave a mournful "woof." She smiled in response, her toothy, goosy smile.
"Duh," she said.
"Yeah. Should we just drive in silence until we're calm?"
"Only one of us can drive."
"That's you," he said. "I'll look at the stars."
She put her hand on his knee, and he put his hand over hers. The wind was too cold, but he kept a crack of the window open to move the air.
Bill had shown up a few weeks ago, stayed at Caroline's place for three days. She condemned Neil for his mistrust.
He hoped she hadn't slept with Bill. There was so much to like about Caroline. The back of her feet in sandals, the way the heel swam into the ankle in a single stroke. All those tilts and hollows.
He asked her to dinner after Economics class. At the Metropolitan Restaurant, she drenched her steak in sauce, took her dressing right on the salad, and asked for extra sour cream. In twenty minutes her plate was white as tiger's teeth.
Between bites, Caroline told Neil about the Army. While he was learning to drive a Vega, she was in Germany, operating anti-aircraft guns. She could kill a man with a spoon, and demonstrated how to scoop the metal into the neck, leaving the enemy throatless. Her white arm twisted at invisible foes, the skin at the shoulder jiggling with fat and muscle.
Watching her stab the air, Neil realized Caroline couldn't see him as anything but a free meal. It was too bad. She was unique and very, very appealing. She could also end human life with silverware.
After dinner, she took him home, shared five consecutive shots of Diablogado Rum (all she had), and tried to sleep with him. He couldn't get it right, mostly because he was trying to figure out why she wanted him.
("You were such a good listener," she explained later, a totally unsatisfying answer.)
Kneeling on the couch, he tried to undo her brassiere, but after a few nervous, silent minutes, when he began to sweat that somehow the bra was part of her skin, she showed him how it opened from the front. He felt cheated. The rest of the night was off by one degree, too hot, and strangely angled.
In the car, they were closing in on the campus. She had dropped a tape into the stereo and was drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.
There was that first date to remember. His friends were meeting girls named Debbie at dorm mixers. He had Caroline. She lived alone off campus. She was twenty four.
And she was an engineer. She was building microchips. That was brutal. She was big, sexy, smarter than he was, almost as tall, and building microchips. His major was undeclared. He was a sophomore. He wrote good research papers, all the notecards wrapped in rubber bands. She could assemble an M-16 rifle in one minute and thirty two seconds. He didn't know what to do.
It's only a matter of time before she gets sick of me, he thought. And it'll be easy for her to leave me. I'll sit and cry and she'll go off on her own. My God, I'm a pathetic whining bastard.
"Hey, kid," she said.
He left his line of thought to answer, "What's up?"
"What you thinking?"
"You," he said.
"Me too. I was also thinking about sex."
"I was thinking about that first night."
They'd gone over their first night hundreds of times, but it never got boring. "Holy Jesus. I think I raped you."
"No, you didn't," Neil said. "I was a willing participant."
"Poor clumsy boy."
"But a quick learner. Advanced placement, even."
"Yes. A fast study. Now we just teach you to keep your socks off the floor and we can make things happen."
He looked up at her. "I'll learn."
"Yes, you will." By that time they were home. "Or else Corporal Caroline will bust you a new ass." The car turned at her command and crunched over the driveway. She turned the key, then leaned over and kissed him thoroughly.
"No more fights," he said, but it came out mumbled through the kiss.