Out on the highway, on Jeff’s motorcycle heading up Route 67, we sped away from campus in a fit of defiance; our bodies not cocooned but exposed to the open air, exposed to the danger and romance of the open road—my hair streaming out behind me like a flag, waving our independence. Latched tightly behind Jeff on his bike, my arms wrapped around his waist, the feel of some other man’s body, the movement of his muscles under my hands as he steered the bike, was strange and exhilarating. Here were two temporary escapees on a dangerous collision course. But far better to ride, to risk being torn into a thousand pieces than suffer a slow suffocation.
We drove to the fair, however, without incident or accident. After carefully parking the bike, we wandered around the booths and stands, their trappings extra gaudy in the carnival lights, and it wasn’t too long before Jeff grabbed hold of my hand. Though it was awkward, self-consciously walking hand-in-hand, I didn’t try to withdraw it. Jeff was edgy—he twitched a lot, and I noted to myself that he was in over his head. He bought us bratwurst and beer, and we sat at one end of the midway on a fallen tree trunk, just on the fringe of the color and noise, the hurdy-gurdy sounds of the carousel intermittently wafting toward us. We chatted about music, but our tastes were dissimilar and it was hard to find common ground. He produced a harmonica from his pants pocket and taught me how to bend notes: hold it with both hands and suddenly suck in air. We passed the instrument back and forth like long-time intimates, not always cleanly knocking out the saliva. I wondered, was he going to make some kind of move? I didn’t know how far I was going to go with this. How much of a choice did I have?
“Hey, do you wanna smoke some pot?” he asked softly.
“Ah, well, no, not really. Sorry.” My response seemed to leave him at a loss. Then, sure enough, putting his hand on the back of my leg and moving it slowly up and down my calf, he asked if I wanted to go back to his room, but I was not ready to face the crises of my own making that lay ahead just yet. “Let’s ride the Ferris wheel; hey, just once, no?” I asked, leaning away from him, cocking my head, twisting my hair with my fingers. “A little bit of a warm up, huh?”
“You’re not like any other girl I know!” he half shouted, half laughed, a little bit out of control, and that made me laugh. I was not liking myself at this particular moment, but felt I had to make this stand for the sake of my sanity, if nothing else, and would probably end up paying dearly for it if I couldn’t shake him, ever so gently, in the end. Couldn’t I get away with something just this once? I could not sequester my anger like Lawrence. Was it a sin to want to be taken for a ride? A sin to want to return home safely?
We bought our tickets and climbed into the dingy painted cab of the Ferris wheel, and it started up shakily. Up and around, up and around. I swiveled in my seat, pressing close against Jeff, looking past him up into the night. Rising above the fair grounds, we could see the lights of Calvert and beyond that in the faraway landscape the tennis center, bathed in white klieg lights, looking for all the world like a penitentiary. When the ride stopped at one point with us hovering near the top, an amusement cliché, it was easy to imagine us once more as escapees, lying low in the hills, flat on our stomachs and breathing hard from our break, looking over the dark valley for signs of the posse. The ride lurched into motion. I turned my back on Jeff, ignoring him, leaning over the far edge, holding my face up to the dark sky, breathing in the cool night air, squinting my eyes half-shut so the lights became red and yellow streaks. Up and over yet again. I loved the sweeping motion of it; I had found a place and time where I could be happy, but I knew there was no way to freeze the moment or keep it alive. All too quickly, I could feel the ride slowing down. Opening my eyes on one sweep along the bottom, I saw Dr. Raynes and Lawrence waiting near the gate. How could they possibly know I was here? They saw us, too, so there was nothing to do but let the momentum wane and get off and confront them.
Lawrence came up to us and took Jeff by the arm. “Leave him alone,” I ordered sharply, “he’s a friend of mine.”
“A friend,” Dr. Raynes sneered. He had strolled over leisurely after Lawrence, hands in his pockets, gazing at the ground. But this casualness was misleading; I’d never seen him so angry, a series of contortions seizing up his face, one after another. A thin, hard, wiry man, a self-made man, not given to forgiveness or expansive thinking, expensively and stylishly suited. Twenty years from now Michael would be exactly the same. Lawrence released Jeff, but suddenly lunged to his right, startling us all by grabbing an innocent-looking gawker standing nearby, sliding him back toward us, the man dancing and flailing his arms to keep his balance. Lawrence slapped him about the body to see if his pockets were empty, then, seemingly in one motion, grabbed his camera, opened it, tore out the roll of film, took two strides to the port-o-john, opened the door and threw in the evidence.
Coming back, wiping his hands with his handkerchief, he observed mildly, “You were being tailed.” Snatching the empty open camera off the ground, our photojournalist attempted to make a swing with it at Lawrence’s head, but Lawrence caught his arm in mid-arc, and twisting it painfully behind his back looked him menacingly in the eyes, the two men’s faces almost touching, saying quietly and persuasively, “Now you don’t want to start anything here, do you now?” and the jerk had enough sense to skulk away. “Amateur,” was Lawrence’s only observation.
Ignoring him, Dr. Raynes turned on me, shouting, “Have you completely lost your mind?” I had no answer to this. My face grew flushed at the way both men were staring at me—my hair a rat’s nest from the joyride, raccoon mascara-eyed, smelling of beer. Not exactly debutante material. We were causing a scene, attracting an ever-growing audience engrossed by the spectacle we were making of ourselves, so Dr. Raynes took my arm and we walked quickly to the waiting car before it got out of hand. Jeff was long gone, nowhere to be seen as I looked back over my shoulder. On the way to the car the doctor said to me, somewhat more calmly, “I want you gone by 6 p.m. tomorrow.”
We got into the car, Lawrence opening the back door for me and whispering in my ear, “You just blew the whole thing, sugar,” before slamming it shut and getting in the front seat with the driver. Dr. Raynes got in the back with me. Not a word was spoken the entire way back to the hotel.