They walked mostly in silence, as Kiel’s polite questions were met with brief, monotone answers — her parents were not at home, they would not be back for another week. Linda had not considered anything beyond the walk across the hot stippled concrete, the satisfied glance back at Emme’s face as Kiel put on his t-shirt and slipped on his sandals. But now he was here, and soon they would be at her home. She thought for a moment that she should have sex with him, ridding herself of her virginity like a damp bathing suit, but the image of him emptying into her made her physically sick.
They wound around the side of her garage, passing the pile of newspapers that had accumulated at the end of her driveway. He did not comment on her house, undoubtedly his was very similar: the acre of grass, the shale walkway leading to the front door from the driveway, the stainless steel hardware on the rows of glossy kitchen cabinets.
“Yours?” he said, picking up the baseball mitt and slipping his long, pink fingers inside the black leather. She nodded, itching to wrench it off his hand. “You’re not a lesbian, are you?”
“No,” she said, though she did not like how low and defensive her voice sounded in protest. Boys always asked her this when she was slinging her cleats over her shoulder or pushing their hands away from her underwear. She was not, truly; she found the idea of kissing the blushed lips of another girl just as unappealing as the insistent mouth of a teenage boy. She would often find herself staring at tables full of them at the cafeteria, shoving each other’s shoulders, stealing hats and French fries, sometimes speaking in a fevered rush, other times laughing uproariously, their mouths open so wide she could see full sets of teeth. They seemed incapable of tenderness, more likely to swallow her whole.
“Well at least that’s something,” he said, smiling and putting the mitt back on the table.
Kiel laughed at the boom of the explosion, the puff of smoke and the bright flames reaching skyward. His laugh was high and breathy, a dry whinnying in the back of his throat. He was so graceful in the water, but on land he was just another boy.
“Man, that’s what I’m going to do once I get a new car after graduation, I’m just going to blow the old one up in the middle of that airfield by the movie theater,” he said, pointing at the screen.
“You’d get arrested.”
“No, I wouldn’t. It’s my property,” he said, his lip pulled into a slight snarl. He got up to use the bathroom, and Linda could clearly hear the steady stream of his piss from down the hallway.
Linda thought of Emme. She would now be telling her mother what happened, her bare feet swinging loose as she perched on one of her kitchen’s bar stools, her mother listening sympathetically from the other side of the granite island. Emme’s mother was overweight, with dimpled, pink arms and a roll under her chin, a pale half moon. Her wedding portrait hung in the foyer, and she was unrecognizable: light as Emme, narrow waist defined by the delicate ‘V’ of an ivory bodice. Emme used to always tell Linda how lucky she was, to have such a beautiful mother —Linda’s mother’s face a sharply drawn heart, her hair blown out once a week at the salon, white capri pants perfectly ironed. But what use, when they barely spoke, when Linda was sitting alone in this large, cavernous home while Emme was eating dinner at a busy wooden table, her little brother pulling at her blond ponytail.
“How about a tour?” Kiel said upon returning. The show had ended and the sun was setting in the distance, the room a pale blue.
“Um, sure,” she said. She clicked off the television set as he cracked his knuckles, a dull kk-kk-kk. Perhaps she could simply walk him through the first floor and then sweep him gently out the front door, like a dinner party guest who had lingered too long; she had seen her mother do it countless times, the fingertips on the elbow, the lowered voice, almost as if they were lovers, almost as if they shared a secret.
The rooms were softly lit; Linda did not like a darkened house so she never turned off the lights. They walked through the front sitting room, all creams and cat-fur grays; past the shock of orange tulips in a vase on the dining room table, half the petals fallen to the glossed wood, revealing their black pollen hearts; her father’s study, almost Nordic in its minimalism, though there were battered paperbacks on the shelves, a football loose at the seams, items that her mother did not want on display. Linda’s limbs started to feel leaden, her house seeming to grow in size, as if carpenters were silently propping up new walls.
Kiel peered into the rooms as if they were in a museum, a heavy velvet rope hanging limply in front of doorframes, though when she gestured to her half-open bedroom door, he walked right in as if it was his own. Linda saw herself grabbing the neck of his t-shirt and pulling him back out into the hallway, but instead she fell in step behind him, clicking on her white ceramic desk light. She had already lost Emme; she could not afford to have this boy tell everyone at school how violent and cold she was.