We were summer’s lost souls at the picnic table, sipping beer, smoking joints while someone fired up the bar-be-que. I was the quiet girl. You were the one who made people laugh. We met over cards, Hearts, Oh Hell, and Crazy-Eights with variations.
You taught me One-Hand Solitaire. You taught me other things, too, about hands. Your hands, my hands, both of us on a narrow bed in the Sigma Chi house. Not your fraternity—it would never have occurred to you to go Greek—but summer rent was cheap for those of us who had to take classes at the U for one reason or another. You lived upstairs, I lived down. You were one of the rag-tags who stayed because you didn’t want to go home for the summer. I stayed because I flunked chemistry. My fault. It was an eight o’clock class and I liked to sleep in. This time I signed up for a one o’clock, but still failed because of your hands.
You had some kind of appointment at home. Home was near the beach. Did I want to soak up some rays? Stay the night or come back? Up to me.
You owned a little sports car, a two-seater MG, low to the ground. You drove fast, top down. The drone of the car, the whip of hair against my face, the high from the joint we smoked before we left, all gave me a sense of daring. Closing my eyes, I threw back my head and sang off-key, “Born to be w-i-i-i-ld.” You laughed, and I grabbed your shoulder and shook it. You turned back to the road while I drowsed, me thinking about hot sun, salt air, your hands.
On a hill leading down to the ocean, your house was a one-story with a picket fence around the paved yard, cacti, lawn chairs, a deck of cards waiting on a picnic table. You squeezed the car into the tiniest of spaces, bumping bumpers front and back. We grinned at each other, breathing in ocean at the same time, then you kissed me.
We walked up to the door holding hands, your mother peeking through the slider, then stepping out, closing it behind her. Her lips thinned as she looked from you to me and back at you.
“Mom,” you said and introduced me. She asked me to wait. I watched you disappear inside, then turned toward the water at the end of the street. It was a flat dull gray. I looked back at the house, at the MG, down at my jeans and T-shirt and wiped a drip of sweat from my forehead. I swallowed hard, wishing I was sitting on the picnic bench at the frat house, playing Oh Hell with the gang, smelling burgers on the grill. I fingered the deck of cards, picked them up, gave them a shuffle.
The door slid open and you came out, no sign of your mother. “We have to go.”
“Just go.” You took my elbow and pulled me toward the car. Held the door while I climbed in. I was rigid, unable to talk as you drove away, waiting for you to explain.
Once we were on the freeway, I asked, “What happened back there? Didn’t she know we were coming?”
You didn’t answer until you got into the fast lane, going 70, the little car shaking. You said, “My old girl-friend was there.”
“I thought you broke up.”
You kept your eyes on the road. “We were. We are. It’s just my mom knew I was coming and she wants us to get back together—”
“You didn’t tell her you were bringing me?”
“I didn’t know she’d call Cathy.” Then you stopped talking, focusing on the road, hands clutching on the wheel.
You took me for a girl of adventure, a free-spirit in a world of free spirits, but I wasn’t, not really. I curled away from you, faced the open window, the breath-snatching wind.
I was still holding your mother’s pack of cards. They looked faded and worn. Absently, I moved four cards from the back to the front, fanned them out on top of the deck in my hand. The rule in One-Hand Solitaire was that if the first and fourth cards were the same suit, I could remove the two in the middle and set them aside. If not, all four cards had to be returned to the pack, the object being to end up holding no cards. I studied two spades flanking two hearts, turned to look at the grim set of your mouth, then stretched out my arm and sent the whole deck tumbling along the highway.