My Wings Are All A-Quiver
Tom Sloane drove to his school in his rusted-out car. He drove faster than normal because he was going to be late to his first class. All night was spent tossing and turning in bed, wondering about his future and those who would be in it. The evening before, he took his girlfriend Jane out to dinner at Chez Pierre. She was beautiful in a vintage dress that complimented her bright blue eyes. He dressed up, too, but his clothes hid the uneasiness that had been building inside. The silences between them were awkward, not comfortable, and when Jane did speak it was always about her best friend Daria. Tom pulled into the parking lot at Fielding and sat there with the engine idling, not wanting to get out just yet.
He took a quick glance at the clock set in the dashboard and saw that he had five minutes until class. Finally he turned off the engine and got his books. He pushed the door open and looked up to see a girl walking by. She was petite and had long almost honey blonde hair that came to below her shoulders. Her skin was luminous and tan at the same time. He stood there looking at her for a few seconds and she finally turned her head to look at him. Her big dark eyes met his and she smiled. He was sure he hadn't seen her around campus before. He finally got the presence of mind to get out of his car but forgot to close the door. The girl was walking way ahead of him but he decided not to let her get too far away.
Tom hurried behind but approached slowly. He wanted to maintain a detached, nonchalant air. It always seemed to work before. He walked alongside the girl and said, "Hi, I'm Tom. I don't think I've seen you around Fielding."
She turned her head and said, "No, I just got here. My name's Natalie, by the way." Her accent was different. It sounded British. Upper class posh, maybe, he thought.
"Oh, where are my manners?" He stopped and held out his hand for a shake. She took it and gave it a firm grip but then pulled him in and gave him two air kisses on the cheeks. He stood there, surprised.
"Sorry. That's how we say hello in my country. I've been told that Americans don't do that often. It's a shame. I think that's how you should greet friends and other people you really like."
Tom stood there a second before saying, "Yeah, it's a shame. You're an exchange student?"
"Really? You sound like you're from Europe. Not somewhere so exotic and... interesting." He noticed a gleam in her eye when he said that. "So, are you going to the office to register?"
"Yes. I just need to find where..."
"I could show you if you'd like."
She looked around and saw students rushing off to class. She said, "I don't want to bother you. You might be late for your lessons."
"It's alright. Anything to help a fellow student." He grinned at her.
"Okay. But you might want to..." She pointed at his car with its door still open. He had a look of embarrassment on his face. She said, "I'll wait right here" and chuckled as he went back to his car.
That afternoon, Tom was in a secondhand store on Dega Street with Jane and Daria. They went in as a group but soon separated and went off in different directions. Daria went to the back where there were bookshelves filled with old Penguin paperbacks and yellowed sci-fi novels. Jane went to another corner where there were things like old box cameras, stethoscopes, old rotary phones and cut crystal ashtrays. He stood in the front of the store at a table full of LPs. He flipped through them, seeing lots of stuff from the fifties and sixties, some of it in mono. He glanced at the covers but nothing really registered. His thoughts were all about the girl he had met that morning. The way she had smiled at him. Her voice. The way her lips had almost touched his cheeks. Her name. He imagined rolling it around in his mouth, feeling how his tongue would move through those three syllables.
He remembered how soft her hand was when he shook it and wondered what it would be like to hold it, as they walked along...
"Hey! Earth to Tom!" He turned his head and saw Jane standing there, a Shriner's fez on her head.
"Huh? Oh... Hey." He tried to snap out of his daze.
"So, do you think I should get this for Trent or not?"
"Oh, yeah. He'd love it."
Jane gave him an odd look and said, "I'm gonna show Daria." She walked off to the back of the store. He looked at the two of them and wondered how he got there. He remembered the night when he met Jane at the Zon and how quickly she had gone off with him for a burger. She seemed different then. And he had no idea she had such a close friend who would always tag along with them. But that was after she was so hostile towards him, coming up to him and Jane at the Pizza King, starting a shouting match. Insulting him within earshot of Jane. He wondered what Daria's problem was with him, but after a while they became acquaintances. They weren't really friends, he thought, because the only thing they really had in common was Jane. But he knew that if he talked to her more, he might get to like Daria more. Jane and Daria came back to the front of the store, only now Jane had the fez in her hand instead of on her head. Daria had a small stack of paperbacks in her hands. On the top was a copy of a book titled The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Tom went pale a little when he saw that. Jane looked at him and said, "So, did you find anything?"
"Nah. Nothing really grabbed me."
"Oh-kay. Me and Daria are gonna go pay for our stuff. Why don't we get something to eat next?"
"That sounds good. I'll wait here." He watched them go off towards the cash register. He had agreed to get some food but he didn't feel the least bit hungry. The afternoon felt like it was dragging on and he wondered how much longer he would have to spend with Jane before he could head home.
Tom walked through the library the next day looking for a book on John Maynard Keynes for a project in Economics class. He looked up its call number in the computerized card catalog and wrote it down, but when he got to the shelf he found it was missing. He asked the librarian if it had been checked out and she said no. That meant the book was still in the library somewhere. He looked at the students sitting at the long tables and went up to them, looking at the texts in front of them. At the end of one table he saw Natalie. She was too engrossed by the book in front of her to notice him. He went closer to her and saw that she was reading the book he was looking for.
He pulled out a chair opposite her and sat down. He dropped his books on the table and she did not notice. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me, I think you have my book."
She looked up and saw him. She smiled and said, "I didn't think anyone else was going to do a paper on Keynes. He really is fascinating."
Tom chuckled at the last word she said. "I don't know if I would call him fascinating, per se, but his economic theories did help us get out of the Great Depression. I guess I could call him interesting..."
"Well, maybe I just see things differently. I'm just interested in economics and what you can do with it."
"Really?" Tom was astonished. Most of the girls at Fielding were smarter than average, of course, but he didn't think that such an attractive girl would want to learn more about such a dry subject. "I didn't think you were one for the <i>dismal science</i>.”
"Ugh. I hate that term. It's an insult to what is really one of the most important academic disciplines."
Tom worried that he offended her. "Sorry. It's kind of a joke, I guess." He had to come up with a way to make her forget about his misstep. "You know what, why don't we write the paper together? I could learn a bit about economics and Keynes from you and I'll help write the final draft." She looked unsure. "And we could have pizza."
"Okay. So, where and when do you want to get together?"
"How about tonight? The sooner we start the better the end product will be."
He paused a second. "Well, my parents are giving a party tonight, so how about your place? I'll bring the pizza with me so we can eat and work."
The girl looked at him with smiling eyes and said, "Alright. I want to try some American pizza." She tore a slip of paper from a sheet and wrote down her address. "How about seven o'clock?"
"I'll be there. And remember..."
"What?" She took in a breath in anticipation.
"To check out that book. I think we'll need it." He got up from the table and grinned at her. As he walked out of the library he turned his head to look at her one more time. To his surprise she was not back to her reading but was following him with her eyes. He pushed the door open and wondered what excuse he would have to give Jane to break their date.
At five minutes to seven Tom parked his car on the curb in front of the address Natalie had given him. His books and a large supreme pizza were on the passenger seat next to him. He carefully got both out of his car and looked at the house in front of him. It was a nice enough place, needing a little paint in places and the lawn needed to be mowed, but otherwise neat in appearance. With his backpack on one shoulder and the pizza balanced in one hand, he rang the doorbell. A few seconds later an attractive woman with glasses opened the door. "Hi. You must be Tom. Come in. Come in."
He stepped inside and saw a nicely furnished living room. The furniture was a bit worn but looked comfortable. He tried to get his bearings and saw a desk in the corner. There were papers pushed all over it as though he had just interrupted a creative frenzy. "Nice place you have here, uh..."
"Oh. My name's Kara. Natalie told me all about your little study date." She had a bit of a sheepish grin. "You can put the pizza on the table in the kitchen." She pointed to the small galley kitchen in the back.
Tom placed the pizza on the table and put his backpack down with it. He went back to the living room and saw Kara sitting at the desk and writing out something longhand. She shuffled the pile of papers and started to cross things out. "Um, can I ask what you're writing there?"
She looked back. "Oh, I'm just working on a spec script for Seinfeld.”
"Didn't they already cancel Seinfeld?”
"Oh dear..." She started to blush a little.
"I'm sure you could just change the names and use it for another show." Tom wished he hadn't have said anything.
"I guess you're right." She cleared her throat and said, "Nat's in her room. It's down the hall and to the left."
"Thanks." He got away from the awkwardness as quickly as he could and walked down the hall. Her door was closed. He got closer and got ready to knock when he heard the faint sound of crying. He listened for a second and "Hello? Natalie? Are you okay?"
The door opened and Natalie stood there, her eyes red. "Oh. Hi, Tom. Come in." She got a tissue and dried her nose.
"I heard you from outside and I was just wondering..."
"Oh, I guess I'm just.. what's the word in English?"
"Yeah. It hits me sometimes, mostly when I'm alone. I'm sorry." She sat on her bed with her shoulders slumped down.
"Why are you sorry? I think it's understandable to feel bad when it's only been a few days since you were home. You know what?"
She looked up at him and said, "What?"
"I think you're courageous." He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "There are times when I wanted to get away from home and just get out into the world, but I never really had the guts to do it. I admire you for being able to do that. And if sometimes you get sad, well, it just shows you're human, I guess."
She looked him in his green eyes and said, "You're so nice. You hardly know me and you try so hard to make me feel better."
"I can tell you're a good person. I just hope I can get to know you better." His heart started to race. Being so close to her and smelling her perfume and her hair, feeling her warmth, was intoxicating.
"I would like that." She got closer to him and gave him a brief kiss on the lips.
He closed his eyes and felt his heart beat even faster. When the two of them parted he opened his eyes again and saw her in front of him, her eyes still closed, a faint smile on the lips that had made him so happy. He saw her open her eyes slowly and her smile got bigger. He said, "I guess you're feeling better now."
"You could say that." Her smile turned into a smirk.
"As much as I'd like to stay here, I think we should go to the kitchen. Or Kara might come looking for us."
"I guess you're right. Maybe we could do that again." She pouted demurely after she said that.
"We will. I'm sure of that." He got up from the bed and held his hand out to hers. She took his hand and he helped her up. "We definitely will."
The next afternoon Tom was at home studying for his Calculus midterm. It was the last place he wanted to be, but he told himself he shouldn't move too fast with Natalie, at least not until he figured some things out. He was in his bedroom with his math book opened on his bed when he heard the doorbell ring.
He went downstairs and opened the door and found Jane standing there. He said hi and told her to come in.
"I was wondering where you've been the past couple of days, Tom. I thought maybe something happened to you and nobody bothered to tell me."
"Just busy with school, you know. Midterms." He paused for a long time and said, "And what about you? Where have you been?"
"At home... painting, money laundering, plotting the overthrow of the Li regime. Where did you think I was?" She glared at him as though his next answer would be admitted as evidence in a court of law.
"Oh, I just thought you might have been out with Daria, doing the kinds of things you did before you met me."
"You mean before you met me. And no, I wasn't with Daria. I know you think we're joined at the hip, but she does have her own life." Jane's tone of voice changed a little in response to Tom bringing up Daria.
Tom walked into the kitchen. It was enormous, with large commercial grade appliances and granite countertops. The floor even had radiant heat under the tiles. He reached into a shelf and got out a glass. He filled it from the dispenser in the door of the fridge and took a drink. "Do you want anything, Jane? Something to drink? A sandwich?"
Jane looked at him askance but said, "I am a little hungry. I could go for a turkey sandwich."
"You know where everything is. Knock yourself out." Tom wondered why he chose that particular phrase and why Jane was acting so strange.
She took out all of the fixings for her sandwich and started combining them. "Tom, is everything alright?" She loudly ripped a couple of leaves of lettuce right after saying this.
"Yeah, everything's fine."
"You just seem different. Quieter." She got out a sharp knife and used it to scoop out some mayonnaise. The jar was almost empty and she loudly scraped the sides for the last ounce.
"I told you, it's just school."
She delicately placed a few slices of turkey on a slice of bread. "And you've been different around Daria, too. You two don't seem to argue as much as you did before."
"Well, I think she's finally accepted me. And I'm glad, because she's your friend and I want her to like me."
Jane finished piling the fillings on the sandwich and placed a slice of bread on top. "Really?" She got the knife and held it above the sandwich on a diagonal. She put her weight on the knife and forced it down loudly. "I was worried about you two getting along."
It was finally Friday. Jane had told Tom that she and Daria were having one of their Bad Movie nights. There would be plenty of popcorn and soda and Daria would sleep over they way she used to. She said it was a chance for the two of them to spend time together without Tom around, and he pretended to be offended. Once he heard of Jane's plans he got out Natalie's phone number and called her. They made a date for that night, and he called Chez Pierre to see if he could make a last-minute reservation.
He picked her up at seven and gave Natalie an impromptu tour of Lawndale. They went past the Big Strawberry and through High Hills Park on the way to the restaurant and she commented on how different things were in America, where you would drive your kids somewhere to play outside. They stopped at the park and he took out a little box wrapped with a tiny bow. He handed it to her and told her to open it.
She opened it and found a gold feather on a chain. "For me?"
"Yeah. I saw it and it made me think of you." He had a smile on his face as he told her.
"I don't get it. Why a feather?"
"When I'm around you I feel like a bird soaring in the sky. I've never felt like that around anyone else. But when I'm not with you, it's like my wings are all a-quiver and I lose a feather or two. That feather shows you that I'm always thinking of you."
She leaned over and gave him a kiss. "Help me put it on." She turned her back to him and he put the chain around her neck and closed the tiny clasp. When he was finished he kept his hand on her back for a second before letting her go.
They got to Chez Pierre and Tom slipped the valet a twenty to make sure his car wouldn't get towed away by mistake. They went inside and the maitre d' showed them to a table right away. The hundred dollar bill Tom had slipped him made him much more agreeable than usual. The waiter pulled out the chair for Natalie, and Tom noticed her appreciation. He sat down and looked at her, thinking how beautiful she looked. She seemed to fit in better than Jane ever did. She didn't have the same awkwardness that Jane had at having people wait on her. She seemed comfortable around cloth napkins and real china. All Jane seemed to eat off of were paper plates. The waiter came by with menus and left them alone.
"This restaurant mostly serves French cuisine, but they do have a few Italian dishes. I never thought to ask why, though."
"I have to warn you. We have very good Italian food in Argentina. I'll be hard to impress." She looked Tom in the eye and smiled.
"Well, I guess I'll have to do my best." He looked at the menu and decided to have the quail. "Just save room for dessert. They make a good tiramisu."
"I know what I want for dessert..."
Tom smiled at her but noticed something familiar behind Natalie. There was someone, a girl, with bright orange hair walking in with some boy. It took him a second to place who it was, but he realized it was Daria's sister. Oh crap, he thought. I hope she doesn't recognize me. He tried to hide behind the menu but he didn't know if she saw him. In his excitement to take Natalie out he had forgotten that Quinn came here all the time. Daria and Jane had both mentioned it, but it had completely slipped his mind. He decided that whatever would happen was out of his control now, and that he should just enjoy the evening.
The next morning he got up late. He had gone to Lovers' Lane with Natalie after dinner and they had spent the rest of the evening catching up where they left off in her bedroom. It was all very chaste, of course. Kissing was enough for the both of them, for now. He got up, showered, and changed into something decent. After a cup of coffee, he realized that he had the answer he had been seeking for a while. He just wondered how bad the fallout would be.
He didn't have to wait long to find out. At noon, the doorbell rang. He got up to get the door as everyone else was out, and he opened it to find Jane there.
"You... You son of a bitch!" She flailed at him with her fists, hitting him on the chest and shoulders but doing little harm.
"I'm sorry! I was going to tell you!" He tried to block her but she kept on hitting.
"I knew it! I knew you were seeing someone else, you bastard, only I thought it was Daria! At least she wouldn't betray me like that!" Her eyes were wild with anger, and her voice sounded like she could either scream or cry.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you! Please, stop hitting!" He felt sick, and it wasn't helping that Jane was trying to beat the tar out of him.
She slowed down, exhausted from the flurry of fists she had landed on him. She breathed heavily and let her arms drop down. "You lying, cheating, sack of..."
"Okay, I deserve that. I should have just talked to you about the problems we were having..."
"Problems? What problems? You pretended everything was fine. I even asked you about it and you gave me a lame excuse. I think you're the one with the problem."
"Come on, Jane. Admit it. We were getting bored. We were great at the beginning when it was fun, but I don't think it could have lasted. We're too different."
Jane finally caught her breath. She shot daggers out of her eyes at him, but then she nodded her head. "I guess you're right. I haven't felt the same way about you as I did when we first met. But I didn't think you would go ahead and cheat on me."
"I didn't plan on doing that. I just happened to meet someone at the same time as our relationship was falling apart. It's not your fault, it's just bad timing." He hung his head low but then raised it and looked her in the eyes. "It's not you. You're beautiful, funny, and incredibly sweet. But we didn't work out. It happens all the time. I just wish we had figured it out before I met..."
"Don't say her name. I don't care who it is, but I don't want to know. It's bad enough that I had to hear this from Quinn, but if it's somebody I go to school with, I'll..."
"She goes to Fielding. I'll make sure she stays away from you."
"You better. Because if I do see her, I might do something we'll all regret." Her eyes were tired, but she still had her teeth clenched. She looked towards the front door but then turned to face him. "Oh, and Tom?"
She gave him a swift kick between the legs. "I'm glad I never slept with your cheating ass." He fell to the floor and grabbed his crotch. Jane walked out and left the door open. Tom saw Trent and Daria standing outside by The Tank. They both had angry looks on their faces and watched him in his agony. They all piled into The Tank and drove off, but Jane kept her gaze towards Tom as they left.
Tom sat in a chair in his bedroom with a bag of frozen peas on his groin. The throbbing had finally stopped, but he was sure there would be some swelling for a couple of days at least. He asked himself whether it was all worth it, and looking back on everything, he told himself yes. Things could have gone a lot better, but he thought it was unfair to be with Jane if his heart was no longer into it. He sat back and closed his eyes and thought about Natalie. He promised himself he wouldn't make the same mistakes he made with Jane. But in his mind things were already different. They shared something that he hadn't quite figured out yet. There was a connection between them that wasn't there between himself and Jane. He just wanted the opportunity to know Natalie better and the rest would take care of itself.
The phone rang. It was on the floor near his chair, and he groaned as he leaned over to pick it up. "Hello?"
"I was just thinking about you." It was Natalie. Her voice was soothing and he felt the pain go away.
"Really? I was just thinking about you too."
December 24, 2010