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Sunday Serial: Virgin Territory, Chapter 7

June 6, 2010

Chapter 7

Gary threw open the door and motioned for Andrea to enter her new home. She sat down on the edge of the couch and put her hands on her knees. “So what do we do now?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m bushed. You can take the master bedroom and I’ll sleep in my old room.”

“Actually, I’d rather sleep in your old room, if you don’t mind. Having that big bed all to myself is kind of lonely.”

“If that’s what you want.”

She followed him back to his old bedroom and pointed to the desk and filing cabinets between the bookshelves. “Do you do a lot of work in here?”

“Only during tax season.”

“You do taxes?”

“It’s kind of a part-time thing to make a little extra money. It’s not a real job.”

She swept back his Transformers comforter to sit on the matching sheets. He should have offered to find different ones for her, or at least to wash those since he hadn’t slept on the bed in seven years. Too late now. “So what do you want to do when you grow up?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I’m not thinking that far ahead.”

“Me neither.” She looked down at her feet. “I should have bought a nightgown earlier.”

“We can get one tomorrow. We’ll have to buy you some other clothes too. A whole new wardrobe.”

“Sounds like fun.” She picked up the bag from Kmart on the floor and took out the T-shirt and sweatpants she’d worn to Roscommon. “I guess it won’t hurt to wear these again.”

“I’ll let you get dressed. I’ll be right down the hall if you need anything.”

“Thanks. Goodnight, Gary.”

“Goodnight.” He closed the door and went down the hall to the master bedroom. The bedspread and sheets were still thrown aside from when Andrea had gotten out of bed last night. He lay down and listened for any sounds from his old bedroom, but heard only the wind rustling through the maple tree outside.

As he tried to sleep, he thought about what to do tomorrow. If Andrea were going to stay here for an extended period of time, they would need provisions. She didn’t seem to eat a lot, but he should buy something other than TV dinners and cans of soup. He should also buy new sheets for the twin-sized bed. Then, of course there were the clothes and shoes she would need. He added up the bills in his mind and winced.

His careful budgeting throughout the year was designed to support only one person. With a second person, even for a little while, his plan fell apart. He didn’t want to call his parents to ask for money; he didn’t want to explain why he’d suddenly run out of cash. No, he would just have to cut corners and if worse came to worst he could buy some things on credit.

The next morning, he took her into town to the Lost & Found thrift store. Mrs. Mackey got off her stool behind the counter to welcome them. “Gary, it’s a little early for your winter shopping. And this must be Andrea. Mayor Colbert told me all about you last night. It’s such a sad story.” Mrs. Mackey clapped her hands together and then put an arm around Andrea, who looked to Gary with a pleading expression. “Whatever you want, it’s yours, sweetheart.”

“I couldn’t—”

“Of course you can. We can’t have you running around town naked, can we? Oh, I just got the prettiest dress I think will fit you! Let’s go try it on.” As Mrs. Mackey waddled off with Andrea in tow, Andrea looked back to mouth, “Help me.” Gary promised himself he would to make it up to her later.

When Andrea finally broke away from Mrs. Mackey, she had three bags loaded with clothes. “Wait, I think there’s a blouse in the back room that would look darling on you!”

“Let’s go,” Andrea said into Gary’s ear after Mrs. Mackey went into the back room. She stopped him at the corner and asked, “Gary, how old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know. Eighteen. Twenty, maybe.”

“What if I’m thirty-five and I have a really young face?”

“I suppose that’s possible. How old do you think you are?”

She looked into the front window of Hentigan’s Pharmacy and brushed the errant sweep of hair from her face. She squinted into the glass and then said, “I’m not a little kid.” She reached into one of the bags and held up a frilly pink dress.

“I know. She was only trying to help. So how old do you want to be?”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.”

“I’ll be twenty-six then too.”

“Twenty-six it is.” He took her arm and they crossed the street to where the Shadow was parked in front of the Lakeside Eatery. “So did you find any clothes you want to keep?”

“Some.”

“OK, when we get home dump everything you don’t want into a bag and we’ll drop it off at the Salvation Army later.” Back home, he waited in the living room while she went through the bags. He leaned back on the couch and then saw his father’s Polaroid camera on a shelf over the television.

He took the camera down and checked to make sure it still had film. The police and most of the town—through Mayor Colbert—knew about Andrea, but they should notify the newspapers too. Maybe he could even create some flyers to distribute.

He knocked on the door to Andrea’s room and asked, “Are you decent? Can I come in?”

“Go ahead,” she said. He opened the door and saw clothes lying all over the room as if the bags had exploded. He plucked a bra from off his rack of tax code guides. “Sorry about the mess. Do you have any other mirrors around here except in the bathroom? I want to see how this looks.”

She was wearing a blue T-shirt with long red sleeves and a pair of bellbottom jeans. The clothes gave her a tomboy look, but she was still beautiful. “What do you think?” she asked.

“You look great.”

“Thanks. What’s in your hand?”

“It’s a camera. I thought we could take a couple pictures for a flyer or something. You know, to hang up around town or whatever.”

“Kind of like a wanted poster?”

“You could say that.” He held up the camera and took a few steps towards her to zoom in on her face. Before he could reach for the trigger, she stopped him.

“Do you think it would be inappropriate to smile?”

“No, I think you can smile.” His hands began to shake when she smiled; she looked more beautiful than ever. He steadied himself and took the picture. The undeveloped photograph came out the end and he held it between them while the details came into focus.

“Oh look, I closed my eyes. We’ll have to try again.” The next picture came out perfectly to Gary, but she wanted another take. This time she puckered her lips and blew a kiss at the camera as he hit the trigger. She laughed at the developed image. “I look like a fish.”

“I think you look fine.”

“One more.” They wound up using the rest of the film. After the last picture, Gary took all the images over to his desk to spread them out. In the photos Andrea smiled, laughed, pouted, and stared. Gary preferred the image of Andrea looking away from the camera, staring at a distant point with dreamy concentration. She pointed to the same picture. “Let’s use this one. I wouldn’t want people to think having amnesia is fun. Then they might not help me.”

He picked up the picture and tucked it into his pocket. “I’ll take this over to the printer and have something made up. Will you be all right here until I get back?”

“Sure, I want to try on the rest of these clothes.” He hesitated at the door on his way out. This was the first time he would leave her alone, with no one to look after her. But she was a twenty-six-year-old woman now, not a little girl who needed a babysitter.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said and then left. Of course Mr. McKenzie at the print shop already knew about Andrea. By now Gary suspected everyone in town did.

“She is a pretty one,” Mr. McKenzie said after Gary gave the picture to him. “She walked right up to your house?”

“Yes.”

“Lucky boy. When I was your age, I would have given my left nut to find a girl like this.” Mr. McKenzie laughed, exposing a mouth devoid of teeth.

“I suppose.”

“You two aren’t getting into any trouble yet, are you?”

“No, we’re fine.” He knew what Mr. McKenzie meant, but didn’t want to elaborate on why they couldn’t get into trouble, ever. Some things the whole town didn’t need to know about.

When he got home, Gary found Andrea in the kitchen, wearing his mother’s apron over a strapless, thigh-length lavender dress as she tried to wipe pasta sauce and water from the top of the stove. “You’re home!” she said. When she turned around, he saw pasta sauce all over the apron and even a glob in her hair. “I wanted to do something for you after everything you’ve done. I guess I don’t know how to cook.”

“It’s all right. Neither do I.” He helped her clean up the mess and salvage what they could of the spaghetti and sauce. When they finished, he held her still so he could wipe the pasta sauce out of her hair. As he stood so close to her, with his lips only inches from hers, he was tempted to kiss her. Her lips were already puckered in anticipation, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t get too attached.

Instead, he wiped the sauce away and took down two plates from the cupboard. “I’m sorry to make such a mess,” she said.

“It’s not your fault. You were just trying to help.”

He scooped the spaghetti onto the plates and poured an equal amount of sauce over each mound of pasta. “You might want to keep that apron on so you don’t stain your new dress.”

“Maybe. Do you like this dress? You don’t think it’s too short, do you?”

“I don’t think you’ll want to wear it around in winter or else you’ll freeze, but it’s nice.” She looked disappointed as she turned around to take the forks from the drawer. “I’m sorry. It is a really nice dress. I’m not making fun of it.”

“I know you’re not,” she said in a quiet voice.

“You know what, since it’s still pretty warm out, let’s have dinner outside.” He took the two plates onto the patio and set them down on the rusty table. Then he dragged over a second chair propped up against the corner of the patio railing.

While they ate in silence, the sun began to go down over Dagger Lake. The dark water sparkled with orange and yellow light. The clouds rolling through the sky turned shades of pink and purple. Everything around them seemed so alive with color. The sight never ceased to amaze Gary. He looked over at Andrea and saw she was crying.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“No, it’s not you. This is so beautiful. How do you suppose I could forget something like this?” She got up from her chair and went over to the railing. After a moment’s hesitation, he stood next to her, pressing his body against hers. As he held her, he sensed he was already in trouble.

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