She put on her pretty striped black and white blouse, with the deconstructed collar and lace, with blue jeans---all lovely gifts from Misty, who said she had more clothes than she could ever need. Gina had worn this, partying with the crowd from work, her brother’s friends: Tim, Misty, Rory, so many others. Something in the drinking and casualness had seemed…empty. The people she met---the boys she met---while doing this---so forgettable, save for what she gave of herself. Something she seemed to never have gotten back. That’s life. Silence was fine…nothing more could she think to say. Silence is not always emptiness. Emptiness can be the right beginning. If only there were no sense of loss. If only the days ahead felt some purpose, besides living, simply not to disappoint those who would miss her.
Bowling ---with Hannah, Dixie, Denise---was a simple social activity, time she could share. She doffed her tan slippers with the thoughtful leather bows for red and blue bowling shoes, and with a faint smile and ethereal presence, joined the merriment of the boisterous girls. Dixie bowled a turkey in the first round; Gina herself had a respectable 130. Hannah laughed at her 56. The ball seemed to have a mind of its own that wanted nothing to do with bowling. She told them about her crush at school, a skinny guy with a quirky sense of humor named Shannon.
Dixie had her own heartache, and a strange afternoon on Lavender Mountain that had set the tone for her and her sister every since. But it was her nature to laugh and gossip and make nothing of it all. Gina, her “shadow,” simply tried to follow the lead. She sipped from her strawberry daiquiri and listened to Denise assume different implausible bowling poses while her sisters howled with laughter, before Denise settled on a granny squat stance.
Still, whatever troubled her sister---they never discussed particulars of the men that had passed through Gina’s life that fall-- Gina was aware of the woman who had taken Dixie’s kindness and tenderness and gobbled them up for her own.
Dixie had cried on her shoulder, though, and soldiered on. She had even developed an attachment for another woman they’d worked with at their old job. It was too bad she’d moved away. Only recently had Dixie come out with her secret. It was not the easiest thing for a Baptist minister’s daughter, but she had a strong individualist’s streak.
They shared another secret, too, which had continued Gina’s loss of self, after all her security in how she saw the world had been ripped away that day on the mountain. In this secret, though they never discussed it, she felt she had betrayed who she had always been. But the details of these things were an ocean away tonight. Dixie enjoyed the buzz from her drink, as Denise settled in determinedly to catch her score in round two.
“A split,” she groaned. “It’s like, the more seriously I try to take it, the worse it goes!”
“I bowl like Daffy Duck, myself,” Hannah said, smiling.
One thing did seem to come to Gina’s mind, besides faking her way through a good time: Denise’s brother, who had become her constant daydream companion since giving her her only flower two days before. At least this time, she already knew the cause was hopeless, and when he left any day now, at least, he will only have made her laugh, made her smile…and didn’t break her heart. Truth was, when he had kicked in that door, he had stormed the steps of her very imagination, with his need to impress her with that just-right moment in passing.
As if she read her sister’s mind, Dixie put down her drink and hopped up to grab Gina by the shoulders, smile, and give her a little shake.
“Lewis-Lewis-Lewis!” she said. It was like a spell and a jest in one.
It had the desired effect, though; Gina’s gloom dissipated. She actually got a strike on the next frame.
The next afternoon found Lewis making a song on his acoustic Laredo guitar. He had few things to pack. Leaving the next week would be simple enough. He meant to take off, already: he had paid his share of January’s bills, and now a new month was coming. For what was he waiting?
He found himself in the mood to make something light…creative…off the cuff. He found a sequence of chords he liked and sang.
“My little rider’s/ coasting on his ship to Venus,” he started, drifting amidst the chord changes for a minute. He continued on about eating moon cheese. For some Freudian reason, he thought of Gina Archer. It made him smile the way she did. He would like nothing more than to brighten days at random, without asking anything in return. No attachments. No expectations. He pictured Michael Landon, as the angel on the old TV show. “Some angel,” he ‘hmmphed’ to himself. His ditty made him wonder, for a second, about Gina, unclothed.
Denise folded some cargo shorts in the living room when he came out for a glass of iced tea. They talked casually, and he joined her in matching some socks.
“Our friend Gina really seems to cheer up whenever you come around to visit,” confided Denise. “She’s got a short evening shift at Stefan’s if you feel like dropping in. I know you’re leaving soon, but she does kinda like you. Martin’s biking over there to work at four, if you want to run him a jacket.”
“I’m sold,” he said, taking up the burgundy wind breaker. “I guess I can stop by for a bit.”
Denise answered the phone. “Looks like they need me to come in, actually. At least I don’t have to close. By the time Martin’s done I’ll be ready to leave.”
Later, after sitting out the window listening to Highway 61, Lewis strolled down Juniper Street with his harmonica, keeping a lilting melody in the key of G on his Ace Flyer. He talked to a couple of teenagers---he wasn’t really sure of their names. They seemed to recognize him, though, and knew about his impending trip West. They thought the idea of going somewhere different sounded very cool. “And you don’t know anyone?” one asked.
“I’ll just make whatever friends I can along the way,” Lewis replied. “I just want to open my eyes to everything as I go. There’s a lot of indie music coming out of Boulder, and it’s a college town. I would be happy just to find some landscaping or something to do, and play my guitar at night.”
“Man, good luck!” said one of the lads, extending a hand to shake. “I wish I could do something like that!”
“Yah, if you come back one day,” said his friend, “you’ll have to tell us how it goes.”
“My grandpa lives around here,” Lewis remarked. “If I do come back, we’ll see each other then. Y’all take it easy.”
From his neighborhood, Lewis walked winding Riverside Drive up to Stefan’s as night fell.
Gina noticed him when he came in, Carribean blue eyes glinting with warmth. She was already off, sweeping up the cocktail section, while waiting on Dixie to close the kitchen. Thursdays were rarely busy this late, this time of year. She figured he was there to hang out with his sis and roomie.
“Hey,” he offered warmly, as he spun an oak stool around to straddle.
“Hey Lewis,” she replied, smiling lightly. “Door fix okay?”
“Heh, yeah, I just had to screw the plate back in on the lock. Nothing too broken, after all.”
“I’m glad.” She looked down demurely. “Thanks for the carnation.” She looked up from sweeping. “That was real sweet.”
“Oh. Sure!” He saw how frail her rail-like frame was. What a tiny lady.
“Get you something?” she offered.
“Looks like you’re off, already,” he reasoned politely. “You needn’t trouble yourself.”
He relents. “Okay, recommendations?”
“Well, if you’re old enough to drink, after all,” she smiled, “Maybe you’d like to have a honey brown lager?”
“I can show you my i.d. if you promise not to tell anyone trailing me that you saw me.”
“I’ll take your word this time. Any food?”
“Did you plan to have anything, yourself?”
“Oh, I’m not hungry.” It was true. She was very rarely hungry.
“Nothing for me, thanks.” He figured he should save what little money he had for his trip.
“What do you like to eat?” she asked, as she punched in his beer.
“I used to be addicted to the Monte Crisco here. A pregnant server, Cara, when I worked here in high school, turned me on to them. I like a good garden burger. Seasoned soy with refried beans makes a yummy low-fat burrito, but refried beans, cheese, and corn chips is delicious, too. I’ve had to rely on starches and a sandwich a lot lately, but I still enjoy a tasty salad with low-fat ranch and bits of cheese, maybe carrots, every couple of days. I do miss having a little weed, though. Just a little is good for initiating work or practice and keeping out of the dumps, but those moods pass if I don’t linger over sadness.”
“Pretty good diet!”
“I take okay care of myself. I haven’t quite caught mountain bike fever yet, but I could get into that. Hiking’s my favorite. I walk to and from work. Well, I did until last day, two days ago.”
He noticed her pert little bottom, but brushed the attractive thought aside, to keep things simple and friendly. Her tiny arms. Her child-like hands. She struck a drastic contrast with her Rubenesque sister. He couldn’t know that she was a much more curvaceous girl in high school. Her shyness and her size helped insulate her from many overt romantic interests. She was happy just to have her girl friends and guys like Victor Clarke, who didn’t try to make anything more of it. Her responsibilities and her fantasies had kept her amorous heart occupied.
Society, he thought, was much too absorbed with a lady’s size---even if this one was maybe a bit shockingly small.
When you love someone, it doesn’t matter what size they are, he reasoned. Especially not if you really enjoy their friendship. It’s just a matter of health and happiness.
Sometime after she retrieved his beer from the bar, Lewis put a couple of songs on the jukebox. When “Crazy” by Patsy Cline started, he hopped off his stool and held out his hand. “How would like a dance?” he offered. She was surprised and laughed, but she consented---why not? The two began to dance slowly. He noticed how sad the old country standard was, yet how willing Patsy sounded, for all her heartache. She felt good in his arms. He could feel this really lifted her spirit. It would be such a romantic life, to do this for one girl after another, to leave them smiling that there was some gallantry in the world.
As for Gina, she simply…felt. She’d never actually danced in any truly romantic way with a guy.