He is the latest in a string of boyfriends that stretches back to the beginning of her existence. Late at night, while I and most other girls are sleeping, she is busy with important transactions on her cordless phone, exchanging boyfriends. We, her friends, appreciate the spoils of her conquests; tonight she's gotten us access. In the house beyond the big trucks is a collection of the coolest boys, most of whom we've never talked to, none as beautiful as hers but close.
We will be Hanging Out.
Stepping into the house we're surprised by the presence of people less shiny than us: parents. Even more shocked because they are having a good time. In the evening's offerings we take only youth. The beer and the smokes and the real fun are theirs. But, they might share for a small reflection of their younger selves in us, all scrubbed clean and looking for trouble.
Our expectations of the evening had been wrong. Houses in which to Hang Out are not supposed to be occupied by their owners. They are supposed to be like large hotel rooms, free, impersonal, existing solely for our needs, and we don't need reminders that lives are being lived here. Teenagers don't need cooking smells and coat racks. We need a tile foyer to play indoor hacky sack, as many couches as possible and decks. Everything important happens on decks.
In the middle of the full den we have a cackling mother who so resembles her beautiful son that his face loses its identity. It's now obvious that his usual sexy smirk is merely the bud of this fully mature, maternal guffaw. The men on the sofas, spongy cozies between their fingers and their beers, seem to be made of the same materials as their dusty boots and faded jeans. They wear the same baseball caps as our cool boys but theirs fit more snugly, and from behind you wouldn't see soft smooth necks that you want to run your thumb over, but greased hair bent from habit.
The jostling molecules in the air tell us that the room is happy that we're here. The mother and the sons and the beercan-men and the sofas and the roaring television all welcome us. We form a line of cutoff shorts to pluck our own beers from the cooler. Sorry, but they've run out of cozies.
"Mom, we're going to play pool."
Eyes watch us as we file to the back of the house. This feels familiar, like a slumber party, the noises of adults in the next room, the kids in the other. We hadn't wanted to be children this evening, but it's still comforting, and a relief after the brief prospect of having to find a seat on the sofas next to faded-jeans-faces.
Boys shoot pool with the coolest of the girls, the ones who know how to flirt. The rest of us, minor players, take our places on the periphery, arms folded, watching the action. Just being a spectator is exhilarating. Proximity. Possibility. This is the essence of Hanging Out. Boys tease inexpertly. Girls smile and shrug. We sip our beers until they're warm.
Noises in the den shift and adults make their way down the carpeted corridor to us. It's clear that the room with the pool table is the boy's territory. There's a poster on the wall with a blonde in high heels and a string bikini crouched down against a black backdrop. In another one a woman on a beach walks away from the camera, looking over her shoulder, her fluorescent thong wedged firmly between sandy cheeks. These posters look completely normal being stared at by our boys. It seems like the natural order of things, or a mysterious mathematical proof that dictates that these boys will wear baggy jeans and canvas Vans and striped Stussy shirts, and that they will look at posters of improbably naked women who oversee pool tables.
"Hey there kids! Ready for some real competition!" Boy's mother still cackles.
One of the men with a mustache so sun-bleached it looks like it's permanently dipped in beer froth has been charged with carrying a cooler. "Another round ladies?"
Balancing the damp cooler on his knee he slides open its white plastic top. The slumber party motif no longer works. Their party leaks into our party, and in an instant The Hang Out dissolves. Now we're just standing around the pool table, an invaded territory. To avoid these new circumstances I stand in a corner, which happens to be right next to the crouching blonde in heels. I cross my arms tighter in a prayer for invisibility and it works perfectly until it doesn't.
An older man walks over to my corner and silently contemplates the poster like it was a painting by Matisse. He glances over at me as if to check to see if in my youth I could possibly understand this unique genius. His expression is so convincing I turn toward the poster and take a deep look. Yes, those are very shiny red patent leather heels. They are the exact same red as her mouth, which is just as slick as her heels. The whole image is slippery. The black and the red and the oil remind me of the old Robert Palmer video with the row of simply irresistible guitar playing women.
I'm not sure what the man wants me to say. I smile, meaning, leave me alone.
He takes a sip of beer and in a most fatherly, good-natured voice, declares, "I bet you have straight pubic hair."
In a jumbled second folded in on itself, I…
plummet into mute mortification
look closer at the model in the poster in a plea for help
scan the room to see if anyone else heard the declaration
wonder how it's possible that such a sentence could be conceived, manufactured and lobbed like a weapon
then finally crawl out of the silence and say
"No!" meaning, leave me alone, get me out of here, onto the gravel driveway, into the car and back into my own home away from this wrong house
"Yeah, you probably don't know yet." He laughs a smoker's laugh and backs away from me in my red fury.
I have the sudden gagging realization that with a flick of imagination we are the women in the posters. One minute we're standing here flesh and blood, clothed, and the next, our faces are affixed to the slick bodies on the beach, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
Beer-can man can bore right through to any layer he chooses and then remind us of this power. If he has it then the cool boys have it, and I am naked all the time. The prayer for invisibility gets louder and louder, arms cross tighter and tighter. I want to recede forever behind my long straight (straight!) hair, and for the most part I succeed, like a baby playing peek-a-boo, behind the dark shield the world does not exist.
Later, headlights on the gravel, another friend in the backseat pukes quietly into a newly borrowed letter jacket.