“I have something for you,” she said. We lay fully clothed on the bed of one of our friend’s parents. The room was all shadow and greys.
“Why? You shouldn’t have gotten me anything.”
She saw through my false protest and gave me a look that said so—though I could only just see her eyes in the dim room.
“Here,” she said. It was a wool hat.
“It’s grey,” she told me, “with a black stripe around the bottom.” I could make out the stripe but wouldn’t have been able to distinguish the colors. It looked grey with a black stripe.
“Thank you,” I said and moved to kiss her. She turned her head so it landed on her cheek.
“It gets cold up there,” she said.
“I know,” I answered and wormed my arm underneath her so that she was resting on top of me. She didn’t resist.
“But not like here, where every now and then we get this dusting of snow that grass pops out of. It snows and it sticks and it stays. For months on end. It’s not like here.”
“That’s why I’m going.” I meant the “it’s not like here” part, not the snow part. I’m not sure she understood that.
Sailon turned so that her face was profiled against my chest and lay one hand palm-flat in the center of my body. As if she was listening to my heart beating.
“I stole it,” she said eventually. “The hat. I stole it.”
“What?” I asked laughing. “Why?”
“Because,” she answered, dragging the word so she could think of a because. “Because I wanted to buy you something. But the more I thought about it...I just couldn’t decide what. Paint? Or brushes or things like that? I was going to buy you a forty dollar pen and tell you to write me letters. But there was a fifty dollar pen too, and I thought, ‘do I love him fifty dollars?’ But then there was a hundred dollar pen—”
“A hundred dollar pen?”
“Yeah, and I thought, ‘do I love him that much?’ And I realized that I do but also that I love you more. More than any pen. More than can be put any price on. So I stole you that hat. It isn’t worth five dollars except in what it cost me to get for you. And..”
She was seventeen and in love, she could have explained herself all night.
“Cause I don’t want you to think...”
I kissed the top of her head and then smoothed back the hairs that were pulled out of place by the moisture of my lips.
My hand was rubbing a little circle into the small of her back. Each pass taking my smallest finger further beneath the elastic waist of her underwear. I did this with a feigned nonchalance and she responded to it in a similar fashion—feigned or not, I can’t say.
“I’m not going to sleep with you,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“That’s fine,” I responded in the same way.
“I’m not going to sleep with you because you won’t remember that. I want to be the last girl you go to bed with without having sex.”
“So you are going to sleep with me.”
She lifted her head so we were looking at each other. She didn’t say anything but accomplished that miracle that only girls can of smiling as tears well in their eyes. Sailon laughed and, in doing so, jarred a single cordiform drop free to roll down her cheek. I caught it before it fell, sure that the world would end if it reached the blanket.
“Go to sleep,” I told her, cupping her head in my hand and placing it back on my chest.
“Okay,” she murmured.
I could feel the warmth of her tears through my shirt until I fell asleep.
My wife left me today. As she was leaving she looked at me with that same face—equal parts laughter and hurt—that Sailon had had when I was seventeen. Not the same face, just enough so as to conjure up memories from when I was last in high school.
I have though about Sailon from time to time through the years. I’m not now, nor have I ever been the kind to write, so it’s just as well she didn’t get me a fifty dollar pen.
I didn’t go back there much. Only twice since I left. Here was always much more home than there had ever been. I heard about her once. That she had moved to LA and was pronouncing her name so that the last syllable was ‘yawn’.
Some times I wonder about if I had stayed there. Or if she had been ready to leave when I had gone. Or I wonder if I’m the last man she slept chastely beside. Or if she has forgotten that night. Or knows that I haven’t.