A Backward GlanceChapter 5
"I have to go back to work in a couple of days," Frank said. "I took a week off, and it's about over."
We were at the breakfast table. Ruby'd made a huge plate of eggs over hard, and poured some red stuff over 'em that tasted like something from Mama Rosa's. And she'd fried some hot sausage to go with it. More biscuits.
Frank said, "Good Lord, Ruby, how many people are we having for breakfast?" when she put the platters on the table. I'd noticed he never ate much. But I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
Ruby said, "Don't worry, dear." She turned her head and looked right at me, right into my eyes, and said, "I think I know what young men like."
It was a good thing I had my plate full of food to look at. Just for a second, it felt like maybe she wasn't talking about breakfast. And it was hard enough to keep my eyes off her. She cooked breakfast in her nightgown, a pink filmy sorta thing, with a pink robe that went over it, but didn't quite come together in the front. So I could almost see things I shouldn't be looking at.
Frank didn't seem to notice anything. Hell, who knows, maybe she walked around like that all day. None a' my business.
Frank and Ruby were done eating pretty quick. She got up to start putting the dishes in the sink. Frank just watched me eat.
"Can you even move now?" he asked when I was done. "We need to think of a way for you to work some of that off, before you turn into a whale."
Ruby was standing next to Frank. She leaned across the table, right across from me, to pick up one of the empty platters. "Oh, I bet Wendell's pretty lively, no matter what he's eaten."
I could see right down the front of her nightgown, far enough to know she didn't have anything on underneath it. Nothing.
I still mighta thought it was just an accident, you know, just because she wasn't used to having somebody else in the house, except when she stood up….she smiled at me. A casual one-sided smirk.
Frank said, "I know-let's all go to the park and fly kites."
"You're kidding, right?" I was trying to pay attention to what Frank was saying, but it was hard. Real hard.
Ruby took the dishes over to the sink. She turned around, put her hands behind her back, and just looked at me. Stood there and looked right at me. That robe thing was pulled open, useless; I thought I could see her nipples through her nightgown.
Frank said, "Do you like to fly kites, Wendell?"
"Uhh, I don't know."
She was laughing at me. Not out loud, but she was laughing, just the same. That smirk on her face. The way she stood……letting me see what I could see through the nightgown……Shit. I looked down at my plate. My face was hot.
"Let's do that, then-what do you think, Wendell? That would be fun. The three of us could go."
"Not me, sweetheart," Ruby said. She walked up behind him, leaned over and put her arms around his neck from behind. I felt like I shouldn't be watching, but I couldn't help it. She slipped her hand inside the open neck of his shirt; I knew from his face when she found his nipple with her fingers.
She whispered something to him, then her tongue flicked along the edge of his ear. He turned red, and I knew just what he was feeling like, 'cause I was feeling about like that myself. But he's the one who pushed his chair back, and stammered, "I'll be down in a, er, um, I've got something I have to do first, Wendell, and then we'll, uh," and followed Ruby out of the kitchen.
And I was the one left sitting in the kitchen with the Empire State Building in my pants. Wondering what the hell I was gonna do with it.……………….
Ruby changed her mind and came along. It was nice and windy. I tried not to look at her legs, but when the wind blew her skirt up to her thighs, it was pretty hard………
I didn't do too well flying kites. Gave up after a while, but I shoulda kept trying, I guess, 'cause Ruby decided to keep me company under a big ol' palm tree while Frank ran all over the damn place. He looked like he was having a good time.
We didn't talk to each other at first. Just sat and watched Frank. Maybe she didn't like it that I was ignoring her. I don't know.
"So, Wendell," she said while we watched Frank get his kite snarled up with somebody else's, "what do you like to do in your spare time? Besides playing cards."
I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything, she said, "Oh, that's right. You don't play cards, do you?"
I had to look at her then. "No." Wanted to see if she was laughing. She was.
"No, that's right, you like to do something else better, I believe you said. What was that you said you like to do? I can't seem to remember."
She reached over and trailed her forefinger along the knuckles on my left hand. I pulled it away, and she chuckled.
"Cat got your tongue? Don't you want to tell me now?" She chuckled some more and got up, brushed the back of her skirt off. "Did I get all the grass off my dress, Wendell?"
I think she knew she didn't. I think she was waiting for me to say no, then she'd ask me to help her. Then if Frank turned around and looked at us, he'd see me patting her on the ass. I'm not sure if I thought that all out at the time, but I knew I better say, "Yeah," and leave it at that.
"Hm," she said. "This may turn out to be more interesting than I thought it would be."
She took her nail clippers out of her purse and walked out to where Frank was standing. I guess he didn't expect her to cut his kite string, so he didn't try to stop her. Anyway his kite sailed off with the one it was tangled up with. She took his arm and guided him back to the car. "Come on, Wendell, time to go home," she said as they passed me.
"But Ruby, Wendell didn't get to-"
Frank didn't get to finish what he was saying. Ruby kissed him and he shut up. We all got in the car and drove back to the chiropractor's house.…………………………..
It was weird. I didn't get it at all. It was like she was flirting with me. But she was married to Frank. She stuck her hand down his shirt; kissed him. Why would she be flirting with me? Another one of those things I couldn't figure out. I wondered for a little while if maybe she didn't mean it, if maybe I was making too much out of those little things……..but back then, I was used to things I couldn't figure out, so I didn't think about it very long…….at first.
Later, Frank came up the stairs again with those damn papers Krause left with him. I never saw anybody before so interested in stuff like that.
"I've been looking over what I have about your schooling," he said. "Since school's going to be starting soon. It looks like you repeated a grade last year?" He looked up. I nodded.
Jeez. "'Cause I'm stupid, Frank."
He looked up with that wrinkle in his forehead again. "What?"
"I flunked." Far as I know, there's only one reason for staying behind.
He sat down in the chair, flipped the pages back and forth, reading this page and that one. I sat down on the bed and took my shoes off.
"It looks like you lived in three different places that year."
"Three different schools?"
"Two. The third place I went back to the school I was at first."
"It's not too surprising, then, that you flunked. Who told you you were stupid?"
"Nobody had to tell me."
He looked at me for a minute, then went back to reading the papers. "Well," he said finally, "School starts in just a short while. I'm going to ask you a big favor."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd wear the clothes I bought you to school. As a favor to me. Because I told my friends you were coming, and you'll be going to class with their children, and if you wear your old clothes, they'll tell their parents, and I'll look like a fool."
All I had to do was look at him, I didn't have to say it. He nodded his head and said, "I know. That's why it's a favor. And you never know, you might want to ask me a favor sometime. This way I'll owe you."
I hadn't thought about it that way. Might not be a bad thing. Sometime when he got all upset about something, I could remind him he owed me.
"I'll think about it."
"OK. That's fair. If you decide to do it, just take the tags and things off, and Ruby will wash them for you once. Just let her know."
Papers in hand, he stopped in my doorway, and said, "I've got some errands to run this afternoon. I'll see you later?"
Thought he must be asking me if I was gonna take off before he got back. "Yeah, later."…………………….
Went down to the kitchen after he left to see if there was any lunch ready. Nobody was there. Made myself some sandwiches, real ones, not like those pansy little sandwiches he had when I moved in. Ate 'em all, had a glass of milk.
I couldn't decide what to do. This was a pretty good place---good food and plenty of it, a soft bed. But then sometimes I felt like I couldn't breathe.
I shoulda left last night. Meant to….and then started thinking up reasons to stay. Maybe I wanted to stay.
Went back up, figuring on a nap. I walked in my room, and she was there. She had the clothes Frank bought me all spread out on the bed, and I guess she was taking the tags off.
She turned around and smiled, an actual smile this time. "I thought you were going to have the tags off for me, Wendell."
"I didn't say I was gonna wear 'em yet."
"Oh. I guess I misunderstood." She picked everything up and dumped it on the floor. "Doesn't matter. So what were you planning on doing today? While Frank is gone. You have anything in mind?"
She made me nervous. I didn't know what she wanted. I shook my head.
"Not playing cards, I assume. Or stealing cars. You don't do either one of those. Do you?" She sat down on my bed and crossed her legs.
She wasn't really asking me questions. She didn't care what the answers were. She was just needling me.
"What do you want?" I didn't figure I'd get an answer, but you never know.
She stood up. Stopped right in front of me, and said, "Try to loosen up a little bit. This is going to be fun."
She didn't bother to answer. I thought she was looking at my mouth at first. She trailed her fingers along my jaw. I shoulda backed away as soon as she touched me, but I didn't. I didn't move until she got to my chin. That was what she was looking at. I watched her lick her lips. And then I stepped away, not so much because she was touching me……but because I suddenly ached to put my hand in her hair ……and I couldn't. She was Frank's.
She stopped in the doorway as she left the room. "We're going to have a good time, Wendell."
Dammit. If I needed any proof of how stupid I was, this was it. She was married. She was OLD, for Chrissake. I didn't even like her.
I was in big trouble.
I didn't go down for supper. I thought about her tongue, making her lips wet, top, bottom, thought about what she'd taste like.
Frank asked me if I was sick. I said I was just tired. Turned my light out and laid in bed thinking about her nipples through her nightgown.
Finally I couldn't stand it, and I took care of things myself. It didn't help for long. Afterwards, I thought about how the wind blew her skirt up, thought about her legs above her stockings, how soft her skin would be right there……what I'd seen the shadow of when I'd looked down the neck of her nightgown…….that tongue, just inches away from my face…….