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from the Prologue
Janine splashes cold water on her face and dries off with a rough brown paper towel. She pulls the elastic off her tight ponytail and shakes her long hair loose, working her fingers through it as she hurries down the hall. Taking a Certs from a roll in her pocket, she slips it into her mouth and sucks it against the roof of her mouth. She steps out into the humid night where Dan is waiting in his mother’s aquamarine Chevy, Cousin Brucie on the AM radio. The Temptations, the Kinks, the Supremes.
When she opens the car door and slides across the seat towards Dan, he gives her an elated, relieved smile, as if it’s been weeks and not just one day since he saw her last. He turns down the music.
“Hey, you,” he says, and kisses her. With her tongue, she pushes the half-melted Certs from her mouth into his. He smiles again.
She turns the radio volume back up as Dan pulls out of the nursing home parking lot onto Grand Avenue. She lays her head against his shoulder. Except for a half-hour break, she’s been on her feet for eight hours. She nudges her shoes off and wiggles her toes, and the achy tiredness in her legs and feet begins to fade. The human sorrows she’s witnessed during her shift drop out of her mind --- the woman with black bedsores down to the bone, the man who cried while she fed him his supper, all the forgotten people who never have visitors and the visitors who never talk but only watch television in the lounge with their mother or father frail and oblivious in a wheelchair beside them.
Dan works days as a lifeguard at Graydon Pool, and evenings as a Good Humor man, and Janine is a nurse’s aide on the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. Dan is still in his Good Humor white shirt and starched white pants. She’s wearing white, too, a short-sleeved no-iron dress with big patch pockets handy for keeping wrapped sterile swabs, and bobby pins, and packets of Sweet ‘n Low for the patients who like it. The car windows are rolled down, and a breeze brushes her face, but they are sitting so close, Janine can smell caramel and chocolate on Dan’s shirt. That sweetness and his Aqua Velva mingle with the antiseptic odors clinging to her dress.
They drive to Jones Road, a dark street with only a few houses widely separated by big yards. Dan parks in the usual spot. It is their place, as private as a locked room.
Dan, a year ahead of Janine, will be off to college in September, but she’s trying not to think about that. They’ve been dating two years. They’ve made promises. She wears his heavy class ring on a short gold chain around her neck.
For now, they have the summer. Janine sleeps through the early part of each thick, hot day, and in every deep, lazy night, she is in Dan’s arms, with Dan’s mouth on hers, Dan’s hands enchanting her. She loves his touch. She loves his reactions to her touch. They are joyous together, and she’s sure their joy is unique, their own discovery and creation. It can almost seem, in the heavy-bodied Chevy on Jones Road, that this slow season will never end, that the skies will never grow gray and cold again, that she and Dan will never have to part.
Dan shuts off the engine and turns towards her. Nothing is as important and real as this moment and place, not their families or friends, not school or teachers or priests, and certainly not the wide-open, faraway future. She begins, slowly, to unbutton her dress. He watches, holds back from reaching out. They have time.
Janine doesn’t know what has awakened her so suddenly. Groggy, she sits up. Sunlight edges the drawn window shade. She takes a nap almost every afternoon now. A powerful drowsiness often overwhelms her within an hour of lunch. Sleep is an escape, too. Two hours of oblivion. She dreams at night, but not in the afternoons.
Though the shade is down, the window is open. She can hear raised voices coming from out front, her father’s and Dan’s, but their words are indistinct.
Her heart thudding, Janine gets up, but before she reaches the bedroom door, it opens. Her mother blocks the doorway.
“Don’t go down there,” she says.
“Janine! Janine!” Dan’s voice is right below her window now.
She rushes across the room and pulls up the shade. He’s in the back yard looking up at her. Her father rounds the corner of the house.
“She doesn’t want to see you!” he shouts at Dan.
“I don’t believe you!” Dan shouts back.
“I’m calling the police,” Janine’s mother says behind her. She pushes Janine aside and leans out the window.
“I’m calling the police,” she yells down to Dan.
She shuts the window and pulls the shade down again. She leaves the room without looking at her daughter.
Janine bends back the edge of the shade and peeks out. The yard is empty. Neither Dan nor her father is anywhere in sight. Everything gets very quiet.
“Time marches on,” her mother has told her.
Nothing lasts forever, she means. Neither the good nor the bad. Don’t look back, she means.
Janine knows that if she stays upstairs long enough, when she goes down later, her parents won’t mention Dan’s unexpected visit. They don’t talk to her much these days anyway. They’d only be repeating themselves. They’ve all said as much as they can.
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