Home > Love in the Present Tense(4)

Love in the Present Tense(4)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

He had dropped his partner with the lip back at the station, end of shift, and then turned in his patrol car, and then he had drove me back to Rosalita’s in his own car, which was this Corvette with the T-roof and all. Man did I like riding in that car. It was like a whole birthday all by itself. Just before we drove off, his partner, the guy with that weird lip, he gave Officer Leonard a funny look and said something I could not hear. But my friend Leonard, my birthday man, he waved it off like he knew just what he was doing.

“Come upstairs,” I said when he got me back to what I sort of called home.

He didn’t ask any questions or anything. In fact we was both real quiet until we got upstairs and he said that thing about the clean.

I took his hand and pulled him at Rosalita’s bedroom. He said one more thing. He said, “Are you sure? Are you sure this is what you want?” This is something a man will say when he’s feeling a lot of things at once. When he’s not the kind of man who would do this if he thought you might not be sure. But I was surprised because we both knew right on that bus bench and it seemed kind of funny to stop to talk about it now. But I was glad that he did. All the same.

He was a big tall man and I think he was Italian. Anyway, he was handsome, with wavy dark hair. He did not have a gold wedding ring but sometimes a guy will be married without one. I wondered if he was married. If he had a kid my age. Even so, I was thinking he might love me. Then things would all change, right from that day on. Even if he was married. Rosalita had a man once who loved her. He was married but he paid her rent and came over three times a week and brought flowers and wine. I thought maybe this was my birthday present. Someone who would love me and pay the rent. I never answered that question he asked. We didn’t say nothing more for a long time.

Way later he said another thing to me and it made me laugh. He said, “I never did something like this before.” He said it in this mushy voice from deep inside his chest. He had a hairy chest. Talking so deep inside it, that made me think even more that maybe he would love me.

“What?” I said. “You never did sex before? I can’t believe that.” I said, “Now don’t start lying to me, just when everything was going so good.”

“No, not that,” he said. “That’s not what I meant. Sex, yeah. Just not with somebody, you know. Your age.”

Maybe he was lying about that. I’ve wondered lots of times. I think about that a lot, was that a lie or was it the truth? Did he really want a younger girl all those years and not do that? Or was that just something you say? A lot of what I have heard in my life was lies. So I really wondered about that. Looking back, it seems a shame that I killed him when I did, and now there’s no way I ever get to find out.

After that he got kind of funny and young, like he wanted to play. He even tickled me some, like I was a kid, only we were naked in Rosalita’s bed. No place for a kid there. Then he got real serious and brushed the hair off my face and looked me right in my eyes. “I’m so glad I met you.” That’s what he said. Right into my eyes, he said that. And I thought, this is how love feels. I know that now. Happy birthday to me.

Then he looked over my shoulder and there was a clock back there. “Shit,” he said. “I gotta go. I gotta get home. Shit.”

That feeling, that thing I thought was love, I just watched it blow away. I thought, you spend so much time looking for it but then it blows away so fast. I wished I had known.

I got up and walked into the kitchen. Rosalita’s very clean kitchen. I was feeling bad because I knew I was wrong about the love. He was getting dressed to go away and he wasn’t never going to come back with any flowers or wine. He was just looking for something to do for that night only. If that’s love, you can keep it.

I was starting to get mad.

His uniform jacket was hanging over the kitchen chair. Under it was the big belt with his gun. I was holding his pants on account of I’d picked them up off the bedroom floor. I was folding them neat to hang up. All I was going to do was hang them up with his jacket. My thought was never to steal nor to kill nobody. It was not supposed to come down like that. Maybe I just took the pants because I hate things to be lying around the floor. Or maybe I wanted him not to be so fast to go. But then there was his wallet. I could feel the lump in his pocket.

Usually I would never take something. I’m not a killer nor a thief. But I was mad at him and I thought I should take enough to buy a birthday present, since he was not it, like I thought.

He came out in the kitchen with no pants on and looked at me funny. “You need money?” he said. “Just ask. I’ll give you a few bucks.”

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