Essay: From the middle.

I’ve been taking a writing class through the Attic Institute.  It is a five-week class that ends this Sunday and culminates (at least to my mind) in a reading.  That’s right, I’m doing a reading at a bar.  With my other classmates, of course.  There was no time for an essay this week, as I’ve been polishing my piece.  But perhaps you want to read what I will read? This is from the middle of the book I’m working on, and some of you might recognize part of it from a prompt I wrote earlier this summer.  The book has three main characters:  Irene, Eddie and Alex.  This part mostly concerns Irene and her friends as well as Eddie.  Alex is mentioned once, but otherwise is not present.

            There were five of them, piled in the car.  Five of them barely fit in the tiny white Mustang II, but they made do.  Irene was driving, of course, and Katherine, due to a complex matrix of length of friendship combined with an early opt-in option she created herself, had permanent shotgun.  As Karen, Eddie and Marie dove into the back seat, Irene realized she and Eddie had been together long enough for a routine to develop.  Karen and Marie always put Eddie in the middle, because he could stretch his long legs out between the two bucket seats while he wrapped his arms around her friends.  Still, it hadn’t quite become routine.  Eddie caught her eyes in the rearview mirror, checking to see if he was okay.  She smiled and patted him on the shin, enjoying the change she’d seen over the past few months.  The first time Karen and Marie had sandwiched him, he made himself small, pulling in his arms and tucking his hands between his legs.  Irene was glad things were more comfortable now.
            “You look like you are enjoying your harem” Irene remarked as he settled into place.
            “He wouldn’t know what to do with a harem consisting of the four of us.” Marie bumped Eddie with her shoulder adding a physical jab to her mocking.
            “I don’t know,” Karen remarked.  “He spends enough time with Alex.  He must have picked up some tips.”
            Eddie laughed at their teasing, something else Irene had noticed he had become more comfortable doing.  “I have some ideas of my own for a harem, but for right now, I’ll stick with Irene. I’ll keep you in mind for the day I do take on a few extra women.”
            “That will be the day after I take on a few extra boys.” Irene commented, arching an eyebrow as she cranked her window down.  Katherine had already done so, letting the last heat of the day escape from the blue interior. 
            Irene started the car while Katherine leaned over to flip the radio station to something halfway decent and they drove off into the night.   The car only had an AM radio, but there were a few good stations, all of them playing oldies of some sort.  When they couldn’t find anything good on the radio, one of them would break into song and the rest would join in.  They knew a lot of songs. 
            After winding through the flat of town to the foothills, Irene stopped at the tiny neighborhood grocery store.  It was past dark, but before curfew, and the clerk smiled, knowing what they were up to.  She’d seen it before, kids spilling out of cars, swarming the store and happily lining up to hand over their dollar and change.
            Purchase made, they piled back in and drove up the road, then turned and parked in the glare of the church parking lot near the hill.  They rolled out of the car and pulled their towels and bags out of the trunk.  Katherine, Karen and Marie headed off toward the hill immediately, but Eddie pulled Irene back for a kiss. Marie turned back to say something to Irene, and when she caught the couple with their tongues in each other’s mouths again, she let out a catcall that whipped Karen and Katherine’s heads around.
            “I think we should start a PDA jar for you two” Karen called back to them. “One dollar for regular kissing, three dollars if we can see tongue.”
            “Marie is even disgusted.” said Katherine, referring to Marie’s infamous lip locks with her rotating cast of boyfriends.
            “Can’t you just save it for after you drop us off tonight?” Marie added.
            Irene squirmed away from Eddie, smiling, grabbed her bag and caught up to her friends. “Maybe I should take the money from this jar and use it to pay for the gas while I drive you guys around.  How much longer until you get your licenses?”  Irene had been the chauffer for two years now, as she was in the last group of Idaho teenagers to receive a license at 14.  Her friends had to wait a very long two years to get theirs.
            “I’m good in four weeks.” Eddie loped along beside her.
            “Four months.” said Katherine.
            “Six” reported Marie
            “I’ve got more than a year.” sighed Karen.  She was younger than Irene and the age difference cropped up in frustrating ways.
            “Well then, I guess soon it will be Eddie doing the driving.” Irene commented.  “Then he really will feel like he has a harem.”
            Eddie’s eyes gleamed. “Yes.  I’m eager to see what the four of you will do when I’m hauling you around in my van.”
            “I have a feeling it will involve taking over the radio.” Marie suggested.
            “And a lot of loud singing.” Irene agreed.  “Is this car going to have an FM radio?”
            Eddie winced.  “Not if I can help it.”  The girls’ singing was enthusiastic and lusty, but not necessarily pitch-perfect.  There was a reason all of them chose band over choir, and the wavering tunefulness sometimes got on Eddie’s nerves.  It was one of the prices he paid for hanging out with Irene’s friends.
            Their sentences grew shorter as they ascended the hill. It was a smooth hike, though steep.  The lawn had been graded and trimmed and Irene always wondered if the groundskeeper had to buy special mowers to maneuver such a slope.  Halfway up, Karen stopped, gasping, and they paused, sweating and panting while they stared at the city lights below them and caught their breath.  There were others around them—they could hear the laughter through the darkness—but the hill had room enough for everyone. 
            “Do you think he minds?” Karen stared up at the house above them, brightly lit against the summer night.
            “All of us here on his front yard?” Katherine asked.  “Probably not.”
            “Then why do we always do this late at night?” Karen asked.  “I’ve never seen anyone Ice Blocking during the day.”
            “It’s more fun at night.” Eddie said as they resumed their journey. “It seems like we’re getting away with something.”
            When they reached a good starting point the five of them broke open their bags, and their blocks of ice slid onto the grass.  They expertly caught them with their feet, holding them in check as they shoved the empty bags into their pockets, careful not to litter, though Karen had lost a very nice ring last summer.
            Quickly, each person folded their towel into a small square that just covered the rectangle of ice and set it down on top.  They automatically lined up in a row and sat down on top of the towels, their feet holding them on the hill, though the ice wanted to slide away beneath them.  They would start at the same time.  Ice Blocking always called for a race.
“Ready?” Eddie asked looking up and down the line to check no one had an advantage.  Nods came back all around. 
“Set?” They leaned back.  When Eddie shouted “Go,” they lifted their feet and were off, sliding down the grassy hill of a billionaire potato magnate in the hot night of a desert summer.
            Irene knew that if she kept her feet up, she could make it all the way to the bottom, but she never could.  The glee of slipping down a hill as smoothly as if it were covered in snow while sweating in shorts and a t-shirt always translated into uncontrollable laughter and she always lost control, tumbling away from her ice as it continued to slide serenely toward the bottom.  If she was fast, she could bounce back up and catch the block before it had gotten too far from her.  It usually took her two or three tries to complete a single run, and she knew from experience she would never win the race.  Katherine always did, her taut athlete’s body controlling her descent, abs tight and laughter waiting until she reached the bottom, when she stood and turned to watch the rest of her friends slide in.  As Irene continued down the hill, half sliding, half rolling, she watched Karen barely beat Eddie, and Marie take fourth, before she herself rolled to the finish, convulsed with laughter as her ice slid away from her one last time.
            Eddie pulled her to her feet and the group wrapped their ice in their towels for the ascent, saving their hands from the cold blocks.  They made five or six runs before they headed to the car, sweaty from the climbs and with sore stomachs from the descents.

            Later, as she repeatedly combed through the moments of “Eddie & Irene,”; while she assembled the timeline of events, Irene was surprised to realize that Eddie had already made his decision by that night. She was soon to return to “she” and lose “us.” She had no idea.

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