"How far is Oklahoma City?" Ivey asks.
At the combination pharmacy/ice cream parlor downtown, Ivey looks small sitting in the massive red booth seemingly swallowing her, dressed in her favorite denim skirt, tan arms propped on the table. She sips her root beer float, wiping the cream from her lips. My usual banana split beginning to drip, I spoon a mouthful, think.
"Don't know. Three hundred miles, maybe?"
Her forehead furrows in concentration.
"That's too far."
"You're not locked down here, you know," I say. "The college has a great arts program, and you could get all kinds of student loans and grants."
"Where would I live?"
"They have dorms there, too, you dork."
Ivey twirls the straw around her drink, gingerly sips. Eyes cast away.
"Look," I say. "I know you were talking about junior college here in town. But it would mean another two years of living with your mother."
Still won't look at me.
"Don't you want to get out of here?"
"It's not that simple, Calvin," she says suddenly. "I don't know if she'd do well without me. I'm like her mom. Get her out of bed. Make sure the laundry is done. Weird?"
"Yeah. But I know that's how it is. Can't go on forever, though. When does it end?"
She shifts in her booth.
"I don't know. When she gets her act together. If."
"Ivey," I say. "You can't..."
The bell hung by the front door of the parlor jingles. In walk Derek, Matt, Michael. The guys I got drunk with at the lake.
"Oh great," Ivey says under her breath.
Matt is the first to see me, a sly smile appearing. He walks toward us, the rest following. He's still dressed in his pizza delivery uniform, which he does part-time in the evenings.
"Seven o'clock," I say to him. "Aren't you supposed to be working?"
"What's up, Cal? They let us go early. Who's this?"
Ivey peers at him.
"I go to school with you, moron," she says.
We all chuckle.
"So," Matt says. "Your name is?"
Ivey looks exasperated.
She shoots me an angry look.
"You didn't tell them about me, Calvin?"
I didn't. But not for the reasons I knew she was going to assume. Just didn't want to share her with anybody. She always seemed...above them. I look around at the guys for help, but they just give me a collective bewildered expression, shrug their shoulders.
"You didn't," she says. "You really didn't."
"Whoops," Matt says.
"Why?" she asks.
I quickly calculate how much grief I would get from the guys if I told her the truth in front of them. Forget them. Just tell her the truth. No. Too embarrassing.
"Don't know," I say. "Just never came up."
She lets out a little cry, like a puppy trapped in a hole it can't crawl out of. I quietly curse myself. Suddenly, she shoves her half-full root beer float at me, the cold cream spilling down my shirt, pooling up in my lap. The cold seeping in through my jeans and shirt. The guys are cackling with laughter, curious stares from the people at the counter.
Ivey's head is lowered, lips quivering, arms folded.
"On that note, fellas," Matt says, as the laughs die off.
And they walk out the door.
"Ivey," I say. "I didn't mean..."
She picks up a wadded napkin, hurls it at me, gets up from her seat, glaring, turns and quickly leaves. I watch her through the parlor's windows, the wind lifting her blonde hair, she looking around, pale, running away.
My mother's voice comes at me from far off, through the rhythm of the electric fan in the darkness making its rotation. Not completely dark, though. Through the curtains in my front window, a vague redness flashes, amber, then red. Rolling my head over the cool pillow, I make out my mother's head peeking in.
"There's something going on at Ivey's house."
"So what? It's Friday. Always something going on over there."
"Think it's worse this time."
Fear in her voice.
"Okay. Let's go outside and see."
Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the wind bites my skin. At the end of the block, a paramedic runs around an ambulance, jumps in the driver's seat, races past us, lights, siren blaring.
Momma and I walk slowly up the sidewalk, closer to the small crowd of police officers, neighbors. Amidst the shouting and frightened faces, Ivey's mother, Eileen, is gesturing wildly to an officer, he scribbling notes as she talks. Sitting on a curb next to a patrol car is Eileen's boyfriend, Steve, handcuffed, his body unsteady, staring nervously across the lawn at her.
Inhaling the night air, a shiver runs down my back. Glance at my watch. 4:21 a.m. Walk across the street, momma following, tentative. A handful of neighbors stand in silence, in bathrobes and t-shirts, lined faces, arms folded, tense.
I hear the words "under arrest" and he is in the back of the patrol car, speeding away. Eileen is escorted to another squad car, gets in, leaves.
My mother is behind me, her eyes red from the wind. She turns to Eileen's next door neighbor, an elderly Hispanic man in a flannel shirt, his black hair disheveled, head down, shaking.
"Jorge, what happened?" my mother asks.
Jorge gives her a timid glance.
"Eileen told the officer she woke in the middle of the night to crying. She found Ivey badly beaten, barely alive."