By Justin Poppens

He wasn’t prepared for what was behind the door. Leah had dark, shoulder-length hair that she always wore up, leaving her neck exposed. Her naked collar bone formed the top of an upside down triangle, and the spot where her cleavage tucked into her shirt formed the tip. There wasn’t really a lot to flaunt in that area, but she wasn’t wearing a bra and the shirt fit her well.

Robb met her only a few weeks ago at the college they attended. They were in the lounge between classes and she was a quarter shy of buying a soda from the vending machine. He gave her the coin. She thanked him and said she owed him one. He went back to the same spot the following week wondering if he would see her again. He did. He was hoping she brought the coin and would talk to him. He was hoping she forgot so he had an excuse to talk to her. He was hoping she remembered him. It was all planned out in his head. He would tell her that she could forget about the quarter if she would go on a date with him. He tried to ask her out that day but instead said nervously, “You can keep the quarter if—if you want it.”

Now he was at her house. If it was a mistake, it was a glorious one. A sign from God he couldn’t possibly ignore.

“Robb, right?” she said, smiling. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to get my quarter back,” he said overenthusiastically.

She let out a genuine laugh that within an awkward moment of silence faded to a look of concern. “Seriously,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

This was even more embarrassing than his failed attempt to ask her out. He was here for her sister.

“Does Jamie live here?”

The look on Leah’s face changed to a different shade of concern. “Oh,” she said.

“Is she around?”

She retreated around the corner leaving him half in the door, half out.

He took a step back and wondered how slim the chances of these two girls being sisters had to be. He laughed on the inside.

Jamie came through the door ass first, with red, wavy hair rolling down to the middle of her back and a leather purse dangling off her shoulder. She yelled goodbye to whoever was listening, pulled the door shut and turned to him.

She adjusted her purse and hair simultaneously with one fluid shake and grinned.

***

It had been a while since he saw a movie on the big screen. There was more sex than he remembered seeing in theatres. One naked giant, with perfect proportions, on top of the other. Even through the musical ambiance, heavy breathing and slow moving sounds, the theater was intensely quiet. There was no gurgling of empty soda cups, no crunching of popcorn or clicks of fallen candy, everyone was so intent on the movie. The arm rest was half the size of his arm, but both of them had their elbows propped up and weren’t touching.

The car ride back to her house was filled with talk of the movie, excluding the sex scene. Even though he was nineteen, he had only been on one real date before then and now decided movies were too unpredictable to be a good idea. They pulled into her driveway and he wondered if he should accompany her to the house. He’d never done that before and was the first one out of the car when the engine shut off. They walked up to the door and stood within arm’s range.

“Can I see you again?” Robb asked.

She stood silent as if in consideration.

“Not another movie, I promise,” he said. He lightly shook his head and half-grinned.

“We didn’t really get a chance to talk, did we?”

It was officially decided, he thought. Movies were awful dates.

“Okay,” she said. “When?”

He hadn’t thought that far ahead and understood how a deer could stand in front of a car with its lights on and the horn blowing.

“Do you like bowling?” he asked without thinking. It was the only real plan he had for the week.

“I do.”

“Then Wednesday. I’ll call you before then.”

“Okay.”

He was excited and wanted to kiss her. That was supposed to happen next, right? On the lips. On the cheek. He’d even settle for a hug.

A woman came around the corner of the house holding a long prong with a burnt marshmallow at the end and said, “Hi dear, how was the movie?”

“Good, Mom,” Jamie said, sounding annoyed.

“We’re making S’mores if you two would like to join us in the back.”

“No thanks,” Jamie shouted back. “Good night, Robb.” She pushed the door open and disappeared.

“Tell your mom I say ‘hi,’ ” her mom said.

Until then he had forgotten that their mothers were friends, or church acquaintances at least. “Will do, Ms. White.” He waved at her. “Bye now.”

***

The Sunday before his date with Jamie, Robb’s mom turned on the light in his room and said it was time for church. He grumbled and said he needed more sleep.

She pulled the blankets nearly off him. “It’s been a while since you’ve gone to church,” she said, “I think you should come.”

“I don’t want to.”

“There will be a picnic afterwards at the park with games and grilling. It’ll be fun.”

“No, Ma—”

“You can either come with me or clean the kitchen, which involves all the dishes, then mow the lawn.”

“Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me.” He pulled the blankets close and squinted at her. Rent was free as long as he maintained a B average and helped out around the house. Chores weren’t meant to be used as a weapon.

“Is it really that tough of a decision for you? Spending time with your mother or doing chores?” she said and flicked off the light.

It was at the picnic after church where he met Jamie. He was playing Frisbee with some of the younger kids at the park when he noticed her carrying a cooler in the

It was cramped with four people in the hot, swirling water.

parking lot. He flung the disc as far as he could so the kids would chase it and walked over to help her carry the cooler to the grilling area. The two started talking and a kid brought the Frisbee back so he could throw it again. The kids enjoyed racing each other to the prize and returning it to him. They waited like dogs ready to chase a ball and when he turned sideways, winding up, they started running as fast as they could across the baseball diamond. Jamie must have thought he was cute because she gave him her phone number when he asked her to see a movie.

***

Robb wanted to show Jamie a good time so he made sure she brought a swim suit along. They were going over to Robb’s friend Damian’s house to use his hot tub before going out bowling.

When they pulled up in his driveway, Damian was outside smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a dark Garth Brooks t-shirt, yellow swimming trunks with one netted pocket hanging out, a cowboy hat and untied shoes with no socks. As Robb introduced the two, Damian threw the cigarette on the ground next to a black garbage can, tipped his hat and said, “Ma’am.”

Damian grew up on the outskirts of Minneapolis where there was always a park within a ten mile radius and you could hear your neighbors fighting from within their own walls. After his parents divorced, he and his dad moved out to what he called “the country,” where he traded mountain biking for horseback riding and developed a taste for country music. He liked that his house was surrounded by trees, that there was a corn field across the street and a mall with a movie theater just five miles down the road.

They left their shoes in the entry of the split level house and Damian lead them down the stairs, through a room with sanded walls that smelled of paint, and out the back door. They listened to country music while cooking food and talked about a little bit of everything, but mostly nothing.

When they were done eating Damian led Jamie to the bathroom to change. Robb had already changed in Damian’s room by the time he got back.

“Damn, dude, does she have a sister?” Damian asked.

Maybe if things went well with Jamie it would be easy to introduce Damian to Leah. Then he thought of Leah being there, in a two-piece, in his arms.

“I don’t know,” Robb said. He forced a laugh and then nodded to the bathroom Jamie was in. “So you approve?”

“You better believe it.”

When Jamie was ready they all went back outside. Robb and Damian removed their shirts and threw them on the table next to their towels. Jamie removed the towel from her waist and her shirt. The suit was in two pieces, colored black with white dots. It held perfect

A little, acrobatic bowling ball with legs danced from side to side.

curves. Robb was already on the stairs when he noticed Damian standing frozen, hairy chest out, hands on his trunks strings like he was about to tie them, but forgot as he watched Jamie make her way around the tub. He looked at Robb, blinking rapidly, and slowly made his way to the tub, too.

They all continued their conversation about nothing, Damian never fully looking in Jamie’s direction.

Eventually Damian’s dad Denny came home and announced from the balcony above that he was going to join them. Moments later he came through the sliding back door and put his towel on the table next to theirs. He had a full head of silver hair that faded into stubble on his cheeks and around the neck, then continued to grow from his chest down past his belly button. He looked at Jamie, readjusted his glasses and paused like he was debating actually coming into the tub.

It was cramped with four people in the hot, swirling water. Everyone’s knees made contact with the person on both sides, and looking forward meant staring at somebody else. Denny talked a little bit about the new paint he picked up and told them about his plans of the basement’s reconstruction: how he wanted to add a fireplace, a pool table and in one of the spare bedrooms a screen projector with surround sound.

Damian was excited for it and told them they would all be able to watch movies like they did in theatres. Jamie put her hands up and tilted her head back in a long stretch, raising her chest out of the water. Time seemed to stop for an instant and in that moment, Robb caught Denny looking in her direction.

Denny realized it, too, and broke the prolonged second of silence. “Hey, you guys made something on the grill. Is there anything left?”

“Ya,” Damian said. “Help yourself.”

Denny was already getting out. He wrapped his towel around his waist, grabbed a bun, put a hamburger on it and walked into the house still dripping.

Jamie sat back so that she was fully under water from the neck down and with the exception of Damian humming along to tune on the radio, it was quiet. After a few minutes, Robb got out to see what time it was. There was only an hour before they were supposed to meet the others. He thought it a good idea to bring Jamie her towel. She said nothing, but turned her back to them as she dried off her hair.

When they got back inside Denny was painting part of the hall, the hamburger only half eaten on a plate next to the paint bucket. He moved aside without looking as Jamie passed to go to the bathroom and said, “Careful, it’s wet.”

Robb changed back into his dry clothes in Damian’s room. As he exited the room, Damian grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him close. With an open-mouthed smirk he said, “Dude, my dad asked if she has a mom.”

***

They were the first ones at the bowling alley. Robb brought Jamie to the back of the bowling alley where they had a pool table and arcade games. He put a five in the change machine and put the fistful of quarters in his jeans pocket. She said she didn’t much like pool, so they went to the arcade. They passed by a golf machine that consisted of spinning a white ball, past a motorcycle game with an out-of-order sign, and stopped at the box full of stuffed animals with a tiny metal claws dangling at the top. He saw a little green robot with a giant head named Gir from the cartoon Invader Zim, but she was more interested in a red pillow that said American Idol in cursive, yellow letters. He said he would win it for her but didn’t. She suggested they get a drink at the bar by the volleyball nets, but he had just turned twenty and said he couldn’t. She apologized, because she was over twenty-one for more than a year and didn’t think about age anymore. She said he was more of her sister’s age. They settled on a two-person zombie shooter game.

When they were about finished Damian showed up with Tom. He said the rest of the group would be showing up shortly. They walked back out into the alley part and there was a loud crash of pins followed by a scream. Robb looked in their direction and saw the girl who had just gotten a strike, and the three guys surrounding her. He didn’t think girls ever bowled without at least a two-to-one, guy-girl ratio.

He walked up to the bald, black man standing behind the counter.

“Lane for Rowley?” he said and pulled out a pair of shoes. “How many total?”

“Seven,” Robb told him. He looked at Jamie then and said, “We come here often.”

When the rest of the group showed up, Robb already had their names entered on the computer screen and it showed above their heads on the screen next to the lane number. A little, acrobatic bowling ball with legs danced from side to side.

They were three frames into the game when Jamie said

She probably liked weird music like The Cure and Modest Mouse.

she had to use the restroom. She wasn’t doing very well, which made Robb feel a little uneasy, but he watched all his friends, and the neighbors to the left, check her out every time she went up for her turn, and that made him feel a little better. When she was out of hearing range everyone complimented him on how well he had done for himself. Even his friend Lindsey said, “Damn, Rowley, she’s a hottie!”

When Jamie was back, everyone continued to look at her. Robb laughed at first. He thought they had the right to check her out until the point they voiced their opinions. It was becoming disrespectful. He should have cared more. A quick, small cough should get their attention he thought, but he didn’t. He just stared right along with them.

***

The next day he waited in the school lounge again. There was a steady flow of people moving in and out of the small room, people he didn’t know, talking to themselves. The vending machine wasn’t getting much action and he wondered what Leah would be wearing that day. Maybe she would need another quarter, maybe her hair would be down. He imagined her in tight blue jeans and a tie-dyed shirt with a little paint on her sleeves and arm. She probably liked weird music like The Cure and Modest Mouse, bands the general public didn’t seem to care for, but still had a cult following. He liked those bands as well, not the country music Damian and Jamie shared.

There was a flyer on the wall advertising an art show in two weeks. He enjoyed viewing other people’s art and assumed Leah would have work in it. He would go.

People left the lounge. It was used mostly between classes and it seemed as if break time was over. He went back to his class wondering if she didn’t come because of him. Maybe he had some sort of effect on her.

***

That Saturday he was invited over to the White’s house for dinner and card games. It was something the family did once a month, and Jamie thought it would be more fun if he came along.

Their kitchen was divided in half by a waist-high counter and cupboards hanging from the ceiling above it. The side closest to the door had the sink, oven, fridge and microwave. The other side had a small, wooden table and an old lamp that gave off poor light hanging from the ceiling. Paintings hung on the walls everywhere. They ranged from penciled portraits of people to painted, odd-colored dinosaurs. Leah had talent and he wondered what an artist’s life would be like. It would be more difficult for an artist to have a constant flow of money than a bank teller, the job Jamie settled for.

Robb, Jamie and her parents, George and Cindy, sat around the table and her dad started shuffling a deck of red-backed and blue-backed cards together. They were going

The water was cold and he asked her to refill the glass three more times.

to teach him how to play a game called Canasta. After the rules were explained, George, the tall, shaved-head dad with a gut, called out for Leah and Roy to join the game. Robb didn’t know they had a fourteen-year-old brother. George suggested that it should be guys versus girls, and they rearranged the seating order so that no teammate sat together. Leah sat across from Robb, and he tried not to look at her for too long.

After two games, each side had won one game. Robb thought the game was interesting. The parents seemed to be really enjoying themselves and Roy just seemed excited to be playing games with adults. Leah looked slightly amused and uncomfortable.

As the next hand was being dealt out by George, Jamie put her hand on Robb’s knee under the table and squeezed. He jumped a little and slid his chair forward. All eyes were on him and he could sense Jamie laughing to herself. Jamie moved her fingers across the top to his inner leg and lightly rubbed him in small, circular motions. He jerked his leg to the left and bumped legs with Cindy.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

“Water, please?” he said trying to keep his voice in check.

“Jamie,” she pointed at her. “Go get him some.”

She removed her hand and complied. She got out of her chair and kept her hands to her side and wore a smile. George had his hands at the table and wasn’t smiling.

The cards were dealt and Robb had water. Jamie’s hand found its way back onto his leg and rubbed for the next five minutes. She kept looking at him. The game was usually slow to start and felt even slower this hand. George looked at Jamie frequently, but she didn’t seem to notice or care.

Robb kept his hands on the table. When it was Jamie’s turn, she used both hands to play her cards and then slipped one hand back onto him. She was always smiling. He thought everyone at the table knew what she was doing. As if the table were see-through.

The game took longer every hand they played, and even longer with an erection. If it was cold outside, his face could have kept them all warm. The water was cold and he asked her to refill the glass three more times.

When the game was over, George got up and said he was going to bed. Roy protested and wanted to keep playing. George didn’t look at anybody and left. Cindy half-heartedly thanked Robb for coming and followed her husband. Leah took her dad’s place, unflinchingly staring at Jamie. Robb wanted to leave but thought Leah would see. He decided to wait it out.

When there was more blood in his head, he got up and walked to the door. Jamie followed.

“So, when will I see you again?” Jamie said, still grinning, but now looking more proud.

Robb turned to Leah in the kitchen. She was watching him.

“I’ll call,” he said.

And he planned to. Sometime after Leah’s art show. When he’d get jealous about people staring at her. When he could play cards without thinking of the time he bumped Cindy’s leg and why. Then he would call this house again.

Justin Poppens graduated from Bemidji State University in 2011 with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. He is fascinated with the minimalist writing style and likes creating stories dealing with real life and all its subtleties.