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Chapter Nine

     In my room the time nears dangerously to two a.m. and my head is fevered as those words echo in my head, Mother saying that she’s waited to hear me apologize for so long. I can’t figure out why I feel so restless inside. It’s like there’s something missing, like the time Jimmy said I love you and I didn’t say it back. An awkward silence from Mother’s end. Maybe she owes me an apology, I think. Maybe I’m not the only one around here with a reason to apologize. She’s the one who is never home, never helps me get organized, never helps me with my laundry or checks my homework or goes to Back-To-School night. She’s the one with the “backup” job in case dad ends up in between gigs for more than a month or so, which has only happened twice in his whole career. She’s the one obsessing over something she calls The Number, which I don’t even get but which causes her and Dad to fight sometimes and which has something to do with their future retirement funds. I toss in my bed, too warm, too uncomfortable to be in my skin. I want to strip naked and run outside in the moonlit night and just escape those stupid words in my head . . . I’m sorry. There’s no hope for rest; my brain is full of apologetic phrases trying to claw their way out like those feral cats they have to cage sometimes at the studio lots.

I look out my window that faces the front yard and see that weird yellow glow of the city, of the dangerous Hollywood night that is only minutes away if I were a bird and could fly there. The cats in my head are nearly loose and I can’t take it any more. I suddenly wish The Granddaughter were here but I don’t really know how to find her. Impulsively I pick up my cell phone and call Jimmy. I let it ring once and quickly hang up and shove my phone under the pillow cuz I can’t remember if the ringer is turned on or not. When he calls back the dark pillow-cave lights up as my phone rings in a muffled way. I open my cell and whisper hello into the phone.

“It’s freakin’ two in the morning!” Jimmy complains. “I can’t believe you just called me.”

“Sorry,” I say, embarrassed. I feel like hanging up. “I can’t sleep,” I say lamely. “I was hoping you would come and get me. I just need to be with someone.”

There’s a pause, and a quiet groan. “Jesus! It’s a school night.”

I can picture him in his boxers, with his beautiful strong chest propped up on his pillows while he talks to me.

“I’m not depressed or anything, Jimmy,” I say quickly, feeling the pulse of the night quickening in me. “It’s weird, I just feel . . . restless.”

“Restless! Jess, you’re nuts. I’ve got a chem test tomorrow, and Coach says if I botch it I’m out of the next game. I fell asleep studying tonight at the kitchen table!”

“Well, let’s go get some coffee and you can cram till school starts.”

“I can’t Jess! I’ll be too tired to think.”

I’m in a reckless mood, and now I really want to go out and play. “I’ll make it worth your while, Jimmy. Please?”

There’s another pause on his end and I know I got him. He sighs, a little laugh coming out of the end of it like an exclamation mark.

“Fine.” I can almost hear him thinking, those wheels spinning in his head. A thrill runs through me. “Meet me in fifteen minutes. I’ll pull up so your parents won’t hear me,” he says.

“The usual spot,” I say, meaning in front of old deaf Mr. Finney’s house. He’s the only neighbor whose name I happen to know because he’s the only one who doesn’t care or watch to see what I do. When you’ve brought emergency vehicles to your quiet neighborhood in the past, people watch you out their windows, I’ve noticed.

I throw on some rumpled jeans and a sweatshirt, stuff three breathstrips in my mouth, and pouf up my hair with my fingertips. Quieter than the cats in my head I slip down the wood-floored hallways, knowing which creaky steps to avoid. Soon I’m by the kitchen door, opening it just enough to get out, and when it’s closed, I’m free.

The night is balmy, not cold, not warm, yet I shiver as I wait for my ride. Even though I’m sneaking out and disobeying house rules, I see it as part of my therapy. Jimmy will help me through this chaos, this noise in my head that makes sleep elusive and thoughts haywire. It will all stop after I see him. Soon that patchy red and gray-primered car that he’s been working on for over a year zips past and pulls up at Mr. Finney’s. I race silently toward the idling convertible. I see not one curtain flutter back as I fly over the stuck passenger door and land safely in the seat. We race off into the night.

We park overlooking the Hollywood Hills in a deep cul-de-sac leading to gated estates. These residents of suburban L.A., that weird stretchy city of lights crisscrossing beside the Pacific, are protected by alarms, guard dogs, and security personnel so they don’t care much what happens on the street outside their mansions. We snuggle under the blanket after taking in the view.

“I had an actual conversation with my family,” I tell Jimmy and he nods, stroking my thigh through my jeans as he tunes the radio station. “I actually apologized for trying to kill myself last year. Michael will just shit when he hears.”

“Michael? Oh yeah, your shrink.” Jimmy leans over and kisses me. I kiss him back, glad for the minty breathstrips I used.

“Yeah, my shrink. Mother told me she’d been waiting to hear it, can you believe it? Like she had nothing whatsoever to do with anything.”

“Well, she didn’t really, you know,” Jimmy says, kissing my throat. Shivers go down my spine but his words confuse me.

“What do you mean?”

“She wasn’t really there. It isn’t about her,” Jimmy clarifies. I think about what he means by this and Jimmy moves the hair from the back of my neck and kisses me there, my weakest spot. He turns my face toward him and kisses me again, deeply. His hands are impatient. He gropes me as the city hums beneath us and I respond, my body acting on its own accord, the cats in my head curled up now and purring sweet dreams. His warm hands slip under my clothes and I push Michael’s words away, wanting to pretend that I can just do this without any repercussions. His kisses engulf me like flames, and I feel like I’m leaving my body, my head melting into his heat. His infernal mouth and hands dampen me, the wetness and closeness of him overtaking my senses. It’s so ethereal, just being completely physical. I’m about to let go, to let it finally happen this time, when Jimmy pulls away for a moment to reach into his back pocket.

“I’ve got something,” he pants, and he’s quick to take a condom out, and open the package with his teeth, and suddenly his warming hands are on me again, and we’re revving up, and his kisses are on my throat, his hands are unbuttoning my jeans, that sensation that has me surrendering. I arch my back, my head against the passenger door, my hands up under his shirt feeling his back and chest. He unzips his pants but the gearshift is in the way, things get complicated, and suddenly we realize he can’t get to me in this position.

“Let’s move to the back,” Jimmy says, whispering hot breath into my ear as we struggle over the leather seat. Soon we’re in that cramped space, me on the bottom, him on top, red and black leather seats like a casket around me, the sky echoing the city lights above the tree line. The sensation of being buried overtakes me, and I’m suddenly frightened. The words of The Granddaughter come to me: Continuing your relationship with Jimmy Becker will stop the line of the human race as it is destined. And I completely wig out.

“Get off!” I yell, hitting Jimmy in the chest, and that seems to spark him because now he’s even more excited and pulling down his pants, holding my hands above my head so I can’t move.

“I mean it, Jimmy, I’m not playing around! Stop it! I’m not ready!” He crushes me and pins me with the weight of his chest, and manages to pull down my jeans with one hand. His mouth mashes my words back inside of me and I can barely breathe, let alone speak.

Just as I feel him getting ready to end not only my own virginity but the fate of the world, he leaves a small space beside the edge of the seat and I pull my leg up and he spills forward onto the floor of the back seat and I wriggle my way out from under him. I slide up onto the back of the convertible, pulling up my pants quickly and buttoning them. Jimmy unsticks himself and comes up fuming with rage. I’m ready to jump out of the back of the car but he doesn’t come after me. He looks really disappointed, disgusted, even.

“My God, Jess, what the hell are you trying to do to me?” he asks as he pulls his pants up, painfully. I feel bad and start to cry.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, and I am. I wish I could just do it, or get this guy out of my head. He’s driving me crazy because all I want is to be with him, but I can’t.

I tell him, “I want to, Jimmy. You know I do, but I got scared. It felt like you were crushing me.”

Jimmy climbs into the driver’s seat and I get in on my side. I buckle myself in and touch his arm. He pulls his arm away.

“Don’t touch me.” He sits for a moment to compose himself before he starts up the car engine. I’ve seen Jimmy pout before and I know he won’t talk to me now.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. He backs up and we head toward home in silence. The cats are up again, yowling for release in my brain. They’re really pissed off but there’s no place to set them free.