“Yeah. What happens is the water spray creates a vortex, kind of like a hurricane. And the center of the vortex—the eye of the hurricane—is a low-pressure area, which sucks the shower curtain in and up. This guy did a study on it. Honestly. ”
“Now, that,” Hassan said, “is really interesting. It’s like there’s a little hurricane in every shower?”
“Wow,” said the woman. “I’ve been wondering that my whole life. Well, okay. So my name’s Katherine Layne. I’m twenty-two, been working here ten months. ”
“Wait, how do you spell that?” Hassan asked.
“K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e L-a-y-n-e. ”
“Uh-oh,” mumbled Hassan. She was quite attractive now that Colin took a look at her. But no. Colin didn’t like Katherine Layne. And it wasn’t the age gap. It was K-19. Colin knew the situation was dire, indeed, when he could sit across from a perfectly nice and attractive (and sexily older!) Katherine without feeling even the smallest hint of enchantment.
They left after interviewing Katherine Layne. They drove around in Satan’s Hearse for a while, getting good and lost with the windows rolled down, driving down a two-lane highway toward absolutely nothing. They listened to a country radio station turned up so loud that the twangs of steel guitars were distorted in the Hearse’s old speakers. When they could catch on to the chorus, they sang loud and off-key and didn’t give a shit. And it felt so good to sing with those trumped-up, hound-dog country accents. Colin felt sad, but it was an exhilarating and infinite sadness, like it connected him to Hassan and to the ridiculous songs and mostly to her, and Colin was shouting, “Like Strawwwwwberry Wine,” when all of a sudden he turned to Hassan and said, “Wait, stop here. ” Hassan pulled over on the gravel shoulder of the road and Colin hopped out and pulled out his telephone.
“What are you doing?” asked Hassan from the driver’s seat.
“I’m going to walk out into that field until I get cell reception and I’m going to call her. ”
Hassan began pounding his head rhythmically against the steering wheel. Colin turned away. As he walked out into the field, he heard Hassan shout, “Dingleberries!” But Colin kept walking. “Daddy is leaving you here if you take one more step!” Colin took one more step, and behind him, he heard the car start. He didn’t turn around. He heard the tires spinning in the gravel, and then they caught onto the asphalt, and Colin heard the rumble of the eternally struggling engine grow distant. After five minutes of walking, he found a spot where he had okay reception. It was awfully quiet. Chicago only gets this quiet when it snows, he thought. And then he flipped open the phone, pressed the voice button, and said “Katherine. ” He said it softly, reverently.
Five rings and then her voice mail. Hey, it’s Katherine, he heard, and in the background cars rushed by. They’d been walking home together from the RadioShack54 when she recorded the message. I’m not, uh. And she uhed, he remembered, because he’d goosed her butt as she tried to talk. Uh, at my cell phone, I guess. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back. And he remembered everything about it, and also everything about everything else, and why couldn’t he forget and beep.
“Hey, it’s Col. I’m standing in a soybean field outside of Gutshot, Tennessee, which is a long story, and it’s hot, K. I’m standing here sweating like I had hyperhidrosis, that disease where you sweat a lot. Crap. That’s not interesting. But anyway, it’s hot, and so I’m thinking about cold to stay cool. And I was remembering walking through the snow coming back from that ridiculous movie. Do you remember that, K? We were on Giddings, and the snow made it so quiet, I couldn’t hear a thing in the world but you. And it was so cold then, and so silent, and I loved you so much. Now it’s hot, and dead quiet again, and I love you still. ”
Five minutes later, he was trudging back when his phone began vibrating. He raced back to the spot with good reception and, breathless, answered.
“Did you listen to the message?” he asked immediately.
“I don’t think I need to,” she answered. “I’m sorry, Col. But I think we made a really good decision. ” And he didn’t even care to point out that they hadn’t made a decision, because the sound of her voice felt so good—well, not good exactly. It felt like the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fear and the fascination. The great and terrible awe.
“Did you tell your mom?” he asked, because her mom had loved him. All moms loved him.
“Yeah. She was sad. But she said you always wanted to be attached to my hip, which wasn’t healthy. ”
“A better fate than this,” he said mostly to himself.
He could hear her eyes rolling as she said, “You are probably the only person I’ve ever known who wants to be a Siamese twin. ”
“Conjoined twin,” Colin corrected. “Did you know that there is a word for a person who is not a conjoined twin?” he asked her.
“No. What is it? Normal person?”
“Singleton,” he said. “The word is Singleton. ” And she said, “That’s funny, Col. Listen, I really have to go. I’ve got to pack for camp. Maybe we shouldn’t talk till I get back. Just some time away from it would be good for you, I think. ” And even though he wanted to say, We’re supposed to be FRIENDS, remember? And What is it? New boyfriend? And I love you entirely , he just mumbled, “Just please listen to the message,” and then she said, “Okay. Bye,” and he didn’t say anything because he wasn’t going to be the person who ended the conversation or hung up, and then he heard the deadness in his ear and it was over. Colin lay down on the dry, orange dirt and let the tall grass swallow him up, making him invisible. The sweat pouring down his face was indistinguishable from his tears. He was finally—finally—crying. He remembered their arms entangled, their stupid little inside jokes, the way he felt when he would come over to her house after school and see her reading through the window. He missed it all. He thought of being with her in college, having the freedom to sleep over whenever they wanted, both of them at Northwestern together. He missed that, too, and it hadn’t even happened. He missed his imagined future.
You can love someone so much, he thought. But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.
He waited on the side of the road for twenty minutes before Hassan came by, with Lindsey riding shotgun.
“You were right,” Colin said. “Not a good idea. ”
“Daddy’s sorry,” Hassan said. “It’s a shitty situation. Maybe you had to call her. ”
Lindsey turned around in her seat. “You really love this girl, huh?”
And then Colin started crying again, and Lindsey crawled into the backseat and put her arm around him, and Colin’s head was up against the side of her head. He tried not to sob much, because the plain fact of the matter is that boy-sobbing is exceedingly unattractive. Lindsey said, “Let it out, let it out,” and then Colin said, “But I can’t, because if I let it out it’ll sound like a bullfrog’s mating call,” and everyone, including Colin, laughed.
He worked on the Theorem from the time they got home until 11 P. M. Lindsey brought him some kind of chicken taco salad from Taco Hell, but Colin only ate a few bites. Generally, he didn’t think all that highly of eating, particularly when he