UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
CHRISTOPHER WARD

Growing Up

         We are not kids anymore.

         Her hair, partially braided (the rest unkempt), is colorless beneath the noon of night. The fluorescents, dim and distant, are beacons, like stars on a map plotting out one destination to the next. In this darkness,

this depth of desire, I caress the slope of her nose, the prim press of her lips, the blackness of her uniform. But only with my eyes.

         The golf cart is a hum of motion, a strident whir of speed as the wheels crush life from the grass below. In the morning, some early riser will walk up to number seven, stare at dual divots marring the path of his tee box. He will probably curse. This man, in my imagination, he's in his sixties, a retiree, but not yet bald. He is a self-made man, claims thirty-six percent interest in a company bearing his name, and a daughter who does not.

         He will walk up to the tee box wearing eighty-dollar shoes, and the small pinpricks from his cleats will slush with the morning dew. This man, he will see these divots we leave, and will tell the manager that kids were out joyriding the course again.

         But, we are not kids anymore.

         The silence out here is daunting. Oh, there are crickets, and the far-distant drum of passing cars. But these are only background noise, no more important than the hum of the refrigerator, the occasional bark of a neighbor's dog. These are the silences of civilization, and, as a modern man, I discard their emptiness in lieu of ignorance.

         "Wait," she says.

         Her voice, familiar now for years, still thrills me. And I am fearful. I can stride the tightrope with others, be Joe Cool, suave, less imperative than most hormone-riddled teenagers. Just not with her.

         "Wait," she says, and before the cart stops, her smiles shifts off and she is walking up to a building.

         Sometimes, she has told me, the kids actually do break into these snack bars, crack into the beer kegs, the vending machines. "They cash in on the size of the course," she's told me. "They watch, and wait until I'm over on one, or eighteen. Then, they break in and grab everything that looks like a good munch. The chips, the peanuts, the sodas. They take all that, but leave the egg salad sandwiches, the pickles."

         I understand the last; I hate pickles.

         The light in the snack bar flickers, and I see her profile. Her nose, the slope and texture of a freshly-powdered mountain. Her eyes, sunken perhaps deeper than they should be. And why not -- the transplant is in two weeks. It's why she looks thinner than she should, and why her skin sometimes blanches yellow. To make matters worse, her ass looks huge in her uniform. But, what's so strange about that -- no uniform has ever been kind to a woman. Her legs are strong, her arms muscular, her cheeks slender and aggressive. She is beautiful, and I want to see her naked. Again.

         "It's clear," she says. She sounds disappointed. "One of these days, I want to catch them, the little punks who do this."

         I remind her that we used to do this.

         "Yes," she says. "But I wasn't responsible for it then."

         And, she doesn't say, we're not kids anymore.

         The wind is blowing again, the hum of tires against the pristine teal green covering hole eight.

         There are houses to the left, giant monstrosities. Here, the houses, it's all affluent, pretentious. Out here, looking through the wrought iron fences into the backyards of these million-dollar homes, I see men in their t-shirts. There are toys on the back porches, dog shit in the grass. I see through the giant, plate glass windows. Women in sweat pants, families eating dinner in front of the television.

         This little vignette I have, each a ten-second pass by, I see life unchanged; what these people do, these people with their Mercedes and their Corvettes and their Ferraris, they do the same as I do at home. Nothing changes, it just looks different during the day.

         "You know what really turns me on?" She won't look at me, just stares at the darkness ahead.

         I tell her I donít know.

         "Masturbation."

         I ask if she means playing with each other. I tell her that's cool. It's more than cool, of course, but I have to be suave, calm.

         "No," she says. "Not like that. That's fine, but I really like watching a guy jerk off. It's hot. Like, when he touches his, you know, and starts in, it gets me hot. I love it. I don't know why. It's almost like peeking in on something I shouldn't. It's like looking through a window and watching him on his own. That gets me, you know. It really drives me crazy."

         I tell her, if that really does it for her, then why even bother with a boyfriend?

         She doesn't answer, because I missed something.

         To me, this conversation, all I can see is the sex we tried to have six months ago. I'm too young to understand the truth behind what she is telling me, too new to grasp the clues. To me, sex is in-and-out. To me, sex is hormones and horniness. It's wet, and it's hot, and it's quick. To me, I've never had a hand job, or a lap dance. I've never tried anal. To me, sex is easy, it's rapid and breathlessness.

         To her, it's more. To her, it's something I don't understand.

         To her, it's a boyfriend who leaves bruises, sets rules. It's demonstrative, a realization of expectation. To her, sex isn't an act -- it's a lifestyle. I think it used to be a choice, and I think she used to want out... maybe still does; she is asking for help.

         But me, I'm just staring at the stars over the oaks, avoiding the silence of our night, the echo of her plea. To me, it's just dreaming, wishing. I want her to love me, but I'm not what she needs. I'm the nice guy, and I'm stupid, and I'm playing the friend instead of pushing my fingers into her hair and licking her ear.

         I'm tagging along, and that's all the answer she needs.

         The wind is gone, and we're sitting in the cart, staring at our separate cars. There might be a hint of daytime in the east, or maybe it's just street lamps. Not that it matters.

         She doesn't say anything, and I want to kiss her. But, looking at her lips, seeing her eyes straight on, I can't. She's too much for me -- too tall, and too strong.

         I leave, and know I will never see her again.

         We aren't kids anymore, but here, now, she's the only one growing up.

C.G. Ward is a part-time novelist (occasionally producing short stories) living in Northern California with his family. Currently, he has stories slated for appearance in both M-Brane SF & Infinite Windows. He hopes one day to either write full-time, or take over the world... whichever comes first. Stop by and say hi at http://myspace.com/notsohumble







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