Saturday, February 2, 2008

In the middle of a commercial break halfway through a rerun of Law & Order: SVU, Kent and Holly appeared from the latter's bedroom and stepped around the corner into the living room, where her father had been passing the time. Mark Snow arose from his reclined position on the sofa and muted the TV while the young couple took a seat on either side of him—Kent at his left, Holly at the right. While the boy had put the formal wear he had brought with him back on (minus the tie, and who could blame him), Holly had changed from the blue dress she'd been wearing when she entered the bedroom to much more casual clothing, a shirt and jeans. Mark glanced at their faces: both teens had the same hard-to-define expression, a mix of shock, awe, and confusion that manifested itself rather blankly.

He knew he was treading awkward waters when he asked, in the Australian accent he'd brought with him to the States from Melbourne over two decades ago, "So…how was it?" But as a father, it was something he felt obligated to do.

Both Kent and Holly simply turned and looked at him for a moment, then resumed looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

"You don't have to tell me," Mark reminded them.

Holly nodded. Mark tried to make eye contract with her, to see if the baby blues she'd inherited from him and had been carrying for sixteen years might give him a clue, but they didn't, and in any case, a second later, when she realized he was looking, she turned and faced the other direction. This action made her chocolate brown hair swing prominently Mark's way, and where the eyes failed, the hair did say something.

"Are you sure neither of you wants to say anything?" Mark said.

"I don't want to talk about it," Kent replied.

"Me neither," Holly said.

"Okay," Mark said. "Because I've got a pretty good guess what happened, just so you know."

"We didn't have sex!" Kent quickly said.

Mark nodded. "Yeah, I figured that out for myself."

"Too much on our minds," Holly said, clearly reluctant to even be speaking about what had happened in there.

"I warned you," Mark said. "You put up a noble effort, but I warned you."

"I couldn't even bring myself to take off my underwear!" Kent added.

"I didn't need to know that." Which was true, but then Mark decided he might need to know that for the half of the couple, seeing as she was his little girl and if a guy, any guy, had seen her naked, he should know. He turned to Holly, and Kent watched him.

Holly saw the men looking at her, and then she said, again with reluctance, "I couldn't either!"

"So that's as far as you got?" Mark asked them. "The underwear?"

"Well, I didn't want to talk about it," Holly mumbled to herself.

"It was five minutes of making out and undressing," Kent said, "followed by another five minutes of getting dressed in silence and then twenty minutes of talking about Claire and Rusty and what we're going to do about what happened with Jimmy."

"You didn't have to tell him, Kent."

"He was prying, Holly."

"He just said he had a guess. You didn't have to give him every little detail."

"You two know I'm sitting right here, don't you?" Mark said.

Burying her head in her hand, Holly groaned, "This was a stupid idea."

"No," Mark said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "It was only stupid post-Jimmy-becoming-an-asshole. You knew you weren't in the right state of mind for this following his confession, but Claire didn't want his actions to ruin your night, so you tried to stick to the original plan. It's okay, honey. It's nothing to feel bad about."

"Confession?" Kent laughed. "That's the word you're using? It was more like bragging!"

"Let's not talk about this, Kent," Holly said. "Not now."

"You're right. Sorry." After a momentary pause, he turned back to her and said, "What are we supposed to tell Claire?"

"What do you think? The truth: that we didn't have sex."

"That might make her feel bad, though."

"So we hold off on it. Wait for a better time."

"And until then? Are we just going to let her assume? Because that's not much better, and it'll be kind of awkward if she asks us about it, and—"

"Why is this such a big deal to you?" Holly said, finally lifting herself up and facing him again.

"I'm trying to think of others here."

"Well, I can see that."

"Still sitting right here…" Mark said as the couple argued, ignoring him in the process.

"Kent, if she asks, we tell her. If she doesn't, we don't. It's that simple. And I think she'll understand if we weren't able to consummate our relationship, considering the circumstances. Can we drop the subject now?"

"Yes," Kent said. "Again, I'm sorry."

Mark sighed.

"Tonight was supposed to be perfect," Kent lamented. "And that son of a bitch ruined it for us. For everyone."

"Kent, nobody wants to keep talking about it," Holly said. "Complaining isn't going to solve anything."

"Well, what else can we do?"

"He's suspended from school. Let's count that as a victory, at least."

"Yeah, he's suspended, but not for cheating on Claire! For getting in a fight with Rusty! Who had every reason to start beating the crap out of him! Now they're both suspended! What kind of justice is that?"

"We can worry about all of this later," an increasingly annoyed Holly said. "Can we please talk about something else?"

"Okay," Kent said, lifting his arms as if to surrender. "Okay. I'm sorry."

"And stop apologizing! You haven't done anything wrong!"

"All right, so—" he said, until he realized the word he was starting and he saw the look in Holly's eyes. "Let's talk about something else, then."

Ten minutes later, Mark's car pulled into the driveway of the Thomas household. Kent and Holly kissed each other goodbye, and he hurried through the pouring rain to the front door and let himself in. Rod, his father, a man with the same tall figure, brown hair and blue eyes as his son, but with greater musculature and of course age, was sitting on the recliner in the living room, watching TV when he arrived. Kent watched his father turn slowly away from the end of the same Law & Order program Mark had been watching to look into his son's eyes.

"You didn't have sex," he said.

"No," Kent replied.

"I'm disappointed."

Kent shrugged and sighed. "So, what else is new?"