When he was younger things had been worse. After the divorce Jamie's mother made them all see a therapist, a fat lady with lipstick Jamie couldn't help looking at because it seemed to leak as if she were a bad painting of herself being unpainted.
She was the one that discovered Jamie's speech impediment but who told his mother: no, it wasn't anxiety so she couldn't prescribe medication. "I think that all that Jamie needs is a little more self confidence," she said. Jamie remembered this because his mother's lotion-soft hand had tightened in his when she said that. "Some more family time would be good."
"We'll just start small," his mother had said. "Once a week. Just the family." She was good at this: giving these encouraging little anecdotes, sometimes a devotional or an inspiring newspaper clipping, when she thought they were wanted. "We'll go back Father Epicenerious's Church."
They went back to Father Epicenerious's church. Three of them at first: Jamie and his mother and his brother Butch, but not for long. Butch's cropped-haired brunette girlfriend Olivia Otto would be welcomed because her family was Catholic and eventually she was the only thing that would get his brother out of his leather jacket or out of playing the drums in his room. Jamie had her in his fourth period Language Arts but she never looked at him.
His mother liked the church for its frescoes of glazy saints and the stained glass God with large, sympathetic eyes. She liked the sermons because they were easy to listen to and she was able to quote from them knowingly, as though she had written them herself.
She even liked the confessions, thinking that trying to tease out Jamie's sins made for good breakfast chatter. "My child, my child," she would coo. But he had never dared utter a response, even when he faced the real confessional booth and the grille and the nasally Greek voice of the Father. What are your sins, my child?
And he didn't even know if it was a real crime to confess. There was no name for it like there was for the other sins. No way to acknowledge its existence, which would have made dealing with it way too easy.
For a while it had been easy. Before Father Epicenerious and the stained-glassy eyes of God he had wandered around at the freedom of his own experimentation. He called it his indulgence, and indulging could be done anywhere: safely in his own imagination, or on the dangerous but much more thrilling family computer. He had known then that it was nothing really bad, nothing like what the other girls or the other boys looked for, and this made it wholly and wonderfully his.
Not for long. Lily: his chipmunk-cheeked lump of schoolgirl love who smothered him in fatty hugs whenever they parted at the end of fourth-period Language Arts. Lily, who even looked like a lily with her schoolgirl strawberry red hair and flower-petaled headband. Lily was the first to find him out, and then only by mistake.
This was back in the prime of their play-date days, when a girl and a boy in a locked room inspired nothing more than a "play nice, kids" from the parents. For a while it had been nothing more than play, the kind of play where beds became forts and children became damsels.
Of course, once she caught a look of him eyeing the rows of chiffon and satin and velvet hung neatly in her closet it was all over. Play dates no longer became the exploration of other lands but the exploration of another Jamie: the one that Lily dimpled and blushed as carefully as if she were sculpting a Matryoshka doll.
Just like that, the indulgence became wholly and wonderfully theirs.
Even so, the play dates would always end the same. The other Jamie would be wiped away and after the thrill there was always the fear of what would they do if they found out? Lily would shrug. "Nothing," she reasoned. "Or maybe they'd laugh or something, I dunno." The they had never been very clear. Lily might have been thinking about her parents but Jamie was thinking about his mother, and especially Butch.
Around this time his brother had started posting up pictures of motorcycles and screaming Johnny Rotten's. He played drums in a garage band that was good enough to get phone numbers from middle school girls. He slept in on weekday mornings. In short, Jamie was certain that his brother would be fully prepared and equipped to beat the crap out of this second, simpering Jamie.
"It's nothing, Jamie," Lily would say. She'd change her answer over time; call it beautiful; call him beautiful. "And there's no one else like you, Jamie. There's no one as brave as you to let that beauty reflect who you really are." And with a moist peck on his cheek he'd be sent away, standing up a little bit straighter, believing just that.
Soon after that they saw the therapist and then they went back to Father Epicenerious's church, one week to try it out, and then every week after that. It was anyone's guess why his mother embraced the church so fervidly when she hadn't been a good Catholic to start with. Before the divorce the family had been one of the exclusively Easter and Christmas goers that still showed up late and sneered at the regulars. His mother still sneered, but at least now she had picked up more than just the basics of the Birth and the Resurrection. Much more, as a matter of fact.
She could, for instance, name the first fifty popes and recall the date of the fall of Jerusalem. She could cite every reference of homosexuality that occurs in the Old Testament. She knew which sins were mortal and which were merely venial, and she could analyze each of their origins down to one of the cardinal seven. She knew the rules of the mass, the rules of confession, and the rules of repentance better than she knew her own children.
When Butch refused to get out of bed for church, she told Jamie over his bowl of Fruity Pebbles that it was a sin of sloth and pride that went against the tenant of charity. It awed and terrified Jamie how her mind could sort so quickly and easily through the catechisms.
It was because of her, he supposed, that he first gave thought to his indulgence as a sin. If sleeping in earned two out of the seven, what would he earn for what he did with Lily?
He had been tempted, at his Fruity Pebbles, to ask his mother what it was, but even then he felt like he already knew the answers she would give: big words like effacement, defilement, abomination. Instead he asked: "w-will Butch go to hell for sleeping in?" His mother, like all good mothers, had shaken her head vigorously. "Of course not, honey bean."
She had sighed, poured his milk, planted saucy red lips on his cheek.
"Because hell is only for those who don't repent, honey bean."
That might have suited him just fine had he not continued on his play dates with Lily, unearthing more of the second Jamie. She was consuming the indulgence as much as him, and together their role-plays collected discovery after discovery: Who was Jamie in Wonderland? Who was Jamie under the sea? Who was Jamie in Beast's castle?
Sin only developed after this second Jamie was scrubbed away and Lily had bestowed her fat little kiss on his cheek. He would go home and feel all his mothers' rules and catechisms ballooning up inside his stomach, desperate to choke out his confession through the thousand thousand layers of God's law.
While he didn't confess he learned quickly to develop his own repentances. They started with simple, periodic statements in front of the mirror: I am Jamie. I am not Jamie in Wonderland. I am not Jamie under the sea. From these tepid beginnings they grew quickly: Dantesque in their cleverness, often consuming days of forethought and creativity. He began with a diary of offences that he scribbled in his most delicate pen, careful so that God would be able to read his handwriting. When they began to sound similar he questioned his sincerity and would rewrite and rephrase.
He categorized his weeks: the first would be a dutiful recount of the transgression, addressed to God Our Father. The following week would include the ways by which he would atone and ways by which his torn soul could be mended, addressed to Jesus Our Saviour. The third week was difficult because he was unsure how he could appease the Holy Spirit. After deliberation he settled on glorifying the qualities of love and forgiveness until he thought the entries were suitable.
When he was finished he would paste them in clusters on his bathroom mirror and study them until they were committed to memory and, presumably, committed to his eternal soul. Once confident that his soul had taken note, he would peel them off one at a time and eat them whole, washing each down with a glass of Stillwater. Then he would brush and floss his teeth and rinse his mouth with Listerine and wait for the sins to resurface. They went down with disappointing ease although this never stopped him from imagining and hoping for regurgitation. Inevitably his fantasies would have him choking down stifled vomit and blood with the confidence that God was watching.
God might have been watching all along but he took years in showing it. In the meantime Butch bought his first motorcycle, broke up with Olivia Otto and another girlfriend, and got himself caught twice smoking on school property. Jamie and Olivia Otto's mothers became best church friends and they began leading a Bible study series in their homes, and Jamie himself swallowed three journals' worth of sins and repentance.
But then, before he knew it, he was in was high school, and this marked the official end to his and Lily's play dates. Of course it didn't happen this simply. What caused it was Lily's sobbing trip to the school councilor during her first week in class.
Her puffy cheeks had ballooned over the summer, earning her the nickname "Baby fat," which was quickly shorthanded to just "Baby." When she had been christened with the new name she had come to Jamie in the hallway, her tears buried behind her Hello Kitty notebook, trying to wrap him in her lumpy sweater hug. Jamie, afraid that his own shortcomings (spindly arms, puckered bottom lip, stutter) would be exploited if he were seen associating with "Baby-fat," didn't hug her back. Her brimming green eyes, registering shock, pleaded while her mouth gaped at his betrayal. That's when she really started bawling and went running off to the councilor's office.
The next day and the day after there was no Lily, but no one noticed. People knew what had happened but two days was hardly long enough to merit any serious gossip. Three days was a different story. At three days the heads swiveled to Jamie when Lily was absent again, and even the teacher from the class that they shared asked him where his "little friend" was. He became the butt of ribald grins and the phrase that he'd "lost his Baby." After a week came the rumors, the most popular of which was that his "Baby" had been so devastated that she had gone in for liposuction.
This was of course false, but not by much. Lily, his mother told him, had been entered into a semester-long internment at weight management camp. She wouldn't be back until winter. Jamie didn't want to believe it. He had known that what he did was wrong but the fact that Lily would abandon him so suddenly stunned him. What would happen to his second Jamie now that she was gone?
Nevermind second Jamie. He soon realized that it was the first one that everyone was suddenly interested in: the quiet, spindly-armed one who had sent his best friend to fat camp without so much as nodding his head. This was the one that was derided in the class he would have shared with Lily; the one that cropped-haired brunette Olivia Otto, or Olly as she was nicknaming herself now, flicked in the back of the head each afternoon after he sat down. "A little prick can hurt, huh Jamie?" she said to him most days. And most days he could take the abuse in silence, whether it came from the sneering face of Olly Otto or from her less popular boy-toy Jason, a flat-billed cap-wearing hulk who would frighten Jamie with dirty words and big fists or actual manhandling into letting him copy his homework.
There may not have been any more play dates to explore the second Jamie but he was still as much alive as ever, hungering to be unleashed through another fantasy. Jamie tried going back to his imagination but nothing could satisfy like it had with Lily, and he realized then how little control over it he had. How, for all the "sins" he had swallowed and repentances he had made, he was no less in God's glassy gaze, the damned soul: effacing, defiling, abominable.
And then, to make things worse, he added thieving to the list. Greed for your own benefit, against humanity's universal tenant of charity. ButJamie couldn't bring himself to care about his immortal soul when his other self needed satiating. So he sleuthed. He stole from his mother.
He only burgled small tokens from her that were vile and dated, and once he had them they were so sin-stained by the touch of his thievery that he knew she wouldn't want them back. He kept his prizes but kept them hidden, first in a shoebox, and then in a laundry basket, and finally in an old flour tin that had collected in his closet. They were accessible for a moment's indulging, but always hidden from the eyes of Butch or his mother's Bible study students or Olly Otto's mother, or of course, Olly herself, whose sharp eyes seemed to be honing on him with more interest day by day. She almost even caught him at it when in the privacy of his own room he was idly stroking his silken chest, only to turn and discover that she was nearly upon him. He yanked his shirt on in time and she saw nothing but her eyes were full of bemusement when they fell on him.
"What were you doing in here?" she said.
"Why do you look so scared?"
"Nuh-uh. You're terrified."
"Well, I'm looking for the bathroom." He pointed, away.
"I need to put on my blush," she smacked her gum, planted her feet like a challenge. "Unless you'll lend me some of yours?" And she waited for his volley, smirking as he stuttered, his face purpling like mad.
Shortly after this Jamie abandoned the 'sinbook.' Swallowing paper paved no paths towards redemption. God never appreciated the halfhearted repentance. That's what Father Epicenerious preached and that's what his mother preached, quoting Matthew 19:12 or the cairning of Saint Stephen during his bowl of Fruity Pebbles: "and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake..." An eye for an eye, his mother's rules would read. He wouldn't go this far but there was no reason why he couldn't get his hands a bit dirtier.
Jamie could have predicted that Butch would get caught smoking a third time, so it was no surprise when his mother sat him down one day and told him that his brother had a court date for that very offence. "Mrs Otto will be leading the Bible study," she said. "You'll just go on the bus with Olivia."
He blanched but said nothing. What little tortures could he expect from her then? he wondered. Spit-up gum on his bus seat? Chants of Lamey Jamie all the way to Olivia's house?
Olivia or Olly was remarkably, even conspicuously, quiet for most of the day, leaving the dispensation of her usual head flicking to the guffawing Jason while she stared somnolently at the blackboard. If anything, this worried Jamie more for the ride home. However, this too passed in total silence as they sat silently next to each other, watching the pink and green autumn leaves dance outside their window.
Mrs Otto led the Bible study that day in Levitican contumely. She lacked his mother's knowledge but her fervor was honest: "No honey, that's still a sin. The scripture says it right here: For…all that…so…abomination unto the Lord…God…for anyone…detestable…sight of the Lord…your God." But Jamie couldn't pay attention to her sermonizing with Olly staring at him, ignoring everyone else, like he was some bizarre little animal she had trapped and now didn't know what to do with.
Before he knew it the Bible study was over and Mrs Otto was asking him, honey, if he'd like a ride home. "But Jamie had something he wanted to ask me about our science homework." He whirled around to face Olly. "That's fine, honey. Just don't keep him too late." Would this be it then? Had she been saving her humiliation for him this entire time—just so that she could catch him alone? She grabbed him by the hand and led him to her room and shut the door.
"Jesus Christ, I didn't think she'd ever shut up." Setting him on the bed, she clicked the switch for her fan and opened her window. Then, reaching into her rumpled leather purse she took out a packet of extra-thin, extra-long cigarettes, lighting one with a green gecko-stamped Zippo. He was too much in awe of this new Olly Otto, the fearless blasphemer and secret smoker, to say anything.
"Your brother's an asshole." She exhaled a stream of cinnamon-smelling smoke out the window. "You know about the whole smoking thing, right? I guess your mom didn't tell you that he tried to pin the whole thing on me. Get me in court with him." Surely she hadn't brought him here just to talk about his brother? He swallowed, shuffled around her bulging bed sheets, until she finally sighed.
"Jesus Christ, Jamie. Stop looking at me that way. You don't think I'm that stupid, do you?" He didn't know if there was a right answer so he decided to keep his mouth shut. "I know. Jamie. About you. I know." Was he hearing right? He asked her to repeat and she groaned, threw the cigarette out the window and plopped down next to him.
"Your brother always thought you were, like, kind of a woopsie. I never thought so—hell Baby probably would have sucked you off had you just asked her to. Anyway Jamie," her voice suddenly became tender. She put an arm around his shoulder and tweaked his hair. "I think I know what he was talking about, now. Like, I've seen it in Jason too. Why do you think he's always after you for his homework? He even thought he was being sneaky about it when I asked him. It was so pathetic." Jamie told her that he still had no idea what she was talking about. She pursed and withdrew her arm. "That's not nice," she said flatly.
"No. And it's not fair."
"Okay." But wait. "Why not?"
"Because…" and she slapped him on his back. "Jesus Christ! Because I'm trying to help you, you dumbass! With him!" And it struck like God thunder. He felt his heart drop octaves—and he felt the sear in his cheeks as every "no" he had ever kept in reserve fought for its freedom.
"You're lying!" He shook his head. "I d-don't think I am—what you think."
"You don't think you are?" She snorted a loose strand of hair out of her face. "Jesus—Jamie. Jason didn't think he was either!"
"Well." Breathe, Jamie. "I'm not."
"Then what is it?" she demanded.
He could have tried to stumble out an excuse but she already had him. She told him that she was there watching him the whole time that he had been alone in his room, stroking his burgled prize. Jesus Christ I thought it was so obvious. He shook his head again. And he looked into her glimmering green eyes, and then he told her about the second Jamie without so much as a stutter.
Olly laughed. "That's it?" And after he had brushed away the gathered tears, registering that the amusement in her voice was sincere and not some clever cruelty, he nodded. "It's sort of cute, even." He wasn't completely satisfied with her coquettish Olivia smile, or her casual incessancy afterwards that it was, in fact, sort of cute. But then he found himself telling her everything, cutting himself out as the most pitiable protagonist imaginable: confused, stupid, a cherry-blonde-headed burglar of disgusting and dated things.
The only response he got was one face-smile full of mystery. "Really?" And no more confirmation after this had been required to send her on her way, picking through closet clutter like a professional scrapper, passing through drawers, scraping clean her bathroom shelves. Ready not to please but to build, to create her weird, little project. Whether too frightened or disturbed by this strange, wonderful new Olly to say no, he complied with her every order as she choreographed his private debut with a matron's exactitude: pucker lip, bend knees here, swivel that head, look at me, yeah like that, eyes-over-shoulder.
He might have missed how dramatic it had been with Lily. The fact that Olly didn't hate him or pity him, but rather took a bit of pride in it, made things bad. Or at least more complicated. When he stood there lips pouting awkwardly, legs and toes angled in bad ballet poise, arms sheepishly akimbo, she giggled her ass off. "That's cuuute." Was it? He felt absurd, amazed by her passion and dumbstruck when her cold fingers laced with his. Afterwards they watched a movie, and his hand must have sweat gallons into hers.
Late winter brought swirls of lanky snow, a dry gravelly pitch to the nasally oratories of Father Epicenerious, and the start of brother Butch's school suspension for misconduct. This was fine by him as it meant more practice time on his drums. His mother led the predictable lectures on the birth and the travails of the truly faithful. Winter also brought Lily.
When he saw her he was surprised how much she had changed. The chipmunk fat of her cheeks had drained into her breasts, which sagged with formidable girth. Having abandoned her knitwear sweaters for much more snug-fitting halter-tops, she seemed to prefer the way they bulged against him when she tussled him into a hug. They didn't talk about weight management camp or even about the fall semester. She wanted to know about the second Jamie.
She smiled when she pulled away from her hug, rubbing his arms, her cake face glowing like wax paper. "But really, Jamie. Have you been doing anything?" Her fingers sponged up his arms and to his short sleeves, and then her face went blank. She pulled away the sleeve and there they were, pink as tulips, the crisscrossing lines he had dug out of his skin with a pocketknife weeks before.
"Oh Jamie," she breathed. He stumbled over his words; told her about the travails of the faithful: God never appreciated the halfhearted repentance. Saint Origen castrated himself with rocks. An eye for an eye, his mother's rules would read. "What have you been doing?" was all she asked. He told her about his satiny prizes he had collected, tinned, uncovered in the dead of night and handled with quivering breaths like they were the most sacred relics. She said nothing until he had finished. Then, she took the arm as gently as if it were her own child and held it until it deadened.
It was just as well that Olly Otto continued to flick him in the back of the head even if she was doing it flirtatiously. Lily was still in the dark about what they had done together and that's precisely where he would want her to remain. Although the classroom chatter about Olly's relationship and Jason's pained silence might have alerted her that something was up, she never acknowledged it. Her interests weren't exactly those of school gossip. She had joined the circle of small, unassuming kids with black hair who read manga and doodled heads with moppy dreadlocks.
As he and Olly spent more time with one another under the pretenses of after-school assignments or Bible study, she wanted to know everything about his "Baby." What, especially, she thought of Olly, which Jamie found odd because she never cared about anyone else's opinions. "I think she's afraid of you," Jamie answered. Olly barked a laugh and then went back to fondling his hand. "I knew that," she said. "But why? "All Jamie could think of was a list of vague endearments: you're strong-willed. You challenge people. You're not Baby.
There was more that thrilled him, as Jamie discovered. Olly Otto had a fake ID and used it to buy her extra-thin cigarettes and to get a Celtic knot tattooed on her lower left ankle. She could still fit into her old St. Francis Elementary Academy pencil skirt and she wore it regularly with mail-order cosplay blouses.
She also hadn't been afraid to get into a fit the week before when her mother grounded her for foul language and she had screamed, before retreating with Jamie into her room, that she was tired of both her goddam-fucking mom and the whole goddam-fucking church.
"I don't know how you can stand to listen to them," she said. "Seriously. My mom. Your mom. God freaks. It's, like, all they talk about Jamie. Don't you ever get tired of it?"
"God is good," he said listlessly. She squeezed his hand. She planted a teethy kiss on his lips. "Even Butch wouldn't have been stupid enough to say that."
Butch would hardly say anything to him. Holed up in his room he pounded away with his drums with the zeal that his mother pounded away at the catechisms. Only once had Jamie attempted to talk to him since his suspension but Butch had responded mostly in grunts. "I think I'm dating Olly Otto," Jamie said at last, if only to get a rise. Butch twirled his drumstick. "Who's Olly?"
"Olivia. Your ex."
"You're dating her?"
He nodded absentmindedly. "Just be careful. She can be kind of crazy."
"Really Jamie. She'll just go out of control. Do stuff—leave people. It's like she doesn't know what she wants. She's like—"
He didn't need to say it. Didn't need to say what his mother would say at church, when Mrs Otto told her that her daughter was a nonbeliever and therefore wouldn't be welcome in Father Epicenerious's today or any longer. "Just like your dad," said his mother wistfully when Mrs Otto had gone. "Starting something but never finishing."
"Will she go to hell?" Under the stained glass God of the church and the glassy eyes of the saints his mother shook her head wistfully.
"I don't know, honey bean."
"But if she repents?"
"I just don't know, honey bean." Pride in her own inflated feelings of self-worth, against God's own tenant of charity.
When Olly was absent from school the next day his teacher asked if he could deliver her homework. He thought nothing of it—took the bus to her house and rang the doorbell. It was obvious when she answered the doorbell that she wasn't sick.
Jamie's first thought was that it looked like a blood red ski-cap but he hardly had time to examine it before she whisked him to her room and shut the door and then stood, beaming, the wedges of her homemade tulle and tarlatan skirt crunched in by black-nailed hands. "Do you like it?"
But only when she flopped herself next to him and nipped his amazed lips playfully did he catch a deep whiff of herbal Bumble and Bumble and then realize, my God that red hair is real.
What was worse was that he had no idea why he didn't like it. Baby's strawberry-almost-ringworm red, no matter how much she glossed and fixed and altered and cut, bore always the pageboy consistency of a mushroom. Olly's was entrancing and raw and inhuman. She was as decorative as a Christmas ornament.
"Touch it," she ordered. His hand obeyed. "Now. Tug on it."
"Tug. Hard. You know how. Here. This strand right here." And she placed in his hand a perfectly red little ringlet.
He felt and pet and pulled but he didn't tug. Even so, Olly closed her eyes and began moaning and rubbing her bed sheets. She grabbed Jamie's hand and ran it through the curls, and she moaned louder and louder. A moment later and she was on top of him, directing his hand over her satin bodice and smooth shirt while he tasted greedy tongue and ashy cinnamon cigarette and did all he could not to sick up. Suddenly her eyes flashed open. She bolted upright. "But do you like it?"
"I don't know." It was the first thing that came to mind. A blade of light gleamed in her eyes. "You don't know." Her voice was steady and low. She flicked open her gecko-spotted Zippo and lit a cigarette.
"I mean—I like it."
"You just said you didn't know." Jamie's phone buzzed.
"I like it." Her eyes moved through Jamie's body as if she were sizing him up as prey. She took her time when she spoke next; waited to readjust herself, make up her face into something blank yet somehow vague and menacing.
"I told you that Jason never knew either, didn't I Jamie? That he was never sure about himself either—even when he was with me?"
"You told me," he said with dread.
"I know I did. And even when I asked you about it—what did you say? You didn't think you were?"
"I said I wasn't," he whispered, trying not to cough. His phone buzzed again.
"That's rude," she said; smoke trickling out of her nostrils. "Are you going to answer her?"
"Lily. Baby-fat, fat camp Lily. She's the only other person you talk to, so it has to be her, doesn't it?"
He hadn't talked to Lily in months but Jamie dared not say a word lest he rile more the already riled creature. He tried to shrug nonchalantly—what of it?—but it looked like a submission.
"We could always ask her, you know. If you're still not sure. If you still don't think you are."
"Olly," he said.
Would tugging her hair make a difference? But her eyes glowed with ruthless challenge, daring him to try anything. He was at her mercy.
"Don't." Tears of frustration stung his eyes; his hands quivered on his knees that he was trying to keep steady. Olly's hair crowned her like a blazing tiara. She was fantastic in her budding rage, and she had gone too far now to let it stop.
"Don't what, Jamie? Don't ask Baby-fat if her Jamie would rather be playing in Wonderland?" She jammed her cigarette into a wedge of her skirt. "Don't ask if her Jamie would rather be playing with his fairy fucking godmother?"
"You're…too much," he croaked.
"Oh?" her barking laugh cut him to the quick. "You're absolutely goddam right, Jamie. Because who the hell wants to screw his girlfriend when he's got a fun fucking frilly skirt he'd rather be playing with? Do you fucking know?" She barked again. "Do you know, Jamie?"
Another second of her blistering eyes and Jamie was sure that he'd have cried aloud, and there was no telling what sort of wrath that would have provoked. He did the only other thing he could think of. He threw open the door and bolted away.
Do you know? Do you know? Her voice came after him. He tried to drown it out, tried to drown it like his mother drowned out his father in her rules and catechisms, like Butch drowned out her God in his drums. But there it was, piercing him again and again. Do you know? Do you know, Jamie?
It was his mother who had sent the texts, wanting to know where he was. He thought for a moment before typing that he was at Lily's house.
Lily was overjoyed to see him, chirping about her new projects and her new friends and the gorgeous, simply gorgeous, spring weather that he had neglected up until then. "I'm sorry it's been so long since I've seen you, Lily," he tried but she brushed it aside. "I don't need any apologies, Jamie! I just want you to be happy." And he supposed that up in her room, on a bed piled high with stuffed animals and arm candy, he had no reason not to be happy.
She had changed since he had seen her in the winter. Her cheeks weren't even pudgy but had gained an unappealing firmness, and the rest of her body, so long disproportioned, was finally evening itself out. He didn't notice it at first either, but the mushroom of her red-hair had finally been sheered to wispy ribbons by a pair of clippers. "It was time for a change," she said, and then asked him what he would like to do, as if the answer wasn't clear already.
When was the last time they had explored the other Jamie together? When was the last time the other Jamie had belonged to them, and not Olly Otto or to God's great guilt?
"You ready?" said Lily. And could they still peel back the layers of her sculpted Jamie doll? Past Olly Otto and his white scars? Past the 'sinbook' and the guilt? Past effacement? Defilement? Abomination? Would they still find Jamie in Wonderland or Jamie under the sea?
Do you know? Do you know, Jamie?
Then it was over, all over, just like that. With none of the excitement, but an old, stale boredom and discomfort, as if he had outgrown this. He stood up for Lily's benefit, pranced on suede-cramped feet. He cocked a wry grin and tried to show off the simper that Olly had taught him but Lily didn't want to be impressed.
She wanted the show and the fantasy. She wanted him to stand up a little bit straighter after she told him that he was brave and beautiful. She wanted his gratitude. "Jamie, you're stunning," she said.
But he wasn't stunning. He was a boy in a glossy mask. He was a soul led by pride and greed and envy, washed-out by a God who had finally pronounced his judgment.
"You know what time it is, right?" His mother asked when he walked into the house from Lily's. She had a glass of red wine on the table. He hadn't known that she drank.
"What were you doing out so late?"
"I was at Lily's house."
"But what were you doing there in the first place? You should have been home."
"I—I hadn't seen her in awhile." His mother blinked her eyes slowly. They were heavy, as if she had just woken up. The boom, boom, boom of Butch's drums sounded faintly from above.
"Mrs Otto told me about what happened. I'm sorry, honey bean. I had no idea that you two were dating?" Jamie took a seat. "We weren't, really."
"That's not the way Mrs Otto sounded." He was silent, his head bowed. "Are you mad?"
"Of course not, honey bean."
"But she's not part of Father Epicenerious's. You said she didn't finish anything, like dad."
A cymbal crash resounded deep, like distant thunder. "And how many of us ever finish anything?" She took another sip. "You know, you don't stutter anymore, honey bean."
"Do you still think she'll go to hell?" said Jamie quietly.
"Only if she doesn't repent."
"But what if she doesn't repent?"
"Then it's between her and God."
"But what about the mortal sins? What about pride and abomination? What would Father Epicenerious say?"
His mother smiled and stood up wobbling. "Rules, honey bean. He'd tell you all the rules."
"But don't you already know all of those?"
His mother's kiss on the forehead was warm and her ladies' perfume smelt fresh. She looked at him with her large sympathetic eyes. The drums rattled, boom, boom, boom before going quiet.
"No one knows all the rules, Jamie."