Authors: Marti Leimbach
The Man from Saigon
Daniel Isn't Talking
Love and Houses
Sun Dial Street
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2016 by Marti Leimbach
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.
is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. Nan A. Talese and the colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design by Emily Mahon
Cover photograph by Brendan Austin
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Leimbach, Marti, 1963â author.
Title: Age of consent : a novel / Marti Leimbach.
Description: First edition. New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015047802 (print) | LCCN 2016000946 (ebook) ISBN 9780385540872 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780385540889 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Mothers and daughtersâFiction. Life change eventsâFiction.
Teenage girlsâSexual behaviorâFiction. Domestic fiction. BISAC:
FICTION / Literary. FICTION / Contemporary Women. FICTION / Legal.
GSAFD: Legal stories.
Classification: LCC PS3562.E4614 A74 2016 (print) LCC PS3562.E4614 (ebook)
LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/â2015047802
For Imo Rolfe
t was September, a weekday, a school night. She had painted her toenails, brushed on mascara, covered with matte foundation the few spots of acne that dotted her nose. She wore pale summer jeans, a shirt she'd ironed herself. She thought there might be dinner, but when Craig picked her up he drove straight to the motel, swinging into a parking space beside a delivery van that looked as though it had been parked there for a while. He turned off the ignition, then switched on the car's inside light. He reached forward, fishing for his wallet, packed in among the cassettes in the glove compartment, also for his lighter. His T-shirt clung where the vinyl seats had made his back sweat. He looked at Bobbie as though he were deciding whether to bother asking, then said, “You got any money?”
“Not much,” she said.
He sighed. He rubbed his hand beneath his ball cap, red, white, and blue with a bicentennial celebration logo across the bill. “What about cigarettes?” he said. “Any of them?”
He was twenty-eight, well over six feet, while she was a little package, a ballerina-shaped girl with sun-bleached hair, newly fifteen. She watched as Craig pulled at the contents of the glove compartment, coming out with old envelopes, batteries, a bunch of menus for takeout along with important thingsâhis car registration, his checkbookâchucking it all onto the floor. She thought if he was asking for cigarettes, it must mean he was out of rolling papers. He didn't like cigarettes and hated when she smoked. But sometimesâlike nowâhe'd ask her for a couple. He'd tap out the tobacco in one of her Marlboros, tear off the filter, add his own leaves, then twist the ends to make a joint.
“You keep telling me to quit,” she said.
“Never mind. I found something.”
Cold light shone from a motel sign perched on a steel post high above them, huge and bright, with garish round letters like something from a comic book. She'd driven past this motel before, seeing it from the passenger seat of her mother's car, the sign and a strip of neon lighting the words
. She didn't know who stopped here or why. It was in the middle of the state. You'd think people would drive all the way to the city, D.C. or Baltimore, wherever they were heading. Stopping at a place like this had to be for purposes of exhaustion or drunkenness or another reason, like what they were doing here tonight.
“It's thirty bucks. And we're not even staying,” he said, a trace of disgust in his voice, perhaps to show what having her in his life cost him. Then he swung shut the car door and crossed the lot, his wallet bulging in his jeans pocket. She didn't know what he kept in there that made the wallet so big. Not money, that was for sure. He'd buy her a Hostess Cherry Pie. He'd buy her a McDonald's burger. He didn't get her the things guys got their girlfriends, earrings or flowers. In her school, some of the girls wore liquid silver necklaces with nuggets of turquoise threaded at intervals, and he hadn't bought her anything like that, though she didn't know if she even wanted him to. Accepting a gift would mean something more, that she was his when she didn't want to be his. She would have liked, however, to be someone's.
She watched him disappear into the darkness beyond the streetlamps, and then reappear holding a key on a big wooden fob, the room number burned into the wood. He didn't walk all the way back to the car, but stood on the cement path and told her to get out. She followed him through a narrow passage, past an ice machine and an exit sign. He had a long-strided, swaggering walk and she had to jog every few steps to keep up.
“I need to go home soon,” she said.
“I've got a test tomorrow.” Chemistry, the periodic table. She needed to have learned the shorthand symbols of the elements and, for some, their atomic weights.
He laughed. “I've got a test for you here first.”
The lamps in the room were on chains connected by thick eye bolts to the floor. The dark brown curtains, folded stiffly into exaggerated pleats, zigzagged across the windowsill. Had she looked behind the curtains, she'd have seen the air freshener in its coffin-shaped plastic case. An artificial floral scent lay heavy in the room, seeping into the dark brown wood and curtains, and the carpet with its geometric pattern.
She told him she needed the bathroom and he nodded, dropping onto the bed.
He said, “Hey, you look pretty,” and then watched her cross the room. “You listening? I just said you were pretty.”
“I heard you.”
“So what do you say when someone compliments you?”
“That's better,” he said. “You're welcome.”
The bathroom was a space with a narrow shower and a chipped toilet. She tried not to make too much noise when she peed because she didn't want him to hear, but the walls weren't much more than strong cardboard. She flushed with embarrassment, pressing her face against the wall tiles to cool her skin while above, somewhere near her, a mosquito hummed. When she came into the room again, she found him on top of the stiff bedclothes, his shoes and T-shirt off. He was grinning at her. She could see his medallion gleaming, and the extra belly fat, and the hair.
“It's got Magic Fingers,” he said, dropping a quarter into a machine on the bedside table. There was the sound of a coin dropping, then a buzz as the mattress jiggled. “You going to stand there all night? If you are, how about you turn around and spread your legs? Just kidding.”
He had an erection beneath his jeans and he touched himself. She didn't turn or move.
He told her to stop staring at the wall. “Come on. I thought we were going to have a little fun here. Don't you want to have fun? Give me the matches. Get high or do something anyway.”
“It's a chemistry test,” she said. “I have to stay on track. No smoking pot.”
“Suit yourself, Einstein. It's pretty cool what you can do with a Bunsen burner,” he said, “but there's other kinds of fire.”
“Don't make fun.”
“I wasn't. Come here.”
She looked at him, tilting her head to one side. He might have thought she was admiring him, but she was only wishing he was more tidy, had a better haircut, or a tan or something. She needed a part of him she could find handsome and focus on if she was going to do this. She looked at his hands with their broad palms and smooth fingers. The nails were healthy and he kept them trimmed.
“What are you looking at?” he said.
“You have nice hands.”
He laughed. He pretended he didn't care, but she could see the edges of a smile. “I got better things for you to look at.”
He made a grab for her arm, but she moved suddenly, tossing him a fresh pack of matches that had been left by the ashtray. He looked annoyed that she'd strayed from him, but he scratched up a flame anyway, lit the joint, and dragged deeply.
“Do you love me?” he said. “Do you?”
“You always ask me that.”
On the far side of the room, a fleet of moths flew over and over into the ceiling light, banging into it, causing little pinging sounds when they met the shade and glass. She watched them now and wondered how they didn't knock themselves out doing that.
“So what's your answer then?” he said. “You love me or are you just messing around here?”
It seemed a nice questionâdo you love me?âbut it wasn't. Not unless she answered quickly and as he wished. “Please,” she said. She didn't know what she was asking for. She felt his anger bloom with her hesitation, and wasn't quick enough to stop it. “Please don'tâ”
“I asked you a question!”
“Yes,” she said but she ought to have said this sooner. “Yes, I doâ¦I love you.” There. It hadn't been so difficult.
“Look at you, staring at bugs,” he said. He stuck the joint between his lips and rose from the bed, reaching toward the light where he scooped a moth into his hand. “Up close, it's pretty ugly. You should take a look.”
She didn't think it was ugly. She peered into his cupped hand and saw the moth's soft wings and the mossy texture of patterns. “Moths can smell through their feet,” she said.
“Jesus, where do you learn this crap?”
“Just a fact.”
Suddenly he closed his fingers into a fist, crushing the moth so that when he opened his hand once again there was nothing left of the creature except its head and two broken antennae and a scribble of legs. “Moths are made of dust,” he said. “There's another fact for you.” He rubbed his palm on the bedclothes, then plucked the joint from his lips, holding it out for her. “Relax,” he said, an instruction. “Smoke.”
She took a hit but she was worried. Not about getting caught but about whether he'd be too stoned to get her home safely and about the scent lingering on her clothes and her mother noticing. Especially that.
“How about we try something else now?” he said, his hand busy with his zipper. He was proud that his erection was so large, but it didn't do anything for her. He liked to rub his dick on her breasts and face. He liked to run it up the crack of her ass and sometimes, to her disgust, put it inside there, too, though never for very long. He always behaved as though he were giving her something she really liked. But she couldn't figure out why it was supposed to be good. It was good because he told her it was good.
“Lie down,” he whispered.
She did as she was told. Sometimes she thought perhaps there really was something wrong with her because mostly sex just hurt or stung. Other times she didn't feel anything at all. He might as well be creating a soft friction on any part of her. Sex seemed a whole lot of nothing and this confused her, making her worry for the future. She was waiting for some change to occur, to acquire the taste. Like the day you finally like coffee after so often finding it bitter and undrinkable.
He turned her onto her belly and she felt the Scotchgard on the coverlet rubbing her face. She waited it out, feeling much the way she might if she were caught in a cold rain and had to march toward shelter. Just keep going, keep going, just keep going untilâ
Finally he finished. A few strong swipes and he rolled off her, sliding across the little puddle of sweat he left on her lower back. The bed springs creaked as he dropped onto his side. The vibration from the Magic Fingers was long gone and a stillness settled around them so that she could sense what the room would feel like after they had leftâa collection of objects arranged on a rectangle of carpet.
She waited until she thought he wouldn't mind, then pulled herself away and went to the bathroom to wash. She was careful with the door, lifting it so that the lock met the catch. Once inside, she clicked on the light. She didn't trust the showerâthere were rust marks along the trim and in between the plain square tiles the grout was brownish gray, like bark. She'd heard people got fungal infections from showers like these, and anyway, the water pressure would be weak. She decided to wash in the shallow sink, but even that worried her. She ran the water, then clotted a corner of the bath towel in her fist and rubbed soap along the enamel before rinsing it. The other towel she used first on her face, then between her legs, being gentle so that she didn't make herself sorer.
When she came out, he was sitting on the bed, jeans pulled up but still unzipped, his jockey shorts digging into the ruddy skin of his upper thighs. His lips were dry, and he picked at a bit of loose skin there, then stood all at once, stepping into his shoes.
“You ready?” he said.
Why did he ask her that when she was wearing only her shirt and underwear? Anyway, the room smelled like pot. She thought she should open a window, brush the ash off the tabletops, clean out the ashtray so that there were no signs of drugs. The ashtray was a blocky square of brown glass with an indentation on each side to rest a cigarette. She picked it up and took it to the bathroom, dumped ash into the toilet and flushed.
“Now what?” he said.
She could see him in the mirror's reflection, looking impatiently toward her while pinching down a loose end of a roach. She continued what she was doing, running water over the colored glass, letting the ashes slide down the sink drain. She rinsed it again, then held it up to sniff.
“Whatever you're doing in there, you don't need to,” he said. A match between his teeth, a paper clip in his hand.
“I'll be just another minute.” She thought about school the next morning, and how many hours between now and the bus, and that she needed to shampoo her hair before then.
“You already look good,” he said. “I wouldn't be with you if you were ugly.”
“I wish I had shampoo.”
“Your hair's fine. Come on. I don't have all night.”
Her hair was tangled with sweat. She thought, too, that he must have gotten his spit in it. She ran the ends under the faucet, tried to arrange it so that it looked okay. She heard him on the other side of the door. It was remarkable how he just pulled on his clothes and went. He didn't mind what others found, or what was suspected.
“I'm going to the car,” he said. He went out, leaving the door open. A moment later, he called, “Hurry up!”
She wanted to check there was no stain on the bed, that she didn't leave behind her comb or wristwatch or any little part of her things. She'd once read a book about how witchesânot the ones from a hundred years ago but contemporary witchesâcould cast spells using only a few strands of a person's hair or something that had been next to their skin. She didn't want to leave anything like that behind. She didn't believe in witchcraft, but she didn't want any part of her left in this room or any room like it.
She put the pillows back under the coverlet, wadded up the used tissues and stuffed them into the little trash can by the toilet. The ashtray she returned to its place next to the Magic Fingers box. There she found a quarter, left by Craig or by someone before him. Behind it, another coin. She pocketed the coins, then looked for others. Stooping down to check the floor, she saw what looked to be a roll of paper and thought Craig had dropped a joint behind the mattress. Then she realized it wasn't a joint. It was money: a wad of bills wedged between the wall and the table. The bills were rolled loosely, held together by a fraying rubber band. Fifties. Where the lamplight hit was the west front of the Capitol and
The United States of America
in a little ribbon of letters above.