Authors: Jennifer Weiner
Lynnette widened her eyes in mock horror at Jo’s daring, then smiled a wicked, pleased-with-herself smile. “Lie down.”
Jo tried for a casual, teasing tone. “I thought this was going to be a visual demonstration.”
“This is how Carla showed me.” Doubt flickered across her friend’s face. “Unless you don’t want me to.”
Jo had never wanted something so much in her entire life, but she kept her tone casual. “I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I need to have some experiences,” she said, lying back on Lynnette’s pillows, trying not to appear too eager and scare Lynnette away.
“Take your pants off.”
Jo closed her eyes so that she wouldn’t have to see her friend’s face, and wriggled out of the jeans she’d worn, the ones that her mother despaired of and said made her look like a coal miner. Underneath them, she wore plain white cotton panties. Her legs were smooth—she’d shaved that morning—and already tanned from the spring sun. She felt her belly contract and flutter when Lynnette brushed it with her fingertips. When she felt the rubber cup of the machine thrumming against her thigh, just above her knee, she gasped, jerking up straight.
“Ooh!” Jo said. “It tickles.” But Jo could tell that what felt ticklish on her leg was going to feel different, and much better, someplace else.
Lynnette smiled as she turned the disk onto its side and slid its edge up, tracing a line along the inside of Jo’s leg. She moved it toward the leg band of Jo’s underwear, her pace excruciatingly slow, before pulling it away and running it back along Jo’s thigh. Jo found herself squirming as Lynnette continued to drag the vibrator up and down, moving closer, each time, to Jo’s underwear, which had to be soaking wet. Jo wondered if her friend could see. Just when Jo was getting ready to say something—
her friend’s hand and move it between her legs, Lynnette moved the cup over Jo’s belly before she pulled it down slowly, until it was almost at the place where her pubic hair began. Jo’s hands were clenched into fists, and she was rocking her hips, pumping them up and down, desperate for Lynnette to bring the buzzing cup to where Jo needed to feel it. She could feel sweat gathering at her temples and the small of her back, and her breathing was drowning out Connie Francis.
“Do you like it?” Lynnette’s voice sounded a little husky.
“Yes!” Jo managed.
“Want me to keep going?”
Jo nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She grabbed on to Lynnette’s comforter with both her hands, spreading her legs wider.
“Okay,” Lynnette said, and slid the edge of the cup down from the waistband of Jo’s underwear, down to that spot Jo’s fingers had brushed a few times in the bathroom, the spot she never let herself touch at night or in the shower.
The effect was electric. Jo felt her body arc off the bed. Her nails dug into the comforter, and she gasped once, harshly, the sound almost like a sob.
“There?” Lynnette asked, sounding very pleased with herself.
Jo took her friend’s wrist in her hand and shifted the cup’s angle the tiniest fraction. Heat and delicious tension were blooming in her belly and between her legs, the sensation threatening to overwhelm her. She felt her entire body stiffen, in preparation for some delicious release.
“Oh,” she said, her voice cracking, her hips lifted. Before she could stop herself, before she could think, she reached up with both arms, wrapping her hands around the back of Lynnette’s neck, pulling her best friend down on top of her until they were chest to chest and mouth to mouth.
She’ll slap me
, she thought dimly, as the vibrator, trapped between their bodies, tilted at the perfect angle, still thrumming against her. Widening waves of pleasure were rolling out from that place, all through her body.
Her toes curled. Her legs locked, muscles shaking, and Lynnette’s mouth was as sweet as she’d known it would be, her tongue hot and vital and absolutely necessary, as essential as air as it stroked against Jo’s own. Jo felt her hips jerk sharply upward once, twice, then again, and her whole body trembled as bliss swept through her, sharp and sweet and overwhelming.
Jo fell back, breathing hard, and somehow Lynnette ended up tucked beside her, a flushed, sweet, fragrant bundle.
, thought Jo. Now she’ll see what is wrong with me. Now she’ll tell me to leave. Only Lynnette, giggling and supremely pleased with herself, didn’t seem to be in any hurry for Jo to go anywhere. Leaning over Jo’s half-naked body to consult the clock on her dresser, she said, “No one’s going to be home for another hour.”
Jo nodded. As soon as she could catch her breath, she rolled over, pinning Lynnette’s arms above her head with one arm. With the other, she pulled off Lynnie’s skirt. Her friend squealed, but not in disapproval, and she didn’t try to get away. Jo located the little humming device and straddled her friend’s thighs, one leg on either side. “Tell me if I’m doing it right,” she said, and bent to her task. She wanted to make Lynnette feel what she’d felt, those widening waves of ecstasy, wanted to feel her best friend roll her hips and shake, hear her gasp and sigh, to watch as her fists clenched and her face turned pink and her carefully set curls wilted. Five minutes after she began, Lynnette was gripping Jo’s upper arms, eyes shut and gasping. A minute after that, Lynnette pulled Jo down beside her, and, with her eyes still shut, whispered, “I am never ever EVER putting that thing in the mail.”
hen Bethie came home from roller-skating with her friends on an unexpectedly warm Saturday afternoon in March, the house was quiet. There was no smell of roasting chicken or tuna-noodle casserole emanating from the kitchen (Sarah had started cooking on Shabbat, dispensing with cholent years ago, saying she was done being old-fashioned, washing two sets of dishes and following all of the rules). Bethie hadn’t seen her father in the driveway, washing his car, the way he liked to do on pleasant Saturdays, and she found her mother in the living room, which was weird, actually sitting on the couch, which was weirder. “Keep your voice down,” Sarah murmured before Bethie could say a word. “Your father’s got an upset stomach.”
Bethie winced. Their house had only one bathroom, with a small window that overlooked the backyard and a noisy ceiling fan that seemed to move the air around more than clear it. Sarah kept a box of kitchen matches on the windowsill and a can of Lysol spray beside it, but when someone in the house had, in their mother’s delicate phrasing, “an upset stomach,” the entire small house ended up smelling.
“Ken?” Sarah called down the hallway, stretching his name until it was two syllables, her voice rising on the second one:
No answer came. “Honey? Are you going to want dinner?”
No answer came. Twenty minutes later, Jo’s friend Lynnette dropped Jo off. “What’s going on?” Jo asked, breezing through the door in blue basketball shorts and a dark-blue T-shirt, as Lynnette backed her parents’ car out onto the street, narrowly missing the Steins’ mailbox, which she’d already hit twice. Bethie explained the situation as their mother stood in front of the bathroom door, conducting a one-way conversation with their dad. “We’ll have a chef’s salad for dinner! Does that sound all right?” No answer. Sarah came into the kitchen, looking anxious. “Bethie, why don’t you give a knock?”
Bethie did not need to be asked twice. She had plans for the night, a first date with Donald Powers, who was a junior, the student council treasurer, and a member of Key Club. Donald was going to pick her up at seven, to take her to see
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
. She’d need to shower and use the mirror.
“Daddy?” she called, knocking at the bathroom door and breathing through her mouth, just in case. No answer came. Bethie couldn’t hear anything—no words, no bathroom noises, not even breathing.
Bethie knocked again, even harder. “Dad? Daddy?”
Fart once if you can hear us
, she thought, and had to bite her lips to stifle her giggles.
“It isn’t funny,” Jo said. Her sister’s brow was furrowed, and she wore the same look of intense concentration that Bethie had seen when she stood at the free-throw line on the basketball court. That expression gave Bethie her first twinge of unease.
Jo went to their bedroom and came back with a wire hanger. She pulled the curved end straight, inserted the tip into the lock, and twisted it as Sarah stood next to Bethie, both of them a few feet behind Jo. They all heard the sound of the lock popping open. “Dad?” Jo called, and pushed the door open. Sarah gasped.
“Don’t look,” Jo said, her voice low, but Bethie did, standing on her tiptoes to peek over her sister’s shoulder. Her father was sitting on the toilet seat, his pants pulled up, his torso slumped against the wall. His face was a terrible purplish-gray color. His eyes were shut, and Bethie knew, before she heard her mother scream, that her father was dead.
* * *
Sarah and the girls didn’t get home from the hospital until ten o’clock. When Jo opened the front door that no one had remembered to lock, Bethie saw that Donald Powers, her forgotten Saturday-night date, had left a note tucked into the door jamb.
Guess we got our wires crossed. I’ll give you a ring tomorrow
. Bethie stared at the words for a long time. It was as if they had been written in a foreign language, or sent from a different lifetime. She folded the note into her pocket and followed her mother and sister into the kitchen, where Jo filled the kettle, lit one of the gas rings, and pulled out three mugs and three teabags.
Bethie had been the one to call the operator and ask for an ambulance, and Jo had been trying to do CPR that they’d both been taught in gym class when the ambulance finally arrived. The paramedics, two young men in white pants and white shirts, had ordered her out of the room and lifted Ken’s body, but even before they’d gotten him onto the couch, and then into the back of the ambulance, a long, white-painted Cadillac that looked distressingly like a hearse, Bethie had known, from the looks they exchanged, that it was hopeless. They’d followed the ambulance to the hospital and been told to sit in the waiting room. Jo had paced restlessly, prowling the floor in her sneakers and shorts. Bethie had tucked herself into a chair in the corner and made up stories. The woman playing solitaire was there because her daughter was having a baby, the fellow who stood by the vending machine, shifting his weight from side to side, was there because his little boy had slammed his hand in a car door. Sarah sat on one of the molded plastic chairs, with her legs crossed at the
ankles and her purse in her lap. She seemed perfectly normal if you didn’t look at her eyes, or at how her knees were trembling. When the young doctor came out and quietly gave her mother the news, Bethie braced for hysterics, for screaming and tears. But Sarah just nodded and got to her feet, gathering up her pocketbook and her daughters and leading them out to the car.
Now Sarah was sitting motionless at the kitchen table, her face blank, her eyes unfocused. Bethie realized that she could hardly ever remember seeing her mother holding still. When Sarah wasn’t on her feet, moving from refrigerator to stove to counters, washing dishes or folding laundry or cooking, she always found something to do with her hands. Bethie must have watched hundreds of television shows, written dozens of papers, and solved thousands of math problems accompanied by the click-click-click of Sarah’s knitting needles or the tapping of her heels. That night Sarah just sat, unmoving, with a notebook in front of her and an uncapped pen in her hands.
Jo talked to their mother in a gentle voice Bethie hardly recognized, asking questions that would never have occurred to Bethie. “No,” Sarah said, “we don’t have plans. We were going to . . .” Her voice trailed off, the way it had been doing since the doctor had knelt in front of her and said
I’m so sorry
. On the way home, a few times Sarah had started to say something—“I should make sure the good dishes are . . .” or “Do you think Daddy would . . .” The girls would wait, but Sarah’s voice would just drift off. Jo ended up being the one who’d called the rabbi at Adath Israel, and the funeral parlor, and the newspaper, to request an obituary form. Bethie watched her mother sipping tea, listening to Jo answer questions.
Just a plain pine box
We’ll bring a suit, and a tie, and his tallis
. When those calls were made, Jo dialed Lynnette. “I’m sorry to call so late, Mrs. Bobeck, but my dad died, and if there’s any way I could speak to Lynnette . . .” Bethie couldn’t hear the reply, but she could imagine Mrs. Bobeck’s shocked gasp, and how she’d murmur,
Oh, of course, dear, I’m so sorry
. Bethie thought about calling Barbara Simoneaux or Laura Ochs or
Darlene Conti, but decided to tell them in the morning.
I am a girl whose father died
, she thought, trying on the identity like a new pair of shoes. When she’d fall down on her roller skates, her father was the one who’d dab hydrogen peroxide on her scrapes. When her fingernails needed cutting, her father would pull her onto his lap and clip them. When she was naughty, he’d spank her—a
, as he said—but even his spanks were almost gentle; and while Jo was usually the one who went on drives with him, every few weeks he’d bring home a special treat for Bethie, a chocolate tart or a slice of bumpy cake from Saunders.
I am a girl whose father is dead
, Bethie thought again. She wondered if it had hurt, if her father had known what was happening, if he’d been afraid.
By two in the morning, Sarah was asleep on the living-room couch. Jo slipped her mother’s shoes off, while Bethie found a blanket and covered her up. The girls took turns brushing their teeth and washing up. Bethie wondered if Jo felt as strange about being in the bathroom as she did, but what could they do? Her parents had talked about adding on to the house, like the Steins across the street had done, building a family room or a big master bedroom and another bathroom, but that had never happened, and now it never would. Bethie waited until Jo was in bed before she whispered, “What are we going to tell people about Dad?”