Maybe he’ll have to call Bruce Blend, the expensive mindfulness provider uptown. Blend helped with the environmental stuff two years ago. Now if the neighbors are loud McCormick doesn’t fear home invasion. If the heater goes out he knows Julie and June can snuggle under a blanket. No one’s freezing to death on his watch, but other perils have risen.
Will Bruce know their chances of having to flee an inbound missile? Will he downplay the harm of a race-baiting president? Does he know if there will be fish in June’s ocean? Guns in her streets? If she will hope?
June is impatient to add the oats. Keeps lifting her cup to the hot pan.
No. Let the milk bubble.
Then she wants to stir, moves her stool too close. McCormick endures the risk.
When the goop is in the bowl she arranges apple slices just like the picture on the box, but adds a few raspberries. Then declines sugar or honey.
Doing it herself is sweet enough.
At school he unsticks a zipper, puts wet boots away. She doesn’t turn her head or say a word. Just a backwards wave.
Always, there will be these leavings.
In bed that night, McCormick, nerves blazing, objects to tomorrow’s plans.
“The ferry to Jersey City? Why do you need your files? Then the subway uptown and back? You can’t put color in your hair anyway. And dinner with Alison? Julie, Jesus! After what we just went through?”
She uses the patient-but-not-really voice that will not be retired just because she’s so wrong this time.
“It was Braxton Hicks, Michael. Spotting is normal. They have chemical-free dye. This isn’t a health crisis. Women have babies every day.”
“Well, you might have one tomorrow. On a boat in the Hudson River.”
Barbara is a faithful reader, but the Winter series tests her limits.
“It’s too real. I just keep screaming, let it go!” She texts him one day.
And the next: “Please bring back Julie and June.”
He still hasn’t written about closing night, though. When he sneaks backstage and watches Winter and The King. Ted Jackson’s oily pecs have made McCormick a madman for six nights running. They hold hands and lock eyes as the final ovation rains down.
He stops typing. His wife and daughter have little colds. He hears them sniffling in their beds. Ok, maybe that’s enough.
With six weeks to go before Winter will allow him near her, McCormick joins a road trip to Butte for a big basketball game.
The Hawks win. The party is fun. McCormick ends up sharing a Motel 6 bed with Vanessa Vinton, who he didn’t kiss (because of Winter or a different fear?) that day last summer when she came over and cut his hair in the backyard.
Six other kids sleep next to them, on the floor and the next bed, and Vanessa just had chicken pox. She whispers about her scabs when he moves closer in the night.
(Defending herself against the charge that she’s heartless…)
I don’t care that he’s a tenor. This isn’t about his singing voice. It’s all his other voices. They never stop. When the phone rings I cringe. But my mother always lets him talk and his pauses and sighs suck the air out of the whole house.
Then before first period its McCormick and Snow with the morning announcements. Hah Hah! Making fun of Students for Peace with a bogus meeting of Students for War. And his weekly column. “Live Mike.” So clever.
Don’t forget the pitiful notes in my locker. How much of him do I have to take?
The cast list for the spring musical goes up. The King and I. She gets I.
He watches her back away from the choir room door, fingers templed at her lips. He feels only triumph. He is Winter; that’s what love means.
They drift in silence to a practice cube. He’s never kissed her in school.
McCormick waits, motionless, for an auratic flicker to draw him closer.
“This is just going to be my time. I can’t deal with you until the show is over.”
Pierced, he calculates the months with no Winter. It makes her angry that he stays.
“You want her for her body right?” Scott Snow asked as the Oldsmobile chugged along I-90.
Talk like that about a girl made him feel queer. Especially about Winter. McCormick was seventeen. Going slow. He wanted her for her face.
And Snow was so Mormon. His folks were more uptight than even Barbara and Bill. How could he make Winter’s chest announce and her legs invite?
“Because she is truly terrible, man.”
In Billings they had Orange Julius, played Asteroids, then started home.
“We have to go to school tomorrow,” Snow said. “And you have to put that girl down.”
The greatest pleasure was getting back together, after having ached and cried and crawled back to the sonic womb of After the Gold Rush and walked down Senior Hall with his head under his arm day after Ichabod day.
Then Winter relents and comes back to his room. McCormick will never know physical relief more complete than the return of her long fingers to the small of his back and the points of her hips pressed to his, Jordache grinding against Levi, until 10:30 when Bill raps stern on the door and says “Time to break it up in there…”
It’s the cornball joke of best-man toasts and widower’s eulogies, but McCormick seems compelled to marry up.
Watch the Christmas concert. Winter leans forward, red in her cheeks, the soloist bringing good cheer, while McCormick, who can’t find the tenor entrance note, silently mouths ding dong, ding dong.
In spring she gets 5s on three AP tests. He quits trying halfway through History. Just fills bubbles that make an X across his sheet.
And when they argue, Winter stands tall, car keys in hand, while McCormick enacts the death that would be losing her by crumpling to his bedroom floor.