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?
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.
Falling in love. Deciding to be in love. What’s the difference?
“Long May You Run” is playing. McCormick remembers the “chrome heart shining in the sun.” Winter Matheson driving away.
He’d chosen her at chorus practice from a row of altos, written her number on his palm like he imagined people did.
Neil Young songs charted the whole thing. She was a “Cinnamon Girl,” hungry mouth offering lifetimes. Until the day she couldn’t stand him, after which McCormick lived on his knees and always replaced the needle.
“Nestled in your wings my little one…tomorrow see the things that never come…”