If/Then

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Babes

Ellis’s mother sat in the corner of the living room in the worn blue reclining chair where she liked to knit, a fat orange tabby cat curled up in a ball on her lap. She was watching one of the daytime soap operas that captivated her imagination when she wasn’t at work. Over the drone of the television, Ellis could hear the repetitive clicking noise of her knitting needles as she made yet another pair of brightly colored winter mittens. Ellis didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so he always pretended to wear the mittens to school, removing them as soon as he was out of sight of the front window that looked out on their drab front yard.

Ellis’s father sat quietly on the couch, his greying head bent and heavy brow furrowed as he contemplated his computer screen. He was probably playing fantasy football again, a habit that Ellis’s mom wanted him to quit. Ellis entered the living room and plopped down on the couch next to his dad, letting his long, lean legs splay out in front of him. He played absentmindedly with the silver watch on his wrist, a treasured family heirloom given to him by his parents for his sixteenth birthday. Ellis’s dad reached an arm over and affectionately ruffled his son’s sandy brown hair.

“What’s the plan for today, squirt?” Ellis’s dad always called him squirt, had called him that since he was small, even though these days it made Ellis squirm with a feeling of humiliation he couldn’t quite articulate.

“I don’t know yet,” replied Ellis, rolling his bright green eyes. “Probably just hanging out with Jake and David. Playing Fallout or something.” A piercing shriek sounded from the kitchen as the water in the teakettle boiled.

“Make sure you get your math done,” said Ellis’s mom, sighing heavily and placing a pudgy hand on her lower back as she hoisted herself out of the recliner and padded to the kitchen. “We won’t be home to check in on you until late.”

Ellis nodded absentmindedly, his mind occupied by the woman on the TV screen. Her bosom heaved dramatically as she sobbed about her lover’s betrayal, her breasts almost spilling out of the neckline of her low-cut velvet gown.

“Oh no, did I miss Sophia’s suicide?” Ellis’s mother bustled back in, a steaming mug of tea in her hand. The hem of her blue nurse’s scrubs rustled. A waft of peppermint-scented air drifted out of her cup and past Ellis’s nose. Ellis inhaled deeply. His mother sighed with relief as the woman on the screen sank to the ground, still sobbing. “Never mind, it’s not for another twenty minutes. She certainly does drag these things out, doesn’t she?”

Ellis tore his eyes away from the TV screen. “Wait, Mom, what did you say?”

“About Sophia?” Ellis’s mother blinked, pleased. “I said she always takes a very long time to get to the death scenes. She has seven of them in this season alone, and I think–“

“No, sorry,” Ellis interrupted her, “I meant before that. What did you say about going out?”

“Your mother and I are going to the Spellmans’ for dinner tonight,” said Ellis’s father, finally looking up from the spreadsheet he’d been busily typing numbers into. “It’s Sarah’s forty-ninth birthday.”

“Fifty-ninth, dear,” corrected Ellis’s mom, settling into the recliner again.

Shit. Shit. Ellis had forgotten all about the dinner tonight. And that meant they were probably taking the Ford. Fuck.

“You’re not taking the car, are you?” asked Ellis innocently, trying to keep any note of urgency out of his voice.

“Well, of course, squirt,” said Ellis’s dad, sounding slightly puzzled. “You didn’t think we were going to walk, did you?”

Ellis tried desperately to think of a good, sane, adult reason that his parents would walk. Or take the bus. “I just thought maybe,” he hedged, “if you’re going to drink, maybe I could drive you and then–“

“Your father never drinks at parties, sweetie,” said Ellis’s mom. “We’re just going to head over at dinnertime, make the rounds, sing Happy Birthday, and then we’ll be home by nine or so at the latest.”

Crap. Shit fuck fucking shit. This was bad. Ellis tried to conceal his agitation from his parents, still obliviously watching the soap. He vaulted off the couch and disappeared down the narrow hallway to his room, which was dark and smelled faintly musty. Flicking on the light, he stumbled over to his narrow twin bed and sat down on the worn navy blue bedspread. He buried his head in his hands with a deep groan. He had counted on using the car tonight to pick up Hazel. If his parents had it, not only would he have to convince her to brave the Ohio winter on bike or by foot, but he would have nowhere to take her except home–home, where his parents had enacted a strict no-girls-in-the-bedroom policy and would be breathing down his neck once they got home from the Spellmans’ party. Goddammit. Ellis took several deep breaths, trying to clear his head. When he looked up from staring at his denim-clad knees, his mom was standing in the doorway, her face folded into lines of wrinkled concern.

“What’s the matter, honey?” she asked. She crossed the room and sat bursa escort bayan down next to him on the bed, the rickety frame letting out a small noise of protest at the added weight. Ellis sighed and leaned his head against his mother’s shoulder, feeling the warmth of her large, solid body next to his gangly frame. Her left hand rubbed soothing circles against his back.

“I was just really hoping you would let me have the car tonight,” Ellis confessed, trying to think of a reasonable lie. “I wanted to….um, drive to the rec center with Jack to play basketball,” he fibbed, hoping his mother wouldn’t remember that the rec center was only a block away or that he hadn’t talked to Jack since middle school.

His mother’s hand ceased its revolutions, then began again in the opposite direction.

“Well, why didn’t you just say so, honey?”

Ellis looked up, a surge of hope leaping wildly in his chest. “You mean I can take the car?”

“I don’t see why not,” said his mother. “Your father doesn’t really like driving anyway, and I wouldn’t mind having a few glasses of wine. We’ll just take a taxi.”

Ellis hugged his mother tightly around her fleshy waist, practically lifting her off the bed in his excitement. “Thanks, Mom!” he said, trying not to sound too excited.

“Of course, sweetheart.” Ellis’s mother brushed the hair away from his face, smiling fondly at him. “Just don’t be home too late, and remember to put your gym clothes right in the laundry.”

***

As soon as the taxi containing his slightly-dressed-up and very excited parents had pulled away from the curb, Ellis practically ran for the car, stopping only to pick up the keys his father had left on the counter. Next to the keys was a bright orange Post-It note admonishing him to “stay safe” and “make good decisions.” Ellis didn’t really intend to do either. In the hall, he paused a moment at the bathroom door before stepping inside and flicking on the overhead light. He studied his appearance critically in the mirror, adjusting the collar of his green button-down shirt. Most people seemed to think that Ellis looked….nice. He was tall and lanky, with a sharp jawline and high cheekbones. He had inherited his father’s sandy hair, which he wore in a short, slightly messy style that suited the angular lines of his face. He had also inherited his mother’s almond-shaped green eyes, framed with thick black lashes that girls were constantly telling him they were jealous of. His lips were pink and fairly full. When he smiled, which he did often when he was with friends, his teeth were small, even, and very white. The only problem Ellis could really see was his nose, which was sort of flat and broader than he would have liked. But so be it. Hopefully Hazel liked what she saw in him, even if he wasn’t some perfect male-model type.

Turning off the light, Ellis strode to the end of the hallway and opened the door to the garage. His father’s blue Ford Explorer stood at one end amid a clutter of boxes, winter boots, and abandoned tennis rackets. The car was old and a little beaten up, but hopefully Hazel didn’t care too much about that kind of thing. Ellis opened the driver’s side door and sighed. His father had left an assortment of crumpled-up wrappers from Burger King and Taco Bell all over the passenger side floor. Ellis swept the soiled sheets of paper into his arms and threw them out of the car, not really caring where they landed. He would clean it up later. Hopefully while riding the high of finally making it with Hazel, whom he’d been flirting with ever since they’d been partnered up to dissect an ill-fated frog in third period biology during their freshman year of high school.

Sitting down in the driver’s seat, Ellis opened the glove compartment and sprayed himself liberally with his dad’s cologne. He coughed and waved a hand in front of his face as the musky spray assaulted his lungs. Fuck. Now Hazel was going to think he’d bathed in the stuff. Ellis stowed the cologne away again and turned the key fob. The car engine rumbled to life. As Ellis backed carefully out of the driveway and into the cul-de-sac, he wondered what kind of music he should be playing. Did Hazel like rap? At the very least, she probably didn’t want to listen to his dad’s old Bruce Springsteen CDs. He braked for a moment in the cul-de-sac and flicked through his Spotify playlists, settling on Tyler the Creator. That was safe. Dropping his phone into the empty cup holder, he put the car into drive and started the ten-minute journey to Hazel’s house.

Scene 7-A. Car

Hazel’s house was really nice. Three stories tall, with a tiled roof and a facade made of white-washed brick, it looked like a storybook cottage. Delicate tendrils of ivy climbed their way up the sides and framed the heavy wooden door. Ellis reached out a hand and pressed his index finger against the doorbell, trying to ignore the way his fingers shook slightly as he pulled his hand away. A loud buzzing noise resonated from inside the house. Ellis saw a light flicker on from behind the opaque glass panel next to the nilüfer escort door. Suddenly, the knob turned and Hazel opened the door a crack. Ellis backed up to give her room on the porch, but she simply stood inside the doorway, framed in the luminous glow of the hall light. Ellis’s breath caught in his throat. Hazel really was beautiful. Her large brown eyes sparkled in the low light, framed by a thick curtain of spiky black lashes. Her lush pink mouth curved into a smile as she stared at Ellis, waiting expectantly for him to speak. After a moment of awkward silence, she cleared her throat and tossed her glossy black hair over her shoulder, folding her bare arms over her skinny frame.

“Hi, Ellis,” she said simply. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

Ellis’s stomach felt as if a large swarm of insects had decided to take up residence in his large intestine. “Hi,” he replied cautiously. “I wasn’t sure….do you mind being a little early to the movie?” They were going to see some action movie thing. Ellis didn’t remember which one exactly, only that it had gotten terrible reviews so far.

“I actually love being early to movies,” said Hazel. She stepped out on the porch and shivered, rubbing the goosebumps that rose up on the dusky skin of her arms. Ellis tried not to stare at the strip of bare skin visible between the hem of her purple crop top and the waist of her jeans. Looking down, he saw that her feet were also bare. “Jesus,” she said, laughing slightly. “It’s kind of cold out, don’t you think?”

“I mean, yeah.” Ellis was deliberately not wearing winter clothes. Instead he was wearing a button-down, jeans, and his father’s brown leather work boots, which were scuffed and faded just enough to look cool. Ellis hoped.

“Let me get shoes and a jacket.” Hazel stepped back inside, looking back at Ellis with an inquisitive look on her heart-shaped face. “Do you wanna come inside?”

Yes!

“Yeah, sure,” Ellis said casually, trying to ignore the way his heart was thumping against his ribs and his cock was stiffening painfully inside his jeans. He stepped into the front hall and closed the door, leaning against it. Hazel disappeared up a staircase covered in thick, avocado-green shag carpet. She reappeared a moment later in a black leather jacket and matching boots, looking so deliciously sexy that Ellis’s mouth began to water.

“Ready to go? Or do you want to do some homework?” Hazel teased Ellis, reaching around him to grab the door handle. Her wrist brushed against Ellis’s stomach, and his back thumped painfully against the door as she opened it again. “Brrr. We better make a run to the car quick.”

“Actually, if you wanted to stay inside and do homework–” Ellis began, his mind racing. Were her parents home?

“Don’t be silly,” Hazel laughed. She grabbed his hand and pulled him through the door, then locked it. “Why would we do homework when we could be watching Death Machine 3 or whatever it’s called?”

“Doing calculus feels kind of like a death machine to me,” said Ellis. Hazel’s answering peal of laughter echoed down the quiet street.

“Really? I feel like our problem sets have been really easy lately,” she said. “I finished that last one in like twenty minutes.”

“I haven’t even started it,” Ellis confessed. “Differential equations give me the biggest migraine.” He followed Hazel down the porch stairs and across the snow-covered lawn to the sidewalk.

“So,” Hazel said, “where’s our ride?”

“Right here.” Ellis gestured to the banged-up Ford Explorer. “I know it’s not a limo or anything, but….”

“No, this is great!” Hazel bounced up and down on the heels of her boots. “It’s seriously a really nice car. Your parents have good taste.”

“I think they got the car from my grandparents, actually,” said Ellis, unlocking the passenger side door for her. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, he opened the door and ushered her inside. Hazel obliged, dark eyes sparkling.

“Wow, you’re such a gentleman,” she said. “I’ve never gone out with a guy who opened my car door for me before. You’re not, like, a misogynist or something, are you?” She grabbed for his phone, still nestled in the cup holder. “Mind if I put on some music?”

“Sure.” Ellis got into the driver’s side and watched, mesmerized, as she swiped through his Spotify. “And no, I’m not a misogynist. My mom and dad raised me right. I hope.” Hazel seemed to settle on a song, tapping it with her index finger. An unfamiliar strain of indie rock filled the car speakers as Hazel settled back into her seat.

I hate you for what you did/

And I miss you like a little kid….

Hazel cleared her throat. “You have good music taste,” she said. “I just really wanted to listen to this song.” She looked into Ellis’s face, searching for something. “I didn’t mean it, by the way. About you being a misogynist. Sorry if I offended you.”

“No, I knew you were joking,” said Ellis, smiling. He hadn’t. Known she was joking, that is.

“I’m so glad you have your license,” said Hazel, lightly touching the back türbanlı escort of Ellis’s hand. Her fingertips set Ellis’s nerves alight, a blaze of sparks traveling up his arm and down his spine. “One time this guy came by for a date, and all he had was his bike. He said I could sit on the handlebars! Isn’t that fucking hilarious?”

Ellis laughed, his throat tight. Thank god he had wrangled his parents out of the car. “Yeah, what an idiot,” he laughed, pulling his hand away abruptly. He busied his hands with turning the car on and pulling away from the curb, checking behind him as he did so. Then he chanced a glance over at Hazel. The light from the streetlamps ghosted over her beautiful face, making her look almost otherworldly. “So, this is a date?”

Hazel’s cheeks flushed slightly. She turned away from Ellis to look out the car window at the rows of snow-covered houses, their windows glowing from within.

“I guess we’ll see.”

***

“I’m sorry, honey, but your father and I really need the car tonight,” she said apologetically. “Why don’t you just walk to the rec center? It’s right up the road, isn’t it?”

“Jack lives far away,” Ellis said desperately.

“Well, then why don’t you go tomorrow night?” Ellis’s mother stood up. “What do you want for dinner? I was thinking leftovers, but I could also make some quick mac and cheese, or pasta with spaghetti sauce….”

She left the room, ignoring Ellis’s mumbled reply. Ellis flopped backward onto the bed and groaned. Tonight was going to be an epic failure.

***

As soon as his parents’ old Ford Explorer pulled out of the driveway, Ellis vaulted off his bed and into the kitchen. His mother had left a casserole dish on the counter containing whatever Ellis’s dinner was supposed to be, but he was way too wound up to eat anything. On top of the casserole dish was a bright orange Post-It note admonishing him to “stay safe” and “make good decisions.” Ellis didn’t really intend to do either.

In the hall, he paused a moment at the bathroom door before stepping inside and flicking on the overhead light. He studied his appearance critically in the mirror, adjusting the collar of his green button-down shirt. Most people seemed to think that Ellis looked….nice. He was tall and lanky, with a sharp jawline and high cheekbones. He had inherited his father’s sandy hair, which he wore in a short, slightly messy style that suited the angular lines of his face. He had also inherited his mother’s almond-shaped green eyes, framed with thick black lashes that girls were constantly telling him they were jealous of. His lips were pink and fairly full. When he smiled, which he did often when he was with friends, his teeth were small, even, and very white. The only problem Ellis could really see was his nose, which was sort of flat and broader than he would have liked. But so be it. Hopefully Hazel liked what she saw in him, even if he wasn’t some perfect male-model type.

After one last glance at his hair, Ellis flicked off the bathroom light and walked down the hallway to the front door, pulling his house key off of the hook near the coat rack. He thought about wearing his winter jacket, then decided against it. He didn’t want Hazel to think he was some kind of wuss who couldn’t handle the cold. Okay, maybe the temperature was slightly below freezing and he had to brave the long walk to Hazel’s house, plus the subsequent walk to the movie theater, but still. No jacket. He shoved his feet into his father’s worn leather boots, which were starting to pinch a little around the toes. He shivered involuntarily as he opened the front door and immediately got hit in the face with a blast of icy wind.

It was going to be a long walk.

***

Ellis was practically frozen solid. The wind blew right through the thin fabric of his shirt, making his nipples harden and covering his body in a thick layer of goosebumps. He was bitterly regretting his decision to leave his winter coat at home when Hazel’s house suddenly came into view, rising like a solitary tower at the peak of the hilly suburban neighborhood they both called home. Even chilled to the bone, however, Ellis could still appreciate that Hazel’s house was really nice. Three stories tall, with a tiled roof and a facade made of white-washed brick, it looked like a storybook cottage. Delicate tendrils of ivy climbed their way up the sides and framed the heavy wooden door.

Ellis reached out a hand and pressed his index finger against the doorbell, trying to ignore the way his fingers shook slightly as he pulled his hand away. A loud buzzing noise resonated from inside the house. Ellis saw a light flicker on from behind the opaque glass panel next to the door. Suddenly, the knob turned and Hazel opened the door a crack. Ellis backed up to give her room on the porch, but she simply stood inside the doorway, framed in the luminous glow of the hall light. Ellis’s breath caught in his throat. Hazel really was beautiful. Her large brown eyes sparkled in the low light, framed by a thick curtain of spiky black lashes. Her lush pink mouth curved into a smile as she stared at Ellis, waiting expectantly for him to speak. After a moment of awkward silence, she cleared her throat and tossed her glossy black hair over her shoulder, folding her bare arms over her skinny frame.

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