Ties That Bind
Richard is fiddling with the syrups—the same array IHOP has on every table—and staring at my ribbons. We are both 16. I’m wearing a white peasant top with the slit in the front and two white ribbons to tie or not.
Everyone knows Richard is in love with me, including his girlfriend, who is a year older, and my mechanic boyfriend, who doesn’t consider frail Richard a threat. Richard fell in love years ago, watching me jog around the middle school track; around and around. He had a doctor’s note and never participated in gym.
We talked for months about meeting for breakfast before school one day during senior year. Now, from this IHOP halfway between home and school, we each pay our share for our pancakes and eggs, then head not to second period but to Richard’s house.
I know Richard’s mother slightly, because she works in the office of the elementary school. His father, a twinkle-eyed leading man on the community theater scene, lives in a tiki-themed apartment building in Torrance.
I have no real plan to be unfaithful to my boyfriend. Plus, I am pretty sure Richard is a virgin like me. My boyfriend and I do everything else in the front seat of his gigantic old car, which smells like grease and dust. But there is Richard’s older girlfriend to consider. Perhaps he has gained sexual experience and possesses knowledge I have no idea about. For all I know, his father’s apartment is a veritable playground for lovers.
Sitting beside me on his mother’s bed, Richard leans in for a kiss. His mouth is open but his tongue stays back. I think of a moray eel in its hole, watching and waiting. Then Richard bends farther, but rather than making a move, he reaches past me to the nightstand drawer. Lifts something out. It is a small leathery apparatus with a red ball in the middle. It looks like a cat toy.
“Know what this is?” he asks.
“Not really,” I say.
That’s when he opens his hand to show me a Polaroid picture of his mother, Mrs. Cassidy, with that salt and pepper pageboy, that gap between her front teeth. The ball gag secured around her head, and her eyes, animal wild.
Richard gives a knowing half-smile. The wings of his nostrils are pink and his breath has quickened. He ties my blouse’s white ribbons in a bow. Then he knots the loops, pulling tight.
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