Today was different – Tony didn’t come, and I was left with sitting on the doorsteps and staring up at the clear sky where a few bored clouds drifted by, shredding those nerves all by myself; and then with avoiding and hating on Polack’s inquiries when he was up with the nightfall and inclined to socialize. When he started to realize my evasion boarded on rudeness, I had to go outside and sit under the bamboos to be left alone before my unavoidable hostility put me in trouble with him. And there, and only then, I saw Tony’s shadow marching up from his stationed bike. This time he had actually come on business, he said, proud of not needing an excuse. He reached for a small letter inside his jacket and gazed at it carefully, then clutched it with the jealous fingers of a child about to be robbed of their candy when a pair of lazy footsteps resounded through the floorboards, marching our way.
“Ah – Tony!” Polack cheerfully declared, coming up from behind us “Your presence here is becoming one of those most convenient things! How are you this day?! And how are the boys? I have just received a call from your boss, I believe you have something of mine there?”
I looked at Tony expectantly and his eyes met mine with a disappointed glow before turning in the white envelope his hands had been securing.
“Thank you!” My superior professed, excitedly turning the wrapper before his eyes.
Then I detected what Tony’s disappointment was all about: he stretched his neck and surveyed, curious, quiet as a mouse, apparently hoping for the opportunity to linger unnoticed until Polack had opened it, all in order to know what was inside. I could easily see him suggesting we violate the mail in secret to put an end to the mystery, hadn’t Polack showed up so fast. Contaminated by such an intense curiosity as his, I soon got pretty interested myself and walked up to my superior on the doorway, gazing over his tall shoulder with some effort while he slowly ripped the envelope open with his index finger.
“Ah, what an honor! If you don’t have anything better to do right now Tony, I’d appreciate it if you’d stay here while I arrange something for you to take back to Jonah.”
We watched with eager expectation as Polack turned to go, but hopefully he deposited the envelope in my anxious fingers before disappearing into the kitchen. I opened it, pulling out the content: it was two strips of thick, colorful paper, like two party invites or movie tickets. Tony pulled them from my hands hoping to have more success in figuring out what they were, but being just as knew to Gloen I doubt he would have found any success, even if Polack hadn’t walked back to the door causing him to panic and shove the invites back to me.
“Here it goes, if you’ll please…” Polack handed out another envelope “Tell him it’s nothing, just a mere token of my appreciation for the tickets.”
“Tickets?!” Tony couldn’t help but excitedly ask, and then immediately regret the audacity.
Luckily, Polack laughed kindheartedly:
“Why, yes, tickets, you dumb children! Your kind boss decided to flatter me with a sample of his taste for art by offering me two tickets to a play three days hence!”
My heart seemed to stop beating then! The extremities of my body went so cold I could feel each capillary filling up with hot blood once more. Polack offered me the tickets, which I picked in trembling fingers, contemplating now the golden letters standing out on the soft paper as my stomach turned: there were two of them! Which meant I could go with him, if he’d let me. What would I have to do for that? How to fight with Howard over it? What to say?! Perhaps if I was the first to say it… like children do: finder’s keepers. If they were in my hands, perhaps they were already mine! I couldn’t lose this for the world…
“Ah… That. Tickets, huh?” Tony scratched the back of his head, visibly uncomfortable.
“This is a big deal, Tony, though your impulsive age might not yet know how to appreciate it: A fancy night out for two, in the gorgeous old center of Gloen! I myself can name few programs more thrilling than this…”
I felt my cheek burn with the anticipation, with the picture Polack painted. I was the same age as Tony… so how to come out and say I knew how to appreciate it? If I keep quiet, he would think I don’t care, switch it over to Mr. Howard, who’s older and wiser. But how to say it without compromising too much? How to say it specially after not properly talking to him for over a week now?! But this isn’t the time for pride – my brain surrendered – secure the ticket at all costs!! If I had this night alone with Polack… maybe that would mean something else… maybe then finally we could be… – the word died, shy behind my blushing reflection on the golden letters.
“Tell your boss I would love to go, but…” Polack started, his eyes slipping sideways to cast a quick, sneaky glance towards me.
“But, sir?” Tony insisted.
“I can’t make it, he’ll have to forgive me. Do you see my little friend here? She has decided she won’t speak to me ever again, that she truly despises me for some mysterious reason that won’t wear off!”
I blushed ardently, specially when Tony’s eyes traced me, standing, petrified, behind Polack’s shoulder. My heart beat fast again: I knew where he meant to get, and I was excited for it!
“Do you find me such an awful, heartless person, Tony?”
“Well, she does!” he teased cruelly. “And few are the times I take it to truly torment her, unless I’m irreversibly bored…”
Tony’s face briefly reflected the color on mine.
“But she doesn’t happen to tattle on any of that, does she? Come on, don’t be afraid to tell on her: a true gentleman doesn’t stand against good disciplining!”
Made uncomfortable, and unused as he was to my superior’s eccentricity, Tony didn’t know where to place his embarrassed pupils, which invariably ended up measuring the curb.
“Your color picked up! Are you feeling sick, Tony? Well, in any case, tell your boss I won’t be going – it shouldn’t be too much of a problem since he himself won’t be there. A pity and a waste, I know! And it would have been such a special night, too, if only this grumpy little one would let go of that frown and come with me …”
“I… I wanna go!” Finally mortified beyond mortal reason, I spoke.
“You do, really?!” Polack inquired, turning around and facing me with a pair of wide eyes “You have forgiven me then? That was easier than I expected, to be honest: the deed mustn’t have been of my worst ones…”
“But never mind any of that in any case, and go back to being mad, if you will: I was merely teasing you. In truth I don’t think I can make it either. You see, I am currently very busy… This next week will be just.. ooph!” And he pressed the back of his hand to his forehead.
“Maybe it doesn’t have to go to waste!” Tony’s voice broke out, cracking with contained excitement “Maybe I can keep it? If Mr. Jonah will let me…”
Hysteria drove me to walk from behind Polack and stand before him, facing his mirthful cold eyes:
“I-I’ll help you! With your work! I’ll do whatever you want!”
Polack enjoyed a mischievous chuckle while examining both our pleas:
“My, my, what a disposition! But… forgive-me, children: My answer is ‘no’, and ‘no’: Tony, I believe those tickets have our names in them, and are therefore non-transferable. See here? It says Jane in this one. And Jane … what has gotten into you to be so excited all of a sudden? Was the day I took you out so much fun? Why don’t you tell me these things?”
Tony watched as Polack approached me under the doorframe with his curious eyes engaging in prey mode. It made me all the more self-conscious…
“Why do you want to go so badly, huh? Tell me – I must know! Maybe then… and only then…” He was facing me, bending over me and cocking his head from one side to the other investigating my crumbling expression. My eyes all the while moved, peering from between Polack’s golden locks that fell over my face like a curtain to see Tony watching us like an awkward statue. Eventually noticing the cause of the anxiety that prevented his hypnosis from being effective, Polack looked over his own shoulders to see Tony standing there:
“You can be on your way now Tony: that will be all!”
“O…okay…” Tony declared, mortified as he was, but still not very willing to go “so… should I tell him you’re not going then?”
Polack’s face had busied itself scrutinizing mine again, so he didn’t turn to say:
“We’ll see about that.”
As soon as Tony went invisible down the road, Polack let go of me and walked inside. I followed him angrily. Night had fully set in:
“You’re teasing him on purpose!” I accused, then my decisiveness weakened as he turned his neck around to see me “…aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry if it seemed so…” He smiled sadistically “but if I’m going to
have that kid scratching in my yard every day like that, I might as well check what his nerves are made of. It’s nothing personal, mind you: just making sure he won’t cause me any trouble…”
“But what if he’s dangerous?” Though I had little reason to believe so, it still seemed a plausible risk to take into account.
“Why, the old man must be really rubbing off on you! How dangerous could a kid like that be, Jane? Too bad we aren’t really going for this theater night: he seemed transformed with grief by the sheer thought of it!”
“We aren’t really going?!” Pride, once again, surrendered, kneeling down to my beating heart.
“Jane, don’t speak so, like a tragic kitty!” Polack pleaded, walking closer to me “It’s an awfully fancy place in town – going there would give us an awfully lot of work!”
“Like what?!” I insisted, ready to follow him around the house if, instead of walking closer and closer to me, he had been running away like his conversation did.
“I don’t think I have anything proper to wear, for one – neither do you have any dresses that I know of, unless you’ve been hiding something from me…”
“We could buy some!”
“Jane, Jane!” Polack sighed, comically tired “If you care that much for seeing me in a suit, I’ll wear one just for you.”
“T-That’s not it at all!!”
What? You don’t want it? Look at you!” My nervous blushing reeled him closer, his great shadow towering me “You can’t even decide properly!”
At last his face hovered so close to mine, I thought I was being tested for how long it would take me to corner myself against a wall again – shamefully, it weren’t long, and Polack’s smile grew, sadistically amused.
“Jane, if you keep coloring up so much to everything I say, I’ll actually believe you like me!”
My face burned in painful embarrassment
“I-it’s not that!! It’s simply because of the…” I looked to the sides, even more ashamed now that my motivations were so closely watched “…I just want to…”
Polack snickered between his closed lips – the delicate, pink skin around them shivered softly, stretching farther:
“You’ve never been to a theater, have you?” His eyebrows arched in a pitiful expression that made him look so innocently intentioned, I had no space left in my brain to feel insulted “Well, okay – Jonah is clearly trying to adulate us, so maybe I’ll take up on his offer and take you with me after all…” a tired sigh followed that decision, then his eyes sharpened up to me “It’s also a great opportunity to see what my little tomboy looks like when completely dressed up. I’ll have you wear something tight and elegant… are you okay with that?” His idle hand grabbed the cord of my hoodie, playing with it against my face now and smiling meanly at my feverish reaction “You shy girl!” And, as if finding a more attractive recreation, Polack abandoned the cord and grabbed a long lock of hair falling next to my ears, his fingers sliding slowly all the way down in a manner that the bones of his pale knuckle brushed against my heated cheek “Look at how you’re burning up! Jane… Are you sure you’re a grown lady? How can you burn this much simply because I’m touching you?”
“Polack…” I whispered, training asking him to stop, but half-drunk by how humid and soft his words sounded from so close a distance.
“What would your boyfriend say if he saw you reacting like that? I’m sure he would want to kill me…”
“I don’t have a boyfriend!” I replied with what little vexation my absorbed nerves could reproduce.
“You don’t have a boyfriend?” Polack laughed delicately, as if I had made a very naïve, very compromising comment “That’s your answer, Jane? What do you mean by that?”
His long fingers slipped up to the back of my head. I could feel them entwine against the roots of my hair, his palm playing, taking hold of my nape. If I closed my eyes, that touch would become too overwhelming, and my face too embarrassing… But in keeping them open, I saw Polack’s full lips stretching in a malicious, hungry smile that made them fascinatingly magnetic.
“Jane, these cloudy eyes of yours… what do they want to tell me? And what must I do to get you to speak?”
He gazed into me for a long, excruciating minute. My insides trembled every time he repeated my name in that soft, manipulating way…
“I am your superior, Jane! You must obey me, mustn’t you?” he laughed playfully, as if this was a most innocent teasing on his behalf, as if it wasn’t mortally dangerous to trust him then…
“No. I’m only…” I started nervously, but my vision grew blurred, my muscles weakened with how close his lips were.
“No? What a rebellious subordinate I found myself! Very well, if you’re not telling me out of respect for my position, then I’ll have to convince you some other way: Jane, if you don’t tell me, I’ll have to…”
Polack’s fingers held me by the chin and tenderly moved my face to the side then, sliding his head over my shoulder. I heard his lips parting – I felt his hot, humid breath encircle my ear and winced, bracing myself for the contact, for the electric current starting at the back of my neck ready to paralyze my body.
“Pole!” Mr. Howard’s most reproachful tone called before I could discover if I was about to get bitten or whispered to.
Polack turned his head, still holding a trembling, squirming me in place – My breathing heaved audibly now that I awoke to the awareness of his sway.
“Leave the girl alone!” Mr. Howard reiterated.
Polack’s hand left me so suddenly, I nearly fell on my weak knees, as if he had been keeping my feet off the floor.
“Ugh! What do you want now, you irritating old man?!” He moaned while his balanced legs moved him swiftly towards the kitchen. I meanwhile tried to gather the strength in mine to merely stand upright before someone noticed.
“I believe I heard the phone.” Mr. Howard mused cynically.
“You heard no such thing, you cheat! I’m getting familiar with all of your dirty tricks! I was just having some harmless fun…” Polack followed, pursuing a mild argument that faded into back noise in my perception as I struggled to gather my breath.
Of course, as soon as Mr. Howard and I were left alone, his reproachful eyes confronted me, and he preached once again: the usual mass of what a dangerous fox my superior was, and how I shouldn’t let my guard down near him. The more I reacted – that was today’s lesson – the more excited I would get him, and deeper into trouble I’d get myself. This time I endured only half of the sermon before kicking back the chair and storming to my room: It was always my fault if Polack managed to corner me and I couldn’t escape him, it was never his for playing with my feelings in such an inappropriate way in the first place!
Back in my room, however, I couldn’t deny that Polack had been encouraged further than usual by something I did – perhaps it was my denying Tony. Perhaps it was Tony himself: the fact that he wanted us to go to the theater instead of me and Polack. The thought made me want to smile, but later that night – or rather the next morning, for me, cause I had slept – when I went to Polack for money – as he instructed me to do before going back to his bedroom –, my legs still soft from our earlier interaction and my insides swirling by the fresh memory of it, his eyes barely acknowledged my entrance. He leaned over the desk, a small pile of bills waiting at the corner, towards which he gestured after a minute.
“Remember Jane…” He smiled without seeing me “…buy something beautiful! Something to make your boyfriend jealous…”
I scowled at the awful act behind his voice as it feigned interest and grabbed the bills at once, scoffing angrily in the process:
But before I could retrieve my hand to my side, his quick fingers wrapped around my wrist, securing it.
“Don’t be so cross, Jane: I am a bully by nature, but I mean you no harm…” A charming smile stretched up his lips “The old man keeps pestering me about you and Tony spending all your time together, so forgive me if I showed him a display of the dreadful alternative – which is me, gobbling you up: I couldn’t resist myself!”
I abruptly yanked my wrist free, then flexed the skin hurt by the trauma, my face reflexively curling into a scowl.
Polack smiled, his eyes sharpening up at the challenge and then softening with delight, before returning to his papers. How easily he did so, every time! It made my view sting cowardly.
“He’s not my boyfriend!” I repeated one last time.
Back in my room, I let my anger fade as I counted the money – my money – and marveled at the amount I had received. It was but a small parcel of my weekly wage, according to Polack. Having never managed money before, however small that parcel was, it impressed me absurdly. I couldn’t have guessed, then, that confiding my frustrations to Tony would make me want more – demand more from my superior:
All through those last ill-intentioned visits Tony paid me I had begun to catalogue the benefits of talking about the stuff swirling injuriously in my mind, and this time was no different – or maybe it was actually the pinnacle of them, and how far I would ever get to telling him the truth: I knew Tony just wanted me to be his girlfriend or something like that, and I knew he had authorization to do so, and I knew he knew it… but regardless of how risky the soil I treaded on was, I exposed to him the “hypothetical” scenario I was going through, without fully admitting myself to be the protagonist: I wanted his opinion, him having a gender in common with Polack making it relevant, so I described the situation of liking someone – that kind of liking – , where the someone plays with you and reels you in, but ultimately treats you like a child, making it so all the courting and the flirting and the touching – though I used none of those words, I would blush to death if I did! – is but an innocent game that was never taken seriously by one of the parts, making the other feel stupid and confused about it. The final question was: what was a girl to do if she wanted to be taken seriously?
By the time I got to the direct question, Tony was wiping his sweaty forehead. A cocky, unnatural smile marked his expression while he told me, with an again unnatural confidence, that for a relationship to be serious, to leave the realm of innocent flirting and set anchor in the haven of dating, it needed to cross that threshold of physical intimacy. “You mean…” I stuttered, and Tony’s face turned red, but his confidence pushed on: ‘Yes, he meant sex’, he openly said, and I blushed, looking at the sides and molding the idea in my brain to see how well it would be received.
Me and Polack – having sex. The angry, confused thought terrorized me all day before I could feel the butterflies in my stomach peeking through the curtain of dread, swirling back to life – a trembling, excited, fearful one, however – its vitality fragile to the least detailed consideration. The idea had to be a blur to be tolerated: I must act rather than ponder, or cowardice will bury me alive. I might not necessarily want to have sex – was my closing argument – although the idea didn’t sound half as bad as the first time I got there, when I resolutely vouched against it… But I wanted what Tony’s view of the situation promised would come after it. I wanted the relationship – the womanhood, to be a woman in Polack’s eyes!
So I devised a plan, combined with the earlier taste of freedom I had with counting my own money. I followed a busy Mr. Howard around asking the price of different objects, articles and trinkets that I guessed in my struggling mind could have a price similar to that which I wanted but could not reveal. I did this until I could get to a reasonable margin, any prospects of a more accurate assessment prevented by the old man losing his temper and scolding me for being so clueless, declaring that as my quota of questions for the day. Mr. Howard did always seem to have a word count beyond which he had to stop speaking, as if the act was more tiresome than his repetitive housework…
With a basic idea of how much I needed, my legs trembling and an undefined mixture of horror and excitement nauseating me, I barged into Polack’s room asking for more of my money. What followed was a playful interrogation as to why the interest all of a sudden, in comparison to how indifferent I had always been when it came to my wages. I dodged them gracefully: ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It’s not your problem’ annoyed Polack enough for him to open a drawer and take out a few more bills, toss them my way and ask me to leave before he decided to teach me some manners. My stomach gave a pirouette then: the hint, and the general idea stumbling towards reality. I felt like I could be sick, and renewed doses of adrenaline hit my bloodstream that day, tormenting me for so long my mind was eventually lost, and I felt like in a hallucinated dream.