Lena leaned forward. “Oh honey,” she breathed, laying her hand gently on Dan’s nape. Her eyes were enormous. “You need me to drive or something?”
He flinched. Poor Dan!
“No, no.” He gritted his teeth manfully, there in his blue Oxford shirt and tan khaki pants, those things that amounted to a form of reverse camouflage where we were. It was 1986, and the rest of us wore paisley shirts and second-hand love beads, fisherman’s caps and gabardine trousers: thrift store paraphernalia we’d scraped up in the decaying industrial towns of Western Massachusetts. “I’ll do it.”
He turned the key in the ignition and this time, finally and with Marcus’s help, got us running again. He reached back and brushed the spot on the back of his neck Lena had just touched, rubbing it tenderly like a bee sting. We headed west. The stalks in the fields were all ominously still, the sky a darkling, monochromed silver. Dan was in love with Lena. That was his excuse for going. What on earth could’ve been mine?
“Tell me again,” I said when we sat down in the booth. “Tell me again about Lords—
Lena rolled her eyes and cast her head back, a pantomime laugh. Marcus sighed. This had been a few hours earlier, when we’d stopped for dinner. We were west of Springfield and east of the Allegheny River at twilight, crowding into a semi-circular booth in yet another junky truckstop, one of the generic diners we loved. Already I was pestering them.
“What?” I said. “What is it about Lords of Oblivion that’s so tiresome?”
Lena chuckled. She and Marcus sat in the middle, with Dan and I on the outside.
“Nothing,” she said. Behind her the window was a violent scar-streaked purple. “It’s your enthusiasm.”
How beautiful she was, Lena with the creamy skin and the jack-o-lantern orange hair. It was dyed this week in a shade called Great Pumpkin, sweeping crossways over her forehead, cut in a stylish bob. Her face was long, Slavic. Her eyes were dark. I’d have been in love with her too, if her worldliness didn’t quash all hope, if I’d been able to find myself worthy.
“Yeah.” Her nostrils flared, hazel eyes sparkled. “They’re just a band.”
“Just a band?” I looked to Marcus. “Tell her.”
“I have told her.” His own eyes were button-like, black. His lips twisted in amusement. “She doesn’t believe.”
This word too twisted out in a strange, almost sinister fashion. It seemed ironized, as if the very notion of belief was behind us now, was somehow dated and silly. We were nineteen, and all of us had just finished our freshman tour at Harper. Marcus was my roommate. He and Lena had been friends since high school. Now we were on our way to the Emerald City, as he described it, the Epicenter: the Heart of the Heart of the World!