We sat there without saying anything else until we’d smoked our cigarettes down.
I tried not to think about what Robby and I did.
What Robby and I just did was the only thing I could think about.
If I was confused and torn before going up on the roof with Robby, I was pulp, ready to be spit out by history, after we spent a few minutes there.
I tried to think like we didn’t actually do it, but I could still taste Robby’s mouth in mine. I tried to listen for Shann moving around below us in Grasshopper Jungle, so I wouldn’t hear my mind telling me how it would be all right if Robby asked if he could kiss me again sometime.
It would be thrilling and daring.
After midnight, Ealing is quieter than a stone coffin.
Robby could tell I was confused—tripping out, we would say.
“Are you mad at me?” he said.
“Shit. I’m not mad.”
I hadn’t been looking at Robby. Until he’d said that, I didn’t even notice that I was staring at my shoelaces, tracing the zigzag path of them up, down, back, forth with the tip of my finger, like a train on a white switchback track, from one shoe to the other, over and over.
Around the loop, crossover, back and forth.
I raised my eyes.
Robby scooted through the gravel away from me.
He had lifted a square metal door in the roof, propped it open. I hadn’t even realized it was there.
“Roof access ladder,” Robby said. “It goes down into the second-hand store.”
“It was left unlocked?” I said.
“Nobody ever comes up here.”
“Up here has a watch-flamingo, and a lemur head.”
“No one wants to mess with shit like that.”
Robby lowered his face down below the rim of the trapdoor.
He said, “Do you want to go down there?”
I had already done something with Robby I never believed I would do. Climbing down inside Johnny McKeon’s secondhand store in the middle of the night was meaningless shit in comparison.
I said, “That would be cool.”
When I stood up, I was dizzy.
I was like the tip of my finger, zigging and zagging from eye to eye, following a string, making history.
Robby watched me get up. I caught his eyes looking at me. I knew we’d never look at each other the same, and I didn’t know how I felt about that. I caught him trying to see if I had an erection. I tried to pull my T-shirt down to cover it.
The basketball shorts and boxers I’d been wearing that day revealed yet another strategic flaw for the history books.
History shows that erections happen at the worst possible times, and they stick around until someone else notices them. Often, it is either a librarian or an English teacher, like Mrs. Edith Mitchell.
I went to the edge of the roof, to the top of the small ladder we’d used to get up there.
“Shann,” I said. “I just want to make sure she’s okay.”
Robby didn’t answer.
Words like okay can mean all kinds of things.
Robby knew enough that saying anything might nail down a definition of okay that wasn’t what either one of us wanted to hear.
The Explorer was dark and quiet.
Shann was still asleep.
We hadn’t been gone for more than twenty minutes, even if time seemed to slow to a crawl now.
Across the street, Satan’s Pizza winked. The fluorescent tubes inside the sign made an audible hiss like a dying wasp when it went dark.
Robby climbed down the trapdoor.
I followed him.