July

Forty-Three

After his run and after his shower, Andre wrapped himself in a towel, surrendered to his recliner, and vowed again that this would be the last day he was ever going to jog.

In the end, it came down not to the running but the runners. That day, he’d gone to the park to jog, thinking it would be a nice change of pace, but had instead found himself in the midst of Serious Joggers. He hated their shiny clothes and he hated the way they talked to each other, their faces open and bright as though they were both so proud of being able to carry out entire conversations while effortlessly working through an array of stretches.

And when they ran past Andre on the track–and all of them, even the slim and sturdy retirees, passed Andre–they slid around him with their heads erect and their bodies steady, like foxes moving across a distant field. None of them loped and gasped, none of them gradually pulled their arms up to their chest and dropped their heads as they ran until they resembled an elderly T. Rex, none of them made deals with themselves about how, if they ran another thirty seconds, they could walk for a minute. And when the run was over, none of them pushed their faces into the lukewarm flow of the nearest water fountain, then sat in their Volvos with the air conditioner on high before their hands stopped shaking enough to let them drive home. No, they just took discrete sips from Nalgene bottles and immediately began more inane stretches, before waving discreetly goodbye to their friends still running.

No, Andre would never let himself become a Serious Runner.

Eventually, without getting out of the recliner, he rooted around on the floor for his laptop and continued working on an essay about that old movie Pretty In Pink that he’d started that morning for This Toilet City, his blog.

There’s the widespread belief that the director’s later work was a betrayal of his earlier aesthetic. Some might even say that perhaps he’d been forced to embrace shallowness as a defense mechanism after getting too close to the true stuff of life in his earlier films. But after you strip away the facile generational indentifiers of those earlier works—the soundtracks, the ready-made angst, the near-religious belief in the strict immutability of the caste system–you find that the shallowness had always been there. Indeed, commodifying shallowness was  his one artistic touchstone.

Andre wrote a few more paragraphs, but he grew disgusted by the way his chest—as plump and hairless as a cherub’s—was illuminated in the crisp bluish light of the screen. Though he’d returned from his run over an hour before, he found that he was still too hot to put on clothes, so he found an undershirt and a pair of boxer briefs and got back to his blog.

He hadn’t posted on This Toilet City since before his aunt had arrived a few weeks before. Well, nothing serious, anyway…there were always dumb pictures to caption and links to exceptionally contemptuous news articles to post. But he hadn’t actually written one of his mini-essays for the site in a while.

Even though his aunt had left a few days before he was still too busy to write. His father had torn the house apart, undoing a lot of the work that Andre and Aunt Marissa had spent two long weeks accomplishing. Ordinarily, Andre wouldn’t care—the house only looked presentable once a year, when his aunt visited—but Emily and Michael were coming over, and he didn’t want them to see what his father had done.

He’d only had three days to get the house back in order, so he came up with a shortcut: they were going to be watching a movie in the home theater his father had built a few years ago, before The Troubles, so Andre would just clean a path from the back entrance of the house, through his bedroom and family room, up the stairs and down the hall to the theater. Everything else got pushed behind closed doors.

Andre had finished the work of clearing this trail earlier that afternoon, then surprised himself by continuing to clean more than was necessary by putting the dresser back together in the guest bedroom and righting the dining room set. And then he’d surprised himself even more by pacing around the house, restless and punchy with hours to go before Emily and Michael’s arrival, until he’d finally admitted to himself that he wanted—no, needed—to go for a run.

However, counterfeiting earnestness is not yet a crime. Hughes’ films are entertainments, harmless diversions for harmless people. His characters might be cardboard, with the sort of clear-cut emotional motives one never sees in real life, but they clearly resonate with his fans, who perhaps identify with his characters’ desires for a substantiality and depth that is beyond their ability to achieve.

But one of his films, Pretty In Pink, has an ending—or rather, lacks an ending—that sends a message that is anything but harmless. In fact, I don’t think I go too far by saying that this ending has ruined the romantic expectations of a generation of filmgoers.

Andre looked at the time. Crap, they would be there in twenty minutes, and Emily was usually on time. Why was it always like this with him? Even when he was running way ahead of schedule, he’d always find something to distract him until, like always, he’d end up throwing everything together at the last minute.

He pushed himself up out of the recliner, a move that had been getting harder these last few months as his gut expanded, and was now made even more difficult by his sore and stiff legs. Andre looked around for clothes to wear, and chose of course black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a pair of black Doc Martens. The muscles in his legs were so tight that he had to get down on the floor to get his boots on. Maybe stretches would help.

Starting at the back entrance, Andre shuffled through the house–almost bowlegged with stiffness–making sure everything was in its place. He went through the den, past his room, up the stairs, into the foyer, across the living room, down the east wing hallway, just past the spotless guest bathroom, and into the home theater. Good.

He had meant to clean a few more rooms in this hallway–it looked weird having all the doors leading up to the theater closed–but he’d run out of time.

Andre listened at his father’s door and heard deep crunchy snores. Just before his jog, he’d made his dad a frozen pizza, which Reuben Meyer had barely touched, and for dessert he’d let him have a handful of his favorite sleeping pills. Andre didn’t want him up and wandering around while his friends were over, and allowing his father to take a few extra sleeping pills on Movie Night had become Standard Operating Procedure since February, when Reuben’s whiskey dinner had worn off halfway through “His Girl Friday” and he’d almost stumbled into the theater looking for a drink. Thank God that Andre’s ears were tuned to the exact frequencies of his father’s shuffling gait, and he had been able to turn his father around without anyone else in The Gang seeing him.

Back downstairs now, and into the garage. In the corner was a stack of boxes from a wholesale beverage distributor, the same company that supplied Reuben Meyer’s theater chain. The boxes had been delivered two days before, and Andre hid them by rolling the three family bikes in front of them. His father, repulsed by all physical exertion, would never dare approach the bikes, so this was all that was really required to keep the boxes.

Andre pulled bottles up one at a time out of the topmost box until he found some gin, then dug around some more until he found a bottle of vermouth. He’d already stocked the little bar at the back of the theater with tonic, ginger ale, and olives, but he hadn’t wanted to leave liquor out in the open until the very last moment.

As he climbed up the stairs–one at a time, wincing with each step–Andre tried to think of anything else he needed to do before Emily and Michael arrived, and came up with nothing. Maybe make popcorn? Traditionally, Movie Night was accompanied by an antipasto or a selection of cheeses, usually brought over by David or Robert. Popcorn wasn’t unheard of, but it was rare. (Alexander, no doubt, considered it common.)

Halfway up the stairs, Andre’s cell phone beeped twice. Balancing both bottles in the crook of his arm, he fished it out of his back pocket. running late, the message from Emily read. b there son

• • •

A few blocks away, in the living area of Emily’s little cottage, Michael stretched back on a large overstuffed chair. Emily, straddling his hips, squinted at the screen of her cell phone, her lower lip between her teeth, until she was sure that her message to Andre had gone through. As soon as the minuscule check mark appeared beside the cartoon envelope, she flung the phone across the room and continued demolishing Michael with kisses. Before the phone had even stopped bouncing on the cushion, Emily had her mouth in the hollow of his throat, and he had again run his hands under her short full dress, holding her hips at first but then touching her back, his palms on her waist and the tips of his fingers against the muscles of her spine.

Emily slowly straightened up again and gazed down with hooded eyes at Michael beneath her, fully dressed but with his shirt unbuttoned to his chest. Both of them were breathing heavily at exactly the same time, inhaling and exhaling to a rhythm that existed only for the two of them.

“All right,” Emily whispered. “Okay. We have to get up now.”

Michael ran the back of his finger up her bare arm, watching his nail leave a trail of goosebumps in its wake. “Okay.”

“Okay.” They looked at each looked through the semi-darkness of the cottage, but neither of them moved. The same invisible rhythm pulled them together without either of them moving first: Emily leaning forward to find his mouth, and Michael pulling himself up to meet her.

It went on like this for a while. Let’s skip ahead.

• • •

Emily stood before the large full-length mirror that leaned beside the cottage’s long-unusable fireplace and tried to fix her hair.

“I swear, Michael, this whole thing with us has probably doubled the amount of time I have to spend on my hair. And the amount of money, too. Someone should totally invent a product that gets rid of this ‘I’ve just been ravished’ look. I’d buy a case of it.” She caught his eye in the mirror. “And with you around, I’d have to.”

Michael leaned forward and kissed the back of her head. “I don’t tend to be the one doing the ravishing.”

“Oh, you do a pretty good job.” But it was true: when they tumbled together, Michael was rarely the aggressor. He was an enthusiastic, passionate, and inventive participant, but Emily always set the pace and he never tried to take more than she offered him.

It would be easy to just say he was a Proper gentleman, but even though that was part of it, there was something more. No, David Sebastian’s wildest dreams weren’t coming true: he clearly liked girls and all that, but it was as if he had never learned the boy vs girl dance of Two-Steps-Forward, One-Step-Back.

It was sweet and sorta gallant, the way he respected her even as he undressed her and brought his hands and mouth to her skin, but it could be frustrating, too: despite ending many of their evenings damp and out of breath, their physical relationship was pretty much still rated PG-13. Emily didn’t really mind–him moving this slow with her was charming and romantic and, she had to admit, exciting as hell–but still…what was the point of a summer fling if you never got flung?

Michael turned his back to her, looking over his shoulder at the wrinkles on the back of his shirt. My boys and their clothes. She pecked his cheek and took his hand, led him to the foot of her bed. “Michael…we need to talk.”

Michael frowned a bit. “Emily, honey…what more can we say about it?”

They had found the shoelace tied around Emily’s handlebars a few nights before…it was the signal they’d agreed on two weeks ago with Lucas Budd: when they saw the shoelace, they knew it was time to take the first step of his plan. It was time to visit Harry Sebastian.

Ever since receiving the signal, Emily and Michael had talked about little else. They both more or less agreed that they would end up going through with it–though each of them reconsidered daily, leading to another conversation–but actually doing it, as opposed to just talking endlessly about it, was daunting. Taking that first step made it all real, made them co-conspirators, and they both admitted they were nervous. Days had passed.

“What? No, that’s not what we have to talk about. (Although I guess we sorta do need to talk about that, too.) I just meant we need to talk about where we’re going to sit tonight.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the theater. We have to think about where we’re sitting.”

In the middle of Andre’s house was a large home theater, but describing this room as just a “home theater” is misleading; lately, anyone with a tacky big screen TV and a handful of speakers calls their den a “home theater.” But this was an actual miniature theater inside of Andre’s home, installed by the same crew who maintained his father’s chain of cinemas. In better days, The Gang had spent almost all of their Sunday evenings there.

“I don’t know…on one of the sofas, I guess.” The floor was divided into four steppes, each one holding a couch, a couple of loveseats, or a few recliners.

“No, Michael, listen: we have to be careful. We have to plan stuff like this out or we’ll ruin everything. Okay, usually you and Lillian sit on your sofa, and Alexander and I have our loveseat, and Andre is always in his easy chair. But what about tonight…are we going to sit in the same places, but by ourselves? Are the three of us gonna share that big couch on the second level? Or are we gonna sit in three separate chairs, all spread out?”

Michael thought about it, then shrugged. “Are we?”

“I don’t know. But that’s not even really what I’m talking about. Tonight’s going to be torture. All I’m gonna want to do is look at you, touch you, kiss you. God, Michael, the way I feel when I’m with you…anyone who even glances at us should be able to see it, as clear as if we were wearing t-shirts that say The Two Of Us Are Crazy…you know, Crazy About Each Other.” Her voice got small. “This is new for us, Michael. Promise me you’ll be careful…and I’ll do my best to be careful, too.”

Michael looked at her, almost gravely, but he didn’t speak. The cottage and the world outside was so silent now she could hear the hum of her bathroom light.

“Okay, look,” Emily said, “I’m sorry I implied that you’d ever wear a t-shirt with writing on it-”

“I know what you’re saying.” His voice was low and he didn’t look away from her eyes. “I do, I know. I’ve been worried about it all night. Andre’s smart…maybe not about stuff like this, but he’s smart regardless. And we don’t have to guess whose side he’ll be on if he figures this out.”

Emily nodded at him.

“But Emily…this might be new for you, but it’s not new for me. I hid the way I felt about you for years. I’m not some master thespian, but I think I did a pretty good job, remember?” Michael’s lips grew thin, he raised a single eyebrow, and his face became as distant and beautiful as the moon on winter mornings. “I can do it again.”

He kept it up until both his eyebrows were high on his forehead, and his lips were sucked fully into his mouth, and his eyes rolled up as his eyelids fluttered. Emily shook him, pleading with laughter for him to cut it out, and finally his face melted and he kissed her cheek and throat with smiling lips. She ran her hands lightly down his back, her fingertips mapping the terrain of his wrinkled shirt.

“Okay, we have to go, we’re like an hour late,” she said at last, and Michael rose from the bed with only two more kisses. Emily fetched the spray starch from her bathroom, and returned just as Michael was tucking his shirt in. She sat on the bed, right behind him, and straightened out the back of his shirt. She didn’t need to, Michael’s tucks were always flawless. She misted the spray starch across his back.

This had become their ritual over the last few weeks…after their time together, Emily would lovingly tug and smooth the wrinkles from Michael’s clothes, “making him decent again,” they would joke.

When she was done, she stood in front of him in the full-length mirror and met his eyes. “How do we look?”

“Not guilty, your honor.”

Emily frowned a little. “I don’t look forward to you being cold to me again. Even if it’s just for a few hours.”

“I’m not looking forward to doing it.” He took her into his arms, his palms going naturally to her tummy. His hands were always so warm, so warm, and she could feel them through the light fabric of her dress. He looked over her shoulder at her mirrored reflection, and she rested her head back on his chest because, really, what’s five minutes more when you’re already an hour late?

He whispered in her ear. “When you were getting ready and you caught me looking at the back of my shirt, I wasn’t thinking about the wrinkles. I wasn’t. I was thinking about how I got them. And I was thinking about how, maybe one day, I’ll spend the afternoon getting ready, and I’ll put on my favorite linen suit, the one that wrinkles if you just look at it too hard, and I’ll put on a crisp cotton shirt, one that I have to spend half an hour ironing, and I’ll fix my hair until it’s just right, and then I’ll come over here and without even taking off my jacket I’ll take you to bed and roll around with you.”

“Michael,” Emily said, her voice soft.

“I know. We have to go.” His voice was even lower now, his beautiful lips brushing against her ear. “But listen: later, much later, after we’re done for the moment, we’ll get up and I won’t touch a thing. I won’t fix my hair, and I won’t fix the tuck of my shirt, and I won’t smooth down the back of my jacket.” His voice barely more than a breath now. “And then we’ll go out, take a cab to the Quarter. And we can go into a restaurant, or a hotel bar—a tourist place, but nice—somewhere nobody who goes to school with us will be. And everyone who sees us, all those strangers…they will know. They’ll know why my clothes are so wrinkled, and they’ll know why my hair is swirled in the back. They’ll know what I’ve been doing. And they’ll know…they’ll know it was you.”

• • •

Finally, something like an hour and a half late, Michael and Emily showed up. Neither of them apologized for the delay or even mentioned it, which Andre knew they learned from Alexander–”Establish enigmas, not explanations,” was one of his many personal mottos; everyone in The Gang knew he’d stolen it from someone else even if they were all too lazy to Google it–but still: damn, ninety minutes late? The twins would never have tolerated it. They’d only been gone a month and the old ideals were already fading away.

(Though Andre had to admit that to Alexander, the word “punctual” had a rather fluid definition. At a dinner party, twenty minutes late was punctual. At a cocktail party or a school dance, an hour late was just about right. But nobody was ever late for Movie Night…I mean, c’mon.)

Andre, sitting the family room, watched through gauzy curtains as the Mini crept up to the gate. All the Gangmembers knew each other’s security codes, and within a minute the Mini was crunching to a stop just outside the window. Andre fought the desire to get up and greet them at the door. He was looking forward to seeing them, to seeing anyone, but Andre had no plans to become some dull “get up and greet you at the door” type.

Emily and Michael approached the back entrance of the house, but then paused slightly, and Andre thought he could hear a quick muffled exchange just outside. Finally, tentatively, Emily knocked on the door, her thin bracelets clinking against the wood on the offbeat.

“What the fuck?” Andre called. “Come in, for Christ’s sake, come in.”

He made himself sound grumpy and put-upon when he said it, but in fact it struck him as the saddest part of his summer so far: Emily’s knuckles tapping cautiously against the door, when only a month before anyone in the Gang would have walked in without a second thought.

The door opened and Andre, for an extra beat, kept pretending to read the section of the paper he’d been holding. But then, looking up, he was unable to stop himself from smiling as Emily bounced into his family room. She had this way of entering a room as though she’d been carried in by a huge translucent bubble that eventually burst to reveal a grinning Emily, surrounded by hearts and stars and rainbows.

“Andre!” She threw her arms around him before he was even able to get all the way up out of the couch, and they both stumbled back towards the cushions.

Michael came in then, entering the room as he entered all rooms, as though the world had a secret choreography and only he knew the steps. He made walking out of a hallway a display of grace and beauty, and he arched his eyebrow at all the other stumblers.

Emily sniffed the air and widened her eyes. “Wow, Andre, your place smells so clean.”

“Well, you know…since it’s me and my dad I have to keep on top of things or it would start smelling like a frat house before the end of the week.” Actually, though, what Emily was smelling was the lemon mop water from a few hours before.

Michael nodded once at Andre, with something like a smirk of approval, an expression only Michael could pull off, and do so in a way that was equal parts heartening and maddening.

“Andre Meyer,” Michael said, in his chummily formal way, and held out his hand for a handshake. At first Andre thought he was presenting his hand for inspection. Take a look at this perfect specimen.

“Oh. Hey, Michael.” Andre shook his hand, but he did something wrong–his grasp fell short or he didn’t rotate his wrist right or something–and Michael’s firm grasp found only Andre’s fingers, the way a Victorian gentleman greeted a lady. It happened like that all the time for Andre.

“You look good, Andre. You look…well-rested?”

Andre had no idea if he was being made fun of (I like to sleep in, is that a crime?) so he just rolled his eyes and turned back to Emily. She was removing that night’s DVD from her thin clutch, which wasn’t actually that much bigger than the DVD case itself.

“I can’t believe you have your own personal copy of this.” They were going to watch Pretty In Pink, which had prompted the beginning of his blog review. Andre held the case as though the movie might somehow get on his fingertips. “This isn’t from NetFlix?”

“It’s my mom’s…not that I wouldn’t own it, you snob. I wanted Michael to see it. I called him Duckie on the phone the other day and he had no idea what I was talking about.”

“Duckie? I can understand if you called him Steff, but…”

“Be nice,” Emily said.”EvenifItotallyagreewithyou.”

Andre led them up the stairs towards the theater, still looking at the DVD box. “Gosh, I’d have thought this would have been a Criterion edition for sure.”

“You’re right, Andre, forget it. Let’s just watch one of your favorite nine-hour Polish suicide notes instead.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

They were passing through the upstairs living room now, and Emily caught sight of a magazine stack on a side table. “Oh, hey, it’s Laura.”

The top magazine of the stack had Laura Brennan-Spade on the cover. In fact, all of them had Laura Brennan-Spade on the cover, and Andre cursed himself for leaving them out. “Yeah, my Aunt Marissa left those here when she left.” He hurried along, praying that Emily wouldn’t want to look at the top magazine and then discover the rest of the pile. Not there was anything unseemly about him having them. They were his research.

“You know, she’s going to be here in a few weeks. Uncle Sammy’s visiting for a weekend.”

“Oh yeah? It would be cool to see him again.”

“It would? You’re always bellyaching about how bad his music is.”

“No, no. I talked to him at your birthday party. He’s a good guy.” Andre opened the doors to the theater and found the light switch. “So. John Hughes, Pretty In Pink. Considered one of his masterpieces, and there’s the widespread belief that Hughes’ shallow later work, like Home Alone or that one about the baby, is a betrayal of movies like this one. Some even suggest that he’d had to embrace this shallowness after getting too close to the real nature of life in his earlier work. But if you strip away the facile generational indentifiers of Sixteen Candles and most especially the tremendously overrated Breakfast Club…if you take away the soundtracks, the boring angst, and Hughes’ unshakeable belief in the kind of high-school caste systems that only exist in the movies, you find that the shallowness had been there from the beginning. You might say it’s his aesthetic calling card.”

Andre had been loading the DVD into the wall-mounted control center as he’d recited all this, and glanced over now to find Emily and even Michael looking at each other and then back at him, with shy grateful smiles and blinking eyes.

“What?”

Emily quickly pecked his cheek before he could protest. “We’ve just missed you, Andre. That’s all.”

He waved it away, an annoyed look on his face and the cliche of her lips’ tingle still on his cheek. “Yeah, yeah. So, uh…I made a-” so embarrassed now to actually say it “-uh, a popcorn bar, with melted butter in this little mini-Crockpot thing and there’s salt and powdered cheese and, let’s see, chili powder and curry powder and cinnamon and some other stuff. Michael, you can pick whatever you want as a topping. Emily, as usual, you can dump a little bit of everything on yours.”

“You know me so well. But since when do we have popcorn? Geez, used to be the worst we’d get would be, like, a cheese platter. Or some samosas from Taj Mahal.”

“Used to be people didn’t show up ninety minutes late for movie night.”

Michael, as inscrutable as always, filled up the air-popper with kernels and pressed a couple buttons, his fingers moving deliberately on the machine as though he were playing a delicate Chopin sonata.

Emily’s eyes brightened. “Oh, hey, remember that night Litta’Bit brought those incredible Vietnamese dumplings she’d made with her grandmother?”

“Yeah…I’m pretty sure those were pot-stickers she got at a Chinese takeout place on the way over here.” Andre frowned at her from behind the leather-topped bar in the corner. “I mean, she didn’t even put them in a different box.”

“I know. But still, it was a nice gesture.”

Andre, without asking, made a gin and tonic for Michael and a martini with extra olives for Emily. He had read somewhere that, years after meeting you, Frank Sinatra might not be able to remember your name, but he would always remember your drink. Andre would never be confused for Sinatra, but he had his aspirations.

He glanced up at them as they mounted the first level of the theater. “Oh, hey. I just moved three chairs together for us. I figured we didn’t want to be spread out on a bunch of couches.”

For himself, he poured a bottle of ginger ale into a highball glass and added a single large ice cube. (Earlier that day, while cleaning, he’d filled a silicone muffin pan with water and used it as an ice cube tray, a trick he’d learned from David’s dad.) He swirled the ginger ale around in the glass, as though mixing it with a fine rye whiskey.

Andre brought the tray over to his friends and Emily fished out one of the olives and chomped on it loudly for laughs, then made a show of delicately washing it down with a sip of her drink.

Andre laughed for her, but he saw Michael stare at her blankly and then look away. What an ass.

• • •

They popped popcorn.

They covered it in butter and spices.

They refilled their drinks and dimmed the lights and found their way to their seats. What more is there to say? They watched a movie. Let’s skip ahead.

• • •

After the film ended, they moved back downstairs, to sit in Andre’s family room. Long ago, it had been the favorite room of Andre’s aunts and uncles when they were children, and they gathered there every evening to do homework and practice the clarinet and build model airplanes as their mother worked on her needlepoint and their father rattled the paper. Only Reuben hid away in his room, reading Theodore Sturgeon and Jack Vance paperbacks.

Decades later, after Reuben and his family took over the mansion, the family room was where the Meyers would have Movie Night throughout Andre’s childhood. For Andre’s family, though, Movie Night was pretty much every night, and by the age of ten, Andre listed The Dark Crystal, Time Bandits, and Tron as his favorite movies. He had tried unsuccessfully to stay awake with his parents for 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris on too many occasions to count, and he could recite Roy Batty’s dying words from memory. Fleischer’s Superman shorts and Flash Gordon serials were his babysitters, Doctor Who re-enactments were a favorite family vacation past-time, and Andre trick or treated in a homemade Muad’Dib outfit.

Then more time passed, and the family room became one of The Gang’s favorite hangouts, a place to meet up before a party or after a night out without worrying about parents or siblings. Though Andre complained when they arrived, complained while they were there, and complained on his blog after they left, he liked being the person The Gang came to.

But all those memories were lost in time now (like tears in rain), and Andre haunted the downstairs most nights the way his father haunted the upstairs. The family room was now just the place he went when his bedroom felt too cramped, a place with a TV where Andre could fall asleep as the early morning pre-news shows began transmitting to the still-dark world.

Emily sat cross-legged on the floor with Michael beside her, but Andre, who knew what he looked like when he sat cross-legged, was above them on the couch. He had the overhead light off, claiming he never used it. But in fact he always used it, and the one lamp he had on instead was far too weak for the room, giving their conversation about the movie the air of a campfire chat.

“Well, I guess the movie was made in a different time,” Emily admitted. Michael had been confused about why Duckie was considered a lovable underdog when he spent the bulk of the movie indulging in behavior that, in this more enlightened age, would be considered repulsive at best and sociopathic at worst.

“An innocent era, before stalking laws…” Andre offered. “But the Duckie situation is really central to the movie, and seems to be almost completely misunderstood by the movie’s fans.”

“What do you mean?” Emily asked.

“Well, there’s this almost-universal idea that Hughes should have ended the movie with Andie and Duckie getting together, right? As I’m sure you know, it was even the original ending of the movie. But…Michael, why haven’t you ever tried to hook up with Emily?”

“What?” Michael, who up to that moment looked like an artist’s model posing silently for a figure study titled Listening To His Friend Speak, looked up with a jerk. Andre saw something in his eyes that he had never expected to see: true and graceless terror. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, she’s a pretty girl, you guys know each other, people claim you’re an attractive guy. Sure, both of you are dating someone, but they’re both out of town…why not go for it?”

Something wild flashed behind Michael’s eyes. He blinked furiously once, twice, three times. “Because…um.”

“Because you’re not attracted to her?”

Michael focused his eyes and set his jaw. He was back. “I’m wildly attracted to her, Andre, you know that. I feel the same way about Josephine and Litta’Bit. But, aside from the fact that I’m dating Lillian, I just don’t feel romantic about her.”

Andre nodded. “You’re right, you’re right. That’s a much better way of putting it: you don’t feel romantic about her. My point is, you can’t force that feeling. Andie just doesn’t feel romantic about Duckie, and all the fans hoping it could be different can’t change that.

“In the movie they play the whole thing for laughs. But real Duckies aren’t funny, they’re not harmlessly moonstruck. They’re miserable. They’re desperate. ‘Why doesn’t she love me? Why doesn’t she love me? I’m her best friend, I’m always there for her, I’m always letting her cry on my shoulder when yet another jerk dumps her. I’m doing everything right.’ And he never understands that it’s already too late. To her he might as well be gay…no, not gay: he might as well be a eunuch. Sexless. Castrated.

“I’m not blaming the Andies. Far from it. Andie wants to have a normal relationship with Duckie, a real relationship, but instead he put on a pedestal she never wanted to be placed on, and now instead of just being his friend she’s forced to play the role of the unattainable girl that Duckie will always be chasing fruitlessly forever.

“Duckies say that Andies only date jerks, and Andies know that it’s true. But if she were honest, she’d say that at least jerks are straightforward about what they want from her. Jerks are honest about their intentions—brutally so—and Duckies are liars. I don’t think that’s too strong of a word. They pretend to want friendship when they really want nothing of the sort.

“But of course, Andies don’t want to be with jerks. Andies want to be with Duckies…just ask them, they’ll tell you. ‘My dream boyfriend is a little nerdy, kind of awkward, but he’s always there for me and we know everything about each other.’ Then, when you point out their nerdy awkward best friend who’s been crushing on them for years, they’re like: ‘Um.’ They all want to date a Duckie…they just don’t want to date their Duckie.”

Andre looked up into the lamp, touching the hem of the shade with his fingertips. “People talk about how Hughes ruined the ending by having Andie and Blane get back together. But I think the ending is one of the few things he got right. The ending says: look, if you think that Duckie and Andie would end up together in the end, you have a lot to learn about how the world really works.”

It wasn’t long before it was the middle of the night. Eventually, Emily eased herself down onto the half-lit carpet of the family room, pulling her legs up to her chest and smoothing down her skirt in the back with her free hand. Inside her white pumps her toes wiggled extravagantly.

“Are you falling asleep?” Michael asked in a flat and affectless voice.

“No…I’m just getting comfortable.” Emily opened her eyes wide in attention, looking up at Andre and then Michael. “Keep talking, I’m listening,” she said, and it surprised neither of them when, within minutes, her eyes closed and her lips parted in sleep.

Michael and Andre chatted for another half hour or so, about…what? Later, after they were gone, Andre couldn’t say. Michael had a way of making conversation that was so impersonal that it ceased almost to exist, as insubstantial as the breath that formed the words. He remembered only that they has spoken about the upcoming school year, and Andre’s classes, and there had been an awkward moment when Andre asked if he’d heard from the twins. Michael admitted he hadn’t, then quietly asked the same question of Andre and got the same response. Neither of them spoke, and finally Michael turned towards Emily’s sleeping body.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing once, and Emily woke up like a child, happy and silent and smiling broadly up at Michael before she came fully awake. “I wasn’t asleep,” she mumbled, sitting up with a hand on her hair.

Andre walked them out–a hug from Emily, a shoulder-clap from Michael–and stood in the doorway as they got in the Mini to depart, holding the highball glass with the last of his ginger ale. He leaned against the doorframe, one leg crossing the other, and swirled the lonely, quickly melting, ice cube around the bottom of his glass.

He could hear them talking softly as Michael opened the driver’s side door for Emily–a little showy, that, and not strictly Proper–but he couldn’t make out what they said. Andre had learned something that night, something he was still putting together in his head. That frantic look in Michael’s eye, when Andre asked him why he’d never hooked up with Emily…there was no mistaking it: the mask had slipped for just a second, and underneath it Andre could see the real Michael, the Michael who was madly in love with an Emily who had no idea.

Or did she? The reason they’d watched Pretty In Pink, she said, was because she’d called him Duckie…was that a reference to his pointless affection for her? If so, that made Andre particularly satisfied with his damning lecture about real-life Duckies.

“Fascinating,” he said to himself out loud, then immediately felt like such a douche for doing it he scrunched up his nose. Still: there were people in the Gang that would be very interested to hear about this. It was just up to Andre to decide who to tell first.

The car’s headlights came on, framing Andre in the doorway with his glass in his hand. He didn’t wince or look away, just continued looking at Michael’s now-darkened form in the passenger seat. Above his head he could hear the first mosquitoes of summer headbutting the porch light.

As the car pulled out, Andre raised his glass at them, as if toasting their departure, and let them see him take a last drink from his glass. He hoped it looked louche and Continental. Only he knew the glass was empty, offering only the smallest trickle of melted ice.

He waited until he heard the gate close behind the Mini before he came back inside. There was no forced relaxation any more; Andre was frantic now. He leaned into the bathroom long enough to chuck the ice cube into the sink and abandon the glass beside his toothbrush and sports watch. Then he hopped down the hallway, kicking off first one boot then the other, pulling off his shirt and walking out of his pants. Then he was back in his bedroom in just boxers and an undershirt, the way he’d started the evening, with a comet-trail of clothes behind him in the hallway.

His laptop was on the recliner, and he lifted it up just long enough to take its place, then cracked the computer opened and waited for the barely audible buzz of the hard drive waking up. The screen flashed on and the cursor blinked in the Notepad document Andre used for This Toilet City entries.

Okay: think. Think. Start from the beginning. How did you start it?

The belief that the movie should have put Andie and Duckie together in the end…

Not quite. Again.

The idea among fans of the film that Andie and Duckie should have ended up getting together is rampant.

Shit. Shit! Stay calm, you’ll remember it.

To fans of the film, there’s an almost-universal idea that Hughes’ only misstep was in ending the movie without Andie choosing Duckie over Blane. Indeed, it was the original ending of the film…