Catholic Girls
Jeff Landon

Snow keeps falling, mixed with sleet. On the radio, Bart Prater, the drive time disc jockey, tells us to park the cars, light a fire, bring in the dogs and water the granny. I choose to ignore the advice of Bart Prater. I choose to go outside and explore our silvered town, where the roads are treacherous and cars keep dinging into curbs and each other.

Winston lives in a tri-level house on the richer side of town, which is actually only two streets—a pocket of richness, a place for our doctors and assorted gazillionaires to call home. Angie Watson lives here, with her mother and her five sisters, but I don’t know anyone else in this neighborhood. Angie’s father fell in love with a woman he met in AA. They play drums together in a thirty-person drum/chant line that meets every third weekend on an organic date farm in Alfred, Maine.

Winston’s roof looks like the bark on a chestnut oak tree. On his slate porch, flanked by two ludicrous columns, I knock on the French door.

Winston answers the door. He’s wearing a leather trench coat that falls past his knees.

“I like your coat,” I say. “Where’re your foxy prostitutes?”

“It’s fly,” says Winston. “I’m taking chances, living the life.”

“You look like a seal.”

“Blow me.”

“I’m sorry, Winston,” I tell him. “I only like you as a friend.”

“Gosh, you’re fun,” says Winston. “What a fun, fun guy you are.”

A few minutes later, we’re standing outside the Mick-or-Mack grocery store. Beside the store, there’s a tiny park illuminated by a streetlight. Two wooden benches, a swing set, and a crab apple tree. A drift of snow covers one of the benches—it looks pretty cool and lonesome at the same time.

I’m freezing out here, but Winston needs to buy a sack of Gummi Bears. He’s practically addicted to Gummi Bears and Sour Patch candy. In certain crucial ways, he’s, like, eight.

The wind has picked up and changed directions, so I duck my chin low under my collar. Winston sidles up beside me in the ice-glazed parking lot, a bag of candy in his hands and snowflakes swirling around his big, pale head. Snow gathers on lawns, trees, and parked cars. Starting from the top of Jefferson Hill, Winston and I boot-skate down an icy pathway in the dark. It feels like a floating dream, and halfway down I look up at the sky to the stars scattered all about, and the world seems to disappear for a few perfect seconds. I don’t know if I believe in heaven, but I want to believe—everything would be easier.

Walking back to my house, we swing our arms to keep warm. Winston is spending the night because his father kicked him out of the house again. He does that all the time, at least ten times a year, and usually Winston goes to my mother’s house, but these days my mother is busy with her new, terrible boyfriend.

“OK,” Winston says. “The coat’s hideous. But someone gave it to me—a girl named Beth.”

“A girl?”

“Beth. Yes, she’s a girl. Hence the name.”

“Winston, you scallywag. You have a girlfriend?”

Under a streetlamp, Winston catches a few plump snowflakes on his tongue. The snow falls drowsily now. Every year, the first snowfall always feels like a minor miracle, like something entirely new. You forget how dazzling it is in the gap of time between snows.

“Yup,” Winston says, smiling this goofy-butt smile. “I guess I do have a girlfriend.”

“Wow,” I clap Winston’s slick leather shoulder. “That’s huge,” I say, but in truth I can’t believe how sad I feel right now. It’s like the world is changing, but I’m the same.

“She’s not that pretty,” Winston says. “She’s pretty, but not staggeringly pretty. But I’m not, like, an underpants model.”

“Not yet,” I say. “But maybe someday, if you really devote yourself.”

“I did some sit-ups yesterday,” says Winston. “That should help.”

I reach down and try to make a snowball, but the snow is too powdery.

“Have you guys done it yet?” I ask.

“Second base,” Winston tells me. “Under the bra. She goes to Catholic school.”

For a few minutes, we don’t talk at all. We just stand there like the best friends that we are. We stick out our tongues to taste the new snow, all these big flakes that land and dissolve almost instantly. I’m clobbered by the way they look, and how they feel on your tongue in that one moment before they disappear forever.

“A story about a moment, a quiet moment, when your life changes and you don’t know that it’s changing. I like to write about teenagers, because their lives are filled with these moments. So many things happen—first love, first sex, intense friendships. This is about a loss that hasn’t happened yet, but it will, soon.”

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