The five of them laughed and talked all through the meal. They talked of people Samantha didn’t know, but they always made an effort to explain who the people were. Corey told stories about Mike as a child.
“Did you tell Sam what you did to your sister’s friends’ clothes?” she asked Mike, pointing a plastic fork at him.
With an embarrassed chuckle, Mike looked at his plate. “I somehow forgot to mention that.”
“All those girls in those white clothes,” Corey said, laughing.
At the mention of white clothes, Samantha became alert. She motioned Corey to tell the story, but Corey looked at Mike, at his pleading eyes, and said no, that it was Mike’s story. Nothing anyone said could entice Mike to tell the story.
After dinner, they went into the living room where Mike put on Kiri Te Kanawa singing Puccini and talked. Samantha got Corey into a corner and wrote on her pad, Tell me about Mike.
“What do you want to know?”
Samantha put her hands palm up to signify that anything Corey told her would be all right.
“I don’t know where to begin. He has eleven brothers and sisters, and—” She laughed when Samantha’s mouth dropped open in shock. “There are a lot of Taggerts in Chandler.”
Are they very poor? Samantha wrote.
Corey gave a snort of laughter, then began chuckling as she put her hand on Samantha’s arm. “You should ask him about that. Let’s see, what else can I tell you? Mike’s degree is in mathematics. He did all the course work for a Ph.D., but then got interested in his old gangster and never finished his dissertation.” She looked at Sam. “His father would love for him to finish his degree. Maybe you could influence him.”
Samantha shrugged to show that she had no influence over him. She and Mike were nothing to each other, just temporarily living together, and the fact that Mike spent a great deal of time trying to get her to go to bed with him meant nothing. As far as Samantha could tell, all men did that to all women. It meant nothing before the event and less than nothing afterward.
“Mike,” Corey said as she picked up a calculator from a bookcase, “what’s two hundred and thirty-seven times two thousand six hundred and eighty-one?”
Mike didn’t look around, nor did he take so much as a second before he answered. “Six hundred thirty-five thousand, three hundred ninety-seven.”
When Corey showed Samantha the calculator reading, she saw that Mike was correct. “The whole family is like that,” Corey whispered. “In school we all thought they should have been in a circus.” She pressed Samantha’s arm. “Mike’s a good guy, a really good guy.”
Samantha looked across
the room at him, and as she did so, Mike turned and winked at her. Sam smiled in return.
Why do you like white so much? Samantha wrote on her pad. She was once again in Mike’s bed, and the house was empty and quiet, and she was very tired. In spite of the fact that she hadn’t done much that day, it had been a tiring one. Now, she wanted to go to sleep and she didn’t want to have to wrestle with Mike, didn’t want him trying to continue what they had started on the couch in the library.
“You sure you want to know?”
She nodded as he tucked her in, then started to protest when he stretched out on the bed and put his head in her lap, but he acted as though he didn’t hear her.
“When I was fifteen my sister, she was about nineteen, I guess, brought home four of her college friends to spend a week at our house. I thought those girls were the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen. I followed them around everywhere and they teased me mercilessly.
“To this day I don’t know what made me do it, but one day while they were out swimming, I gathered up all their clothes and took them downstairs, threw them in the washers, and added three cups of bleach to each load, then turned on the hot water.
“When the girls got back, they had nothing to wear except their swim suits and clothes that were white and tiny.” He stared into space for a few moments. “They were beautiful. Tiny white shorts. Microscopic T-shirts. Skirts that only reached midthigh.”
What did your parents do? Samantha wrote.
“It took them half a day to figure out who had done it—I do have brothers, you know—but when they found out, my mother said I should be blindfolded and stood up against an outside wall of the house and the girls should be given shotguns. But Dad said he’d take me outside and beat me. So we walked outside, he grinned at me, rubbed my head, and sent me off to spend the rest of the week with Uncle Mike, but he told me to limp whenever I saw my mother.”
That’s all that was done to you?!!!!! she wrote.
“Sure. Dad took the girls into Denver and bought them new clothes. After the girls left, my father gave me a small white shirt that had no buttons down the front. He said one of the girls had worn it to breakfast, and when she’d reached for something, all the buttons had popped off. He even saved a button for me.”
Why didn’t the girls borrow clothes from your sister or your mother and cover themselves?
Mike looked surprised, then smiled, then he laughed. “What a very, very good question. Maybe they liked my father and my brothers starting at them in open-mouthed admiration.”
Still grinning, he rolled off of her and stood up. He stretched and yawned, with Samantha’s eyes never leaving his body, especially when his shirt pulled up and exposed his bare stomach. Did he have any idea what he looked like when he did that? she wondered.