Good Girls Don’t by Emily Hipchen

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dome light of car onThey stumble away from us into the picnic area, weaving in and out of the headlights like fish. Sheri drags at her scarf, trips on a root and catches herself with a hand on the ground, falls sideways into the thick dark. Mike fetches her up by her arm and pulls her back into view, her shirt ruched up around her waist and her blond hair tossed like in some hurricane wind. She giggles high and sweet, a cool stream over rocks somewhere wild. He drops backwards onto the nearest table, spilling her like water on top of him. Against the night sky, the trees show up black. The headlights bleach the picnic benches so white they seem to dissolve.

He and I are tucked into the back of Sheri’s little Honda, the windshield like a movie screen and them lit like stars. The music runs almost too softly to hear. The dash is dimmed blue, all needles flat against their pins. Behind its thick plastic cover, the cabin light flickers like Morse code, a loose connection or a loose door jiggling it on and off. We hug our knees and wait, him tight against the side, my feet jammed under the seat in front of me. I can smell him, this boy who came with me only because I’d had an extra ticket—cigarette smoke from the concert, clean citrusy cologne mixed with perspiration and breath. When I shift in my seat, the light dims and goes out. The backseat curves around me like a can; he moves his right leg and the cuff of his pants brushes my ankle.

We say nothing to each other, not for thirty seconds or more.

Then he says from the quiet of his corner, “Do you want to?”

A few hours ago on the way into Charlotte, Sheri tossed her beer out the window, unzipped Mike’s fly, and leaned over the console. We watched her blonde head moving against the lighter khaki of his pants, her hand, wrist stacked with bracelets, gripping the side of his seat, fingers denting the vinyl. Mike moaned sometimes, quietly, like in church. Sometimes he put his head on the rest for a second, his eyes focused on the roof and not the road, his fair hair tossing backwards towards my date. At the stadium parking lot, Sheri wiped her mouth, sat up and stretched, pushing the flats of her palms against the ceiling. After the concert, she’d popped in the tape she’d bought, then hit fast forward to “Crocodile Rock.” Just past the coliseum gates, she’d unzipped Mike’s pants again, her hand a pale blur in the dark. Not fifteen minutes ago, he put on the blinker and skidded into this parking spot, tumbled out of the car, and took Sheri with him.

Elton John sings so low we have to listen.My friend takes my hand, the one crushed between us, pulls it around his back under his arm, unfolding himself so he can lean over and kiss me.

He says again, this time right against my mouth, “Do you want to?”

His tongue tastes sweet and tentative, like a schoolboy’s. The tape flips, starts over at the beginning with Daniel, my brother, you are older than me / Do you still feel the pain of scars that won’t heal? I hum and he kisses me again, my hum a buzz on our lips together. He laughs against my mouth, the same kind of laugh as when we spooked his girlfriend on Halloween, him in a white sheet, two holes for eyes and a bright red lipstick smile, me painted up like somebody’s whore.

I can’t move my arm, the one stuck between me and the seat. The dome light flickers back on suddenly, but everything’s in shadow, the seats pressing backward, the boy nearly on top of me. I hear Mike outside—fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, yesyes, he says. Sheri moans.

I say, “I can’t. Really. I-I can’t.”

So we struggle up like out of tar, the dome light off again, his arm against the seat, mine braced against the floor mats. I push against him, getting my shirt down into the waistband of my skirt, my foot against his calf. I button myself up as high as the buttons go, make myself small as I can, but his thigh radiates heat, and there’s no space to get away from it.

Through the windshield we see how Mike and Sheri have shifted positions. She’s face down now on the table, her head turned so she can breathe. Her eyes are two round shadows, her mouth a larger one, open like she’s gasping. Mike looks away, stands between her legs, his hands on her hips. His jeans stay up on his thighs somehow, the hanging belt buckle moving, catching the light. Her legs don’t reach the ground. One shoe dangles and rocks off her heel.

I duck my head behind the seat, but he still watches from his side. The dome light flickers on and haloes his head, the shadows in his face turned bluish in the dashboard light.

He looks at me, stowed behind Sheri’s seat like into a pocket, my bare knees stuffed into the space. My right foot has gone to sleep.

“Are you okay?”

“Sure,” I say. “Sure, I’m fine, fine.”

I push a strand of hair behind my ear and smile at him. He reaches over and puts his hand on my neck, undoes the top buttons of my shirt then slides his fingers up over my collarbone and into my hair. His hand cups the back of my head; I tip it into his palm so it fits there. He moves until I can feel his whole body the length of mine. He tucks his other arm snug around my hips, slides a hand between me and the seat, pulls me up under him. My legs come free, unfurling across the seat under him, the sweat on my calves cooling and drying. My knee gets tangled up between his, the cloth of his pants smooth against my bare skin. He smells warm, like toast for breakfast, I like the taste of him. I like the feel of his cool blond hair between my fingers. I like the way he’s started to sweat.

His hand slides up my thigh, three fingers under the edge of my underwear.

Over his shoulder, the light crackles twice and goes out. Traffic noise from the highway filters into the open window with the rattle of crickets and I am thinking, why not? Who really cares what I am? The picnic table creaks a little and Sheri laughs suddenly, shrill and coy. Elton John snarls on the tape, You aimed to please me / Cooked black-eyed peas-me / Made elderberry whyeeeine…

My arm, caught underneath me, tingles and burns. I lift my body to free it, and he sighs against my mouth. The dome light’s on again, but I can’t see anything except the shape of him, the shape of the seats, the way the backseat curves up over my shoulder to the tiny bit of glass window. I can’t breathe. I have to get out, now.

“No,” I say, “really, honestly. Listen, I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Why not?” This against my mouth. His hand on my breast squeezes, kneads. He kisses my neck and hums to the music, I can feel the vibration in my own throat. Why not?

“I can’t. Just, please. Let me up. Please let me up. I—I’m a Christian.”

He stops kissing me to listen, stills his warm hand under my bra. Light from the dash catches in the corners of his eyes.

“Jesus says we should respect our bodies.” I struggle to sit up a little, let his hand drop to my waist. “He says that we should respect ourselves, and, and, that we should only have sex in committed relationships.”

I wonder if I should cry, just so he’ll believe me.

I can’t see Sheri and Mike anymore, the seat and the shadow of this boy’s body and the way we are crammed into the corner obscures everything outside. He looks down at me, his face a shadow with highlights picked out. He smells like shampoo and boy and sex, his weight a way to make me say yes. Why not?

The car ticks into coolness.

“I mean,” I say, shifting a little so I can see him better, “I mean that I want to save myself for my husband. I want to—save myself. For—for marriage.”

I watch him in the half-dark deciding what to do. Whether he believes me. Whether believing me means he has to stop. He kisses me again, this time different, more insistent and harder, as if he’s trying to push himself through me. My head presses against the doorframe, my shoulder into the seat until I can feel the metal support through the upholstery. When he’s done, he slides over some though we’re still touching, we can’t avoid it. Bunched around my waist, my skirt makes it hard to breathe. My thighs stick to the upholstery and I’ve scraped my knee against the console somehow; it stings like a burn. I slip off the shoe caught under the driver’s seat in front of him, wiggle my skirt down, try to keep my bare foot off his bare ankle.

He watches me without moving, his face dim and unreadable in the opposite corner. His voice is measured, so polite: “I know exactly what you mean. I’m so sorry, I can’t tell you how much I respect you for your decision.”

He pats my arm, running his hand up to my elbow and back. I shiver. He turns his face so that the glow from the windshield lights his pure, pale profile, catches looping strands of his blond hair. I can smell him on me like perfume, taste him in my mouth, feel where his hand pressed against the pulse in my groin. He isn’t watching Sheri and Mike anymore; instead he’s staring out the triangle of window beside him at the dark trees and the stars.

He says, “Jesus would want us to keep ourselves clean. I respect you so much for trying to honor Him.”

I fasten up my shirt, turn my head to the little slip of glass beside me, watch the stars bleach out in the light of the rising sun. Elton’s moved on through the quiet, the songs starting and ending, and he sings right now rough in my ear like hard fall: I’m a bitch, I’m a bitch / ‘Cause I’m better than you / It’s the things that I do / The way that I move / Oh oh oh.

The boy sighs once, lets his hand fall so it’s touching my leg like a narrow shaft of sun. Why not, why not? Why not make him happy? His fingers move slightly, like an invitation, but I can hear them outside, talking softly now, small bursts of whispering that’s hard to tell from the rustling of leaf-litter under their feet.

I shift in my seat, the seatback against my forehead, against my cheek as I dig for my shoe between his feet. He doesn’t move, doesn’t try to help, says nothing. But I can’t look at him anymore, anyway, sitting quiet in his corner, waiting as I am for this to be over. If I said yes now, leaned against him one small push more as a way to say yes, he’d know what I am, like God does. I grope and grasp in the dark, my neck tensed and corded, patting the ground for my lost shoe which will, I’m afraid, bear witness that I’ve been here before—not this car maybe but other cars, been here not saying no to other boys perhaps less beautiful, definitely more persistent. I want to roll my eyes—he actually believed that?—but am too afraid that this God who knows me has heard me lie and is writing something down about it right then, and that if I roll my eyes, He’ll write that down too and He’ll have me down for absolutely all the bad I am, the whore and the tease, the one who uses Him to avoid what she wants but won’t take. When the doors open and the car rocks a little under their weight, the dome light flicks on again and stays on, illuminating the sticks in Sheri’s hair and the single smudge of dirt right under her chin, shaped something like a kiss.

Emily Hipchen is the author of a memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption (2005). Her essays, short stories, and poems have appeared in Fourth Genre, Cincinnati Review, Baltimore Review, Bellingham Review, Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. She teaches at the University of West Georgia.
IMAGE: Lionel Allorge/Flickr Creative Commons
“Elderberry Wine”
Words and Music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
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“The Bitch Is Back”
Words and Music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Copyright (c) 1974 HST MGT. LTD. and ROUGE BOOZE, INC.
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All Rights for HST MGT. LTD. in the United States and Canada Controlled and Administered by UNIVERSAL – SONGS OF POLYGRAM INTERNATIONAL, INC.
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All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation
Words and Music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Copyright Renewed
All Rights in the United States and Canada Controlled and Administered by UNIVERSAL – SONGS OF POLYGRAM INTERNATIONAL, INC.
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation

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