Friday, May 16, 2008

Cynthia: the End

With two minutes left in the scavenger hunt, I knocked on one last door, Cynthia gasping for breath behind me. Hell, I'd done a hell of a lot more for a lot less. At another party just days earlier I turned a Twister game into a wrestling match to win a bottle of Vitalis. The end justified the means, I thought: I mean, what does a girl need hair grease for?

The lights were on in the windows, so somebody had to be home. All we needed was a pound of pastrami, and with every single item on the list we'd be, at the very least, tied for the grand prize. I walloped the door this time, ignoring the black wreath that hung there. Footsteps slowly approached, and as my heartbeat thumped off the remaining seconds a figure in black appeared.

"Sorry to bother you," I said, barely pausing between words, "but we're on a scavenger hunt, and we just need one more thing to win."

The woman tried to smile but fell short. "I see," she said quietly, tightening her wrinkled fingers around a rosary. "Well, unfortunately, we just had a death in the family, so it's not exactly a good time."

Cynthia moved up beside me, her face awash in sympathy. "I'm so, sooo sorry," she said, "intruding on you at this difficult time. Our best wishes are with you, and our prayers go to your loved one. I sincerely apologize for interrupting you during such an unfortunate time."

"Yeah -- me too," I muttered, furtively glancing inside. On the left was a row of folding chairs, all occupied by mourners staring at us. In the center were satin-swagged French doors leading to a patio and pool. On the right was a Louis XIV dining table draped with a lace cloth and overloaded with food. Chafing dishes, casseroles, cakes and cookies. A platter of deli meat.

The woman said that our sentiments were much appreciated as I cocked my head toward the buffet. "Do you mind if I make myself a snack?" I asked.

She nodded sadly, with what was pretty much the opposite of "Hey, help yourself!" I power-walked past the mourners, grabbed a couple slices of bread just for appearance's sake, and piled the pastrami high. I didn't have a clue how much meat made a pound, but I wasn't going to take any chances. I stacked the ruddy slices until they couldn't fit into anybody's mouth and threw another slice of bread on top. Clutching the thing with both hands I sprinted back to the front door.

The woman slid her sad gaze between my face and my sandwich as the second-hand on my watch ticked past the thirty-second mark. "As my girlfriend said," I told her, "we're so sorry to interrupt in your time of need we wish your loved ones all the best both here or heaven or hell or wherever you think they'll end up."

We sprinted back to Barbara's house and got inside just as the gong sounded. I don't know what the other teams had been doing, but it wasn't going door to door. Most only had two or three items, and nobody else had been to the funeral house. After expressing astonishment at our feat Barbara announced that Cynthia and I had won.

I screamed. Loud. Four maids poked their curious, paper-hatted faces through doorways. Dogs in eight neighboring houses yapped out the first eighth of a bark, the rest squelched by zaps from their electronic collars.

Barbara hugged Cynthia and me, and held the booty out. Cynthia shyly reached for the tennis bracelet as I felt an "I don't think so!" bubble up in my chest.

"Take good care of that watch, boy," Barbara's dad said. "That's three thousand dollars worth of Swiss craftsmanship."

"Sure," I laughed. As the proud owner of a Casio equipped with Space Invaders, I'd assumed Timex was top of the line. Barbara's dad nodded, and suddenly I realized he was serious. I tried to picture all those zeros and the room swam around me. I took the watch from Barbara and grasped it delicately, the way my parents always told me to hold my baby sister.

Cynthia took the bracelet -- basically a long line of diamonds held together by gold -- and draped it around her wrist. I couldn't help but feel a twang of jealousy, but my platinum prize was reassuring. We drank punch and gushed about our luck until her dad appeared, then piled into the back of his car. She slid in close in the darkness and maneuvered her lips in front of mine. Why did it have to be like this? I wondered as she pressed our faces together. Why did she always have to spoil things?

She tongue-kissed me while her father eyed us proudly in the rear view mirror. I pretended I was kissing him, feeling his neat little moustache tickle my lip, massaging the muscles in his broad shoulders. "I had so much fun," Cynthia murmured.

"I did too," I said.

"You know, Barbara really likes you. She told me if you ever get tired of dating me, she'd go out with you."

Was it possible? I thought. Could I really end up with a beach in the family?

"Not a chance," I reassured Cynthia, watching the light glint off my Rolex's face. "I don't think I could date another girl after going out with you."

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