The rest of the gang likes to think Fred's some kind of virgin, a saint. Let 'em think it. Plenty of boys out there who
could say different.
Before she got sucked off into Pylea, she could have shown them that by her closet. Her mama had always called her a pack
rat, and maybe that wasn't too far off. Anyway, she did her best to keep a souvenir from each of her boys. T-shirts and sweatshirts,
mostly. They'd been her favorites. Charles thinks it's cute when she wears his clothes, and she does love to do it, but
his shirts have never tasted Texas dust. They'll never feel the same on her skin as those worn cottons of yesteryear.
Like the dark red t-shirt she'd snatched from Nicky Stokes, her junior year. His varisty baseball team shirt, with "This
Is Our Winning Season" written across the back in bold yellow type. It was, too- they went all the way to state semis, and
in a state the size of Texas, that meant something. She went to every game, even though she wasn't Nicky's girl, just
another face in the crowd. But she screamed as loud as anybody, and at the big party down by the river after that last game,
she cornered him by the keg and told him how great he was. It was two weeks after he'd graduated, and his face was all red
and shiny with booze, and he was more than happy to take her back to his truck and let her tell him all about how great
he was. And afterwards, she put on his t-shirt, so every damn girl at that party knew that she'd won. Oooh, Carrie Anne
Velasquez, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen, was so mad. She'd had her eye on Nicky herself. But Fred got him.
Today, in her little room at the hotel, she smiles at the memory of Nicky, wishing she hadn't lost all her yearbooks and photographs,
but especially wishing she still had that t-shirt. So soft, and with something of Nicky's solid, comforting warmth settled
right into the weaving. He'd been a gentleman, too, it turned out- called her up all through the summer, and by the time
he left for college in the fall they were a real couple. He gave her a sweatshirt for Christmas, she remembered- a gray one
with the Rice logo on the front, oversized, the way she preferred. "Any luck, you'll be joining me next year," he said with
a big smile, planting a kiss on her forehead. And at that point, she really thought she would.
Wouldn't it have been something if she had? If she'd gone to Rice, if Nick had stayed at Rice, instead of transferring
to A & M, going Greek and fighting with his dad, coming home less and less often. Not that it mattered anyway; they'd broken
up back at spring break of that year, when she told him she was going to UT instead. "Hook 'em, Horns," he said, making the
hand sign with a strained laugh. She laughed back and before the sound died they both knew it was over. But she has to wonder
what might've been if they'd stuck it out. She could be Mrs. Nick Stokes now, visiting her father-in-law the judge on Sundays,
smiling over afternoon cocktails with the ladies at the club, wearing a string of pearls with matching earrings. God, she'd
be bored to tears.
She wonders where old Nicky wound up, anyway? Vaguely, she remembers a rumor that he'd become a cop up in Dallas, which seems
too strange to be real. Gentle, good-natured Nicky, a cop? How would that ever work?
She's got to make it back to the next reunion. Maybe somebody there will know.
She remembers a sweater, dark green with a narrow white stripe, that she borrowed from the cute boy in her Shakespeare study
group freshman year, when she thought she wanted to be an English major. She loved Shakespeare just as much as anybody else
in the class, but he was the only one who figured out that she loved it completely differently. She loved the mathematics
of the Bard, the way he worked in the structure of his rhythm, the magic he could work within the strict syllable counts of
a sonnet or the maddening logic of iambic pentameter.
"Face it, Burkle," he'd laughed that night he loaned her the sweater, when they'd been studying and maybe groping just a little
bit out on the UT quad. "You don't love the language, you love the math. English isn't really your thing. The way your face
lit up when you mentioned that physics class you're in- that's where you're meant to be. Don't kid yourself."
She shut his mouth with her own and they wound up rolling around in the bushes for a few minutes, but the truth was that he
was right. She'd never felt anything like the burst of mental energy she got from Professor Seidel's physics lectures.
Looking back, she realizes that everything that happened- following Seidel to LA when he accepted a job in UCLA's grad program,
getting sent to Pylea, the whole bit- was all because of that boy with the sweater, whose name has escaped her over the years.
The boy who did the best reading of Benedick she'd ever heard. The one who suddenly vanished halfway through the term, just
disappeared into thin air, and it's only now, so many years later sitting in her hotel room, that she realizes of course he
must've been eaten by a vampire.
She misses the baseball cap she stole from that law-school boy from Oklahoma, the one she met in a bar her junior year of
undergrad, the night before the UT/OU game. He'd come up to the table where she was sitting with her girlfriends and offered
to buy them all a round in exchange for a kiss from Fred. No Texas girl ever passed up free beer, even if it meant kissing
He'd asked her to dance, and it was in the middle of some vintage Garth Brooks that she'd slipped the hat off his head and
onto her own. "Suits you," he'd laughed, tugging it down into place. "You oughta come up to a real school sometime."
They'd laughed and shared another round of drinks and one way or another she would up back at his hotel room. He had a funny
name, she remembered- a girl's name. Leslie or Lindsey, something like that. Anyway, he was solid and funny and had sparkly
bright eyes. When they were getting dressed in the morning- orange and Longhorns logo for her, red and white Boomer Sooner
pride for him, and those colors ought never be as close together as they were that morning- she'd jokingly asked if
he wanted to repeat the encounter at next year's game up in Tulsa.
"Can't," he'd laughed, capping off her outfit with the enemy's hat. "I'm heading off to an internship with the best firm
"You can't know that this far in advance," she'd pouted, folding her hands over the top of the hat so he couldn't take it
"I've made up my mind I'm gonna get it, and when I make up my mind, it's done," he said, still smiling but with a harsher
light in his eyes. "Ain't nothing gonna stop me."
She made appreciative noises and kissed him one more time before heading off to the game. Never saw him again, anyway.
A blue button-down shirt, with initials embroidered over the pocket. The last piece of clothing she stole from a boyfriend,
because Gene was the last boyfriend she had before she went away.
It probably never would've worked out with Gene; they were actually too alike to last. He was still in undergrad, working
weekends in the lab while she worked on her projects. Funny in the same nerdy way that she was, interested in the same things
to the point of obsession, able to talk entirely in math for hours on end; on paper they were a perfect match. All her friends
told her that Gene WAS the male Fred Burkle, and she should hold on to him with both hands. But the thing was, once in a
while she did want to have a conversation about something other than quarks or electrons or his personal fixation,
temporal mechanics. When they both got into a project, they would forget to eat or sleep for days and neither one was able
to remind the other. Too much alike, in too deep. Neither one could serve as an anchor. They would destroy each other.
Plus, he was frankly a little possessive, and it irritated her. She hated to be told what to do.
She'd kept the shirt after a wonderful birthday dinner that ended at his place. She put it on in the morning to go home,
slipping out of the apartment before he woke up. She left it lying on her bed that day after her shower, planning to take
it back to him that night after work, along with the news that it was over. She'd spent most of the day at work composing
her speech in the back of her mind, right up until she went into the foreign language section to start shelving.
Five years later, she stares up at the Hyperion ceiling and wonders whatever happened to Gene. How long did he miss her?
Did he eventually find another girlfriend? Did they have a happy ending?