By Mark Snee
The first time I ever talked to Harrison was to ask if he would lie for me. He wouldn’t. Instead, I spent that Friday after school in detention, a small price to pay in retrospect. It was for the last time Samantha and I would ever cut last period and drive out to the valley to smoke a joint. A few days later, Samantha and the guy she was seeing, who always got us our weed, were found dead in the car they were driving, not far from where the three of us had ditched the week before. It was hard for me to imagine then that while I was in detention Samantha and Paul were trapped upside down in Paul’s maroon Ford Escort, the hatchback kind, and that perhaps the last thing the two of them ever saw was the creek bed through the spider web of what had been the windshield.
Harrison was good, and it would be a lie to say I didn’t like him, but he was a senior and I was a sophomore, and besides, I didn’t date guys like Harrison. Girls like Laura Macy got to date guys like him, while I dated guys who would say “Oh, shit!” under their breath whenever someone like Laura walked by, stretching the phrase out a syllable or two. I’ll always remember the last time I saw her, because it was the same night I rode in an ambulance downtown so the emergency room Houdini could take the handcuffs off me. It’s hard to explain how the two events are related, and now that I think about it they might not be, but it was one of the strangest nights of that last summer, and it was one of the few chances I had to reach out to Harrison and thank him for saving my life.
After graduation, Harrison came to work at the restaurant. It was strange since, like Laura Macy, Harrison grew up in the suburbs in a way I always thought assured you a clear path free of places like our restaurant and meant you would continue on for the next few years in the same privileged way. I grew up not far from there, but my Mom and I lived in a small apartment tucked behind the fire station. After a few months, Harrison became a manager on the night shift and closed the restaurant most weekends. Perhaps Harrison knew she would come. I can’t really be sure. We watched him stand on the front dining patio after the dinner rush night after night that summer, staring off into the distance or some far off future we couldn’t imagine. A few of the other employees joked that he must get high. But I knew he didn’t, because he had told me one night that I had the chance to talk alone with him that he had never even tried it. I remember him looking so disappointed at me and my friend Cheryl when we’d come inside on our day off after lighting up behind the dumpster out back. Really, we were there just so I could see him. Maybe he thought I hadn’t learned my lesson.
A few weeks before that night, he had talked about her and what she would think of him now. We were getting closer since I had worked my schedule to close on the nights he managed, and he’d been giving me rides home for a couple of weeks in his old Buick Le Sabre. It was the same color as that mustard that’s best on hotdogs. It was nice to be alone with him in the dark those few times, even if the car was so huge and we sat so far apart.
To be honest, I can’t remember that night in exact detail. Those nights seem blended together in my memory, like much that serves to remind me that I was once a young, rebellious, foulmouthed girl of seventeen. I definitely remember Harrison standing on the terrace that night, and I remember it was warm and clear, because later we would go up onto the roof while business was slow and stand beside the air conditioning units and the exhausts and watch the lights of the cars flare up and twinkle in the night like the lights on a Christmas tree. There were always a few hours after dinner before the restaurant became the center of night life for the local kids, and sometime during the first summer after going off to college, the place most everyone eventually returned to, if only to take in a view of their pasts from what must have seemed a great distance at eighteen or nineteen.
During the lean hour or two after dinner rush, Harrison would send most of us on break so we’d be ready to serve up burgers and milkshakes and sundaes to the cars full of teens that would arrive later in droves. Our security guard arrived around nine or so to protect us from stink bombs and squealing tires or from the spectacle of a fist fight that might erupt in the parking lot. Though mostly he just sat around and looked at magazines and picked up the cans and bottles that would litter the lot by the end of the night. But lately he had begun paying some attention to me.
Harrison looked tired through the front window that night. I can still remember this, though my exact memory of him there behind the counter is composed mainly of a bunch of images I’m piecing together only now. There was plenty to make him tired. Ten to one, he’d get a call the next morning about the money that was missing, though years later I heard one of the other managers was probably stealing cash from Harrison’s deposit to support a gambling addiction. We all went down to the police station once and were read our rights and asked questions about who might have been the thief. In the end, a mousy little girl whose name I can’t remember was let go. She cried miserably when she came to return her uniform and pick up her last paycheck. It was beautiful that afternoon, like the afternoon of the night Laura Macy returned, which is why I probably remember it so well.
The guard and I were talking as I ate dinner and flicked burnt fries off the table at a bird. He was sitting too close to me, which was probably my fault since I never did anything to discourage him. Worse than that, I used to complement him on his shiny utility belt and ask if he’d use his handcuffs on me if I was a bad girl. The truth is, I was a trouble maker and used the fact that I was not so innocent to help make myself believe I was more mature than I was. My innuendoes seemed to leave him flustered and encourage him even more, but I didn’t care. From my perspective, anyone older than thirty without money was hopeless and so not worth worrying about. While it’s embarrassing to admit this now, I guess it’s better than never really having outgrown this opinion. I’m telling you this to help explain how I came to have a pair of handcuffs on me that night, and why, when I unsnapped the pouch on his belt and slipped the cuffs into my pocket, he didn’t say a word.
Like most teenagers, I used to like to believe my opinion on who I was and for that matter the world in general was definitive. And so I spent most of my time in high school staring down at my desk and twirling my streaky, dyed black hair between my fingers while my teachers shot me disappointed looks or ignored me altogether. After school, my life was comprised mostly of waking and falling off to sleep in my clothing littered room, its walls covered with the posters of bands and movies I thought set me apart from my parents, and of my inevitable crushes on boys with bad skin and baggy jeans who treated me poorly. While I sensed that I wasn’t exactly pretty, I considered myself alluring and for some period of time practiced my theory on as many boys as I dared. Mostly though, I was more interested in who I could get than actually getting anyone. This explains the fights with girls whose boyfriends I would throw looks, or myself if possible.
And it explains why I treated Laura Macy the way I did when she finally did show up at the diner that summer. Laura Macy was beautiful. And more than that, she seemed somewhat untouchable, surrounded and sheltered by a complicated system of friends and acquaintances that left you feeling like you were staring at your keys in the ignition through the window, all the doors locked and your breath fogging up the glass. I didn’t see her when she first arrived and Harrison must not have either, because we were both surprised when, emerging suddenly from within a circle of friends, Laura Macy had finally showed. She wore a long floral printed skirt that must have been in fashion that season and an elegant sleeveless blouse. She looked like the personification of a beautiful summer’s day, the kind that leaves your skin warm and your mind alive long into the night.
I don’t know out of what reserves Harrison managed to pull such a calm demeanor to say hello to her. He said it as if he’d always knew she’d come, as if they were now fulfilling some secret agreement between them. I was sizing up the way she had let her hair grow longer and how, still slender, she had filled out some in a way that made me jealous. I remember in particular the way she seemed to look at Harrison, as if searching for what had gone wrong. Maybe I was just imagining this part. Maybe this was simply the awkwardness between old lovers. I don’t know. But I do remember having the uneasy feeling that she was talking to her friends as much as she was to Harrison.
“It’s good to see you again.”
“You too, Harrison. They told me you were working here. I guess I didn’t believe it at first. You always had such big dreams.”
I don’t think she realized how saying this might have hurt Harrison. True, I didn’t like her, but I don’t think she wanted to hurt him. She just had this breezy air about her, as if she had just stepped into our diner out of some romantic adventure. Or this is the way she made me feel. This part I can never really remember exactly, just that she kept turning back and forth between Harrison and her friends. I don’t know how much hope Harrison hung on those words, when she told him she’d come see him to say goodbye before she left. Looking back, this is the moment in my mind where that night seems balanced delicately on a precipice. I blame myself for pushing hope of a future between Harrison and Laura Macy over the edge. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Still, on the false pretense of clearing tables, I went around the corner to the dining area and shot looks at Laura Macy’s table that were difficult to misinterpret.
There are stories from our youth that will stay with us forever. To understand how much Laura meant to Harrison you have to start with how they first met. Most of this I could relate only secondhand, at best. Samantha could be a big help here if she were still around, but then I probably wouldn’t be telling you this. Samantha’s older brother Darren was one of Harrison’s best friends, so she used to tag along with him enough to know Harrison pretty well, and she told me some things. The story going around was that Harrison broke into Laura’s world somehow and swept her off her feet. It happened one night at a dance, when Laura’s boyfriend at the time, this guy Aaron, was angry and insecure over the growing closeness between those two. It was purely accidental, as those things usually are, that Harrison came into contact with Laura Macy, having his locker next to hers and a seat beside her in chemistry. Things probably went slowly at first, innocently, with friction arising only after Harrison became Laura’s confidant about some problem between them that Aaron wanted kept secret. It was after the dance that this issue came to a head, with things helped along some with whatever it was Aaron and his friends had taken hits off outside.
It was the strangest fight I’ve ever seen. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I used to run to see fights whenever they broke out in school, but this was one fight worth running to see. Without taking a swing, Harrison managed to make Aaron look terrible, a blow from which Aaron’s reputation never recovered. Harrison got beat up, never raising a hand to protect himself. Most of us stood there dumbfounded until, out of pity or out of awe, some friends of Aaron’s broke it up. If they felt pity it was for Aaron who, after striking Harrison several times, swearing at him profusely and baiting him to fight back, stood there defeated as Harrison bled from a gash in his lower lip. A near silence fell over us as Harrison regained his composure, steadied himself, and touched the back of his hand to his lip. The sight of the blood seemed to steal his thoughts for a moment.
“I don’t want you talking to my girlfriend,” Aaron stammered, more at Harrison than to him.
“There’s nothing here you can win like this,” Harrison said softly. And then he turned and walked away slowly, having said these words more to himself than to Aaron or anyone else.
After Laura Macy learned of the fight, and of what happened to Harrison, that was the end of Laura and Aaron. Soon after, Harrison’s name was on everyone’s lips, even Laura Macy’s.
Harrison was cool, though he had stammered a bit when trying to keep the conversation going when she came to say goodbye. With two years of history between them, it must have been hard not to have heard from her after she went off to college, and to have her walk out on him now and possibly from his life forever after all that waiting must have been a difficult thing to face. This is probably what Harrison felt more than anything else while she stood there in that easy way of hers, telling him to have a good night and wishing him good luck with everything. Maybe this was the moment he had seen off in the distance on all those nights out there on the terrace. For Harrison, it was probably one of those times in life when things seen from a distance reveal their true nature only when seen up close. There was really nothing he could have shared with her to make a difference in those few moments, with her friends standing just behind her or with Laura’s eyes distracted and slipping between Harrison and me. I was standing too close to him, and she must have noticed.
“Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime, Harrison,” she said, flashing him her smile, one warm and lovely enough to make you think she was smiling this way just for you, unless you knew just how easy this was for her.
“I hope so, Laura. I really do,” he said, the last part slowly and with emphasis as he watched her go.
I haven’t told you the whole truth about me and Harrison. I wasn’t just being brash when I stole looks at Laura Macy and her friends that night. I really did think that Harrison was mine, or wanted him to be. It wasn’t like him to do anything without a reason, and it wasn’t like him to notice someone like me who didn’t completely capture his attention. I told you I wasn’t exactly innocent. Harrison knew who I was, and I wasn’t shy about letting him know what I’d do for him. He had begun to let me stand too close to him, like I was on the night Laura Macy came back. Maybe he had just grown tired of taking half a step back from me all the time. There were other things though. Emboldened by youth or adolescent sexuality, probably a little of each, I tried a few times to sit on his lap, thinking I would be able to tell how he felt about me, or at least speed things along. These attempts were largely unsuccessful, usually ending with Harrison saying my name in a way that let me know it was time to get back to work.
But there were a few times late at night when just the two of us were there that Harrison let me go further. I don’t know if it was out of loneliness or just the desire to feel the warmth of another person that Harrison let me touch him. It started after we kind of stepped into one other while finishing up in the back office. Without thinking, I held myself there against him. He didn’t move. Our faces were close, with his turned slightly to the side. I pressed my lips softly to his neck, just below his ear. He seemed to breath me in for a moment as we stood there, nearly still. I moved myself against him until I could feel his belt against my stomach.
I didn’t dare go any further. For the first time in my life I had a hint of what it was like to fall in love with someone. I respected Harrison in that way that makes you want a person in your life and feel fortunate that you’ve met and afraid that you might lose them. This was different than most young love and its consequent heartbreaks, where so much of the pain felt is wrapped up in our opinion of ourselves, in our pride being wounded, than in the actual loss of the person we’re broken up about. Still, deep down, I knew where his heart belonged. I tried telling myself this was one lie I wasn’t going to let myself believe in. There was an understanding between us after that. Sometimes I’d give him a massage as he finished his work or run my fingers through his hair. I still remember the way it felt to see his eyes fall shut in anticipation of my touch. I think all this must have been a minor transgression for him, because Harrison was the kind of guy who touched a girl or let himself be touched only when he really cared for her. Maybe he did feel something for me after all.
That’s why the way Harrison touched me that night was both strange and wonderful. I had been trying to take his mind off what just happened between him and Laura by going on about something or other. Honestly, I was jealous and wanted him to think of me and not Laura. I was nervously twirling the handcuffs I’d taken from the guard earlier and thought, out of frustration from hearing them clang together, Harrison was going to take them away from me. Instead, he took both of my hands in his and held them. He ran his fingertips over the skin of my forearm, almost caressing me. Then he looked down at me as I stood there, nearly paralyzed. Harrison had never touched me like that before. Maybe he was thankful for my attempts to distract him, or maybe he felt something else when he bent to place a kiss on my forehead and said, “Hush.” He ran his fingertips over my palms and down the length of my fingers a few times, slowly and deliberately, and then held my hands firmly, turning them over as he looked at them curiously. Maybe he was thinking about Laura Macy as he stood there holding a pair of feminine hands in his and about what he had lost. That’s the only way I can explain what he did next.
I was still holding the cuffs in my hand during all this.
“Where did you get those?”
“I don’t know. They’re the guard’s.”
He considered this for a moment and then took them from me without asking. Taking my arm, he gently worked one cuff around my wrist and ratcheted it snug against my skin. We looked at each other, both surprised that this was happening. And then, tenderly, he held out his hand for my other arm. It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made. I gave it to him and felt a shiver move through me as he closed the other cuff around my wrist. This was the most sincere moment the two of us would ever share, and it might have been the most sincere moment with another person I had ever shared, though I don’t know if either of us really understood what it meant.
Then a knock came at the front door and startled us both. Our hands were still touching, so I felt him flinch. Our moment was over. Sometimes locked doors and darkness in the dining room weren’t enough of a clue that we were closed. This had become a joke between us, so we laughed, which helped to break some of the tension. Harrison went to go chase off whoever it was, telling me he’d be right back. Proud to have been locked in handcuffs by Harrison, I ran to the back door to show off to the guard. I didn’t think much of it at the time, of the way he was looking at me, because my behavior often left an astonished look on his face. It wasn’t for a few seconds that it occurred to me that all the searching through his pockets was for a key he knew he didn’t have. I looked at him, wide-eyed, and then started laughing hysterically. He frowned at me and said it wasn’t funny. Of course, that just made me laugh even more. It’s funny what we think of sometimes. I kept still for a second and tried to decide if I needed to go to the bathroom anytime soon and how I’d manage all locked up like that.
Besides feeling embarrassed for someone else, one of the worst feelings is to think back and feel ashamed of how you were acting right before hearing some terrible news or witnessing something tragic. This is the way I’ll always feel when I look back on that night. I turned and left the stressed out guard where he was and sort of scooted my way though the kitchen. It was hard to run and keep my balance with my hands bound in front of me, since the floor was always slippery with grease.
“We don’t have the keys for these,” I half yelled, half laughed towards the front of the restaurant. And then I said as suggestively as I could, “Maybe this is something you’d like to take advantage of, Harrison. I mean, it was your idea.”
These words were barely out of my mouth when I turned the corner and saw her standing there. I could see in the way Laura was looking at Harrison that the breezy air she managed earlier was an act. Or maybe seeing him again had set something off within her. But there she was. I saw her face change as I came around the corner and realized how loud my voice must have been in the empty restaurant. She was trying to put things together in her head. I could see that. I didn’t have a car, and the guard was always dropped off and picked up by his supervisor in the same model Ford Escort that Samantha had been killed in, only it was painted unsuccessfully to look something like a police car. She must have thought Harrison was alone, with only the mustard brown Le Sabre parked outside. And she probably thought of me as the girl who had shot her dirty looks all night, the girl who was standing too close to Harrison before, the girl who was now locked in handcuffs in a dark restaurant, alone with the man she had come back to see. It may have been the biggest chance she had ever taken for someone, and there I was fucking everything up.
“I’m sorry,” was all I could manage to say to them. I felt terrible for Harrison, and I felt sorry for Laura Macy too. It was the first time I’d seen her look vulnerable. She looked at me in the handcuffs, awkwardly, and I saw her mouth go slack.
“I just thought,” and then she stopped.
“Harrison was just,” I said, but I didn’t belong there and didn’t know what to say anyway, so I shut my mouth.
“You used to be so cool, Harrison,” she said, still looking at me.
“Laura,” he started to say to her.
“Goodbye, Harrison,” she said, unevenly.
She turned her eyes from the cuffs in a nervous way to look at him once more before turning hurriedly to walk out the door. And then she was gone.
“Shit, Harrison! I’m sorry.”
“It’s my fault,” he said.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t think there’s anything I can do.”
“Shit! She came back to see you, didn’t she?”
“That’s really something, Harrison.”
“It might have been.”
These were the last words we ever spoke about Laura Macy. In the end, the odds were stacked against Harrison, and maybe he had come to realize this. Not only was he up against the capriciousness of young love but all the choices available to someone like Laura Macy and the inevitable effect these would have on her opinion of herself. But I’m not sure this is what got between them. Harrison and Laura were inseparable for those two years, but no one seemed to know what had happened that sent them in different directions. I’m sure he liked her enough to have allowed his lip to be split open once more to get her back, but there would be no fight this time. Laura Macy would just slip away quietly and without much resistance into Harrison’s past in the way we let most people slip away.
The guard, afraid he’d lose his job for letting me have the handcuffs, had called his friends at the fire station. Not long after Laura had walked out, an ambulance full of volunteer rescue workers showed up. I guessed they had been at the fire station with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. The real reason they came along was to hear stories from the emergency room Houdini, whose job it was to remove whatever weird shit people came to the emergency room locked up in. But because I had just seen Harrison’s dreams ruined, I failed to see the humor in my situation anymore. This was not true of the men in the ambulance. The older one kept calling me princess. If he only knew. Really, he should have known better. There I was, a teenage girl with dyed black hair and dark eye shadow to match, alone late on a Saturday night, speeding towards the hospital in an ambulance because I was locked in a pair of handcuffs I didn’t have the key for.
While I waited for the guy they called Houdini to show up and remove the handcuffs, I replayed the events of that night in my head, over and over. I was even selfish enough to think of what might have happened if Laura hadn’t showed up or the guard hadn’t called the ambulance, and Harrison and I had to solve this problem ourselves, or take advantage of it. I never did get a chance to thank Harrison for saving my life. I really believe I would have ended up like Samantha if he would have lied for me. I’m glad he didn’t. I was supposed to go with her and would have too if it wasn’t for that detention. In the end, it wasn’t the sight of Samantha’s crash site or the front page picture of their car being pulled out of the creek bed that got to me. No, it was the memory of coming around the corner and finding Laura standing with Harrison for the last time that made me break down over all that had happened, something I couldn’t even do after Samantha’s death. Like her car wreck, I played out this scene again and again in my imagination, irrationally searching for a way to reverse the events.
There were other strange things that summer, but none as memorable as what happened between me and Harrison that night. We weren’t as close after that. School started, and I worked with him a few more times on the weekends, but by early next year he had moved on, hopefully to someplace better, where there were no teenage girls bent on ruining his dreams.
When Houdini finally arrived, he sized me up quickly and then took a small piece of wire from his tool chest. I saw no reaction on his face. I guess he had seen too much for my little problem to have any effect on him.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” he said to me. I wished it would have.
He slid the wire into the handcuffs, tightening each one slightly before it fell loose into his hand.
“You’re free,” Houdini said, as he slipped the cuffs from my wrists.
I thought about this and wondered if that was what I really wanted. Then I tried to rub away the redness and an overwhelming feeling of regret.
Part of the sadness I felt was from leaving Harrison like that. Before the ambulance pulled away, I tried to catch a glimpse of him through the back window. But I only got to see him for a split second as we turned the corner. He was walking to his car, alone, drenched in the red light thrown from the ambulance. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Laura Macy may have thought that Harrison lost his cool, but I realize now that being cool was not something Harrison had lost but a fragile illusion, protected only by the sheltered days of our youth.