Uniform

Later that week Colin stopped by with Wanda’s change and they made love for the first time. Her husband usually returned after five o’clock. She made sure Colin was home well before that. Colin’s parents both worked, too; his mother owned a crafts store downtown, and his father was a surgeon, an occupied, distant man. When they thought Colin was out of earshot, his parents spoke of divorce, but remained married. He didn’t know if married people could be happy.

How had he ended up in Wanda’s bed? He still wasn’t sure. He’d walked in, given her the change from her twenty. He made her laugh again. Then she took him down the hall to her bedroom. It seemed that simple. That complicated.

When they were finished, Wanda asked if he knew how to keep a secret. “Just don’t say anything,” she said. “You should be used to that.”

She added: “You don’t feel funny about this, do you?”

Of course he did; he’d never had sex before, and everything he’d heard about the experience had been wrong. First of all, she’d been on top, not him. She unrolled the condom for him; she kept the condoms in the closet. He hadn’t lasted long. Wanda had not screamed his name. She hadn’t said a word, but did moan a few times near the end. Yes, he felt funny. But he said, “Not really.”

“Are you scared?”

“No.”

“Are you scared of Gary?”

“Should I be?”

“If he finds out, he’ll get angry. That’s what men do.”

“Then he doesn’t have to know.”

Wanda walked to her dresser. She faced the mirror, and Colin could see her breasts in the reflection. He knew it wasn’t cool to stare at them, but that’s what he wanted. She said, “You don’t think I’m bad, do you? For doing this with you?”

“No,” Colin said. “Sex is a normal, healthy activity.”

That line was from a book about sex. He’d read so many of them—some discovered in his parents’ room, intended to help couples like his parents strengthen their relationship through sex; others he had flipped through at bookstores when no other customers were around. He hadn’t wanted to think that his parents had sex—and preferred not to know that they needed a book for it—but now it seemed normal enough. He wondered who had purchased the book. His mother seemed too prudish; his father, too arrogant to admit he needed help.

Wanda looked down at her jewelry box, picked up a ring. “This is from my first marriage,” she said, turning to him and holding the band up in the light. She tossed the ring back in its box. “I really liked that ring.”

“You could make it into a necklace,” Colin said.

“I’ve done this before,” she said. “You’re not the first.”

Colin felt held in place by her gaze, her shape in front of the mirror. He’d seen her laugh and yell at Gary, and now she’d revealed the face she made during sex—lips pursed, an expression his parents used to show appreciation for expensive wine. She asked him if he understood, and he said yes. “It will have to be okay with you, or we’ll stop.” She told him to go home, but to come back tomorrow afternoon. Colin dressed quickly and left. They did not kiss goodbye.