THE GIRL COLLECTING MONEY AT THE OLD TAPPAN DRIVE-IN, who cant possibly be seventeen herself, drones at Todd, "You of age?"
"No, actually, Im twelve. These are my parents."
"Well keep an eye on him," Robin chimes in.
"You two are a regular comedy team," Victoria says, unimpressed.
During the previews, Todd lights up a joint. Robin leans across Victoria, who sits between them on the front seat, so he can study Todds technique: inhale from the base of the neck, tighten your stomach to hold in the smoke. It looks like a special gesture known only to high school kids, like a secret handshake.
"What are you doing?" Victoria demands. Todd ignores her. "Todd, you could get arrested."
"You could get arrested for being so ugly," Todd growls, smoke leaking out his nostrils.
Victoria pokes into Robins side. "Snack bar." She pushes him out of the car. "I cant believe you, Todd."
"Whats the matter, didnt Frank ever get you high?"
"No, he doesnt do drugs. Anyway, this is like a totally public place."
Robins eyes are on Todd, whos stretching backwards, joint propped between his lips, arms reaching upward. His T-shirt rises, revealing the chalky skin along his waist, a seam of hair laid out like a spear from his belly button to top of his jeans, where it fans out and disappears. No sign of an elastic band under his jeans. Robin feels his throat go dry: Todd isnt wearing underwear.
Victoria says, "When we get back, that better be gone."
Todd catches Robins stare and floats the joint towards him. "Theres plenty to share."
"Ill wait here," Robin blurts out. He watches Victorias jaw drop and adds quickly, "I dont want to miss any of the movie."
Her surprise dissolves, replaced by betrayal. She slaps her hands against her thighs and trots huffily through the parked cars.
Just the two of them on the front seat. Robin and Todd. Todd and Robin. If it werent for the scratchy soundtrack being piped into the car hes sure Todd could hear the nervous thump of his pulse. He usually tries to avoid being alone with Todd at all costs, a preemptive strategy for dodging harassment. What was I thinking? Im so stupid. Robin stares through the windshield, fixing his gaze on the big screen, but all Todd says is, "My sisters a bitch," and passes him the joint. Robin studies it, pinched inside the teeth of a metal roach clip, the rounded orange tip like the butt of a firefly.
"My parents..." Robin mutters by way of refusal.
"Your parents drink, right?"
"My mother drinks wine and my father drinks whiskey." White wine and Seagrams, always in the househe just takes this for granted.
Todd recites: "Man made booze. God made grass. Who do you trust?"
"Whats that supposed to mean?"
"I saw it on a T-shirt at that head shop in Hillsdale. Makes sense, dont you think?" He leans closer, lowers his voice. "I told you, man, life is about taking risks."
Robin nods, saturated with new understanding. Risk. Its more than just a list of things to do, its a whole way of life, a ride off the map. Todds calm confidence expands until its a safety net stretched out beneath them. Robin imagines the two of them as high school buddiesrunning into Todd in the courtyard, smoking pot between classes. "What the hell," he says, taking the joint.
The first surprise is the paper, damp with Todds saliva, on his lipsthe intimacy of it, like using the same toothbrush. Heat coils under his nose. He tries to copy Todds approach, deeply drawing in the smoke, but his body rejects it. A stinging cloud explodes from his throat.
"Virgin," Todd mocks, slapping him on the back.
Robin is still coughing when Victoria returns with buttered popcorn, Raisinettes and a single large soda. "Move it," she tells him with a shove. "All potheads on that side of the car." Her eyes comb over Robin; he guesses shes checking for signs that hes high. Maybe he iswhen she waves her hand in front of her face, fussily clearing away the smoke, he bursts into laughter.
Todd sinks down behind the steering wheel, arms crossed, dopey smile stretching. His knuckles graze the fleecy hair on Robins forearm. Their hips are at the edge of pressing together. Robin glances into Todds lap, still astonished at the idea that Todd is not wearing underwear. The folds of Todds jeans offer some abstract sense of the shapes beneath, just enough to make Robin nervous. Cut it out, he admonishes himself. Jesus.
From the opening moments, when "Stayin' Alive" cranks up on the soundtrack and Travolta struts down the streets of Brooklyn, Todd is mouthing off. "Fuck, look at this fag." He asks Robin in disbelief, "You actually like this?"
Its the music Robin cant resist. He knows every beat of the soundtrack. To finally see the movie is like meeting his destiny, as if by playing the album on his parents stereo all year long, he had conjured up this very moment. He feels like he understands the need in the lyrics: Ive been kicked around since I was born... Im going nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me, yeah.
Todd pulls a Budweiser from under his seat, guzzles from it and hands it to Robin. The can is slick with condensation. Robin takes in a mouthful, lets the fizz rub his burning throat.
"Oh, great," Victoria sneers.
"Im thirsty," Robin rationalizes.
"Ill just tell that to your mother when youre totally wasted."
"Do you want some?" he asks, trying to appease.
Todd retrieves the beer, his fingers covering Robins in the transfer. He sinks down further in the seat, widening his legs. His thigh slaps Robins and stays there. Robin closes his eyes and absorbs the contact into his skin before he pulls away. His heart is pushing blood straight up to his skull, pounding at his temples relentlessly. His dickhe realizes with alarmis trying to get hard. This happens in school all the time; hes learned to always carry a book with him so he can cover himself if necessary. He crosses his hands in his lap, petrified Todd will notice.
He loses track of the movies plot, simple as it is, and supporting characters blur into each other. The actress who plays the love interest is annoyingwhy would anyone spend so much time chasing after her? Even Travolta seems tarnished to Robin, who starts comparing him with Toddthe two of them in a battle for coolness which Todd, through his Force-level disdain for every aspect of the movie, is easily winning. Concentration disintegrates. Blame it on the beer which Todd keeps offering him (which he keeps accepting); on Todds second-hand cigarette and pot smoke, which Robin sucks from the air experimentally; on being caught in the crossfire of Todd and Victorias steady bickering, which persists even after Victoria finally relents and has a beer herself. Blame it most of all on two hours worth of Todd fidgeting at his sideTodds leg/arm/hip again and again meeting his ownand on his own obstinate hard-on, impervious to any mental picture (bugs under a rock, his grandmothers cooking, the bloody crucifix above the altar at St. Barts) he calls forth to banish it.
Only near the end, when the movie climaxes in a series of eruptionsa big fist fight, a girl getting gang-banged in the back of a car, a guy falling off the Verazano Narrows Bridgedoes Todd seem at all involved in it. And then Robin gets drawn in deeper, too. He remembers that some of these scenes are going to be cut out of the new PG version, that hes lucky to get what he wanted. The final scene has the Brooklyn boy moving out, and moving up, to life in Manhattan. It's perfect: he gets away from his family, his lousy job, the mean streets of Brooklyn. The whole night is perfectwell, not completely; Victoria is annoyed with him. But ToddTodd offers to drive him to school in the morning.