It didn’t long for them to go steady after that. Jay seemed enamored of her, and of how she’d lived in so many different places. And when Nancy said that she would like to stay in one place for once, Jay mentioned her life seemed freeing.
Her parents liked Jay. He was always polite, bringing flowers for Nancy’s mother, but they mentioned he was a little quiet and shy. But that was exactly the reason that they matched. Her, always drifting. Him, his mind clearly in a time and place far from now.
At his urging, she ended up trying out for the talent show, singing a soft, angelic rendition of Cheek to Cheek, and ended up being accepted.
Once, they were in her room and she had her head on his shoulder. Rehearsals for the talent show were due to start the week after, and they wouldn’t be able to spend as much time together.
Nancy realized that even though she and Jay were spending almost every day together after school, she’d never been to Jay’s house. They always went to hers, even though his mother had seemed nice when they had briefly met at the movie. Nancy had assumed maybe he was poor and ashamed of it, which would have explained why his shirts never seemed to fit. But she’d uncovered a short time earlier that he lived in Mount Vernon, one of the nicest and most expensive neighborhoods in the city.
“I don’t want to be there,” he said flatly. “You don’t want to be there.”
“What about it is so bad?” Nancy asked.
Jay told her about how things had been good when it had just been him and his mother and his stepfather, Richard had ruined everything. He was unpleasant normally, but when he drank, which was often, he became a monster.
He unrolled one of his shirt sleeves and Nancy immediately understood why he’d always kept them buttoned at wrist before.
He pointed to one bruise that was still black and blue. “This is from one time he thought I talked back to him.”
He pointed to another mark on his arm. “He likes to use me to put out his cigarettes.” After a while, he added, almost inaudibly, “he hurts my mother too.”
As Nancy listened to this, her heart was pounding. She got angry with her parents sometimes, but they never did anything like this. “Why doesn’t your mother do anything?”
“Because,” said Jay, “as soon as he stops drinking, he tells her he’s so sorry and he’s going to change and to forgive him… she always goes back to him.”
Nancy said nothing.
“I’ve thought about killing him,” Jay said, so nonchalantly that Nancy wasn’t sure how to respond. “Putting poison in his drink. He’d never notice. And the doctors would say he drank himself to death. And my mom and me, we’d be free.”
She stared at him, her eyes wide as she realized he was serious. “That’s not a way to solve anything.”
He took a deep breath, almost like he was thinking about it. “One day, I’m going to get out of here, and I’m going to travel the world, and take my mother with me,” he said. “I’ve only actually been out of Idaho once.”
“And when was that?” Nancy asked.
“When I was nine, we went camping in the Grand Canyon. Have you ever been before?”Nancy shook her head.
“You lived in Phoenix and you never went to the Grand Canyon?”
“I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, but never camping.”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” said Jay. “It’s something everyone should experience.”
Nancy smiled at him.
“Maybe we’ll go together one day.”
“That sounds nice,” Nancy said, feeling herself blush.
“I love you,” he said. The hairs on the back of Nancy’s neck raised just before he kissed her. They kept kissing and everything was okay until she felt him tug at her shirt. She realized what he wanted and shrunk back. There was a part of her that wanted it, but she knew it wasn’t right. Even if her mother was downstairs, not here, not now, not until she was married. “Jay, we can’t do that.”
“We’re not ready,” Nancy explained.
Jay sat back, rolled up his shirt sleeve, and stood up.
“Where are you going?”“Home,” Jay said quietly.
“Come on,” Nancy said. He walked out the door, and Nancy followed him downstairs. Her mother was in the kitchen, reading the newspaper. She looked up. “Everything okay?”“Just going home,” said Jay.“Do you have a ride?” Her mother asked, concerned.
That was when Nancy’s mother insisted that she would drive him. So she got her keys and Jay followed her out. Nancy waited in the kitchen for her to return and started to cry, scared by how quickly Jay’s mood had shifted and what he’d said about killing his stepfather and the bruises he’d shown her.
When she heard her mother’s car pull back up a short time later, she tried to dry her tears, but it was no use.
“What’s wrong?” her mother asked.
Nancy was too embarrassed to tell her what Jay had tried to do. “Things are just moving so fast,” Nancy said quietly. She liked Jay a lot, but wasn’t sure that she could give him what he wanted. Besides, soon she was going to be involved with the talent show and they wouldn’t have time to see him anyway. And for all she knew, she could come home any day for her father to tell her that they were moving again.
She barely slept that night. But the next morning, she went to school with her mind made up to break up with Jay.