For Part I, click here.
“Who the fuck are you?”, she asked, within reason.
“Er, I’m Henry”, he responded, with no semblance of any.
“Why’d you call me that name?”
“Sorry, this probably wasn’t the best way to start. Here’s the thing…”
Victoria was seventeen years of age, which is to say paralyzed by self-doubt, and further daunted by the responsibilities soon to arrive with adulthood. It wasn’t entirely surprising, then, that she succumbed to a proven weakness for the attention of older men in feeling flattered by Henry’s anecdote, radically inappropriate and creepy though it was.
Being at once victim of and party to her generation’s affliction of romanticism, she let the serendipity of meeting this total stranger appeal to her profound loneliness and adolescent naiveté. Henry refrained from asking to see her right then, instead suggesting they meet for coffee over the weekend (it was tricky for Victoria to get out on school nights, owing to a misguided and exhaustive parental campaign to shelter her).
Their second encounter was predictably awkward, but not to an unbearable degree. Victoria was still broken up over the messy ending with Pat (though resentful of this pet name, she couldn’t let it go just yet). Once his wife had found out, the affair quickly became public knowledge, rumors were bred and subsequently embellished — an effective death sentence in high school. She was a hell of a strong chick, though, far smarter and more resilient than any of her peers. Even so, she remained wounded by the ordeal’s aftermath, which Henry secretly found irresistible.
Condemned as a home wrecker and whore, Victoria lost all of her friends almost overnight. Though if truth be told, she wasn’t all that bothered by it, as most of those friendships were nothing if not contrived. Still, it had been a rough semester thus far, and she was ready — as all seniors think they are — to get the fuck out and start college already. Her first and second choices were Brown and RISD, respectively, both of whom reached out personally to convey a serious interest in accepting her the following spring.
Henry loved the balance of artistry and pragmatism Victoria so gracefully embodied. Each opened up to the other with growing candor and ease over time, while still preserving a level of caution that only made sense given the situation. She confided in him about personal problems, some of which might conceivably have mattered, others simply boiled down to being seventeen.
Victoria’s sex life qualified as being moderately active prior to the affair, but the experience with Pat proved more intense than she’d yet been equipped to handle. Henry recognized this, appreciating the courage involved in divulging something so raw; and so reciprocated by admitting to sexual dysfunction with Sara, his ex-girlfriend, who was staunchly reserved in her few preferences and callously judgmental of Henry’s own. Needless to say, their relationship had left something(s) to be desired.
Meetings became biweekly, the relationship co-dependent. A long walk on a biting winter night saw a turning point in their relationship, that mutual realization of having surpassed friendship, transcended the platonic. They bonded poetically over a revival of their fondness for photography, which was especially cathartic for Victoria, who finally rid herself of its former association with Patrick. She expressed interest in studying graphic design, art history, or perhaps film; but maintained a comfort in the knowledge of not knowing.
As spring neared and caution faded, Victoria asked Henry to accompany her in getting a first tattoo, one of the Hindu chakras. Though he initially worried she was taking advantage of his age, the notion was swiftly dispatched by her reassurance and sincerity. He considered getting “Lola” along the length of his ribcage, then eventually thought better of it, to his credit.
Victoria smoked and looked damn good doing it. She was beautiful in a haunting, opaqued sort of way, like the London skyline on a foggy morning. By now she had become entirely reliant on Henry — who had taken to affectionately calling her “Vicky” — and forsaken all relationships extraneous to theirs. The two began checking out dive bars in the seedier parts of town, where they would go to see local bands perform, but mainly to people watch.
On a Tuesday in April, after seeing what they both agreed was the best show to date, a man attempted to mug Vicky at gunpoint while Henry closed out his bar tab. The assailant had her pinned down in the parking lot, a revolver pressed to her temple, when Henry ran up and kicked him in the throat, sending him reeling onto the pavement and gasping for breath. He then straddled the mugger, fists awkwardly raining down (fighting was not a skill of his) until he was left bleeding on the ground and damn near unconscious.
Vicky was virtually catatonic as Henry drove her back to his place in the Neon. It took over an hour for her to get a word out; but when she did, it turned out to be three — and very powerful ones, at that. How it happened was utterly beyond him, but somewhere along the way, Henry’s bizarre tale of obsession and intrusion had turned into one of love and friendship, albeit statutorily illegal.
It didn’t happen that night, but they knew it wouldn’t be long. Henry never considered himself much of a lover, and so he never had been. This was likely due to a near clinical self-consciousness with regard to masculinity, which prevented him from ever being able just to truly get lost in someone. Vicky changed that. Her youth and vulnerability sated Henry’s egotistical savior complex, such that he was finally able to establish some real confidence in an evolving sexual identity.
All of a sudden, summer had arrived, and it seemed as though the pair could only become closer. Henry enjoyed feeling like a kid again, while Vicky took solace in the stability of his maturity. Some nights they’d do stupid shit like break into a local pool and make out until sunrise, others they would spend making dinner and playing house. It’s easy to lose track of time and reality when you’re consumed by romance, easier still to forget the inevitable consequences of doing so.
These came to pass on a balmy night in August, when the two sat on their beloved Neon’s hood, taking turns wiping each others’ tears while endeavoring to force a smile. They knew that having sex would be a terrible decision, but went ahead and made it anyway. It was sad and sweet, the kind of intimacy that makes you question whether life will be worth living once it’s over.
Vicky all but sat on Henry’s lap for the drive home. So painful and unthinkable was the thought of leaving his side that it only made sense to stay as close to him as possible in the short time they had left. When she kissed him goodbye, it conveyed equal parts fear and tenderness. And so, after hugging her for what he knew would be the last time, as she was almost to her door, he really did his best to stay strong; standing idly, yet again, only this time without a camera. Even so, the image of her in his mind would never change, nor could ever fade.
Try and picture it.