Offender

Offender

Issue 24 by Sharon Bandy

Two years ago, I fell. From a ladder. From the sky. From grace. Caroline and I were going to run away, so I was sneaking into her bedroom and trying to overcome my fear of heights all at the same damn time. I was nineteen and she was sixteen, and now I’m a sex offender trying to find an apartment so I can have an address so I can get a job. While I was locked up, my mom sold the double-wide and left town with her boyfriend, so staying with my brother and his family was my only option for a while. Staying with Gary was also technically a parole violation since he has two kids. My parole officer, kind of a slacker, said he could look the other way for a couple of weeks. It’s Gary’s house or the streets, and I’d probably get killed out there. I’m soft. I’m lame. I’m five foot eight and a sad excuse for a man. Sex offender. Right.

Caroline was going to run away with me. We thought we could make some kind of life out of all our love and all our money (twelve hundred seventy-two dollars). Our plan was to drive all the way to Nashville in the car I’d bought for four hundred dollars. We were going to get great-paying jobs and rent a cheap apartment, things that only existed in our imaginations. The hundred and fifty mile distance would be enough to make us feel free, we imagined. I had suggested she sneak out and meet me at the Waffle House by the interstate, but she was a romantic and wanted to Romeo and Juliet that shit. When her dad found me lying in his squashed forsythia shrub, my foot pointing backwards as if my leg was trying to walk away from the situation, he decided I was a rapist. So did the judge. Caroline didn’t argue. That twelve hundred went fast, what with hospital bills and lawyers’ fees. Caroline disappeared from my life, too—as mandated by the courts.

Caroline and I, though we professed our love for one another, were really only looking for some kind of freedom. We didn’t know anything about statutory rape laws, and the forty-one months that separated us didn’t seem as important to me as it did to the judge and Caroline’s dad. What hurt most, though, was when Caroline testified that I was controlling, that she’d been a virgin before we’d gotten busy in the back seat. She said she’d always intended to stay a virgin until she found the right guy, who apparently wasn’t me. She told the court that we’d only had sex once. I know it’s what her father wanted her to say, but it hurt anyway.

I was sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary, but ordered to serve eleven months and twenty-nine days in county. So, I guess that was a break of sorts even though it didn’t feel like one. After sentencing, I heard that the judge and Caroline’s father were golf buddies. What kind of shit-ass lawyer did I have that he didn’t look into that? Don’t tell me. I know. I could have appealed, but I was out of money.

***

Since I’ve got time on my hands now, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and this one book, Anyone Can Make Lemonade!, has some good shit in it. I know, I know, it’s probably just another one of those self-help, bullshit, rah-rah deals, but since I’ve started trying out some of its ideas, I’ve gotten two job interviews and I just moved into my own apartment, thanks to a loan from Gary. I’m a couple of towns away from where it all went down so badly, so it feels like a fresh start. I guess it could be a coincidence, but I’d like to think I’m in control. For once. Lemonade!

I end up passing on the first job interview. It was a call center (yeah, they’re not all in India—who knew?) situated smack dab next to a Chuck E. Cheese’s. My parole officer would just love that, slacker or not. I start to worry that I’m not “making lemonade” like the book told me I should. Next, I find the building where I’m supposed to meet a guy named Lawrence for the other job. It’s hidden behind a strip mall in a neighborhood of strip malls, both new and derelict. I start to worry that if I get the job at IFixEm I’ll have to tell people I work at a place called IFixEm, but I’m running late, and Anyone Make Lemonade! recommends that I walk in like I already have the job. Posture is Everything! So I tuck in my shirt and try to walk like I already have the job, but my limp makes me look like a zombie, so I slump a little and hope that my face conveys confidence and Ownership!

The door dings as I walk in, and the fug of the place is a mix of stale cigarettes and B.O.

“Just a sec,” says a voice from the back. I can tell it belongs to a guy, but still, it’s kind of high-pitched and creepy. I realize, though, that I’m in no position to judge. I need this job. I need a life. I need to keep my apartment. I need an alarm to wake me up, not my three-year-old nephew with peanut-butter breath poking his finger in my ear.

I look around and wonder if this place is legit or not. There’s a broken wicker basket of blinged-out cell phone cases on the counter. Propped in the basket is a handwritten sign on lined notebook paper announcing, in adolescent block letters, what a deal these are at fifty percent off. I sift through the plastic hard shells and see that they fit phones long out of production. Again, I start to think I am above all this low-rent shit, then I remember I am not. Not anymore. Was I ever?

The guy emerges from the back of the shop. From his appearance it’s abundantly clear that he lives in his mom’s basement and probably still sleeps in the ill-fitting big-boy Star Wars bed he got for his sixth birthday. Some things you just know, even if it makes you feel like an asshole.

“Sorry about that,” he says. “I was in the middle of a screen replacement. You know how it is. You’re almost there, you’re almost there, and you’ve just got to finish her off.” He makes breathy sex noises and laughs a creepy laugh, and I know we are never going to be friends. I’m hoping this joint isn’t some front for a child porn ring. Lawrence doesn’t look smart enough for that, though. He’s just a guy good with circuits, I’m guessing. I’m hoping.

“What do you have for me,” he asks, looking at the counter in front of me for a faulty tablet, a shattered iPhone, someone’s broken link to the outside world.

“I’m Mike,” I say, while he stares at me, his eyes so vacant I wonder if I’m even in the right place. “Are you Lawrence? I’m here for the interview?” I don’t know why I’m saying it this way. The idea of anything as formal as an interview seems preposterous in a dump like this. Then, like a man coming out of a trance, he blinks six or seven times and finally focuses on my face.

“Sure, sure,” Lawrence says, nodding his head. I think he’s probably somewhere “on the spectrum” and doesn’t know it. Mom probably didn’t want to have him tested, afraid of the truth. But maybe not. Maybe it’s just me being a judgmental jerk. Again. “Sorry about that. I just get into the zone, you know. Back there time gets all weird, you know.” No. I don’t know, but I nod anyway. I’ve completely forgotten about Lemonade! and Confidence! and Ownership! This guy has barely even made eye contact. All the Posture! in the world is not going to impress him.

“Come on back and I’ll show you around,” Lawrence says. “The boss said I could hire someone. Business has been crazy since ScreenTime shut down. Looks like we’re the only game in town, now.” I wonder if I already have the job. I’m no longer sweating the question about felony convictions or experience. Whitfield wasn’t a big city, but I’m sure it can keep a place like this hopping. Clearly this guy just needs some help. And some Febreze. A lot of Febreze.

The next day, along with my water bottle and a couple of packs of gum, I bring in a bottle of Febreze. There’s little here that’s personal. Lawrence’s workspace is a mess of cables, power cords, and tiny screwdrivers. His stained coffee cup proclaims him “World’s Best Boss.” We’ll see, I think. We shall see.

***

When the front door dings, I’m in the back of the shop trying to connect the camera cable on a two-week old iPhone that some private school pre-teen says cracked spontaneously. Right, kid. And the thing is, I know this phone will be back. I’ve been here three months now and am amazed at the repeat customers, usually parents, almost always rich. Poor people and college students just live with their shattered screens.

“Be right there,” I yell. A place like this doesn’t pride itself on its customer service. We have no ambience. We fix broken stuff, and the public doesn’t expect much from us. I’m working away on this camera cable, which is more like a very small strip of black tape that has to be tucked away just so into its tiny spot in this crowded mess of circuits when Lawrence blows in through the back door, awash in his usual fumes with a bit of car exhaust thrown in.

“Someone out front,” I say, without looking up. I’m getting used to not making eye contact. I can tell Lawrence prefers it that way. The cups of the magnifying glasses I have to wear are making my eyes sweat as I toil away on the miniature problem before me. Imagine if I had to do real labor on big things.

Lawrence drops his two Dr. Pepper cans on his desk then moves to the front counter. I brace myself as I wait for his usual awkward greeting reserved for female customers. Almost all of our customers are women: moms and wives rushing in as they tick off another item from their to-do lists, nearly every task designed to make their children’s and husbands’ lives as uncomplicated and unrealistic as possible.

“What can I do you for?” he asks, a regular Prince Charming mixed with a bit of Phil Dunphy.

“I think it’s broken,” she says, laughing. I can picture her vividly, the young woman at the counter: her auburn hair, her straighter-than-straight teeth, the delicate caramel mole that rests on her upper lip. I know it is her, Caroline, because those are the last words I heard her say the night I fell. Of course, then, she was talking about my twisted leg, which was indeed broken, in three places. A shiver runs through me, and I look over my left shoulder to make sure my parole officer isn’t standing behind me, that this isn’t some kind of set-up. Sometimes I imagine that he takes his job that seriously. More often, I imagine that I am that important.

“Hey, Mike, we’ve got a Samsung down out here. Busted screen,” Lawrence yells. “Mike’s our Samsung man,” he tells her. I am too stunned to respond. There is so much wrong with this. Hell, Caroline moved away with her family. That’s what I’d heard. She’s supposed to be “putting her life back together” in an undisclosed location, undisclosed to me, that is. My brother, Gary, heard she’d dropped out of college after a semester—all those smarts going to waste—and had moved back in with her parents, wherever they are. I still drive by their old house sometimes, where a mini-vanned family lives with their kids who leave their pricey bikes lying in the front yard. The trellis is no longer there. The yellow curtains have disappeared from her bedroom, too. Clearly, everyone has moved on. Everyone but me.

“Mike!” Lawrence yells for me again, but I am quietly making my way to the back door, and I slip out soundlessly. All I can think about is how I’m going to get to hold her phone. The same phone that she holds against her ear. Caroline’s ear.

***

I send Lawrence a text letting him know I’m feeling violently ill and that I’m sorry for ducking out on him. An overstatement, perhaps, but I seriously do not feel too hot. When I get home, I’m happy to see that there is no threatening note thumbtacked to my door today. That’s the worst part of being a registered sex offender. Last week I found a note stuck between the door and the jamb that read, simply, “I hope you die.” That’s the problem. You’re not given any way to explain yourself. “Hey,” I want to say, when I see someone giving me serious side-eye in the parking lot, “don’t you remember being a kid in love? I’m not who you think I am.” But they don’t want details. They just want someone to hate. Walking into my apartment doesn’t help. It is only slightly less bleak than the shop. I have a twin mattress on the floor and a coffee table and a Keurig coffee maker, a gift from Gary’s wife, Alyssa, after they’d upgraded to a newer model. I eat out, mostly, and I have a mismatched assortment of silverware and one small pan. Who am I going to cook dinner for?

I collapse on the bed and try to resist the urge to Google Caroline, a frustrating habit that I just cannot break. One benefit of working at iFixEm is that any equipment left after thirty days is forfeited by the owner. We’re supposed to pack it up and send it to this refurbisher who then reimburses the shop’s owner, Franklin, aka the guy we never see. But the recordkeeping on that shit is optional. As a result I am able to power up my new-to-me iPad. I check that my browser history is blank. I always delete my history even though, technically, I haven’t violated my probation. Yet. I also know that everything is traceable. Not everyone knows that. Occasionally, we’ll get someone (always a guy) at the shop who wants us to get rid of some damning evidence from his computer. Lawrence, the frustrated comedian, keeps a hammer under the counter which he ceremoniously hands to the would-be customer. I warn him that one of these days some guy is going to bash his head in with it, but he just laughs, then coughs, then laughs some more. He’s only twenty-seven, but he’s well on his way to some major health problems. In the meantime he feels good about managing a franchise computer fixit shop and supervising losers like me. I guess I like him. He’s harmless, but I still wouldn’t call him my friend.

There is another Caroline Willson (with the double L) who lives in Pittsburgh. And, because there is never anything about my Caroline on the web, I have ended up learning a lot about this other one. But today I am not interested in her. I am only interested in my Caroline. I decide to go to sleep, to make the morning come faster. Tomorrow I will hold her in my hand.

***

I show up early. I want to be there before Lawrence, to show him I’m not some shirker playing sick. I was up at six, fresh from a dream about Caroline. In the dream I am fixing her Samsung, getting ready to replace the screen when her face appears, like some kind of FaceTime thing, and she starts talking to me. I know it’s her, but here’s the funny thing, it’s not really her face, but the face of that other Caroline Willson, who is fifty-eight. But I love her. I know I love her, this substitute Caroline. Before I can say anything, she fades away, and when I wake up I can’t remember what she said. And I can’t shake it, this wondering. I know it was important.

Lawrence has placed the phone on my worktable, and I turn on my lamp, rubbing my hands together to warm them, make them nimble. Stuck on the phone is a sticky note with her passcode, 0624, her birthday. Before I get down to work I hold the phone next to my ear, and I am sure I can smell her. The slightly flowery scent of her shampoo, the vanilla, the mint. I feel out of breath, and I worry that I might start crying or pass out or something, but the feeling mostly fades, and I turn on her phone.

I know that her texts are what I am most interested in, but I don’t go there first. I save those. Like dessert. I cruise through her Instagram, her Snapchat, and Tumblr first, surprised to see the apps on her screen, since I’d looked for her there already. Her user name is obscure, “blinders7,” which explains why I haven’t been able to find her on my own. Even though she has posted little, I gasp when I see a picture of her dog Boz, a guileless yellow lab who once rammed his nose into my crotch so hard that I went down in her yard while she and her mother laughed from their own embarrassment. That was back when her family liked me, or when I thought they did. Who even knows now? She’s big into sunsets, and I find a few on her Tumblr, but I can’t tell where they’re from. There are no mountains, no oceans, just trees you can find anywhere. Her Instagram shots reveal a fondness for the Hudson filter with some 1977 thrown in occasionally. There are no selfies, no pictures of friends, no photos of boys or men, and I am relieved. If she’s moved on, there is no record of it here, and I can convince myself she is still in love with me. Either that, or she is so heartbroken by our split that she’s not ready for another relationship.

With a deep breath held in my lungs, I open her text messages. She and her dad have a healthy correspondence, but the content is dull. Are you here yet? Do you have my camera? I love you. Her father’s responses are short. No. Yes. On the file cabinet in my office. You too! She also has a friend named Chelsea who can’t spell but is only slightly more interesting than Caroline’s father. Her texts are almost exclusively requests for advice. Should I text him back? He said he might call me Saturday. “MIGHT”!!! WTF. I swere hes the worse.” I cannot bear the spelling, so I move on.

Last Wednesday she received a text from J. Just J. I am worried that this J is a Jason or a Jake or a James. Then Lawrence walks in.

“Any good p-i-x?” he asks. He thinks that is the best part of this job. More often than you would think he finds nude photos of women on the devices we are paid to fix. Before working here, I thought men would have more naked women on their phones, but the women have more. By far, if what Lawrence tells me is true. I never look for them.

“Haven’t looked,” I say, then want to shoot myself. Lawrence stands over me now, thinking we are going to peruse Caroline’s pictures together, which we are not. No. Not now. Not ever. I wish I’d said that I’d already looked. That there were only pictures of a yellow lab and expensive restaurant dinners. Lawrence grabs the phone from my hand and takes matters into his own hands.

“She’s a babe.”

“I really better get going on the repair,” I say. “I lost a lot of time yesterday.”

“Check this one out,” he says, then shows me the shattered screen where the image of Caroline on a boat wearing a green bikini startles me. “I’d hit that,” he adds, and I get that feeling again. The one where I might pass out. Or vomit.

Lawrence immediately scrolls through her photos, a series of lake shots where Caroline and her girlfriends, all beautiful, take turns being goofy and silly and painfully, painfully lovely. I don’t recognize any of the other girls who must be part of her new life. In the three years since the accident, she has moved on, apparently, with a new set of friends and a look in her eyes that says she’s got her shit together. Meanwhile, all I’ve achieved is a criminal record and a sad job in a sad part of town with a sad guy who thinks he’s funny. Make Lemonade! my ass!

“Goddammit! Goddamn phone,” Lawrence says, sucking on his index finger which he apparently cut on the broken screen. He tosses the phone on my worktable, which is topped with a jeweler’s felt pad. “No nudies,” he says. “What’s wrong with the world today?” His words are garbled because of his finger in his mouth, and I, too, wonder what is wrong with the world.

I power down Caroline’s phone, and pry the case open, amazed all over again by how much is packed into such a small space. I think about the details of a life contained in this rectangle of circuits. I know that J is someone I don’t want to think about or know about. The picture of Caroline in the green two-piece stays with me, though, overlaid by the star of shattered glass, and I begin to work. I’ll look at J’s text messages later, when Lawrence is not around.

***

I ask Lawrence to do me a favor. “Could you call her and let her know I need to order a replacement for the camera lens glass? It’s going to take a little longer.”

“Am I your secretary now, or what,” he says, laughing his cigarette-y laugh. He likes to let me know he’s my boss, even though he’ll basically do anything I ask him to do.

“Got my hands full. If you don’t mind.”

“Sure, Mikey.” He likes to call me that. I hate it, but I try not to let it bother me. My probation officer is satisfied, now that I’ve got a job and an apartment. He’s convinced I’m turning my life around, even though he just doesn’t understand that my life was pretty fucking good before all this shit happened to me.

I know why I want to keep the phone longer. I’d already fixed it when I gave the camera a sharp tap from the tiny hammer we use to reassemble stuff. I was afraid I’d break the camera lens. I was lucky, for once, and only the glass covering the lens cracks. The additional repair cost will be minimal, and I get to keep the phone another couple of days. Her father is probably still paying her bills for her anyway. Rich bastard.

Behind me I can hear Lawrence leaving a message for Caroline. He’s using his professional voice that I suspect he thinks is sexy. He sounds like a predator. And I should know, right?

“Done,” he says. “Anything else, boss?”

“Thanks, man,” I say. Then, because Lawrence isn’t a bad guy, just a little strange, I ask him if he wants to cut out early and grab a beer at Applebee’s. “It’s Friday,” I say. He’s so excited I think he is going to shit himself.

“Brew-skis with Mikey? I’ve got the first round,” Lawrence says, knocking tools on the floor in an effort to get out the door as quickly as possible. I wonder if he’s ever done this, just gone out for beers with a friend, or someone he thinks is his friend.

As we are locking up the shop, I slip Caroline’s mostly repaired phone into my pocket and wonder what I’m doing. I promise myself that it’s just the object I want near me, not what it holds. I promise myself that I won’t even turn it on when I get home. I promise myself that I don’t need to—no—don’t want to read J’s messages. I promise myself that I’ll only have two beers with Lawrence before I head home.

***

The bar is crowded, and I realize what a jerk I was for thinking Lawrence has probably never been to happy hour with a friend. This is my first time, too, and I like the vibe. It’s the end of the week and everyone is happy, but none as happy as Lawrence. He orders two bottles of Miller High Life, and I grab a napkin so I can hide the fact that I’m drinking the lamest of beers. I’m feeling antsy and want to walk around, hang out, but Lawrence is intent on telling me the details of the laptop he’s been working on for the last week, so we grab a table in the corner, away from the other Friday night revelers. I can barely hear him, but I nod and smile like I’m really interested. There aren’t many women here, and that’s okay with me. I haven’t dated anyone since Caroline, and I’ve never seen anyone as beautiful as Caroline, not even on TV.

Lawrence has finished his beer, so I order two more: a High Life for him and a Budweiser for me. I want to order a draft, but I don’t recognize any of the brands on the tap pulls, and I don’t want to embarrass myself. The second beer loosens me up and I trade stories with Lawrence about the MWL (Mom Who Lunches) who comes in nearly every other week. According to Lawrence, she has two sets of kids from two marriages. Her older kids, twenty-five-year-old twin boys, are both in jail out west, and, according to Lawrence, the younger three will eventually follow in their footsteps.

“How do you know all this?” I ask.

“It’s a gift,” he says. “I have a face that says ‘tell me your life story,’ and they do. That woman has no idea the things those kids are into,” Lawrence says.

“What kinds of things?”

“The girl, she looks about fourteen, is selling weed in middle school,” he says. “She’s a little hottie, too. And the boy is a little creeper. Sophomore in high school and he has more naked girls on his phone than I’ve ever seen.”

“Lucky you,” I say.

“What can I say? I love my work.”

Lawrence reaches into his pocket, and I think he’s going to buy me another High Life, so I stop him.

“I’ll get the next round,” I say.

“No man, I just want to show you this. I sent it to myself before I cleared his memory.”

I want to stop him, but I’ve also worked with him long enough to know how persistent he is, part of his Asperger’s, or his personality, or his basic weirdness. While I’m waiting for him to find the photo, I break into a cold sweat, from excitement and fear. But I don’t look over my shoulder. For all I know my PO is standing right behind me, and this is it.

Lawrence pulls out his phone and pulls up his photos with his little fat finger.

“Nah, that’s okay,” I say, looking away.

“Don’t be a fag,” he says, and I cringe, regretting this adventure with my boss as he shoves the phone in my face. I look but don’t look, and Lawrence calms down a little.

“Gotta’ take a leak,” I say, so I can catch my breath and move around. I think about leaving, but I can’t do that to Lawrence. Deep down I’m a nice guy, I guess. The jury’s still out on Lawrence, especially after the fag comment. I scan the bar, hoping to see someone I know, but I don’t know many people. Most of my friends from high school fell away while I was involved with Caroline. Any friends I had left disappeared during my legal battle and subsequent incarceration. Sadly, I realize, Lawrence is my only friend.

I bring two more beers back to our table which has a new member, a redheaded guy with a massive beard. He must be fifty, at least, and he and Lawrence are laughing like they’ve known each other for years.

“Here he is,” Lawrence says as I sit down, sliding his beer in front of him. “Mikey, this is Rex,” he says. We shake hands and I notice the full tattoo sleeves on our new tablemate, a montage of wolves, Harley-Davidson logos, and objectified women.

“It’s Mike, actually,” I say.

“Rex says there’s a great club just down the road. I say we go,” Lawrence says. “It’s Friday, baby!” Lawrence stands up and beats his chest, and knocks over his beer in the process. As the beer drips off the table I do my best to avoid the deluge by abruptly standing up, too. Lawrence thinks my move is a gesture of readiness to continue this sad little party. “All right,” Lawrence says, way too loudly, “Mikey’s in, too!”

***

When Lawrence shoves ten ones into my hand, I resist, but Lawrence’s persistence makes me relent, which seems to be a theme of the evening. I feel dumb not knowing that “club” meant “strip-club,” but here I sit, while a couple of too-thin women with dye-darkened hair rub their crotches on a metal pole while we all watch appreciatively. Lamar’s Gentlemen’s Club is a place I’ve driven by more times than I can count, but I thought it was just some dive bar where “gentlemen” drink and smoke cigars. I lost some formative years while I was locked up, so, in a way, I’m still just a stupid nineteen-year-old.

I can’t help thinking about Caroline whose natural beauty would disqualify her from a job here. And even though I’m pretending to watch the two dancers, it is Caroline who I am imagining and I start to get hard. Not here, I tell myself, but before my dick gets the message, Tiffany is asking if I want a private. When I don’t respond, she grabs my hand and leads me away from Lawrence and Rex. She asks if I need another beer or something stronger, so I ask for a shot of tequila and we stop by the bar on our way to wherever the private shit happens.

“It’s forty-five,” Tiffany says, and I think she means that’s how much the tequila costs.

“That seems like a lot.”

“It’ll be worth it,” she says, and I realize she means the private lap dance. “Plus that shot is on me, cutie.” Tiffany runs her finger along my jaw line. The touch is almost more than I can handle because it has been so long, and I feel guilty for what’s going on in my pants for this woman who has no reason to give a shit about me. Tiffany is not Caroline, I know, but my mind stamps Caroline on everything she does. When we get to the private room, little more than a closet, I hand Tiffany a day’s pitiful pay before she sits me down and gets to work.

When I get back to the table, Rex is gone and Lawrence is listening to a tall redhead in some kind of leather contraption with strategically place silver glitter between her boobs. Lawrence is not making eye contact, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her.

“How’s it going,” I say to Lawrence, with a nod to the glittery dancer. “Where’s Rex?” I’m feeling a lot more magnanimous toward Lawrence after my tequila, and I want him to have a good time here, too.

“In one of those rooms,” Lawrence says, waving away the dancer with a hand. She leaves, sporting a faux pouty face as if he’s hurt her feelings.

“How about you? You going in there, too? That redhead sure is hot,” I add, realizing that, until now, I haven’t really noticed other women since Caroline.

Lawrence just shakes his head, then wordlessly heads to the bar. I don’t know what’s wrong, so I follow him. I buy him a shot of tequila and another for myself. Then, for whatever reason, I buy us both a lap dance, even though that kind of money means putting off buying a desk for my apartment. I don’t think we ever see Rex again.

***

I wake up to the sound of a boys’ choir, and I have trouble orienting myself. I don’t know where the music is coming from, but I’m reassured to find that I’m in my own dull beige apartment with the nasty beige carpeting four inches from my face and my floor mattress. The music stops, but the memory of it still plays in my head until I recognize it: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. But why? I chalk it up to a dream and check my phone for the time—8:42—when the music starts up again, and I’m not holding my phone, but Caroline’s phone whose ringtone is making me hope that I am the thing she wants, the thing she can’t get. J is calling, but I do not answer. My head aches, and I lie back on my pillow and dream until noon.

I remember little about last night, or my morning dreams. I want cereal, but I’m out of milk. When I go outside to climb into my car, I am surprised to find it’s not there. Lawrence must have given me a ride home. I go back inside and eat dry Cheerios and gulp water like a dying man in a desert, and I wonder what I have become.

About the Author

Sharon Bandy

"Offender" is a story I workshopped in 2018 with Bobbie Ann Mason at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. It explores the gray area in statutory rape laws, and the "offender" trying to make sense of his "crime."