It must be almost 10 days since the last time Arthur saw Sophie outside school. He went into the city to meet her, and they were on the west side of the island, where her mother’s house is, in the hundred and teens. In fact, they were in Sophie’s bedroom, he had taken her out to a real dinner at a Chinese restaurant that served carafes of red wine, no questions asked, and they had had just one carafe between them, Sophie rubbing the top of her head with her knuckles and smiling, and it had been like a month since she’d last shaved it, thick black hair growing mostly straight up. She moved the food around her plate and tugged at her hair. She was talking a lot, about an internship she could get with a dance company over the summer, answering their phone.
“You want to do that?” he asked her.
“Yes!” she said. “That’s really what I want to do.”
Sophie’s mother had been a ballet dancer. She had divorced Sophie’s father before Sophie learned to talk and raised her and her older sister Beth on real estate money the father provided. Though she had stopped dancing even before the first pregnancy, Sophie’s mother socialized exclusively with dancers and other artists. She had some good contemporary pieces on the walls in her duplex and on each of her daughter’s birthdays she bequeathed another artwork to one or the other, telling them they were free to sell it if they ever needed cash. “I mean, you should come to me first,” Sophie told Arthur she’d said.
Posen referred to Beth as “the hottest human.” Like Sophie, Beth wore men’s clothing or shapeless cotton separates and kept her hair short. Sophie, Posen said, was “weird.” He told Arthur, “But she has appeal.”
It was this appeal that made Arthur stay late at school to watch Sophie curl into a ball in a black t-shirt and leggings onstage with five other round girls who rolled to their knees and opened their mouths, reaching up toward the stage lights in time with an amplified recording of the human heart. They twirled and ran in a circle at the center of the stage. Later Arthur drove Sophie to the subway in his car, one hand in her lap.
And it was probably that they were supposed to have sex, and they both knew that. Sophie could not finish her food, finally. They left and rode the bus back to her mother’s place. They were so grown up, is how Arthur remembers it, but perfect in their enjoyment of one another, like babies. Sophie sat sideways on the very back seat in the bus using one of her long chains to make a cat’s cradle on Arthur’s fingers. She spoke, and he watched her, almost as if he were observing himself, he felt like they were so safe, which is why, back at her mother’s house, he let Sophie undress him.
This was where it became complex. His mother was standing next to them in white jeans.
“It’s OK, Arthur,” he heard Sophie. “I don’t have a problem with this.”
He did not move his eyes up to his mother’s face, just watched the thigh in white denim. “What do you mean?” he asked Sophie.
“You nervous?” She was taking her shirt off over her head. “Don’t be nervous.”
Arthur didn’t say anything. He let Sophie touch him for a while, then he let her just hold him. They fell asleep.
In the morning, Arthur woke up, and he did not see his mother. Sophie came out of the bathroom with a yellow towel over her hair.
“I’m sorry,” he finally decided to say.
Sophie took the towel off her head and covered herself with it. She sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked the top of Arthur’s arm. Arthur could see now his mother was standing across the room, and she seemed to be examining a framed drawing on the wall.
“Arthur what’s going on?” Sophie was saying.
He was not thinking. He said, “My mom.”