The Black Coats

The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes


For Katie,

who rises


Revenge, at first though sweet,

Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.

—John Milton, Paradise Lost


Grapeland, Texas. 1972.

Robin Peterson always knew when there were football games. Her parents’ brick house stood across from the school, where only a field of wildflowers separated her front yard from the lights and the noise of Grapeland High. On Friday nights, she could hear the chants of the cheerleaders from her bedroom window.

“Are you ready?”


“I said, are you ready?”

Still no.

Robin would play her music loudly to drown out the noise, but that accompanying sound track of Texas life always filtered through—the stomps of the crowd vibrating down from the stands, the smell of burnt hot dogs wrinkling her nose. She stared defensively back toward the school as the melodic strains of “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash spun on the record player.

As soon as she graduated, Robin would be gone. She would leave the jocks and the cheerleaders in a swirl of dust as she wove her way across the country, song by song, until she reached the West Coast.

Tonight, though, she didn’t mind all the noise that carried across the field because Robin was going to meet a boy after the game. His name was Trevor Hitch, and he happened to be the cutest boy she’d ever seen. His confident green eyes had sucked her in like a black hole when he asked to borrow her geometry notes yesterday. She had stammered, “Yes, yes, of course,” and he had arranged for them to meet after the game, in the field behind the stadium. That same dry patch of land that eventually ended up in her front yard.

He had no idea where she lived, had no idea she could just walk out of her house and be there. Maybe, Robin dared to hope, that could change. Trevor was the kind of boy who was a mystery to her: popular, lighthearted—a boy who could slyly wink and get away with it. Perhaps they would become friends. Perhaps he will be my first kiss.

The roar of the crowd peaked and finally receded. The team had lost again. The bright, blazing stadium lights went out a few minutes later, plunging the lot into darkness. Robin took a deep breath and shrugged on her father’s black wool peacoat—completely unfashionable, but hip in a rock-and-roll way—and after debating it for a few seconds, decided to run a brush through her hair and put on a spot of Pure Magic Lip Gloss. Just a little bit. She mouthed words to herself in the mirror.

“Oh, hey, Trevor! Here are the notes. Deep Purple? Hell yes, I love them.”

She paused a second before lifting the needle from her record player, letting Cash’s pure sound wash over her, feeling each lyric cut deeper than the next.

Robin glanced at the clock and left her bedroom, tucking her notes inside the coat pocket. Her parents were watching Johnny Carson as she walked past them to the front door. Her dad, his owl-frame glasses reflecting the light, reached for her hand. “Where are you off to, kid?”

She gave his hand a squeeze. “Just meeting some friends after the game.”

Her dad nodded and turned back to the screen, slapping his leg happily at something Johnny was doing. Her mother chuckled along.

Robin shut the door behind her and looked out across the field to the stadium. The last handful of students were loudly making their way toward the parking lot, no doubt on their way to a barn party.

It was almost a half hour later when she finally saw Trevor’s silhouette making its way across the wild grass. As he approached her, she could see that he was freshly showered and could smell a hint of Ivory soap. Maybe he wanted to look nice for me. Robin’s heart quietly thudded with hope as she approached him.

“Hey! I have the notes.” Just being near him made her dizzy.

“Great.” He regarded her coolly.

She cleared her throat. “Mr. Henson is tough. I remember that from last year.”

“Yeah. He is.” He glanced around them. “Did you bring anyone else with you?”

Robin tilted her head. “No, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal; it’s just notes—”

His fist came so fast that at first she didn’t even know what had hit her, but then it came down again on her face and nose. Trevor? Robin tried to cry out as she tasted blood in her mouth. She was on the ground then, and Trevor was on top of her, pinning her hands down, his breaths heavy. It started happening before she even understood what was happening.

Robin knew she should be trying to fight him off, but the shock was too strong, the shame cutting too deep. She couldn’t get her body to move. Over her own screams, she heard disjointed Cash lyrics playing in her head.

An inhuman cry escaped from her throat as she looked across the field, seeing the flickering of the television through the windows of her house. Her parents were right there, so close and yet . . . Robin closed her eyes as Trevor brought his fist down against her temple, this one sending her spinning mercifully into darkness. The field tilted as her head bounced against the dirt, her thoughts folding one on top of the other.

My first time wasn’t supposed to be this way.

She wasn’t sure how long she was there or when he left, but Robin woke up in the same spot, goldenrods pressed against her face, their sickly sweet stems sticking to her bloody lips. She couldn’t open her right eye, and her left wrist was swelling. Stumbling and sobbing, Robin wrapped her father’s coat around her and instead of walking to her house, limped toward her best friend Julie’s house, a yellow Victorian two blocks down. Only one thought repeated itself in her jumbled mind as she made her way there, step by unsteady step: I can’t tell my father. Not now, not ever. He will never look at me the same again.

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