Green Blinking Lighthouse

 

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This one weekend, I met a girl, on some beach, near a lighthouse, in a city I’ve never been to before.

I was desperate for a job so I expanded my search out of town — into any city that was willing to take me. I scored an interview for some marketing-communications- assistant job; it was a small company that was just getting started.

I guess they liked my resume because they called me the same day I applied. I was eating potato chips and drinking the last of my pineapple juice when my phone rang.

“Can you do this Sunday?” The man on the phone asked.

I thought about claiming I had to go to church — it would have been the first time in ten years if I actually went — but I told them I’d be there.

I packed a weekend bag and found the only collared shirt I owned. I packed my camera too, knowing it could be the last chance I had to use it. If I didn’t get the job, I would be forced to sell it to make rent.

I drove up Saturday afternoon, down a desolate highway I’ve never traveled before, away from the place where I had grown up, away from a place where everything and everyone I had ever known was living — a place that was gradually dying inside of me.

I checked into the cheapest motel I could find. It looked familiar as I pulled in– maybe I saw it on a murder mystery Dateline special or an Unsolved Mysteries episode. The middle eastern lady behind the front desk was polite and gave me a big smile as she slid me the room key.

There was a water color painting on the wall of a lighthouse. I walked over to get a closer look.

The woman behind the counter said, “That’s down the road.”

I looked over my shoulder and smiled. I read the old English letters near the bottom– Fort Gratiot.

I headed to room 114. I unpacked my collared shirt. I hung it up, hoping the wrinkles would disappear by morning. I charged my camera battery and waited for it to turn green.

Snow flurries began as I drove into the everything-gray town. A smog seemed to be suspended over the city with a river running parallel with the road. The water flowed between the two cities with a large bridge connecting the two and steam and a constant surge of machine sound filled the air.

I drove until the river fed into the great lake. That’s when I saw the top of the lighthouse. It blinked green as I pulled in.

I threw my hoodie over my head, reached into the back, and grabbed my camera.

The lighthouse was tall and sturdy, made of stone, with thick wooden framed glass windows on top. I pressed both hands into its side, as if I was going to push it over. It didn’t move.

I looked up and my stomach dropped from the height. I went down the beach and turned my camera on. The water was like glass. The horizon was covered in fog. A few gulls flew by and I looked down.

There was a layer of stone, like gravel, covering the sandy beach. As I walked farther, I could hear the soft grind of rock against the bottoms of my shoes.

I turned back to the lighthouse. That’s when I saw her.

She had what looked to be a red veil covering most of her head. She wore gloves and a coat that looked a little too big on her.

She walked to the edge of the beach. I looked her up and down. I watched the water reach to the tips of her shoes and then it receded back with the tide.  It was as if she had been there before and knew exactly where she could stand where her feet would remain dry.

I framed her, the bridge, and the lighthouse. I hit the shutter on my camera.

She was forty yards away looking out into the lake. I looked where she was looking. There was calmness, a horizon wrapped in a fog of nothing.

I took another picture. She looked over. I quickly pointed the camera towards the lighthouse, away from her, and pressed the shutter. I looked over at her and she was bending down, her eyes on the rocks near her feet. She tugged one of her gloves off and let the tips of her fingers run across the top layer of stone. The tide rose and the water reached to her. But it came up short…

She picked up a rock and put it in her pocket. I snapped a picture.

IMG_0046.JPGShe stood up and began to walk towards me. She stopped, leaned down, and grabbed another rock. She stuffed it into her pocket. I backed up ten feet and snapped a photo of her and the lighthouse — with the edge of the beach all in one frame.

She approached me with deliberate motion.

“I’m sorry, am I in your shot?” She asked.

“You are my shot,” I said back.

Then without hesitation, as if her feet glided across the thin layer of water on those rocks, she moved to me.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” She stood five feet away from me now. I kept my camera in my hands, directed away from her, acting as if she wasn’t my subject.

“I was just saying that you and the lighthouse make a nice picture. Sorry, I’m not trying to be creepy.”

“That’s okay. I never see people here. I’m glad people enjoy it like I do.”

I could now make out her face. She was wearing little makeup, just enough around her eyes. They were dark brown and her lashes long. They were stuck and bunched together — as if she had been crying. Her cheeks were flush and a single lock of her curly black hair fell from under her veil.

“Do you collect rocks?” I asked as I snapped another picture of the lighthouse.

“No,” She said.

“Oh, I saw you put rocks in your pockets, that’s why I asked.”

“They aren’t rocks. And they’re for my dad.”

“Can I see them, do you mind?” I asked. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out what she had. I took a picture.

“Are you a photographer?”

“No. I just own a camera.”

“Can I see your pictures?”I turned the camera around and showed her the LCD screen.

“Those are really nice.”

“Thanks. This is my first time here. I’m in town for a job interview. Do you live around here?”

“No. But I used to. I used to work here too.”

“Where at?”

“Here, at the lighthouse, in the summer they have a gift shop. You can buy postcards, t-shirts and necklaces with the lighthouse on them. Mostly overpriced bullshit.” She laughed.

“That sounds like a good job though.”

“Yeah. Well, maybe you’ll get the job and then you’ll be around for the season when we’re open. You should stop by.”

“Okay. Yeah. I will.”

She gave me a soft smile, turned, and headed away.

“So then maybe I’ll see you then?” I yelled after her.

She stopped. Turned back. “No, I don’t work here anymore.”

“So then, where do you work?”

“I’m unemployed,” She said. She bent down, grabbed a rock, and tossed it into the lake.

She glided away. Down the beach away from me. She went to the lighthouse and pressed her hands into the side. She stepped back and looked up.

She looked over her shoulder. She waved. I waved back.

She went around the lighthouse, it blinked green and she was gone.

That night, I slept in that cheap motel. In the morning I went to that job interview. They said they would call me. I never heard from them. When I turned my camera on and looked at the pictures, I decided to tell this story.

The next week, I sold my camera to make rent.

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I write fiction.

 

 

-REH

 

We’re All Drunk

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A dog barks. No one complains.

A baby cries. No one complains.

A woman screams as plates shatter against a wall. No one complains.

Rap music blares, sirens in the distance, and yet no one complains.

They’re all used to it around here.

I wake to a car struggling to start. An engine clicks as someone’s day takes a different route. Now they’ll have to wait for their friend to give them a jump or call someone for a ride. Or even worse, call a tow truck. These people don’t have money for car repairs.

They flick their cigarette and try again. It starts this time.

A van pulls up. They lay into their their horn. It wakes me up. I don’t complain, no one does. It’s well after 11pm now.

People don’t seem to be in a hurry around here. But they all have jobs, they got kids, and problems.

They hold the cries of their children in the oil stains of their denim jeans.

In the bags under their tired eyes.

In the turn of their heads avoiding my nod, when I pass them by the communal mailboxes.

It’s well after 2am. I hear two men outside — yelling and carrying on. I push my blinds aside and peek out.

Middle-aged, one black and one white. Their jeans baggy. Straight bill hats and cigarettes hang from their lips. When they exhale, the smoke and their warm breath mix together, to form a fog that surrounds them.

I lie back down and try to sleep.

“I’m not going to jail for this shit!” One yells.

I jump up and push my shades aside.

The black man gets into the passenger side of a White Bronco, just like the one OJ Simpson drove away in. The white man is now by the entrance. From my angle, I can only see half of him. He’s looking up, talking to someone through a window.

“Let him in, I can handle the cold, but he can’t. If you love your father at all, you’d let him come inside. I know he’s drunk, I’m drunk, we’re all drunk,” He pleads.

The women responds, but it’s muffled and I can’t understand her.

A pause and the man takes a big hit of his cigarette and exhales his fog.

 And then I hear her: “He’s got to learn!”

The man flicks his cigarette and loses his patience.

“He’s got to learn?! Everyone’s got to learn, come on, let him come inside!”

There’s no response.

He shrugs in defeat and retreats to the Bronco. He says something under his breath and gets into the driver’s side. The Bronco rumbles and turns over. Exhaust spits from the tail pipe.

And there it sits.

I lie back down and close my eyes.

Everyone has got to learn and we’re all complaining.

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The girl who took me to poetry class

We both had been here before.

In my car, at night, outside her apartment.

So many times before, but this time it was different. There was potential this was going to be the last.

“I can’t see you knowing that he’s still hurting so much, I can’t give you everything I have, and it’s unfair to you, because I know you’re giving me everything you have.” She said. Her eyes down, away from mine.

“I’m sorry.”

A knot formed in my stomach.

“Don’t act like you’re doing me any favors. This is about you and your guilty conscious,” I said.

“Please, just get out of my car.”

She looked at me. We leaned in and we kissed. Held for a moment, pressed together, until it was enough, our lips clicked.

She reached into her purse and handed me a folded piece of paper.

She got out and walked into her apartment.

I first saw her months and months ago at a coffee shop. She was studying, I noticed her textbook for an Italian class. I smiled in passing. She smiled back. I thought about her for a moment, I almost turned back, I didn’t — momentarily left with the regret of a missed chance.

But then later that night, out with friends, there she was at the bar, drinking some hard cider. With alcohol running through me, I approached her with ease. I mentioned how I had seen her. She remembered. I told her how I had failed Spanish twice, but was willing to help her with the Italian. She laughed and said…

“Gracias.”

I got her name. Added her on social media the next day.

I could see her ex-boyfriend in her recent pictures. His hair parted to the side, more facial hair than me, taller, but there was a dim light in his eyes of stupidity. I wasn’t going to be intimidated. I scrolled back further, I did the math. They had been together for at least two years. What was I up against? A lot.

I messaged her and told her how I’d like to take her out. She seemed responsive and willing.

It was seemingly easy.

Then after some sushi, and a walk through the park, we began to kiss.

“This doesn’t feel like a first date,” She said.

I agreed. And then when I took her home, back to her apartment, she asked me to come upstairs and I did.

The next morning, she poured us some Cinnamon Toast Crunch. She had to get rid of the two day expired milk. I told her I didn’t mind. It tasted fine. She agreed.

After the cereal, we showered together.

“Do you mind if I turn off the lights?” She asked.

We showered in the dark. The sunlight from the cracked door, coming from her open shades, formed a silhouette around her naked body. She pushed shampoo out of her wet hair and I watched as the suds ran down her back. I pulled her in, her skin soft and clean. I kissed her neck and I could feel her face stretch into a smile.

But even then, her body was withholding. It was tense. And when she turned and looked up at me, it wasn’t for her sake, but for mine. As if she was small, helpless, hoping for my admission to tell her how happy I was. She was there to please. To fulfill a void.

“You know what we should do?” She said one morning as I sipped my coffee.

“There’s a poetry class, the library offers once a month. Would you wanna go?”

“That’s your best idea yet,” I said.

I wash my mouth with water

In the morning I’ll tell them how you tasted.

They’ll ask for details and I’ll smile.

Like a peach, sweet, and soft on my cheeks.

how could I ever tell them anymore

like a rose dipped in sugar

the sweetness that covers your skin

left with only the aroma after you’re gone

awaiting the moment till I see you again

“Do you like it?” I asked. She beamed a smile.

“What did you write?”

“Mines not ready yet,” She bashfully replied.

“Well when it is, I want to read it.”

When you go back on it all

that’s when you turn to glass

reflective, breakable

the memories and regrets

weigh on you

crack and everything changes

you’re a different person now

a different reflection

but more breakable

Sometimes I’ll go back and find her online. That ex boyfriend isn’t her ex anymore. There’s photos after photos. Heart emojis fill the captions. They share their moments with the world.

I’ll read her poem, in between the lines, it says so much. I think back to the poetry class and ask myself if that’s when I lost her.

That’s when she knew she had to turn back. She had a void I couldn’t fulfill.

I write fiction.

-REH

The Sweet New Girl

She opened the door with her head down. Her big glassy brown eyes to the floor, crying with composure.

I hugged her and her arms stayed to her side, limp and angry. Her hands clenched, tears dripping off her chin. I kissed her cheek and ran my nose through her hair. 

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Stop saying you can’t, when you can,” She replied. “You just don’t want to.”

She was right.

We met three years ago at a movie theater. A friend of mine who was dating a friend of hers introduced us. I complimented her eyebrows. She smiled and thanked me. That night she wrote her number on her ticket stub and placed it in my hand.

Three years later and here we were.

I crossed the living room and grabbed my favorite book from the bookshelf. It was a collection of Hemingway’s short stories, my dad used to read to me when we took trips up North. She sat on the couch, her arms crossed. I asked her to walk me to the door. She nodded and wiped her face. I could tell she wanted to scream, to tell me how much of an asshole I was being. She had questions, like where I had been for the last four days.

Four days ago I spilt pasta all over the kitchen floor. But it wasn’t just the pasta that set things in motion…

She came home from work, in a bad mood, I told her I was making dinner. The pasta was near boiling when she announced she wasn’t hungry. She ate at work. I knew she with that guy, a co-worker she was secretly falling for behind my back. I didn’t bother to pry, to ask her what she ate, or with who. For the moment, I stuffed my resentment deep, where she couldn’t see it.

There it can simmer.

But then I took the pasta to the sink to drain, my fingered slipped off the pot, and everything splashed onto the floor. Her response wasn’t how my steaming feet felt, or if the pasta was still salvageable, but instead a reminder how she had cleaned the kitchen a day prior.

I acted on the opportunity to get mad. I brought up the text I found from the guy she worked with. She brought up the email from an ex-girlfriend. I threw a lamp and was out the door.

I spent the next four days on my dad’s couch with his dog resting his head on my chest. It was a relief knowing it was all finally coming to an end.

The truth was there was someone else. There had been for a while. I justified my lies by assuming she lied to me.

Our relationship had shrunk into the better memories of those first six months, and then it was all weighted down by our jobs and responsibilities, the unknowing of both of our futures; she wanted to get married, I didn’t. She was patiently waiting for me to ask. I was patiently waiting for a reason to leave.

That’s why this new girl felt good. Her past didn’t matter. She was sweet, trying to impress me. She was insecure for all the right reasons; like if her make up was in line or if she smelt good. I knew for sure when she went to the bathroom the time I took her to the movies behind my girlfriend’s back.

She came out with her mascara in line and suddenly smelling sweeter than when she walked in.

It started when a movie trailer was brought up at work and we agreed we both needed to see it. But it was her idea to go that night. I wondered if she knew my girlfriend was out of town. Of course she did. On break, I was telling a co-worker how I had the apartment to myself. She was at the vending machine listening.

“You’re dangerous.” That’s what I told her when she said I should take her to the movies.

She smiled and strutted away.

That night, after the movie, we kissed in my car. She apologized and I told her not to.

And there I was, at the doorway. There were no more tears. I put my hand out. She looked away. I could confess and tell her why this all had to be over. But there was no point, no more reason to yell or explain each other. No more blaming or reasoning for our actions. I just knew I had feelings for a moment in time and I acted on them. Just like when I complimented her eyebrows. Just like when she handed me her number. I couldn’t go back now. It was time to leave.

I opened the door. She held it open. Her eyes away from me. I stepped back, outside the apartment now.

She let it shut.

With my favorite book in hand I didn’t look back. I took the stairs, to the lobby, outside to the parking lot, into my car, and drove six blocks to my workplace. I parked and placed a text to the new sweet girl. I let her know I was outside waiting for her.

I opened my favorite book to kill time. My eyes crossed the page, but I wasn’t reading. Instead I was playing out the rest of my life in my head. I thought about everything that lead me here, sitting in the parking lot waiting on that pretty girl from work. I had built something with someone else for so long. It all started at a movie theater, three years ago, with a smile and compliment.

Then it all fell apart. 

Now I’m abandoning the mess.

Cyrus and Melody

There’s this story I’ve been waiting to tell you for awhile now. It’s a love story with no ending, only a beginning.

It’s about two people. Two boring people in their mid twenties, they aren’t in shape, they don’t have any money, and they both drive 1999 Grand Am’s. His is blue and hers is red.

The guy is Cyrus. The girl is Melody.

Cyrus has been bored lately, since his girlfriend left him for a taller, less educated guy. His name is pointless to mention. Even when Cyrus refers to him, he pronounces it wrong on purpose. It gives him pleasure to fuck up his name. That’s something he can’t take from him.

Cyrus has been so bored lately that he’ll stay up late staring at the ceiling. He turns off all the lights in his bedroom and draws the shades just enough so passing cars will throw pillars of light on the wall. He’ll watch them, as hours past, he’ll watch them cross his ceiling, forming and then disappearing. There’s something about this transition. It gives him perspective and pleasure in knowing that things are changing, that again, he won’t feel so bored.

Then one night he was so bored he found a piece of paper and wrote something down. He wrote: You don’t really know yourself until you’re alone at 3 am staring at the ceiling. The next morning he woke up with a different outlook. He was bored of being bored.

While Cyrus was watching the lights cross his ceiling, Melody was getting to know her neighbor, a guy whose name is also not worthy of mention. He was tall with a half beard and a big Adam’s apple. He always kept his chin high to show it off. Melody had just moved to the area and he helped replace a light bulb in the kitchen that began to flicker the third day she moved in. The next day they passed each other in the hallway and he ended up on her couch. They made out to info-commercials because she couldn’t afford cable. He was a bad kisser, so when he wanted to see her bedroom, she said she was tired. He went home.

Like Cyrus, Melody was bored. The neighbor was a nice guy, but mostly a convenience to her new surroundings. The next morning, she woke up, also bored of being bored.

It was Monday afternoon and the first humid day of the summer. Cyrus had the day off and so did Melody. They did what bored, lonely, twenty-year-olds do on Monday afternoons.

They do laundry.

Cyrus’ day didn’t start well. He noticed a stain on his favorite pair of jeans. They were his go-to jeans as he referred to them in his head. They were the ones that didn’t ride high on his waist, the ones that added weight where he didn’t have it. These were also the jeans he wore when he went out to meet friends for cheap beer. The stain ate him up inside and with this new outlook on life, he decided to do something about it.

As he was dumping his clothes in a washer, she walked in. He didn’t turn, she passed him without him noticing. She went to the next row of washers. Cyrus closed his now filled washer and realized he forgot his detergent. He did what he always did when he forgot detergent — he asked the closest person for some.

Melody turned around and she told him sure. He thanked her.

Cyrus closed the washer and it started to tumble. He twiddled his fingers and looked over at Melody. She looked bored.

Cyrus eyed the stack of board games in the corner near the vending machines. He saw one he knew how to play.

“Hey, you want to play chess?”

She hesitated with her eyes on his. “I don’t think I know how. I’ve never played.”

Cyrus had no problem teaching her. In fact it wasn’t his first time teaching someone. He once taught his ex-girlfriend. Melody took his chess lessons well. She moved her bishop and took out his queen before he could realize his mistake. Was it her dark mascara that was evenly placed around her blue eyes that drew his from the board? Or perhaps it was the way she covered her mouth when she laughed after he made a joke, or how she picked at her cuticles when she was thinking of her next move.

Whatever it was, it cost him his queen.

Eventually, all Melody had left was her king and a lone pawn. The washers sounded off.

They got up without saying anything. They hauled their wet clothes to dryers next to one another.

They went back to the board.

“You give up?”

She shook her head no and he continued to chase her around the board until the dryers finished.

“Okay, you win,” Melody pushed her king over in defeat.

He was relieved. She smiled, her eyes penetrating his, and then down to his lips and then away when he noticed.

He got her phone number that day and they went home to fold their laundry.

When Cyrus got home, he realized the stain on his jeans was gone.

-REH

Tequila And George Jones

My father left us last June. I overheard my mom one night talking about him screwing another attorney from his law firm. She stills call him after she’s had too much wine. She doesn’t know I know, but I can hear her crying through my bedroom wall.

Now, I don’t see my dad much. Sometimes he’ll text me and send me checks in the mail. I look at his law firm insignia in the right corner, knowing that his job was the reason he’s not with my mom anymore. So when I cash the checks, I have no remorse.

I never felt like my mother was the best wife to my dad. She would sometimes throw away entire meals if he complained even the slightest. She would run upstairs and my dad would look at me and ask if I wanted to go out.
We would find the nearest fast food restaurant, order some cheeseburgers, and milkshakes and sit in the parking lot. We would watch people walk in and out and laugh at them. We would do voices imitating them and all the things they ordered. When I got older he stopped taking me when my mom got mad. He instead grabbed his keys and left by himself. When I get married, I’ll be a better wife than my mom. But I’ll be sure to marry a better man than my dad.

I’m seventeen and he’s been gone for seven months. My mother doesn’t throw her food away when I say I don’t like it. She just says “Well that’s all we got.” And then I eat it. She had to get a job at the super market and works second shift. I’m pretty sure my dad is still paying the mortgage and most of our bills.

Once in awhile, me and my best friend Becky Saunders will go visit my mom at the supermarket. At the moment, Becky is really all I got. Becky has her own car and she’s really pretty. She’s brunette with long hair, and thick in all the right places. All the boys drool after her. It’s amazing we’re friends at all because freshman year I told everyone she stuffed her bra with Kleenex. She took revenge by pulling me down by my hair in the hallway between classes. She spit in my eye and everyone cheered her on. We both were suspended. My mom was mad and my dad just shook his head.

Sophomore year, Becky and I both tried out for the basketball team and got cut. Becky couldn’t run as fast as she used to. Her boobs were too big, so it was hard for her to move her arms. I was cut because I was no good. Becky and I bonded over the idea of being left out. I forgot about her spit and she forgot about me spreading rumors. Becky was fun, but I found her obnoxious at times. At the lunch table, she would laugh extra loud. The boys would turn and look at her. That’s when I found her to be the most obnoxious.

Becky always made me feel invincible. The way she would talk to boys with such confidence. She would flip them off and smile. They would laugh and gawk at us as we walked away. They were mostly looking at Becky, but every now and then, I’d hope they were looking at me too. I was always thick in the wrong places. I was seventeen and I realized that my chest would never fill out. I hoped guys would notice my brown eyes before they’d notice my flat chest.
Once in the eight grade, Jason Woolworth told me I had pretty eyes.

“I really like your eyes.”

We made out by the swings. The next week at school he told everyone I was a bad kisser. He was sent to juvenile detention the following year for stabbing his step dad with a fork. I haven’t heard much about him since then. Jason was my first and last encounter with a boy. It made me sick to my stomach to think about that. I didn’t want Jason to my last.

It was Thursday night, we didn’t have school tomorrow for teacher planning day. It was to be a long weekend and Becky and I were on our way to see my mom at the grocery store. She was going to give me some money to see a movie. But we weren’t going to see a movie. We needed the money to buy alcohol.

“How do you feel about your mom working at a grocery store?” Becky was driving.
“I don’t know. It’s whatever.” I said.
“I mean, how do you guys pay rent?”
“We don’t pay rent. We own the house.” I looked at her. Her eyes stayed on the road.
“Well, what about taxes or whatever?”
“My dad still helps us out.” I looked away.
“You should ask him to pay for that boob job you wanted.” Becky turned to me. I looked at her sternly. She smiled. And laughed.
“I’m just kidding!”

She was referring to something that happened a couple weekends ago. We did four shots of Rumchatta in my basement. She took off her shirt and I saw her bare breasts. Then she told me I should do the same thing. Then we started talking.

“Why can’t mine be as big as yours?” I pleaded.
“I got these from my grandma.” Becky cupped hers in her hands.
“What do you think about a boob job?”
“What? Are you thinking about getting one?”
“If I had the money, maybe.”

She burst into laughter. I put my shirt back on. She made me feel stupid. I passed out. At any moment she gets an opportunity to bring it up, she usually does.

We pulled into Shannon’s Market and went inside. My mom was helping a black guy who was holding a little girl. The little girl was crying and my mother bagged their groceries. The place was slow. I saw my mom’s manager sweeping some cereal by the pop and bread. The black guy and his daughter left. Becky and I went to her register.

“Hey mom.”
“Hey, honey. Hello, Becky”
Becky smiled. My mom was never a huge fan of Becky. It was the way Becky just helped herself to a drink or a snack without asking.

“What time is your show?”
Becky looked at me for an answer. “Eight.” I said.
“What are you seeing?”
I looked at Becky for an answer. She slung her keys around her index finger and said “Something scary.”
“Are boys going?” My mother pried.
I shrugged. Becky smiled. My mom smirked.

“Well I close, so I won’t be home till midnight. Lock up when you girls get home, please.”
She reached into her apron and handed me a twenty. I smiled, thanked her, and Becky and I scrambled out of the grocery store.
Our plan was to drive to Homer, the town next to us, use Becky’s fake ID at this gas station, buy some tequila, go back to my house, get drunk, watch a movie, and pass out.

“Guess who just texted me?” Becky asked.
“Maybe you should concentrate on driving.”
Becky tossed me her phone and smiled. I looked. The contact read Jake Mills.
“He’s an asshole.”
“I’m not dating him. He’s hot.”
“Didn’t he graduate last year? What’s he doing texting a high school girl?”
“Stop being a prude. Text him back for me.”
Jake Mills was the guy who wore the letterman jacket. Rumors were he screwed the Spanish teacher, Mrs. White, when he was a junior. They did it in the closet after school. She got fired and he continued on to be an all-state baseball player. Besides that, I hadn’t heard much of him since. His text to Becky read I’m with George Jones, you girls wanna hang out?

“He’s with George Jones.”

George Jones was the funny guy in my American History class. I always laughed at his jokes but he never noticed. He drove his mom’s red mini van to school and the guys would pick on him about it. I remember Cindy Boyles blew him at a dance in the bathroom last year. Everyone slut shamed her and she was never the same. George played wide receiver, he once caught a pass and almost fell into me and my friends and as we watched the game from the grass around the field. Other than that, I don’t know too much about him.

“He’s cute.” Becky said.
“Becky, you know how much trouble I could get into?”
“They’ll be gone before your mom gets home.”

I shook my head and handed her the phone. She used one hand to drive and the other to text him back. Half of me wanted her to lose control of the car so we could go smashing into a tree. I would be dead and I wouldn’t have to deal with George or Jake tonight. Then they would read about us in the newspapers. Jake and George would say to themselves, those were the girls we were trying to fuck, damn, too bad they’re dead now. I wonder if they would remember my face without having to look at the picture.

Getting the fifth of tequila was no problem. The woman who ran the cash register on Thursday nights was either drunk all the time or had a crush on Becky. It was hard to say.

The ride home was uneventful. The guys were supposed to arrive at my house at 9:30. I was going to let them in through the walk out door from my basement. If my mom came home, they could easily escape, no problem. Part of me thinks my mom would be relieved to know boys liked me. Maybe then she would stop feeling so bad for me.

The guys arrived right on time. Becky went out to greet them. I stayed on the couch. I found some plastic cups and set them on a table along with the fifth. Downstairs we had an old rear-projection big screen. It only got a couple channels with the antenna but I doubted they wanted to watch TV. My basement had a laundry room and old drop ceiling. My childhood friend Tiffany Wells and I used to play house down here. We would pretend like we needed to cook for our pretend husbands. We took bowls of water and blades of grass from outside and made soup. She stopped coming over so much after her mom shot herself. She turned goth and started smoking cigarettes behind the buses at school. Tiffany was the first person to tell me about sex. We were eight years old.

“It’s when two people get inside each other and squirm around.” She told me one night during sleepover.

I know what sex is now. But I’m just as much a virgin as I was then. Becky and the guys came in laughing. Jake wasn’t wearing his letterman, but instead a leather jacket. His hair was wet, slicked to the side. He was the way I remembered him. Dark haired, with a rough face, like shaving wasn’t a priority. He had nice eyes and broad shoulders. George looked much cuter than I recalled him looking in class. He had blonde hair, with toned cheeks, and was skinny. He wore a red collared shirt. I remember reading that red is the color most associated with sex. Maybe that’s why he looked so cute.

“Hey Cecelia,” George said.
“Hi.” I politely smiled from the couch.
“Cecelia, you know Jake?” Becky asked.
“Not really.”
“How you doing?” Jake gave me a head nod.
“Fine.”
“Can I use your pisser?” Jake asked me.
“Sure. It‘s upstairs. I can show you.” I got up and then Becky interrupted me.
“I’ll show him. Come on.” Becky led Jake up the stairs. George sat next to me. He looked around. His eyes met mine in the reflection of the big screen TV. I didn’t know what to say. And I knew Becky and Jake weren’t going to be back anytime soon.
“You do the homework yet?” I asked.
“Homework?”
“For American History.”
George chuckled. “I didn’t even know we had homework.”
I felt stupid for bringing it up. But it wasn’t like he was trying too hard. His light hair looked good. A bang fell just perfectly on his forehead. Almost like Elvis.
“You want to do a shot?” I grabbed the fifth.
I cracked open the fifth. Tore the gold paper off and poured some into the plastic cup. I tipped it back. I wanted to impress him.
“Hey, what are you doing?” He said.
I coughed a little bit. “What?”
“You have to cheers.”
I smiled. I laughed. He was flirting with me. I think. I tapped my plastic cup against his.

“No, no. You have to have something in there to cheers with.”
I poured some more. We cheered and tipped our drinks back. We did three more shots and talked about the time Dylan Ferris got so mad in American History class he started to cry. George had this nice laugh that made me laugh. He was funnier when it was just him and me. Then the laughing stopped. I was drunk and he leaned in and kissed me. His tongue broke my lips open and I tasted tequila. His hands went down my leg and for a second I was worried about my mom walking in. Then I was worried Jake had finished doing Becky and they’d come down. They would ruin our moment. I closed my eyes and tasted more tequila.

His hand pushed up my shirt and his fingers danced on my stomach. I started to breath heavier and uncontrolled. He stopped and pulled away. He smiled at me.

“Everything okay?” I asked. He didn’t say anything. He grabbed the fifth, poured some more, and tipped it back. I waited. He turned and crawled on top of me. I let my weight fall into the couch and him in between my legs. He kissed my neck and his hands went up thigh to my butt. He felt good on top of me. His body pressed into mine. I had never felt the weight of someone on top of me. It felt nice.

His hands left my legs and went up my shirt. They were cold and I felt goose bumps forming on the back of my arms. A chill went down my back, his tongue touched my neck, and his hand groped my breast. Suddenly, I had an impulse to push him off.
I sat there. I crossed my arms. I was drunk, lightheaded and the room spun. I looked at him. He was staring at the big screen TV .
“Sorry.” I said.
He looked at me. He shrugged and got up.
“It’s cool. I’m going to get Jake.”

George dashed upstairs. I could hear frustration in his footsteps. They reminded me of my mother when her and my dad were arguing. Then I heard murmurs of conversation. I looked at the fifth. It was half gone. Two sets of footsteps crossed the floor above me. The front door opened and closed.

A moment passed. Becky came down. She sat down next to me. Her hair was a mess. There was a smile on her face, one of success. She took a shot of tequila and then poured me one. I tipped it back. I turned on the big screen TV and we watched Everybody Loves Raymond. I passed out first. When I woke up the next morning, Becky was gone.

I didn’t hear from Becky for the rest of weekend. My mom worked Friday night and Saturday night, so I didn’t see her either. On Sunday, she made breakfast and then took me to buy a new pair of jeans. I was nervous about Monday. I was nervous about history class. I didn’t tell Becky anything about George. She never asked. I was mostly worried George telling everyone how I couldn’t handle my body being touched. How I acted like I was still in eighth grade. They would question my sexuality and wonder why I’m not like Becky Saunders, or Tiffany Gates, or even Brittany Kovacks. Those girls got all the attention and all the cute boys to buy them chocolate and give them rides home from school.

Monday in American History class, George wasn’t as funny as he usually was. He didn’t say anything to me and I avoided eye contact. That was that. And at lunch, Becky told everyone about how she screwed Jake Mills on my mom’s bed. I wasn’t happy about that, but it had already happened. I was mostly just relieved to know no one knew anything about Thursday night.

When I got home after school, I got a check for forty dollars from my dad. I signed it off to my mom and she gave me some cash. I texted Becky and told her I got some more money for the weekend. She sent back a smiley face.

The couple across the room, don’t know each other’s secrets yet.

She’s a pretty girl. He appears to be a nice guy. I’m sure they met in class. He then went and found her on a social network and liked some of her photos and then she messaged him. The next time in class, he asked her out for ice cream and to go see the latest Adam Sandler movie. She apparently was willing.

And now here they are. I sip my coffee and make assumptions. I give them a back story and guess their names: Barry and Danielle. Those are the first two names that come to mind. They hold hands discreetly. He talks too loud and dominates the conversation. She laughs and enjoys his low-brow humor. Me not so much. I sip my coffee some more and try to concentrate on my reading that’s due in an hour. I can’t help to listen. I can’t help to watch.

They don’t each other’s secrets yet. She hasn’t seen his penis, I’m sure of that. That’s when things get real. That’s when he can stop talking so loud. That’s when he can start feeling comfortable. That’s when they don’t have to hold hands sitting only a foot apart. That’s when they don’t have to look into each other’s eyes when the other is talking. They say sex changes things. I suppose this is a fine example. Sure, they look comfortable. Maybe even slowly falling in love, but they aren’t there yet. It hasn’t gotten real.

But this is when it’s fun. This is when the pressure is on and they’re both trying. This is when he takes her to dumb Adam Sandler movies and buys her ice cream. This is when he goes on tangent about how talented Michael Jordan is. This is when she’s still interested in listening. It will all change. They’ll tell each other secrets. She’ll see his penis and he’ll notice the ugly mole on her neck. The pressure is off. They’ll be revealed. And then suddenly Adam Sandler isn’t funny and Michael Jordan isn’t that talented.

These are assumptions. I sip my coffee. She puts her coat on. They exchange a soft, awkward, and discreet kiss.  She goes away. He sits down and looks into his phone. I turn to my reading and I’m confident they’ll both be just fine.

-REH