Heather Fleming

I am old for my first kiss, fourteen. I feel it itching at me, this terrible idea it will never happen. My prospects look worse when I blow it with the popular kids at St. Mary’s and I’m relegated to the table of smart girls from my honors classes who don't know how to wear makeup yet.

“This is Olivia Guigliano. I’m showing her around,” my friend Cindy says and pulls out a seat next to me for Olivia.

I look her over; even though her nose is too big and she has glasses, I can see she knows things about boys. She rolls up the top of her plaid skirt so it rides shorter and wears her button-down shirt a size too small. I like this about her.

Olivia leans in and whispers to me, “Why are you sitting with these rejects? I need a cigarette. Want to come?”

I smile. She can’t stand the girls at our table; she’s stuck in limbo, too.

She tells me her family moved out of their brownstone and into a five-bedroom home paid for in cash. I suspect Olivia’s father’s in the mob. After school, she invites me over to see his gun, sleek and black, stashed in his nightstand.

“Has he ever used it?”

“Don’t be stupid. It’s just in case someone robs us,” she says, wrapping her fingers around one of her long dark curls.

One afternoon a guy comes to her back door while we are making cupcakes. They call him Jimmy Two Times like in Goodfellas. They don’t say it to his face.

He calls out, “Hey, Olivia, how’s it going? How’s it going?”

“Your life is like a mafia movie,” I say and lick chocolate frosting off my fingers.

“Shut up, we’re not in the mob.”

Maybe they aren’t. She calls her fat roofer Newman, like on Seinfeld.

When Olivia finds out I’ve never kissed anyone she says, “I’ll take care of that.”

She plans a game of Truth or Dare, played in the dark behind the elementary school. She gets Cindy and some guys from her neighborhood to come.

“Ainsley, truth or dare?” She giggles.


“I dare you to kiss Billy.”

Billy’s a year younger and in awe of me. We lean into each other, bumping noses. His lips are rough and dry. Afterwards, I wipe my mouth. We never speak of it.

Over the summer Olivia gets contacts, and we both get a pair of 34C’s. I try on my mother’s La Perla lingerie and smoke my sister Ellen’s cigarettes when they aren’t home. Standing in front of the mirror, I'm not sure how I feel. If I squint my eyes I don’t look like me at all, just some blonde with a red mouth and too much cleavage. I pose and blow smoke against the glass.

People tell Olivia she has beautiful hair, beautiful eyes. People don’t say these things to me. My mother tells me they’re being nice about Olivia’s nose, and they assume I already know I’m pretty. I think, Yeah, right.

Olivia calls me up and tells me to come over. “I met two guys with Cindy. Kinda cute.”

“Doesn’t Cindy want one?”

“She has to go home and, besides, she likes Sean from school.”

“Isn’t he gay?”

“I think so.”

Cindy’s mother makes her go home early which works out fine because Olivia says, “Isn’t it more fun when we’re alone?”

Cindy doesn’t seem to mind that we don’t really like her the way we like each other. She doesn’t know everything we talk about, or what we do—things like having fake phone sex with married men from online, or getting high on nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans in the supermarket.

The guy Cindy picked up for me is named Marcus. He’s not the one I want; Olivia gets that one before I show up. Jeremy is cuter, taller, with blondish hair and pale-blue eyes; he is also stupid.

Marcus isn’t bad looking. He has beautiful black hair and smooth tan skin. He smells of marijuana and breath mints. I stay close to him as we walk around Port Washington, looking at the sailboats, and smoking cigarettes.

We watch Pulp Fiction in Olivia’s den. I sit on Marcus’s lap, and I think I feel him hard underneath me, pressing against the back pocket of my jeans. I can’t think of anything else. I kiss him, and it’s official; he is my boyfriend.

We are together for a month, and he calls me every day. He takes me to see Nine Inch Nails, where I smoke my first joint and a guy tries to sell us crack. Marcus ends up with a bloody nose and no shoes after going in the mosh-pit. I stand on the edge of it, watching the rolling dark bodies smashing into one another. There is something about it I like, and I wish I were brave enough to run past the security guard and join them.

We go back to my house after, sneaking up the back stairs so my parents won’t hear. I sit on my bed and look at the concert T-shirt he bought me. He touches his hand to my chin and lifts my head up. I try to look him in the eye, but it makes me nervous, so I stare at the bridge of his nose.

He kisses me, pushes me down, and climbs on top. With my eyes closed, things seem easier. I feel the desperation in his hands, his mouth, and the hard pressure of him between my legs. He hasn’t learned yet how to move. He bruises me through his jeans, my skirt. My underwear is so wet I think I’m bleeding. He makes a small noise and I notice a stain on the front of his jeans.

He touches my forehead and says, “You’re beautiful.”

I laugh at him. It can’t be undone.

The next time he sees me, he doesn’t kiss me. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. After he leaves, I push pins through my left ear until I am decorated with three silver safety pins. I scratch an M into my forearm with one of the small pocketknives Olivia and I found in her basement. Mine has Flash Gordon on it, and she has Zorro. I spend a lot of time in my room thinking about being dead. One night I drink a half a bottle of whiskey. I call Olivia crying and say, “No one will ever like me.” I hang up and pass out on my bedroom floor.

I decide not to eat, and when I do, I throw up. I get thin, really thin, for the first time. I wear too much black eyeliner. My mother is sad when she sees me.

She says, “Don’t you want to look nice?” She thinks it’s my sister Ellen’s fault because she goes to NYU, and wears all black. My father says nothing.

Even when Marcus calls again I don’t feel better. When we are together I stare at him. When he’s putting his hand up my shirt, I’m not sure if I love him or hate him, not sure if I feel anything at all.

There is a dance coming up, my first one. Ellen takes me shopping for dresses at the juniors department at Saks. She stares at my chest as I change and then at hers. She picks up my bra.

“You’re a C? That’s so unfair. I didn’t even get boobs until I was seventeen.”

“I hate them,” I say and try to zip up another dress but the zipper gets stuck halfway up my back.

“We need to go to the regular dress department. You can’t fit in these.”

That night my mother puts my long blonde hair in rollers. I take out the safety pins and wear her pearl earrings. She takes pictures of me in the living room. My father wanders in.

“Doesn’t she look beautiful?” my mother says.

“Have you seen my keys?” He scratches at a piece of lint stuck to the couch.

“Quit that. No, I haven’t seen your keys. Tell her she looks nice.”

“You look nice.”

“Don’t just repeat me.”

“You look, um, sexy?”

“Dad!” I say, and roll my eyes.

“That’s not what a father says.” She shakes her head.

He stares blankly at her, and shrugs. He walks away, and begins yelling at Ellen for his keys.

The limo is picking us up at Olivia’s house. Cindy and Sean are already there.

When Olivia sees me she says to her mother with her voice way too sweet, “Doesn’t Ainsley look pretty?” Like I normally look like shit. I hate her for this.

We don’t go to the dance. Our real plan is to spend the night riding around New York City making out, smoking pot and too many cigarettes. Olivia spends the night with her hand inside Jeremy’s pants, Marcus and I touch over our clothes, and Cindy and her boyfriend watch a movie on the little TV.

Marcus breaks up with me a week later after Olivia and I make a little book about him on her new computer and print it out. The computer just appeared in her room one day along with seven VCRs in her walk-in closet.

I show him “The Marcus Book.” It makes fun of things he says, like “Yo, that's ill.” And “Check you later, man.” Olivia’s boyfriend Jeremy says sillier things but we don’t make a book about him.

Marcus flips through the book, says, “Fuck you!” and runs down the stairs. He walks the three miles home. Later he tells Jeremy, “I wanted to marry that girl.”

Jeremy and I don’t get along. He rides me, tries to get me upset. He calls me a bitch while we’re playing pool in Olivia’s billiard room. I take the rack and wing it at him. It knocks the potato chip out of his mouth. We all start laughing, except for Jeremy. As I’m laughing, I’m scared too.

He begins to tell people he's fucked me. This amuses me. It is not the reaction he wants.

“You’ve got an inferiority complex, Jeremy.”

He stands too close, his face is red, and he pulls his arm back to punch me. Even though Marcus and I have broken up, he steps in, and pulls Jeremy away in time. Jeremy spits at me and misses. I spit back, hitting him on the cheek.

After this I can no longer hang out with my friends. They say, “We can’t help it that Jeremy hates you.” I stay home alone every weekend until Jeremy pushes Olivia off her chair at McDonalds, and they break up.

It’s October we meet Steve and Eric at Roosevelt Field Mall. Olivia keeps “accidentally” brushing up against them. She giggles as she gives them her cell number. I bang my Abercrombie shopping bag against my knees and hope that she doesn’t ask them to drive us home.

Olivia decides on Eric even though he is the one I want. I call him for her.

Eric is pleased, and says, “Steve likes you.”

Steve isn’t as good looking. I say, “I just like him as a friend.” Steve doesn’t want to be friends, and I don’t get invited to his keg party. How was I supposed to know Steve was the captain of the Manhasset football team?

When Olivia finds this out, she moves in on him at the party. He makes her come, mouthing her over her stretch pants. Eric is forgotten.

Olivia finds two more boys. Mine is picked out for me when I get to her house. This time I do what I’m told.

Pete and Ben are from the South Shore and their fathers work construction. They are cousins, but look nothing alike even though their fathers are identical twins. Ben is tall, blonde, and cute. Pete is shorter, dark, and angry.

“So that makes you genetic half brothers then,” I say.

“I guess so.” Pete shrugs.

Olivia is already kissing Ben on the couch, so I let Pete take me up to Olivia’s bedroom. Pete seems amazed when I agree to let him make out with me. He asks me out. He calls too much. He leaves me flowers on my doorstep in the middle of the night. I can’t stand the sight of him.

I read a book once about Native American rites of passage, about boys standing in ice-cold streams, of burning stones singeing the flesh of their thighs. The first time I let Pete get to third base reminds me of that.

We are drunk. He does it fast and it hurts—scratches me as he pushes his finger in, but I don’t tell him to stop. I watch his face, how he closes his eyes and then moans into my neck, like he is the one being fucked.

Later, I undress alone in my bedroom looking at myself in the mirror, wearing my mother’s push-up bra, and rings of black makeup smudged around my eyes. I can still feel the ghost of his fingers, a small ache. It was something that had to be done.

I decide to experiment on Pete. He isn’t that smart, doesn’t write poems, so what else is there to do? I learn how to touch him, how to give a blow job, how to make him say, “Oh, fuck, yeah, just like that.”

I show him how to touch me. He spends hours making me moan. We play a game—we see if I can come before we get to the coffee house, before we are finished getting gas, before the light turns green. We do this in the front seat while he is driving, or in the back of Ben’s car with him trying not to look at us in the rearview mirror.

Pete likes to look at me naked. He tells me I am beautiful. He asks me to fuck him. I let him press against me; I rub against him until I come. I will not give him what he wants. It is mine.

I get used to Pete and months go by. I can feel that he wants to tell me he loves me.

I am afraid, and say, “I don’t want to hear it,” but he ignores me.

“I love you, Ainsley.”

The words hit me hard, make me feel like I have to carry them with me for the rest of my life. I say it back; it was the only decent thing to do.

“We should cheat on Ben and Pete. It’ll be fun,” Olivia says at the diner. It seems like a good idea; six months with just Pete has been long enough. We drink coffee and think about who to cheat with.

She invites her ex Jeremy over, the one I spit on, and tells him to bring a friend for me. I’m not happy about seeing Jeremy again, but he’s happy to hear from Olivia. Boys always are.

My parents are out at the country club for dinner so we go to my house to drink the Heineken we bought at 7-Eleven with Ellen’s I.D. Olivia and Jeremy go upstairs and leave me alone with his friend Phil in the great room. I met him once before; he’s all right.

“Hey.” He sits down next to me on the couch.

“Hey,” I say back, and tuck my hair behind my ear. I am wearing a stupid low-cut black tank top I borrowed from Ellen. It has lace trim and is from Victoria’s Secret. He keeps staring at my chest. He leans over and kisses me. It isn’t bad; he has nice lips—full, soft, not like Pete’s.

I move over and straddle his lap. He smiles up at me. I like looking down on him like that. I close my eyes and kiss him, feeling him hard underneath me. He pushes his hands up under my shirt. I keep thinking, I’m cheating on my boyfriend. Pete loves me, and I’m cheating on him.

He unhooks my bra and kisses me harder. He reaches into his back pocket. “Here,” he says and pushes a condom at me. I look at it, and laugh.

“Are you fucking retarded?” I get off him.

“Oh, c’mon, you know you want to,” he says, and yanks on my arm, pulling me to him.

“No.” I sit down on the other couch.

“You’re a fucking tease. C’mon, you want to. I can tell.”

“You just lost yourself a blow job.”

He goes upstairs and Jeremy comes down as I’m putting on my bra.

“What’s with you and Phil? He says you’re being a bitch.” His face is flushed.

“Um, he whipped out a condom.”

“He’s been saving himself for you,” Jeremy says.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well, he was all into coming over here. Be nice.” He leans over, and touches my shoulder, tracing his finger over the lace trim until he reaches my cleavage.

“OK, go back up to Olivia.”

When Phil comes back down we end up kissing again but it goes nowhere. He is stroking my hair while watching TV when Jeremy and Olivia come downstairs. The guys say goodbye and leave.

“Jeremy went down on me, totally made me come,” Olivia says.

“Good for you,” I say, picking up the empty beer bottles. “Phil tried to date rape me and then made me cuddle.”

A few days later my dad catches Ben kissing a girl in a bar down Port. I tell Olivia about it and she’s devastated. They break up. As I’m sitting in my basement with Pete, I realize I don’t really have to be with him anymore. It’s not any fun if it isn’t the four of us. I tell Pete we need to talk.

“We should see other people.” I try not to look directly at him. He doesn’t take it well. He starts to cry. I wish that I had never met him, that he didn’t love me. I wish I could be happy with him. I start to cry, too.

I can’t get him to leave; he keeps saying we can work things out until I tell him about Phil and the cheating. I knew it would be my get-out-of-jail-free card.

Olivia and I linger in the cold with our fingers clasped on our cigarettes, bouncing lightly on our toes to keep warm long after the bell. We watch the rest of the students hurry though the side door to homeroom. It feels good to be late.

“Aren’t you going in?” Sean yells to Olivia from the doorway, his long thin fingers leaning against the frame.

Olivia giggles at Sean and tugs her hair, still wet from the shower, out from underneath her jacket.

“No, were not coming in until we’re done,” we yell in tandem.

“God, you two even talk at the same time.” He closes the door.

We look at each other and smile. Sean never talks to me directly. I kick a Diet Coke can into the street and fish in my pockets for gloves.

“Here, I’ve got those stretchy gloves that can go both ways,” I say, handing a bright red glove to Olivia. We each put one on our right hands. My fingers, numb and stiff, begin to warm up against the soft wool.

We go to the smoking section as often as we can. It’s a small triangle of lawn by the St. Mary’s High School parking lot littered with gum, butts, and 7-Eleven styrofoam coffee cups. We go between classes, and during gym after whispering to our teacher, male, about “feminine problems.” He blushes and lets us go. We give cigarettes to anyone who asks. We buy them from the Pakistani guy at the gas station on Northern Boulevard. He doesn’t care we’re only sixteen.

“I’ve got detention today for cutting. Come and we can write notes and then tell our moms we had to stay late for drama club.” Olivia snuffs her cigarette out under her boot.

“All right, though it’s kind of ridiculous that the only time I have to go to detention it’s to keep you company.”

“Well, it’s not fair that your mom covered for you when the office called.” Olivia pulls at the eyelashes of her left eye and blinks to fix her contact lens.

“I suppose that justifies it, then.”

We are the last to go inside, and we look at each other and think for a moment, before entering the warmth of the hallway, of leaving and spending the day watching television at Olivia’s. We go in, though, because the walk to Olivia’s is long, and we haven’t yet stopped feeling nervous about cutting school.

Inside I say, “We were supposed to hang out last night. What the hell happened?”

“Oh, I didn’t know you really wanted to come. Besides, Cindy was driving and she’s mad at you. It would have been weird for me to invite you.”

“She doesn’t even have a license. Why is she mad at me?”

“I can’t get involved,” she says, and tries not to smile.

The night before I got dressed in my favorite ripped bell-bottoms and waited with my coat on for a half hour for Olivia and Cindy.

My mother sighed and asked, “Why do you hang out with that girl? You should call Pete, go out and do something.”

“I don’t want to,” I said.

She leaned over and hugged me. I let her.

The air in the hallway is hot, rushed, and full of laughter. I tuck a piece of my hair behind my ear, and take a deep breath.

“I hate homeroom after Mr. Carter accused us of cheating. He calls us ‘the girls.’ What’s that supposed to mean?” I say, but I have always hated homeroom.

“So we cheated. Besides, it was the worst grade we got all quarter.”

“Isn’t it ironic?”

“Don’t ya think?” Olivia laughs.

When my grandmother died I called Olivia and told her I wasn’t going to school. She said she didn’t feel like going without me so she faked being sick. Mr. Carter sent us to take makeup tests in the library.

We figured it was wrong to cheat by looking in our books, so we just took the test together.

“You both got a 76 and have exactly the same answers. Can you explain this, please?” he said, putting his hands on his hips. I normally got A’s.

“We must have studied wrong,” Olivia said.

“Excuse me, you studied wrong?”

“Yes,” we both said and looked him in the eye. He backed down.

“Talk to you in English. Write me a note,” I say as Olivia darts into her homeroom.

A cute hockey player from our bio class is blocking the door to mine.

He smiles at me and says, “I could watch that butterfly flutter all day,” pointing to the blue and purple patch on the back pocket of my jeans.

I forgot I needed to change into my skirt in the bathroom before homeroom; but now it’s too late. I look away, wishing I could say something really good back. I try to cover the two hickies on my neck with my hand as he leans closer.

I like him, but Olivia and I talk loudly about shoplifting and blow jobs during the bio labs when the teacher isn’t around, so I’m not sure what he wants.

I stand there hoping he’ll let me pass, that I won’t have to speak, that Mr. Carter won’t notice I’m wearing jeans and I’m seven minutes late.

I hang off the bed upside-down with my shirt half buttoned and eyes half closed. It's Olivia’s shirt, and it’s Olivia’s new boyfriend Jim who’s watching me from the couch.

I feel the warm weight of our new best friend Pam’s leg thrown over my middle. Olivia’s missing today. She is spending the night with a boy she met online. He drove up from Maryland. She says he’s a genius, and that he’s been saving himself for her. She calls me and says she can’t sleep with him because he says please and thank you to her parents, and asked for a glass of milk with dinner. My boyfriend’s missing, too, gone with his parents upstate for the weekend.

Pam doesn’t have a boyfriend. She’s fat but has small breasts. She doesn’t wear makeup, and talks about herself too much. She gets crushes on the popular boys at school and then tells them. She gets indignant when they make fun of her.

“It’s their loss if all they see is size,” she says. But I wonder why she likes them if not for their tight cute asses, wide shoulders, and soft pink mouths. Sometimes, I feel bad for Pam, but I don’t get crushes on the popular boys. I know my own limits. I know they want to fuck me, and I know how they want to fuck me—bent over the sink in the boys bathroom, or on my knees sucking their dicks in the stairwell. I know they don’t want to sit with me at lunch or take me to the prom. So when they say, “What’s up,” or try to tell me I look hot, or ask me if I have a cigarette, I say, “Fuck off.” I win before it begins.

Pam is eating and eating while we watch TV—eating the M&M’s that smell of the hash Jim hid in the bag before we took it out and smoked it in the backyard by the pool house while sharing a bottle of Absolut. I feel as if I am on the ceiling, under water, I feel the vodka hot in my stomach. It’s nice.

He stares at me from the couch and he looks inhuman with his chin on top, his eyes where his mouth should be. He’s ugly. He’s also my boyfriend’s best friend. They grew up together, and my boyfriend tells me how much Jim wants to be with Olivia. Olivia is indecisive about him. She is waiting for someone better.

He's looking at my breasts. They’re a size bigger than Olivia’s. He hasn’t seen hers yet. My black bra is see-through, and my shirt unbuttons entirely as I inch further over the side of the bed.

“Ainsley, you feeling it?” He has a huge smile on his thick-lipped mouth. His small eyes seem smaller as he squints from the pot.

I take his hand and touch his short fingers to my lips. I lick them, biting lightly on the tips with my teeth.

He says, “Oh, shit, ” and closes his upside-down eyes.

I smile and slide one in my mouth. Pam doesn’t notice. She’s paying attention to Independence Day even though she’s seen it before. She has moved on to the Doritos. Her body is wide in the bed; her leg is getting heavy, pressing into my hipbones. I slide out from underneath her and fall onto the floor.

He puts his fingers wet with my spit into his own mouth and fixes his dick in his pants with his other hand.

I saw Pam naked once. Her breasts looked like small triangles with pale blue veins and slight pink nipples. Her breasts belong on a tiny girl. My breasts would look better on her; the heavy roundness of them might make her look older. On me they make me look like a slut. I put my hands on my chest and think about what it must be like to have no one to touch you.

“I think I need to talk to you about Olivia,” he says and gives me his hand, helping me off the floor.

“All right. Pam, we’ll be back,” I say. She looks at me funny and shoves a chip in her mouth. I feel bad leaving her alone in the basement on the pullout couch bed.

He's behind me as I take him to my room. He is shorter than I am. His hands grab me around the waist, and push down the front of my jeans, pulling on my panties. I think of Olivia and all the times she made me cry, all the times she made up lies about me, all the times she took the guy I liked, and I turn and kiss him.

“I think Olivia really likes you.”

“Oh, good, I wasn’t sure,” he says as I push him to the bed. He takes off his glasses. I realize I hate Olivia and love Olivia as I kneel over Jim.

He unzips his pants; his dick is small and hard. It’s the smallest one I’ve seen. He has this look on his face like he can’t believe this is happening, but there’s also this look to him that makes me hate him. I know he wants me, but I know he’ll still want Olivia tomorrow. I know he still wants her now.

“Bite me,” I say and throw my head to the side. I hold my hair back and wait.

“What?” he says and sits up.

“Fucking bite me.” I grab the back of his head and bring it to my neck. I laugh as I feel his teeth on my skin.

“Again,” I say and I feel the skin break. I cry out and say “Harder, do it harder.” His lips and teeth feel good against my neck, the hot burning of the blood, the bruise I can feel blooming up underneath.

He looks at me and licks his lips. He reaches around and unhooks my bra. Kneeling between my legs, he grabs my breasts and pushes them together.

I lean down to blow him but he grabs my hair.

“I can’t get off,” he says.

“What?” I say and wipe my hair from my eyes. I’m getting angry.

“I can’t get off; I don’t know why. I can only do it by myself.”

“That’s weird,” I say and push him off me.

“Can I touch you?” he asks and takes his hand and pushes it between my thighs. I can’t feel much; I tell him to do it harder. I want him to do it until it hurts, until I feel broken.

I grab his shoulder as I come tight around his fingers, scratching my thighs with my fingernails. I am silent. He looks at me strangely and touches the bright red lines; his dick is still hard.

He asks if it’s OK if he jerks off. I put Olivia’s shirt back on and sit next to him on the bed as he does it. He grabs himself roughly, and moves it fast. He makes small noises and twists up his face. He comes quickly, his body shaking, curling up into a sitting position as the come spurts out, hitting his chest and then dribbling down the small shaft of his dick, nestling into his damp pubic hair.

“What are you guys doing?” Pam asks from the open doorway. I can tell by the way she won’t meet my eyes that she saw us, my best friend’s ugly boyfriend and me. She turns on the light and looks at the bruises on my neck, the scratches on my thighs.

“We were talking about Olivia,” I say holding the shirt closed over my breasts.

His dick is limp and tinier than I thought it could get as he fumbles for his glasses on my nightstand.

“Oh, all right then,” she says and wanders away.

Pam does not tell anyone about this.

I’m the one, while playing basketball in gym class, who says to Olivia, “I have to tell you something. Don’t be mad. I got really wasted and fooled around with Jim. He’s weird, you know. And his dick is really, really small. Like three inches.”

By the end of the day everyone knows about Jim’s dick, and Olivia and I are alone again.

Olivia passes me a joint and says, “I really want to have sex with Pete even though I know it will hurt like hell.”

We’re smoking a hollowed out Parliament cigarette full of weed; it seems less conspicuous that way as we huddle behind her Dad’s Mercedes in the driveway. She started dating my ex-boyfriend after running into him at the mall with Cindy.

Olivia already lost her virginity once before, or so she says, to Pete’s cousin Ben last year. She told me when Ben rolled on the condom and got on top of her, she thought, This isn’t so bad. Neither of them came. They did it twice more on the pullout couch in his basement.

“He must not have put it in all the way; that doesn’t count,” I said while we shared a cigarette in the school parking lot before homeroom the morning after. She shrugged and said, “How would you know? You’ve never done it.”

It wasn’t until she tried to fuck her next boyfriend on a blanket at Long Beach over the summer that she conceded my point. She cried out, “Stop it!” as he pushed in. It hurt this time, so Olivia was, after fucking Ben three times, still a virgin.

I’m not sure why she wants to sleep with Pete. He isn’t very smart or cute or even that good in bed. Not that I slept with him, but we did other things.

Pete seems to be increasingly angry each time I see him. Sometimes I imagine Pete and Olivia lying naked, talking about me, about how I dumped him, cheated on him, how I couldn’t love him. Somehow I imagine Olivia doing most of the talking.

“So, Pete must know that you didn’t really do Ben. Does he think Ben was just lying or does he say to himself, My cousin doesn’t know how to fuck?”

“Shut up, Ainsley. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But it’s an enigma. We have to get to the bottom of this,” I say and laugh. “Wait, you were sixteen and he was nineteen. That makes it fake statutory rape.”

She rolls her eyes and takes a hit. Pete doesn’t like her smoking pot; he doesn’t like a lot of things. He doesn’t like our gay friend James, or going to the coffee houses with the punk and goth kids.

She goes ahead and fucks him and I hear about it for months.

We all get wasted down by the water the night before prom. I’m standing on the beach with a bottle of Stoli in one hand and a cigarette in the other, watching the black waves roll against the buoys, the rocks, my ankles—not caring about my hundred and thirty-five dollar New Balance sneakers getting soaked and full of sand.

“Ainsley, get out of the fucking water,” Olivia shouts.

I turn around. She is sitting on a rock in a black lace bra. Pete’s kissing her neck, his fingers caught in her curls. Ben is standing with his hands in his pockets, staring at his shoes.

We had climbed over the guardrail at the end of the road after dropping off Pete’s SUV at Sean’s beach house in South Hampton. The limo is going to take us there after prom. He gave Olivia directions at school, told us to drive out the night before and leave a car there to get home the next day.

I take off my wet sneakers and throw them in the sand. The jetty cuts out into the water, the dark rocks only visible when the white froth of foam sprays up as the waves hit against them. It reminds me of that story by Chaucer, “The Franklin’s Tale,” where this woman Dorrigan makes a deal to fuck a magician if he could conjure away the rocks that might smash the boat that would bring her husband home to her.

I stub my cigarette out in the sand and climb up onto the jetty. I start jumping from rock to rock. I imagine that I am from somewhere else, some girl in a fishing village a long time ago, with salt on my face, in my hair. My toes wrap around the edges of the jagged stone and my feet feel sure, like I’ve done this all my life.

I imagine myself slipping and falling into the water—the cold rush of waves over my head as I sink. But I don’t fall, even when the rocks start to disappear under the water and become slippery with algae, swaying in dark green tangles beneath the swells.

I look back and see Ben watching me from the shore. He is supposed to be my prom date. Our friends think it’s amusing that we swap boys like that, especially since they are cousins. But it isn’t a swap. Ben didn’t ask me out. He didn’t try to kiss me earlier when we sat on the guardrail watching Pete and Olivia climb down the bluff. He didn’t tell Olivia that he liked me. At least that’s what she said when I asked.

“He might go to the prom with you, but you have to ask him yourself.”

“Can’t you find out for me? I mean he’s your boyfriend’s cousin.”

“God, Ainsley, I can’t do everything.”

I wanted to tell them both to fuck off. I don’t even like Ben. He is twenty and supposed to be in college but instead works at Starbucks. He says dumb things, and he doesn’t even know how to have sex, but I don’t know any other guys at school who don’t already have a date for prom.

My mother found me curled up on the couch the day before chewing my thumbnail until it bled.

“Just call. Don’t let her ruin your senior prom,” she said and pulled my hair into a ponytail and kissed my forehead.

“What if he says no?”

“He won’t.”

So I called Ben. “Um, you want to go to prom?”

“I thought we already were going.”

“Olivia said you wouldn’t go unless I asked.”

“Um, I didn’t care. She said you didn’t really want to go with me, though.”

“I never said that. Olivia likes to fuck things up for me.”

“I guess,” Ben said, and hung up.

I take the bottle and throw it out onto the rocks in front of me. It doesn’t break but hits a patch of seaweed and clinks down into a crevice. I walk over and watch the vodka pour out slowly into the pool of water underneath. There is still some left so I retrieve it and take a long drink. It burns in my throat, but it makes my head feel better, it makes me feel like I should just keep walking until I am swimming, until I am far away.

“Get back here. You’ll slip and kill yourself, you dumb bitch,” Olivia calls to me, and laughs. “And what would I do without my best friend?”

I close my eyes and try to breathe slowly and not yell back something awful. I lie down instead. My shorts and tank top soak up the cold water caught in the depressions in the rock. It makes me shiver even though it’s mid June. The rock feels good underneath me—hard, still, unmovable. Its stillness passes through me; I feel like I could melt into it and disappear.

I finish the bottle, letting the vodka pour out of the sides of my mouth and trickle down into my hair. I toss it into the water; it bobs back and forth, spinning in circles as it floats in toward the shore.

“Hey,” Ben says. He leans down. He looks pretty in the blue moonlight, his face pale and angular, like a statue. It’s too bad he’s stupid.

“Hey,” I say back and close my eyes.

“Come on, we should get going. It’s a two-hour drive back.”

I want him to say something else. I want him to tell me something nice. I want him to kiss me, touch me, or tell me I look pretty.

I can count all the times a boy has called me beautiful on one hand. Men in elevators, in office buildings, on the street, or boys who shout it at me from cars don’t count. The stockbrokers at my father’s firm, who think I’m my twenty-two year-old sister and not jailbait, don’t count. Men, who offer to buy me drinks at the country club when my mother tells me to go get a ginger ale at the bar and wait for her to finish playing tennis, don’t count. They ask me where I went to college, where I work, if I’m single. They give me their card and touch my knee, like I gave them permission because I didn’t say no.

I start to worry I look old, that I’ll be a hag by thirty.

“You just look mature,” my mother says when I stare at my face in the bathroom mirror searching for lines. I begin using her Chanel anti-aging cream anyway.

“ Help me up,” I say and hold out my hand. Ben grabs it and pulls. I feel dizzy as I stand up.

“You’re all wet. I think I have a towel in the trunk you can sit on.”

“Whatever.” I follow him back down the jetty to the shore. I’m cold and the wind is wet and salty, and stings my eyes.

I ride shotgun on an old towel. Olivia and Pete are in the backseat making out. I don’t know what she sees in him. I can still feel the uneasy weight of him, how he used to tell me he loved me, how he looked at me like I was everything. I hope he looks at her like that. I hope she hates it, too. I know she won’t, though. She’ll like it, does like it, and tells him she loves him for the first time the same night she fucks another one of my ex-boyfriends.

Ben hasn’t been drinking like the rest of us, but he’s tired and weaves from lane to lane. We get pulled over. I push my hair over my face and turn away as the cop flashes his light in my eyes. I’m not sure if it is illegal to be drunk at seventeen, or if it is just illegal to buy it.

“Have you been drinking?”

“No,” Ben says and sighs.

“Get out of the car, please.”

“What’s the problem?”

“ I said get out.”

Ben undoes his seatbelt and gets out slowly. The cop makes Ben take a Breathalyzer and then lets him go.

“I told you I wasn’t drinking.”

“Have some respect,” the cop says and gives him back his license. He is young and smaller than Ben.

“Stupid fucking pig,” Ben says as the cop walks away. He pretends not to hear but I see his shoulders freeze.

“Are you an idiot? Why did you say that?” I say as he gets back in the car.

“I knew he wouldn’t do shit.”

I fall asleep on the way home and wake up with my head on Ben’s shoulder. I notice I drooled on him.

“See you tomorrow,” Olivia says as I get out of the car.

I grab onto the railing and pull myself up the steps to my house. I can’t get the key to turn in the lock so I call my sister’s cell to let me in. Her light is still on up on the third floor.

“What do you want?”

“Let me in. I forgot my keys.” I shove my keychain and cell into my bag and zip it up.

She comes down and punches in the code for the alarm. I hear the door unlock but she doesn’t open it. I push it open and whisper, “Ellen?”

But the hall is empty; she’s already gone.

“This is a section from a novel in progress I’m posting at I find the intense friendships we cultivate as teenagers very fascinating, and I write about them often. The title of this story comes from Naomi Wolf’s much loved/hated book about adolescent female sexuality. When I read it at eighteen, the part that really hit me was her memoir. I think that fiction and memoir are the best ways to illustrate the ‘secret struggle for womanhood,’ because in reality, it’s too nebulous and wild to ever be properly defined.”


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