(Unfinished, please comment) A group of New England teenagers figure their shit out
|He dropped the knife in the sink and ran some water over it. He shut off the tap with some peanut butter still stuck to the bottom of the sink, and picked his sandwich off the counter. He pushed some crumbs off the counter and into his palm and let them go over the sink, running the tap again, and missing every crumb. He ate with one hand and used the other to tap against the counter to the song stuck in his head. He thought about singing a line, and choked. He didn’t really do that anymore. Besides, his mother was probably home. He swallowed his huge bite of sandwich.
His mother walked down with the newspaper in her hand and her glasses on, her hair tied back in a sleepy knot. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Nothing, I was just wondering if you were home.”
“You want to borrow the paper? There’s an interesting one in here, about that football player you like.”
“I’ll just leave it here then.”
She scanned the last line of an article about a stabbing a few towns over, folded the paper a couple times, and dropped in on the counter.
“You can leave it wherever you want but I’m not taking it.”
She let out a breath and looked around the kitchen.
“Clean up, okay?”
“Yeah I’ve got it.”
“You know Emma is coming back tomorrow. It’ll be nice, you haven’t seen her in a while. It’ll be nice catching up with her mom, she was a good friend of mine.”
She leaned against the doorframe, her pink tshirt falling in on her. He swallowed another bite of sandwich and started brushing the rest of the breadcrumbs off the counter and onto the tile floor.
“We should invite them over.”
He grimaced. “Do we have to?”
“Yes. They’re my friends.”
“Yes, I have friends, do you? It’s been months since Becca you know, I mean-“
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I mean I know you two were close but Emma is cute, I mean-“
“Jeez mom, stop. “
“They’re my friends. We’re having them over, you can stay in your room and be horrible if you want.”
With effort, she stepped back up the stairs and he heard the door to her bedroom close.
Emma lowered her wine glass of apple cider, eyes opening to him across the table like she was in a mascara advertisement. She wore a striped sweater with long sleeves and a high neck, and she didn’t really have tits but she kept licking cider off her pouty lips and so David was both okay that his mom invited her and irritated that she did. She had high cheekbones but were softened by the candle light, and her long brown hair fell in frizzed lines and disappeared behind her shoulders. He couldn’t help wondering if it might catch fire the way she tossled it between sips. He didn’t know why his mother insisted on candles. It was still day outside and hot as hell, but the lights were turned off, creating an orange blob in the middle of the blue room. Emma’s mother sat next to her and diagonal to David, in a bright purple blazer, buttering a piece of bread, speaking to his mother across the table.
“You look pale, Janice!”
His mother looked down and smiled. “Well, of course, compared to you. You’re all tan from Florida. Connecticut heat must feel like a nice break.”
She let out a little grunt as she readjusted in her seat. “Nah, not really. But oh yes, tan came without even trying. Jim’s a lobster but that’s his Irish skin. Em here, she just stayed all day inside reading, she’s still pale as a ghost. I have to beg her to come out.”
She then told a story he wasn’t listening to. Emma tipped her head towards her mother with a small, dimple-less smile and as she giggled she looked across to David. He lifted his dark eyebrows and gave a rough, accidental cough of a laugh, but had no interest whatsoever in whatever was said. He cursed himself for trying. He just watched her eyes and as she smiled across at him, the misty look in them disappeared as if she had also been far, far elsewhere, but he was there with her too.
He heard the tap running and waited. He dragged his hands from behind his head to redo his zipper, his button, his belt buckle, then to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Emma reappeared in the doorway and smiled without looking at him, scanning the floor for her jeans, still with nothing on but her tight, striped sweater. He ran a hand through his dark curls, trying not to think about what an absolute wreck he must look like, sort of glad she wasn’t looking at him, as he stared at her slim legs. She’d gotten up quickly after he finished, and he felt a pang of guilt. He watched the controlled way she held herself and his eyes flashed with a sudden ache to wreck her control entirely, until she was a puddle on his lap, soft and warm. He let himself picture it. Fuck, he finished too fast. She found her jeans and panties, and he managed to reach out a tired arm. She looked at it, confused. He pulled her a bit too roughly against him, and she sat awkwardly on his lap. After a moment, she giggled.
“You don’t have to,” she laughed almost patronizingly, smoothing a patch of stubble on his chin.
“Nah, I want to,” he choked out, the room still a bit fuzzy. He played with her free hand.
She got up. “I’m going to leave a wet spot on your trousers.”
With that, she wiped her hand on the bedspread, slid her panties on, and her jeans next. She bent over to pick up her bundled little grey socks and he rubbed his eyes and watched her go down the stairs, pissed he hadn’t taken off her sweater, and wondering how she could stand it in this summer heat.
Winters were always annoying. But he was really always annoyed. Maybe it wasn’t the winter as much as the cold. Maybe it wasn’t the cold either. He zipped up the collar of his jacket to cover his neck. He thought about how he needed a shave.
The cold air hit his brain and he left his head for a moment, looking down the road away from home. The bare trees had frozen into their own twisted architecture. It had snowed last night, and a few inches dusted the middle of the road. There were no footprints, just breaks were leaves poked up, left over from the fall. A little stream of melted snow washed down in the other direction. The wind came through and blew little bits of ice from the trees, creating the sound of whispers from every corner of the street. It was the kind of scenery too good to be appreciated by a tourist.
He thought about Emma, and how New England was her. Connecticut was the kind of place everyone wanted to get out of, or had come to after seeing it all and giving up. That was the only way he could explain how she could be so achingly dissatisfied and still have decided she’d seen enough.
It didn’t have a lot of visitors. But it didn’t need any. The less humans touched of it, the better. The less humans ruined of it, the better.
Maybe he would have thought better of it, thought better of her, if he wasn’t so dissatisfied too.
He made his way down the road, the snow just barely crunching under him. He felt the tips of his fingers go white and cold, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. It was all her. It was her decaying autumn, her snow, her quiet spring and she was the summer they met, though less often now. Climate change. Or some shit.
If any other girl was a tropical vacation, Emma was coming home. He wondered if he ever loved her. He still didn’t know.
“Did you two catch up?” Emma’s mother’s chin jiggled while she talked. Emma smiled sweetly.
David zipped a hoodie over his t-shirt and stood behind her, hiding a stain and nonchalantly checking his fly. Her mother looked around and started fanning herself.
“Damn, it’s hot. Almost don’t want to put my jacket back on. But, sweetheart,” she touched her daughter’s cheek, “We should head out.”
David’s mom stepped away from her lean on the counter where he hadn’t noticed her.
“I’m sorry for the heat,” his mother rubbed her arms as if with cold, “it must be the candles.”
David stayed close behind Emma, and looked down to see her bright pink panties sticking out of the top of her jeans. With a smirk, he reached gently down, fingertips brushing the skin poking out below her sweater, slid his index fingers around her back belt loops, and pulled up. Emma didn’t even flinch. No one noticed.
“Oh you can shut up,” Emma’s mother smiled good naturedly, “they’re beautiful. It’s this summer that’s ridiculous.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
David’s mother smiled wide, and nodded. David watched the back of Emma’s neck over her sweater and felt an urge to do the same. But he didn’t.
Emma never really cuddled. The closest she came was when she’d lay on her stomach, holding David’s pillow against her cheek, letting him run his fingers up and down her spine. She’d talk for ages and David would go in and out of listening to her and the hum of the ceiling fan. The air would sit like soup and Emma would wear her sweaters and long hair, and David would sweat. She’d been in his room before, on his bed before, when they were kids on play dates. But the day she came back to visit from Florida, was the first time they had sat like this.
She made herself comfortable quickly, squeezing herself against his pillow. He noticed a couple soda or food stains. She didn’t. He followed cautiously to the bed, thinking how strange it was. The bed was his yet she seemed much more comfortable in it. So he sat down next to her. She looked up.
“How’ve you been?”
“Fine,” he shrugged.
“That’s fair. Not horrible, I guess.”
“Yeah, not bad.”
“You look uncomfortable,” she said matter-of-factly. There was no glint in her eyes, no raised eyebrow. Somehow that made him more comfortable. She lifted her feet up to let him slide back and lean his back against the wall. She lay her legs back down across his.
The room had only gotten hotter in the next few minutes. But they cared a bit less. She pressed her face into the pillow and laughed. He was laughing too.
“People do stupid things,” she said.
“Yeah it was pretty fucking stupid,” he laughed.
“See if everyone was clear and honest with each other, shit like that wouldn’t happen.”
“I’d agree. Like if you don’t know something, say you don’t know. You don’t need to be a smartass.”
“Or if someone’s an asshole you’re allowed to say fuck off.” She flipped her hair and lay her head back down.
“If you’ve never done something, don’t make it up for the story.”
“If some looks sick as shit, don’t tell them they’re getting better.”
“Do people tell you that?”
Maybe it was too far, but he reached his hand out and put it on her back. She didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t say anything. He trailed a finger up between her shoulder blades and back down. She sighed. He traced his hand on the skin peeking out under her sweater, over the little dimples. He wrote out the word sorry. She wiggled her hips and he laughed. But when she looked up at him, she looked sad.
“Do I look sick as shit?”
Maybe it was overthinking, but he didn’t think she was sad because she was sick. She was sad because of the touching. So, he stopped. But she just smiled, in her own sort of dead way.
So he kept going. He stumbled to speak.
“Or if you like someone, you should tell them,” he said.
He regretted saying that one pretty quick. He was just trying to keep up, to change the subject, to avoid silence. He didn’t aim to sound like an ass. He also didn’t mean to lead her on. He hoped she didn’t notice. She spoke instead.
“Or like, if you think someone is attractive, you should fuck them.”
So maybe she didn’t notice. Or she didn’t care. Or didn’t want to notice.
But then they fucked, and when they kissed, her mouth tasted salty and cold.
The spring was a cold one. He thought winter was arguably more beautiful. Everything was still dead and everything was still cold. Spring just mean pretending it wasn’t.
He had dropped Rebecca off back at the hospital and drove home. He took his third beer out of the back seat and shut the door. He walked along the sidewalk, in the direction of Emma’s house. He never walked that way anymore. His sneakers slapped the pavement, causing the birds in the lining trees to fly off. They made a black wave that crashed over her house and went onward. He stared up at the large, white house, the red door, and the flowerboxes in the windows. He took a long sip. He threw the bottle at it, watched it smash, and walked home.
No one was home and they were lying on the couch. David sat up with Emma’s legs across his. She was lying on her stomach hugging a throw pillow and his hands were on her back. She shuddered against the fall air.
“I just feel like I don’t fit. Everyone looks so happy all the time. And it confuses me. I don’t know how they have the energy. Conversations exhaust me. I just can’t help thinking everyone else must be stupid, but that can’t be it, can it? I mean, you’re not stupid.”
He looked down at her and couldn’t help the affection in his voice. So he tried to speak quietly.
“I hate everyone.”
“That does sound exhausting. But probably irrational.”
“I hate them for being happy and stupid. Fuck, I’m such a bitch.”
“You’re never happy?”
“I don’t know.”
She shuddered again and he moved his hands to her arms, trying to calm her, trying to hold all the pain she didn’t know what to do with. He fixed his eyes on her boots, sitting on the floor, dead leaves tangled in their laces. He followed damp footsteps to the door, where the day was grey and quiet. Days like these filled the New England year, in all the little empty spaces. There was no sun and no rain to reach in and touch them.
“Sometimes I wish the universe would just squeeze me out of it, so I don’t have to work so hard. So I don’t have to feel like I’m suffocating anymore. That’s what it feels like, like I can’t breathe. Like the air isn’t meant for me, like I’m just here by some horrible mistake.”
As she spoke the clouds kept their movements above them, the day keeping its distance. They were alone. There was no one else to help her, nothing to inspire her. And so he searched for the words that would fill all the little empty spaces inside her that tortured her. But he knew he was an idiot and there were none. He’d been thrown into caring about this girl and he was unprepared.
“You weren’t a mistake. Think about it. Your parents love you. Your friends love you. I’m your friend. I don’t like seeing you this way.”
“I don’t like seeing myself this way either. I don’t recognize myself.”
She reached for his hand and he fought surprise. She sighed.
“It’s all so hopeless.”
“Davie, I want to die.”
He squeezed her hand. She never cried. It was something he liked about her. Her control was unmatchable. She lay with her eyes straight ahead, jaw held tight.
But he hated himself for liking it. It scared him too.
He left his winter boots outside the door of his room, in a small puddle. He heard his mom inside and his stomach tightened.
She was in her pink t-shirt and pajama bottoms. She was moving around shirts in his top drawer. She didn’t look up.
“I had some laundry for you.”
“I can put it away myself.”
He stood awkwardly in the doorway. He heard her stop and sigh. She lifted a girl’s size small t-shirt from his drawer. It was plain, a light pink V-neck. His stomach tightened some more and he waited for her to say something.
“Just leave it there.”
“Just leave it.”
She kept it in her hand and he tried not to look at it. His legs suddenly felt tired from his walk, and he swayed in the doorway slightly, tightening his grip on the frame. He looked at the rug but it wouldn’t stay still. His mother dropped the shirt and left, leaving the drawer open, the rest of his laundry in a perfect pile on the floor. He swallowed and stepped into the room. He picked up the shirt and let it unroll. He checked it over, folded it, and put it back. His room felt too hot. He opened the window to the New England weather and felt guilty. Then he felt stupid. He looked around his room. Emma hadn’t left a thing.
He felt guilty again. Then, he found just a simple, sort of quiet sadness. And it calmed his heart.
Maybe sadness is like a balloon inside your stomach, both taking up space and creating emptiness. And it gets bigger and fills all your cavities and makes little spaces, until the chattering in your brain stops and the tingling in your tips of your fingers is forced out. Then you’re just a bunch of organs strung together and wrapped in skin, all working towards a lost cause. The organs always want to live the most.
Was this growing up? Or was there something wrong?
“Have you ever had a girlfriend before?”
Emma propped herself up on her elbow in the grass, and looked at him over vintage sunglasses. David turned his head and smiled. Her hair looked gold in the summer sun and he fought an urge to have his mouth on it, on the tip of her nose, on her paper collarbones, watching her pale skin turn pink.
“Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
She faked surprise and opened her mouth wide.
“Me? You don’t think I’ve ever had a boyfriend?”
He laughed and she shrugged.
“I’ve had a few. Now you.”
“Well that’s embarrassing if you’ve had a few, and I’ve only had one.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So just one?”
She giggled and pressed on.
“So, what was her name?”
He checked her out to see if this was a trap. She just smiled back at him. He figured it was safe, but it still felt weird.
“That’s the first thing you have to say?”
“It’s a Jewish name.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, she was.”
“Tell me more.”
“I don’t know.”
She jabbed his ribs playfully, but it still sort of hurt. He shifted and didn’t show it. He smiled instead, feeling relaxed.
She looked at him with a strange excitement as he continued.
She didn’t look so happy anymore.
“So she was perfect?”
“Well no, of course not,” he stumbled.
She wrinkled her nose.
“She doesn’t really sound Jewish.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know, blonde and tan.”
She lay back and stared up into the sun. He didn’t say anything.
“She’s sporty, she’s blonde, she’s tan. She parties probably-“
“But she didn’t drink.”
“But she partied?”
“Is there any other reason to party?”
“Yeah, seeing friends and all.”
“That sounds shit.”
“She was great. But she was different. We didn’t really work out,”
She didn’t say anything, so he lied,
“It was a mutual breakup. She had some troubles, was all. We all do.”
Emma huffed, but gave up.
“No shit, we do.”
“It’s getting cold.”
“August, and it’s getting cold. Fuck.”
Emma stepped out of the shower. The steam still surrounded them and he pushed back the curtain to look at her. She grabbed them both a folded towel from the bathroom windowsill, and she handed one to him and he stepped out. He wrapped one hand in her soaking hair and pulled her closer to kiss her forehead. She smiled and they started drying off.
“So you’ve had other boyfriends?”
“Yeah. Is that a problem?”
“No. But you owe me, tell me about the last one.”
She raised and eyebrow and he braced himself.
He rubbed the towel in his curls to dry them and listened.
“Well, the last one was Andrew, he was English. He used to live in Manchester. He was one of those classic rich guys, real naïve. We used to go to junk food shops and buy half the store. I swear he would have made me fat.”
“And he didn’t really get that everyone wasn’t rich, so he was always trying to get me to buy lingerie and stuff. And so I would, I’d save all the change my mom would give me to go to the mall and buy these lacy underwear sets. But the problem was, whenever we hooked up he’d take his dick out so fast, he never got around to taking my clothes off. The amount of ungrateful hand jobs I gave was bizarre. At least I’ve got a bit of a collection of pretty lingerie now.”
He smiled at her and gave her forehead another kiss, feeling full of pride. Since their first time together he’d repaid her, gladly. He made a habit of it. As his mind wandered back to thoughts of their shower, she snapped him out of it.
“You know… if anyone wanted to see any of it?”
She stared up at him with her eyes wide and her cute little smile on her lips. He looked down and wasn’t sure how long he’d need to recover, but hell, more for her.
“Hell fucking yes, I want to.”
***unfinished, please comment!