Beneath Paper Cranes (a coming of age short story) (3 page)

BOOK: Beneath Paper Cranes (a coming of age short story)

"Who made them?" I ask.

"I don't know. They were here when I found the place."

"There must be hundreds of them, thousands even."

“I bet there are a thousand,” he says. “It's some kind of legend. If you make a thousand paper cranes then your wish will come true.”


“Yeah,” he squeezes my hand tightly.

I wonder if I have enough time to make a thousand paper cranes.
Probably not.
We left my last doctor’s appointment knowing I was living on borrowed time. Every day since then has been a gift. One I've tried not to throw away but brain tumors are notoriously unpredictable. Bob could decide to end my life right here and now or I could have months, trapped in a deteriorating body.

“What would you wish for?” he asks.

I know I should say that life is my wish. That Bob would disappear as though he was never here in the first place. But all I can think about is the one thing I've wanted ever since I found out I was going to die. I don't want to die a virgin and here and now, lying beneath paper cranes with Ethan, all I want is for him to make love to me.

“It's okay,” he says. “You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.”

I lean on one elbow, my body gently touching his. If I tell him, will he think I'm stupid? Run away? Or even worse, laugh at me?

“What would you wish for?” I ask.

He looks serious, like he's not sure if he should tell me or not. Then he leans in close and kisses me.
His lips soft against mine, our breath mingling as we taste each other for the first time.

“I'd wish for you,” he whispers as he pulls away.

I know I should say that I wished for him too but the truth is I just want sex. I don't have time to fall in love and what good would it do anyway?
To love someone and then leave them.
I've seen what it's done to my Mom and I couldn't do that to someone else. I don't want Ethan to love
I just want him to want me.

“Kiss me again,” I say softly.

He does, leaning over me with the fluttering cranes above us. I close my eyes and push my hands up under his shirt, feeling the scars and muscles I know so well. His hands do the same, exploring my flesh. I tug his shirt off, pulling his hands back to me as I struggle with my sweater. He fumbles with my bra. It's sweet and awkward but I'm not naive enough to believe this is his first time.

“You're sure this won't kill you?” he pulls away, looking wary.

“Of course not,” I say.

But what do I know? I could drop dead at any moment. Wandering into the dark woods or climbing up that stupid rope ladder could have easily done me in. Though I can see how it would give him pause, would probably ruin his sex drive for life if I croaked beneath him.

“You're sure?”

He doesn't look convinced. Is probably weighing up the pros and cons of having sex with the brain tumor girl and wondering why he never thought of the consequences before. Consequences
that are
so much worse than the threat of pregnancy and a venereal disease.

“Should I put my clothes back on?” I say, shivering in the cool night air.

“No,” he pulls me close and wraps his arms around me. “Not unless you want to.”

“I don't,” I say, kissing him harder.

We fumble with our jeans. Despite the magical tree house and the soft throw cushions, the whole experience is turning out to be so much less than I thought it would. I'm not sure what I expected but somehow it wasn't this.

He is kneeling in front of me, rolling a condom onto his penis. It's not romantic at all. I lean back and obligingly spread my legs, mesmerized by the cranes above. As he leans over me and then pushes inside, I bite my bottom lip to take my mind off the pain. I'm tight and I have no idea if he's big or not, since I have no frame of reference. But he makes his way in until he fills me. The cranes twist and twirl from their tethers as Ethan pauses.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Fine,” I say quietly.

So he starts.
Rocking into me over and over again.
First slow.
Then faster.
The cranes spiral and then start to take flight.
Colored wings flapping as they break away from their tethers and fly free.
Inside me the pain gives way to a tingling that spreads across my skin like fire but before anything more can happen, Ethan gives a final thrust and comes inside me.

“I'm sorry,” he whispers, his head buried in my neck.

“For what?”
I say.

“You didn't, you know, did you?”

I want to push him off, to get him out of me but somehow that seems rude. I got what I wanted. Now I won't die a virgin. What more did I expect?
An explosive orgasm?
Real life isn't like that. Finally he pulls out, his penis limp and lifeless.

“Do you want to try again in a little while?” he asks, looking hopeful.

“No thanks.”

I pull my clothes on sadly. This was a mistake.
A huge, giant mistake.
I should have wished for love or life. The cranes could have given me anything. Just because I didn't make them, doesn't mean the magic isn't still there. I look up at them, begging silently for a second chance.

Ethan is dressed and hovering in the doorway like a rabbit that's about to bolt.

“We should probably get going then,” he says.

I lean back on the cushions, looking up at the ceiling.

“I think I'm going to stay.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I feel like it.”

“You're okay though, right? I didn't hurt you did I?”

It still burns where he pushed himself inside me but I don't tell him that.

“No,” I say. “I'm fine.”

“I'll stay,” he says again.

“No, really.

And he does. I think maybe the real consequences of sleeping with the dying girl have suddenly caught up with him. The fact that the moment should have been special and despite everything, somehow wasn't. How this will be the last intimate moment I have and when everyone at school is obliged to go to my funeral, he'll stand there knowing he was once inside me. It doesn't matter that I didn't die beneath him because a part of me is dead already and that's the part he made love to. The detached part
calls her brain tumor Bob and doesn't care that she's going to die.

I lean over the edge and watch him climb down the rope ladder, disappearing into darkness and leaves. When the rope finally goes slack, I know he's reached the bottom. I wait a while and then pull the ladder up, hand over hand until it's a pile in front of me.

Thirsty, I rifle through the cooler and find sodas, chips and cookies. I could stay up here for as long as I want. I could stay up here forever. Eventually maybe even die up here under the birds. I lay back and sip my coke, smile as the real me takes over from the dead one. I open my mouth and scream as loud as I can, voice echoing through the cavernous tree, sending birds squawking out of their nests. I'll lie here in this magical cocoon and I'll ask the paper birds to save me, and if they don't? Then I'll join them.
A paper skeleton rustling in the breeze, her magic hidden from the world for all eternity.
And as I lay still, the birds come to life once more, fluttering around the tiny room and landing on my body. They tickle my skin, cock their paper heads and stare at me quizzically. They know as well as I do that it will soon be time and right now, there's no place I'd rather be.




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