Authors: Bonnie Dee
“Whoa,” she murmured.
Drake chuckled. “Feels good, huh?”
She looked at him. “You haven’t gained a new customer if that’s what you’re trying to do.”
He held up his palms in a gesture of surrender. “I wasn’t. You’re not normally that kind of girl. I get it. But even good girls need to cut loose once in a while.”
“Why do you…?” Jen struggled to find words then gave up and shook her head.
“Why do I what?”
She took a breath and tried again. “I don’t know you at all. We only talked one other time.” She paused and as they looked at each other, she knew they were both remembering
that had happened between them that time. “But from what I can tell you’re smart. You could do okay in school if you tried. So, why do you do the stuff you do?”
She didn’t have to spell it out. They both knew his reputation.
“Why not get a job? A legal job?”
“Minimum wage? I don’t think so. I couldn’t get by on that.” Jen glanced at his clothes, the worn jeans, the torn T-shirt and thought of the beater car she’d seen him driving—because, yeah, she’d paid a little bit of attention to what Drake was up to just like he’d known who she was dating—and she wondered where all his drug money went to.
She dropped the subject. She wasn’t a guidance counselor and it wasn’t her business whether he lived up to his potential. Besides, he wouldn’t listen to her if she lectured. He already considered her the type of girl who’d probably never in her life had to live without material things she needed.
“Do you ever go see the swans anymore?” Jen was surprised to hear the words come floating out of her mouth like some cartoon bubble. She felt disconnected and her tongue, too loose.
There was a long pause before Drake answered. “I used to sometimes, but not recently. Not for a long time now.”
“I wonder if they still come back. I read that swans are very territorial. They supposedly return to the same nesting grounds, and their offspring do too. Did you know they’re really aggressive? They may look serene and peaceful, but they’re mean. They’ll peck an intruding swan to death.”
Silence fell for a moment then Drake asked, “What about you? Have you ever gone back there?”
Jen remembered all the times she’d thought of it that last summer of childhood, the time she’d ridden her bike halfway to the lake before turning around and heading home. After that day, the place had felt forbidden to her. Or maybe she’d been afraid of running into Drake again and what might happen. She hadn’t seen him again until they were both back in school and then they’d passed each other in the hall as if they were strangers. Which they were.
By the time a couple of years had passed and Jen had learned to drive, she’d stopped thinking of ever hiking back to the swan place, although she and her friends did go to the lake sometimes. Her feeling that something special had happened between her and Drake that day had dimmed. Growing up had given her perspective. She understood that since it had been her first kiss, of course she’d been moved by it.
But then she’d fallen into a crush on Bryan Hicks and become obsessed with Scott Parker and dated John Mann and most recently Asshole Tom. She’d experienced all sorts of kisses. She’d made out with John and gone a little farther with Tom. “Heavy petting” they used to call it in her mother’s day. She’d touched him and been touched until her body exploded. The memory of her first kiss had been buried beneath other experiences.
Until tonight. Suddenly it shone in her mind like a beacon, like those lights shining on the river.
She looked at Drake again, thinking their gazes would meet and she’d see that he was remembering too. But he was staring at the water, not at her. He’d ground out the stub of the last joint beneath his heel and now he reached into his pocket and pulled out another. He lit it, took a drag and handed it to her.
I’ve probably had enough
. Jen accepted it and inhaled the smoke with ease this time, only coughing once as she exhaled. “There’s nothing laced in this is there?” He grinned. “Nothing nature didn’t grow. Don’t worry.” Jen closed her eyes and felt the cosmos spinning around her. She opened them again and it was happening—not the nauseated tipsiness of being drunk but a slow and stately turning of the stars. She’d heard that pot could leave you anxious and paranoid but she felt euphoric wellbeing. She experienced a sense of her own small part in the universe. Every thought that flitted through her mind seemed weighty and important and at the same time she wanted to giggle at the silliness of life. If this was being high, she should do it more often. It certainly put Tom Bradford and his cheating ways into perspective.
Drake stood and held out his hand. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
“No. Something else.” Drake grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet. He continued to hold her hand as they walked along the boardwalk.
With her free hand, Jen rubbed her opposite arm, bumpy with gooseflesh in the night breeze. Drake let go of her hand and took off his over shirt.
“Thanks.” She accepted the flannel from him and slipped her arms in the too-long sleeves. Warm cotton settled on her cold shoulders like a blanket. The shirt smelled pungently of weed and its owner—not stinky just a natural boy smell. Pheromones, she supposed.
Drake was left wearing only his gray T-shirt with the band name on the front.
“Who’s Dark Vapor?”
He glanced down at his chest. “Supposed to be a play on Dark Vader. Stupid name. Good band though. Kind of a cross between punk and jazz fusion. They’re hard to explain. You just have to hear them.”
Suddenly Jen was picturing going to a dark, cave-like club with Drake, wading into a mosh pit and jumping around while the lead singer screamed in an unintelligible howl. She glanced at the ropy muscles of Drake’s arms. “Sure you won’t be cold?”
“Naw. I’m good. I don’t need it. You got that strapless dress on. You must be freezing.”
“I left my wrap at the dance and I’m not about to go back for it.”
“Why not? You don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. Your date was the asshole, not you.”
“I don’t care. I still don’t want to go back there.” Drake dropped the subject, but after a few moments of quiet walking he said,
“He’s an idiot.”
The heat behind the words made her feel as warm and good as the shirt. It was a compliment, his indirect way of saying Jen was worthwhile and Tom was stupid for not seeing it.
“Thank you.” She felt light and floaty, a balloon bobbing along beside Drake. The pot was making her relaxed and giddy…and hungry. She hadn’t eaten much at the restaurant tonight, too excited about it being prom night and possibly the night she’d lose her virginity to Tom.
“Asshole,” she muttered under her breath. Thank god she hadn’t wasted her first time on a jerk like that.
“Don’t think about him. Come on.” Drake seized her hand and pulled her offthe river walk and down the steps of the embankment leading to the water’s edge.
A flash of déjà vu shot through Jen as they approached the water lapping the shore. This was a different body of water—not a thin stream but a surging river—and yet she was reminded of Drake holding her hand just like this, leading her to an unknown destination. The connection between them and water seemed deeply profound, but she supposed it was just the effects of the marijuana.
Drake stopped and Jen stumbled as she came to a stop too. He caught her, slipped an arm around her waist and pointed at the river. “See those lights?”
“Yeah.” The white light shimmering across the water was no different than what they could see from the boardwalk, just a different angle down here.
“Keep watching and you might see them.”
She quieted, settling into the crook of his arm and leaning against him. It was darker down here than up on the walk, and she had the sense of being in a private place where usual rules didn’t apply. No one would see them here. No one would know if… If what? If she relaxed against Drake and let his warmth seep into her? If she cuddled a little with a guy so outside her social circle he might as well live on another planet?
Jen breathed in and out—slowly, and felt Drake doing the same beside her, his ribs expanding with each breath, his body pressing lightly against hers. She felt like she was glowing from the heat stealing through her. She turned her head and looked up at his moonlit profile, wondering when he’d make a move and kiss her. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Dark night, boy and girl together in a secluded spot, hormones coursing through them like the river.
He smiled and nodded toward the water. “There. Did you see it?” Jen turned her attention back to the water. In the broad beam of light cast by the moon, ripples spread over the water in concentric rings as if something had dove beneath the surface. “What?”
“Wait and keep looking.”
A dark shape leaped from the water, turned to silver as the light struck its scales, then disappeared again, leaving rings behind. Another flipped. Then another, but this one seemed to hover, its tail chopping the water and keeping it upright for a few seconds before it slipped back into the river.
Jen clapped her hands and laughed. “Fish dancing. That’s amazing.” As if on cue, a pair of the fishes leaped up and did their dance.
“What kind are they?” she asked.
“I don’t know. But pretty cool, huh?”
Jen turned into Drake, slipped her arms around him and gave an impulsive hug.
“Yes. Thanks for showing them to me.”
He let her cling to him and he held her in a loose embrace, arms clasped around her but not tightly. She pressed her cheek against the soft, worn fabric of his T-shirt and listened to the beating of his heart. She didn’t look for more dancing fish, but closed her eyes and just
the moment. It had to be the pot, but she had the strongest sensation of something vital happening—not just because he was holding her but because life was so short and precious and surprising.
something, doesn’t it?”
“What?” The vibration of his voice tickled her ear and she smiled.
“We’re so busy living we forget to look and listen to the world. But it all counts.
Every little moment. It’s all connected and…and important, every detail. It
“Or it means nothing. It’s just random stuff. Shit happens, as they say, and we exist because we do. No reason for it.”
She dragged herself away from him and looked up into his face. “You don’t really believe that do you? As much as you like nature you must see there are
, an organization to life that has to mean something.”
He shrugged. “Whatever helps you get through your day. I choose to believe in randomness.”
“No. Life’s like a big complicated jigsaw puzzle we haven’t finished yet so that’s why we can’t see the picture.” She paused as another brilliant thought floated by and she snagged it from her stream of consciousness. “Like one of those puzzles printed on both sides so it makes it even harder to put together.”
“Okay. If you say so.” He paused then added, “You are so high.” He was being disagreeably smug and she wanted to smack him. She wasn’t
high. She knew what she was saying made sense even if it sounded like rambling.
“Hey, are you hungry?”
Jen took a breath that tasted like river water then exhaled. “Yes, I’m starving. I want… You know what I really want is gummies. The sour strings coated in sugar.” Saliva burst on her tongue at the thought of the chewy sweet and sour candy.
“And I need cheese puffs. Let’s go.” Drake took her arm and hustled her back up the stairs.
They’d climbed all the way to the top step when Jen tripped on the hem of her dress. Stupid pink prom dress and moronic high heels—she hated them both. Drake gripped her arm harder and stopped her from tumbling backward. He pulled her onto the boardwalk and wrapped one arm securely around her back again.
“We’ll go to Big Ben’s. It’s the nearest convenience store.” Jen let herself be guided along, content not to have any plans in mind other than finding food and eating it.
“You know, I think too much,” she said. “I’m always doing schoolwork or figuring out how to balance my schedule and lately, trying to figure out how to have a relationship. Why does the girl always work at it while the guy is just
and stupid and doesn’t give a crap about what she’s thinking and feeling or whether he’s making her wait for him?”
“So, why do you wait? Don’t.”
“But it’s common courtesy for one person to call another and say he or she will be late or can’t make it after all. It shouldn’t matter what gender they are,” she protested.
He sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you and I really don’t want to hear about your boyfriend troubles. You caught your guy fucking some girl. If you can’t live with it, then dump him. But if you still want him, stop complaining and deal.”
“’Deal’? What does that even mean?” she grasped a handful of her skirt and hitched it up higher so she wouldn’t trip again.