Authors: Julie Anne Peters
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Adolescence, #Dating & Sex, #Homosexuality
Thank God I had a swim meet and wouldn’t have to suffer through dinner with the AntiChrist and the Cleavers. As I was jamming a clean Speedo into my duffel, my phone rang. “What time do you think you’ll be here?” Seth asked.
He didn’t speak for a long moment. “The apartment? This is Friday night.”
It’d totally slipped my mind. “Seth, I have a swim meet.”
“I know,” he said. “When will you be back?”
I exhaled an irritated breath. “Just a sec.” I retrieved my schedule that was push-pinned to the partition. “It’s at Eagle Ridge, so probably ten, ten-thirty.”
“Okay. What did you tell your mom about tonight?”
My mom? Crap. “Nothing yet.”
“Holland,” Seth’s voice rose, “she’ll have the National Guard out looking for you when you don’t come home.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I snapped. “I’ll take care of it.”
Seth’s voice softened. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about today, too. Coop’s an idiot sometimes. I know you’re upset about everything that’s happened this week. So am I. We can discuss it tonight.”
Discuss it. How “Seth.” How would “discussing” it change anything? The world was full of hate.
“I love you,” he said. And waited.
I wondered how long he’d wait. Forever, probably. The static in my head intensified. Finally, I couldn’t bear the noise. “I love you, too.”
Upstairs, I found Mom sitting at the credenza in the dining room, paying bills, her mini radio tuned to a talk show. With my hand on the doorknob, I called to her, “I’m going to my meet. See you tomorrow.”
She craned her neck around the wall to peer at me. “Tomorrow?”
I opened the door. “I’m staying at Leah’s tonight, remember? I’m sure I told you.”
“I’m sure you didn’t.”
Damn. “It’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Leah’s huh?” Mom licked an envelope and sealed it shut. “I don’t expect you’ll be there when I call later, will you?”
I blanched. “No.”
“You are taking your pills, aren’t you?”
I turned my burning face away.
What business was it –
“Look, I’m not coming down on you. I understand about being young, being in love. I was there once, remember? I just want you to be careful. Don’t do anything stupid that might jeopardize your future.”
Like having a child you never wanted? I translated to myself. “I’m careful,” I muttered.
Mom said, “Good luck at your meet.”
I mumbled thank and slithered out of there.
All the way to Eagle Ridge I listened to the Dixie Chicks. Over and over. I’d memorized the lyrics already. Memorized her, too. Her face, her mannerisms, her smile. God, I loved her smile. I closed my eyes and let the music lift me up, sweep me away. Take me to another place, another time.
As we filed into the pool area to start the meet, my eyes combed the audience. Hoping, hoping… There. A baseball cap. Was that her against the bricks, staring at me? She was too far away to identify positively without my contacts, which I’d forgotten in my haste to get out of the house.
Coach Chiang gathered us together for a pep talk. Go Starfish.
I looked up again, but she was gone. If that was her, she never returned.
Seth met me at the apartment door, a quart of Bud in his hand and a dishtowel over his arm. “Entréz, mademoiselle.” He gestured me inside. In the living room, he’d built a fire in the fireplace, piled all the dirty clothes and trash into a heap, and cleared off the coffee table. Two placemats were set out with silverware and napkins. “Wow,” was all I could say. Seth usually scored a low one-digit on the romance scale. “Is this for me?”
“No, it’s for Kirsten. She’s coming by later.”
I smacked his chest.
“May I take your coat, Mademoiselle?” He extended an arm.
I loaded him down with my duffel and coat and backpack, which he dumped on the heap. “Dinner’s in the oven,” he informed me, handing me the bottle of beer. “Do the honors?”
“Of unscrewing the cap?”
He bowed again. “S’il vous plait.”
“I shall return,” he said, pivoting and scuttling off toward the kitchen like a sand crab.
What a goon. I swigged on the Bud as I trundled into the living room. Seth’s brother and his roommates were slobs. I removed a crumpled Twinkies wrapper from the touch and sat. Guzzled the beer. A moment later Seth reappeared with two plates of Chinese food. It smelled fantastic. I was famished. He pulled out two wine glasses from his back pockets and set them on the coffee table. Oops. Guess he had bigger plans for the beer.
We shared one order of cashew chicken and a sweet-and-sour pork, plus four egg rolls and a vat of rice. Wiping my greasy fingers on a napkin, I said, “What’s the occasion?”
“No occasion.” Seth lifted his wine glass of sparkling Bud to toast. “Just us.”
I clinked my glass against his. As we drank, I studied Seth’s face. It was so familiar to me, every blemish, every line. The scar above his right eyebrow where he’d been whacked with a hockey stick. I felt as if I’d known him all my life, which was practically true. We’d gone to school together since elementary. It was Kirsten who’d set us up. She was dating his brother at the time, during her “older man” period, as opposed to her current “prepubescent” phase. I’d never even considered going out with Seth. But it worked. It was good between us. Comfortable.
Maybe that was the problem. This attraction to Cece, this crush or whatever it was, was exciting, new, unpredictable. I didn’t know where it would lead, or even where I wanted it to lead. I think I knew where it
And if it did…
“Where are you?” Seth’s voice jerked me back to reality.
“I’m here.” I smiled at him. “With you.”
He tossed a couple of sofa pillows onto the hearth and crooked his finger at me. I slid off the couch. We nuzzled together by the fire. Seth started to kiss me. After a while, he whispered, “Let’s take this to the bedroom.”
“You know what? I’m really tired.” I yawned and stretched.
“What?” He drew away from me. “I set all this up for you. For us. What’s the matter?”
The was he was looking at me – so angry, hurt. I couldn’t hurt him. “Nothing.” I shook my head at the floor. “Come on.”
I slipped out from under the sheet, trying not to breathe.
“Holl?” Seth turned over. “Where you going?”
“Home. Sorry. Go back to sleep.” I pulled on my sweatpants.
“But we have all night.” He pushed to his elbows.
“I know. I can’t.” My voice sounded hoarse, hollow. “I don’t feel good. I’m sorry.” I lurched for the door. I needed to get out, get away. As far away from here as possible.
She was in me, in my blood, invading every cell in my body. She was the one I wanted. She was the one I saw, felt, desired. This was wrong. He was wrong. It was all so wrong.
Saturday morning I woke to the bang of the washing machine lid. I staggered into the laundry room to find Mom sorting piles of clothes. “Mom?”
She jumped. “Holland, you’re home. I didn’t expect to see you until later.” She tossed a pair of Neal’s boxer shorts onto a pile of whites. “What happened? Did you and Seth have a fight?”
“No.” I wish we had. It’s be easier. “I just wanted to come home.”
A sudden chill made me shiver and I hugged myself. Mom came over and smoothed my messy hair. It’d been a rough night. “I’m glad.” She smiled. “You sure you’re okay? You look tired.”
She followed me to my room. Faith, I noticed, was a lump under her bedspread. I found my glasses and put them on. “What time is it?” I glanced at the clock. “Six-thirty?” As in A.M.? No wonder I felt drugged. What was she doing starting the laundry at six-thirty? Talk about Supermom.
Supermom said, “Since you’re home, how ‘bout taking care of these college applications?” She slapped the stack of forgotten forms on my dresser.
I sighed wearily. “Oh. Okay.” I’d never get back to sleep now, anyway.
“You could’ve been finishing these instead of whatever that is.” She pointed to my tablet, which was open at the bottom of my bed. Had I left it open? “Why in the world are you taking art? What a waste of time.”
I bristled. Wished her gone, and got my wish when the dryer buzzed.
It was a half-hearted effort, but I slogged through all the college apps and sealed them in their respective envelopes. Cornell, Stanford, Antioch. Talk about a waste of time. Even if they accepted me, I wasn’t sure I’d go. Where was Antioch, anyway? I heard Faith roust herself and drag into the bathroom. When she came out, our eyes met briefly. She might’ve grunted. Her black mascara had tracked to her chin. Scary.
She clomped across the basement and up the stairs. She usually zoned in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, watching cartoons. That was about her speed.
I took a shower, then toasted a couple of Pop-Tarts and returned to my room to veg. To think. About him – not him. Her. Me. Her and me.
Stop it. Stop thinking. My eyes strayed to the dresser, where
beckoned. I retrieved the book and paged through to find the section about swimming with his merry men. Reread it. Pretty suggestive, all right. Made me remember all those times in swim team practice with the girls when we’d goof around, dunk each other, play chicken. Times I’d have to rein myself in because it was getting so intense.
I lowered the book to my lap. There were other times, too. Ms. Fielding, in German class. I was so in love with her. I used to pretend I needed help so I could stay after school. She wasn’t gay, I don’t think. Just beautiful. And Leah. God. I had a torrid crush on Leah in sixth grade. Seventh grade. Eighth grade…
My pulse quickened. Was I? Gay, I mean? If so, what was I doing with Seth?
Maybe I was bi. That would explain it. An open heart, willing to give and accept love wherever it came from. The feelings, the stirring, the awakening senses with Cece, though, I’d never experienced those with Seth. With any guy.
A crash against the wall made me leap off the bed. I charged around the partition between Faith’s and my space. Fixed my gaze on the Virgin Mary that lay in shards by the laundry room, then Faith’s smoldering glare. Mom yelled down the stairs, “This is my house and you’ll obey my rules.”
Faith locked eyes with me. She opened her mouth, then thought better of it, I guess, and flung herself backward on the bed, crossing her arms. A wave of sympathy washed over me. Faith wasn’t having much luck with mothers. I’d only ever seen her real mom once when she dropped Faith off for the weekend, but I’d overheard a private conversation between Mom and Neal. He said his ex-wife was a workaholic, that she left Faith alone too much. He worried she was unsupervised. He’d like her to move in here permanently.
Mom nixed that idea, thank God. I should ask Faith about her mother, I thought. She was obviously suppressing a lot of anger. Sure, and I should major in psychology at Antioch. Maybe if we talked, though…
Faith cranked up her death rock and slapped on her earphones. Guess not. My phone rang.
I returned to my space and answered, “Lo?”
My heart sank. “Hey.”
Seth said, “Can I come over?”
“No. My mom’s home.” I cupped a hand around my mouth to muffle the sound. “And my wicked stepsister’s here, too.”
He clucked. “I didn’t mean for that. You have a one track mind. Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
“We won’t do Chinese again. That stuff’s lethal; I’l still burping cabbage. We need to get together about this leadership conference soon. I was hoping we could start today.”
“Why did you get me involved in that, anyway? You know I’m up to my ass in work.”
“If you don’t want to do it, I’ll find someone else.”
“Good,” I said. “Do that.”
He hesitated. “Wrong answer.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. This wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t about the conference.
“I just thought we’d have fun working together,” he said. “Doing something besides… you-know-what. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
I exhaled a long breath. “Maybe tomorrow I can find time.”
“Find time? For me, you mean?”
I didn’t reply.
He hung up.
Great. I considered calling him back, but the thought was fleeting. I didn’t have the energy, or the motivation. Maybe I wanted him mad at me.
I opened my calc book and paged forward to chapter six – Monday’s assignment. The number ran off the page.
was off the page. I needed to get out of here for a while.
I changed into a clean long-sleeved tee and a pair of drawstring pants, then pocketed my billfold. I’d driven halfway across town before I realized where I was going. Yeah, a donut would taste good, but there were about a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts on my side of town.
Who was I kidding? I needed to see her. I didn’t even know if she worked Saturdays. Didn’t have a plan.
At Hott ’N Tott, I vanquished my fear á la Beowulf and boldly set forth. As I hopped up onto the curb, my eyes scanned the interior of the shop through the window, where I saw Cece sprawled lengthwise across one of the plasti-form benches, one knee clutched to her chest. My heart skipped a beat. She was wearing her gypsy scarf again, laughing at something the person across the table from her had said. The person made a wild hand gesture and Cece threw back her head and howled.
I pedaled backward, away from the door. My butt hit the hood of my Jeep and inched its attached human remains around to the driver’s side. I reached for the handle, hoping, praying she hadn’t seen me. As I pealed out, my tires spitting salt and sand, the person with Cece twisted her head to look out the window. I didn’t have to see her face to know it was Brandi.
That night I had a dream. An erotic dream. There was me in the pool, nude, and ahead of me another swimmer, just out of reach. I lengthened my strokes to catch up. Grabbed an ankle and pulled myself alongside. She turned and smiled. Cece. She was naked too, and instinctively our bodies came together. Our legs intertwined.
I woke with a start, breathing hard, wishing I could get it back. Get her back. Finish the dream. Find out how far it would go and what was waiting for me on the other side.