by Anna Margaret Shepherd
I’m a crack in the sidewalk. An unnoticed guy who has a lot of friends who aren’t really friends. So far, I’ve tried not to let high school run my life. Over the years, my focus has jumped from football to Third Eye Blind to a secret poetry journal I keep under my bed. As cliché as it is, my interests changed as soon as I met “the girl.” My mother says I romanticize everything. According to her, I’m also dramatic. She knows nothing about this story.
Maybe if I write the story out, word for word, it won’t torment me anymore. Like staring down a ghost or swinging the closet door open to a monsterless room. Maybe if I write it down, the thought of it won’t rip me apart at night. It’s been months and I need to put this behind me.
My sister Lily turned thirteen in February. She wanted to have her first boy/girl party at our aunt’s because it has a “bigger space to do things teenagers do,” Lily says.
I arrived to the party early to help my mother set up. All I really did was attach paper streamers to the ceiling fan and put the pink-frosted cake on the island in the kitchen.
Waiting for the party to show up, I stood in the living room against the edge of the bookshelf with a glass of watered-down orange Fanta, while my Aunt Karen talked with my dad in the dining room across the kitchen. Clueless was playing silently on the big TV. The wood paneling surrounding the living room made the place feel stuck in a time of baby boomer fads and Woodstock music. Everything smelled like a vanilla candle, smoke and sweetness. The size redeemed the stuffy living room. Off-white curtains dressed each window and the sliding glass door. I remember the setting sun peeking through the big pane of glass, its rays forcing through the fabric, streaking the cheap tiled floor and landing on a sliver of the bookshelf. The mustard couch screamed against the faux-wood background and the green rug was slowly dying on the floor.
Lily invited all the boys in her seventh grade class at Humbert Junior High. I could tell she wanted this to be perfect.
I spun the tiny, disappearing ice chips around in the orange syrup practicing my chaperone face. My other hand was in the pocket of my khaki shorts.
I peered out of the eggshell curtains when I heard tires against pavement and saw a stranger jumping out of a beat-up blue Chevy.
When I look back at this moment, things happen in slow motion. The backseat door swung open, and I saw chunky black sandal shoes. Thin legs that seemed a mile long slid across the edge of the seat until little feet landed square on the driveway. What I can only describe as a creature from another planet stepped out of the way of the door and slammed it. Her black pleated skirt fanned out perfectly to frame her small body. It showed enough skin to make a balloon inflate in my rib cage. Her mother let her out like that?
As she walked toward the house, I noticed her dirty blond hair went past her elbows in beachy waves. She slung it over one shoulder to adjust her bag. There was only one thing about her that wasn’t sent-from-heaven, sign-sealed-delivered perfect for me. She was thirteen.
During a moral crisis I always pictured a devil and an angel on each shoulder, as many children do I guess. I never really felt the devil wake up as fast as he did then. It came with a raging pang of guilt.
Lily was a tornado before the rest of the guests arrived, rearranging everything I put up. Her friend that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of had plopped cross-legged on the old couch and studying the ends of her hair.
Slowly, everyone came wandering in holding bags exploding with tissue. I blended into the paneling watching the party rev up.
I could tell the boys liked her. Their eyes flitted across her short skirt when they said hello. Looking back now it could have been my imagination but I could tell she loved the eyes on her, tracing her silhouette. She wanted to cut out the stares and glue them on her bedroom wall with an Elmer’s stick. No other girl has ever snagged my attention the way she had. I was getting more afraid by the second.
I was deciding whether I wanted to endure another orange soda when I got a tap on the shoulder. I looked up and saw bright eyes and an expectant look filled to the brim with mischief.
I melted. Like drowning ice chips in Fanta. I felt like I had been shivering and she toasted me.
Freckles adorned the bridge of her nose and dotted under her eyes. I suddenly thought that those eyes had to have come from the same sea where her hair got its salty waves. Aphrodite immortalized.
“Hey! I asked if you wanted a blow pop. Lil said to hand ‘em out,” She said, hers propped in one chipmunk cheek.
“Yes or no?” She scrunched up half of her forehead and sucked harder on the lollipop, her cheeks sinking. It almost made my eyes water. She had big eyebrows. They were pretty though, on her small face. They matched well with her honey hair. All those soft nature colors were a great background for her icy eyes.
“What’s your name?” I blurted. My voice probably sounding way to high for my build.
“What kind?” She tilted her head, challenging me.
“Can I have yours?” I clenched my teeth. Her eyebrows lifted and met together as she licked the tip of her pop with her green tongue. I thought then that if I put her in my mouth, she’d taste just like a red Sour Patch Kid. Spicy, sour, and sweet spun up together. The angel nearly pinched me.
“Hmf,” she gave me half a shrug and handed over a new Green Apple Blow Pop. I blinked fast, I felt like such an idiot.
“It’s Cam,” She said as she skipped away.
I watched her go around the room for a while with the candy in my mouth, spinning it with my tongue. When it was gone, I went to the kitchen to pick up the glass I was absently holding and my naked blow pop stick.
I walked back in and surveyed Lily. I think she was beginning to notice the party was getting a little quiet. Everyone was in cliques and Christina Aguilera was singing but no one was dancing. The five boys who showed up were popping the balloons, sometimes stomping, sometimes squishing them against each other’s heads.
I saw Cam whisper in Lily’s ear and then she pushed her to the center of the living room. Lily gave Cam an exasperated look from across the room but Cam just let a smile play across her face.
“Um, okay guys. Thanks for coming. So–,” Lily said, pulling against the hem of her purple dress. “We’re gonna play Spin The Bottle.”
Silence came over the small young crowd. All of them looked at me. I shrugged and laughed, “I don’t care what you do.”
Cam sat with her legs folded under her on the edge of the green rug and ran a hand through the hair on top of her head. The waves were instantly more voluminous. Her lion mane covered her whole shirt.
Logically I knew she was innocent, kneeling there absentmindedly. Irrationally, I thought she had to be playing with me by sitting like that. I had to stop thinking that way before I put up a tent in my shorts. I think it’s that particular fight in my head, between the id and the ego, and the good and the evil that really gets to me. She’s a girl-child in a Victoria’s Secret model skin suit. I could see clearly what she could be, would be. She continues to be a spirit ripping through the fabric of my reality. I realized then that no one else, nothing, was more interesting to me.
When I sink into the guilt hole, I feel extra awful about my sister. She was sweet, never the cliché sibling. She never annoyed me. Why do I have to be such a dope? She doesn’t deserve a brother like this. It’s why I stay away from her now.
No one else knelt beside Cam. Lily was stalling. She aimed toward the kitchen, making an excuse. I followed her.
I felt unmentionably disgusting looking into Lily’s eyes. My obsession was the same age as my sister and still my sick brain wouldn’t rewire.
“Hey,” she said when I grabbed her glass and filled it with ice. Her cheeks were peachy. “I need to find some type of bottle to, ya know, spin.” Her jaw was fidgeting.
I nodded. “I think you shou—”
“I think I should ask mom first,” she said. Our sentences smacked into each other.
We both laughed.
“Jinx.” Lily smiled at me with a thousand watts.
“Go, you gross teenager,” I said teasingly. She wrinkled her nose at me and went.
She walked back into the room timidly, “They said we could play but it had to be hugs.”
Some of the boys snickered. Lily spun back around not seeming to notice their reaction.
“I forgot to find a bottle,” she yelled toward the living room while opening a cabinet.
“Hey, come back. We can use this.” Cam said holding up the stereo remote.
Everyone agreed and so the weird game began. I tried to look bored as I “chaperoned.” Knowing now what would happen that night, I should have snuck out and ran home.
I felt weird being in the midst of this. I just couldn’t stop thinking about Cam thinking about me. There was a civil war in my head and on my shoulders. The devil on the left won most of the mental arguments. He was a winner that whole night.
I don’t know who went first, but the game was going strong despite the low stakes. I remember that Britney’s new song was on. As she was telling us to hit her one more time, I tried to tune it out.
Even though our parents had Lily and I far apart, I was lumped in their generation of neon unicorns outlined in felt, Gap clothes, and our parents pushing us to do anything we wanted. We were the kids stuck in a boiling vat of inappropriate pop music. There were some splits between us, of course. They didn’t know what the song, “Semi-Charmed Life” was about yet, but they sure sang along.
The remote wasn’t as agile as a bottle would have been but it worked. After a while, tension started to bubble. Everyone began talking amongst each other not invested in the game much anymore. I saw Cam looking around. She grabbed the remote out of turn and spun it. It landed on a tiny, shy girl.
She crawled across the circle and kissed her on the cheek. I knew then that she’d be the death of me. Unsure murmurs spread over the young crowd.
Cam smirked as she looked the group over. “We’re turning it up a notch.”
A couple of the others took turns, kissing cheeks.
I must have taken a sip of my drink at the wrong time. I heard gasps and when I looked up, everyone was staring at me.
I hadn’t noticed there was a hole in the circle and the remote was pointed at me. A grenade exploded in my stomach. Cam stared at me with a confident grin.
“Re-spin,” a girl piped up.
“Nah, a spin’s a spin.” Cam said popping her gum.
I swallowed. I hadn’t accounted for this and I reflexively looked at the dining room. The parents were in the other room but could walk over at any moment.
The silent communication between Cam and I was full of static. Was she really inviting me to play with her? To take part in a game of hers?
I was just looking at the situation, dry-mouthed. Cam broke her gaze slowly and then shook her head smiling.
“I’m just kidding. I’ll spin again.”
A girl with a unicorn shirt grabbed her arm. “Double-dog dare,” she said.
Cam shrugged her off, “No.”
A couple of the other girls laughed and grabbed her arms. Soon she was lying on the tile floor half on the rug for my taking, a poison cupcake offered to a starving man. She pulled to get free of their grasps, but only to get comfortable, I think. She was giggling. Her hair was fanned out over the rug. Did she want me to do this? My cloudy mind took a leap.
“Cody–” Lily stopped herself.
I struggled to play it cool. “Fine. But we’re going back to hugs.”
I stepped into the circle and looked her over as time slowed. Suddenly all of the surroundings were sucked out of the room. There were no differences between us anymore, no labels to keep us apart. The world was free suddenly of obligations. We were now in a vacuum filled with slowly swirling adult things. Rules didn’t matter here.
The way she was trapped on the floor, so beautiful with her arms pinned down. The angel was screaming, but in the vacuum everything was muffled, so I ignored it.
I leaned down and put my hands on either side of her head, and I could feel every charge in the room moving against one another. Particle friction. It was like rubbing my hand on a balloon after my socks shuffled the carpet.
Her left cheek was pointed at me. She looked amused to me. When I was inches away from her cheek, I gently grabbed her chin and pulled her face to mine. As my lips parted, I thought my heart couldn’t beat any faster. Suddenly, I was pushed away and fell to the side. I shot up, mortification slinking into my head. The vacuum thunked, stuttered, and the air came back in.
Lily was in front of me breathing hard having used all of her force to push me. Her face was a mix of hurt and disgust. “This isn’t fun anymore,” she said quietly.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, my voice breaking. I ran a hand through my hair. I slowly realized what the fuck I almost did. I reached far over the line I had been playing with all night.
Cam sat up and scooted away looking shaken, her hair wild like her eyes. Everyone else began nervously laughing.
I ran outside. Gulping the cold air, I rubbed my face and walked down the sidewalk in no particular direction. It was dark now. I tripped on a pine twig and cursed it. I’m insane, I thought. The angel was much louder now and yelling at me like a sergeant. My moral compass was barely magnetic anymore.
She was pinned down, and I took advantage of it. I hated myself. I still hate myself.
Every time I relive this story the more I romanticize the next couple minutes. I’ll try to tell it as truthfully as possible.
I walked in a small circle, pulling at my hair and trying to think of anything else. I knew I was a monster. I knew I would never be able to climb out of the sick rabbit hole I fell down the moment I saw her.
I heard feet on the sidewalk pitter-pattering my way. My stomach lurched. I turned around and got a small mouth smashed against mine. Cam. Our lips mushed together messily. My hands hovered over her back, my whole body in shock. My moral compass was skipping, cranking and winding. She pushed her fingers in my hair, clumsily. She didn’t know what she was doing but it made her more luminous, otherworldly.
Her small lips were so soft. It was exhilarating. My heart skittered around in its cage. I could taste the watermelon from what she was sucking earlier. In that moment she was mine. If a camera was near us being operated by John Hughes, it would have been slowly rotating around our heads.
The more I think back on these moments the blurrier everything gets. Sometimes I recount that she stepped backward in slow motion. Other times I’ll remember she gave me tongue. Sometimes, her small gestures throughout that night are invitations to play with her, to love her.
When we broke apart, her top lip stuck for a tiny moment to my bottom one, skin stuck to skin in a soft pull. My ears burned hot. Then she looked at me, but she wasn’t seeing me.
As I come to terms with that night, I think maybe when she looked at me she was seeing a fantasy. It was as if she decided to kiss a magazine cut out that came to life.
I’m not sure writing it out helps, but I’m figuring it out. I learned human nature is sometimes sinister. Defying social constructs can bring out the most rotten guilt. And sometimes you have to hide your secrets and in my case, desires, in order to live in society.
After she was done looking at me, she stepped away and smiled, self-satisfied. She swaggered slowly backward and ran her fingers through the top of her hair. …I’m not listening when you say goodbye.