The headlights sweep across the well-groomed lawns of two story houses as we turn around at the end of the street. I mute the radio while my two hulking passengers giggle like preschoolers. I’m about to shush them when, near the mailbox, the bushes wiggle. Zaye leans forward from the back seat. “There she is!”

I tap the brakes. Emily leaps out from the bush, hefting a comically large jug of wine. She shuffles toward the car, clutching the jug with both hands like the world’s worst bootlegger before she fumbles with the door handle. My hands go groping over the buttons of my aunt’s car before Zaye leans over and unlocks the door. Emily drops the wine in his lap and dives onto the backseat.

“What took you so long?” she gushes.

“Oh, I don’t know, just that I have to wait for my aunt to go to sleep before I can steal her car. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she says, ignoring my well-placed sarcasm. She pulls the door shut. “Go.”

I do as she says and we start off. When I glance at the rearview mirror. Emily and Zaye have wasted zero time getting cozy in the back. “So, did you have fun playing in the bushes?”

“What? No,” she says coming up for air. Then, with a pout, “I couldn’t twist the cap off the bottle.”

Zaye leans over. A pfft as he twists the cap. Emily drops the pout for a purr.  

Ethan shifts in the passenger seat. His hand brushes my shoulder as he turns to look back. “That’s the biggest bottle of wine I’ve ever seen.”

“Right?” Emily laughs.

“Wow,” I say under my breath, driving off, ever so gently shrugging out of Ethan’s grip. He turns back to the front, his chiseled jaw tight and foreboding.

We don’t get far, a few streets down to the other side of the lake. New construction, old docks. But the drive is just long enough that the dread of this night settles in, clouding my thoughts like a storm on the horizon. I don’t even know why I took the car, agreed to Emily’s little adventure. Boredom, I guess? Although this is all terribly boring in itself. I could be sleeping.

I pull up, the crunch of gravel under the wheels. Driving is easy, I think to myself.  I should be just fine for my license. If I don’t get myself grounded for life.

Emily bounds out of the backseat, her enormous bottle wine a tad lighter after she and Zaye managed a few gulps in my aunt’s car. The moon plays hide and seek beneath the passing clouds, and I catch Ethan watching me stare at it as Emily skips off for the dock, Zaye right on her heals as though he’s covering a wide receiver. When I turn, Ethan flashes me a smile, a smile I’m sure has worked for him every time in these situations.

I can’t blame him for expecting things. I suppose it’s my fault, going along with this. What else is he supposed to think?

“You come here often?” he says, trying to be funny or cute, sexy even. The dread thickens. I push through it. Emily has been talking about tonight all week. Sneaking out, the lake, a party afterwards. I have to give it a shot.  

“Yeah.” I smile, unable to meet his eyes. I force myself not to be bored, numb, dead inside. I try to feel what Emily is feeling.

But it is true, about coming here. Or, it used to be true. My dad took me here all the time when I was little. We’d fish, kayak, whatever. He wanted me to be his little tomboy. It’s a private lake but that never stopped him. I remember seeing the occasional beer can or wine bottle and wondering how it got there. Now some little girl might find the remnants of our activity. Or maybe not. Either way, I need to shut my brain down, make it stop littering all these memories.

“Hey, you okay?”

Great. Too long with my thoughts. Ethan has moved in. Again I give myself the pep talk. I set my face to him and laugh. “Yeah, I’m good.”

We start down to the dock where Emily is using both hands to heft the bottle to her chin before she passes it to Zaye and he turns it up. When they see us approach, Zaye wipes his mouth on his sleeve then dares Ethan to jump in the lake.

“Only if Tess goes in first,” Ethan says with a nudge to my arm. They start up about stripping down and getting in. I literally bite my tongue. Seriously, it’s like we’re trying to reenact a teen movie. A cheesy one at that.

As they go back and forth I start to feel worse about the car. Aunt Cara will be all but done with me if I’m caught down at the lake, half naked with a boy, after stealing her car and sneaking out. She already thinks I’m lashing out—as she calls it.

Ethan and Zaye argue over who should dive in the lake first. Emily giggles and I try to be involved but it’s not working. I need something else. I take the jug of wine and turn it up.

Emily does a drunk girl “Whoo.” I enjoy the burn in my throat, how it warms my chest and softens the edges of my thoughts. Another sip when Ethan throws an arm around me, a heavy rope on my shoulder, as though he’s docking a boat or merely just trying to keep me from running off. I stare off at the moon, but I can feel him turn to me.

“So, want to swim?”

I shake my head. It is, after all, like sixty degrees out.  “No, I’m good.”

“She’s good,” Emily says getting to her feet. She does some sort of silent signal to Zaye and they slink off towards the woods. 

And I already know. it’s almost funny, how stupid it is. if I didn’t have to live it out, right now, under the moon at the lake where I fished with dad.

Last year, before the horrible thing happened, this night would have been felt magical. I would have been quivering with anticipation. But the horrible thing did happen, so now, as I amble over to the end of the dock and plop down, my legs swing freely, and I simply wait for this scene play out.

Sure enough, footsteps…

“So…” Ethan’s jeans scrape the dock as he slides even closer. I sigh, knowing he’s going to kiss me, maybe try to do more than that. And again, old me would be more like Emily, giggling, giddy to be so lucky. My heart would putter and stammer as Ethan has chosen me for tonight’s conquest. But my heart doesn’t do any tricks, besides roll over and snore. My heart is a stick in the mud.

My feet swinging, I glance down to my knees, to the two identical rips in my jeans. Rips in my genes. The lines of fabric struggle to bridge the smile that keeps widening. They’re down to threads, won’t be able to hold on much longer. The rip will keep spreading, smiling, with nothing to keep them from completely splitting apart. Oh, and Ethan is caressing my cheek. What the hell?

I gently raise my shoulder in defense. But when I set my head back, it gives him an opening. He leans over and plants the world’s worst kiss on my lips.

I try to roll with it. I mean, what did I expect? We snuck out, drove to this abandoned deck on the lake to sit under the moon and drink and… what? Talk politics?

No, we came to get drunk and make out. To giggle and coo like Emily and Zaye over there, somewhere nearby in the darkness, groping at each other.

Ethan’s tongue makes its first appearance in my mouth. I allow my tongue to touch his and they wrestle like seal pups in the arctic, fumbling blind, clumsily, trying to get the upper hand. I try to power through it, but… Seal pups. I can’t…

We’re mid kiss when I bust out laughing. Spitting, gasping for air, Ethan jerks back and asks what’s wrong. I’ve messed everything up but it was too much. I hold up a hand, try to fix the laugh with a cough but once I see his face, eyebrows slammed down, nose scrunched, mouth agape, I realize my charade isn’t working. Boys don’t like girls to laugh at them.

Not boys like Ethan, anyway.

He scoots away, flushed and angry. I try to repair the situation but I don’t care enough to make it work. “Sorry,” I say. “It’s just, the wine and…”

“It’s okay,” he grunts in a way that says it’s not okay at all. “Glad I could make you laugh.”

Awe, poor baby. He’s so mad he’s nearly in tears. I start to apologize again but I can’t muster up the energy. Besides, his ego needs to be checked. I turn around and reach for the wine Emily left behind.

“Maybe you should not…” He trails off, shaking his head. I stop, raise my eyebrows and look at him, dare him, then heave the jug to my lips and take a gracious swallow. I refuse to let pretty Ethan or anyone else lecture me on what I should or should not be doing. Had that kiss gone well he’d probably be dumping the wine down my throat.

“Yo, Zaye,” Ethan calls out suddenly, violently, his voice like a bark. Startled, I jump, dribbling wine down my chin. The planks bend as he scrambles to his feet. I set the bottle down as Ethan stomps away from me without notice.

Some twigs snap and leaves move in the woods. Emily and Zaye appear at the dock, asking what’s the rush. Ethan jams his hands into his jean pockets and announces he’s ready to leave. Emily glares at me, her eyes flashing with anger, resentment, as I’m still sitting on the dock, the wine jug in hand. I can’t tell, but she lets out a huff and again asks Ethan what’s wrong. Not me, Ethan.

Ethan only sits there pouting and I know I’ve done something I can’t undo. This will not end well. It will be the subject of conversation. Ethan will tell Zaye I’m some kind of freak, or a lesbian, or whatever the hell else he decides.

I should care. I should care that Emily is looking at me like that, what people at school will think when they hear whatever warped and revised version of Saturday night on the dock. Maybe he’ll tell them I was drunk or wasted or maybe it will be worse. Something tells me it will be worse.  

I gather myself and get to my feet. Emily recovers with more giggles. She grabs the bottle and shares it with Zaye as we hike back up to the car.

Ethan and I wait as Emily and Zaye lean against the car, laughing, kissing, having a grand old time. I turn on the radio, just for something as Ethan sits with his head back on the seat and his eyes out the side window. Three times I turn to him, another apology forming on my lips. I did, after all have a massive crush on him last year. Although that was a different girl from this alternate version I’ve become of myself. I forgo the apology and settle on an apathetic smirk.

Emily directs me to drop them off a few houses up from the dead end. They start talking about a party going on, who can drive. The whole time Ethan doesn’t say a word.

I pull over, they spill out. Zaye says goodbye and shuts the door. Emily comes over to my side.

“What the hell are you doing?”

The glow of the dashboard lights up half of her face. I shrug. “I’m tired.”

She studies me. Ethan is already talking to Zaye, motioning to me. Wonderful.

Emily glances at them, then me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you lately. You don’t want to do anything.” She leans in closer. “What the hell did you say to Ethan? He was really into you.”

“Nothing, I just…” I rub my forehead. “I don’t know. I’m not feeling it.”

“Look, you gotta get over last year.”

I grip the wheel until my knuckles crack. Before I can think of how to respond to that she pushes off the car. “Okay, well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, maybe?”

Speaking of last year, you’d think Emily would cut me some slack. There’s zero slack being cut at the moment. I nod. “Yeah.”

She shoots me one last look, then pastes the smile back on her face and runs to catch up to the boys.

“Well, that sucked,” I say out loud, and start back to Aunt Cara’s house.


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