One of our interns runs this flash story writing blog called Friday Fiction. We'd call him a copy-cat, because that's the name of one of our sometimes-dealies on this blog, but supposedly he's had it for a while. He's feeling like Lord Fancington these days since he just self-published a novel, and he's been bugging us to run one of his stories so we're going to because it's Good Friday and you're supposed to be nice to people or something.
When she was little, my cousin Jamie used to be a runt of a girl, the kind of scrawny that turns kids wiry and defensive rather than adorable. The first time I heard the word “cunt,” it was out of her mouth to describe another sixth grader. She even nicknamed me Cum-Guzzlin’ Dustin when we were little, and even though I didn’t know exactly what it meant I spit in her face anyway. But now, at 17, she was the envy and scorn of her classmates who had thickened. Boys stared and girls seethed at the way she flaunted her body as repayment for years of mistreatment.
And here she was, topless on a bed in all her thonged glory, passed out spread eagle, presumably drunk. “Where’d you get this?” I demanded. The Polaroid was bent from traveling in multiple pockets and a thin layer of different fingerprints clouded the glossy image, but now it was in my hands.
Maybe she wasn’t a bitch as I once thought. Or as bad-looking.
“That’s YOUR cousin?” Derek asked.
“Wow,” Kent nodded in agreement. I could sense their erections and snatched the Polaroid away. Derek and Kent were assholes.
“Where’d you get this?” I asked again.
Kent smiled, acknowledging my discomfort. “Older brother of Jason, one of his friends took it… I dunno, some party. Why do you care so much?”
I didn’t know who Jason was but I made a mental note to smash his teeth in if I ever met him. I folded up the picture along one its worn lines and shoved it in my pocket. “Oh, what? So you’re going to keep the picture?” Kent goaded. “That’s your cousin. Gross.”
“Better than letting you two splooge all over it.”
Of course I didn’t tell Allison about the picture. The mid-August afternoon sun was hot but the fall-carrying wind was crisp and I might have needed a sweatshirt if I hadn’t been using her as a blanket. Ever since our parents started requesting that we keep our doors open, we’ve taken to making out on the soccer fields behind our school.
We had a routine: kiss and kiss and wait for the other to make the first move. It was like gulping air bubbles and letting our tongues mingle. After awhile, we would get sloppy and just lick in each other’s mouths. This was our routine.
Even though I had known Ally my whole life, it was only two years ago that we realized we could experiment with each other. The first time we kissed was because she dared me to, but the electric excitement from our lips touching gave me wet dreams for the following week, until I insisted that we kiss again. To my surprise, she was the first to put her tongue in my mouth, and I had run away, embarrassed of the tent in my jeans.
The cool wind chilled my arms so I put them up her sweatshirt, against her warm back. She jumped at my cold touch and rolled off me so we were on our sides, facing each other. My saliva ringed her lips and she didn’t bother to wipe it off. “Dustin, what do you think of… us?”
This question always perplexed me, because whenever she asked it (and it was often that she did), I was always unsure if she really wondered or was just fishing for compliments. Her straight, dirty-blonde hair had fallen in her eyes when she rolled off me, and I marveled at how brilliant and hazel they looked as sun passed through them. I slid my hand down her face and tucked her hair behind her ear, scanning her serene and clear skin. I just wanted to continue kissing her, but I had the question to deal with quickly or she would assume my answer was hesitant.
“I think we’re really beautiful. I think this is really beautiful.” I leaned in for another kiss, but she turned her face toward the sky.
“No, that’s not what I mean. I guess I wanted to know what you think about me.”
I was right: fishing for compliments. I had my speech ready, the speech she loved to hear. “Ally, you know how I feel about you. Like, every time I see you, I think of how lucky I am to be with a girl like you.” She smiled, flashing her braces.
“You’re so cheesy.” She laughed and pushed me away.
“Hey, I’m just telling you what you want to hear,” I said, pulling her back, and our lips met again. My compliment ignited her: soon our faces were glued together, breathing hot air into each other’s nostrils.
In impassioned times like this, I always took full advantage of my boob privileges. Not until a couple months ago would I ever consider reaching up Ally’s shirt. I would rest my hands on her pelvis bones or above, on her clavicle, but if they went any closer, my hands would become sweaty and embarrassing. Finally, saving us both from of my awkward shyness, Ally grabbed my hand and guided it into her unnecessary bra. Since then, then I’ve had no problem performing the task myself.
My fingers touched her support strap and Ally told me to stop.
“How come?” All the passion was gone as quickly as it came.
“Not here,” she said, forcing a nervous laugh.
I looked around. “There’s nobody here.”
“I know. It’s just weird. Maybe we’re moving a little too fast.” I sat up silent, feigning deep introspection. “I mean,” she continued, “I don’t want mess things up.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“Maybe?” It wasn’t a question, but the way she said it--with the upward pitch--made it sound like one.
I couldn’t think of anything to say--I had already used up my good speech. “I think I’m going to go.” When she gave me a confused look, I added, “I probably won’t call you tonight.” The words tasted venomous and satisfying.
“So you don’t want to hang out later?”
“No, we’re broken up. It would be weird.”
I left her sitting on the soccer field. I ran home, with the folded-up Polaroid poking my leg through my pocket.
That night at the dinner table, my mom told us that her mom, my grandma, had died the night before. We sat still awhile, my dad chewing meat in the side of his mouth. All I could think of to say was, “Are you sure?”
Her face grimaced and puckered and turned red. Tears spilled out of her squinty eyes and she nodded in response to my dumb question, “Uh-huh. I’m sorry, I thought I could do this without crying but…”
My dad swallowed his meat. “Shh, dear. It’s OK. I’m so sorry.” He took her hand with his and tried to console her between bites of steak. She took her napkin and wiped some tears away before wiping the gristle around his mouth.
After some sobs she pulled herself together. “I know you didn’t know her too well, Dustin, and I’m sure you’re aware that she wasn’t altogether,” she paused, “there the last couple of years, so this doesn’t really affect you. The funeral is on Thursday and I’ll need to take you out of school.”
“Also, my sister Lydia is taking this extra hard so I invited her family to stay here for a couple days after the funeral so she wouldn’t be alone during this difficult time. Please be respectful and supportive.”
I nodded and absently chewed a piece of steak into the corner of my mouth.
Lydia. Aunt Lydia. Mother of Jamie, my cousin. Jamie, my almost-naked cousin. I remained chewing until the phone rang. Without excusing myself, I went to retrieve it. My mom didn’t even notice--she was crying again, and my dad had moved on to his baked potato.
“Hey.” It was Ally.
“I just wanted to say sorry about today.”
I felt a wave of victory. “It’s all right.”
“And I think we should get back together.”
“Are you all right? You seem very… distant.”
“Yeah, I’m OK. My grandma just died.”
Silence for a beat and then, “I’m so sorry Dustin.”
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t know her very well, and she was crazy anyway.”
She sighed in relief. “That’s good. I mean it’s not good, but you know…”
She didn’t say anything, but I heard her smacking her gum, probably trying hard to keep it out of her braces. “All right, I think I’m going to bed. See you at school tomorrow?”
“Probably not. I get to miss a couple days of school because, you know, the death and funeral and everything.”
I told her goodnight and hung up the phone.
That night I had a dream that I was doing laundry with my dead grandma. We were hanging thongs up to dry. I had to change my own underwear when I woke up. That dream was all I could think about throughout my grandma’s service.
The day after the funeral, I came home from school to find Jamie on our living room couch, pajama-pantsed and tank-topped, chatting on the phone. It was the first time I had seen her since the funeral and immediately remembered my mother’s open-armed offer to her mourning family.
Jamie saw me and flashed a set of extraordinarily white teeth. She mouthed What’s up? then something else. Probably cum-guzzler. I waved back and quickly moved past her into the kitchen. My clothes and backpack suddenly felt childish and I wanted to change, but that meant walking past her again. I decided to pour myself some juice (Juice? I thought, Talk about childish) because my throat was so dry. I finished the glass and poured another one, suddenly aware of the phone conversation in the other room.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun… I know it’s far away, but they won’t be back for the whole night.... Yeah, you can stay here… Just bee why oh bee…. call Andy and those guys, then call me back and I’ll give you directions…. ‘Kay. See ya.” She hung up the phone. “Hey dork!” she yelled from off-screen, “Long time, no see.”
My brain immediately made some comment about seeing her too often lately, but aloud, I only said, “Yeah.” I realized that I had finished my second glass of juice and I panicked on whether I should refill it or put it in the sink. I decided on just holding it because it kept my hands focused without looking unnatural.
She came in with a rolled-up Star magazine in her hand and I thought of scenarios where people would be forced to read magazines assigned to their age. “So what’s up?” She bent over to flip through the magazine. My brain failed because she was bending over and not wearing a bra.
“Nothing,” I stammered.
“So, but your parents aren’t coming home tonight. They’re with mine, which means they’ll probably get loaded and weepy. Probably stay at a hotel or something, from what I gather.” She looked up from her magazine, and I averted my eyes just in time. “I told them that I would watch you, but I’m going to have some friends over tonight. Capeesh?”
“That’s cool. I’ll probably just go to my girlfriend’s house.”
“I don’t care what you do. You can stay here and drink with us, but don’t tell your folks.” She smirked. “You can invite your ‘girlfriend’ if you want.”
She used quotation-fingers when she said “girlfriend” and I didn’t know if she was questioning the fact that I had a girlfriend or calling me gay. I smiled and told her to shut up, and that maybe I would make it to her party.
I was at Ally’s house until late. We watched the entire Indiana Jones trilogy, stopping frequently to kiss, but during The Last Crusade, we kissed with all the pent-up energy that’d gathered momentum since our break-up. She messed my hair and made little moans with the back of her throat while forcing her tongue into mine. Our bodies became intertwined on her ratty couch while the light from Indy’s Venetian escapades made kissing silhouettes on the wall of her den.
Our routine settled in. I reached up her shirt and hesitated on her stomach. She grabbed my elbow and guided me further up. And she was the one who thought things were moving too fast, I thought. She wasn’t wearing a bra so I had full access to her tiny breasts, which suddenly felt too small. She pushed her face harder into mine, but my tongue began to retreat from her mouth. Her whimpers became louder as she forced the passion. She grinded my leg and I felt a sharp corner of the Polaroid poke me through my pocket. I pushed her off me.
“What the hell?” She didn’t wear the anger well and for the first time, I realized she was tomboyish, her freckles and straw hair too childish for me. Why didn’t she wear a tank top? I doubted if she even had a thong.
“I have to go to a party. I’m sorry.” I began to walk toward the door.
“Dustin, wait. Can I come?”
“No, it’s my cousin’s thing. It’s sort of for older kids.” I left her in the glowing light of the television.
The party was dead by the time I got home. A heavy, low-slung bass resonated through the house and strangers were asleep on the couches; some lay on the floor, resting in a scrawny nest of beer cans on the carpet. I found Jamie in the bathroom; she was fetal on the mat. I didn’t think she had thrown up, but I thought her location of anticipation was responsible and endearing. “Jamie,” I whispered, “we’ve got to clean this house up.”
She raised her head and opened one bloodshot eye. “Oh, Dustin. Howwasyear girlfriend?” She put her head back on the mat.
“C’mon Jamie, get up.” I tried to get hold under her arms, but the bathroom was small and the space too awkward for me to lift her up. I fell down and landed on top of her. She made a half-conscious giggle.
I sat with my back against the tub and put my head down in my arms. “Hey Jamie, remember when we were little? You made so much fun of me.” She said nothing. “I hated you; I hated that name you gave me. Cum-guzzlin’-Dustin. We fought so much.” She remained silent, and her stomach and chest were rising and falling in a steady motion. I put my head very close to her mouth and she was snoring. “Jamie,” I whispered in her ear, very close, “I have a picture of you.” Again, nothing. “A Polaroid.”
I was close to her face and noticed the too-pink foundation on it and the fruity-smelling lip gloss. Her lips were open, anticipating embrace. Just one kiss, I thought. I placed my lips gently on hers, barely touching, just enough for the sensation. They lingered for a moment, then closed with her upper lip in between them. She tasted like Starbursts.
I looked around and saw no one. Just one more. This time I stayed longer, tasting the leftover alcohol. I licked the inside of her mouth, coated her lips with gooey spit. I wondered what thong she was wearing…
When the camera flashed, my brain spoke electric. Fuck.
Photocopies of the Polaroid lined the walls of our school. People called me Cousin Bustin’ Dustin. It was a good rhyme but I wish I wouldn’t have been caught. I tore up the picture and let the pieces float across the soccer field, where I watched the other kids fake fight one another and ate my lunch alone.
“Hey.” I turned around. It was Ally.
“Oh. What’s up?” I looked at my shoes.
“Nothing.” She kicked around a clump of dirt from the aerated grass. “I saw the picture.”
“I think that we should just be friends. Is that all right?”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry.”
“I am sorry about your grandma, though. I really am.”
“Don’t worry about it. She was old.”
The wind blew her hair into her eyes, and I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to brush it away this time. “Well, it’s getting late, I gotta get home. I’ll give you call sometime,” she said. But I knew that would be weird.