Alice calls. She can’t go out.

Her parents need her to work in the garage, and it’s going to take half the night.

Why don’t you just come out when you’re done?

I’ll be exhausted. I don’t want to walk like a zombie to get my diploma.

Well, then why don’t my brother and I come over and help? We can have it done in a few hours.

It’s really delicate work, cleaning old instruments.

I won’t sulk. I go to my hatch a plan with Mumbles. He’s staring off at the baseball field across from the Junior High. I poke his shoulder and he turns like he’s pulling himself off a magnet.

What, oh, that’s no good. Yeah, let’s figure a plan. But none of my ideas work. If her parents catch us drinking we could all be grounded, and our brother is already out with Dad’s car.

It’s our last night of high school, and my best friend’s parents aren’t going to ruin it for all of us. We’ll talk them into it. He loses color but says okay, he’ll meet me at Alice’s in an hour.

I get there at 8:00, the sun in my eyes the whole way. The driveway is empty. Besides the TV flicker, the house is lightless. Alice is oiling her bike chain in the garage. She looks surprised.

Where are your folks? I’m gonna talk them out of… whatever you have to do.

Oh, they went out for the night.

Then you can sneak out with us?

I have to tune my bike.

Not… instruments?

My mom took care of it without telling me. She picks up a wrench and starts unwinding the rear wheel. She looks at the drive-train. Full service. Gonna ride into Cambridge Sunday, and circle the Esplanade.

Sounds fun, but why do you have to fix it tonight? Why not after the ceremony?

Parties. So many parties.

Well, can we hang out while you work, at least?

Sure. She looks at the clock, then returns with a six-pack of Long Life from her secret fridge.

She’s really anxious about New York, all the full-freight snobs at Juliard. I’m really excited to explore Campus with a staff badge and direct visiting families to the Magos. I tell her she could stay here, with me. She laughs.

9:30 sneaks into the garage, and her bike is gleaming. I realize my brother hasn’t shown up, so I ask if she wants to go meet him. She can’t.

Why not?

I have… plans.

What other plans? It’s our last night of high school; who else would you spend it with?

Alice stares at the driveway for a long time and empties her beer. She looks me flat in the eye and says she has plans… with my brother.

That’s what you’re worried about? We can all just go out.

You don’t really want to…. Besides, we can hang out tomorrow night. Parties, right?

I hold that in my gut a long time. Finally, I think I’ve got the words.

I want to hang out with you tonight.

She huffs and walks toward the garage door.

We’re best friends, since Kindergarten, Alice. The world is really scary, and we have to go into it after tomorrow, and after this summer, we won’t see each other the same way, and I’m saying it before I know I’m saying it, and we both know what I’m saying, and the air fills with static and I well up some, and the blood falls out of my body and I tell Alice Gavelston

and I love you.

Of course you love me. She looks me in the eye. I love you, too. I don’t know why she says it. I mean, I guess, bless her for trying, but only Alice could make that into the worst thing in the world.

I just stare at her. I stare at her with my heart and my legs, and my tongue and my hands, and my ears and my ankles and my clit.

Alice is not stupid. She puffs up straight like she’s going to tell me off. But she doesn’t tell me off. Instead, she says the most horrible thing, the thing she knows I know. She gives name to the monster that has grown in the deep waters of my stomach:

I’m falling for your brother.

Maybe she’s in love with him. She is not in love with me. She loves me as a sister, n—

I don’t hear the rest of it.

It’s like my whole body is a wave, and I heave tears from my belly into my head, which is too small for them. I just fall down. I just fall down and lay on the wall, under the window, while Alice comes to me and I plow my head into her shoulder, like her shoulder can save me from the rest of her. Like I could maybe just have her shoulder, and that can be enough, and she can not have to deal with me, wretched, horrible me. And she’s hugging me and stroking my hair, and it is magic. And it is horrible.

When my tears draw down I hear her crying. I sit up and hold her face.

I love you, I say. I love you, I love you, I love you.

She just keeps crying, and now her eyes are on my shoulder, and it feels like an hour passes in a liminal world, a place where all our lives cross, and I could ride away like my spine is in pieces, or we could walk to her bedroom in tears, and lay down next to each other, and try.

So I tell her to try. I say, Alice, just try. Just choose to try.

She pulls her head up there is something terrible in her eyes.

I look down at myself and see I am in front of Mike Chinooga’s house. I am riding my bicycle, toward my house. I wait in the park until I see the cold glint of my big brother’s reflectors in the in the lamp-light. I sit on the front steps.
When my watch refuses to go past 11:52, I push myself through the door.

Amazingly, the kitchen light is on, and Mom is sitting with a short glass and a bottle of Woodford Reserve.

I must look as naked as I feel. I’ve never seen her move so fast. In one movement she’s in the hallway, I’m crying again, like I might never stop.

What’s the matter, sweetheart?

I cry harder.

Is it a… boy? There’s the slightest lift in her voice when she says it, and I realize she almost sounds hopeful. I know where this is going. I start heaving. She holds me against her chest like I’m six, like I’m her daughter, and—goddamn it!—I don’t have a choice. I have to tell her. I have to tell her now, and she’ll keep holding me, and it’ll be okay, because I can lose Alice, but…

It’s… about… Alice.

What about her, dearheart? I haven’t heard speak so gentle, so warm, since I got my period. Of course I can tell her. She’s my mother.

She… I’m… in love with her.

Mom pulls back a hair, and I knew this was a mistake.

What do you mean, in love with her?

She moves back to her seat, slow. No, not her seat, to her glass. I pull in a deep breath, like I’m fighting to the surface of something, and I have seconds before my lungs fill in. Do it now. Do it now, say it. Jump. Get on the high dive and jump. Before it’s impossible. Do it and damn everything.

And she doesn’t love me back.

The kitchen floor is a river.

Mom stares at me from another bank, further and further, receding.

Added: May 20, 2014 | Last changed: January 25, 2015