A week before graduation,

Alice and I snake our bikes through the Morses Pond woods. Sharon White’s aunt and uncle will be in Vermont all weekend, and left her keys and charcoal. Alice’s legs keep drifting into the darkness, then returning, as if from somewhere else entirely.

Is this the right way?

I figure just keep going and we’ll hit water. The rest is easy.

Alice chuckles. Like that dream you had. She vaults over a maple trunk.

I slip a little. The rot under my shoe smells sweet, peaty. I look around: the dark claims everything more than a foot away. Hm. No bird, though.

Agh, she says. I don’t count?

I laugh. The crickets are out in force tonight, serenading one another. Suddenly, on the wind, there’s a noise I can’t make out, and then it’s gone. We keep walking. A minute later it’s back.

Do you hear that?

Alice keeps walking. Another minute passes. Deep in the horizon, tiny lights appear. Alice stops and turns her head. “No Quarter.”

Shit, then we gotta hurry. I love that album.

There’s a line to catch beer from the upstairs balcony. Inside: a mostly-empty bowl of Old Crow Punch; potato chips and blue-black hamburgers on an end table; everyone sipping, sipping.

No one seems to care that Alice fiddles with the stereo… or the cabinet left of the stereo. There, cap unbroken, is another bottle. Alice grabs two cups and we start catching up.

I swing my head toward the clock: 1:30. Sharon is half-slumped in the door.

Hey, what about a bonfire?

How’re we gonna clean that up?

We’re on a beach, I shrug. We can bury it.

Sharon looks over the front gate, to the sand, and re-inflates.

Hey! Roger, Emily! she shouts loud enough the trees rustle. Bonfire!

Everyone stumbles for wood. Marilyn Andrews empties a bottle of lighter fluid into a pit.

A joint appears. Flames come up; the boys take their shirts off. Splashing.

Time moves in waves. I’m at the edge of the beach. I’m in motion. I’m on the ground. I’m on Sharon White’s aunt’s Pendleton blanket. It hits me I haven’t been here since daydreaming of the high-dive. Jesus, I was six. It was terrifying: 20 feet of air; 10 more, cocooned under the surface. I still wonder if there’s a speed you can hit, like with stairs—if you could just run fast enough, you could hold on a moment, over the water…

Now, stoned a week before graduation, reclined on my elbows like my mother, this whole beach looks like a pebble.

A junior falls laughing next to me, props herself on an elbow, stares like she’s trying to place me. Of course I know who she is: her dad’s a big-deal musician; her photo’s in the trophy case outside the gym.

Aren’t you that runner?

My friends call me Cedar. Who are you?

That painter.

Nice to meet you. She stares at the moon.

When did you start running?

I was six.

Why?

She keeps looking at the moon. Matt King stole my ice cream and ran off. I caught him a block later. I just knew.

Is every boy in this town a jerk?

She laughs. The slow ones, anyway.

That’ll be trouble when the fast ones catch on.

Not if I’m faster.

I laugh. And what about you? What’s painting all about?

Oh, I try to say nonchalantly. You know. I have visions. Have to write them down somehow.

Now she laughs. We go on like this, I think, for five minutes. Maybe twenty. Maybe I’m imagining it, in which case I think we’ve been talking for hours. I look up and notice we’re on the edge of the woods. Smoke wafts behind a dune. I hear whips of Carla Thomas on the wind, which means Alice is back at the hi-fi.

How did we get over here?

Here? Where are we?

Weren’t we just on the beach?

Cedar looks over her shoulder, and back at me. Holy cow, you’re right.

I lean on one elbow. So what are you doing after graduation?

Visiting my family in Virginia, and training.

For what?

I… want to run across the country.

Like Mavis Hutchinson! It’s hard to tell in the firelight, but I think Cedar blushes. Then it doesn’t matter, or I’m sure of it, because suddenly I know she’s a good kisser. For a drunk girl, a really good kisser.

Do you… I whisper. Do you kiss girls?

Only ones I don’t think I can catch.

A plume of sparks shoots out of the fire, and someone hoots.

I think we should have a race.

Oh yeah? She smirks.

Yeah. First one to the chips gets to pick our first date.

She shakes her head. Wait. What? …date?

You just said you kiss girls.

Are you fucking crazy? Wait… are you a fucking lesbo? Oh, this is too much.

Well, but we just… we…

Cedar jumps up and starts to run toward the beach, but her legs wobble and she falls on her face. Twice. Three times. She clears the dune, and she’s gone.

The high dive finds us all, eventually. I look around the trees. I think about how long before Cedar tells everyone. The crickets pause. A frog croaks. The crickets continue.

Fuck.

Alice will make this better. Alice will leave with me and we can sneak back into the woods, into the dark, before anyone hears about it. I pull myself off the ground, push the whiskey out of my head, walk along the woods. At the kitchen door, Matt King is asleep with the porch steps in his mouth. Good. Get distracted. Talk about that. The couches are full of beer and stray grease. Alice is closing the door to the liquor cabinet in the living room.

And my big brother is passing her a joint.

Added: May 18, 2014 | Last changed: January 25, 2015