My stepbrother, Will, is sitting in the chair that used to be my dad’s favorite before he left, and he’s smoking a joint and using a can of Diet Coke as an ashtray. He is talking about how the ego lives inside us all and creates pain, but nobody recognizes it because they are so possessed by it-or something like that. He keeps inhaling deeply and blowing all of the smoke out through his nose, and this is making me nervous because I know that my mom will flip out if she gets back from vacation and smells pot in the house.
Will’s dad and my mom are on a kind of “second honeymoon.” They’ve only been married for two years, but they are really into “celebrating their love” or whatever. They went to Hawaii, and Will and I are trapped in the suburbs of Austin for spring break, and I’m not old enough to drive, which means since Will is high, I am stuck here.
“I’m bored,” I say, lying on the couch and pressing my face into a pillow to block out the smell of smoke.
“See Lex, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. You’re not bored, that’s your ego talking. It’s fueled by creating negative energy in your body. Here, smoke some of this,” he says, leaning forward to offer me the joint. “Free yourself.”
“I don’t want to. It makes me feel sleepy. Besides, we shouldn’t do it in the house.”
“Don’t be so constricted, Lex. You’ve only tried it twice.”
“Isn’t it restricted?” I say.
“Are you getting high or not?” he says.
I want to say not, but instead I say “fine” and let Will show me how to do it, even though I’m pretty sure that I have it down.
He puts his hand on my back, and I feel a jolt, like I’m falling fast but there is no ground to hit.
He moves closer to me, our bodies touching. “Just breathe and hold it in for a second and then exhale it,” he says.
Will is a senior, and he and his friends smoke pot all the time, usually in the workshop in the garage that Will’s dad never uses, or sometimes at our high school, McCallum, in the “black hole,” the lot that no one parks in because it’s so far away.
Even though I’m a sophomore, smoking still kind of freaks me out. Once, at a party with Will, I smoked pot out of a pipe on someone’s old trampoline, mostly just so I wouldn’t look stupid, but it didn’t make me laugh like everyone else. We were jumping, but I didn’t feel exuberant like when I was a kid. I felt trapped, as if no matter how bad I needed to, I’d never be able to come back down.
When my mom and I moved in with Will and his dad two years ago, I changed schools, and I haven’t really made that many friends since. I’m kind of shy around people I don’t know. At parties, I usually put on something short and try to blend in. Sometimes I think I only really exist to Will.
“I don’t want anymore,” I say, after I’ve taken two hits.
Will puts a Radiohead CD in the stereo, and I pull my knees into my chest, press my head against them, and try to feel still.
Will sits beside me and covers me with one of the blankets from the couch. “Don’t tense up like that,” he says. “You okay?”
“Sleepy. I told you,” I say, agitated. I stretch out on the couch. My eyes feel heavy, and my whole body feels light. I feel dizzy with anticipation, thinking about how it feels to fall.
“So sleep then,” Will says.
“I don’t want to.”
“Call Kevin then.”
“I told you, I don’t like him,” I say, for something like the fifth time that day.
“He wants to do it with you.”
“Well I don’t like him, and I wouldn’t want him rolling around on top of me,” I say, pulling the blanket over my head.
“That’s the wrong way to describe it Lex,” Will says. His laughing embarrasses me, but I start laughing too.
When the song changes, Will says, “Kevin’s a jerk anyway. I never liked him.”
Pot always makes him paranoid.
I fall asleep with Will’s hand on my back. The smell of pot lingers in the air above us both, so thick I can taste it. The music from the stereo seems to fade away, and all I can hear is the sound of Will’s breathing.
When we wake up, we are starving. Sonic is only right down the street, but we never go there because Will’s mom used to take him there when he was a kid, and she died in a car-wreck on the way to work when he was eight, and now, anything from Sonic makes him want to puke. That left ordering pizza, or driving to Wendy’s. We were too hungry to wait.
“Let’s order pizza,” Will says.
“Let go to Wendy’s,” I say, not to disagree, but because I love being in a car. I love rolling the windows down and pretending that I am actually headed somewhere.
“Okay fine, get some shoes on or something,” he says.
In the car, Will always lets me pick the music, as long as it doesn’t suck. He drives me to school every morning, which is much better than being driven by your parents.
At the stoplight on Anderson, Will doesn’t look at Sonic. He never does. We talked about his mom and my dad once, and that was enough. My dad left when I was nine, and I’ve only seen him a couple of times since. He’s remarried now to a woman named Julia who has two ugly Pomeranians.
When we get to Burnet, I say, “Let’s keep driving.”
The sun is right in our eyes, so Will wears his sunglasses. I like how disheveled he looks, with messy hair and the same white t-shirt from yesterday. In some ways, I want him to always stay the same.
“Where would we go?” he wants to know.
“Anywhere where nobody knows us.”
“Maybe somewhere with an ocean?”
Will reaches over and puts his hand on top of mine. “That’s too far, Lex. We’d never make it back.”
The first time Will and I did it, I was fourteen. It was last spring, and our parents were home, but their room is downstairs.
All through dinner that night, under the tablecloth, Will kept putting his foot on top of mine. It started out kind of like a joke, and then I took my foot and ran it down his leg and raised my eyebrows.
We had been flirting like that a lot lately. In the months before, we played this game where Will would pin me down and hold my arms above my head. We would wrestle or just stay like that, his weight pressing into me. It was just a game, but we never did it in front of our parents.
It was thundering outside that first night, and whenever that happened I would go to Will’s room, and we would usually just lie there and listen to it together. I wasn’t as scared of it as Will thought I was, but I liked the way he would whisper it’s okay when he thought I was afraid.
That night was different though because Will put his arm around me, and I turned around to face him, and he kissed me, and I kissed him back. We kissed hard and for a long time, the way I had wanted to for the whole year I had lived with him.
I had been reading my mother’s Cosmopolitans, and I knew all about the things that guys could do to girls. Sometimes, lying on my stomach with my face hidden in my pillow, I would imagine Will doing those things to me, and I would shut my eyes and move my hand over my underwear until my heart sped up and I felt something contract inside of me and realized I had been holding my breath.
I kissed Will with my mouth open, the way you do when you’ve needed someone for a long time. We were touching each other, and I could feel his erection press against my stomach, solid and surprisingly warm. I was afraid to touch it, but I let him take off my underwear and put his fingers inside of me. It was so dark and every time it thundered, lightening filled the room. I pulled Will’s bedspread over us and closed my eyes.
I couldn’t watch it.
Still, I took off my nightgown, and Will took off his boxers, and he kissed me all over. It tickled, but I didn’t laugh. I kept forgetting to exhale, and over the thunder Will whispered, Do you want to, Lex?
I only got scared when I saw him putting on the condom because his thing looked bigger than I had realized and because the condom smelled strange. At first it really hurt and kind of stung, and I yelled ouch without even realizing it, and Will put his hand over my mouth so that we wouldn’t wake up our parents.
Will kept telling me to relax, but I couldn’t. I kept pulling away from him even though I didn’t mean to, so he stopped. The condom had a little blood on it, which Will said he thought was normal. I still felt the stinging though, so I started crying a little. I didn’t know it was going to hurt that bad, and Will kept asking me questions like what it felt like and how bad it hurt, but I didn’t know how to explain it, which upset me more.
Will brought me my clothes and rubbed my back, and we stayed up until the thunder stopped, until we heard our parents’ alarm.
At first I told myself that I would never do it again, but I kept being drawn to Will, like I couldn’t find my balance and he was the one thing that could hold me up. We talked about stopping, but we never could.
Eventually it stopped hurting, and it even felt good. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I would wait for thunderstorms.
Lately, we’ve stopped using storms as an excuse. We do it after-school before our parents get home, or when they go out together for dinner. I still like it during thunderstorms though; my favorite way has always been in the dark.
After dinner, we swim in the pool and lay out in the sun. Under the water, everything feels weightless, and if I close my eyes, I can convince myself that I’m somewhere else. Sometimes, I come out here and swim at night. Floating on your back in the dark, you can almost forget everything about who you are.
“You should tan topless,” Will says.
“No way, the neighbors might be home,” I say, looking towards the fence covered in ivy that is twisting and tangling around itself.
“Your hair smells like apricots.” He reaches over and draws imaginary pictures on my back with his finger. “You wanna do it?”
“Not right now,” I say, turning over and shading my eyes from the sun.
I grab the copy of Crime and Punishment that I took from Will’s backpack and suck in my stomach so that my chest rises. I undo my ponytail, letting my long dark hair fall over my shoulders.
“We can do it the way you like,” Will says.
I know that he is thinking about me on top, know that he likes the way I look, but I just like it because I can bury my face in his shoulder.
He gets up and sticks his head into the water and then shakes his wet hair. The little drops fall on my stomach and arms and stay there, tiny little specks that sparkle in the sun.
“Hey, cut it out,” I say, laughing. “Don’t get this wet,” I say, holding up his book. “I’m almost finished.”
“Come on,” he says, drying his wet hair with a towel. He has that look on his face that makes it impossible to ignore him.
“Fine,” I say. “Then will you take me somewhere?”
“Sure, anywhere you want.”
Driving down 2222, Will says, “Are you sure this is where you wanna go?”
I love Mount Bonnell, but I think Will is secretly scared of heights. The peak is 780 feet high, but you can see the entire city from it. At night, you can even see the stars despite the skyline.
Climbing the stone steps, Will says, “I should have asked you what you had in mind.”
“Oh come on, it’s not that bad, don’t be so constricted,” I say.
“Why are you so obsessed with this place anyway?” Will asks. He is already out of breath, but we have a long way to go before we make it to the top.
I like watching the sunset; it makes me feel something inside of myself that I am not afraid of.
I can’t explain that though, so I just say, “I don’t know,” and tell him to hurry up or we’ll miss it.
At the top of Mount Bonnell, I sit on the stone wall that is meant to keep people from falling off the cliff.
“That makes me nervous,” Will says. “Come here.”
I won’t move and Will knows this, so he puts his arms around me to keep me from falling.
“Want to hear a story?” I ask him.
The sun is about to start setting and then it will be dark. We are alone here, which is unusual because typically Mount Bonnell is busy at sunset.
Will doesn’t answer.
“It’s kind of a stupid story anyway,” I say.
“That’s okay,” he says.
I can tell that he is in awe of this place. From so high up, you feel like you are in control. I tell him this place used to be called Antoinette’s Leap.
“This girl, Antoinette, was engaged to a man she loved, I forget his name,” I say. “But anyway, some Indians captured them, and he fought to the death to save her from them. Then, after the Indians killed him, she ran and made it all the way to the edge of this cliff. She heard the Indians catching up to her, so she took one look back at them and then jumped to her death.”
“That’s pretty crazy, who told you that?” Will asks, looking down at the cliffs below.
“My dad,” I tell him. “People always say that she jumped to be with the guy though. That’s why some people call this place lover’s leap. Pretty dumb, right?” I say, even though I wish that Will would disagree.
Will nods and we are quiet for a while.
“Why don’t you stand behind the wall,” he says. “You’re kind of freaking me out.”
“I’m not gonna fall,” I say, turning over my shoulder to look at him. “I bet if I did you wouldn’t jump after me.”
He smiles, “Not unless there were Indians chasing me.”
At fifteen, I think that I am smart, that if I can expect less from people, then I can’t be hurt by them. But standing there, I realize that I am always going to want more from Will. The sun sets in soft reds and yellows, oranges and pinks, and I lean against Will’s chest and listen to him exhale and try not to think about what he said and what it meant.
“Don’t you like it?” I ask.
Will has one arm around me and the other is shading his eyes from the sun. “Yeah.”
“It makes me feel like we can’t be wrong,” I say, sitting and dangling my legs over the edge of the wall.
“We’re not wrong,” he says, squeezing my shoulders. “We just need to keep it a secret.”
We watch the nighttime creep in over the sky, and I wish the lights of Austin would burn out so that, except for the stars, it would just be pitch black.
I want Will to hold me, but not here. I want us to be somewhere else, anywhere where nobody knows us at all.
“They won’t,” Will cuts me off. “We’re quiet.”
He’s right. We are always quiet. Even when we are alone.
“What do you think a black star looks like?”
“That’s just a song, Lex. I don’t even think there is such a thing.”
“Maybe I mean a black hole then,” I say.
“It looks like nothing. That’s the point of them. They just suck in light and everything else. You wouldn’t even know what hit you,” he says. “Why do you wanna know about stuff like that?”
“Just want to.”
“Get off the wall, would you?” he says irritably. “I should get you home. It’s gonna rain.”
“Let it rain. It’s not gonna hurt us,” I say, lying down on the wall, my hair falling over the edge.
“It’s probably going to thunder,” he tells me. Then, pulling at my arm he says, “You won’t like that.”
I take a breath and say, “Let’s wait until it starts then.”
We stay out there waiting for the rain, but it doesn’t come. Instead there is just dark and stillness, the sound of cicadas in the distance, and wind that blows through our hair. I feel a lump rise in my throat, but I hold my breath because I don’t trust myself to say the right thing.
I pick up a small rock that is next to me on the wall and throw it over the edge. We both watch it fall.
“Where’s the storm?” I finally ask, sitting up. I am shivering, even though Will has his arms around me, and I can feel him pulling me tighter and tighter towards him, his legs on either side of me.
“Come on, it’ll be okay,” Will says.
“Why can’t we stop?” I ask, but I let him put his hand on my thigh anyway, and I let him kiss me and lie on top of me on the wall, and when he does, I kiss him back hard, as if that alone can save us both.
“It’s alright,” Will says. I’m looking up at him, at the sky, dark behind him, and all I feel is really alone.
“Maybe,” I say, even though I feel like everything might come undone.
“This is dangerous,” Will says, surveying the cliffs below, as if he realizes for the first time that if either of us moves we would both slip off the edge.
“I know,” I say, and even though I am getting scared, I can hear myself whisper, Lets stay because I know that I don’t want to go home.