Bonfire

I sleep most of the day. At four o’clock I finally roll out of bed. My head is splitting. I think about calling Chris, but after checking my phone to see if he’s called me (no) I just pull on my jeans, make myself a bowl of ramen, and sit down in front of the television. Concentrate on taking one bite at a time, on watching Animal Planet, on anything but remembering last night. Check my phone again. No missed calls, no messages. I hit Chris’s number, just for the hell of it, but he doesn’t answer and I hang up before his voicemail kicks in.

My phone buzzes me awake as credits roll – I don’t know what movie was, and I guess it doesn’t matter since I missed the ending. I sit up suddenly, thinking it’s Chris, but it’s my brother Dan, wondering where I am. I tell him I’m home, turn off the TV, and bury my head between the decorative pillows and the couch cushions. Shove all thoughts out of my brain and focus on falling back asleep.

It doesn’t work. My phone buzzes again and I pick it up, sigh. Dan’s asking me what my plans are for tonight and I don’t have any. I consider making some up, or telling him I’m just hanging out with Chris, but he’s probably already texted him, and anyway, I can’t lie to Dan. He always sees through it. I lay the phone back down on the table and stare out the window. The sun has already set, the skies darkening rapidly. Yesterday was the first day of winter, the solstice. The darkest day of the year. I press redial on my phone, but Chris doesn’t pick up. Maybe he left his phone in his car.

The door slams in the hallway and Dan strides in, his arms hugging a case of beer.

“Hey Liz,” he says, setting the beer down on the coffee table. His dark curls shine with outside mist. “Where’s Chris?”

“I don’t know,” I say, truthfully. “He left this morning.” I vaguely remember cracking my eyes open for just a few seconds to watch him gently shut the door behind him. Opening my mouth to say something, but falling back asleep before finding the right words.

“You sleep late?” I nod. “Good,” he says. “You’re coming out with me.” He turns towards the kitchen.

“No,” I say, “I still feel tired.” He stops, looks at my face. I realize that he already knows.

“Did Chris call you,” I say, carefully. “Did he tell you what happened?”

“Liz,” he says. “It wasn’t your fault. There wasn’t anything you did wrong. You and Chris did the best thing you could have done.”

I feel a lump form in my throat and I turn my face away, back towards the television. “I don’t want to go anywhere.” I can’t believe he called Dan but won’t even pick up his phone for me now. Confusion makes my head spin and I lean back against the couch cushions. “I’m not feeling well.”

“I understand,” he says, lifting the beer off the table. “But sitting around trying not to think about it isn’t going to help you feel better.”

So I find myself crammed in the back seat of Dan’s old truck with Alex and Monte. When I was younger, they were like second and third brothers, but now that I’m in high school, we’ve become friends in our own right. Dan’s driving, his new girlfriend Nadine is sitting shotgun. Her whiny voice makes me cringe and the bouncing of the truck threatens to send half-digested noodles into Alex’s lap. We drive out to the point, where the boys are planning to make a bonfire. Dan stops the truck at the water’s edge and we all pile out. I take a deep breath of the bay air to steady my stomach and follow the other’s dark shadows across the grass to the fire pit by the shore.

The boys clamber around, setting logs and sticks and strips of paper just right before lighting a match and throwing it in. After a few tries and a few tense arguments, the fire is roaring loudly, impervious to the spray blowing off the bay.

“Good job, boys,” Nadine crows, and pulls a bottle from inside her purse. She unscrews the lid, throws it back, and swallows down the top eighth before passing it to me. My stomach heaves at the sight of the tossing brown liquid and I pass it to Dan across the fire, ignoring the stares of the others.

“She had a rough night last night,” Dan says, excusing me, and takes a swig. I sit down on a damp rock and curl my knees up the my chin. Shiver in the cold bay air, but shrug Alex off when he tries to put his arm around me.

“Alright, alright,”  he says, “I didn’t mean anything, I know you have a boyfriend.”

“Hey,” he says, standing up and looking down at me. “Where is Chris anyway? And them other two you’re always hanging around with, Corinne and whatshisname, Ian?”

“Ethan,” says Nadine. “He’s Amy Langstom’s younger brother.”

I see Dan shaking his head no at her, her look puzzled, his insistent. She purses her lips closed, nods but rolls her eyes, and takes the bottle from Alex’s outstretched fingertips. What, she silently mouths to him, and I see his lips move, Later.

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I pull it out with semi-numb fingers and stare at the name on the screen. Chris. Where has he been all day? I hit answer, hold the phone up the my cold ear.

“Hello?”

“Liz?”

“Yeah.”

“Where are you?”

“On the point,” I say. “Where have you been?”

“I was at the hospital,” he says, and my stomach clenches again, tighter than before, but I suck a few breaths from the misty air to steady myself. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you.”

“It’s okay, ” I say, guilt pricking at my eyes. I walk a few steps away from the fire. “Why didn’t you wake me up this morning?”

“It’s better you slept,” he says. “Do you want me to come out there?” I nod for a few seconds before I realize that he can’t see me.

“Yes please,” I say, swallowing hard. I hang up the phone before I can start to cry and walk slowly back to the fire.

“Everything okay?” Dan asks, his eyes concerned in the soft firelight.

“Yeah,” I say. “Chris is coming.”

“All right,” says Alex, raising his bottle in the air.

I stare into the fire. Fire is a beautiful thing to watch. The flames lick up and down in the cool air, lapping at the wood and spitting sparks into the night sky. The embers pulse relentlessly, hot and dark, crisp and soft. Smoke weaves gray and white patterns above our heads, resisting the mist to carve a path of its own. Conversation carries on around me, and in the normalcy of another Saturday night at the point, I begin to relax. Forget.

“Hey,” I hear his voice before I see him, his hesitant form emerging into the soft firelight. He nods towards my brother then Nadine. Alex is off in the bushes.

“Hey Chris,” Nadine’s voice only grows higher when she’s drunk, and I feel my shoulders begin to tense up again. “You want some?” She waves the bottle, almost empty, from her hand, and uses it to gesture towards the ripped-open case of beer. He shakes his head.

“I’m good.” He looks at me, his eyes glassy in the fire’s heat. “You okay?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’m good.” He comes around the fire to sit by me, slips his hand into the pocket of my hoodie.

“You’re hands are freezing,” he says, his voice light, and I look up at him.

“How is she?”

I see his throat bob as he swallows, looking into the fire. I can see the flames curling around his eyeballs, the flush it’s already putting in his cheeks. “She’s okay,” he says.

“Really?” I ask, my voice flat.

He takes a deep breath. “She’s not great, but she’s okay,” he says. I turn my hand so his palm is against mine and tighten my fingers. Hold it tight. Exhale. Last night flashes back in a hazy burst; gulping back vile tumbles of vodka and juice at Ethan’s, running, fueled by alcohol and adrenaline, through the quiet streets, Chris’s hands on my hips and hot breath on my neck. Corinne’s gasp when I answered the phone. Come back, Liz, she whispered. Come back before he comes back.

Who, Corinne, I said, my head heavy with sleepy lust. I just wanted to crawl back into bed with Chris, lose myself in his scent and the sense of his skin slipping against my own.

Please help me.

I stand up and stumble over rocks to the waters edge. Lean over. The noodles pass up through my throat and spill over my lips onto the rocks.

“You alright?” Chris is behind me, his voice overpowered by the sound of the water. I nod. My head is a rush of memory and sickness and exhaustion. I look out at the murky lights across the bay, the lights blinking on the bridge, the dark hills rising up out of the fog.

Please help me. We couldn’t find her at first, our feet sounding loudly on the wood floors of her empty house. Her parents were out for the weekend; they’d trusted her to have fun but be safe, and she would have been, if only. Drunk and in lust, she pulled my arm as we slid on the slippery sidewalk before she went inside. Ethan’s staying over, she said proudly. We’re going to do it. I had a bad feeling as soon as I saw her name pop up on my caller i.d. and as we called out through the rooms, it grew into panic and then, finally, fear. “CORINNE,” I screamed, sober and wide-awake.

Here. I followed the whisper back into her bedroom, flipped on the light, leaned over the bed to see the space between the comforter and the wall. Screamed again. Heard Chris behind me, his soft swearing and the sound of the sirens moments later. Her arms were pinned behind her, her hair hanging over her face, just her eyes shining through, half-opening with every fluttery breath. She looked like a joke, like a sick drawing, not like Corinne at all. I wanted to reach for her hand but I was afraid to touch her, my best friend. I just stared.

Then they were gone, in a blur of efficiency and questions that Chris answered, calm as always. He walked me home and when I held tight to his coat sleeve, he came inside and laid down on the bed with me. Kicked off my shoes. Wrapped his arms around my shivering body. I followed his even breath until I fell asleep.

“Hey,” says Chris, his hands on my shoulders. “You should go home.”

“Okay.” My knees feel weak and my feet keep slipping on the sharp rocks. He takes my elbow and guides me over the wet stones back to the fire.

“I’m going to take Liz home,” he says to Dan quietly. Dan looks concerned but I don’t look at him, just stare back into the fire and wish I was still sleeping. After we leave, he will tell Nadine and Alex and Monte. By Monday the whole school will know. In a few more days, most of the town. I don’t want any part of it.

Chris stops at the curb instead of pulling into the driveway. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. I want to ask him to come inside but I won’t. He didn’t call me all day. He was with Corinne. I should have been with Corinne. I need her. I need him. He unlocks the doors.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he says. “Sleep well.”

“Sure,” I say. I get out of the car and walk around the side of the house, like I’m going to go in the garage door. When I hear his car drive away, I double back onto the sidewalk and begin to run.

I run without thinking, taking a path in reverse, reliving the beginning of Friday night before I even knew such things were possible, or could happen to me or someone I knew. I’ve known Ethan since middle school. I stop in front of his house. The driveway is empty, the windows are dark. I know which one is his bedroom. I pick up a rock from the flower bed beside the driveway and throw it as hard as I can. It hits. The rock hits the floor with a dull thud through the sound of breaking glass. Calm and alert, I walk back down the street.

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About mayafishsticks

Since I turned 20, it's all gone downhill.
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