17-year-old Jack is trying to survive in his seedy Southern California town, especially given the chain of events he sets into motion after falling in love with the new boy at school.
We’d just put acid under our tongues, strips of paper printed with Scooby Doo and Donald Duck. We decided on Max’s basement for the trip. It was empty and cool down there, a humming air-conditioner and stained coffee table littered with old copies of National Geographic and Time. They had some trippy pictures in that shit.
I think Toby started to feel the drugs working first. All four of us were kicking back on the couch, our kicks on the coffee table, when mid-conversation, Toby rolled up the sleeves of his Iron Maiden t-shirt and stared at his arms as if he’d never seen them before.
“Put the beer muscles away, Tobe,” Connor said. He leaned back into the ratty couch, probably taking it all in for the first time: the dark oak wallpaper, the carpeting a dull gray, stained with beer and cigarette-burned holes of parties past. Max’s folks never came down here. The dart board over the pool table was only touched by us now, the plastic talking rainbow bass mounted over it collecting dust on the wall, its mouth hanging open in a permanent dumb stare. The basement was our headquarters, a tree-house of sorts for rambunctious boys more interested in snorting something harder than Pixy Stix, or chucking pebbles at girls. Now, we welcomed them.
Toby started humming to himself, and Max and I exchanged a smile. Toby jumped up from the couch and kissed his biceps, turning to face Connor.
“These are the real deal, my man,” he said, flexing what little muscle he had.
“Yeah, I doubt that,” Connor said. He shook his head and smacked his carton of cigarettes against his palm. I watched the motion, transfixed by the repetition, my head starting to feel fuzzy, all of the colors in the room giving off a warm glow.
Toby hopped from foot to foot, getting that look, that look that meant he wanted to fuck around. “You wanna try me?” he asked Connor. He put up his fists and punched the air, whistling enticingly. Max and I cackled.
“Love to,” Connor said.
“Then come try me, you little bitch!” He looked so ridiculous, with his uncombed hair and pupils bulging, like a little boxer man in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Connor got up from the couch and tossed his pack of cigarettes to me. When the carton hit my palms, electricity surged through my fingers. It was then I knew just how high I was.
Connor stared Toby down for a moment before shoving him. Toby lost his balance and hit the ground hard, but quickly recovered, sitting up and pulling Connor down on top of him. They wrestled around, Max practically in tears from laughter, until Connor pinned Toby’s hands behind his back and gave a triumphant laugh. Toby grunted and struggled, trying to break free of his hold. Max snorted and took a swig of beer, handing me the bottle to finish it off. I pressed it to my lips, realizing I was smiling like crazy, the booze tasting radiant in my mouth. The plastic bass gaped at us from the wall with his glassy, knowing eyes. I swear I saw its mouth move.
Connor punched Toby’s arm once, then freed him, standing and throwing his arms up in the air. “And the true Iron Maiden remains triumphant!” he declared. Max whooped and clapped for him.
Toby pounced on him from behind, trying to yank him back down, but Connor easily pushed him off. Max was practically collapsing with laughter even as he ducked Toby’s sucker punch. It all happened in a blur of hands and bodies and sweat, but Connor got over to me and grabbed my arm, pulling me into the dog pile.
I tried to remember 7th grade wrestling camp, tried to get Connor in a headlock like I’d learned when I was just a kid, but he was too quick. After a good scuffle — his hands, his chest, his body — he flipped me on my back and pinned my arms to the ground, palms pressed into mine. We were breathing hard from the exertion, my shirt up to my chin. I felt the muscles in his palms fire before they released mine and slid back to his sides. His smooth biceps, the way his tank top cinched around his taut shoulders…I forgot how to inhale. His eyes wandered down the bared skin of my chest, down my thigh. He raised an eyebrow, his lips curling into a grin.
Shit, shit. I rolled him off me and stood up quickly, adjusting my pants with fumbling fingers. My face burned red hot.
As I walked quickly to the bathroom around the corner I could feel him watching me. Max and Toby were feeling the high, I could tell from their laughs. They were thankfully, hopefully, oblivious.
I flipped on the lights and splashed freezing water on my face, trying to breathe. I tried to visualize something soothing, tried to stop shaking.
The door opened. The lights went out.
The lock clicked.
And suddenly he was everywhere.
His chest up against mine, hands all over. The smell of his shirt, cologne that set my senses on fire. I opened my mouth, his kisses hungry and rough, nothing like a girl’s. Hot tongue, hands down my back, up my shirt, blazing trails across my skin. I let it burn right through me, like the heat of the sun. I just let go.