Authors: Bonnie Dee
Copyright © 2011 by Bonnie Dee
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By Bonnie Dee
“Nice titties, Banacek. Big.” It was a sneer, not a compliment, drawled by a hulking monster of a boy who could’ve been a linebacker but was instead a waste of space druggie and, from the gossip Jen had heard, a criminal.
“Shut up, Crawford, you little pencil dick.” Tara Banacek was bold. You had to give her that. It was easy to see why she was the queen bee in the middle school hive.
Jen glanced down at her own chest. Two small bumps swelled under her bathing suit top. For once, she was glad not to be Tara Banacek, a girl with the kind of body guys noticed. For once, she was glad to be invisible, a satellite to Tara’s star. Even so, Jen’s pulse quickened, jittery with adrenaline, as a herd of boys trooped toward her friends where they lay sunning on blankets beside the lake. She was very aware how isolated they were. Nobody else was around today.
In fact, Tara had complained about it when they’d first arrived. What was the use of lying out in her new bathing suit if there weren’t any guys to see her? She hadn’t said that aloud, of course, but Jen knew that’s what Tara meant when she complained about how empty the lakeshore was.
Now there were six boys swarming into their space, but Crawford and his friends weren’t the kind of guys a girl wanted to flirt with.
Tara’s eyes were ice and her voice sharp as razor wire. “Get lost, losers. We were here first.”
It was kind of a childish taunt but Jen was glad Tara had the guts to stand her ground against Vin Crawford. To Jen that animal was intimidating even in the tame hallways of school, let alone out here in the wild. The way he shouldered his way through the crowded corridors like a bull ready to gore the first person who crossed him was scary. Jen took care to avoid him and all his henchmen whenever possible.
“Fuck you. The lake don’t belong to you bitches,” Crawford said.
“Why don’t you at least go a little farther down the beach? There’s plenty of room for everybody.” Ania tried to smooth things over like she did when the girls in their group started sniping at each other. Jen saw a future in politics for her friend with the cool, soothing voice.
In response, Crawford snapped at his minions to plant their cooler in the sand only yards away. The boys’ big feet churned up sand as they took possession of the strip of beach, sending it sifting on the breeze over the girls. Shrill female exclamations were answered by male voices wobbling uneasily from bass to tenor. The arguing escalated as the two groups shouted back and forth.
Jen pressed her body into the sand, willing herself even more invisible. Her skin burned, but not from the sun beating on it. She hated fights, hated loud voices spewing poisonous words. Why did Tara and the others even have to talk to these guys? Why couldn’t they ignore them and hope the boys wouldn’t bug them? That’s what Jen would do, hunker down and pretend they didn’t exist no matter what insults they threw.
She rolled onto her stomach so none of them would make any remarks about her flat chest and peered over at the six boys. There was bullish Crawford and his best friend, Braden, whose face was so mottled with acne he looked like a burn victim. She recognized the freckled Tapper boys, their cousin, Ryan Walters and another cousin, a skinny boy called Drake. She didn’t know Drake’s last name or if he was a Tapper, a Waters or something else. For that matter, he might not even
their cousin. That family was so big, she wasn’t sure about all the relationships.
Burrowed into the sand, head resting on her folded arms, Jen’s body contracted with each slur the boys threw at the girls, calling them bitches and worse. She was used to hearing that kind of talk at school, but not directed at her or her friends. She wished she could just go home, but they hadn’t ridden their bikes today. Ania’s mom had dropped the five of them off and wouldn’t pick them up for several more hours, and Jen couldn’t call her own mom, who was at work.
“You guys are such assholes,” Leesa yelled. “We’ll call the cops if you don’t leave us alone.” She dragged out her cell phone and waved it in what might have been a threatening way if the phone wasn’t pink and bejeweled. It was obviously a hollow threat which only earned more jeers from the Tapper brothers.
Jen remained silent, hunkered down to earth like a small animal. She surreptitiously studied the group of invaders over the crook of her elbow and noticed one of the boys wasn’t joining in on the insults. That kid, Drake had spread a towel on the sand and sat, staring at the waves lapping the shore. He didn’t look at all like his red-headed, doughy-skinned Tapper cousins. The boy was greyhound-thin with a shock of crow-black hair that hung to his shoulders. His skin was tan except for where pale scars interrupted the brown; a pink patch on one leg that looked like maybe he’d scraped off skin in a bike or skateboard accident, jagged scratches and cuts in other places.
Just then Drake turned his head and looked at Jen between Leesa and Tara’s bodies. She felt a sharp stab of embarrassment at being caught staring and started to look away, but his gaze snagged hers like a thorn bush and wouldn’t let go. His eyes were as black and shiny as two ripe olives, their expression unreadable.
Jen stared at him past the curve of Tara’s breasts—bright red in her new bikini.
She suddenly realized he probably wasn’t looking at her at all but at Tara’s chest. Jen felt like an idiot for misinterpreting his interest, and surprisingly disappointed, until Tara turned her body and Drake continued staring past her right at Jen.
The link between them only lasted a moment, but it seemed like minutes that they remained silently locked together while the noise and confusion of their fighting friends swirled around them. Jen didn’t know what it meant. Probably it didn’t mean anything.
He’d just happened to see her lying there like a soldier in a foxhole and wondered what was wrong with her.
After a moment his gaze returned to the lake and hers dropped to the sand. But she still felt weird inside, unsettled and a little shaky.
Jen sat up and dusted the sand off her body. She leaned over and nudged Ania, the only one of her friends who still connected her to this group. “Hey, why don’t you call your mom and tell her to come get us early. This isn’t any fun.” Ania shook her head. “She’s busy. I’m not going to bother her. Besides, we shouldn’t have to run away like scared little kids. These guys are bullies. We don’t have to put up with their bullshit.”
“Crawford, you’re such a fucking loser. I’m going to tell my boyfriend what you said about my boobs and he’s going to kick your ass.” Tara put her boyfriend, Scott Auburn’s neck on the line to defend her honor, but Jen doubted he’d bother. The last she’d heard, Scott and Tara were off again in their constantly revolving merry-go-round of a relationship. Still, the threat sounded good.
Crawford just laughed as he reached into the cooler, pulled out a beer and popped the top. He took a long swallow then pulled out another can and held it toward Tara with a questioning tilt of his eyebrows.
She shrugged. He tossed it across the space between them. She caught it, opened it and took a swig.
Only then did Jen realize that all the yelling and posturing meant no more than a pair of cats yowling at each other to claim dominance. Tara and creepy Crawford had been sizing each other up and basically flirting in a noisy, mean way.
Jen didn’t get it. She didn’t like the way the whole scene made her feel. There was a sort of tension swirling in the air that made her uncomfortable. She’d once overheard her mom calling her a late bloomer and Jen knew she meant more than her daughter’s slow-to-develop body. She simply wasn’t ready for the weird head games that went on between girls and boys she’d grown up with who now felt like strangers. The whole flirting ritual made her feel clueless. It was one thing to talk with Ania about who they had a crush on, quite another to actually deal face to face with the baffling mystery of boys.
Jen stared longingly at the lake. Once upon a time, not so long ago, only last summer, she and her girlfriends would’ve been playing in the water, floating on rafts, having swimming races, diving under and seeing who could hold her breath the longest.
Now, going to the beach meant tanning by the water’s edge and rarely getting your expensive new suit wet. She felt a sudden sharp stab of loss, a loneliness sweeping through her. Even Antia seemed beyond her now, stepping through an invisible yet concrete barrier into another world.
Jen felt the severe pang she’d once experienced as a little girl attending a slumber party when the night got too late and the house too strange. She wanted desperately to go home. Tears prickled her eyes and swelled her throat. She had to get away before she humiliated herself by crying like a baby simply because her friends were passing around a beer.
She nudged Antia’s arm. “Hey, I think I’m gonna walk home.” Antia turned toward her. “What? No you’re not. It’s way too far. Don’t be stupid.”
I’m not comfortable here. This isn’t how I pictured the afternoon. I miss the way
we used to be. I’m sad.
She couldn’t say any of those things so she said, “I mean I’m going to take a walk in the woods. Of course, I wouldn’t try to walk all the way home.”
“Want me to go with?” Antia sounded about as interested in doing that as in going to the dentist. Her attention was already drifting back toward the other girls and the annoying interlopers who’d at least made the afternoon more interesting. Now everyone was watching and laughing as Ryan Waters shotgunned a beer.
“That’s okay. I’ll be right back.” Jen rose and wished she’d thought to bring along a cover-up as several of the boys scanned her from head to toe before their gazes moved on, finding her lacking.
She picked up her towel, shook off sand and wrapped it around her waist. Then she folded her arms over her breasts, pushed her feet into her sandals and walked quickly up the path into the woods. The gravel parking lot was on the far side of a stand of trees, but she didn’t go there. She veered off on a narrow path that meandered between the trees. She knew it led to a stream that fed the lake and decided that was as good a place as any to go sulk for a while.
Despite the annoyance of having to swat a few deer flies, she immediately started to feel better. The knot in her stomach loosened. Leaves diffused the light, making a cool, green world that was like being trapped inside an emerald. Unseen birds chirped in the treetops and the buzz of cicadas warned that summer was ending and a new school year would swallow her up soon.
Freshman. Bottom of the pile. A piece of litter caught up in the windstorm of the high school hierarchy. She was nervous at the prospect but a little excited too. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe she’d meet new friends, ones more interested in academics, ones who embraced their inner geek and lived it openly rather than pretending to like things they didn’t just to keep their friends happy. And maybe she’d finally “bloom,” gain some confidence and stop being so nervous around boys. It could happen.
The path was overgrown and prickers scratched at her bare legs. A mosquito whined near her ear and she slapped at it. Without a coating of bug spray, she was going to be sorry she’d taken this walk later tonight when her bites swelled up. But right now it felt good to be walking all alone in the woods, girl against nature, struggling for survival.
She broke through the underbrush and nearly stepped into the stream which was more overgrown with weeds than she’d remembered. Late summer drought had reduced the stream to a mere trickle. The water hardly moved and a marshy, muddy odor rose from it. She moved to a clearer spot and squatted beside the water, searching for the minnows that used to flicker in the shallows. There were no little dark shadows slipping through the yellow water.
Jen rested her forearms on her legs and stared upstream, thinking that nothing was as it had once been and change, in general, sucked. The sun beat down on her head and shoulders, hot and soothing, lulling her into a dreamy state.
She picked up some pebbles and listlessly chucked them at the water one by one, watching the ripples from one spread until they ran into the circles caused by the next stone. Suddenly that seemed very meaningful to her. She thought of how peoples’ lives were like neat concentric circles until they crashed into the sphere of someone else’s life.
She wondered if anyone else in the history of the world had ever had such a deep thought.
Then she figured they probably had. It was a big world with a long history and she wasn’t that clever or original.
The sound of footsteps and a body pushing through the brush brought her out of her dreamy trance and straight to her feet. She whirled to face whoever was invading her privacy.
Drake whatever-his-last-name-was emerged from the leafy branches looking like some kind of woodland creature, a faun without the goat legs. He was rangy and lean and half naked, wearing only a pair of shorts which covered him from low on his hips to his scarred kneecaps. He was sweating and ran a hand over his forehead, pushing strands of black hair out of his face. His eyes scanned the area before focusing on Jen. For a moment they widened as if he was surprised to see her and hadn’t followed her like some creepy stalker. That momentary unguarded look made her relax just a little.
“Hey.” His voice was the croak of a late summer bullfrog.
“Hey,” Jen replied then fell silent, at a loss for anything else to say.
“I thought you left. I mean, went home or something.” Jen glanced down at her daisy-sprinkled blue bathing suit top and the striped towel wrapped around her waist. Did it look as if she’d been heading home in this outfit?