“No,” I said. “I never have.”
“Think it would be fun?”
DO I!?!?!?!?!?!?! “Um. yeah. I mean, you don’t have to.”
“I think I want to,” she said, and we kissed a little, and then. And then with me sitting watching The Brady Bunch, watching Marcia Marcia Marcia up to her Brady antics, Lara unbuttoned my pants and pulled my boxers down a little and pulled out my penis.
“Wow,” she said.
She looked up at me, but didn’t move, her face nanometers away from my penis. “It’s weird.”
“What do you mean weird?”
“Just beeg, I guess.”
I could live with that kind of weird. And then she wrapped her hand around it and put it into her mouth.
We were both very still. She did not move a muscle in her body, and I did not move a muscle in mine. I knew that at this point something else was supposed to happen, but I wasn’t quite sure what.
She stayed still. I could feel her nervous breath. For minutes, for as long as it took the Bradys to steal the key and unlock themselves from the ghost-town jail, she lay there, stock-still with my penis in her mouth, and I sat there, waiting.
And then she took it out of her mouth and looked up at me quizzically.
“Should I do sometheeng?”
“Um. I don’t know,” I said. Everything I’d learned from watching porn with Alaska suddenly exited my brain. I thought maybe she should move her head up and down, but wouldn’t that choke her? So I just stayed quiet.
“Should I, like, bite?”
“Don’t bite! I mean, I don’t think. I think—I mean, that felt good. That was nice. I don’t know if there’s something else.”
“I mean, you deedn’t—”
“Um. Maybe we should ask Alaska.”
So we went to her room and asked Alaska. She laughed and laughed. Sitting on her bed, she laughed until she cried. She walked into the bathroom, returned with a tube of toothpaste, and showed us. In detail. Never have I so wanted to be Crest Complete.
Lara and I went back to her room, where she did exactly what Alaska told her to do, and I did exactly what Alaska said I would do, which was die a hundred little ecstatic deaths, my fists clenched, my body shaking. It was my first orgasm with a girl, and afterward, I was embarrassed and nervous, and so, clearly, was Lara, who finally broke the silence by asking, “So, want to do some homework?”
There was little to do on the first day of the semester, but she read for her English class. I picked up a biography of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara—whose face adorned a poster on the wall—that Lara’s roommate had on her bookshelf, then I lay down next to Lara on the bottom bunk. I began at the end, as I sometimes did with biographies I had no intention of reading all the way through, and found his last words without too much searching. Captured by the Bolivian army, Guevara said, “Shoot, coward. You are only going to kill a man.” I thought back to SimOn BolIvar’s last words in GarcIa Márquez’s novel—“How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” South American revolutionaries, it would seem, died with flair. I read the last words out loud to Lara. She turned on her side, placing her head on my chest.
“Why do you like last words so much?”
Strange as it might seem, I’d never really thought about why. “I don’t know,” I said, placing my hand against the small of her back. “Sometimes, just because they’re funny. Like in the Civil War, a general named Sedgwick said, ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant from this dis—’ and then he got shot.” She laughed. “But a lot of times, people die how they live. And so last words tell me a lot about who people were, and why they became the sort of people biographies get written about. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Yeah?” Just yeah?
“Yeah,” she said, and then went back to reading.
I didn’t know how to talk to her. And I was frustrated with trying, so after a little while, I got up to go.
I kissed her good-bye. I could do that, at least.
I picked up Alaska and the Colonel at our room and we walked down to the bridge, where I repeated in embarrassing detail the fellatio fiasco.
“I can’t believe she went down on you twice in one day,” the Colonel said.
“Only technically. Really just once,” Alaska corrected.
“Still. I mean. Still. Pudge got his hog smoked.”
“The poor Colonel,” Alaska said with a rueful smile. “I’d give you a pity blow, but I really am attached to Jake.”
“That’s just creepy,” the Colonel said. “You’re only supposed to flirt with Pudge.”
“But Pudge has a giiirrrrlllfriend.” She laughed.
That night, the Colonel and I walked down to Alaska’s room to celebrate our Barn Night success. She and the Colonel had been celebrating a lot the past couple days, and I didn’t feel up to climbing Strawberry Hill, so I sat and munched on pretzels while Alaska and the Colonel drank wine from paper cups with flowers on them.
“We ain’t drinkin’ out the bottle tonight, hun,” the Colonel said. “We classin’ it up!”
“It’s an old-time Southern drinking contest,” Alaska responded.
“We’s a-gonna treat Pudge to an evening of real Southern livin’: We go’n match each other Dixie cup for Dixie cup till the lesser drinker falls.”
And that is pretty much what they did, pausing only to turn out the lights at 11:00 so the Eagle wouldn’t drop by. They chatted some, but mostly they drank, and I drifted out of the conversation and ended up squinting through the dark, looking at the book spines in Alaska’s Life Library. Even minus the books she’d lost in the mini-flood, I could have stayed up until morning reading through the haphazard stacks of titles. A dozen white tulips in a plastic vase were precariously perched atop one of the book stacks, and when I asked her about them, she just said, “Jake and my’s anniversary,” and I didn’t care to continue that line of dialogue, so I went back to scanning titles, and I was just wondering how I could go about learning Edgar Allan Poe’s last words (for the record: “Lord help my poor soul”) when I heard Alaska say, “Pudge isn’t even listening to us.”
And I said, “I’m listening.”
“We were just talking about Truth or Dare. Played out in seventh grade or still cool?”
“Never played it,” I said. “No friends in seventh grade.”
“Well, that does it!” she shouted, a bit too loud given the late hour and also given the fact that she was openly drinking wine in the room. “Truth or Dare!”
“All right,” I agreed, “but I’m not making out with the Colonel.” The Colonel sat slumped in the corner. “Can’t make out. Too drunk.”
Alaska started. “Truth or Dare, Pudge.”
“Hook up with me.”
So I did.
It was that quick. I laughed, looked nervous, and she leaned in and tilted her head to the side, and we were kissing. Zero layers between us. Our tongues dancing back and forth in each other’s mouth until there was no her mouth and my mouth but only our mouths intertwined. She tasted like cigarettes and Mountain Dew and wine and Chap Stick. Her hand came to my face and I felt her soft fingers tracing the line of my jaw. We lay down as we kissed, she on top of me, and I began to move beneath her. I pulled away for a moment, to say, “What is going on here?” and she put one finger to her lips and we kissed again. A hand grabbed one of mine and she placed it on her stomach. I moved slowly on top of her and felt her arching her back fluidly beneath me.
I pulled away again. “What about Lara? Jake?” Again, she sshed me. “Less tongue, more lips,” she said, and I tried my best. I thought the tongue was the whole point, but she was the expert.
“Christ,” the Colonel said quite loudly. “That wretched beast, drama, draws nigh.”
But we paid no attention. She moved my hand from her waist to her breast, and I felt cautiously, my fingers moving slowly under her shirt but over her bra, tracing the outline of her breasts and then cupping one in my hand, squeezing softly. “You’re good at that,” she whispered. Her lips never left mine as she spoke. We moved together, my body between her legs.
“This is so fun,” she whispered, “but I’m so sleepy. To be continued?” She kissed me for another moment, my mouth straining to stay near hers, and then she moved from beneath me, placed her head on my chest, and fell asleep instantly.
We didn’t have sex. We never got naked. I never touched her bare breast, and her hands never got lower than my hips. It didn’t matter. As she slept, I whispered, “I love you, Alaska Young.”
Just as I was falling asleep, the Colonel spoke. “Dude, did you just make out with Alaska?”
“This is going to end poorly,” he said to himself.
And then I was asleep. That deep, can-still-taste-her-in-my-mouth sleep, that sleep that is not particularly restful but is difficult to wake from all the same. And then I heard the phone ring. I think. And I think, although I can’t know, that I felt Alaska get up. I think I heard her leave. I think. How long she was gone is impossible to know.
But the Colonel and I both woke up when she returned, whenever that was, because she slammed the door. She was sobbing, like that post-Thanksgiving morning but worse.
“I have to get out of here!” she cried.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I forgot! God, how many times can I fuck up?” she said. I didn’t even have time to wonder what she forgot before she screamed, “I JUST HAVE TO GO. HELP ME GET OUT OF HERE!”
“Where do you need to go?”
She sat down and put her head between her legs, sobbing. “Just please distract the Eagle right now so I can go. Please.”
The Colonel and I, at the same moment, equal in our guilt, said, “Okay.”
“Just don’t turn on your lights,” the Colonel said. “Just drive slow and don’t turn on your lights. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Fuck,” she said. “Just get rid of the Eagle for me,” she said, her sobs childlike half screams. “God oh God, I’m so sorry.”
“Okay,” the Colonel said. “Start the car when you hear the second string.”
We did not say: Don’t drive. You’re drunk.
We did not say: We aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset.
We did not say: We insist on going with you.
We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow. Anything—everything—can wait.
We walked to our bathroom, grabbed the three strings of leftover firecrackers from beneath the sink, and ran to the Eagle’s. We weren’t sure that it would work again.
But it worked well enough. The Eagle tore out of his house as soon as the first string of firecrackers started popping—he was waiting for us, I suppose—and we headed for the woods and got him in deeply enough that he never heard her drive away. The Colonel and I doubled back, wading through the creek to save time, slipped in through the back window of Room 43, and slept like babies.
the day after
THE COLONEL SLEPT the not-restful sleep of the drunk, and I lay on my back on the bottom bunk, my mouth tingling and alive as if still kissing, and we would have likely slept through our morning classes had the Eagle not awoken us at 8:00 with three quick knocks. I rolled over as he opened the door, and the morning light rushed into the room.
“I need y’all to go to the gym,” he said. I squinted toward him, the Eagle himself backlit into invisibility by the too bright sun. “Now,” he added, and I knew it. We were done for. Caught. Too many progress reports. Too much drinking in too short a time. Why did they have to drink last night? And then I could taste her again, the wine and the cigarette smoke and the Chap Stick and Alaska, and I wondered if she had kissed me because she was drunk. Don’t expel me, I thought. Don’t. I have just begun to kiss her.
And as if answering my prayers, the Eagle said, “You’re not in any trouble. But you need to go to the gym now.”
I heard the Colonel rolling over above me. “What’s wrong?”
“Something terrible has happened,” the Eagle said, and then closed the door.
As he grabbed a pair of jeans lying on the floor, the Colonel said, “This happened a couple years ago. When Hyde’s wife died. I guess it’s the Old Man himself now. Poor bastard really didn’t have many breaths left.” He looked up at me, his half-open eyes bloodshot, and yawned.
“You look a little hungover,” I observed.
He closed his eyes. “Well, then I’m putting up a good front, Pudge, ’cause I’m actually a lot hungover.”
“I kissed Alaska.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t that drunk. Let’s go.”
We walked across the dorm circle to the gym. I sported baggy jeans, a sweatshirt with no shirt underneath, and a bad case of bedhead. All the teachers were in the dorm circle knocking on doors, but I didn’t see Dr. Hyde. I imagined him lying dead in his house, wondered who had found him, how they even knew he was missing before he failed to show up for class.
“I don’t see Dr. Hyde,” I told the Colonel.
The gym was half full by the time we arrived. A podium had been set up in the middle of the basketball court, close to the bleachers. I sat in the second row, with the Colonel directly in front of me. My thoughts were split between sadness for Dr. Hyde and excitement about Alaska, remembering the up-close sight of her mouth whispering, “To be continued?”
And it did not occur to me—not even when Dr. Hyde shuffled into the gym, taking tiny, slow steps toward the Colonel and me.