Stephen told me that he would be at my house to pick me up at three o’clock, so that gave me the whole morning and half the afternoon to obsess about my appearance, which I did. I decided to wear a skirt, a pleated, red plaid skirt that hung a few inches above my knee.
After I had finally decided on the outfit, I went into the bathroom to actually put on make-up—dark brown eye shadow and black mascara.
I was finished getting ready by two, and I spent the rest of the hour sitting anxiously in the center of the couch, chewing my lip and pretending to watch TV. Why the hell was I nervous? Oh, right—I was going to be at a party full of the most aggressive, rambunctious, vain, compulsive guys at Sunny Mountain, the ones who forced the school district to lower the bar. And not to mention the promiscuous, addlebrained, ditsy and vicious girls those kinds of guys usually dated.
But what did I have to be afraid of, really? It wasn’t like they could really do anything to hinder me. I was just hoping that Brianna wouldn’t be there.
At five minutes to three, Stephen knocked on the front door.
His eyes widened and traced me up and down when I opened the door and stood in the doorway. My outfit had his approval, apparently.
With the CD I bought for him in my hand, I put my arms around Stephen’s neck and pulled myself close to him.
“Happy Birthday,” I said happily. I pulled away and presented him with my gift.
“What’s this?” he asked as he took it. “I told you that you didn’t have to get me anything.”
“I know,” I shrugged. “But I wanted to.”
We got in the car.
“Do you mind if I open it here?” he asked.
“No, go ahead.”
He tore off the wrapping and looked at the CD.
“It’s Disturbed,” I said.
“Cool. I’ll put it in right now and we can listen to it.” He took out whatever CD he had in the player and replaced it with mine.
Carlos lived in a gated community on the east side. Though all the houses in this neighborhood looked identical, I could tell which one Carlos lived in, for there were cars all gathered up around it, with more cars lining the curbs on either side.
We parked wherever we could and walked up to the house. Not even bothering to knock or ring the doorbell, Stephen opened the front door and led me inside.
“Hey everybody!” the quarterback of the team bawled. “Stephen’s here!!”
The room filled with cheers and unnecessary roars.
There were at least forty-some people just in the living room, all holding red plastic cups or soda cans or beer bottles. Carlos pushed his way through the room and put his arm over Stephen’s shoulders.
“Happy birthday, bro,” Carlos said.
“Thanks for all of this, man,” Stephen said.
“You haven’t seen anything yet. We’re working the grill out back, so there will be lots of food. And then we have a monster cake in the fridge—it’s huge! And plus, we also have a keg in the kitchen. Let’s get you two something to drink.”
He pulled Stephen into the kitchen and I followed.
He poured a cup of beer for Stephen, then started to pour one for me.
“Uh, no, I don’t like beer,” I said.
“Oh? What’s your poison?” he asked, going to the fridge and revealing the contents to me.
I saw a few bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the bottom shelf and grabbed one.
“Feel free to have as much as you want,” Carlos said. “No one leaves this party sober! And that reminds me.” He grabbed Stephen’s shoulder. “Be ready after dinner. Tonight we celebrate the return of the beer bong.”
“Yes!!” Stephen said and they high-fived.
“And since it’s your birthday, you get to go first,” Carlos said.
“Ey, come outside with us and help with the grill.”
We went to the backyard with Carlos where most of the football team was standing around, with their girlfriends all bunched together by the fence. They spotted me and, rather than give me a dirty look like Brianna would, they smiled and waved at me. But these girls weren’t cheerleaders; they were mostly student council girls.
One of the shorter ones came up to me, a pretty girl with teased and curled brown hair and gold hoop earrings.
“Hi, you’re Crimson, right?” she asked. “You’re going out with Stephen?”
I was about to say no, but what was the point? We pretty much were dating.
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered.
“Well, you don’t have to hang around the boys,” she said. “You should stay with us, instead.”
“Okay,” I said with a shrug.
“I’m Paula,” she said. “I’m dating Carlos. And this is Maria, Laura…”
I smiled at each of them, and they welcomed me into their little clique. Their conversation wasn’t much different from the kind I had with my friends. Just complaining about school and teachers, which I could relate to.
We stood around until all the food was done. Then we grabbed what we could, and Stephen led me into the living room. By the time I finished my food, it was time for another drink.
“Save my spot for me,” I said to him.
I jumped over limbs and squeezed through bodies to the kitchen. I opened the fridge and knelt to get another Mike’s.
When I stood up and closed the door, I saw Brianna passing through. She spotted me at the same time. We stood in place for a moment, eyeing each other. She looked me up and down, and, instead of saying something to provoke me, she simply made a “hmph” sound and walked away.
I was glad for it. I was actually having fun, and getting into a spat with her would ruin it.
Carlos came into the kitchen and grabbed three forties of beer from the fridge. Then he carried them back into the living room and everything got really loud.
I went back in the living room to see what the commotion was.
Carlos and the other guys put a chair behind the couch where Stephen was sitting. Carlos stood up on the chair with a funnel in hand. A long tube was coming out of the bottom of the funnel, and one of the guys handed it to Stephen.
“You ready, bro?” Carlos asked loudly to be heard over the clamor.
Stephen gave a thumbs-up.
Carlos opened one of the bottles and emptied it into the funnel.
“Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!” the whole room chanted as Stephen guzzled the beer from the bottom of the tube.
In seconds, he drained the tube and coughed on the air that he swallowed by accident. The room roared and he held his fists up in the air. I clapped and laughed.
“How do you feel?” I asked him.
“I feel great!” he said. “I’m completely buzzed! I need more beer!” Then he got up and went to the kitchen.
After a few more guys tried the beer bong, they cranked up the music and everyone started dancing. Crap.
“Do you wanna dance?” Stephen asked me.
“Actually, I can’t dance,” I said.
“Of course you can,” he said. “Everyone can dance.”
“No, seriously. I look like a retarded chicken when I try to dance.”
“Well, if it will make you feel better, no one will be watching you.”
“Except for you,” I said.
“So? My head is swimming right now, so it won’t matter.”
“Come on, Crimson,” he said. “Just one dance. Then you never have to dance again. I promise.”
“Ugh, fine,” I said, and we mingled into the center of the swerving crowd.
The music changed to an active, fast-paced song. As soon as I started to move, I could feel the alcohol working on my head and limbs. I was dizzy, but in the fun way, and it made it easier to dance without caring about anyone around me. I just moved to the song as I felt it in my gut, not caring what it looked like. It was natural and fun.
The song ended, but I didn’t stop dancing. My body wanted to dance more, and Stephen didn’t say anything about it. He would be pleased that I wanted to keep dancing, because it gave him the chance to be crushingly close to me as we were being pushed together by the other dancers.
After the fourth song, Paula pushed her way toward me.
“They’re going to cut the cake,” she said. “Come on, let’s get some before anyone else.”
We shoved into the kitchen and snatched pieces of cake as soon as we could. Unable to get back into the living room, Paula and I went outside to eat our cake. To my surprise, the sun was already setting. What time was it?
I checked my cell phone and it was almost seven o’clock. Wow, I had been here four hours already. I hadn’t even noticed it had been that long.
“Whoa!” I suddenly felt the two bottles of Mike’s hit my bladder. “Hey, save my cake for me,” I told her. “I really have to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure, no problem,” Paula said. She took the little plate from me and I hurried back inside.
I pushed through to the bathroom, but it was locked. Dammit, I couldn’t wait!
I found Carlos and went to him.
“Hey, is there another bathroom?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s upstairs in my parent’s room,” he said. “First room on the right.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I ran up the stairs and into the room. The bathroom was open—thank God!—and I dashed inside.
Ah, finally, relief!
I washed my hands and took a look in the mirror to make sure my eye shadow still looked good before I left.
When I came out, Stephen was standing in the bedroom.
“Did you have to use the bathroom, too?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Just looking for you.”
“Oh,” I said.
There was something different about his face, something I had seen echoes of before.
He slowly closed the distance between us and slipped his arms around my waist.
“God, you look so cute right now,” he said softly.
Then he inclined his head to mine and kissed me. I opened my mouth to receive him and I kissed him back for a moment, the alcohol making me hungry for his mouth.
But I got control of myself and made myself stop.
“We should get back to the party now,” I said.
“I don’t care about any of them,” he shook his head. “I’d rather just stay up here with you.”
He started kissing me again. I allowed it for a while, but then I felt his hands slide down my hips and spread out across my butt, playfully dipping his finger tips.
I pulled back immediately.
“Really, we should go back,” I said, trembling.
“No. I want you all to myself.”
With his hands already on my butt, he slid them down the backs of my thighs, bending my legs and lifting my feet off the floor. He carried me to the bed and set me down, climbing on top of me.
“Stephen, what are you—?”
But he covered my mouth with his before I could finish my question. His lips were more forceful now, his tongue dominating mine. He pushed my legs apart and thrust his hips between them. I felt the weight of his pelvis crushing me, and I was terrified.
“Stephen, stop! You’re drunk!” I said when he stopped to breathe. I pushed against him, however fruitlessly.
But it was as if he didn’t hear me. He started rolling his hips up against me between my legs, letting out little moans as he did so. I was so afraid that I could hardly breathe. But my body was betraying me. It was responding to the friction he was creating, and I felt sick and ugly for it. In panicky flashes, I was six years old again, at the mercy of another man. Memories I had buried long ago were resurfacing, and I was seeing black.
Stephen increased his friction, covering my mouth once again. He crept his hand up my skirt and pulled at my underwear.
“Stop, please!!” I shouted through the pull of his lips.
“Oh, Crimson, I’ve wanted this for so long,” he said in that same longing whimper. “I know you want me, too.”
He started pulling at his belt, loosening it from the buckle until it was free. Then he unbuttoned his pants and pulled down his zipper.
No! No! Not like this! This couldn’t happen! Stephen was supposed to be my friend. I trusted him. I cared about him. He couldn’t do this to me! He had to stop!
The door suddenly burst open and a drunken girl stumbled into the room.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, her words slurred. “I didn’t think there was anybody up here.”
Stephen’s weight lightened on me in his distraction. Straining against my own trembling, I thrust me knee into his stomach. He rolled over, the wind knocked out of him, clutching his abdomen.
I fell off the side of the bed and scrambled off the floor to the door. I pushed the girl out of the way and ran down the stairs, pushing blindly through all the people blocking my way out, fighting back tears.
“Crimson,” some girl called for me.
But I didn’t stop. I didn’t look back. I went out the front door and threw it shut. Then I walked as fast as I could down the street the way we had come, keeping my arms hugged around my chest, still quivering, panting. Once I was far enough from the house, I let the tears break free, pain welling up in the very center of my chest. Pain and shame and regret, festering like poison between my breasts.
I took a bus home and went straight into my room without a word. I didn’t turn on the light. I just sat in a ball against the wall as night began to fall.
I hated him! I hated him more than I ever knew I could hate someone! He betrayed me!! He used his strength against me, used my physical weakness as an advantage. Being overpowered—by anyone—was the one thing that I could not stand!
And he broke my heart. I actually cared about him. I actually let him become my friend and start meaning something to me. That bastard! How could he do this to me! I hate him!
My phone rang a few times, but I dismissed it each time, knowing it could only be one person. Then it vibrated and I saw that the text was from him. Swelling with conflict, I read the message.
I’M SO SORRY. I GOT CARRIED AWAY. I DIDN’T REALIZE WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING UNTIL U LEFT. PLEASE CALL ME.
There was no way I was going to call him. I would never talk to him ever again. He could not know how utterly and completely he had destroyed whatever “us” there was. I hated him, and when I did inevitably have to see him, I would make sure he knew it.
I couldn’t think of anything else all night. I cried until my eyes ran dry and I finally fell asleep, only to meet dreams of the nightmares I had lived, replaying over and over in my head.