Chapter 12 - Alex
I expected the pain. I’d read about it, so the aching pressure didn’t surprise me, nor did the sudden, awful tearing sensation. I cried out, digging my nails into his skin, but I wasn’t surprised.
What really took me aback was the slow burn in my chest. It had started in the moments before he pushed inside me-- when I met his eye for the first time that night and saw, not animalistic lust, but pain and desire and love. The burn only grew as my body opened up with that terrible ripping pain. Fresh tears rose up in my eyes, but Nate’s shaking fingers pushed the hair back from my face and soft kisses landed on my temples, soaking up the tears.
“Okay?” he asked breathlessly, and I nodded, the burn in my chest growing to a roaring fire. It melted the ice inside me like a blowtorch and all of a sudden every pain and worry that I’d stifled and preserved in waking death came back to me at once. I cried. Not silent tears, anymore, but heaving, gasping sobs.
“Al, what’s the matter?” Nate asked, and I felt him pulling back, sliding out of me. My limbs acted on their own, legs locking around his hips, hands gripping his back.
“Don’t stop,” I begged, breathless. Overwhelmed. I opened my eyes and blinked away tears, letting him see the truth in my eyes. “Please keep going. I need…” What did I need? I needed this. I needed him. “I need to feel alive, Nate. Please.”
Strain twisted his features, making him look much older than we were. He hesitated, jaw clenched so tight I was surprised I couldn’t hear his teeth cracking.
“Please,” I said again, letting my body take over. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I let the muscles inside me clench around him, and the tension on his face fell away, replaced by something akin to rapture. He bit out a groan and dropped his head, stealing a kiss from my lips.
“Stop that, Al,” he breathed.
“But it feels good,” I whispered back, truthfully. I did it again, and small fireworks of aching pleasure burst deep inside me.
“Fuck,” Nate choked. “Stop it, Alex. You’re killing me.”
“Then kill me back,” I moaned, frustrated.
Would you believe me if I told you we came at the same time? Would you even believe me if I told you I came at all? That’s not normal, right? A girl’s first time is just a technicality. It’s a thing that has to happen to prepare her body for the real adventure.
I guess I attribute our success to Nate’s infuriating fear of hurting me. My body had time to get used to him before he started moving. I had time to learn what those muscles inside me could do and how my use of them affected both of us.
Nate moved like a machine-- slowly at first, then faster, responding automatically as I tightened and released around him. That was all I got from him that first time, though-- movement. I got no loving words, no eye contact, no attention. He braced himself on his forearms and buried his face in the crook of my neck, breath hot and irregular on my skin. I asked him, later, what his problem was, and he admitted that the second he pushed inside me it took everything he had-- every ounce of energy and concentration-- not to explode like a “two pump chump.”
I, of course, found a way to be his opposite. He was stiff and mechanical and restrained, and I cut loose. I was alive, for the first time in months. Stars exploded behind my eyes and my body writhed and bucked beneath his weight. Those clever inner muscles of mine pulled him deeper inside me until I felt perfectly, wonderfully full and complete. Every thrust tore a whimper of pure pleasure from my lips, pounding home that sense of wholeness until there was no more room for it inside me.
I laughed a little as I came. I watched the stars and my laugh turned to a primal scream as every muscle in my body escaped my control. The gritty surface of the rock abraded my skin, but the pain fed the fire of my pleasure, withering and dissolving into the flames. My hips rose to meet his as I threw my head back and arched off the rock, tears of bliss streaming down my face.
The colors exploding in my eyes faded, my muscles relaxed, and I collapsed against the rock. Nate was still moving inside me, and aftershocks of agonizing pleasure rose within me in response to his thrusts. I shuddered with each one, counting four before he grew suddenly and extremely still. His muscles shook and a growl rumbled, low in his throat. Where my orgasm was a white-capped wave of pleasure, his seemed to be more of a sudden release of pressure. One second he was moving tension, the next he was near deadweight on top of me, barely able to support himself on shaking arms so I could breathe.
We stayed that way for I-don’t-know-how-long. Me, sprawled on the rock. Him, bent over me, still buried inside me. When he finally spoke, he didn’t lift his face, and I struggled to make out the muffled words.
“You okay?” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” I whispered, smoothing gentle fingers over the indentations my nails had left in his skin. “Yeah, I’m good.”
He nodded against me. Then, after a bracing breath, he slowly straightened, pulling out of me. His departure left me feeling cold and empty, fresh air sweeping over my sweat-coated skin. I felt alive, but now that the distraction of his presence was gone, all the hurt that had thawed in the fire hit me full force.
I wept. Sprawled on the rock, naked as the day I was born, I scrubbed my hands over my face and sobbed. Distantly, I heard splashing as Nate cleaned up in the stream, and the sound of cloth on skin as he slipped back into his jeans. Then his hands were on me, gentle but firm, pulling me to my feet.
I stood, swaying, tears dripping into the sand by my feet while he peeled his blood-stained t-shirt off the rock and rinsed it in the creek. Then he wrung it out and used the wet cloth to clean the sticky combination of blood and arousal from my legs. He dunked the shirt a few more times in the creek, scrubbing it clean before ringing it out and spreading it on the rock to dry.
All I could do was cry and comply as he helped me back into my clothes, with the exception of my bra which had washed away. When he took me in his arms and sank down beside the rock, sitting against it, I followed him. I curled up in his lap and pressed my face in his shoulder and cried until I was empty.
I felt hollowed out when the tears finally stopped, and I must have drifted into sleep for a few minutes, because Nate’s arms jostling me brought me startling back to wakefulness.
“We gotta get you home soon, Al,” he whispered in my ear, but I didn’t want to move. I tipped my head back so I could see his face.
“I’m sorry I…” how could I even describe what had happened? I’m sorry I died? I’m sorry I forgot myself? I’m sorry I froze? “I’m sorry I left,” I said, finally, hoping he’d understand. Or, rather, knowing he would understand.
“You’re back now,” he said softly, trailing a finger down the bridge of my nose. There was a hint of question in the statement. A hint of fear.
“I’m back,” I confirmed, snuggling deeper into him.
Of course, coming back hadn’t been my intent. My intent was to seduce him, use him, and send him packing with the one thing I thought he wanted. I hadn’t expected the desperate fight to make him take what I was offering, or the bonfire our coupling had ignited in my chest. I’d set out to set him free so I could die in peace. Instead, he’d brought me back to life and we were more inextricably bound than ever before.
“You need to get home, Al,” he said reluctantly, holding up his watch to show me. “It’s almost five.”
It was, indeed. Which meant I must have slept for hours, not minutes.
We found our feet, and Nate pulled on his still-damp t-shirt. The woods were almost perfectly silent. Those minutes just before dawn belong to rebels, defying rules of nature and society. The nocturnal animals sense the coming sun and scamper off to bed. The daytime animals slumber on, waiting for dawn. Even the wind goes still and the air settles close to the ground, misty and thick.
Those minutes were just ours. We belonged to neither the night nor the day, but to each other. We abided by no rules beyond the sacred, unstated truth of our friendship. I grasped Nate’s hand and strode through the misty air, my heart beating strong in my chest, my blood coursing with newfound strength and energy. Sadness dogged my footsteps, as it would for the rest of time, but it no longer controlled me. I’d domesticated my grief-- tamed it so that it slouched behind me, weak and defeated, snapping futilely at my heels.
We stopped at the treeline and stood in perfect silence, watching fog drift over the pristine expanse of my neighborhood’s back yard. Swings hung silent and unmoving in their chains, and three houses down a light was on in the kitchen-- some early morning jogger having a bite to eat, waiting for the sun to rise.
Nate’s fingers twitched in mine, and he turned toward me, cupping my cheek in his free hand. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. He just studied my face, like he could read our future in the curve of my lips and the whites of my eyes.
“Please don’t go away again,” he said finally, his voice barely more than a breath of air. “I can’t…” he broke off, shaking his head and lowering his gaze to the dirt beneath our feet. When he raised his face, there was frantic desperation in his eyes. He pulled his hand from mine and framed my face. “You’re the only good thing, Alex,” he said hoarsely. “I can’t lose you.”
There was terrible truth in his words, fear in his eyes, and a swift undercurrent of pain in his voice. He’d been my unflappable pillar of strength and support since the day I turned twelve. It scared me to see him wavering, just as it thrilled me to know I was the one who’d set the earth to trembling beneath his feet.
“You won’t,” I said firmly, stepping into him, offering comfort and absorbing it at the same time. His arms wrapped around my shoulders, squeezing tight, like I’d dissolve into the air if he let go. “I won’t leave again,” I said, holding him back just as tight and just as desperate. “I promise I won’t leave again.”
It wasn’t the first or the last time I lied to him, but it was the most significant lie I ever told. The one that would come back, again and again, to haunt us both. Even if I’d known, though, how many times it would hurt us, I’d still have said it, because the really important part was the one that came next.
“Even if I do leave,” I whispered, too quiet for him to hear. “I’ll always come back.”
That was truth.
* * *
Nate tried to walk me to the front door, but I stopped him by the old oak beneath my window. He frowned at the branches above us.
“I thought we were over this, Al,” he said, brow furrowing as he turned his gaze to me.
“I am. I was…” I trailed off, looking up at my window. “I just… I feel good tonight,” I said lamely, leaning on the trunk of the tree, tipping my head back against the rough bark. “I want this night to feel more like the beginning. I don’t want it to feel like the last few months. I want to go through the window like I still have it in me to care if I get caught.”
“Fine,” he said, dropping to a knee and linking his hands together for me to step in. “Be careful, though.”
“Always!” I said brightly, letting him boost me up to the lowest branch. I straddled it and, wrapping my hands and legs around the limb, tipped sideways, letting myself drop and hang like a koala. I giggled at Nate’s sharp gasp and hung my head backwards to see him on his feet beneath me, arms out, ready to break my fall.
“You’re an idiot,” I said, hanging onto the branch with one hand and reaching out with the other to pull him close by the front of his shirt. He grudgingly accepted my kiss goodbye and stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest as I swung back up onto the branch and started climbing.
I’ve talked about fear before-- about my theory that we are born fearless. Every anxiety is just a lesson learned. I imagine the smartest, most experienced people are also the most afraid. Somewhere deep down, beneath the serenity of acceptance and wisdom, there must be a suffocating miasma of terror because they know every way every thing can hurt us.
I learned to fear water when I was four. It’s one of my earliest memories, sitting forgotten in the grass while my father pulled Tommy’s lifeless body from our neighbor’s pool. He was gray and limp, and even after they got him breathing again something was missing. I was too young to understand the nuances of oxygen deprivation and brain damage, but I understood enough to know that water had hurt my brother.
I learned to fear cars when my childhood cat, Mr. Bug, escaped the house and ran out into the street, just as a shiny red sedan came tearing around the corner. I was chasing my wayward pet, but Momma snatched me up just before I reached the curb. Mr. Bug wasn’t so lucky.
I’ve always been wary of small spaces, but that one makes sense too. Momma once told me I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck. I’d bet I have some deep, instinctual memory of being trapped, condensed, and drowning before I even knew how to breathe.
I learned to fear falling on the night I lost my virginity. It happened as I was reaching for my window, legs and one hand wrapped around the bobbing branch, left hand outstretched, shoving the window up.
I heard the crack and froze on instinct, my mouth suddenly bone dry. Nate was saying something, his voice taut and frantic below me. The branch bounced with my weight, leaves rustling above me. I didn’t even breathe as another sharp crack rent the air.
Then I was falling. Falling through slapping leaves and stinging branches. Falling through damp summer air. Falling through time. My left arm hit a branch and I cried out as sharp pain lanced all the way up to my shoulder. Then my head struck something hard and I was falling through eternity, spiralling and plummeting into inky darkness. I never even felt myself hit the ground.