Everything Changed That Spring

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11 Years Ago

With Pete by her side, Natalie made her way to Dawn Lake. The Inter-Town Carnival had just began, the festivities spreading out across all four towns of Spring Fields, Summerville, Fall Creek and Winter Valley. The only way to escape all the chaos was to go to Dawn Lake, a place often frequented by burnouts, slackers, or people just looking to have a good time.

During the day it was much tamer, families and people trying to escape the heat taking a dip in its waters, but when the sun went down the younger people took over, using it as a hangout to get high, drunk or lucky. Natalie had never been at night, but right now she needed to get away from the stupid carnival. That morning her mom had tried to sign her up for the kissing booth, and she just knew that if her mom saw her at the carnival she’d be roped into participating, probably developing facial herpes by the end of the day.

So here she was, braving the Dawn Lake nightlife, with Pete of course. She wasn’t so insane as to go by herself, who knew what kinds of creeps were there. Just as this thought crossed her mind she looked up to see Paul, one of the football guys, taking a sip from his beer. Eliza was curled in his lap, and his hands played with the underside of her oversized boobs. Now there was a creep if she ever saw one.

“You ready for the pageant tomorrow?” Pete asked.

“Augh.” She scoffed, hating the reminder. She hated those stupid beauty pageants with a passion. She’d almost gotten out of this one too, but without even asking her mom had signed her up. Natalie had tried to get out of it, but her mom had begged and pleaded for her to participate, telling her if she just won this one for Spring Fields she’d never sign her up without her permission again. Great. Still, it was easier to just agree than fight her mom on it, although she had made it clear there’d be no ‘pageant practise’ this time round.

“What’s you talent this year?”

“You mean besides pretending like I’m having the time of my life?” Pete chuckled at her joke, and it warmed her to hear the sound. He was so serious all the time. “No, I’m playing the flute again. Augh, I only know the one song, it’s such a joke.”

“Well, if it isn’t the Golden Boy and the Beauty Queen.” Cody yelled in greeting, drawing everyone’s eyes to the pair. “You two a thing yet?”

“We’re friends.” Pete replied, placing a protective hand on Natalie’s lower back and steering her away from Cody. Natalie instantly felt at ease, sure, Cody was harmless, just the guy who supplied everyone with drugs and booze, but she still felt nervous around him, unsure how to act around this crowd. “There’s Scott.” He steered her toward his brother and Natalie’s stomach filled with dread.

She hadn’t seen Scott since that scene at the waterhole. God just thinking about it had her dying of embarrassment. She’d practically thrown herself at him, stripped down and begged him to defile her. And what had he done? He’d run away. For a second she’d thought he wanted her just as much as she wanted him. Then he’d walked away and she’d been reminded that she was just some girl he occasionally humoured.

That was the basis of their relationship. They started hanging out, things kind of became a bit intimate, then he backed away. You’d think she would have gotten the hint by now. Yet she often caught this look in his eyes, a hungry look that thrilled her and scared her all at the same time. When she saw it she often thought maybe he was interested after all. Or maybe she was just imagining it, a bit of wishful thinking on her part.

“Yo Pete, what up?” Axel, one of the football guys said, greeting Pete and smiling at Natalie. “Escaping the carnival madness?”

“Something like that.” Pete said.

“Why not really escape it?” Terrance, another football guy suggested, holding out a cigarette. It looked different from any cigarette Natalie had ever seen, twisted at the end rather than open. It smelt different too, muskier, more like a fart than the usual smell of tobacco. Movement caught her eye, and she saw Cody, rolling a grassy like substance into a thin white paper. He folded it just like the one in Terrance’s hand, and gave it to a guy Natalie didn’t recognise. That’s when it hit her. This was weed.

“No thanks.” Pete said, stepping away from it. Terrance shrugged and held it out to Natalie. Her curiosity prickled, and she had the urge to take it, smoke it, see what it felt like. Just once, just to know, just to understand how it felt and know what people were talking about when they mentioned it. She just had to know.

She reached out, and Terrance’s eyes shot up in surprise, beauty queens didn’t smoke weed.

“Natalie come on.” Pete chastised, his face mirroring Terrance’s look of surprise.

“I just want to try it once.” She said.

“Okay.” Terrance said, releasing it into her hand. “You know how?”

“No.”

“Okay, it’s easy, you just bring it to your lips, breathe it in, and then hold it. You should feel it instantly, and when that buzz kicks in you breathe out.”

Natalie did as she was told, bringing her lips over the cigarette and inhaling. The minute the smoke hit her throat she retched, coughing as her lungs rejected the substance. It was mortifying, such a cliche, the beauty queen doesn’t know how to smoke, of course she doesn’t. She looked like an idiot. She looked like an idiot in front of Scott, great.

She desperately tried to stop coughing, ease the mortification a bit, but they only become louder, a few snickers passing over the crowd as she handed the joint back to Terrance.

“It’s not a problem.” Terrance said. “We’ll just have to get you high another way.”

“Shotgun.” Someone called.

“What?” Natalie asked.

“Yeah.” Terrance said nodding. “Who wants to shotgun with Natalie?”

A chorus of yeahs sounded out around the space and although Natalie had no idea what the hell a ‘shotgun’ was, she was sure she didn’t want to do it with any of them. Right?

“No one’s shotgunning with her.” Scott said, getting to his feet. “Here.”

He shoved a container at her, and inside were squares of brownies, only a couple remained, and even then huge chunks had been bitten out of them.

“Did you make these?” Pete asked.

“He sure did.” Cody said, slapping Scott on the back. “Makes the best damn pot brownies I’ve ever tasted. Can’t even taste the weed, but you still feel the high.”

“Natalie come on.” Pete protested, but Natalie didn’t give it a second thought before taking one of the brownies and biting into it. She was curious, she wanted to know what it was like. No, she had to know. She needed to have answers. Plus, Scott was offering them to her. She’d already embarrassed herself in front of him with her coughing, she didn’t want to make it worse by changing her mind, proving that she was the pathetic beauty queen who always followed the rules. She was more than a beauty queen, she wanted Scott to see that.

He grabbed his own brownie and bit into it, his jaw clenching as he chewed. Natalie watched mesmerised, wondering if there would be anything about this guy she didn’t find sexy.

She didn’t feel it at first and for a while wondered if it had even worked, but as time went on an odd sense of calm settled over her. It was like everything suddenly became clear, and everything she usually worried about didn’t matter anymore. She was always so composed, careful, watching whatever she said or did. Now she didn’t care about any of that. None of that crap mattered.

“I think I’m high.” She said. “I feel, calm.”

“You could just be calm.” Terrance pointed out.

“You know I’ve always liked you Terrance.” She said. “You seem cool, but I’m also scared to approach you. You’ve got this don’t mess with me look in your eyes.”

“She’s high.” Terrance said laughing.

“I can feel it.” She said. “I feel…I feel like I don’t care. I mean I care, but I don’t. I care about what I usually care about, but not about the stupid stuff, like what you’re all thinking of me right now. I don’t care about what you guys think of me. It’s very freeing.”

“I can imagine.” Cody said, smirking.

“I saw you.” She told him.

“You saw me when?”

“I was walking home, past Mrs Fisher’s house, and I looked in the window and saw…”

“Ha, she must have seen me being tutored.”

“No, I saw you kissing her.” She corrected. “I probably would have seen a lot more, but I left. You should probably close the blinds. Anyone could have walked past, like say, her husband.”

She laughed at her own joke, a long humoured laugh. She was funny. She really was funny.

“You’re doing Mrs Fisher?” Axel exclaimed like this was the best news he’d ever heard. “Dude, good job.”

“Come on Eliza.” Paul protested, his irritated voice catching Natalie’s attention. She was just in time to see Eliza shoot off his lap and settle onto the ground instead. “Are you seriously mad right now?” She didn’t reply, she just moved further away from him. Natalie couldn’t be sure, but she thought Eliza looked sad. Why was Eliza sad? “You did it to Seth a couple nights ago. Why not me? So much for, ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza.’”

Eliza continued to ignore him as she grabbed a beer from one of the coolers. She didn’t say a single word to anyone as she rose to her feet and disappeared into the woods surrounding Dawn Lake. The guys snickered as she left, hurling insults at Paul for not being able to score the loosest girl in town.

Scott rose to his feet then, and he began to follow Eliza. Natalie did the same, following Scott who followed Eliza. She was aware of Pete calling after her, but she ignored him and carried on.

She rounded a corner, and then she saw them. Eliza leant against one of the large trees, and Scott stood in front of her, offering her a joint.

“For a Good Time Call Eliza.” He prompted, using the nicknamed she’d been given after she’d dumped her boyfriend Michael and he’d retaliated by writing the message all over school, adding her number to the end of it. Eliza had never really been the same since. Now everyone knew her as ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza’, the girl who could give a guy the best blowjob he’d ever have. Except when Scott said it, it didn’t sound like a bad thing. “Here.” He extended the joint to her, but she waved it away.

“No thanks.” She said. “You know you’re the only one who calls me, ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza’ and makes it sound like a compliment. Like I’m just a girl who knows how to have a good time, a normal good time and not a sex good time.”

“We’ve never had sex.” He said. “I can’t really comment on your sexual prowess.”

“Why not? Everyone else does.” She replied. “You know I’m a virgin. Only ever given one blowjob, to Michael, and he goes and writes it on all the walls. Now I’m ‘For a Good Time Call Eliza.’ I should just start having sex. At least then I’d deserve the name.”

“You should just give them names.” Natalie said, emerging from behind the trees. “See how they like it. Impotent Paul, Teeny Tim…”

“Blows his load too early Seth.” Scott added.

“That’s a good one.” Natalie said, smiling at him.

“You know I think I just might.” Eliza replied. “For now, I’ve gotta go back there, put on a brave face and pretend like it doesn’t bother me.”

“You had me fooled.” Natalie said.

“Great.” Eliza said, her voice suddenly sarcastic. “I’m so glad I have the Beauty Queen’s approval.” And then she downed the rest of her beer, threw the empty can onto the ground and stalked back to the lake.

“That was mean.” Natalie commented.

“Yeah. Eliza’s mean.” Scott said. “But she also wants everyone to like her, so she holds it in.”

Natalie studied him, the hard set of his jaw, the worry in his eyes, the frustration in his shoulders. He cared about her, Eliza, his friend. Natalie had seen them together at school, often talking and laughing. She only ever really saw Eliza laugh around Scott. And just like that her crush on him doubled. What she would give to have him care about her that way. She actually wanted him to care about her a lot more than he cared about Eliza, but she’d take what she could get.

“What’s a shotgun?” She asked.

“It’s a way to smoke pot.” He replied. “One person breathes it in, and then breathes it into the mouth of another. The vapour gets you high.”

“Sounds intimate.” She said.

“Depends who you do it with.”

“I would’ve liked to do that with you.”

“Why?”

“Because I like you.” She found herself saying. “I really like you.”

“I like you too.” He replied, missing the meaning of her words.

“No. I really like you.” She said, stressing the word ‘really’. Understanding filled his eyes, quickly replaced by surprise, and then an expression she couldn’t read. Why was he so hard to read right now? And why had she just said what she said? It must be the weed, the high she was on, she’d never say this kind of thing willingly. But high, she didn’t worry about what he would think, she just had to tell him what she felt.

“Why didn’t you come in the water?” She asked. “I saw you look at me when I took off my dress. You wanted me. Why didn’t you come in?”

“We got caught up. You didn’t really want anything to happen.”

“Yes I did. I wanted a lot to happen, but you didn’t even kiss me. Don’t you want to kiss me?” She was suddenly overcome by a wave of boldness, and she stepped closer to him, closing the space between them so their bodies almost touched. “Would kissing me be that awful?”

His finger came under her chin, and he gently guided it up so she was looking at him properly. Their eyes locked on one another’s and their lips so close that if he’d just bend down a little they could touch.

“Kissing you would be the opposite of awful.” He said, his voice low, husky, sending a shiver of delight through her body. “But I don’t want to kiss you if you’re just trying to have a little fun, use the burnout to show you a thing or two, answer all those things your curious mind is desperate to know. I don’t want to kiss you, and then have to watch you walk away.”

“I like you Scott. I really like you. I’m not trying to have a fling with the bad boy. You’re the sweetest, coolest guy, I’ve ever met. And I just want to be around you.”

“Sweet?”

“Yeah.” She said. “Like last year, I needed to vent about hating beauty pageants and you listened, and you signed my cast with your favourite joke, and whenever I’m having a bad day you’re there. And right now, with Eliza, you followed her out here and made sure she was okay. You’re so gentle whenever you touch me, but also solid, strong. You make me feel safe. I like you Scott. I like you, not because you’re a burnout and I want some bad boy. I like you because you’re you.”

His arms came around her, and he pulled her to him. It was just like it always was, gentle, but firm, and she felt safe. One of his hands reached up, and he ran a finger down her cheek, his eyes falling to her lips. She thought he’d kiss her, she wanted him to kiss her, but he didn’t move, he continued to stand there, one hand on her cheek and the other around her waist.

“What are you doing?” She asked.

“Trying not to kiss you.” He replied.

“But I want you to kiss me.”

“And I want to kiss you.” He said. “But you’re high, and I’m high, and when this happens I want to be completely sober.”

She smiled, his words tugging at her chest. She was falling for this guy. Maybe she’d already fallen for him. The thought made her happy, because even if it didn’t last she knew she’d never regret a moment of this. He just seemed, completely and 100 percent worth any heartbreak he may or may not cause. That she knew without a shadow of doubt.

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