Carbon

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Chapter 13

I wish I could have said I was in my right mind, but I wasn’t. Happy from drink, I was at ease with everybody in the room. I couldn’t have cared if I pissed my pants and whipped it out—well, I would’ve cared the next day. Just glancing at everyone’s faces and seeing smiles and happily creased eyes, the atmosphere was perfect. My contacts blurred as I noticed all of the people in the circle… Brody, Lily, Devin, and the four others I really didn’t know. I just tagged along for the party.

Brody downed a bottle of ale quickly, and the ebony girl beside him clapped her hands with excitement and enthusiasm. Brody wrapped his arm around the girl and gave her a taut squeeze before throwing the bottle in the middle of the circle. He roared with great clout, “Truth or dare! Let’s get this bitch going!”

The girl I think named Jasmine laughed beside him, nuzzling into his chest, “Yeah.” Part of me wondered if Jasmine would have had anything to do with Brody if she hadn’t had a couple wine coolers, and then I ignored it because why would I ruin his fun?

I glanced at Lily and noticed she had a smile carved into her face from ear to ear. Her dark brunette hair was once in a bun, but she tore it out once she had two hard lemonades and declared, “Let’s get wasted tonight, okay, Ned?” Our eyes met, and we both chuckled like school children.

Uncomfortable, Devin fidgeted uneasily across from me. A guy to her left who I didn’t know kept trying to crack jokes with her, but she wouldn’t crack a grin. She kept sipping on her cheap beer, and I was incredulous she was not showing any signs of being belligerently drunk after four shots and a beer. Her tolerance must have soared far above most of the guys in the room. The guy finally turned to his friend beside him, and Devin’s eyes fell to her drink as she created waves within her cup, invisible to the world—she thought.

I remember she distinctly wore a t-shirt of one of her favorite bands, and how her jeans clung to her muscular body like a second skin, and how her blue eyes gleamed even though she was lost in thought. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail despite Lily trying to persuade her to take her hair down and “party.”

Brody turned toward Jasmine and cheesed extra hard as if he was in love. All I could think was he was so drunk and so in love with being drunk. He laughed and then spat, “Jasmine, truth or dare.”

The girl rolled her tawny eyes to the left and sang, “Truth.”

Brody asked, I guess not really worried about the rest of the group’s demands or questions, “You think I’m hot?”

Jasmine gave him a toothy grin, blushing as her gaze fell back to him. “Of course, you’re, like, super-hot.”

Brody would have shitted bricks if he was sober, but alcohol always made him a little on the confident side. He gleaned and nodded, “Yeah, I am.” His eyes quickly moved to the bottle, and he spun it suddenly. “We’ll make this more fun.”

The neck of the bottle slowed and pointed across from me to Devin. Her eyes widened frantically, and she gently placed her red cup on the floor and glared at him intently. She scoffed, obviously showing an intense desire to leave, but I was too hung up on drink to even consider anyone else.

Suddenly, my world was about me, and I was entitled to at least have one night where I didn’t worry about anyone else but myself. I didn’t have to worry about my sister, my parents, my girlfriend, Devin, Heath—nobody. I was allowed to have this night to myself because I earned it after tip-toeing around everyone for so long, I thought. This was the night where I wouldn’t be passive and let people walk all over me. This was my time.

“Truth or dare,” Brody insisted, interrupting my thought process as I took a sip from a bitter ale that I didn’t particularly like, but I just wanted to get plastered.

Devin glanced at me, and I mouthed, Truth. The guy beside her tried to get her to take a dare. A truth couldn’t cause her physical harm and couldn’t deal a poor hand. I mean, with Brody’s original truth, I thought we were pretty safe in the juvenile questions of who we thought was attractive or not. She tore her gaze away from me and went back to Brody. “Truth, please,” she answered coldly.

“Who do—?”

Lily interrupted abruptly, “How old were you when you lost your virginity?”

I glared at her and growled, “Lily…”

Lily turned to me and chuckled, “What? It’s truth or dare. I want to have some fun.”

“I don’t remember.”

The room fell silent, shocked and incredulous. Our eyes met separately and silently, trying to figure out a way to respond or something to even say. Lily rudely said, “Are you being serious? How do you not remember?”

Devin nonchalantly shrugged.

My girlfriend leaned closer to me and whispered, “What a slutty whore.”

I pursed my lips, trying to make eye-contact with Devin desperately. Her blue eyes just wandered across the faces around the room, and I wished she lied or just said an age. I didn’t know what she meant by she didn’t remember. Maybe she got drunk and blacked-out a couple of times. Maybe she doesn’t want to remember her partner. I don’t know. Maybe she’s a—

“Virgin alert,” the guy beside her whistled. He leaned over and tried to whisper something in her ear, but she quickly tore away from his haughty breath.

“You wish,” she hissed angrily.

I just remembered all of the rumors that spread about her our junior year. How everybody thought her sister was a slut and she was the virgin… and maybe the roles were reversed as I overheard Leslie complain about it the other day. He was usually restrained when talking about his relationship with Esther, but he was pissed and just vomited every thought that came into his mind after a stressful chemistry exam. My ears perked suddenly, and a light feeling grew in my chest.

Brody quickly resorted to changing the subject by spinning the bottle again.

I honestly think irony tries to find the one person wishing for something else to happen. It is like irony just wants to create situations in which it can bare its ugly head. I pleaded for the neck of the bottle to choose anyone but me, and I just silently stared at it as if it understood telepathy and would submit to my concerns. I was sincerely concerned because alcohol-fueled decisions are never necessarily the best ones that come to mind.

And then the neck of the bottle stopped, pointing distinctly at me out of the visions of slanted floors and darkened corners.

My eyes fell to Brody who grinned widely as if he was trying to be cute. Jasmine cooed over him and gave him a peck on the cheek.

“Dare.”

“I dare you to kiss the hottest girl in the room.”

I rolled my eyes, and Lily giggled instantly. She said, “No, not in front of you guys. That is so weird!”

“Fine, do it with the lights turned off.”

“How would they normally do it?” joked the obnoxious guy again.

I got up from the shag carpet, my joints stiff from sitting awkwardly for about three hours. I insisted, “I’m only doing this stupid dare if I get the lights off and I’m the one who turns them back on.”

Brody nodded his head and shrugged. “The parents don’t want the children to see.”

I sauntered over to the lights and turned to the room. I memorized the formation of the room, and I memorized how eager Lily was for me to show my affection for her in front of everyone. I memorized how Brody and Jasmine eyed each other mischievously.

I flicked the lights off and strolled across the room, sliding my feet timidly on the floor, searching for the bottle. My toe tipped the glass, and my hands felt the bottle, searching for the neck and then sliding down to the base. I fell to all fours and crawled across from where I sat. A knee cap tapped into my arm, and my hands fell onto her knees.

I leaned in, and our noses touched. Our lips brushed against each other, and she hesitantly didn’t kiss me back. And then, her lips folded over mine, and my heart rushed and raced. My hand cupped her neck, and her torrential cinnamon taste reigned over me. Her fingers gently brushed against my chin, and our DNA mixed for what seemed like only a few seconds. My hand instinctively fell on the curve of her neck and pulled her closer into me, trying to get more of her while I could.

I had kissed before, but I had never the insatiable need to pull her tighter, for our lips to collide more. I had tasted before, but I had never the fragrances and elements entwining together of sweetness and tanginess as well as bitterness. A kaleidoscope of colors exploded behind my eyelids as her lips melded into mine. The boundaries of time no longer existed as we were one for seconds, minutes, or hours—it would never be enough.

I could only imagine this moment being as similar to the beginning of an addiction.

“Alright, love birds, put it back in your pants.”

I regretfully tore away from her and languidly returned to the light switch. I flicked the lights back on, burning my eyes and everyone else’s. Synchronized groans filled the room from the bright light, except for one sob. I strolled back to the circle and sat down beside Lily.

Lily suddenly pulled herself from the circle and left the room, slamming the door shut, and we all could hear her thunderously run up the stairs from the basement to do whatever she was going to do with herself. “Goddammit. Goddamit,” she cried boisterously followed by creaking sobs and broken squeals.

Everyone’s eyes fell to me, except for one.

Brody glared at me curiously and asked, “What the hell, Ned?”

I turned to Devin, and she stared at the ground. Her blushed cheeks emphasized the sparkle and sheen in her eyes. Her full lips pursed as she hid her face behind blonde locks. Her petite hands covered her face as I’m sure guilt set in.

Jasmine purred, “What happened? What happened?”

I pulled myself off of the floor and rushed after Lily abruptly, sobering up all of a sudden as the flood of guilt settled in over me. I busted through the doors and climbed the stairs two at a time to find her collapsed on the leather couch in the foyer. I nestled down beside her and put my arms around her. Her hands covered her face, and I could see the light sheen of tears streaming down her forearms.

She pushed me off of her quickly.

“Lily, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am drunk and stupid and an idiot. I’m so sorry to do that to you.”

She turned to me suddenly, her eyes wide and wild. She hissed, “You kissed her, Ned.”

“Lily, it was dark.”

She abruptly slapped my cheek, and I silenced. She wailed, “Don’t you dare make excuses.”

Silence fell between us as her eyes scoured widely over my features and my actions.

“How could you kiss her, Ned? I thought you loved me. I was your first. Why would you do that to me?”

I stared at the corner of the room, feeling cornered myself and interrogated. I couldn’t answer her. She was my first kiss, my first sexual experience, my first love, she was my first everything. And what seemed like years ago, she was my world and everything I ever dreamt of. She was perfect despite her many flaws, but that part of me no longer existed for her. I was trapped and saddened that this happened.

“Do you not love me anymore, Ned?”

“Did you ever love me, Lily?” I finally asked, my gaze returning to her incredulous expression. Her mouth twitched as she thought of a retort or a response. “Or was I there and available? Was I a convenience for you?”

Lily’s muddy eyes turned away, and she threw her hair up into a quick bun. “I’ll have you know, I can have any guy I want at school. We’re lucky to be together.”

“Please, Lily, come on. It was the alcohol.”

“You want to know what they call alcohol, Ned? Hmm? They call it ‘liquid truth’ because it just throws away all of your inhibitions and all of your concerns or reservations. You finally get to sit in your head and do whatever comes to mind. You like her, Ned. I knew that, but I didn’t know you liked her.”

“Lily, I’m sorry. I thought she was you; it is so dark.”

“Quite frankly, you know what I taste and feel like, Ned. You know everything about me. You know very well that wasn’t me, you sick bastard.” She slapped me again and marched away from me. “We’re over,” she snidely growled before she opened the door out into the fall season and walked across the street to her house. I was supposed to spend the night there because she said she wanted to “celebrate our thirteenth month anniversary,” which no doubt involved watching shitty romance movies—not even comedies. And then we wouldn’t talk or anything afterwards and just have sex. And she hated silence so we would constantly watch television or a movie before and after sex.

It was exhausting.

“Hey.”

“I’m sorry, Devin. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Devin slowly sat down where Lily once sat, letting silence settle between us. She leaned into the back of the couch and rolled her neck back onto the sofa. Her blue eyes stared at the ceiling for a long time before either one of us interrupted each other. We synchronously tried to say something and then awkwardly tried to let the other one speak, but we just let silence return because it was comfortable.

“God, I’m an idiot,” I said, my hands rubbing my temples.

“Yep.”

“I should have just kissed her and pretended to be happy.”

“Yep.”

“I should have just been truthful and broke up with her sooner.”

“Yep.”

“I should have kissed Brody instead of you. That would have made her less angry. She probably would have had a cow to tell the story of her gay boyfriend.”

“Whoa, alright, I know you aren’t gay after that kiss.”

“You look like a dude.”

“Good, then you must be gay because you thought I was the hottest girl in the room.”

I rolled my eyes and explained, “No, I screwed up. I thought you were Lily.”

“Lily was wearing a mini-skirt. I’m wearing jeans. Your hands rubbed my thigh to make sure. Don’t you try to sneak one past me. The alcohol shtick, too—that’s a load of crap. You had maybe two beers. Based on your size, you’re buzzed, not drunk. Plus, you are just sipping on watered down ale. Don’t kid yourself.”

Our eyes locked, and vulnerable, I didn’t know how to answer.

“Just so you know—”

“Did you like it?” I asked, my face still buried in my hands. My heart thudded inside my chest as I awaited the answer. I was terrified she would abandon me because she never convinced me she wanted anything other than a friendship. She didn’t want anything to do with me as much as I wanted to do with her, and I couldn’t deny it anymore. I felt awful for my emotional and mental infidelity, but I couldn’t take it anymore. It was out in the open, and I was left to dry by my girlfriend. Well, I guess she is my ex now.

“I don’t know.”

I sat up, and our eyes met for a moment. I asked, “Are you mad that I did it?”

“I don’t think so. I’m upset you cheated on Lily in front of her face and in front of Brody and the other people, but I don’t think I’m mad you did it.”

Relieved, I questioned further, “Would you say what I did was wrong?”

“Oh yeah, for sure. You can’t go around kissing girls who aren’t your girlfriend and your ‘love’ and all of that jazz. You can’t just do that to her…”

“I know what I did wasn’t right. I—”

“…Or me. That embarrassed me, too. Sure, I’m not in a relationship, and I guess I’m ‘free game’ according to that creep. But you can’t do that to me, okay? Look, I’m your friend, and I don’t want this to ruin anything. Don’t do that again.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Kiss me in front of everyone.”

“So I can kiss you when no one is around.”

“Ned, moving too fast.”

“You kissed me back.”

“And I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“You used tongue.”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“I didn’t initiate tongue; you did.”

She furiously blushed and argued, “I did not.”

“Okay, fine, whoever initiated tongue, that was a bad idea. We shouldn’t even be kissing. Friends don’t kiss, do they? No, ruins relationships and stuff. We can’t do that.” I stuck out my hand. “Shake on it?”

She grabbed my hand, and then the space between us deceased. My other hand cradled her neck as I folded my lips over hers. After a moment, she pulled away and said, “You need help.”

“And you’re the perfect person to help me out, okay?”

She cracked a smile, and her hand receded away from my fingertips. My abandoned hand felt cold and useless without hers fitted into my creases. Our eyes met, and we chuckled at God knows what.

“But, seriously.”

“Aw, come on, give me a break. I am fucking drunk, and my girlfriend told me to go screw myself... Wait, why aren’t you drunk?”

“One word: class.”

“Two words: that ass.”

“Okay,” she murmured as she took the cup out of my hand and leaned back into the couch, “you’re cut off.” She began to sip the beer, and then her lips turned downward as she turned back to me. “Ew, this is crap.” She put it back up to her mouth, and then I popped it with the back of my hand. Stale alcohol poured down the front of her t-shirt, and she pinched my upper arm as hard as she could, making me twist out of her taut grasp uncomfortably.

In that moment, I really wished Heath was alive to enjoy this.


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