We’re sweet on each other, but there’s just something about the fear of getting caught. Like the time I pressed him against the door of my mother’s Suburban, idling in the cul-de-sac on Robble Hill, and went down on him while the stars came out and houses curiously winked their lights on around us. Or that afternoon his parents were gone, and we climbed into their claw-footed tub and turned the water on hot, how we were right in the middle when his cousin, who showed up unannounced, started banging at the door. I clutched the shower curtain to my wet skin as Ralph dumbly said, “What do you mean Amy’s truck is outside? I don’t know where she is, douchebag.”
Tonight we haul the sleeping bag out of my trunk—What was it doing in there? Why did I have it with me?—and lay it out, unzipped, by the pond his father dug when Ralph was the boy he is not now. Atop the hill sits his parents’ double-wide, the TV flickering in the window. But we are down by the road, shrouded in night. We giggle and shush each other and keep our faces close so as not to lose each other in the darkness. We say corny things like, “Your eyes are more beautiful than the stars.” And there are stars. I watch their tiny movements over Ralph’s freckled shoulder.
It's long and slow, and we are tired after. We collapse against the fleece lining of the sleeping bag and Ralph slips the condom off, puts it somewhere nearby. We talk about books we read in English, and how we’ve both stopped believing in God, and let the cool August air raise goose bumps on our naked skin. Then, knowing we can't stay this way forever, we put our clothes back on and roll up the makeshift bed.
Only now, we can’t find the condom. God, to be sixteen and so, so stupid. Ralph’s afraid of no one but his daddy, so afraid that we’re shining the flashlight on the end of my key chain everywhere, trying frantically to find it. In the slim, bright streak of light, the blades of grass are little slivers of mirror, reflecting nothing but themselves back at us. We shake out the sleeping bag, palm around in case it stuck to the fleece. Nothing. It’s like that rubber just up and disappeared.
“What will happen if he finds it?” I say, combing the area around my feet. Ralph doesn’t answer, and I know I don’t really need to ask. I’ve seen the bruises his daddy has left on him. I’ve heard that man holler when Ralph and I are on the phone too late, his voice getting louder and louder until Ralph says, “I gotta go,” and hangs up without saying goodbye.
I’m in high school, but I’m old enough to know there’s something wrong up in that trailer. The way Ralph’s mother never speaks, just sits on the couch with her ashtray overflowing, smiling vapidly at anyone that comes by for her boys. Ralph is her favorite. The one who starts up his smart-mouth whenever her husband tries to bait her. The one who takes the whip of his daddy’s belt, and goes on defending her, himself, the whole goddamn world if he has to—Use your other arm, Dad, that one’s getting weak. I should be ashamed that his bruises sometimes make me shiver with excitement, but I haven’t yet connected those bruises to the giddy feeling I get when I run my hand over Ralph’s rough and welted skin. Besides, it’s not his daddy’s beating Ralph fears tonight; it’s the ruining of this moment—this cold, starry night—that he would else carry with him unembellished through the years, a night so full of loveliness.
But it’s lovely now, and we’re never going to find that condom anyway. Spaulding Hill road is alight with fireflies. I start catching them first, then Ralph, and we watch them blink in our hands, and then set them free across the darkness. We are teenagers that have just had safe sex, like we were told in health class. We are both right with the world.
The TV goes off in the trailer, and this time we don’t even bother to take off our clothes. We jump into the black water of the pond, stir up the sleeping carp at the murky bottom, and Ralph presses my back against the splintery wooden dock. We push thoughts of consequences aside for now. We can’t imagine the ways we’ll hurt each other, not with the moonlight on our skin, tremulous as the currents we make in the water and through the night air, telling us we’ll be okay in the end, telling us we’re alive.
Amy Monticello received her MFA from The Ohio State University. Her essays have been published in Flashquake, Word Riot, The Rambler, Redivider, and Upstreet. She currently lives in upstate New York.
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