One of my only high school friends post-RED was a girl named Jennifer. We had more in common than I had with most people—for instance, we both liked superhero movies. And dogs. And…that was about it. I liked staying at her house because it made me feel normal, so I was perfectly happy to do whatever as long as we could hang.
She met a guy one day at the farmers market. He had a generic name that escapes me now, so we’ll call him Chuck. Jennifer wasn’t allowed to date, but she really wanted to get to know Chuck better. We were lying on her bed on our stomachs one night watching Ironman, and she said “Chuck has a friend named Chad. We could all, like, go to the movies or something and then it wouldn’t be a date but, like, a group?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Have you met this guy?”
“I mean,” she shrugged, “Chuck is fun? So Chad is too. Probably.”
I agreed to go to a movie with them the next day, my friend and her definitely not-boyfriend and his best friend. They picked us up in a big blue pickup truck, and what struck me first was how old they were. I was barely 17, but Chad was easily in his late 20s. Chuck had on a hat; I couldn’t get a read on him easily. It quickly became apparent that we weren’t actually going to a movie, but to dinner and bowling where we could separate and Chuck and Jennifer could do their own thing. Chad and I had been brought along as an excuse.
“Bye guys,” Chad said nonchalantly as they disappeared into the shadows. He sat across from me at our table in the bowling alley and fingered a french fry. “What now?”
I shrugged and tentatively reached for a fry from the basket, dunked it in ketchup. “I guess we could…bowl?”
“I hate bowling.”
“Me too,” he admitted. He took a long drink of his beer. “You want some?”
I nodded and took the green bottle from his outstretched hand. I held the liquid in my mouth for a second, the nasty weight of its flavor staining my tongue, before I swallowed it in one gulp.
“First beer?” he laughed.
I shook my head. No. It wasn’t. He wasn’t the first man to give me alcohol. I heard Jennifer laughing in the distance and I looked up to see her and Chuck attached at the lips in the farthest darkest lane of the bowling alley. He picked her up and sprung her around and then kissed her again.
“Do you wanna go outside?” The beer bottle made a hollow sound as he deposited it on the table.
“And do what?”
Chad tossed his head slightly so his greasy brown hair would get out of his face. “Sit in the truck? You don’t seem like you’re having much fun here.”
I wasn’t. “I guess?” I let him take my hand and lead me out to the parking lot, leaving the garbage all over our abandoned table.
He opened the tailgate of the truck and boosted me up before climbing in after me. “It’s a pretty night, huh?”
“Pretty?” I raised an eyebrow, but his lips were on mine before I could follow up the tease. I shifted slightly so my shoulder pushed against his chest, and we broke apart. “Hey now.”
I pictured Jennifer in the bowling alley being spung around, held, kissed. “Too slow.” I grabbed Chad’s shirt and steered him back towards me; my lips found his, tentatively at first and then more certain. Harder. I let him shove his tongue in my mouth but didn’t reciprocate, waited, analyzed, tried to find my opening. Lost in thought, I didn’t realize he was spinning me to be against the back window of the cab until I was trapped there and he was unbuttoning his pants. I broke my lips off his. “Stop.”
He kept going, his pants open, his state of readiness clearly visible.
“STOP,” I cried, louder, shoving him away.
“What? What happened?” He tried again to kiss me, but I turned my head and his lips glanced against my cheek. I pushed him off and struggled to my knees. “What the actual fuck?” He wrestled his pants back up. “Wait are you CRYING? What the fuck?”
I fumbled with the tailgate before giving up and hopping over to the ground. I touched my cheek. I was crying. When had I started doing that? I never cried. He was just another man, right? Right?
“Come on,” he called from above me, “what the fuck is this? Let’s just try again or something, don’t be dumb.”
I pulled my sweater tighter around me and walked across the parking lot, turned onto the dark country highway and walked along the shoulder back to Jennifer’s house, to my car. He didn’t follow. I cried quietly, the only sound the gravel I kicked up with my shoes. I can’t, I thought. I won’t ever be able to. I’m the damaged fucking peach and I need to go back to my god damn tree.
That was the last time Jennifer and I really hung out.