by Chris Eng, illustration by Karlene Harvey
It wasn’t a penthouse loft or rooftop garden, it was a nearly flat covering that sheltered the porch. Extending out about eight feet, it ran across the front of the building and was accessible from both Spit’s room and the one next to it. From there, one had a clear view of the diner and maybe into the second floor of the dance studio.
Jenn sat on the asphalt shingles with her arms wrapped around her knees. “You ever watch the dancers?” she asked Spit, who was sitting next to her, nursing his beer.
“They do jazz dancing in there. Even if I wanted the thrill of having the ladies unwittingly dance for me, the dancing is not sexy. Seriously, I’d get more of a thrill watching people eat their three-dollar breakfasts.”
She giggled in the moonlight. “So, that’s a yes, then?”
“Ha! Yeah. Once. And then I felt sad and dirty and went back inside.”
“You cold?” he asked her.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to go back inside yet. My jackets are in Becky’s room. I’ll go get them.”
“I’ve got a hoodie right here if you want.”
He clambered into his room. “I’ve got several, actually,” he said, sifting through his clothes. Popping his upper body back through the window, he handed her a green zip-up with ‘SOVIETTES’ written across the front of it. She pulled it on and surveyed the fit. It was at least a couple of sizes too large. Shrugging, she zipped up the front and plunged her hands in the pockets. There was a smell to it. Not unpleasant, but not particularly familiar. It smelled like boy.
The scent held a slight sourness with a hint of perspiration. Second-hand smoke and stale booze added notes and there was a food smell mixed in there, too. Curry? In the background, fabric softener… and some kind of shampoo, maybe. She lowered her head to the chest and inhaled. This, more than most things, was the essence of Spit. You can change how you act around somebody else, you can change the way you dress (she knew about that all too well), but you can’t change the way you smell. Even colognes and perfumes and body sprays are just covering your smell up—they’re not getting rid of it. This smell was him, what he was like and what he did when she wasn’t around.
“You like The Soviettes?” he asked, still half-in/half-out of the window, resting on his elbows.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard them.”
“No?” he asked excitedly. “I’ll put them on. They’re one of my favourite bands. How’s your drink? You want another?”
She swished the last mouthful around in the bottom of the can and downed it, setting the can behind her on the windowsill next to Spit, who picked it up. “Yeah, okay. You sure Becky won’t mind?”
“If she does, I’ll buy her a six-pack tomorrow. Plus she’ll appreciate being one-up on me.” He ducked back inside and she could hear the clatter of CDs being quickly moved from one stack to another while he searched through them. Then the whirring sound of the CD player in his ancient one-piece stereo. Then the music.
And it was good—high energy, earnest, honest punk rock with a female vocalist singing her heart out, and as the notes spooled out of the window and wrapped around her, spilling off into the night, Jenn found it so very easy to get caught up in the moment. There was so much to get caught up in:
The music playing on the stereo.
The raucous conversations just below her on the porch.
The music in the living room, pouring out the front door.
The buzz—not drunk, just content—that she was currently riding from the cider.
The people—cool people, people she respected—who enjoyed her company and wanted to spend time with her.
The hoodie, with its smells and its oversized warmth.
The candy—it looked like an after-dinner mint from a diner—that had been in the hoodie’s pocket for god knows how long.
The couple who were making out underneath the street light across the way.
The possibility of happiness.
She brought the hoodie up over her knees like a tent and wrapped her hands in the ends of the sleeves, holding them tightly closed. Jenn closed her eyes and let herself bask. Even if everything went back to the way it had been tomorrow, she’d remember every sensation from this night with crystal clarity.
A door closed behind her and Spit said, “Here ya go.”
“Thanks,” she said, reaching out with her sleeve-mittens.
“I’m not sure that fits you so good,” he said. “If you want, I can look for something el–”
“It’s fine,” she reassured him. Letting one lone finger pop out of the sleeve hole for a second, she cracked open the cider, gripping it between her two fabric-stumps.
He crawled out of the window and sat down next to her. “What do you think of the music?”
“I like it. It’s so much better than the crap the people at my school listen to.”
“Not gifted with good taste, huh?”
“No. They…” She trailed off and went silent for a second. “Can we not talk about them right now?”
“Not a problem.”
Jenn took a sip of her cider and the coldness made her shiver. She looked over at him warmly. “So, what else is there to discuss?”
“I dunno. Ladies’ choice—quantum physics or anarchy?”
A wave of queasiness passed over her and she measured her next words carefully, not at all sure she wanted to say what she was going to say, but more terrified about continuing a lie—or, at least, a mistruth—after being directly called on it. “I have a confession to make.” She could feel herself shrinking even smaller inside the sweater and struggled to keep her voice at a level he could hear. “I, uh, didn’t… know that stuff before.” There was a long silence as she formulated her thoughts and stared directly ahead of herself. “I learned about physics because I saw you had the book. Anarchy, too. I read up on it before I painted my vest. I didn’t just know all that.”
“Huh,” Spit said. “You read all that so you could have a conversation with me?”
“Uh… well, kinda…”
He studied her for a minute and she found herself growing even smaller. “Did you find it interesting?”
“Yeah, totally! I finished the anarchy book last night.”
“You finished it?! You didn’t just skim it?”
“Naw, it was cool! It made a lot of good points. I have another couple of books on hold at the library.” Self-consciousness intruded again and abruptly squashed her enthusiasm. “Are you mad?”
“Not at all. I’m glad you find anarchy fascinating enough to want to read a book on it in, like, three days. Did you read a book on quantum physics, too?”
“Nuh-uh. I just watched a bunch of documentaries.”
“A bunch of them?”
“Yeah, I probably got what I needed from the first one, but then I found a BBC series on it, so I kept watching.” Her enthusiasm returned and side-swiped her self-consciousness. “You know about leptons, right?”
He grinned. “I’m learning about them right now. I guess we’ll have something to talk about when I’m done my book. Anyway it’s super-flattering that you researched quantum physics to have a conversation with me, but the fact you kept studying it past the point you had to is what says something about you.”
“What does it say?”
“That you like learning stuff, I guess. That science and politics are things you think are worth knowing. Maybe that you’re curious.”
She nodded. “I am.”
“Okay, well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, do you wanna pick something to talk about? ‘Cause my suggestions are making things awkward.”
“Okay. Umm… what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“You’re not now?”
Spit reached over and took her hand in his, holding it through the thick fabric. “I’m really happy, Jenn. I just hope I always am.”
They sat, not saying anything, just listening to the music and the ambient noise. Jenn let go of Spit’s hand, slipped hers out the end of the sleeve and took hold of it again. It was warm, almost hot, and she noted how much larger it was than hers, how her hand fit in it like something delicate and tiny, a Fabergé egg he was taking incredible care with.
“Did we finish that last topic?” she asked after several moments had passed.
“I think so.”
“So, whose turn is it?”
“Mine, I think. Hm, all right. What do you want?”
“What do I want?”
“Yeah. What do you want?”
“This.” In hindsight, she had no idea where her inner strength came from, but in a second, she had pulled herself up onto her knees and was leaning over him, into him, her lips on his. She’d never kissed a boy before, certainly never done what she was doing, taking the lead, but she was operating on instinct and it didn’t seem to be failing her.
His upper body moved backward and he was leaning onto his hands, but he took his weight off one of them and slipped it around her waist and onto her back where it moved back and forth, his fingers contracting and expanding in small circles.
And every cliche she’d ever read was happening. It was electric. Time stopped. The rest of the world was shut out. She knew none of those things were actually true, but they were. A current passed back and forth between them, she didn’t care what time it was or even if the rest of the world was still there. None of it mattered.
She pushed forward at him urgently, insistently, and he reclined until his head was rested against the windowsill, and she was half on top of him and setting her cider down somewhere, and his tongue was darting in her mouth against hers—not invasive or forceful, almost respectful—and his other hand was on her back, slipping up underneath the hoodie, its warmth a t-shirt’s breadth away from her skin, and she made a tiny sound into his mouth, somewhere between a shock of surprise and a moan, and his other hand was in her hair, his fingers running through it, hand on the back of her head, pressing her lips to his.
Every nerve in her body was stretched to the breaking point, unable to deal with the sensory overload as his lips played over her neck, her teeth on his ear, operating on instinct.
She was fully on top of him now, straddling him, their bodies grinding together and Spit brought his lips up to her ear and whispered, “Do you want to go inside?”
Jenn nodded, unable to speak, and rolled off of him. She scrambled through the opening and onto the bed below as fast as she could go. He was behind her and then his body was on top of hers, pressing her down into the mattress and both her hands were reaching up past him, wrapping around the back of his head, pulling him into her, their bodies grinding together again, one of her legs arcing up to wrap around his.
His hands were on the hoodie now, pulling the zipper down its length, and it was open. Her rumpled inside-out t-shirt was in plain view and his hand was on her belly, caressing it like he did her back, and her lips were biting his and his hand was under her shirt and she could feel the heat and slight roughness of it on her soft skin and her body shook involuntarily. Her hands came up under his shirt, her fingertips tracing a mandala across his back, and then the same instinct that caused her to kiss him in the first place came over her again and her hands tugged at the front of his shirt, pulling at the pearlized cowboy-shirt buttons until it came open and then her hands were on his chest, on his sides, up around his back unable to stay still for even a second—none of her body was—she was in a constant state of motion, none of it passive, all of it needy. His hands were pushing her t-shirt up, up and over her bra, her plain white bra, her bra that until tonight she’d seen as just a pale reflection of herself, but now its whiteness sat in contrast to the flushed tones of her body and his hands were on her breasts, moving from one to the other, cupping them gently, her nipples painfully erect beneath the fabric and she pushed into him again, her body pressing into his, pressing his hand against her chest and her hand was reaching around the front of his jeans, feeling him through the fabric and it was him moaning this time and suddenly the hand that was on her breasts moved down and she could feel it between her legs, her jeans pressing into her, her breath coming in short panting gasps, and her lips were on his ear, biting and she was saying, “Yes… but just… I’ve never…”
And in a second his body was off hers, his arms supporting his weight above her body. The cold air and sudden absence of his body on hers were shocking and she shuddered.
“You’ve never had sex before?” he asked.
She shook her head, on the verge of tears over the fact her inexperience was going to stop everything dead in its tracks. “But it’s okay,” she said, her eyes starting to well up. “We can…”
“No,” he said, gently but firmly. “We shouldn’t.” She had no words, nothing she could possibly say, nothing that would convey the loss she’d just suffered in the space of seconds. She’d gotten everything she’d been waiting for, it was just as good as she’d hoped and now it was being yanked back and it was all her fault. A tear rolled down her cheek. Then another.
“I’m sorry,” she said, almost whispering.
Spit saw her tears fall and looked stricken. “No, I… fuck. I just meant that I don’t think we should have sex tonight. I like you, Jenn. I think you’re awesome, and I don’t want you to look back on your first time drunk at a party and regret it.”
“I’m not drunk,” she said, and she wasn’t.
He pulled one of his arms free and brushed her tears, now flowing freely, from her face. “Just the same. I want your first time to be better than this.”
“You’re not disappointed?”
“Geez, Jenn—no. Not at all.” He leaned in and kissed her lightly but firmly on the lips. “At all.”
“Can…” She turned away from him for a minute, then looked back, a mischievous smile on her face. “Can we still make out?”
His voice was low, the baritone rumble of a truck at 3:00 a.m., and he grinned widely at her. “Hell yes, we can still make out.” He lowered his body back onto hers and their lips locked together and her hands held onto his back as tight as they could, and time stopped again, just for her.
Things that weren’t a concern the night before became so in the crisp light of early morning. Jenn shifted in Spit’s bed, a flicker of consciousness entering her mind, bringing with it awareness of where she was and what the light through the window meant. “Oh, shit,” she said, sitting upright and looking outside. The sun had been up for a couple of hours and a rough estimate put it at 8:00 a.m., give or take.
Spit rolled on his back and his eyes flickered as he let out a tired sigh. “What’s up?” he groaned.
Jenn stood, clad in only her bra and panties, and stepped off the bed over him, collecting her clothes. “I’ve got to get home. My parents are going to fucking murder me.” She flipped her pants the right way out and began to hop into them. Fastening them up, she sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped her socks on.
“Mm, okay,” Spit said, pulling himself up into a sitting position and leaning his shoulders against the wall as he blearily watched her dress.
She grabbed the t-shirt and started to flip that the right way out, too, then stopped herself, putting it on inside-out. She reached for her jackets and stopped. “FUCK.”
“My jackets are in Becky’s room. I left them there last night.”
“I’ll get them later.”
“I don’t have any other outside clothes.”
“Borrow my hoodie. Just bring it back eventually.”
She slipped her shoes on over her socks and leaned over to kiss him on the lips—an initially chaste move which turned passionate as their tongues began to intertwine. Jenn broke away after a few seconds and leaned forward to tie her laces. “What’s ‘eventually’?” she asked.
“I dunno. Later tonight?” He grinned at her.
“Can’t tonight. But soon, okay?”
“I promise.” She picked up the hoodie and put it on, its largeness all the more obvious in the morning light. Getting to her feet, she stood in the centre of the room for a second, silent and awkward, then steeled herself and said quietly, “I gotta run.” She leaned in and kissed him again, her hands half-poking through the sleeve-holes to cradle his face.
“Jenn,” he said, “I have no way to get in touch with you.”
She turned and looked back at him. Her heart sank. There was nothing she wanted more than to give him her cell number, but she couldn’t. Her mother might not be able to crack the unlock code (though Jenn had every faith she’d try), but she knew her mother scrutinized the phone bills on a monthly basis. Any calls or texts to or from an unknown number would get put under the microscope. Better to avoid the situation altogether for now. “I’ll get in touch with you. I’ll find you in front of Pete’s.”
“I’m not always there, you know.”
“If you’re not, hey—I know where you live.”
She shot him a parting smile and was out and down the stairs like a flash. Outside, the air was crisp and the sun’s rays fell on the hoodie, warming it, warming her. Filled with more energy than she knew what to do with, she started to run.