He said he loved her on the front porch of his parents’ house with tucked-under legs and sneakered feet. Their backpacks sagged and crumpled against the wall, their skateboards half-buried in unmowed grass. Moments ago, they had been carrying both. But he had wanted to hold her hand. She took note of the smooth pavement and downward slope as they walked. She liked his hair first and his face second. His name was Jeremy and he had brown eyes. He had a square jaw and jagged, angled cheekbones. He had brown hair. Before, when they were still strangers, she liked to watch him twirl it around his finger. A nervous habit. Like nail biting, only sweet. Soft. She thought it must smell like coconut shampoo. Fresh. Tropical. New.
She had never been to his house before and thought the street was also new. Like it had arrived perfectly formed that morning. Like him. She wondered if it might disappear again once she left. She thought a lot about things like that. Roads appearing just for her. Coconut-scented hair. Why the boys she chose were always named Jeremy. This one was her fourth. Though the last had shortened his to Jer so that you were left wondering if his name was Jeremy or something less. A boy at school had called him Jerry Cheesecake once, and the name had struck her with such force, such undeniability, that she had broken up with him, just then, right then. His hair had been the color of cheesecake. Yellowed. Wilted.
This one didn’t shorten his name. He was Jeremy. No abbreviations. She thought his mom was probably one of those who thought Full Names were preferable, superior. Were the only thing their child ought to be called. Moms who had Christophers and demanded they never be referred to as Chris. Or Benjamins as Bens. As though they were offended by it. As though a name could offend.
She was his first Lia. His first girlfriend. His first everything.
Jeremy’s mother had brought them cookies and juice when they arrived. He had rolled his eyes. He’s not a child, he seemed to be saying, who needs after school snacks. But Lia could tell he was. She thought he was the kind of boy who still had his mom brush his hair. Still told her his secrets. Lia could see he was just learning to be his own person.
They sat on the porch and ate chocolate chip cookies and drank orange juice and the summer air twisted and tugged at her hair. It sent it around her head. Under her chin. Across her face. So she saw him through intersecting lines of blond. A cage of strands. The wind whipped around them and wrapped her face in strangling yellows and golds. She struggled to disentangle her lips. Her neck. Her eyes. And in that moment he mistook frustration for fragility and found it beautiful. Found her beautiful.
He proclaimed his love, his undying love, his new and different I’ve never felt this way before love with shining eyes and cookie crumb lips. His hand gripped hers so that it made her palms sweat and her spine ache. He sputtered his love so recklessly, so radiantly that for a brief moment she was sure she might love him too. Might love this Jeremy who didn’t shorten his name and whose hair smelled like an island. She laughed and he kissed her. And together they explored his mouth and lips. His earlobes. His neck.
That afternoon they had sex behind his bedroom door while his mother made dinner. His dark walls lined with posters of bands and airplanes, of medals earned in Little League, and guitars covered in stickers. In black marker. She thought of mac and cheese. Of homework that needed to be done. Of how coconut shampoo never smells like the real thing. The weight of him on top of her, his long hair brushed against her forehead. They used to play doctor like this. She on her back. Hands under her clothes. It was always pretend, before. His mother’s humming crept beneath the door.
When they were finished he cried in her arms, he had found her, he said, he had waited so long, and now it was over. It filled him with a profound sadness. So she held his head and stroked his hair and thought about how cool the evening air would be against her skin. About the heat inside his room and about the way his love clung to her, hot and humid and heavy.
Dacia Price loves nothing more than cold beer on hot afternoons, standing on top of tall mountains and writing stories. Some of those stories can be found in Pacifica Literary Review, and discussed on Ploughshares. She lives in Seaside, CA. Email: dacia.price[at]yahoo.com