Last Summer

Fiction
Hilary Harper


Et Voila: Pull To Open
Photo Credit: Kim Piper Werker

I have come into this house with a boy I don’t know because he is cute and cool. He’s holding my hand and leading me into an upstairs room. The door creaks as he pushes it open. “Come into my master’s chamber.” He does some dumb kind of horror movie voice.

It’s a small, dusty bedroom. The shades are pulled and it smells like stale rose sachets. There’s a dresser and some bedside tables with hardly anything on them. There’s a lamp, a set of ceramic poodles, and a clock that’s stopped.

“We shouldn’t be here,” I say.

“Oh, come on,” he says and I know I should say no, but I don’t.

I am fifteen, uncertain, and curious. A radio is on outside and someone just dove into the pool. I hear laughing. “We should go back.”

“Don’t be such a drag,” he says while leading me toward the bed.

We’re damp from swimming and his long dark hair is flat and pushed away from his face. I notice his bony shoulders, the freckles on his chest, and a few long hairs around his nipples.

I know he’s going to kiss me, which is something I want to happen. His lips are full and enticing, but his kiss, when it comes, is sloppy, insistent, and wet. I am disappointed but try not to show it.

I don’t know this boy and he doesn’t know me. I can be a whole new person with him. I can be a girl who does this kind of thing. He kisses me again and pulls me down onto the bed, onto a white chenille bedspread just like my mom’s, a familiar bumpy softness.

We are kissing again and fumbling around when he unties the straps of my bathing suit top, exposing my breasts. I’m embarrassed by this, I’m ashamed, but excited, too. “Hey!” I say. I scoot farther onto the bed and retie my top while he moves up between my legs. His weight is heavy on top of me and I am uncomfortable. I am squished.

“Stop it,” I say. But he doesn’t. I put my hands on his sides, trying to hold him up off me, but he grinds against my bathing suit bottom and grunts. He groans deep in a way that scares me a little, but then he goes weak and rolls off.

“Oh, man!” He gets up and leaves the room.

I am straightening the bedspread when I hear shouting.

The boy runs past the bedroom door. “Come on!” he yells and clomps down the stairs.

I’m right behind him, my heart pounding wild. We run outside where everyone is grabbing towels and scrambling.

“Damn kids! I’ll call the police!” A guy is yelling from an adjacent backyard.

I scoop up my macramé purse and my shorts. I’m the last one out the redwood gate; my bare feet pound the sidewalk, running toward the van where my best friend, Susan, is shouting, “Hurry up!”

This whole thing was Susan’s idea. It’s all because of a guy she met—a guy and his friends who hop pools for fun.

“Jesus,” she says when I finally jump in. “Where the hell were you?”

 

I embellish when I tell the story to my friends. I make it bigger, more dramatic, and much more romantic. I tell them we did it, me and David. David. I don’t know his last name, or where he lives, but I think about him all the time now. I tell my friends it was great, that I liked it, and I am the center of their attention as they press for details with a mixture of awe and revulsion. I turn it into a story so good even I begin to believe it. I believe that he looked at me, deep, right into my eyes, and kissed me sweetly, sweetly.

 

“Oh my God.”

We’re hanging out at the park when I see a guy and think it’s David. I grab Susan’s arm.

“What?” She pulls away from me.

“It’s him!”

But then the guy turns and it’s completely wrong. This guy is older, has a mustache and a big nose, which makes Susan laugh. Not at the guy, or the situation, she laughs at me. She thinks I’m a joke. A slut. A nut case because I’m so obsessed. There’s a harsh look of teenage disdain on her face.

“You are so queer!” she says. Words that strike and hurt me.

We’ve been best friends since second grade. She lives across the street and we’ve always done everything together, including going along on each other’s family vacations. “They’re like twins, those two,” my mom used to say. We even went through a phase of dressing alike, but Susan criticizes just about everything I wear these days. I keep trying to talk her into hanging out with the pool-hopping boys again, but she’s got a crush on a guy named Paul now. He works at the shoe repair shop downtown and we’ve already walked by there about a million times today.

“So what if Paul wanted you to do it?”

She gets a smug little smile on her face. “I wouldn’t,” she says.

“Why not?”

“I just wouldn’t.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Well, don’t then.” She flicks her long sleek hair over her shoulder.

 

I’m sitting on a stool in Susan’s kitchen. She’s going to pierce my ears with a sewing needle. She’s sterilized the needle by whisking it through a flame on the stove a couple of times and I’m freezing my left lobe with an ice cube.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and we’ve got her house to ourselves. We’re listening to a Jimi Hendrix album and smoking her dad’s cigarettes—menthol Kools. I trust her completely, but flinch every time she comes near me with the needle. At first it’s funny, but now I’m pissing her off.

“God damn it, hold still!” She jerks my head back into position.

“Okay, okay. I’m just gonna close my eyes and I’m not gonna think about it and you just do it.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t move!”

“Okay.” I have my eyes closed and I’m holding as still as I possibly can. I really want my ears to be pierced; I want to be able to wear cool earrings. I trust her. I want this. It’s okay. I’m ready. She’s got a grip on my lobe and I know she’s about to poke the needle. I hold my breath.

 

I think my ears might be infected. They’re red and puffy but Susan says to just keep putting alcohol on them. We’re sitting on a picnic table in Bishop Park, which is where all the would-be hippie kids have flocked. It’s August, 1969. We’ve been sitting here all day waiting for Paul. Paul. Paul.

We’re about to give up when he finally ambles by. His dark brown hair hangs to his shoulders in waves and he’s wearing a handmade leather headband with fringe. Paul is already out of high school, but Susan lied and told him she was seventeen.

“Hey,” he says. “You chicks going to the Procol Harum concert tonight?”

 

We’re at the Grande Ballroom in downtown Detroit. We rode here in the back of a van with Paul and smoked some hash on the way; my mom thinks I’m at Susan’s house and her mom thinks she’s at mine. The Grande is an old dance hall, crumbling and kind of spooky. It’s crowded, hot, and I am extremely stoned. I’m entranced by the flowing images of color projected on a screen behind the band, but then I realize I can’t see Susan anymore. She and Paul were standing right next to me a few minutes ago, but the crowd has shifted and pressed in.

I become aware of someone touching my arm and when I turn, expecting Susan, I am surprised to see David. David! I smile and so does he, a really big smile, but I’m not sure he recognizes me. He hands me a joint and then goes back to watching the band. I’m already too high but take a toke so I won’t look uncool, keeping my eyes on him the whole time. I know it’s him, but he looks different. He seems shorter. And maybe not as cute as I thought. He’s moving to the music when I hand the joint back. I lean in and say, “David?”

“Yeah,” he says, and then “Hey!” like he just figured out that he knows me from somewhere, but he’s not sure where.

I’m standing outside after the concert and I can’t find Susan. I’m worried about her and wondering how I’ll get home, but thrilled because I’m with David.

“Hey man, it’s cool,” he says. “Just ride with us and you’ll find your friend later. She’ll be all right.”

So I get in the backseat of somebody’s car and make out with David all the way home. His kisses have improved, or maybe he’s just mellower now as we flow along with the radio on and all the car windows rolled down.

I open the back door and creep into the house as quietly as I can. The floor squeaks, but the TV is on loud in the living room where my dad is snoring on the couch. I tiptoe to my room and sprawl on my bed with my ears ringing and my mind spinning. I close my eyes and listen to the familiar clacking of boxcars on the railroad tracks and the next thing I know it’s morning and my mom is calling my name.

“What?”

“Susan’s on the phone.”

“Tell her I’ll call her back.”

“No. Get up. Get your ass out of bed now.” She yanks the blankets off me.

Susan is pissed when I finally come to the phone. She says she looked all over for me. For hours. But I bet she was too distracted with Paul to really care.

“The doors were locked when I got home. I had to break in my window. My mom is really mad. She wanted to know why I didn’t stay at your house, so I told her a big lie about coming home for Kotex.”

My mom is trying to listen to my conversation so I don’t say much. I stretch the phone cord as far as it will reach. I sit on the floor behind the couch and whisper about David.

“What’d ya do? Let him ball you again?” Susan asks sarcastically.

“No!”

“Well, you know that’s all he wants,” she says.

I hang up.

She calls right back. But I just lift the handset up and then down again, disconnecting the call.

“What the hell’s going on?” my mom asks.

“Nothing,” I say and stomp into the bathroom.

 

School begins and we pass each other in the halls, but don’t talk at all. It makes me sad and I miss her, but it’s become this Big Thing now. And I don’t know how to break the silence between us. I don’t know what to say.

At least she’s not in any of my classes, but I always see her just before fourth hour. Yesterday she was laughing with Jeannie Hicks and Diane Harris, like they’re her new best friends. That’s a laugh! I was talking to Robin Kwiatkowski, but I had my eye on Susan and she kept looking over at me, flicking her hair and laughing too loud.

She put a box of stuff on my porch after that night at the Grande—it had some of my albums, a couple of books, nail polish, a strip of pictures we took at a photo booth, and a purple-haired troll that I bought her. But there wasn’t a letter, not even a note. Not a word. I threw the box in my closet and cried.

“This is so stupid,” I imagine saying to her. Maybe that could be a beginning, but I’m afraid of what she’d say back. Plus, I haven’t seen David since the night of the concert. I wrote my phone number inside a matchbook, but he hasn’t called, and I’d be embarrassed to tell Susan that.

I peek out our living room window sometimes and watch her house. I watch her coming and going. But I never come in our front door anymore—I walk down the alley and go through the back.

 

I hang out with Karen Williamson a lot now. She turned me on to Jefferson Airplane and mescaline. We both got suspended for skipping but I don’t care. Karen says she’s just gonna drop out and maybe I will, too. “We could hitchhike to California,” she says, and I think she really means it. That’s probably where Susan went—she disappeared a couple of weeks ago. I heard that she split with some guy in a band, but I also heard that she joined the Hare Krishnas, which I know isn’t true.

Her mom came over and asked all sorts of questions and accused me of lying when I said I didn’t know anything about it. And then my mom got in an argument with her mom and now they don’t speak to each other either.

My mom says I’m grounded, but that’s a joke. My dad’s been working overtime and my mom passes out in front of the TV every night, so I just do whatever I want. I usually meet Karen at the park and hang out, but it’s cold and deserted and nothing like it was last summer.

I’m huddled with Karen in front of the closed women’s restroom when I find a note in my coat pocket. Folded up into a kind of origami square, it’s a note Susan wrote last school year. I must have stuck it into my pocket and forgotten all about it.

I know it’s from Susan because of the daisies she drew in each corner, and I don’t have to open it to know what’s inside. She probably wrote it in study hall and it’s probably just about how bored she is, and who she likes, and who she doesn’t, and do I want to come over tonight.

“What’s that?” Karen asks.

“Nothing,” I say. I think about tossing the note in the trash, but I don’t. I put it back in my pocket and keep it there. I rub the note in my pocket the whole winter long, as if it’s some kind of good luck charm. But I never see Susan again.

pencil

Hilary Harper lives in Detroit. Currently at work on an MFA at Queens University of Charlotte, she writes both fiction and non-fiction. Email: hilhar[at]sbcglobal.net