My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 15. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
She raped me!
Do you know what that feels like?
The words still ring in my head like the last bell of the day, dismissing me to a new life without my best friend. Our last chance to get back to where we were, I think, probably gone just like him, just like the next UNO kid Ms. Benevo was on to.
Except that was a fantasy. And it always was. Because we couldn’t go back to sophomore year any more than we could go back and play in the sandbox. After all, Pete sort of did tell me that:
That’s your problem, Brown. You think you can change the past, but you can’t. Because what’s happened can’t be changed.
It’s just too bad it took me so long to see it.
I don’t know how late it was when Ant woke up to Pete screaming out into the night. She was scared. She wanted to go back to her room. We left him there by himself on that couch and walked down the hallway and up the stairs, one floor up, past the ice machine, all the way to the end.
The door opened.
She pulled me into her, kissing my neck, then my lips, roughly. “Come to bed,” she said dreamily.
“Not tonight; you’re drunk. Another–”
“Now!” She pushed me in.
“What about Charley?” I said, so meekly I could’ve been the virgin she took in her basement. I was running out of excuses. I wanted her more than my first time, our first time.
“She’ll be out till tomorrow. She took a sleeping pill.”
Ant’s face was glowing like a candle in church. Instinctually, my hand gravitated to it, guiding it to mine, uniting our lips. It was the stuff movies were made of – the drawn-out, emotionally cathartic embrace of the star-crossed lovers – missing only the climactic crescendo right as their lips finally touched.
Silhouetted against the shadows, her clothes fell piece by piece. There, that same statuesque figure with the sturdy collarbones and smooth abdomen stood, and I fell into her arms, battered and broken, needing to be consoled, needing to feel the love I hadn’t felt since her, needing to feel virile again. And I did, letting her take me as she had, blown that she was even taking me again, forgetting the same past she could forget. We weren’t 15 anymore, could never be, I reminded myself, giving in to my carnal needs, but all along searching for companionship.
And when it was done, our panting dog breaths competing with the snoring slob’s in the other room, I rolled off her and lit a cigarette. I didn’t have a qualm about my family, and I’d forgotten my friends; that’s the kind of effect Ant has.
Now, here we are, her teal pajama bottoms, Gallo Bros. Construction tee, and black undergarments lie strewn in contrasting corners of the room; my Diesel jeans and Balaam track jacket and Polo shirt and boxer briefs somewhere mixed in.
She raped me! still surges through me like a migraine. My words I can’t hide from, they’re begging me to tell her. And then Fr. Bagnani. Because I know how stupid I was to think I could go at this alone, to fix me, to fix Ms. Benevo, to fix Pete, to fix everything and everyone. But I couldn’t.
I want to think Ant can read my mind. I’m telling her what Ms. Benevo did – not what I did – how I never wanted to hurt her because she was too good, how I wanted to die that night after the party when I woke up in the crashed car on the wrecked lawn; how I’ve never been the same since.
“Where’d you just go, Andrew Brown?”
The drone of drops pitter, patter, pitter, patter, plop on the windowsill is at first the only reply. In the other room, I again hear her beast of a roommate Charley snoring louder than a chainsaw. Just her and the rain, that’s all.
I blink. Back to reality. “What’s that, my princess?”
“You were staring off.” She touches my face. I look at her with one of those world-moving, cure-all-my-ills looks. And she returns my gaze with the same conviction. “You okay?”
Clearly, I’m not. I don’t even fully get what I’m feeling, like shock that hasn’t set in yet. And it is a shock when it finally hits me like a boot to the face at a random club in Italy: We grow up. And we grow apart. We find new inspirations, new people to please. Pete did; I did too. That’s the price of growing up, I guess.
And I’m afraid I’ll lose Ant again; that’s part of it too. When we get back, I promise myself, I’ll tell her how it started. Not now, though.
Still, I nod before I change the subject. “So, I was reading on the plane how breathing in smoke is actually bad for you,” I say, a lit cigarette hanging from my mouth, my back against the headboard.
A slight smile slips across her lips like a zipper being zipped.
“Does it, now, Andrew Brown?” she says. She takes a prolonged pull and punctuates her amusement by blowing smoke in my face. “Did you smoke when we went out?”
Shaking my head, I watch the whimsical wisps now emanating from the end of her hand. There is something graceful about it like the ribbon in rhythmic gymnastics. She still looks the same as she did three years ago – only more grown up and with slightly shorter hair. And obviously better.
“Why did we break up again?”
“You wanted Sally too. Remember?”
I do remember Sally Spriggs. Her name rings in my ear like a mosquito – the nuisance, the succubus, the bloodsucker, the slut. Ant’s different, always has been.
Junior year. October. Columbus Day weekend. The lawn was covered in this pristine, unmolested frost. There didn’t seem to be a fall that year.
I was falling, hurting so much, wanting to hurt myself any way I could. And I did. Even at Ant’s expense, even though I knew how wrong it was, I did it anyway. With girls who were just body parts – legs, faces, boobs, and asses – that was Sally; that was all of them. Because I didn’t give a shit about myself. Or what happened to me.
Everything hit the fan that Saturday night when Ant finally broke up with me. She’d found out I screwed Sally. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She just looked through me as if she knew there was so much I wasn’t telling her.
When I caught her eyes for a second, though, they betrayed the stolid air about her; she was devastated that I’d changed, that she didn’t know me anymore. And she was right. I had changed. How could I not after what Ms. Benevo did to me?
I remember the silence in the cold house suspended between me and Ant like condensation. We were never going to be the same – I knew that – so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t try to console her, nothing. I just stood there. And waited until the door closed behind her. Then, I got into the Volvo feeling soiled, like a used condom, hoping I didn’t make it back. I almost didn’t.
That same silence returns to us now, in the morning hours when it’s just us and the birds. And Large Charley.
Ant flops her hands down on the ruffled comforter. I turn to her huff.
“What are we doing here, Andrew Brown?” she sighs.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I can’t even remember the last time we spoke. And now you’re all of a sudden back in my life, laying next to me like nothing happened? I don’t want to say it, but you’re doing the same thing to–”
“Jess that I did to you.”
She doesn’t acknowledge what I said. She just looks at me with those endless eyes skewering me like they’re onyx shanks, unsure whether to trust me, to let me back in.
I sit up. “I know that’s how it seems, I do – I really do. And I can’t deny the past, I know all that, but, I guess–”
“You guess what, Andrew?”
I guess getting screwed by Ms. Benevo and carrying that weight the past couple years really puts things in perspective, especially after you squander the one good thing you had going in life. But I can’t say that.
I need to come up with something real, something romantic, something she might believe. “Back then, I didn’t know how good I had it; I didn’t get the saying ‘The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.’ I took us for granted. I took you for granted. Until I lost you. And it took me losing you to figure that out, and I don’t want to make the same mistake again.”
Those opaque eyes I’d looked into so many nights when no one was home – those endless pools I plunged into, that reflected my soul, that I could wish on for better days – seem unmoved. She doesn’t believe me.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin