Carrie and I bring hotdog buns and a plastic bottle of vodka to Jay's Fourth of July party. We were supposed to bring hotdogs but I didn't feel like going all the way to the IGA to get them. Jay is drunk already when we get there. "I've been up all night," he says. There are a bunch of guys there we sort of know but they're mostly older, friends of Jay's older brother, Laird.
"Girls, you need a drink." Jay grabs our vodka and takes my hand. Carrie follows. In the kitchen, he mixes vodka and Orange Crush in some plastic cups for us. "Drink up. There's more where that came from."
Carrie always drinks slowly but I don't. I rush everything. I gobble, I gulp, but luckily I'm skinny. Carrie is slow because she worries all the time. I tell her she needs to live a little, but she'd rather be a baby still. I'm so over her.
"Drink up, Care Bear," Jay says and pokes Carrie in her belly where a roll of fat sticks out over her low riders. Same old story: he teases her and she giggles. She won't say it out loud but I know she likes Jay. But Jay has liked me since we were little kids and would play in the sand with our bottles filled with apple juice while our moms drank wine on ice in their chaise lounges.
The lawn, covered in patches of brown where Jay's dog has peed on it, slopes down to the sandy beach and lake below us. Laird and his friends are trying to roll down the hill in an inner tube. The aim is to not fall out until you hit the water. Not one of them has made it all the way yet.
"Hey Jules." Laird motions me over. "Get your skinny butt in here." All of Laird's friends look at me.
"Do you see them checking me out?" I whisper to Carrie. "Nuh uh," I say to Laird and shake my head.
"C'mon," Laird says. "Worried your hair will get messed up?"
"I didn't bring my suit." I hook my thumbs into my belt loops.
"So?" He's smiling at me now, letting me know what will happen if I don't do what he wants: he'll ignore me later, pretend that he doesn't even know I exist. I hand Carrie my cup and unzip my pants.
"Julie," Carrie says. "What are you doing?"
"Going in the tube." I slide my pants down my legs and drape them over Carrie's arm. I pull my tank top up over my head and put that on her arm too. She doesn't move or say anything but I think it's funny so I laugh. "Lighten up," I say. "Jesus fucking Christ, will you lighten up." I stand before them all in my black boy briefs and bra. Jay coughs and goes into the house. I say, "Give me that thing."
Laird and I sit on the lawn under a tree and play crazy eights. I win game after game and then Laird gets bored or tired of losing more likely and lies down on his back.
"Come," he says and motions me into the crook of his arm. I lie next to him and put my hand on his naked chest. The leaves above us are swaying and clinging to the light. The sun finds its way in every once in a while and lightens a spot on my face. I feel warm and Laird's skin is velvet and lamb's ears. His skin is butter and chocolate. I consider rubbing my tongue across his nipple because I think he'd like that. I move my head up a bit, thinking I might kiss him.
"What's your friend's name?" Laird has his hand over his eyes.
"Carrie?" I say.
"She's cute," he says.
"You think?" I put my head back down. "She's kind of fat." I feel like biting his nipple off, like drowning Carrie in the lake.
"Nah," he says. "That's just baby fat. She'll grow out of it."
I move onto my side.
"She's got a nice rack," he says.
I sit up.
"Hey." Laird grabs the back of my shirt and pulls. "You jealous or something?" He laughs.
"Of her? No." I laugh. "No way."
"I'm not done with you yet," he says. I lie there as he falls asleep and think about how much I hate Carrie.
When I wake up later, Laird is gone, has left me lying alone. My mouth feels dry and filled with poison and I need to pee. I head up to the house and see Jay and Carrie sitting at the picnic table talking. Before they see me I hear Carrie saying something about "she" and "her." I know for a fact she's talking about me. They are always talking about me.
In the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of my mother in the mirror, but it's actually me. I wad up some toilet paper and hold it on the cold water then I dab it on my face, under my eyes and I look fourteen again, blonde hair smooth and parted in the middle, my teeth white and not stained like Mommy's, my skin unwrinkled. I think, "I am not old. I am young."
I go find Jay and Carrie. They are still in the same spot but when they see me they stop talking. "Hey bitches," I say and sit down next to Jay and give him a nibble on his earlobe. He flinches. So does Carrie.
"Cut it out, Jules." Jay pushes me away.
"Sorr-ee," I say but I'm pissed.
"It's okay. It just hurt." He's lying. Carrie smiles at him.
"So what are you guys talking about?" I look right at her.
"Nothing," Carrie says. "Just books and stuff."
"Oh." I yawn. "Can I bum a smoke?"
Carrie digs around in her ugly, ratty bag and then slides her pack of cigarettes over to me. I pick them up and walk away.
"Hey," she whines after me.
"Don't have a cow," I say. "I'll bring them back."
I sit on the dock and put my feet in. It's still early in the afternoon and there are hours before fireworks. I wonder if I should ask Jay if he wants to go for a walk. I look back up to the picnic table where he and Carrie are laughing.
I jump into the water with my clothes on and stare up at the sky. All I can hear is the water breathing in and out of my ears.
I might just stay like this for the rest of the day.
I wake up in the sun, in my underwear on the dock. Carrie is standing over me. She has a plastic cup in each hand. "What?" I say.
She sits down next to me and hands me a cup. "Thought you might want a drink."
"Oh, thanks." I take it and lift my head to drink half of it in one gulp. The orange tickles the roof of my mouth, the vodka burns. I put my head back down and swallow. "Thanks."
"Are you having fun?" she asks and looks off across the water.
"I guess." I close my eyes and let the sun take me.
"I am," she says, "having fun."
"Good for you." I roll onto my stomach.
"Can I tell you something?" she asks and I shrug. "I like Jay."
"No duh!" I say.
"Who doesn't know? You're so, like, blatant about it."
"Oh," she says, blushes, takes a sip of her drink.
"Don't get all embarrassed," I say.
"I'm not," she says, but she has a pout on. "Can I ask you something?"
"What?" I hate it when people ask if they can ask. Just ask.
"Do you think he likes me?" She won't look at me for my answer.
There are so many things I could say but I don't. I shrug again.
"Really, Julie. Do you?" Now she's looking at me and there's something sad about the way she's begging me to say yes.
"No," I say and roll off the dock into the water. I stay under as long as I can, holding my breath. Above me I see Carrie crying, her nice rack heaving.
I let out air bubbles when I laugh. She doesn't seem to notice.
"Where are the fucking dogs, man!" Laird is yelling at Jay, who is standing there like a dumb ass.
"Julie was supposed to bring them," Jay says and they both look at me.
"There weren't any at the IGA," I lie.
"There were no hot dogs? On July Fourth? None?" Laird waves a spatula around like a wand.
"Nope," I say. "None."
"Well, this is totally going to suck," he says.
"We still have burgers," Jay says.
"Nah, we need dogs, man. Dogs!" Laird's face is getting red. "You brats need to go find some. Go somewhere else to look."
Jay looks at me. "C'mon Julie. Let's go."
"I'm not going," I say. "Ask Carrie to go."
"She left," he says.
"What?" I have a hard time not smiling.
"She went home," Jay says and looks back over his shoulder. "You were swimming. She said she didn't feel well."
"All right," I say, "I'll go get stupid hot dogs with you."
"Hurry back, kiddies," Laird says and waves to us with the spatula. Behind him his friends are playing a fucked up game of bocce on the lawn. One of them is trying to juggle and another one whisks a tiny broom behind his ball as it scoots across the grass.
I look where Carrie and I left our bikes and hers is missing. Jay and I get in Laird's truck. Jay doesn't even have his permit yet but Laird lets him drive all the time. I climb in the passenger side; it feels familiar that I should be there, close, like sitting on the couch with Jay and playing video games. I turn on the radio and sing loud. I bounce up and down on the seat and sing louder. Jay drives in silence. I turn off the radio.
I say, "Where're we going?"
"Baxter's," he says.
"That's like 15 miles away. It'll take forever."
I slide over closer to him on the seat and put my hand on his thigh. He flinches a bit. I rub his leg and then kiss his neck. "Quit fooling around, Jules," he says. "I'm trying to drive."
"Whatever," I say.
"I just want to get the stupid hot dogs," he says. We're on a dirt road with our windows down and outside dust is flying up as high as the windows and over, blotting out the corn, not yet high enough, in the fields The words have been hanging there so long, waiting. I have to get them out of my mouth. "Are you in love with Carrie or something?"
"No," he says, too quickly. "She's cute. I like her."
"What do you mean cute?" I know for a fact that she's not prettier than I am.
"She's pretty. Got a pretty face," he says and his eyes are forward out the window, squinting, not looking at me, seeing something else.
"And a nice rack." I cross my arms over my chest and slam back against the seat.
"You're so rude," Jay says.
"Laird likes them." Ever since Laird and I first hooked up when our families were together last Christmas Eve, Jay's been pissed. We're not even going out or anything. As Laird says, "We're friends with benefits."
"Yeah, well Laird likes a lot of things." Jay's face is cold and hard, the lake frozen over.
"Laird likes me," I say.
"Yeah, sure he does," Jay says.
"What? He does like me. I know for a fact he likes me," I say, not so sure that it's true.
There are other girls at the party when we return. Older girls. "Here come the dogs!" Laird yells when he sees us and a girl next to him swats his ass.
"Don't call her that! She's cute," the girl says.
"I wasn't talking about Jules. I was talking about the hot dogs. I know that Jules is cute, but not as cute as you, baby." He grabs the girl and kisses her and I feel my belly tighten up, my thighs clench. Laird stops kissing her and waves me over. "Bring the dogs, kiddo." He turns around and I throw the hot dogs at him so that they hit him one, two on the back.
Then I run. I pick up the inner tube and I run with it and I get myself inside and roll it all the way down to the lake. I hear Jay calling my name but I don't stop. I roll until there is no more grass, just me and water.
"What's wrong with you, Jules?" Jay says as he looks for a sweatshirt I can borrow among his things. The sun has gone down and I'm cold. "Why are you acting so crazy today?"
"I don't know," I say. Jay has a plush blanket on his bed with a wolf design on his bed. He's had it since we were about ten. We used to lie under it together and pull it over our heads and tell stories and sometimes we would get undressed to our underwear and look at each other, or touch each other.
"Here," Jay hands me a hoody and then goes to leave.
"Wait," I say, grabbing his arm. His skin feels warm under my cool, blue-tinged fingers. "Lie under the blanket with me for a second so I can warm up?" He looks at me.
"Okay," he says. "But just for a second."
He gets underneath the blanket and I stand on his rug, dripping. I pull the arm of my tank top over my head.
"What are you doing?" Jay tries to get out of the bed but I push him back down.
"I'm getting naked. Close your eyes if you don't like it." He closes his eyes and covers them with his hand. Naked, I crawl under the covers and snuggle against his rigid body. When he puts his warm hand against my cold back, I look up at him and his face is red.
I kiss him on his lips, which are soft and open and I feel that they might be what love is—warm, wet.
"Quit fooling around, Jules," Jay says, pushing me away.
"I'm not." I try to kiss him again.
"No," he says. "I don't want you to kiss me."
I sit up and the blanket falls away from me. He can see me naked on the top now. I smile at him and he tries to cover me back up.
"I don't want this," he says, looking young, looking like he did when we were ten.
"Why not?" I know for a fact that he does want this—me naked here with him—has always wanted it.
"Because I don't," Jay says and crawls over me. He leaves the room and the screen door slams behind him as he goes outside. I pull the wolf blanket over my head and wait for someone to come get me.
I leave the house when I hear the fireworks and everyone cheering. I take Jay's sweatshirt with me because the smell of it reminds me of something, safe and happy. Outside, I see Carrie's bike is back against another tree and that she and Jay are sitting on the picnic table holding hands. Laird is standing on the lawn with a girl on either side of him.
I get on my bike and pedal away as fast as I can. Above me the sky lights up again and again with the fireworks from the summer camp. Each light is like that feeling of a guy's hand on you when he really likes you. That feeling of warmth and crushing bones, of skin licking skin and teeth clanging teeth. Each time the sky lights with red or blue, I feel it and I ride my bike faster.
I ride until I can't breathe or see the sky anymore. I ride until everything is just a blur.