By Beth Grosart
“This is our time,” Matty says as he walks up the front steps of Taylor Winkle’s house ahead of me.
He stops and turns, waiting for me to catch up. I’m glad he wants to walk in together.
“I don’t even get what that means.” I laugh.
Matty stretches his arms out, turning to face me. “This. Is. Our. Time.”
“It doesn’t change it if you say it slowly.” I push his arms down before we walk into the crowded party.
“I beg to differ.” He smiles, opening his mouth wide as if about to yell it out to all of the partygoers.
“Okay, okay. I get it.” I elbow him lightly in the side. “Enough.”
“Yes ma’am. Anything for the birthday girl.”
It’s my birthday, my sixteenth to be exact. Matty turned sixteen three weeks ago. We figured, what better way to celebrate than to go to a party where we know just about nobody.
“Do we even know anyone here?” I ask.
Matty shoots me a look. “Would I really take you to a party on your birthday where you know no one?”
“Please, don’t tell me Carter is the only person I know.” I gesture to Matty’s lab partner and sometimes weekend cohort, Carter Tipton; Carter is trying to talk to a group of three freshmen girls. I roll my eyes.
“Don’t judge. You, too, were once a low lady on the totem pole. Now that we’re sophomores, we just have to embrace our new found rank.”
We do a little party reconnaissance. Matty and I are not frequent attendees of these types of get-togethers. People seem to be mostly grouped around different games that are going on. A pong game in the den, flip cup in the kitchen and some game that has ten or so people sitting in a circle on the floor in the living room.
Taylor Winkle herself looks up from the circle, waving us over.
“Hey Matty,” she calls out. Her voice is syrupy and makes me cringe.
“Hello, Taylor Winkle.” Matty winks at me.
Years ago, we decided that Taylor Winkle was a two-name kind of person. Always Taylor Winkle.
“What are you guys playing?” Matty asks.
“Two Truths and a Lie,” Taylor Winkle says with more excitement than I can imagine feeling for that game. “You know where people have three statements and you have to guess which is the lie.”
I can see the look on Matty’s face asking me if I want to play. A small shake of my head is a sufficient response, and he moves back away from the circle.
The game was a fad in middle school and had, for some reason, made a come back. It had been a back of the bus game or a birthday party sleepover activity. But I didn’t sit in the back of the bus, and at sleepovers I’d be the one saying things like “I have three dogs” (truth – three labs). Or, “I was born in New Hampshire” (truth – this one might trick them because of my Asian looks). Or, “I’ve been to Disneyland” (lie – I’ve only been to Disney World). I played it safe, knowing perfectly well I wasn’t giving any of the juicy info people were trying to get at. Honestly, I didn’t have any juicy info to give.
Matty and I stand close enough to hear the chatter. He laughs as a couple girls debate the accuracy of a friend’s proclaimed truth. I wonder what Matty’s truths would be. His lie. Once it gets to Taylor Winkle, she keeps looking over at us – I’m sure to see if Matty is listening to her stories, which are mostly about hook ups. I pull him towards the kitchen.
“Let’s get a drink.”
“Let’s,” he responds.
Matty heads to the keg, and I’m glad he came with me so easily.
Handing me a beer, we clink Solo cups and drink. I watch him finish his and do the same.
“Easy there, Chugger McChugger.” He laughs.
“I can keep up with you.”
Matty fills our cups again. “We can sip these,” he teases.
A group of guys are trying to negotiate the keg. Matty steps forward and helps
them out. When he comes to stand next to me, he nudges my arm with his.
“What’s one of your truths?” he asks.
I don’t even have to think for a second. “You’re my best friend.”
Something crosses his face, some look, but it vanishes and he pulls me in for a hug. “Eleven years and counting.”
“It feels like yesterday in a lot of ways.”
I think Matty holds on for a few seconds longer than normal. We always hug. When we say “hi” and “bye.” It’s part of our norm. There’s something lingering about it today. I shake it off, chalking it up to the beers we just chugged.
Someone’s hand touches my back. “Excuse me.” A deep voice is near my ear as the hand lightly moves me to step forward.
I turn. Ryan Cass. The hottest guy in school. There’s a truth. His lips are turned up in a smile.
“Not quite yesterday.” Matty takes my hand, leading me in the other direction.
Something in the look Matty gives me as we walk out of the kitchen makes me turn one more time to see Ryan before he disappears into the crowd. I can feel him watching me watch Ryan. If I observed us from another perspective, what would I see? Jealousy? No. Matty and I don’t do jealous. Last year, I did tell Karen Gibson to keep her distance, but that was about protecting Matty from her reputation and person-to-person contact with who knows how many other guys. I didn’t want Matty to get hurt. Like walking him in the other direction from Taylor Winkle. That’s not jealousy. That’s care.
What he said is true. We have been looking out for each other for the last eleven years. Exactly. Since my fifth birthday.
Two things happened the day I turned five. In order of importance, I met Matty Lewis, and I got adopted. I’d been in foster care for two years. No one in an all-white New Hampshire town wanted a Korean, probably illegally-immigrated baby – that is, no one did until my parents, the Haydens, moved to town from New York City. According to Mom and Dad, they saw me, held me, and fell in love. Mom and Dad brought me home and, while showing me my new backyard, we ran into our neighbors who were pacing around the grass, peeking under the deck and behind the rhododendrons.
“Can we help you?” Dad asked.
The woman blushed. “We’re looking for our son. He took off into your yard.”
We all spread out and search. While the grown-ups looked in what I’m sure they considered obvious places, I wandered the length of the first backyard I’d ever had, and I found a small shed behind some tall, carefully planted rose bushes. I opened the door. A boy my age sat inside, wrapped up in the garden hose, a sideways smile across his face. He held up a trowel and a handful of roses, his little five year-old fingers cut from the thorns.
Poking my head out of the shed, I yelled, “He’s here.”
His mom picked him up, my new mom went to get Band-Aids, and the dads followed us into the house. Matty got his cuts wrapped up, and I got one Band-Aid on my pinky finger to match. When the parents left the room to get their teas, Matty leaned over and kissed my unhurt finger.
“All better.” He smiled.
“It’s my birthday,” I said, softly.
Matty thought for a moment, then pulled a crumpled rose from his pocket and placed it in my hand. “Happy birthday.”
That was then. And now, it’s my birthday again and we’re the same as we’ve always been, but also different. I can’t explain it with words, but I can feel it. The simplicity of playing pretend in the shed does feel like forever ago.
The next few hours at Taylor’s party consist of games and laughing with Matty. I meet up with some girls from my chorus class. We chat about boys. A few of them mention Ryan Cass as the hottest guy, and I quickly chime in with my pathetic story of lending him a pencil in Chemistry. The alcohol makes it seem like the best story of the night.
I go to the kitchen for a glass of water. As I pour, Taylor Winkle’s shiny face smiles at me from a family photo on the windowsill. She and her parents in some tropical location, looking very blonde and happy. My head feels floaty although I don’t even think I’ve had that much to drink, but my eyes are heavy and dry; I definitely need to lie down. I chug the glass of water and place the cup on the counter amongst the scattered chips and Solo cups.
I want to find Matty, but I’m too tired. I’m not sure when we got separated. Last I saw him he was in some heated game of dice with Carter.
I’ll find him later. I’ll just take a nap.
Heading upstairs, I take each step one at a time, deliberately feeling my foot settle before moving onto the next. I crawl into the sheets of the first open bed I find, clothes and all. My head hurts; a wooziness clouds my brain, and I want to close my eyes.
A minute later, someone knocks and opens the door. Ryan Cass. “Hey, can I crash in here with you?”
Other than lending him my pencil, I don’t really know Ryan; he’s not a stranger, but we’re certainly not friends either.
“Yeah,” I say, quietly, and before I can decide what this means, he lies down on the bed next to me. Suddenly I am wide-awake, and the bed feels small.
Without a word, his hand moves and touches my arm. I let him touch my arm. It’s like a small fire is lit at each point of contact. Ryan turns towards me and kisses my neck. His hands move to my legs, then they are on the waist of my jeans, unbuttoning then unzipping.
Are first kisses soft? That’s how I imagine them to be. There’s light and fire and a little bit of electricity, all the while it’s soft. A hand on the back of the head, a tiny push of pressure but wrapped in a softness.
Has Ryan even kissed me on the lips yet?
Do I want this? Yes. No. Maybe?
His hand finds my stomach and waistline. A tingling shoots through my body, and I feel it between my legs. I moan.
His hand keeps going, pushing off my pants. I shouldn’t have moaned. I close my legs. He lets out a small sigh and presses his lips together. I open my legs, slightly. His lips relax and his hands start to explore. He moves above me. I moan again. Stop doing that, I warn myself.
We’re waist to waist. At some point, he became pantsless and boxerless. I don’t know where those things went, but they’re nowhere in sight. Just his nakedness lined up with my almost nakedness.
I am not going to have sex. I start to say something, but my lips push against each other, locking the words into my mouth. How can I get out of this bed? Slide off? Push him aside and just get up? What do I say? My lips hold my words hostage.
He probably thinks that I want more, that I want it all. Do I? I know that I don’t, so I make a choice. The choice sits somewhere in between – in that place partway there, enough of the way there to explore but not go too far. I’m not going to run away, but I’m not just going to do anything. Or everything. I move my head down, close my eyes, and open my mouth.
I lay there in that position – Ryan Cass hovering above me – acting out a first that should come after many others.
He finishes, and I move away, letting out one last moan. I put my face in the pillow, wanting to cry but not letting myself.
I wait, breathing as quietly as possible, holding in sobs. When I hear him breathing heavily, then snoring, I move onto my stomach and slide out from under the covers. No sudden movements. I find my clothes in a pile on the floor. My bra is hidden under his shirt. Snapping the clasp and pulling up the straps, I look in the mirror. The blue flowers lining the straps and trim are faded and some of them are coming apart. Mom bought me this a few years ago. It might have even been my first young lady bra. I’m definitely throwing it away the moment I get home.
I shut the door to the room and run to the bathroom. The edges of my mouth are sticky. I turn on the sink and take gulps of the frozen water, letting it try to refresh my mouth. Twisting the other knob, I splash the steaming water across my face. I want to find Matty immediately, but I’m also hoping maybe he left already and I have to walk home, alone. I don’t want him to sit close to me and watch my mouth when I talk like he always does. He says I make these “cute” expressions with my mouth when I’m thinking during a conversation – especially about something deep, and it gives him hints about what I’m about to say next. He likes to try and guess.
Please, don’t look at my mouth. Don’t guess.
I walk downstairs, negotiating my way over coats and shoes scattered on the carpeted staircase. It doesn’t seem like anyone is up. The clock in the kitchen reads 5:02. Maybe Matty’s asleep somewhere. Maybe Taylor Winkle found him. I hope not. Maybe he went home. No, I know he wouldn’t leave without me. I push away a sliver of anger that tries to push its way into the feelings swirling inside me. Nothing about tonight is Matty’s fault. I’m sure he probably tried to find me and then fell asleep somewhere waiting for me. Maybe?
God, I hope he didn’t come looking for me and find me in bed with Ryan.
I need air. I climb over a few partiers who fell asleep mid-party in the living room. I make my way to the front door and step outside.
The cool, fall air slaps some of the drunk out of me as I sit on the front steps of Taylor’s house. There are dark clouds in the sky as the morning starts to rise up. I kind of wish it would rain and wash the evening away.
“Hey, there you are.” Matty comes outside. His hand rests on my shoulder as he sits next to me. “Want to take off?” he asks.
I nod, adding, “In a minute. I just want to sit for a few.”
He reaches over and grabs my hand. I let him. My palms are sweating, and I know he won’t care. I put my head on his shoulder.
“You okay?” he asks, quietly.
I nod. That’s all I can do. I know he’ll ask me again; I brace myself. He knows me, my different tones, my faces; there’s no way he’s buying it.
“It was a good party for a while, but it’s pretty dead in there now,” he says.
His eyes are on me, studying me like I knew he would and wanted him to not do this time.
I nod, again. “I looked for you earlier…”
He shakes his head. “Carter got sick from all the Jell-O shots. I was helping him evacuate them from his body.”
“Gross.” I appreciate Matty trying to make me laugh.
“We went back in and played more Two Truths and a Lie. If your lie gets found out, you have to drink one of whatever each person playing puts in front of you.”
“I didn’t know that part.”
“It was pretty entertaining. Well, it was until Carter started gagging, and I had to run him outside.”
“What were his three things?”
“He went on a Safari in Africa last Christmas, he can play some Mozart concerto on the piano by memory, and he was born with a sixth finger on his left hand.”
“The third one. Lie.”
“You got it.”
“That’s what I said.”
I take the water bottle Matty’s holding and chug a long sip. The bottle against my lips makes me cringe, and I pull it away fast.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
There it is again. That question.
His eyes search my face. “Did something happen?”
I change the subject. “Did you know Taylor Winkle’s mother designed this house for some Celtics player and then he got cut from the team and didn’t want it, so she just moved her family into it?”
Matty lets out a laugh – my favorite sound. “Didn’t know that. Now, all the fifteen foot high ceilings make sense.”
I stand up. I’m ready to get out of here.
Matty pulls my hand, sitting me back down. “Before we go, I want to give you something.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. I know I’m shaking, still. I will my body to stop.
I hold out my hand. In it, he places a square box wrapped in gold paper. It fits perfectly in my palm.
Inside is one chocolate kiss. I don’t say a word.
I try to look away.
“Remember the other day, we were sitting out back of your house doing that ‘I Wish’ game that I made up.”
Erase Ryan Cass from your memory. Or try to, at least.
“I made up that game,” I correct him.
“Debatable, lady, but okay, it’s your birthday, so I’ll let you believe what you want.” He winks at me. “So, remember when you said you wished you could hold off turning sixteen until you’ve had your first kiss?”
“Of course, I remember.” I choke the words out.
“You talked about how it’s not your fault that no one in this Godforsaken town wants to kiss a nice, innocent Korean girl.”
“Well, I think lips are lips. And, I know I’m a few hours late because you turned sixteen at nine o’clock, but I grant you your wish.”
Matty leans in and presses his lips lightly to mine.
Be in this moment.
My heart sinks into a new wish – I wish this happened earlier. I wish this was my first kiss. Matty, not Ryan Cass.
Matty pulls away, as my shiver shakes our lips apart. “You okay?”
“Thanks for my birthday present.” I smile trying to convince him and, honestly, me too, that I am okay, that this kiss was the biggest event of the night.
Beth Grosart writes and teaches English on a prep-school campus in New Hampshire. She has a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and a MFA in Writing for Young People from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College. Beth has been published in Eastown Fiction and in the anthology Somebody’s Child: Stories about Adoption. Beth is currently at work on two YA novels.