Kevin's dad was away on business so it was decided, against some protest on Kevin's part, that the party would be held at his house. The minds behind the gathering were perhaps a little sheepish the morning after, as the few among them who had bothered to speculate on the havoc-wreaking potential of Peach Creek High's most recent graduates had grossly underestimated their capacity for destruction. But what else could they tell their indignant host besides, well, it was the Last Bash?
Word had been spread effectively- maybe too effectively, judging by the number of cars parked on the lawn and down the street. Supplies had been purchased, some even legally. Parents had been served cover stories. The trickle of arrivals became a steady stream, then a flood; now the house was humming with life, not boiling over yet, but bubbling in a promising way. Eddy, typically, was in a heated argument with Rolf by the bookshelf. Nazz was on Kevin's lap. Kids were laughing, drinking, a few sharing a bowl in the corner. Someone turned on the stereo and others began to sing along, loudly, huddled together on the couch or leaning against the walls with their arms draped around each other.
The air conditioner, already working overtime on this balmy August night, was fighting a losing battle against the combined body heat of those assembled. Edd stood directly under the vent, sipping water. He always felt a little out of place in these kinds of rowdy, boozy settings. Not that he was too good for alcohol, or afraid of it or anything, but to his way of thinking it was ill-advised to dull his mind when it was probably the best thing he had going for him. What was so uncool about a little restraint, anyway? Maybe he wasn't the most experienced person in town by the average 18-year-old's standards, but a week from now he'd be away at college, scattered with the rest of the partygoers like seeds in the wind from the center of the world they'd grown up sharing. Experience would come soon enough, he knew. Ready or not.
The party's flow began to quicken. Someone turned the music up. There was a loud crash in the kitchen, followed by groans and hoots of laughter. Shifting uncomfortably, Edd checked his watch- 11:11, make a wish- and decided now was as good a time as any. He made his way to the back door, pausing briefly to salute Ed, who grinned and returned the gesture before turning back to a shouted conversation-in-progress.
The backyard was empty, and blessedly quiet. He looked up, searching the late summer sky. "There you are," he muttered. He shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked contentedly on his heels.
Out of nowhere came a voice: "Who are you talking to?"
He jumped a good foot in the air, stifling a yelp. "Whoa, chill," the voice continued. "I always said you guys got too much sugar." He looked to his left; the patio beyond the doorstep was pitch-black, but he could see the glowing cherry of a lit cigarette, about chest-high in the darkness. Marie Kanker ambled into the dim light, exhaling smoke. Edd grimaced.
"Oh. Hello, Marie."
She was hardly the hormone-crazed bully she used to be, but they hadn't exactly gotten closer over the years. Something about her still made him nervous. He wasn't crazy about the second-hand smoke either, but resisted the urge to lecture her about it.
"You didn't answer my question."
He eyed her warily, then glanced upwards, indicating the stars. "I came out to see the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. This is the closest they'll be for the next 60 years- I didn't want to miss it."
"Oh yeah?" To his mild surprise, she perked up a bit. "Where at?"
He pointed. "See? The two bright bodies, low in the South."
She snorted, "Bodies," then squinted in the general direction. "Right there?"
"No, that's Regulus, in Leo." He moved to her side and put his head by hers, almost cheek-to-cheek. He pointed again. "There- Venus is brighter because it's closer, even though Jupiter is more than ten times its size."
"Wow, nice." Her appreciative tone was genuine. She stubbed the cigarette out on the wall behind her, keeping her eyes on the two planets. "I probably should've recognized Leo, at least. May had this big book of star maps when we were little, I think she just took it from the library and never returned it. She was always begging me to look at it with her."
"Really? I wouldn't have taken her for an astronomer, though the theft part sounds about right."
Marie pressed her lips together, and for a moment Edd wondered if he'd hit a nerve. But she only shrugged, saying, "Well, everybody's got their little interests. We're just not all as loudmouth about it as certain science club presidents I could name."
"Heh..." Relieved he hadn't set her off, he managed to relax a little. "I'll be a small nerd fish in a big nerd pond soon enough. Are... are you going away to school? Or are you staying here like Lee did?"
"For now, yeah, I'm staying. I got a job so I can save up for some classes at the community college." She shrugged again, more self-conscious this time. "I'd like to make it to art school eventually, but we'll see. It's expensive, y'know?"
"Oh." He hadn't really ever seen her with her guard down like this, and it kind of threw him off. "Y-you could get a scholarship, I'm sure; you're very good." She was, too. He had seen her paintings in the halls at school by the art room.
She tucked a strand of short blue hair behind her ear. "Maybe."
The lull was awkward. Edd was suddenly very aware of how humid the air was- the better to conduct electricity, he couldn't help thinking. Cicadas were buzzing in the trees, almost drowning out the muffled sounds of the party inside. They were still standing quite close, beginning to sweat in the warm night, watching Jupiter and Venus approach each other. He cleared his throat.
"Well, good luck anyway. Guess I should be getting back..." and he was halfway turned towards the house when she said, "Wait."
She was standing there in the dewy grass, arms crossed. Her face broke into a wide pirate's grin. "It's a nice night... feel like escorting a girl on a walk?"
Well, he wasn't really planning on wilding out with everyone else. What did he have to lose?
He followed her through a loose plank in the fence, across the lane, through the trees by the moonlit playground. The swings swayed gently, creaking. They crossed the street and went down into the gully on the other side, sliding here and there on the loose rocks before pushing on into the dark woods.
The grassy scent of the summer air was sublime.
"Where are we going?"
She hooked her arm through his- jokingly, but he felt a tiny charge at the contact with her skin. He wondered if she felt it too. She chuckled, low and throaty. "Oh, Double D, Double D... am I that hard to trust? You'll like it, I promise."
What is going on here, he thought, and almost said it out loud. But his curiosity, and something else, something growing inside him that he couldn't quite name just yet, kept him by her side.
They continued arm-in-arm, picking their way through the dense trees with care. With this unexpected joint venture their earlier awkwardness seemed to evaporate, replaced now by an easy quiet. It was nice, he thought. Marie was smiling to herself, almost slyly. Before long a fragmented sort of light appeared and she rushed ahead, jumping over a last tangle of underbrush before spinning on her heel and turning to him proudly, arms flung wide before the old wooden sign: PEACH CREEK COMMUNITY POOL. Edd staggered out of the woods behind her, brushing away a loose branch. "The pool? What are we doing here?"
"I thought we could go for a dip, you know, since it's so hot out..." She raised her arm to wipe the sweat from her forehead, then waved towards the dark windows. "Come on, doesn't that water sound good? Nice and cool?"
Was she crazy? What if they were caught? Imagine having to call his parents from the police station, now, when he was practically an adult and preparing to go out into the world and take responsibility for himself... risking so much... truly crazy... he looked around at the abandoned parking lot, at the thick, still woods. Then again... He felt his own sweat trickling down the back of his neck. They had been walking for awhile, and it really was incredibly muggy tonight. "How would we get in?"
"Easy," she said, sidling over to the door. She dropped to her knees and pulled something from her pocket, what looked like a bobby pin and something else, a flat strip of metal. With a little effort she worked the lock, head cocked, listening carefully, until she was rewarded with the tiniest click. "Ha!" She stood and turned the handle, and the door swung open without resistance.
Edd was impressed in spite of himself. Where had she learned to do that? Eddy's voice was critical in his head: Shady. He felt suddenly incensed on her behalf. Marie really isn't so bad, he thought. She's grown up a lot. Haven't we all? She disappeared inside, and with only the briefest twinge of misgiving, he followed.
The faint light from the windows was reflecting on the pool's glassy surface, but otherwise they couldn't see much. "Hang on," she said. "I used to be a lifeguard here, I think I still remember where the lights are."
"You were a lifeguard?"
"For like two weeks, a year ago. They fired me for whipping the kids who ran with a rolled-up towel. Ah, here we are-"
The overheads snapped on, painfully bright. Edd winced. "Ugh, not those," he heard her grumble, and when he opened his eyes again only the underwater lights were on, giving the big empty room an eerie glow.
Marie peeled off her damp black shirt.
She caught his wide-eyed look and, in a way that he thought was a bit excessively casual, began unbuttoning her pants. "Are you joining me, or were you just going to jump in with all your clothes on? Or stay out here sweating like a hog?"
"Uh..." The sight of her in a state of undress seemed to be short-circuiting his power of speech. She reached back to unhook her bra and he averted his eyes, embarrassed. "I don't know, I think I might have a few more inhibitions than you..."
"Typical only child. Try sharing a room with two sisters your whole life," she replied, followed by a noisy splash. He peeked at where she had been standing; her underwear was on the pool deck. There were little cat faces on it. "Would it help if I didn't look?" He glanced at where she was bobbing in the water, submerged up to her neck. She turned around. "Here, have some privacy."
He took off his shoes, then his socks. His shirt. Shorts. He had his boxers halfway past his knees before it occurred to him that his hands weren't even shaking. He paused, still half-bent over, trying to recognize himself.
Marie called impatiently over her shoulder. "Just jump in! Get it over with!"
"Just a second..." he placed his hat carefully on the tidy pile of his clothes and slid into the pool. Even in this stifling heat the cold water was a shock, and he sucked in a sharp breath. He was still considering his next move, arms raised gingerly like a scarecrow, when a pair of small but strong hands ambushed him from behind and dunked him.
"Wow, I can't remember ever seeing you without that hat," Marie was saying as he surfaced, sputtering. He rubbed his head ruefully but gave her a shy smile.
"I had an embarrassing dodgeball incident as a kid. The scar was never that bad, but I thought no one would remember if I kept it covered... it just kind of became a habit, eventually."
"Where? I want to see." He pointed to a spot over his right eyebrow. She reached up and parted his wet hair to examine it, giving him an eyeful of her bare breasts in the process. "Gnarly..." she breathed. He made an honest effort not to stare.
...but not nearly honest enough, he realized, as she untangled her fingers and caught him with his mouth slightly agape. She winked, sticking out her tongue, and dove under the water, emerging a ways away and kicking up a splash with her feet. Blushing, he hastily changed the subject. "I thought you'd be right in the middle of the action at the party. Why did you leave?"
"I dunno... just got restless, I guess. Why'd you come with me?" she countered.
"Because you asked me to."
"Uh huh. You do everything girls ask you to do?"
"Well, not everything..." he gamely bore the light teasing. Maybe it was some kind of maturity setting in, or just the fact that she hadn't cornered him and demanded a kiss yet, but he was starting to feel on solid footing with her for once. "I would've thought that was more your scene than mine anyway, drinking and carrying on."
She frowned. "Why, would you judge me for it?"
"I drink sometimes, you know. It's not a big deal to me. I do what I want, whether that's partying all night or going to bed early with the TV on, and I don't care what anyone else thinks about it."
"O-okay." Time to offer an olive branch, he thought. "I didn't mean that there's anything wrong with having that kind of fun, just that I'm not very good at it myself. I'm sorry." She unknit her brow and blew a few bubbles in the water, waving one hand in a vague "it's fine" gesture. He swallowed and continued. "It can certainly be overstimulating at times..."
"Oh my God, right? Like I don't have enough going on at home and at school! Sometimes I just need space to think, you know?"
"Me too! Life is so... so loud sometimes."
"Yeah. Yeah, for real." Her expression was distant for a moment before turning back to him. "That's why I like to come here. Come on, I'll show you my favorite thing to do-" She moved smoothly away towards the deep end, and (as was becoming customary for him, apparently) he followed behind her.
"Deep breath," she said, once they got to the 11-foot marker. He took her meaning. They inhaled together and sank down, pale forms shimmering in the green of the submerged lights. Into perfect silence. It was weightless, airless down there, like being on the moon. He opened his eyes when he felt his feet touch the bottom and there she was, looking back at him blurrily. He thought he saw her smile. She reached out and took his hand, and there was a rushing in his ears as they hung there in suspended animation, for what felt like a very long moment and yet no time at all.
Eventually oxygen became a concern and they had no choice but to come up. Edd gulped air, then floated in place, suddenly certain he was sensing a shift. As if the world had rearranged just slightly while he'd been away under the surface. Marie was hanging on to the side of the pool not far from him, kicking her legs lazily; he swam over to join her. She crossed her arms on the concrete ledge and rested her head on them, turning to the side so she could see his face.
"Isn't it weird how we've never really hung out like this, just you and me?" she said. "I mean we've only known each other almost our entire lives."
"I don't know that I ever would've had the guts. You used to be... a good deal more forward..."
"Ha! Well, you're not wrong. Sorry for besmirching your virtue so much, back in the day."
"My virtue..." he snickered just a little. "I can't be that virtuous, trespassing in the nude like this. I think there was definitely part of me that liked the attention, back then... I was never so much offended as I was intimidated, really."
"Intimidated?!" She howled like someone had just told her the world's funniest joke. "By a little trailer-trash dirtbag like me?"
"Marie! Don't talk about yourself like that."
She rolled her eyes, still laughing. "Don't tell me what to do. Besides, it's accurate, isn't it?"
"I don't think it is at all. You're smart, and resourceful, and tough as nails. You're fun to be around. I... I think you're actually a great person, with a lot to offer."
The smile was still half-there, but her eyes were sad. "Nah," she looked away. "I'm bad. Not good like you."
He felt a sudden surge of tenderness. Without thinking he said, "I like that you're bad," and realized it was true.
Something came over him then, from within or without he wouldn't have been able to say. But the freckles were standing out on her pale face, and her blue hair was plastered to her wet cheeks, and her smudged mascara made her eyes look so wide and deep... there was no undiscovered factoid in the entire universe he craved to know more in that moment than the taste of her kiss. He leaned towards her, almost fell, like plunging off a cliff, but to his delight and amazement she rose up to meet him halfway down, reaching out needfully, urging him closer.
The water was certainly below body temperature but they couldn't be bothered to mind anymore. Edd parted his lips and felt her tongue probing him there, felt her pressing the whole of her naked body against his. He was hardening rapidly down below the surface and pulled back, not wanting to overstep with her, but she pursued, rocking her hips against it in a way that threatened to drown them both if they weren't careful.
As if reading his mind, she broke the clinch. "Aw, your lips are blue."
"It's fine, really-"
"C'mon. Swimming time's over." And she turned towards the ladder.
"I think it'll be even colder out there, now that we're soaking wet..." but she was already climbing out, shivering too now. She jerked her thumb at the other end of the pool.
"See that door?" The sign said EMPLOYEES ONLY. "That's where the lost and found is, there's like a million towels in there." She hustled down the deck and jiggled the doorknob; it popped open easily.
He clambered out of the water, hesitant. From inside the unlit office she cackled, "There's noooobody here, come onnnn!" Still, he covered himself with his hands and hurried her way, looking around nervously. "No running in the pool!" she yelled, echoing off the walls and windows.
Once they were both inside she shook out two large plastic tubs onto the concrete bench, kicking aside the odd goggle or flip-flop. The chattering of his teeth seemed impossibly loud. She dove under the pile of slightly mildewy towels, waving him in after her like she was directing traffic, and they huddled there, sitting side by side, trembling.
"We must look like a two-headed alien," he said, but she didn't laugh. Her lips were already on his throat, moving up along his jaw, just the barest sensation of teeth as she reached his ear. He turned towards her and met her open mouth eagerly. The darkness in the small room seemed to soften, yawning wide, welcoming them to a refuge for this strange new notion they were caught in.
He raised his left hand to her face, holding it steady, but she pulled back slightly and stared him down, eyes burning in the low light. She took his right hand and put it between her legs.
"Edd, can you... do you know how to..."
"I think so." He had had a few short-lived relationships, and though he had never gone all the way with any of them, certain explorations and experiments had been undertaken. He rubbed gently, dumbstruck by the slick warmth. She wriggled a bit and made a few encouraging noises. "In more of a circle," she instructed, and he gratefully complied.
Her breathing was getting choppy. He dared to insert a finger, then two, dizzy from his own excitement. But just when they seemed to be really getting somewhere she sat up straight, reaching down and stilling his hand.
"Listen, uh... are you okay with this? I don't want you to feel pressured or anything, we can totally stop whenever you want to."
Was she serious? "Marie, I hope it's obvious by now how completely okay with this I am." He gave her a light kiss on the cheek for reassurance. "I like it. Really."
"Okay. Okay, cool." Her shoulders relaxed; she looked down at their entangled feet, then back up at him. "Wanna fuck?"
That caught him off guard.
He was still recovering when she asked if he had any condoms. He didn't, and as it turned out neither did she; short of getting dressed and walking a mile to the nearest convenience store they were out of options, and that kind of break in the momentum seemed like a guaranteed buzzkill. Panic was just beginning to set in when she sighed and said, "Whatever, you can pull out, right?" He assured her he could- in that moment he felt he could have wrestled a bear if she'd asked him to. So it was settled.
She straddled him, face to face. The towels fell away. When she leaned in to kiss him, hard, he heard but didn't feel the dull thud of his head and shoulders hitting the wall behind him. Everything in his arms was softness and sweetness and the smell of salt. Soon her searching hand crept down, took hold of him, and slowly guided him in.
The low moan that escaped her seemed to make the whole room thrum.
The earlier chill of the pool was forgotten now as they went about their work, intently, generating a glowing heat. At one point an adjustment of balance was called for and she shifted on his lap- he fumbled briefly, losing the rhythm. She took his face in her hands. "Don't overthink it, okay? You're doing good."
"Have you, um, done this before?"
"Yeah. Not as many times as you probably think I have, but..." she trailed off, releasing his face as he lapped at her collarbone, tasting the sweat and chlorine there. She began to roll her hips faster, bracing herself with one hand on the wall. He grasped her buttocks and pushed down, like he couldn't get enough, could never get deep enough inside her.
She spoke again, breathlessly. "Are you getting close?"
He was. He rested his forehead on her shoulder, lost in the sound of her panting. His heart was going like a snare drum. He wrapped both arms completely around her, pulling her into him, plumbing greater depths. "Come on babe..." she murmured. "Get there for me..."
She couldn't be denied. He pulled out and spilled onto her thigh, gasping. She said, "Yes." Dull electric shocks were running up his back and into the soles of his feet, fading out as she kissed him once more, long and triumphant.
"Was... was that your plan all along?" He was still shaking somewhat but had enough reserves left to smirk at her with mock suspicion. She wiped herself off and cozied up to him before answering, settling into his waiting embrace.
"Plan? Me? Hell no. I'm just an innocent girl who got lucky." She chuckled, and he wondered if her playbook had just gotten more subtle over the years. Had she orchestrated this encounter from the beginning? Or were they just like Jupiter and Venus, with the good fortune to cross paths in the night? As if through a haze, he remembered distantly: the party. My friends. College. What did this mean for their futures, his and Marie's, soon to be divided by distance? She sighed and nestled more deeply into his arms. Gently, with a little unease, an unspoken agreement passed between them: that all the questions and worries and complicated feelings could wait, just for now.
Outside, a hot wind began to blow.