The Only Thing More Humiliating Than Virginity Is Sex
"One-Hundred Percent Humidity" by Michelle Lyn King, recommended by Electric Literature
Introduction by Wynter K Miller
Adolescence is a peculiar period of self-discovery. Perhaps more so than any other stage of life, it’s a time when identity is malleable. At 14—the age of the central characters in Michelle Lyn King’s “One-Hundred Percent Humidity”—I was less “me” than I was an amalgamation of my friends, characters in novels, song lyrics, and pop culture protagonists.
Faith, the narrator of this evocative story, is on the cusp of self-awareness. She understands that markers of maturity, like sexual experience, matter—and she is aware that the noteworthiness of her virginity depends on the behavior of others. If she hasn’t had sex yet, it matters; if she’s the only one who hasn’t had sex, it matters more.
But at the same time, Faith registers that in high school, it matters less whether you actually did something and more whether people think you did. Which is why, when she finds herself in an uncomfortable situation with her best friend and a much older boy, her first reaction is to focus on “looking casual, like nothing strange is happening.” Faith understands, intuitively, that reality is slippery. It is possible to pretend to want something you don’t quite want, to play make-believe.
It doesn’t help that Faith is in a particularly vulnerable state of mind. Her best friend is engineering fun that feels a lot more like pain. Her mother is dead of breast cancer and her father is dating someone new and large-breasted. Her peers believe a rumor about her that spread like wildfire through the hallways of teenage hell. And Faith is beginning to suspect that she’s “on a raft [with] no say about where it goes next.” Look casual. Nothing strange is happening.
“One-Hundred Percent Humidity” is a story about a girl trying her damndest to appear like the “right” kind of girl, “the kind of person who says yes to things.” It’s a story about the vast ocean of teenage cruelty, and how leaning into powerlessness—how saying yes—is a survival tactic until it isn’t. It’s a story about growing up. Most importantly, it’s a story about stories—the ones we tell about ourselves, and the ones we actually believe.
– Wynter K Miller
Associate Editor, Recommended Reading
The Only Thing More Humiliating Than Virginity Is Sex
Michelle Lyn King
One-Hundred Percent Humidity by Michelle Lyn King
For dinner, Callie and me stuff our faces with frozen food. Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza, spoonfuls of Reduced Fat Cool Whip, Ham & Cheese Hot Pockets, these health-food enchilada things that Callie’s mom likes. Mouthful after mouthful. It was Callie’s idea. We were tanning out on the roof deck when she turned to me and said, “Let’s do a feast of frozen food for dinner. Doesn’t that sound like fun?” and I nodded, though I wasn’t sure why it sounded like any fun. At that moment, I thought only of my dad and how upset he’d be if I tried that sort of thing at our house. I could imagine the lecture he’d give me on the price of food with such clarity that it was almost as if it had really happened. I could picture his mouth curling around words like “budget” and “waste.” Money is no issue at Callie’s house. It pours out of the air conditioning unit in cool bursts. It sits rotting in the fridge or unworn in the back of some massive closet. It’s everywhere you look.
When the sun sets, we bring all the freezer food out to Callie’s back patio, not even bothering with plates or utensils or napkins. When our hands get sticky from Amy’s Mac and Cheese, we walk to the pool and wash away the clots of orange cheddar from our fingertips.
“Doesn’t it look like baby barf?” I ask.
Callie doesn’t respond, so I repeat myself.
“Yeah, I obviously heard you, Faith,” she tells me. “I just don’t want to think about a baby barfing.” She shudders. “Where do you even come up with this stuff?”
It’s December in Florida, but the air feels more like June. Thick and hot and so full of water that it might as well be the sea. There was a big snowstorm up north a few days ago, in Boston or one of those places. Twenty-six inches. People were barricaded inside their homes, freezing with no power, no heat. Here, nothing changes. No snow, no shovels. Grass yellowed from a recent drought. LED snowflakes hanging from palm tree fronds. On Christmas Eve, the mall hauls in some sort of artificial snow they call snoap. When the temperature dips below 70, people pull out coats and fleece-lined boots from a dust-covered bin they keep out in the garage. We’re all playing make-believe. Nothing here is real.
I put my feet up on the patio’s glass tabletop and feel the stick from the humidity. I was so afraid to touch anything the first time I came over to Callie’s house. It looked like a set from a movie. Grand staircase, marble bathrooms, Tuscan-style columns, the stink of air freshener and cleaning products filling up the whole house. In the living room, there was an aquarium with real fish. Everything looked so new. Untouched. I was afraid I’d ruin it. Now I open the fridge in the middle of the night and grab a snack. I leave my cereal bowl in the sink, makeup on the face towels, my tampons in the bathroom wastebasket soaking through the tissue I’ve wrapped them in.
I’ve been staying here for four days, since Christmas. That’s when I texted Callie that my dad brought a woman to Christmas dinner. I can’t be here. She was at my house within the hour, pulling up our driveway in her dad’s S-Class. When I opened the passenger door, I expected her to reach over and hug me, or at least ask if I was okay. Instead, she turned up the music, some song I dimly registered as popular, and said, “I have my permit, but don’t worry. I’m a really good driver.” We raced down 95, the speedometer inching up to 100.
I knew my dad had been dating. I wasn’t an idiot. Whenever I spent the weekend at Callie’s I’d come home to find the shower drain choked up with blonde hair, the laundry hamper holding underwear that were not my own. I recognized the woman from Christmas as the same one I’d found photographs of in a folder on his computer labeled ‘2006 Taxes.’
“My good friend Deirdre” is how he introduced her to me. Deirdre had these giant boobs. That was the first thing I noticed. Her giant, floppy boobs and how the fact of those boobs seemed directly related to my mother being forced to part with her own boobs. It felt cruel to make this connection, an enjoyable, perverse sensation.
After my dad told me Deirdre would be joining us for Christmas, I went straight up to my room, packed up a bag, and texted Callie.
“You can just say you’re fucking,” I said to both of them on my way out, then fixed my attention on my dad. “Merry Christmas,” I told him. “Enjoy your blowjob.”
I’d meant for it to come off as tough, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth I could hear how dumb they sounded, like something out of a soapy tween show I would’ve watched back in seventh grade.
Now I keep waiting for my dad to call and ask where I am but each time my phone rings it’s a man trying to get in touch with a woman named Donna. “I know it’s you, Donna,” the man says. “You can stay silent all you like, but I know it’s you and I know what you did.”
I wonder who Donna is, if she’s good or if she’s bad. I wonder what Donna did to make this man so angry. I like to imagine it was something exciting, like kidnapping the man’s child or lighting his house on fire, but I know it’s probably something dumb like owing the man money or breaking his heart.
It was Callie’s idea for me to stay with her. We talk about it like it’ll be forever. She tells me her dad won’t mind. The man Callie calls her dad isn’t her dad at all, but a guy named Harry that her mom’s been dating for the last three years. Callie says she’s never had a one-on-one conversation with him.
It was Callie’s idea to invite Tripp and Danny over while her mom and Harry were on vacation down in Key Largo. It was Callie’s idea to steal 60 dollars from a drawer in Harry’s office and it was Callie’s idea to use the money to buy a fat bottle of Grey Goose from the drive-thru liquor store that doesn’t card. It was Callie’s idea to raid her mom’s closet for her Gucci belt and heavy gold jewelry. Everything we ever do is Callie’s idea.
The two of us move from the patio to the edge of the pool and stick our feet in the water, kicking them around like little kids. We pour packets of pink Crystal Lite into glasses of vodka. We use our index fingers to mix it together. We say cheers to nothing in particular. We wait for the night to begin.
“I’m so bored,” Callie says. I hear a firework pop off from somewhere in the distance. People rehearsing for New Year’s Eve. “I just want them to get here already.” She uses her foot to make a circle in the water.
Danny and Tripp. They’re these 22-year-old guys we met in the parking lot of Chick-fil-A back in October. We told them we were 18. If they thought we were lying, they didn’t care enough to press or stop seeing us. Tripp and Callie started hooking up in November and have been together ever since. That’s the word she uses. Together. She tells me they’re “past labels.” She says it like they’re so evolved.
“Is Danny definitely coming?” I work hard to keep my voice flat. I loved Danny right away, a sort of feral urgency, lodged deep inside of me like a bullet. He has these eyes. Sometimes they’re blue and sometimes they’re green and I like never knowing which color I’m going to get. But it’s more than the color of his eyes. There’s a sensitivity to Danny. He has these giant gauges that he’ll wiggle a finger through whenever he seems nervous or sad. The first time I noticed it was when he told me that his mom had also died from breast cancer.
I know what Callie would say if she knew how I feel. “Really? Danny?You like Danny?” Her voice tilted high to imply that someone like me has no business wanting someone like Danny.
“He’ll be here,” Callie tells me. “I think Ashleigh’s coming too.”
I swallow, hard. Ashleigh LaRocca is Danny’s girlfriend of a few years. They work at Lion Country Safari together, this drive-thru zoo sandwiched between 95 and the Everglades. Danny is a security guard. Ashleigh cares for the giraffes, giving them baths and helping them to deliver their babies.
“I’m wasted,” Callie says. By this point, we’re drinking the vodka straight, passing one glass back and forth between the two of us. Callie pours another shot and hands it to me. I gulp. I gag.
“Me too,” I say, though I feel more numb than wasted. In three days it will be a new year. Last year, the ending felt so huge. My first year without my mom. This next year is just a year, a fact that somehow seems even more sad to me.
“So,” Callie tells me, tracing a constellation of freckles on her thigh. “I think Tripp and I are going to have sex tonight.”
“Really?” I feel my stomach go all jiggly.
“Mhm. It just sort of seems like the perfect night, you know? My parents are out of town. It’s almost the new year—”
“What does it almost being the new year have to do with anything?”
“We’re in love,” she says, and I don’t point out how far this is from an answer to my question.
“Why tonight?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “Forget it. I didn’t really expect you to understand.”
The words hang in the air. I start to ask if this is something she really wants to do, but then her phone dings, breaking the silence between us. She reads the message, smiles, types out a response.
“Who’s it from?” I ask.
“Tripp.” She gives a little laugh.
“What’s he saying?”
“Nothing.” She laughs again.
“Come on. Tell me what he’s saying.”
“It’s nothing.” She smiles at her phone, shakes her head. “It’s just classic Tripp.”
Suddenly, there’s a flash behind Callie. A vein of lightning cuts through the sky, turning it a blink of green and purple. The abruptness of it is disorienting.
“Oh, shit,” Callie says. “Heat lightning.” She wiggles her fingers.
“Heat lightning is a myth. It’s normal lightning. It’s just too far away for the thunder to make a noise. Sound travels slower than light.”
“Ugh.” Callie makes a face. “Literally no one cares, Bill Nye.”
She gets up. “Come on,” she tells me, slapping me on the back of my neck. “Let’s go. It’s time to get ready.”
I knew exactly who Callie Bristow was when she’d first approached me back in September. I was eating lunch in the science lab when she asked me if it was okay to sit with me. Before I could answer, she was already pulling out her lunch—Publix sushi, a can of lemonade, a pack of baby carrots that reminded me of a toddler’s chubby fingers.
I’d heard the rumors about her. Of course I had. Stories about Callie Bristow and the music teacher, Mr. Baker, moved through the halls of Garrison Prep like worksheets passed down rows of desks. At first, people said Callie Bristow had been caught kissing Mr. Baker on the balcony of the auditorium. It sounded believable enough. Mr. Baker, with his greasy ponytail and gold hoop earring. Mr. Baker, who rode a bike to school and encouraged students to protest after the dean said that Spring Awakening couldn’t be the fall musical due to its strong sexual themes. Callie Bristow, the girl who always showed up 15 minutes late to class. Callie Bristow, who was kicked out of Homecoming for bringing a water bottle filled with vodka. Callie Bristow, who wore a sheer white lace dress with no bra to play Emily in Our Town when we were freshmen. You could see her nipples under the stage lights, glowing like a cat’s yellow eyes in the dark.
After a couple of weeks people got tired of that first rumor and said that Callie and Mr. Baker had been seen having sex in the props closet. Pressed up against the Oklahoma! murals, is how the story went. Then, finally, there was talk of a pregnancy. Amanda Moskowitz said she’d heard Callie making a phone call to Planned Parenthood in the nice bathrooms near the dance studios. She swore it.
But I don’t believe rumors just because someone swears that they’re true. After all, there are rumors about me too. If you say my name at Garrison Prep, someone is sure to tell you about how I sent a nude video of myself to Nick Hartstone. They’ll tell you I stuck three fingers into myself, moaning Nick’s name the entire time. I saw the video, a grainy, two-minute cell phone shot of a girl who could have been anyone. Her head was out of frame, her body a blue-gray blur.
I learned that people thought I was the girl in the video when Alec Waldman stopped me in the hallway right after spring break last year.
“Hey Faith,” he called out. “I didn’t know you were a puppet.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You know,” he said, nodding like we were old friends. “A puppet.” Behind him stood four boys, all seniors and all holding back laughter.
I shook my head to indicate that I still didn’t understand. The bell had already rung and we stood alone in the ghost town of the hall.
“When you stick a hand up the cunt of a puppet, it moves around and makes noise.” He smiled wide and hard and mean. “Just like you.”
The group of boys doubled over in laughter. I recognized one of them as John Price, the Student Government President, who danced shirtless in front of the school at pep rallies, his chest painted a garish blue and yellow.
From then on, I was Puppet. When I answered a question in class, someone would shout, Nice one, Puppet. When a teacher called roll, someone would say, She goes by Puppet now. A space cleared around me, like a single tree left in a forest fire. Even the girls who wrote song lyrics on their sneakers and ate lunch in the field of dead grass behind the auditorium stopped their conversation when I tried to sit with them. It was as if I was diseased. By the time school started back up in August, I was old news. But did you hear about Callie Bristow and Mr. Baker?
Being outcasts might be the only thing that Callie and I have in common. The list of ways in which we are different is so long. For one thing, Callie is so beautiful and skinny. Not just skinny but tiny all over, the way a fairy is. Little wrists and little fingers and these size-five shoes. And she’s not on scholarship. Harry pays for her tuition. But what’s more is that Callie is the kind of person who says yes to things. My mom would have said she’s the kind of person who attracts trouble. Before Callie, I didn’t drink. Before Callie, I’d never seen any drug stronger than Benadryl. Before Callie, I spent weekends watching cheese strings melt on a paper plate in the microwave. It’s not that I can’t remember life before Callie Bristow. It’s just that I’d never want to. How could I ever be anything but grateful for her?
Callie hates her bedroom. When she and her mom moved in last year, Harry paid to have it decorated to resemble what he thought a 14-year-old girl might like. A canopy bed with a soft purple duvet and these zebra-print pillows. A framed poster for some CW show that Callie’s never even seen. There’s a sign over the bed in glittering gold letters that reads Wake up and Makeup in glittering pink script. “So gay,” Callie said to me the first time I came over.
Still, I wish it were my room. Callie’s only been to my house once. The AC was off, even though it was September and blistering hot. “Your house smells like cat food and eggs,” she told me. And she was right. My house smells like cat food and eggs.
“I can’t believe you’re going to have sex tonight,” I say. I’m sitting on her bed, stroking a turquoise pillow in the shape of a star while Callie sits at her vanity, smearing on makeup.
“What does it even matter to you?”
I’m not sure what to say to this. What does it even matter to me? There will be a gap, I want to tell her. There will be an even wider gap between us, and I won’t know how to cross it. It’ll be like you passed some threshold and I’ll be on the other side, alone. I’ll reach out to touch you and I won’t be able to.
“I don’t know,” I tell her.
Callie spins around in her vanity chair, only one eye made-up. She looks like a Cyclops.
“Stop making this night about you, Faith.”
I open my mouth to apologize but before I can speak, Callie picks up a lock of her hair and sniffs.
“I still have taco hair from that Mexican place the other night,” she says. “Do you?”
She walks over to me, leans in close to smell my hair, then sticks her tongue inside my ear.
“Stop molesting me, you pervert,” I say, moving away. We’re good again.
“It’s going to be a fun night, Faith.” She holds both my hands and kisses the insides of each of my wrists. “It’s going to be a really fun night.”
The doorbell rings and Callie smiles wide.
“They’re here,” she says and drops my hands.
All four of us are in the dining room, under the crystal chandelier. Danny sits across from me, wearing red basketball shorts and a white undershirt. Tripp and Callie sit at the head of the table, Callie balancing on one of his knees, Tripp’s scale and tiny baggies of weed in front of them. Above us, I can hear the palm trees smacking the skylights in the wind and I think of the rats that live up in them, jumping from tree to tree to tree in the night.
“All right,” Tripp says. “Who wants to do some drugs?”
Everyone laughs. We all use the word drugs like it’s a joke. Pass the drugs. Let’s smoke some drugs. Time to get high on drugs.
Tripp does most of his business through the take-out window at the Chick-Fil-A where he works. If you know how to order the right thing—Chick-Fil-A sandwich with extra special sauce or an Icedream Cup with all the toppings—you’ll get a baggie of weed or coke or a couple of oxys wrapped up in a paper towel. He sells specialty products, too. To the raver kids, Ecstasy and this gelatin form of acid called Windowpane. To the rich kids at Garrison, he colors ketamine with orange food dye and sells it to them as horse tranquilizers for eight times the price. Before I met Tripp, I thought drug dealers were scary. But Tripp isn’t scary. He’s just mean.
Danny begins to roll a joint like it’s an art form. When he’s done, he sets it aside and does this thing with his hands—a fast whipping motion with his wrist that turns his thumb and pointer finger into a clacker. It’s something all the boys here do, or maybe all the boys everywhere.
When the joint gets to me, Callie calls out, “Faith doesn’t want any.”
This is something Callie always does when we’re around the guys. She wants everyone to know I’m more innocent than she is. “We can’t talk about sex,” she’ll say. “Faith’s a virgin.” I want to say, “You’re a virgin too,” but I don’t, and soon I won’t even be able to consider that as a comeback.
“You’re sure you don’t want any, Faith?” Danny asks, his voice going all soft and reedy, the smoke still trapped in his lungs. He holds the joint out to me. I want to take it because it’s Danny, but I can’t. Garrison has started to crack down on their no drugs policy, pulling students out of class at random, conducting blood and follicle tests. Earlier in the semester, Abby Bernstein was almost expelled for traces of weed in her hair until her dad donated a new gymnasium.
I shake my head. “No, thank you. I’m all set.”
As they pass the joint between them, I look around and think, Everyone here except for me and Callie have had sex. Then I think, After tonight, everyone here will have had sex except for me. I try to think of something I have that none of them have. Curly hair, I think to myself after a few minutes. I have curly hair.
“Is Ashleigh still coming?” Callie asks.
At this, Tripp laughs loud enough to startle me.
“Yeah, Danny,” he says. “Is Ashleigh coming? Danny, did you hear the lady? Where’s Ashleigh?”
Danny shoots Tripp the middle finger and Tripp laughs again, rough and nasty.
“Where is Ashleigh, Danny? Why don’t you answer the question? Where is she?”
“You’re a giant dick,” Danny says. “You know that, right?”
“Hey, I know. Maybe she’s fucking another dude in your apartment again.”
Danny hooks a finger through his right gauge. I want to reach out and hold him.
“Wait,” Callie says. “Ashleigh cheated on you?”
“Ding-ding-ding!” Tripp throws his hands up into the air and stands. The chair makes this awful sound as it moves against the marble. Tripp mimes humping the table while making high-pitched, girlish sounds.
“It’s nothing,” Danny says. “Really.”
I know that if I were Ashleigh, I would never cheat on Danny. But I’m not Ashleigh and the world is so different for us. I don’t get to do the things that girls like Ashleigh LaRocca do.
“And whatever,” he continues. “She’ll be here later. She’s just picking up snacks.”
Callie often lies. She’s a liar. She lies about the places she’s been and the people she’s met. She lies about being a child actor, claiming she was almost cast as the youngest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire but then her mom didn’t want her missing all that school. She lies about who Harry is and where her real dad is. The first time Callie told me about her real dad, she said he died in a motorcycle accident a few months before Callie was born. Two weeks later, she said she walked in on him having a heart attack when she was twelve.
When Callie is lying though, her entire body betrays her. Her chest breaks out in a rash and she makes an obvious effort to look you in the eye. It’s as if she read somewhere that liars avoid eye contact. I knew Callie was telling the truth about not sleeping with Mr. Baker because she looked down at her hands when she told the rumors weren’t true.
“I don’t know why people say those things about me,” she said.
Because of your see-through dress, I wanted to tell her. Because of those flimsy tank tops you wear on dress-down days. Because you show up to class without a notebook and you ask other girls’ boyfriends if they have an extra sheet of paper. Because you laugh too hard when those same boys make a joke. Because there are rules and you don’t abide by them and now this is the price you have to pay.
Confronting Callie about one of her lies is nearly impossible. On her birthday, her mom picked us up early from school and took us to lunch and said, “Hey, kiddo. Your dad sent you a birthday card. I left it on your bed.”
“I thought you said your dad was dead,” I said when we were alone in Callie’s bedroom.
The return address on the envelope said Miami. That’s hardly an hour south of us.
“He is,” Callie said, looking me right in the eyes. “He died of cancer when I was seven.”
Liar, I thought. So often, when Callie speaks, I think Liar.
But I’m a liar too and I’m better at it. When Callie told me she was going to be spending Thanksgiving in Aspen with Harry and her mom, I said, “Oh, Aspen,” as if I’d recently returned from my own trip there and hadn’t found it that impressive. When Callie asked what my dad did, I told her he’s a lawyer, not a Publix General Manager. And I told Callie that I never sent that video to Nick Hartstone.
She said, “Promise it wasn’t you?”
I promised her and I lied.
Ashleigh LaRocca never shows. We’ve all decamped to the pool house, where Danny spends the majority of the night huddled in a corner, talking on the phone to Ashleigh or pounding out texts. Baby, I hear him say. I hear him say, Baby, baby, baby. It’s nearing midnight and I’m still waiting for the night to actually begin. I’m waiting for something real to happen.
Me and Callie and Tripp are splayed out on the floor. Callie’s head is on Tripp’s stomach, his giant hands tangled up in her hair. We’ve already exhausted flip cup and shots and shouting all sorts of nonsense. At some point, Tripp packed another bowl and told me I was a real pussy for turning it down. When he said that, I looked at Callie like, defend me, but she just giggled and coughed into her shoulder.
“He must really love her,” I say to the both of them and to no one in particular. I’m staring up at the popcorn ceiling of the pool house, imagining the small pellets of plaster raining down on me. Danny’s outside now, still on the phone. He paces around the patio. Through the glass doors of the pool house, I can hear the soft muffle of his voice. He throws his hands up. Shouts something about how, That’s crazy. You’re being crazy.
“Whatever,” Tripps says. “She’s a fucking a bitch.”
He sits up and says something about how Ashleigh thinks she’s hot shit because she’s in college. Callie pops up beside him, nods along like this is a great point, even though she’s in AP US History and absolutely will go to college in a few years, probably out of state.
“Plus she dresses so trashy,” Callie says. “She dresses like a ho.”
Her voice is all high. She doesn’t sound like herself. She sounds like a cartoon of a girl. It’s not even true what she’s saying. Whenever we see Ashleigh, she’s dressed in her work uniform or in these long floral dresses that she pairs with lace-up black leather boots. She doesn’t dress sexy at all, which I know is an even bigger threat to Callie because it means Ashleigh has something we can’t compete with. Callie and me are the kind of girls who only get attention if we dress for it.
“I don’t know,” I say. “She seems nice. She’s always been nice to me.”
Callie rolls her eyes. “You would think that.”
“You ladies are too much,” Tripp says. He wags his head and laughs to himself like this idea about us—that we’re too much—contains some secret about who we are that only he has access to. “Y’all are just too, too much.”
Callie asks Tripp if he wants to go see her bedroom in the main house. It’s clear what she’s really asking, and I prepare to spend the rest of the night alone, watching Danny through the window or playing dumb games on my phone.
“Nah,” Tripp says. “I’m all set. We can’t leave your friend alone, can we?” He winks at me. The air stills.
“No,” Callie says, her voice going all tight. “Of course not.”
I know I’ll hear about this later. Later tonight and all tomorrow and maybe even the next day, it will be all about Callie telling me how I messed things up for her. How I was so pathetic that her boyfriend had to take pity on me, and how I messed with her perfect plan to consummate their love or whatever the fuck.
I start to say that it’s fine, I’ll be fine, they should go and do their thing, but then I feel Tripp’s hand on my knee.
“I can’t leave a pretty girl all alone out here,” he says. His voice sounds all dreamy, like he’s just woken up from a long nap.
I look at Callie. I expect her to be mad at me, but she’s staring back at me with these big puppy-dog eyes, a look on her face like, Please just go along with this. Do this for me. Her pupils have taken over her eyes. I nod to tell her I understand, and it’s true. I do understand. I know all about what it’s like not to want to disappoint anyone, and how a situation you don’t quite want is still better than nothing happening at all. It was that way for me with Nick Hartstone. It wasn’t like I’d wanted to send him a nude video of me touching myself. I didn’t even feel anything when I did it. I moaned and whined like I was in a porno. It was just acting. I was playing make-believe. And I could do the same thing now. I could pretend.
Tripp’s hand is still on my knee. I can feel the sweat of his palm.
“That’s nice,” I say. “That feels so nice.”
With his other arm, he reaches out and pulls Callie on top of him. He grabs her by the wrist and places one of her hands on top of his jeans, where his cock bulges against the mesh of his shorts like it’s trapped and trying to get out.
He kisses her, hard, then kisses me. It’s an impersonal kiss, rough and lifeless. When he pulls away, I look through the glass doors, out to Danny. I imagine him watching all of this happen and how it might make his idea of me change, but Danny’s no longer out there. Probably gone to find Ashleigh. Win her back.
I’m focusing on my breath, inhaling and exhaling. I’m focusing on looking casual, like nothing strange is happening. I understand that I’m on a raft and I have no say about where it goes next. Tripp is the captain and Callie and me are just along for the ride. And the thing is, part of it feels good, the hot rush of attention.
Tripps takes both of us by the neck and pushes our faces together. Up close, all I can see is the foundation caking Callie’s nose, thick like a mask. When we kiss, I’m surprised to find that her lips are chapped and that her breath smells like used dental floss.
“So fucking hot,” Tripp whispers as we kiss. “Twins.”
I have to stop myself from laughing. Twins. Callie and I don’t look anything alike.
When we pull apart, Tripp takes me by the wrist and puts my hand under the waistband of his shorts. He’s not all the way hard yet. The word for what he is is mush. Mush like an uncooked chicken cutlet. The next thing I know, Tripp pulls his shorts down to his ankles and grabs me by the back of the neck like I’m his dog or something. He pushes me into his lap and I take him in my mouth because there doesn’t seem to be any other option, or at least any other option that is as easy and obvious as this one. I look up as I start to suck him off and see that he’s taking off Callie’s shirt. He’s licking her nipples with his pink tongue.
I close my eyes and try to distract myself by naming all fifty states. If I can distract myself, let my mind glaze over, then this will all be over soon and it’ll just be another thing that happened.
One. Florida. Obviously.
Two. Georgia. That’s easy.
Three. South Carolina.
Four. Delaware. That’s a hard one. A lot of people forget about Delaware.
For a moment, I’m proud of remembering Delaware, but then Tripp holds my neck tighter and pushes himself deeper, way back into my throat, to the throat button that makes me gag and cough, and I can’t get my head to go back to counting states.
I hear Callie’s voice whining like she’s in a porno.
“That feels so good,” she says. She lets out a little moan.
“No, it doesn’t,” I say and jerk my head up.
“Oh, come on,” Tripp says. He looks at Callie. “Callie, your friend has a fucking attitude problem.” He says it like my attitude problem is Callie’s fault and that she needs to get her friend in line.
“Don’t be like that, Faith,” Callie says.
When I don’t say anything, her voice grows sharper.
“Listen, if you’re not having fun, you can go back to your own house. If you’re not happy here, I mean.”
I think of my dad, exhausted and aching and passed out on the couch in his work uniform. The blue light of the TV glowing like twilight across his face.
“Is that what you want, Faith?” Callie demands.
She knows it’s not what I want. She’s just holding my arm behind my back, checking to see how long it’ll take for me to say uncle. Suddenly, I see that Callie is not beautiful at all. Her hair hangs lank next to her face and her skin is all pitted up with acne scars like the peel of an orange.
Callie closes her eyes. “Come on, Faith,” she says, her voice laced in desperation. “Please.”
I can tell she really needs me to do this. All she wants to do in this moment is whatever Tripp wants her to do.
But I shake my head. Some spell has been broken and I don’t know how to arrange things back to the way they were, back when I thought I would do anything to keep Callie in my life. Everything about our friendship is so temporary and disposable. A cheap, plastic object that is eventually thrown away. I just couldn’t see it before.
I manage to stand up, open the door, and head toward the main house. Callie calls after me, but I do not turn around. I need to pee, so I head into the downstairs bathroom. That’s where I find Danny. He’s standing by the sink. He’s wearing those red basketball shorts.
“Shit,” I say. “Sorry. Sorry.” I start to close the door, but he motions for me to come in.
“Just close the door behind you,” he says. He’s packing a bowl on the sink counter, placing tiny bits of weed into a glass pipe. His eyes are bloodshot, a swampy green. I can’t tell if he’s been smoking or crying or both.
“I thought you left. What happened with Ashleigh?
His expression makes me immediately regret asking.
“We broke up.” He scratches at the waistband of his shorts.
“I’m sorry,” I say, meaning it.
“You want to smoke with me, Faith?”
I hesitate. “I don’t—”
He waves his hand. “Yeah, I know, I know. You don’t smoke.” He holds the pipe out to me. “But what if it’s not with everyone else? Nothing bad is going to happen. It’s just me.”
I hesitate. “I’ve never smoked before. I don’t know how to do it.”
“Sweet means babyish.”
“No, actually, sweet means sweet. It’s cute.”
He steps closer to me and I can see his eyes better. Crying. He’s definitely been crying.
“It’s easy. I’ll light it, all you have to do is inhale and hold it in your lungs. I’ll tell you when to breathe.”
I do as he says, inhaling sharply. The smoke fills my lungs and sears my throat. I exhale when he tells me to and then he smiles.
“Baby’s first hit,” he says, giving me a high-five.
“I’m not a baby,” I tell him but high-five him back.
Danny takes a hit and I take another hit and we go on like this for a while, passing the pipe between us in silence until Danny says it’s cashed and wonders if he can ask me a question. I nod.
“Do you ever think about why all of this is happening?”
“What do you mean? Like Callie inviting everyone over tonight? I think she just wanted to have Tripp over.”
“No, like all of this.” He gestures vaguely at the bathroom, its gold-plated sinks and foiled wallpaper. “Why is it happening?”
I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“It’s like, is this even real life? Do you know what I mean?”
I want so badly for what he’s saying to make any sense.
“Maybe,” I say. “Yeah. I think so.”
“It’s crazy to think about, right?”
I think, I thought you were smarter than this, then feel bad for thinking it. I shake the thought away. He is smart. He’s smart and he’s sensitive and I know it because I can feel it. I stare at his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, and then I kiss him. I feel him resist for a moment but then he cradles the back of my head with one of his massive palms. He picks me up, places me on the granite sink, and bites down hard on my neck.
“I’ve wanted to do this forever,” I whisper.
He bites down on my neck again.
I almost say it again because maybe he didn’t hear me, but then he peels off my jeans and I go quiet. Under my jeans are a pair of white cotton panties dotted with purple and pink tulips. He takes those off, too, rolling them in a ball and throwing them across the bathroom floor. Out from the pocket of his red shorts, he pulls a condom wrapped in gold foil.
“Do you always carry those around?” I ask.
He shrugs. “I don’t know if I always do anything.”
I begin to ask what he means by that, only he’s already opening the wrapper with his teeth. He’s already taking off his shorts and rolling the condom over himself.
“We don’t have to do this,” he says. There’s a kindness and a sincerity in his voice that I immediately resent.
I want to tell him that obviously I know we don’t have to do this and that he doesn’t have to say things like that just because he thinks he’s supposed to.
“Don’t worry,” I assure him. “I want to.”
“Is it your first time?”
I shake my head.
I’m the closest I’ve ever been to him and for the first time I can see that his teeth are crooked and yellow. For a moment, I think he’s going to tell me that he loves me. I think he’s going to grab me by my hair and say, “I see you.” Only he pulls me forward and pushes himself into me.
He begins to move inside me, slowly at first and then very quickly. I think, Remember this. I think, Force yourself to remember this. But already I can feel the details of the moment slipping away from me as they’re happening. I focus on a mole behind his ear. I can at least remember that mole.
The entire time, my tailbone is rubbing against the glass of the mirror and it hurts like hell. I tell myself it’s a good kind of pain. I keep trying to stay focused on the present moment, but my thoughts keep floating elsewhere. I think about my mom. I think about Deirdre. I think about Nick, and then about Callie, and wonder if Callie and Tripp will wind up having sex tonight after all.
When he comes, Danny gasps and bites down on my shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark. He pulls himself out of me, peels off the condom and hobbles over to the toilet. The condom hits the water with a dull, heavy sound. He grabs a tissue and wipes himself off. He grabs another tissue and blows his nose.
“Did you finish?” he asks.
I nod. I get the same feeling in my chest that I had when my dad took me out to the Everglades and tried to point out Orion’s Belt. “You see it, right, Faith?” he kept saying. “It’s right there, Faith. It’s right there.” He asked so many times that finally I just said yes. I saw it and it was beautiful.
“How many people have you had sex with?” I ask.
He laughs. “Why do girls always want to know that?”
“I don’t know what girls always want. I’m just asking.”
“Ten, I think. Well. Eleven.” He pulls his shorts back up and scratches at his stomach. “I don’t know. Maybe more. What about you?”
“Same number as you,” I say. “Eleven as of tonight.”
He nods slowly, like he knows exactly how big of a liar I am. Once again, he does that thing with his hands, flicking his wrist and whipping his fingers to make a hard snapping sound, and I think about how the whole entire world is so much easier for boys. We’re both quiet for a few awful seconds.
“I don’t know if I should’ve done that with you,” he says. He drags a palm heavy across his face. “You’re just a kid.” His eyes focus on something in the distance. “How old are you?”
“I’m not a kid,” I say. “I’m 18.”
“Jesus. Come on. Are you even 16? Just tell me you’re 16.”
“I’m 18,” I say again.
He winces. “Okay,” he says. “You’re 18.”
“Maybe we could do this again sometime.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Maybe.” He pops the joints of each of his knuckles. It’s the only sound.
“I should let you pee,” he tells me, walking toward the door. He turns back, his hand on the gold handle. “Girls are supposed to pee after they have sex.”
When he leaves, I turn to the mirror and check my face for evidence that I’m any different. But my face is still just my face. My eyes look back at me unchanged and I stare into them and say out loud, “You are not a virgin.” I say it over and over again, until the word “virgin” starts to sound strange, like something in a language from another planet. Then I just stand there, looking at my face reflecting back at me. I stand in front of that mirror for a long time, until my face starts to distort and I look like someone I’ve never even met before. I blink three times and close my eyes. When I open them back up, there I am again.