Chapter excerpt from Whores on the Hill: A Novel
We were fifteen. The world hadn’t even started for us yet, only Astrid taught us to look at the world slant-wise. She cut her wet, almond-shaped eyes at Jagermeister kid and said, “Okay, sure. Like, that’s him.”
Jagermeister kid saw and wiped his lovely pink mouth. He smiled, edged his lean body, his frayed jean jacket, back against the dryer and flicked his wrist, as if to say, “Come on.”
“You want him?” Juli asked.
And we were walking. Easily, we slipped past kids shuffling their shoulders back and forth, dancing. We skirted past kids knotted up in each other, sprawled across the plaid, moldy couch, making out.
All lady-like, we sidled up to Jagermeister kid. Astrid tucked a honey-colored curl behind one ear. She went, “Hey, give us some.”
And it was easy as that.
“Sacred Heart sluts.” It was more like a whisper, a ring of blown smoke, the kind of thing that circulates at parties. Our reputation.
“Do they have to say that?” I asked, fiddling with the white pleather purse I kept across my hip.
“Put your mouth here,” Jagermeister kid instructed.
The alcohol scuttled down the luge like fire. Astrid opened her mouth, her neck back, then Juli, then me. All of us, breath like licorice whips.
“I know you,” Jagermeister kid said.
“Sure you do,” Astrid answered. “We’re everywhere.”
All three of us crammed into the bathroom off the kitchen. There was potpourri everywhere, in baskets and dishes of glass.
“Fuck if he’s from Fenwick, no way. Did you see that tiger tattoo?”
“He said he’s calling his friends: a whole mess of them.”
“You look fierce. How’d you do that to your eyes?”
“Now don’t get drunk and leave me,” Juli said, brushing the shock of black bangs out of her jade green eyes to copy Astrid’s eyeliner trick. She smeared the black kohl all the way out to her temples.
“I like your hair,” Astrid said, fingering the strawberry-blonde wings sprayed back from my face, hair too wispy and thin to hold fast to the silver pins Astrid tucked behind her ears.
We heard revving motorcycle engines, like lions out above us in the yard.
“Anywhere but Metropolis. We’re always going there,” Astrid said, flipping a leg over the banana seat behind Jagermeister kid. He wore a jean jacket, had black spiky hair and a raffish mole under his left eye. He said his name was Vance.
“You can call me Van,” he said.
Van’s friends wore leather jackets and ratty denim. Older boys. The blond one grinned. He had wine-stained birth marks all over his face, like fingerprints or dye.
“Skinny dipping,” Van said. “I know a place.”
We hopped on the backs of their bikes and we were off. Revving out of the suburbs, shooting straight for downtown. Van led with Astrid behind him, the blond ends of her hair trailing like tassels to a curtain. The Miller Brewing Company squatted on the river, its red sign flashing neon in the black night like a giant word from God. We breathed in the hops easy, all that bacteria fermenting.
“What’s your name again?” mine called over his shoulder, the words clipped in the wind.
I lost the letters of my name to the roaring night, “Thisbe.”
“What?” he called.
The boys hung a left onto the wide, sloping residential streets that circled the light-flecked lake. Van called ahead, “Demon ride.” All the boys cut off their lights and hit the gas. Juli let loose a short, happy scream. We were coasting, flying, soaring weightless through the night’s black skirt of the sky.
Van cut his motorcycle engine on a darkened dead end street. The lake slapped up against the shore. It was a spring night, seventy degrees, the last sigh of summer, and not that late.
“Are you scared?” one of the boys said. “Don’t be scared. Animals can smell fear on you.”
Van peeled off his jacket and his shirt. Then his friends, they unhooked the buckles on their boots, stepped out of their Levi’s. Their chalky skin collected the light from the boats strung out like lanterns against the shoreline.
“Well,” Astrid said and slipped out of her Izod polo. Juli and I rubbed our bare arms, watching. Astrid untied her wrap-around skirt and kicked the sandals from her feet. Cherries dotted her underwear. “Are you just going to stand there?” she asked.
Juli shuffled her brown shoulders out of her T-shirt.
The water was blacker than ink. Astrid waded in to her waist, pointed her sharp arms over her head and dove. Her head emerged, silver and wet, her eyes shining. “Jesus,” she said.
Juli eyed my denim skirt and whispered, “You’d better or Astrid will get pissed.”
“Just give me a second,” I said, as I slowly, awkwardly, undressed. Crouching, I slipped into the water like pulling a blanket over my body.
“You’re cute,” my boy from the motorcycle said. He washed up beside me in the water, barrel chested with wiry copper hair brushed over his chest like fox fur. His tongue tasted like peach schnapps and smoke.
His hands grabbed for my legs and I was kicking, splashing out of reach.
“Whoa,” he said. “Just kidding.”
Astrid and I floated on our backs and poked our toes through the black water. The moon threw seeds of white light.
Juli breaststroked over, her lake slick head bobbing above the water like a seal, and said, “His birthmark is sexy. What do you think? Will it always be like this?”
“Sure,” Astrid said. “Why not?”
Van threw his arm around Astrid’s blanched shoulders. The crude handmade tattoo on his small, hard bicep read I AM ALIVE.
“A kid died here. Hit an icy patch on his bike and slid right in,” Van said.
“Girl, I’ll warm you up,” mine said. His mouth was like fire on my skin.
Everything black sky and stars.
“Turn around. Close your eyes,” Astrid said when we wanted to get out. All of us, dripping wet and shivering. Juli’s black hair whispered like smoke down her back, so beautiful, you could sigh.
Headlights hit the water. Red, then blue.
“Five-oh,” Van said and free-styled for the shore. We were running for the trees, laughing.
“I like them tough. Did you see his arms? Like ropes or something,” Juli said.
“Look at that hickey. Gross.”
“See Thisbe, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“He forgot my name. Kept calling me ‘Girl.’”
“I felt it under water. Like a fish, darting around.”
Van and his friends ran their bikes down the dirt road behind us, lights off, until they were out of breath. I watched them toss a pack of cigarettes between them like a red and white ball. Astrid tucked the tongue of Van’s shirt into his jeans; she feathered his hair with her fingers.
“Handsome,” she bit his ear. “Just like I like them.”
“Get on,” they said and we shot back to the suburbs, freezing wet.
At home, even in bed with the covers pulled tight, it still felt like we were flying, Astrid, Juli and me, burning through our bare, balding town like a breath of wet fire. Our desire. We wanted the world. All of it, and now.