Here I was again, crouching in a relatively clean bathtub with a taco in one hand and a novel in the other, waiting for rescue. Knowing it would be a while, I decided to settle in and enjoy my food despite the chaos just outside the locked bathroom door.
Which was evidently not locked after all, because I was halfway through the taco when a very drunk someone stumbled inside, humming a Taylor Swift song and chuckling. I could see enough through the plastic shower curtain to ascertain that the invader was large, male, and so impaired that he had neglected to close the door behind him, allowing the roar of ugly music and drunken laughter to follow him inside. Even the sounds of the party, however, could not drown out the most chilling and ominous noise ever to enter my ears- the whirrrr of a descending pants zipper. No. I could only pray that he had consumed nothing but illicit liquids in the past few hours. If he takes a dump here, I will die.
The fragrant smells of pee and beer drifted through the room and assaulted my sinuses. Gagging, I dropped the taco and ducked my head and hands inside of my sweater, creating a scent-proof chamber of respite from the toxic atmosphere. I shot off another S.O.S. text to Nate, dialed his number, and got sent straight to voicemail. When is he going to get here? I counted down slowly from twenty to keep myself sane. Human Niagara Falls was still peeing.
It had definitely been over a minute, and the stream of pee was going strong. It was inhuman. Just when I thought my lungs would give out, my phone buzzed with a text from Nate: here. I indulged in one last safe breath from the inside of my sweater and flung the shower curtain aside, keeping my burning eyes firmly fixed on the doorway, even as the Pantless Wonder strolled away from the toilet towards me. He attempted to greet me, and, failing to form a complete sentence, decided to take up residence in the tub I had just vacated. Kanye blaring on the speakers behind me, I lunged my way up the basement stairs three at a time, reaching for the light above like someone buried alive.
When I emerged into the cool October evening, the first thing I saw was Nate’s baby blue Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled up by the curb. Ugly and dinged up as it was, I had never been so happy to see that lump of metal. Nate rolled down a window and smiled.
“Hey, Del. Nice evening, hmm?”
“Let me in, Nate.”
“Not yet. I think some thanks would be in order first, don’t you?” He batted his eyelashes at me. I knew Nate, and I knew we weren’t going anywhere until I played along with his little game.
“I Delilah Thomas, lame and loserly nerd, hereby attest to the boundless and magnificent greatness of Nathan O. Brinkley, the most dazzlingly attractive and intellectually dominant man of all time!” I cried with the zeal of a TV preacher, banging a fist on the hood of the car. “Now let me in, idiot.”
“Beep. Beep. Beep.” Nate shook his head slowly, with the utmost regret. “Terribly sorry, Del, but my sarcasometer is detecting a slight lack of authenticity in your praises. Perhaps if you tried some more flattering adjectives? A salute? An interpretive dance?”
“Nathan O. Brinkley, so athletically stunning!- beep– utterly hilarious! –beep!- unparalled in wit and charm!- beep beep beep– the shining beacon of-,”
“BEEP BEEP BEEP. The sarcasm is off the charts! I’m afraid you’re going to be stuck out there for a very long time if you can’t find it in your heart to-,”
“Nathan, you let me in that ugly tin can of a car this second or I swear I’ll tell your mother about your little…camping incident.” I raised my eyebrows in what I hoped was a menacing expression. “I’m sure Susan would be delighted to hear about the creative way you put out the fire.”
Pouting, Nate popped open the lock on the passenger side of his dinged-up Jeep and let me inside. I collapsed into the cracked leather seat, tossing my purple paisley Goodwill tote bag onto the floorboards, where it joined the ranks of a greasy Wendy’s bag, a stained basketball sock, and approximately fifty pages of cello sheet music.
“That was even worse than I thought it was going to be,” I muttered, pressing my flushed forehead against the cool glass of the window. “No one talked. The only time people opened their mouths was to chug Coors. And they were playing Kanye.” The stale warm air trickling from the vents smelled like an Island Breeze Febreze plugin. Susan must’ve bought it. Nate would never have thought of something like that by himself.
“Del, you knew you were gonna hate it. Why do you keep going to these things when you always end up bailing in the first hour?” Nate took his eyes off the road for a fraction of a second to give me his best why-don’t-you-just-listen-to-your-reasonable-best-friend look. His slanted eyes were a warm toasted brown, like a mug of coffee in the morning.
I picked at a loose thread on my sleeve. “I dunno. I think it makes my dad feel better when I go out. Otherwise he thinks he’s a screw-up father raising a screw-up kid who only leaves her room to play FIFA at the neighbor’s house.”
Nate reached over to flick my knee. “You do only leave your room to play FIFA at my house.”
“Not true! I go out. To school. And the library. And Fro-Yo Jo’s.”
He snorted. “Ah, yes, aren’t you just the picture of social competence! Be honest, now- how crazy do you get with those librarians on Friday nights?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Well, that’s not a very nice thing to say to someone who just saved you from certain death.”
I twisted a few strands of my hair into a braid, noticing for the first time the fraying split ends at the bottom. Mom always used to make my haircut appointments for me. “Sorry. I’m just worried. Dad has been really down lately. He hasn’t eaten anything but Goldfish and orange Fanta in two weeks.”
Nate nodded. His freckles were invisible in the dark, but I knew the one at the corner of his eyebrow would be twitching, the way it does when he’s thinking hard. “Poor guy. But you gotta give him some time, Del. It’s only been a year. It’s normal for people to take that much time to recover, after…you know.”
“It didn’t take me a year. I’m fine.” I stared out the window, catching a glimpse of the one and only street sign for miles: Carver Mountain Road. Nate loved driving back roads, but they freaked me out. No lights, and nothing but pine trees and dead deer lining the street. Creepy.
“Well, you’re not exactly normal, are you? Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t say it was a bad thing.”
Rather than answer him, I turned up the radio. Tim McGraw’s Live Like you were Dying crackled out of the speakers.
“Hey, no playing that country crap in my car!” Nate punched the power button with his pointer finger. I hit it on again, defiant for no other reason than to be annoying. Laughing, he turned it off. I reached for the button again, but he caught my hand in his cello-callused one and lowered it, firmly but gently, to the console between us, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
I stared at our hands, mouth suddenly dry.
Nate saw me looking and smiled. “Del. I wasn’t exactly planning on having this conversation tonight. Maybe it’s not the best time, but I’ve been trying to say this for weeks.”
I had waited for this moment for so long, had wanted it so badly, but now that it was happening my intestines churned like I might throw up. My knees jiggled madly like that time I drank a Monster and an espresso in the same hour. I swallowed, tried to keep my voice from wobbling.
“Nate, I don’t-,”
He squeezed my hand, cutting me off.
“I want you to think about this before you answer, Del. Really think.” I nodded, mute. I swear I could feel the swirls of his fingerprints on my skin.
“I know this has been a rough year for you. Our families have been through so much together. So if you’re not ready, or you just see me as a neighbor and a best friend, I get it.” His eyes were so brown, his dark eyebrows scrunched so far together they almost touched.
“You can say no, and we can forget this conversation ever happened. But if you want to try, I mean, if you think we can make this work…” He paused, pushed a hand through his too-long black hair, and exhaled. “Well, that would make me really happy.”
I looked down. If I looked him in the eye, I would break. I could feel him staring at me.
YES! screamed a voice inside my head. YES, I’LL DATE YOU! I LOVE YOU, YOU MORON! I’VE LOVED YOU SINCE WE WERE EIGHT!
Shut up, I told the voice. I needed to think about this logically. Nobody ends up with their high-school sweetheart, right? Was I willing to risk a lifetime of friendship for the crappy odds that our relationship would actually work out? I couldn’t afford to lose Nate.
“Del?” But there he was, holding my hand so tightly, looking at me with those annoying, beautiful eyes and smelling like Old Spice shampoo and Susan’s laundry detergent.
If I let this chance go by, would he ever ask again? The air between us seemed to tingle and pop like the air just before a lightning strike. Yes, I tried to say. I felt the word form in my throat, opened my mouth to say it.
I was still looking at our hands when it happened. I never saw the other car.
What I saw instead was the fast glint of headlights on my chipped glitter nail polish.
I saw Nate’s knuckles turn white as his hand tightened in mine.
I saw a thin line of black weep down my pale forearm and pool in my palm, dripping over into Nate’s.
The smell of blood, rich and nauseating, bloomed like a red rose in the humid evening air. Nate was making sounds, tearing, screaming sounds that rattled in the back of his throat with each exhale.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Nate, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.”
I was still saying it when the paramedics arrived. I was still saying it when they took my hand out of Nate’s.
Jessie is a Creative Writing student at Reinhardt University. Her work has appeared in Copia, Sanctuary, and the Georgia Historical Quarterly, as well as onstage in Waleska’s third annual 24-hr Play Festival. She is currently on the editing staff of the James Dickey Review and runs StreetSigns, a faith-based blog.