In retrospect, I think I loved her bed more than I loved her.
She was sweet, don’t get me wrong. With that long auburn hair and those freckled constellations on her arms and tiny little upturned nose…I spent an inordinate amount of time that semester, maybe forty minutes into history or halfway through study hall when I should have been finishing math homework, thinking about those freckles, thinking about pressing our bodies together so hard that maybe I could transfer those constellations onto myself.
If I’m being honest, I’m having trouble remembering her name now. Something classy, no doubt. An Anabelle or a Francesca, maybe. Some name I had no business with.
I know the way it ended was awful. But in my defense, I was young, and teenage morals often stretch at the whim of emotion, especially love.
She loved me, I don’t doubt that. I could see it in the way she walked toward me, the way her mouth looked like she couldn’t quite hold in the words or the kisses. I could see it when she walked away from me, the way her stride bounced a little more after exchanging a few words.
I may have loved her. I had no frame of reference, see. But I know without a doubt that I loved her bed.
The first time Francesca (Annabelle?) took me home, I felt like a stray puppy she’d pulled in off the streets. She had a maid, for God’s sake. She had a cut glass bowl of those nice candy almonds on the kitchen table, and she didn’t even eat one as she walked by. Her younger siblings were tiny and perfect, like dolls, but she waved off their piping questions and dragged me up a white carpeted staircase to her cavernous bedroom. And there it was: silken, pink-sheeted love at first sight. When we started making out on that gorgeous, pillow-covered vision, all I wanted to do was sit up, put my shirt back on and look around. Because man, she was pretty cool, but that room was like another dimension. If you land on a planet you’ve never been to, you’re gonna want to leave the spaceship at some point. Even if the spaceship wants you to touch her boobs.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. My blankets were scratchy and my pillow was lumpy and my bedframe squeaked when I moved. My little sister was snoring in the corner of the room. You’d think I’d have been used to that, seeing as she’d been sleeping there for eight years, but that night I couldn’t stop thinking about Annabelle’s (Francesca’s?) sister, who had a loft bed draped in lilac and glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling.
At three in the morning, my older brother came in, drunk off his ass, slurring angrily when he tripped over the coffee table. My sister sat up and watched with sleepy amusement. I told my brother to puke in the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to clean it up this time. Mom yelled at us to go to sleep.
Francescabelle wanted to come eat at my house. I told her no, partly because my brother was always more attractive than me and partly because the image of her scrubbed, vanilla-scented self sitting at my kitchen table made me vaguely nauseous. Plus, I hadn’t even told Mom I was seeing her. Plus, my little sister was sick a lot and I wouldn’t want Francesca to catch anything. I had a lot of good excuses.
So we went back to her house, up her staircase, to her bedroom, over and over and over. Once, after school, I fell asleep in her bed. When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was, but the fluffy pillows smelled like her and in my half-dreaming state, staring up at the folds of the canopy bed, I suddenly wondered if I was going to cry.
That pissed me off, so I rolled out of bed even though my body was screaming for another few minutes of bliss. I walked down the stairs looking for Annabellesca, and the maid told me she’d had to go to her piano lessons but said I could sleep for as long as I wanted.
The maid was this pretty Latina girl who looked familiar for some reason, and halfway through our conversation I realized she was one of the twelve hundred chicks my brother dated in high school. I asked if she remembered him, and she started laughing.
“The one who punched the principal at graduation?”
I said yes, that was my brother, and I laughed too even though he’d spent two weeks in juvie for that and came back bruised and smelling like piss. The maid was very nice and gave me a handful of the candied almonds that I’d been too scared to eat because they looked so pretty in the cut glass bowl.
Later, I told my brother that my girlfriend’s maid was one of the girls he’d dated in high school. He looked shocked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Isn’t that funny?”
“You have a girlfriend?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Franabelle still wanted to come over for dinner, and now my brother started pestering me about it. “Why the hell would she date you, dude? What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing,” I’d say. “She’s hot.”
“Yeah, imaginary chicks usually are.”
Eventually my irritation overcame my weird dread, and I told her she could come over for a meal. I spent the days leading up to it with my stomach knotted. Because of my brother, I told myself. Because Mom cooks simple food that might not suit her refined palate. Because my sister has a cold again and Franabellesca’s perfect upturned nose should never be cursed with the sniffles.
We had spaghetti, I remember. Tangled up with red sauce and meatballs. Our table was square, made for four people. We gave Ancesca her own side. She sat up straight and thanked my mother profusely. She was the shiniest thing in the room. She glowed like her insides were full of molten metal. She reached for the loaf of bread at the same time as my brother, and though her hand was half the size of his it still got there first.
My sister’s mouth hung open. Snot was running out of her nose, but Mom was too fluttery to notice. When I told Mom I had a girlfriend, I knew who she was expecting to be over for dinner. The girl with the purple hair who sat in the back of my history class drawing dragons all over her textbooks. Maybe one of the girls who would dodge behind the school to smoke a joint between classes. Someone who my brother went out with, someone like the maid. Someone who wouldn’t make my mother feel like she needed to scrub the house from ceiling to floor.
My sister said, through a mouthful of meatball, “Your hair is so pretty.”
Franabelcesca looked startled, like she wasn’t used to hearing this every day of the week. “Thank you.”
“Your hair is beautiful too, honey,” said Mom, and my sister sneezed her acknowledgment.
We ate dessert in silence. Mom fidgeted with the napkins, folding and unfolding them. I could feel the spaghetti tangled up in my stomach.
I asked if she wanted to play cards or something. No prospect of hooking up, what with my sister sleeping in the same room (God, I missed her bed). She said her dad was already coming to pick her up. She hugged my mother, and I watched Mom breathe in her vanilla scent, and I watched Francescanabelle breathe in Mom’s smell of cooking oil and detergent. When Francesca put on her coat and opened the door, I saw Mom’s shoulders relax even as her mouth formed a good-bye.
As we waited there by the curb, my mind was lagging. I was still caught up in the smoothness of her fingers between mine, or the dying embers of her hair in the porch light, or some other physical perfection that made my hormone-riddled body feel airless.
“I had fun,” she said.
“Yeah. Your mom is so nice.”
“I’ll tell her you said that,” I said. “It’ll make her day.”
“Aw,” she said, and I looked at her sideways, but her face was blank and her thoughts had clearly moved on. I thought, she doesn’t get just how rare it is for my mother’s day to get made. She should have noticed my sister’s awe-filled snot-sticky stare, how my brother who broke his hand on his principal’s cheekbone drew back his fingers from hers like she was electrically charged. I thought, why do I expect her to understand?
It was about then that her dad pulled up in a Porsche, and it was about four seconds after this that I said, “I think we should break up.”
Her head jerked towards me. “What?”
“Bye,” I said, and I ran into my house. And then I started laughing hysterically because I knew that I was the worst person on the planet and I already missed her and especially her bed and I somehow didn’t regret any of it.
I bought a pack of the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars at the dollar store a few days after. Turns out, anyone can afford those things. I put them on the ceiling over my sister’s bed. Her nose bubbled excitedly, and at night sometimes I could hear her singing to her constellations, but pretending they were the ones singing, in a constant loop of comforting and comforted that was only meant for her but sometimes made the knots in my stomach loosen a little.
I’ve heard that it’s common for people to fantasize about their ex-lovers. I don’t remember ever doing that with her. Hell, I don’t remember much about her; her name was probably Jacquelyn or something. But I have to admit that many nights, when the glow-in-the-dark stars were the only source of light in the room, I could not keep myself from dreaming about her bed.
Esmé Kaplan-Kinsey is a eighteen-year-old writer from Petaluma, California. She is the founder of her school’s creative writing club and editor of the school literary magazine. She is a two-time finalist at the Youth Speaks Grand Slam Final for Slam Poetry in San Francisco, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Teen Ink and Amaryllis. When not writing, Esmé enjoys acting and making music.