It’s not a date. You know it’s not a date because he asks if you want to hang out. Seriously, you get it. The two of you lean on the Citi Bike racks outside the 7-Eleven on Fourth Avenue, slurp Big Gulps, share his earbuds so you can both listen to his hip-hop playlist. You’re more Taylor and Katy, but if he’s into Da Baby and Lil Wayne, then okay. The two of you watch traffic ooze across town and the homeless guy in front of Strand Books flip his way through the dollar specials, chuckling, gumming an unlit pipe. You lean in, giggle, finger his straw. He says, Your parents are out, right? Let’s go. Ben is your first.
At home, you hear everything through the lame cardboard walls, so when your mom is on the phone raging at your dad to pick you up on time this weekend so she can drive upstate with her boyfriend, you can also hear him tell her to go to hell, it’s not even his weekend.
You hook up with Danny in a boys’ room stall after rock band practice the day he tells you when you hold the mike close to your lips it’s like you’re going down on it. Maybe he’ll be your boyfriend, but you’re going to be chill. Guys want a girl who’s cool. Once he’s left, you see he’s dropped a guitar pick, its edges rounded and dull. It sticks initially, but you’re finally able to get it free. You pocket it. Danny-in-the-boys-room-after-band-practice becomes kind of a regular thing, but only that.
On the weekend, you’re on your own. Alone. Again. Your mom goes upstate with her boyfriend, tells you to be good. Your friends Karen and Lulu and Angela leave for the movies without you because Angela likes Ben and Karen says you’re a skank. Lulu just goes along. You order a pepperoni well-done and check out what’s streaming. The pizza guy loses a dollar zipping up on the way out; it’s crumpled and damp. You ask him to hang out for a slice, a beer, watch All American, but he’s got deliveries.
The cup on your nightstand still smells like Mountain Dew, all manufactured citrus sweetness gurgling Crayola Electric Lime. Sometimes, alone in your room, you lie on your bed and stir the sticky dregs with a Big Gulp straw. Sometimes you go over your collection: dull guitar pick, stray dollar, plastic straw. You paint your nails baby blue.
At the track meet, Ben’s friend Evan from Honors Algebra howls and claps as you run past him in the final lap of the 800. He’s super cute like Rudy Pankow from the show Outer Banks and is so, so smart. You wave to Karen’s mom. Nice job, she says. He meets you at the finish line, literally brushes a stray hair from your cheek and smiles. You are sweaty, parched, flustered. You walk together across the baseball field to the dugout. He caresses your hand. He calls you Carol. Your name is Cathy. You lift his MetroCard from his back pocket as his jeans fall off his hips and take the train home instead of walking.
Robert scrolls through his texts, slouched against the pile of coats on a bed at some random guy’s party, so he doesn’t notice you dip into his jacket, try on the watch he inherited from his grandfather a couple years ago. You pose in front of the bathroom mirror and flaunt your wrist. Looks like something a boyfriend would give you. Hand on your butt, peace sign and pout, you snap a few selfies. You may not post these, but you’ll definitely show the watch to Lulu.
This morning, when you and Justin go to your house during study hall, he takes his keys out of his front pocket, dumps them on the kitchen counter along with his retainer, gum wrappers, a balled-up Kleenex. So casual, as if he lives here. You like that about him. You go for the keys. While you fuck, you imagine dinner with him and his family. There will be good-natured teasing of Justin as a shy little boy with a lisp, tortured just trying to say his own name, and congratulations to you on your latest track win. You will compliment his dad on the burger grilled ever so slightly pink in the middle just how you like it. Before you leave, his mother will hug you, say, Cathy, you’re always welcome here. She will smell like cinnamon and apples and thank you for dessert.