This is the story of how I did not behave honestly or say anything useful or kiss #4 over the fence, even though I kind of wanted to.
This is the story of how I eventually decided that whatever was happening between me and Dill had to end, and how it still took two more weeks for me to actually do anything about it.
This is the story of how I knew once and for all that I was a bad girlfriend.
Right now, I’m just going to go straight into the excerpt, because personal realizations aside, the excerpt is pretty much the whole story. It’s the part that matters.
Dill got a PA system for his truck. Now, he yells at people when he doesn’t like their driving. It’s kind of embarrassing, but kind of funny, too.
On Saturday, we were coming down from my house, and we were at that T-intersection by the Jif Store when we saw a big white Blazer come bouncing through the field and careen onto the road. Dweezil was by himself, blank-faced in the driver’s seat, vacant as always.
Dill grabbed the PA speaker. “Dweezil, you punk-ass!”
Dweezil didn’t turn though, or act like he’d heard. He never hears. In Fishwoman’s class, I drew his portrait during the figure drawing unit, skinny and smooth like a weasel. I spent two whole days just concentrating on his hands, his narrow, squinting eyes. Fishwoman put the picture in the art show at the mall.
She said, “You’ve made him look so . . . pensive.” Like Dweezil in real life is incapable of thought.
He drew his self-portrait using the reflection in the back of a spoon, blurry around the edges. It was kind of amazing. She always just treated him like he was stupid.
Dill yelled again, holding the speaker close to his mouth. “Dweezil! Look at me, m*****f*****!”
We were stopped behind him at the light, but Dweezil didn’t glance around.
And yeah, Dill and I had Drawing with him last quarter, but it’s not like we actually know him. So, he used to sit with me sometimes on the bus, so what? He wasn’t even really sitting with me. Just next to me. What is that? Stoned before class and drunk on the weekends. Not an actual friend of ours.
We were just beginning to gain on him when he turned off the main road and onto a side street down by the Lutheran church. Dill followed, screaming to a stop by the side-yard of a low, dingy house. Dweezil’s Blazer was parked out front. Dweezil was standing in the yard, smoking a cigarette with Holden and #4.
Dill pulled right up to the fence, so close that I wouldn’t have been able to open my door if I’d wanted to get out, and reached for the PA again.
“Dweezil, you crack-fiend! I been chasing your ass down since the light at JJ’s Lounge, buddy!”
His voice boomed out over the neighborhood, amplified, alarming, and the boys in the yard all flinched.
#4 came to the fence and leaned on his elbows, smiling wide and nervous.
Behind him, Dweezil was giggling in that slow, stoned way he always does. “Holy shit, m*****f*****! Just, holy shit.”
#4 cleared his throat. “So, what are you doing here?”
He was looking at me steadily over the chest-high chainlink. I’d never really seen him in the sunlight before. Back in M’s Foundations [of English] class, there were windows and so there was always light shining in. But one stray beam is not the same as the whole outside dropping down all at once. This was not tenth-grade #4 smoking in the rain, not last August, blood-smeared in the bus circle. Now he was clean, clean, clean, leaning on the fence. He was still looking at me, a cautious, complicated look, and it occurred to me that he really did expect an answer.
I grinned a little, awkward. “We’re not really doing that much, just saw Dweezil driving. We were trying to get his attention for like two miles. Since the Jiffy Store.”
#4 took a deep breath, cigarette burning down in his hand. “Oh. Hey, look, we’re going camping* later on and . . .”
He ducked his head down, not finishing.
Dill threw the truck into gear. “Well, you guys have a good time. See you around.”
#4 lifted his head, looking at me, only at me, nowhere but me. “Yeah. Bye.”
He waved gently over the fence, then turned and walked away, back to where Dweezil and Holden stood. Smoking.
We peeled out on the gravel, light and vicious like nothing else. And then we got in a fight. It was so stupid.
I write this down carefully, avoiding the part about how unutterably amazing #4’s voice sounds and how I don’t even glance away, because in that moment, I don’t want to.
When he looks at me over the fence, it’s like being seen on some new and uncomfortable level, and I don’t even care if he doesn’t feel the same way. The damage is done, the stage is set.
The whole encounter basically ensures that I will not be able to look him in the face for the rest of the school year.
Dill’s a bright guy. He understands that something just happened, but because #4 is…well, #4, and because I have a history of being wildly indifferent to pretty much all boys ever, he makes the somewhat logical assumption that none of it was happening to me.
And because I’m a relentlessly logical girl and know beyond all reasonable doubt that when you’re sitting in your pseudo-boyfriend’s truck, holding hands with him across the gearbox, you are not supposed to be thinking about some boy you hardly know and wondering whether he just almost invited you somewhere because he wants to kiss you, I refrain from thinking about the implications too much, even when we get into the kind of argument that drags them right out into the open.
This is the beginning, to the best of my recollection. What I mostly remember is that we are both aggressively at fault. But me more. At this point in our relationship, it is pretty much the worst and only fight we’ve ever been in.
Dill, awkwardly: Why do you always do that?
Me, deadpan: Do what?
Dill: You encourage him. I mean, why would he ask you to go camping if he didn’t think he had a chance at—
I’m waiting for him to say something suggestive or possibly even offensive, but he stops before he gets there.
Me, still deadpan: He didn’t ask me to do anything. Anyway, he was talking to both of us.
Dill, emphatically: He was looking at you. And I mean, come on—he’s just so…
I sit perfectly still. My skin feels atomic, and all I can think is that if he says the words white trash, I am going to level this entire city block before I can stop myself.
But Dill doesn’t say it. Instead, he abandons the first sentence and tries a different one. “I just feel sorry for him. I mean, he’s stoned, what, pretty much all the time? And his house?”
“It’s like mine,” I say. Which is not even remotely true.
My house is a tremendous, sprawling Alice-in-Wonderland affair, chopped up into three pretty arbitrary apartments. The whole thing is full of spiders. (I mean, like a billion.) Our apartment is the biggest of the three, all weird asymmetrical closets and shotgun hallways and windows that don’t open.
The only heat comes from a wood-burning stove out in the living room. It only radiates warmth if you are closer than six feet away, which my room is most definitely not, and more than once, birds have flown down the chimney and gotten trapped. When that happens, I catch them in a pillowcase and take them outside. There are giant red centipedes living in the crawlspace and if the wind blows the wrong direction when it’s raining, the roof buckets water like it’s hemorrhaging.
Just to be clear, I love my house. I love everything about it, down to the exposed beams and the long, windowless halls and the hideous silver-green carpet. (I love everything except how my room is forty degrees in the winter,** and a hundred and ten in the summer.) But no, my house is not a small, compact single-family unit with central heating and a clearly-defined yard and good weatherstripping. Whatever is the opposite of that? That’s what my house is.
Dill and I patch it up. Sort of. We go for ice cream, not talking much. I order a double scoop, blueberry and cotton candy on a sugar cone. Afterwards, he picks handfuls of flowers and put them in my hair.
I smile and eat my ice cream. By my own estimation, I act perfectly normal, but in the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about #4. Wondering if he’s thinking about me.
Now? Is he now? Now? What about…now?
Wondering if what he said or the way he looked at me means anything—if it had any significance whatsoever. If I’ve disappeared from his head now that I’m not right there on the other side of his fence.
Not wanting to acknowledge how easily Dill has disappeared from mine, and he’s still standing right next to me.
For today: okay, yes. This is another of those highly-specific stories that doesn’t readily invite a topic, so today can be an all-in day—whatever you’ve got to say, hit me!
*Full disclosure: I was raised in a tent. Literally. As in, when I was little, we did not have a house, we had a tent. I can build a fire in like two seconds. I am excellent at camping.
However, at my high school, “camping” did not mean camping, it actually just meant driving to someplace where there were no adults, getting drunk, and passing out in the back of your truck.
It is indicative of my level of fascination with #4 that I fully understand this and am sorely tempted anyway. If there were any way to go someplace with him and not be a terrible human being. Which there isn’t. There just isn’t.
**In theory, this has made me tremendously resilient. In reality, I am a giant weenie who hates being cold.