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“He’s gonna get you in trouble,” I say.
“Look who’s talking about trouble,” Ray says.
The smoke billows out of Ray’s mouth and hangs there between us. I can’t help but inhale some of it. The whites of Ray’s eyes look bright against his dark skin, like two moons in the night. I wonder about the things Ray is going to do tonight, then I look at the 40 in my hand and think of what I’ll do, and it’s hard to say who’s more fucked, me or Ray.
“Where’s Kelli?” Ray asks.
“The Flats,” I say.
“Why aren’t you there?” Ray asks.
“Because I was meeting you,” I say.
Ray laughs. I give him ten bucks and he gives me a dime bag.
“I could have come to the Flats,” he says. “It’s a lot easier than walking all the way down here through that mud and bamboo jungle shit.”
“I like it here,” I say.
“It smells,” Ray says. “This is the spot you were talking about at practice?”
I don’t tell Ray I like this place because it’s where I can see the river flow off into the horizon to somewhere else, I don’t tell him about how I can almost picture all the discarded stuff that’s down there beneath the surface. Instead I just say, “It’s a good place to get drunk.”
“See I knew you were drunk,” he says. “Coach is gonna be pissed if you’re hung over at practice again.”
I don’t know what to say. Suddenly I feel stupid and embarrassed for wanting Ray to see this place, for wanting to share it with anyone at all. It’s that poisoned feeling again. I wonder how much beer it’ll take to ever wash that feeling away.
It’s quiet except for the sound of the treatment plant upstream.
“Hassan’s waiting,” he says. “See you at practice tomorrow. Don’t get too drunk.”
“Alright,” I say.
I watch Ray walk down the trail, brushing by the tubers, disappearing where the trail curves off into the darkening night.
I flick the dime bag he sold me into the river and finish my 40.
I stumble out of the tubers and into the light of the bonfire. The Flats party is still going strong, even though I’m showing up hours after I was supposed to.
Brick lets out a roar. He grabs me by the neck and leads me to the keg. People grab my legs and I’m doing a keg-stand. They’re kicking the sides of the keg and somebody’s swatting my ass with a branch while beer fountains out my nose.
When I’m on my feet again I see Kelli and feel that familiar pain shoot through my chest, even as my legs carry me unwillingly toward her.
“You wreck,” she says. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Drinking,” I say.
“That’s not a place,” she says.
“Yes it is,” I say. Then I kiss her.
Then we’re in the woods. Kelli doesn’t want to get her back wet so she’s propped up against a low tree branch that hangs out over the water, fanning with our movement, the undersides of the leaves are lit by the bonfire in the distance. I see some of the leaves falling off, fluttering out into the darkness.
Kelli’s clawing at my back and shoulders, trying to leave marks. When she jabs her tongue in my ear I pull out.
“What’re you doing?” she says. “What do you think I’m on the pill for?”
I see her beautiful face in the firelight. She’s so young. I imagine what she’ll look like in ten years when she’s 28, or in twenty years. I know she’ll always be beautiful. I know she’ll always make me feel poisoned without even meaning to.
“Finish inside me,” she says.
I look out to the river. It’s flowing fast, getting away. I feel the poison inside me.
I undo my pants all the way and step out of them. I take off my shirt and toss it aside.
“You freak,” she says. “C’mon.”
But then her face changes as I walk right past her, hopping the fire-lit branch, running to the edge of the river.
“What are you…”
But before she can finish I jump.
When I splash down it’s cold, but I’m drunk enough to take it. Kelli’s screaming at me. People rush to the shore to watch. I think somebody even throws a rock at me, so I swim out past the tree line to get out of range.