Rosie was the sort of blonde whose eyebrows and inhibitions were nonexistent. I used to beg her for stories. Aw, tell me about the woods behind the running track and the way the backseat flips down! When you get older these cheapo romances don't usually impress anymore, but I'm twenty-five and I still think her exploits were the stuff of legend. It was Rosie who picked me up the night of Hank's party. She'd had her license longer so it followed that, if we were going to be drinking beers, she should be the one to drive because she had experience.
Her car smelled like vanilla mall perfume and winter mint gum.
"Tie that mane back," Rosie said. "I'll cut you if you shed all over my car." She looked me up and down.
"Your boobs look huge! What bra are you wearing?"
"The orange one," I said. "Your orange one." Rosie and I were both B cups.
"Good pick," she said. "Maybe you'll get lucky tonight. That's what you need, lady. Wait till you see how the world looks different afterward."
"There's nothing wrong with the way my world looks," I told her. The fact that I'd never been with a guy didn't bother me, but Rosie kept pushing the issue. Still, she didn't know everything. After the last song on the radio finished she moaned about how much she loved Aerosmith, but we'd been listening to the Rolling Stones.
"Davis is going to be there," she said. We thought Davis liked me because he was always eating candy in Geometry and would usually pass some back while the teacher was drawing her isosceles on the board. They were fireballs and sour rings and they were passed just to me.
"Fuck Davis," I said, although I was partial to fireballs.
"Don't be so anti. I just want us to be on the same plane," Rosie said. "I want us to be together."
I wanted that too, but not the way she meant. Geometrically speaking, what we were was a triangle, but that's not how it felt. We were more like a bunch of arrows, all pointing the wrong direction. Back then my grasp on geometry wasn't so hot. Back then I thought, planes? Triangles? Too much math.
"I'll try," I said, and resolved to be at my luckiest that night, because I didn't want to be left behind and thought it would shut her up about things she didn't really know about. Who confuses the Rolling Stones with Aerosmith? Years later I saw side-by-side pictures of Jagger and Tyler and realized it was their mouths. Rosie had been confusing the men all along; she never was listening to the words.
At Hank's house, Rosie parked along the road, instead of in the driveway, so we wouldn't get blocked in later. She tugged down her stripy blue t-shirt so that it would meet the top of her shorts, at least for our entrance. We were girls who didn't like girls, but of course liked each other better than we liked the boys. I had bug bites behind my knees and raspberry lotion on my wrists. I tied back my hair and picked at the fringe of my cutoffs. They'd get indecent if I didn't stop unraveling the ends when I was nervous.
"Enter stage left, merrily," Rosie said. We'd read that in class once and Rosie thought it was the funniest goddamn thing she'd ever heard.
There was noise around back so Rosie and I headed behind the garage. Hank's was in a clearing surrounded by skinny trees, and I remember the woods were breathing green and buzzing with mosquitoes the way they did in spring. The trellis on the garage was covered in honeysuckle trumpets. Hank was presiding by the pool. There were cans of beer floating in the water and moths circling the submarine lights, trying to find a way down.
"Sam and Rosie! Rosie and Sam!" Hank smiled and we smacked our palms together, fingertips pulling at each other on the way back. Standard greeting. Hank had prominent canine teeth that gave his smiles a wolfish insincerity, though I don't think he could help it. I really think he was happy.
He and Rosie smacked hands and he handed her a beer. He fished another out with a blue plastic net. "Kept it cold for you." He handed it to me and I tipped pool water off the top. Hank and I had been in the same playgroup in lower school, before our mothers had a falling-out. We had an easy friendship that came from having pissed in the woods together before we knew to look for differences in our equipment.
Rosie smacked him on the arm. "Who's inside?"
"A lot of people. Davis, for one," Hank said, knowingly.
Rosie waltzed ahead of me, towards the door. "Lucky you," she said.
Even without a party, the Carter house was wild. The rest of us lived in New England saltboxes full of folk art. On my parents' door was a plaque showing two geese holding a banner in their beaks. It said: Welcome to Our Happy Home. In the Carters' house the couches were made of leather and there were feathered dream catchers hanging over all the windows. It was hot from bodies inside and there were dozens of people, laughing and dancing or, at least, faking it pretty well.
I spotted Davis showing off for the guys in the corner, Timmy and a few others. Someone had found bottled beer in the fridge and he was opening the tops using the crook of his elbow. He popped the top and a red welt developed on his forearm.
"Yeah!" said Timmy. "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
Davis had crescents of dirt under his thumbnails and floppy hair that fell in his eyes a lot. I think he understood the effect.
I sat next to him and he offered me the bottle he'd just opened.
"I've already got one." I took a sip from my can, which smelled like chlorine. Davis swapped it for the bottle.
"You just got upgraded," he said, and leaned back into the couch so the sides of our legs were touching. He took a sip from my can.
I could feel blood pumping along every inch of my right leg. Back then my mom only let me shave up to the knees so there were soft blond hairs across my upper thigh. You couldn't usually see them but just then they were standing straight up.
Rosie pointed out the dream catcher hung on the window. Beneath the web of yarn an enormous red feather dangled obscenely.
She said, "See that contraption above your head, Davis? It's catching all your dreams."
He lifted his chin, checked it out, laughed. Davis has the sort of laugh that rolls over on itself like laundry in a dryer. I moved nearer to him on the couch. I could feel Rosie watching me.
"Only the bad ones," I said. "The good ones come down the feather."
Rosie shrugged. Her t-shirt was riding up and we could see the pale strip of her belly when she gestured with her arms. She knew. For that matter, she still pulls that move. Sometimes I have to hide a smile in my drink when she flirts because I can see the gears turning behind her tricks.
She made her good-natured martyr face- blue eyes upturned. "What do you think is stuck up there?"
"Nightmares about Mrs. Carter's freaky cats!" Timmy said. We all nodded in agreement.
"Where are those cats, anyway?" Rosie said. Timmy jerked a thumb over his shoulder. She cut a wake through the party and we traveled in it.
The kitchen was its own scene. There were girls sitting on the kitchen counters, ankles crossed and leaning forward to offer views of push-up cleavage. There were boys wearing rope bracelets, pretending not to care, and bouncing quarters into plastic cups. The music thumped.
The lights were off down the hallway and the four of us bumped each other as we walked, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. Davis reached back and pulled me along; his grip was too tight. We read a shit ton of Shakespeare in class because the school was too cheap to buy new books. The way Davis had his hands full of my hands made me think of English 1. We'd read aloud: Palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss. Nice. And then he asks her to quit all the handholding and make out with him instead. There was a door at the end of the hallway and Rosie peeked inside. "They're sleeping," she said, before pushing through.
Mrs. Carter's show-winning cats slept in crates upon crates in what should have been the office of their house. That room. Piss was the dominant note, for sure. Beyond that, I don't want to know.
"Beast," Timmy said.
Those Maine Coons got seriously enormous — over three feet long. They were oddly fluffy and prim looking and always made me think about fat ladies in ball gowns. Most of them were sleeping, pressed against the cage grilles, their fur stuck through in segments. Rosie knelt and poked two fingers through the bars to pet one. Timmy stared at where her jeans gaped and her underwear was visible. The blue ones. The room was quiet; the sound of the song outside was muffled by the door, and I could hear the breathing of the cats.
"Let's get out of here," Davis said in my ear, and I nodded so he could feel it, my head near his chest. Rosie looked up and I tried to wink, but wound up with my mouth open like a gasping fish. Never was a good winker. I hoped I looked convincingly excited.
"Where you going, lady?" she said, even though she knew damn well.
I shrugged. "Be back in a few."
"Maybe more," Davis said, which made Timmy chuckle.
She hopped up and put a hand on my waist, whispered in my ear, "You don't have to do this, you know." Her hair tickled my face. She could see right through me, but I was going to do this. She didn't know everything.
I wriggled away from her and made a big show of taking her hand off my hip.
"Come on, Davis," I said, and pulled him up the first few stairs.
She called after me, but I kept taking those steps.
We went upstairs to Mrs. Carter's bedroom and shut the door behind us. I felt the room grow huge, and us too close together inside it, the way you do when background noise is suddenly stripped away. It was dark, but I could see the bedroom was just as crazy as the rest of the house. There was a furry brown blanket on the bed, grizzly colored. Davis grinned at me. We sat down next to each other and there was a sloshing noise. Tides shifted inside the water bed. If we're talking memories? Every time I hear that sloshing noise I think about that night. Not very romantic, but that's how it goes.
Davis said, "You've got some big, pretty eyes," and I stared at the backs of my hands. The window was cracked open and the air smelled like green shoots. When he kissed me I could feel that he'd tucked his chewing gum between his teeth and cheek. I could tell I was going to get lucky. You can tell those things when someone's got his tongue in your mouth. You can feel what they do and do not want. Davis was a sloppy kisser, and it was all over my mouth, which is sort of disgusting, but at the time I thought of it as emotional spillover. Like, I feel so much I can't just kiss you here but must also kiss you there and there and there.
This was when he took off my clothes. He took them off piece by piece, and not in any rush, either. He started with my shoes. Somewhere near the end was Rosie's bra. How he did it reminded me of the way he drew diagrams on the chalkboard in geometry class: one slow section at a time, with thinking in-between. I have a port-wine stain the size of a runny half dollar on my left ribcage, and I made sure I didn't look at it so he wouldn't look at it.
When he finished I was naked. Well, as Rosie pointed out to me later, I was wearing a necklace, which if I was the sort of girl who wanted to preserve her reputation through technicalities… but I wasn't that girl, and I should tell this like it was.
It was like this: I was naked, except for the necklace, and Davis was wearing pants. I might have gone through with it. And I really did consider doing it, because I didn't want to be alone on the plane, but I knew I could never be lucky like Rosie. I could chimp her motions, but they wouldn't make me feel the way they made her feel. It wouldn't fix our fissured plane.
"Why don't we go get some beers?" I told Davis.
"Now?" he said. He looked confused, like he was resurfacing.
"I could really go for a beer."
"You're funny," he said, but it was clear he didn't think so. When I didn't respond, he said, "We'll get some later."
That's when I heard Rosie shouting from outside.
"You're going to be free now! Go live and be wild!"
"Yeah!" Timmy said. "Wild cats!"
Davis and I leapt up and went to the window. He stood in front of me so no one below could see and I peeked around his side.
Rosie and Timmy had led a gang of partygoers out past the pool to the tree line. Each person had a giant cat in his arms. Rosie cradled hers like an oversized baby, its paws sticking out of her embrace at odd angles. Timmy held his up by the furry armpits, its legs dangling down. There were six more people behind them. Arms all full of cats. The noise was unlike anything I'd ever heard before — it was caterwauling. I'd never understood that word before.
"Now! Everyone, now!" Rosie placed her baby down, and the cat cowered low to the ground, as if unsure of what to do. Then it bolted for the forest. Timmy's cat scratched at him. It hissed and squirmed.
"Hey, ow! Cat is rabid!"
"Let it go, dumbass," Rosie said.
He did, and then the others did the same and the whole pack of freakishly large cats headed for the woods and their new feral lives.
Everyone cheered and sucked at their scratches.
Rosie ran to the pool and pulled out a beer. She held it high in the air, proud, her arm streaming water.
"To the freedom of the cats!" she yelled. The partygoers gathered around and toasted.
Hank came running outside then, screaming. "Man, those are indoor cats! What the fuck are you doing? My mom's going to kill me."
Laughing when you're naked is funnier because you can see your ribs telescoping.
"This is wild," Davis said.
He kissed me hard and I turned my cheek. His sloppy mouth wound up near my ear and made the smacking sounds of eating.
"Come on," he said. He set his jaw; despite Rosie's efforts, I wasn't off the hook. Davis's eyes roamed southwards, polar regions, and his hands followed.
You make your bed and then you lie in it. I considered my options. I grabbed onto his wrists and pushed his hands away, too hard. I only meant to show him I was serious, but both his arms swung out, like saloon doors. He lost his balance and skidded on the rug. It must have burned.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to do that."
He was staring and for the first time since he'd undressed me I felt ashamed. I covered my port-wine stain with the flat of my hand. "How about those beers now?"
"Are you serious?" Davis said. He was flushed. "This is fucking bullshit, Sam. There's a word for girls like you."
"I'm a tease."
"That's not the one I was thinking of, but whatever you say." He shook his head as he gathered up his clothes.
As he pulled his shirt over his head he cut a shape-shifting silhouette in the doorframe. Then he went downstairs.
Alone in Mrs. Carter's bedroom, I exhaled more air than I could have fit in my tiny goddamn lungs. So much air. I felt relieved.
I went back to the window and spotted Rosie, drinking a beer alone in a rubber-strapped patio chair. Her hair was bright and several moths hovered nearby, drawn to the flare of it. I whooped and she looked up. She cupped her hands to her mouth and hooted back. It was time to put my clothes back on.
"I'll kill you if you lost my bra!" she shouted between her hands.
I gathered and pulled on my tee shirt and cutoffs. I stomach-flopped on the bed, preparing myself to go back downstairs.
"I love you even if you are unlucky," Rosie said. She had climbed up the latticework and onto the roof of the garage. She was sitting there with her elbows in the windowsill.
I wanted that to be true so badly that a warmth welled up in me that made me want to hold my breath. Because she did love me a little, after all.
I scooted over to the sill and said, "Whose fault is that? I was working on it until you unleashed the fucking circus."
"I know you were, lady."
"Thanks, by the way."
Rosie shrugged. "I might have done it anyway."
She pointed her chin at my t-shirt. "I saw, before, you have a thing, a blotch, right there. You always had that?"
"Since I was born," I said. "A long time."
Rosie nodded. "I guess I just never saw it before."
There were dead bees in the sill and grit was stuck to Rosie's arms. She grabbed my hand and kissed it before sitting back on her heels, as if about to leave. Then she looked at me, cocking her head to the side like a bird. She leaned into the window once more and kissed me quickly on the mouth. I felt the blaze of terror that comes from the totally unexpected, but then it was over, before I could even join in the act.
Her cheeks had felt warm, from embarrassment or booze. She smelled of chlorine.
Rosie pulled her body back out the window. She stood and contemplated the pool, about fifteen feet below. She had red indents on the back of her legs from sitting in the patio chair. "To the freedom of the cats," she said. I watched her toes spread as she sank into her knees, and then pushed off the tarpaper roof with her feet. At first it seemed she was gaining air too slowly, but then she picked up momentum. Her body streamlined. She fell with her stomach leading and limbs trailing up and behind like a parachute jumper. I was the only one who saw the fall, and I was glad I had that to myself.
She hit the water belly first. The crowd looked to the splash's source, unsure of what was happening. I saw her head come up, slicked like a seal's. Her mouth was working as she spat pool water. Once she'd got enough breath she threw her hands up in the air and gave a joyous whoop. The party cheered and a dozen more people jumped in. I tried to pick out her head from the others bobbing in the water. I should have been able to find her, but there were so many faces dunking and resurfacing in the churning water that it was impossible to tell who was who.
Later, downstairs, we drank in celebration. There was music, songs about losing daddy's farm and women who are unfamiliar in the morning, and I took turns dancing with Timmy and spinning soaking Rosie around and around. She sent water flying as she whipped her hair from side to side.
Hank winked at her and I laughed and shouted "Go to hell, Hank!"
"This is no way to treat a host," Hank said. "No way at all."
Davis sulked by the pool but I didn't care. I drank too much because I was so full of joy I felt I had to drown it out. There was so much of everything! Rosie stopped drinking so she could drive us home.
As we made our way to the car later that night we passed the other station wagons and trucks and sedans that were beeping at each other and flashing their high beams. Rosie was smug and I was singing, "Yeah, I'm coming home cause, I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road..." We got into her car at the end of the drive and took off.
"Suckers!" Rosie shouted out the window; she made a gesture with her tongue and fingers that caused the rest of them to honk and shout louder. She had big silvery hoops in her ears and they glinted wickedly in the headlights. We sped through a school zone and the honking grew quiet. There was a waxy fat moon, belly big and hanging low in the sky. Rosie flipped off her headlights on the straightaways so the moonlight was bright on the yellow line and the pavement was black, black, black.
The drive was only fifteen minutes but every time we passed a house I would point to it and say, "That's my house! And that's my house! And that's my house!"
"Don't worry, lady, I know where you live," Rosie said.
But they were all my houses, I knew it. Love had made me the opposite of a refugee. My home was expanding and then it was everywhere. My home was immense!
"This is your house," Rosie said, once she got me home.
"This is your house," I told her.
She sent me off to bed. "Drink a glass of water and take two Tylenol before you go to sleep," she said. "And for chrissake be quiet about it."
I went inside, closed the front door behind me and then pressed my ear to it.
I wanted to listen to the noise of Rosie's engine heading out of the drive so I knew she was safely on her way.
* * * *
Apparently they got almost all the cats back a day or so later. All you have to do is set out enough food and they'll come running right back to swap their freedom for an unhunted meal. Even so, Hank was fucked. His mother was almost convinced that a few of the cats had inexplicably run off until a few days later when she went to clean the pool. Hank had fished all the cans from the water, but forgotten about the filters. When Mrs. Carter pulled up the circular tops she found the plastic filter baskets full of beer cans, water bubbling through and around.
I also got caught. Because I always get caught. My mother heard about the cats from someone down the street and one piece of gossip led to another and she heard that I'd been there. She was livid. How could I show such disrespect to Mrs. Carter? How could I do that to her pets? I couldn't tell her I hadn't been involved, because where would I say I'd been?
I was grounded for a long time. "Lady, you've got to get out of there. I'm dying without you," Rosie said. But what could I do?
Sometimes, after the final bell at school, we'd hang out in the parking lot, our backs to the loading dock where the janitors smoked cigarettes and the girls who weren't like us sat on the hoods of their cars, applying lipstick and white eyeliner. It was while I was cooped up that Rosie started dating Davis. She asked me for clearance first and I told her yeah, of course, it was just one night. There wasn't anything between Davis and me and if Rosie couldn't see the other reason, what could I do about it?
To be honest, I thought she'd eat him alive and spit him out after a month. I thought he'd bore her to pieces.
* * * *
I'm driving to Rosie's house tonight and I'm trying to recall everything that happened back then — there should be a straight path leading from there to here, but that's not how friends like us work.
The air out my windows is so cool you could drink it, and the house lamps are flicked on because the light is getting blue. Rosie's a loud mouth but she's not really one for a bachelorette party, so it'll just be the two of us tonight. We aren't girls who like girls, but we still like each other.
I do go out and meet people. I sleep in beds other than my own, just not on nights when I'm with Rosie. She still lives in our town. I live one over, right across the incorporated line. I love the hometown but a little distance gives you room to breathe. I am breathing deep these days. Trying to empty my lungs.
Sometimes I go out with her and Davis. Usually he buys me a drink, we laugh about dumbshit antics passed, and I pretend I'm not surprised he's still around. But mostly it's just Rosie and me. She says it will be the same once they get married. Of course I believe her, because she's Rosie. Still, tonight feels too funereal for goddamn comfort. I am the only arrow left and I am pointing off into the country night.
I pull into her gravelly driveway. Before I can head for the door she calls out to me. She's sitting on the carpeted platform attached to her tiny, aboveground pool. She has a thirty-pack of beers on the ledge.
I sing, "Rosie, Rosie, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you!"
"That's Daisy, you dumbass. Wrong flower."
I kiss her hairline and say, "Give me a beer."
She kisses the beer she hands to me. "With blessings."
The pool has algae growing all over its steel buckled sides, but the water is clear. There's an inflatable chaise lounge drifting around in there, silently bumping at the sides. I roll up my jeans like Rosie and stick my feet in. Our toes are painted the same color.
"So what's supposed to happen at an event like this?" Rosie says.
"We're supposed to be lewd and recount our adventures."
"I'd rather not," Rosie says.
"Come on. I was getting ready in the car. I was thinking about the night you jumped off the Carters' roof."
"No, I mean, we always talk about that stuff we did and it seemed fun then but now when I think about it it's sort of sad."
"Like what? What's so sad?"
"Like those cats."
"Would you shut up about the cats?"
"I'm serious. Not all of them got back. I basically killed those cats."
I check inside the box of beer, but there are only three gone.
"Why are you so fucking morose? Those cats are probably still wandering around the woods, all feral. They probably have wildcat kittens by now."
Rosie nods. "I know, I know."
"They're raising a brave new generation of forest cats and it's thanks to you."
"Shut up already. Come sit with me." Rosie takes off her pants and slides into the water. She fishes out the chaise and sits on its middle. She sinks down a few inches, water around her hips.
"Okay," I say. And I don't even bother to take off my jeans. The seat of them soaks through and it's fucking cold but we push off the side with our feet. Some of the algae comes free and swirls green in the water.
"Onwards!" I say. And we paddle to the other side, which is not very far.
"Backwards!" says Rosie. And we paddle back. We look up and there are stars. A shit ton of stars.
We each paddle on one side of the raft. If you paddle on the same side you circle in the same direction instead of going in a line. The water is getting cloudy from our paddling and the algae, but we can still see our feet, which are pale and mushroomy under the water. We stop paddling.
"We're still going," she says. "You can't always feel it but we're still going."
"Let's float the beers in the pool," I say.
We get off the chaise with barely a splash. I walk through the water, over the slimy floor, to the platform. My waterlogged jeans drag behind me. When I dump the beers in the pool they submerge, but then rise up again because they are lighter than the water.
"Did you know that if you put a watermelon in a pool it will sink halfway down and then hover there? It's exactly half as heavy as the water." I tell Rosie.
"I'm the one that told you that," she says.
We both float on our stomachs like dead men. Then we float on our backs and the beers nudge us like ducks. We stretch out our arms and the pool is so small our flared fingers touch, and then don't touch as we drift. I know that even when they drift away we are still touching each other because I am touching the water and the water is touching Rosie. We have this between us.
CJ Hauser is a spinner of yarns and writer of fiction who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has previously published fiction in The Brooklyn Review, writes for Ins & Outs magazine, and was recently named a Top 25 New Writer by Glimmer Train. CJ believes that New York is the best possible place to grow a story and is currently at work on a novel about fishing towns, taxidermy, and love.