“I’M TURNING THIS OFF.” MY BEST friend, Sadie, furrowed her precious brow, squinching up her eyes to hide from the vulgarity on the TV screen. She grabbed the remote from my hands and silenced the thump-thump of animal mating. “This is sick, Chaz. You’re sick for making me watch it.”
In fact she was right. I, Chastity Bryan, am nothing if not a total perv. It has been this way since I first squeezed my tiny ta-tas into that beginner bra back in seventh grade. My parents are perfectly respectable people, churchgoers and community leaders, yadda yadda. But their daughter—me—inherited some sort of nasty gene, and I am magnetically drawn to all things sexual rather than all things traditionally considered “Minnesota nice.” “It’s nature, Sade. Humans do it too, you know.”
She glared at me. “It’s sick, Chaz. Who watches bunnies making love?”
“What they were doing is called ‘humping.’ Plain and simple.” I shrugged, as though sex were a regular, daily activity for me. As if.
As if I’d ever really done it.
As if there were anyone in my town worth doing it with.
As if I would ever get laid.
Unfortunately, I was born in Milton, Minnesota, where the options for sinful human sexuality involve screwing a guy named Vic who drives a snowmobile to school or taking advantage of a scrawny twerp like Herbie Landon. You don’t know Herbie Landon, but you know guys like him. He’s decorated with ready-to-pop backne and hairless legs that shake around inside his jeans like chicken bones. Super hot, right?
Bottom line: I’d had something that resembled sex (I liked to believe what I’d done was “distantly related to the sex family”), but I’d never gotten laid in any kind of real way. I talked a big game and acted like an expert in doing the nasty, but I was as sexless as a deflated blow-up doll. Therefore I got the sexual tension out of my system verbally.
“Don’t you feel guilty, talking like that in front of your grandma?” I looked over at the picture of Nonna. My grandma’s eyebrow was lifted, as if to prove Sadie’s point. Whatever. Nonna had been a fireball back in her day, of that I was certain. I got my vulgarity and honesty from someone, and that someone certainly wasn’t my mom. Mom and I are more like oil and water than yin and yang—we don’t see eye to eye on much of anything, and we certainly don’t complement each other. We couldn’t be more different.
“Nonna loves it,” I mused. “And PS, it’s not as if she can hear anything we’re saying.”
Sadie pursed her lips. “She can hear you from heaven, Chaz. And she’s frowning down upon you, worried about the young woman you’ve become.” Sadie delivered this sermon seriously, but it was just a lecture for the sake of lecturing. Her ranting rolled off my back like hot chocolate sauce.
“I’m a lovely young woman, according to Mrs. Vos and the Academic Achievement Committee.” I shifted on the couch and took control of the remote again, pushing the on button.
“Mrs. Vos is blind in one eye and doesn’t leave the library,” Sadie replied. That was true. “Besides, our whole class probably thinks you’re a lovely young woman. No one knows you like I do, Chastity Bryan. You actually seem sort of normal—blandly normal.”
I grinned. “That’s my goal.” It was, actually. Blending in and keeping up appearances are everything in a small town like Milton. I was already the odd one out in my family, and that was hard enough. I only needed to suffer through this charade for six more months; then I would be out of this house and this town going … somewhere else. With different people. The specifics were still to be determined.
“You’d think after living eighteen years in Milton, someone besides me would know the real you.” Sadie shook her head. When she said the next bit, I knew she was being silly, but it struck an honest chord and, quite frankly, stung a little. “No boyfriends, no scandal, no dirt. It’s like you never even existed in this town.”
That was the point.
“Ugh, I feel terrible,” Sadie muttered. I peeked out from behind the shower curtain and spotted Sades assessing her flawless forehead in my mom’s ultramagnifying facial mirror.
We had hung out in the basement, channel-surfing, for a little while longer, until I reluctantly hit the shower to prepare myself for work at Matt’s Bar, our town dive and my humble place of employment. Sadie was keeping me company, but mostly she was hanging in the bathroom so she could be near the toilet. She’d eaten something nasty at her cousin’s house the weekend before, and ever since she’d been lingering near the loo.
“Isn’t a stomach virus supposed to go away in, like, twenty-four hours?” she whined.
“You’ve gotta let it slink through your system and take its own sweet time.”
“Doesn’t your shift start at six?” Sadie asked, after a pause during which I was sure she was popping an unseen zit.
I turned the water off and grabbed my towel from its hook. “Yeah,” I admitted. “I’m running a little late.”
“It’s six now.”
“I get it.”
“I can get a ride with you, right?” Sadie asked.
“I just assumed that’s why you were still here.”
She grinned. “I’m meeting Trav at Matt’s. He can give me a ride home.”
“Ooh.” My voice came out furry from under my towel. I had my head flipped upside down to dry my tangled mess of brown curls. “Sneaking out with the boy without Mom knowing, huh? Am I your alibi?”
Looking out from under my mass of knotted hair, I saw Sadie open her wide blue eyes guiltily. “Are you okay with that?” she asked earnestly.
“Sade, have I ever judged?” I stepped naked out of the shower stall, my towel a turban. “I like to be your alibi. I appreciate the fact that at least you’re getting some. One of us should be having sex. Of course, it should be me, since you seem so crippled with guilt about it, but whatever.”
Sadie dropped her head, groaning. I could sense the vomit boiling up again, and I hustled out of the bathroom and down the hall to my room. My parents were at a church dinner or something, so the nudity mattered not.
I held my boobs as I sauntered into my room, cupping them inside my warm palms. I’m proud of my tits, but a little dismayed that they don’t spill out from between my fingers when I grab them like this. Sadie’s boobs are Cs—in some brands Ds, even—and I always envy her for how she looks in snug-fitting T-shirts. I have runner legs, though, and know that what I lack in chest volume I make up for in skinny legs that actually look good in cheap jeans.
I grabbed a boring bra out of my drawer, strapping my little guys in under two thin triangular swatches of pink fabric. Then I threw on my Matt’s Bar T-shirt and a pair of baggy jeans and headed back down the hall to the bathroom. Peering around the partly closed door, I called, “You okay?”
“How much of this crap is in me?” Sadie moaned as she passed a comb out the crack of open door. I took the hint, pulling the cheap plastic through my thick, unruly mane.
“Ready to go?”
“Are you?” Sadie opened the door to give me the once-over. “Your hair is half brushed.”
“It’s Matt’s,” I replied. “That’s good enough.”
And then we took off.
Matt’s Bar is on the main street in town, wedged between the gas station and an old, run-down movie theater. We don’t get first-run films in Milton anymore. The theater was once a second-run discount theater, then an indie-film venue, and now it’s an adult-movie place. Sadie lives less than a half mile away from Matt’s, still technically “in town,” but I live a few miles down a dirt road, literally on the outskirts of nowhere.
I pulled into the lot behind the bar and went through the back door. Sadie tentatively followed—she gets a little weird about coming into Matt’s without her parents, since it’s called a bar and all, but really, Matt’s is just a regular old restaurant with a few old drunks who frequent the place. You can’t afford to be picky in Milton, since Matt’s is one of three options for eating out.
Gina’s Pizza, which is owned by Matt’s ex-wife, is down at the other end of town and serves up more health-code violations than slices. Then there’s Café Cheapo (it’s officially Café Français, but I’m not sure anyone even knows that), which sells these nasty sandwiches and burned cappuccinos. Dining is not a highlight in Milton—you have to drive twenty miles to Flanders, population fifteen thousand, if you want to get McDonald’s or a piece of steak.
In truth Matt’s actually has decent food. We’re sort of famous for our cheeseburgers, and the fries are cooked in bacon grease that drips off the racks above the fryers. That sounds totally grode, but people like it, and that means business is steady most of the time. Matt also had a fling with a Jamaican chick years ago, so we serve a yummy jerk chicken that people even drive in from Minneapolis for every now and then.
“Are you cool?” I asked Sadie as I ducked under the counter. “Sit—I’ll get you a root beer.”
For a Saturday night the place was pretty slow. There were only a few tables full, and it looked like Angela had already waited on all of them. “You’re late,” Angela chirped, pecking me on the cheek as she hustled by with two handfuls of empty pint glasses.
“I don’t care—Matt’s in back, and I covered for you. Pay me back by having us all over next weekend?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, whatever.” The crew from Matt’s loves coming to my house, since the basement is big and now has surround-sound HDTV, and my parents leave us pretty much alone. Angela graduated from high school a year ago and should have her own place, but she still lives with her parents in a tiny little house at the very edge of town. She needs to get out of there, but who am I to judge?
“Thanks, babe.” Angela beamed as she flitted by, off to the kitchen to unload the dirty glasses. And probably sneak in a little kissy-kissy with Ryan the dishwasher, who she’s been hanging out with lately. “Oh, and you’re on table six. You’re welcome!”
I glanced over at the table nearest the front window—guy, late teens/early twenties, alone. “Thank you,” I muttered to Angela, who was long gone. I pulled my lip gloss out of my pocket and strolled over to my first table of the night. “Any questions?” I asked, hands on hips. The guy sitting at the table looked up, and my heart thudded nervously.
“What do you recommend?” He had been squinting to read the menu, and his eyes stayed bunched up when he looked at me. There was something very James Dean about his look that made me feel a little dangerous all of a sudden. Of course, his puffy black Patagonia jacket was totally nonrugged, but the look on his face made me think he was up to no good most of the time. I was probably inventing this for my own sexual fantasy, but I wanted to believe I was right.
I blinked deliberately, the flirt instinct kicking into gear. This guy was not from around here, and I had to do my part to make him stay.
Milton needed a guy like this.
I needed a guy like this.
I lowered my lashes and sucked my pen. “The cheeseburger is famous. But if you haven’t had jerk chicken …”
“What do you like?” he asked. His lips curled into a smirk. It may have been his natural look, but I imagined the expression had been crafted just for me.
I shrugged. “It’s your call. I like it all.”
“Really?” He leaned back in his chair and dropped the menu back into its slot in between the ketchup and mustard in the middle of the table. “Surprise me.”
He knew he was hot. Of that I was certain. I looked at him for one more second, then turned on my heel and walked away. “I want that guy,” I declared to Sadie as I returned to the bar. “I must have that guy.” She turned one hundred eighty degrees in her seat and stared at the sexpot at table six. “Nice. Thanks for the subtlety, Sade.”
“Who is he?”
“No clue,” I responded, writing up a ticket for a cheese burger, fries, and a side of jerk chicken. If table six was going to be coy about it, I might as well give him a big order and hope he tipped 20 percent. I slapped the ticket up on the counter between the bar and the kitchen and called, “Order in!” to Wolf, the cook.
“He wasn’t in Jeremy’s class.” She watched my boy from her post at the bar. Jeremy is Sadie’s brother. He graduated from Milton two years ago and moved far, far away to Flanders. Flanders is a popular postgraduation destination for Milton High alums. The thought of that being my future horrifies me. It simply will not happen.
I shook my head and took a sip of water through a straw. “That guy is not from Milton,” I declared. “That jacket is not from Milton.” I watched the front door ease open and saw Trav peek in. “Trav’s here.”
Sadie instantly perked up, her postpuke face flushing pink again. “Thanks for the lift, Chastity.” She hopped off her bar stool and bundled up inside her thick, furry parka. “See ya Monday at school, ’kay?”
I cringed at the sound of my full name, then waved them out of the bar. “Be safe!” But Sadie was already gone—as if they needed the warning anyway.
“Order up!” Wolf peered up over the kitchen window. “What up, Chaz?” With his tongue he pushed a wad of chew back into place inside his cheek. In case you were wondering, Wolf is his real name. Wolf’s brother is Bear, and his dad goes by Skunk. The mom is long gone. Do you blame her?
“Thanks.” The plate was hot, but it didn’t really affect me. I’m tough as nails, a waitress extraordinaire. When I got to his table, Sexy Boy was texting someone. I lingered until he hit send.
He looked up at me expectantly, pulling gum out of his mouth to stuff it in the corner of his napkin. “Did you want some? You ordered me enough to feed both of us.”
I shrugged. “Is that a real offer? If so, yeah.”
My mind flashed ahead to a future scene where he would grab me and throw me down on a bed or a couch or a floor (I wasn’t picky), commanding me with the same voice he’d just used for the word “sit.” I wanted that scene to happen. Now. “Do you like?” I wrapped my fingers around the neck of the ketchup bottle and settled into the seat across from him to grab a fry.
When he answered, “God, yes,” his mouth was full of cheesy burger, and a tiny piece of toasted bun was stuck in his intentionally overgrown facial hair. I reached out and grabbed the crumb. Again, the flash of future sex scenes danced in my head, and my tongue licked my lips instinctively. His lips were a little on the thin side, but they looked like the perfect dessert nonetheless.
Oh, God, I thought. I need this guy. Though I wanted to get up and sit on his lap, I chose instead to say, “You’re not from here.” He looked up, lifting an eyebrow. “There are three thousand people in Milton, and our high school graduating class is thirty-five. Thirty-four if you take out Melinda Planton, who skipped too many days to graduate. Let’s just say I think I know most people my age.”
“And what age is that?” he asked.
I popped a fry into my mouth, chewed, then finally said, “Eighteen.”
He smiled, a trickle of grease illuminating the edge of his lower lip. “Same.”
A pause, then he admitted, “I live in North Carolina.”
“Why the hell are you here?”
“Are you the welcoming committee?”
I laughed at that. I’d like to welcome him, all right. “It just seems like a long way from home. And Milton is sort of a random stop for someone visiting Minnesota.”
“My dad moved here last summer. Chris Bowman?”
“The guy who runs the wilderness outfitter?” I could picture him—but he was still new to town and didn’t get an invite to my folks’ holiday party, so I didn’t know him or anything.
He nodded. “Custody battle. My dad won Christmas break this year, so he and my mom decided to give me a bonus week of winter break to spend quality time here in the Great North Woods with Dad.”
“Nice. Lucky you.” As I led a forkful of chicken toward my mouth, I noticed Matt watching me from behind the bar. “Enjoy, okay?” I got up and sashayed back to the bar.
When I dropped the check on his table a little while later, the North Carolina hottie grabbed my arm. “Don’t waitresses usually sign the check? Write something like, ‘Thanks, heart, Deanna?’”
“I don’t do that.” I relished the feeling of his fingers on me. Touch me everywhere, I begged (silently).
“You should. That way I’d know your name.”
“You could just ask me, you know.”
“Okay?” I asked, teasing him. If by touching me he could play with my physical senses the way he was, I could fuck with his mind a little bit, right?
“I’m Sebastian.” Pause. “So?” He looked at me expectantly, the squint back in his eyes. “What’s your name?”
He smiled and asked nothing more.
When he left a few minutes later, I was in back, trying to breathe again.
He tipped 40 percent.
Angela stopped me on my way out after my shift. She and Wolf were smoking out back next to the Dumpster—Matt would be closing up soon, and the place was empty. Angela took a drag on her cigarette and blew it in my general direction. It was bitterly cold outside—if I’d smoked, I’d sure as hell have quit in this weather. “You’re gonna screw that guy, aren’t you?” Angela said gleefully.
“Ange, that is the goal.”
Wolf chuckled, shaking his head. “Your first kiss, huh? You really want to lose it to Mr. Patagonia?”
“What?” I said, all innocence. “You think I’m saving myself for you?” I narrowed my eyes at Wolf. “Let’s see … scrawny legs, chew pack, rotted-out teeth, and a penis the size of a French fry? Oh, I’m dreaming of the day.” Ange cracked up—she’d hooked up with Wolf, and I’d been treated to the sordid details. All of the miniscule detail.
“I’m gonna get that cherry, Chaz.” Wolf was amusing himself. “You know you want it, baby.” He spat a slimy chew loogie at the base of the Dumpster. It slid down the cold metal and pooled into a pile of rapidly freezing goober on the asphalt.
“Kiss it, freak,” I replied, touching my lips to my middle finger before flashing it at him. “My cherry was plucked long ago, and it was sex that would rock your world.” Then I hopped in my car and peeled out of the Matt’s lot as fast as my little Toyota would let me.
© 2010 Erin Soderberg Downing