THAT TIME WE PLAYED SPIN THE BOTTLE is a short story vignette from the novel (yet unnamed) and takes place in 1985, seven years before the main story takes place. It involves Tony, Ryan, Jed, and Karen (2 Goths, a nerd, and a punk) in high-school and details the full events of a conversation mentioned briefly in the main book. Told from Tony’s perspective, this is what really happened during a game of spin the bottle.
In this story, four friends in 1980’s suburbia, find themselves hanging out with nothing to do. When their friend Nathan suggests they play a game of spin the bottle, it ultimately brings up confusion and many questions. Revelations about relationships and identity come into focus.
THAT TIME WE PLAYED SPIN THE BOTTLE
Kristen Simental c. 2016
It drove me crazy that the final bell didn’t ring until 3:02pm. Three more minutes to go. Posters and quotes from famous authors hung around the classroom. I’d read them a million times but read them again to pass the time. My favorite was the one with a starry sky and in large letters it read: INSPIRATION “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” I had a strong sense that it was secretly telling kids not to aim too high, don’t make waves and keep your head down. This would be exactly the wrong thing to tell a kid like me.
The clock moved to 3:01. Everyone in class started quietly shuffling, gathering their things in anticipation for the bell. Mrs. Potts quietly read to herself behind her solid oak desk. She mouthed the words occasionally and it looked like she was talking to herself and I found that amusing. If Ryan had been there, we would have made up pretend words to come out of her mouth. It looked like was saying, “I’m a loser” over and over. I chuckled to myself. I missed having Ryan in 6th period with me. He’d been transferred to the Honors class which sat around all day having intellectual discourse on various classic novels and preparing for college. I was in the regular English class that forced us to read The Great Gatsby and write long, boring essays about it. Ryan’s class was reading Catcher in the Rye and I was reading about a bunch of boring old rich people having rich people problems. I’d already read Catcher in the Rye over the Summer and it changed my life like it was supposed to. I related to Holden Caulfield much of the time. Like Holden, I hated phonies. Of course, Ryan wasn’t a phony. He was my best friend and the coolest guy you’d ever want to know. Inspired by the book, I had started calling anyone I hated a “phony” and I hated just about everyone.
As if the second-hand were dragging rocks, the clock finally moved to 3:02pm. The bell rang and my classmates and I shot out of our chairs, rubbing the metal feet against the cold linoleum in a loud cacophony. I gathered 500 pounds of books and made my way to Ryan’s locker where we met after school every day. I weaved in and out of the nameless, faceless swarm like a cat. Tanya, a girl I’d messed around with, looked up at me and smiled as she passed by, clutching her books to her chest. A couple of weeks before, we’d ditched 3rd-period gym class and made out in the locker room while everyone else was running around the track. I’d almost gotten to second base when the janitor caught us and ordered us back to the field. Tanya had been wearing this white tank top that was thin enough to see she was wearing a black bra. I liked Tanya alright. She was nice. Not the kind of girl I wanted to spend every day with or call on the phone, but cool enough. I reminded myself to get her phone number next time I saw her.
Up ahead, Ryan was shoveling books into his locker. From a distance, he looked exactly like Robert Smith from The Cure with his teased out hair, bulky black sweater, skinny jeans, and black creepers. I shoved my books into his locker one by one. The door of his locker was decorated with postcards and magazine clippings of bands like Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, and Depeche Mode. My locker was clear across school, all the way by the auditorium. I only went there when I had to. Ryan was fine sharing, so I continued to hoist my books in, stacking them like Lego bricks. Ryan slammed the door shut and twisted the lock a few times. I leaned my shoulder against the endless row of drab colored metal doors.
“I almost got detention today,” I said, speaking with pride in my rebellion.
“For what?” he asked. He tossed a book on the ground and bent over to tie his shoelaces. His backpack flopped to one side.
“I told Mrs. Potts that Gatsby is a phony and we should burn the rich,” I laughed.
“Rad,” Ryan replied chuckling. “Gatsby’s a fucking phony.”
As good friends do, Ryan had picked up my usage of the word “phony” and happily agreed with me whenever I used it. Ryan was my best friend. We were practically brothers. I would have done anything for the guy and I knew he felt the same.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
It was a Friday and it meant one of two things: Go to Ryan’s and watch a movie or hang out with whoever was up for hanging out. It was usually Jed and Karen. We met Karen at the end of the hall. She was wearing a slinky black dress with lace tights and these awesome pixie boots with western buckles down the front. She had a clunky black bead necklace on and a belt that looked like it was constructed out of 5 other belts and various chains. Her thick black eyeliner circled her eyes and she looked like a dark goddess as always.
“What’s up, phonies?” she greeted us, using everyone’s favorite word.
“Not much,” Ryan answered. “What are we doing tonight?”
“Fuck if I know,” Karen responded.
I loved Karen. She’d just moved to town from somewhere up near San Fransisco and was this cool, foul-mouthed Deathrock angel who gave Siouxsie Sioux a run for her money. She was brutally honest and she liked to party, which made her one of my favorite people in the whole world. I would have been all over her if she wasn’t into girls. Of course, it was 1985 and we didn’t talk about such things in public even though Karen’s persuasion was common knowledge.
She slung her arm over my shoulders. She was a petite little thing so she walked on her tippy toes for a bit to match my height. I’m not gonna lie, I thoroughly enjoyed having a lesbian for a friend. It was so exotic. I felt so open minded and it was like I was part of a secret club.
“Wait up!” We heard scuffling footsteps heading towards us. Jed bounded onto our group and happily strode beside us. We’re like a gang, I thought. A cool, Gothic, Punk Rock gang.
Ryan looked over at me and gave me the look. Before us, the long stretch of hallway ahead, now nearly empty. Ryan mouthed the words “One, two, three” and we were off like rockets.
“No running in the hallways!” we heard an authoritative voice call out. Ignoring the warning, we both cackled as we raced to the end of the hall. The first person to touch locker 6102 won. It was neck and neck. Ryan was skinny, but he was spry. I wasn’t competitive or anything, but occasionally we did stupid stuff. As I got closer to the locker, I reached my hand out and slammed it against the door, followed by Ryan a half a second later.
“Fuck!” he called out.
“Heh heh! I win!” I taunted him.
“I let you win,” he said panting.
“That’s mighty kind of you,” I replied catching my breath. “I let you let me win,” I went on.
“Running in creepers is hard,” he kicked his shoe against the locker wall.
Jed and Karen caught up to us, amused by our little race. It all started in the 3rd grade when Ryan and I were out on the playground and the bell rang. We started walking to class when Ryan said, “I can run faster than anyone.” I took it as a challenge and we raced back to class. Indeed, Ryan was fast. He beat me to class by a mile. I was never the athletic type. I couldn’t be bothered with feats of strength or showing off the way other guys did. Racing to the lockers in a sprint was about all I could tolerate. Not that I wasn’t fit. I was in good shape, I thought, I just didn’t like exercising. Seemed like something preppies did.
“Why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with,” Karen said, amused with her own outrageousness.
“Because I’m saving myself for you,” Ryan replied sarcastically.
“You wish,” Karen replied looking around to make sure no one else could hear our conversation. She was candid, but she was also aware of how the world saw her, not just because she was a Deathrocker, but because she didn’t subscribe to the Ozzie and Harriet marriage plan. I guess none of us did.
We started for the main door of the campus and breathed in the fresh air of Friday afternoon freedom. Moms in station wagons queued in an orderly line in the parking lot, while their kids sat waiting on a nearby dirt patch. Other kids hung out and talked as we crossed the lot to my car. I was the only one in the group with a car so I did all the driving. I’d just gotten my license and was happy to do it. My step-dad and mom had gotten me a beat up, piece of shit Toyota Celica. It was red and about 5 years old, but it ran pretty good and could seat six if we really tried. We often did.
* * * * *
The Clash’s latest cassette Combat Rock blared as I started the engine. Punk wasn’t anyone else’s cup of tea, but it was mine. I wasn’t sure I could live without The Clash. I started driving aimlessly. We all chatted about this and that, told jokes and made comments about the inane things we talked about at the time. We had no idea what we wanted to do. There was, in fact, nothing to do. The mind-numbing landscape of suburbia stretched out before us, but the world was our oyster… even if that oyster looked like a whole lot of nothing. I pulled into the parking lot of a donut shop we liked to go to sometimes. Ryan, Jed, and Karen exited my car like clowns in a circus. Karen’s lace tights got caught on the seat belt and she cursed several colorful profanities. Jed assured her the rips looked cool.
“Should we try and get some booze?” Jed asked. He sat down on one of those round canteen style tables with an umbrella attached. “Get me a bear claw,” he called after me.
Karen dug into her tattered purse and pulled out a crumpled five dollar bill asking me to also get her a bear claw and a coffee. The wind whipped up a cloud of dust and blew my freshly dyed black hair into my face poking my eyes. If I had a mohawk, I thought, this would never happen.
Once seated with four bear claws and four scalding hot coffees in styrofoam cups, we talked about how much we hated the MTV video jockey, Martha Quinn. Just beyond the parking lot, a wide boulevard seemed to go on forever in both directions. For a while I watched the cars go by thinking that even a shitty car was better than no car.
“Someone give me a couple of dimes,” Karen said getting up. Ryan reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change, plucking out two shiny dimes. Karen walked over to a nearby pay phone and made a call.
“Who’s she calling? Her drug dealer?” Jed snickered. It was funny. Ryan laughed.
Jed was a little jealous of our new friend Karen. I think he liked being our only gay friend. I suppose it made him feel special. Jed was shy and when he wasn’t around Ryan and me, he kept to himself. For Karen, being a lesbian was oddly more tolerated by our peers than being a gay male was for Jed. Occasionally some idiot called Karen a “lesbo,” but she’d just say “Thanks” and go about her merry way. Jed, however, had a hard time. He got bullied quite a bit in junior high and it only continued into high school. I had, more than a few times, rescued him from certain death at the hands of some moron or other. Jed wouldn’t officially come out of his shell until around senior year when he joined the drama club and became inspired to make costumes for a production of Guys and Dolls. It’s what would set him on a path towards fashion design. Eventually, he’d become successful online, but it was a million years from that dusty suburban donut shop. Until then, he was reserved and quiet. What most people didn’t know about Jed was that his parents had left an Amish community in Pennsylvania when he was three years old and moved to California. His Dad wanted the freedom to worship the way he wanted to, but Jed suspected his Dad merely wanted to watch television and have electricity. I found Jed fascinating. When you got him talking, he was one of the most interesting and funny people around.
We continued to eat our donuts and drink our coffee while Karen had an inaudible conversation on a pay phone twenty feet away, muffled by the rushing traffic of the big, long road.
“I just hate the sound of her voice,” Ryan said about Martha Quinn, the MTV host.
“I think she’s cute,” I replied. “She reminds me of Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.”
“If she was blonde, you’d be sending her fan mail asking her to marry you,” Jed chimed in, knowing I had a thing for blondes.
These feelings of love I had for fair haired ladies was based solely on a poster of Blondie I had in my bedroom where Debbie Harry was looking over her shoulder. Her wild blond hair highlighted from the side, she stood in front of a red background. She was wearing this orange, off the shoulder number and her fire engine red lipstick glistened in the light. It killed me. I could stare at the poster for hours.
“She’s definitely not as pretty as Debbie Harry,” I said thinking about my poster.
“Nathan said we can party at his house. His mom won’t be home until late.” Karen sat down on the bench, her numerous buckles and chains jingling like Christmas. “Who the fuck ate the last of my donut?” She eyed each of us suspiciously.
“I’ll buy you another one,” Ryan said, admitting his guilt.
“Forget it. Let’s go to Nathan’s,” she said, a little disappointed she didn’t get to finish her donut.
* * * * *
Nathan was a hesher. He listened to heavy metal bands like Metallica, Dokken, KISS, and occasionally Bon Jovi. He wouldn’t listen to The Cure if you paid him, but he was a cool guy and somehow he always had booze. We’d known him since freshman year.
“Greetings, Children of the Night!” he said, inviting us in, his arms outspread.
Nathan was a senior and had flunked a grade, which made him the oldest one of the bunch, eighteen to our sixteen. At the time, it was a big difference. His curly long hair hung just to his shoulders and I suppose he was a handsome guy. He often talked about the women he slept with, but I’d never seen him with a girlfriend. He had thick bushy eyebrows and soft brown eyes, making him approachable. Nathan mostly hung out with the stoners on a grassy patch just behind the handball courts at school. Even though our scenes didn’t mesh, we were all outsiders in one way or another… and outsiders stuck together.
“Guys, Dokken just came out with a new album,” Nathan said reaching for his vinyl collection.
“NO!” We all shouted at the same time, laughing at our harmony.
“Hi Tony,” I heard a honeyed voice behind me.
It was Tanya, my gym class make-out session, walking through the door with her friend whose name I forget. Leslie maybe? We’ll just call her that for now.
“Oh. Hey, Tanya,” I said nervously.
Ryan elbowed me with a Monty Python nudge-nudge and grinned. I told Ryan just about everything. We talked about all the things we couldn’t talk about with anyone else. I’d told him about Tanya and hadn’t spared the details of almost getting to second base.
Tanya smiled coyly. Her light brown hair was permed and big, pulled back at the forehead with a rolled up blue bandana. Her pink lipstick was bright and inviting over her sweet lips. I flashed back to gym class but pretended I was indifferent to see her. She was wearing a Madonna T- shirt and about 500 plastic bracelets and big gold hoop earrings. She wasn’t punk, but she was cute. Nathan put on the new Dokken album despite everyone’s objections. I sort of expected a rush of incoherent metal guitars and screaming but Dokken was oddly melodic… not that I would have admitted that to anyone. I didn’t hate it, but I pretended I did in order to keep up appearances.
Nathan ceremoniously began handing out cans of Coors to everyone. At 16, I hadn’t quite developed a palate for alcohol and drank whatever I could get my hands on. It was less about taste and more about the effect.
“It’s piss water, but it gets the job done,” Nathan said air toasting everyone in the room. He spilled some of the foam down his shirt and laughed at himself.
I was well aware that Tanya was in the room and put on airs. I sipped my Coors the way I imagined an aristocrat would and it seemed to work. She sat down next to me on the floor and asked me what I thought about Mr. Henson, our gym teacher. She explained she thought he liked to sneak peeks into the girl’s locker room. With ample indignation, I condemned Mr. Henson as a fucking pervert to which Tanya responded positively.
“I fucking hate Dokken,” Karen said so that only I could hear.
“Yeah, me too,” I lied.
“Can we turn off the fucking Dokken and please, for the love of all that’s holy, put on some Cure?” Ryan pulled out a Cure cassette from his backpack and waved it at Nathan. It made a rattling noise as the ribbon inside jiggled about.
“That shit’s gonna put me to sleep!” Nathan complained.
“I’d rather listen to The Cure than Dokken,” I chimed in as a means to commiserate with my friend.
“That’s two. Who else wants the Cure?” Ryan looked around the room.
He headed for the stereo as if the votes were already in. Karen, Leslie, and Tanya raised their hands. Nathan begrudgingly conceded failure and let Ryan put in the tape. The Cure’s latest, The Head on the Door, was easily their best album. It wasn’t outrageous like The Buzzcocks, but it touched on a mood that only exists when you’re sixteen. It was dismal, but somehow hopeful. It’s how we all felt at the time. Except for Nathan.
“Ugh! This shit is making me feel like I just took a Unisom,” Nathan moaned.
“Quiet Nathan!” Ryan barked. “You might learn something.”
“Let’s DO something!” Nathan went on like a five-year-old. “You guys want to hear me play Metallica on the guitar?”
“Not again,” Karen rolled her eyes. It was clear even The Cure couldn’t save our makeshift party.
“Who’s got weed?” Nathan looked around the room. He plopped down next to Leslie and put his face close to hers in a strange attempt to flirt. She shifted back away from him. No one had any weed. We didn’t even smoke cigarettes back then.
“We could go to the park?” Tanya said. At this point, we were all sitting cross-legged on the floor in a circle drinking our crappy beers, lamenting the sad direction the evening was taking us.
“Boring,” Nathan replied.
“We could go to the mall and scare people,” Karen laughed.
It sounded like fun, actually, but no one else was into it. We continued to sit around staring at one another for a long while.
“Anyone wanna play Connect Four?” Jed finally spoke up, pointing to the game box on the shelf of a large entertainment center, home to various knickknacks and small precious statues. A few groans from the audience.
Looking defeated, Nathan wandered into the kitchen for more beer. After a few moments, he cried out, “Sonofabitch!” We all looked in his direction, past the fluffy brown couch and toward the beige colored kitchen door. Nathan walked out with an empty wine bottle and a massive grin on his face. “I got it!” he said cheerfully.
It was pretty obvious what he had. He bounced back into the circle and placed the bottle in the center. I looked at the sullen and nervous faces around me. Jed looked as though he might start crying. Ryan was apprehensive but steadied himself. Karen was unamused, but resigned to what was coming. Leslie and Tanya looked like a couple of deer in headlights. I did a mental head count. Three girls, four guys – two of which were gay. The ratio had me worried.
“I’m not kissing Nathan,” Leslie broke the silence.
“What the fuck?” Nathan snapped. “Leslie, the rules are: You kiss whoever it lands on! Don’t worry, I won’t bite,” he rose his eyebrows and smiled. Leslie looked troubled by the implications of that green bottle now staring at us on the floor.
“WHO-ever it lands on?” Ryan asked for clarification as if Nathan’s rules were binding.
“Yes,” Nathan replied. That seemed to clinch the deal. The rules were set, the game was afoot. “Virgins first,” Nathan pointed to Ryan.
“That’s almost everyone here,” Ryan explained blushing.
“Uh. No? Who here’s a virgin?” Nathan looked around the circle. Leslie and Ryan raised their hands.
I looked over at Jed. I’d always assumed he still had his innocence intact. He smiled gingerly.
“Homo sex doesn’t count!” Nathan argued.
“Fuck yeah, it counts!” Karen clamored.
“It wasn’t homo sex,” Jed spoke. “It was with a girl,” he said cautiously.
“Oh sure, your girl-friend?” Nathan teased.
“Nathan, shut the fuck up. Let’s just play,” I said, drawing the topic away from Jed’s love life.
Ryan placed his fingers lightly on the dark green bottle and stalled as long as possible. He took a deep breath and spun it so that it went into a perfect blur in the center of our circle. I took a sip of my beer and wished it would land on Leslie. I knew Ryan had a hard time with girls and I thought it might give him confidence. The bottle slowed and stopped.
“Fuck no. Spin again!” Nathan shouted. The room erupted into laughter and shouts reminding Nathan of his own rules.
“I’ll spin again. I don’t want to kiss Nathan either,” Ryan looked to Leslie, who smiled.
Once more, Ryan placed his fingers over the bottle and gave it a good spin. This time, it landed on Karen who was happy to oblige with a peck on the cheek.
“You gotta use tongue!” Nathan barked.
Both Karen and Ryan looked at Nathan in disbelief as they returned to their seats.
“No one said shit about tongues!” Karen argued.
“I vote for tongues!” Tanya chirped, finishing off her beer. She glanced at me flirtatiously.
It turned into a perfect example of After-School-Special peer pressure, where everyone was chanting the use of tongues. Karen gave Ryan a kind of look that said, “I’m OK if you’re OK” and they kissed. They each became swept away for a moment and then pulled apart. Ryan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and his face was beet red.
“Now you’re an honorary lesbian,” Karen laughed. Ryan responded with a nervous chuckle.
“Karen, go. Your turn!” Nathan said, keeping the ball rolling.
She spun the bottle as if she were willing it to land on one of the other girls. It did. It stopped dead in front of Tanya who was anxious to delve into the dark hedonistic world of lesbianism. Karen leaned in and kissed Tanya with a deeply passionate kiss that was all tongue. I could tell, it took Tanya’s breath away. I’m not gonna lie. It was hot.
Next up, Tanya spun the bottle and it landed on Ryan. They kissed and Ryan pulled away quickly.
“You taste like cough syrup,” he said sticking his tongue out.
I looked over at Karen who was busy sucking on a small cherry lollipop, the kind that cost a dime at the liquor store. She smiled with the candy in her mouth. Nathan had gotten up and started passing around a bottle of cheap vodka which made the game about a thousand times more interesting. We were all getting wasted.
Ryan’s turn. He spun the bottle and it landed on Jed. Seemed like Ryan was getting all the luck, if you can call it that. I’d always sensed that Jed had a mild crush on Ryan and I was interested to see where this would lead. Summoning his courage, Jed took a swig of the vodka and leaned in towards Ryan. They kissed, but it was rather lackluster. I could tell they were both beyond nervous about it. Jed sat back and looked flustered. His cheeks were rosy and he had a nervous smile plastered across his face. Ryan was doing all he could to remain stoic. Jed composed himself and grabbed the bottle with a quick flick it spun in a tight circle. When it stopped, Jed began to cackle like an evil elf. Everyone looked at me and I felt this immense pressure. I had managed to avoid to the bottle for a good long while, but my luck had finally run out.
“Go on Tony!” Ryan called out, egging me on.
I felt my entire body stiffen. Jed leaned in and I just sat there like a statue. I’d always considered myself open minded, but it was down to this moment. How open minded was I? Amidst the catcalls and laughter, Jed pressed his lips to mine. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. I started to imagine I was kissing Tanya and that helped, but when Jed put his hands on my face, he really went for it, jutting his tongue into my mouth. I don’t know if it was the alcohol or the fact that Jed was (despite appearances) a really good kisser, but I quickly let go of my inhibitions and kissed Jed. For a moment, I forgot anyone else was in the room.
“Damn guys! Get a room!” Nathan laughed.
I’d let myself go and to my surprise had a hard time pulling away. This notion stuck with me for a long time after that party. I had enjoyed kissing a boy. Did that mean I was gay? When Jed and I finally unlocked, I nervously covered my hands with my face, laughing anxiously. Karen was patting me on the back and Tanya was staring at me as if I’d broken her heart. I didn’t know what any of it meant. I grabbed the half drunk bottle of vodka and took a long sip. Oddly, I felt like it might wash away the uncomfortable questions I was starting to have about my sexuality. It was my turn to spin. I spun the bottle cavalierly and it landed on the empty spot where Ryan had been sitting. He’d gotten up to flip the cassette tape.
“Oh my god. It’s like my wildest fantasies are coming true!” Karen giggled.
Ryan looked down at the green bottle pointing to his spot on the floor. He looked at me. I couldn’t do it. Now it was my turn to be a deer in headlights.
“No, spin again. You guys are like brothers. That’s gross,” Jed argued. “No incest in spin the bottle!”
“It’s not fucking incest,” Nathan bellowed. “They’re not even related! If I had to kiss Jed, Tony has to kiss Ryan!”
Everyone argued for or against my kissing Ryan while we tried to avoid eye contact with one another. I sat there and let the crowd decide. I had hoped they would let me spin again, although I don’t know why I was leaving my fate to a bunch of drunk teenagers.
“Fuck it. If I have to be gay, it’s gonna be with Tony,” Ryan crawled toward me and kissed me hard taking me by surprise. He didn’t open his mouth, but his lips were warm and soft on mine. After what felt like forever, he pulled away. “There! You all happy?” he asked the room.
“I’m happy,” Karen said with a look of mild surprise on her face.
No one actually thought we’d do it, but it was all Ryan’s doing. I would have gotten out of it if I could have. The game went a few more rounds and I’m pretty sure Jed managed to kiss everyone at the party including twice with Nathan, who by the end of it, was drunk enough to relinquish his objections to Jed’s soft, kissable lips. The game didn’t officially end, but rather fizzled out. Nathan got up to grab his guitar and started playing Metallica in an attempt to woo Leslie, who wasn’t at all interested.
“You all right?” Karen asked me. She’d noticed I hadn’t said anything in a while.
“I think I might be gay,” I whispered.
Karen started laughing. “Tony, kissing a boy in spin the bottle doesn’t make you gay unless you liked it.”
I didn’t want to admit that I’d liked kissing both Jed and Ryan. Mostly Jed. I didn’t want to get into it at all. The thoughts were swirling around my drunk mind and I was doing my best to stay composed.
“That was fun,” I heard a meek little voice from behind me. I was sitting on the couch and Karen had become preoccupied with a conversation Ryan and Tanya were having about French films.
“Leslie, right?” I said.
“I’ve never kissed a girl before,” she admitted. She circled around and sat next to me. Her blonde hair was tied back in a loose ponytail with a hot pink scrunchie and her bright blue eyes were unreal, like a doll. Her pink cheeks were even pinker from the alcohol, or so I thought. “You ever kiss a boy before?” she asked quietly.
I put my hand on her shoulder and forgot what I was about to say. She looked up at me sweetly and we started making out on the couch. Most everyone had moved to the kitchen and were chatting about school and talking shit about classmates. I kissed Leslie as if my manhood depended on it. After a few minutes of making out, I knew there was only one way I could convince myself I wasn’t gay. I grabbed Leslie’s hand and led her to Nathan’s bedroom. He shared a room with his little brother Daniel, who was at a friend’s house for the night. I sat Leslie down and leaned her back. I knew she was a virgin, she admitted it before the game started. Somehow, I felt if I could take this girl’s virginity, it would prove I wasn’t gay. It was stupid, but I didn’t know it at the time. When I climbed on top of her, she gently pushed me away so I sat up.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just, I don’t know you very well.”
“I get it. No problem,” I said, disappointed. I smoothed my hair out of my face nonchalantly as if I didn’t care she’d just rejected my manly advances.
“Maybe we could go out once or twice or something?” she looked at me in an almost pleading sort of way.
“Sure,” I said, not meaning it. “Come on, they’ll be wondering what happened to us.” I helped her up and we joined the others in the kitchen. No one had noticed we were gone. I joined in the conversation and never gave Leslie a second look.
Around 10pm, Nathan’s mom came home and offered to drive Leslie home who had, by this time, gotten the hint that I didn’t really want anything to do with her. The rest of us packed up and crammed into my Toyota Celica. Tanya sat on Jed’s lap and one by one I drove them all home until it was just me and Tanya. She gave me directions to her house but otherwise we drove in silence. I turned down the music and looked at her. She smiled that same wry smile she’d given me in gym class that day. It was the look that gave me permission to kiss her. So I did. Kissing in the front seat eventually lead to kissing in the back seat. We were in front of her house, but the lights were out and the street was quiet and lonely. Occasionally a car rumbled past, but we paid it no mind.
“I’m not a slut, OK?” she said as she unbuttoned her jeans.
“I don’t think you’re a slut,” I said. It wasn’t true. I kind of thought she was a slut.
I clumsily kissed her neck and reached my hand up her shirt. Feeling the moment called for it, I slipped my hand under her bra holding on to her breast for dear life. This time, I thought, I’m going all the way. I had this sense that she was going to let me. The backseat was cramped and it was difficult to get into any sort of comfortable position. The windows began to fog. Without much ceremony, I yanked down her pants and got them as far as her ankles. I climbed on top of her and pulled my own pants down while somehow bracing myself on the car seat. We had sex. Tanya let out the kind of moan she thought she was supposed to make, but it was all over before it began. When I’d finished, I squirmed around trying to get my pants back on. Tanya lay there with a blank look on her face. She slowly sat up as if she’d expected more, although, I couldn’t guess what that might be. She quietly collected herself, pulling her pants up and shifting her bra back into place. It was, to say the least, awkward.
“I’ll call you tomorrow?” I said hoping that would make her happy.
“OK,” she smiled a half smile with her lips tightly sealed.
I kissed her cheek and promised to call. And I kept my promise. I called Tanya the next day and we ended up dating for 3 months., although it was less about dating and more about having sex in her bedroom when her parents were at work.
* * * * *
I did my best to lay low over the weekend, not taking any calls and working on my Gatsby essay instead. Come Monday, I was faced with questions about where I’d been. It seemed like everyone had managed to put the spin the bottle game out of their minds, but I was haunted by it.
“I tried calling you this weekend,” Ryan said in first-period Geometry.
“Oh yeah, my mom grounded me for coming home late on Friday,” I lied. I almost never lied to Ryan. I felt like a jerk.
That day at lunch, I pulled Jed aside to ask him a serious question. “How did you know you’re gay?” I asked him in hushed tones. We were at the end of the hallway and most everyone else was in the quad.
“Do you think you’re gay?” he whispered as a smile of anticipation spread across his face. A group of girls walked by laughing. Their hair bounced in unison as they strolled.
I waited until they were out of earshot. “How did you know?” I repeated.
“I just always knew. I always liked boys more than girls. When I was 4, I had a massive crush on Potsie and I knew I was different.”
“Potsie? Most people go for Fonzie,” I said, bewildered by such an obvious oversight.
“Anson Williams is dreamy,” he swooned. “Anyway, I just always knew I was different.”
I thought about what Jed said, how he always knew. I really thought about it. I really did like girls more. I thought about my Blondie poster and felt a happy wave of relief. Confident I was straight, after all, I thanked Jed for the talk and ran to find Ryan and Karen in the quad. I sought out the two black-clad kids and sat across from them on the green picnic table.
“Karen, tell Tony what you told me,” Ryan laughed. His black John Lennon sunglasses caught the light.
Between fits of laughter, Karen proceeded to tell me about how this guy we all hated had tripped in the hallway, broke a tooth, and had to be sent home. We all had a good laugh.