I had woken up to a text from the boy that morning, something that rarely happened. We decided when this started, months ago, that it wasn’t a relationship, just...well, I didn’t know anymore. I knew that when I looked at him the back of my throat felt swollen and when his eyelashes brushed my cheek it hurt deep inside my chest but I also knew that his eyes wandered to half the girls he knew and that he had a reputation of being a boy you couldn’t get to stay but did any of that matter? I hadn’t read the text yet and I didn’t know if I should.
His name was Josh and his hands were calloused and he liked bitter wines and reading, which makes him sound soft, but he wasn’t or at least that’s not how I saw him. We had met in the basement of a party two years ago, when I was sixteen and afraid of boys when they had too much to drink and he was seventeen and had promised to be a designated driver. Being the only two sober people at a party felt like being in our own little bubble, our own world, and I liked it. I liked him right away, not in a romantic way, just in a friend way and if that sounds childish then it’s because I am. We went for a walk that night because I like being outside more than anything and I liked the way he agreed to it and I liked the way his arms looked in his faded blue t-shirt and I liked that he laughed easily and openly and I liked that he made me want to smile too.
I guess I should admit that part of the reason I wasn’t drinking was that I knew the calorie count of every single bottle of alcohol and I knew that some drugs would make me hungry and food wasn’t something that I wanted to be part of my life at that time and smiling was a rare thing then. But he made my cheeks perk up and things felt a little better than okay for the first time in months, maybe years, and that night was the first time we kissed even though it didn’t really mean anything because despite my attraction to him and despite the way his hands wandered almost immediately, we were still strangers to one another and we were just teenagers. After the kiss, which was only a few seconds and didn’t actually elicit a huge amount of excitement for either of us, he leaned his forehead against mine and squeezed my shoulders in a way that felt strangely intimate and encouraging. I didn’t know how to react to this so I laughed awkwardly and we walked back to the party with folded arms so that our hands couldn’t brush.
Within a few weeks I met his soft-cheeked little brother who had chubby hands that gripped my fingers with the tight urgency of a kid who can’t talk yet and I met his mother who had the same dark eyes and olive skin as Josh and I could see the resemblance right away and she hugged me right he introduced us. His house became my second home; mine was always cold and empty and I was never really happy being there-- and my skin began to smell like his. We never went to his room and the three times he came to my house, he never saw mine. There were no rules for this, it just didn’t feel like the thing to do. There was no real romance between us, even though we did have a connection that was almost palpable and he had a few girlfriends and I had a few boyfriends and two girlfriends and we cried on eachother more nights than either of us would like to admit. In May, he graduated and I watched quietly as a swarm of girls hugged him and kissed his cheek and posed for photos with him and I realized that it was jealousy that I felt, growing inside of me and wrapping itself around my windpipe and I was surprised. He smiled sheepishly at me from across the gym and I gave a little wave and when he looked away I ran to the bathroom and vomited up the clementine and toast I had eaten for breakfast. Josh was waiting for me when I got back and I was embarrassed but he smiled just like he always had and we went home together. That night, when everyone else had left, we sat in his basement where we spent so much time together and his hand found mine and I felt all the blood rush out my body and every single nerve of my body was tense and within a few minutes we were kissing, for the second time, and I straddled him on the couch and we made out until my body felt like it was melting into nothing and when we finally stopped I leaned against him and when I looked into his face his eyes were shining more than usual. I realized he was crying and just like a year ago, I was deeply uncomfortable and I picked up my shirt from the floor and pulled it on and went upstairs and left him with tears streaking down his cheeks.
Nothing was the same after that and sometimes I thought this was good but some of the time, most of the time, it felt bad. That summer we avoided eachother and when I saw his mom she tucked my hair behind my ear and said she missed me and I would smile and tell her how busy I was and I could tell from the crinkling of her eyes that she didn’t believe me. She had Josh when she was only 15 and I felt close to her because of this; she was very young and very beautiful and she was a good mother. Maria, that was her name, which I thought felt nice in my mouth and she was the first to notice that I always finished dinner with plate more full than empty and she would sometimes slip a piece of gum into my hand when I ate too much and had to slip away to the bathroom with the water running and stick my head in the toilet like I taught myself to when I was far too young.
Anyway, in late September I was walking to the park a few miles from my house and there was Josh, perched on the fence, smiling at me and with no explanation we fell back into things all over again and he took me in his arms and pulled me in close. I realized that the other half of my heart was back and I had felt empty for the past few months and that’s when our relationship limbo started. We slept together for the first time later that week, and walking into his room for the first time was like breaking a spell. I felt a little chill pass through me and I realized that nothing could ever go back to the way it was before because I had a ****** in my hand and seeing his room was like seeing a little bit into him and as he tugged at my hand I was suddenly unsure of what we were about to do but I silenced those thoughts and allowed him to push me back onto his bed. Unlike the night of his graduation he was on top this time, and it was different from the other times I had been with other boys because it was like he was a part of me, and maybe this isn’t something you share but he was the first boy to make me *** and it felt fitting that he made me feel alive in so many ways, this being the most physically apparent. I lay on his chest afterwards and stroked the chest that I had cried on too many times and everything felt utterly right and I hoped that he felt it too. He fell asleep quickly like boys always do and his eyelids were delicately purple in a way that reminded me of eggshells and bruises and he was attractive in a way that made me a little sad. I kissed his silky eyelids right then, impulsively. He woke up for a moment and he smiled at me but he drifted off again and I was excruciatingly happy and that’s when Maria opened the door.