I made friends with the skeletons in my closet because that was the first thing you taught me to do. You brought them out, dancing, and introduced yourself to them one by one and it felt like they were your secrets, too. I thought if I shared them with someone else, maybe their bones wouldn’t rattle in the middle of the night and keep me awake because you could keep some of them at your place, too. But you had even more than I did, and scarier ones, and even though they terrified me and kept my bedroom chilly all night, I held them close to my heart simply because they were from you.
That night I first met you was the coldest of my life. It’s not supposed to be below freezing in Florida ever but that night I thought it’d never warm up again, like someone had set the thermostat for negative infinity and it’d gotten stuck. The big bonfire that Kevin set up outside his parents’ house was nothing; it didn’t do anything for me but burn brightly and fill my lungs with smoke – but the hearty, earthy kind, not the cigarette smoke you showed me later. I had never smoked in my life and never wanted to, never saw what was so appealing about tasting like an ashtray and smelling like death, but I felt it – wanted it – when you stood in front of me and asked. I felt myself nodding, felt my mouth turn up in a shy smile when you promised to teach me, felt my lips quivering when the lighter flame flickered. You touched my chest, right in the middle, instructing me to inhale it to that point. I think I inhaled it straight to my heart, and you were poison to it ever since.
Later, when the guys picked up their girls and carried them away on their shoulders to cars or forest clearings or wherever under the pretense of just talking, you reached out to touch my hand and fit it in your palm. My hands were so little compared to yours, so childish and young and clean. With your other hand you reached into your pocket, and for a second I thought my life would turn into one of those sappy romantic comedies where you’d write your number on my hand and expect me to call you, but you put a little rounded rectangular box in it instead. It was freezing cold, but you closed my hand and covered it with both of yours. It’s yours, you grinned, and the twinkle in your eyes set my heart on fire.
Hanna spent the night at my house that night, and she wouldn’t stop talking about how incredible the party was. She’d lost her virginity in the backseat of David’s car, and I listened quietly as she described everything. I think she took my quietness as disapproval, because she accused me of being a goody two-shoes. I managed to convince her I was just tired and still hadn’t quite warmed up from the cold, to which she joked, “I thought Tim was doing a pretty good job of warming you up.”
I should have playfully hit her or made a sarcastic remark back, but instead I blushed as the fire spread from my heart to my face and I thought about your charcoal hair and the flecks of amber in your eyes. I told her how you’d driven me home and stood with me on the porch while I silently debated if I was brave enough to invite you inside. I told how you stepped closer to me and touched my chest again, more like a poke this time, as if you were accusing me of something, perhaps of being in love with you already. I watched her face light up, and I was sure she expected me to tell her that we kissed and it was beautiful and you were mine, but I can’t tell what didn’t happen.
You pulled me close to you and wrapped yourself around me, and at first I was too surprised to even hug you back. You smelled like Abercrombie even though I know you’d never be caught dead in there, and I could see my breath as it softly landed on your neck. You kissed my hair and whispered something; I swear you said “I’ll keep you warm” but you’d never admit to that so I didn’t even tell her. I did pull your little gift out of my pocket and showed it to her, and we fawned over it like the cheerleader who finally receives the quarterback’s letterman jacket, accepting it as the one sign of coupledom between bad boys and good girls.
“He gave me his lighter.”