When Nick and I were ten and Nate was twelve, we went to the Shedd Aquarium for all school field trip. I had a crush on a boy named Lancelot. Everyone did but I think it was because his name looked like it belonged on a Valentine’s Day card. In the basement of the big aquarium there is a dark room devoted just to showing off jellyfish. Attached along one carpeted wall was a grouping of fake squishy jellyfish made of some kind of weird translucent polymer. You could stick your finger against the pliable rubber and bisect the jellyfish in half and when you released it, the half moon body would spring right back. Lancelot was standing next to me and I was transfixed as he stuck his finger inside the jellyfish repeatedly.
He whispered to me that this is what sticking his finger up a girl felt like. If Nate hadn’t been there hovering behind me, maybe all I would have done was blush or maybe I would have hit him. But before I had a chance to react, Nate had pulled Lancelot around and stuck a fist in Valentine’s Day’s face. Lancelot tried to punch back and the entire class was sent back to the bus for causing a ruckus.
Later that night Nate relayed the whole story to our families, much to my embarrassment. Dad ruffled Nate’s hair and Noah patted him on the back. But the rumor got out that Nate and Nick would beat up any guy who even looked cross eyed at me. It was Lancelot’s revenge and an effective one because until right now, I hadn’t ever been kissed. Not once. Not even a not-so-accidental bus of my lips against a Y chromosome during a birthday party game mostly because every co-ed party, birthday or not, has also included at least one—if not both—Jackson boys.
But as I lay there in my bed, my lower legs entangled with Nate’s and my hands trapped between our bodies, feeling his soft, gentle lips move across mine, I’m just so glad I’ve never kissed anyone before. The shivery sensation that is tingling me from the inside out is being generated by Nate and only him. This is the safest thrill ride I’ll ever be on but I want so much more.
Parting my lips, I give a silent plea for him to take my offering and lead me deeper into the heart of our connection. Right now I feel like we are standing on the periphery looking down. He hesitates for just a moment and then I feel it. His tongue running lightly across my bottom lip. The shivers are turning into quakes and my body seeks purchase against his. When his tongue sweeps inside my mouth, I stroke it with my own. His barriers melt, like an icicle in winter under the heat of the midday sun.
He’s no longer holding me a safe distance apart. His hands are in my hair and then he’s rolling me over, pressing his long body into mine. A hard ridge in the middle of his body settles between my legs and I clutch him even closer—my legs hitching up around his hips and over his thighs. His tongue feels huge in my mouth and he’s licking every inch inside me as if I’m the tastiest thing he’s ever had the opportunity to savor.
All the locker room gossip suddenly makes so much sense. Kissing is the best thing in the world. It’s more exciting than a roller coaster at the Navy Pier. It tastes better than a root beer float from The Brown Cow in Franklin Park. It feels better than sitting by the fireplace after eight hours on the slopes in Aspen. I wish I had the courage to reach down and palm him. To feel what Greta was so shocked I’d never touched before. But I’m also distracted by the way the weight of him between my legs makes me feel and how that rigid length between his legs is making me pulse and itch. My fingers are digging into his muscular shoulders and my hips are moving, almost as if they are independent of the rest of my body. I’m moving and pushing and pulling against him all at the same time.
My sudden flurry of activity causes Nathan to pull his mouth from mine and burying his face in my neck. He groans out my name. “Charlotte. God.” Then he’s pressing down against me hard and I’m whimpering. I don’t know what I need or want right now but I instinctively know that he can give it to me.
“Please Nathan,” I plead.
“Oh Charlotte,” he repeats as if in pain. Then with a giant sigh he pulls away from me and flops onto his back. His chest is heaving as if he’s run a very long distance and I hear myself panting lightly. I lean forward to kiss him again, to restart all those lovely feelings but he holds me away. “I need a moment,” he says.
“Why?” I’m genuinely puzzled. “We don’t need to stop.” I start to roll out of bed to find the condom wrapper that Nate had thrown aside but a large hand on my wrist makes me pause.
“I do.” Rolling to his side, he props himself on one elbow and pats the space right next to his body. I climb back into bed and cuddle up next to him staring up with big eyes. “I want this all to be special for both of us Charlotte. There’s no rush.”
His hand has burrowed its way under my t-shirt and just that action makes my breasts feel a little heavier and a little more sensitive. “But I want more now,” I say a little petulantly.
“Me too,” he responds with a rueful laugh. “It’s just that I want to do this so right for you that when we finally do it, it will be one of the best memories of your life.”
“It will,” I promise because how could it not?
He shakes his head as if I’m not really understanding him. “It’s your first time—no our first time,” he corrects.
I scrunch up my nose remembering that he’s had other girls before me, ones with more experience who aren’t as fragile as I am. Maybe he’s afraid I won’t be very good at this and that he’ll be sorry for all the promises he felt like he had to make because he’s Nathan Jackson and I’m Charlotte Randolph.
“Is it because I don’t have enough experience? If I’d done this before, we’d be having sex right now?” I ask in a small voice.
“No!” He shakes his head and pulls me closer to him. “I’m glad, selfishly, that I’m your first. And I wish I’d waited too because we could be learning together. I just think that we should take our time.” He gives a small shrug. “I didn’t come here tonight or last night just because I want to have sex with you Charlotte. I want to hold you. Make some memories before you leave.”
“So let’s make the best memory,” I beg but Nathan is resolute. I know I’m not going to be able to move him from his path so I allow myself to vent some of my frustration in the form of a punch on the arm—the one he’s leaning on. I hit in just the right place and he collapses next to me with a huff of laughter.
“I’m going to make it so good for you Charlotte.” Tucking my head against his shoulder, he draws up the blankets around us. “So good.”
It’s torture, as in actual real torture lying next to Charlotte after she’s basically told me she wants to have sex. Worse I’m the one putting her off and though she’s lying silently beside me I can feel the waves of frustration emanating off her. But I didn’t expect her to want to have sex tonight. Hell we hadn’t even kissed yet.
Part of me is annoyed that she went and told Greta that she needed a condom. Maybe I’m a complete hypocrite but I want Charlotte to look to me for anything to do with sex because God only knows what her friends are telling her. I’d like to wrap Charlotte up and just velcro her to me so that I can control the ingress and egress of information that flows her way.
Sex is going to be good and it’s going to be with me. Full stop. Period.
That’s all she needs to know. Everything else is fake bullshit. Greta might be telling her the only way to keep a guy is to spread her legs and I don’t want Charlotte to feel pressured like that. Even though I can probably make her body ready, I want her ready in the head otherwise it’ll never be good like I promised.
Her tense body finally relaxes and when her hand falls away from my arm I can tell she’s asleep. I wish I could follow her into dreamland but my mind is still racing.
I want her first time with me to be something she remembers forever. I want to imprint myself on her so that no matter where she goes, she can feel me, smell me. She doesn’t know it yet and I’m not prepared to tell her but we’re going to be apart longer than the few months that she’s going to be away in Switzerland.
While we’re separated I know that Charlotte will be pursued by other guys so I’ve got to make every encounter with her be one that she can’t forget. I can’t rely on Nick to cock block everyone even though I know he’ll do his best.
Maybe that’s why I’ve held back from Charlotte, just watching her and being irritated to the nth degree when she dresses in her short skirts or her cropped tops or her fucking tiny bikini. I know that I might lose her and that would kill me.
I guess I thought I had more time. Time to wait until she was completely ready. I’d fixed her sixteenth birthday in my head. When that day came, I’d show her that she was mine and that we were meant to be together. I’d show her that there wouldn’t be anyone else she’d meet that would ever fit her better than me.
But waiting until she’s sixteen isn’t an option anymore.
I slip out in the pre dawn hours again. This time Aunt AM isn’t hiding in the kitchen and I don’t go and wake Nick up. Instead I fall into my bed and finally get some rest. I only get a little shut eye before my mom is at my door telling me I have thirty minutes before the car is taking us to school.
Groaning, I get up. This is good practice for my future, I tell myself. There’ll be times when I’ll go without sleep for days.
But I’m pretty much worthless through most of my classes so when Greta comes up to me during lunch and asks me about the previous night I just stare at her blankly. Unfortunately my pause only causes her to raise her voice.
“So you and Charlotte last night?” And the tone of her voice is so loud that everyone in a ten foot radius stops eating. Her hand spins a milk carton around. I remember Charlotte telling me that Greta is always in motion or some part of her is.
“Shut up, Greta.” Nick’s on her before I can clear the cobwebs and I throw him a thankful glance. He silently tells me to nut up and get with the program before Greta announces to the whole school that Charlotte and I are screwing.
“What’s the matter, was it bad?” Greta asks in a mock whisper. I say mock because it’s still loud enough for everyone at the table to hear. A collective hush settles over the table.
I tilt my head and just look at her, trying hard to remember my dad’s admonishments to respect every woman who comes into my orbit. Of course if dad heard this chick talking about Charlotte like this, he might change his mind. “I don’t know why you think I’d answer any question of yours about my personal life.”
Greta proves herself to be one dumb bitch when, instead of leaning back or just leaving, she presses on. “Um, because I gave her the condom she asked for so she could do you.” Her lips frame the last two words in a big oval. She probably thinks this is a sexy look but it reminds me a fish. “I told her that I didn’t think her frail little body could handle a big boy like you,” she winks. “But you probably did her out of sympathy. Let me know if you want a different kind of ride.”
The milk carton is still spinning in circles. I take my fist and crush the carton and milk spurts all over the table, some of it catching Greta right in her fish lips.
“I don’t even know who you are,” I tell her, shoving the rest of the milk carton into her lap. With a jerk of my head, I head out knowing Nick is right behind me. And behind him are the rest of the guys from my table. We’re all jocks but this is Nick’s crew because he’s the guy with the golden arm. I’m the reluctant couldn’t care less player who can’t wait to graduate and do real fucking things so I let Nick lay down the law to the crew as I stand behind him, arms crossed, feet planted wide like a looming angry asshole. Which is exactly how I feel at the moment.
“You asswipes say one word about Charlotte that is remotely sexual and Nate and I will give you a beating that will have you shitting out your piehole.”
“No worries, dude,” Kenny claps Nick on the back. “We got your girl’s back.” He gives me a nod and glides down the hallway. One by one they pat Nick on the shoulder and give their promise to keep it locked down.
Nick’s eyes turn to me with fury in them. “What the hell is up with that bitch?”
“No idea,” I say. “Charlotte knows her through gymnastics.”
“You gonna talk with her?”
I glance back at the door. “No. She wants the attention. Best way to teach her a lesson is to make sure she gets none.”
Nick nods and we separate to head to our next classrooms. Good thing Charlotte isn’t coming back to North Prep until next fall. Hopefully she’ll have better taste in friends when she gets back.
By the end of the day it’s clear that what started at lunch has spread like a venereal disease throughout the entire school. Guys are smirking at me and girls are looking speculative. No one but Sinclair Pennington has the guts to talk to me. Sinclair’s a sophomore and has had a few classes with Charlotte but I never knew that they were friends.
She stops me after last period before I’m headed home. Nick is waiting for me by the exit doors and by waiting, I mean he’s got one hand on same random’s ass while his head is buried in her neck. I can’t tell from this distance who it is nor do I care. Dad told us to respect girls. As far as I can tell Nick’s version of respecting females is giving each one the same amount of attention.
“Um, hey Nathan,” she says as I pull my jacket from my locker.
“Yeah?” I fish around the side pocket for my keys. Flipping them in my hand, I whistle. Nick pulls his head from the girl’s neck and gives me a nod.
After seeing my acknowledgment he returns to his girl, this time plastering his mouth against hers. She tries to climb him like a tree so I guess it’s all good.
“Is Charlotte better? Rumor has it she’s coming back to school soon.” She trots alongside me because I don’t make any effort to regulate my pace to match hers. Sinclair’s an awkward girl, all limbs, braces and terrible haircut. She trips right when we reach Nick and falls into his back. Even I cringe at this. Grabbing her arm, I set her upright. Her face is bright tomato red and I choke back a laugh because the last thing this poor girl needs is anyone snickering at her.
Nick catches his balance and tightens his grip on his companion who I now see is senior Abby Halifax. She’s a friendly sort of girl and one that probably doesn’t mind that Nick’s attention is shorter than the lifespan of a lightning bug. They both turn to look at Sinclair whose eyes in pinned to the floor. She wishes that it would swallow her.
“Watch were you’re going,” Abby spits out clearly unhappy that her time with Nick has been interrupted.
“Sorry,” Sinclair mumbles into her shoes.
“No worries.” Nick gives Abby another quick kiss and a pat on the ass that is clearly designed to signal her departure but she sticks around, leaning against his body as if he’s her personal resting post. But her eyes aren’t on Nick; they’re roving over me and I feel a little uncomfortable as she rubs herself against one Jackson while stripping the other mentally. I allow my jacket to fall forward, covering half my chest and my crotch.
“Spoilsport,” she mouths.
Shaking my head, I brush by all three of them. I want to get home and see Charlotte. Behind me I hear murmurs and then two sets of footsteps. Christ I hope Nick isn’t bringing Abby home with us. Spinning around, I open my mouth to confront him only to see Nick and Sinclair. There’s a worried look on her face and since she mentioned Charlotte, I figure I better find out what it is.
“Did you have something you wanted me to tell Charlotte?” I ask.
Sinclair grimaces and blurts out, “It’s all over school that she’s pregnant and doesn’t have cancer at all.”
Nick and I exchange looks filled with equal parts anger and alarm.
“She’s not. And the assholes that say she doesn’t have cancer are sick in their heads.” Other words, ones that were more profane sit on the tip of my tongue. The rumor mill at North Prep is crazy. From Charlotte and I having sex to her being pregnant and faking cancer in under three hours? That must be some kind of fucked up record.
“I just thought…” she trails off.
“Yeah?” Nick prompts, not so visibly angry like me. Sinclair melts under the heat of his smile so before she turns into go, I snap my fingers. They both jerk to attention.
“What?” I bark. This flusters her again and Nick glares at me. I gesture for him to take over.
“He’s more bark than bite,” Nick tells her in soothing tones. “But we all care about Charlotte. What’s going on?”
“I know Charlotte would never lie about anything like this but some girls are jealous of how protective of her you are. How both of you are so careful with her and that maybe now that everyone is older she’s worried she’s losing you so she made up this story to tighten her hold.” She barely takes a breath through the whole…what. Confession? Warning?
“Her hold?” I stare at her incredulously. This conversation is over. Behind me Nick is thanking Sinclair and telling her that everyone will get their turn with him. That makes me laugh.
“That’s pretty fucking strange,” Nick comments as he catches up with me. “You telling Charlotte or you doing it?”
“I’m not telling her jack.” I shake my head. There’s no reason for Charlotte to ever find out about this crap.
Nick frowns. “If we don’t tell her she’ll hear it from someone else and it’s going to be even more distorted.”
I hit the locks and we both climb into the Audi that is designated for our use. Dad has told me a hundred times this isn’t my car. He thinks we’re going to end up completely worthless if we are given everything but since we’re the only ones that drive this car, it seems like an empty lesson. But I get it. Ever since I was a sophomore people have been asking me where I’m going to college but a degree in business has never held any interest for me. There’s a way for me to live up to my dad’s expectations but it doesn’t involve more school when I graduate.
“No.” I’m emphatic. “She’s got three more weeks here. By the time she gets back from Switzerland, they’ll have moved on to something else. I want her to be able to enjoy her last years at North Prep without this hanging over her head.”
Nick screws up his face but while he might disagree with me, we’re a unit. He’ll back me one hundred percent. “I’ll keep my ears open. If anything changes…”
“Agreed. If something changes then we tell her.”
At home, Nick starts in on his homework and I open my emails.
I’ve made contact with your local recruiter. He’s expecting a call from you. Appreciate it if you’d let your parents know. Don’t like keeping this from your old man.
I send a quick response.
Thanks! I’ll call ASAP. Situation with Charlotte tense. She leaves in three weeks. Will tell them after.
“Why not tell us now?” I whirl to see Nick standing slightly behind me and obviously reading my emails.
With an apologetic smile, I say, “Because if I tell mom and dad, they’ll tell Bo and AM who’ll tell Charlotte and I’m not ready for her to know.”
“Because she’ll go ballistic.”
“Yeah.” I grab the football and throw it to Nick. He catches it, settles back into his chair and tosses it back. This is how we think. “I figured I’d have all this time with her but with her going away, the most I’ll have is seven weeks. Three now and four when she comes back.”
“If she comes back by then.” He points out.
There’s a little more heat on the return pass I send Nick’s way and he grunts when the ball thuds against his chest. “When she comes back.” Because if she doesn’t come back by her birthday in May I might not see her until I’m done with Basic. And from there I’ll be shipped out to who knows where.
“I’ll be here.” Nick reminds me.
“But I want to be.” I hold the ball and flip it in the air and catch it myself.
“Then don’t go.”
As if it’s so easy.
“I don’t want to go to B school. I’m not interested in sports like you. Serving like Dad did or Bo or Gray is the right way for me to do something meaningful. Otherwise I’m sitting on my thumb taking advantage of everything that Dad and Mom worked so hard to achieve.”
“You could do AmeriCorps or volunteer for a year instead of doing something that might end up with you dead. Not easy to protect Charlotte if you’re not around.”
I scoff. “Not gonna happen to me.”