He came in the window and let some flurries into my room. I told him to close it as I shrunk into my blanket. He stood, nose dripping, for a second. Then I lifted the blanket and he whooshed in like a cold breeze and filled the spot. We kissed hard.
The door rumbled and I twisted over. We sat up and I patted my hair down. Max pushed his head into my room, told me we were lighting the candles, zipped out, and bounded back downstairs, leaving the door ajar.
I kissed him and he gathered his things and left. The winter got in a little again.
He came in the window with medium-rare cheeks and a slim smile. He produced from his shirt pocket a violet. I ran and grabbed a vase, filled it with water, and arranged it with the flower on the top of my dresser. We stood in front of it like an art museum tableau and critiqued its beauty. He said it had a simplicity that alluded to Scandinavian minimalist design, while simultaneously harkening back to Victorian era romantic ideals. I said the droop seemed phallic.
He fell onto the bed and stuffed his hands into his pants with his arms pressed against his sides. He rolled around and thrashed about like a dancing caterpillar, laughing. I started to laugh too. I turned out the lights and crumpled his hair in a fist. Our pulses were quick. His back was warm. His phone buzzed way too much.
We sat up and made vague eye contact in the poor light. He asked if I wanted to go to the tire swing and smoke. It was 5:12 and the sun had already set. I said I had a family dinner. He said that was cool. I put on his hat and he left.
He came in the window and we made out to a Spotify playlist from his camp-friend Alan.
He came in the window and swallowed. He peeled his chapped lips apart and smiled. I made myself smile back. He sat down on the bed and got under the covers with me. We talked for a while about the new Kanye album and a camping trip we were tentatively planning for the Spring. My hand sizzled on his icy neck. There was a war raging in the hallway in the space between my parents. They would make up in front of me at the dinner table later.
He pulled out a flattened petunia he had forgotten about from his back pocket, and placed it in my vase. We split without a kiss.
He didn’t come in the window.
He came in the window and struggled with the latch trying to close it. He plopped another petunia in the vase. He stood for a second, not looking at me. His eyes were a milky red. He smelled like weed. He sniffled. I got up and hugged him. He draped himself on me and his breath steadied. The hallway was loud. I could tell he dealt with something on his phone behind my back. That stung.
After he left, Max came in to tell me about his school play he just got cast in. He was the king, which was actually a minor role. But he still had 12 lines, he said, mostly clumped in one key scene. I think I was probably really, really happy for him. But I struggled to stay present in that conversation. My mind was spinning its wheels and kicking up dirt in the space of 15 minutes ago. And I was afraid Max would ask what the smell was.
I wanted to talk to him about Dad’s wrecking-ball mood swings and Mom’s obvious discontent. But I didn’t know if Max and I were that close. And I didn’t know if he thought about those kinds of things. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t want to introduce them.
There was Chick-fil-A for dinner. I didn’t complain.
He came in the window awkwardly and I noticed it was because he had his acoustic strapped to his back. I stood up, stepped over to help him, and closed the window. He had mentioned he’d been working on a song. This was the grand debut of verse number one. No chorus, no name yet, but he thought it was shaping up to be something special.
We sat on the bed, cross-legged, facing each other. He slid the capo down, and fiddled with the tuning. He looked up at me with liquid eyes and twiddled his fingers across the strings. This is what he sang:
Leaning over the basket
Of a hot air balloon
And all I can see is the gray.
No backdrop, no blur
To judge any motion
But I know somebody pressed play.
A couple of puffs
To keep me up high
But I know that fire grows cold.
It’s clear I’m descending
Like the tears on my cheek
I’ll be swallowed by some jungle of old.
I had a crystal image of a tattered blue and yellow checked hot air balloon with a brown, whicker basket disappearing into a cloud forest. Gone.
His voice was a tonal whisper. I had always likened it to a Sam Beam or a Sufjan Stevens—a compliment he gobbled up.
I told him I loved it. Then I told him I thought the “tears on my cheek” line was pretty corny, even if I did have tears on my cheek. He poked out one diaphragm spasm of a laugh. He said maybe he’d change it, but he wouldn’t.
I asked him to tell me about the song, but that was never something he would do. The art spoke for itself. That left me to spin the lyrics around and around in my head trying to find the angle at which they would slot themselves in with his life. Some of the words prickled. It was still beautiful.
He forgot his guitar leaning against the foot of my bed.
Dad hit Mom; I know he did. She never talks to me about these kinds of things, but I’m not sure I even want her to. I don’t know what I would say. Leave him?
I helped Max with his geometry homework, but he’s honestly much better at it than I am. It’s like he can see all the shapes and lines and stuff zoom around and fit together in his mind. I think he just likes hanging out with me.
He didn’t come.
He didn’t come.
The late afternoon sun came in my window when the cops pulled up to my house. They trooped upstairs and entered my room and asked a thousand calm questions. They referred to him as “your boyfriend” but we hadn’t even ever used that word—not between us, not to anyone. I was uneasy, but I let it go. When did we start “seeing each other?” Did I know he did drugs? Did I know he sold drugs? Did I know he was “playing in the big leagues?” Did I know any of his friends?
The uneasiness had long turned to queasiness. I didn’t know a single thing about the particulars of his dealing drugs, I told them.
And no, I didn’t know where he was.
That very night in my room a forest grew. It started out slow. Everywhere he had stepped, a marshy puddle burbled up from the rug. From the dirt smears rose tendrils of grass. I woke up, my nostrils flaring at the fresh air. I watched as vines crept down from the ceiling. Tiny purple and white flowers dotted the ground. Soon enough, sprouts shot up and erupted into massive ferns and oaks and spruce. One particular curvy, barreled trunk leered over me, curling up from the foot of my bed. A vine strung off of it. The bed itself and my dresser melted into the walls, which became the world all around. The moon poured over an expanding forest-scape.
I sat down on the forest floor. A snake—a real Garden of Eden ass lookin’ fellow—slid up to me and flitted his forked tongue in my face. I looked straight into his black eyes without any fear. A troop of capuchins swung from vine to vine across my field of vision and I high fived them all like the end of a soccer game. I lost all sense of direction; everywhere was everywhere.
A parrot perched on the tree above me whistled the tune of his song. I could hear my parents’ acidic barks ring in the distance like faint echoes off of a mountain. The purr of the forest was soft on my ears. I felt light and energetic. I breathed easy. It would take days for anybody to trek this far into the dense forest. And that was only assuming they could find me. Or that anybody even wanted to.
But then Max was there, hanging from a tree branch.
You found me, I said.
Yeah, of course, he said. You missed my play.
Has it really been that long?
Mom and Dad came, but when we went out for fancy pizza afterwards, Dad yelled at the waiter, and Mom yelled at Dad.
You should stay here with me.
No, I have to go. Dinner’s getting cold.
Ok, I said.
He nimbly dropped down from the branch and disappeared into a thicket of trees.
Having somebody there for a minute made me suddenly realize my loneliness. I cried for the first time in recent memory. I saw a brown chunk of something peeking through the mist above me, angling down to somewhere in the distance. I wondered what it was.