This is the firstiest first draft y’all have seen from me; so much so, it isn’t even done. I’m taking my cues from Megan. Consider this part one of two. More forthcoming….
The summer old Mrs. Natterly’s grandson came to visit was probably the best summer of my life. Despite how it turned out.
She lived at the very tip of our little Lake Street cul-de-sac and my family lived just enough houses down that we didn’t have to see all that much of her.
Not that Mrs. Natterly wasn’t a sweet old dear, but if you let her catch your ear, you had no chance of escape short of cutting it off and gift-wrapping it for her. And it wasn’t just that she talked, it’s that she talked nonsense. You almost wanted to listen, out of pity—well, not me. I saw her and ran like a cat on fire—but everyone and my brother, who is really too polite for his own good—would pause to give her a pitying smile, and that was enough. She’d hook her tongue right in.
Mrs. Natterly had lived there as long as I could remember. In my utterly fearless youth I could recall dropping ‘round her house to earn raspberry picking privileges by carrying the mail up the short drive to her door. She hadn’t yet descended into complete madness those days—even later she would find clear moments, but that didn’t matter. As soon as I’d learned to fear aging like an infectious disease, I steered well clear of her.
No, she didn’t lose it completely until I started spending all that time with her grandson.
He was Charming, of course, and even as I met him, I knew it was the sort of charming that could be Dangerous. Still, I found him charming all the same.
I was on a walk around the neighborhood because I had heard my brother searching for me to get our chores done, when I turned into the cul-de-sac and saw Old Mrs. Natterly wandering around the outside of her own house peering through each window in turn. She gave each window a couple sharp raps before moving on. As I watched her at the third window I figured it was best if I moved on before she had a chance to spot me. Before she or I had much of a chance to do anything, her front door opened and out He came.
He was this cherubic thing with rosy cheeks and full, soft lips, and he called in rather a carrying voice despite their proximity, “Grams.” He caught my eyes with a flash of his blue ones, like he was putting on this show completely for my benefit, and continued on to Old Natterly with a small smile on his face. “C’mon, Grams. Inside. This way.” And he led her gently away from the kitchen window, up the front steps, where he stopped long enough to look back and wave with the most dazzling smile I’ve seen to this day, before they disappeared inside.
When I set to avoiding my chores a few days later, I was careful to turn into the cul-de-sac and it wasn’t until my third loop through that I saw him, Cherub Boy.
He lounged in the grass as though waiting for me, wearing the same white t-shirt and cuffed jeans look as before, and he was shredding tufts of grass idly as he watched me and watched me approach. He didn’t look away, not once, watching, blinkless, as he continued to pluck blades of grass and rip them lengthwise. Watching so intently that heat flushed up and round my arms into my neck, then down and around various other body parts. Looking but not speaking, even when I had stopped in front of him, so as my cheeks lit on fire (I won’t say which ones), I managed to say in an impressively even voice, if I say so myself:
“So, you’re new.”
“Yeah,” he said, absolutely beaming, eyes a-squint, mouth in a tight-lipped deep parabola, and it was that easy to Love Him, wouldn’t you know.
Every day after that we spent our spare time together, and, as it was the summer, spare was all the kinds of time we had.
He told me all about where he was from—Pennsylvania, I think? Or maybe it was Pittsburgh—and about how he was a paledrome or paledrone or something like that, which just means that he’s the same backwards as forwards, which he was:
I’m one, too, he pointed out, as we lay in the grass one day, if I go by my short name, Pip, but not my long one, Pippin. Back at home that night, I told everyone that I go strictly by Pip now.
There were other things discussed during our time together, but I can hardly be called on to remember them all, because we did plenty of things besides talk.
We didn’t drive anywhere because I was still too young to drive and Daemian was just visiting, but we both agreed I wasn’t too young for Other Things.
After our first time Frenching, a few days after he lounged in the grass that time, he tucked my hair behind both ears, just the way you’d want, kissing me one more time, he said I was incredibly Wise for my age, which I guess I’ve always suspected, but I’d kept that suspicion to myself because I knew enough to know it’s not very Wise to think you’re Wise. But Daemian thought I was, so there you are.
I wanted to tell him how I Felt—the L-word and all that—but I wasn’t an idiot. It was too soon. I was Wise enough to that that, too. So I kept that to myself with all the rest and let his hand wander up under my shirt instead.
By the time I was ready to tell him All That, we’d been together long enough to do everything you could think of and some things you couldn’t—one involving a pair of Old Natterly’s pantyhose and a lemon—July was dying, with the crunch of crisp, dry grass and heavy, warm wind laying itself over Lakeside Community like a superfluous blanket. I was wearing the stringiest romper I owned, reaching for any reprieve from the heat, but, also, knowing it was exactly how I wanted Daemian to remember me in the moment I told him I Loved him.
We would wander into the tiny patch of woods that backed Old Natterly’s house, find a cool, soft spot of shade, our knees mingling, bodies bedded in the last patch of pure green grass, and I would trace a finger over him just the way he liked and say it.
I would just say it, and he would smile and kiss me before saying it back, his own voice like a blanket, but a sharp, white thing fluttering and snapping in a cool, high wind. I would get the chills from his voice as it carved out those words, and I would shiver, wishing I’d worn more than this stringy little romper, but he would pull me close, wrap me up in a blanket of our limbs and I would forget I was wearing anything at all.
I’d pictured it a hundred times, and it only got better with each imagining. I knew the real thing could only be so great as to surpass all expectation.
So, lost in replaying this picture on my way to see him that stifling July day, I must have looped the entire neighborhood without noticing—I’ve done it before in my daydreams—because I ended up passing back in front of my own house as my brother was coming out the door to find and rope me into mowing the lawn. Three weeks late, he made a point of complaining.
By the time I finished, slick as a sweaty fish, the sun was setting and Daemian hadn’t stopped by yet to see where I’d got to, so I figured I could still surprise him. I swiped a bottle of mom’s wine from the basement because wine is only romantic when the sun has set, mom always said, which was why she only ever drank a glass with dinner, and I slipped away before she could get home or my stupid brother could rope me into anything else.
This time as I approached His house, Old Natterly was out again, banging on the windows. The decent thing would have been to let her in, and I was about to consider doing just that when she spotted me.
“You!” She pointed an arthritic crook of a finger at me, rushing me with the speed and agility of someone half her age and at least twice her sanity. I stumbled back, falling and catching myself with a popping crack! as the wine bottle cleaved itself open on the sidewalk behind me.
“You,” Natterly said again, voice both fierce and frail. “Slut. In there with my Crispin.” Angry spit flecked the air on the name and she was bearing down on me with the starved look of the coyote my brother had to chase out of the neighborhood last winter with his BB gun.
“It won’t hurt it,” he’d said, “not enough. Not really.” But I remember the look in its eye that said well enough that, BB’d in the butt or not, it wasn’t long for this world.
I kind of wished I had my brother’s BB gun right now, but as I didn’t, I did the next best thing: I scrambled to my feet and ran, the severed neck of the wine bottle still clutched in my hand, its butt in a rolling arc on the hot pavement, staining it a sticky, sweet red.