I wasn't watching you perfectly stillI'm trying to keep up, running along behind them as they make their way through the woods quickly in the fading light. I am stumbling, tripping over roots and rocks. I've already ripped the hem out of the bottom of my sundress, it's a handmedown from Bailey and it reaches almost to my ankles anyway. My sneakers are covered with mud and my braids have come loose but I'm game. I want to keep up with them and Lochlan already said three separate times to stay put, not to follow. That he would see me tomorrow probably, that they were going to do things that sixteen- (Caleb), fourteen- (Lochlan) and twelve-year-old (Cole) teenage boys do. Eight-year-old girls are not invited.
I'm near perfectly dazed
Out of our hollow and into a space
Fire and water and space
Yeah further and further away
I am bathed in sweat and tears of frustration but I wipe my face and keep struggling to catch them. Wait! I cry when I see Christian's green t-shirt disappear from view. I run faster and promptly trip over my skirt again and go down on my hands and knees.
Okay, I can't keep up. He's right. I'm going to turn around and see if I can find my way home from here.
Then I look up again and Caleb is making his way back to me. He looks worried. When he reaches me he pulls me to my feet and tells me to climb on his back, that he will carry me piggyback the rest of the way. I wipe my eyes again and he asks if I've been crying.
No, I snap, and when he turns away I wrap my arms around his neck and he stands up, pulling my legs around his hips, holding them just behind my knees. He walks easily with me, moving quickly enough to make up time but not too quickly so that he won't trip and spill us both. It seems like only minutes go by and then suddenly he walks out into the clearing and goes to Cole, turning away from him. Cole puts his hands under my arms and lifts me off Caleb, standing me on my feet. Lochlan scowls when he comes back from the place where he had hidden a flat of cheap beer and a pack of cigarettes by the river where they fish and never catch anything. He's really mad. His ears are turning pink.
You going to carry her back too?
Caleb walks over to him and gives him a good shove. Lochlan shoves him right back. I take a step toward the woods. I don't want them to not be friends because I followed them even though Lochlan told me to not to.
Christian turns and grabs my arm. Stay here, Bridget. It's too late now for you to go back by yourself. It'll be dark soon.
Loch takes my elbow and walks me away from the crowd. They are passing out beers and lighting cigarettes. They're going to get in SO much trouble. Where were you going now?
Home so you won't fight because of me.
You'd be smart to stay away from Caleb.
He carried me most of the way. He's nice. (Inside my head I also add and cute. And tall. And strong. And he smells like soap.)
He's not nice. He did it because he knew it would bother me.
Why would it bother you?
Because I told you not to follow. We're going to have a bonfire. How late are you allowed out?
I don't know. I said I would be back in a few minutes.
Shit. Okay, I'm going to take you back now then and then I'll come back.
Can I stay for a few minutes and see the fire?
He smiled and scratched the back of his neck as he stared at me. I don't know why, but I want to stay with him. He might not be as tall as Caleb but he's so much cuter and he smells like woodsmoke and fabric softener. It's not just that though. When I stand beside him I feel all weird and excited and happy.
No, because then I won't be able to find my way back in the dark. Plus the fire is usually my responsibility. I like to control it.
No, Bridget. Say goodnight to everyone. We're going.
I stick my lip out but I dutifully march back to the loose group of boys and tell them to have fun but I have to go home. I thank Caleb for bringing me the rest of the way and apologize for wasting their time.
A chorus of Awwwwww's and Sweet Dreams! rises as Lochlan reaches out to take my hand. Dylan sings a little bit of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Caleb sits in the near darkness, frowning. His eyes glitter in the dark. Cole whacks him on the back and hands him a beer.
On the walk back I ask Lochlan why he lied to me about being mad at Caleb because he helped me.
What do you mean?
Why are you really mad at him? I won't tell him or anything.
How did you know I lied?
The way you moved. Your eyes. You're a bad liar.
So are you. You said you'd stay put.
We're even then.
Yeah, we are. He squeezed my hand as we walked. How come you're not freaked out by being in the woods after dark?
Because you're here. And you didn't tell me about Caleb.
Did he say anything to you about me on the walk to the field?
No. He didn't talk at all. I thought he was busy trying not to trip and drop me. Why?
Because I told him you and I are friends. That we talk alot. That you're old for your years when we talk about things that are important. He thinks it's wrong. That I shouldn't have anything to do with a girl so young.
So why did HE help me then, if he thinks I'm too young to hang out with all of you?
Because he knows it would bother me.
I don't know. It just made me really really mad if I thought he was trying to take you away from me only because he knows it would piss me off and not for his own reasons.
A little shiver ran up my spine in the dark, tickling the back of my neck. I don't know why but I like it that he doesn't want anyone to take me away from him. I have heard a few stories already about Lochlan and girls, mostly that a lot of them want to go out with him, mostly that he's a charmer who has kissed and yet not told all over town. But since I've been here I haven't seen him with anyone at all. Maybe they're wrong.
If I had to pick between you and Caleb, I'd pick you, you know.
He grins in the dark. That's good, Bridget. It will save me and Caleb the inevitable fight to the death.