So, I’ve been experimenting with fiction writing lately, and I wanted to share some with you here. This story is called The Fence, and it’s a bit long, but if you would read it I would really appreciate the feedback. I’ve been rather hung up on what it means to be a teenager recently, and how teenage stereotypes of rebellion and recklessness affect the way we think, act, and feel. This is a testament to that, at least in a certain sense.
For the fifth Friday in a row, I sit in my windowsill waiting for James to walk outside, start up his old red Chevy truck, and drive away. I am pathetic.
James and I were childhood friends ever since he moved in next door when I was eight years old. He boasted his year on me, and I secretly revered him. I think he knew it, because he used to show off to me. He taught me how to skateboard and find salamanders under the rocks at the creek behind our houses. We made our own fort back there once out of sticks and wooden planks from his dad’s garage, but it blew away a month later in a snowstorm. He kissed me once in the fort, just wet lips on my cold cheek. But it made me flutter inside, and I blushed, embarrassed. He laughed at me, his belly laugh, the one that I couldn’t help laughing along with too every time I heard it.
But that was before we went to different middle schools. That was before my parents banned me from talking to him because he spent the night in jail after he was found in the local bar. It was even before he started bringing girls to his house, girls who never came back again. He didn’t smoke back then, didn’t drink back then. He changed sometime around eighth grade. It wasn’t all at once; no one changes all at once. It was just a cigarette in the fall, and then again the next day, and then a month later there were a mass of beer cans in our trash can that I knew were his. He started dressing differently, not like the boys at my school. He must have shopped at a thrift store because nothing fit him right. My parents called me downstairs that spring, late at night, and told me I couldn’t talk to him anymore. But it didn’t really matter, because we weren’t talking anyway. He forgot about me long ago.
But I didn’t forget him. I didn’t forget sailing boats or catching frogs or singing with the river like he taught me how. I can still whistle with grass and name every Pokemon in the Hoenn region. I remember the kiss and the tingles I get thinking about it. It was my first and only. That’s how pathetic I am.
I sit and wait, watching the oak trees sleep silently and the streetlights flicker. I know he’ll come out in a few minutes because he never leaves later than 11.
I’ve never done a bad thing in my life. I’m the girl on the full ride scholarship who worked her ass off to get there, and I’m the girl who will get kicked out if I don’t keep my grades up. So I study every night, and I watch 80’s TV and movies in my room alone on Netflix when I have free time. I’m a writer, or so I tell myself, because I keep a diary. I’m an only child, too, so I go out to dinner with my parents and I let them tell me about their research and all of that. They don’t watch me too hard because they know I’m good. I’m too good.
I’m not a real teenager, and everyone knows it, because they never invite me to parties. I haven’t sipped alcohol in my life, and God knows I’ve never seen a drug. I’m just young, innocent, hard-working me.
James is outside now, his brown trench coat draped over his shoulders. I sit still, watching, fully clothed, because I know what I’m about to do. He lights up, puffs out a ring of smoke, and I jump out of the windowsill onto the floor and creep downstairs. My house key is in my jacket pocket. I double check. Yes. I open the door and jog down the sidewalk. James is getting in his car when he sees me.
“Cass, how nice to see you. It’s been a while. Shouldn’t you be in bed?” we haven’t talked in years, but the way he treats me- the feigned concern, the sarcasm, the nickname Cass- hasn’t changed a bit.
“Hi James,” I’m nervous and he senses it. I can smell the smoke from his cigarette and my stomach turns. “I, uhh, just wanted to say hello. Cause yeah, it’s been a while,” I have no idea where I’m going with this, but luckily he speaks for me.
“You wanna come with me? I’ve seen you watching me the last few weeks. I’m flattered,” I blush and he laughs, just like all those years ago, and I laugh too out of habit. We both hop in the truck, me in the passenger seat and him at the wheel. I don’t know if he has his license or not, but he seems comfortable and confident as he releases the parking break and starts the car. The inside of the truck is just what I should have expected; grey fabric interior stained red and brown from energy drinks and beer, dirt and crumbs in the corners, a Hawaiian girl perched on the dash. Somehow, though, I expected something more glorious from James. Something more mysterious.
Just as James is about to pull out, he reaches into the back seat and procures a can of Bud Light. He pops the tab and takes a sip, a drip running down his chin.
“Holy shit, James, you’re about to drive!” I’m speechless. I realize how innocent it makes me look as he laughs at me again.
“Cass, darling, if it makes you feel unsafe, you drink it.” “Fine. I will,” I don’t know when he picked up darling in his vocabulary. It feels a little paternal, a little sexual, and a little Heathers all at the same time. I don’t know how to feel sitting next to him there, my first can of beer in my hands. He looks at me, eyebrow raised, daring me to take a sip. And I do. It goes down burning, but I don’t spit it out. I won’t give him that kind of pleasure. I take another.
“I’m impressed,” he says, cigarette poised on his lips, and we pull out of his driveway. I keep drinking, because what the hell, I’m finally escaping. My mind goes a little fuzzy and I feel warm. I forget to ask James where we are going, or I stop caring. It doesn’t matter anyway to me, as long as it’s far from everyone and everything I know.
The streetlights are dimmer than in our neighborhood, and I have completely lost track of where we are. I’m silent, looking out the passenger window, and James turns on the radio. The static drowns out the music but he doesn’t change the station.
“So how have you been Cass? What’s life like on your side of the Fence?” The Fence, so we call it, is the three-foot chicken wire and wooden structure in between our properties. It barely qualifies as a fence at all because it has so many holes in it. As soon as we went to different schools, James began referring to the Fence like you’d refer to the sides of the railroad tracks; my side is the nice, good, innocent side; his is the side you don’t want to grow up on. It’s a metaphor for the two different worlds we live in, and he’s always been proud of it.
“Honestly, James, it’s kinda awful. And I don’t want to sound like I’m taking it for granted, because I know that I have a really good life. But it gets boring, you know? Like I just sit in my room all night, studying and all that crap, and I dunno. I just need some change sometimes,” The words fall from my mouth in a stream of consciousness. I hope he understands what I am saying.
“You think my side of the fence is all fun and games? It gets boring too, Cass. You’re funny.”
“But you go out. You have fun, you get drunk, you go somewhere every Friday night by yourself. You kiss girls and you smoke and you’re a real teenager. You know how to do this whole rebellion thing. I don’t. You’ve changed and I’m still a child.”
“You think I love the way I am? It’s fun in the moment, but then the next morning my head hurts and I don’t know where I was the night before and there’s no meaning in it. The girls, I don’t even know their fucking names half the time. It’s empty. But I’ve got nothing better to do, you know? It’s just the way it is. It’s not even a big deal like you think to get drunk and all that. It’s really not. You get used to it and it just becomes a part of life, another shitty thing to do on my side of the Fence. I’m still the exact same me, just with an alcohol and smoking problem,” He clenches his jaw.
“Oh, well I’m sorry, I guess,” I feel stupid, but I’m not sure why because my head is swooning. “I didn’t know. I always feel like the idiot good girl who’s not really living. But I didn’t realize that, you know, you’re the same as you’ve always been too.”
“Maybe it’s not as much fun right now for you, but at least you’ve got somewhere you’re going,” We turn onto an unlit road, bumpy and wet. The grass is tall in our headlights. “I’m just going day by day, and I’m gonna end up on this side of the Fence for my whole life.” He suddenly stops the car and hops out, walks around to my side, and holds the door open for me. I jump out and fall, my head aching.
“Aww shit, Cass, here, you need to eat,” He goes into the back for a minute and hands me a granola bar as I stand up. We are in a field, trees all around and the open sky above us full of stars and moonlight.
“This is where you come every Friday?” I ask, nibbling on the granola bar.
“No, of course not. I usually just sit behind the 7-11 and smoke with some kids from school. They get the drugs and I smoke them. But I didn’t want to bring you there,” He goes to the back of the truck and fishes out a picnic blanket.
“Why are you being so nice to me, James?” I suddenly remember it all, the years of anger he held for me. He used to glare at me from his house, judging me. He hated my parents, my friends, and my life. “You hate me. You hate my side of the Fence.”
“That’s the thing you don’t get Cass. I only hate your side because it took you with it. I miss having you around, you know? You were my childhood friend. And now I see you and I think about all the things we did together and how much my life has gone to the shithole since then.”
“You think I’m so stupid though. You think I don’t understand anything anymore.”
“Cassandra, I miss you.” Before I can find an appropriate response, he kisses my cheek, long and wet. But he can’t see me blushing this time. I know what he wants. He wants the past back. But I know I can’t give it to him, not even if we went out back to the creek every day till five like we used to. Because he’s right; we are from two different sides of the Fence, and the fence isn’t coming down. I’m not the girl lying next to him on the picnic blanket, drunk and wild and free. And he isn’t the boy who kissed me when I was eleven years old. I came out here tonight to escape from my own life, but the place he lives is no place for refugees; I’ll be back on my side by the morning and I won’t escape again.
Here we are, lying side by side on a checkered picnic blanket, tiny beings beneath a galaxy of stars. He grabs my hand and I let him. I will let him have his night, because he let me have mine. Tonight I will kiss him, hard, and I will let him hold me here. I will take a puff of his cigarette and hell, I will run naked through the field if he wants. It’s all I can do to thank him for bringing me with him and showing me his life.
Tomorrow, the Fence will go back up, and we will say our final goodbyes in the car as he drops me off before dawn. He is right; there’s no glory on his side, and I’ll have the headache and I won’t remember and I’ll have shared a meaningless kiss with a boy who I’ll never speak to again.
Goodbye, James. Have fun on your side. I’ll be on mine, waiting, in case you ever make it over to join me.