Home > Unteachable(4)

Author: Leah Raeder


He didn’t let go of my elbow, and I thanked a whole pantheon of gods for that. It felt different now. His skin on my skin caused a chemical reaction. My cells were rioting.

We walked out of the carnival into the night sea of grass and stars.

I did a suave little twist of my arm until our hands joined. I pulled him through the darkness toward the picnic bench, then let go and hopped up, hugging the pony between my knees. He stopped a foot away.

“You look incredible,” he breathed.

A rush of sweet blood to my head.

“So do you,” I said, my voice also gauzy.

He moved toward me. Cool platinum starlight played off his hair, the gold sheen on his arms. He wasn’t super tall, maybe five-foot-ten, but his frame was elegantly made, lithe muscle knitting around finely sculpted bones. That muscle rippled beneath his T-shirt, and the jeans that molded to him. I pressed my palms to the splintered wood but I could still imagine them running down a hard thigh. I’m going to f**k you, I thought. Somewhere not far from here. Maybe the back of your car. The only question is how we’ll get there.

“Did you bring me out here to talk,” I said, “or for something else?”

He looked chagrined. He sat beside me on the table. The rides were shutting down, great mechanical dragons folding their wings, coiling up their segmented tails. I popped the stuffed pony behind my head and lay back, looking up at a perfect planetarium sky.

“You asked why I’m here alone.”

I glanced over at him. He stared straight ahead.

“I see the lights every night. It seems like the whole world has figured out how to be happy, but no one’s letting me in on the secret.”

There are moments, when you’re getting to know someone, when you realize something deep and buried in you is deep and buried in them, too. It feels like meeting a stranger you’ve known your whole life.

“Why’d you get on the rollercoaster?” I said.

A little comma formed in the corner of his mouth, a half-smile. “I’m starting a new job soon, and…I’m terrified, honestly. I thought that if I faced another lifelong fear, it’d give me confidence.”

“You didn’t seem scared.”

“You don’t remember me screaming.”

I grinned. “Au contraire. 08/21. Never forget. But you seemed happy.”

It should have tipped him off that I didn’t talk about his job, I talked about feelings. I was too young to care about boring adult jobs. I was still testing out how my heart worked.

He was smiling at me now. I imagined him putting a knee between my legs, holding me down. The sky felt like a huge hot aquarium, swimming with tadpole stars.

“How about you?” he said. “Why tonight?”

“I’m starting a new job too, actually.”

“What kind of job?”

High school senior.

“It’s sort of an unpaid internship. Anyway, I guess I wanted to do something the old me wouldn’t have done.”

“Would the old you have done this?”

I sat up, slowly. My body was languid and light. We were very close, mostly by accident. His stubble glittered like gold dust. The ledge of his lips cast a shadow I couldn’t look away from. “What am I doing, exactly?”

I felt the heat of his hand before it touched me, and shivered. He laid it above my bare knee. Didn’t stroke, didn’t squeeze, just placed it there like a card he’d dealt, waiting for my move.

“This?” I said. My voice had lost all body again, becoming air contained in a thin envelope of words. I mirrored his movement, rested my hand on his jeans. The denim was smooth-worn and warm.

His other hand cupped my face. Somehow he’d gotten closer without quite kissing me yet. There was a carnival smell still on us, beer and popcorn and motor grease, but all of that faded into a kind of white noise, and now I smelled him. Something between suede and smoke. The clean tang of sweat mixed into his cologne, turning into a musky alcohol. Pure delirium. I couldn’t breathe any more of this. I couldn’t get enough of it.

My body was on autopilot. Mouth opening, face tilting, everything yielding. “What am I doing?” I whispered again, and knew he felt my breath in his own mouth.

“Seducing me,” he said.

My eyes opened all the way. My bones regained solidity. Blood pumped furiously into my throat, my temple, fleeing my hands and every part of me that had wanted to be touched by him. I pulled away.

His brow creased. If we’d known each other’s names, he would have said my name then with a question mark.

Was that what I was doing? Seducing him? Another throwaway f**k?

Was that all this was?

“Did I say something wrong?”

I shook my head. But I stood up anyway, grabbed the stuffed animal, mangled it in my hands.

Again, that pained pause on his face where he wanted to say the name of this girl who was clearly upset. Funny, how our own names soothe us. It’s okay, Maise. You are yourself. Whoever that is.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry.”


“I wasn’t trying to seduce you.”

The tension went out of him. It wasn’t his fault. It was just the crazy girl and her crazy girl-feelings.

Was that unfair? Maybe I wanted to be unfair.

“Hey,” he said. He came close, his hand hovering over my shoulder blade, waiting for clearance to land. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. If you weren’t trying, it would’ve happened anyway. You are so beautiful.” The hand retreated. “I’ve upset you.”

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