Trena was about a head shorter than Ronnie, a challenge he hadn’t faced before — their jeans weren’t touching where the “V” met. Lying there, struggling to keep everything lined up and to put enough weight on his elbows that he didn’t crush her, Ronnie tried to figure out how he had ended up there, in a situation he wouldn’t dare share with anyone back at school.
Ronnie lived with his mom in a townhouse apartment complex near the Arkansas River. The new kid in town, he didn’t have many friends at school yet, and fell in easily with Matt, the apartment manager’s teenage son. The boy was a year younger than Ronnie, still in junior high and always inviting eighth-grade girls for him and Ronnie to date.
They never went out anywhere. Instead, they ended up making out, at the apartment pool, on a darkened sidewalk that ran behind houses on the adjoining street. Once, when Matt brought a girl over but she didn’t bring a friend, Ronnie sat watching television downstairs, trying to drown out the thumping sounds from above. With unfettered access to HBO and no adults around, he had finally settled on Emanuelle in Rio.
“Mom, what kind of chicken you want tonight?” A cool fog drifted down from the freezer as Ronnie stood gazing at stacks of Tyson chicken dinners.
His mom bought them cheap from a friend who worked at the plant. They were rejected in quality control for cosmetic reasons — the sauce lump too far from the center of the chicken, or too much of the rice in the peas’ compartment. They were the perfect solution for a budget-minded mother who didn’t like to cook but wanted to serve her son at least a semi-nutritious meal.
At least, that’s what she told him.
She sat at the dining table, painting the eyes on a small ceramic figurine. “I’ll have southwest style.”
“Comin’ right up, mi mamasita.”
He cut slits in the cellophane covering each dinner and heated them according to the directions.
After having dinner with his mom and telling her goodnight, Ronnie sat in his room downloading Dokken mp3’s. His uncle Garvin had told him about the band, calling them “a black t-shirt band from the ’80’s.”
He opened his sliding glass door and stepped onto the concrete balcony to look at the townhouses across the parking lot. Trena’s light was on. Feeling like some company, he headed downstairs.
He walked across the parking lot, bracing himself against the cold October breeze, to Trena’s building. The moon was full and lit up everything, so he had to be careful. He hid behind the fence that surrounded the Dumpster, bending his arm across his nose to ward off the cold and the stench. He found a few pieces of gravel to throw at her bedroom window.
He stood just long enough to throw the small rocks, and scored a hit. Trena appeared, a shadowy figure in the blinds. She opened them just enough to slide up the window, and signaled that she was coming downstairs. His heart beat faster at the thought of a girl sneaking down to see him.
They slinked around walls and cars before running across the end of the parking lot to the last building in the complex. “Where are we going?” Trena asked.
“I thought it would be fun to go in this empty place. Matt said it’s cool.”
“So, because his mom’s the manager, that makes it okay?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
They crept through the unlocked door of a vacant apartment. He had no idea what they would do once they got inside. Since his days as a little boy, he loved exploring places, but he had a feeling this was going a different direction.
In the townhouse’s second floor bedroom, they lay on their backs on the carpet, the full moon’s light shining through the balcony’s sliding glass doors. Ronnie’s heart was beating fast and, despite the cool night, he was sweating.
He rolled over on top of her and started kissing her.
She accepted and met his tongue with hers, but stopped after a few seconds. “That was kind of fast, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
They kissed more, and as he shifted his weight to keep them both comfortable, he wondered what he was doing up there — in a vacant townhouse, on top of a seventh grader. She laughed at his jokes, even the ones she didn’t seem to understand. She was only slightly pretty, but she lived just across the parking lot and seemed interested in spending time with him. Am I that desperate? Am I just lazy? The kids at school would laugh at me. Mom would kick my ass. This just isn’t right.
Ronnie stopped and rolled off Trena. He stood up quickly and reached out to help her do the same. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
“That’s okay. I didn’t mind.” She dusted off her butt.
“Well, I know, but I shouldn’t have. Let’s just get out of here, okay?”
“Okay,” she said. She sounded confused and a little hurt, and glanced downward at Ronnie’s crotch.
He looked down too. His body still was visibly ready for what his conscience had stopped. What the Hell is wrong with you? Go down, dammit!
Ronnie felt an urgent need to get out of there. He would never be able to live it down if he got caught.
Trena stopped at the top of the stairs, turned to face Ronnie. “So, what does this mean?”
“Nothing. Just… let’s get out of here. Go on.”
With that, Ronnie pushed her shoulder.
She tried to move her feet to match her backward momentum. Her hand reached out but missed the rail as her wide eyes and mouth cried out for help.
Ronnie grabbed the top of the banister and reached forward to catch her. He managed only to graze a breast and grab a fleeting handful of her shirt.
Trena landed on her back and then somersaulted to the landing. Her head smacked the wall and turned her neck at an angle that made Ronnie shut his eyes.
(continue to Part Two)