John and I drove to the beach every Sunday at the end of eleventh grade. It became a routine. “See you,” John said to me on Fridays, at the end of our History of Cinema class.
“See you,” was shorthand for the promise that John would pick me up at noon and drive me to the beach where we would sit, sharing our glamorous dreams of future lives lived without the other. He wanted to be a philosophy professor. I wanted to be a fashion designer in France. We both got each other’s humor, heaving with sarcasm clever enough to fortify the shyness between us forever.
My mother approved of him. She always believed he’d someday be my husband. She repeated his name during her last years of senility. But shyness, on the part of both of us, made anything but a platonic relationship impossible.
I remember John taking an old towel out of the trunk of his mother’s Dodge, placing it on the sand, books and bottles holding down the four corners of the towel, protecting it from the wind.
“Sit down, Mazey.” He always called me Mazey, even though that isn’t my name. No one has called me “Mazey” ever again.
I was holding my vanilla yogurt cone, trying not to drop it. I balanced myself on one leg and carefully sat down on the towel. I hoped Jon was watching me. I was wearing a new yellow dress with white ruffles at the collar. John once told me he liked yellow. I knew my legs looked good. I sat in the sun all that week, with my mother, trying to get a tan. I wondered if my make-up made me look older, more sophisticated.
John motioned me to sit down on one side of the towel. It seemed certain he would not attempt to touch me. He tried to touch me once. I pulled my arm away with the shock of his touch. That was months before.
“No such thing as a man and woman being friends,” said Uncle Charlie, when I told him about John. I felt so weird when Uncle Charlie spoke as if I were a woman already. I wondered if it were true.
“You are a woman now,” my mother said the day I got my first period. I couldn’t see how she could say that.
My mom went out with so many men. I didn’t know how she found them. “Your father really fucked me over,” she’d say, asking me to wish her luck whenever she went out on a date.
I loved watching her put on her make-up. She taught me how to put the darker shade of eye shadow in the crease of the eyelid and a light color just below the brow and a medium shade on the eyelids themselves. “This is the stuff we women have to learn.” Mom would inevitably let out a shriek when I stood beside her in the mirror. “Oh, dear, you’re so young! Look at what a mess I am!” I thought my mother was beautiful but I could see what she meant. “Don’t forget to use skin cream every night. It’s never too early to start a beauty routine.”
I looked at John from the corner of my eye as I listened to the traffic swoosh by on the Pacific Coast Highway.
“You have lipstick on your teeth,” John said.
“Where?” I asked, for he was just my friend, after all. What did I care if he saw lipstick on my teeth?
I wanted to hide from him. I had put on a darker shade of lipstick that day: Clementine Magic.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. His answer didn’t satisfy. I imagined bright orange on my teeth, making a mockery of me. I walked back to the car and looked inside the rearview mirror on the driver’s side of his mother’s Dodge. Sure enough. Lipstick on my teeth. I wiped it off with my finger.
John once told me he hated women who wore a lot of make-up. My mother said the important thing about make-up was making it look invisible. My friend Cynthia brought me the Clementine Magic. “Joey and I went to second,” she said, after wearing it. “Try this.” She knew I was in love with John.
“Are you crying?” he asked.
“What? No. Are you kidding? It’s the sand. It’s in my eyes.” I wasn’t crying. “What are you looking at?” This girl in a bikini was passing in front of us. She had big breasts and a tattoo on her ass.
“Can’t help but look at that,” said John, pointing to the girl. In the days before he tried to touch me, before I didn’t let him, he never would have pointed out another girl. That’s it, I thought to myself. I’m sick of him.
“Why don’t you go up to her?’ I dared him. He grunted.
We played our game, trying to get each other dates. John even tried to fix me up with his best friend, Mark. I said “no,” hoping John would think I was busy dating someone else. I wasn’t.
I stared at John’s wrist. It was thick, like a man’s, and there was hair on his forearms, hair like a man has hair. I wanted to reach out and touch the side of his wrist. I looked away.
“That’s a cute guy,” I said, pointing to a surfer type, the kind of guy I couldn’t stand. I saw John cringe.
“Why don’t you go up and introduce yourself?” He said.
“I’m sick of men.”
John took out a cigarette. “Give me one,” I held out my hand.
“Here, I’ll light it. Or are you too much of a feminist for that?”
I shrugged. He knew how I felt. “Just light it, okay?”
He put the cigarette to his lips and lit it. He started to hand it to me, then placed it between my lips. A jolt of electricity shot through me. I thought of a conversation I overheard. My mother was talking to her friend, Ann. “It was like a bolt of lightning shot through me, I swear.”
I inhaled deep into the cigarette, coughing in response.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said.
I stared out to the ocean, inhaling with less force, watching the smoke as I exhaled from my mouth.
I hoped he was looking at my profile, at my legs. I sat there for a long time, posing. I was thinking of French films, the way the camera pauses on the necks of slender French actresses in older French films, the kind Mr. Sokol showed us in our film class.
When I turned, I saw John’s head had fallen on his chest. He was sleeping.
I took the lit cigarette from his fingers. I stared at his lips. I wanted to kiss him. But I didn’t.