★ ★ ★ ★
C’est Le Weekend
Melanie makes you pack a bathing suit. A yellow bikini that she originally bought for herself. It’s too big now, she lost weight this spring. Running track, working at John Major’s diner after school. Being the lithe, industrious teen you’ll never be.
You can tell, every time Melanie comes over, that your mother wishes you were more like her. But you love to sleep. You think John Major’s creepy. You don’t care if you’re poor, because there’s nowhere good to go anyway.
“But you need better clothes,” your mother says.
“If I get into college.”
“If you don’t, you’ll still need a job.”
“He’s the kind of boss who puts his hand on your lower back,” you say. “I don’t want to deal with it.”
“If it weren’t that, it would be something else. The fact is, you’re lazy.”
You are lazy. Sometimes, it’s a strength. Your mother doesn’t see it, but your early recognition that John Major is exhausting has saved you a certain amount of trouble. Trouble that Melanie can’t get ahead of. Such as John Major’s breath, smelling of bad milk, warm on her ear as she balances the register. John Major talking low to her in the walk-in. John Major getting mad that she doesn’t want him to drive her home anymore.
Ben Major, Melanie’s boyfriend, doesn’t know. She thinks he would dump her if he knew. You think she’s not wrong. He’s taking you both out to the family cabin this weekend, along with Mike Roeper and Trent Visser. You desperately, desperately do not want to go.
Ben’s very cool, for a kid whose dad runs a diner. He was like that even in third grade. Square-shouldered. Mike, whose dad is vice-president of the First National Bank on Salmon and Seventh, is afraid of Ben.
But he won’t be afraid of you. You and your white leather bowling bag, filled hopefully with that swimsuit, your “good” jeans and your blue ring T-shirt. All your coolest clothes, which you already know won’t impress him.
But Melanie doesn’t have other girlfriends she could ask. Other girls in your grade don’t like her. She tries to flirt with them, as if they’re boys; she can’t ask them for what she wants, in the oblique way they’d like her to.
You’re not so crazy about ol’ Mel yourself, but you see how hard she tries. To get her B grades, to cheer for her mean fucking track teammates. To be in possession of a job and a boyfriend and a life, even if they only look good from a distance. It’s more ambitious than anything you attempt. And she always tries to include you.
Besides: Mike Roeper.
Trent Visser picks everyone up in his Jeep. He’s a tall boy who wears the same jean jacket every day, and you find him as intimidating as a celebrity. He tries to help you load your bag into the back seat, but you clutch it to your gut and insist on holding it in your lap.
It’s because the zipper broke last March. You’re worried it will spill your underwear all over everyone else’s luggage, but you pretend like it holds something important that you need immediate access to.
Trent looks at you like you’re a lunatic. Melanie tries to cover by calling his Jeep “keen.”
“Is it?” he says. “Is my Jeep peachy-keen?”
Melanie shoves him. “Shush.”
He grins at her, he’s forgotten you and your bag, which you’re brooding over like a hen. You look at your little pot belly, pushing against the leather, then you tilt your head up. July storm clouds flash between the arms of the chestnut trees. The Jeep has an open top; you hope you’ll get to the cabin before it rains.
Trent drives to Mike’s house next. It’s on the top of a hill in the northwest part of town, which is also the oldest part of town. Each house has a different architectural style than its neighbors. In front of some are landscaping trucks, or smoking men holding hedge clippers. Mike’s already waiting out front, sunglasses on, chipping the paint off his black iron gate.
Melanie’s sitting shotgun, so he gets in back with you. “Hey,” he says.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Mike says. He doesn’t bother to hide his annoyance.
“You were hoping it would be ‘just the boys and Melanie’?” says Trent.
“Um, doesn’t everyone?” you say, and they laugh. Even Melanie, although it’s not really funny.
Especially not once Trent pulls up to John Major’s white frame house and John follows Ben out to the Jeep. His hands stroke the finish on the hood, he makes jokes the boys don’t smile at. His eyes seem glued to Melanie’s pink halter top.
Ben notices it, then he notices his friends noticing. His hair is blond, parted on the side and brushed until it shines like a Boy Scout’s. But his eyes, so grey they’re almost white, remind you of tintype photos of Confederate soldiers. He’s not someone you’ve ever lied to.
“You guys got enough food back there to last all weekend?” John Major says, loading in Ben’s red cooler. “Maybe I should come check on you later. Bring some burgers.”
“We’ll be fine,” says Ben.
“You got enough sunscreen, Melanie?” John Major says. “Don’t want to burn those pretty shoulders.”
Ben spits. “I’ll worry about Melanie. You worry about getting more customers. Mom doesn’t like the books lately.”
John Major tries to laugh. He’s got teeth that are too big for his mouth. “Your mother likes to fret.”
Ben gets in the back seat, shoving Mike Roeper closer to you. “She’s got an accounting degree.”
Before you’re out of John Major’s sight, Ben’s got a cigarette going, but he doesn’t try to hide it. Melanie looks scared, but Ben doesn’t say much to her, just kisses her on the cheek then starts talking baseball to Trent.
The official story is that the boys are staying at the cabin this weekend to fish, but Ben hasn’t even bothered to bring fishing poles. You and Melanie have supposedly just come out for the day, then will retire to your house (in Melanie’s case) or Melanie’s house (in your case.) Her father, a widower, bought this story. Your mother said she did too, but tucked a packet of condoms into the bottom of your bowling bag. When you find them later, they make you tear up.
The cabin is long and rambling, its wood-paneled walls redolent with mildew. The boys go straight to the dock. They rip off their T-shirts and jeans and swim in their underwear. Their bodies are smooth, insolent.
You plug the fridge in. It comes on with a shudder, then you start unpacking the cooler.
Melanie hesitates by the sliding glass doors. Behind her, you see the boys diving.
“Do you need help?” she says. Her eyes seem a little wide; maybe John and Ben’s fight scared her.
“Just go,” you tell her.
And she does. She strips off her halter top sundress, revealing the swimsuit beneath it. The boys stop diving to watch. She folds her dress neatly, then dangles her feet in the water. They swarm around her like minnows.
You find a dish towel and wipe off the dusty counters. There’s a bottle of bleach in the pantry, and you use it to disinfect the sink. The porcelain has rust rings that won’t budge.
You rinse the sink out, then start considering lunch. Mike brought hot dogs. Trent brought beer. Melanie, for some goddamn reason, brought a pineapple. Only Ben had packed properly — cereal, a bag of potatoes, milk. Some frozen hamburgers and buns he probably stole from the diner.
You wonder if you could pull off fries. Home fries would be easier. You turn the oven on, start quartering potatoes.
Ben comes in shirtless, wearing wet jeans. “What are you doing?”
“Making home fries.”
He frowns, then pulls a beer from the fridge. You notice his slim torso, lined with dense, pale muscle, then fix your eyes resolutely on his face. “I was going to make hash browns for breakfast tomorrow.”
You quit chopping. “I can stop.”
“Don’t worry about it. You want a beer?”
Your first beer. It tastes like rotten raspberries.
Ben’s watching you chop the remaining potatoes. You pour them in a bowl, mix them with salt, oil, pepper, and dried rosemary. You dig out a baking sheet, dump the potatoes on it, then spread them in a thin layer. Ben’s silence fills the room.
You put the baking sheet in the oven, shut the door, lean against it. “What?”
“What’s with my dad and Melanie?”
“Nothing.” Outside, Mike Roeper is pulling himself onto the dock, brown arms flexing.
A muscle in Ben’s jaw twitches. “I know she talks to you.”
You force down a gulp of beer. “Everybody likes Melanie.”
Ben runs a hand across his forehead. “I know you’re not stupid. Has he pulled anything?”
When he finds out you lied, it won’t go well, but it’s not your secret to tell.
“I don’t know,” you say. “Should we start up the barbecue? They’ll be hungry soon.”
Ben shakes his head. “Stop playing hostess,” he says. “This is my house. Don’t you swim?”
You think of the one time you tried on the yellow bikini. Even in the flattering lamplight of your bedroom, there was a lot that didn’t work. Cellulite, acne, hair in the wrong places. In your shame, you looked more naked than an actual naked person.
“I’m more of a fisherman,” you say, in a cheery tone you despise. “Brought all my best lures with me, hoped we’d be going after bass.”
Ben doesn’t laugh. To be fair, you weren’t being funny. Without saying another word, he grabs some towels from the bathroom, then heads back to the dock.
You watch him through the window, as he wraps a towel around Melanie’s shoulders, and wonder what would happen if you could get over yourself for once. Shave your legs in the shower. Put on the bikini. Drink a beer on the dock with your best friend and the guys. Not care that you weren’t pretty, or that they didn’t really want you to be there.
If you weren’t so touchy, if you could be warm and easy, they wouldn’t mind you as much. It might be a good weekend. It would be better than what you’d end up doing — mothering them all, doing serf’s tasks in the kitchen. Avoiding a single honest moment.
But you don’t want to ask them for anything. You don’t want to play the grateful geek; you don’t want to owe them.
Stupid phrases from Freshman French run through your head. “Je m’appelle Lori. C’est le weekend.” My name is Lori. It’s the weekend.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?” What is that?
“Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” What is it? What’s the matter?
All at once, you’re desperate to get the barbecue going. It stands there in the shadow cast by a big red cedar, needles stuck to its lid. But Ben said to stop.
The storm clouds have convened upon the western edge of the lake, where the houses are bigger, and the docks have boats tied to them. You hear a crackle, and suddenly rain is sheeting down, rebounding against the surface of the water like drops of oil off a hot griddle.
Melanie screams and runs in, but the boys keep swimming. You wonder if it feels good — warm rain on their heads, their bodies cradled by cool, dark lake water.
After Melanie dries off, you decide to make hot dogs, since grilling is obviously off the menu.
She rinses out a pan, and gets water boiling. You check on the potatoes. The boys lie on top of the dock, letting themselves be pummeled by the rain.
“Aren’t they cold?” you say.
“They like it,” says Melanie. She’s tied her wet hair into a ponytail and changed into a pale yellow sweater and shorts. She slits open the plastic hot dog package and drains the juice into the sink.
“Being uncomfortable,” she says. “Pretending nothing bothers them. It’s a game.”
“Hmm,” you say. Melanie drops the hot dogs into the water, one by one. Her nail polish is pinkish blue. You wonder what the name is for that color.
“That was weird earlier,” you say. “Ben and his dad.”
She flushes. “I can’t be the only girl John looks at.”
“He didn’t even see me today.”
Melanie glances up, quickly. “You weren’t showing anything.” She stirs the hot dogs with a fork. “Why didn’t you come out and swim?”
“I don’t look good in your suit.”
Melanie rummages in the cupboards for a colander. “Trent was asking about you.”
“No he wasn’t.”
“He was,” she says. “You should have come out.”
Trent Visser, Star Pitcher, Driver of Jeeps, would not ask about you. “I don’t believe you.”
She shrugs, a pretty gesture. You shouldn’t resent Melanie so much. Her mother is dead.
“Try talking to him,” she says. “You’ll see.”
When the boys finally come in, soaking wet and bright-eyed, you watch Trent carefully. You even offer him mustard. But he seems as indifferent to you as if you were a piece of furniture. A pilled, worn-down armchair; a battered end table.
After the rain stops, they make a fire, and you sit outside on a wet patio chaise in your good jeans, pretending to have fun. The air is dark, and stinks of cedar. In the distance, purple mountains melt into swollen clouds.
Mike Roeper rolls a joint. You fake an inhale. Ben pulls Melanie into his lap, and they make out, while everyone pretends not to watch. One hand is under her yellow sweater. The other is in her hair, fingers pulsing white through the chestnut strands. It’s rhythmic, embarrassing.
Trent clears his throat. “Are you going to Amy’s party Friday?” he asks Mike.
“Maybe,” Mike says, still watching Melanie. The curve of her throat, and Ben’s mouth on it.
“What about you?” says Trent. You blink, not sure why he’d even ask.
“I wasn’t invited,” you say.
“Well,” says Trent. He worries his lower lip. “When does football practice start, Mike?”
“Second week of August,” Mike says, without looking away from Melanie and Ben.
Trent stands up, decisive. “I’m going to go look for marshmallows,” he says. “Lori, you wanna help?”
Trent hustles you into the kitchen, very fucking jolly. Making jokes about S’mores and Camp Fire Girls. You force a chuckle. In the pantry, he presses you up against the canned corn, lips cold against your rain-streaked neck. You’re too surprised to react. It’s happening too quickly, it feels like it’s happening to someone else.
You can feel his cock through his jeans and your T-shirt, hot against your stomach. He’s a lot taller than you. Will they notice that you’re both gone?
The pantry smells of old oregano, and mice. Trent’s hands knead your ass. How far will you let this go? Will Trent talk about you later?
You break away from him. “Are you secretly fucking Melanie?”
Trent’s eyes are out of focus; suddenly, they snap back in. “No!” he says. “Jesus.”
“Are you in love with her?”
Trent grins, wolfish. “I’m not in love with anyone,” he says. “Just lonely.”
He moves in again, and you let him. There are worse things than kissing Trent Visser in a pantry.
Time passes. The light is failing, so all you see of Trent is the whites of his eyes. And a little storm light, edging his hair. It’s getting late, and you’re hungry again.
Trent’s hands feel hot under your T-shirt, warming your clammy skin. You arch your back, and he peels your T-shirt up, just as the front door opens and a hearty voice calls out, “Who’s ready for burgers?”
Adrenaline bolts through your soft, loose limbs. Down goes your shirt. You fasten your bra. Trent zips up his pants, which you hadn’t noticed he’d undone.
You run to the fire pit, to warn Melanie. Neither she, nor Ben, nor Mike are wearing shirts. You decide not to worry about what this means. You scream at them to get dressed, just as John Major steps through the sliding glass doors, hands clutching greasy take-out bags.
His face goes grey, as if Melanie were his own daughter. Ben throws her sweater at her, then stands in front of her while she puts it on. Mike hauls on his own T-shirt, his neck brick-red.
“What is this, Ben?” says John Major. His mouth trembles, like an old man’s.
Ben tilts his chin up. “No one asked you to come out here.”
“This is my father’s cabin,” says John Major. “If he saw the filth — that you and that slut — ”
Ben doesn’t flinch.
“You should go,” he says.
John Major swipes at his face. Is he crying? You see Trent lurking in the kitchen, afraid to get pulled into whatever’s going on out here.
“I’m your father,” says John Major. “You can’t talk to me like this.” He tries to move around
Ben, to get to Melanie.
“Sweetie?” he says, kneeling down. “I’m sorry for what I said. I know you didn’t want to do this. I know he talked you into it.”
John Major’s got a bald patch, which you never noticed before. Melanie clutches Ben’s arm.
“I can drive you home,” John Major says.
Melanie spits, deliberately. “No,” she says.
“Why not?” says John Major.
Melanie looks at you. Does she want you to say something? Ben sees her watching you and flashes you a look of contempt.
“Tell them,” she says.
“About what?” you say.
“About the day you came to meet me at the diner,” she says. “When he made you wait for me in the back, and — ”
You force a laugh. “Nothing happened.”
“Cut the shit,” says Melanie. “It means more if there’s two of us.”
The fire sputters. Mike can’t even look at you.
John Major breaks the silence with a laugh. He’s still kneeling in front of Melanie, like a knight in front of his lady.
“Her?” he says. He scans you up and down. “You wish, kid.”
You step forward. Almost without your volition, your foot lashes out, catching him on the nose. There’s a crunch, and then he’s scrambling back from you, blood streaming from his nose.
“Bitch!” he screams. “You ugly fucking bitch! You lying goddamn — ”
“That’s enough,” says Ben. He marches John Major back to his car, making sure he takes the sacks of burgers. Mike quietly excuses himself, then vomits into a side yard smoke bush.
Melanie touches your arm, very lightly. She’s ready to hug you, she’s ready to cry.
“I’m going to get some towels,” you say loudly. “It’s too cold to sit out here with wet hair.”
When you come back, it’s as if a spell has broken. Ben’s arm is around Melanie. They both refuse the thready, peach-striped towels. You listen as Ben starts making plans for them. She’s quitting the diner, they’re applying to the same colleges, he’s moving out of his dad’s house, maybe in with his grandma.
Mike returns from the side yard, flushed, wiping his mouth. He says he wants to go home. Trent drives him, then comes back, and for the rest of the (rainy, wet-mouthed) weekend, you can’t tell whether you feel guiltier than a fishhook, or lighter than the mist rising off the lake.
Marie Biondolillo is a Portland-based writer from Northwest Washington. Her fiction has been published by The Toast, VoiceCatcher, Beacon Quarterly, Every Pigeon, Waxing & Waning, and others. Her pilot “Guess It Just Goes to Show” was a 2018 CineStory Original Comedy finalist and her script “Ashley’s Party” was nominated for Best Comedy Short Screenplay at the Portland Comedy Film Festival and Austin Short Comedy Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter at @chestnutclub.
At The Wild Word we are proud to present some of the best online writing around, as well as being a platform for new and emerging writers and artists.
As a non-profit, the entire site is a labour of love.
If you have read the work in The Wild Word and like what we do, please put something in our tip jar to keep this amazing platform alive.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!