Chapter no 11

If He Had Been with Me

The field at the bottom of The Steps to Nowhere floods with the spring rain. The boys walk around this impermanent lake together, threatening to push each other in or pretending they are about to jump in to make us scream.

We hear that hardly anyone ever goes to the Spring Fling, so we decide that it must be cool and that we will go.

The girls all come over to my house to get ready. The dance is casual, and we’re all wearing jeans. I’m going to wear the corset I bought with Sasha last fall.

Brooke wants to do everyone’s makeup, so we take turns sitting for her while the other girls watch. I go last, and it’s during my turn that she says it.

“Autumn,” she says, “I’m not going to spend the night tonight.”

“Why?” we all chorus. Everyone’s overnight stuff, including Brooke’s, is all clustered together by my bed. Brooke stops putting foundation on me and takes a deep breath.

“Because Noah’s parents are out of town, and I’m going to his place,” she says. There is a moment of silence.

“Are you…” Angie says, her voice trailing off. Brooke looks around at all of us, and nods. We scream and Brooke covers her face with her hands.

“Guys!” she says.

“Oh my God,” Sasha says.

“Why?” I say, and then wonder if it was the wrong thing to say. Brooke uncovers her face and smiles.

“Because I love him,” she says, “and it just feels right.” “Awww,” Angie says.

“Wow,” Sasha says. “Now I’m going to be thinking about it all night.” We laugh.

“We’re going to walk to his house after the dance. Tell your Mom I got sick and left early, okay?” Brooke says. I nod. “I’ll come get my stuff tomorrow.”

“You’re going to tell us everything, right?” Angie says. “Well…” she says.

“You have to!” Sasha says. We all agree that she has to.

When the boys arrive, we all file downstairs together and my mom takes our picture before we all pile into the van to go to the school. Jamie looks hot, and I tell him in his ear on the way there. He smiles and doesn’t say anything, but when I squeeze his hand, he squeezes back.

Out of fifteen hundred students, about sixty show up for the Spring Fling. We have the floor to ourselves and we dance together in the middle and shout requests at the DJ, who actually complies. Because there are so few students, nobody stops us when we start to dance on the tables. It doesn’t matter how we dance because there is hardly anyone to see us, and our dance moves and requests become more and more ridiculous. We make a conga line. We do the Macarena when the Electric Slide is blasting out of the speakers. We exhaust ourselves dancing, drink some punch, and then go dance again. At the first slow song, Jamie asks our principal, Mrs. Black, to dance, and she does amid cheers from all across the room.

We congratulate ourselves and agree: the Spring Fling is cool because nobody goes.

It’s a long time before the DJ plays another slow song. By then my heart is pounding, and I’m so out of breath I practically collapse into Jamie. He looks so handsome that I get butterflies in my stomach looking at him. I wrap my arms around his neck and we sway to the music.

“I love you,” I say, and I’m not saying it to remind myself that I do; at this moment I can feel it.

“Love you too,” he says.

“Did you hear about Brooke and Noah?” I ask. Jamie rolls his eyes and sighs.

“Yeah, he was bragging about it all afternoon,” he says. “Really?” I ask. “What did he say?” He shrugs.

“He just said that they were gonna do it.” “And?”

“And what?”

“What else did he say?”

“He didn’t say anything else. He just said they were gonna do it tonight.” “Well, that’s not bragging”

“Yes, it is.”


“What are you talking about?” Jamie says. “I just told you that he was bragging about it all afternoon.”

“I just don’t understand how he was bragging all afternoon if all he said was that they were going to do it. That’s like, one sentence.”

“Never mind,” Jamie says. “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Why not?”

“I just don’t, okay?” “But why—”

“Autumn, I don’t want to talk about them having sex, okay?”

“Fine,” I say. We finish the song in silence. Afterward, I ask Angie to go to the bathroom with me. We talk about our hair and how much fun we are having, and a little bit about Brooke of course.

“It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?” she says. “I mean that Brooke won’t be a virgin tomorrow. It doesn’t seem real.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. We go back outside. I look at Jamie from a distance and try to bring back the good feeling I had before, but I can’t. I wonder if when Brooke kisses Noah, if she sometimes imagines that he’s someone else. I wonder if when she touches herself, he is the only one she ever thinks about.

I tell myself relationships are hard work. No one is perfect. There’s no such thing as happily ever after.


On Monday, on The Steps to Nowhere, Brooke says that afterward you don’t feel any different, except you love him so much more than before.

“But you’re not like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not a virgin anymore.’”

“Really?” I say. I think that that would be the only thought I could think afterward. I think that I would look at myself in the mirror and say it over and over again.

“Yeah,” she says, “It’s just like—” She doesn’t finish her sentence; she just looks down at the boys standing by the water. They are seeing who can throw rocks the farthest. I watch Jamie win. I imagine it just feeling right with him.

“Did it hurt?” Angie says. “Oh yeah,” Brooke says.

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