I lost my virginity while the dragon fell. When the enormous canvas beast faltered, people flocked beneath it. Maybe they hoped their attention would encourage it to stay aloft in the dead air, like zealots of a dying god refusing to believe its power could ever wane.
During the commotion, Deanna pulled me behind a trailer, unzipped my fly and hiked up her skirt. I shoved my pelvis forward, scrambling on by instinct. She pushed on my stomach to make room, pulled her panties to the side, and then guided me into her.
I tried to focus, to appreciate this carnal victory, but the collective crying out of the festivalgoers interrupted my rhythm. I closed my eyes, Deanna’s breath in my ear, and I imagined the dragon diving to earth as the crowd’s wails reached a crescendo. Despite the mental distraction, our morning-long build-up and the rush of this new sensation brought on a speedy orgasm. A bolt of electricity shook my body when I came, and the people yelled out a final, disappointed cry.
We hadn’t planned on coming to the kite festival. We’d been cruising south with no destination. Hands on each other as much as driving allowed. Then we spotted the flecks of color peppering the sky. I turned to investigate, same as several other drivers, only to find the access road to Green Hill Park gridlocked. We parked on the outskirts of a grass field, and joined the dozens of people sliding in between the nearer vehicles, all heads tilted to the sky. Her hand tightened in mine. I turned to find her face creased with tension.
“It’s all right,” I told her. “We’re twenty minutes from home. No one will know us.”
“I’m not worried about me,” she said.
At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant. Grinding into my best friend’s girlfriend, her back against a food truck selling chili cheese fries, was not how I envisioned it happening. I never considered my virginity sacred, like some girls did, but I at least figured I’d lose it in a bed or the backseat of my car.
I started going soft instantly. Guilt, non-existent seconds before, enveloped me. It sapped all my energy and any desire to stay there. In hindsight, the guilt had started the moment our flirtation grew physical, but my desire had dulled it. Like a headache only apparent once the euphoria of a roller coaster ends. Before that morning, we were just talking; I’d never so much as hugged her.
I had given her no thought, really, until Seth and I went camping at Hot Springs, smoking cigarettes he’d lifted from his mom’s purse.
“Y’know Deanna?” he said, French inhaling. He leaned back against a log the size of a barrel, pale skin almost bright against the woody backdrop.
He took another drag and blew a smoke ring. My impatience bubbled up, but I kept quiet.
“We did it, man.” He cocked his chin up into the air and looked at me threw eyelids drooped as if fatigued.
“You fucked her?” I asked, the aftertaste of the off-brand cigarette making my mouth feel polluted.
He nodded. “Three times already. I was gonna tell you sooner, but I figured it was no big deal.” He stared off into the woods, pulling another deep drag, telegraphing the penchant of a lifelong smoker.
We had talked about our respective sexless status so many times that it had grown stale. Such conversations were the domain of best friends alone. Nothing I could talk to my other friends about without risking ridicule.
“What was it like?” I asked.
Seth smiled, like he’d been waiting for that question ever since it happened. He spoke for the next hour about how it had gone down. He spared no details. Though I’d never thought of Deanna in a sexual way before then, I couldn’t help but form mental scenarios that would find us having sex instead.
She’d come into Seth’s bathroom without knocking and find me peeing, and I’d say it was only fair that she showed me hers since I’d shown her mine.
Seth would get jumped by some upperclassmen at a football game, and I’d scare ‘em off, leaving just the two of us and her indebted to me. We’d take Seth home and put him to bed, and then I’d walk her home and she’d thank me for my bravery and kindness.
* * *
Behind the trailer, my calf muscles spasmed from pushing me up and into her. My abs followed suit, heightening the queasiness in my stomach. I pulled back, tucking my penis inside my cargo shorts so fast that she never saw my privates. I hadn’t seen hers. She wiped her mouth, so I copied her, removing the saliva clinging to my upper lip. I had to march in place to keep my calves from seizing.
She just stared at me for a few seconds, smiling. “Well?” she said, finally.
“You’re not gonna tell Seth are you?” I said.
Her smile vanished and she looked at the ground. “No. I don’t guess he’d like that much.” She huffed a humorless laugh and shook her head.
Neither of us mentioned what Seth would do if he found out. Maybe we both knew the answer: not much.
Seth’s reputation began its inexorable descent when he had to have eyeglasses. His skin reacted to the metal frames, so he only wore the large, plastic frames, which seemingly only came in brown or gray. Like many others, he could only afford the fashion necessities – jean jacket, pump shoes – well after trends had moved on, or only once they had trickled down to off-brands.
Perhaps what sealed it was when he broke his arms. Casts could be cool. When the captain of the wrestling team snapped his forearm in a match, he wore the fiberglass cast with pride, the outer layer our school colors.
Seth could claim no such pride. I was the next court over, the volleyball coed game so crowded as to be meaningless. I saw it happen; Seth jumped to spike a lobbed volley on the other team, but he couldn’t get high enough. He missed the ball, but managed to get his other hand caught in the net. When gravity took over, his momentum swung his legs out from under him. When his hand untangled, he fell to the wooden floor, pulling his hands behind him just in time to break his fall.
Both arms broke. Clean breaks, but requiring casts and a volunteer from each class to write down his assignments. His accident garnered no sympathy from the popular kids. Once Walt Duncan dubbed Seth “Clubby” for the awkward casts covering both his arms, Seth’s status solidified.
If I’d been caught moving in on the quarterback’s girl, it would be one thing. I’d expect corporal punishment, and no one would object. Having sex with Clubby’s girlfriend was another. Such an offense was more apt to solicit ribbing than disapproval. Hurt or not, betrayed or not, Seth would obey the social order. If he attacked me, our peers would rush to my defense, not his. Cooler guys won fights against supposed dorks, even if that meant they needed a little help.
Maybe that was why I had felt comfortable looking up Deanna’s number in the school directory. Why I’d spoken to her on the phone for hours over the last week, every day of spring break. Now I had nothing to say.
We shared a full minute of silence, neither of us raising our eyes above ground level. Then she took my hand, and we rounded the food trailer. On the ground, the dragon kite seemed even more massive. The people surrounded it, as if – airborne – they could never know its wonder. To be appreciated, it had to fall.
“What’s the big deal?” she asked. She slid the hair out of her face, revealing the spray of freckles on her cheeks and the light acne on her forehead. “It’s just a kite.” I had stared at that face for hours in my yearbook, wrestling with whether to call her, trying to guess whether she would tell Seth.
The dragon flailed on the ground, still trying to take flight again. Its huge frame converted even the slight breeze into lift, but it wasn’t enough. The sky was a white blanket, as void of sun as wind. The last of the crowds gravitated to where the giant writhed in the cropped grass, even the food vendors leaned out of their vehicles to stare. Children watched from atop their dads’ shoulders, others ran around it, trailing miniature box kites kept aloft by their momentum alone.
“So lame,” Deanna said. For an eternal second, I thought she meant me — us. The peak of our secret courtship a two-minute tryst scented by deep fryers and the vinegar stench of ketchup. But she was looking at the dragon and the crowd forming a border around it.
Maybe they were lame, but at that moment, I envied them. Their only worry was whether the kites would fly again. No matter what, they would leave and still enjoy a day full of possibilities. The festival would remain a sour note, perhaps, but one to joke about and let quickly fade from memory.
But for me, what could follow but bad things? At least, I hadn’t gotten Deanna pregnant. My sixteen-year-old brain knew for a fact that gravity made pregnancy impossible if you were standing up. Surely I didn’t get a disease. She had only slept with two other guys. One was my best friend, also a virgin before Deanna. The other she had told me a little about on the phone.
But there was no stopping the end of our affair. No phone conversation where I could convince myself that I loved the voice in the darkness, as I had over Spring Break. Our week of excitement would end in no more meaningful an act than jerking off to my brother’s skin mags in the bathroom.
“I know how you feel,” she said, still looking ahead. But she’d meant the comment for me, not the dragon.
“I felt the same way my first time. When my cousin took me into the woods and we did it. We were having a cookout. He kept touching my leg under the bench. After we ate, he tore the tab off a soda can and held it out to me. I sorta knew what it meant. That I owed him sex. And I liked all the flirting, so I took it. Then half an hour later he was on top of me out in the woods behind the trailer park, and there goes my cherry.” She laughed, but it faded quickly.
“It happened so damn fast. I came back to the cookout and my momma looked at me. She shook her head, but she was grinning. Probably figured I’d been out there kissing him. All but gave me the shame-shame finger. I wanted to be that girl she smiled at — the one who’d gone and done something silly with a boy, even my cousin. But instead I was just a whore.”
I squeezed her hand. “I don’t think you’re a whore.”
She looked at me. “Sure you do. I know how you and Seth are. You tell each other everything. I bet he talks more about our sex life to you than he does to me. Why else would you call a girl like me?”
I understood what she meant. Anyone in school would have, even if adults couldn’t wrap their heads around it. To my mom, there was no difference between Seth and me. If I dated Deanna, she would have thought no more or less of it than if Deanna were the most popular girl in school. But the sexual forays that made popular girls like Deidre Gentry the envy of her friends made Deanna a slut. While the girls giggled over Deidre’s exploits, the guys waged careful conversations about what they would do with Deidre if given the same chance. But really there was no difference between Deanna and Deidre but the location of their houses. The size of their parents’ bank accounts.
“I’m not that popular either,” I said, shrugging.
“You’re popular enough to stay away from girls like me. We’ve been talking all break, but I’ll bet you haven’t told any of your other friends about me.”
“I haven’t, but I didn’t want it getting back to Seth,” I said, unable to keep from whining.
“Like your other friends would talk to Seth. They’re too good for him and they’re too good for me.”
“I never said that.”
She sighed. “It doesn’t matter. We won’t be able to hide this from him, but it won’t hurt your rep any,” she said.
“I don’t care about that. But you said you wouldn’t tell him.” My breath caught, and my chest tightened. Seth had been my best friend since kindergarten. Even when we began hanging out with different crowds, we stayed close. I endured perpetual teasing for being friends with him, but he was the one thing I was unwilling to give up for further popularity. And I’d ruined that over two minutes behind a food truck. It was more than I could process. The moment had become something out of fantasy.
“I won’t tell him, but he’ll find out. You won’t be able to keep it from him.”
Our progress was slow, but we eventually meshed into the outer rim of spectators — the dragon just feet away. A swarm of men and women in dark blue shirts emerged from the crowd and set themselves around the massive kite. A guy with socks pulled up to his knees fed slack to the thick line attached to the dragon’s throat. The people in blue — event workers, I guessed — held the kite at waist level, spacing themselves around it evenly. They stepped back and the canvas tightened. The crowd pulled back around them.
“There’s no wind. What can they do with it?” she asked.
“We said we loved each other on the phone,” I mumbled, as much to the air as to her.
“I meant it,” she said. “It’s okay that you didn’t. I knew you didn’t.”
“Is this what you wanted? Is it what you planned on?”
She sighed. “I didn’t think this far ahead.”
Just then a breeze kicked up. The sky was darkening in the north, the wind preceding a storm. A vendor’s tent nearby selling pinwheels suddenly looked like the turning fractals of a giant kaleidoscope. Another seller hawking wooden whirligigs drew stares when his tent began thrumming with the clicks and clacks of his wares. A lumberjack formerly static now pulled a whipsaw across a fallen log with feverish intensity. A duck whose webbed feet caught the wind ran in place like the Roadrunner building up for a burst of speed.
Workers yelled at the crowd to back up. The sock guy was calling out directions I couldn’t understand, already made unintelligible by the sound of the air rolling past. He made hand signals at the workers. They angled the dragon up, lifted the canvas above their heads, letting the wind flow beneath.
The sock guy let out more line, and the dragon roared to life. The sound was something like the warble of flexing sheet metal as the wind popped the tendrils of the dragon’s tail. It hovered in the air for several seconds and then gained altitude. The sock guy was catching a fish in reverse: applying drag for lift and slack for distance. The crowd stayed quiet until the beast was clear of the ground — till the great length of its body was suspended and rippling in the new wind. Then a cheer went up, followed by applause. The sky filled with the smaller kites of vendors and patrons, as if choreographed. The building wind pulled kites no bigger than pieces of paper as high as their fliers dared, though none flew so high as the dragon.
I hadn’t noticed Deanna letting go of my hand. I went to squeeze her fingers and found them missing. I looked over and saw her crying. The straight locks of her hair slapped her face in the wind, soaking up the tears on her cheeks before they fell. Her eyes reflected the milky light.
“I’m sorry,” I told her.
She looked at me and wiped her eyes, smearing her thick make-up. “I did it. It’s my fault. I can tell him if you want. He’ll still be your friend.”
My stomach sank at the idea of losing Seth. She hadn’t meant it that way; she had meant to reassure me, but the effect was the same. Over long seconds, I imagined sharing with my other friends all that I could share with Seth. I imagined the consequences of acting as goofy as Seth and I would act, of falling into fits of laughter so deep and long that I thought I’d suffocate.
The others came up short, and a lump caught in my throat. I could only shake my head. “Let’s go before the rain comes,” I said.
She looked up at the sky of kites, the crowd frenzied with energy, the wind carrying laughs and hollers. “It won’t fall again,” she said. “It’s up there for good now.”