Iris stepped away from Cooper, disciplining herself. She would not give in to swooning so soon. Already on her fourth beer, she knew she was standing on that slippery edge where bad decisions become impulsive, like the time she ended up in Seth Bower’s rundown red Karmann Ghia, driving north on the freeway with no exit for more than 50 miles from home. She had feared Seth’s loose judgment on “safe following distance” would lead him to plow into a semi, slide right under the truck, decapitate them both. That was how the summer began. She wanted to end it on a promising note, glide into her senior year with self-confidence and control.
She stepped farther away from Cooper, the current source of her jittery distraction. She watched the other high school girls at the party, especially the ones with money. They brought bottles of wine and their parents’ Chardonnay glasses. They swished their long hair. This is what we’re supposed to do, right? Feign indifference. Be aloof.
In her psychology class last year each student was secretly given the name of another and asked to describe the person in one word, scribbling on a scrap of paper and put anonymously in a basket. The word describing Iris was “enigmatic.” Clearly a boy’s handwriting. She had to look it up after class and smiled to herself that someone thought of her as mysterious. It never occurred to her that it might not be a compliment, that maybe the boy meant she was as inscrutable as a con artist.
Cooper stepped forward and touched her arm. “Wanna walk down to the pond?” She waited a moment—enigmatically paused, she hoped— and then nodded yes.
Willow trees lined a meadow of low grass and heady phlox and a stone path led down a slope to the pond. The temperature cooled slightly and a light fog settled along the edges of the water. In the distance, Iris heard The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Let’s get together before we get much older. Teenage wasteland. It’s only teenage wasteland.
Cooper pulled Iris to him, tilted her head back, kissed her as he held her face in his hands. They had only known each other two weeks but Iris could not move an inch without thinking about him, could not talk with anyone without mentioning his name. She felt him rising in her bloodstream, making her anxious. She had dropped a vase, knocked over a glass of milk, lost her glasses, hit her head on the car door—all just today.
So when Cooper first put his hand on the small of her back, she inhaled sharply and closed her eyes, waited for him to kiss her again. Instead, he kissed her neck and reached his other arm around her, grabbing at the bow of her halter top. His hands, his weighty shoulders were everywhere, on top of her, pushing her to the ground, pulling at her clothes.
She said, “No.” No. In her head, into the cool air, above the phlox, she said it. She bit his forearm with an angry, guttural no. As he stooped over on his knees, holding his arm, she kicked him between the legs, a feral kick reinforced by a declarative no and the trendy wooden clogs she had bought for the start of senior year. Cooper rolled over onto his back. Iris stood, gathered herself, left him in the wet grass.
She said no, whispered it to herself all the way home. She would never tell anyone. She remained enigmatic. Outwardly indifferent. Righteously aloof.