Book Two: I

Sunny

There is no body of water anywhere near this place. I’m dying of the stifling oppressive heat; many nights it is forty degrees on the humidex and no one can walk more than a half a block without falling on their faces with exhaustion. We all sleep naked with fans blowing directly on our bodies. Dad and Iris have a window air-conditioner in their room, but Charlie and I don’t get one because we’re kids and not worthwhile enough I guess. 

The other night around nine-thirty, I finally finished my beautiful paint job on my bedroom walls. It took me five sessions total over the span of two weeks. Each time I worked on it, I discovered a little more about finding the you feeling in art. If I allow myself to get really absorbed in the project, every other aspect of life falls away and I am breathing, settling, a whole person. So good and whole. Once I was finally finished this one, I knew that I’d soon make another project so I could get that connected feeling again.

Afterward, I needed a cigarette so I went to Charlie’s room to get one. I just barged in thoughtlessly. There he was lying on his bed with his dick out, masturbating. I was like, “AHHHH FUUUUCK!” Luckily the ‘rents weren’t home. 

But Charlie didn’t stop. He just kept stroking, and looked over at me. For some reason I did not immediately slam the door. It took me a couple seconds, and I was disgusted that he did not have the decency to stop. It was like he wanted me to watch him at it. So, I went out and bought a pack of smokes and wandered around the boring suburbs in the soft darkness. I felt almost afraid to go back home, just like when I found him spying on me back when I was a kid. 

I found myself going to the creek, which was running high due to the earlier six o’clock thunderstorm. The grass was still a little wet, too. But the air was stifling hot again and sweat was running down my body. I took off my sandals and sat in the culvert dipping my toes in and out of the swirling stream. I was in the middle of singing a powerful rendition of “Think of me, think of me waiting, silent and resigned,” when suddenly I noticed I had company. 

My heart catapulted into my throat, which squeezed around it like a manicotti around spinach-ricotta filling. Only the feeling tasted much worse, very hard and bitter. I grabbed my sandals and stood up. 

But the person just sat there. They were sitting on the grass at the water’s edge, doing the same thing as me, hanging their toes in the water. Probably listening intently to my operatic warbling. After my initial fear moment, I became indignant. 

This was my place.

The person looked at me from a white oval of a face surrounded by a halo of light yellow curls. The curls tumbled abundantly to mid-ear length. Her eyes were in shadow; I knew she was a girl only because I finally made out the shape of two bumps on her chest, in the darkness. 

“Hi,” she said, her voice very husky. She both looked and sounded like a pre-pubescent boy, and I was intrigued against my will.

“Hi,” I said in a sort of sullen voice. She was still usurping my place.

“Come here often?” she joked.

I realized I hadn’t been there more than twice in the past year.

“Not that much, anymore.”

“Want to smoke a joint with me?”

Okay, fine. Maybe I didn’t need to be so defensive. I sat down on the bank next to her and put my bare feet in the water again. Sticking out my hand: “I’m Ellen.”

“Sunny.” Just one word. She lit up the joint, took the first puff and handed it to me. I took a drag. Mmmmm.

“That’s a nice name,” I said and smiled, handing the joint back and suddenly starting to feel pretty warm and friendly for some reason.

“Thanks,” she said. Her voice was very low for a girl’s, and I liked it. But she didn’t sound ultra-happy and I realized maybe this was her place too, and probably she had come here to reflect on her thoughts. “I like your opera singing,” she added.

“There’s good reverb in that culvert!” I laughed.

“Yeah.” 

“Do you live around here?”

“No. My girlfriend does — well, my ex-girlfriend now.”

Ex-girlfriend. That had to mean a romantic relationship, not an ex-friend.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I mumbled, and looked sideways at her. 

“It was a long time coming, to be honest,” she answered vaguely. She’d been staring at the water or the joint or nothing, thus far in the conversation. But finally she looked up at me, and her eyes were sky blue under that yellow mass of curly hair. The eyes were unreadable and distant, not sad, not happy. “I guess it’s for the best.”

“These things sometimes are,” I responded, going on to tell her the brief version of my sordid history with Patrick. “And now I’m way better off,” I ended.

“Good for you,” she said simply.

“I guess that doesn’t make it feel any better right now, does it?”

“Nope, not really.” She took another puff of the doobie and handed it back to me. Then she hopped up onto her feet.

“You’re going?” After initially feeling intruded upon, I now felt a kinship with this person and hoped to be their friend.

“I kind of came down here for some alone time, so . . .”

“Ah. I get it. Sorry to interrupt,” I said hastily, realizing that indeed we were not friends. She was just being polite to share the joint with me. “Thanks for sharing your joint with me.”

“You’re welcome, nice to meet you,” Sunny said and stuck out her hand. I stuck out mine too. I had never really shook another teenager’s hand, but it felt right. Her fingers squeezed mine with strength. “See you around,” she said.

I watched her go, while I smoked the last third of the joint. She was of medium build, not slender but solid, wearing a short-sleeved plaid button down shirt with frayed jean shorts and sandals, a kind of androgynous look. Something you’d never see on a girl in Howey Bay. It was interesting that she’d openly mentioned her girlfriend. I felt somehow let into a secret. And I realized for the first time maybe that I’m not the only girl who is into other girls — there’s a whole world out there.

Just like that, summer ended. I’m now in my final year of high school. This should be the time when I’m deciding my future — I know several kids around me who are beginning their applications for university. I think I want to go to university, eventually, but I really have no idea how to get there. Dad says I’ll have to pay for my own tuition and I’ll have to pay him rent while I’m attending. He also says that if I want to drive his car, I have to take Driver’s Education lessons, which I also have to pay for without his help. 

So I guess I’ll just work for a year or two, live on my own, and save up some money. God help me, I’m barely hanging on at GasCan as it is. I hate everything about it: the boss, the customers, the smell of gasoline and air fresheners and rubber tires. I think my boss is aware of my low motivation because I’ve been lowered to only Saturdays and one after-school shift. But I should hang on there until I find something else; it’s my only source of income.

And if I have to pay rent after graduating, I’m going to pay it somewhere that I don’t have to report to a couple of Amway evangelists and be their kitchen slave. There’s no way I’m staying here with them. I am still forced to clean the bathroom every week and do the dishes after dinner, even though I have no relationship with Dad. He has not mentioned my future, aside from telling me all the money I’ll need to pay him in order to get there.

Charlie is out of school now and going to computer science college. He is paying rent to Dad. He still likes to hang out with me and my friends, though, since we’re so much fun. And luckily he’s turning nineteen in a few days, so he can buy us alcohol whenever we want. Well, he says he won’t buy it for me more than once every couple weeks. By the look on his face, I can tell he gloats over the fact that now he thinks he possesses some kind of control over my partying. As if I can’t get alcohol and whatever I want from other sources! Ha-ha. 

Since it’s no longer summer, my parents are only going away to a conference every eight weeks. Mrs J, Chloe and our other friends have been a little sad about that, but we’re figuring out other options. Persephone doesn’t care because she’s all of a sudden become a teetotaler and won’t even participate in a bottle toke session with us.

But Mac recently got his own place, and he holds parties there a lot. The first time I showed up to one, he glowered at me from across the room until he was good and drunk. Then he lurched up to me and spluttered, “You know, I was madly in love with you! But now I’m not! You know why, ‘cuz you’re a HEARTLESS BITCH.”

I said, “How do you feel, now that you’ve got that off your chest?” I was thinking in my head, It’s amazing how you thought I owed you something because you took one sloppy plunge into my innermost sanctum. Fuck you. Literally.

Just like that, his famous grin splayed over his face again. “Bygones!” he crowed, and wrapped his arms around me with a grunt.

“Thanks, Mac.” As if I was that grateful for his paltry forgiveness. I just wanted to be allowed at his parties. 

The weather is still sweltering, even though school has started again. We’re all wearing shorts, tank tops, flip flops. Pouring sweat as we squirm in our seats, listening to teachers drone on about matters that really don’t matter at all. I can’t believe they expect us to learn when it’s thirty degrees outside. After the doldrums of Grade 12 History class, I end up passing Patrick in the hall and give a little wave, feeling warm toward him. Just mildly warm, but friendly enough . He and Chloe broke up after about three weeks together. She came to me exasperated with his ongoing neediness, and I just kept nodding sagely as she described every single reason why I broke up with him. 

“I can’t believe you put up with him for so many months,” she groaned. “Now he calls me every day, asking to lick my pussy.” 

I nodded sagely.

Anyway, that takes a little of the tension out of things, and of course Patrick is onto his next target, some innocent-looking girl who just arrived at our high school from a small town up north. When I wave at him, he smiles happily and then turns his face back to her, busy in mid-conversation. He takes out his comb from his back pocket and combs his long auburn hair.

I think again of my virginity. I refuse to be sad, but I see a piece of myself walking away inside him, a piece of myself that will now be wrapped around some girl I’ve never met. I want to tell her all about him, but I figure she’ll learn on her own because that’s the way it goes.

I’m wearing a sundress to Mac’s party tonight, but I’ll bring a light sweater to go over top since the evenings are starting to cool down a bit. Persephone is not coming; she rarely goes to parties anymore these days. Her boyfriend Moses is her main occupation, and if I ever see her she is always crying about his latest misbehaviour or goo-gooing over his latest compliment. I heard myself saying to her once, the same as Mrs J said to me, “Enough with the boys. I’ve heard it all before,” to which Persephone pouted and protested that if it wasn’t interesting to me then I wasn’t interesting to her. At least Chloe is coming to the party. I hope she doesn’t get too drunk — often I have to rescue her from the clutches of some rapey boy because she gets so blitzed. 

We arrive just when things are getting going. The music is very loud hard rock and Mac’s tiny bachelor apartment is thick with smoke. There are only milk crates to sit on, when you can find one. His king-sized bed is draped with sweaty, inebriated bodies in one corner of the dim room. Somehow the apartment fits fifty people at least, many of whom I’ve never met. We are all spilling out into his driveway and backyard, everyone sloshing beer and yelling, singing, fighting. 

Chloe is making out with Randall in a wooden lounge chair on the patio, an act I’m sure she will regret tomorrow, but at least he’s relatively safe. I light up a joint and stand there smoking it by myself, watching them. I’m feeling a little lonely, I don’t know many people here and I’ve only had one beer so my emotions aren’t lulled into a stupor yet, like everyone else around me. I hear a voice behind me, telling a story about how someone’s brother’s friend woke up one morning and dropped all his bad habits at the age of nineteen, and became a body-builder the very next day.

“He just suddenly got sick of feeling like shit,” the voice goes on.

It’s a voice I remember: low, throaty, boyish but female. 

I turn around. Sunny.

She sees me, but gives barely a nod. Then she looks again, looks me up and down. “Don’t I know you?”

“Yes, you do,” I grin, suddenly relieved to have found someone, anyone with whom I have even the faintest acquaintance. 

She’s thinking.

“You’re Sunny,” I remind her.

“And you are . . .” She’s clutching a beer bottle to her chest as if it’s really close to her heart. She closes her eyes, thinking. “You’re Elle.”

“Ellen. But you can call me Elle,” I say quickly, deciding then and there that my new nickname is Elle.

Sunny brings the beer-clutching hand up to her forehead, as if it’s going to aid her mental clarity. “That little stream,” she crows. “That’s where I know you from.”

“Yes,” I smile.

“How ya doin’?”

“Ohhh fine. A little bored.”

“You’ve got pretty eyes, you know.” She’s swaying a little, still holding the beer bottle to her chest.

I notice I’m seeing her smile for the first time, and damn she’s cute.

Purring.

“Are you bogarting that joint, dude?” she says. I hand it to her. She smokes with enthusiasm, then hands it to one of her friends. Looks back at me. 

There’s a gaze that a girl gives you when she likes you, and Sunny gives it to me right now. What a beautiful grin. Something in me thrills, knowing what no one else can sense — that she and I now have a little kinship going.

“You want to go on a mission with me?” Sunny asks.

A warm sensation of acceptance and belonging floods into my body. “Of course I do!”

She has a car. Well, it’s her older brother’s, but they share. It’s a metallic blue Horizon with one red door: “The only replacement available, after Leroy got himself t-boned last summer,” Sunny laughs. “He wasn’t hurt,” she adds quickly.

I like her little car and being the person who gets to sit in the front passenger seat. I left Chloe in Randall’s lap with instructions to Mac to look after her; I don’t know if he heard me, but I’m crossing my fingers. A few people called out as we were leaving, “We’ll come, too!” “Get us some Dr.Pepper!” “Nachos please!” But Sunny doesn’t let them come with us.

She slips in a cassette tape. 

“The Cranberries, my favourite!” I smile wide.

“Which song do you want to hear?”

“Dreams.”

She honks the horn. “Awesome! I thought you were going to say Linger, like everyone else. Dreams is way better.”

“Agreed.”

In the convenience store, we’re walking around the bright-lit aisles sourcing junk food and drinks for the party. “Which chips are your favourite?” she asks me.

“Sour cream ‘n’ bacon.”

“YES. Me too. How about pop?”

“Diet Coke?”

“YES. Me too. How about chocolate bars?”

“Mars Bar, for sure.”

“Ah, I’m a Snickers girl. We’ll get both.” She grabs the chocolate, both arms now laden with snacks. “It’s the peanuts, I need the peanuts.” 

And looks at me just the way girls do — like we share some strange and beautiful secret.

Mrs J is a little jealous of Sunny, which I hadn’t expected. When I introduce the two of them, she is polite but cool. Later on, she says in a catty voice, “I don’t quite know what you see in her . . . But it’s up to you.”

“We just have a connection,” I explain. I’m thinking of how yesterday afternoon Sunny and I sat underneath the wooden steps of a portable building at the school nearby her place, listening to The Cranberries and Sarah McLachlan for two hours, singing along, comparing lyrics, just talking and talking about everything under the sun. She makes me smile so hard. At one point during our visit, she looked me right in the eyes, steadily, and said: “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, Elle. They’re like crystals.”

But I don’t tell Mrs J this tidbit because she’ll think I’m getting soft again. She’s home from art college for Thanksgiving, and it seems like she’s changed a little. If she thought everything in high school was dumb before, now its stupidity is off the charts.

“Connection — you mean you’re hot for her,” Mrs J pouts. 

I put my arms around her and kiss her cheek. “Only a little,” I say. Really it’s true, I’m pretty crushed out at the moment. And Mrs J has been away. “I’m sure you’ve been carrying on your own affairs. It’s not like we’re ‘together’ or anything . . .”

“I know,” she whines. “Just promise me you’ll always make out with me whenever you see me.” And smooches me on the lips.

“Okay, sure.” I’m flattered. But she has only come back home once since going to college, so I know I won’t see her often. She’s delighted to be out from her parents’ supervision. I can’t wait to get out of my own house. I’ve decided for certain not to apply for university right now, I’ll take a gap year and figure out what I want to do after that. Maybe I could study art like Mrs J . . . only she’s way better at it than me. For me, it’s like a hobby and my drawings look like crap compared to hers, which come from the soul. 

I am still finding out what comes from my soul, besides trouble.

Right now, it’s all about battening down the hatches for a wet, miserable winter and working away at my straight-A average. Girl #2 hangs onto that shred of pride with all ten of her clutchy little fingers. If I can still get high grades, there is something worthwhile about me, I’m smart. Not smart enough to avoid going back to Howey Bay for Christmas, though. I’ll be hitching a long, long ride with (of all people) Scott and his family who are heading to Winnipeg for the holidays. I’ll spend two whole weeks with Mom, pretty much alone except for Harold and Sharla and their new baby boy.

But let’s not think about that, now. Let’s think about two weekends ago, when I introduced Sunny to Persephone and Chloe. Just like Mrs J, Persephone was a little cool and jealous. But Sunny is so sweet and positive that Persephone soon melted.

“That birthmark is WICKED,” Sunny said, and the insecure frown on Persephone’s face wobbled a little. “I’ve always loved birthmarks of every kind. Here, see mine . . .” She held out her right hand to show us a large splash of dark strawberry flesh cascading over her thumb all the way to her wrist.

“Mine is too conspicuous,” protested Persephone. “Right on my face.”

“No, it looks very exotic,” argued Sunny. “We can be birthmark twins!” She held her mottled hand up to her forehead, grinning.

Persephone started smiling. I like her bright eyes when she is in a good mood. But she is often whining and dissatisfied. I think her initial overture of friendship with me was based on ownership. She saw me in the halls last year and swooped down to take me under her wing. Whenever she has to face the fact that I’m my own person and I fly solo, she gets mad and jealous. This kind of attitude really gets my goat.

Anytime someone tries to own me, I want to punch them in the face. It’s like everyone loves you for what you bring to them, but the second you go off and do something for yourself, they hate you. Or, they love you when you’re a butterfly flitting through the air, but the second they get a chance, they’ll stick a pin in you and put you in a glass box as part of their collection. 

Persephone doesn’t notice this about herself; she just classifies me as a bad and inconsiderate friend. It’s kind of funny that people will always think you’re bad when you’re not doing exactly what they want. I thought friendship was supposed to be about supporting each other, though. Myname and I were ultra-close, but we never honed in on each other’s territory or drew up rules to follow. Even if I did experience some feelings of jealousy when she hung out with Kelly, I didn’t bring them to Myname and I never thought of her as a poor friend for simply having her own life. I celebrated Myname just the way she was, and I celebrate her now, and I celebrate everyone for exactly who they are. 

Most of all, I celebrate this androgynous person you have sent to me: Sunny. She wears Obsession perfume and her dad’s old jeans. She wears fake round glasses to feel smart. She drives us to the doughnut shop to score a gram of weed in her small hatchback. She calls cigarettes “Harvey Dribblestones”. She is listening to Pink Floyd with me on the floor of the living room, everyone is gone, we place our heads near the speakers and feel the pounding down into our chests. She looks at me, lying down, and says in her throaty voice, “Can I kiss you?” 

I laugh “Yes” — it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked instead of just kissed — and suddenly her smooth, warm, full mouth is on mine. She gives me the best first kiss I have ever had, long and longer and deeper and never too slobbery at all. I melt all over the floor. Then we go for a walk to the park down the street and she sits me on the swing, kneeling between my legs, kissing me like that the whole night long.

“You’re so beautiful,” she moans into my mouth.

Later in the week, on Wednesday, she calls me early in the morning to plan our after-school meeting (she goes to the Catholic school and I go to the public one). 

“I’m not going to school, I’m sick,” I say. I’m still in my bathrobe. It’s not that I’m vomiting or anything, but I have a slight headache that could turn into a bigger one. Both Dad and Iris have already headed off to work; Charlie is off attending one of his courses. I’ve decided to stay home and smoke pot all day.

“But I want to see you,” says Sunny.

“Maybe I’ll feel better later on . . .”

“You’re staying home all day?”

“As far as I know. Don’t want to go anywhere in this rain.”

“Yeah, it’s miserable.”

I sit in my bathrobe watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, going out on the patio to smoke a cigarette and a little joint after that. I doze off on the couch and wake up to the sound of the doorbell. My headache is pretty much gone and I’m glad I stayed home. I don’t want to respond to whoever’s at the door, so I just sit there hoping they’ll go away. But after about ten minutes of ignoring the periodic dinging of the doorbell, I see Sunny on the back patio, stepping around a flowerpot filled with dead, wet geraniums. When she sees me looking at her through the glass sliding door, her face blooms into a flower of happiness and she waves.

I open the sliding door. “Playing hooky?”

“I had a test this morning, but I then took off at lunch.” 

“Not exactly my best look,” I say, feeling shy and self-conscious about my ill appearance. 

She pulls me into her arms and squeezes my whole body into hers. Then she leads me up to my bedroom by the hand. She stands in front of me and opens my bathrobe; I’m completely naked underneath, and she smooths both hands over the lines of my body. Pushing the robe down from my shoulders, she runs her hands down my sides, hips and bottom. Soon I’m lying on the bed splayed open and she licks me in between the legs for a long time until suddenly I pop with an orgasm. I know she wants me to come because she licks me slowly and deliberately until I do. I am quiet and still the whole time, and barely make a sound.

Her head comes up and she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Then she purses her lips and blows through them with a buzzing sound. “My lips have gone numb.”

I’m a little embarrassed that I took so long. But a special pleasure courses through me, after she worked so hard to give me an orgasm. She lies beside me and I feel warm, sweet, emotional, but far away from her. She isn’t looking at me, yet I want to climb all over her and be in her arms.

“Thank you,” I say. I don’t attempt to reciprocate, as I can see she doesn’t want that.

Sunny seems thoughtful about the experience.

“You know that I’m fond of you, right?” she says to me.

I giggle. “Yes.”

“Are you fond of me?”

“Of course I am.” In my world, the word “fond” means simply “friendly”.

“I’m fond of you in the romantic way. Is that the way you feel, too?”

“I have a mad crush on you, if that’s what you mean . . .”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

This conversations is more serious than the anything we’ve talked about previously. Mostly we are joking and laughing, and recently, making out. She turns to me with her steady blue eyes and says earnestly: “What I’m saying is that I’d like you to be my girlfriend.”

Warmth continues to spread through my body, into my heart and my face. I want to belong to Sunny, I know it right down to my core. I belong to her already, even if she doesn’t have a dick. 

“Okay,” I answer, and I am smiling wide but she still looks very serious.

Almost every week I skip class on one afternoon or another to smoke pot and play around with Sunny. I have memorized Dad’s signature, so my teachers never call or ask questions. Do I feel guilty? Not really. The voice of Girl #2 is so faint I can barely hear her these days. All she cares about is getting straight As and I can oblige her on that. School is easy for me; I could get straight A+ grades if I wanted. I do all my homework and get my assignments in on time, it’s not rocket science. 

Sometimes I feel a bit like an imposter on both sides, acting like a punk when really I’ve been a straitlaced Christian all my life, and acting like an earnest student when really I’m a party girl. Girl #2 is slightly envious of all the other kids in Grade 12 who are sending in applications for university programs and student loans, deciding which residence to stay in and which major to take.

Those kids have parents who give a damn, though. I don’t think I’ve seen Dad in a week. He’s at work till evening, then I’m usually out until after he is gone to sleep. I think we saw each other last Sunday, but that was only for him to poke his head in my door mid-morning and say, “We’re going to church. Make sure you clean the bathroom today whenever you get up.” I was so hungover I didn’t rise till noon that day.

I’m glad Sunny and I don’t go to the same school, or we would never get any time apart. I’ve never felt this way about anyone in my whole life — not Jimmy, not Patrick, not Mrs J, not Myname. Sunny is becoming everything to me. I ended up getting her a job at GasCan, but they soon started to give us different shifts because we were so distracting to one another. She showed me how to steal a carton of cigarettes by fudging the inventory. She showed me how to do a drive-off by taking gas from the farthest pump where the cameras have a blind spot. She has easy access to dope because her older brother’s friend is a dealer.

Sunny is not school-smart, even though she has a certain streetwise intelligence. I can tell because of the way she talks; sometimes she doesn’t understand the complicated words I use. Generally she gets Cs in school and won’t talk much about her assignments. “I hate school.” That’s all she says when I ask her about homework or whatever she’s reading. 

What she is interested in is sex, and lots of it. She doesn’t let me do anything to her, but ravishes me every chance she gets (which is a lot). I was worried I might get bored without a penis, but actually it’s the opposite. I’ve never felt as good with a boy as I do with Sunny. Her fingers are pretty thick, especially two or three locked together, and they can do more things than a cock, which only thrusts and thrusts.

But it’s the smooth, sexy way she does me that beats any sex I’ve had with a guy. She does me with her eyes, with her words, with her actions, her breath, her hands, and with every little tendril of her energy.

One afternoon, she gives me a multiple orgasm — a big one at first, and then more and more piled on top until I am riding the top of a never-ending wave. It almost makes me cry and I feel stupid for having tears in my eyes. She comes up from between my legs and lays her head on my shoulder, sighing. I sigh, too, looking away so she won’t see me being so emotional. 

“I love you,” I say, trembling.

“Uh, thanks,” says Sunny.

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