Grapefruit and Vodka
Avery had never liked crowds. He held a bottle of vodka and pop, and searched for his best friend Sage.
Someone shoved him as they passed. Avery frowned. This was stupid. This was why he hated celebrations. Their national day of independence was about as important as his less-than-stellar report card. Not important at all, Avery thought. He could see his mother's disappointment in his head.
It was his senior year. He had let his life go down an endless, fruitless pipeline. He couldn't find it in him to care.
Eighteen years old, and he held a bottle of vodka in open sight. Not the most brilliant idea, but the park was packed. No one would notice him. He spotted a head of hair. Sage. Finally.
She sat on a red, checkered blanket with a split grapefruit. The orange shone like a fake sun in her hands.
"This was a bad idea," Avery said.
She glanced up. Her eyes lit up. "You brought the goods."
"I barely managed to sneak it by them." Avery sat down, crossed his legs. "But I don't think they'd notice if it's gone."
She snatched the bottle from him, and held it with fascination. To a teenager, vodka was like a long lost lover. "I can't believe we're doing this." She looked at him with lowered eyes. "Breaking the law."
Avery edged out a smile. "We're invisible in this crowd."
"That's true." She clutched the bottle. "How drunk do you want to get?"
"I don't know what gets me drunk."
"You're probably a lightweight."
"I'm heavier than you."
"Not by a lot." She smirked. "I'm curvy."
He laughed. "You wish."
She pouted. "Was that an insult?"
He lay down on the blanket. Rested his hand over his face. "I'm not legally required to answer any questions." He felt her smile next to him.
The bottle clicked open, and Sage rummaged for paper cups. She poured two cups halfway. She nudged his face with the cool can of pop. "Are we supposed to add this to the drink?"
He peered up. "I thought it might help. I don't think we're supposed to drink straight vodka."
"Scared of the burn?"
He sat up at the challenge. "You really want to go there, huh?"
"Go where?" she said innocently. She put the rim to her mouth.
He rolled his eyes, and grabbed the cup too. He stared at the liquid. He had long proclaimed his soul cold, dead and empty in his twitter biography, but he couldn't help the shiver that ran down his spine. This was adulthood. Sitting with your best friend in a park full of people, drinking, the future a blank, despairing slate.
The sun started to set.
Sage tipped the glass up. He wanted to do it together, and took a long swig in haste. The burn was sudden and sharp. Avery coughed. "Fuck. That's strong."
Sage laughed. "Oh my god, you big baby."
"Did you even drink yours?"
She showed him her empty cup. "Yeah. Clearly I'm just superior."
Avery scowled, and set the cup down. He could feel the warmth in his stomach and throat. Sage poured more in her cup, and drank it down. She did it so effortlessly. He frowned. Everything she did was effortless.
When she reached for a third, he pulled at her wrist. "I think that's enough."
She frowned. "Okay, mom."
"Let's just see how it feels first."
"It feels good. I want to get fucked tonight." She licked her lips. "Not like that, obviously."
"I wasn't thinking that."
She stared at him, head tilted. He felt self-conscious. She had a way of staring at his soul; like she could see through his ribcage and into his pounding heart. The feeling was weird. He looked away.
He'd grown up with Sage. They'd been hopscotch buddies. Chased each other on bikes. Traded lunches and played Kingdom Hearts.
The weird feeling was unwelcome. He hated it.
The sky darkened. She pulled her knees to her chest. "Have you thought about your future?"
"What do you mean? Like, what I want to do?"
"I guess." She pushed her face against her knees. "I meant more like — how you see yourself."
"I think my future will be boring and I'll sit in an empty apartment and be lonely."
She snorted. "That's dreadful."
"It's just the truth." It wasn't the truth. But he didn't know how to tell her that he didn't see anything — that his future was like staring into a black sky with no sign of stars. Bleakness, second nature to him.
Maybe he needed more vodka.
She passed him grapefruit. "Have half."
He took it. "Thanks."
They ate the grapefruit in silence, and he couldn't help but remember how in Kingdom hearts, to accept Paopu fruit meant that your destiny was entwined forever. Grapefruit felt a lot like Paopu fruit.
The juice dripped down his chin. He wiped it with the back of his hand. "What about your future?"
Her lashes covered her eyes. "I want to start my own business. I want to wake up and live near a forest and take long walks. I want to bike to town and buy eggs and milk and make my own food. I want to understand constellations."
He stared at her. His heart hammered.
She laughed. "I feel a little drunk."
"Vodka will do that to you." His mouth was dry. She was beautiful. Her future felt beautiful, etched into the horizon. She tilted her head, and her eyes flicked down to his lips. Had he imagined the gesture?
"Hey." Her mouth twisted. "Have you had your first kiss?"
He swallowed. "No. You know I'd have told you."
She didn't need to ask, or explain. They'd known each other for years. So why had she brought it up? He couldn't help but notice the way her eyes were half-lidden, drawn to his face. "Isn't it weird that we're eighteen and we're drinking but we haven't even had our first kiss?" she said.
He watched from his peripheral as she inched closer. Her hair smelled like vanilla, and the world slowed. He could feel her breath when she said, "Shouldn't we try? Get it out of the way?"
"I'm not that drunk. I only had two shots."
He glanced at her, gaze careful. "Are you sure?"
She blinked, and smiled. "I'm sure, Ave. I promise. I just want to try. It doesn't have to be a big thing."
A few beats passed. He was hyper aware of her proximity, the heat from her thighs and face and body, though she hadn't touched him. Nobody paid attention to them. They were invisible amongst the throngs of people.
"Okay." He conceded. He let himself look at her lips — soft, pink and familiar. He ached. Until today, he hadn't allowed himself to fantasize. Until today, until now — his best friend, with glittering eyes and a future, asking him to try.
She leaned in, and paused. A long moment passed. Avery was sure she would chicken out. He wondered if he should close the space. She smiled, closed her eyes, and met his mouth.
She was hesitant, and searching. Avery's hands reached for her hair. He could feel her warmth between his fingers and cradled her cheeks. Her mouth softened against him. A wave against a still sea.
They broke apart. Her face flushed. "You taste like grapefruit."
His voice, hoarse. "So do you."
They leaned in again, this time with less hesitance. He could feel Sage's hands against his hips as she moved halfway onto his lap. His hands strayed from her hair, down her neck.
They pulled apart again. Sage laughed. "Is that enough?"
His heart beat staccato. "I don't know. I think we can take a break."
She slid back, her cheeks still pink against the dusk. Avery's lips twinged. He replayed her adoring, you taste like grapefruit, in his head.
They'd shared the grapefruit and he wanted to believe that it meant something. That their future was entwined forever, destinies stretched out in intersecting lines. He could believe in his future if it was with her.
Maybe he had gotten ahead of himself. She'd only wanted to try kissing. He wanted to ask what they were, but he didn't want to ruin this evening. He picked at the rip in his jeans, and turned his attention to the sky. The fireworks still wouldn't start for another hour.
"You can see some stars," she said.
He broke out of his reverie, and glanced up. "Where are they?"
She pointed to a cluster of pinpricks. "Do you see those?"
The stars smiled down at them. It made Avery feel safe. He remembered how Sage had said she wanted to learn all of the constellations. "Do you think that's a constellation?"
"I think so. I wish I knew."
Her birthday was soon. He made a mental note to buy her a book of constellations.
"It's kind of nice not knowing, though." She shifted. "It's like — at the end of the day, the constellations are just a human construct. The stars exist for themselves, with their own secret lives."
"Yeah." Avery's gaze flicked between the stars and Sage. "Ignorance is nice. Once you know what the constellation is, you can't look at the stars the same way anymore. Looking at them this way is pure."
"Undefined." She glanced at him.
He wondered what that was supposed to mean. He didn't think their relationship could ever be defined. It would never fit in a box of dating, or girlfriend and boyfriend. Sage had been etched into his life since he was born. Those terms felt inadequate against the weight of their friendship.
"But it's also nice to know," she said. "To be able to look at the stars, and recognize the constellations. To start to learn the sky. Then, wherever you go, you can feel safe and at home."
He nodded. "Yeah. Like, you can be somewhere strange and scary, and look up and think — hey, Orion."
She breathed. "Yeah. It would become familiar, like second nature."
They sat together, and looked at the stars. They were eighteen and the stars felt like the deepest enigma in the universe. Her kiss felt like forever. The vodka against his mouth felt like the beginning of adulthood. The future was scary, but if grapefruit entwined them, the bleakness ebbed away.
She scooched over, and leaned her head against his shoulder. He froze. Relaxed.
An undefined safe place.
He tilted his head, and met her.