I am 15 in the basement of the girl’s beach house. Everyone is laughing and drinking goon and I am embarrassed because I have not drunk goon before, so I watch them very carefully and when they give it to me I pretend.

Outside there is the rumble of the ocean and the darkness and families inside wooden homes watching television. I have not been here before, drinking alcohol with boys and older siblings and laughter and the darkness.

We play truth or dare and I am scared and then we spin the bottle and I kiss a girl with saliva and tongues and they all watch us. I think of the first person I ever kissed – she was my best friend and we would steal lollipops from grocery stores and sneak my mother’s cigarettes. One night, we snuck out with a bottle of Jack Daniels and pounding hearts and exchanged fantasies.

“I’ve still never kissed anyone. I want to kiss someone.”

Silence and tam-bark rubbing in my boots.

“I’d kiss you.”

“I’d kiss you too.”

We sat on monkey bars in the playground and I thought how small her mouth was. Everyone found out. The girls who didn’t talk to me stared and whispered.

The room is dark and sweaty. I know we are kissing for the boys’ wide eyes and I drink more of the goon and crinkle my nose and look at the shapes merge on the carpet. Very quickly, like blinking, we are drunk and stumbling and my friend goes upstairs with a boy who is 19. He has a thick belly and a polo shirt. They are tripping over each other. They enter a bedroom. Suddenly I am alone with her older brother and the girl and a boy I do not know. We play table tennis and I am standing next to her older brother. The girl and the boy start giggling and say whoever misses the ball has to kiss. Then they are kissing each other and we are not playing table tennis anymore.

He is 20 years old and his hands are so big. Then he is kissing me and he touches my chest hard and angry and I am too drunk to be scared. We are on the floor drooling into each other’s mouths and I think of my parents at home with the fire on and the turning of newspapers and my dog asleep on the carpet.

We run into the night and one of the boys who stared asks me to give him a blow job because it is his birthday and I am empty. I race into wet grass and he laughs. My friend is still with the boy in the bedroom. I think of him pressing with his belly and springs. I jump on the back of a bicycle with her older brother and he is shouting at the night and suddenly we are at my house and he is climbing up the water tank into my bedroom window.

Halfway through he asks me if I am a virgin and I lie. It feels like animals and heat. His grunts mingle with my father’s snores in the room down the hall. He does not touch me like he thinks I’m lovely; he touches me like he wants to get off. After, he lies there sighing for seconds until he gets up and smokes all over my balcony floor. The ash falls like rain and I don’t know where to stand. Words catch in my reath and fall out the window. I feel sick over sex and love and the meaninglessness of everything.

The next day my friend tells me the boy who is 19 kept trying to put her hand down his pants and she was going to do it until her father walked in. I laugh. Would you? Could you? The silence is heavy with everything I do not tell her. We all stand in a circle tracing lines in the sand with our feet and someone mentions how it is my 16th birthday soon and will I have a 16th birthday party, and he looks up and away at the water and the tide running and foaming and the children making castles. I watch the five years hang between us in the air like lead and oceans.

I do not know where to put the underwear he left on the floor so I stuff it in a drawer and for some reason I put the condom wrapper in my wallet. I take it all the way home with me and stick it in a book next to tickets to movies. I write on top of it in thick black ink ‘after’. Six months later, he picks up my friend from my house and my heart descends to my chest. I wonder if he can hear it go boom and I wonder if this is what it is to be a woman.

Cover by Paige Panic