“I promised my mom I wouldn’t go over 70,” Heather says from the driver’s seat of her red Mitsubishi minivan. Seventy is already over the speed limit, but we have no patience in cars, or anywhere. We’re sixteen. We keep moving into the left lane to pass, pushing 80, more. It’s how Heather drives. It’s how I drive, too, in my mom’s old Chevy, also a minivan, also fire-engine red.
“Did you kiss KT?” Heather asks.
“No?” She’s surprised. “What were you doing in the bedroom that whole time?”
“Talking, I guess.” KT is tall and slim with greasy hair. He’s older and he doesn’t go to our school, which means he is definitely a good kisser. I waited for him to kiss me, paralyzed with anticipation, warm inside and all over. But he didn’t.
We’re driving out of Avalon, New Jersey, away from the shore, over the wetlands. The salt marsh shimmers and the grass sways in our wake. It’s dusk. Behind us, everything glows: the boardwalk, the go-kart tracks, the condos and the high-rise hotels, the putt-putt golf courses, the streetlights and the arcades. In the distance is the ferris wheel, turning serenely, slowly, sparkling. Farther in the distance two orbs of light flicker steadily on the horizon: Ocean City, Atlantic City.
We went down the shore to visit our boys. Our skater, stoner boys who wear baggy pants and band t-shirts and have sweet, shy smiles. They’re all packed in at someone’s parents’ beach rental for the week, like kids at camp in sleeping bags. We came to sit in the sun with them; we coated ourselves in sunscreen and sand, walked around the promenade in a group, idling every so often by a bench. Now we’re returning to our moms, our childhood bedrooms, and our curfews.
“Cigarettes?” I say. We never have our own but we asked KT for some before leaving. Now two American Spirits wait in the cup holder between us, featherlight, delicate, precious. Our special treat.
We roll the windows down and turn the music up. The salt air rushes in, warm and wet. Heather tucks the flyaways of her blond hair behind her ears in vain—they keep escaping. Her shoulders are bright red with sunburn. Mine too. The grass whistles, the water blinks with the last of the daylight.
We light our Spirits, we inhale. I’ve done this enough times to know how not to cough. My heart inches up in my chest, my toes and fingers tingle, my head fills up and empties at the same time. We’re quiet. The music and smoke and ocean air are doing something to us that’s already fading; we can’t hold on to the song or the glow or any of it. But right now, just for a minute, we’re flying. We’re free.