Falling into Us Read online
“I wasn’t breaking the rules, Ben. Shut up. ” Becca had my hand in hers, a kind of declaration to her brother. Clearly she trusted him not to say anything to their parents.
Ben just laughed, black hair hanging loose around his shoulders in a glossy, messy tangle. “Sure you weren’t. I wouldn’t rat you out, but you know you wouldn’t want Father to know I caught you making out with this punk in the school parking lot. ”
I watched Becca’s eyes narrow at her brother. “You wouldn’t dare. Don’t forget I know about your little dryer-sheet trick. I bet Dad would be interested to know about that. ”
They were both emphasizing the different words they used for their dad, which made me think even her brother thought it was odd that she called him “Father. ” I was curious about the dryer sheet trick, though.
Ben ran his fingers through his hair, flipping it back over his scalp. “I just said I wouldn’t tell, didn’t I? And wasn’t I the one who offered to help you sneak out so you could see this kid?” He pointed at me with his thumb.
I knew of Ben de Rosa. He was kind of a legend around our high school, notorious for skipping classes, getting into fights, cursing out teachers, and playing high-profile but ultimately harmless pranks around the school, but then always able to talk himself out of the punishment he deserved. He was our town’s stoner, the kid you always knew had pot, and was probably high every time you saw him. No one ever ratted him out, though, and he’d never been arrested somehow, despite the common knowledge of his activities. I’d never been able to figure out how he did it, and now that I’d come to understand more about Becca’s life, it was even harder to comprehend how Ben could do anything he wanted and get away with it, when Becca couldn’t even go out on a date with me without getting grounded for a month.
Becca just shook her head at her brother, then turned to me. “I’ve gotta go. I’m supposed to be home by four-thirty. ”
I glanced at my phone and cursed when I saw the time. “Shit! It’s after four already! Coach is gonna rip me a new ass**le. I better go dress out before I spend the entire practice doing down-ups. ” I hesitated, then bent down and touched her lips quickly with mine. “Midnight? Right?”
She pulled away with a self-conscious glance at her brother, then nodded. “Yeah. Midnight. If I don’t show up, it’s because I couldn’t make it, not because I didn’t want to. ” She slid gracefully into her brother’s car and waved out the open window at me, holding her hair in a temporary ponytail with the other hand.
Coach made me run two miles at full speed with a sandbag across each shoulder, then do down-ups for twenty minutes before letting me run scrimmage with the guys.
Totally worth it for my first kiss.
FOUR: Midnight in the Garden
Later that night
I clung to the drainpipe, frozen in fear. “It’s going to break, Ben,” I whispered, my voice a raspy whimper.
He just stuck his head out the window above me and grinned. “I know it seems like it, but it won’t, I promise. I climbed up on a ladder last summer and nailed that f**ker to the wall real good. ”
I laughed, picturing Ben up on a ladder, trying to juggle a hammer, nails, and a joint, all so he could sneak out at night without falling. I’d crept into his room at a quarter to twelve and told him I wanted to sneak out to see Jason. He just grinned at me and shoved open his window, pointing at the drainpipe a few feet.
“Look down—I even put some footholds on there and painted ’em white so you can’t see them. ” He sounded pleased with himself.
I glanced down, my stomach wobbling at the distance beneath me, but eventually focused on the drainpipe and saw that, sure enough, he’d nailed a piece of wood crossways between the pipe and the wall so you’d have somewhere to put your feet as you slid down. I wondered that Father had never noticed, but then realized that he never really went outside the house. He came home from work at seven every night and left at six in the morning, and went golfing most of the day Saturday and Sunday. He’d have no reason to make a circuit of the house or to examine the drainpipe for secret escape routes. My brother was hiding his egress route in plain sight, it seemed.
I slid down a bit further, touched the foothold, and then slid down some more. “Is there another foothold beneath me?” I asked.
“Yeah, I put in two. Should be another a few more feet down. ” Ben watched me descend, his hair hanging loose around his face.
I shimmied down until my hands caught the foothold and lowered myself farther, until my feet found another hold. At that point, the ground was only a few feet down, so I jumped free. I happened to glance up at Ben as I did so, and he had his hand out and his mouth open as if to protest. I fell a lot farther than I’d thought I would, and hit the ground with a hard thump, my ankles jarring. I tumbled backward and hit again on my tailbone, cursing under my breath as my ankles and my butt began to throb.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked in a whisper-shout. “I was gonna say, that seems like a lot closer than it really is. You gotta keep climbing down and not let go until your hand’s on the foothold. I almost broke my ankle the first time I climbed down that way. ”
I rubbed my tailbone and rotated one ankle and then the other. I’d be sore for a while, but nothing was injured. “I’m fine,” I said. “Thanks, Ben. ”
“I don’t want to know where you’re going or what you’re doing. I need some kind of plausible deniability,” he said. He ducked back in his room and then reappeared with a backpack in his hands. “Catch this. ”
He dropped it and I caught it in my arms, unzipped the main compartment to find a few old ratty T-shirts wrapped around a fifth of Jack Daniels. I glanced up at him, and he winked at me. “Can’t have much fun without some booze, can you? I didn’t think you and Dorsey would want pot, or I’d give you that. ”
“You’re not supposed to encourage us to drink, Benjamin. ”
Ben laughed too loud and clapped his hand over his mouth. “God, you are such a goody-goody, Beck. What the f**k’s the point of sneaking out at midnight if you’re not gonna do it right?” I just shook my head, re-zipped the bag and slung it over my shoulder, and had turned to make my way through the side yard when Ben stopped me with a pssst. “I want the rest of whatever you don’t drink, so bring the bag back. And…don’t drink it all. You’ll get sick. ”
I rolled my eyes at him, even though he couldn’t see me. “I’m not stupid, Ben. I know better than to drink an entire fifth at once. ”
Ben lifted an eyebrow. “Well, maybe some of us aren’t as smart as you. It’s one of those ‘fun at the time but a bitch later’ things. ”
I just shook my head. “I’m leaving now, Ben. Bye, and thanks. ”
“Plausible deniability starts now. I don’t know you. ” I heard his window slide closed with a faint squeak.
I laughed as I ducked under the low-hanging branches of the huge pine trees standing between our house and our neighbors. The grass was wet with dew and the air had a bite of cold to it, making me glad I’d decided to change into jeans and put on a heavier sweater. The sky was clear of clouds and dotted with stars, a thick wedge of white-glowing half-moon rising midway through the silver-studded black. My breath puffed in faint clouds of white as I dodged along the trees and out to the road. I saw Jason’s truck idling with the headlights off, a cloud of exhaust roiling around the back of the truck. The interior light of the cab was on, bathing Jason in a pale yellow glow. I could see the top of his head bent toward his lap, the hedgehog spikes of his blond hair still held in perfect place by the gel he used, his neck thick and tanned by hours in the sun.
He glanced up as I approached the passenger side of the truck, a happy grin spreading across his features. He hopped out of the truck, and I heard the strains of country music turned down low escaping into the night. Hurrying around the front, Jason had the door open for me before I could even touch the