When Cary and I broke up I turned to running to deal with my problems. I'd started running in high school, but had really ramped up my mileage in the past year. Some would say I ran to get away from my problems, but it was really a lot simpler than that: Running was something I could control. I could control how fast, how far, how long. Even when everything else in my life spun out of control.
I could feel things spinning now. Dawn's news didn't really bother me all that much. I was upset that she'd been keeping it a secret from us while we lived in her house, but she and I had never been close to the point that I felt slighted at not being invited to her commitment ceremony, or whatever she was calling it. But Mary Anne and my brother keeping their apparent relationship a secret? That was betrayal, plain and simple. As I ran, all the little inconsistencies and strange remarks I'd heard over the past year began to add up. Mary Anne's newfound billiards ability. The fact that she and Sam had become jogging buddies. Her reluctance to date. The time I'd called Sam on a Sunday morning and I'd thought I heard someone else in the room with him. I'd teased him about having a secret girlfriend, and he'd said it was the TV. The weekend they were mysteriously out of town at the same time. And all those hints Dawn had been dropping throughout the summer. I'd been played.
Why would they do this to me? What had they been so afraid of? Even though Mary Anne and I, as little kids, had thought it would be really cool if she ended up marrying one of my brothers so we could be sisters, I hadn't thought of the possibility of Mary Anne and Sam together in years. It certainly wasn't something I would have had a problem with. What good reason did they have for not telling me? Did they mean more to each other now than I meant to either of them? How could I ever trustthem again? And, why them? Why did they get to have each other when I was alone? I hadn't realized, as Mary Anne had consoled me through my breakup with Cary, that she'd actually been secretly sleeping with my brother. She must have thought me so pathetic. She and Sam probably laughed over my misery, thankful that they weren't alone like me.
I ran for a good hour and was still angry when I slowed to a walk as I approached the house. I didn't really want to go inside. As I got closer, I saw a silhouette coming towards me. It was too masculine to be Mary Anne or Dawn. Good. They were the last people I wanted to talk to.
"I saw you run by a couple times. Thought you could use one of these." Tom handed me a Sierra Nevada.
I took a long swig. "Thanks."
"So. That was interesting."
"You could say that," I agreed.
"I've been better." I collapsed into the sand and began to stretch. "After you left I found out my best friend and my brother are sleeping together. They've been at it for about a year, apparently. Everybody knew except me."
"Mary Anne? Wow. A lot of secrets are coming out tonight. What's yours?"
I looked at Tom, sitting beside me. He looked so young. Nineteen seemed forever ago. When I was nineteen I'd had a general idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Mary Anne and I had told each other everything. I'd had Cary.
I pride myself on being in control, but things had been spinning out of control for long enough. Without answering Tom's question, I grabbed him by the collar of his Abercrombie T-shirt and pulled him toward me. He tasted like beer and sweat. He didn't pull away, though, which I took as a good sign. When we pulled away he looked unsure of himself.
"Are you sure you want to go there?" he asked.
"Do you find me attractive?" I demanded.
"Do you find me attractive? Do I have a sparkling personality? Would you find it hard to let me go?"
"Honestly, you can be kind of abrasive. But that's just who you are. I've had more fun with you this summer than just about anybody else."
I kissed Tom again.
"Did I pass the test?" he asked.
"Just shut up," I said. "Have you ever been with an older woman?" I grabbed Tom's T-shirt and fumbled with it until I'd successfully extracted it from his body. I threw it toward the ocean. It floated to the ground and landed in the sand a few feet away.
"Where are you going with this? Are you drunk?"
Honestly, I wasn't sure where I was going. "I've had two sips of beer. Of course I'm not drunk."
"I think it scares me even more that you're sober. Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't want to take advantage of you."
"Who said you're the one taking advantage of me?"
Ten minutes later, Tom and I sat side by side in the sand. "This is turning out to be one of the most unusual nights of my life," Tom observed.
"You and me both," I said.
"I won't tell anyone. If that's what you want, I mean."
"I'd prefer to keep it that way," I agreed. Obviously, not all of my ideas are great.
"So. Uh, do you want to come hang at our place? I get the feeling you don't really want to go home. You can even crash on our couch, if you want."
I nodded. The lights were still on in our place. I knew Mary Anne was waiting up. Let her suffer.
I woke up to the sun streaming in through the window and an ache in my back. For a moment I wondered why I was on a strange couch and wearing a pair of too-big men's sweatpants and a T-shirt that read, "Tijuana: City of Tomorrow." I looked around. An empty pizza box and several Taco Bell wrappers littered the coffee table and a beer can pyramid balanced precariously in a corner of the room. Surf boards were lined up against the fireplace. In a rush last night's events came back to me. I remembered Dawn's naked husband, finding out about Mary Anne and Sam's torrid love affair and Tom. Oh, shit. Tom. Last night we'd agreed to forget about what had happened between us, but in the light of day I didn't see how I could face him. I had to get out of here.
I groggily looked at my watch: 5:15. I hoped I could sneak out and back into our house without running into anybody. I spotted my running clothes in a crumpled pile near the door. They had been wet and sandy when we'd come in and Tom had given me some of his clothes to change into. As quietly as possible I pulled on my shoes and gathered my clothes in my arms. I bumped into Aidan on my way out.
"Hey. Surf's up. Wanna catch a few?" He didn't seem to think it odd in the least that I was sneaking out of his house at the crack of dawn.
"No. Thanks," I curtly replied. I jogged to our house and let myself in. The house was quiet the way houses are when all of their occupants are still asleep. I tiptoed up the stairs to my room and flopped down on the bed. I hoped when I woke this nightmare would be over.