When Bootsy Cameron came out into Rhode Island society, there were three hundred members of the Eastern Seaboard's upper crust in attendance, enough champagne to fill a swimming pool, and a band playing "Satin Doll" and "String of Pearls" and "The Very Thought of You" until three in the morning—and Charlie Dalton and I in the Cameron's coat closet, kissing behind a forest of sable and tweed.
He wasn't Charlie Dalton then, but Bunny Dalton, didn't become Charlie until his first year at Welton, when he finally dropped the nickname his family had assigned to him at birth. He was skinny and pale and spent most of his time trying to seem older than he actually was; earlier that evening he had thrown up behind the Cameron's boathouse after smoking an entire pack of Old Golds. He said he had gone all the way with a girl he met when his family went on vacation in Maine earlier that summer, and he professed a deep and abiding love for Bootsy Cameron, who was seventeen and beautiful, and whose bright red hair offered the only proof that she was actually Richard the Fink's sister. Charlie said he loved Bootsy Cameron, and few people doubted it—but I had to wonder, later that night, when I found myself in the coat closet with Charlie, while he did to me exactly what he had said he was going to do with Bootsy Cameron before the party was over.
He tastes like Old Golds and peach brandy and the spearmint gum he always chews. He's kissing me the way he would kiss a girl, the way I imagine it would be like to kiss a girl. Outside the band plays "Stardust," and Charlie Dalton pushes me to the floor and gets on top of me, forcing his knee between my legs, and he is not kissing me the way a boy would kiss a girl anymore, but the way two boys kiss on the floor of the Cameron's coatroom: recklessly, wildly, holding on for dear life.
Ten minutes later we stand amidst the rabbit and mink and fox fur coats, Charlie buttoning his shirt back up. Just before he opens the door I lean over and kiss him on the neck, and he smells of stale perfume, of fur and smoke and sweat. He pulls away from me and slips out. I wait five minutes, then follow him into the ballroom. I already know as I walk into the crowd that we will never talk about tonight.
Ten years later I will be in bed with Chris Noel, now Chris Overstreet, and a feeling I can't identify will overtake me. I'll want to pin her down the way Charlie did so long ago, kiss her harder than I've ever kissed her and do things to her I'm to ashamed even to think about. But instead I pull away. I close my eyes. And then I take her in my arms again, and kiss her the way a boy kisses a girl: softly, gently, sweetly. And if she notices that something is wrong, she never says a thing.