The summer is fading, not seasonally yet but organizationally. School begins next week for Xander, two weeks out for me. I love August. I love the lingering heat of the day, cooled on its edges by the promise of Fall. The term “Back to School” used to cause my stomach to feel all ticklish; excitement mixed with an ounce of dread.
It was in mid-August one summer, right before I entered the ninth grade, that I attended a birthday party for a close friend, held at her well-off aunt’s home. This aunt was a fixture at my friend’s house, and I thought of her as pretty and tan. I liked her bright polo shirts unbuttoned and turned up at the collar, and I liked the short white shorts she often wore, which showed off off thick and strong legs that glittered with heavily perfumed lotion. Gold jewelry usually covered her throat and wrists, and after I saw her house I figured the gold was real, and of a heavy karat.
My friend lived with her grandparents and her mother, who was divorced and occupied a small basement mother-in-law apartment in the house. My friend and I, when I spent the night on weekends or during the summer, liked watching scary movies rented from the video store. Her mother often popped popcorn in her small microwave, and settled next to us to watch the movie. Unlike many of my friend’s parents, I liked it when she stuck around and hung out; she was generous with her humor and compliments, and called me a shortened version of my name that previously I only allowed my mother to use.
My friend’s aunt’s house was large and constructed of cedar and large glass windows. In the back was a swimming pool with a twisting slide, a hot tub, and a pool house filled with white wicker furniture, a wet bar, and its own bathroom. For her fourteenth birthday my friend invited several of us over to swim for a few hours, and I remember feeling excited and comfortable around her family. I loved swimming in the pool, tearing down the slide and landing with a splash in the warm water, and the feel of the air-conditioning in the pool house on my wet skin.
After swimming, we ate pizza in the pool house while my friend opened her birthday presents. From her friends and younger sister, she received a great many bottles of lotion from Bath and Body Works; I gave her a paperback book in a series of novels that she liked. I always gave books as gifts because I loved getting them myself, but after I saw that colorful, fragrant pile of plastic lotion bottles I wished I would have done the same. I also coveted her bounty, craving two or three bottles of my favorite scent: Freesia, which was a lovely shade of blue, almost periwinkle in hue.
Another friend of ours, seated next to me on a wicker loveseat, a blue beach towel draped across her thin lap, pointed out to me that I had several beetles tangled in my hair. She tried to pull them out with her fingers, but they were sticking tight to my long black strands of hair. When I examined my hair in the dim light of the bathroom, peering close in the floor to ceiling mirror, I saw that there were at least a dozen of them, each writhing on six glossy black legs in a tangle trap of my hair. More enthralled than disgusted, I thought their jade green armored bodies were pretty, and liked the wild, feral way my hair looked with the insects adorning it.
Standing in front of the mirror, my long hair full of beetles, my thin-but-developing body tanned and long, I felt exotic and older than fourteen. I remember pulling back the fabric of my bikini bottom, examining my tan lines. I even dared to remove the top of my swimsuit a little bit, liking the pale, paisley shape of my breast against the rest of my deeply tanned skin.
Before anyone noticed how long I had been gone, I picked the beetles out of my hair, wrapped my beach towel back around my waist, and combed my fingers through my hair. I wrapped the beetles in a swath of pink toilet paper, walked past my friends, and opened the pool house’s french doors. I shook the beetles outside and onto the grass, which they quickly disappeared into.