After we finished high school, Maja and I went on a trip together. We were part of a bigger group of girls, and hadn’t been that close, but as high school was ending we seemed to draw together, and I was happy to be going alone with her. She chose the destination, a resort at the cove. I think this decision was in no small part influenced by the movie Dirty Dancing , which we had both seen a hundred times and loved completely un-ironically.
Maja could drive, and was allowed to use her older brother’s shitty convertible while he was living upstate with his girlfriend, something we suspected to be a temporary arrangement. Maja’s favorite pair of shoes that summer were a pair of cork wedges that she had to take off to drive. On the way I remember us talking about whether or not we shaved down there, the pros and cons. It was the kind of conversation you have when you’re settling into a new period of intimacy with a friend, almost to prove it. The whole drive I kept looking down at her feet, with the imprints of the straps left by her shoes.
On our third afternoon we were by the pool and Maja wanted to smoke a joint. We left our bags and towels on the sun loungers and wandered into the trees. Maja leaned against the wall of a hut. I can picture her vividly against that wall – she was very pale and very blonde, the wall was pebble-dash painted turquoise. She had a pre-rolled joint and a lighter curled in her hand, so loosely I was worried as we walked around the pool that it would fall out and get wet, but the reason she did it was because that way you couldn’t tell she had anything in her hand.
She lit up and had a few tokes before passing it over to me. It hit me, not hard, but I felt pretty heavy. The color of the wall behind Maja intensified; I could hear each individual sound from each individual bird or insect and the wash of the ocean down in the cove.
It was about then that Maja said the thing. I didn’t hear it at first, or I did, but I didn’t realise what she’d said for a while. It was, ‘Do you want to touch my tits? Or my pussy?’ Then she said, ‘You’ve been staring at them all day.’
It made me look again. I could see the fold of her labia, her tight nipples, through the wet fabric of her bikini.
Maja was smoking the joint and looking at me, not like she was playing some horrible game, but not without a smile, either. It had been said so casually, or maybe I was just so baked, that it didn’t seem like a huge deal to do it. I stepped forward and brought my right hand up and slid it under the fabric of her bikini top. She closed her eyes and swayed back against the wall. I touched her how I liked to be touched, kind of lightly squeezing and rolling a little, pinching the nipple gently. My body felt insanely warm. I was wet, I was melting. After a second I moved my hand down and put my forefinger in her panties. She was completely smooth and soft. I didn’t bother pushing inside, just got my fingertip good and slippery and slid it over her clit. She had her eyes closed still, she was doing that frown-and-open-your-mouth face from porn, and I knew we weren’t actually having sex, we were just messing around. I took my hand away and stepped back.
She opened her eyes, took a drag on the joint and handed it back to me. The whole thing had lasted less than twenty seconds. Once the joint was finished we went back to the pool and she got another round of cocktails. They came in two flavors, one was yellow with a cherry garnish, the other was blue. I got the next round, and then we got hungry. We got dinner at a little café three miles away, and after we came back to the resort.
It was different at night when the neon lights came on. Maja went off by herself and I prowled around the deserted poolside smoking. After a while the weird guy who laid out the breakfast came out into the courtyard. He was weird, I felt, because he knew he was not good-looking. Also he lived out here, in the ass-end of nowhere, and probably the only people he met at the resort were middle-aged couples in Hawaiian shorts. He was easy prey: I had only to call across the pool, with that beautiful dancing waterlight illuminating us both, to seal the deal. He took me to the staff kitchen. I rode him until I came, and then I had to jerk him with my hand because I wasn’t on the pill. I don’t think he said a word, not even to complain.
I went back to our room not with a sense of shame, exactly, just unease. Maja wasn’t back yet. She had tipped her bag out all over her bed, probably in search of condoms, and left the garbage strewn over her pillow. There was a crumpled joint among the scraps. I thought about lighting up, but for once I was kind of OK without it. I lay down on the bed and tried to drift off, but it was too hot. I rolled around on the sheets trying to find a patch of cotton that was still cool until I heard Maja tripping up the steps to the door. I turned away and pretended to be asleep, breathing deep and even. She huffed and came over to my bed – she was too lazy to move all the stuff on her own. She got down on the bed behind me, half-naked and skin burning hot.
‘I love you,’ she said.
Later that year, when I moved to the city, I started dating a guy. I used to see him talking to people I knew, or sitting alone at the bar on his phone, and feel something give way. It was the close-cropped hair at the back of his neck, a part of him that was too tender.