“I don’t know how I am going to get through this year,” Jennifer says as she parks her car a couple hundred meters from the beach. It is dark and the bonfire started two hours ago - but we are usually late. Not because we want to be fashionably late, but because something always comes up or we get caught up in a Sex & The City episode we have watched a hundred times before.
“How come?” I ask her as she shakes out a cigarette of her Marlboro Gold pack. There is always a pack of cigarettes in her car. She lights up and looks at me. Then she shrugs.
“Well I have a plan for how I am going to get through this year,” I smile.
She raises her eyebrows.
“I am going to study hard - college, you know, and then I am going to go out on fridays, but not saturdays. Every sunday will be for studying and I will keep my focus on anything but boys.” I almost feel proud of myself for setting those goals, but there is a little nagging in the back of my mind that says it might not be as easy as I hope.
“Why exclude the boys?” Jennifer asks.
“Because they are distractions. And - like you said earlier - there are no boys in East Haven that I could imagine myself dating.” It is not that East Haven boys are disinteresting. Most of them are kind, smart and some even very good looking. But truth is that this city is so small, that you feel weirdly close or distant to everyone. You have a relation without actually having one, and starting a new relationship in the last year of high school seems like the dumbest thing one could do in East Haven. Next year I will be elsewhere, and maybe then I will meet someone new. Someone with an interesting perspective and a desire for adventure. But this year will be about school, my friends and college.
The fire is burning bright and the beach is filled with East Haven High students. Almost everyone is carrying a red cup, even those I do not recognise (the new freshmen). I remember Miss Sander’s words earlier, but like everyone else, I fast forget them. The basketball team brought their big stereo system (as usual) and the music is filling the entire beach. On this day the beach houses must hate us East Haven High kids. I would have hated us if I lived by the beach.
Jennifer is smoking her second cigarette. She breathes the smoke in deeply, exhales and then looks at me. “Shall we find Kat and Anna?”
I nod. We were actually planning on going together, but Kathleen had plans with Thomas after school and Anna said she would just meet us here. Now the only question is: Where are they?
Jennifer and I walk around for a short while, until Kathleen’s familiar voice shouts my name and then Jennifer’s. We both turn around, and there, a bit further away from the water, Kathleen, Thomas and Anna are standing.
I hurry to them and Jennifer follows.
“There you are!” I breathe.
“We have been looking for you everywhere,” Jennifer adds.
Kathleen laughs a little, “Well at least we’re all here now. So anything to drink?” She holds up a bottle of tequila.
“Oh yes please,” I cry out. Kathleen grins. Out of the four of us, I am known for being the only one who can drink tequila without grimacing.
“You’re so gross,” Anna nudges my shoulders.
“Indeed,” Jennifer agrees and I roll my eyes. “I would do it if we were talking body tequila,” she then admits.
“Of course you would.” Thomas speaks for the first time. I look at him and he sends me a polite smile. He has grown a little over the summer and his blonde hair looks longer. It is bleached from the sun and seawater. I notice that his arm is around Kathleen’s waist and feel my smile widen a little. They might not make it after high school, but we all wished for a high school sweetheart when we were younger - so seeing Kathleen with Thomas makes me somewhat happy. It it a sappy kind of happiness.
“When do you want to leave?” I ask Jennifer, who is smoking what must be her seventh cigarette tonight. We are standing on the road that runs by the beach. A lot of smokers meet up here.
Jennifer looks away from the bonfire that stills burns brightly down on the beach, “I don’t know. A couple hours?” She says casually.
I wrap my arms around myself and nod. It is starting feel colder and I can tell that the alcohol effect is wearing off. I am usually not the one to go home earlier, but I have lost the rush of excitement.
“Why? Are you tired?”
I nod. I am actually not tired at all, I am just cold and not very entertained. The night started off fun, but now that Kathleen and Anna has left, Jennifer and I are standing alone and she seems to be more interested in watching everyone else than having a conversation with me.
“One and a half hour?” She suggests, trying to compromise.
“One hour and fifteen minutes?”
She smiles and takes a drag of her cigarette, breathing in the smoke, holding it and then letting it fade into the night. I watch it as it gets thinner and soon disappears against the starlit sky.
“Hello girls, is there a chance that one of you has a lighter?” A deep voice interrupts our silence. I spin around on my heels and meet a pair of light eyes. There he stands. The new guy. He looks just as calm as he did in English earlier today. He is wearing a leather jacket and has changed his t-shirt. It is now grey. Grey suits him.
“No, I’m sorry…” I mumble nervously and shake my head. His eyes linger on me as a smile creeps over his face, “That’s quite alright. I could have brought my own.”
I want to say something, but Jennifer steps up beside me and smiles widely. “Well I have one.”
She holds out her black seven-eleven lighter. Harry thanks her and raises it to the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. He lights up, breathes in and then looks at me.
“You don’t smoke?” He asks as he hands Jennifer her lighter.
“I do, I mean… At parties only.”
“Is this not a party?” He looks around and then turns his attention back to me.
“I guess.” I am not sure why I feel so small, but it is piercing my voice. I wish I could be more like Jennifer. She seems confident and here I stand, uncomfortably turning the ring on my left hand.
He digs down in the pocket of his leather jacket and slips up a pack of Marlboro Red. What is up with everyone smoking Marlboro? I have never given it a thought before, but here the new guy comes strolling and he has a pack of Marlboro as well. Maybe it is a Connecticut thing.
“Want one?” He asks. I actually don’t, since I have promised to try and be healthier this year, but when he flips the pack open and holds it out in front of me, I have no power to say no.
“Thank you,” I just mumble and slide a cigarette out.
“Do you go to East Haven High?” Jennifer asks, and I realise that I had forgotten about her existence. The question sounds dumb to me, because I remember how we stared at him earlier - but he looks the like kind of guy who would not remember every girl whose eyes got stuck on him.
“Just transferred from Holy Cross.” He says.
“I thought you got kicked out for murder,” it comes out of me, rolling of my tongue before I get a chance to stop myself. Jennifer looks to me, confused and slightly embarrassed, but Harry smiles and lets out a throaty chuckle.
“You’re in my English class, right?”
“I recognise you.”
I nod again.
“Murder?” Jennifer then squeaks and Harry rips his eyes away from me, “No-no. It is an intern joke.” He fast explains and I can feel Jennifer glare at me. You two have intern jokes? It makes her jealous, but truth is that we don’t. I do not know Harry any better than she does, and the joke he calls intern, is between him and our entire English class.
“Why did you get kicked out?” Jennifer then asks and I widen my eyes a little. I have wanted to know since I hear Pamela Wilson mention it in the hall this morning.
“I got bored.”
Jennifer wants to speak, but holds herself back. Instead she decides to change the subject.
“I am Jennifer by the way.” She throws her dead cigarette on the ground and steps on it, before holding out a hand in a polite gesture. Harry grabs it. “Jennifer Reed… But everyone calls me Jen.”
That is not true. Most people call her by her last name, but I am not going to stop her from having a moment.
“Nice to meet you Jen,” Harry shakes her hand, “I am Harry… Styles.”
She nods and he lets go of her hand. He shifts his cigarette back to the right hand and moves it to his lips, glancing at me.
“And you must be Barbie?”
My jaw hits the ground. Is he joking? It takes me a second before I pull myself together and force a smile, “Barbara actually.”
“Barbie.” He just states and Jennifer giggles a little. I am not sure if he is insulting or complimenting me.
“Most people call me Stew, Stewart, Babs or Babe.”
“Babe?” Harry cocks an eyebrow.
“As in… As in, well, babe, the name.”
“I am not sure babe is a name.”
“It is - there is that one movie about the pig named babe.”
Harry wrinkles his forehead a little, takes a puff of his cigarette and then speaks, “Never heard of it.”
“Me neither,” Jennifer sees her window back into the conversation. She is lying again and I can not help but wonder why. We watched the movie (Babe) together when we were just kids. I am sure she remembers.
“You must have a weird movie taste,” Harry then says and I felt offended until he smiles at me. He is kidding again, and it annoys me that I can not tell right away. He sounds so serious.
“Styles!” A voice shouts. Eric Bailey is coming towards us and Harry glances at his friend and then looks back at Jennifer and I.
“Sorry ladies.” He excuses himself. “It was nice meeting you.”
“You too, Harry.” Jennifer says.
I do not say anything, and I am not sure he notices, because he walks to Bailey fast.
Jennifer looks at me and smiles, “He is the definition of hot.”
I give her a smile, but my eyes linger on Harry Styles’ back as he walks away with Bailey.