"That's the worst idea I ever heard," I told Eric. Then I took another sip of beer and swallowed. "Let's do it."
"Meg," Tiffany called after me. But I was already out the door of Eric's Beamer. My beer sloshed onto the gravel as I led the way across the dark clearing to the railroad bridge.
Eric caught up with me. His hand circled the back of my neck, stopping me at the end of the bridge. We shared a hungry look. He'd been mad when I told him Tiffany and Brian were coming along tonight. And I knew why he was angry. If we weren't alone, we couldn't do it. If we couldn't do it, what were we hanging out together for?
Now, without sharing a word, he and I understood we would do it after all. The four of us were drunk past the point of needing privacy.
In the light of the full moon I searched his handsome face a moment longer, marveled at his carefully mussed black hair. He was hot. We turned each other on. We were about to screw on a railroad bridge. It was a shame we didn't like each other very much.
I gazed to the far end of the bridge. "It's not long enough for those kids to have gotten killed on it. Seems like they could have run to one end or the other when they heard the train coming."
"You don't believe that story," he said.
"Party pooper. Why do you want to cross the bridge if you don't believe the story? It's not a daring deed unless you think it's dangerous."
"The girl got her shoe caught in the tracks," Brian said behind us. "That's what I always heard. And the boy got killed, too, because he went back to help her."
"That's so romantic," Tiffany cooed. She sounded like she actually meant it. She was completely wasted on her first three beers ever, way too drunk to produce sarcasm.
"And then, blammo!" I said. "Very dangerous. That's more like it." I swirled my beer in my cup. "Maybe we should take our shoes off."
Despite his party pooping, Eric took his shoes off. We all left our shoes at the base of the sign that proclaimed No Trespassing and offered the number of the city ordinance we were breaking. We stepped in our socks across the railroad ties, toward the center of the bridge—Eric and me, with Tiffany and Brian behind us.
Through my cotton socks, gradually T began to feel the cold, hard ties. The air seemed colder, too, as we walked farther from the riverbank.
I heard Tiffany trip, then laugh. Brian probably thought tonight was The Night, and maybe it was. He'd been bugging me for months in the back of calculus class about how to take his relationship with Tiffany to The Next Level. I had told him I wasn't that close with Tiffany anymore. I wasn't that close with anyone. He said it didn't matter. He seemed to think I was an expert on sex in general.
What did I expect? Good news traveled fast.
And I was pretty much getting what I asked for from Eric. I looked the part. As the only teenager in Shelby County, Alabama, with blue hair, I was everybody's go-to girl for bad behavior. Tonight I wore a low-cut T-shirt that said Peer Pressure in the hope of luring Eric into another sexcapade. As if he needed any luring. He was pretty much self-luring.
As we reached the middle of the bridge, he steered me by the neck to the metal wall of the trestle. I didn't mind being held around the back of the neck, but I minded being steered. The rich, dirty scents of rust and tar made me dizzy. I was about to shake him off when he slid his hand down to my butt and parked me against the wall.
I sipped beer and gripped the rusty wall with my other hand, looking down at the reflection of the white moon in the black river so far below us. Trees clung to the sides of the gorge, their tiny spring leaves glinting white with moonlight. People had said the view from the bridge was beautiful, but no one seemed to have actually seen it. Now I had seen it.
Now I had seen everything. Brian Johnson, salutatorian, math team captain, had Tiffany Hart, valedictorian, yearbook editor, sandwiched against the bridge wall in front of him. At least he'd taken the precaution of putting his beer down. He wore all the wrong clothes, a sure sign his parents didn't let him watch TV. She wore the right clothes, clean version, no skin in sight. His hands moved up her sides toward a risqué area and I almost laughed. Every few seconds, he glanced over at Eric and me as if he needed instructions.
Oblivious to Brian's groping, Tiffany shook her blonde windblown curls off her face and asked, "Why didn't those kids just jump over the side of the bridge? Is that a stupid question? I can't tell what's a stupid question." She was so drunk. I began to regret letting her and Brian, innocence incarnate, tag along tonight on my walk on the wild side.
"We're really high up," Brian said in the tone of the Professor from Gilligan 's Island. "Hitting the water from this height would be like hitting concrete."
"Getting hit by a train is painful, too," I said. "But the girl got her shoe caught, and the boy wouldn't leave her. So they were stuck up here anyway."
"I'm telling you," Eric said, "that story can't be true. What kind of dumbass would let himself get hit by a train because his dumb girlfriend got her shoe caught?" Immediately after declaring that true love was something he couldn't fathom, he proceeded to kiss the back of my neck and work his way toward hickey-ville.
I tried to enjoy him, despite the irony. The cold March wind kissed my cl**vage as he kissed me. A tingle of excitement spread through my body, and I tilted my head down to expose more of my neck for his mouth.
I'd grabbed him like a life preserver to float me through my last three months of high school. He wasn't much, but he was the only thing that kept me moving, besides anticipating my spring break trip to Miami one week from tonight. I would live as high as I could that week, which would tide me over until I graduated in June and moved to Birmingham for college. It was only twenty minutes up the interstate, but at least I was getting out of this tiny town. In the meantime, I was seventeen, a boy wanted to do me on a railroad bridge in the middle of nowhere, and I knew I was alive.
For the moment.
"Stop. Shhh." I pushed Eric's shoulder to detach him from my neck.
"What is it?" Brian asked over Tiffany's giggle.
"Shhh. Hush, Tiff." I leaned against the rusty wall, out over the distant black water, which stirred in the wind and distorted the reflection of the moon. My eyes strained, searching the dark for the source of the low hum. "Do y'all hear that?"
"No," Brian said.
My heart pounded in my chest. I hated being the cautious one. I couldn't help it this time. I looked one way up the tracks, but I didn't see the terrifying headlight of a train rounding the bend. I looked the other way down the tracks. Blackness. I considered setting down my beer and putting my ear to the railroad tie to listen for vibrations, like in an old Western. "Suddenly, I am full of fear."
Eric put both arms around me and massaged my boobs, too hard. "You're just stoned," he whispered so Brian and Tiffany couldn't hear. Even in their inebriated state, they would have been truly horrified at a mention of marijuana.
That buzz had worn off an hour ago, or so I'd thought. But Eric must be right. I was paranoid from the pot, and now I was drunk, too.
None of that explained the low hum in my ears.
The clearing at the end of the bridge exploded with the blue lights of the police.
Move off the bridge, toward my voice," came the command, tinny through a megaphone.
I felt Eric tense behind me. We both looked away from the cop car to the opposite end of the bridge. Eric and I were a lot alike, unfortunately for both of us. I'm sure we were considering the same scenario. If we bolted away from the cops, we wouldn't have a car. We'd follow the railroad tracks to the next town, or hike miles through the forest to the next bridge over the river. We'd have to come back home anyway, and the police would catch us eventually. Brian and Tiffany would rat us out to save their GPAs. Worst of all, my dad would tell me I'd made it even harder on my mom by letting her think I'd been kidnapped, not just arrested.
Besides, I needed to stay with Tiffany. I hadn't exactly gotten her into this mess. She'd come to me, requesting a mess. But she wouldn't be in the mess now if it weren't for me. And Brian definitely wasn't staying with her. He was already following the cop's order, stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie, leaving Tiffany frozen against the cold metal wall. He probably hoped to get time off for good behavior. I never would have expected Eric to be strong for me, but for Tiffany's sake, I'd expected more out of Brian.
I took the beer cup from Tiffany's shaking hand and set down her cup and mine. The cop must have suspected we'd been drinking, but it seemed stupid to carry the beer off the bridge and present it to him. I put my arm around her. "Come on."
"Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God." As we walked behind Eric, she fished her cell phone out of her pocket and pressed a button.
"Who are you calling? Your lawyer?" I thought a little humor might cheer her up.
Apparently this was not the time. "Oh my God!" she screamed at me. "Mom?" she squealed into the phone. "I'm okay, everyone's okay, but I'm in trouble. You have to come to the police station and get me."
"Tiffany, turn the phone off," said the tinny megaphone voice.
She pressed another button to hang up the phone, like someone used to following orders. "Oh my God," she shrieked at me, "he knows who I am!"
This was kind of weird, but not impossible. It was a small town. We probably went to school with the cop's daughter. "He would have found out who you were when he looked at your driver's license, anyway," I said. "What does it matter?"
"He's going to tell my parents!"
It almost made sense. I was about to point out to her that she'd just called her parents herself, when Brian reached the end of the bridge.
The muscular cop with a military haircut stepped out of the shadows, into the moonlight and swirling blue light from his car. The sneaky shit must have driven all the way down here from the main road with his headlights off.
He said something quietly. Brian cowered before authority. He bent his head, gave the cop one wrist to handcuff to the railing at the end of the bridge, and spread his legs. Then he let the cop pat his hands over him, searching him. Hell, he would have submitted to a strip search if the cop had snapped his fingers.
Now Eric reached the end of the bridge. The cop didn't look quite so enormous next to Eric, who was six foot three. But Eric was skinny, and the cop was built like Matt Damon.
Eric let the cop handcuff him to the railing and search him, too. Unlike Brian, Eric gave the cop shit the whole time, almost like they knew each other. Which was likely, considering what Eric had been up to lately. Anyway, everybody in town knew Eric because his daddy was a hotshot lawyer.
I helped Tiffany sit down on a railroad tie at the end of the bridge so we could put our shoes on. The cop had his back turned, and I couldn't hear what he was saying. But I could hear Eric lying. "I'm not high. You think anybody in town would sell to me? Lord knows I've tried." Then, "It was my girlfriend's idea to come up here in the first place."
"Thanks, asshole," I called, giving him the thumbs-up. "Chivalry isn't dead."
"It was your idea," Tiffany reminded Eric. She squinted at me. "Wasn't it?"
"Don't say anything else to each other." The cop still spoke as he had through the megaphone, calm and cool with a threat underneath. He curled one finger at Tiffany. "Your turn."
"Oh my God." She stood and walked toward the cop. I watched her, ready to catch her if she collapsed. At least, I would try. I wasn't too sure about my own balance.
I also watched to make sure the cop wasn't a perv, but he didn't pat her down and handcuff her to the railing. He handcuffed both her wrists behind her back while she mouthed, "Oh my God oh my God." Then he guided her by the elbow into the backseat of the cop car, strapped the seat belt around her, and closed the door.
He motioned to me. My turn.
The low hum started again. Or maybe it had never stopped.
Eric and Brian both made a noise. "She has a little problem with being restrained," Eric told the cop. "I've tried that, too."
"Sounds like a good reason not to drink underage and trespass on city property." The cop walked over to me.
"She does have a real problem," Brian said. "Sir. I haven't tried it, but there was this incident in the ninth grade."
I wondered whether Brian meant the time I couldn't get my ankle untied from Julie Meadows's ankle after the three-legged race in PE, or the time Todd Pemberton trapped me between floors in the handicapped elevator.
"Stand up," the cop told me.
"Look," Eric called, "when she resists arrest, I don't want to get in more trouble for that. Remember I told you."
The cop did not care. I stood slowly, shaking worse than Tiffany. Something bad was about to happen. He was going to handcuff me. Or I was going to break down and plead with him not to.
"Turn around," he said.
Heart pounding, I faced the cop car.
Behind me, the cop grabbed my wrist. "You need to find out what this feels like," he said, warm breath on the back of my neck.
"I already know what it feels like," I whispered.
"I don't think you do." Handcuffs opened with a ping of metal.
"Oh, look," I cried as more blue lights emerged from the woods. A second cop car pulled into the clearing. Maybe the arrival of backup would distract Dudley Do-Right from his mission. "Are we that much of a threat to society? Or is it just a slow crime day?" Now an enormous fire engine eased into the clearing. Low-hanging tree branches screeched against its red lights. "Slow fire day," I added. Last came an ambulance. "Slow stroke day. Why'd you call the cavalry?"