by Ellen Steiber
Turns out Nonie’s boyfriend is Miguel Alvarez. He transferred into our school late last year. No one really knows him well. Miguel not only keeps to himself, but every few weeks he up and disappears for a day. His homeroom teacher is always giving him lectures on truancy.
Miguel is not the type you’d think would go for someone as quiet as Nonie. Miguel’s beautiful. He’s got this thick, glossy, straight black hair that he wears down his back. He says he’s part Guatemalan, part Apache, part Swedish. The Swedish is a little hard to figure,but Nonie says it accounts for why he’s not fucked up about sex.
Nonie and I both did it with boys as soon as we turned sixteen. Mostly to have it done and over with. Sex is not what I’d call a big deal. Nonie’s theory is that most guys our age don’t really like sex, and they don’t even like girls. They just like the rush and they need to be able to brag about it later.
Miguel, she says, is different. She says he’s real gentle with her. Never rushes things. Loves being close after. Always makes sure she has as good a time as he does. Which is all a little surprising, considering Miguel’s rep. Even the gang members in our school, the ones who carry, keep a careful, respectful distance around Miguel. I always figured he must pack some major heat of his own, but Nonie says it’s not about that.It’s something inside him, something they know better than to go near.
* * * * *
Nonie calls me up on Saturday morning and asks if I want to go to the quarry with her and Miguel. The quarry is one of the few decent things in this area. Years ago, they cut granite from the earth there. Since then it’s filled up with water. Of course, there are signs posted all over, telling you it’s private property, no trespassing and definitely no swimming, but it’s become the generally acknowledged swimming hole anyway.
So Miguel drives us to the end of the road that leads to the quarry. He’s got an old pickup truck and we sit three across the front seat, Nonie wedged in between me and Miguel, and the two of us so close that our bare thighs stick together.
It’s the first time I’ve really hung out with Miguel. And I’m curious about him but also self–conscious. I know it’s crazy, but I want Nonie’s boyfriend to think I’m okay.
We climb over the padlocked fence and walk down the dirt road a ways until we reach the trail through the woods. I’m carrying a towel and wearing a bathing suit underneath my cut–offs even though it’s all of seventy–four degrees out.
The trees suddenly open out onto the quarry. It always takes me by surprise. You’re in thick pine trees one minute and the next, you’re looking out on a pool of deep glassy water, edged by granite cliff.
"Paradíso," Miguel says softly.
I’ve had enough Spanish to know he means paradise, and while the quarry is about as scenic as things get around here, personally, I would never use that word to describe anything in this town. Besides, last year Bobby Sexton, a senior from our school, drowned in the quarry. The thing is, you’re supposed to dive into the water from the highest point on the rock.It’s one of those stupid dares that we all go along with, even though everyone knows thatif you dive from that point and you don’t hit the water just right, you hit granite. That’s what happened to Bobby.
Me and Nonie and Miguel find a smooth spot on the rock that’s got an oak tree arching over it. Miguel pulls a nubby, plaid blanket from his pack. Nonie stretches out on it, gazing into the branches. She’s wearing cut–offs and a white camisole that rides up on her rib cage. I sit beside her, have a cigarette, and watch as Miguel cracks open a beer and carefully lets one drop fall on Nonie’s bare stomach.
She doesn’t react at all, not even when he licks it from her skin. I’m wondering if this is something I should be watching. But I can see she’s completely at ease with him. Like she’s known him forever.
Nonie closes her eyes and I open a can of soda. Miguel drinks his beer, one hand resting on her upper arm, his thumb stroking her skin. For a long time no one says anything. I listen to a fly buzzing, study the shadows in the trees, and I think I see something moving in the pines.
Miguel sees it, too. His dark eyes follow the flicker of movement. "It’s hunting," he tells me softly.
He answers with a word in Spanish that sounds like charcoal, then says, "Don’t worry. It won’t come near us. Not now."
He lies down beside Nonie, soaking in the cool sun, one hand cupping her hipbone. He is so still I almost forget he’s there. I’m watching Nonie, making sure that her chest continues to rise and fall, hoping that this is just a nap and not a sign of some fatal disease.
And then suddenly I start thinking about Bobby Sexton and I get really scared.
"Nonie," I say loudly. "You can’t go in the water."
"Why not?" she asks.
She sits up and rubs tanning oil onto her arms. Her hair is hanging loose, hiding the side of her face.
"Because that’s how it’s going to happen," I say. "We’re all going to dive in there. Only you won’t surface. Don’t you see?"
Nonie works her hair into a French braid. "I don’t think so," she says calmly. "It’s too cold for me to swim. That’s not how it’s going to happen."
"I thought you didn’t know how," I say.
"I don’t," she tells me. "But I know that’s not the shape of it."
"Cam." Miguel’s voice is drowsy. "You play this shape game, too?"
I don’t answer him. Because Nonie and I have this unspoken pact to never tell anyone else about the game. Except, I realize, obviously she’s told Miguel. It makes me feel funny inside. Like something got betrayed.
"Cam," she says. "I didn’t tell him. Miguel just knows things."
"The way you just know things?"
She nods. It makes me feel left out, excluded from the Gifted Psychics Club.
"Well, I guess that’s why you two get on," I say.
Miguel opens one sleepy eye. "Loca girl," he whispers.
I sort of lose it at that point. "Did you tell him?" I demand. "And does he know that you think you’re about to die?"
Miguel gets to his feet and gives me a sympathetic look.
"I’m going in," he says. He walks into the trees, vanishes in their shadows, and reemerges at the high point of the cliff. Quickly, carelessly, he arcs out over the water and enters it in a smooth, perfect dive. I hold my breath for a long moment, praying he’ll surface. He does, his black hair clinging to his skin like a pelt. Nonie, her eyes closed again, doesn’t watch any of this.
"We made love last night," she tells me as he begins swimming the length of the quarry. "In St. David Cemetery."
"That is so completely macabre —"
"No, it was beautiful — the gravestones were all glowing in the moonlight. And it was comforting. When I first really understood that I was going to die soon, I was so scared. And gradually that’s gone away. In the cemetery with Miguel, the last of the fear left me. I felt. . .at home there."
"Well, I feel sick when you talk this way," I tell her. "I hate it! I see you and you start telling me how you won’t be here much longer and —" I can’t finish because my nose is running and I’m blinking back tears.
Nonie takes my hands in hers. "Listen to me, Cam," she says. "I’m not trying to scare you. I’ve only been telling you because I want you to know that it’s not frightening for me. I want you to be okay about it, too."
"Well, I’m not." My throat is burning and the words come out ragged.
She puts her arms around me and holds me close. "You have to be," she says. "You have to be."