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Me and Billy play Blisters in his basement after school. Blisters is a game where you sit on the floor on either side of a candle and hold little fingers like a pinky swear above the flame until someone lets go. Whoever lets go first is a pussy and pussies have to do a dare. We’ve been playing since I was in fourth grade. I’m in sixth now. Billy’s in seventh. When Billy wins he usually makes me swallow a tadpole from the pond or prank call our science teacher Mr. Nussbaum or tell his older brother I want to see his you-know-what. I like to make Billy write love poems to my friend Cynthia because he has a crush on her. Sometimes we play all afternoon until I have to walk home for dinner and my pinky fingers are so red and hot that it hurts to put my hands in my pockets.

I win the first game. “Billy,” I say. “Kiss me.”

I never kissed a boy before, and I think it’s about time I do. Cynthia’s kissed three. I’m always worried about falling behind Cynthia. She’s been to Portugal and does hard algebra problems in her head and already has boobs the size of tennis balls. Me and Cynthia kissed at a slumber party once, but everyone knows that doesn’t count.

Billy scrunches his nose. “Ew,” he says. “Really?”

I pucker my lips and bat my eyelashes. Billy rolls his eyes and then kisses me. The soft little hairs on his top lip tickle my skin. He pokes my teeth with his tongue.

“Open your mouth,” he says.

I open. His tongue flops around my mouth like a suffocating fish.

Billy pushes the candle back between us. “Again,” he says. The flicker casts a shadow like a mustache on his face. He looks very grown-up with a mustache.

We switch pinkies. Billy wins this one. He looks at me then at the corner of the basement. “Do a headstand on that wall for a minute,” he says. “If you fall, the minute starts over.”

“Billy,” I say. “I’m wearing a dress.”

“May,” he says, mocking me. “It’s my dare.”

I walk over to the wall, wishing I’d worn the training bra that I shoved under my bed after mom brought it home from the mall last weekend. I try to hold my dress in place with one hand while I kick my feet up. I keep falling over.

Billy is laughing at me. “Gonna have to use both hands,” he says.

I sit, staring at the wall. My hands are shaking like they do when a teacher calls on me in class. Billy hums the Jeopardy waiting tune. I tuck my dress between my legs and kick up into a headstand again, squeezing my thighs together to hold the skirt in place. Billy stands up and tickles my feet and my dress slips and falls down over my face.

I can’t see but I hear Billy laugh again. My cheeks and ears and pinky fingers burn but I keep still. I suck in my stomach. I can feel Billy’s eyes looking at all of me. My boobs which can’t even really be called boobs yet. The birthmark next to my belly button
that’s shaped like Florida. My yellow and pink polka dot underwear. Last I counted I have nine pubic hairs and I hope none of them are poking through like they do sometimes.

Billy tries to tickle the spot behind my knees. “Interference!” I say, laughing. Billy moves his fingers from behind my knees, keeps trailing them down my legs. It feels good. My skin goes goosebumpy like it does sometimes when Cynthia plays with my hair.

I feel the warmth of Billy’s hand hovering between my legs. “Hasn’t it been a minute?” I ask.

“Sorry, only thirty-six seconds.”

Billy touches me real light over my underwear. All the blood rushing to my head feels like it might explode my eardrums. He rubs the spot between my legs a few times until my knee suddenly jerks to the side and I fall over. I sit up and pull my dress down. The place he touched still feels warm. “Gotta start your minute over,” he says.

“You can’t make me,” I say.

He shrugs. “It’s the rules, May.”

I hug my knees against my chest. “No.”

“Fine.” Billy sits down across from me. He leans his face close to mine. I think he is going to kiss me again. I close my eyes and wait for him to. “Pussy,” he says. A bit of spit lands on the tip of my nose. I open my eyes again.

“No pussies in my basement.”

The wind blows cold air through my skirt on my walk home. I feel how my thighs rub together and how the breeze tickles the little hairs on my ankles. I scratch them until they’re red. My house is dark when I get there. Mom is drinking a glass of wine and watching Wheel of Fortune. “Dinner’s in the oven,” she says. Dinner is five chicken nuggets and a little pile of yellow corn. I eat on the couch next to her.

“Guess what,” I say through a mouthful.

“Can it wait till the commercials?”

Instead of waiting I go upstairs and knock on my older sister’s door. “Go away!” she yells.

“Guess what,” I say, trying the knob. Locked.

I call Cynthia’s house. No answer. I dial my science teacher Mr. Nussbaum’s number. The phone rings three times. He’s probably eating dinner with his wife. I bet there are candles on the table. Very romantic. “Nussbaum residence, this is Michael,” he finally answers.

“Guess what,” I say.

“Who’s calling?”

I hang up the phone. I go to my room, lie down on my bed. I stick my hand inside my underwear. My pinky finger stings as it rubs against the fabric.

image: Aaron Burch