We Were Beautiful Children

We drove out to the dunes in a caravan of rusted trucks and shitty 80s two-door sedans. I was with Rusty and Dusty, not twins, but inseparable since childhood. They sandwiched me between their heavy bodies and lit up a joint, the windows rolled shut despite the high heat of summer and a faulty air conditioner.

It took about 40 minutes to reach the dunes, a miniature, unexplained swath of fluid desert where we local kids drank and made out around bonfires. That day, it was a cookout, followed by a bonfire, followed by passionate, teenage couplings under starlight. I was there for Rusty and his near-shaven red-brown hair. I wanted Rusty in a low, deep way that kept me crawling back into his warm, strong arms, even though, right now, Dusty was the one with his hand on my thigh making my stomach tingle in that just-struck-love way. I removed Dusty’s hand and passed the joint, laughing at his audacity. Laughing at Rusty choking on the smoke because he was laughing at me. Laughing at the sun because it was too stupid to know to go down. I never took at hit off that joint, but I was laughing.

Charlene, with her shaggy blond hair and coochie-cutting high-waist jeans, was already out of her Mazda and behind a dune with Joshua. He was new in town. He was skinny, pasty and freckled like most of the other guys, but he was fresh, and that was something. We’d all grown up 40 minutes the other way past the sticks.

Paula and Vanessa had dragged along Matt, who was smitten with both of them. The way those girls were looking at each other, it was sure to be his lucky night.

Jessica, Lindsay and Stephanie were there with their usual rotation of boyfriends. And was that Erica parked with Tod?

Rusty slid his hand in the back pocket of my baby blue cutoffs. I returned the favor, pinching him lightly and earning a kiss. His scent made me shiver. I nibbled his earlobe. He dipped me backwards and licked down my neck.

“Ew. Y’all disgust me,” Dusty complained.

“Shut up,” Rusty told him. “You’re just jealous.” He licked me again. I caught the look of longing on Dusty’s face and giggled.

Dusty marched back to the line of cars. He opened doors until he found a guitar and sat down to tune it. The rest of us unloaded firewood and coolers and snuck behind the shifting dunes for a quick grope and a little tongue.

As the sun set, Dusty relaxed into the shadows and began crooning. He turned his blue eyes on me as he always did while he sang. I shuddered with hot and cold to the tips of my toes. Rusty held me closer, but I couldn’t help it. I leaned toward Dusty and wished I could have them both.

The bonfire flared, a bright blue flame painting the black sky. There was a loud crack. Sparks shot up. We all jumped back. Rusty pulled me with him, but I tumbled from his arms and rolled down the tiny dune we’d been sitting on, stopping between him and Dusty who was reaching out to catch me.

For a tense moment, we were all of us silent, but the moment passed. I opened my mouth and laughed. The others joined me, our voices  cast up to the stars.

We rose from the ground, dancing off the sand. Someone turned on the radio. The music was fast. We drank and went crazy, singing along and hollering into the night.

We began to bump each other’s bodies, untuck each other’s shirts, strip down to our underwear and shake out our clothes and hair. Then we ran around slapping each other, pinching and grabbing where we could. We girls lost our bras. Under the stars, our breasts flew free and we caressed each other in passing and in play. We were both more and less than people. We were only bodies. We were the clay of the earth. We were wind. We were fire. We were beautiful children, intoxicated by alcohol and our own sexual awakening. We were freedom.

Joshua caught Charlene and they both disappeared. I saw Paula and Vanessa slip behind a dune with Matt. Vanessa winked at me, tossing her long, brown hair down her bare back.

The others found beds in the sand and lay entwined, except for my Rusty. And except for Dusty. They both stood looking from me to each other.

The bonfire crackled as I walked toward them. I’d long since kicked off my shoes. The sand still carried the heat of summer. It rubbed the soft soles of my feet.

I swiped a bottle from beside one couple and drank deeply. Schnapps. I shared first with Rusty, then turned to Dusty, pulling both of them with me. Rusty pulled back. Dusty stepped closer.

I met Rusty’s brown eyes. I laced my fingers through his, tipped my head toward a nearby dune.

He had told me before, it could only happen with Dusty. He had also said it could never happen with Dusty, because Dusty loved me as much as I loved Rusty. As much as Rusty loved me. As much as I loved them both.

And I couldn’t remember not loving them both, because we grew up together.

Rusty sighed, turning to face the dune I had indicated. Dusty, holding my other hand, turned with us. We watched the wind blow down its side, reshaping it with a hushed shhh. A promise of secrets.

Rusty led. Dusty followed me.

Behind the dune, the light of the fire was blocked. It was a moonless night. We only had the stars to go by. It was not enough to see, but plenty for touch. The wind shaped and reshaped the dunes as we, without words, shaped and reshaped to each other.

When the sun showed itself out past the mountains., we returned to our clothes and cars and threw water on the smoking bonfire. We shook off the sand, straightened each other’s hair, cleaned up the bottles and cans and paper plates with a practice born of routine. We piled into our vehicles, reversing the caravan, and leaned quietly against one another on the drive home, the same as we did nearly every weekend but, this time, emerging  new from the experience.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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