Cinnamon was biking. Yes, Cinnamon. The product of an environmental studies major and a professional hiker, with black hair from a box rather than genetics, and a love for bands she’d pretend were underground, but were really just old. Despite rejecting the majority of the granola aspects of her upbringing, Cinnamon didn’t mind her question inducing name and accepted her parents’ rule that they only use their nearly twenty-year-old Honda Civic on Sundays. They were a biking family on the six other days of the week, so Cinnamon was biking that Friday night and she was biking drunk at that. She’d taken a shot to take the nervous edge off, but she had already toppled over twice by this point in her ride and her knee prickled with a fresh gash.
When Cinnamon is older and wiser, she will regret this, all of it. Memories will shift for Cinnamon’s benefit, to help her feel more powerful when recalling the boy whose language of love was come now and come fast, wait an hour but don’t stay longer than thirty minutes, not tonight anymore but tomorrow at twelve thirty on the dot, I’m tired tonight, I don’t care if you’re tired, I want to see you, why can’t you just sneak out? Cinnamon can pretend to be much more mature than the girl who typed back ok, ok, ok, ok, ok, ok I’m sneaking out now, but at her core she is still the girl who misunderstood nauseous self revulsion for butterflies.
The air was warm and sticky and even though most of the fireflies had gone, a few stragglers remained, their light barely noticeable through the thick night sky. An end of summer drought had hit their county the previous week and every lawn Cinnamon passed was a brittle brown sprinkled with wilted, flowerless stems. She was clumsily cruising through the part of town that was filled with uninviting monsters of homes and populated by trust fund brats. It was also the part of town where Nate lived. The first time she came to Nate’s house she had been shaking so vigorously that she nearly crashed into a mailbox. That was back before she knew him, back when she could still pretend he was that untouchable totem she had constructed in her head.
The lights were off in Nate’s house, but she’d expected they would be. He’d never invite her if his family was awake, when there’d be a risk of someone seeing them together–someone knowing that they had been as physically close as two people could possibly be. Which they had, of course, and he had been the instigator for all of these encounters. All but one, because tonight, for the first time, Cinnamon had been the one to ask. Under normal circumstances she would have found this situation embarrassing. God forbid she’d come off as needy or desperate or really just emotionally open in any sort of way. But tonight, she wanted to lose herself and every time she came around Nate’s she ended up feeling sufficiently lost. All she wanted was to feel close to someone and the only someone she wanted was him.
Nate had a particular routine he followed with girls. His sexuality was procedural and planned with no room for deviation from the pattern. He loved feeling in control and it was apparent in everything he did. It was one of the reasons why Cinnamon had been attracted to him in the first place–the sheer power that could be felt radiating off of him as he set his goals and saw them out with swift precision. It was also one of the reasons why she was afraid of him. When she touched him she could feel how tightly wound he was, how close to snapping.
“Hi Cindy,” Nate said, opening the front door before she’d even raised her hand to knock.
“Hi,” she sniffed.
He pulled her in for an awkward hug, her head only making it up to the bottom of his chest. She had been so startled when he hugged her the first time she came over. Before that first night they had only exchanged a couple of sentences. Even now they had only exchanged a couple of sentences. She had learned not to read too much into the hug. It was just another part of the routine.
No one knew it, but Nate had been her first kiss. She was scared of what people would say if they knew she was a seventeen-year-old who hadn’t so much as held hands with a boy, so she invented stories to tell her friends about fantastical sexcapades that could’ve only occurred in her wildest of dreams. She told the lies so many times that she began to have a difficult time differentiating between fiction and reality. Somewhere down the line her inventions had morphed into memories and she forgot who she actually was and what she had actually experienced. She hated her brain for the words it forced her to spew, the words that felt foreign and unfamiliar in her mouth, and she hated her body for being so ordinary and uninteresting that she had to make up the stories in the first place.
“Been having a good summer?” he asked, leading her through the house.
“Good,” he replied absentmindedly.
He took her to the basement because she supposed she wasn’t worthy of his bedroom and he turned off the lamp because she supposed she wasn’t beautiful enough to be kissed with the lights on. It went the same way it always did. He was quick to be on top of her, quick to take off her clothes, quick to uncomfortably jab his fingers inside of her, but slow to take off his own clothes and methodical about the way he positioned her on his body. He whispered encouragements and compliments that rolled off his tongue like they’d been rehearsed and never quite looked her in the eye. Sometimes she felt like a doll, sometimes she felt like vermin. Other times she felt like she was floating just outside of her body and watching the scene unfold like an audience member. Tonight, her skin felt uncomfortably tight as she felt horrifyingly aware of her own body and her body’s proximity to Nate’s. She felt a bit like crying, but then she remembered that she was supposed to be moaning even though everything they did, they did for him.
He had been asking her for a while. Most of the time she pretended not to hear. Every now and then she found the courage to say “not tonight.” There was a part of her that always knew she would cave and let him take it. He’d never said it to her directly, but she knew he’d never done it either. Knew that his friends probably teased him about it. Maybe he’d also made up a story or two to cover his back. She could tell he watched a bit too much porn. He was rough in all of the wrong ways and she knew that it wouldn’t be gentle or tender. She’d probably be bruised and sore and a bit disgusted with herself. And yet, that was exactly what she knew to expect from coming to Nate’s house. She needed him. She needed him to need her.
“You can have sex with me,” she said.
He didn’t need to be told twice.
It can’t always be explained why one person is drawn to another. Cinnamon could not control her desire to be loved by Nate any more than her need to breathe. She had lost friends over how relentlessly she spoke about him and it was as though she enjoyed living her life like this. Nothing about their arrangement could be considered mutual.
It was over relatively quickly. He laid on top of her, breathing heavily into her neck, his sweaty forehead pressed against her cheek. She could already tell her hips were going to hurt and the muscles in her stomach felt sore. Was it an invention of her imagination or were her legs going numb? Yoga sounded tempting or anything to make her limbs feel less heavy. She could feel herself getting more sober and as she did her head began to violently ache as if someone with exceptionally large hands was squeezing her skull. She’d never noticed how much she disliked the smell of his aftershave and his breath smelled faintly of onions.
Sex had always seemed rather chic to her, but there she was aching in an aquaintance’s basement feeling two types of cold. Nate remained on top of her, hugging her into his body, his skin warm and wet. It was the closest she had ever felt to him. He hadn’t noticed the cut on her knee.
“That was great,” he whispered.
“It was good for you?”
“I figured,” he grinned.
Cinnamon supposed she was a better actress than she gave herself credit for.
He quickly sat up and got up to get dressed in private as he always did. Cinnamon had been told by her best friend that boys got disgusted by the girls they got off with after it was over and that’s why he always excused himself. Because he couldn’t stand to be naked with her for a second longer. He returned with a single glass of water intended for himself.
Cinnamon wanted to hug her mom. She wanted to take a hot bath and then dive into the covers between her parents and sleep with them like she was a little kid again. She kind of wanted to punch Nate. She also kind of wanted to ride her bike off the end of a dock.
“So listen, I wouldn’t normally do this, but it’s Mike’s half birthday and we’re all meeting up–just us guys. You’d better get going.”
“Right,” Cinnamon nodded.
“It’s late anyways, it wouldn’t make sense for us to like, hang out.”
“Just want to make it clear that I’m not that kind of guy, you know? I’ll like text you, yeah?”
“And…you know, there’s no reason to tell anyone what happened tonight. It’s more special if we keep it between us, right? No one needs to know.”
No one needs to know.
No one needs to know, sounded a lot more like you are no one than it ever had before. She had just given everything to him and it still wasn’t enough. She gave time and time again and he didn’t even have the decency to brush his teeth before she came over.
He’d said that mantra the very first time and every time since. He’d say it the next time and the time after that and anytime Cinnamon found herself desperate for closeness. He probably had no one needs to know tattooed on the back of his skull.
Summer vacation was an excellent illusion–a temporary departure from reality. As soon as school commenced it would be exactly how it had always been. Cinnamon would pine and Nate would text her while she was feet away without breaking eye contact with the boy standing across from him. He was a complete expert in covertly messaging her without needing to put a halt to conversation with those he deemed worthy of public interaction. He’d probably have his arm around some pretty petite blonde because that’s what he always said his type was and Cinnamon would tune out all of the signs that she was no one to him and only focus on the text. It was a weak branch to hang on to and yet Cinnamon had been dangling from it for years.
He didn’t usually say her full name. It was probably a reminder of how weird she was, how socially undesirable. A reminder of her parents that brought a zucchini loaf to the year end party when they were assigned to bring a cake. A reminder of when she unironically had to ask who Drake was. A reminder of all the parties she hadn’t been invited to, all the dances she hadn’t been asked to, all the people who would judge him for giving himself to her. The syllables sounded strange coming from his lips as if the unfamiliar word was getting stuck between his teeth. He was waiting for confirmation that she still understood the price there’d always been to pay in order to have a piece of him.
“No one needs to know,” she nodded.
“You’ll come over next week. We’ll do this again.”
She wanted to scream no, No, NO, NO, NO! But all she could bring herself to do was nod. All she wanted was to be close to someone. All she wanted was to be close to him. All he wanted was someone to rub himself against. All he wanted was to keep her as his dirty little secret.
He guided Cinnamon swiftly up the stairs, said goodnight, and pushed her out the front door before she could reply.
He hadn’t asked Cinnamon to prom. As many young girls do, she had placed far too much importance on a dance hosted in their poorly disguised gymnasium. He went with a pretty blonde girl with freckles sprinkled across her bunny nose and for some uncontrollable reason Cinnamon wanted to hate her. Nate invited her over soon after, just shy of a week post prom, and she ignored the message that she had come to lust after as some kind of show of feeble protest. Unfazed by her lack of response, he asked again the next night and she came in only one sense of the word because she arrived when he pleased and did everything he required. Falling into place in his procedure was the only way she could feel like what they had was anything close to love.
She was too sore to ride home and even though it wasn’t Sunday, Cinnamon called an Uber. She left her bike leaning against the side of Nate’s house. She wasn’t worried about it. She knew she would be back soon. Whenever he asked her to. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends she’d lost herself to Nate. Many of them would even have the decency to be surprised.
Years will pass and Cinnamon will think about the Cinnamon with a cut knee and sore hips and hate her for being so weak. Cinnamon will think about the Cinnamon who was ushered out in favor of Mike’s half birthday party and hate her for being so accommodating. Cinnamon will think about the Cinnamon who no one needed to know about and desperately want to give her a hug or maybe grab her by the shoulders and scream You are not no one. Cinnamon will not think about Nate.