Amanda Pratt, the first girl in sixth grade to grow boobs, was my locker neighbor. That winter, there were Friday ski trips. My family had no money so I wore my older sister’s hand-me-down ski jacket that was purple with pink accents and raced down the slopes as fast as I could.
During my first lesson I got divorced from the group and accidentally found my way onto a black diamond. I fell every two feet but I got back up and made it to the bottom without taking off my skis and walking, like many of the other kids who fell did.
That night on the bus ride back to town Anthony Jacobs said, “Hey, Jeffries went down a black diamond today, did you see it, Dan?”
He made sure to say it loud enough that I could hear him although he wasn’t directly addressing me. I was expertly pretending I hadn’t hit pause on my Walkman at the sound of my name.
“Jeffries, I’m talking to YOU!”
“Oh, what? Hey…”
“We saw you go down the black diamond today, took balls. Even though you fell like a sonofabitch, you made it down. Play truth or dare with us.”
The only thing that scared me more than pretty girls was truth or dare. Everyone knew you had to say dare or else you were a wimp. I had to say yes just like I had to make it to the bottom of that black diamond.
I moved to the back of the bus and there was Amanda Pratt and Heather Phillips and Diana Nichols and there I was with them, playing truth or dare.
First Diana asked Dan who chose truth. Anthony laughed and called him a pussy. Dan punched him in the shoulder as Diana asked if it was true that he and Anna Kembler kissed with tongue at the Boy Scout Dance last week. Dan displayed his best-rehearsed smirk and shook his head, yes.
This went on for a few rounds with the occasional dare to flip off a passing truck after the chaperones had dozed off. As we approached home it seemed I had somehow avoided being picked.
But then Anthony said my name.
“Hey Jeffries, truth or dare?”
I felt everyone’s eyes on me and my sister’s purple ski jacket that I had bunched up against the window and took as little time as I possibly could to say, “Dare.”
“Alright, Jeffries, feeling brave after yer black diamond run, I see.”
“Shut up, Anthony,” Amanda said.
“Jeffries, I DARE you to kiss Amanda.”
Everyone went silent. Amanda rolled her eyes but before she could object and before the warm feeling in my gut made its way to my throat and just before we made it to the first stop light in town, Anthony added, “Oh, I almost forgot. First, you’ve gotta lick the floor of the bus!”
Dan and Anthony’s laughter made a new and eviscerating sound. But all I could think was that Amanda hadn’t opposed the kiss, was this my chance? If I had to lick the floor, was it worth it to kiss the first girl in our grade to grow breasts?
Everyone stared at me. I still remember the smell of stale, prepubescent sweat and the metallic citrus of rust and snowburned skis coming from the very last seats because the rich kids wouldn’t put their expensive skis under the bus like the rest of us. I remember lowering myself to the floor of the bus and seeing the globs of gum and cigarette butts from the eighth graders and the strands of hair from beautiful girls and the grit of the cinders and blacktop that clung to our snow and ski boots and found their way onto the floor. I remember thinking that I was going to show them, show all of them. I would do what no one expected; I would lick the floor of the ski bus, kiss the beautiful Amanda Pratt and then I would be like them. I would be accepted into their club and the rest of my days in public school would be filled with high fives and seats reserved in the back of the bus.
But then we pulled into the middle school parking lot and the bus came to an abrupt and final stop and Dan said, “Looks like yer off the hook, Jeffries!” and Anthony said, “I knew he wouldn’t do it,” and before they high-fived Amanda said, “You guys are such jerks.”
But I’ll tell you the biggest secret of all. I DID lick the floor of the bus that night. I put my stupid smalltown tongue right there on the floor of the bus and licked the dirt and grime and grit and cinders and asphalt and cigarette butts and lapped up the dreams and hopes and truths and dares of the kids in the back of the bus and the kids up front, of the chaperones and the bus driver, and I laughed. I laughed when I went to bed that night because I had grown a new skin. I laughed the next Monday in homeroom because I learned that it doesn’t matter if they see it or not, only that you do it and that you know. And I knew. And I’d never forget.
Nicholas Rys lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he writes and makes music. His work can be found online at such places as Entropy, The Molotov Cocktail, Fanzine and Hobart. He makes music under the moniker Norma Desmond and can be found on Twitter.