The first time a guy ever goes up your shirt, you’re wearing one of those built-in-bra tank tops—camisoles, the magazines call them—and it throws off his game. He pulls his hand out and tries again, but his fingers can’t properly negotiate the unexpected extra layer of fabric and elastic. You aren’t sure what to do. If you reach under and show him, it might seem like you want it too much. If you just keep kissing and pretend not to notice, it might seem like you don’t want it enough. 

(Your mother bought you the same tank top in three different colors at the beginning of the school year and told you to wear it under v-neck sweaters for “a little extra coverage.” You rolled your eyes, but then realized the tanks were tight enough to also smooth your stomach and a little extra coverage suddenly didn’t seem like the worst idea.)

But that night, the tank top does seem like a pretty awful idea. You do your best to shift your body slightly slightly and help him figure it out—the first boy to ever be on top of you and only the second to ever kiss you. When his thumb finally finds your nipple, it isn’t nearly as revelatory as you expect, but you go with it and then pretend it is a much better experience later when you write about it in your journal.

Two weeks later, on the same couch with the same boy, he dips his fingers under the elastic waistband of your cotton Soffe shorts. You move his hand away and keep kissing, not really wanting to decide in the moment if that is something you are ready for. Your parents are in the next room, so close you can hear their TV program through the wall. He puts his hand back and you move it again. Back, again. Back, again. Five times total you move it, until you don’t. It’s okay, you tell yourself. You can be ready after all. You really like him. You may even love him someday. You really want him to like you, too. So he puts his fingers inside of you and you like it and don’t like it. It is both good and not good.

The next day, your family goes to a theme park with your father’s company—everyone clad in matching red t-shirts and denim shorts—and you ride roller coasters in the heavy late summer heat. Your stomach does flips and you try to ignore the discomfort between your legs each time the safety harness holds your body in place.

(You hadn’t expected to be sore, just like you hadn’t expected the blood because that is something that happens when people have sex and you hadn’t had sex, this wasn’t nearly as big of a deal as sex, this was hardly anything—but for some reason you still felt like crying when you scrubbed your underwear in the bathroom sink with hot water and hand soap, until you remembered something your mother said about hot water setting stains and so you finally just gave up and threw them away, buried deep in the trashcan in the garage.)  

Your little sister rides next to you on each coaster, her squeal a soundtrack in your head with each loop de loop and plummeting hill. 15 and 13 didn’t seem so far apart the day before. Under her red shirt, she wears one of the same tank tops—the built-in extra layer of fabric acting as a training bra for her still mostly flat chest. As a coaster slowly creaks its way up a hill, she leans forward so your eyes meet. “Here we go,” she says during the pause at the top, like she has with every single ride that day. You know your cue. “Ready or not,” you say. 

Cortney Phillips Meriwether received her MFA in Creative Writing from NC State in 2012 and has been working as a freelance writer and editor ever since. She is the current Fiction Editor for Pinball and previously served as the Flash Fiction Editor for Bartleby Snopes. Her fiction has been published by Eunoia Review, Hoot Review, Coachella Review, and Bartleby Snopes. She is a regular contributor to Organic Life Magazine and Content+. Cortney currently resides in Buckhannon, WV with her basketball coach husband and very anxious dog.