All My Little Words is The Argus’ love-centric column. We publish personal essays, poems, humorous pieces, and other creative written work that focuses on themes of love, loss, labor, and loneliness—romantic and not. To submit an article, please send 1000-1500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“What do you wanna do tonight, dude?” I ask Toby above the sound of his guitar.
We’ve only been in Cape Cod for a week and already his room has taken on his characteristic mess: boxers are strewn all over, sheet music scattered across the bed, a grinder casts the stench of weed from the bedside drawer. It’s one of our last nights on the family vacation. Our eldest brother has returned home early from work, and I’ve been granted the privilege of a late-night hangout in his stead. I am twelve and Toby’s sixteen—at this age, my tagging along typically forces him to temper his fun, censor his domain to accommodate PG company. Before I could read, he would spend entire movies translating the subtitles for me in a whisper, his efforts securing me in the safe realm of the little sister—granting me the provisional inclusion I always craved.
We pull our bikes out onto the gravel and say goodbye to Mom, wrapped tightly in her robe, a waving silhouette from the balcony. Our condo is about a half-mile from the commercial strip, and we maneuver the dark road from memory. He rides ahead and I follow.
The streets of Provincetown are packed at night. Pride flags hang between buildings along the block, draped above the current. Toby keeps by my side as we walk through the crowds—drag queens holding out flyers for that night’s show, families with babies, drunk and well-groomed beach bums in bike taxis. A sample man hands out lumps of fudge on toothpicks. A child blows into a bubble wand so hard it spews like spit. We share a pack of Big League and meander by the familiar spots—the Taffy shop, the henna place, that restaurant where a man treated us to dinner in an effort to woo our Mom (it didn’t work). Our bare legs move through the air without feeling, the breeze temperate and soft on our skin.
We turn off the main road and find ourselves at the pool patio of an inn overlooking the beach. The place is deserted. The hotel’s tenants have retreated to their rooms, all wrapped up in their single-use luxuries and bleached blankets. The pool, still lit, casts a cold glow on the surrounding scene, illuminating forgotten bottles of sunscreen, empty daiquiri cups, a wet People magazine. The sea heaves sighs from the black nothing beyond the deck.
Toby hops behind the bar, his carabiner keychain sounding an innocuous scrape against the counter. I watch him from a few feet away, unsure of his next move but ready to follow nonetheless. He looks around to make sure no one is watching before lacing his fingers around the handle of the fridge. He checks it with a careful pull. It’s unlocked.
We sip Blue Moons at a table facing the beach. I knock mine back in courageous gulps—its warm buzz roiling spaghetti from dinner—and issue burps into my Abercrombie cardigan. Toby rattles his knee under the table across from me. His t-shirt ripples with the vibration, a barely perceptible tremble. I can sense his boredom and make peace with it quietly while he thumbs a text to a friend—can in one hand, Nokia brick in the other. When he crosses his eyes at me from behind his beer I laugh. I imagine our age difference sublimating in a vapor. I’m being let into his circle of affairs, the opaque goings-on of brothers after dark.
“I have an idea,” he tells me.
Within minutes we form an assembly line from the bar to the beach, extracting bottles of alcohol with a procedural caution—Jaeger, pinot grigio, an untouched liter of Johnny Walker. I follow his instructions and toss the bottles over the railing to the sand where they land a ways down, without a sound. My chest flutters and pumps sweat through my palms and I smile. I sense the sweetness underneath, the anxious fibers forming between us in the exchange, our crime a product of collaboration, and therefore earnest.
“HEY!” a man shouts from a first-floor balcony.
My stomach swallows my heart in a hot gulp. In a moment, Toby rushes to me, his breath smelling of beer-tinged panic. He clutches my hands in a tight grasp, nails digging into my skin in little moons, palms sweating inside the grip. Our knees tremble below like weak stilts.
“I know this is scary, but you have to trust me,” he gushes.
He’s turned our bodies toward the black ocean, the vacant dark. A breeze passes across the water, rocking the boats hitched at the shoreline. In a moment, Toby hoists his knee partway over the railing. He reaches out for me to join.
“No way,” I tell him. The man is yelling something indistinguishable now, pelleting garbled threats from behind—his phone held to his face, line ringing for the cops. The wind trembles like an upset stomach, and I peer over the railing at the 15-foot. drop, at the cluster of bottles in the sand—at his familiar face above me, hand cupped and warm against my back.
His body lands first, then mine.