Julie K. Wise
Inside the Circle
Jillian parks her Jeep at the side of the mountain road, down a little bit from Carter’s driveway, just in case his parents look out their window. A couple of other cars are scattered and parked in the moonlight shadows. The house is set into the side of the mountain. Carter’s dad is a golf-pro and a big game hunter, and the walls of every room are filled with stuffed heads with glass eyes and shelves of trophies. British Open cups, pictures of Augusta. It is after midnight. Carter’s parents are asleep on the other side of the house, and we walk quietly through the huge, dark room, past stretched tiger skins and water buffalo heads. Out in back, groups of people lay around on lounge chairs placed on the flagstone patio that overlooks the city. The last time I was here, Jillian was with Aaron, I was with Sean, and Allison was with Carter. Same scene, same players, different night.
Jillian and I walk onto the terraced patio carved into the side of the mountain. Jillian lounges on a chaise. Carter sits down next to her, crazy black hair, eyes barely open, jeans held onto his thin body with a thick black and silver belt. He’s lost a lot of weight lately, the sure sign of a hobby turned habit. Carter slams coke, among other things.
Carter graduated from Brophy Prep last year. He was planning on going to college to study music, but the fall semester came and went, and now, as far as I can tell, he lives off his parents and spends their money on drugs. I can’t believe that they don’t see what is happening to him; everything about Carter screams junkie. His dad is on the PGA Tour, so they’re gone a lot, but still, Carter is pale, and his eyes are dead. You’d have to be blind or just not care to ignore that Carter is chasing himself into his own grave. It’s sad, but everyone keeps getting high with him anyway.
I sit alone on the lounge chair across from Jillian and Carter, looking at the city lights. He leans in to tell us about his night.
“Yeah, I was lying in my room,” Carter slurs, “and Aaron came by after seeing the movie with some girls. It’s cool. My parents went down the street earlier, so they’re wasted and sleeping. We’re just hanging out now. I think a few more people are coming by. Jimmy and Joey just left with some Xavier girls.” He pauses for a moment, and then, to Jillian, hungrily, ”Have you got it?” She opens her huge silver purse, and takes out a small package. She hands it to Carter.
“Excellent,” Carter purrs. I guess that explains why we’re here. He pulls a different clear plastic bag from the table and expertly rolls a joint in a blue paper that seems to appear out of nowhere. It shakes me to see Jillian selling to Carter. Who is she working for? She looks at me out of the corner of her eyes, and she shakes her blond hair back from her face. She offers no explanations, and she knows that I won’t ask her what’s going on. There’s no point.
Jillian takes the joint from Carter and lights it with a monogrammed silver lighter that she stole from her mom, Marilyn. I was in their kitchen on Friday and heard Marilyn ask if Jillian had seen this lighter. Jillian shrugged. I knew she must have stolen it; I’ve seen her shrug that way a thousand times. Not an actual lie, not telling the truth either.
Her mother’s initials shine on the silver surface, reflected in the moonlight as Jillian takes a long drag. She snaps the lighter closed and half-smiles as she exhales, leaning forward and passing it to me. Like usual, I pass it on without smoking to the next person, who this night happens to be Carter. Then, Aaron stands next to Carter and Jillian, and he takes the joint from Carter. He smokes, and as he exhales, he sits on my lounge. He leans back into me, and his back presses against my chest. I stiffen and look quickly at Jillian. But her eyes are closed, and Carter has his hand far up her leg. I relax a little, and Aaron sinks into me.
“So what movie did you see?” I ask Aaron. He shrugs.
“You went with Carter?” I ask, and Aaron shakes his head, then nods over at the jacuzzi down one level of the patio. Two long-legged girls with hair shining in the moonlight sit with their feet in the water. One of them lays her head on the other’s shoulder. I don’t recognize the girls, but I can imagine their story.
“You met them at court?” Aaron’s dad is a lawyer and a juvenile court judge, and Aaron has fun at juvy court, shopping for girls who are in trouble for drinking, curfew. Stuff like that. Girl de jour. Aaron is beautiful and quiet and just the taste of the bad girls’ club.
“Yeah,” he drawls lazily. He’s high, who knows how high, but his hands are still, his fingers clasped on his strong chest, settling back into the chair, into me.
“Easy, Aaron,” I whisper forward, over his shoulder. “You know how she is.” And he turns and looks me in the eyes for the first time tonight.
“Yeah, I know.” And he’s suddenly strangely intense. “Don’t leave for a while, okay?” It is well after midnight, but it doesn’t matter tonight. I’m staying at Jillian’s. No one will notice when we get home.
“I came with Jill. It isn’t up to me,” I shrug, trying to stay casual to counter Aaron’s intensity. He laughs, low and ironic.
“She’s not going anywhere,” and we both see Jillian run her manicured fingers through Carter’s crazy hair. It is a non-committal gesture, like the casual shrug to her mother. Indifferent. Still, Aaron and I both know the games she plays. Even if Jillian were really into Carter, she’d never let anyone know about it, least of all, Carter. Jillian isn’t going to let anyone know how to hurt her. Plus, junkies aren’t boyfriend material for her. Too hard to control.
“Does that bother you, Carter and Jillian?” I ask Aaron, my eyes closing, leaning into the back of the chair.
“Not tonight,” he breathes, close to my face, and I feel his words pushing me backwards. I feel like I’m falling off the edge of the patio and into the shining city lights. I quickly open my eyes to catch myself. My heart is beating fast, and suddenly, Aaron is making me nervous. I look away from him and check out the other kids on the patio.
Besides Jillian and Carter, Aaron and I, and Aaron’s two girls by the Jacuzzi, three guys and a girl are sitting by a small glass-topped table on another small level of the patio. I know the girl from school; I don’t recognize the guys. Unfamiliar faces are unusual in small gatherings like this. The world is small, and paths cross in strange ways around users like Carter.
I turn to Carter to ask who they are, but he is taking Jillian’s hand. They stand, and he chuckles something in her ear. She takes her purse, and they go through the French doors into his bedroom.
I look back at the four by the table. Aaron is still leaning into me; his hand casually touches the inside of my arm. I shiver. One of the guys, the beautiful one with dark skin and curly hair is watching us from across the patio. I can’t see his eyes, but he faces us, not paying attention to his friends. He seems removed, different from the other three, although he is sitting close to them. His clothes are less casual, almost adult looking. I can’t stop looking at him. The way he sits, the way he smokes, everything about him is so confident.
“Aaron, who’s that guy sitting over there? Does he go to Brophy?” Aaron turns and looks over his shoulder.
“No, I met him earlier. He goes to Arizona State, but he’s from some other country. He has an accent.”
“Why is he here? Who does he know?” I ask Aaron.
“Um, probably Carter,” he replies, disinterested. He rolls his head around, taking in the whole scene, then, focuses on me. “Let’s take a walk,” he says, sitting up slowly. Music plays from a stereo somewhere, and I stand up with Aaron and glance at Carter’s French doors. No lights inside, except maybe the flicker of a candle, shadows.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Up.” He grabs the bag of pot and leads me up a winding metal staircase at the side of the patio to the roof.
The next morning, Jillian walks into her room through the patio doors around 7am. The sun is already up. Aaron dropped me off at her house before dawn. I pretend to sleep on the futon as I hear her strip off her clothes and fall into bed. My head is pounding, and I’m already trying to figure out what to say when she wakes. I’m exhausted, so I listen to the waterfall outside, clearing my mind enough to finally sleep.