The backseat is a tangle of sweat and skin, two parts boy and one part girl. Over the blaring hip-hop Molly can hear hot, heavy breathing and the wet smack of lips meeting. A Moveable Orgy, she thinks.
Every time the car careens around another bend Molly thinks this is it: this will be the one that finally does them in. Five college students found dead in a Jaguar submerged in a snow drift. Goodbye cruel world and all that jazz. And every time it doesn’t happen, the car sending up shards of snow and ice but speeding on down the dark country road, she thinks that at least Drew will slow down now, at least he will ease his foot off the gas. But he doesn’t. It’s like he has no memory of the proceeding five seconds. This is supposed to be a joyride, but in the front passenger seat, watching the headlights cut a faint path through the darkness, Molly sits rigid.
The backseat is a collected tangle of sweat and skin, made up of two parts boy, Travis and Adam, and one part girl, Kara, Molly’s roommate. Over the blaring hip-hop Molly can hear hot, heavy breathing and the wet smack of lips meeting. A Moveable Orgy, she thinks, and wants to laugh but doesn’t, because then she might not be able to stop. But three is not technically an orgy, is it? Three is just a threesome. Is four enough to make an orgy, or do you need more? Molly will look this up on Wikipedia when she gets back to her dorm room.
“Your friend’s pretty crazy,” Drew says from the driver’s seat, glancing in the rearview mirror. A goatee hangs out on his chin, like an awkward house guest who hasn’t decided whether to stay or leave. “Too bad I’m stuck up here with you,” he grins. Molly will concede his grin is categorically gorgeous.
In the backseat, Kara lets out this half-giggle, half-moan type thing. “We need to Instagram this moment,” Molly hears her say.
Molly is in this car because of Kara, her campaign manager in Molly’s bid to become a Normal Girl. “Fellow students, can I count on your votes?” It had taken some cajoling; Molly isn’t the most pliable of candidates, but Kara runs a ruthless campaign. “Come on, come on, come on,” she had begged hours earlier in their dorm room, dancing around in her underwear, “please, please, please. I’m asking, I’m begging, I’m pleading, I’m…fuck, I’m out of synonyms.”
Molly offered her some more: “Imploring, beseeching, entreating, petitioning?”
“See, this is exactly why you need to get out more.”
“Because I have a decent vocabulary?”
“Drew will be there.”
“And remind me why I should care?”
“Just come out with me tonight. I promise you’ll have a good time. A great time, a fantastic time, a…”
And Molly went, okay, okay, okay.
She’d been ready to call it a night after two hours at the frat house—after doing her best to seek out the darkest corners of the room, where she could drink warm beer and plan her escape—cut her losses and head back to campus. She’d reached that hazy place that comes after clear thinking, before actual drunkenness—the “peak moment,” her mom called it. This after her third glass of chardonnay, when she and Molly sat on the living room couch watching reruns of Seinfeld. “I’ve reached my peak, ladies and gentlemen,” she’d say. “Everything else is downhill.”
Outside the frat house, on a front lawn of new snow, Molly waited while Kara shared a cigarette with a bunch of boys whose laughter made Molly think of a word she had never actually used: guffawing. They were guffawing. She shivered in her flimsy coat, not suited for the severe cold; she felt her teeth begin to chatter. Kara had promised they’d go after a cigarette, but Molly can tell she has no intention of ending the night. In the past few hours Molly had watched her roommate and best friend here at school (be honest, Molly, only friend here at school) develop this agreeable sheen. She laughed at dumb boy jokes and contorted her body in ways that advertised her long legs, her small but perky breasts. She’d become a commercial for herself. “Anyone up for a drive?” she asked the boys, standing on one leg and stretching the other out in front of her. “I just feel like moving.”
They decided Drew should drive not because he hadn’t been drinking, but because out of the three boys, he’d been drinking the least. Molly had been watching him closely, and she’d counted only three beers in the house, one or two swigs of whiskey from the flask that had been passed around outside with the cigarettes. That would be a lot for her, but Drew is big and brawny and red, the way Molly imagines Roman gladiators, and he said it wasn’t enough to push him over the edge. Plus, Drew has the nicest car.
Now, in the black Jaguar, as the darkness seems to have somehow grown darker, and the road in front of them paler and thinner, Molly asks Drew if he knows where they’re going.
Drew’s laugh is as big and brawny as his arms, red and hot like his face. “No idea. Not like there’s anywhere around here to go, babe,” he places a hand on Molly’s lap. “Sorry—I forgot you’re not into terms of endearment.”
“I just don’t find them that endearing,” says Molly, looking at the hand on her lap, wondering if she’d somehow given him permission to put it there, if she’d made some unintentional sign, indicating her consent. Her body tightens at his touch, her skin shudders and dances.
Molly first met Drew months ago, in September, on her way back from the farmer’s market that is held every Tuesday of the month in the town park. When Molly tells friends back home in Maryland she is going to school in New York they don’t think of farmer’s markets. When Molly tells friends she is going to school in New York they think 42nd Street—bright lights and Broadway, Manhattan skyline, street vendors, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, pizzerias. “No, no, no,” she has to correct them all, “not that New York.”
Her New York is up, up, up, up. As far up as you can go before hitting Canada. Her New York is a vast and desolate place, with skies so big and enveloping you feel like you could fall into them. It’s all farmland and towns dying or already dead. Gas stations with one pump, signs reading “Sorry No Gas.” Dead deer lying on the side of the road; it’s somebody’s job around here to clear their bodies away.
But the town her college is nestled against is small and quaint, cute like a Christmas ornament, and the people smile like they are genuinely happy. The farmer’s market has been going on in this town for decades, and Molly went because she heard the Amish would be there. Molly is fascinated with the Amish. They are everywhere around here, riding through town in their horses and buggies, the men in their long beards and wide-brimmed hats, the women in their aprons and bonnets. No one gives them a second glance. Molly can’t help but stare.
“They’re just so weird,” she’d told Kara, when confessing her obsession.
Kara had laughed. “You should go to the farmer’s market. They sell their produce there and stuff.”
Molly did. She bought two cucumbers and a tomato from an Amish man with a warm face and friendly smile. She had thanked him and he had nodded, and walking back to campus, Molly examined her purchases with a growing sense of confusion. What was she supposed to do with these? She could cut the cucumbers up and put them on her eyes when she slept, she guessed, because some people did that. And the tomato? People didn’t eat tomatoes by themselves, did they, raw, the way you eat an apple?
Her phone began vibrating in her pocket. She looked at the caller ID. “Mom, can you eat a tomato by itself?” she asked without saying hello.
“I assume so. It’s a free country.”
“But would it taste good?”
“Dear God, I don’t know. What makes you think I would know something like that?”
“Shot in the dark.”
“Varroa. It’s this type of mite that spreads diseases to bees. Scientists think it might be the culprit. I just read an article.”
It’s been going on for over a year now, ever since her mom had read that piece in TIME Magazine about the disappearing honey bees, how swarms were just vanishing, nobody knew exactly why. When her mom had shown her the article, Molly had been intrigued. It had seemed so strange, almost ominous. It became a rare shared interest, a mutual fascination. They’d look up facts online, laugh at the conspiracy theorists, the religious fanatics who said it was a sign of end times. When reading the scientists who said basically the same thing, they’d shake their heads in foreboding. Einstein had predicted when the bees disappear, the end was nigh.
But while Molly’s interest had eventually waned, her mother had only become more obsessed, more intent on finding the reason for their disappearance. She sifted through scholarly articles, she posted about it on Facebook. And she had made Molly promise that she would ask her biology professor about it, first chance she got; Molly knew what her mom’s next question would be before she asked it.
“Did you ask your professor yet?”
Molly hesitated. “Yeah.”
“And we talked about it for a little bit, but not much to tell.” Actually, there was much to tell: how the professor had been curt and dismissive of Molly’s question, which in turn had made her indignant; how the professor had tried to move on with the class, but Molly wouldn’t drop the subject; how he had then risen his voice, which made Molly raise hers as well, all the while thinking, I don’t care about this. Why am I shouting about something I don’t even care about?
“We probably know more about the subject than he does,” her mom was saying. “Anyway, according to this article these parasites are…”
“Mom,” Molly interrupted, “don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you should lay off the bees for a while.”
Silence on the other end of the line—she’d taken it the wrong way.
Fifteen minutes later Molly had hung up, really wanting to cry but knowing all that would get her was a sore throat and puffy face. Like usual after a conversation with her mother, Molly found herself immediately replaying it in her head, to detect the moment where it had gone off the rails, the moment where she’d said the wrong thing and let it spiral out of control. She was standing in front of a frat house across the road from campus, and she could hear the din of day drinkers rising up from the backyard.
The tomato was still in her hand. She should wash it first, to get rid of the germs and pesticides, but Amish didn’t use pesticides, did they? That’s why people wanted their tomatoes. She took a bite. It tasted like nothing she’d ever tasted before, wet and fresh and full of earth.
“Did you really just do that?”
Molly turned. The boy on the porch of the frat house, lounging in an Adirondack Chair with his feet propped up on the railing, beer in hand, regarded her as if she were a character in a movie he was watching, there solely for his amusement.
Molly wiped her mouth. Bits of tomato had escaped onto her chin and the bottom of her lip. She swallowed.
“Seriously,” the boy said, “that was like the hottest thing I’ve seen all semester. And that includes the time I witnessed two of the lacrosse girls wrestle each other in a kiddy pool filled with Budweiser.”
“Fuck off, would you?” said Molly, but the boy wasn’t discouraged. “Hey, you’re in my bio class. You’re that girl who went off on the professor last week.”
Of course. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know, you were talking about…disappearing bees or something, and you and the professor got in a shouting match.”
“It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder, and I would never have shouted if he hadn’t twisted my words. I was just defending myself.”
“Yeah, no, babe, I thought you were great. That professor’s a dick.”
Molly couldn’t help feeling just a little bit flattered, just a little bit vindicated. But she tried hard not to show it. “Don’t call me babe,” she said.
“What’s your name then?” he asked, standing up. “I’m Drew.”
In the car, Drew’s hand is still on her lap. It sits there, unmoving, like a giant, dormant spider, waiting for an insect to wander within its reach.
Before, like an eternity ago, Molly let the possibility of sleeping with Drew cross her mind. Or more like, the possibility had crept into her mind one moment when she hadn’t been paying attention, and then, once it had taken up residence, it just seemed rude to throw it out without giving it a chance to make its case. This was all because of a conversation she’d had with her campaign manager a few weeks ago. Kara had burst into their dorm room one night, flushed and drunk, and ripped Molly’s headphones off her ears. “So Drew Weller think you’re cute and wants to be involved with you romantically and/or sexually.”
“Well, I’m kind of assuming that last part. Drew Weller thinks you’re cute, that I can say with all certainty.”
“He’s a d-bag. I don’t want to be involved with him.”
“Oh, but Molly, he’s super hot and a real nice guy, actually. Plus, you need to get yourself out of this rut you’re in.”
Rut? What rut? Molly wasn’t aware she’d been in a rut.
“Look, I wouldn’t say this if it weren’t for your own good, but people are beginning to talk. You’re beginning to get the reputation as a little…”
“What, Kara? Just say it.”
“Well, after that thing that happened in your bio class people might think you’re just a bit psycho. Now obviously that’s so unfair, but not everybody knows you like I do.”
“And you think me sleeping with some stupid frat boy would somehow fix this?”
Kara had thought for a second before replying. “It would definitely be a step in the right direction.”
At the time, Kara’s words had somehow made sense, now they just seem ludicrous—now as Drew begins to stroke her leg, slowly, but with confidence. She keeps her eyes on the black winding road ahead. It’s snowing again, the sky infested with specks of white, tumbling madly down to the earth. As Drew’s hand glides slowly up her leg Molly knows she has to make a decision soon, before the situation spirals out of her control. It’s like what her mom would say when opening the second bottle of chardonnay. “See, there’s no point stopping now; I’m past the point where it makes any difference.” And then her eyes would grow misty and far off, gazing at invisible mountains. “Those are always the hardest decisions, Molly: the ones you make when you’ve already passed the moment where they’ll do any good.”
Drew’s hand has reached the space between her thighs when Molly tells him to stop, tells him to move his hand. Or at least, that’s what she tries to say. The words form in her head, she hears herself make a sound, but she can’t have actually said anything because he isn’t stopping, why isn’t he stopping? His fingers are moving now, spiders between her legs, searching for things, beginning to find them.
And then she flinches, twists her body away from him, towards the door. He pulls his hand back as if bitten. But a second later it’s there again, resting on her lap, and she hears his voice, speaking so calmly. “You’ve gotta relax, Molly.”
Her own voice, when it comes, is choked close to tears. “Just, can we, can we just drive?”
“I’m gonna make you feel good, babe. Trust me.” His hand is again between her legs, but this time she screams, this time she pushes his hand away. Later she will wonder whether this is the reason the sharp turn in the road takes him by surprise, or if he would have slammed down hard on the brake no matter what. The road is slick with new snow, and the tires give an angry, high-pitched squeal before the car barrels out of control, spinning around in three wide, elegant circles and then crashing headfirst into a giant drift of snow.
Two o’clock in the morning on a freezing February night, miles away from any remnants of civilization, Molly’s roommate skips wildly around a snow carpeted road singing that old hip-hop song, “Jump Around.” The thing is, Kara doesn’t know all the words to the song, or rather, any of the words, except for the ones in the title, and so hops around the dark, empty road just going, “Jump around, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump around!” while hugging her arms around her chest and shivering.
Drew’s Jaguar looks like it got halfway through burying itself and then gave up. Its entire front is submerged in an enormous snowdrift on the side of the road, leaving only the back exposed. Red taillights shoot out its ass and illuminate the immediate space surrounding the car-wrecked survivors, but only darkness spreads out from there, full and impenetrable. While Kara skips back and forth on the road singing, Molly and Travis and Adam watch as Drew guns the car in reverse. The back tires spin and spin and spin, squealing like hungry kittens, but the car doesn’t so much as budge. “Shit,” one of the boys says, Travis or Adam—Molly can’t remember which is which. They should just be one person. She could mesh their names together, like they do with celebrity couples: Tradam, or Advis. “This car isn’t going anywhere tonight,” says Tradam. “We’re fucked.”
The front door opens against the snow, allowing just enough space for Drew to squeeze his way out of the car, the snow rising up to his waist. He fumbles his way out onto the road and brushes himself off violently. “Fuck, it’s cold.” He looks around him. “Now what?”
“Jump, jump, jump, jump around!” says Kara.
Molly rubs her hands, although she can hardly feel them. “You wouldn’t happen to have any sand in your trunk, would you?”
Drew shakes his head.
“You might want to think about investing in a vehicle more suited for this terrain. Or if not, at least buying a bag of sand.”
Since the crash, Drew has not looked at Molly once. Now he does, and she is startled by what she sees. Before tonight, Drew might have been a lot of things, but scary wasn’t one of them. Now he is scary, fuming on the side of the road, a bottle of rage ready to be uncorked.
“You should shut the hell up. You’re the reason we’re even in this mess.”
Molly’s dumbfounded. “You’re seriously putting this on me?” She knows the smart thing would be just to let it go. Drew is bigger than her, stronger. Here, in this dark wilderness, he can have his way. She has a vision of her body lying prostrate in the snow, skin blue/white, frozen crystals of snot hanging from the end of her nose—a dead, snot-nosed angel. They’d find her the next morning, and strangers might form protests in her memory. Her name would become a symbol. Molly doesn’t want to be a symbol. Still, she can’t stop herself. How can he blame her for this? How can he so quickly twist reality to absolve him of all guilt?
Drew shakes his head, looks away. “I should have known you were fucking crazy after I saw you go off in class.”
For some reason this hurts more than anything. “I was just defending myself. That’s all I was doing.”
Tradam, in a rare moment of clear-headedness, steps in. “Let’s just figure out what to do. Does anybody have service out here? Because I don’t.”
Everyone shakes their head. Kara stops jumping, stops singing about jumping, lands next to Molly, starts shivering so hard she might as well still be jumping. “Ohmygod, it is So. Friggin’. Cold.”
Molly knows it’s time to make a decision; she tries to shake the feeling that they’ve passed the moment where it will do any good.
She starts walking.
There are these ten seconds of horribleness where she thinks nobody will follow her, that they’ll just stay there by the car, and she’ll be forced to either turn around and rejoin them foolishly, or continue into the darkness alone. In those ten seconds it is so quiet that she thinks she can actually hear the snow softly landing on the snow that has already landed. Then she hears feet moving. Relief like a flood.
“Where are we going?” Drew’s voice.
She hardly glances back. “We’ll just have to walk. Until we find a house or one of us gets service.”
“But there could be nothing up this way for miles.”
Molly stops and turns. “Well, we know there’s nothing back the way we came, not for a long way anyway.”
Drew looks like he wants to retort, but he’s either too cold or too stupid to come up with anything. They continue on, down the road. Molly keeps her head down, tries to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. The cold steals right through her, all at once killing her and filling her with new life. She didn’t know it was possible to feel this cold. Kara appears beside her, never having looked better. Her face is beet red and there are snowflakes clinging to her hair and the end of the nose. If they end up freezing out here, Kara will go out looking like some fairy princess who escaped her castle of ice. “I swear,” she says to Molly between teeth chatters, “if we get back alive I will never ask you to come to another party again.”
Molly glances back. The boys have fallen a ways behind, packed tight together in a clump. She wonders if she did the right thing. Would it have been better to stay in the car, packed tight together for warmth, bodies compressed, a Frozen Orgy?
There will be a house. There has to be a house. All she sees, on either side of her, are fields of white, spreading out until they are swallowed up by the blackness. There are still places like this in America.
“Oh, let’s talk about something,” says Kara suddenly, “or my lips are going to freeze together and what’s left of my poor ‘lil brain will become an icebox. Let’s talk, let’s talk.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Anything. Everything. Let’s pretend we’re fifteen and I’m sleeping over at your house and we’re on your bed in our pajamas, arguing over which boy is cuter, and we have popcorn, and some Twizzlers, and it’s warm, it’s so warm.”
“Let’s pretend we’re fifteen, since we never got to be fifteen together. Ask me anything.”
Molly knows that it doesn’t matter what they talk about, that Kara is only trying to distract from the cold, though cold, isn’t an adequate term anymore. Synonyms now fail her. Her toes and fingers are throbbing, her ears feel like they might fall off. It hurts to breathe. As they stumble on she can’t think of anything to ask, because of the cold, or because she never really had what Kara described: a girlfriend on her bed, sharing secrets and snacks. After her parents’ divorce, there followed a period of self-imposed seclusion, her mother her only companion. There are a lot of things Molly hasn’t done. Her roommate is at least partially aware of this.
“Tell me what it feels like. Describe it for me.”
Weeks earlier, Molly had made the confession to her roommate, the Big One, the I’m-Still-A-Virgin-One. It had been out of desperation, Kara badgering her about why she never went to parties, or hooked up with boys, or had a boyfriend back home… like what the ,i>hell? To Molly’s surprise, Kara hadn’t laughed or found her pathetic, instead she’d looked at Molly with a mix of compassion and resolve, as if Molly were an invalid and Kara her doctor, charged with restoring her health.
Describe it for me. Kara takes the task seriously. She doesn’t say anything for a long while, long enough that Molly thinks she won’t. Their heads are down, the freezing wind so sharp it brings tears to Molly’s eyes. Then Kara’s voice: “It’s like, it’s like, I don’t know if I can…okay, here’s what it is: you’re there with him, right, and you’re in it together, and when you begin there’s all this stuff going on, you’re doing things for him and he’s doing things for you, and there’s the does he like this? or am I doing this wrong? bullshit, and you’re sort of in it but still sort of out of it, watching yourself from a distance, but then you get to this place, this place where that disappears, and it starts to feel really great, and then you think: ‘This is the moment. This one. Right here.’ But you’re wrong, because just when you think you’ve reached it, you climb to this even higher level, and then you’re like, ‘No wait, this is the moment. This is the real one. The one before doesn’t even compare. But then again, the moment passes, and you climb even higher, to another level, and you’re like, ‘No here it is at last, this one. This one right here. This is it.’” She turns her had against the wind, enough to look at Molly. “That’s sex.”
“Then how do you ever know?” Molly asks.
“How do you know what?”
“When you’ve reached it, the real moment?”
Kara bows her head again. “I guess only after it’s over.”
They don’t say anything after that. Nothing but the crunch of their feet on the snow, and the wind, howling like in a bad horror movie, howling like it wants to lift Molly off the ground and carry her away, to Maryland, to Oz. Her mind begins to flicker and dance, like a dying light bulb in a basement. She thinks about sex. All the sex she’s never had, all the boys she’s never been with. She thinks of Drew, his hand between her thighs, the hungry way his fingers had moved. And the thing that really gets to Molly, she realizes, as they reach the crest of another low hill to see only more darkness before them, is that part of her had actually liked him, part of her had hoped he really would be a nice guy. And Molly wonders, as they begin down the hill, whether he still might have been had she not rejected him. She wonders how many boys, how many people, aren’t actually nice, they just usually get what they want.
Beside her, Kara stumbles on the hill, lurching sideways into Molly and halfway to the ground before Molly catches her and pulls her upright. “Kara, are you okay?”
She’s nodding, but holding her Molly feels Kara’s body shaking. Her face is a deep shade of purple, her eyes look almost vacant. “Just really cold,” she whispers.
Molly rubs Kara’s arms vigorously. “We’re in my bedroom remember, with Twizzlers?”
Almost a smile. A slight nod of the head. “Yeah.”
Molly looks back. The boys are approaching in a pack, but she doesn’t want their help. “Come on,” she places Kara’s arm over her shoulder and turns her forward. “We’ve gotta keep moving. That’s what’s most important.” Hadn’t she read that somewhere? Hadn’t she read that to keep from freezing you had to keep your body moving, and your mind as well? Or maybe that was just something her mom said, when the wine was gone: “Let’s go for a walk!” “But it’s midnight, mom.” “Well, at least talk to me then, I need to occupy my mind.”
“So have you heard the thing about the bees?” Molly asks the girl leaning against her.
She jerks her head. “Huh?”
“Honey bees. They’re disappearing. Swarms of them just vanishing. And nobody knows why.”
“They don’t know where they go?”
Encouraged, Molly speaks louder, holds Kara up straighter. “No, but there’s all sorts of theories. Some people think it has to do with climate change. Some say pesticides or cellphone towers, loss of habitat. But I guess it could have dire consequences for us—humans, I mean.”
Kara doesn’t say anything and Molly thinks she’s lost her again, although they’re both still moving, slowly at a half stumble, one numb foot in front of the other. Then, suddenly, Kara murmurs: “It’s instinct, I think.”
Molly looks at her. But before she can ask Kara what she means, there comes a shout from behind them. Molly wheels them both slowly around. The boys have stopped a few yards back, looking off to their right.
A house. Small, the windows dark, a rail fence protecting it from the road. Molly can make out the large shape of a barn behind it.
For a moment, they just stare.
“I don’t think there’s anybody living there,” Drew says. “There’s no car or telephone line.”
But Molly understands, and something between fear and elation seizes her. “Amish,” she says. “This is an Amish house.”
“So fucking weird,” says Tradam.
Beside her, Kara starts to shake, her whole body convulsing. Molly struggles to keep her upright but Kara is sinking to the ground, as if dragged by a magnetic pull. “What are you…” Molly cries, but then Kara’s speaking, her words rushing together in a wild torrent: “I don’t want to go in there let’s not go in there let’s just not.” She’s curled up on the road now, fetal in the snow, her arms clutched around her chest, her blonde hair, flecked with snowflakes, swathing madly around her face.
“Kara, it’s okay.” Molly kneels down beside her, trying to keep her voice calm, but this panic is contagious. She’s suddenly frightened, of the mad look in Kara’s eyes, of whatever is living in that house.
Kara keeps shaking. “No, no, no.”
Molly looks up at the boys. “She’s not thinking straight. Go get help!”
But they just stand there, staring. Like they’re frozen in place, like they’d rather freeze here together than split apart.
So Molly leaps up. So Molly runs down the path leading up to the house, nearly slipping. On the porch the boards creak beneath her, heavy with snow. She reaches the door. It’s white, with no window. She takes one quick breath, and then she knocks.
Photo by Sally Crossthwaite