The Kings Hill kids partied at a cottage on one of the lakes. Not Moosehead, but one of the smaller, more exclusive lakes. This place belonged to Shaun’s roommate, Peter, or to Peter’s parents, although no one could remember ever seeing them there. They had other homes, I suppose, in trendier places, and it seems they didn’t consider it worth the trip to Maine to visit either the lake or Peter.

They called it a cottage, but it was a house, right on the water, with thick woods all around. In winter, when I was there, it seemed creepily isolated, a good setting for a horror story. The frozen lake, the bare trees, the animal tracks in the snow. In the right light – twilight, for example – it looked threatening.

I was seventeen when Shaun first brought me there. Peter greeted us at the door.

Most girls thought Peter was better looking than Shaun – bigger, more muscular, perpetually tanned – but he knew he was good looking, and he was arrogant.

“Congratulations, Felicia, you’re our first townie. We usually just fuck them in town and leave them there, but Shaun seems to think you’re something special.”

“Ignore him,” Shaun said. “He’s jealous.”

I stayed close to Shaun as he introduced me around. Mostly people I’d already met, but one girl named Crystal was new to me. Heavily made up, with eyeliner that matched her dress – seafoam green, puffed up with petticoats, bows and ribbons everywhere. Her hair looked stiff, bleached ghostly white.

“Have you found your bliss?” she asked me.

“My bliss?”

“Find your bliss, or you’ll never have peace.”

“Tell Felicia about it,” Shaun urged her. “I’ll be back.”

She talked for twenty minutes about her bliss. As she talked, she leaned to one side and then the other, moving her arms in fluid arcs, bending her wrists gracefully, dancing, like a demented ballerina in a looted jewelry box.

She found her bliss when she had her daughter, and she wanted to have another, and another, and fill the earth with children.

“In fact …” she glanced around, leaned in confidentially. I glanced around, too. Peter was watching us. “…I’m going to get pregnant tonight.”

“Really?”

She smiled. “You might, too.”

“Not me,” I protested, but she shushed me as Peter approached us.

“Peter’s experiencing turbulence,” she announced. “He hasn’t found his bliss.”

“Mine was never missing,” he said. He cupped his hand over his crotch and leered at me. “I got plenty of bliss right here. Want to see it?”

“No, thanks.”

“Maybe later,” he said, and then Shaun came back with some dope and some rolling papers. We all got high, and I forgot to mention to him that his friends were creeping me out.

*

I’d waited a long time for this date with Shaun, ever since we’d first met, although it’s not really accurate to say that I met him. We were never introduced; I learned his name the same way he learned mine, by asking around.

I was fifteen, at a party in the woods behind the high school. Separated from my friends, I wandered among clusters of drunken teenagers, some ours, some from Kings Hill – there wasn’t much mingling. I came upon a group of private school kids blocking the path, and instead of moving aside to let me by, they widened their circle to include me. Somebody passed me a joint. It seemed only polite to stay for a while.

A boy with blond hair was telling a story. I don’t remember the details, only that he told it with a dry, self-deprecating humor. The story had to do with his parents’ willingness to spend large sums of money on anything that would keep him away from home. I thought it was courageous of him to offer up the sad fact of his unwantedness for his friends’ amusement.

As he finished his story, he caught sight of me, and it occurred to me that it might be one thing to joke with his friends about a situation they were aware of, and another thing to expose it to me, a stranger.

“I like you,” I said.

He didn’t hear me, but he read my lips, or my eyes, and he smiled. Someone else was bitching about his own parents, with less humor and more bitterness. Shaun and I continued to smile at each other until a red-haired girl in a leather jacket appeared at his side and slid her arms around his waist. She turned her face up to be kissed, and I had to walk away.

At subsequent parties we circled around each other, progressed to chatting whenever possible, but every encounter ended the same, with one of us saying regretfully, “I’m here with someone.” For two years this went on – I had almost given the whole thing up as hopeless, and my friends said it was just as well, because boys from Kings Hill were never serious about girls from town – and then one night we were both without dates, and we talked to no one but each other all night, and since then we’d been together, making out and dry humping every chance we got.

Despite their concerns about the boys from Kings Hill, my girlfriends were thrilled when Shaun invited me to the cottage. Take notes and make a full report, they said. Were the Kings Hill parties as wild as everyone said they were?

Shaun warned me that although the road was plowed – a service Peter charged to his parents – it was steep and treacherous. No one would be driving home after dark.

“Can you spend the night?” he asked.

It was a big step. I told my parents I had an overnight baby-sitting job, and got permission to be out for the night.

*

So I was at the party, taking notes, and while they were an eccentric and colorful crowd, with a flair for drama, so far I hadn’t seen anything wilder than our own parties. I learned that Crystal’s baby was a year old, living with her parents, being raised by the same nanny who raised Crystal.

“At least she still has a job,” she said.

I felt like a guest of Gatsby’s, surrounded by rich, careless people. They had all been in trouble. Most of them had been to rehab at least once; they all had psychiatrists. They were living adult lives; in addition to therapy, they talked about lawyers and trust funds, and custody arrangements.

I lived in a Catholic town; people didn’t get divorced. I had never heard such litanies of step-families, half-siblings and part-time parents. No wonder these kids were fucked up.

I will say this: they were generous with their drugs. Everybody there offered me speed, mushrooms, cocaine. I settled for pot laced with hash, and I had a nice buzz. I was excited about spending the night, sleeping with Shaun. I was falling in love with him, and I was happy. So what if his friends were fucked up?

I settled in the living room – spacious even with three long sofas arranged in a horseshoe around the stone fireplace, a picture-perfect fire blazing. Not one, but two black bearskin rugs on the floor; someone had arranged them into a sixty-nine.

Shaun was sitting on a sofa, and I was perched on the arm, my feet in his lap. We were talking to the guy next to him, about skunks, of all things, nocturnal creatures, when the girl sitting on the other side of the guy whispered something to him, and then she was on her knees, sucking his cock. Just like that. Within moments there was another guy behind her, with one hand up her skirt and the other undoing his belt.

Wait a minute.

“Shaun?”

“It’s okay, they’re just partying.” He stroked my leg.

“They’re having sex,” I whispered. For some reason I thought my observation might embarrass them.

“I know,” he whispered back. “I probably should have told you.”

Probably, but it was too late now; I was too distracted to discuss it. I didn’t mean to stare – how rude – but I couldn’t believe it, not only the threesome but the whole party continuing around them as if nothing were happening. I suddenly felt far too stoned – unable to move or speak.

Then – it almost didn’t register through my hash haze – the girl reached for Shaun. I watched her hand grope for his leg, move up his thigh, pausing briefly on my foot, up toward his crotch. He caught her hand and moved it away; he murmured something in her ear. The cock in her mouth muffled her response.

He sat back, looking pleased with himself. He smiled at me. I don’t know if I smiled back or not.

And now everyone was getting into this new phase of the party. On the opposite couch, Crystal was on her elbows and knees, prepared to be impregnated. A couple on top of the bearskins, another on the floor behind me. Over on the third sofa two naked girls were making out, and beside them, also naked, sat Peter, leaning back against the cushions, stroking his erection and surveying the room with an imperial air, as if deciding where to put it first. His eyes rested on me. He smirked. I got the impression that he considered me one of his options.

This shook me out of my stupor, and I got up and stumbled into the kitchen, where people were still acting normal, thank God.

Shaun followed me.

“I can’t do that,” I said.

“I don’t want you to. But I was hoping you’d want to get it on. With me.”

“Jesus, Shaun, you could have just asked.”

“Do you want to?”

“Just with you,” I said.

He took my hand, and led me upstairs, where he scored us the master bedroom suite and locked us in.

“Just you and me,” he said.

So while everyone else was downstairs fucking, Shaun and I were making love for the first time.

I’d been with boys before, but nothing as sweet as this, nothing this slow and burning. He held me close, his mouth moving over my lips, my throat, my shoulders, my ears, my hair. We were grinding together, closer, deeper, breathless. At one point he took my nipple between his lips with such heartbreaking tenderness, I almost cried.

After a prolonged and delectable entanglement, we found the rhythm to carry us through, and afterward, when we lay still, he said, “I don’t know about you, but I think I just found my bliss.”

*

The bedroom had a wall of glass and a deck overlooking the lake, which glowed with pinkish-orange light as the snow and ice reflected the dawn. Colored light sparkled through the frost on the window, casting an appropriately rosy luminescence throughout the room.

We hadn’t slept – I’d lost count of the number of times we made love – but we had enough energy for one more romp, and then we showered together, and said, why not, what’s once more? By the time we made it downstairs we had fucked ourselves stupid, and could only laugh and giggle as we tripped over the bodies of his friends, who lay where they fell, or fell where they lay after last night’s escapades.

Only Peter was up, making coffee in the kitchen.

“You missed a good party,” he said.

“I don’t think so.” Shaun opened the stainless steel refrigerator and pulled out a bag of oranges. “I don’t think we missed a thing.”

“Well, people missed you,” Peter said. He was leaning back against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest. Something about the way he said “people” suggested a specific person, someone who would remain nameless in my presence. Another girl who wanted Shaun for herself.

Shaun shrugged. “There are plenty of other people to play with.”

He tossed me an orange, and I sat at the table and peeled it. He stood beside Peter at the counter, dropping his own orange rind into the sink.

Peter shot me a contemptuous look. “What about her? Is she going to play?”

“I don’t know, let’s ask her.” He gave his peeled orange to Peter and started another one. “How about it, Felicia? Do you want to play?”

“Just with you.”

“Just with you,” Peter mocked me.

“Hey, come on.” There was only the mildest reproach in Shaun’s tone. “You don’t have to be such a prick.”

“Yes, I do,” Peter said. He was sulking. His coffee was ready, and he poured himself a cup.

Shaun volunteered to chop kindling. He put on his coat and went out, leaving me alone with Peter.

“I had a really good time at your party,” I said, remembering my manners. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“I didn’t invite you.”

“What’s your problem?” I asked.

He looked at me steadily – I think he was trying to stare me down. “I think he could do better.”

“Maybe. Maybe he doesn’t want to.”

“Apparently not. But you won’t last. I know him, he’ll get bored with you.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

He ignored the question. “We’re roommates, you know.”

“I know.”

“We’re very close. Like brothers. We share everything.”

I nodded. “That’s great.”

“Closer than brothers.”

I nodded again.

“You don’t know what I’m saying, do you?” he said.

“That you’re close?”

“Go home,” he said. “Go back to your little townie friends. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

By now the others were waking up, hung over, wandering into the kitchen in search of coffee and juice. Shaun came in with a load of wood and got the fire going again, and I never got the chance to ask what it was I was getting myself into.

*

So, without knowing, I got myself in deeper. There were more parties, every weekend, and Shaun and I attended, up to a point, after which we withdrew to be alone. My failure to participate in the full range of activities caused resentment – not so much my refusal to share myself, although there were some complaints about that, but more, I think, my refusal to share Shaun. He belonged to them, and they were used to having their way with him, and they saw me as selfish, even though Shaun told them it was his own choice not to play with them any more.

We stopped going to their parties. Shaun would get a room in town for the weekend, and sometimes we went out with my friends, but mostly we stayed in his room making love.

“Did you like having sex with all those people?” I asked him.

“It’s fun if you’re wasted. Otherwise it’s a lot of work.”

“Is this a lot of work?”

“This is easy.”

But it wasn’t. His friends were giving him a hard time; they required him to take a stand against bourgeois monogamy. Ironic, that people who claimed to practice free love could be so possessive.

As his friends turned away from him, he clung to me; I was the remedy for his loneliness even as I was the cause of it. He was different from other boys I’d been with, who were willing to share the pleasures of sex, but for whom there was nothing more to it. For Shaun, sex was an emotional experience, an outlet. When he was inside me, I felt the enormity of his love, but I also felt his need. I felt the neglect of his parents and the rejection of his friends, and what he poured into me was the contents of his heart – his love, but also his anger and his sadness.

If Peter had known the extent to which his rebuke fueled Shaun’s passion for me, he might have backed off.

Then again, maybe not.

*

The Kings Hill School had a different schedule from ours, and they were having a vacation the week of Valentine’s Day. Shaun’s friends were going en masse to Jamaica to practice their depravity in a sunnier climate; rumor had it that Peter wasn’t going with them.

“He’s going somewhere else,” Shaun said, “or so they tell me. He’s not speaking to me any more.”

“Not at all?”

“Not a word. He acts like I don’t exist.”

All the better for me.

“Anyway, he’ll be gone,” he said, “and I have a key to the cottage. Valentine’s Day, just you and me.”

“Perfect,” I said. “Just you and me.”

*

He brought roses, and wine, and a box of chocolates. He cooked dinner, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.

After dinner he built a fire and turned the lights out, and we ate some of the chocolates, throwing the ones we didn’t like into the fire, where they melted into bubbly lumps that we said we would clean up tomorrow. We made love on one of the bearskins, naked in front of the fire, primal, rolling around on fur that smelled of all the sex that had been had on it. When we were finished, we moved over and did it again on the other bearskin.

“We can’t have anyone feeling left out,” Shaun said.

Eventually we made our way upstairs to the master bedroom, where we lay in bed and listened to the groaning ice on the lake, and creaking branches. There was no moon; when you live in town you forget how black the night can be. I felt like we were very small, just the two of us surrounded by a wilderness that was cold and harsh and a darkness that threatened to crush us, but I wasn’t scared, because we were together.

*

I had been sound asleep when the lights came on. For a second I was confused about where I was, and then I saw Peter standing in the doorway, snow melting in his hair and on the shoulders of his jacket.

“My God, this is romantic,” he said. “Look at you two fucking lovebirds.”

“Jesus, Peter, what are you doing here?” Shaun was sitting up, squinting in the light.

“I came to celebrate your perfect love.” He stumbled into the room, drunk, maybe, or high on something. He was fucked up.

He sat at the foot of the bed, facing us.

“This is great,” he said. “Isn’t this great, all of us together like this?”

I clutched the blankets around me. “What do you want?”

“Felicia,” he said, not in answer to the question but more as a belated greeting, as if he hadn’t expected to find me here. He smiled at me, and I was afraid. He tracked us down for a reason, and it wasn’t to celebrate our love.

He stood and unzipped his jacket.

Shaun slid out of bed. His eyes darted around the room, maybe looking for his clothes, but all of our clothes were downstairs. He pulled the comforter off the bed to cover himself. I slipped out the other side and took a blanket. He moved toward the window.

“Peter,” he said, “let’s talk about this.”

“No more talk.” Peter took a step toward him, and then charged him and tackled him. I stood paralyzed as I watched them crash through the plate glass and land on the deck. They fought, but Peter was bigger and stronger, and crazier. I wanted to stop them, but before I could reach the deck Peter was hoisting Shaun’s limp body up to the railing and tipping him over the side. I heard a dull thud as Shaun landed in the snow. Peter bundled up the comforter and dropped it down after him.

“Don’t freeze your nuts off,” he said cheerfully.

And then he turned to me.

Too late, I ran for the door. I clutched at the doorframe as he dragged me back into the room, but I only managed to hit the light switch, plunging everything into disorienting darkness again. His hands were cold, his clothing was wet. He tore the blanket away from me and then he picked me up and threw me. For a second the darkness held me up, suspended in mid-air. I bounced hard on the bed. Before I could catch my breath he was straddling me, beating me with his fists. I fought back, but my blows were ineffectual, until I clawed at him and connected with his face, and then he hit me so hard I blacked out.

But not for long. Not nearly long enough.

I heard his zipper.

“Just you and me, Felicia.”

“No.”

He put his arm across my throat and leaned into it, choking me, while he worked one and then both of his knees between mine. I didn’t know if he was crazy enough to kill me, but it seemed he might be; it seemed he was. I saw the police showing up at my house to tell my parents I’d been murdered at the cottage.

“There must be some mistake,” Mom would say. “Felicia’s babysitting.”

They would be baffled for the rest of their lives.

He was between my legs, his arm pressing into my throat. He reached down and shoved himself into me, found my wrists and pinned them to the bed, and before I could even start breathing again, he was fucking me.

I couldn’t get my feet between us to push him off, couldn’t get the leverage I needed. I wanted to get him off me before he came; for some reason I was thinking that it wouldn’t be so bad if I could at least stop him before he came, but my efforts had no effect, and in fact he mistook them for cooperation.

“Yeah, you like that.”

I denied it, but he paid no attention. I protested. I begged.

“I always thought you had nice tits,” he said. I felt the most horrific wave of revulsion as he took my nipple into his mouth. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but the wetness and the smell of him made me want to retch. I started to cry.

“Don’t be a baby,” he said. “You came here to get fucked, didn’t you?”

It occurred to me that just because he wasn’t choking me any more didn’t mean he wasn’t going to kill me. He had all the time in the world and nothing to stop him. Nothing, unless Shaun got up from that snowbank.

I called Shaun’s name. I listened for him to break a window, or break down a door, I expected any moment to hear him on the stairs. I couldn’t let him find me like this.

I quit struggling. I took a deep breath and opened my legs and moved with him, to hurry him up, because it didn’t matter any more if he came, it didn’t matter if he was going to kill me. I just wanted it to be over.

He moved faster, and he began to talk to himself, murmuring something I couldn’t make out. The same thing over and over, like a chant, or a prayer.

“Please,” I said, and he pounded into me harder. He bit my shoulder when he came.

For a minute he was motionless, and I held my breath. He lifted his head and chuckled in my ear.

“You see that, Felicia? You’re nothing special.”

“Get off me.”

He didn’t move.

“This has been fun,” he said, “but I’ve got to go. I’m going to get up, but if you move, I will kill you. Do you understand that?”

“Yes.”

He squeezed one hand around my throat; his breath was harsh in my ear. “I will break you in half, I will rip your fucking throat out with my teeth. Don’t. Move.”

He got up and struck me one more time with his backhand. He zipped himself up and staggered toward the door. He found the light switch; the brightness hurt my eyes, along with everything else that hurt. He was standing in the doorway facing me.

“I’m going to bring Shaun in and put him in front of the fire,” he said. “Warm him up a little, and then I’m taking him home.”

“You should take him to the hospital.”

“I’ll take him wherever I want, you fucking bitch, and if you touch him again I’ll kill you.”

I heard him go down the stairs, then lost track of him until a light came on under the deck. He was talking to Shaun, but I didn’t hear Shaun answer. I was listening for his voice when I passed out.

*

And it was Shaun’s voice that I woke up to.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Peter was gone – Shaun had persuaded him to leave, but there was no guarantee he wouldn’t return. Shaun carried the ax from the woodpile just in case. He helped me get dressed, apologizing the whole time, taking inventory of my injuries. He wanted to take me to the hospital, but I refused. He talked about going to the police; I was even more adamant.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, we’ll get a room.”

He checked us into the Holiday Inn.

For two days I did nothing but take hot showers and cry. I lay in bed for hours with my head on his chest, listening to his heart. It was the only thing that comforted me.

I finally called my parents to tell them I was all right – they had figured out by now that I wasn’t babysitting. They thought I had run away from home, and I guess I had, but as soon as I heard my mother’s voice, I wanted my life back the way it used to be.

“Stay where you are,” she said. “We’ll come and get you.”

“You’re going home?” Shaun said.

“I have to. We can’t stay here forever.”

“No, we don’t have to stay here. We can go away. I can get a job, we’ll get married.”

“He’ll come after us.”

“No, he won’t. He won’t find us.”

“How do you know?”

“He’ll move on,” he said. “He’ll find somebody else.”

“You don’t know that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll – ”

He stopped himself.

I’ll protect you. That’s what he was going to say, but he couldn’t say it. It was too obviously untrue.

“We’ll go far away,” he said. “We can go anywhere, wherever you want, Felicia, where do you want to go?”

“I want to go home.”

“Please,” he said. “Don’t do this to me.”

But it was already done, and how could I ever look at him again without seeing it?

I left him there. I covered my bruises with makeup, and I went home with my parents and followed their rules. I stopped going to parties, stopped going out altogether. I stayed in my room and did my homework; I had no desire to do anything else. I was afraid to go to sleep at night. I cried all the time.

My friends thought it romantic, all those tears. They were under the impression that Shaun and I had been honeymooning, shacked up at the Holiday Inn, and I said nothing to contradict them. I didn’t tell them what happened. Nobody knew but Shaun, and we would not be speaking of it. My parents had forbidden all contact between us.

But he wrote to me. I wasn’t supposed to know that; my parents intercepted the letters, but after a few months my mother’s curiosity got the best of her and she asked what he kept apologizing for.

“Did that boy get you in trouble?”

She thought I’d run off to have an abortion. Would that be preferable to the truth? I didn’t know, so I said nothing.

I pictured Shaun in his room at a new school – maybe he got lucky this time and got a single – covering page after page with his left-handed scrawl, pouring out his heart, and for what? Letters I never received, apologies that made no difference.

It was too painful to think about him, so I trained myself not to. I started going to parties again. I drank; I smoked dope. I slept with other guys, but I didn’t get serious about them, and I discouraged those who were serious about me.

I graduated from high school, went to the University, where I began an affair with my freshman psychology professor. He was the only person I ever told about the cottage. He offered me therapy in the form of role-playing rape scenes, which actually helped, but in return I felt obliged to play other games with him, the ones his wife refused to play. It ended badly.

School seemed pointless; everything seemed pointless. I left the University, drifted through a series of low-paying service jobs, and ended up working at a daycare center.

It suits me to be among children; they’re guileless, or, if not guileless, at least transparent. Their needs are simple, their innocence refreshing. They trust us so completely; they have such remarkable faith.

I was in my second year on the job when I had one of Crystal’s children, her fifth – she was married now, and still blissfully producing children – and it was Crystal who told me that Shaun was dead.

We were standing in the snow on the playground. It was the end of the day, twilight, and there were just a few children left to play among the long shadows of the snowmen and forts and tunnels they’d constructed earlier. I thought of that first night at the cottage, the night we found our bliss.

Crystal kept talking.

“For a long time after he left Kings Hill he was into some heavy drugs,” she said. “Somebody told me he did so much speed that his heart just stopped.”

His heart.

In addition to being the true author of the prize-winning Bufflehead Sisters, Patricia J. DeLois works in the audiovisual department in the Portland Public Library. Bufflehead, her first novel, won the British Council sponsored YouWriteOn.com 2007 Book of the Year Award. It was then published by YouWriteOn on a publish-on-demand (POD) basis.