This is an excerpt from the eBook “Bonfires.” Download “Bonfires” in its entirety on Amazon, the iBookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

We knew the house by the smoke. We knew the house from high school. We did not need to look at the coat-hangered address swinging from a tree. We were there to drink. We were there to fuck. We wanted to avoid every sad story about coming home. We did not want to become ambassadors of the past.

It was the fall I returned for my father’s funeral. Dylan sat next to me in the driver’s seat. I had not seen him in eight years. He lit a cigarette. He’s my best friend from forever. We looked down the gravel driveway, the cars a rush hour for ghosts. We looked up at the house. Plastic bottles were spewed across the lawn next to those black stake garden lights you see on display at hardware stores, knocked over and missing their rickshaw driver hats.

That’s a lot of fucking smoke, man, Dylan said.

Dylan was at the first bonfire. He got to stay. My now dead father picked me up early but at least I felt Amber’s breasts on a trampoline before I left. That was the goal, to touch her while her hormones were catching up, to touch her before she outgrew us all. She wore a thin cotton shirt, bra padding popping through. Something was growing under there, unfinished.

I heard the next Monday that she took off her clothes. People said things got wild.

That week two shitty things happened.

Amber’s mom got a job in Florida. She moved away. She eventually went to college there. Dylan’s parents found a naked picture of a male classmate under his pillow and sent him away to a church program—he’d later call it The Camp—to scare the other Adam out of him. I thought he would have better hiding places.

So both of them were gone. I looked through every picture of Amber and wanted to fuck her right then on the keyboard. I settled for the next best thing. Her relationship status was always changing and the fucker always looked the part: hair gel, spikes, no facial hair, the kind of guy that would shave in the car. This one was an ex-marine. He wore barbed wire tribal tattoos on arms the size of ammunition clips. He wore a tight polo shirt no matter the temperature. I’m sure his smell gave you a headache, that he had Mission Accomplished medals hanging from his lampshades. They lived together. I skipped over those pictures.

I received a few letters from Dylan. He was discharged from The Camp when an assistant director caught him hugging a bi girl in the courtyard. Dylan said the girl missed home and was crying. He moved to the West coast, received his high school diploma and moved in with an Eastern European man. Dylan said he was interesting, like fucking a history book that talked funny, don’t steal that, Evan. I want to use that in my memoir, that’s mine, he said. He and this guy grew things together, organically without pesticides. They sold them in a small town market, you know, married people type shit, he said. He stopped writing when I started college. My girlfriend accidentally recycled the first few letters he sent but that didn’t matter. He never included a return address.

Two days ago I had no idea he was back. TC Mark

Buy Alexander Helmke’s eBook “Bonfires” on Amazon, the iBookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

What Second Chances Are Like

More From Thought Catalog