I am 19 years old. Standing in the bed of a red pickup truck, wearing cutoffs, ripping open trash bags. My palms sweat inside the film of plastic gloves. You are right next to me, older by a few years, wearing a bikini top, long blonde braid whipping back and forth over your shoulder as you dig through spent charcoal briquettes and empty hotdog bun bags, tossing the cans and the glass into recycling barrels.

We play music on the truck stereo and pray the battery won’t die today. Sometimes, one of us remembers to get into the cab and turn the key. It is the summer of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”

We throw the glass bottles—separated, brown from green—even though they sometimes miss the bins and smash across the concrete, and we have been specifically asked not to do this.

We live behind the campground store. You live in an Airstream trailer. I sleep on an air mattress in a tent twenty yards away.

We eat ham sandwiches for lunch every day, prepping them in the camp store deli. Sometimes you throw a slice of the thick-cut Costco ham in the microwave first, and it pops and browns. In the afternoons, we drive a truck through the campground to pick up trash and carry it up to the dumpsters. When there are too many bags to fit in the bed, we pile them on top of the cab and balance them on the hood.

The mornings are dry, and there are still neon poppies blooming up in the foothills, the part of California called “Gold Country.” We drink coffee with hazelnut creamer on the deck of your trailer. It’s too hot for pants. We are wearing thin dresses from TJ Maxx. We have the same slim shoulders. You play records on a turntable made of plastic made to look like wood. You play The Rolling Stones. You water your plants, pots bunched up on the deck.

I am in love with a boy who asks what my favorite Bob Dylan song is. He takes me swimming in the river. I am still wearing my dress with the blue and white stripes, and it billows out from my body in the water. Blood dribbles from his nose, and I pretend not to notice. I dive under the surface and when I come up and push the hair out of my face, he is cupping his hands around his nose and mumbling about altitude changes.

We take turns running out to check the bathrooms. One night, as we’re closing, we find someone has locked all the stalls from the inside and crawled out on the floor. We make a nine-year-old camper hold up a headlamp while we shimmy under the doors to unlock each one. “Oh my god,” you say, and our laughter echoes off the concrete and mirror.

We host a dinner party outside your Airstream. We eat chips and salsa and drink Great White beer. We light candles, and they melt all over the wooden decking. After dinner, we can’t find my shoes. I walk home barefoot. When I come back the next morning, they are still missing. You loan me a pair of flip flops and drive me to Payless so I can buy a new pair.

A curly-haired boy comes into the store on the hot, quiet weekday afternoons. He orders milkshakes and talks to me while I’m scooping chocolate ice cream out of the freezer. One day, I am ringing him up, and the cash drawer is chiming, and he asks what I’m doing on Saturday. Before I can answer, a troop of Boy Scouts descends on the register, and you yell from the office, tethered to the phone, that we’ve double booked campsite P, and can I check the reservations book for something—anything—else still open. Everything important happens in great swells of activity.

When the store is empty again, I realize I never answered him. You kick your shoes off and spin in the office chair and say, “That’s better, that’s good. Now you don’t look so interested.”

I am in love with a boy named after the main character from a John Hughes movie. He teaches me a drinking game called “Ride the Bus.” I try to guess the suit as he flips over cards from a ragged deck and pours me plastic cupfuls of Zinfandel. Somehow I keep losing.

It’s Friday night, and there are so many cars coming in that we take turns standing out on the road to meet them. We are listening to “One Headlight”—that song by Bob Dylan’s kid—on the computer in the office. There are five songs in the iTunes library, and it’s the only good one. When you are outside in the road, I turn it up over the tinny speaker so you can hear it.

You are dating a boy who leaves for weeks at a time to go on long-distance backpacking trips. One morning, when he is home, you are having breakfast together. You say, “I love juice” and he looks at you seriously and says, “I love you, too.” You tell me about this after. You tell me you’re going with it.

You dogsit for someone with a big house right on the river. We pick squash in the garden and cook it into omelets with a whole block of cheddar cheese. Someone’s mom gives us weed butter, and you use it to make trays and trays of chocolate chip cookies. We eat them before we go into work on days when it’s our turn to sort trash. On the fridge, someone has arranged the magnetic poetry to say:

get  your  tongue  out  of  my  mouth  I  am  trying  to  kiss  you  goodbye

Maybe it was us.

I want a motorcycle, but I settle for loving a boy who has a Ducati. He takes me on a date to In-and-Out where he tells me I have daddy issues.

There are only three employees old enough to sell beer in the camp store, and we are two of them so we almost never have the same days off. But on one free day, we go to Savers in town. You buy a cart full of things—old handmade quilts and 1930s slips—to resell on Etsy. You decorate your trailer to be a little bit hippie, a little bit country. You are a Gunne Sax dress. You are a Fleetwood Mac album.

I borrow an ID from an older girl who also lives in the campground. She hardly looks like me. I learn her zodiac sign and memorize her address. We get too dressed up for the dive bar in town. You have blonde hair, and I have brown hair, and we are like a matched set. You order Washington Apples for us—whiskey with sour apple Schnapps. At closing time, a boy with long hair is lying in the middle of the four-way stop outside. You know him from a previous summer, so we bring him back to camp with us. The three of us sit cross-legged on your deck, and you light a bong for me.

“Am I high now?” I ask you again and again. I tell you I love you. You say, “You’re definitely high.”

We find good stuff in the trash. Still-cold beers in glass bottles. Keychains. One day, you pull bunched up sheets from one of the garbage bags and tell me you’re keeping them. They are white with tiny red and blue and green flowers. When you shake them out, a single firm turd rolls out onto the bed of the truck. You shriek and bundle the sheets back into the dumpster.

I am in love with a boy who never laces up his combat boots. We kiss in the bed of his Honda Ridgeline pickup truck, and I fall asleep there.

I run people’s credit cards and yell “Approved!” every time a transaction goes through. People think this is funny. You and I are laughing so hard we are crying, we can’t breathe, we can barely stand up. The campground store is full of people trying to buy beer. We are both working the register at the same time, trying to move campers through twice as quickly. Your hands move onto the buttons as my hands move off of them. I like how fast I can punch keys on the old register which clangs and clunks whenever the drawer opens. A kid wants to rent a volleyball, and you accidentally tip over the plastic bin of balls, and they go rolling and bouncing through the store, and we are chasing tennis balls and soccer balls across the linoleum floor, between people’s legs.

You give me a pink and white miniskirt with wooden buttons because it doesn’t fit you anymore. I like your clothes better than my clothes. I wear the skirt for four days in a row.

You get your period, and mine starts that night, a week early even though I am on birth control. I am wearing your skirt, sleeping in it, across the river in a boy’s bed inside a school bus that doesn’t run. I slip out the back door of the bus without waking him. There is too much blood on the skirt to save it. I creep back into camp at dawn and leave it in the dumpster.

I am in love with a grad student who gives me a ride from the pizzeria nearby. We are in sight of the campground gate when I ask him to pull over so I can throw up beer into the dry grass. Foxtails stick to my shorts. Even though I could walk from there, I know you would insist on a ride all the way home, so I make him drive the rest of the way and pull in through the campground gate.

We have all the windows in the camp store open, and the day is finally starting to cool. You’re desperate to get out so we offer to run firewood deliveries down to the campsite.

We carry the milk crates of split wood perched on our stuck-out hips like women carry babies. We take our time.

We stop in a campsite where our friends are leading team bonding activities. They offer us alcohol, and I hold the mason jars out in front of me so you can measure out the gin and the tonic and then drop limes in. The ice clunks.

We join their circle, they go around and say what they’re grateful for, one by one.

The game reaches you first. You are still holding your mason jar. Standing next to you, I can see your fingers wrapped around the glass, sweating in the summer evening heat, and your fingernails painted with a red-pink polish that is flaking off.

You answer without hesitating. You say, “Gin.” And I say, “Tonic.”

© Rose McMackin
[This piece was selected by Valerie O’Riordan. Read Rose’s interview]