The Diet Coke by Laura Hilton Craner

moon and mountains2

She was feeling vaguely seditious so she bought the Diet Coke. Any other night she would have gone with a Sprite, but tonight, Jen bought the Diet Coke.

Rebellion, huh? This is a new phase, she thought.

She popped it open and started her car. Really the car belonged to her parents. But since she was sixteen (for a whole month now) and had a job she could take the old Toyota hatchback whenever she wanted. Some days she drove just for the sake of driving, never knowing where it would take her. Most days she ended somewhere up Logan Canyon, usually past Third Dam but before the abandoned convent.

As she pulled out of the gas station her cell phone jangled, jarring oddly against the Pop 40 coming out of the car stereo. She checked the text while pulling up to a red light. It was Nicki. €œRy’s here Y u L8? Where R U? € The light turned green and Jen tossed her cell phone into the back seat.

Jen pulled over at the Ice Shack and ordered a cherry snow cone. She sat on the hood of her car and watched the sun finish setting. The streaks of orange and pink reaching over the mountains looked restless. Jen pursed her lips.

Admirable or quaint: watching the sun set while sitting in a parking lot on the busiest street in town?

She took a bite of the snow cone and a swig of her Diet Coke. The sweetness mingled with the bitter. She shivered as she swallowed.

Only in Logan.

She knew it was dramatic, but the sunset seemed like an omen tonight, like the bright splashes of color were a message. Like the fingertips of a rock climber on an outcropping, the sun was holding on.

Me too.

This summer was just off. Different. Strange. Her childhood summers were always stream-of-consciousness sequences full of trampoline sleepovers, homegrown tomatoes, and night-games. This summer all that had stopped. Instead, the ward kids, when they weren’t working, just hung out. Sometimes they’d watch a movie or drag Main but usually they sat around outside and bugged each other. The guys were always trying to get a rise out of the girls and the girls were always trying to prove they were too good for the guys.

That explains Ryan. Dating him was the most interesting thing to do.

Tonight was the last Stake Youth Dance of the summer. In a couple weeks school would start and the days would be full of AP classes, seminary, and the other kids. The kids from the ward €”Nicky, Kelly, Liz, Jen, Ryan, Ethan, and Jared €”hung out every summer. On that first day of school, though, something changed. Maybe they’d say, €œHi € or give a small nod, but they never ate lunch together or sat by each other. No, school was for the others €”the kids they didn’t have to see every Sunday, the kids whose mothers couldn’t tell embarrassing stories about them, the kids who didn’t know what ward they were in and didn’t care. Every fall the ward kids acted like they didn’t know each other, but every summer it was like they were never apart.

Maybe that was why when Ryan tried to kiss her she ducked.   The almost-kiss was certainly why they hadn’t spoken in two weeks €”Ryan had even skipped the joint activity to avoid her. That was why she wasn’t at the dance tonight.

The last dance.

The dance was out at the old fire station. It would only take her five minutes to get there. Jen poured the dregs of her Diet Coke over her snow cone. The sun was almost gone.

Lost its grip, I guess.

Her cell phone sang out again.

Jen tossed the Coke in the trash and started driving. Maybe it was the slight buzz from the caffeine–What would it be like to be high?–but suddenly she wished she owned a tank top. Not one of those sloppy ones people wore with oversize jeans, but one of the pretty ones in the Old Navy window. The kind that came in bright pink and looked good with short shorts. She’d tried one on the other day and she’d liked it. It made her shoulders look strong and her boobs didn’t pop out like her mother said they would.

They looked just how they were supposed to, maybe even a little better.

She’d also slipped on a pair of shorts €”just to see. They hit well above the knee but just below the bulge of her upper thigh and she’d liked the shape it gave to her legs. She’d tried them on just to see and any other night she wouldn’t have even considered it, but tonight it seemed to be the best way €”the only way €”to be.

The summer night pressed through the windshield as she left the store.   The moon was a bright, white mirror up in the sky making it seem bigger than it was.   Jen rolled down the car windows, wanting to feel the rush of air around her as she drove. For a moment she closed her eyes so she could really feel it but opened them quickly.

It’s all fun and games . . .

The parking lot was dark when she reached the fire station and she could hear the thump, thump, thump of the Village People’s €œYMCA €. Jen changed in the car, expertly shimmying out her jeans and t-shirt. She slipped her flip-flops back on, fluffed her hair and did one last check for tags before she climbed out.

Ryan.

She squared her shoulders as he walked toward her.

It was awkward, the way he stared at her legs.

€œThey’ll never let you in like that. €

€œYeah. Probably not. €

He took a step closer. This time his eyes lingered on her shoulders.

€œWhat are you doing out here? € he asked.

€œNicky called. €

€œShe’s still inside. Trying to get Jared to dance with her, but he won’t. You know how Jared is. Goes to every dance but refuses to actually dance. € Ryan seemed relieved to have something to talk about. Jen wasn’t.

Strains of Celine Dion drifted across the parking lot.

€œWhat are you doing out here? € Jen tried to look him in the eyes, but Ryan had leaned against the car and was looking up at the sky, the moonlight washing across his face.

€œLooking for someone. €

Jen ran her foot up and down the back of her bare calf and concentrated on letting her shoulders feel the night air. Coolness pricked her skin. She opened her mouth, just a bit, tasting the air, closing her eyes.

Ryan reached out his hand and touched her upper arm. His touch was soft, more of a brush than a touch. He slid his fingers down the back of her arm. He intertwined his fingers in hers, pulled her close, his body hot against her skin, closing out the night air. She liked the warmth. For a moment, she leaned closer.

Is this what I want?

All she could see was his shoulder. And the moon reaching across the sky.

Jen let go.

€œRyan, who were you looking for? €

He took both of her hands, fidgeting with them. €œI don’t know. Someone. Anyone. € He finally met her eyes, €œYou, I guess. €

Me too.

She shook her head and, blinking, got in her car.

€œWhere are you going? €

Was that desperation in his voice?

€œSomewhere. Anywhere. €

This was absurd. She wished she had another Diet Coke. Just so she could see him see her holding it.

€œWhat’s that supposed to mean? €

Jen started her car, agitated now. €œI don’t know. €

€œAre you coming to Church tomorrow? €

Of course.

€œIt’s just a tank top, Ryan. €

Except it’s not.

Jen inhaled the summer night and aimed her car at the canyon. €œI think. . . €

Really?

Yeah.

€œI’m gonna go howl at the moon. €

__________________________________________________________________________

Laura Hilton Craner is a mommy and sometimes-writer. She lives and writes in Colorado with her husband and four children.   She blogs at www.butnotunhappy.blogspot.com and is a contributor at the Mormon Arts and Culture website, A Motley Vision (www.motleyvision.org).  When she isn’t reading, writing, or cleaning up after someone, Laura spends her time hiking, canning, scrapbooking, and dabbling in the expressive arts. It is only on rare occasions that she howls at the moon.

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6 thoughts on “The Diet Coke by Laura Hilton Craner”

  1. I linked to the story on Facebook and several friends left comments. I thought it might be nice to post them here. Patricia, I thought you might be interested in them.

    One friend, a female, said, “I remember my friends and I would go to the mall and try on the prom dresses with spaghetti straps, even though we had no intention of buying them. I felt rebellious and fabulously glamorous at the same time. I think it was a great way to celebrate our awesome bodies.”

    Another friend, a male, who grew up in Logan and was Catholic, said, “I was always so jealous of how easy it was for Mormons to be rebellious. While the rest of us were trying to figure out how to buy beer and pretending that cigarettes weren’t completely miserable, Coke and tank tops were edgy… Though in retrospect, a tank top would have been fairly rebellious for me too.”

    Another gal who grew up in Logan wrote, “It felt super authentic to me too, Laura, like you were channeling my childhood or something. :-)”

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  2. Thanks for bringing those comments, Laura–they are very interesting and add to the post here. I’m happy to see them.

    I’m waiting for one of your friends to admit to howling at the moon.

    I frequently howl along to my spec needs girl’s timber wolves CD whenever it’s on. I absolutely love how it feels, how the call comes from so deep down inside and vibrates my head. I’ve been trying to figure out how to imitate the coyote calls we hear so frequently around my house. I’d love to howl along with the coyotes, moon or no moon, but their howls and yaps are so high-pitched and complex.

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  3. Sooo interesting. As an always-goody-two-shoes girl, I read this and feel a bit of a twinge inside at lost experiences… but also, I feel a little worried. I see my daughters in that tank top.

    During a very difficult time in my life, I tried to take to drinking diet pepsi. (I had never had a caffineated beverage before in my life.) I bought a whole case of it, and stowed it in my cupboards, and i’d take a can out after work and drink it. I felt glamorous and rebellious and angry at the world.

    And it tasted gross. Haha. 🙂

    Like

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