We took care to step carefully over the jagged hilt glass that formed the tight welcome of our forced entrance—we had heard stories, after all, of small cuts left alone, festering, becoming hopelessly infected, months later poisoning whole limbs—and as we let our feet find purchase on the cold concrete floor, we had to hold each other, for balance, and not at all in a sexual way. When we had made it safely inside, Shania took off her balaclava, produced a plastic bag from her pocket and began eating what I eventually worked out—in the dim glow of that tea-coloured early morning light—were shavings of carrot, cut so thin that when she turned them sideways they seemed to disappear, so that it looked like she was gaping at pure air with her lips, which were shaped in a perfect cherry pout, which is how I would have described them if I had been forced to depict them in a sexual way.
I had boltcutters with me, because I had told Shania I knew where my brother kept them in his shed, and that they were easy for me to get, which wasn't really true, as I hadn't spoken to my brother for some years, and, despite the fact I had seen them in his shed, it was when I was only thirteen, and had gone in there after he'd just moved in to a new house and he had shown me where he kept his pornos, in an old toolbox at the back of the toolshed (they were tattered, wrinkled magazines, some even in black and white, like something from the war, which was not what I was expecting) and when I was there I saw these big boltcutters hanging up behind the door which for some reason I noticed because they looked like something a ganster would use to lop off someone's toe and when I asked my brother why he owned them, his reply just reminded me why he was older and stupider than me, and much more inclined to see things in a sexual way.
Now Shania was saying Let's get in there now, while we can, and all the while I watched her body shake with excitement, or fear, and I tried to make myself imagine her like one of those girls from my brother's magazines: grey, crouching, crinkled, naked, with her face peering coyly from behind folded-up limbs: only I couldn't do it, because try as I might, I just couldn't see Shania in a sexual way. We had been friends since we met on a cruise ship—our respective parents having been offered, respectively, the trip as part of a time-share promotion that travelled from to different towns in a caravan that could fold up into a sort of showroom so that it could set up in the main street and immediately lend itself a sort of gravitas that inevitably convinced good, hard-working folk such as Shania and mine's parents that time share was not only fun, but good value for money—and, during the cruise, thanks to us being pretty much the only kids on the trip, we spent a lot of time together and ended up sharing a cabin together, but only after asking our respective parents whether this was okay, so they would know that we were sharing a room in the spirit of cameraderie only, not in a sexual way.
And so, when Shania's parents lost a lot of money because of the time-share company went swiftly bankrupt, they moved to my town, which was a lot cheaper to live in because of the high element of undesirable elements (the government's word, not ours: most locals viewed the high numbers of gentleman's clubs, casinos, and drug labs in our town an inevitable symptom of our town's relative isolation coupled with its position as a geographical occlusion between two major ports—ie. an obvious stopover point where one's future problems and one's past worries tended to cancel each another out—and as such, were unusually town-proud), and this happily co-incided with my parents putting half our house up for rent—for they to had been financially shaken by the time-share meltdown—and led to Shania's family and mine co-habiting, in a financially beneficial way, and not—as the phrase is so often made to represent—in a sexual way.
I managed to cut the thick chain-link fence with the boltcutters, but each time I snapped the metal my arms shook and by the time I had cut enough for us to bend back and squeeze through my hands were jarred and aching, although when I whispered this to Shanaia, she took my fingers in hers and rubbed them until they were warm, saying to me: You're so cool to be doing this with me—I definitely couldn't've done this by myself: and if I hadn't, who would've freed all these poor rabbits from being tested on, not just being forced to test chemicals on, remember, but sometimes in a sexual way?
I quickly removed my fingers from her warm palms because she was always talking about that stuff—the sexual stuff they supposedly did to those rabbits here—and I always found it very uncomfortable as I didn't mind freeing a few bunnies from a cosmetics research lab, but the thought of people doing those other things to them ... I didn't really want to risk getting caught by people who would experiment on animals in a sexual way.
You're okay to do this, right? said Shania then, squaring me up by my shoulders, looking me right in the eyes, so that I had no choice but to smile and nod my head and she had no choice but to—sensing, I think, my sacrifice—put her arms around me and take me deep into such an adult embrace, so far removed from any affection she had previously shown me, that I was forced to press my body against hers and let loose a little sigh that had built up inside me ever since I had first seen her, walking towards me as a glimpsed shape suddenly made real against the shimmering sun-swamped deck of a cruise ship, and formed an instant pact with my fledgling mind, an agreement too precocious, surely, but somehow so real because of it: I can never let myself think of this girl in a sexual way.