When you've walked all the way from the Upper East Side to Greenwich Village in the middle of the night, the first sight of home should be an occasion for joy. Wes felt anything but joyful as he climbed the stoop. He had hoped that a long walk through the dark and quiet city would give him some perspective, but it hadn't worked out that way. In other circumstances, it might have been an adventure but it was all nothing but a blur, thoughts as flimsy and disposable as plastic bags. If he had been a character in a book — Prince André inWar and Peace, say — he would have seized the opportunity for a round of rough, candid soul-searching that would inevitably have led to some brilliant new insight into human nature in general and his own moral frailty in particular. But he wasn't Prince André—he was just Wes, idiot Wes, the guy who'd just ruined his life forever and forever, and he was as confused and miserable now as he'd been when he'd set out from Lucy's apartment two hours earlier. He stood at the threshold and took a deep breath, but it didn't help: the sadness didn't go away. In fact, he felt a tear welling, and he leaned forward to rest his forehead on the cold, damp lacquer of the front door.
Wes knew it was a terrible thing for someone so young to feel so sad in this particular way. It seemed to combine elements of exhaustion, shame, hopelessness and loss. A teenager had no business feeling this way. He didn't have a lot of experience in these things, but he felt instinctively that this was a much older person's kind of sadness, informed by regrets, nostalgia, a sense of half a lifetime's squandered opportunities. It was the sort of feeling a middle-aged loser might have when he realizes that he made a bad choice twenty years earlier, and can trace everything that's gone wrong ever since back to that one moment. It was the sort of feeling that Wes could easily imagine his dad feeling. Another tear squeezed itself from his eye and was caught on his eyelash, blurring his vision. With the key in the lock, Wes changed his mind and turned to sit on the top step of the stoop.
Wes felt paralyzed by indecision and wariness. He'd been up practically the entire night, but he wasn't physically tired. He could push on to the river, only five minutes away; letting the sun rise upon him and the clean winds wash over him might be a cleansing, healing balm. It seemed unlikely, somehow. Wes doubted that he would ever feel clean again. This was usually his favorite time of day; he was often out walking Crispy in the dark before the dawn. He loved the streets of the Village when there was no one around, when it felt like being on an empty stage that belonged to no one but him, but now it was spoiled. The coming of the daylight seemed ominous and bleak, as if the new day would set the night's events in stone — as if, should the night go on forever, there was still a chance that they could be undone. So long as he lingered out here in the night, somehow they would remain confined to the world of dream; if he entered the house and closed the door behind him, he would cut them adrift and give them their own independent life, where he would be helpless to direct a new outcome. Either way, he was fucked.
During the week, even at this hour, commuters often slowly prowled these blocks in their cars looking for free parking, but on a Saturday morning the streets of the neighborhood were deserted. A distant rumble of trucks from the avenue; the wind rising off the river rattled the few dry leaves still clinging to the ginkgos, which hissed and groaned with a sound of shale in the tide. A few late autumn clouds, underlit by the city, stood out against the magenta sky, and even as Wes watched began to turn from yellow-white to pink. A guy in a hoodie, shoulders hunched and hands in pockets, glanced up at Wes without breaking stride and was gone. Wes wondered what he himself would look like to a passer-by who knew nothing about him. Would he be mistaken for a junkie, a spurned lover, a homeless mental case? Wes generally spent a lot of time imagining what he looked like to other people, friends and strangers alike; he sometimes stood before a mirror and tried to see himself as others might, but it was useless. He was altogether invisible to himself, and he wondered briefly if this is what it felt like to be a vampire — dead to all hope, all eternity stretching out before him like a lifeless, frozen sea. All the girls he knew were reading Twilight; Wes would never go near a book like that, but he bet he could teach them a thing or two about loneliness and hopelessness. Wes moaned and dragged his palm across his face. One thing was certain: no stranger hurrying by at the foot of the stoop would be likely to take him for what he really was — a seventeen-year old boy who had just lost his virginity. He stood up, turned once more to the black, gleaming front door, fumbled in his coat for the keys, and let himself into the house.
No one had waited up for him, of course. All was dark in the front hall, except for the faint blue glow of a cabinet light in the kitchen and a splash of pre-dawn luminosity through the lead-paned fanlight. No sound but the slow settling of floorboards — too early, even, for the boiler to wake up in the basement — and the refrigerator humming to itself. Wes was home. Now the night was truly over; there was no turning back from its truths, or evading its consequences, because it no longer belonged to him. What he had done, the mistakes he had made, belonged forever now to the petrified past, the past of text-books and Wikipedia entries and Twitter logs. Wes could not pretend it had not happened; the whole school would know about it by Monday morning, and never, ever again—no matter how long he lived, no matter what he did or where he fled, until the day he died—would he be the person he had been on Friday morning, someone with a choice between two futures, bright with justified hope. Almost anyone Wes knew or could imagine in his position would be celebrating right now. How many fucking movies had he seen about desperate nerds with hearts of gold trying to get their dicks wet for the first time? And when they did—they always did, of course —everything changed for them. Everything changed for the better, naturally. Everybody Wes knew took their cues from movies like that— horny and pimply before, manly and reticent after. And the sorriest part about all this mess was that Wes had bought into the whole rite-of-passage thing too—a bold expression of self-confidence, a source of pleasurable memories from the very fountainhead of youth. I mean, he said to himself, have I or have I not just spent the night in bed with a beautiful, willing girl who chose me, and whose scent clings to me still? Am I or am I not a virgin any more, and will I or will I not be a virgin ever again for as long as I live? Did it really matter all that much that she happened to be the totally wrong girl?