My mother makes me pancakes Tuesday morning.
"I'm not going to work," she says. "You want one or two?"
"Why not?" I ask. "Two please."
"I quit." She shivers, eyelids fluttering. "I am done with that. I'm going to write."
I blink at her. "You write?"
"I'm an alcoholic!" she exclaims, picking up her Fuji water bottle and swishing it side to side. "Of course I write." She flips pancakes onto my plate, then onto her plate, and sits down next to me. "Poetry, mostly."
Hi, her name is Martha, she is an alcoholic.
"Poetry? Like Mary Oliver?" Winter gave me a book of her poetry after we got back together. It's still sitting on my dresser, half read and already dog-eared, highlighted, marked up with stupid notes— some mine, some his.
"Probably not. I swear a lot," my mother says. "You know how people are depressed and they get meds?"
"Most people have a good reason to be depressed." My mother sits next to me and takes a bite of pancake. "I'm becoming slowly sicker of this life."
Without thinking, I grab her wrist. "Don't, mum."
She twists away and cuts up a bite of pancake with her fork. Red syrup oozes around her plate. "Tea, sweetie, don't worry. I just mean I need a change. After you graduate, I'm joining Peace Corps or something. Something that might demand my attention at strange hours of the night. I'm excited. Take that, empty nest."
I tilt my head. "What about dad?" I nibble at my pancakes. They are good.
She shrugs. "Not sure yet. He can come, he can stay. Whichever. I'm not the person he married. I'm not even the person I was at Thanksgiving." She shakes her head. "I really shouldn't be telling you this sort of thing. Parents are supposed to be perfect."
"Nobody's perfect," I tell her lamely.
"Good," says my mother. "Remember that. When you have children. Wait, are you going to have children?"
"Winter likes them, I think. I don't know if I do. Cambodia has a lot of snakes."
"And starving orphans. That'll count as a 'maybe'." My mother stirs the air with her fork. "Anyway. Remember that." She drinks soundly from her water bottle and tilts her head back, swallowing. "Pancakes are good, right?"
"I applied to the community college this morning," Brittany tells me. She holds out her hollowed out light bulb, and I take it because there is something bad ass about looking like a crack addict. "I'm going to bum around buying weed off Danny for the rest of my goddamned life."
"No. Just for a year." She shakes her head. "I'm not sure what I'm afraid of any more."
We're cross-legged on her bed, surrounded by posters of rock stars dead too young and feminists with cans of spray paint. Music is playing, but I can't place it.
I breath a smokeless sigh. "Your girlfriend is going to die. Of course you're afraid."
"No," Brittany shakes her head. "It's not that. That's inevitable. I'm afraid that I'm going to leave her because I can't handle it."
I loop an arm around her. "I think that's normal."
"Probably. You know what else is normal? Spiders." She runs a a hand made of spindly fingers through her hair, arranging it around her shoulders. "But I don't much like those either."
"It's okay. Me neither."
She shakes her head and pets my hair. "You," she tells me. "You are...exciting and brave. I love you."
I take long sips of smoke and let it sit in my lungs until I grow dizzy. I lean against Brittany. The music whirls around us, surrounding us in its little cocoon of sadness, only it's not our sadness and that makes it all right.
"You know what would be awesome?"
"If the world were to end right now." Brittany nods sagely. "I think it wouldn't be so bad." She heaves sighs that smell like the earth and burning buildings. "What's the last thing you said to Winter?"
"I love you."
"See?" Brittany throws up her hands. "Last thing I said to Martina was...well, it was actually 'you are beautiful like a Betazoid princess'. But that is beside the point. I think I could go out having said that."
"You wouldn't understand our love." He stretches out on her lime green sheets and stares at her ceiling. Her fingers spread out, spindly and long. "I'm getting existential again, aren't I?"
"It's actually sounding a bit more nihilist tonight, actually."
"Oh. Good. I've been looking for a change."
Ice cream. We go and get ice cream, he and I.
I listened all night to sad stories. Gina's husband left her with six kids. Micah's mother beat him his entire life. Tina's baby is just dead for no reason. Winter doesn't talk at all.
"Give me a bite of that," he demands, pointing at my rocky road. Without waiting for my refusal, he opens his mouth like a baby bird and squeezes his blue eyes shut.
I dropped him off at his house and drove home, but twenty minutes later I was climbing out a window to meet him all over again.
I feed him tiny bites of chocolate ice cream. "You should have gotten this instead of...whatever you've got."
"Butter pecan," he scolds. "And I like butter pecan. I just like rocky road too." He swallows, sticks out his tongue. "You're too kind, really Tea."
I am too kind. "De nada."
He holds out a tiny spoonful of his ice cream to me. He eats with sample spoons, and he's still finishing faster than me. I take the bite. "You're cute," he tells me. His legs swing.
We are outside, perched on the edge of a ledge to stare out at the sea. It rolls in and out with practised rhythm. The moon is slowly beginning over the top of the horizon. It is white in the great black sky. "You're cute too," I say. "Why don't you talk in group?"
"Nothing to say." He takes another tiny bite of ice cream. "But if I don't go, I end up calling you. You're not a drug substitute." He shakes his head until the hair falls into his face. "It'd be cruel to make you that."
I shrug. "What're lovers for then?"
Winter shakes his head. "I don't know. Not that. I've never been in love before."
The new paleness of his features stands out against the night.
My entire body feels electric, surrounded by stars, out past my curfew. "Me neither," I confess.
"What about that Nathan boy?" He looks at me, arching one eyebrow as if to challenge a lie that I have told. "You were in love with him, weren't you?"
"No," I say. I shake my head. I am convincing myself now. He is an extension of me now, just for this part of the conversation. "I don't think I was. I feel only pain when I think about him. Shouldn't you feel happy when you remember being in love?"
Winter scrapes the bottom of his little paper cup. "Maybe. I'm sure I'll always be happy when I think about you."
"Love is permanent, I think. Not relationships. Just love."
He loops an arm around me, and my body hums. My stomach is taut with excitement. This is the feeling of stolen kisses and sneaking out and being harmlessly delinquent. This is the feeling of being a teenager and everything sucks but at least I have someone with whom to share the suckitude.
This is the feeling of falling in love in front of an entire school during a shoddy, poorly planned campaign for school office.
He kisses me. Our mouths are cold, sweet. Winter pulls back, his entire face framed by black hair that flies in all directions, free with salty ocean air. With only the tiniest ring of blue around them, I can see my reflection in his huge, glassy pupils.
His eyes squeeze shut and he laughs, embarrassed by something that I can't see.
"I'll remember being in love with you forever."
Martina is at the door. "My sister isn't here," I tell her.
"Yeah, I know." She peers at me through scruffy brown bangs. "I wanted to see you."
I slide out of the house and lean against the front door. "Really? How's everything?" My eyes dance over her: it's been less than a week since I've seen her, but she seems infinitely smaller, like a wilting flower. "You look good."
She smiles at my polite dishonesty. "You too, Tea."
We end up making ramen and eating it on the lawn with black plastic forks stolen from a fast food restaurant.
She slurps the noodles slowly. "I'm excited for summer," she says. "And prom. I think I can convince Brit to take me to prom."
"I hate prom. Winter and I just sat there trying to not cry as this group of girls wailed about decorations." I shiver at the memory. "I am unexcited. I think we're going to just do something delinquent together. Sneak into an R rated movie or something, even though we can technically get in without an adult anyway."
Martina smiles at me and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm sure you guys will have fun," she informs me.
We lean back on the grass. There are clouds that look like bunnies.
"This whole business has been very dramatic," I say after a while. Cars on the street drive by, one after another. Mostly minivans. "People should be jealous of our junior year."
"The teenage phenomenon," says Martina. She tosses her hair back.
I look over at her. "Say what?"
"We always think that we've got the most interesting lives." Martina shrugs. "When really nothing happens."
"Stuff happened," I return. I knew it happened. I was there for it.
She is making a chain from the dandelions growing on my lawn, fingers struggling to push one into another into another. The grass hasn't been mowed in ages. When it is a long, wide necklace, she puts it over my neck.
"Well. We think stuff happened. Hence, it is a phenomenon. As opposed to its opposite." She beams at me. Her teeth glitter.
"Is this an excuse to look smart?"
"Okay. What's the opposite of a phenomenon?"
Martina grins at me. "A noumenon. It's a thing as it is, outside of objective senses." She points at me with a fork. "Nothing about the teenage experience is objective."
I take the flower chain off and drape it around her neck.
For a phenomenon, it wasn't bad.
Even though I referred to this story as 'My Little One Eyed Bastard Child' throughout its existence, I'm still sad to see it go.
Also, the ending was kind of horrible.
As of right now, I clock in with 145 reviews. Not a bad run.
Thanks to my friends and reviewers. You guys are awesome.
I'm not actually...going anywhere. Which makes this a lot less dramatic.