Brittany Murphy's face was puffy and pallid, her eyes open, not blinking, and her body swayed back and forth slowly from where it hung from the tie of her robe from the shower faucet. In the doorway Winona Ryder cowered in shock and horror, her hands covering her mouth, sobbing loudly. A blonde Angelina Jolie smirked, stuffed Brittany's wallet in her pocket, and strode past Winona out the door, not looking bothered at all by the dead girl dangling behind her.1

Amy, Brooke, and I weren't too bothered either. In fact, we giggled, nudging each other, from where we sat watching shoulder to shoulder on Amy's bed.2

"She looks like a boy," Brooke said, indicating Winona, and Amy and I laughed. I thought that she was pretty, but her hair was too short. It was Angelina Jolie that all three of us were really fascinated by; for twelve-year-old girls, two of them who were still wearing training bras, she was the embodiment of coolness and sexiness that we admired and hoped to emulate. 3

"SHE would never kill herself," I said, pointing to Angelina's retreating back, "she likes herself way too much to kill herself."4

Amy snorted, grinning, her eyes glinting behind her glasses as she said with relish, "No, she likes what's between her legs too much to kill herself."5

It was always Amy who took the talk a step further, daring to push past the tentative boundaries we set for ourselves. As Brooke snickered, I smiled too, but I was a little uncomfortable. I wasn't yet ready to think of anyone having sex, even someone as obviously sexual and remote from me as Angelina Jolie.6

"I bet she does it with anyone," Amy persisted, "I bet she has a million boyfriends. AND girlfriends. You saw the way she was kissing Susanna."7

"That was Lisa," I said in mild protest, confused then as to whether Amy was talking about Angelina Jolie or her character, Lisa, in Girl Interrupted. But Amy dismissed me with a wave of her hand and a shake of her head.8

"All the famous people do. She's got to. Look at her boobs!"9

When we were twelve, merely having breasts was considered such an asset and indication of physical and sexual maturity that it was assumed by most our age that girls who had them would automatically attract attention and dates from the boys. Even much younger girls assumed this theory to be true. Earlier in the day, when Amy, Brooke,and I had played "fashion show" with Amy's nine-year-old sister, Jane, her friend Emily, and her six-year-old sister, Alicia. Amy and Jane had talked me into trying on one of Jade's dresses and Amy's mother's red stilettos. As the heaviest of the girls and the only one to have a 34B bra size rather than a training bra or a 32AA, it was a tight squeeze for me to fit into the younger, prepubescent Jane's dress at all, and the result was almost obscene. The other girls, however, were delighted by the effect.10

"God, you look so hot, Lee!" Amy squealed, and Jane too, despite the fact that I was straining her dress at the seams, was impressed.11

"I bet Lee has a lot of boyfriends," she remarked, but the truth was that I had never so much as kissed a boy before. It was Amy who sat on her boyfriend's lap in front of us at the seventh grade lunch hour, who smiled with superiority as his hand not-so-subtly crept under her shirt and groped her nearly nonexistent breasts while the rest of us tried to ignore them and eat our peanut butter sandwiches, our ears burning with embarrassment, some indignation, and admittedly some envy at Amy's good fortune to be wanted. 12

"Not really," I said to Jane, rather than elaborate much more on this, and Amy said enthusiastically, "You definitely win for sexiest. Dad! Dad, look at Lee!"13

Amy's father had been coming down the hall, heading presumably towards the bathroom, and as he stopped, his gaze slowly raking over me, I felt my shoulders round in, my cheeks flushing slightly. I felt suddenly very exposed, as though Jane's dress was see-through rather than simply snug. As her father smiled slowly, his voice came out in nearly a drawl.14

"Well, well…you look very nice, Lee, very grown-up…much too grown up."15

There was nothing critical in his tone, however; if anything he seemed to like my appearance, and the other girls did not notice my discomfort. If anything, they drew even more attention to me.16

"She's wearing my dress, Daddy," said Jane, and Amy pointed out, "Yeah, and Mom's shoes."17

Six-year-old Alicia, who was wearing a frilly tutu and a tiara, tugged on her father as well, performing a clumsy twirl. "Look at me too, Daddy!"18

"You all look very nice…very beautiful," their father said as his gaze landed on each of us, but it felt like he looked at me the longest. Even as awkward as I felt, I was pleased…I wondered if he thought I looked sexy.19

I didn't know Amy's father very well; I rarely saw him when I spent the night with her, and the only time I'd ever seen him in church with them was the day their family joined as members. When he was around, Amy, Jane, and Alicia were always practically dancing around him, trying to get his attention and approval. Amy had told me with pride how protective her father was of her with boys, how he would make her kneel down when she wore a skirt to see if the hem touched the floor. If it didn't, she said, he would not let her wear it. I didn't see how this could be true, since both Amy and Jane had gotten in trouble at school for wearing clothes that went against the dress code. Plus, if he was so against them dressing sexy, then why didn't he tell me to take off Jane's clothes? Just because I wasn't his daughter?20

I didn't worry about it too much. I knew Amy lied a lot, and it was part of being friends with her to sometimes just act like I believed her anyway.21

"I hope my boobs come in soon," Brooke announced, drawing my attention back to the two of them with me on Amy's bed. "Lee had it right, I don't' have ANYTHING."22

She was referring to early in the day, when Alicia had pestered the rest of us into playing dolls with her. We had taken out her baby dolls and pretended to be their parents, picking celebrities from Amy's "hottie board" to be their fathers- never mind that each of the men were at least ten years older than us, often married, and lived on the other side of the country. As Brooke had held Alicia's doll to her chest, announcing that she was breast feeding it, I had blurted out, "On WHAT?" Although Brooke had laughed, I had felt bad after I said it, knowing she probably didn't' really find it all that funny.23

"Neither does Amy, but Kyle doesn't mind," I muttered, and Amy elbowed me with a glare and a fast glance at her door.24

"Shut up, Lee! I do too. And anyway, my mom or sister might hear you."25

"Your mom is so clueless," Brooke snickered, "when Jane said you had a boyfriend, she said it was okay for you to hold HANDS."26

"My mom was still playing Barbies when she was my age, and not because she had a little sister either," Amy rolled her eyes. "I bet no one even kissed her until she was fourteen or something. Look, look what I've got- watch the door though, don't let them come in!"27

She jumped up, pausing the movie, and went to her closet, digging around on the floor until she emerged with two long white things in her hand that looked to me like skinny balloons. I didn't know what she had and looked at them blankly, but Brooke gasped, her eyes widening. 28

"Is that- you have CONDOMS?"29

"Shh!" Amy said fiercely, her eyes darting towards the door. "Yeah. Don't tell anyone."30

I blinked, as shocked as Brooke, but trying not to show it. I had read about condoms and knew what they were used for, but I'd never seen one in person before. For some reason I hadn't pictured them looking like the objects in Amy's hand. She was supposed to fit a whole weiner in there? She wanted SEX? She didn't even have her period yet! With who- Kyle?31

I cringed inwardly at the mental images that arose at this thought and hurriedly joined Brooke in her questioning. . 32

"Where did you GET those, Amy?"33

"My cousin had some in her drawer, so I took some," Amy shrugged, her voice casual, as if this were no big deal, even as she watched us closely, a little smile on her lips, seeming pleased by our stunned reaction. "I'm saving them for prom night."34

"Amy, we're not even going to be in high school for two more years," I pointed out. "What if your mom finds them?"35

"She won't," Amy shrugged, tossing her hair back behind her shoulders. It was very long, tawny in color, and with her long, sinewy limbs, I had always thought she looked like a lioness. "And anyway, if I don't use them on prom night, then I'll have it for whenever else."36

I eyed the condoms in her hand, then looked back up at Amy, my brow furrowing. They were unwrapped, and I wondered if they would expire somehow, in this condition, before she actually used them, but I didn't want to sound stupid by asking. It was still blowing my mind that Amy even had the condoms, let alone that she was planning to use them. I knew I felt I should wait until marriage to have sex, and as curious as I was about it, sex just didn't sound fun to me anyway, or anything but embarrassing. Amy would be in so much trouble if her mom knew she had those.37

Brooke hesitantly took one of the condoms from Amy and poked her fingers inside it, giggling when she made it stretch. "You couldn't fit a very big weiner in there, Amy!"38

Amy snorted, taking the other condom to stretch as Brooke was, and spoke with smug assurance. "You'd be surprised…sometimes the guy stretches it out so far it breaks."39

Brooke laughed loudly, Amy joining in, both glancing quickly towards the door as they continued to play with the condoms. I took one from Amy and stretched it as well, also laughing, but I didn't really find all of this very funny. I wondered why Amy was talking about breaking condoms like she knew what she was talking about, when she couldn't. She hadn't had sex yet. She couldn't even date Kyle outside of school. She was just acting like she knew.40

But it was hard to tell with Amy sometimes.41

The rest of the evening passed with typical preteen silliness; Amy, Brooke and I messed around with Alicia's American Girl computer game, making silly plays that made us snort with laughter. We counted how many times Amy could make herself burp after two glasses of Pepsi (answer: 47) and when it grew close to midnight, we tore apart Amy's closet for her slinkiest outfits and wore them in her room as we gyrated as sexily as we knew how to, singing along with the likes of No Doubt and Pink. 43

This was around the time that Jane, Emily, and Alicia wanted to join in; when we allowed Jane and Emily but excluded Alicia, telling her she was too young, she started to cry and rattled Amy's doorknob. And that was when their mother came to the doorway, pounded on the door, and told us all to turn off the music and get ready for bed.44

OF course, telling six girls, five of them preteens, to go to sleep is never a successful venture on the first go round, and although we changed into pajamas, brushed our teeth, and set up a row of sleeping bags in the loft of Amy and Alicia's bedroom, we had no intention of sleeping yet. Within an hour our talking and giggling had grown to the point where their mother came in, standing in the doorway of Amy's room, and called up to us in the loft to go to sleep. This quieting didn't last very long either; although Alicia fell asleep, the rest of us remained wide awake, flipping through magazines, talking about Amy's and Jane's boyfriends, and telling ghost stories. 45

A second warning from their mother woke Alicia, and their mother was more irritable this time. She took Alicia down the ladder of the loft to sleep in bed with her and her husband, despite Alicia's shrill protests that she wasn't tired and it wasn't fair. When Emily fell asleep soon after, it was decided with much whispering and giggling that Jane would retrieve shaving cream from her parents' bathroom, so we could draw on Emily's face while she slept with it. We waited with excitement as Jane snuck out of the room, heartbeats racing, grinning with excitement, and when Jane's feet pounded down the hall a few moments later and she scurried up the ladder, panting but beaming, shaving cream in hand, we nearly woke Emily and defeated the purpose of the endeavor with our laughter. 46

"My dad caught me!" she gasped, her eyes glinting brightly even in the darkness of the room. "I think he's coming in!"47

Sure enough, the door to Amy's bedroom opened a minute or so later, and an adult form filled the doorway, his voice sounding softly up towards us as he leaned against the door, stretching one arm up over his head and exhaling deeply.48

"What in the world are you up to, girls?" 49

The first thing I noticed, beyond Amy's father's presence in general, was that he was wearing boxers…only boxers. Standing before us with his bare, hair chest exposed, he smiled up at us, seemingly not at all uncomfortable that four young girls, two of them not his own, were seeing him in this state. My ears burned, and I looked away in embarrassment. I heard Brooke giggle nervously beside me and knew she was staring; I thought to myself with some shock that he must be sleeping in bed with Alicia like that, in only his underwear.50

But Amy and Jane didn't seem to find any of this to be abnormal. They just giggled, neither embarrassed nor shocked.51

"Hi, Daddy!" Jane said, and Amy took the shaving cream from her, holding it up for him to see.52

"We were just getting this to put on Emily," she said in a loud whisper, nodding at Jane's sleeping friend, and her father's smile widened as he came further into the room, shutting the door behind him as he approached the bottom of the loft's ladder, looking up at us.53

"You girls shouldn't do that…you girls should be nice to each other," he said, but he was smiling, his voice mild.54

"Did I wake up Mom?" Jane asked, and he nodded; I thought how annoyed and angry my own father would be in his place, but Amy's and Jane's dad didn't seem to mind. He seemed like he thought this was funny, even if their mother didn't. . 55

"Your mother is getting annoyed, girls," he said, " she wants you to go to sleep. But we'll make a deal here. You can stay up at late as you want, as long as you're quiet, and we won't tell her a thing, just like usual, okay?"56

Amy and Jane grinned, agreeing, and Brooke nodded too, but I was focused on the last part of what he had said, about this being like usual. Did their dad always let them stay up late and tell them mom they were asleep?57

I didn't have time to ponder on this for long though, because their father began to climb the ladder of the loft then, not stopping until he was standing on the rungs high enough that his entire bare torso was at our eye level. As he propped his elbows, still smiling, and looked at us, it seemed to me that there was nowhere for me to look except his chest and the low-slung waistband of his boxers. I was mortified as I bit the inside of my cheeks, praying that my face wasn't turning red- what if he thought I had a crush on him or something, eww…58

It occurred to me as their father's eyes came to rest on me that I had not only removed my bra when I had put on my pajamas, but also carelessly flung it at the foot of my sleeping bag, where he could doubtless see. What if he knew it was MINE?!59

I wanted to snatch it up and stuff it into my sleeping bag, but that would be even more embarrassing, so I suffered in silent humiliation, hoping the lighting was too dim for him to see my expression. I doubted this, since I could see him well enough.60

"You know, girls," he said softly, his voice slow, as he let his eyes settle on us as a whole, "You girls here are the most beautiful girls in the whole world to me. Each of you is so special…all the most beautiful girls in the world to me are right here, right in this room."61

There was nothing wrong with the words; they were nice, although certainly not true, as out of all of us, only Jane could be considered a beautiful child. It was the way he said them, the quality of his tone, the fact that he was speaking them at 2 am, while clad only in his underwear, when he barely knew me, Brooke, or Emily at all…and what about Alicia, who was not in the room, what about his wife? Weren't they the most beautiful girls in the world to him too?62

I said nothing; I could not put this into words. I could not even clarify what about the situation, other than their father's unclad state, made me uneasy, not then. Beside me Brooke smiled uncertainly, and I shifted as he spoke each of our names in turn, even Emily's, though she remained asleep.63

"Amy…Jane…Brooke…Emily…Lee," he said, his eyes resting on each girl as he spoke her name, and I averted my eyes, hoping my breasts didn't stick out too obviously in their braless state. "The most beautiful girls in the world."64

The other girls giggled, and I tried to smile. Amy moved suddenly, squirting a line of shaving cream onto her father's bare chest, flattening her hand against it and rubbing it in as she grinned up at him mischeviously…but something about the way she looked at him reminded me of how she looked at Kyle. Like she wasn't just teasing, but flirting. With her FATHER? My father and I rarely touched, not since I had developed breasts, so I did not know if this was within the realm of normal familial affection or not, but it seemed very strange to me.65

Her father just smiled, not scolding her or pushing her away as my father would have done, and Amy squirted him again, laughing louder. Jane crawled over quickly and joined her sister in smearing the shaving cream across his chest, laughing gleefully. Even Brooke joined them after a few moments, tentatively poking her finger into his chest. Only Emily and I, who was waking, sitting up and squinting in confusion, hung back. I felt awkward to be watching this, bewildered by what seemed to me to be crossing all lines of how an adult should behave. But a part of me also felt like they must all think I was strange for not laughing, for not joining in.66

When Amy's mother's voice called out sharply, her father finally motioned the girls back, grinning broadly as he shook his head at them.67

"Oops…gotta get back to her, guess I'll take a shower first though…"68

He paused, his eyes raking over us one last time, and then said in a lower tone. "Now remember our deal, girls…keep it down now. You don't' want me to get in trouble."69

Amy and Jane kissed their father on the lips as they bid him goodnight, and I remained silent as I watched him descend the ladder and exit out the door. Our talking quickly resumed, though more quietly than before, but I was less vocal. Something about what had happened bothered me, and it was persistent enough that I was the last to drift into sleep.70

Nearly ten years have passed; I no longer know of or keep in contact with any of the girls present on that night. My friendship with Amy began to unravel by the time we were 13, as she became promiscuous and often cruel. When Amy was 15, Jane, 12, and Alicia, almost 9, their parents divorced, and the girls and their mother moved away. I have not seen or spoken with any of them since.72

The best friend of my middle school years, I often think of Amy and her sisters and wonder where they are, what they have become. I wish them the best, but a part of me doubts that they have it. And when I think of Amy, my mind often detours to the encounters of that day, and I wonder if my discomfort at the time was for a better subconscious reason than I could fully consider at that time.73

It's a truth I'll never know, and almost don't want to, and it is very possible that in hindsight, I make too much of the issue, twisting a self-conscious preteen's account into an exaggeration of a man's playful encounters with his daughters and their friends. I only know that when I think of Amy and Jane and their behaviors, of their father's smile and the sound of his voice as he told us we were the most beautiful girls in the world, that I am not surprised that he and his wife divorced.