I spent the last day of the summer before my senior year chained to Old Nellie, an ancient oak rooted down next to the park I practically lived at as a child. My best friend, Delaney, an active environmentalist and head editor of our school newspaper, had bribed the entire staff of Wyckoff High Times into protecting the tree with our bodies. She had failed to mention the fact that it was going to be on the last day of summer. Or, really, the fact that there was a definite possibility of going to jail. Turns out, I'm the only person besides her sister who stayed long enough to be chained down. Instead of spending our final day of freedom at the beach like everyone else, we sat on the ground getting bitten by fire ants while the construction workers threatening us spit at our feet. Delaney and her sister, Lindsay, made a game of counting the people who flipped us the bird as they passed. I lost track at twenty-seven, but Lindsay still swears it was in the hundreds. We stayed there until seven that evening, when my mother called asking if I'd gotten my hair cut (which I hadn't) and telling me I needed to come home because she had a surprise for me when she returned from the mall.
We left just before the sirens began going off. Delaney jumped into her van while Lindsay and I pushed it down the block until the engine caught and came alive. We ducked into the back of her rickety old car and drove away at the Volkswagon's top speed of fifty miles per hour, sweat dripping down our backs and an emptiness in the pit of our stomachs. We turned the corner before they started hacking away at the tree.
Thinking back on the day's events now, as Delaney chops off my chin length hair into something stylish she'd seen in a magazine and Lindsay dips fruit salad into bowls for the three of us, I realize something: This was the best day of my life.
"Lindsay, can you hand me the mousse?" Delaney's voice jars me out of my daze and I snap to attention just as the scissors she'd stolen from her mother's salon graze my forehead. "Dammit! Jeice, I told you to hold still. Scratch the mousse, Linds, find me some disinfectant spray and a bandage."
I reach up and touch my wet forehead tentatively, coming away with warm blood on my fingers. "How bad does it look?"
Lindsay dabbles at the cut with a wet wipe. "Oh, that's not bad at all. Your hair looks great, by the way." She leans forward and pinches the cut, squeezing more blood out of it and eliciting a grunt of pain from me.
"Oh, great," I mutter. "I'm so glad everyone's concerned with the fact that I'm hemorrhaging."
"Put pressure on it!" Delaney commands. She stamps a paper towel over my forehead and presses down until I'm sure she's left a bruise. "On a scale of one to ten, how bad does it hurt? Do you think you'll need stitches?"
I yank the paper towel off of my face and stomp into the bathroom, freezing when I flick on the lights and see my reflection in the mirror. My hair, which I had trained to cover my face so as not to draw attention to myself, has been completely obliterated. It's cut short all over and makes me look as though I've just rolled out of bed. It's a shock to see my face again. I'd started hiding my features when I became embarrassed of my weight, and sometime between eighth grade and now, I'd dropped eighty pounds and earned myself the same wicked cheekbones and full mouth my mother was blessed with. Genetics had given me my father's deep-set blue eyes and the eyelashes my mother claims made her fall in love with him. For the first time in my life, I actually look. . . Attractive.
Delaney and Lindsay bounce into the bathroom. One of them I'm not sure which smacks a Band-Aid with Angry Birds on it over the cut on my face and the other tousles my hair.
"Look," Lindsay croons, kissing my cheek, "Jeice Matthews is hot. With those mussy mahogany tresses and your bedroom eyes, it'll be impossible to keep men's hands of off you. Getting a whole new wardrobe will-"
Delaney claps a hand over her sister's mouth just as her words click in my head and the front door to my house bangs open. "Jeice, we're home!" my mother singsongs.
I barely hear her. I shove past my friends and tumble up the stairs and into my room, flipping on the lights and going still. The cherry wood floors are the same. My bed and the other furnishings haven't changed at all. The entire rooms stinks of fresh paint, explaining the shade of winter blue adorning my walls. A poster of Elton John I recall wishing for hangs on the wall across my bed; a few pictures of Delaney, Lindsay, and I are scattered around the room in picture frames. The bedspread has been changed to a weird Navajo print with a few matching stripes of blue throughout the mixture of colors. A coordinating rug is thrown lazily across the floor as if it has always been there. I swallow past a lump in my throat. My entire room, redone. Without my permission. And the worst part is, I actually love it.
All of a sudden, everything makes sense. The way my parents had shoved me out the door yesterday morning, then Delaney begging me to sleep over for a scary movie marathon last night. Something nips at my brain and I go across the room to my closet. I yank the doors open to empty shelves and a hanging rack full of hangers with nothing on them.
I don't even have time to be angry. Mom, Dad, Delaney, and Lindsay shuffle into my room carrying armloads of bags and boxes.
"Jeice, before you get mad, I can explain," my mom begins. She smiles sweetly and shifts the Hollister bags strapped across her arms. She ignores the fact that I have a five year old's bandage strapped across my forehead. "I love you, but I'm fucking sick of the black and the old T-shirts. We threw them out and gave your room a fresh look. It's an early graduation gift." She beams, glancing at the others for moral support.
Dad clears his throat awkwardly. "You're a damn good looking kid, Jeice. You just needed a haircut and a whole new wardrobe to top it off."
I wait for Delaney to butt in and say something inappropriate, but she doesn't. She stares hard at me for a long time, even after we've finished putting my things away and I've ushered them to the door for goodbyes. She hugs me fiercely, pulls away to give me one last long look, and dashes out the front door. I poke my head out and watch the only two friends I'd really ever had slip into their house next door. I knew that they would take their shoes off before touching the carpet, just like I knew they were probably arguing over who got first shower, trying to keep quiet so their dad wouldn't get angry over the noise.
Long after the lights have been turned out and I should've been asleep, Delaney calls.
She whispers into the receiver, which tells me that Lindsay is already asleep and doesn't know she's on the phone. I sit up in bed and lean back against my headboard, peering up at my ceiling in the darkness.
"Hey, Jeice, I won't keep you up long," she say quietly, "I just wanted to know if you remember the time that jerk in our grade, Tobias Sutton, asked me to the sophomore winter formal and then ditched me for another girl."
I blink, thinking back to that night. Delaney had worn a dark green mermaid style dress to that dance. Her strawberry blonde hair hung curly and loose around her shoulders, reminiscent of Taylor Swift. She'd looked stunning. I asked Lindsay to go with me since Delaney had obviously told Joe yes. He was and still is the most popular guy in school, no one would turn him down. We were at the dance long enough for Tobey's last ex to tell Delaney he was ditching her to sleep with his current conquest. Instead of dancing, Lindsay and I spent the evening with Delaney while she sobbed in bed. "Yeah, why?"
"Just come to the newspaper meeting during homeroom tomorrow and I'll tell you more about it. I think I found a way to get back at him and to make our amazing senior newspaper just as good as it should be. And hey," she says quickly, "you're still gay, right?"
I frown. "Being gay isn't something you can turn on and off, Lane. You know that."
"Just checking. Be ready by seven in the morning. We're going out for breakfast before school and I don't want you to forget again. Night, Jeice."
"Night." I set my phone back in its place on my nightstand and crawl across my bed to peek out the window. I can barely make out Delaney, doing the same. Her dark form gives a small wave and dives back onto the bed in an instant. I stretch out across my bed. Within ten seconds of closing my eyes, I'm out.
I don't dream about what my being gay has to do with Tobey Sutton or why it's going to make our year as the senior staff of the newspaper amazing. Instead, I dream of Old Nellie chaining the construction workers to the machines and lurching away in the night, her giant roots dragging rifts through the pavement and leaving dirt and debris in her wake.
By the time I wake up in the morning, Delaney's words are a distant memory in my head.
If you like it, leave a review! And for those of you who weren't entire sure of Jeice's sex (cough, REB, cough) he's a boy.
I'm sending lots of love out there to everyone reading.