"So, how was it?" asked Amy.
She'd caught me before the bell rang for first period Monday as I loitered in the courtyard. I'd planned on spending the day avoiding her and Raeanne – Rae especially. The knowledge I'd unearthed last night was still settling in my brain. I didn't know what to think about her, or Melissa, or even Drew. I didn't know enough about the situation yet.
I smiled to myself. "It was good."
"Aw!" Amy jumped up and down, clapping her hands together. I firmly grabbed her shoulder, keeping her on the ground. "It's so cute! Are you guys serious now?"
"It was one date, Amy," I said. People glanced at her warily, and then turned back to their groups of friends. "It really wasn't anything spectacular." That was a lie, a big fat lie.
"Oh, come on," she said, sitting down on the ledge. She pulled me down beside her. "Spill. Tell me everything."
I raised my eyebrows and gazed out among the field. "We went out to the movies and then he took me out for coffee."
She curled a ringlet of her hair around her finger, watching as it glinted copper shades in the sun. "Did you kiss him on the first date?"
"I am not at liberty to discuss this."
"You slut!" She shouted, pointing at me, her eyes wide. Heads turned in our direction, eyebrows raised. I clamped my hand over her mouth firmly.
"Shut up!" I hissed.
"Sorry," she groused between my fingers. I released her head from my grasp. "I can't contain myself, okay?"
It wasn't even her business and she was excited. What a busybody. The bell chimed overhead. "Where are you headed?" I asked.
"Theater," she said, heading to the right. "See you at lunch," she called over her shoulder. "We can see what Raeanne has to say."
The blonde was tightlipped in first period. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, taking notes in an orderly fashion. Our eyes never met. I felt like she was ignoring me. Hell, she probably was. I was dating someone that she had a past with – not a romantic one, but definitely a bad one. She had no reason to talk to me, right? I was a traitor.
Whatever, I thought to myself, sucking on the inside of my cheek. She has Melissa and I have Drew.
I was probably just overreacting. She'd probably just had trouble getting to sleep. Maybe her mother was on another binge. Besides – she didn't even like me. All of this sexual frustration I thought was going on between us was nothing more than a drummed up fantasy, the product of too many nights spent watching crap romance movies on cable and standing by awkwardly as my peers acted sappy and lovesick. The only relationship I'd even been in was one full of sex – no wonder I was always thinking about it.
I still liked her. I knew I did. As I examined her face in my peripheral vision, I could still feel that familiar rush of energy as I watched her move. I was still just as obsessed as ever, and that was the worst feeling in the world.
I didn't want to like her anymore. I wanted it to go away. I'd tried to make the feelings stop, but still, here they were, threatening to ruin everything. Was it possible to just install a switch for your emotions, a simple on and off?
Her hair is dumb, I told myself. Who dyes their hair blue anymore, anyway? And she's too skinny. And too pale. And her teeth are nasty.
They were all lies. I liked her blue hair. I liked her skinny hips and bony wrists. I liked her milk white skin. And her gapped teeth were cute.
I snapped the point of my pencil and walked across the room to sharpen it. It wasn't fair for me to lead Drew along if I had no intention of staying with him. I had to get over this ridiculous lesbian crush I had going on. Obviously Rae wasn't interested – she had a girlfriend. Or, she had a one night stand who didn't get the hint. Either way, it was clear that I wasn't the one she wanted.
Melissa was in my spot at the table. Forcing pleasantries with her, I crammed in between Amy and Drew. I munched on a tater tot, observing as Melissa giggled at a joke Raeanne was telling Amy. It took me a few minutes before I realized that this was an incredibly awkward set-up – Drew, his ex, and the girl his ex cheated on him with, all shoved onto a lunch table together. Not to mention me, the new girlfriend, and Amy, the casual observer.
"Drew," I said quietly so no one else at the table could hear. "Do you want to sit somewhere else?"
Before he could answer me, Melissa was standing, declaring that she had to meet with a guidance counselor. Thank you, Jesus. I praised the Gods above for this moment of luck I'd happened to have received as she flounced off, her hair waving backwards in the wind like the flag of a pirate ship.
"Never mind," I said with a grin. He smiled back at me, opening my soda with a crack and a fizz, sipping it, and then kissing me right on my lips in front of everyone.
Amy grinned as my face flushed a deep lobster red, waggling her eyebrows upwards like a villain in a bad vaudeville.
"Here's a tip, Ame," Raeanne said, drawing the attention away from the two of us with a snap of her thin fingers. "Couples don't like being watched when they're sucking face."
My cheeks reddened even deeper. "That wasn't what I was doing," I said defensively, stirring corn and mashed potatoes together without realizing what I was doing. I set the Spork down and stared her in the eye. "Shut up, Raeanne."
One of her eyebrows flickered upwards deviously, her eyes gleaming in the sunlight, shiny and as blue as the sky above. She reminded me of a big cat going in for the kill. "What? He never kissed you before?"
She was just picking on me, I knew it. But it was unfair. I hadn't picked on her when Melissa had started skulking around our table – neither had Amy. Of course, we'd talked about it amongst ourselves, but that was different. Rae probably didn't even know – and if she did, she didn't care. Couldn't Raeanne have the decency to make fun of me behind my back, like every other respectable teenage girl?
"Raeanne," Amy cautioned. Her voice was like a slap on the wrist, harsh and stinging.
The blonde and blue haired girl smirked, keeping her eyes on my face for a few seconds longer as if to challenge me, but then shrugged, turning to Amy and beginning a conversation about something due for class. I breathed a sigh of relief, taking a sip of the Coke Drew had opened.
"Sorry," I mouthed to him, popping a tot into my mouth and chewing.
He shrugged. "No harm, no foul." His smile brightened his face tenfold, the dimple showing slightly.
He'd met me outside of Biology to walk me to lunch, looping his arm around mine and twining his fingers with mine. It felt nice, walking down the hallway like that, seeing people notice that we were a "couple."
Were we a couple? It had only been one date. I didn't want to label it in fear that once the situation was defined, it'd become too weird. But I was still curious – what were we? My only previous relationship – with Mitch – wasn't the most conventional. Anything seemed better than what we had had going on. I didn't know. I just wanted to stop thinking so much and just let things come naturally. Everything that was bothering me would even itself out, anyway, eventually.
That evening, I sat on the glider on the porch, using one foot to make it swing. Emeline and Jonathan were cooking – smells wafted from the open door. Their laughter tinkled like music, the sounds of food sizzling in pans.
The temperature was dropping by the minute – the sun was lowering itself below the horizon. I pushed the glider back with both feet, listening it to it squeak as it swung me forward. I was tired, slightly depressed, and completely confused.
"I'm going for a walk," I called through the door.
"Okay," was Emeline's reply from the kitchen.
I stepped out into the yard. We still hadn't taken down our Halloween decorations – our lawn was dotted with gravestones. Ghosts made of flowing, sheer white fabric hung on the porch, rustled by the wind.
Across the street, one of the twins was throwing a basketball. He waved at me, sinking the ball into the hoop. Obviously he had his sisters' skill at the game. I waved back, calling over to him that he had a good arm.
Rae was kicked off the team until her GPA was a 3.0. I felt bad for her. Things weren't going in her favor lately. We'd talked after lunch – she wanted me to come over this weekend to help her out with school work.
I walked down the sidewalk, my hands stuck in my pockets. The wind was picking up, churning the gray clouds in the sky.
The beach was almost empty. A few late-evening joggers ran parallel to the surf, not touching the water. I sat down in my familiar bench, staring at the sea.
November first. It was my mother's birthday. I hadn't told anyone about it – I'm sure it would've been an awkward topic to discuss. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be with her. Even if she was high or low, I just wanted to see her again.
When she was alive, part of me had always thought that one day she would sober up and we would have a normal relationship. It might take months, or years, but I was sure it would happen. I knew she'd die, but I knew it'd be after our reconciliation.
What had I known? My mother was worm dirt in the ground. She'd killed herself – too miserable to look forward to anything, not even her young, wayward daughter, "full of potential." Had she not thought that one day she'd get better? Maybe it was just a childish dream that she would be a mother one day. Maybe she had known the truth – that once you're an addict, you're an addict for life.
They'd talked about it in Health class, a painful September day when the rain came down in torrential downpours, threatening to flood the earth itself. People put a call out for a guy named Noah, crafty in building arks. Stratsfeld had strained to be heard above the din of rain. She'd told the class that after an addict stops doing their addictive activity, life became a game of hiding from triggers.
Stratsfeld said that once you stopped drugs, or alcohol, you had to limit your time doing anything addictive. Shopping, gambling, sex. Life's motto became moderation.
Maybe my mother had looked into getting sober, saw the harsh truth, and decided that death was the only way out. That seemed like her, a snap decision made with no further thinking. Or maybe it was an accident – that was what the hospital had ruled it as. Just another drug addict making the worst mistake.
I hadn't thought of my mother lately. She'd been on the back burner. I'd been busy with boys, school, typical teenager stuff. I felt bad, as if I were neglecting her and her memory. I wasn't supposed to get over this. I was supposed to live with her death forever, managing my life around it awkwardly.
I leaned back against the bench, sliding down to rest the base of my skull against the back of the seat.
I missed my mother. I missed her so much. I never thought I would, but now that I had been settled without her, it was becoming more and more obvious just the size of what I had lost with her death. I had Emeline, I had Adam. I had Jonathan, Rae, Drew, and Amy. I wasn't alone, right?
I had no family, no good memories. I didn't have anyone I could truly be honest with. But I wasn't alone. Right?