Brenna Chews It Out

Shannon Robbins was accustomed to his friend Brenna Hunnicutt chewing her nails. She seemed to do it all the time and her mother frequently admonished her for not stopping the disgusting habit.

Sometimes Brenna would fight the urge by sitting on her hands or keeping them stuffed in her pockets but invariably (usually when her mother wasn't around) Brenna would be gnawing on her fingertips like a beaver on a log.

"How long have you been doing that?" Shannon asked one day as they sat on Brenna's couch watching television in the cellar family room.

"Since fifth grade," Brenna answered.

"We're fourteen now," Shannon remarked. "High school freshmen."

"Old habits are hard to break," she shrugged, two of her fingers in her mouth.

"It's odd," Shannon said, stating the obvious. "Why do you do it?"

"For the release, I guess," she answered.

"The release?"

"I usually do it if I'm stressed out, bored, or nervous," she explained.

"Or reading a book or even watching television I've noticed," Shannon observed.

"It takes the edge off my tension."

"What do have to be tense about?" Shannon wondered.

Brenna gave him a deadpanned look knowing he was aware of her family situation. "Is this problematic for you?" She frowned, flashing a finger in his face. "Would you rather I smoked? As bad habits go, this is kind of bland."

"It's kind of gross too," Shannon said.

"Are you trying to make me feel bad?"

"No," Shannon mumbled. "Sorry."

"Sometimes I just need something to do with my hands," she reasoned.

"I don't think chewing on your fingernails is all that healthy," Shannon told her.

Brenna shrugged. "I know."

"You're very methodical about it," Shannon stated. "You start with the right hand, index finger. Then you work your way to your middle finger. And then you switch hands, same fingers."

Brenna looked at him with surprise. "I didn't realize you noticed with that much detail."

"It's hard not to," he admitted.

"You think I'm neurotic about it?" Brenna wanted to know

"It doesn't matter what I think," Shannon said.

"You think it's because my father died?" Brenna wondered.

"Probably," Shannon replied.

"Or maybe it's just a distraction," Brenna said.

"From what?" Shannon asked.

"From life," she answered.

"Or death," Shannon countered.

Brenna stared at the television without saying anything further and Shannon felt guilty for raising the subject. He had let it go for this long – what was the point of bringing it up now?

"Anyway, you have a girl's name," Brenna finally said.

That's what she always said whenever she was annoyed or upset with him or when she knew she had no comeback and needed to shut him up. It wasn't as if he could debate her on that truth. Shannon was mostly known as a girl's name so what was he supposed to say?

"I'm a male Shannon," he confirmed. "It's common in Ireland."

"We're in America," she said snidely.

"It's alright, I'm made fun of too," Shannon said. "It's caused a few issues along the way but I'm used to it. There was a famous football player with the same name. Shannon Sharpe."

Brenna knew she had stung him and she felt bad about that too but that didn't stop her from chomping on two of her fingernails at the same time.

Brenna was a plain and quiet girl, unlike her older sister Franny who was popular and outgoing, even more so it seemed since their father died. Brenna was thin with a long face and straight unappealing brown hair. Her face was white and her teeth crooked, in need of braces. Shannon wondered if it was the result of chewing on her fingernails so much.

Brenna didn't smile much, not just because of being self-conscious about her teeth (and her fingernails), but because she wasn't happy enough to smile much. She was often defensive and Shannon knew she was jealous of Franny which is why he didn't bring her name up much even though Franny liked to tease Shannon in a good natured way which made him feel special.

"Maybe you could find other things to do with your hands," Shannon suggested, not sure why he didn't let the subject die.

Brenna crossed her arms across her chest in a defensive posture. "Like what?"

"I don't know," Shannon shrugged. "You could draw. "Or type on a keyboard. Learn to play an instrument."

"Maybe I could play with myself more," Brenna said,

At first Shannon thought Brenna meant like shooting hoops or something but then he realized she was talking about masturbation, causing Shannon to turn three shades of red. He looked away in embarrassment.

"Do you beat off?" Brenna asked with genuine interest, throwing him a look.

"Sometimes," he mumbled.

"Like, once or twice a month?" She guessed.

"More like once or twice a day," Shannon admitted.

Brenna laughed out loud. "Jesus," she said. "I only do it like once or twice a week." And now one of her fingers was back in her mouth again. "It can be kind of messy," she said. "Probably more for you," she added knowingly.

"I just don't want to get caught," Shannon said. "It's hard to enjoy it because of that."

He couldn't believe he was having a conversation about masturbation with Brenna but that was the kind of friendship they had, especially since her father died in fifth grade. She tended to isolate and keep to herself but because Shannon lived next door it was easy to invite his way into her life and she hadn't resisted such overtures.

"Do you still go to Mass?" Shannon asked, an awkward transition in conversation if ever there was one.

"I can't if I'm playing with myself," Brenna deadpanned.

Despite her loneliness and sadness, Brenna still could be funny when she wanted to be. And brutally honest.

They continued to sit on the couch, staring blankly at the television screen.

"What about you and Jillian?" Brenna asked.

"How'd you hear about that?" Shannon asked with surprise.

"People talk," Brenna answered. "You didn't have sex with her, did you?"

"I felt her up on the couch at Carson Mitchell's party," Shannon confessed.

"That's probably why you're masturbating," She remarked.

"She was drunk," Shannon revealed. "She really doesn't like me."

"That's okay," Brenna replied.

She was gnawing on her fingernails again.