Chapter One

 

At school I was careful not to look like I watched everything, but I did. The fat girl fell into step beside me. She had a handful of gumdrops and sugar on her chin.

"There are all kinds of anger," she said. "Some kinds are just more useful than others."

A locker slammed behind us. I tried not to speak too loudly, because no one except me saw her. "I'm not angry," I whispered.

"Saying you're not angry is one kind," she said. "Not very useful at all, though."

I ignored her and brushed hair out of my eyes. There were days when she was a comfort and days when she was a nightmare. I had yet to determine what kind of day this would be.

We made our way outside. The fat girl had stringy brown hair and wore a blue blouse that was spotted and stained. She sucked on a Fudgsicle as though the autumn day was blissful and warm, but I was freezing. We pressed ourselves against the courtyard wall to watch the crowd file by. When I turned my head she followed my gaze and patted my shoulder.

"Don't get your hopes up, Faith," she said. "Sweetie, I'm telling you, that is never going to work out."

She was talking about Tony Giobambera, who had dark curly hair all over his body and smiled with his mouth but not with his eyes; who walked slowly, like a man with a secret.

I said, "You never know."

She said, "Actually, I do know." Then she sucked off a big piece of chocolate.

Tony Giobambera settled on his rock and lit a cigarette. I followed the fat girl to a place where we could watch him. He smoked like the cigarette was an extension of his ropey arm and rough hand. When he leaned back and blew a stream into the sky, I watched the pout of his lips, the black curl that fell over one eye. Then Tony Giobambera smiled in our direction and I wanted to disappear.

"Nothing like a little attention to send you over the edge," the fat girl said.

"What would you do?" I said. "I mean I don't think you'd do anything different."

"I'd think about getting even," she said. "I'd think about making something happen."

Instead I found a better place on the grass where I could see him but pretend to stare off into space, thinking about more important things than how much I would give up just to have Tony Giobambera run his finger along my cheek and my throat again.

It was after what I did, the long summer after I'd shed myself completely and was prepared to come back to school like a whole new person, only inside it was still me. It was at an end-of-the-summer party a week before school started. I'd walked there from my house and the Carolina night was humid and heavy. I sang softly to myself, thinking of how different I looked, of what it would be like to walk into a party in normal-person clothes bought from a normal store.

I smoothed the front of my new sleeveless green blouse. I could hear the party behind the big white door. I took a deep breath and rang the bell, but nothing happened.

I leaned over a little and through the windows I saw people draped over couches and moving in the dark. I rang the bell again, then tried the door. It was open.

Inside, Led Zeppelin blasted from the stereo. A guy and a girl curled up together in the corner of the foyer. In the living room, people stood in clumps along the wall or splayed themselves over couches and chairs. The house rang with noise. I walked down a hallway. I put my hands in my pockets, then took them out again.

In the kitchen I found a beer but didn't open it. The smell of pot drifted up the stairs from the basement. A few muscled guys and a pale, fragile-looking girl sat around the kitchen table flipping quarters into a glass. They slurred their words, laughing loudly and hitting each other in the back of the head when a quarter missed the cup. Drink, drink, drink! they chanted. The girl smoked a cigarette with a glazed smile. One guy glanced up at me, but looked away quickly. I blushed anyway.

I wandered downstairs to the basement, where I recognized a few people from last year's English class. They sat in a circle around a reedy guy with long blond hair and a red bong, hanging on every word he had to say. He told a complicated story, something involving a car and the police, but I couldn't follow it. Every so often one of the girls shook her head. "Fuck," she said, and ran her tongue over her braces. "Holy fuck."

I went back upstairs and walked from room to room waiting for someone to notice the new me, but no one seemed to. Disappointment pushed me outside. I tripped my way down wooden stairs, away from the bright lights of the house toward the small latticed huddle of a gazebo. Inside there was a bench and I sat, slapping away mosquitoes, with a tightness in my chest that made me want to scream. How could everything change so much and stay exactly the same?

I'd lost forty-eight pounds and my skin had mostly cleared up. I'd missed a whole semester of school and disappeared for seven months. It seemed like no one had even noticed I was gone.

I pulled my knees to my chest and picked at the vines that climbed the trellis overhead, ripping off leaves and stripping them down to their veins. I was wondering how I would possibly survive the whole next year, when Andrea Dutton came stumbling out of the trees.

 

 

< back