- Samantha Hoch
I make a right turn out of the dingy basement hallway. She’s already waiting for me in the old staff bathroom with cracked tiled floors and flaking ceiling paint. She’s sitting on the window ledge hunched over a little mirror, dragging a third coat of black mascara over her naturally long eyelashes. Her ocean eyes splash up at me as I toss my blue backpack on the floor next to her tan Michael Kors purse. She slides off of the ledge and the pointed toe of her matching beige heel touches the ground. Soon she's rifling through her designer bag for something else.
“Want one?” she asks, as she pulls the pack of menthols from her bag.
“I’m good,” I tell her, half-smiling as a reflection of her own cheerful face, and half at how adorable she is to me. She knows I hate to smoke. She lights two cigarettes and hands me one, already sticky with her lip-gloss. I take it with the index and middle fingers of my right hand. I hold it like she holds it, as I shove open the metal window frame. We look through iron bars into the shallow concrete enclosure of the school's basement window. Mid-morning light spills into the room.
I watch her tug the ruffles of her crop top down a little, until they touch the glitter of her belly button ring. She throws another splash of blue-green glance my way, from behind the longest, darkest lashes I’ve ever seen in real life. The stream of sunlight pouring into the school basement from the lawn one floor above us illuminates her long golden hair. She used to take my breath away. But I scrutinize her, the way girls do; the way I imagine DaVinci did the Mona Lisa. Studying the same face day-in and day-out makes me constantly a little bit critical of her near-perfect beauty.
“My dad’s leaving for New York tonight. Jason’s coming over. He’s bringing me a bottle of wine,” she grins and exaggerates the slow blink of her own self-importance. I take a long, slow drag of the cigarette and approach the middle of three sinks to ash it. The leaky faucet squeals in protest as I let the water flow a little and look up at my face in the ancient, foggy mirror. I listen to her speak and her words paint a picture in my mind.
“Jason. Jason Pratt?” I ask, studying her face. She’s looking down at her belly button ring, pulling the crop top up a little. Then her dark jeans, wiggling deeper into them as she adjusts and fidgets.
“Yea, Amanda. Of course. Jason Pratt, who else? Don’t play stupid,” she snaps. She reads my wrinkled brow and watches me chip away at the blue nail polish on my fingers. I hate this color every time I paint it on, I think, questioning my own judgement as I question hers. I know who she means. I just wish I didn’t.
She pulls a flask from her bag and unscrews the cap. The layers of her blonde locks wave down her back and brush the small of her back between the crop top and the jeans as she throws her head back. The chain of a small gold cross drapes across her bronzed neck and collarbones and I watch her swallow hard. She cringes a little and puts the cigarette to her lips again, handing the flask to me. I grab it from her and hold it for awhile.
“Is he staying the weekend?” I say to the untied laces of one of my Vans, leaning backward on the sink and facing her, but too uncomfortable to look at her face. I’m sure she’s got that covered anyway, as I see her peripherally pulling the mirror from her purse again.
“Just for the night,” she tells me, ruffling her fingers through her hair and pouting at her reflection. After a few moments she dumps the mirror back in her bag. She reaches out for the flask and her gold rings echo a sound like a bell as she wraps her French manicure around it and throws back another shot.
“I think it’s a bad idea, Melissa.” I watch her face while she swallows again. “What if his wife finds out? Or your dad?” I look for the ocean waves in her eyes as I try to reason with her, but her gaze avoids mine. She seems contemplative as she steps toward the sink behind me to put out her cigarette, but quickly dispels any hope of rationality when she replies.
“Like they give a shit. Who cares. Why are you such a goodie-two-shoes sometimes, Amanda? Just because you’re a virgin doesn’t mean we all have to be,” she scoffs, turning her head up at me as she leans over the sink. Her hair falls over her right shoulder and I look down at the left side of her face and neck. The light shines on her collarbone again. She could be an angel.
I remember when I first came to this school, the fall after my parents died. I was too little to know anything about anything, and too lost to know what to do about it. The foster family that took me in were decent enough, but school would have been hell if Melissa hadn’t rescued me. Her bouncy blonde curls and beautiful baby-face were such a contrast to mine; the aged and solemn expression of a child who had already seen too much. I had wild, mousy-brown hair and a disinterest in most things child-like. Melissa's nice clothes and popularity with other kids never seemed to fade. I hadn’t outgrown her yet either, but wasn’t sure why.
On the outside we were like night and day. Like yin and yang. But when I looked at her I sometimes remembered that little angel face of hers telling me, My mom died too, on that first day of us. I wonder if I stole that innocence from her. I'm regretting giving her that first sip of alcohol in eighth grade, as I watch her bring the flask to her teenage face one more time.
“He’s like forty years old, Melissa. Think about this.” I try to reason with her, knowing she won’t hear it. I feel regret for having let her befriend me when we were kids. I feel responsible for her bold indifference to rules, and her ability to be deceptive. I know exactly where she learned it.
“Fuck it,” she grins. “I’m ready.”
I’m not. I reach my hand into my jeans pocket and feel the note she left in my locker today, telling me to meet her here. I take it out and glance at it, then back at her to see if she’s watching me. She’s leaning toward the window again, lighting another cigarette. I pull the pen from the mousy-brown bun on top of my head and scribble something on it. I’m shoving it back into my pocket when the fire alarm pierces the silence. Adrenaline jolts me back to reality, like seeing flashing lights in a rear-view mirror.
“Shit," She says, smashing the cigarette into the drain of the dripping sink. I turn around and shut it off. I throw my backpack over my shoulder and grab her bag as her heels tap frantically from the sink toward me. My shoe is still untied. I hand her her bag and hurry for the heavy wooden door.
“I’ll see you after lunch,” I tell her as she goes left and I go right, out of the old bathroom and back into the basement corridor. I throw my hood of my sweatshirt up. I sprint to the end of the hall, and up the stairs to the second floor, as her heels tap quickly up the stairs at the other end. I pass half a dozen classrooms and see the last students spilling out of the hallways onto the front lawn of the building. As I pass the trophy case, I see Mr. Jason Pratt’s photo, grinning proudly, posed next to the boys basketball team.
Scumbag I think, as I slide the scribbled note under the office door.