My head's spinning as I place my textbook into the back of my bag. The aching pressure in the front of my stomach tells me to run. I can't. Five minutes crawl by and there is still another ten until the bell rings. Every minute my crotch throbs with a familiar pain. It has been two months since its unpleasant visit. I'd hoped it was gone for good by some miracle. It's back. Just like it never left.
Liza turns around in her seat and places a piece of gum on my desk. I unwrap it, pop it into my mouth, and chew. She watches me for a second before her eyes avert to someone behind me. She smiles, blushing up to her ears. The corners of her lips twitch and I stare.
The person of her affections, Jack Nicolson, walks by my desk. Her eyes follow him and I look in his direction. I don't see what she does. He's tall, with an athletic build, and nice hair, but there's nothing striking about him. I guess he's funny. At least, he makes the other kids in class laugh.
"Don't stare!" She hisses as she grabs my arm to somehow avert my gaze.
I blink, flexing my hand as her hold grows tighter. The gum in my mouth melts and I roll it to the side of my cheek. I hold it there until I can't stop my teeth from crushing into it no longer. The snap of the gum echoes in my head like someone snapped their fingers by my ear.
"You like him?"
It takes everything in me to not roll my eyes. The only thing that holds me back is the look on Liza's face. I'd seen it many times, but this time it sends a chill down my spine.
She's had crushes before. They last a few weeks and then she's onto the next. I don't know what it is this time that makes me sick to my stomach. It might be the look in her eyes, the look that says she's not going to give up on this one.
I shouldn't want to know what she's feeling. I shouldn't care if this is serious.
I shouldn't be jealous if it turns out they both like each other.
She lowers her gaze. Her cheeks are bright pink. The wisps of her dark lashes flutter against her skin. My lips part. I hold my next breath, thinking what it might feel like to press my lips against the lids of her eyes. The moment hangs in the air and all thoughts of logic out the door.
It ends when she snaps her fingers under my nose.
"Hey, are you awake in there?" Her breathy laugh is sweeter than honey.
I cough, moving away to pretend nothing happened. It makes no difference. Her eyes are burning into me. I fidget in my seat and try to find the strength to look at her again. She's my friend for Christ's sake. Why is it so hard to look her in the face?
"Yeah..." I look away before she can look at me. "Sorry."
I'm looking at the scratches and pen marks on my desk, wishing I could melt into the floor. She sighs. The soft swoosh of air is like a blaring alarm in my ear. I close my eyes. It's there, repeating in my mind, a song stuck on repeat. The inhale leads to exhale, fading into one that catches my full attention. The seconds after the ending melody has died away stretch to minutes in my head. I repeat the motion, mimicking her rhythm. She doesn't know I am hooked on her every move. While she's mesmerized by Jack, I give her the love she is looking for.
I notice what I've done the second it's too late. The disgusting feeling in my stomach isn't just from the cramps. The way I've become fully absorbed in Liza isn't right, isn't normal. But when she licks her lips, leans over the back of her chair and unintentionally pushes her breasts up, I can't get the images out of my head. When I look at her now, I see an angel amidst humans.
I shake my head, holding my breath until my lungs burn. Past the pain and past the disgust, I feel my true feelings buried under a dark cloud. And that is where they should stay. That's where they belong.
The bell rings. I’m frozen in my seat. Liza stands with her notebook pressed to her chest and her pack of gum in hand. I wait for her to speak, to acknowledge the fact that I'm still sitting, but her eyes go to Jack.
"See you at lunch," is what she says before she leaves me in the dust.
Jack isn't special. He's not different from all the others.
I bite down. The gum snaps with a sharp pop.
A jolt of pain shoots up my side. I bend over with my hand clutching my abdomen. The pain and the aches are becoming unbearable.
It's all mixing into one. It's now just an uncomfortable ache in my entire body.
I gather my things. I sweep my pen and notebook into the bottom of my bag. I throw it on, ignoring how alone I am without Liza with me.
As I walk out of class, I think about Liza's star-struck face and how she was quick to ignore me. My hands tighten around the straps of my bag. This pain in my chest won't go away. Neither will the lump in my throat.
I swore I wouldn't let any of this get to me. I'm not good at keeping promises.
The hallway is crowded, packed with loud kids and their bulky bags. I keep my head down and my hand on the strap of my bag. My feet skid on the flooring and I almost run into a wall of lockers. Everywhere I look I think I see someone watching me. It might be in my head, but the uneasy feeling grows the more I try to convince myself it's nothing.
I place my hand on my chest. I dig my knuckle deep until it hurts. If I press hard enough I might rid the skipping of my heart. It keeps burning like it's stopped for the longest second and started again.
The bathrooms come into sight. I let out a sigh and dart into the small bathroom. It smells the same as last year.
I head to the last stall and lock the door. The lock is loose, sliding out of the lock a couple of times before I can get it to stay. I drop my bag and my pants to the floor. The cold toilet seat wakes me from my haze, but I'm still not fully awake.
I look at my blood-stained underwear.
Memories of the passing summer came to me. I wanted to forget them, but like most things I desperately wanted to leave me alone, they kept coming back to haunt me.
Liza stood back from the leaning tent and slapped her hands together. “Right! I think that looks good.”
As if to further question her, the tent slid further toward the ground. I raised a brow and took a closer look. The “ceiling” of the tent was now only three feet from the ground. There was no way that either of us could fit in there and sleep comfortably.
“You’re joking right?”
She gave me a soured look. “Not everything has to be perfect.”
I shook my head, grinning, and slapped her on the shoulder. “How about you take this one and I fix up the other? We don’t have to share.”
She looked from the obviously jinky tent and then at me. “Wait. Why do I have to sleep in that one?”
“Is there a problem with it?”
“Well, no. It’s just…”
Her shoulders sagged. “Okay. You win. I’m horrible at this.”
I perked up, feeling a lot more light on my feet than when we’d set out in the forest. It wasn’t that I hated nature. In fact, I was quite enjoying the time that I was spending out here with Liza and the others. The others being her friends. I’d only spoken with them once before I fell asleep in the car.
They seemed nice.
But the point was that I was having fun.
I’d only been worried because this was my first time doing the whole camping thing. It was a big step from sleeping on the porch with my mom checking on me every so often in the night.
With another soft pat on her back, I made my way to the other tent set. I skimmed over the included instructions before setting to work on the thing. It took me ten minutes in all while it had taken her almost half an hour.
I couldn’t help but laugh when she looked at it with an aw struck face.
I shrugged. “Sometimes, it’s good to follow the instructions.”
She rolled her eyes. It didn’t mean much. The tiny smile I saw on her lips told me as much.
We climbed into the tent, pulling in our sleeping bags and backpacks full of snacks. We were giggling by the time that we got settled in, our sleeping bags squashed together and candy wrappers littering at our feet.
Lying on our backs, we watched the clouds float by through the clear plastic in the top of the tent.
“Hm?” I didn’t want to ruin this moment. I feared that if I spoke too loudly that the forest would be disturbed somehow.
The buzzing in my stomach wasn’t just from how much I was enjoying this trip. It was more about the person that was lying right next to me.
“I need to tell you something.” She whispered it to me.
Is this how lovers talk?
“What is it?” The buzzing was turning into a slow rolling quiver. I had to force the corners of my mouth to not turn up.
The buzzing stopped.
She turned to face me, but I was still staring up at the clouds.
“I’ve decided where I want to go to college. Florida State. I’ve already been pre-accepted.”
And just like that, my world had come tumbling down.
She lightly touched her fingertips to my arm. “Did you hear me?”
The smile on my face hurt as I turned to look at her. “Yeah. That’s great. I’m really happy for you.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d lied to her. It was just the first that was unnecessary.
It was also the one that I regretted the most.
I'm halfway situated on the toilet seat when the bathroom doors burst open.
My hand freezes on my pants and my heart drops.
I'm not doing anything wrong, nothing that isn't normal to any other human being, but my body won't listen to me. It's stuck in this position. The worst comes next when I feel the trickling of blood on my thigh.
Somehow—fuck—I'd gotten blood down the side of my leg.
Their voices echo in the small bathroom. I crush my legs back against the toilet bowl and slowly pull the toilet paper as quietly as I can towards me. The first voice I hear is Zoey Murell's. It's hard to mistake when it sounds like she's got two fingers stuck up her nose.
"...could be any one of them. I'm sure she doesn't care who it is as long as he's putting out."
"Right. But ew."
The second voice has to be Trisha. She hangs on Zoey's arm and is never seen without her.
I hold the wad of toilet paper in my right hand and use my left to brace my body against the stall wall. I peer through the small crack between the door. Zoey is leaning against the sink while Trisha fixes her ponytail. The one person I don't expect to see is Lianna standing right behind Zoey.
Trisha sees her first. Her face turns white as if I was looking into a pail of white paint. Her lips form an "o" shape.
Lianna closes the bathroom door with a rough shove. Her long blond hair falls down to her waist, curling in zig-zag shapes and framing her jean clad hips. She sticks the tip of her thumb on the inside of her gold belt and pulls it out of her jean loops. The buckle clinks against the side of the sink.
Zoey turns around.
The look on her face is something I don't think I'll ever forget. Her eyes lock on Lianna's belt. It waves in the air like a snake waiting to strike.
Lianna drapes the belt over the sink's edge.
"Sorry," she says. A small coy smile creeps over her lip-gloss covered lips. "I didn't see you there."
There is a second of silence. Trisha looks at Zoey and then Lianna.
"We were leaving anyway." Trisha grabs Zoey's arm and attempts to pull her to the door. Zoey pulls back.
She stares at Lianna. Their eyes meet and don't pull apart.
I think Zoey is going to say something to Lianna. I can't see much from where I am, except Lianna's smirk and her sparkling eyes in the bright bathroom lights. The tension is high and I choke on it. I focus on Lianna for the first time since I'd known her. Well, I'd never known her. I know of her. There is a big difference between the two. It's a difference that is becoming glaringly clearer.
My eyes drift to her thin fingers. They are longer than I'd ever cared to know. She's also taller than I thought she would be. Taller than most of the boys in our class.
It's a strange thought. She’s the same as me, just flesh and blood, human. But she looks like she's come straight out of a porn magazine. She is the fantasy boys and men dream about having.
I have seen magazines like those before.
My uncle had a stash in the back of his shed, the one place I was allowed to play when we would visit. They were in open boxes. I'd known what they were from the start. As little as I was, I'd known what they were for and what it meant when the women spread their legs and made the "fuck me" face.
It still made me throw up.
The same nauseous feeling I got when I looked at those photos is the same one I'm feeling now. Every single time I think about the women with their fingers in places —I feel like my insides are being torn apart. Now, when I look at Lianna's pretty face, I want to pretend I'm not thinking about those grown women. That I'm not judging this girl on something that isn't any of her fault. I'm disgusting. I'm worse than my uncle, worse than the women in those magazines. I'm the one falling halfway off a toilet while eavesdropping.
Lianna's hair shines gold when she turns her head. She sizes Zoey up with an uninterested gaze.
"Excuse me," she says. Her words would've killed me, but Zoey keeps glaring.
"Zoey," Trisha hisses, tugging on Zoey's arm one more time. Zoey gives into the pull and grabs her bag from the corner of the sink.
They walk out the door, but before it closes, Zoey's voice drifts through.
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