When Jason was done with me, he sauntered back to the rec room where Derek and Mike were watching a baseball game. I heard high-fives, the popping of beer tabs, the cheering of the crowd.
I curled into the sour sheets, a burning shame radiating from my belly to my face. After a while, I shuffled stiffly out to Jason and asked for a ride home. He swore and chugged his beer. Silence was the third passenger on our interminable, ten-minute journey.
He never talks to me now.
Yesterday, he passed me in the hall. He was walking with a knot of jocks, laughing and shoving. “Hi, Jason,” I whispered, my back pressed into the lockers as they passed.
He ignored me and walked on. I saw him lean toward Mike, heard a sibilant syllable and a burst of crude laughter.
I remembered what Jason was like before. He had given me a stuffed aardvark, his football jersey, a lollipop bouquet. He had whispered sweetly, his lips on my shoulders and my neck: you know you want to…if you loved me…you’re torturing me…oh baby oh baby…
Blinded by unshed tears, I stumbled into health class. Mrs. Koch had a slide show—horrible images of the lungs and mouths of smokers. All around me, students were dozing, scribbling notes, flipping through magazines.
No one cares about lung cancer. It’s prom season.
I studied my planner, counting the days since…Jason.
An image appeared on the screen—some hideous internal organ, speckled with black. I ran to the restroom with my hand over my mouth and my stomach churning.
Afterwards, I splashed cold water on my face and decided not to return to class. Mrs. Koch’s lecture didn’t apply to me; I find smoking a disgusting habit.
I’m a “good girl.” The irony is not lost on me.
Retreating into the cool and quiet stall, I pulled my feet up onto the toilet and rested my head on my knees.
A cluster of girls walked in, chattering while they reapplied mascara and lip gloss. I heard my name, and Jason’s…then a word I never thought would apply to me…the scratch of pen on plaster…the staccato of heels.
When all was silent, I unlocked the stall to see what they had written.
It’s true, every word. I am…what they say I am.
So today, I have returned to this tiled haven. It’s quiet here, for most of the day, and convenient, for waves of nausea have come twice already this morning.
I’m an honor roll girl, and until this week I’ve never missed a health class; I know what this constant queasiness means. The cruel calendar confirms it.
Between classes, the restroom fills with sound. Gossip, giggles, the hum of the hand dryer, splashing in the sinks. Occasionally someone rattles my stall door, mumbles an apology, and disappears.
My head is filled with a buzzing that obliterates all thought.
With an effort, I pierce the buzzing with what I suppose is a sort of prayer. God and I have never been on the best of terms, but I attempt an unfamiliar, desperate plea.
Let it not be true. Let it not be true. Let it not be true.
I’m drinking water from the sink, my hands cupped, when a girl walks in holding Mr. Brookfield’s dorky wooden restroom pass. She glances at me warily, and with good reason; she has often been the object of taunting, with her Jesus tee-shirts and her dowdy denim skirts.
Guilty. I’m guilty. I am your tormentor, Rachel.
She gives me a nod and a timid smile. Her pink tee-shirt reads “I pray like a girl.”
I am damaged, stained, unclean.
Rachel takes in my blotchy face; perhaps she realizes that I was not in class today. Her eyes flick to the ugly scrawl near the mirror and back to me. She speaks in a low voice. “Are you okay?”
We lock eyes. I nod and turn away. This girl has no reason to be kind to me, and many reasons to gloat at my predicament. But she hesitates a moment, says “’Bye, then” and slips away.
When Rachel leaves, I stand at the restroom door and watch, noting the locker where she stops to collect her Brit Lit book.
Tomorrow, I will talk to Rachel.
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