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Sloppy firsts, p.3
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       Sloppy Firsts, p.3

           Megan Mccafferty
 
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  Quite frankly, I think the reason Heath got high was because he was bored out of his mind. He was a really smart guy, and really smart people in Pineville have it rough. There’s nothing to do here. His death really made me sad (still does) and not only because it ripped me apart to see Hope cry and wonder Why? like everyone else. I had always fantasized that when we got older, Heath would see me as more than his little sister’s playmate. Not that I had a crush on him or anything. He seemed like someone who would understand me. I was looking forward to being his equal. His friend.

  However, I can’t seem to get out of the anger stage of my grief. I can’t help but feel like Heath ruined everything, not just between us, but between Hope and me.

  It was kind of ironic that I was thinking about all this when Brandi told me about what Scherzer saw on my book cover and asked me if I’ve thought about suicide.

  Deep down, I wanted to tell her that I’ve considered killing myself no more than the average almost-sixteen-year-old honor student with no best friend or boyfriend and bigger bumps on her face than in her bra. But there’s no way that Brandi would understand.

  Brandi graduated from PHS about fifteen years ago—a fact unearthed by Sara via an uncle who used to "bang" her. (Sara’s verb choice.) We found the yearbook from that year in the library and saw firsthand that our Professional Counselor had swept the most crucial Class Character categories: Best Dressed, Best Looking, and Most Popular. She was Upper Crust all the way—or whatever they called the U.C. then.

  I wasn’t about to confide in her because there’s nothing more annoying than an adult who tells me that I will look back on all this and laugh—especially when it comes from an adult who heartily tee-heed all along. This is why I also refuse advice from my mother and my sister.

  So I told her that this was all a misunderstanding. "Life Sucks, Then You Die" is not my personal philosophy, no, no, no. Life Sucks, Then You Die (L.S.T.Y.D.) is the name of an indie funk band that I just love, love, love. She not only totally bought it, but started acting like she’s heard of them because she couldn’t stand the idea of not being clued in anymore.

  "They had one song that got some airplay," I said.

  "Right! They did, didn’t they? What was the name again?" Her peepers were popping right out of her head at this point.

  "’Tongue-Kissing Cousins.’"

  "Right!" Brandi starts nearly every sentence with that exclamation. It’s a method of positively affirming her mixed-up counselees, something she learned in one of her Professional Counselor classes no doubt. "’Tongue-Kissing Cousins.’ That song rocks."

  "It’s a slow jam."

  "That’s right! A slow jam."

  And so continued our bonding for a minute or two until she deemed me stable enough to let me go with nary a mark on my permanent record.

  Then a kind of weird thing happened.

  I walked out of her office and nearly tripped over two bare legs covered in scars and scabs. Marcus Flutie was slumped in a chair, stretching his long limbs right in front of the door. Marcus is what we at PHS categorize as a "Dreg." I think he was waiting to meet with his parole officer. Last spring, he got busted for buying or selling or using—I don’t know for sure—as part of the town’s War on Drugs effort that followed Heath’s death. Marcus was four years younger than Heath and his burnout buds, so they made him their marijuana-smoking mascot. (He’s a year older than Hope and me, but he’s on our grade level because he got left back in elementary school for doing God only knows what.) Of course, marijuana being the gateway drug and all, they moved on to bigger and better mind-altering substances: acid, E, ’shrooms, Special K, heroin, etc.

  The other thing about Marcus is that crackheaded girls who don’t know any better think he’s sexy. I don’t see it. He’s got dusty reddish dreads that a girl could never run her hands through. His eyes are always half-shut. His lips are usually curled into a semi-smile, like he’s in on a big joke that’s being played on you but you don’t know it yet. He always has a girlfriend and he always cheats on her. Thus, Marcus is widely known by the moniker "Krispy Kreme" because he’s always "burnt to a crisp" and is rumored to have "bought three boxes of donuts." (In PHS lingo, that means he’s slept with at least thirty-six girls. A dozen donuts per box—get it?)

  In short, Marcus Flutie is precisely the type of "unsavory character" that the Weavers wanted to get Hope away from. This really wasn’t necessary because Hope hates Marcus and the rest of Heath’s former friends almost as much as she hates drugs and alcohol. She would be profoundly disappointed if I associated with him or his vices, so I walked right past him. My hand was on the doorknob when he called out to me.

  "Hey, Tongue-Kissing Cousin!"

  Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope’s house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other’s existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh, (b) say something, or (c) ignore him and keep on walking. I chose a brilliant combo of (a) and (b).

  "Uh, yeah. Ha. Ha. Ha."

  I turned around and saw that Marcus was smiling at me. It freaked me out. I mean, it wasn’t an unfamiliar smile. He smiled like he knew me and was used to looking at me full in the face even though I don’t remember him ever giving me so much as a lazy I’m-too-stoned-to-avert-my-eyes look when I walked past his desk in homeroom.

  "I almost pissed myself out here," he said.

  "Uh, thanks, I guess."

  "You’re a natural con artist."

  He was still looking right at me. I giggled. I always giggle like a girlie-girl when I get nervous. It’s my most annoying habit.

  "What other secrets are you hiding?"

  I chewed on my lip (my second most annoying habit) and flew through the door.

  The thing is, he’s right. I get going on a lie and I can’t stop. This is a largely untapped talent. I could probably talk my way out of a bizillion sticky situations—if I only got myself into them. It was just weird hearing it from someone who doesn’t even know me.

  the twentieth

  My insomnia kicked in three months ago, right after Hope told me she was crossing the Mason-Dixon Line. Since then, I’ve learned to hate every inch of my body.

  I’ll be lying here in the dark urging myself to sleep, when I’ll suddenly become excruciatingly aware of how sweaty my thighs get when stuck together in the fetal position. So I have to shift them. Then my thighs are okay, but a lock of hair falls across my forehead and I can’t stand the weight of it on my brow. So I brush it aside. Then my forehead is okay, but the toes of my right foot get all cramped up. So I have to crack them. Then my toes are okay, but I get an itch on my butt. So I have to scratch it …

  This goes on for hours with every conceivable combination of body parts and complaints. I’ve tried warm milk, counting sheep, even the I-dare-myself-to-stay-awake reverse-psychology trick. Nothing works. I’ve stopped short of Tylenol PM because I don’t want to be a person who requires drugs to get in and out of bed. As if Heath weren’t enough of a warning, I’ve seen too many Behind the Musics to let that happen.

  There is only one good thing about my middle-of-the-night restlessness. I have some crazy-ass dreams that are really easy to remember when I wake up. Take last night’s, for example:

  I show up at a student council meeting wearing nothing but a pair of polka-dot panties. My nipples are doing a full-on, friendly How do you do? to everyone in the room. No one minds, as though I always show up for after-school activities nearly au naturel.

  The meeting is just about to get under way when Scotty comes up to me all outraged and yells, "Jess! Why are you showing everyone your tits? Today isn’t Whip ’Em Out Wednesday!"

  And then Bridget says, "And it’s not like she has much to show off."

  And then Marcus Flutie says, "But she has a lot to hide on the inside."

  Then I announce to them and everyone at the student council meeting that I’m conducting an experiment. I’m testing how comfortable everyone is with the sight of m
y breasts. The auditorium, which is now standing-room-only because the entire student body is there, bursts into applause.

  Then Paul Parlipiano whispers in my ear, "I thought you were being a tease. But now that I know it was an experiment, I admire you."

  I could lie and say that’s when we have hot-buttered sex right there on the stage in front of 800 screaming students. But unfortunately for me, that’s when I woke up. Christ, I can’t even touch him in my dreams.

  Dreams are so weird, aren’t they? I mean, you can’t control who shows up in them. Like when I saw Marcus Flutie in homeroom today, my stomach bungeed down to my toes, then sprang up into to my throat. I was actually worried that he somehow knew that he was in my dream last night. Of course, he didn’t even look up from the notebook he’s always scribbling in. He’ll never know. But it makes me wonder if I was in anyone’s dreams last night.

  (No, Scotty’s masturbation fantasies don’t count.)

  February 1st

  Hope,

  Okay. My Bitter Sixteen is officially over. I’ve opened up all my birthday presents and your mosaic is still by far the best one. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

  My love for your present above all others isn’t a coincidence. Did you ever notice that how much you dig a gift all depends on the giver? For example, Paul Parlipiano could’ve given me a filthy wad of gum scraped off the bottom of his shoe and it would’ve rocked my world. OH MY GOD! YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE GONE TO ALL THIS TROUBLE FOR LITTLE OL’ ME. DID THIS GUM COME FROM YOUR VERY OWN MOUTH?

  On the other end of the spectrum is Scotty. He gave me a rose before homeroom. Though this was a nice gesture, I didn’t feel like carrying it around all day. But I couldn’t just stuff it in my locker, so I was forced to field questions from the Clueless Crew all damn day. Who bought you the flower? Why would he buy you a flower if he didn’t want to go out? Are you going out? Why aren’t you going out?

  Maybe I’d be more psyched about the flower if Scotty weren’t currently going by the name "Mike Ockenballz." Referring to each other with double-entendred nicknames has replaced Purple Nurple Pursuit as the latest diversion of choice for Scotty and his friends.

  Burke Roy is now "Hugh G. Reckshun."

  Rob Driscoll is now "Heywood Jablomie."

  P. J. Carvello is now "Adolf Oliver Bush."

  I’m the only girl who doesn’t think this is the cutest thing ever.

  As for the rest of my birthday, it came and went, and Paul Parlipiano did not come within 100 yards, let alone share a sweaty 5x5 closet with me. And there was nary a sign of the Breast Fairy. Maybe she’s holding out for next year, when the combo of mondo boobage and a driver’s license will make me a major man-killer. Figuratively speaking.

  No party, either, which was only slightly less depressing than having one would’ve been. My mom bought a carrot cake from a bakery that made the criminal mistake of using plain-vanilla frosting instead of the cream-cheese kind. I wanted to go off on how it would be nice if even the smallest thing went right for me. Cream-cheese frosting could have easily met that need. That isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

  But then I saw the way my mom was looking at me. She was feeling sorry for me. I was her lame-ass, loser daughter, whose birthday would never be as sweet as her own sixteenth, or Bethany’s—both of which were celebrated with a huge catered party for a few dozen of their nearest and dearest friends. What can be more pathetic than that?

  I lost the nerve to say something snotty. She and my dad sang "Happy Birthday" and I blew out my candles. I opened up my presents (some CDs, a girlie-girl dress I’m returning, and a new pair of running shoes from Dad). I ate a big piece of that cake and pretended to enjoy it. Then I went to my room and cried as quietly as I could.

  By the way, the Clueless Crew gave me a silver charm bracelet. A "16" dangles from one of the links. I guess the idea is that I’ll look down at my wrist and always remember this as the time of my life. That is, unless Brandi was right and I slit it first.

  I’m kidding …

  Long Duck Dongly Yours, J.

  february

  the fifth

  If Bethany had gone to high school with me, I would’ve hated her, and to her, I would’ve been the dweeby sibling she was too cool to acknowledge in the halls. Thus, our eleven-year age gap is a blessing.

  I spent the whole day at the dress shop trying on this satin monstrosity for her wedding. Brides are evil. They are so hell-bent on looking better than everyone else that they pick out bridesmaids’ dresses that no one could possibly look good in. The one I have to wear is yellow ("Maize!" as my sister and mother corrected me at least a bizillion times), strapless, and straight to the floor. I look like a banana in it. Bridesmaid bonus: Once the alterations are done, I’ll have enough leftover material from the bust to make not only a matching handbag, but a whole set of luggage!

  So I’m standing in the shop in all my Chiquita splendor when Bethany starts telling me that she doesn’t want me to get my hair cut before the wedding because she wants it to be long enough to put up in some elaborate whoop-de ’do.

  "But I never wear my hair up," I protested.

  "You will for the wedding," Bethany said.

  "But I don’t look good with my hair up."

  "Well, that’s too bad because all the bridesmaids are wearing their hair up."

  "Why do we all have to wear our hair the same way?"

  She sighed heavily. "Because it will look better in the pictures."

  "But why do we all have to look the same to look good?"

  At this point she did the sigh-and-eye-rolling double whammy.

  "Mother?!"

  So my mom intervened.

  "When it’s your big day you can tell your bridesmaids to wear their hair however you want. But since it’s not, listen to your sister."

  I said that considering I couldn’t even get a date to the wedding, I doubted I’d be planning my own any time soon. Bad move on my part.

  That’s when my mom and Bethany tag teamed me about Scotty—how I’m so stupid not to invite him to the wedding because he’s good-looking and sweet, and how I’m really going to regret it when he gets another girlfriend. Then they stopped talking at me and started talking about me like I wasn’t even there.

  "I don’t understand her, Bethie. Your sister would rather mope away her teenage years than go out with such a catch."

  "She likes to wallow, Mother. She needs to lighten up."

  "You know what she really needs?"

  "What, Mother?"

  "She needs a little perspective."

  "Yes, she does."

  "I mean, when the worst thing in your life is trying to decide whether you should take a cute football player to your sister’s wedding …"

  I realized long ago that my mom and Bethany have a blonde bond that I can’t bust into. I’m better off not even bothering to try.

  "Jesus Christ! The wedding is four months away," I screeched. "Did you ever think that I might get a real boyfriend before then?"

  Their identical icy-blue glares told me that they hadn’t.

  The ancient woman doing the alterations kept right on pulling and pinning the fabric around my body. I bet she’s heard far worse in this dressing room: a bride in for her first fitting, tearfully confessing that she’s pregnant with the best man’s baby; bitchy bridesmaids betting how long it will be before the divorce; a mother-of-the-groom who suspects her son may be gay.

  Am I the only creature with a vagina who thinks that weddings are ridiculous? I’m going to elope. Just me, my hubby, and a minister on a beach in Jamaica. That’s better than Bethany asking a church full of people to pretend that she’s a virgin and having my father "give her away" like she’s a garbage bag of Goodwill clothes. As the Maid of Dubious Honor, I can’t just be bored in the background. I’m there front and center for the entire spectacle.

  Honestly, I don’t get what Bethany and her fiancé, Grant, see in each other. Big whoop: They’re virtually indi
stinguishable from a Barbie and Ken wedding-cake topper. And he turned new money into even newer money with some Wall Street wheeling-dealing. (Hence his nickname, G-Money.) He’s jetted between Silicon Valley, California, and Silicon Alley, New York, for a few years. After the wedding, the happy couple will follow the Techie gold rush and settle for good in the Bay area, ground zero for venture capitalists.

  I guess there are worse reasons to get married. After all, my parents have been together twenty-eight years simply because Dad was "Dar the Star," All-County point guard for the basketball team, and Mom was the captain of the rah-rah squad. Ack.

  What Bethany and G-Money really lack is oomph. I see zero passion. I don’t mean that they should have their tongues down each others’ throats 24-7. But as a couple, they don’t add anything when they enter a room. I’ve never heard them have anything other than a mind-numbingly inane conversation.

  Bethany: I hope this beautiful weather lasts all day.

  G-Money: Me, too.

  Bethany: I don’t want it to get too hot.

  G-Money: Me either.

  And since they got engaged two and a half years ago, they don’t even discuss current events anymore. All they talk about is the wedding.

  Bethany: I hope we have beautiful weather on our wedding day.

  G-Money: Me, too.

  Bethany: I don’t want it to get too hot.

  G-Money: Me either.

  If I get a husband—hell, if I get a boyfriend—I never want to have a conversation like this. This is why I will never date Scotty. I need my boyfriend to be the male equivalent of Hope. My best friend. If I could have the same relationship with my boyfriend that I have with Hope and have deep, meaningful sex—well, that would be perfect. Whether it’s possible, I have no idea.

 
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