Places no one knows, p.12
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       Places No One Knows, p.12

           Brenna Yovanoff
 
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  The way she says it is offhand, speaking with casual authority, so magnanimous, but really, she’s just trying to downplay the fact that we still haven’t come up with a theme on our own. That she hasn’t.

  Autumn rolls her eyes, and not in a private way. And suddenly, I’m on high alert. I wonder if she even understands that her derisive faces are being broadcast to everyone.

  “Or,” Kendry says, giving Autumn a scathing look, “do you have a better idea?”

  I nod discreetly, just once, to show she hasn’t missed her opening. This is her window—her brief moment in time.

  Autumn smiles beatifically. “I have a lot of better ideas. I could have a seizure and it would be a better idea. Look, you do not want to put the power in the hands of the people, okay? You’re just going to get three hundred write-in votes for My Dick.”

  Whatever’s supposed to be happening right now, it is not this.

  The girls all look scandalized, but Hunter Pennington and Chris Webb are snickering, punching each other in a way that suggests they would most definitely write in My Dick.

  Maribeth opens her mouth to respond, but Autumn waves a languid hand. “Anyway, the theme is whatever. It’s not like it matters.”

  Maribeth’s eyebrows jump so dramatically they nearly take flight and I wince. “Excuse me? The theme is the unifying principle for the whole thing.”

  “I’m just saying, there’d be a better turnout at these things if they weren’t always completely embarrassing. We could actually do something decent for once, like Cult Classics or Hollywood Heroes. That way the outfits would be the theme.”

  Maribeth sits up very straight, blinking innocently. “And showing up in costumes isn’t embarrassing? I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m missing something.”

  Autumn charges on, completely undeterred by sarcasm or blatant hostility. “Think about it—if we do something with a really broad, dramatic theme, people will get to wear all kinds of dresses. The guys could choose their looks based on a hundred years of male leads, and they wouldn’t need ties if they didn’t want, or even jackets. I mean, it’s not like Marlon Brando wore a cummerbund in On the Waterfront, okay?”

  The girls are eyeing her with acute distrust, but on the other side of the circle, Hunter is nodding like what Autumn has to say is actually relevant, and some of the wrestling boys look more alert than they have at any point aside from Autumn’s revelation that a school-wide vote could potentially involve their manly parts.

  Maribeth, however, is deeply unimpressed. “Great, so they all dress exactly like they do every day? Excuse me, but what is the point then?”

  “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the point is just that it’s fun for once?”

  I hold very still. It’s actually kind of amazing how fast this has become the worst possible version of itself. Everyone else is diligently assembling their lanterns, like if they make eye contact, they might get sucked in.

  CJ leans over the coffee table to whisper in my ear. “You look nice tonight,” he says. “Like that girl in the movie. Breakfast whatever. If we do Autumn’s theme, you should come as her.”

  “Holly Golightly,” I tell him automatically, one eye still on the imminent disaster across from me.

  Maribeth is sitting with her back very straight, clutching her composure by a thread. I wonder how much of her outrage is due to her sense that the dance-planning hierarchy has been violated, and how much is about the way Hunter keeps tugging on Autumn’s ponytail.

  Her gaze shifts to me, eyebrows raised delicately, telegraphing Good work, Waverly. This plan turned out beautifully. “What do you think, Waverly?”

  She doesn’t mean that. She means, You think what I think, Waverly.

  “We could do something like Cherished Memories,” I say, in an effort to get Autumn back on track.

  “Or even something that isn’t such a giant gaping cliché,” Autumn says. Her smile is incandescent, and I have no earthly idea what she thinks she’s doing.

  I can’t even tell if her performance is malicious, or if she’s actually just trying to advocate for the dance she’d want to go to. But of one thing I am absolutely certain: her lack of cheerful acquiescence will not fly with Maribeth.

  I adjust my face to look studious and helpful. “Or what about A Brief Moment in Time?” Because sometimes, you just have to scrap the original plan entirely and do what it takes to save lives.

  For a moment, I think it’s the wrong suggestion after all. The effort is, at best, too little too late.

  Then Maribeth softens. She smiles. “That’s good,” she says. “No, that’s really good. What if the favors were something with little clocks, or hourglasses, even?”

  And like that, with the stamp of Maribeth’s approval, our theme is finalized in less than five minutes.

  I shoot a look at Autumn that’s supposed to communicate my displeasure, but she isn’t paying attention. She’s gone back to her stack of centerpieces like nothing has happened, her hand resting on Hunter’s arm. They’re laughing together in short, muffled bursts.

  When I ask her to come help me make some more lemonade, I lead her straight through the kitchen and out, dragging her into the vaulted entryway, away from the ugly little drama in the living room.

  We stand facing each other by an extravagant arrangement of fake flowers.

  “What?” she says. “Oh, come on. That was nothing—it was just a little tussle.”

  I’m alarmed at her notion that a blowout of such proportions could be considered little. There is no such thing as nothing when it comes to Maribeth.

  I can’t even fully articulate the level of investment Maribeth feels for her various social projects, so instead, I lean around one of the faux-Doric columns and point in the direction of Hunter and the cheery little stencil party. “Off-limits, Autumn.”

  She shrugs, not looking particularly contrite. “I had to. She was about to cut me loose.”

  “And you think draping yourself over her intended boyfriend will keep you here?”

  Autumn leans closer, her tone confidential. “Now it’s a competition. She has to keep me around so she can win this shit in public. That girl is not the kind of person who’s into victory by disqualification.”

  I raise my eyebrows. Autumn’s assessment is both uncharitable and entirely accurate. “Do you want to at least dial back the antagonism? A little?”

  “Look, right now, all I want is to go home, watch TMZ, and eat a goddamn Pop-Tart.” She lets her head flop back and her shoulders slump. “Waverly, what are we doing here? This isn’t even fun.”

  “I know it’s not fun,” I snap. “It’s never fun.” Which is a little bit of a lie because it wasn’t always like this. It used to be fun. In seventh grade.

  Autumn sighs, resting her elbows on the decorative half wall. “Look, whatever. Make my apologies to Queen Crowdsource. I’m going home.”

  She crouches and untangles her bag from the drift of purses and shoes piled just inside the hall. No one can withstand the monotony of extracurricular event planning and sanctimonious good works, but being vindicated in my hatred of construction paper isn’t as comforting as one would think. Even Autumn is less durable than she pretended.

  “What are you doing tomorrow?” I say, although I’ve got nothing very tempting to offer. “We’re all going shopping after cross-country. If you want.”

  “Sure, whatever.” Autumn shoulders her bag and starts for the gleaming marble foyer. Then she stops and turns back. “CJ’s right,” she says. “About the dress. You should look for something in black or navy, with a low-cut back and a Sabrina neckline in the front.”

  “We’re doing jewel tones. Maribeth already picked out the corsage colors and got the barrettes and everything.”

  I hate how compliant I sound, like letting Maribeth decide formal floral arrangements for me is some kind of compromise or concession, when really, I just don’t care. For the privilege of not having to expend a single particle of my being on hothouse flow
ers, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

  Autumn smiles and shakes her head. “She wants jewel tones because she looks amazing in sapphire and turquoise. You need something more subtle. Something that looks totally conservative, and then, bang, they see you from a different angle and it’s not. Also, you need a different date. CJ’s really going to clash with your sense of intellectual superiority.”

  I laugh, even though I’m starting to feel claustrophobic. I want to be home with my blankets and my candle. I want to be with Marshall.

  Autumn stands in the doorway, just looking at me. She smiles and my throat constricts for no reason. Suddenly, I don’t want anything but to run and run and run.

  MARSHALL

  Music Box

  The first day back at school after being sick is always kind of weird, like you lost more time than you thought.

  When I pulled into the parking lot, the building looked bigger than I remembered and for a second, the whole world seemed to be growing way too fast, spreading out and out.

  But Ollie was there like always, swinging into step with me at the west entrance like he’d been waiting for me forever, totally sure I’d show up one of these days.

  Heather wanted to know where I’d been, though, and if I felt okay and why I didn’t call her. The thing is, I can’t even picture her coming over to my house, sitting on the couch with me. Texting or flipping through a magazine while I coughed and slept and stared at the TV.

  Or I can picture it, but it kind of makes my eyes hurt.

  I feel better.

  I feel see-through and like I’ve lost weight, but I’m better.

  I’m behind in all my classes—the kind of behind you don’t come back from, but after dinner, I spend a while getting caught up on the little stuff, all the review questions and worksheets I’ve been ignoring. Papers and reports are harder, but I half-ass an outline for partial credit and read some of The Crucible for English. History is kicking my ass, but in this cheap, lazy way where I’m basically letting it.

  Now I’m sitting at my shitty little desk, staring at the assigned chapter for science, but not really seeing it.

  I keep getting sidetracked by stupid things. I keep thinking about Annie’s jewelry box. It was one of those white pressboard ones with a pink lining, and when you opened it, there was a little plastic ballerina in a lace skirt. The box played a song while the ballerina turned in a circle.

  I’d sneak into her room, open the box. She hated when I messed with her stuff, but it was worth the chance of getting slapped just to see that ballerina turn.

  It was like this little piece of quiet. This tiny, uncommon place I was in love with. Annie got rid of that thing like ten years ago. Nothing is really ever quiet anymore.

  Finally, I turn out the light and get into bed. I’m tired, and not. My ribs feel sore, but the worst of the cough is gone, and I’ve been sleeping for days. It was a heavy, drugged sleep, and now it’s like I can’t remember how to do it when there isn’t a dose and a half of NyQuil involved.

  When I close my eyes, Waverly’s there, flickering in the trashy movie theater of my mind. She doesn’t belong there, but she shows up more and more—this thought I can’t shut out. And let’s face it, as guilty as it makes me feel, I don’t really want to.

  She’s wearing this thin, silky shirt she wears sometimes. It’s probably even made of real silk, which makes me want to touch it more. Her skin looks creamy next to it, like nice china or some kind of European doll that’s hand-painted. Real, not-real. Right now, I don’t even care.

  We’re inches apart, looking at each other, and then the picture changes. Out in the living room, my parents are going at it like people on one of those daytime talk shows. My pillow is lumpy under my head. My sheets smell like cigarettes and menthol cough drops, and I concentrate harder.

  Waverly’s on her back now, looking up at me.

  When I undo the first button, the feeling roars through my chest, rushing in my blood. She bites her lip and her face is so open and so trusting that I want to reach for her and hold on like I’m drowning. Instead, I lean over, my fingers skimming her shirt, tugging at the buttons. I slip the top one from its hole and work my way down.

  Her shirt opens to show the shape of her breasts, the lacy edge of a white bra. Her waist is narrow, and god, her skin. I touch the curve of her cheek and she smiles.

  She says my name and says, “Kiss me.”

  When I bend my head to do it, she reaches for me. She puts her hand on the back of my neck, kisses me slowly, like she doesn’t want to move too fast or wreck the moment. Like I’m the only person she wants to kiss.

  WAVERLY

  6.

  The dark is populated by undefined shapes. It pitches around me. I can’t tell if it’s tiny or huge or something in between. I stand in the middle of it, unfixed in space.

  The smell is familiar, the carpet is rough, and there’s a low, constant sound that’s going to drive me crazy if it doesn’t stop. Then the full magnitude of the situation washes over me.

  My voice comes out in a harsh, high-pitched whisper, almost a shriek. “Oh my God, tell me you are not doing that!”

  Marshall sits up fast, slamming back against the wall. He yanks the blankets up to his chest in silhouette and for a second, there’s just the sound of his breath, rasping in and out.

  Then he swallows audibly in the dark. When he speaks, his voice cracks. “Waverly?”

  I’m not a weak person.

  I’m not fragile or tender—not easily embarrassed—but I can feel the mortification anyway, right there on my face.

  I know, unequivocally, that I am not supposed to be here. And maybe all those other times, I could just ignore it. I could get up in the morning and intellectualize about plastic lighters and blue T-shirts and leaves on my feet, tell myself it didn’t matter or that the universe is vast. That it wasn’t really real.

  But this is horrible, undeniable—it’s happening—and for a second, I just stand in the middle of the room, holding on to my own shoulders and feeling very small.

  Marshall sits with his back against the wall and his knees up. We don’t move. After a while, my eyes start to adjust to the dark.

  “You can’t be here,” he whispers, and it’s hard to tell if he actually means I shouldn’t be here, or that I’m not.

  I move toward the bed, shuffling my feet along the carpet, kicking scattered books and stray socks out of the way until I reach the corner of the mattress.

  When I sit down, the blankets are warm and soft. They smell like Old Spice deodorant and his hair—a fragrant, smoky smell that makes my skin feel tight.

  “How are you doing this?” he whispers, pressing his back against the wall, flinching away from me.

  I slide closer, feeling for the headboard. When my hand brushes the top of his shoulder, he sucks in his breath. He’s not wearing a shirt.

  “What do you want, Waverly?”

  And I stop moving. His voice is unsteady, unexpectedly sad.

  We sit quietly in the dark, not moving, not touching. The mattress is squishy, sagging in the middle, and I’ve never felt this untethered before, never been on a boy’s bed with him, never sat close together in the dark, in the middle of the night, in my pajamas, my hand still tingling hotly because I touched his bare shoulder.

  “I want you to kiss me,” I say, and it comes out all wrong—shy and faraway. I sound like I don’t really mean it, but how something sounds doesn’t always tell you a lot. It takes saying the words out loud to realize that I have never meant anything more in my whole life.

  “I can’t,” he says.

  “Why not?”

  “Is that supposed to be a joke?” His voice cracks again, like he can’t catch his breath. “Guys like me don’t kiss girls like you.”

  For a second, I don’t say anything. Then I lean in. Whisper it close to his ear. “But at night, we’re not like us. We can do whatever we want.”

  He turns his face to the wall.
“Yeah? Well, that’s pathetic, then. It’s cheap—some cheap, stupid fantasy.” His arms are crossed like he can protect himself. His tone is bitter.

  I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to take the fantasy.

  I put my arms around his neck and kiss him.

  The warmth of our colliding bodies is shocking, and for a second, the pressure of my mouth on his feels like too much, like at any second, my structural integrity will fail and I’ll just implode.

  Yes, I’ve been kissed—at formal dance after-parties and other social functions—long, uninteresting kisses with nothing fueling them, nothing attached. But this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever done the kissing.

  Marshall sits and lets me do it. His mouth is soft and unresponsive, making it clear that I’m acting upon him, taking the initiative and the risk. Being rejected.

  I pull away, dizzy and out of breath. And all those times I thought the way he looked at me might mean something…I was wrong.

  Then he puts his hand on my arm and kisses me back.

  It isn’t like the kisses in movies or books. He doesn’t grab me and slam me down on the bed, overcome with lust and frustration. Instead, he pulls me closer, moving slowly. His hands are big and warm, sliding up inside my pajama top. He tastes like toothpaste.

  His chest is smooth and I shove him back against the wall, holding him there, kneeling over him. Then he moves so that the top of his thigh is pinned between my knees and I can’t tell who is ravishing whom.

  I have never in my life felt so electrified by anything as I am by the way his lips fit against mine, and when I can’t take it anymore, I slide my mouth against his neck, then his chest, working my way down.

  Right away, he catches me by the shoulders and pushes me back. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”

  “Why not? Isn’t this what you dream about?”

  When he answers, his voice is harsh and plaintive. “No.”

 
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