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Places no one knows, p.13
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       Places No One Knows, p.13

           Brenna Yovanoff
 
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He’s lying, but he’s also telling the truth. It doesn’t matter if he likes me or doesn’t like me, or if he’s watched me in the hall once on some endless day and thought about touching me. None of that matters.

  What matters is the realness, my hands on his bare arms, my body taking up space in a place that is supposed to be impossible. The fantasy is not supposed to turn into the reality.

  There’s hair on his stomach, but just a little, running down toward his boxers, getting denser. I follow it, letting my fingertips find the edge of his waistband. The muscles across his abdomen flutter and jerk as I touch his hipbones.

  I’ve thought about this. In a hypothetical way, I’ve thought about it. Future Waverly takes her gear off for hypothetical future boy—in a mature, pseudo-adult world, maybe at college, because current Waverly has no time to go around perfecting her heavy-petting skills or wondering if she’s ready. Current Waverly had only ever debated whether or not to allow CJ Borsen a chaste goodnight kiss.

  Under my hands, Marshall’s body feels rigid, like he’s holding his breath.

  I sit up, but don’t take my hand away. “Do you want me to stop?”

  “No,” he says, lying flat on his back with his hands resting on my thighs. His voice sounds so guilty it’s almost funny. We shouldn’t be doing this, but don’t stop.

  I’ve never really touched a boy before—not like that. Never thought about it much, even when talk turned gleeful and dirty at sleepovers. The self-conscious erections of ninth-grade gym class, miserable in their basketball shorts, never had any bearing on me.

  He’s squeezing the tops of my thighs, gasping like he can’t catch his breath. Then he rolls away and sits up, grabbing me and pulling me hard against his chest.

  His mouth on my neck is warm and sends a surge of electricity through my blood. And here comes the ravishing now, frantic, reverent. He’s fumbling with my pajama bottoms, yanking them down off my hips, touching me, and I’m holding his face between my hands, wanting the warm toothpaste flavor of his mouth, wanting to kiss him, and not because I just want to kiss somebody.

  Because I want to kiss him.

  .

  I have a problem.

  Not astral projection. Not even the fact that I’ve implicitly agreed to a monogamous relationship with CJ Borsen, when the only person I can think about is Marshall Holt.

  Never mind that Autumn Pickerel is turning out to be an engine of destruction, like I wound her up and set her loose, and now I kind of want to stand by while she wrecks the known world. Never mind that I have a regional meet and a trig test and last night was the first full night’s sleep I’ve gotten in months.

  I have a giant, colossal hickey on the side of my neck.

  It’s plum-red and shaped vaguely like Spain. It is large enough to have its own congressman. When the carotid artery throbs in my neck, it seems to be breathing.

  I stare into the mirror above my dresser. There’s no full-coverage makeup heavy enough for this. It’s a battlefield of broken capillaries. It is a disaster.

  I’ve always been more conceptual than not. It’s completely normal for my nights to seem realer than my days.

  I close my eyes, trying to find the thread. One night, just over a week ago, I lit a candle, lay back. Woke covered in dead leaves. Since that night, there have been moments—usually when I’m heavily caffeinated, or starting to feel trapped in my own body—when I pull away from the whole situation. Ask myself, How is this possible? How is this sane?

  The hickey’s real, though, tender to the touch. Not some bizarrely vivid dream. Not a plastic lighter handed to me by a stranger. No, I unabashedly made out with Marshall Holt like my life depended on it. And it was exceptional.

  I stand at my dresser, staring down my reflection like with the very force of my gaze, I could make her neat and orderly again. Or at least make the hickey go away.

  No luck. The skin stays vividly contused.

  At the bottom of my jewelry box, there’s a glittery choker my grandma bought me for eighth-grade graduation. It didn’t suit my sharp corners or my general aesthetic, but now, the rhinestones twinkle up from the box as if to say, Take us out and put us on. This is what we’re here for.

  The choker is relentlessly ornate, covered in neo-Victorian filigree. When I fasten it around my throat, the girl looking back at me is suddenly earnest. She’s fragile and innocent—subtle, like Autumn said. I look less like I’m hiding something than I ever have in my life.

  —

  The parade of passing periods is interminable.

  I spend every ten-minute block dawdling at my locker, waiting for some kind of sign, but Marshall keeps his back to me.

  If I could see his face, I’m almost sure I’d be able to tell what he’s thinking. I’d have a sense of whether he was avoiding my eyes because he knows exactly what happened between us, or if the reason he’s looking away is that he’s a total stranger and there is no us.

  But even at my most pragmatic, I know that’s not the truth. Under the choker, the mark on my neck is dark like a brand.

  And so I stare across the locker bay, waiting for the bell. And the whole time, Marshall keeps his face turned away, deep in conversation with Ollie Poe, ignoring me on a level that is close to extravagant.

  Maribeth has, by all outward appearances, forgiven me for last night. She’s graciously put aside the Autumn debacle, or at least decided to bottle up her displeasure and let it age for a later date. At my locker before trig, she gives me a quick once-over but doesn’t mention the choker.

  Instead, she hands me half of her Luna bar and spends the next five minutes regaling me with the hilarity of Palmer’s insistence on finding the perfect pair of platform heels, coupled with her conviction that such a thing exists. We discuss the joys of colored tinsel, and even when my voice sounds shrill, I know that from a distance, I look remarkably carefree.

  For lunch, we walk over to Little Szechuan, home of the seven-dollar combo meal. The board on the back wall boasts thirty-seven choices, all of which come in Styrofoam clamshells and outrageous portions.

  Maribeth would normally veto Chinese, but when I suggested it, she just nodded gravely, like she was concerned about me. The day seems very bright, and I’m ravenous for something greasy and full of sodium. She doesn’t say anything disparaging, even when her order arrives looking like it’s been bathed in WD-40.

  We’re on our way back to school, clutching our coats against the wind, when she says, “Hey, you’re still coming to the mall when you’re done with your meet, right?” She slows down, then stops completely. “I was thinking Autumn could come too.”

  The sentence hangs in the air for one fleeting second before slipping away, getting lost. I don’t know how to respond.

  Maribeth’s shrug is diffident and she looks away. “If she wants, I mean.”

  I nod, trying to look thoughtful, but privately, I’m impressed. When Autumn said Maribeth wouldn’t take a victory by forfeit, she knew what she was talking about.

  We’re halfway across the east lawn now. The wind picks up, sending a flurry of cigarette butts and candy wrappers tumbling across the parking lot. The sky is a hard, uniform gray.

  I step over a soggy french-fry sleeve and pain zings along the bottom of my foot. If the way my arches seem to be peeling themselves off the bone doesn’t get better, I’ll have to see one of the school trainers—but only as a last resort. Ever since she started collecting articles about how overexertion is ruining high school athletes, Molly Bruin, Sports Medicine Specialist, loves to bench people for recuperation purposes. There’s no way it would end well.

  Maribeth leans closer and gives me a conspiratorial smile. “So, how are things with CJ?”

  “Good,” I say, trying to sound bright and giddy. To sound like I think of him at all. “Really good.”

  I only mean to satisfy her curiosity, but as soon as I say it aloud, the exhilaration is real. The warm splash of adrenaline that hits my face is real. And I am back in the
dark with Marshall Holt.

  Twenty-four hours ago, I was a different girl. I didn’t think about sex or boys or naked bodies, but now the proposition is inviting—a topic worthy of inquiry. I keep revisiting the way I kissed him, how reckless it felt. How I would do it again in a heartbeat. How I want to rip off his clothes with my teeth.

  Maribeth’s gaze is fixed intently on my face. “Oh my God, Waverly! You have a see-cret.” She sings it like a jump-rope rhyme, eyes open wide, and even though I’m still wearing the choker, I cover my neck with my hand.

  Out on the football field, the majorettes are practicing for regionals. They chant in unison and Maribeth chants with them to the tune of rampant school spirit. “Waverly’s got a see-cret, yes-yes she does!”

  “No, I don’t.”

  She reaches over and slips her hand into mine. “Okay, you don’t have to tell me right this second, but come on, did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

  The way she always wants to hold on makes me feel breathless, like we’ve fallen overboard and she’s got me in a death grip, pulling me down to the ocean floor. I feel bad about lying, though, so I link my fingers with hers and squeeze back.

  She leans into me, tipping her head to the cloudy sky. “Oh, my God! Are you completely freaking out right now?”

  For a second, I can think of absolutely nothing to say. On the field, the majorettes are marching in their warm-ups and their mismatched winter hats. They look like windup toys.

  “Waverly—Waverly, what is wrong with you? I mean, are you? Are you so excited you could die? Why don’t you seem excited?”

  The majorettes twirl in grim formation and I shake my head.

  Can you please repeat the question?

  —

  We’re out of seventh period early for the meet. In the locker room, Autumn ambles over like sharing my immediate space is the most natural thing in the world. Her sweater is possibly the pinkest thing I’ve ever witnessed, and I’m minorly relieved to see she hasn’t gone back to wild hair and Cleopatra eye makeup. She’s still dressing the part of the helpful committee member. I can’t tell if her outfit is supposed to be ironic, or if this is really just what she thinks of Maribeth. What she thinks of me.

  “You’re high-class today,” I tell her, nodding to her wide houndstooth headband.

  She throws down her bag and her sketchbook, prying off her wedges and dropping them on the floor. “Same, times ninety-nine. You should wear more jewelry. It looks good.”

  Around us, everyone is hectic, racing back and forth with athletic tape and hairbrushes. Over in the corner, Palmer is doing yoga stretches with her eyes closed, reaching for the ceiling.

  I run my fingers over the choker, picturing the bitten skin underneath. We aren’t allowed to wear jewelry when we compete. The hickey is going to show eventually, ready or not.

  When I take off the necklace, I don’t make a production of it. Autumn doesn’t say a word, but I can almost sense her working out how to approach the subject of my contused neck. I smile because smiling makes me look harmless and any second now, she’s going to ask.

  “Waverly.”

  The way she says it makes something prickle down my back. I press my fingers to the place above my collarbone. Take them away again.

  “Waverly.”

  “What?” I sound tentative—confused—almost like I’ve been sleeping.

  And Autumn hugs me hard, shaking me back and forth, then letting go to laugh and spin away from me.

  “Waverly,” she says. “You look happy. God help me, I think you’re thawing out.”

  On the bus out to the Dove Creek course, we sit together, sharing her headphones while everyone around us shrieks and laughs.

  The songs are unfamiliar but catchy, and we lean into each other, bobbing our heads in time to the music. It’s the kind of thing I used to do with Maribeth when we were younger, but for some reason, the experience stopped being satisfying. This is satisfying.

  Autumn gazes out at the passing cars. She’s not pumping me for details or gossip, not demanding to know how I wound up with a continent-sized hickey.

  It’s not until halfway across town that I understand why. She isn’t avoiding the subject to be nice or polite. She comes from a remote region of the social world where making out like a wildebeest in heat is considered normal.

  .

  “You can’t wear that,” Autumn says.

  The meet was essentially a disaster.

  I finished fourth overall. My time would have been better if my feet didn’t feel like they were being deconstructed with a boning knife. Autumn didn’t come remotely close to placing.

  Now, we’re at Flora/Fauna in the mall and I’m facing my reflection in a floor-length satin travesty.

  This is the fourth store we’ve been to, and with each failed expedition, I’m becoming more and more acclimated to the idea that Autumn has ideas about clothes. Thanks to her messy hair and her tendency toward T-shirts, I never considered that she might actually be fashionable, but her general apathy does not extend to the world outside of school. When it comes to formal dresses, Autumn is full of opinions.

  My reflection gives her a hard, exasperated look.

  She just stares back and counts off on her fingers. “Let us first consider the areas into which we must inquire. One—who are you? Two—no. Three—seriously, who are you? Four—take it off.”

  “It’s because of the corsages,” I say, trying to keep my voice even. “They’re these really gaudy orchid arrangements. I need something to go with fuchsia.”

  “I don’t care. You are fighting every principle of color theory to accommodate a twenty-dollar flower with a safety pin through it. I’m not standing by while you humiliate yourself in that dress.”

  I shuffle into the changing room and shimmy out of the dress. The fabric is cool and slimy, and if I have to keep it on for one more second, I won’t be able to resist the urge to claw it off my body.

  When I come back out, the store is exactly as I left it. It has not miraculously burned down.

  I yank a stretchy pink sheath off the rack and hold it up, already knowing there’s no way I’d ever put it on. “Feelings on this one?”

  Autumn is standing by Winter Outerwear with something dark draped over her arm. “I have a feeling it would look vaguely pornographic. Anyway, I’ve already got everything you need. It’s here when you’re ready, just waiting for you to set aside your wicked ways and come to Jesus.”

  The dress she presents me with is black, sleeveless, with a high boatneck in the front and an open back, just like she said. It looks nothing like anything Maribeth has ever dog-eared in a magazine, but as soon as I put it on, I know I’ll never be able to consider anything else.

  I look like me, but better. Waverly distilled. My shoulders are precise and square, my back a smooth expanse—not too hard and not too soft, but just right.

  Autumn smiles her Petal Pink smile, the smile of someone who has mastered the art of choosing lip color.

  “There,” she says sweetly, tenderly. “Isn’t that better?”

  Maribeth has come up next to her, holding a yellow satin train wreck I can only assume was meant for me. “It’s kind of…plain,” she says, giving me a worried little frown.

  Autumn reaches over, sweeping my hair back from my forehead and examining the effect. “Is that another way of saying it doesn’t make Waverly look like a demented figure skater with a glitter fetish? Because yeah, that is totally true.”

  Maribeth opens her mouth. Her cheeks are flushed and she eyes me with well-meaning distress, but her concern is slipping. For just a second, I can see the annoyance underneath.

  She doesn’t argue, though, because we both read the same article on rhetoric and brain activity for our civics project in ninth grade—outright disagreement provokes a threat response, and once that happens, you’ve lost your ability to persuade.

  I change out of the dress and take it up to the register.

  Once it’s
paid for and safely wrapped in tissue, I turn my attention back to Autumn. After all, someone needs to keep her from running amok or terrorizing the locals or brushing carelessly against Maribeth.

  I follow her through the clearance section as she picks her way among fields of polyester and red price tags.

  “Why are you even here?” Palmer says, coming up behind us. “If you’re not going to try anything on?”

  Autumn gives her a complacent look. “Think of it as a public service. Anyway, I’m making mine.”

  This kind of dorky DIY enthusiasm would ordinarily elicit an exchange of pitying glances, but Autumn has already proven herself gifted in the poster board arts, at least. Even Maribeth looks mildly impressed.

  She leans on the clearance rack, fiddling with her necklace. “Well, what does it look like?”

  Autumn smiles and turns away. “It’s a secret.”

  I can tell they’re dying to bully her into telling them more. Palmer and Maribeth do not believe in secrets among girls. Even the dirtiest, most sordid secrets are well-known facts when you get right down to it.

  But Kendry comes out of the dressing room just then, in a catastrophe of rhinestones and fine, interwoven straps. “How much does this show?”

  Autumn tilts her head, considering. “Everything. Well, wait—are we talking about abstract concepts, like taste and dignity? ’Cause yeah, I don’t see that. But like, your boobs.”

  Kendry freezes in the crosshairs of the three-way mirror, arms clapped across her chest. I’m expecting some sort of blowout, but she’s already in retreat, unzipping the dress, struggling out of it.

  Palmer turns, flapping at Autumn with an aggressively patterned minidress. “What is wrong with you? God, you’re a Gila monster!”

  Autumn shrugs and does a lazy half turn—almost a dance move—hands raised above her head. “If she didn’t want to hear she was hanging out everywhere, she shouldn’t ask for other people’s opinions when she’s hanging out everywhere.”

  The look on her face should be chiseled on a Renaissance Madonna.

  —

 
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