Places no one knows, p.22
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       Places No One Knows, p.22

           Brenna Yovanoff
 
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  “Yeah, I remember.”

  “Well, Maribeth was a peer counselor that quarter, and she was assigned to Alyssa, and that’s how I know Alyssa had sex with Anthony Dean.”

  Marshall is looking at me like I’ve just told him that Alyssa went to the store and bought nail polish and gum. “So?”

  “So, it’s supposed to be confidential. Anyway, Maribeth might have still…like, given her a pass on account of bereavement. But then Alyssa did it again with Nathan Schuster a couple weeks later.”

  Maribeth told everyone. But in this grave, tragic way, where it sounded like she was really worried, but the other meaning was clear. It was her way of saying, Alyssa Barrity is a dirty, dirty slut and she deserves to be ostracized.

  Marshall is sitting with elbows on his knees, trying to get his face under control. “That’s so shitty, though. It’s not Maribeth’s business what someone else does. And I mean, maybe Alyssa didn’t even want to, maybe she was like numbing out—or just needing someone to be there with her.”

  “Yeah,” I say. The spill wall means knowing the complicated sadness of people better than I ever have. “Yeah, maybe that’s why.”

  The way he’s watching me makes me feel guilty without knowing why. “Did you say those things about her too?”

  “No, but I didn’t do anything to stop it.”

  “That’s messed up, though. I mean, that’s really fucking cruel. Is that actually how girls are?”

  “Marshall, it’s how people are. I mean, are you telling me that guys belong to some kind of honorable brotherhood?”

  He shakes his head. He’s smiling, but not like anything is particularly wonderful. “No, just that when they’re shitty, it’s completely different shit.”

  I nod. It’s strange to truly recognize that he has his own collection of painful memories and moments, beyond casual self-destruction and loving me. “Like what?”

  “Just, things. I don’t know how to explain it. They just remind you there’s only one way you’re really allowed to be.” He closes his eyes and he’s still smiling, but now it looks tired. “You know those really bloody, torturey movies, like House of 1000 Corpses?”

  “Marshall, please.” My custom figure of Captain Spaulding sits serenely on my shelf of horrors, just before Coffin Baby, just after Blade from Puppet Master.

  “Okay, so there’s this part where they’re down in some underground lab with all these surgical tools and this guy is lying on a table, and he’s all mangled and coughing up blood.”

  “And then Denise comes in and she’s wearing that little Alice in Wonderland dress and the camera pans back to show how Jerry’s leg is all mutilated and surgically altered?”

  Marshall winces and makes a sound like ughhh. “Yeah, that part.”

  I’m laughing suddenly—not in a light, amused way, but breathless, covering my mouth with my hand.

  “It’s not funny,” he says.

  “No, I know—I know. I’m sorry. I’ve seen it a lot, is all.”

  He looks away, shaking his head. “Of course. Of course you have. It’s probably a secret documentary of your life. Forget it.”

  I lie back, studying him. He looks so mortified, so truly embarrassed. “No, say what you were going to. I won’t laugh anymore.”

  “It was on at Justin’s one night, and when it got to that part, I started feeling bad, like I couldn’t get enough air. I just needed to find someplace I could breathe.”

  I reach up and run my fingers down the side of his arm. His skin is prickling with goose bumps like the memory is a chilly one.

  He pulls away, turning so he’s practically talking into his own shoulder. “I got as far as the kitchen before I had to sit down. Justin—God, he’s such a dick. He’s, like, standing over me, pushing me with his foot and him and Hez are just laughing and laughing. I mean, Jesus, it was like a year ago and everybody still gives me shit about it.”

  I touch his forehead, the side of his face. “All of them? Even Ollie?”

  He lets his knee knock against my arm, smiling his weird, painful smile. “No. Ollie never does.”

  “You’re lucky, having a friend like him.”

  Marshall gazes down at me, and his face is gentle. “It’s not luck, Waverly. I mean yeah, to find someone who really gets you, maybe that’s luck, but if you treat people like they matter, they remember it.”

  I nod, hiding my face in the sheets so I won’t have to tell him how hard that is, treating people like anything.

  “Why are you friends with Maribeth?” he says, and his voice is so tender. Just so, so sorry.

  “Because she understands me.” Because Maribeth Whitman has always been there, ready to explain and to help, to look past the pleasing pastel mask I wear every day, and recognize the sharp-edged monster I am inside.

  Marshall ducks under the sheet to lie next to me. “No she doesn’t. The way you talk about her makes it sound like she treats you like a robot.”

  “Well, yeah.”

  “That’s bullshit,” he says. “That’s not who you are.”

  He says it like he knows that for a fact, like he knows so much, and I lie very still, staring back at him.

  “I’m not telling you who to be,” he says. “I’m just saying that what Maribeth treats you like is not what you are. She doesn’t see everything.”

  “And you do?”

  He laughs, shaking his head. “No—no one does. But at least I fucking know that.”

  He reaches for me, pulling me closer.

  “You don’t have to have lots of friends,” he says. “As long as the ones you do have are good.”

  If I had to pick only a few, the candidates would be him and Autumn. That’s it. There’s no one else. The knowledge leaves me lonely and strangely content at the same time.

  “You’re cold,” he says, running his hand down my arm.

  “I’m always cold.”

  He rolls out of bed. I want to grab him and pull him back to me, but he crosses the room and tugs his Pink Floyd hoodie off the back of the chair.

  He bundles me into it, putting my hands through the sleeves, closing the front carefully and yanking the zipper up. Then he grabs me around the waist and pulls me down onto the mattress. Wish You Were Here.

  “I think about you in class,” he says. His mouth looks soft, like something I never knew I needed. “I think about kissing you. It makes the day go faster.”

  “Where do you kiss me?”

  “Here.” He bends so his mouth brushes my cheek, just lightly. “And here.” He tugs the hoodie off my shoulder and kisses my neck, my bashfully lowered chin, my collarbone.

  Every time he says another syllable, his breath hits my skin, making tiny shivers ripple up my back. My heart is beating so hard it seems to fill the room. I think I’ll choke on the sonic vibration.

  He lays me back, leaning over me on his hands, staring into my face until I’m so claustrophobic I have to look away.

  With my face to the wall, I squeeze my eyes closed and make fists. “Are you trying to tell me that you want to fuck me?”

  He takes my chin and turns me back to look at him. “No.”

  “So, you’re saying you don’t want to fuck me.”

  With his hands braced on either side of my head, he leans closer, looking down at me. “I want to have sex with you.”

  “Right now?”

  “Someday.”

  “Because all seventeen-year-old boys are completely obsessed with sex?”

  “Because I like you,” he says. “Because that’s how much I like you.”

  I start to twist away, but he stops me, holding my face in his hands before he lets me pull free and hide my eyes against his shoulder.

  “How can you do that?” I whisper.

  “Do what?”

  “Just say things—say how you feel.”

  He shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I figure I’m going to regret it either way. Might as well.”

  “That is the saddest thing I’
ve ever heard.”

  He laughs softly in my hair. “Maybe. But it’s better than not being able to say it at all. Waverly, you’re the most important thing that’s ever happened to me.”

  I smile against his neck. “I’m not a thing.”

  He pulls the sheet over us, making a tent. The light from the lamp on his desk is buttery and warm, glowing through the sheet like a halo.

  I reach for him, grabbing him by the back of his neck. Kissing Marshall Holt is the highlight of my life.

  I let my hand drift against his stomach, feeling the muscles twitch and flutter at my touch. The pads of my fingers skimming his hip bone, his bare chest, the perfect, ghostly line of his rib cage. My pulse, which used to limit itself so unimaginatively to my major arteries, is everywhere now, banging frantically in my entire body, but its changing epicenter is wherever his mouth lands, lighting me from within. It’s the only thing that keeps me from caring that I can no longer tell the difference between awake and asleep.

  .

  The candle is gone—nothing but a lump of scorched wax in a cheap glass dish, wickless now, burned oily black on top.

  I sit on the edge of the bed in my pajamas, holding the remains, and even when my dad pokes his head in to warn me I’m going to be late for school, I can’t seem to make myself move. I sit with my aching feet tucked under me, the dish in my hands, thinking how far the distance is between my standard, ordinary day, and anything that matters.

  .

  The world is different now, but on the surface, nothing’s changed.

  I try, with varying degrees of success, not to think about him. Not to even think his name. I keep remembering at the most arbitrary times that once he was mine, if only in the barest sense.

  We skipped all the things that normal people share—the shows we watch, the songs we like or hate. Favorite colors, numbers, foods, a hundred getting-to-know-yous that never happened. Instead, the things I know about him are true in a way I can’t explain. They are a kind of closeness I never thought I’d have with anyone.

  I want to travel back in time—back to when I was young enough to think the real world was just something I had to sit through until I could be alone. Back to when my dreams felt like the realest thing about me.

  Being alone isn’t enough anymore.

  At school, I watch him in the halls. He and Ollie are so effortless together, always knocking into each other, bumping shoulders.

  He knows how to be touchable, how to let people near him. In the daylight, I can barely stand to breathe other people’s air. When Maribeth reaches over to fix my hair, I have to dig my nails into my hand to keep from twisting away.

  .

  It’s chilly out, and gray. I can’t remember if it’s Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Time is elastic and hard to understand.

  I refer to my calendar every two seconds. Forget what it said. Look again. One morning, I came to school and it seemed like every third girl was dressed as a cat. It took me most of first period to figure out that I wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating. It was just Halloween.

  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? It can’t be Saturday, because I’m in English class. We’re discussing the evolution of the mystery story, or at least, Mr. Hoffmeyer is. I’m drawing torture devices in my notebook, propping my head up with my hand.

  Hoffmeyer has just started making bullet points about gothic imagery when I glance up in time to see Marshall pass the long windows that look out into the language arts hall.

  There’s a tight look around his eyes, and he doesn’t turn toward the bathrooms or the drinking fountain, cafeteria, library, counseling office. He chooses the other direction, toward the door to the back parking lot.

  I want to get up and run after him. I want to remind myself that the world doesn’t work that way. I don’t have any contingency plan for this. I don’t have any right to him.

  But I remember how he touched me, his hands cradling my feet, finding the places where they hurt. He didn’t ask or hesitate or waste time wondering if he had a right to. He was ready to do whatever it took to make me feel better, because I needed help, even if I wouldn’t say so. I close my notebook and raise my hand.

  “Waverly, thank you,” says Mr. Hoffmeyer, pointing energetically. “Do you want to tell us which early work touched off Poe’s short-story career?”

  “No, I’d like to be excused.”

  As soon as I step through the doors, the wind is ferocious. Marshall is already halfway across the practice fields, receding purposefully into the distance toward the baseball diamond.

  I stand on the steps of the west entrance, watching. If he turns or glances back, he’ll see me here. But he doesn’t.

  His silhouette is dark against the sky, getting smaller.

  The scenario is already playing out in my head—the sequence of events if I were to follow him, crunching out toward the bleachers across the dead lawn. Crossing the baseball diamond, then sinking down next to him on the bench in the dugout, feeling the cold cement, realizing too late that I should have brought a jacket.

  It’s not hard to imagine us there. When I blink against the bright, chilly daylight, I can already picture it. The two of us hunched close together on the bench, my hand in his, foreheads nearly touching. Without the candle, grimy, secret places like the dugout are the only way to be us now, but I’m already cataloging all the ways it wouldn’t be the same. Instead, I’d be the person I was behind the bleachers, not the one he actually needs. That cold, unyielding girl, hazardous and distant, polished to a high gleam. Always saying the worst, most thoughtless things.

  He’d just be the place that I escape to.

  What we had is over. For the time it lasted, we were perfect how we were, but it’s done. I’m not going to ruin the memory by polluting it with who I am the rest of the time.

  Marshall is gone now, disappeared into the dugout.

  After a long time, when my ears are windburned and my fingers freezing, I turn and go back inside, where the halls smell like floor cleaner and the heat is on full blast.

  I should go to class, learn my literary symbolism. Tend my notes like everything is normal.

  Instead, I flatten down my windblown hair and head for the west hall bathroom, because there, at least I understand myself—my place in the world—and when the confessions are anonymous, every voice looks just like every other.

  Standing in front of the spill wall, I count up the number-one-fan secrets—all the different brands of admiration, aspiration, envy.

  I admire: this athlete, rock star, movie star, porn star, fashion icon, fictional character.

  I want to be: Taylor Swift, Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Rihanna.

  The names are different, but I want these things too. I want to be William Shakespeare and Galileo and Robert Frost. I want to be Sappho. I want to be Jane Austen. I want to be Holden Caulfield and Marilyn Monroe and Joan of Arc. I’m sad to think they came before me in history, they made their mark without me. But they were there. They happened.

  I close my eyes and rest my cheek against the wall. It’s cool, lumpy with so many layers of paint. I imagine the snarl of confessions transferred in reverse, leaking onto my skin, printed on my face for everyone to see. They’re waiting for a connection, intimate contact with whatever it is they find remarkable. Beautiful.

  I write the answer with my forehead pressed against the wall, clutching the pen like a torch or a sword, like I will never let it go:

  MARSHALL

  Surrender

  In the guidance center, I spend way too long hovering in the doorway. My hands are freezing.

  The Trunchbull’s at her desk, flipping through a course catalog for one of the state schools. Finally, she looks up and raises her eyebrows. “I don’t remember getting a performance alert for you, having the office send you three separate reminders, and then pulling up your schedule so I can tell your homeroom teacher to nag you every day until you made an appointment.”

  “Yeah. Sorry.” I can’t
tell if I’m apologizing for always making things hard, or just for being here now when I don’t have an appointment and she’s probably busy anyway.

  I could still leave. I don’t have to be here or talk to her. I don’t have to say anything at all. I just spent forty-five minutes shivering in the dugout, trying to figure out how to breathe, which is shitty, but totally familiar. I’ve done it before. I could just keep doing that.

  Then she closes her catalog. “Better come in and tell me what’s on your mind.”

  I slouch into her office and sit down. I don’t know what to say.

  This hopeless feeling has been sitting in me for so long I’ve almost gotten used to it. The words for it are impossible, like trying to explain your own heartbeat.

  On the corner of her desk, there’s a bunch of applications for the peer counselor program and I stare at them. The forms are green half sheets, cut crooked, with a bad cartoon of the Henry Morgan bobcat on them. It’s wearing a letter jacket and grinning like a total asshole.

  There are vintage superhero postcards lined up against Trunch’s window and her cork board is covered with clippings about rescue pit bulls that got adopted and photos of abandoned buildings filled with plants and flowers. I can’t tell if it’s real, or if she just puts them up to make people like me feel like we belong here. I stare at all the green, growing up through rotting floors and covering the cracks.

  Trunch scoots closer to the desk. “Marshall,” she says, “I don’t know exactly what’s going on with you right now, but I can tell you one thing. Toughing it out is not a strategy.”

  She sounds so much like Ollie it’s ridiculous—this raspy, cranky lady who’s older than my parents and has a laugh like gravel going down a slide.

  I know I’m supposed to be better, or at least figure out a way to keep the weak parts from showing. There’s an ache in my chest. My throat hurts, and for a minute, I just sit there, trying to get it under control.

  “Okay, fine,” she says. “How about this? Theresa Denning came to see me. She seemed to think you might be going through a rough patch.” Awkward pause. “I gave your mom a call.”

 
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