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Places no one knows, p.9
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       Places No One Knows, p.9

           Brenna Yovanoff
 

  I’m about to pour myself another shot, or maybe say that sometimes people just need things to end badly so they can toughen up and get a clue, but right then, the Captain comes slouching over to us, all deodorant body spray and douchebaggery. He’s smoking a cigar.

  “Dude, you’re scamming on a freshman? Are you out of your mind? Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

  “It’s not like that,” Ollie says, looking embarrassed.

  The Captain snorts, taking another puff off the cigar and blowing smoke in Ollie’s face. “Yeah, not like your dick’s looking for a place to land. Not like that.”

  Some other night, I’d set him straight maybe, tell him to back off, but my thoughts are too slow and messy to string together and I don’t say anything.

  Ollie scowls and flips him off, throwing his empty bottle into the trash so hard the whole thing rocks.

  I have this feeling I should ease up. Sober up. Get straight and go home.

  When I tell him I think I’m done, the Captain laughs and whacks me between the shoulders. “I’m sorry, did you just say your name is Pussy? Because I just heard you say that your name is Pussy.”

  The cigar smell is everywhere, getting in my clothes.

  “Man up,” he says, reaching for a bottle and shoving it across the counter at me. Man up.

  I keep getting blindsided by a bad, helpless feeling, like I don’t want to be doing this. Which is complete bullshit, because if I really didn’t want to, then I wouldn’t be climbing aboard the blackout express.

  Right?

  Heather finds me in the kitchen, even though I don’t remember texting her, and immediately, we’re all over each other. And for a while I like it, because the kissing feels good in a way that paints over things that feel bad, and she tastes pink, like strawberry lip gloss, which tastes like candy and reminds me of being younger.

  I’m going to feel like hell tomorrow. That’s not a promise or a plan, but it’s nice to have something you can count on. You know those people who say “Fuck my life,” like they’re these huge victims and the world is so completely cruel, like it’s taking advantage of them? Well, I’m not that guy. I did this. Me.

  I’m so fucking real that it hurts.

  “I like your hoodie,” Heather says, crawling into my lap. We’re in the living room somehow, almost like magic. She’s got her knees wedged down in the corners of the armchair so she’s straddling me. “I love that song, how the part about the fish tank goes.”

  Her voice is high and soft, like a little girl, and I know she doesn’t care about Pink Floyd, and she doesn’t know that my dad gave me the hoodie for my birthday last year because he cares about Pink Floyd and thinks Wish You Were Here is a really good album and I’m such a loser that I should just love it automatically. And Heather doesn’t know that, but she thinks she knows the words. She thinks she needs to love it because I do.

  I know I should be careful about making out two nights in a row. She might start thinking we’re like a real thing. Then she leans down and kisses me, and there’s nothing but the kissing.

  After, I stumble my way down into the basement where Hez has his bedroom and everything smells like socks. I lock myself in the bathroom and sit on the floor.

  It’s so hot in here I think I might melt and also, I’m starting to feel sick in that churning, sweaty way that gets worse every time I move my head.

  The rush of saliva comes next, promising puke, and that’s okay. I’ll hold my breath and close my eyes. Get everything out, all the beer and the bourbon, the sloppy candy flavor of Heather’s kisses, and then I’ll feel better. I’ll feel empty.

  The tub is not the cleanest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s got a crusty ring around the inside of it, but when I climb in, the ceramic is cool and I don’t want anything except to lie down someplace that doesn’t feel like a hundred and ten degrees.

  I lean my head against the side. It’s so cold it makes my teeth chatter. My skin feels tight and sticky and I can’t think of anything except that I can’t feel my hands and I’m starting to get the spins, and it’s the best and worst feeling I’ve ever had.

  I settle myself in the tub and lie back. My mouth tastes like failure. Like strawberries and bourbon.

  WAVERLY

  4.

  When all my numbers dissolve into noise, I open my eyes.

  I’m in a tiny bathroom with bad seventies wallpaper and no windows. Marshall Holt is slumped awkwardly in the tub with his head bent sideways. The floor is freezing.

  “Marshall.” When he doesn’t move, I kick the side of the tub. “Marshall!”

  He blinks up at me, scrubbing a hand over his face.

  I crouch next to him, then flinch when I get a whiff of hard alcohol. “You’re really drunk.”

  He nods, turning so that his head knocks against the wall. His eyes are red and he smells close to flammable.

  Even this wrecked, though—this disreputable—he doesn’t fit with the peeling linoleum and the wallpaper. His face is waxy, all fragile mouth and cheekbones. I’ve never thought this about a boy before, but he’s too pure-looking. The floor feels ominously sticky. Everything smells like mildew, and the grim commitment to filth that can only really be cultivated by post-adolescent boys.

  “What are you doing to yourself?” I hop awkwardly on one leg, trying to wipe my foot clean on the back of my calf. “This is gross. It’s stupid.”

  “Yeah?” he says, gazing up at me. “Well, it’s still a fuckload better than how things look the rest of the time.”

  There’s an edge in his voice, and I glance away. The way he’s staring at me is too honest. Everything is much too real.

  “Are you a ghost?” he says suddenly, the words blurry and thick in his mouth.

  “No.”

  “What are you, then?”

  “A girl.”

  He drags a hand across his face, frowning like I’ve just presented him with a particularly difficult equation. “So at school when I see this complete fucking princess, Waverly Camdenmar, that’s the same person? Like, tomorrow you’ll be you, and you’ll remember this?”

  I nod. I’m not entirely convinced that he’ll remember, but it seems indelicate to say so. I’m inappropriately pleased that he knows my last name.

  He’s struggling to his feet now, hauling himself up. He sits on the edge of the tub, dropping his head forward, closing his eyes. “Oh, God.”

  “Are you all right?”

  He nods, keeping his head down. “Just really nauseous.”

  “Nauseated.”

  He squints up at me. “What?”

  “Nauseous means something else. You’re nauseated.”

  “Okay, well, you’re completely pedantic.”

  He’s clammy and pale, breathing through his nose, and I’m secretly impressed by his use of the word pedantic. He sits with his hands braced on the edge of the tub, taking long, measured breaths. Then, without opening his eyes, he reaches over and flips the toilet seat up.

  I wait for him to lunge for the bowl, but he doesn’t. He stays perfectly motionless, eyes closed and head down.

  Finally, he clears his throat and says in a halting whisper, “Can you do me a favor?”

  From above, his shoulders are broader than I’d realized, muscular in a way that makes me feel awkward. I fold my arms over my chest like I could protect myself. “What kind of favor?”

  “Turn the water on really cold and hold your hand under.”

  I stare down at him, trying to see a way for this to be some kind of joke or trick. His request is too simple, though. Too sincere.

  After a second, I turn on the faucet and let the water run between my fingers. “Okay, I put my hand under.”

  “Is it cold?”

  “Yeah. Now what?”

  “Just—could you hold it against the back of my neck? Just for a little.”

  When I press my palm against his neck, he breathes out and starts to shiver. His vertebrae feel solid and knobby under my hand, just the
right shape for my fingers.

  I perch next to him on the edge of the tub. “Is that better?”

  He nods, slumping sideways a little, resting his shoulder against mine. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s nice.”

  His arm is warm through his shirt and I can feel him breathing.

  We sit side by side without talking. Me with my hand on Marshall’s neck, him with his head drifting sideways, closer, closer. Finally coming to rest against my shoulder.

  He sighs. It’s a soft, dreamy sound and I lean into him and let my cheek touch his hair, just lightly. For the first time all day, I kind of feel like I’m in the right place.

  “Why are you so determined to destroy yourself?” I say, and my voice is very small.

  “I don’t know,” he whispers back. “Why are you?”

  “I’m not. I’m just…driven.”

  The inadequacy of this takes a second to sink in, after which it becomes unbelievably funny and I start to giggle in a way that sounds kind of hysterical.

  And then Marshall’s laughing too in little hitching gasps. “Yeah, right. You pile all this busywork and random bullshit on yourself, just so you won’t have to actually deal with anything. Hey, I get it—you get to look perfect, whatever. But my way’s easier.”

  I know I should correct his misconception that I’m not good at dealing with things, but I’m so much more incensed by the fact that he has just reduced the sum total of my life to busywork. “At least I don’t degrade myself for fun.”

  Abruptly, he stops laughing. “Like you could even begin to know why I do anything.”

  His voice is harsh and I lean close, trying to see into his face. “Okay, why, then? What is so wrong with your life?”

  He swallows hard, looking at the floor.

  “What’s wrong with your life?” I say in a whisper.

  The question is a bad one, and I whisper because if the question is bad, then the answer is guaranteed to be bad too, and half of me doesn’t want to know, but the other half, the brutal half needs to know, needs to hear the dirty parts.

  Marshall doesn’t answer. Instead, he twists away, hunching his shoulders, shaking me off. His face is a sick, grayish color. He looks awful.

  Inexplicably, he’s smiling. “You need to leave now.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “I need you to give me some fucking privacy.”

  “Why? What are you going to do?”

  He gives me a long look and holds up two fingers, the way saints bless people in religious iconography. Then he sticks them in his mouth like someone miming suicide and leans over the toilet.

  “Oh my God. That is completely vile.”

  He takes his fingers out of his mouth. “Leave, then. It’s not like this gets better with an audience.”

  I don’t move. His gaze is confrontational, his challenge to me, and I don’t want to watch, but I’m not about to be beaten by something so pathetic. It takes more than some drunk idiot puking to make me look away.

  He repositions himself over the toilet and shoves his fingers hard down his throat, then retches and takes his hand away. Nothing happens.

  With an exasperated sigh, he tries again. This time he gags, hanging his head down in the bowl so I can’t see. The whole procedure is businesslike and surprisingly quiet, like he’s done this before.

  He flushes the toilet and leans his elbows on the seat, holding his hand over the bowl and keeping his eyes closed. I wonder if I’m supposed to touch him, rest my hand on his back or pet his hair, but his shoulders are rigid and I stay where I am. I realize that I’m hugging my arms and make myself stop.

  “So,” he says without opening his eyes. “You just watched that.” He sounds exhausted suddenly, like we’re not engaged in combat anymore.

  “Yeah.”

  He leans his forehead against the front of the tank. “What’s wrong with you, Waverly?”

  I stand over him, looking at his bent back, his damp hair. From this angle, I can see how his ears stick out too much, how the bones in his neck show. Drunk looks stupid and pointless on him, like it’s bringing out his absolute worst features.

  “That’s a strange question, coming from someone who binge-drinks on a school night and then follows it up with a pretty good impression of a Pro-Am bulimic.”

  “I mean it,” he whispers. “I wreck myself and I fuck myself up, and you just stand around and watch like it’s nothing.”

  “Maybe debasement interests me.”

  “Functional. Really. Can you hand me a towel?”

  I toss a faded bath towel at him and he catches it without raising his head. He swipes at his mouth and then his hand. The whole time he’s wiping his fingers clean, he keeps his face turned away.

  “How are you?” I say finally.

  He sits back on the linoleum and looks up at me. Then he laughs, sweaty and pale, eyes drifting shut. “Really, Miss Honor Roll—really? How am I? I’m fucking stupid, okay. Can you maybe stop enjoying it for two seconds and see if there’s some mouthwash?”

  He sounds so exhausted and so bitter that I don’t quite know how to navigate the question. Enjoying? “Excuse me?”

  “Mouthwash. Scope, Listerine. Look in the cupboard.”

  I open the medicine cabinet and hand him a giant bottle of something fluorescent that promises to lay waste to the menace of gingivitis.

  He takes a gulp, then swishes it and spits a mouthful of green froth into the toilet. When he stands up, he does it slowly.

  “Move,” he says, shoving past me for the sink.

  “You’re revolting,” I say. But I don’t really mean it.

  When he wrenches the tap, the faucet comes on full blast and sprays up against the side of the sink, splashing all over both of us. When I gasp and jump back, he turns the knob the other way, so the water slows to a trickle.

  “You were okay before,” I say, but I sound like I’m asking a question.

  With his back to me, he soaps up and scrubs his hands. “In what universe was I ever okay?”

  “You were, though. We were sitting there. We were fine. But then you had to go and turn it into some weird masochistic thing.”

  He cups his hand under the faucet, then brings it to his mouth before he answers. “It’s just about bad and worse,” he says to the cracked ceramic basin and the floor. Water is running down his face and neck, dripping from his chin. “I can do it now and go to bed before I really start to feel it, or I can do it at home, tomorrow, with my mom banging on the door asking if I want a 7UP and feeling like my head’s about to come apart.”

  “Or you could just not get drunk. That’s always an option.”

  He shuts off the faucet and turns to face me. “Yeah, well, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you do things that feel bad later just so you don’t feel worse right now.”

  The look he gives me is like he’s sorry, like he’s telling me some desolate and little-known fact and he wants to apologize for it. I want to tell him that I never put off unpleasantness. I always do the thing that feels bad right now. It’s what makes me good at running. It’s what makes me good at everything.

  Out in the hall, someone’s shouting and whooping, coming closer. A guy, yelling Marshall’s name. He stops outside and then starts pounding on the door.

  Marshall’s still watching me, arms folded across his chest. Something about his posture makes me want to hug him suddenly, just wrap my arms around him and hold on. He studies me with that same helpless expression and I don’t say anything.

  More knocking, followed by a series of thumps. Someone’s kicking the bottom of the door.

  Marshall sighs, steadying himself against the wall. “Sorry, I’ve got to take this.”

  When he opens the door, his brother is lounging in the hallway. “Mars, you look like ass. Did I just hear you rallying?”

  Marshall swipes his damp hair out of his eyes. His smile is wide and easy. “Yeah, I’m good.”

  “Not good enough! You’ve got five minutes to catch up.”
/>
  “Nah, I think I’m done.”

  His brother pushes into the bathroom, holding up a bottle of cheap, oily-looking tequila. “Come on, man—don’t puss out on me.”

  Marshall shakes his head and turns to look at me, but I’m already disappearing.

  .

  In class the next day, Marshall is ragged. His eyes are bruised-looking and he’s wearing the clothes he had on last night.

  I get out my compact and hold it so the mirror reflects the room behind me, trying to determine if this is what a hangover looks like. After roll call, he puts his head down and doesn’t move until the bell.

  If I had any doubts left as to the truth or untruth of my dreams, this effectively dismantles them. There is one way I could know what Marshall would be wearing. Know, with unerring accuracy, that his shirt would be blue, his jeans would be torn, and his complexion would be colorless. And that is if I stood over him in the bathroom of his brother’s house last night and observed these things for myself. If I was there.

  The lesson is on seasonal vocabulary, which it seems like we covered a year ago. I’m now five full chapters ahead. I was memorizing Thanksgiving verb forms back in the second week of September.

  I’m not sure what’s happening to me. In theory, I should be crumbling into chaos and madness right now, doubting everything I’ve ever known or believed. In practice, it doesn’t feel much different from opening my binder to find my homework ready and waiting, even though I don’t actually remember doing it. My body seems insubstantial. Made of smoke and vapor. Like responsible, studious Waverly is barely even a thing anymore.

  I spend my shift in the counseling office staring at the clock, touching the dark showy grain of the reception desk, reminding myself that I am here. This is real.

  When the second hand ticks and ticks and no one comes, I let myself out on a forged bathroom pass and read through the crop of new secrets that have appeared on the wall since yesterday.

  It’s mostly the usual fare—boys, bodies, self-loathing. The embarrassments and the crushes and the stupid crushing boredom.

 
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