Burn for burn, p.9
Burn for Burn, p.9Jenny Han
During lunch yesterday Rennie noticed me smiling to myself and asked, “What’re you all smiley about?” I almost choked on my chicken wrap. I’ve never had to keep a secret this big before. When my mom planned a surprise fiftieth birthday party for my dad, I worried so much I’d spill the beans that I had a stomachache for two weeks. When my dad tucked me in at night, I would be thinking, Don’t say anything, Don’t say anything. I had this fear that it would just come out because I was concentrating so hard on keeping it to myself.
But I managed to pull it off. I told Rennie I was thinking about where we’d take our graduation trip to in May. That’s always been our plan. Go somewhere together, just her and me. I said, “Fiji could be awesome. Or the Maldives.”
I’m never going to look at Rennie the same way again, but in a way I’m glad not to have to do anything about that just yet. My true beef is with Alex, and that’s where I’m focusing all my attention.
Part of me—the nostalgic part, I guess—wishes I could tell Rennie what I’m up to. She’d get a big kick out of what we’re doing. I bet she’d think of lots of sick, twisted things we could do to Alex, things I’d never come up with in a million years. But of course I can’t say anything. Because when we’re done with Alex, Rennie’s next.
For now I just need to keep playing it cool. The more normal I seem to everyone, the less they’ll suspect that I’m behind anything. That is essential. No one can find out. Ever.
Rennie asks, “You want to come eat dinner over at my house, and we can figure it out there?”
I smile and say, “Totally.”
I leave my car in the school parking lot, and Rennie drives us to her condo in the Jeep. Her complex is called The Gulls, and the sign is lit up by spotlights. The front entrance is nicely manicured, with flowers and some big bushes of sea grass. But when you pass that and get to the gate, it’s a lot less nice. You used to have to punch a code to get in, but the gate has been broken all summer. It’s tied open with rope. Ever since there were a few break-ins at The Gulls last spring, my dad doesn’t like me coming here.
“Someone should fix that gate,” I say as we drive through. I dig a grape lollipop out of my purse and unwrap it. Then I offer it to Rennie for first lick. She shakes her head and I add, “It’s not safe. Anyone could just come in.”
Rennie shrugs. “The management here sucks. Remember how long it took us to get the shower fixed? Mom’s been talking about moving off island again once this year is over.”
I stop sucking on my lollipop. “Seriously?”
“Hello! She wanted to move us last spring, when they raised our rent.”
I remember. We cried and begged Ms. Holtz to change her mind. We even came up with a plan for Rennie to live with me for senior year. Ms. Holtz finally gave in when she saw how dead set Rennie was on staying.
“Anyway, now she’s dating some guy on the mainland. Rick the restauranteur.” Rennie makes a face. “He owns a sub shop or something tacky like that. My mom’s there, like, every weekend, and she’s spending a fortune on ferry tickets. And she’s been looking into a real estate class. I bet she breaks her lease on the gallery before June.”
“Your mom loves the gallery too much to let it go.”
“She does love it, but things have been super-tight lately,” Rennie says. “Don’t forget I just turned eighteen. That was the end of child support checks from my DBD.”
I stay quiet. I never quite know what to say when Rennie brings up her dad. He left when she was three, and she’s only seen him twice since then. He used to call on her birthday, but not since he got remarried and had kids. Now he’s out in Arizona someplace. Rennie hardly ever talks about him, and when she does, she calls him her DBD—deadbeat dad.
She sighs. “It’s just crazy that when we’re both on Thanksgiving break from college next year, we won’t be living ten minutes away from each other. There’ll be an ocean between us.”
“You’re not moving to another country,” I point out, relieved she’s not talking about money or her dad anymore. “The ferry ride is no big deal.”
“It’s a huge deal, and you know it,” Rennie says. “Everything will change.”
I was thinking about this even before things got so messed up between us. When we go away to college, we’ll drift apart. We won’t need each other so much anymore. Maybe that’s a good thing. If Rennie’s not home for breaks, it will just make it easier.
In the complex there are three identical buildings positioned around a small pool in the center courtyard. We walk around it on our way to the front door of Rennie’s building. As long as Rennie’s lived here, I’ve never gone into the pool. It feels weird, to swim in front of a hundred people’s kitchen windows. And my pool is, like, three times the size. So we always just swim at my house.
Rennie’s fumbling for her keys when the door to her condo swings open. Ms. Holtz has her hair blown out smooth, and she’s in a gray and white wrap dress, a big chunky beaded necklace, and silver hoop earrings. “How do I look?” She does a spin.
“Cute!” Rennie squints. “But you need different lipstick. Something brighter.”
“And I think the tag is still on,” I say. I go to the silverware drawer, get the scissors, and clip it for her.
“I should tell your mom about this shop, Lillia,” Ms. Holtz says. “It’s full of deals on designer clothes. Check the tag. This is a five-hundred-dollar Diane von Furstenberg dress that I got for sixty bucks!”
Rennie groans. “I already told you, Mom. That print is, like, from two years ago. Right, Lil?”
“I’m not sure,” I say, even though Rennie’s right. My mom has it in the blouse version. She doesn’t wear it anymore, though. “It looks great on you.”
“Thanks, hon.” Ms. Holtz spins me toward her and gives two air kisses, one on each of my cheeks. “Hey! You girls should stop by the gallery tonight. I’m showing an amazing local artist who makes stained glass representations of water.” I guess neither Rennie or I look that excited about that, because she adds, “I’ll let you two drink some wine if you promise to stay hidden in the back room.”
“Maybe,” Rennie says, but she gives me a secret look that says No way. The booze isn’t even a pull. First off, wine is gross. Second, Rennie has at least three bottles of vanilla vodka hidden under her bed. She gets them from the bartenders at Bow Tie.
Ms. Holtz orders us a pizza—half mushroom and onion for Rennie, half cheese for me. Rennie and I go into her room to do our nails while we wait. I pick Ballet Slipper. It’s light pink, so pale that it’s almost white. Rennie picks Cha Cha, a fiery orange. When her nails dry, she goes to take a shower. I flop onto her bed.
An entire wall of Rennie’s room is dedicated to our friendship. There are pictures of Ashlin and Reeve and everybody, but it’s mostly us. We are at the center of it all. The strip of pictures we took in a photo booth at the fair one year, a subway card from when my mom took us to New York for my fourteenth birthday. The Broadway Playbill from the same trip. I feel sad looking at it. Like the memories are from a long, long time ago.
Ms. Holtz sticks her head in the door. “Pizza’s here, Lil.”
“Okay,” I say, and beam her a big cheerful smile. “Thanks, Paige.” I feel a little weird calling Rennie’s mom Paige, but she always insists.
Instead of leaving she slouches against the doorway. “I’m so glad you came over tonight. It’s funny I was just saying to Ren this morning, ‘I haven’t seen my Lillia in forever!’” It’s been a week, which wouldn’t be strange, except Rennie and I practically live together, we hang out that much. There’s a pause, and I’m not sure if Ms. Holtz expects me to explain. But then she says with a funny laugh, “Don’t look so scared, honey! I’m not mad at you! I know how busy you girls get with school and cheering.”
I nod, like that’s the reason exactly.
“You know I love you. You’re my favorite of all Rennie’s friends, hon. I just want you girls to always stay close.”
Rennie comes in with two towels, one wrapped around her body and one around her head.
“Pizza’s here, Ren,” Ms. Holtz says.
“Cool. Thanks, Mom. Have a good night!” Rennie practically closes the door in her mom’s face.
She takes the towel off her head and flings it onto the bed. She has to unplug her air conditioner to have an open outlet for her hair dryer. I go open the window so her room won’t get too hot. She sits on the floor in front of the mirror hanging on the back of her bedroom door and starts blowing out her hair with a round brush.
“So, what are we doing tonight?” she asks.
I climb off her bed and crawl on my knees over to her. “Let’s go to the movies. We haven’t been to a movie in, like, forever.” That’s what Rennie and I would do whenever it rained. This summer there were a million sunny days. Tonight I want to go so I won’t have to talk to her or look at her.
“Ooh! Yeah. You want to make it a girls’ night? Me, you, and Ash?”
“No. Call the boys.” I have to say it, because that’s old Lillia. And that’s who I need to be.
“Just Reeve and PJ? Or should we call Alex, too? Is he done with his hissy fit about us bailing on his party?”
“I’m sure he’s over it by now.” I start to braid my hair. “Besides, who else is going to buy me candy?”
Rennie falls backward laughing, and in the process topples me over with her. She starts squeezing my knee, and I can’t help but crack up, because I’m so ticklish. Then Rennie rolls on her side and smiles at me. “Lil,” she says, before letting out a sigh. “I’m so glad . . .” I don’t know if she expects me to finish her sentence or what, but when I don’t, she lies back down and says, without looking at me, “You’re making the right decision. Letting it go.”
I dig my nails into the palm of my hand and feel the almost-dry polish curdle against my skin. “I know,” I say, my eyes closed tight.
* * *
I woke up to Rennie shaking my shoulder. “Get up, Lillia. Get up!”
It was dark. I was lying on a leather couch, my legs hanging off the side. My tank top and my shorts were gone. I was just wearing my one-piece bathing suit. “What’s happening?” I croaked. My mouth felt dry and cottony, and my head was spinning.
Rennie, her eyes as big as I’ve ever seen them, leaned in close to my face and whispered, “Shh!” Her breath reeked of tequila. She had her shoes in her hands. “We’re getting out of here.”
I sat up on the couch, and the room was spinning. I was still drunk. Someone was lying in the bed, asleep. My guy, Mike, wasn’t in the room. I didn’t know where he was.
Rennie was on her hands and knees, feeling around in the dark for my shirt. She found it over by the desk. I quickly slid it over my head, and found my shorts behind one of the couch cushions. Rennie opened the bedroom door a crack, keeping her eyes on the boy in the bed. She let me out first.
The house was totally wrecked. A couple of people were asleep in the rooms we passed, and on a pullout couch in the living room. I didn’t even breathe. I was running for the door, and Rennie was right behind me.
We didn’t stop running until we were down the driveway. I fell into the mailbox, heaving for breath. Rennie crouched down and put her heels on. I stood next to her, trying to remember what just happened. Where the night went. Everything was blurry in my head.
But then I remembered. Taking the shots of tequila. Following the guys up to the bedroom. They said we were going to watch a movie. Mike, kissing my neck. Picking me up, putting me on the desk. I kissed him back. I liked it. Then I didn’t. I said no. I think I said no. Didn’t he hear me?
I felt the bile rise in my throat. “I think I’m going to be sick.” I started to dry heave, and Rennie guided me over to the curb.
I threw up everything.
“You need to walk,” Rennie told me. “My Jeep’s blocked in the driveway.”
“No!” I said. I was already crying. “We can’t walk all the way to T-Town from here! It’s too far.”
“We have to.” She didn’t sound sympathetic. She started walking. “Let’s go.”
I didn’t say anything for the first mile or so. I just cried. Rennie stayed a few steps ahead of me, her back ramrod straight. My feet were hurting so bad in my sandals, but I couldn’t take them off. There was broken glass on the road. A couple cars drove by, and I wondered if they would stop for us. But they didn’t. They didn’t even slow down.
I threw up one more time in the grass. Rennie came over and pounded me on the back. “I can’t walk anymore,” I said, hugging my arms to me.
“Yes, you can. It’s not that far.”
Rennie started to walk again, but this time I didn’t move. “We have to call someone. I think—I think I need to go to the hospital. I think Mike put something in my drink.”
“He didn’t put anything in your drink.” Her hair was whipping around her face from the wind. “You just had too much, that’s all.”
“That’s not all! He—I didn’t . . .” I was crying hard, so hard that the tears were going in my mouth. “I could have an STD! I could be pregnant!”
Rennie shook her head. “He used a condom. Don’t worry.” She looked away. “He came over and asked Ian for one.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” I said it over and over. Like a prayer. A prayer for this to be a nightmare, to wake up and not be here. Anywhere but here.
“Lil, you need to—”
“Did you have sex with Ian?”
“Yeah.” She said it softly.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I wept. I remembered now, calling out her name. I saw her with Ian in the bed. Mike was kissing me down my neck, pulling the front of my bathing suit as low as it would go. I called out “Rennie.” Then I blacked out.
“You were fine! You were having a good time.” She started walking away from me.
I ran up to her and grabbed her arm. “No, I wasn’t! You knew I didn’t want it to happen this way!” With a boy I barely knew, in the same room as my best friend, so drunk I could barely keep my head up. My first time was supposed to be special. With someone I loved. I’d barely fooled around with anybody before. I’d only ever kissed three boys total.
Rennie shook me off. Her eyes were hard diamonds. “Things got out of hand. But we both knew what was going to happen when we went upstairs with them.”
“I didn’t know!” I screamed it so loud, my throat burned.
“Come on, Lillia! You were in it just as much as I was. No one poured those shots down your throat.”
“It—it wasn’t supposed to happen like that. Not to me.”
Rennie curled her lip. “But it was okay for me? I might not be a virgin, but I’m no slut.” I was crying too hard to answer her, and she sighed and said, “Look, it happened but it’s over. Let’s just forget it.”
“I can’t,” I said, my shoulders shaking. “I mean, what if people find out? What if we see those guys again?” The thought of running into Mike somewhere on the island made me want to die.
Rennie shook her head and put her hands on my shoulders. “They were only renting for the week, remember? They’ll be gone by this afternoon.” She locked eyes with me. “I’m not saying anything. You’re not saying anything. No one will ever know.”
It was light out by the time we got to Rennie’s apartment complex. I wanted to go home. I wanted to tell my mom everything. She’d know what to do. She’d know how to fix it. But I couldn’t tell her. She thought I was having a sleepover at Rennie’s. And what would she think of me if she knew? What would my dad think? And Nadia? I would never be the same girl to them. Never, ever.
When I got out of the shower, Rennie was already in her bed, her eyes closed. I crawled in next to her. With our backs to each other, she said, “Toni
* * *
We pick up Ashlin and then drive over to the theater. I don’t even know what’s playing until we get there. The guys are waiting outside for us. Rennie jumps onto Reeve’s back, and he carries her inside. Ashlin and I get in the concessions line and figure out our snack game plan.
“How about popcorn, Reese’s Pieces, and gummi bears?” she asks.
I can feel Alex lurking behind me, so I make a big show of saying, “No Sno-Caps? They’re the best!” Sno-Caps are Alex’s favorite.
Ashlin makes a face. “Sno-Caps are gross, Lil! They taste like dust.”
And just like clockwork, Alex comes over and says to Ashlin, “Are you kidding? Sno-Caps are awesome.”
“See?” I say to Ashlin. “I’m not the only one who likes them.”
To the girl at the concessions stand, Alex says, “One box of Sno-Caps, please.”
I put my chin on his shoulder. “You’re sharing with me, right?”
“Get your own box,” he says. But the backs of his ears are pink, and the corners of his mouth are turned up in a smile.
Just like that, I know I’ve got Alex right where I want him—thinking everything’s cool between us and that I don’t suspect a thing.
I’M AT THE KITCHEN TABLE, FINISHING UP MY HOMEWORK. Aunt Bette’s on the phone with one of her friends as she does the dinner dishes. She says, “Things are great. Mary’s been keeping me company.”
Even though things were a little awkward those first few days, now Aunt Bette is really happy to have me here. We’ve settled into a nice routine. I try to stay out of her way, and not interrupt her while she’s painting. And if my bedroom door is closed, she leaves me alone.
When I came home super late from that night at the docks, Aunt Bette was still up. I begged her to please not say anything to my parents. If they found out, they’d probably pack up the car and come and get me. Aunt Bette didn’t say yes or no, but my parents haven’t showed up in the minivan, so I’m pretty sure she didn’t tell them.
Burn for Burn by Jenny Han / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes