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       Good Girls, p.1

           Laura Ruby
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Good Girls

  Good Girls

  Laura Ruby

  For all my girls…

  and for everyone else’s

  “…it took me too long to realize that i don’t take good pictures cuz i have the kind of beauty that moves”

  —Ani DiFranco, “Evolve”



  Beg Me

  The Photograph

  The Gauntlet

  A Beautiful Thing

  Once More, with Feeling

  I Am Hamlet

  We Interrupt This Program for a Special Report


  The Other Audrey

  Pay Up

  Duck-Billed Salad Servers

  The Slut City World Tour

  The Third Time

  A Long, Cold Winter

  Spring, Sprang, Sprung

  Sinner, Repent

  Love Hammer

  Born Again

  Here Comes the Bride(s)



  About the Author

  Other Books by Laura Ruby



  About the Publisher

  Beg Me

  Ash says she’s the Dark Queen of the Damned. I say I’m the Empress of the Undead. My dad, passing by the bathroom where we’re getting ready, takes one look and declares us Two Weird Girls from Jersey.

  “That’ll work,” Ash says.

  Tonight, we’re Goth. We’ve got the layers of black mesh shirts, the cargo pants rolled up to the knees, the ripped fishnets, the combat boots, the white face makeup and the smudgy rings of eyeliner. Ash brought a can of black hair spray, but she’s already used most of it on her curly brown hair. “Not sure if there’s enough left for you, Rapunzel.”

  “Shut up and start spraying,” I say. My hair is blond, and long enough to tuck into the back of my cargoes. Ash blackens the strands around my face and puts skunky streaks all around the back. The noise scares Cat Stevens—aka Stevie, The Furminator, and Mr. Honey Head—who is watching us from his perch on the toilet tank. He jumps down and dashes out of the bathroom.

  “What did you do to Stevie?” my mom calls. I hear her murmuring, “Poor baby kitty. Little marmalade man.”

  After Ash finishes, we crowd the mirror. “We are so hot,” she says. And we are. Dark and freaky and brooding, the way vampires might look. I should like it more than I do. My black bra doesn’t fit right, and the straps dig into my shoulders. The fishnets itch. It’s a stupidly warm night, and I’m already sweating. Plus, I’ve got on so much mascara that when I blink, my lashes spike my skin.

  It’s different for Ash. She’s sort of Goth-y anyway, with her pierced eyebrow and sharp cheekbones and the German swearwords courtesy of her Deutsch grandma. I lean closer to the mirror. “I should have bought contacts. In the store, I saw these green lenses with slanted pupils, kind of like a lizard.”

  Ash frowns. “You have the coolest eyes on the planet. Amber.”

  “Right,” I say. “Like that stuff insects get caught in.”

  “Plus,” she says, ignoring me, “you don’t get contacts for one Halloween party.” Ash blinks her own dark eyes, lush as melted chocolate. “And you can stop being so cranky, please.”

  “Sorry.” I bite my lip. “Can you believe this is our last Halloween together?”

  Ash’s hands fly up. “Enough with the ‘Can you believe this is our last whatever?’ stuff. It’s October. We’ve got like eight whole months of school left.”

  “More like seven.”

  “Seven, then.”

  “Six if you count vacations,” I say.

  “Audrey, the key word is ‘months.’ Besides,” she says, digging her elbow into my side, “there are more important things to worry about right now.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like a certain person by the name of Luke DeSalvio, who I’m sure will be at Joelle’s tonight. You remember him.”

  “Oh,” I say. “Right.”

  “Listen to her!” says Ash. “Oh, right. Like you aren’t about to explode all over this bathroom.”

  “Yeah, well. Like you’re always reminding me, it’s not serious. We’re just friends,” I say.

  “With benefits,” says Ash, her voice low so my parents can’t hear it. “Anyone for tongue sushi?”

  I smile but don’t answer. This is Ash, the girl whose name is always mentioned in the same breath as mine: AshandAudrey, AudreyandAsh. But there’s so much I haven’t told her, and now I don’t even know where to start. What I do know: me and Luke aren’t friends, me and Luke aren’t anything. I had decided I would tell him this tonight, if the subject ever came up. But we never did do much talking.

  “There will be lots of guys at the party,” I say. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll branch out a little.”

  “Really?” Ash says. “Well, well. I guess someone’s got a brain in her head after all.”

  Her phone bleats like a sheep and she grabs for it, looks at the screen. “Picture mail,” she says. She presses a few buttons and the image pops up. “My baby brother in his Spider-Man costume.”

  I look over her shoulder. “Cute.”

  “Please. The boy’s a demon from hell. Last week, he actually peed in one of the houseplants.” Ash tosses the phone back on the sink and shakes her head in the mirror. “The spray looks great on you, but it makes my hair look like ramen noodles.”

  That makes me laugh a little. “Squid-ink ramen noodles,” I say.

  “You have to get your parents to take you to normal restaurants once in a while. Pizza, anyone?”

  “We go out for pizza. Of course, it’s the kind with a cornmeal crust and gobs of goat cheese.”

  “Goats!” says Ash.

  My not-quite-normal parents are waiting for us in the living room with two glasses of wine and a digital camera—the wine for them, the camera for us. Usually, I hate all the pictures. I don’t need anyone documenting my awkward teenage years. Tonight my dad insists and for once I’m okay with it, maybe because I don’t look much like me anymore. My dad has us pose on the antique church pew against the yellow wall. He backs up and almost falls over the coffee table. My mom laughs and takes a sip of wine, shining and velvet in the light. They love this part, the part when I’m getting ready to go out but I haven’t left yet. I wonder if it will be hard for them when I’m off at college. Besides Cat Stevens, I’m all they’ve got.

  “Okay, girls,” my dad says. “Look Gothic!”

  “Goth, Dad,” I say. “Not Gothic.”

  “Sorry,” he says. “Ready? Say ‘Goat cheese!’”

  Because it’s my dad, we both yell “Goat cheese!” In the picture, we’ve got the black hair, the white skin, and the bruise-colored lips, but we’re both grinning like five-year-olds. Ash takes one look at the picture and says, “We’ve got to work on our attitudes, girl. We’ve got to think dark thoughts.”

  “Oh?” says my mom, intrigued. “What kind of dark thoughts?” She writes mystery novels, but the cozy kind with sweet old ladies, little baby kitties, and lots of homemade cookies. Oh, and a murder or two. Death by knitting needles. Dark thoughts in sunshiny places.

  Ash is doing her best to look creepy. “Madness,” she says. “Mayhem. Malice.”

  I try to think of a dark thought, but the best I can come up with is mixed-up, sad stuff—Luke stuff, our-last-Halloween-ever stuff. I don’t mention it, though. I’m already an Empress of the Undead. I don’t need to kill everything else off, too.

  After the pictures, my mom makes me promise to take my cell, which she seems to think will protect me from car accidents and evil, drunken boys bent on stealing my virtue. Yes, I’ll take the cell. Yes, I’ll call if I need anything. We say good-bye and we’re out the door. Ash has to drive because
I’m still too young. I skipped a grade in grammar school, and now I’m the only senior without a license. Doesn’t help that the driving age in New Jersey is seventeen, probably the oldest in the country. At least my parents let me stay out as late as everyone else. I might be sixteen and three quarters, but my mom says I’m an old soul. Lately, I’ve been feeling like one. As we get closer to Joelle’s, I start to get this nervous flutter in my stomach that gets more fluttery with each block. I cross my fingers and whisper a teeny little prayer in my head: Please, God, do not let me make an idiot of myself tonight. Let me have a little fun.

  It takes a while to find a parking spot, because everyone goes to Joelle’s Halloween parties. She’s had them every year since the seventh grade. Only strangers or losers show up without costumes, because they’ll be forced to wear one of Joelle’s tutus from her dancing days. When Ash and I walk in the door, I see only one guy with a tutu, a big fluffy pink one. He looks totally stupid, but that’s the point.

  Joelle runs up to us, almost tripping over her long white dress. “Look at you guys!” Joelle shrieks. “You’re so scary!” Joelle is dressed up as a goddess or whatever, with the gauzy dress and the gold armbands, shimmer powder on her face and these long curls in front of her ears. Ash says that Joelle always wears something that will make her look pretty rather than freaky. Joelle would never dress up as a mummy or a monster, or even a Goth chick. Joelle likes to look like Joelle, only more sparkly.

  “So who are you?” Ash says.

  “What do you mean, who am I?” Joelle shrieks. She’s a shrieker, especially when there’s a crowd. “I’m that tragic Greek heroine, Antigone!”

  “Anti what?” says Ash.

  Joelle puts her hands on her hips and stamps her foot. “Antigone!”

  “Antifreeze?” says Ash.

  “Antacid,” I say. “Ant Spray.”

  “Get thee to a theater,” Joelle says. Joelle wants to be an actress. Joelle is an actress. Her mother has already pulled her out of school a bunch of times to do commercials, an off-off-off Broadway play, and a spot on Law & Order.

  Ash raises eyebrows that we’d darkened with pencil. “You guys spend enough time at the theater, okay? Besides, you don’t look like a tragic Greek heroine as much as you look like an extra from Lord of the Rings.”

  “You suck,” says Joelle, punching her in the arm.

  “Who sucks?” Luke says. He walks over to where we’re standing in the hallway. He’s wearing black pants and a black shirt with a white paper collar. I suddenly feel like there’s not enough oxygen to go around.

  “What’s up, Father?” I say.

  He puts a hand on the top of my head. “My child, you are a sinner.”

  Ash snorts. “You should know.”

  “Hey,” says Luke. “I’m not a priest, I’m a pastor. Pastors are allowed.”

  “Allowed what?” I say. Luke grins and my face goes hot. I’m glad that it’s dark and that I’m wearing the white makeup. But Luke can tell anyway. He grins even wider before he drifts off into the crowd again. My head feels warm where his hand was, like he’s excited my hair follicles. This is how I am around him. My brains dribble right out of my ear and I’m left with nothing but a body I can barely control. I’m actually a little surprised when my legs don’t scuttle after him and fling me at his feet. It’s happened before.

  “He’s so cute,” says Joelle. “You guys are still, like, hanging out, right?”

  “Depends,” I say. I watch as Luke starts talking to Pam Markovitz, who is dressed up like some kind of junkyard cat, chewed-looking ears and whiskers and everything. Luke reaches out and yanks her bedraggled tail. Again my dumb, brainless body reacts: hands contract to fists, stomach clenches as if around bad chicken.

  Joelle sees where I’m looking. “Slut.”

  “I heard that Pam gave Jay Epstein head at the movies the other night,” Ash says.

  “Really?” I say. “Who said that?”

  “Jay Epstein.”

  “There’s a reputable source,” I say.

  “Still,” says Joelle. “Everyone knows she’s been with, like, the entire planet.”

  “What an unpleasant visual,” says Ash. “Gotta love how the leotard rides up her butt.”

  “Luke doesn’t seem to mind,” says Joelle. She catches my face. “I mean, he’s really really hot, but it’s a good thing you guys aren’t boyfriend/girlfriend and all that.”

  “Oh, please. Who needs a boyfriend?” says Ash. “It’s not like we’re gonna get married anytime soon. Anyway, like Audrey keeps saying, college is right around the corner.”

  It’s not supposed to bug me that Luke’s such a player, everything’s supposed to be casual. But in our friends-with-benefits arrangement, it seems like he’s the one who gets all the benefits. “Any other hot guys here?” I ask.

  “I hope so,” Ash says. “I haven’t hooked up in weeks.”

  Joelle runs off to get us some “soda,” which means that there’s beer that we’ll have to hide from Joelle’s dad, who probably won’t come out of his office over the garage long enough to see anything anyway. Me and Ash follow Joelle into the den. All the usuals are there: hoboes, witches, devils, football players dressed like cheerleaders, cheerleaders dressed like football players. “So original,” says Ash. There is a guy wearing a plaid jacket with a fish tank on his head. When we ask, he says, “I’m swimming with the fishies.” Red plastic fish are glued to the walls of the tank. His teeth make a white piano in his blue-painted face.

  Almost immediately, Ash starts dragging me over to every reasonably cute guy who doesn’t already know us from school. Joelle runs around taking bad pictures with her digital camera. Luke goes from girl to girl, stealing witch hats and pretending to poke people with a pitchfork he’s stolen from one of the devils. As if it’s my fault that everyone thinks she’s a slut, Pam Markovitz huddles with Cindy Terlizzi on the couch, Cindy shooting dirty looks and Pam smirking at me. I ignore them, talking to this person and that person, trying to relax and have a good time, but I feel like I’m far away and watching everything on a TV screen. Ash is getting sick of me being so gloomy, so she flirts big-time with Fish Tank, looking to hook up. At random intervals, cell phones ring and jingle and sing, and people go all yellular, shouting over the music, “What? WHAT?”

  I down the rest of my beer and go over to the cooler for another one. I don’t even like beer.

  “Awwww. Why so sad? Where’s Mr. Popularity?”

  I turn and see Chilly. He’s wearing baggy jeans, high-tops, and a T-shirt that says “Insert Lame Costume Here.” Apparently it was good enough for Joelle, because he’s not wearing a tutu.

  “Who?” I say.

  “You know who,” he says.

  “I don’t,” I say. Chilly gives me the creeps. He has eyes like radioactive algae and a wormy mouth. We learned a word for wormy in biology. Anneloid.

  “I’m surprised to see you here,” he says. “Don’t you have a few thousand tests to study for? Another foreign language to learn?”

  “Croatian,” I say. “But I can do that tomorrow.”

  “You are such a good, good girl. Doesn’t it kill you that you aren’t graduating number one?”

  As of the end of last year, I was number four in our class and had to work my butt off to get that much. A lot of people think that I’m some kind of genius because I skipped a grade, but I don’t think I’m much smarter than anyone else. I’m just weirder.

  “There’s eight months to graduation,” I say. “Anything can happen.”

  “Nah,” he says. He takes a sip of his drink, not beer but ginger ale. “You’ll never catch up with Ron. He’s got everyone beat. And Kimberly would rather commit ritual suicide than let anyone take her number two. I forget who’s number three, but whoever it is, you won’t budge them.”

  “You sleep through all your classes. What do you care?”

  “I don’t care at all. My test scores will get me where I want to go.”

; “Oh, I’m sure they will,” I say. I resist the urge to puke on his shoes. I cannot believe that I ever went out with him. I want to jam my finger into my ear and scratch the memory out of my brain.

  He takes a step closer to me, his algae eyes scraping across my chest. “Wanna hook up?”

  “No,” I say.

  “Come on,” he says. “You’re free, I’m free.”

  I think, You’re always free. I look around the room for Luke. A mistake, because Chilly snorts.

  “Don’t worry about him. He’s already occupied.” Chilly touches my cheek with a sandpapery fingertip. “He won’t mind sharing.”

  I slap his hand and walk away. I can hear Chilly laughing behind me, and I wish I’d thrown my beer in his face or something dramatic like that. But the drama queen stuff is Joelle’s job, not mine, and Chilly knows it. It’s why he likes to bother me.

  When I’m upstairs in the bathroom, I swig the beer and check my makeup in the harsh light. I look like the Empress of the Undead, if Empresses of the Undead are pouty and pathetic. What’s the use of planning a big breakup if the person you’re breaking up with is too busy yanking on tails and poking people with pitchforks? I suddenly do not want to be at this party at all. I wonder if I should call my mom and ask for a ride home.

  I’m still trying to decide when I bump into Luke in the hallway. Before I know what’s up, he’s pulled me into one of the bedrooms and shut the door with his foot.

  “Hey,” I say.

  “Hey yourself,” he says. He—or someone else—has taken off the white collar, so he’s all in black. He looks more devilish than the devils do. I think that if there is a real devil, he has golden hair and round blue angel eyes, just like Luke.

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