Warning: This work has been rated 18+.
The sky is pink today. Pepto-Bismol pink, almost, in puffs like cotton candy. I can feel the sun on the left half of my head, burning the dark away from my hair. Every afternoon, after a party, I lie on the trampoline in the back yard and pretend I did not spend four hours - at the very least -breaking every rule my father and mother ever tried to teach me. It seems to me that it’s easier to lose religion when you lose something to pray for, and every drink I knock back tastes sweeter but in the morning I feel like I’ve had head trauma and it tastes like something’s died in my mouth.
End-of-summer parties always leave me feeling off-balance, like I walked into one too many doors the night of. Most nights I’d take a drink or two then find someone to sneak off with, but yesterday feels like the inside of a drum. I might have taken a whole bottle of alcohol off the counter, or laughed a little too much, or something.
It’s 5 in the afternoon, I think, and I’ve been lying here watching the clouds rolls by for hours praying for sanity. The sky is a nice soft blue, the birds are chirping in their little nests all around the house, and there’s a cool breeze. Everything is basically right in the world if we’re not counting the kids down the street who’ve been screaming for hours. They’re playing hide and seek or something and every scream and squeal knocks my brain against the inside of my skull. I could pop in headphones but music at that volume at such a close range would bring me to tears. I settle for closing my eyes and thinking of nothing - a few more hours and I could really begin to consider getting up.
“Hani!” The shout reaches me, cracks through the air like a whip, and I can feel it go all the way through my head.
One last deep breath, then I sit up, pushing my hair out of my face in order to get a good look at the intruder. “Yeah.”
From around the corner, carrying keys and a plate of… something, comes Hayat - mouth open for the next shout and eyes scrunched and everything. Her hair is piled on top of her head, a more vivid artificial red than ever in the sunlight, but crimson enough that it looks right against her brown skin. Her glasses and ear piercings glint as she shakes her head. “What the fuck Hani.”
I take a moment to send a prayer up to the heavens. “What the fuck what, Red?”
She narrows her eyes at me, then, in a huff, stalks toward the trampoline. “What was that last night?”
“What was what? Stop playin’ girl, my head hurts.”
“Astaghfirullah,” she whispers, face to the sky. The glint off her lenses blinds me and I have to look away. “You don’t do you?”
I just look at her. I want to blink or shake my head but it feels like my skull’s just been shoved down to the part of the ocean they don’t let youget to when scuba diving.
“You need to start praying, Hani. You had a bottle of vodka in your hand at one point - like a whole fucking bottle of Pinnacle, Han. You got so happy and you kissed everyone but then at one point it just set in and you started like, proper sobbing, and then -”
Every word that leaves her mouth just crashes into my ears, wave after wave after wave... For a minute I feel like I should just say never mind, lie back down, and drown in it all. She lets out a soul-wrenching sigh, like she’s about to tell me I killed a man. Then she looks at me, squinting in the light - her eyes, behind the lenses, are opaque and flinty and I begin to feel like maybe I did kill a man. I honestly do not know why I don’t believe in a god, because I’m going to need one soon.
“You kissed Carter.”
“Oh.” All the breath goes out of me and I fall back onto the trampoline. The sky bounces as I do and now it really feels like I’m underwater.“Really.”
“Yeah.” She sets her plate down next to me and lies down on my other side. “Full-on, tongue action, sloppy drunk kissing.”
“... How did he react?”
She laughs softly. “Yeah. All I really know is he followed you to the other room. I assume you gave him a kick-ass birthday present, ‘cause you guys didn’t come out of there. He took you home, I think. Or maybe you took him home.”
“Oh my God.” I cover my eyes with my hands and shake my head to dislodge the thought, forgetting the way my brain knocks against the sides ofmy skull. I feel the trampoline shaking and look over to see Hayat doubled over, shoulders trembling with laughter.
“Are you for fucking real right now? Oh my God.” I suddenly have the most intense urge to burrow underground and stay there for the duration of the school year.
“So what now, b? Can’t lie out here forever.”
I roll onto my stomach and bury my face in the nylon material. “Maybe I should stop drinking.”
She snorts. “You said that last time, Hani. I think you should just talk to him. He is 17 now; I’m sure he can handle whatever you have to say.”
“Ugh.” I get up now but keep my arms extended so I don’t stumble. Hayat gives me a funny look but says nothing. Oh well - obviously I’m not going to get any more alone time.
“Maybe I won’t talk to him at all, ok. I’m starving; let’s go to Kelsi’s.”
She rolls her eyes as she gets up. “Don’t say I didn’t tell you anything.”
“What-ever. What’s on that plate, by the way?” I ask as we head towards the house.
“Oh,” she looks down at it. “It’s just leftover cake. You didn’t get any last night, I don’t think.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet, Red! C’mere, c’mere,” I gush, pulling her towards me and planting a fat one on her cheek.
“Ugh,” she groans. “Get the hell off me - you haven’t showered since yesterday you slob.”
I pull back, scrunching up my nose at her. She’s right. I reek of alcohol, sweat, and vomit. “I haven’t … Let me just take a quick one before we go.” I grab the plate from her and run into the house.
When I get back downstairs, freshly showered, sporting clean clothes and all, Hayat is sitting at the dining room table with a book she must have taken off my dresser. It’s quiet in the room, and she would see me in the mirror over the little cabinet thing if she looked up but she’s focused on the page so I take the opportunity to pounce on her, grabbing her shoulders and screaming into her ear. She gives a little shriek and drops the book, her arms spazzing all over the place. There’s a moment where we both hold our breath, and then I’m cracking up, doubling over holding my stomach while she takes several long deep breaths. When she turns around to glare at me, I grin. “Let’s go eat, man.”
“Fuck you,” she sighs, picking up the book. With a shake of her head, she gets up and shoves the chair back under the table. “Where’s your dad,by the way?”
I shrug, reaching up to adjust my ponytail. I don’t mean to, but I pull too tight, like always, and have to undo then redo it. “Work?”
A certain look flashes across her face, like she’s about to say more, but in the end she only nods. “Ok.” She pauses with her mouth open, like maybe she is going to say more, but then she shakes her head and snatches the car keys off the table. “Whatever. Let’s just get the others and go.”
“The others?” I ask, following her out. “You mean - Carlina and Senait? Those others?”
She says nothing but gives me a wicked grin.
“Why do they have to come?” I whine.
She pauses long enough to turn and make a face at me. “What do you mean why do they have to come? They’re our friends; why can’t they come?” She stops in the middle of the driveway to raise her eyebrows at me.
“Because,” I stamp my feet. “They’re going to make fun of me about you-know-who, Hayat!”
Her eyes narrow a bit. “Oh God. Really? Like it’s the first time you and Golden Boy have hooked up - stop acting like a child and get in the damn car, Hani.”
“I hate you,” I mutter, stomping towards the Jeep.
“What was that?” she calls from the driver’s side.
“Nothing! Just fucking drive.”
She gets in and buckles up before I think to ask, “Why do we have to drive and get Carlina, anyways? She lives like 2 houses down.”
Hayat rolls her eyes. “Because we’re going to have to get Senait, too, and she lives farther. Besides, do you really want to wait for her to walk over here, Hani? You know what she’s like…”
“Senait lives like right down the street she can -” I stop to breathe through my nose. Hayat’s car always smells like air freshener and mint and I just take it in for a moment. “You know what? Fuck it. Just go.”
She smiles victoriously and starts the car. We pass one house and the radio just cuts on when she stops again. “Go get her.”
“Why do I have to?”
“Because you didn’t want her here in the first place. I texted her just now, anyway. She knows we’re here. Please just go..”
With a huff, I open the car door and stalk to the front door. I don’t bother to knock and just barge in. The Rossi’s never lock their doors, anyway- I think her mother feels like she still lives in a small, close-knit town in Italy. We’re just grateful their house hasn’t been broken into yet, really.
No one seems to be downstairs, so I head upstairs to see. There’s faint music coming from Carlina’s room, but when I push in the door no one’s there. I do find her iPod on the dock, though, and take it off for her because she’s always forgetting and it would have died pretty soon. I debate charging it for her but then decide I don’t have the time to dig through the lost and found bin that is Carlina’s room. I really don’t think anyone’sin, anyways, or else I would have heard them by now.
I’m texting Hayat as I go down the stairs, just so she won’t yell at me when I get to the car, but when I get to the front door I chance a look at the house between mine and Carlina’s, to the left, where a moving truck is parked. There are boxes scattered in the driveway and a teenage boy,shirtless, about my age with brown skin and fluffy hair, and a woman in a house dress and sandals who isn’t quite the same skin tone as him are carrying things in and out of the house. For a second I just look - new people move to town often, but new people don’t really move into the neighborhood, and it’s amazing that someone could want to live in the convoluted labyrinth that is Waterford Lakes.
As I’m watching I see another, smaller girl, bending down in front of the truck staring at a larger box like it might kill her.
“Carlina?!” I move closer to the driveway, ignoring Hayat waving at me from the car. “What are you doing?”
She straightens up and fixes me with a slightly dazed look. “Helping, duh. Did Hayat send you?”
“Yeah,” I nod, picking my way through the boxes. A sort of path has been cleared out between the cardboard cubes but I can’t help being a little afraid of tripping.
She giggles, maybe at my predicament, maybe at whatever else is on her mind. “She was saying something about you not wanting to see us ‘cause of Carter ‘n’ shit?”
I don’t even want to answer that. “Shove it, CC. I’m very hungover and tired and hungry. Can we please go?” I step closer to her and give her my best puppy dog face.
“God, you’d think after so many years I’d be immune to that,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“No,” I reply, stepping back. “Because I’m the mother of all puppy dog looks… by the way, where is your mother? No one was home, and usually someone’s home. God knows you have enough relatives.”
“Oh,” she stops rummaging around in the pile to throw a grin over her tan shoulder. “She went out with some guy she met at Kroger.”
“Yeah,” she says, stopping by a box marked ‘kitchen’. “I think they’re cute. He’s dorky - that’s good for her.”
I raise my eyebrows, thinking of Carlina’s flame of a mother, who often talks at us in rapid Italian because she feels it’s good for our spirits or whatever - somehow, I can’t see just a guy from Kroger standing up to that.
Carlina giggles, dancing a little in place. Her bangs bounce over her forehead and the stud in her nose glints in the still intense but now dark gold light. “You know who else it could work out for…”
I blink at her and she grins encouragingly.
“Oh,” I groan, catching on. “No.”
She lets out a guffaw, and the woman I saw earlier glances over at us. “No, what? I didn’t say anything, Hani… But you know what everyone else is saying?”
“Please don’t do this I’m not sober enough right now, CC,” I plead, trying to talk more softly.
“You weren’t nearly sober last night, either!” she continues. “In fact, I distinctly remember you nursing a bottle of Schmirnoff last night before you- “
“Shut up!” I whisper-scream. The lady’s gone inside now but I’m sure she’ll be out again soon.
“Before you fucked Carter! You did the dirty! You bumped uglies! You - “
“NO! That did not happen, OK?! I don’t know what happened but that didn’t -”
“Oh, honey…” Carlina says, softer but still snickering. She puts a hand on my shoulder and looks into my eyes. “You gave that boy what he’s been waiting for, for like, three years.”
“Oh please,” I roll my eyes, turning away to look at the contents of the moving truck. Sparse. “Three years?”
I can’t see her, but I can feel her grin. “Three years. Don’t deny it. You guys have been eye-fucking each other since sophomore year when you kissed during spin the bottle.”
“Shut up,” I mutter, debating walking down the drive towards the car, just leaving her here. “We’re just friends. A couple of slip-ups don’t make-” I was going to say more, but am stopped by the sight of the boy coming out of the front door.
I’d seen him before, yes, but now that he’s facing me I get the distinct sensation that I am intruding, even though Carlina’s right here too. He looks me up and down, eyes dark, but gives nothing away as he picks his way through the boxes towards us.
“Who is that?” I whisper.
I’m unwilling to take my eyes off him lest he makes any sudden movements, but I can feel her shrug. “Isaiah.”
“Yeah.” she breathes. Then, suddenly, he’s come to a stand-still right in front of us and I realize just how short I am as I stare at his bare chest.
Finally, after one beat too long, he speaks. “Hi?” he asks me. “I’m Isaiah. Uh - I just… moved here. Who’re you?”
I have the urge to run towards the car, but Carlina puts a vice grip on my wrist. “Hani,” she says to him, as casual as if they’ve known each other for years. “This is Hani, my friend. She lives on the other side of you.” She releases my wrist long enough to gesture vaguely at my house.
He blinks. I get the feeling maybe he’s not been awake for long. “Oh. OK… well it’s nice to meet you,” he manages finally, with a little smile besides.
Carlina sort of bounces, rocking up and down on the balls of her feet. “Well, I’ve sort of got to go, now, I’m really sorry, but it was nice meeting you!” she practically squeaks.
He smirks at her, lips soft and pink, teeth flashing only a bit. “‘S’alright. I really appreciate all your help. See you around - at school?” When he talks his voice is smooth, low. I can definitely see how Carlina got roped into this.
As we’re talking the woman appears at the door again, this time with her hair out, down to her waist, and she’s calling his name. When she sees us she shuts her mouth, but doesn’t retreat. We notice her before he does, and when he turns, he nods at her. “That’s my mom,” he says to us. I feel the need to point out that she couldn’t have been anything else, seeing as she looks (from here at least) like a smaller, lighter version of him - but I don’t.
Carlina nods, beams. “Yeah! Well, you’ll love it here! We’ve gotta go now, but if you ever need anything just pop on over, ok?” She waves at him and backs us slowly toward the car.
“Yeah,” is all he says. He nods at the both of us and turns to go, and that’s that. We watch his brown, glistening back disappear into the house.
“Wow,” Carlina says.
“Wow,” I echo. It’s a second, I admit, before I’m back to my senses, but then I tug at her hand. “Let’s go.” I drag her towards the car. When we get in Hayat gives us a look.
“Really,” she drawls. “Just because he’s new and shiny does not mean you can just forget about Carter and jump this guy’s bones.”
“Who said anything about jumping anyone’s bones? Carlina was there too, by the way! And why does everyone keep bringing up Carter?” I slouch back in my seat with a huff.
Hayat and Carlina give each other looks in the rearview mirror.
“O-K,” they say in perfect unison.
“Just fucking drive!”
They give each other another look, and then Hayat starts the car. By the time Senait gets in, all bubbly and bright and chattering away about some guy she met the other day, I decide I need new friends.