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Laying on the Road
She tells me that I need to trust people. I tell her people can’t always be trusted.
“Come on,” she says, “I saw it in The Notebook. Did Noah and Allie die? No, they didn’t. Come on, Helen, don’t be a loser.”
I hate when she calls me a loser. I stare at the road with the faded double-yellow line and wonder why there hasn’t been a car to smash her like a bug on a windshield yet.
It’s freezing, my lower lips trembles and I’m about to bite it off with my chattering teeth. I’m definitely not in the mood for her little midnight adventure; especially since the alcohol I drank just because she told me to, “not be a loser and drink it”, is beginning to double the double- line on the road.
“Gosh, you’re such a baby. You gotta live life, like, on edge. I’m the adventurer. I’m like, always laying on the road and you’re cowering on the sidewalk.”
“That’s a stupid metaphor,” I say, but I don’t budge.
“You’re not going to get hit. People can, like, see you because we’re on a hill. They’ll stop or we’ll, like, run, before we get crushed.”
I’m debating whether to rip her lips of if she says “like” one more time. ‘It’s my Californian accent,’ she tells awed classmates at school, who can’t stop staring at her neon -green toenail polish, or her exposed belly button piercing. She’s really from Wisconsin, which is probably why she is so comfortable in the cold right now. She lying stretched out on the road like she’s sun-bathing at the beach.
“Mackenzie, that was a movie, we could really die. Plus, this is actually a busy intersection in the twenty-first century. Not some abandoned junction with a flashing stop light.”
“All stop lights flash, stupid,” she snorts and rolls over to glare at me.
“You know what I mean,” I hiss.
“Whatever,” she snaps, and examines her chipped nail as it skids across the asphalt.
She looks up at the sky and asks me if a group of stars is the Big Dipper. I don’t look. My arms are crossed and I’m scowling, frankly because I see a pair of headlights blaring down the road. “How should I know?” I say.
“I dunno, you’re, like, into astrology, right?” she mutters and shields her eyes from the fluorescents heading her way. She stumbles over her too-big heels as she wobbles off the road and flips off the driver of the truck. She’s swaying back and forth and tells me she wants to sit down.
“You shouldn’t have drowned yourself in beer,” I say and help her onto the sidewalk.
“I want to be liked, Helen. Things are so much different here than in Wisconsin. If people drink and party here, then I’ll drink and party with them,” she says and lights a cigarette. For a second it casts her face a glowing red and I can see her lip stick is smudged and her eyes are a spidery mess of mascara.
“God, Helen, loosen up,” she mutters under her breath.
“Mack,” I start, ignoring that last comment, “that’s called peer pressure. Besides I only went to this stupid party because you wanted to go. I know that you want Morgan and Jade to like you. Just because they’re popular? That’s low, kenzie,” I say and shake my head as she offers me a drag.
“Let’s go back to the party and get some guys,” she says.
A lot of kids there were just fifteen, like us, so we’d definitely get busted. I told her I thought I heard sirens and that’s how I got her out of the party in the first place.
“No,” I say firmly, “It’s seriously not a good idea,”
“OMG, Helen. There were no sirens. I can hear the music from here. Come on, and we can still make “spin the bottle”.”
“Mackenzie, please, we can go back to my house and have a sleepover with popcorn and movies,” I beg, “I’m sure that would be more fun than waking up with a massive hangover tomorrow,”
She stomps her foot. “You just don’t freakin’ get it, do you? I. Want. To. Get. High. I saw Chad there, he was on some coke I think we can, like, totally nab some before the night’s over,” her eyes grow wide and I see something glint behind them.
She stops, she sits, and her head falls in her hands.
“It’s hard to move,” she murmurs, “I never had a lot of friends in Wisconsin, here, I want to fit in. I want to try again. Did you know I was called the “lesball” back home? Yeah, they like, thought it was lesbian to Halloween-house-sit Ms. Fay’s place. They hated her at school ‘cus she was strict. I opened the door and a bunch of teens are all like, ‘OMG it’s Mackenzie! What’re you doing with Gay-Fay?’ Yeah, it was messed up. She was tutoring me, and asked me to answer the door. Oh my God, can’t you see how messed up those kid’s minds are?”
I’m quiet after her little confession. She’s never told me much about her past in the year she’s been here. I get she had it hard, but she’s making it worse. I can already see the grim reaper lurking behind her eyes. I have this sudden vision of a casket getting lowered into the ground.
“Yeah,” I agree and smack the cigarette out of her hand, “But it’s also messed up to smoke and drink just ‘cus you want to fit in.”
I don’t expect her reaction. She blows up like a volcano and is screaming in my face. “What would you know about being popular? You’re a geek. All you do is read and complain about how everything’s, like, mainstream crap. I don’t need you to give me a lecture on morals,” she steps on her cigarette, walks away, as she mutters, “skeez bag.” I see her heading back to Jade’s house, probably to get hammered and God knows what else.
I want to stop her. My hand reaches out but my eyes are stinging and my lip is trembling; this time not from the cold. Instead I listen to her heels click against the pavement and my breath hovers in a white cloud, and as it dissipates, I don’t hear her anymore. I bend down and whisper her name through my shaky knees.
I’m at home staring at the mirror. I see coke-bottle glasses and a skinny, pale girl looking back. I never thought of myself as a loser. I lay down on my bed and I say to my ceiling fan, “I’m a loser.” I pet my alarm clock, I say, “I’m just a skeez bag loser.”
I tell the inanimate objects in my room what a loser I am. I think of Mackenzie, but I still don’t want to go back to the party. I want to cuddle in my bed and read. Maybe I’ll watch The Notebook, and see how many times the stoplight flashes.
I reach over and grab a pencil and a pad of paper. I write, “The List” at the top. Under that I write:
I will not give access to the temple that is my body until I am ready
I will not contaminate myself with booze to the point that I have double vision
I will not inhale tobacco smoke that will result in lung cancer
I will not surrender to “normalism”
I will not be anyone else other than myself
I will not let “skeez bag loser” define me
I’m chewing on my eraser cap and I’m pretty happy with my list. It sounds a little bit too goody-goody; like I’m some sort of angel or something. The truth is I make mistakes, but not ones that are going to screw up my life. What’s it going to take for Mackenzie to get that?
I’m watching Noah and Allie being old and dancing when my cell phone rings. I almost answer it, but it falls out of my hands and slides under the ottoman. I lie back on the couch and close my eyes. I don’t finish the movie.
Again, my cell phone rings. I reach under the ottoman and grab it, glancing at the clock. It’s nine o’clock. The light streams through my window shades. Popcorn’s scattered across the floor. I answer.
“Yeah?” I say, it comes out slurred with sleep.
“Helen?” The voice is frantic, worried.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. I think of Mackenzie and I sit straight up.
“Please, Helen, is Mackenzie with you?”
I almost glance around, “No.”
“It’s Mrs. Miller, her mother, she hasn’t been home. Do you know where she is?”
“No,” I repeat, almost robotically, “Well, I mean, she was at a party. At Jade O’Dwyer’s house. I haven’t seen her since last night.”
“Alright, if you hear from her please notify me.”
The phone clicks.
I look back through my missed calls. The one I had last night before I fell asleep is from Mackenzie.
Mackenzie called me.
I want to call her back, but I know she won’t answer.