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Secrets in the Night
“He jammed his tongue into my mouth, more than any guy had before,” Lorraine said as she plopped down onto her bed next to me.
“Was it gross?” I ask.
“A little,” she said, with a considerate look on her face. “But I liked it too. It was a little confusing. Anyway, he jammed his tongue into my mouth, and that’s when he got really excited. He grabbed my hair like he was about to pull it. I was like, what are you doing? He was like, I don’t know. That’s when his hand went down and he grabbed my breast, hard, and you know what? It hurt. He like, I don’t know, twisted it, like it was a knob or something.”
“Ouch,” I say.
“Tell me about it.”
This is how it always was with me and Lorraine. I learned more from her than my parents or my teachers. Our weekly sleepovers were her favorite time to bestow on me the lessons she had learned. I remember how she taught me what sixty-nine could mean, other than a number, with two of her dolls, placing them on top of one another but in opposite directions when we were seven. I remember her lecture on how to best apply nail polish, with a steady hand, rubbing the bottle between my palms, and scraping the applicator on the side of the bottle. She still hadn’t mastered that herself yet, and we dipped each of our fingers into the spongy bottle of the remover, wincing when it burned the cracks in my cuticles.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that she was already more experienced in the boy department than me, but that still didn’t take the sting completely away. Lorraine was blissfully unaware of this as she recounted to me her adventures with Bobby Lowman, who was either her boyfriend or hook-up buddy, depending on the week. She delivered this latest tale in a hushed tone, knowing that her parents were just down the hall. They probably wouldn’t hear, but could we take that chance?
“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked her, conflicted on whether or not I wanted to change the subject or hear more. “Watch a movie? Play five card draw?”
She darted up from her reclined position next to me, and gasped. “My mom bought some cookie dough. You want to bake some?” Nothing excited Lorraine more than baking in the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep.
“But it’s so much better as dough,” I said, thinking of how my mom would freak knowing I ate something containing raw eggs in my lifetime.
She leaned toward me, placing her hand on my knee reassuringly, the way she did whenever I failed an important test or someone at school was a jerk. “You can take little bites as we spoon it onto the cookie sheet. Let’s go!” She bolted for the door, me right behind her.
Her hallway and kitchen were dark, as it usually was at one in the morning, and I stumbled over her dad’s desk, banging my knee so hard I felt tears come to my eyes.
“Oh, sorry Stace.” Lorraine whisper-yelled as she grabbed for the light switch. I wondered why she was so much better at maneuvering around in the dark here than me as the light came on. Sure, it was her house, but I’d been sleeping over once every two weeks for years now, and she did the same with me, alternating the house where we would stay.
I looked over to her dad’s desk, seeing how my clumsiness had knocked a bunch of his pictures over. I leaned down to pick them up, but Lorraine grabbed me by the arm, dragging me into the kitchen.
“Come on,” she said, sounding like an impatient little kid. “We’ll pick those up later.” She scrambled around, getting the cookie sheet out of the bottom drawer by her sink, and preheating the oven. I sat on the stool by her kitchen bar, waiting for the signal that it was time for me to indulge in the sweet guilty pleasure that was cookie dough. Lorraine might have said we should bake, but I know how much she likes to handle this stuff herself.
Our friendship has been described as ‘freakishly close’, probably more than once. I don’t get what’s so freakish about it, we’ve been friends since we were little, sure, but that was our loyalty. We’d never let our fights turn into the silent treatment and a permanent falling out. I think we’re better off for all the years we’ve had together. We know just about everything about each other. It’s been so long now, that we don’t even have to communicate our needs or wants, I can pick up on when she needs my support or when she needs to be left alone. She can tell how to bring me out of a funk better than I can.
“All right, Stace, come over and get what you want,” Lorraine calls, her back turned away from me and toward the oven. I wonder how often we wake her parents up with this stuff, the timer going off after midnight all the time. Maybe they’ve just come to expect it now.
After getting sufficiently bloated by cookies and milk, Lorraine and I sat on the floor of her bedroom, me shuffling a deck of cards and her looking through a notebook that was supposed to contain her biology notes but was mostly comprised of her doodles and observations on high school. Mr. Turner is clearly hung over today, read one quote next to a sloppy illustration of him slumping over at his desk. “Way to set an example,” I said, giggling as she showed it to me.
It made me feel a little guilty, because what if Mr. Turner had a drinking problem? Lorraine shrugged this idea off, saying all teachers needed to medicate every once in a while.
“A job like that for the crappiest pay? I’d come to work hung over too.”
I checked the clock, 1:45 a.m. I worried for Monday morning, knowing that staying up late on Fridays always disrupted my sleep cycles. By 2:30, I thought things were winding down for us, but then Lorraine abruptly headed down the hallway, and I waited to see what she was doing, too tired to trail her now.
She came back with the pictures I had knocked over from her dad’s desk. “Check it out,” she said, with a big, silly grin on her face as she handed them to me.
They were older, I could tell immediately from the grainy film and the thinness of the paper as I held them in my hand. The first one was a teenage boy and girl, wrapped up around each other with arms over shoulders and waists. It was hard to tell where one started or the other ended. The smiles beamed on their faces as they looked toward the camera like professional models. Will my pictures look this cool in twenty years? I thought. “Who are they?” I asked.
Lorraine rolled her eyes. “Duh, my mom and dad.” She took the pictures back, flipping through them with a look of pride.
“Cool,” I said. “I didn’t know they dated in high school.”
“Oh yeah, they were totally, completely in love.”
“I can’t imagine being in love at our age,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said, “me neither.” She was looking at me now, but her eyes were distant like she was deep in thought.
“So you don’t think Bobby’s marriage material?” I ask, trying to draw her in with a laugh. She just smiles softly, like what I’m saying only reached her halfway.
“No, of course not. I mean, I can’t have sore boobs for the rest of my life.”
That makes me think of Ms. Thomas’s homework assignment that I probably won’t start until Saturday night. “Lots of mentors will ask you about your dreams for the future,” she had said about thirteen hours ago in my English class. “But I want to hear about your fears. Your worst nightmares about your future.” The paper was nothing, just two pages, but I had no clue what to write.
That’s probably not the right way to put it. The problem is I have too many ideas. There are just so many things that could go wrong in your life. What happens when the plan falls apart? College, career, marriage, kids? How do you pick the right one or the right time? What if you never get the chance to pick in the first place? Or, what if you got everything you wanted and dreamed for, and it still left you empty inside?
That was probably my worst fear. A thought so utterly terrifying I can hardly admit it to myself, much less write a paper about it. I remember in fourth grade, how Mr. Combs had read my personal essay about my puppy Charlie dying to the class. A perfect example of emotions well expressed, he had said. This is the paper he would use to teach the other kids.
I sank down in my seat, my body trembling as I asked for a bathroom break. I threw up in the stall, trying to hold my own hair back as tears ran down my face. Lorraine had put her hand on my knee when I came back, like she always did. I begged Mr. Combs to never do that again, but he could never understand what about him reading my papers to the whole class was so traumatic. I wanted to tell him how he really just ripped my insides out, and held them up for everyone, even bullies like Kate Masterson, to gawk at; foaming at the mouth, desperate for more information they could use against me. How was that for expressing emotion?
Lorraine was going through the junk in her desk by the bed now. She had held up a couple of blank pieces of paper, a marker, and some random ribbons floating at the bottom of her gargantuan piles of discarded sections of our lives. I figured it was another one of her art projects, the kind she did in the back corners of classrooms during study hall. Once she had taken the fabric of an old pair of my jeans, cut them into small patches, and died them purple, and glued them haphazardly onto one of her favorite teddy bears. I never could figure out why she thought it looked so good.
She came back to the bed with these items strewn at our feet. “What are you doing?” I ask. This is one of the things she did that made me feel small and useless; she was an artist, and I was just me.
“I was think of making a collage with these pictures.” She said, studying her materials without looking up at me.
“Don’t you think you should ask permission first? Your dad might get upset,” I tell her, feeling like she won’t listen. It was the push controlling her now. That’s what I call it: her overwhelming compulsion to make something, anything, with her hands.
“They won’t care,” she says, toying with the ribbons as borders on the photographs. I know she’s about to break out the poster-board. “Besides, they probably won’t even notice they’re gone.”
I might as well be talking to a brick wall now. The time to leave Lorraine alone for a bit had come. I sat still for awhile, inwardly sighing at my boredom. I could play solitaire with the deck of cards, but that just struck me as too sad and pathetic at a slumber party. I could only picture how bad that would really be with someone other than Lorraine, who hadn’t been attached to me for so long.
Sometimes I felt like Lorraine and I were an old married couple; there was no pretending or impressing anymore. There was no urgent need to always be talking as we sat next to each other, lest the friendship fall to pieces and we have nothing in common anymore. We didn’t even need to have anything in common. She couldn’t care less if I sat here irritated while she was engrossed in her own thing, because I would always be there in the morning.
That was sad too, in a way. Where was that fun and total abandon we felt as little girls? If people in marriages can grow apart over the years, couldn’t the same be said for best friends? I tried to picture us in the future, if we’d live on the same block and continue our sleepovers as grown women.
I took out my English notebook then, and started to write my paper. I’m afraid of losing my best friend, I wrote. I’m afraid of having no one to pet my knee when I need it. What was Lorraine afraid of?
I asked her later that night, when she finished her collage and we were quiet in the dark. “You know those pictures of my parents?” She asked me in return.
“Yeah,” I said.
“They looked happier there than anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. I could see the outline of her head as she leaned closer to me. “How did they lose that? I can’t help but think, When did that happen?”
I nodded, not knowing what to say.
“That’s what I’m afraid of the most. Looking up one day, and thinking: What happened to me?”