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You know that moment when you realize what you’re doing to yourself? That moment when you understand that you’re putting yourself through hell but it doesn’t matter because your feelings are stronger than your reasoning?
That’s how I feel every time I see Melissa.
She’s small, platinum blonde, and spunky. It’s like she has a permanent spotlight on her at all times – following her into every room she walks into and drawing all eyes to her. Maybe it’s the glow-in-the-dark combat boots, or maybe it’s the way she is always laughing, but there is something about her that stops me from looking away.
I can’t help staring even when I shouldn’t be watching– like now, for instance. The minister has been droning on for at least half an hour, talking about Noah and his Arc, and throwing in a dig at some liberal political figure every few minutes for good measure. I know I should be watching him, but he has this way of licking his lips every few sentences, like maybe they’ve gotten dry in the ten seconds since his tongue touched them last.
“Evie?” David whispers.
I jump a little in my seat, and my eyes detach from the back of Melissa’s head.
“What?” I can see some heads turn toward us from the surrounding seats and I curl my shoulders in, making myself a smaller target for their angry glares.
That was the first lesson I learned when we moved here from New York – never give them a reason watch or look or study you too closely. Maybe it’s because there’s less light pollution here, but it seems like all of their eyes work better than the people in my old town. Or maybe they’re just looking harder.
David leans in close and I can smell the Axe on him. “Are you still coming to the barn later?”
He has been speaking softly this whole time, whispering really, but this comes out so it is hardly louder than a breath. No one wants the parents to know what their children are doing every weekend.
Church by day, wild hookups at the abandoned barn by night. Knee-length floral dresses transform into little, black bandage skirts, button-downs are replaced by tight t-shirts, and red solo cups become the new chalice. This is how they do it in Hebron, Nevada.
I don’t mind the party, and the beer is usually good, but I can’t stand the crowd. All of those goody-two shoes go and pretend to take off the masks they wear for their families. They let loose and they pretend that this crazy, confident, drunken teenager is them – the real them. But I know that it’s not. They are just like the man I saw on the street in New York City, the one with the cape and the different colored masks. He swirled the cape past his face and bam he became someone else. That is what these kids are – that is what they do – but they are so good at it that most of them don’t even realize it.
They don’t what it’s like to live in constant fear. I don’t know what I would do if someone saw through my mask, past the pink-cheeked, ponytailed, smiley face that I sew on every morning and cut off every night. I used to try and lie to myself about it – about who I was. I used to tell myself that my stiches were even, in line, straight. I used to tell myself that I was my mask, I was the lies. But all along I knew that the black stiches were pulling loose from the sides of my face – all along I knew that they were crooked. That I was crooked.
That I am.
I look back over at David and stupid gelled-up hair, and then my eyes move down the rows past him, to the blonde mass of curls hanging over the back of the pew. As I watch, Melissa turns one of her friends and whispers something in her ear. The girl explodes with silent laughter and Melissa grins wide, her pink-lipped smile taking over her face.
“I’ll be there.”
I am all dolled up and ready to go when Mom stops me by the door.
“Evie,” she says gently, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
I look down at the floor and shrug. Mom is the only one that knows about me. She knew before I knew, and she is maybe the gentlest, kindest, most understanding mother ever. I still remember what she told me right before we left. She took my face in her hands and whispered, “Listen to me, Evie. There is nothing wrong with the way you are, but you have to lay low in Hebron. It’s the type of place where they’re less understanding, and those feelings – that kind of love…it can be dangerous. Do you understand?”
I remember nodding and turning back to my suitcase. It was only for two years, after all, and then I would be off to college in some big city where no one cares about anyone else’s business. All I had to do was lay low.
Now I look back at Mom. “I want to go,” I say. She is not the type to forbid me.
“Please be careful,” she says, her brow furrowing.
The party is already in full swing by the time I arrive. Half the kids are lying on the straw padded floor in various states of undress, and the other half are dancing wildly to the sound of uncensored pop music blasting from the speakers. I look around, but I don’t see Melissa.
“Hey, there she is!” I look around and see David sitting in the corner of the barn with a group of kids. They are hunched over something on the ground in front of them, but David is waving me over. I hesitate, but then I see a flash of blonde hair. Melissa is there. I move closer and I can see the black tank top she is wearing and the way it contrasts perfectly with her pale, white skin.
I sit down carefully on the ground across from her, leaning away from David. I don’t know how many drinks he’s had, but by the smell of him, he is completely plastered.
“Look what we’ve got!” He slurs, pointing to the floor in front of him. A beer bottle has been emptied and placed in the center of the ring of bodies.
“Spin the bottle?” I raise my eyebrows. “What is this, a journey back to middle school?”
David laughs again, too loud. “It’s my turn,” he declares. He reaches for the bottle and bats it around with the back of his hand. It spins like the propeller of a helicopter, round and round, slower with every turn.
Until it stops. On me.
I stare at the bottle. Its neck is pointed at me, like it is daring me to do something. Around me people are hooting and hollering. I think I see Melissa smile. David says something, but I’m not paying attention. Not until he grabs my shoulder, turns my head around, and kisses me.
I jerk away the second his lips touch mine, but I’ve already tasted the sour smell of his mouth, like he’s been eating spoiled milk and rodents.
“What the hell?” I smack him across the face, and he falls backward onto the hay.
One of the girls sitting next to Melissa cheers, but Melissa isn’t smiling. David pushes himself upright and stands up. His face is turning red where my palm hit him and his eyes are wild. I’ve never seen him like this before. “What’s the matter, b****? Only a lesbo’s good enough for you?”
I gasp and scramble back. My shock must have shown on my face because David smirks.
“Did you really think I didn’t see you staring at Melissa every day?” He laughs. “Did you really think no one knew?”
Everyone is looking at me; I can feel their eyes poking pin-holes in my skin. As much as I want to disappear right now I can’t make myself move. All I can do is sit there while David stands over me, telling my darkest secret to the world.
David moves forward so the tips of his gray converse are touching my bare knees. “Get out, lesbo.” His face is so twisted he is hardly recognizable. “We don’t want you here.”
There is a roar of sound as people start cheering and shouting and screaming.
David takes a step back and I think he is going to leave, but then he looks back at the jeering audience and his face tightens with determination. His knee bends and he kicks forwards, his foot lashing out to connect with my ribs.
For a second I don’t feel anything at all, I just hear the sound of bone breaking apart. I fall back and my ribs explode with pain.
The last thing I see is a flash of platinum blond hair leaning over me. Melissa’s blue eyes are wide and her lips pale and thin. She leans closer and I see something that I’ve never noticed before. Beneath her blue eyes and between her high cheekbones, her nose is just slightly off center.
Her face is sewed on just a little bit crooked.