Melissa Ransen's River
Part 1The following are completely true events in the life of me, Melissa Ransen.
“It is six o clock in the morning, Monday, you’re listenin’ to Keith.” The radio buzzed as my alarm went off, and my hand immediately shot out into the cold from beneath the covers, slamming the button down, and it was silent.
In the darkness of the late January morning, a single light was on in my room, the round lamp with the beaded shade. Gemma was standing at the bureau, illuminated by the light, steam rising above her head as she meticulously straightened her platinum blonde hair. I could hear the rap music blasting from the shower across the hall, Brendan would be using his cologne scented body wash, and he’d be in the bathroom for another ten minutes at least.
Gemma was spitting out the lyrics under her breath, one of the many reasons why guys adored her. Rap would have been the closest chance my siblings and I had to getting along. I liked some rap, the songs with catchy choruses, especially if some good similes were thrown in, but the straight up mumbling of foul language for four minutes wasn’t for me. For my brother and sister, it was all just one big soundtrack to their lives.
I heard the bathroom door creak open and I sat up quickly, my body bombarded by the cold air. Gemma was quicker, and slipped into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her instantaneously. I slouched back underneath the warm covers, my eyes hurt so much and I could barely keep them open.
“Melissa!” my mother rapped on the wall downstairs. “Are you up?!”
“Yes!” I yelled back and burrowed down.
At six twenty five, Gemma returned and I made a mad dash for the bathroom, hating every minute of the cold, too-early feeling.
I washed my face, put in my contacts, and combed my light brown hair- reminiscing of the days when my hair had been blonde- leaned forward to the mirror and took a deep breath. I had too many blackheads on my nose, and my skin was pink from the sudden violent attack from the scrub brush. I picked up my t shirt the slightest bit and frowned at the sight of my flabby stomach. I could stand to lose five pounds. The only benefit of the St. Mary’s uniform was the fact that no one had a great body when it was so covered up.
I went back to my room and put on the white oxford shirt, navy V-neck sweater, navy and green plaid skirt, black tights and my treasured moccasins. After applying my usual light make up, I fussed over my wavy brown hair. I didn’t have the patience to straighten it.
“Melissa! We have to go now!” mom called.
Six fifty-two, I braided a tiny piece of hair and pulled it all into a messy bun. I grabbed my backpack, ran downstairs where I threw two toasters waffles on a plate with some syrup and I was out the door and into my mother’s mini SUV.
“Bye, Bren! Bye, Gem! Have a great day!” mom called out the window as the two got in Brendan’s jeep.
“Thanks, Mom!” Brendan replied with his charming smile that made everyone at Forlin High School woozy.
As we drove to the commuter lot, I ate my waffles.
“Late.” Mom sighed as she checked the clock. Seven o two. We were supposed to meet our carpool at seven.
“If I can just make it to June eighteenth I won’t have to carpool with them anymore.” I sighed.
Even as we pulled into the lot, it was expected that the Wong’s would be there. The Wong’s were ridiculously early for everything. Freshman year, when I was actually making an effort to befriend Ida Wong, she had confessed that her and her father arrived at the commuter lot at six forty every morning.
“Hello, Mr. Wong,” mom said out the window to the very nervous man.
“Hello. Another Monday.” He commented as I switched cars.
“Have a good day!” mom said to him, but as usual, we were already speeding out onto to the highway, the world blurring by.
“Hello, Melissa, how are you,” Mr. Wong said in an I-don’t-care voice.
“Good, how are you?” I replied, “good” being my usual lie.
“Cold. Tired.” He said.
“How was your weekend?” Ida asked me without turning around from the front seat.
“Fine. How was yours?”
And that’s it. We don’t talk for the remainder of the car ride. The Wong’s have a conversation in Chinese, but I zone it out, as usual.
It was really just another Monday.
Mr. Wong zipped into the St. Mary’s parking lot, pulled up to the front door. “Well, I hope you have a good day, Ida.” He said.
“Thank you.” I said to him, and as expected, he ignored me.
I got out of the car and Ida gathered her notebooks and textbooks in her arms, clutching her flute case, and we walked inside together, never saying a word even as we went our separate ways.
My locker was in the main sophomore territory, which should have been a good thing but it just made mornings more awkward. I grabbed my books from my locker and stared inside one last time. Once I shut the locker I would be forced to find a group to socialize with until school started. It was seven twenty. School started at seven forty five. Twenty five minutes of torture. I kept having flashbacks of freshman year when I had no friends and I would walk the halls round and round, passing the same people, my feet quickening and my cheeks going redder with each lap.
I glanced inside my friend Laura’s homeroom to see if she was there- no luck. Dani wasn’t there either. S***. I texted Erika to see if she was at school- no response.
I started walking to the bathroom, ready to duck inside and wait for the bell to ring, when I saw Laura coming towards me. Relief washed over me.
“Sup, Mel.” She said in response. Her boyish cut of hair was slightly in her eyes, thick, black framed glasses on top.
Laura was a good friend, no complaints. But I had a growing curiosity as to whether or not she was a lesbian. She wore khaki pants everyday, and she’d cut her hair so short freshman year, and she overall just looked like a thin, brown haired boy. I knew that hanging out with Laura probably made me less cool, but she was in almost all of my classes, and it was better than being the only kid at St. Mary’s wandering the halls all alone.
We went into her homeroom and sat around and chatted until the bell rang, and I was off to homeroom.
There were two noteworthy things about my boring homeroom:
a) I had one friend- Erika- who was “habitually late”
b) The room across the hall was a freshman homeroom, and Bowtie Guy was in there
“Mel!” Erika squealed as she came in homeroom, late, just as the second bell rang.
Erika had ebony skin and dark brown hair, and she was a master at doing makeup. Everyday she sported a new glittery eye shadow. Erika was known for being fun yet eccentric, and the reason why we were friends was still unknown.
The principal came on the intercom and instructed us all to stand as he explained about a saint whose feast day was today and then he read a prayer, and we recited the pledge of allegiance except I was the only one in the class who actually said it.
There were announcements, and the bell rang and I walked to class alone. I passed Bow Tie Guy, and my heart fluttered, I stood a little straighter and tried to look important.
First period was geometry, where I was given a 33% on a test. The teacher asked me a question “What is x?” to which I said, “I don’t know.” My usual answer. At the end of the class, we had fifteen extra minutes to just talk. I sat alone.
Next was study hall in the library with Laura and the overly ghetto LaQuisha, who carried a jumbo tub of Vaseline in her backpack at all times. She also thought we were friends when I couldn’t stand her.
Chemistry was a joke. I drew pictures of bunnies while Laura did the real work, and later I’d give her a bunny picture in exchange for the answers.
US Government was my best class because I had three friends. Dani, Kim K, and Erin. The guys tried to frustrate the teacher by asking stupid questions, and we all egged them on.
Another study- this time with my only guy friend, Sam. He was most likely gay. He adored musical shows, Madonna, edgy singers, and plays; he was in the school’s spring musical. The only questionable thing was that he, like me, played lacrosse. I often referred to him as my twin. We both liked musicals, played lacrosse, and like Italian stuff. I had been in six plays as of that summer, and he was just starting.
Sometimes, my friend Dina would be in this study. She was only a friend in the way that we talked small talk- but a friend nonetheless.
Lunch time! The midpoint of the day. I found Laura and we went downstairs to the café. Our schedule at St. Mary’s was an eight day rotating schedule with a different lunch for each of the eight days. Today I sat with just Laura and a few people who only had intelligent conversations.
Religion class. We took notes while Mr. Wilson lectured us and cracked a few jokes. Laura was again my only friend in this class. This was not a fun class. Mr. Wilson used to poke fun at me because I never talked, until in October I’d had enough and tried to switch out. As usual, Sister Debby, my guidance counselor, said no, but she gave him a talking to. Since then, Mr. Wilson had ignored me completely.
Spanish class was special in that I had zero friends. I was in a higher level than most sophomores, a junior class.
English couldn’t come fast enough. Last period finally. I was easily the smartest in my class that was taught by a new teacher who looked like she was twelve years old- Ms. Pallen. This class was one level below Honors, the class I had wanted so badly to be in when Sister Debby was arranging my schedule when I was an incoming freshman. I insisted on being in honors, and so I took the entrance exam for honors, and I was shut out.
In English, I had four friends- Sam, Erin, Ashley, and the nicest girl I knew, Lena. Of course, Sam, Creepy Calvin and I were the only one’s who raised our hands.
The bell finally rang at two o clock and I went to my locker and then searched for Emily.
“Rans!” she exclaimed when she saw me, her nearly black hair swirling around her.
“Hey Tez,” Honestly, I never called my fellow Forlinite Emily Cortez her real first name, and she never called me Melissa.
I don’t have best friends. I’ve been down that road too many times and it never leads to any good. People assume Tez and I are best friends, but if we are we never say it out loud. It’s just better that way. Putting labels on relationships is too risky. It’s funny how things work out though, considering I hated Tez in fourth grade. But I’ve stopped hating people. The only person I hate is myself.
Tez and I carpooled in the afternoons. Our mother’s alternated days. Today was Mrs. Cortez who was funny and liked me, and her mini van always smelled like chamomile tea.
I thanked her for the ride and then spent a good three minutes trying to unlock the front door.
No one was home of course. Brendan was at indoor track practice and Gemma was at cheerleading.
No mail for me, no emails. Email had become an extremely important element in my life. In seventh grade I started writing a book, and I finished at the end of freshman year. Then began the process of querying literary agents. Thirty rejections later, I self published my novel, Plain Jane Heart, during the summer before sophomore year.
It was the best day of my life…
The cardboard box was fairly light, but the Ambriose label in the corner let me know just what it was. I ripped open the box, and a navy blue paperback book slid out, the words “Plain Jane Heart” written across the front, “Alicia Mulberry Wrihte” directly below. I let out a cry of joy. Two hundred thirty pages, too-small print, and a couple spelling errors in the summary on the back cover, but it was still amazing. All my life, all I ever wanted was to hold a book I had written in my hands, and now I had done it.
Sure, the process had not been quite what I was expecting, but it didn’t matter. My book was published.
I rushed downstairs and showed my family.
“So that’s what you’ve been doing on your laptop all the time!” mom exclaimed.
“That’s intense!” Brendan said.
“I can’t believe you really did it!” mom said. When I was in seventh grade and I told her I planned to finally write my first book, she had been skeptical. I begged her to let me buy my own laptop, and finally she caved. I found an old refurbished junky laptop online, and paid three hundred sixty dollars for it.
It’d been worth every penny- even though I’d given up all my savings for it.
“This is your big secret, isn’t it?” Gemma asked, and I nodded.
They took turns reading the back cover and flipping through the pages.
“I know there are mistakes, but I can fix it.” I said.
“How did you do this, Mel? You didn’t mention any of this once.” Mom said.
I swallowed. “Actually, mom, I told you four days ago when I borrowed your credit card to order my book.”
“Oh,” was all she had to say.
“I self-published it, meaning I’m the publisher, and every time someone orders a copy, they print one out and ship it to the customer.”
I walked over to my mother. “Mom, will you proofread it for me, so I can get a final copy out?”
She rubbed my back. “Of course, hon. Did you tell your father?”
I shook my head quickly. I wasn’t ready to think of that.
It was June, and I strongly believed that at fourteen, my life was finally taking a turn for the positive. That was the summer that I first started asking around for jobs to pay for my writing career. That was the summer that my mother read my book, and it took her the entire summer to read it, but in the last week I edited the manuscript and put out the finished project. Sophomore year was supposed to be a new life.
Melissa Ransen: Hey Andie, did you finish reading my book yet?
Andie Charys: Nooo, sorry Mel, not yet.
Melissa Ransen: Its ok, I’m just glad you bought it, the few friends at St. Mary’s who know about it haven’t even bought it.
Andie Charys: Tez bought it, right?
Melissa Ransen: Yeah, she finished reading it.
Andie Charys: Who else bought it?
Melissa Ransen: My friend Laura, Kim K (you know her, remember?) and Marri.
Andie Charys: Oh God, you’re not still friends with Marri?
Melissa Ransen: I can’t help it- we’ve been “best friends” since fourth grade. And our families are really close. You used to be BFFs with her too…
Andie Charys: I know. That was an embarrassing time in my life.
I logged off the chat and sighed. Andie Charys, one of my closest friends, had been against one of my other closest friends, Marri Higgins, since freshman year.
Andie and Marri both went to Forlin High, and Andie was obsessed with hanging out with the right people in order to maintain her “cool” status, meanwhile Marri was all for hanging out with anyone who’d talk to her, including “loser freshman” (according to Andie) and she’d even dated one or two.
I picked up my only copy of Plain Jane Heart. It was filled with pencil markings and notations. I didn’t have a final copy- the four hundred twenty one page copy- because when I did have one, I sent it to a library book fair in New York in the hopes that someone would order a copy.
Two hundred dollars I’d never get back, along with that copy of my book. I had to wonder, what ever happened to that thing?
The door slammed at five, and Brendan and Gemma came upstairs.
“Busy doing nothing?” Gemma said to me as she flopped down on her bed.
I shrugged. I was sitting on my own bed staring at the blinking cursor. Words, words, words, where were the words?
“How was track today, Brendan?” mom asked at dinner.
“It was good. Looks like I’ll be doing hurdles, discus, and the four hundred at our next meet.”
Mom grinned with pride. “Gemma, how was cheerleading?”
My sister sat up a bit straighter. “Coach had me be flyer today to show Katie how to do the back tuck basket toss- which is totally basic- but anyways, I’m going to be flyer at our next competition!”
“That’s great!” There was an awkward silence before she said, “Melissa, how is school going?”
“It’s fine.” I hesitated before saying, “I got a thirty-three on my geometry test.”
“Melissa!” my mother exclaimed.
“Mel, come on, geometry is so easy. I’m in it this year and I’m a freshman. You’re a sophomore you can’t fail- that would be humiliating.” Gemma scoffed.
“Do better, ok?” my mom said as she cut her chicken.
“What are you doing?” Gemma asked in a bored voice.
I was lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, cell phone sitting next to me, no texts.
“You act like such a victim.” She said as she texted on her new smart-phone. All I had was a freebie slide phone, but Gemma had been rewarded with the high tech device when she made varsity cheer.
“Has anything good ever happened to me?”
She didn’t say anything for a while; I could feel her looking at me and our bedroom. Her side had trophies and collages of pictures of her and her friends and hot guys hugging her. My side had a drooping collage of magazine words I’d made one lame day.
“No, I guess not.”
Three months ago, St. Mary’s had the usual homecoming dance. I wish I could say that it went over as uneventful as freshman year’s dance, but unfortunately, I tried to change my life.
I didn’t have any friends to get ready for the dance with, and so I got together with Marri and our family friend, Elle, a Forlin High senior, at her house. I felt pretty confident about this decision. My friends helped me paint my nails, and they applauded when I showed off my look- a strapless black dress, straight hair, and purple nails.
After we took pictures, we waited for Brendan to pick me up and drive me to the dance.
We looked through Elle’s younger brother, Tyler’s, middle school year book. I flipped through the eighth grade section and spotted a familiar face.
“He goes to St. Mary’s- he’s a freshman this year, and he’s from Forlin!” I said.
“He’s cute,” said Elle.
“He’s even cuter in person!” I gushed excitedly. “I’d love to dance with him.”
Truth be told, I was the only person I knew who had never danced with a boy or dated one. This was sophomore year, and I had to get firsts out of the way!
Brendan picked me up and took me to the dance.
It was extremely awkward. I didn’t see anyone I knew, and we were earlier, whereas everyone else was going to be fashionably late.
More people started to show up, along with a few friends, and we all danced. I saw the freshman I had been planning on dancing with… he was looking adorable in a white shirt and pink bowtie. There was an hour left in the dance, Bowtie Guy was standing three feet away, and I wanted to be able to tell my friends I’d grinded with a hot guy!
“Are you from Forlin?” I yelled over the loud music.
He smiled. “Yeah.”
“Do you wanna dance or would that be weird?”
He grinned. “No.”
I had no clue what he was saying no to, so I turned around and…oh God, we danced for probably thirty seconds in which our hips were out of sync, I didn’t know what to do with my hands, neither did he, and we eventually separated.
After the dance, I called Brendan to find that he was not there yet. I stood outside by myself as people gradually left. I cursed Tez for opting to skip this dance.
The pedophile principal, a couple Latinos and I were all that remained at eleven forty-five when Brendan finally showed up. I was frozen to the bone, bare legs, and nothing but a jean jacket that now felt ridiculous covering my arms.
The dance had ended at eleven.
Now and then, I see Bowtie Guy (I’ll never say his real name out loud) at Forlin functions, once I caught him looking at me. And I certainly see him at school. I’ve said hi to him twice, and accidentally (it was!) walked into him once. I really tried to get a boyfriend out of that night, but all I got was three years of more awkwardness that I needed.
When I’m trying to fall asleep at night, it’s that memory that haunts me the most. Funny how rubbing your butt up against a stranger’s genitals can give you such a strong connection to them.
The next day, in English class, Ms. Pallen handed back my extra credit assignment- a satirical article. At the top she had written “This is great! You should submit this to the school newspaper!”
I smiled at the compliment, but the thought of exposing my personal writing to the entire school was too much to bear.
During my study hall, I went to my locker and saw none other than Jacey Corrone coming the opposite way. I ducked into the nearest stairwell.
Jacey Corrone hated me. She was a junior, and we had been on the junior varsity volleyball team together last fall. I figured it was some kind of miracle that I hadn’t gotten cut, but really, getting cut would have been less painful.
Jacey, whom I had never known until that season, made volleyball miserable for me. She constantly yelled at me so I was always on edge, and she called me “Tranny Ransen”. I don’t know why she victimized me, but it turned volleyball into hell. I had only ever talked to Jacey to say “good job” and stuff like that. I guess I’m just not a very likeable person.
I was entering a couple of my poems into writing contests when Gemma stuck the house phone in my general direction.
“He wants to talk to you.” That could only be one person, though lately I’d been wishing it was Eric.
“Have Brendan talk to him.” I replied.
“They’ve already talked.”
I was about to suggest she give the phone to mom when I caught myself. I took the phone.
“Mellie! It’s so good to hear your voice! It’s been a while since we’ve talked,” the familiar voice said.
I glanced at my calendar. “Two months.” On the dot. My dad could pretend he didn’t have a schedule for calling his estranged children, but I had him all figured out.
“How’ve you been, kiddo?” the same rhetoric, every time.
“How was volleyball season?”
“How was Christmas?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. Here we go… “It happened. Same as the last three Christmases.”
“Did you get my gift?”
Right, the gift. Meaning the impassive Hallmark-knockoff card with a fifty-dollar bill inside, and the signatures, “Love, Dad, Lucille and Rufus.” Brendan and Gemma had gotten one each, and I’d ripped mine up the second after I’d read it. The fifty dollars was in my piggy bank.
“Yeah. Thanks. Thank Rufus for me. It was a pretty generous gift from a dog I’ve never met before.” I said.
“Ah, Mel…” Dad groaned.
“Did you want to say anything else to me?”
He was silent.
“Then goodbye.” And I hung up the phone.
I checked off on my calendar that he had called, and then threw the phone at the door.
“Lax season.” That’s all Kim K had to say at lunch to get the conversation between me, her and Tez going.
Out of all eight lunches, this was the only one that I had with Tez, and the fact that Kim K was there made it all the better.
“I heard tons of freshmen are trying out,” Tez said.
“Uh, great. More people to compete with.” I replied.
“Maybe there’ll be a freshman team.” Kim K added.
“No way,” I said. “Freshmen are a pain.”
“There’re gonna be tons of goalies trying out, too.” Kim K said nervously. She was the last goalie remaining after our other two had graduated.
“Kimmy, you’re a shoe in varsity!” Tez said.
She shrugged. “I don’t know…”
I had been playing lacrosse since I was in sixth grade. Brendan had been playing for four years already, and I wanted to try. In eighth grade, Forlin started its first girl’s recreational team, and I joined with Andie Charys. Andie, being extremely athletic, was a natural, but I had to work hard. I loved the sport, and in time I was one of the best on the team.
I tried out freshman year at St. Mary’s to find that some girls had been playing competitively for years, and I quickly sunk to the bottom.
“Indoor is starting soon.” I said.
“Thank God. I need the practice.” Tez replied. Tez’s first year playing lacrosse had been last year, and rumor had it that she was going to be on varsity. I was praying that I’d be there, too.
“Whatever happens,” Kim K grinned, “at least we’re suffering together, ladies.”
Eric O’Malley was one of my brother’s best friends. I had known him since I was in fourth grade because they played lacrosse together. There had never been a reason to really care about Eric until my freshman year.
His younger sister, Kara, and I used to be friends/still kinda were, but we never saw each other. She was a year younger than me, and went to FHS.
Spring of freshman year, Tez and her brother Rob had a small birthday party on the same day, three friends each. Tez invited me, Andie, and Kim K; Rob invited Brendan, Eric, and another friend.
I got a text from an unknown number saying, “Hey Mel ;)”.
It was Eric. He had gotten Kara’s old phone, which had my number in it. So began the biggest disappointment in my love life.
Flirty texts from him ensued, and I knew it was a joke, and I played along. Lacrosse season came along, and I attended the guys’ games.
He’d always go out of his way to say, “Hi, Mel,” in this voice that was trying to creep me out, but I’d always say hi back.
One day, he was over at my house watching Star Wars with Brendan, and texted me to come down and join them. And I did. And we joked around, and normally I was nervous and awkward around guys, but not Eric.
Once, after hanging out with Andie, I came home to see Eric’s car in the driveway. My heart swelled with joy.
I went upstairs and began laughing immediately at the sight of Eric lying on my bed, and Rob sitting on my desk chair.
He wanted me to back away from a challenge, but I knew his game. I had grinned and said, “Hey, Eric, hey Rob.”
He even called me once to invite me to the movies with him and Brendan.
I hate myself for never calling him back.
At their lacrosse banquet more flirty texts came, including “Try the pulled pork, I made it with love ;)”. Everyone knew Eric was hilarious, and so did I, but I made a huge mistake.
“Why don’t you text people your own age?” I’d replied.
That was the last text he ever sent me.
I had texted him twice since then, only to get no response. I changed his name in my phone to “Don’t Answer!”, but that never pops up on my phone anymore.
The truth is- Eric scared me. The idea of a junior liking me was overwhelming, and the more I thought of him, the more I liked him. As it turns out, I’m not the only girl he likes to tease. I’m just another, but I let myself fall for him.
And all these months later, here I am. Lonely and I’m the one who pushed him away.
Blinking cursor. I had zero inspiration for my next book. Sure, I had tons of book ideas, but none clicked at the moment. Writer’s block. But when would it end?
Gemma was sitting on the floor in a split, texting rapidly.
I eased the laptop off my lap and joined her on our rug. “Who do you text all the time?”
Her brown eyes met my hazel eyes. “I don’t know. Different people. Anyone who texts me. Actually, that’s a lie. Some people text me and I don’t know them, so obviously I don’t respond.”
“Strangers text you?” I asked in surprise.
“Well, yeah. They get my number from one of my friends, or one of their friends.”
“What do they ask you?”
She typed something into her phone. “They just try and interest me in themselves, and they try and talk themselves up.”
“Why doesn’t anybody text me?”
“Well, you’re not very fun.”
“I can’t help that.”
“You don’t go to parties and stuff.”
“I don’t get invited to parties.”
“That’s because you’re not very fun.”
“Right…” I said as I got back up. Awesome conversation, sis.
I was about to walk out the door to get a snack when I turned back around. “Gemma? How do you get to be fun?”
“I think you’re just born with it. People are just attracted to you and want to be around you. That’s how it is with me, at least.”
“I guess I’m hopeless then.” I murmured.
I marched into the English department head’s classroom and handed her the envelope.
“I’d like to submit this to the school newspaper.” I said just as I had rehearsed in my head.
“Thank you.” The teacher said, and I was walking into the classroom when I was knocked to the ground.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I mumbled. I had been carrying my treasured writer’s notebook in my arms, and now it and all the loose papers in it had been scattered across the hallway floor.
I looked up to see whom I had collided with- my heart stopped. No freaking way. Jacey Corrone.
“Tranny Ransen the klutz.” She spat as she gathered her books and stormed off.
“Damnit.” I mumbled as I reassembled the notebook, right as the bell went off and I was a rock in the river as people moved around me and kicked me. I couldn’t afford to lose one of those papers- why the hell was I even carrying something so valuable in my hands anyways? I managed to get up, and keep going.
I started cutting my wrists in September, I don’t really remember why. I guess life is all it took. September- school was starting, volleyball was starting, I self-published my book…
Anyways, all it took was the pair of kindergarten scissors in my desk drawer. It hurt, but it wasn’t that bad. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve cut my left wrist. I have a small scar, and when it starts to fade, sometimes I’ll just cut it back up, and I won’t be that deeply depressed. I can always think of a reason to cut, though. Eventually, the scissors didn’t cut it (no pun intended) and I started using the Swiss army knife in my mom’s bathroom. It left a scab a couple times, and once a friend said, “Mel, what’s that from?”
“Cutting,” Tez had joked, and I’d laughed it off.
I got pretty good at that, putting on a happy face for my friends and destroying myself when I’m alone. It could get pretty exhausting.
“Next Friday!” Gemma squealed at dinner.
Right. Her party. Gemma was turning fifteen, and to celebrate, my mother was throwing her a huge bash (house party) with “one hundred something of her closest friends”. They’d been planning this since October, even though you’d think there wouldn’t be much planning involved. I figured all they would need would be a bunch of party pizzas, bags of chips, a sheet cake, and a couple bottles of soda. Honestly, kids are going to be bringing their own drinks.
“You’re birthday isn’t for a month, Gemma.” I muttered. It had been what I was thinking throughout this entire process.
“Boohoo, Mel. Everyone loves a cozy winter party.” She snapped.
“A hundred something people. Right. Cozy.” I said.
“I can’t wait to be the bouncer!” Brendan grinned.
“Mike, Donny and Chris are all doing it too, right?” Gemma asked as she piled her plate with nothing but lettuce.
“Yeah, they’re psyched. Eric’s gonna bounce, too.”
Whenever I heard Eric’s name, I got the same sensation in my chest- like my chest was deflating, the air was being sucked out of me. I felt numb and frigid.
“I’m turning sixteen on Tuesday.” I said automatically to distract myself.
“What do you want to do for your birthday, Mel?” mom asked me.
I smiled. “I want to take my license test.”
She frowned. “How about we do that Wednesday?”
“Why? Are you busy Tuesday?”
“No, honey, it’s just that…it’s just that I don’t want you to fail on your birthday.”
“Mom, I am not going to fail! I’m a great driver, you said so yourself!”
My mom looked at me as though I was a confused puppy. “Ok, Mel. If that’s what you want.”
Since I can remember, I’ve been observing the rules of the road. I’ve been waiting and studying to get my license since I was eleven. I think I always knew that once I could drive, I could leave and be free.
One big problem- Brendan has his jeep, mom has her mini SUV, and what did I have to drive?
After I had written my book, I allowed myself to consider all of the possibilities of being a famous author- a free ride to any college, appearances on talk shows, happiness, and money. Tons of money, with which I would buy an amazing car…
I had actually lost money from self publishing my book. There had been the two copies I had bought, the two hundred dollars on that book fair, and from the seven copies I had sold, I made seven dollars and eighty-six cents.
Not exactly enough to buy a car.
Gemma, Brendan and I cleaned up after dinner, as we always did, and they went off to do homework, text, etc, and I went to my mom’s room on the first floor.
“Hi, hon.” She said when I walked in.
She was sitting at her desk going over sketches. My mom was an architect, and constantly worked overtime to please her adoring customers.
I sat down on her bed. “Mom?”
“How come you’re having a huge party for Gemma?”
“You know, she said it was her ‘dream party’.” Mom erased some part of the sketch. “She said she was ‘so done’ with sleepover parties.” She put down the eraser and smiled at me. “The perks of raising a teenager.”
“I’m a teenager, too.” I said defensively.
“I know, sweetie, but you don’t do anything.”
“But why didn’t you ask me if I wanted a sweet sixteen party?”
“I didn’t think you’d want one.”
“But you’ve already started planning Brendan’s graduation party, and I don’t think he even knows about it yet.”
Mom took her reading glasses off and sat down next to me. “Mel, I just didn’t think you were the party-type. Am I right?”
I didn’t respond.
“If you want to have a couple friends over tomorrow you can order a pizza and watch a movie or something for an early birthday celebration.”
I shrugged and got up to leave.
“Good night, love ya.” Mom called after me.
“Night.” Love ya.
The thought of having plans on a Friday night was crazy. I almost always spent Friday nights alone in my house my siblings were out having fun and my mom was at an adult soirée. Occasionally Andie, Tez and I would hang out, but not often.
There was a strong possibility that my family would all be away, and so it might be ok.
I didn’t really like having people over my house, so I sent out texts recruiting my closest friends to come over. Tez, Andie, and Kim K.
Tez had to babysit her neighbors, Andie was going to a party with her cool friends, Kim K had a prior engagement.
Frustrated, I texted plan b. Marri and Elle. Elle had plans, but Marri was free.
Of course Marri was free. The only one, and the person I wanted to hang out with least. Since Marri and Andie had split up, they despised each other. Marri hated Andie for being cocky and rude; Andie hated Marri for being a loser.
Marri came from an obese family, and was constantly judged for her weight. Sometimes I wondered if she knew that, or if she just lived life unaware of others’ opinions.
The next afternoon, I found a chat message from Marri waiting for me.
Marri Higgins: I can be over at your house at 6, does that work for you??
Melissa Ransen: Yeah, whenever is fine.
Marri Higgins: So how’ve you been??
Melissa Ransen: Fine. You?
Marri Higgins: It’s been a great year. I’ve made tons of new friends, wrote a few songs, I performed at the last four Forlin High Sings shows, and I have an amazing boyfriend <3
Melissa Ransen: Right, good for you!
Marri Higgins: Thanks :) So you’ve been good?
Melissa Ransen: Eh...not really, honestly. I’ve had a hard time getting people to notice my book.
Marri Higgins: You’ve just gotta get it out there.
Melissa Ransen: Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. I queried thirty literary agents and they all rejected me because of my age. And people who I thought were my friends are completely ignoring the fact that I wrote a book. It’s incredibly frustrating.
Marri Higgins: Come on, Mel. If you think that buying a book proves friendship than I don’t know who you’ve become!!
Marri Higgins: Haha and I said Come on, Mel. If you think that buying a book proves friendship than I don’t know who you’ve become!!
I did a double take. I reread the two messages a few times before I understood what had happened.
Melissa Ransen: What...Why did you send that twice and WHY did the second one start with “haha and I said”?!
My heart was racing, cheeks red, waiting for Marri to respond.
Ten minutes later, she replied.
Marri Higgins: It was a mistake. I accidentally sent it twice.
Melissa Ransen: That doesn’t explain the “haha and I said” part.
When she didn’t reply, I attacked.
Melissa Ransen: And just so you know, it’s not just a book, it’s MY book. Don’t bother coming over tonight.
I slammed the screen of my laptop down and stomped downstairs.
“Mel, what’s the final number of girls that are coming over tonight?” mom called to me from the kitchen.
I walked over to her and sat down on a stool. “Zero.”
She chuckled. “So, what? Two, three?”
“Zero, mom. No one is coming over.”
She dropped her pen. “Mel- no one? That can’t be right.”
“I don’t have any friends, mom. I’m not like Brendan and Gemma.”
Mom sighed. “I hate to see you spend another Friday night alone.”
“I’m used to it,” I said dejectedly.
She put her arm around my shoulder. “Do still want to order a pizza?”
“Small pepperoni pizza for one? No thanks.”
Gemma was standing in front of our mirror, curling her hair.
“Where are you going tonight?” I asked her.
“I have a date.” She said nonchalantly.
“Oh, you wouldn’t know him. He’s a junior.”
My eyes widened. “Wow. I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”
She laughed as if I was completely incompetent. “He is not my boyfriend. I just go out with him sometimes and we fool around.”
This information, combined with my argument with Marri, infuriated me. When I was a freshman, I had liked a junior too. Although I would (and still did) get dressed to look my very best only on the off chance that I might see him, we did not date. And the only fooling around we did was when he played with my heart.
“Oh, please. Like I really want to hear about the sexual escapades of Gemma Ransen!”
“Sexual what?” Gemma said, confused.
“You act so perfect, so pure to everyone, then you ‘fool around’ with older guys!”
“Stop with the jealousy, Mel. I realize that you’ve never had a boyfriend, but cool it with hating, ok?”
I couldn’t even faze my younger sister by inadvertently calling her a slut. Maybe she knew it was true.
I was bored. With my mind totally blank and wordless as far as writing goes, I was alternating between standing outside in the freezing cold and pacing the foyer. That’s pretty pointless considering I wasn’t expecting any visitors.
Marri Higgins, my “best friend” of six and a half years had finally snapped. This is why I don’t have best friends! I had been so upset and desperate for consolation that I had actually confided in my “best friend” and what did she do? - threw it back my face by laughing over my petty problems with God-knows-who.
I checked my GettinFriendly account to see a status update from the “best friend” herself.
Marri Higgins says: People change, gotta stick with the people who’ve been there for you from the start! <3 Hanging out with my loves Tiffany, ZoZo, and the best boyfriend ever, Jake <3
Tears stung my eyes. I clicked comment:
Melissa Ransen says: Right: Tiffany, ZoZo and Jake- the freshmen whom you’ve known since September. Yep. They’ve been there from the start- not me, the girl you’ve known since preschool. Have a grand time with Tiffany, ZoZo and your best boyfriend of two weeks.
The consequences of this action scratched in the back of my mind. Marri’s mom- who adored her youngest child above all else and had been disliking me more and more lately- also had a GettinFriendly account, and she would see my mean comments, and Marri had more than likely already informed her mom of our fight, and Karen Higgins, a family friend, was planning my assassination.
Tiffany, ZoZo and Jake (who the hell are those people, anyways?) would comfort Marri when she told them of her hardships, and I’d be the same way I started, lonely and broken.
More broken by the day, actually. More broken by the minute.
Then again, maybe it was me who had finally snapped.
I found myself lying on the icy driveway. It was around five, and the night sky had come, and the exterior garage lights were on.
My jeans were basically frozen since I was cold, and the ground was cold. It wasn’t bad though, I didn’t feel a thing.
Brendan’s jeep pulled up and he and a girl and a guy I vaguely remembered seeing at Forlin High functions walked up to the front door.
“Hey, Mel. This is Rachel, and this is Matt.” Brendan said. “Guys, this is my sister, Mel.”
I didn’t get up. I looked up at the teenagers, and Matt who was particularly attractive and I simply stared.
“Bren, you didn’t mention that you had a sister- other than Gem.” Rachel said as she stared down at me, clutching Brendan as if she were trying to prove to me that she had more of a claim on him than I did.
This comment was old news. When my siblings’ friends met or heard about me the reaction was always the same: “You have another sibling?”
Not with Eric though. Eric only said, “Hi Mel.” He said it the first time we met, and he kept up the habit.
Once or twice someone asked if I was adopted. My wavy brown hair and hazel eyes didn’t match up to Brendan and Gemma’s blonde hair and brown eyes.
“How come I haven’t seen you before?” Matt asked me with a grin on his face.
“I don’t really leave the driveway much.” I said using my dry humor, but afterwards I wondered if he’d assume I was serious and a bit insane.
“She goes to St. Mary’s.” Brendan explained as he led the two inside.
They returned five minutes later and Matt waved goodbye to me, Rachel sort of sneered at me, and they drove away.
Mom came outside some time later, wrapped up in a wool coat, leather gloves and a pashmina. “Honey, what are you doing out here?”
“Ok, well I’m off to my dinner meeting. Are you going to be alright?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
She started off towards her car, then turned back and looked sadly at me. “I feel awful that you’ll be alone on your birthday.”
“It’s not my birthday.”
“I know, sweetie,” she replied before driving away.
My mom didn’t date people. It was strange to me. She was a pretty lady, had a good career, a nice house, and yet she refused to date.
My parents separated three years ago, but perhaps the shock still stuck with her. It had been a messy thing.
A quite bruised old sedan pulled up into the driveway, and I shielded my eyes from the headlights to see who it was.
Gemma immediately bounced outside and planted a kiss on the guy’s lips.
“Hey, Steve.” She said flirtatiously.
“Ready to go?” He asked her.
“Uh huh!” Gemma got into the passenger seat and off they went, and thus began another Friday night alone.
My Friday nights always went the same way. There was a thirty-five minute grace period from the point when everyone was gone to the point where my night began.
Now, these nights were only interesting for one reason and one reason only- it was my one chance to be a teenager. It was a pitiful thing how I’d tiptoe to the liquor cabinet, even though no one was home, and I’d carefully select a drink- keeping in mind the order in which the bottles were lined up, remembering the specific way that the label was turned- and I’d pour a reasonable- but not noticeable (this was key) - amount of liquid into a cup.
The cup I chose depended on the kind of night it was. For nights that were average, it’d be a china cup. For cautious, on edge nights, I chose a plastic cup. But for nights such as these, when the one thought on my mind was “screw it,” I would pour the alcohol into a wine glass- no matter what I was drinking.
Tonight, I started off with rum. It was warm, straight up rum extract, not my first time, and I drank it in quick swallows. My throat burned and I hated every bitter drop, but I loved that I was doing something so wrong. And that’s what kept me at it.
Next was wine. It made me feel wise and mature, but again, the taste was undesirable, so one glass would do.
I finished off the night with my least favorite drink- whiskey. Room temperature whiskey- a glass half empty. Down it went, and I reminisced of my first drink of whiskey (and rum, too) when I hadn’t known you were supposed to drink it in shots.
When I was done, I arranged the bottles in their respective positions, gargled water, brushed and flossed my teeth, and put myself to bed, my head swimming with a light, happy feeling.
But as good a friend alcohol is, it never quite replaced the company of my closest friends.