Lacey stands in front of the open fridge: mold felted in the rubber crevices of the door, grape jelly smeared on scratched plastic shelves like remnants of a crime scene. She slings the door shut with one bare foot. Her eyes, barely slits, scan the sink with its tower of unwashed dishes, the stovetop furred with crumbs of grease. Her dad’s last stab at cooking.
A thin convoy of ants descends the casement window, crosses the sill toward its counter-top target. Lacey watches, transfixed, as the army converges on a half-eaten Pop-Tart she’d abandoned the night before. Swiftly and unceremoniously, each tiny soldier maneuvers a boulder of food into its jaws and begins its return trek to a location unknown to Lacey. Her stomach rumbles. She reaches into the front pocket of her jeans. Breakfast is a handful of Skittles.
When Lacey’s phone vibrates with another reminder, her pulse shifts into a higher gear. On Instagram, another selfie of Austin and the new girlfriend, Erin, the two nestled together on the chair lift, all smiles. Erin’s perfect, white teeth gleaming, her long blond hair fanned across Austin’s black hoodie. In less than five minutes, Lacy knocks out the texts, posts, Tweets, and messages on her detail.
Now she sits on the closed toilet and studies the razor blade in her hand. She presses and steers the blade with practiced accuracy, adding another slice. Ruby beads tremble on pale skin inside Lacey’s left thigh until they rush into a stream of red. With her index finger, she edges her underwear a little higher on her leg and blots the new cut with a wad of toilet paper. She feels Austin’s palms on her knobby hips, remembers how he’d slide her panties down a little at a time till she stepped out of them nimbly—first one foot and then the other—like in that old-school game of Chinese jump rope. She presses hard on the wad of paper, lifts it to check for that first-day-of-your-period red splotch, and feels a brief flash of happiness.
After she completes her morning detail, Lacey waits another five minutes then rinses the green dye from her hair in the bathroom sink. She changes the color every couple weeks now. Angry colors that Lacey creates names for: Slasher Red, Bruise Purple, Vampire Black. Today’s is Vomit Green. Add to this a chunky, copper-colored nose ring—a present to herself soon after Austin dumped her. The other piercings—through her right eyebrow, upper lip, and tongue—pre-date Austin. She pays for these in small bills filched from a waxing and waning roll of cash inside her dad’s sock drawer. He’s using again and—as the rubber-banded wad gets fatter—Lacey knows he’s selling, too. When she opens the door to the cops, she figures they’re coming for him, but she’s wrong.
The room’s only window provides her a view of the multi-colored row of trash and recycling bins, the little fleet of police cruisers nosed into their parking spaces. Two cops face Lacey across the table. She reminds them she’s a minor, and they remind Lacey she’s violated a restraining order. Politely, methodically, she answers the officers’ questions, nods with sincerity. Heat percolates in the low-ceilinged room. The younger cop’s aftershave, a scent like melted vanilla ice cream, blends with sweat and weed and unwashed jeans, an odor Lacey no longer distinguishes as her own.
No more contact, says the older cop—this one with skin the color of Silly Putty. He scrapes his chair back from the table and walks toward Lacey. The small paunch of his gut crests his thick, black police belt. Lacey eyes the bulk of his service revolver, the handcuffs, and other munitions. She takes mental stock of her own arsenal and draws up her flat-chested, diminutive frame even straighter.
We’re not holding you, the younger cop says, but no more texting. No messaging. No contact. Got it? You leave that boy alone.
Lacey nods and makes a silent vow to do just that. Her heart stampedes against her breastbone. She reminds herself that she’s an army of one. Nevertheless, she’s ready.
Lacey’s hair is cement-gray with a thick hank of purple that covers her right eye as she leans over Austin’s keyboard. She logs on, updates Austin’s Facebook status, shares a couple of Erin’s posts, and flips the screen closed. On Lacey’s phone, she selects the photos she needs for the Instagram posts and—this time—logs on as Austin. She’ll buy just a little more time.
At the Trailways depot, Lacey doles out the bus fare in singles. Her plan is to crash at her mom’s till her mom kicks her out again. An hour into the trip, Lacey’s head lulls against the window, her sour breath clouding the glass. Her eyelids flutter for a moment or two before she drifts off to sleep. In her dream, Lacey is the girl wrapped in Austin’s sweat-soaked sheets. Lacy, the girl whose wrists bleed a deluge of joy.