By Jeanine Skowronski
At the school lock-in, Ally Salerno pretends she’s high on Fun Dip and tells Michael McQueen, in an outside voice, that she doesn’t love him, not one bit, not at all; that she’s decided instead to love his brother Darius, because he looks like a vampire, one of those Lost Boys, with the pale skin and the shiny eyes and the white-blonde hair, except, you know, for real.
“Darius McQueen is with Lucy Westport,” I say, mostly because Lucy Westport is my cousin. Ally scowls. Ally and I—we’re stomach-ache friends; we endure each other for Em, who likes the both of us, I guess because, as a rule, she likes everyone.
Em and I were playing MASH, but now she doesn’t care too much about how many kids she’s gonna have or whether she’s gonna live in a shack or even who she’s gonna marry. Now, she wants to chase after Michael McQueen with her portable Sony TCS-310 because she thinks he’ll feel better, you know, if he listens to Z100, you know, if he records a bunch of lovesick songs off the radio and onto his heart; if he makes a mixtape.
“I know,” I say. I listen to my mixtape (“SONGS ALLY SALERNO HATES”), stare at my new black boots, and think about how much I like their toes, which are pointed, not rounded, like the heels. I’m nodding off when suddenly Em’s back, shaking my arm.
“Annie, Annie,” she says. “Get up. Ally told Sam Paul you like him.”
I don’t like Sam Paul. I just said I did once because Ally was making everyone pick crushes and, out of all the boys in our middle school, his name had the fewest syllables. Now, Sam Paul is looking at me, fake-gagging, half-smirking, and it stings, not because I’m getting rejected, just because he looks so happy to have something to reject.
And suddenly all I can think about is my hands and how they’re empty, how they’re not full of Ally’s hair, how I never seem to have what I need ever, which, right now, of course, is something to tug.
The eighth-grade girls converge. I can’t believe Ally did that, they say. You can’t let her get away with that, they say. You gotta confront her, they say. Go now, they say, she’s in the girls’ bathroom.
And I’m off, cruising across the Parish Center in my pointy black boots, Em in tow, and she’s saying, “Come on, Annie; no, Annie; I hate it when you guys fight.”
But Ally and I aren’t gonna fight, because when I get to the girls’ room, there’s Michael McQueen. And first he’s pounding on the door and then he’s lying on the floor, a red-faced rag doll, only kicking and screaming. And the whole time he’s giving off heat, which is how, I think, everyone knows not to get too close, why even the teachers are tiptoeing, noses upturned, like they’re smelling for smoke, and now I no longer want to explode. Now, I want to find a stairwell, exit the building, and check myself for burns.
Later, when the hallways have been cleared and everyone, even Ally Salerno, is stuck in a sleeping bag, Em shuffles closer to me, tips her head toward my shoulder and slips her hand into my hand.
“Annie,” she whispers. “Do you think any boy will ever love us the way Michael loves Ally?”
“Yes,” I say, except, I mean, I hope not.