It was one of those nights where Cady was thanking her lucky stars for getting dumped here in Chicago.
She was curled up on the couch in Janis’s parents garage with Janis and Damian, almost entirely through a bottle of peach schnapps, with some movie playing that Damian claimed was a ‘right of passage’ she had somehow missed while she was in Kenya. It didn’t matter that her idea of a ‘right of passage’ was watching her Masaii friends have white paint smeared into open wounds on their back and drink soured milk mixed with cow’s blood; Damian claimed she just had to see Breakfast Club.
Sitting there, with Janis’s arm around her and Damian on the couch, watching the screen swirl in funny ways, Cady was blissfully happy. She was watching her phone screen light up in the corner of her eye every few minutes as well—knowing that the group text with Regina and Gretchen and Karen was waiting for her when her fun time with Janis and Damian was over didn’t hurt either. It was the best of both worlds, having the plastics on one hand, and Janis and Damian on the other.
“Cady, eyes on screen! This is the moment you need to capture—Molly Ringwald is everything you should be hoping to be!” Damian reached across Janis and squeezed Cady’s leg, urging her to pay attention to the screen in front of her as Molly Ringwald put a lipstick between her breasts and applied it to her lips. Janis rolled her eyes and flicked a piece of popcorn at Damian, who laughed as he avoided it. Janis leaned back and laid her arms along the back of the couch in a total power move, grabbing Damian and Cady and pulling them to her.
“I love you two so much,” she smiled and released them, leaving her arms gently laid over their backs. Cady smiled and snuggled into her side.
“Love you too, girl!” she chirped back.
Hanging with Regina and her minions felt nice because people were looking at her and wanting to be her, but hanging out with Damian and Janis was so much better because they didn’t want to be her, they actually just wanted to be with her. The difference was tiny, but it made Cady grateful that she had them to turn back to after a long day of following Regina around.
Buzz buzz!! Buzz buzz!!
Cady glanced at her phone, but the screen was dark, and she had it set to silent anyways. Janis glanced wryly at Damian, who reached out and snatched his phone off the coffee table in front of them.
“Oh my god you guys, it’s Leslie. You know what that means!” Damian covered the phone as if he had already picked up before silently mouthing the name ‘Phillip’. Janis rolled her eyes but shooed Damian away, and he pressed talk on the phone before getting up and flitting out the sliding glass door of the converted garage to the darkness outside.
“Who’s Phillip?” Cady asked as Janis paused the movie.
“That is a very long story,” Janis replied lazily. “I should probably let Damian tell you. Just let me warn you—it gets steamy. So what do you think of Breakfast Club?”
“It seems… so stratified? I’m confused on why they all judge each other so hard.”
“I mean, isn’t that North Shore?” Janis raised an eyebrow as she spoke.
“Well, I mean, not really.”
“Cady, do you seriously not remember your first day? When we walked you through the cafeteria and showed you all the cliques before you decided to sit with us?”
“I mean, that was how you saw the world, it’s not necessarily true for everybody though. I mean, you painted Regina and Gretchen and Karen as these awful people, but they’re nice to me!”
Janis guffawed loudly, rolling her eyes at Cady.
“You only say that because you’re new and haven’t pissed them off yet. Just wait. You’ll do something to get on Regina’s bad side and then you’ll pay.”
“Why do you say that? She hasn’t done anything mean since I’ve been there!” Cady jokingly pushed Janis’s shoulder, but the girl just stared at her blankly.
“Really? Nothing mean?” Janis asked incredulously. “What was the gossip du jour today, huh? Who’s gained ten pounds, or thrown themselves at the quarterback, or cheated on so-and-so with so-and-so, right? Did I miss something? Maybe it’s something really juicy, like somebody blowing Coach Carr in the locker room to pass health, huh?”
“I mean, yeah, but you guys gossip too.”
“Cady,” Janis leaned in and gently pushed Cady back so she was leaning on her elbows. “Damian and I gossip, but it’s different. We’re the Allisons of the world. Outcasts, powerless, just hanging on the fringes and getting through. You’re a total Claire. A Molly Ringwald. Destined to rule because you’re pretty and you know how to use it. I bet you could even apply lipstick with your tits if you wanted.”
Cady couldn’t help but laugh at that—their dispute forgotten. She looked down at her cleavage, only slightly visible in a comfy t-shirt bra and beige tank top from her safari days.
“I could not!” she claimed, glancing dubiously at her chest. “I barely even have boobs, much less a lipstick to apply with them.”
“Here,” Janis leaned over and retrieved her own tube of lipstick from the coffee table—some very dark plum color that suited her goth-ish look perfectly. “Now you just push your boobs together and I’ll place the tube.”
She straddled Cady’s hips easily, opening the tube and screwing it so a good inch of the dark colored lipstick stuck out. Cady rolled her eyes but pushed her boobs up nonetheless, proffering them to Janis, who placed the tube snugly against her sternum. Cady pushed and lifted and tried as hard as she could, but only managed to get the tip of the lipstick to scrape against her chin, leaving a dark splotch.
“Does that not prove that I’m not a plastic?” Cady laughed, looking at Janis, still straddling her hips.
“No, it only proves that you’re not Molly Ringwald,” Janis smirked as she plucked the tube from between Cady’s breasts. She tauntingly applied a fresh coat of the dark color to her lips before popping the cap back on and setting the tube back on the coffee table. Leaning so far, she began to tip over, almost falling into the space between the couch and coffee table. Cady reflexively reached and grabbed Janis’s elbow, hauling her back to where her center of gravity was—straddling Cady’s hips again.
Janis was close. Very close. Inches away, in fact, straddling Cady’s hips and panting quickly with breath that smelled like popcorn, peach schnapps and the floral scent of her lipstick.
The two girls paused, looking at each other, feeling the low buzz in the air as the silence around them grew deafening. Cady had never noticed how gorgeous Janis’s eyes were. They were usually hidden beneath dark layers of liquid eyeliner and thick mascara and even some black eyeshadow—which Cady still didn’t understand.
Now, with the white light of the screen reflecting off of them, Cady could see the luminous brown color glowing in Janis’s irises, almost a fiery sort of orange. She could see the frown lines in Janis’s forehead and wondered what had made her so sad that she wrinkled so young. A smudge of lipstick had gotten onto the corner of Janis’s mouth, and Cady ached to reach out and wipe it off, but something held her back.
Janis—clearly not feeling the same resistance—reached out slowly and rubbed a thumb across Cady’s chin. Cady looked questioningly at Janis, afraid to break the tentative silence, but Janis turned and showed Cady her thumb—she had wiped away the lipstick on her chin. The girls smiled together, sharing in the secret of Cady’s failed lipstick application.
The screen door sliding open broke the girls’ reverie as Damian huffed back into the garage. He didn’t even look at Janis and Cady as he plopped back down on the couch, crossing his arms and looking like a sulky child. Janis sat back against the couch, leaving her legs draped over Cady’s and resting her head on Cady’s shoulder as she turned to face Damian.
“So. . . Phillip?” she probed.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Damian huffed. He reached out and snatched the remote, resuming play on the movie before sitting back and crossing his arms again, lost in his petulant little thoughts.
Cady gently blew out to push a strand of Janis’s hair off her face and marveled at how it caught the light, floating back down to land on her again. So dark and shiny at the top, coming into bleach-blonde tips. Janis had already told her about the failed hair-dye experiment.
Originally it was meant to be purple on the ends, but she had thought her hair was melting during the bleaching process and had quickly rinsed it out. Then she read something about hair products testing on animals and had refused to buy the purple dye until she could find a brand that was ethical. Thus far she had been unsuccessful. Cady didn’t mind though—the lightness of the tips offset the darkness of everything else about Janis—her dark hair, dark clothes, dark makeup, but not her eyes. Cady wouldn’t ever think of her eyes as dark again. They were light, filled with some sort of fire.
Cady felt a gentle tug on her skull and glanced down, watching Janis twirl a strand of her naturally wavy hair between her fingers. Afraid to move, Cady watched Janis’s long, delicate fingers weave in her hair, the strawberry blonde strands rolling smoothly over Janis’s fine knuckles and shiny rings.
The smell of Peach Schnapps filled her nostrils as she breathed deeply in—she wanted to memorize everything about this perfect, early Autumn night, with her two best friends, to freeze in her mind for later.
Cady chewed on her eraser pensively, reading the problem over and over. She could do derivations in her sleep, but her mind kept drifting back to the weekend, to peach schnapps and the purplish plum shade of Janis’s lipstick. She had worn the same color today, and when Cady hugged her friend hello in the morning, the flowery scent transported her back to the converted garage in Janis’s backyard.
“What did you get for number thirteen?” Aaron whirled around in front of Cady, slapping his paper down on her desk and smiling at her.
“Uhh, I haven’t even made it that far,” Cady giggled in the way Karen always did, high pitched and empty. “I’m stuck on number six.” Aaron’s teeth were criminally white. How did he get them so white?
She had started pretending not to know the answers to math problems last week. It was after her first trip to the mall with the plastics, when she found out Aaron was Regina’s ex and would be strictly off limits. Regina could never find out about her crush on Aaron—it would ruin any chance she had of getting to stay friends with the plastics. And spy for Janis and Damian. Somehow though, everything in the AP calc classroom felt safe, off limits from Regina’s reign of terror over the rest of the school. So Cady would pretend not to know every third question, bat her eyelashes at Aaron, and let him explain the answers to her with his pearly teeth and perfectly floppy hair.
“Do you want help?” Aaron asked, reading Cady’s paper upside down.
“Sure!” she replied eagerly. He patiently explained the basic concept to her—she had taught herself this particular subject when she was fourteen, when her parents were off on a trip to Namibia for something over a long weekend.
As Aaron explained, she looked at his eyes. They were this slate grey color—in the sterile lighting of the classroom, they had no depth to them. They didn’t sparkle like Janis’s had that night. Cady felt a warm glow in her stomach—she was lucky to have a friend like Janis, who put her so at ease and made her feel so. . . comfortable. That was the only word she could think of to describe how she felt when she was with her. Comfortable. It was way better than always feeling on her toes, like she had to be around Regina.
“Hey, what did you get on that quiz last week? I got an eighty-five,” Aaron bragged, leaning against his desk to smile at Cady. He had this way of smiling through his floppy bangs that made Cady swoon. She had gotten a perfect score on that quiz, but Aaron really didn’t need to know that. She didn’t want to make him feel bad, or make him realize that she didn’t need his help after all—if she didn’t have math to talk about with him, she wouldn’t have anything else. Or at least, anything else that Regina couldn’t punish her for if she found out.
“I uhh, I got a sixty-five. I am like, soo lost with this stuff,” Cady laughed self-deprecatingly, her heart pounding. What if he thought she was stupid now? She should have said she got a B too.
“Do you want me to tutor you?” Aaron asked.
“Say what?” Cady did a double take.
“I mean, I’m not going to say I’m any expert on the stuff or anything like that, but I’d be happy to help you out. What it takes to pass, ya know?” Aaron half-smiled and Cady swooned even more. If she kept going like this, she would fall out of her chair before the period ended.
“Oh my god, yeah! I mean, that would be great. I would love that—”
The bell rang, cutting Cady off. Before Aaron could see the scarlet hue her cheeks were turning, she grabbed her worksheet and flew out the door of the classroom, almost tripping Ms. Norbury on her way out. Could she have sounded any lamer?
“There you are.”
Regina was standing with Karen and Gretchen in the hallway, chewing on a piece of gum, her face an expression of pure boredom. Cady hadn’t even noticed her as she approached, so pre-occupied on the idea of tutoring sessions with Aaron. Hanging out with him! One on one!
Behind Regina, Cady could see Janis and Damian standing and looking at her out of the corners of their eyes. She always hated this, when she was with the plastics and they were off talking about something. What if it was her?
“Why are you so red? Totally unflattering. You need some foundation. Gretchen, give her your foundation.” Regina didn’t even look at Gretchen as she gave the command, watching people walk by in the hallway. Whenever they felt her eyes on them, people would cower and almost scuttle away. Even her bored glance had that effect.
“Umm, Regina, I don’t think she’s the same shade as me. Asian, remember?” Gretchen was searching through her handbag nonetheless, following Regina’s directions as though on autopilot.
“Huh?” Karen looked up from her phone, smiling blandly at Regina.
“Oh my god, never mind.” Regina turned and smiled, something piquing her interest. “Hey Aaron! Don’t you have soccer practice or something?”
“It’s fall, Regina. It’s not the soccer season yet,” Aaron replied, walking up to the trio. “Hey Cady, you ran out before I could get your number! We should plan our first uhh, study session, right?”
“Oh!” Cady turned to face him, smiling nervously. “Yeah, totally! Sorry I totally ditched when class ended.”
“It’s fine, I get it. Math fries my brain too,” Aaron smiled and leaned against a locker as he proffered his phone to Cady, a new contact file already opened. Cady looked at it for a moment, not understanding, before she realized what he meant for her to do. She snatched the phone form his hand belatedly, tittering nervously—she had noticed Karen and Gretchen both did that, so it seemed appropriate that she should too. As she typed in her number with shaking hands, she noticed Regina glaring at her out of the corner of her eye. It was just studying, so Regina couldn’t be mad, right? Cady handed the phone back with a weak smile.
“Here you go! Maybe we can do my house tomorrow? Three thirty?”
“That sounds great! I’ll text you so you have my number, then you can send me your address.”
“Yay! I mean, yeah. Sounds good.” Cady smiled at him til he turned and sauntered away, then let out the breath she wasn’t aware she had been holding. She desperately wanted to rest her face against the cold metal locker in front of her, but that would reveal way too much to Regina.
“Studying? With Aaron?” Regina appraised Cady.
“Yeah! He’s gonna uhh, help me with math. Calc, ya know?” Cady rolled her eyes as if hoping to drum up sympathy.
“If it’s so hard, why not just drop it and take statistics?” Regina countered.
“You could take math studies with me!” Karen piped in, smiling. “We’re doing graphs right now and I am like, sooo lost. But Mr. Nelson’s really hot, so I get to look at that every day. Totally worth!”
“Fetch!” Gretchen looked up from her phone momentarily to insert the word. “It’s fetch!” she said again, looking at Regina hopefully.
Regina rolled her eyes and pulled her phone out to text someone. Gretchen’s face fell—she looked like she might cry.
“Yeah, maybe,” Cady said to Karen absentmindedly, watching Aaron begin to talk with a group of football players down the hall. The way his silky t-shirt fell across his shoulder blades revealed how well-muscled his back was. Cady wanted to run her hands down it, to feel the sinewy muscle stretched beneath his skin. . . when she noticed Regina watching her, she snapped out of her appreciative reverie. Thankfully, the bell rang before Regina could say the mean comment that Cady could see brewing in her mind. Anger still swirled beneath her gaze, but for now, Cady was safe.
Cady always hated the way the plastics were with the bells. When she first got to North Shore, she had no idea about the bell system—she thought they were really irritating, and Kevin Gnapoor had had to explain it all to her, how they were told to transition by the shrill ringing every hour. He had explained the whole system with tardy slips and detentions—it all seemed so serious to Cady, and she had practically run those first few days to make it to all her classes on time. The plastics, on the other hand, viewed the bells as more of a suggestion than a rule.
“The bells don’t control you—you control you. Just watch: the kids running in a minute after the bell are the ones that get the tardy slips. Walk in five minutes late and act supremely bored—none of the teachers have the balls to give you one,” Regina had explained on the second day Cady ate lunch with them.
Thus far, that hypothesis had not held true. Maybe Regina had some special aura that prevented her from getting the awful tardy slips, but Cady had received several. Damian was pulling some favors in the office to get her out of detentions—she valued the plastics approval more than she feared getting the notes at this point, so even though the ringing bell sent her nerves firing and her adrenaline rushing, she forced herself to stay in place, laughing at whatever stupid gossip Gretchen had to share and watching the hallway clear out around them.
Down the hallway, she watched Janis linger by her locker after the last students had left. She was clearly hoping for Cady to peel off or for the plastics to finally decide to be on time for once, but she was out of luck.
“Look who’s stalking us. Cady, does she like you?” Regina giggled, appraising Janis with a pitying look. Cady’s stomach panged.
“Disgusting!” Gretchen was eager to provide the response Regina was looking for. Cady giggled too, high and shrill. Regina turned her hawk eyes on her—a giggle wasn’t enough.
“Ew, gross!” Cady parroted, trying to commit herself to the nasty words and not fully understanding what they meant. Why were they laughing at Janis? For liking her? They were friends. Obviously she liked her. But Regina couldn’t know that if Janis’s plot was going to work. Maybe she was right, too. About Regina being not nice. . . but maybe Cady was just thinking that because Janis was the topic of their gossip for the first time since she became friends with the plastics. Maybe. High school was just so confusing sometimes—she’d have to see what Janis had done to make the plastics dislike her later.
For now, though, Janis could hear them. Maybe not the comments, but the laughter, and the glances her way. Cady watched her eyes—previously hopeful—cloud over. Those gorgeous, brown, fiery eyes now filled with something Cady hadn’t seen before. Hatred?
She gave up on waiting a few seconds before the tardy bell rang, slipping into a classroom and leaving Cady standing with the plastics, an empty feeling in her stomach—was that guilt?
“Caddy! Hey!” Janis called from down the hallway, speed-walking over to where Cady stood at her locker.
Cady slammed her locker shut and glanced around cautiously—there was nobody to see her talk to Janis, thankfully.
“Dude, don’t worry, the queen bitch is gone. It’s safe, you can talk to me without having your reputation blown up,” Janis’s tone was only slightly resentful, and Cady had to smile guiltily.
“Sorry. It’s becoming a habit. My bad.”
“It’s cool, I get it. What were you and Regina laughing about earlier? When I was in the hallway?”
Cady flashed back to the joke about Janis liking her. She had figured it was just some gossip she didn’t know yet, but she’d have to figure that out later. And Janis didn’t need to know they were laughing at her—it would just hurt her feelings unnecessarily.
“Oh, that? It was just something stupid about Shane Oman. You know how the plastics are,” Cady rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” Janis replied. It was clear she didn’t believe her, but she let it drop for the time being.
“So uhh, how was your day?” Cady asked. “I feel like I never see you guys at school!”
“Probably because you’re always with the plastics now,” Janis scoffed. She shook her head like she was trying to shake off the negative vibe before continuing. “It was fine. We put a piece of blue cheese in Mr. Olson’s desk drawer and we’re gonna see how long it takes him to notice the smell. Also, I made you something!”
Janis pulled a bracelet out of her pocket. It was a sort of woven friendship bracelet, with a little elephant charm on it—Cady had told Janis last week that her favorite migrations to observe were the elephants that crossed the savannah, and that she always felt a sort of kinship with them. She had been drunk when she said it, otherwise she wouldn’t have shared at all—she always felt like a total dweeb for sharing that stuff with anybody here. Everybody thought the idea of her being in Africa was ‘totally exotic’, but the actual day-to-day of homeschooling and watching the empty plains for hours was a lot less glamorous. Cady had learned quickly to keep her mouth shut about it. But Janis had loved hearing it, and had asked Cady questions for hours about the animals and the people and what life was like out there. Hence the bracelet now, with it’s little varnished elephant charm.
“The pink is for you pretending to be plastic, the olive green is for the adventures you had in Africa, and the blue is for your friendship with us! Then the peach is for, well, peach schnapps,” Janis blushed as she mentioned the last color, and Cady looked up at her friend, noticing the twinkle in her eyes.
“Janis, that is so sweet!”
“Here, let me put it on.”
Janis fumbled with the braided ends for a moment before getting them securely wrapped around Cady’s wrist. Janis laid her finger alongside the soft skin over her pulse, so that she wouldn’t pull the bracelet too tight. Cady noticed how soft and cool Janis’s skin was, laid along her own, and how long and elegant her fingers were with their assortment of silver rings. Once the bracelet was tied, Janis rotated it so that the elephant charm faced up. Cady beamed.
“Janis, this is so kind. Thank you so much,” Cady pulled her friend into a hug, squeezing tightly. She smelled like peonies and cloves and the essential oils she swore helped her third eye stay clear.
“Ok, lovebirds!” Damian’s sing-song voice chirped from across the hall.
The two girls laughed as he ran up and wrapped his arms around them, squeezing them tightly into a bear hug.
“Damian!” Janis groaned. “You’re pulling my hair.”
“I can’t help that I love you more than life itself!” Damian replied as he released them. “Now how were your days, ladies? Give me the highlights!”
“Ooh, I have an update for you guys!” Cady squealed.
“Plastics-relevant?” Damian asked.
“Ooh! Spill.” Damian commanded.
“He’s gonna tutor me in math! He’s coming to my place tomorrow.”
“Tutor you?” Janis asked incredulously. “Aren’t you like, a super genius at math?”
“Sort of, but he doesn’t know that!”
“Why is he tutoring you?” Damian asked, not understanding.
“Well, I’ve been pretending that I don’t get what we’re doing, so then he’ll explain it to me and we always end up talking like that. And now he’s coming over!”
“Cady, that’s ridiculous,” Damian scolded.
“I can’t help it!” Cady looked at her two friends, who were both looking at her with confusion. “I can’t talk to him any other way, or Regina would murder me!”
“Maybe it’s a sign,” Janis muttered.
“What?” Cady asked, confused.
“Maybe it’s a sign that if you have to pretend to be stupid to get this boy to like you, you shouldn’t be into this boy,” Damian said, looking to Janis to see if he was correct. She crossed her arms and looked away, refusing to look at Cady or him. “Why don’t you tutor him?”
“I mean, it’s just a way to get us to talk. And now we’re hanging out! Me and Aaron! One on one!” Cady looked back and forth between her two friends, but Janis still refused to look at her and Damian just looked appalled. “I don’t understand why you guys can’t be happy for me,” she huffed.
“Babe, it’s because this is not how you get a guy. Shit like this is probably why Aaron dumped Regina in the first place,” Damian reasoned.
“Regina dumped him,” Cady scoffed.
“And who fed you that bullshit?” Janis finally spoke again.
“I mean, Regina did, but why would she lie?”
“Because she’s a no-good dirtbag of a human being who cares about nothing and nobody but herself,” Janis retorted, rolling her eyes. “Why do I feel like I’m starting to have to convince you of that, Caddy?”
“You’re not! It’s just. . . I mean, you realize you talk more shit about her than she does about you, right?”
“So you admit you were talking shit about me earlier,” Janis shook her head.
“No! I mean, it’s not like that,” Cady paused, uncertain what to say. “She’s just. . . Regina. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“So don’t,” Janis replied flatly, turning and beginning to walk away. Damian followed quickly. Cady watched her friends go for a moment, hurt and confused.
“Can you guys just be happy for me?” she called, hating the note of desperation that crept into her voice. If she didn’t have Janis and Damian, she had no one. She didn’t want to lose them.
She ran after Janis and Damian and whirled around to face them, walking backwards. “I promise I’ll stop playing dumb. I swear it. But I get to hang out with Aaron! Can we please be happy?”
She smiled wide at Damian and Janis. Janis still refused to meet her gaze, but Damian smiled half-heartedly, raising an eyebrow as though he still didn’t believe her.
“What are you going to do?” he asked. “Have him show up and be like, ‘oh yeah, by the way I’m actually smarter than you, now let’s make out?’”
Cady rolled her eyes. “Obviously not,” she replied. “I’ll figure something out.”
“Of course you will. You better.” Damian smiled. Clearly he had forgiven her.
“Janis?” Cady asked, still walking backwards. Janis stared at her, not saying anything. Cady kept walking, petulantly waiting til her best friend would forgive her. Suddenly, the ground dropped out from beneath her and she tumbled backwards—they had come upon the stairs at the end of the hallway, and Cady fell down them, landing squarely on her tailbone.
“Ow!” she cried, rubbing at the spot where she landed. Janis burst out laughing, so hard she had to bend over and put her hands on her knees to draw breath.
“Oh god, you should have seen the look on your face!” she guffawed. Cady glared at her from the ground, watching Janis wipe away the tears that sprang to the corners of her eye, blackened by her dark eye makeup. After she could breathe again, Janis stood at her full height and smiled at Cady good-naturedly, with the same fiery twinkle back in her eye. “We’re good, Caddy. Don’t be a dumbass anymore.”
She jogged down the two steps and helped her friend up. Cady rubbed her butt a few times—her ego was more bruised than her ass—but felt satisfied. Janis and Damian weren’t mad at her. She’d promised to stop playing dumb, but that didn’t mean she needed to be completely forthcoming about her abilities with Aaron. If she had it her way, very little of their study-date the next day would be spent on actual studying anyways.
Cady linked arms with Janis and Damian, breathing in Janis’s scent of peonies and cloves from one side, and Damian’s Chanel No. 5 from the other. This was the way things should be, surrounded by her two best friends—so why couldn’t she help but look around as they emerged outside, checking over her shoulder to make sure nobody was seeing her with the two outcasts?
“Ugh, my hips are so repulsive,” Regina whined, making poses in front of the giant mirror in her room.
“My dimples are like, nonexistent!” Gretchen grumbled, sucking in her cheeks and pulling her hairline back. Karen stood behind them, using her hands to push her boobs up—even though they already rested prodigiously high on her chest.
Regina turned to look at Cady expectantly. Cady froze, sitting on the edge of the bed where she had been thumbing through the massive pink book in her lap.
“Uhh, I don’t know what we’re doing, but I’m ugly too!” she chirped, standing and joining them in front of Regina’s massive mirror.
To be honest, she liked the way she looked. Her strawberry blonde hair always stayed light from the excessive sun she got in Kenya—she’d have to see if that changed with an Illinois winter. Her nose had a slope to it that was slightly upturned but not so much you could see her nostrils facing her straight on, and her lips were even and fairly full. She had never spent much time looking at her own eyes before—she got the creeps just staring herself down in a mirror. They were blue, with more depth than Aaron’s had had earlier in the classroom, but not as much as Janis’s, in the dark of her converted garage. Nothing compared to Janis’s eyes—even just thinking about them now gave Cady that same weird feeling in her stomach. She wasn’t jealous—brown eyes would look strange with her fair hair—but it did make her feel like she was missing out on something important. She suddenly wished she were with Janis and Damian, wherever they were.
“Take a picture, it will last longer,” Regina elbowed Cady jokingly, mocking her for staring at herself in the mirror, despite the fact that that was exactly what she had been doing just moments before. Cady smiled bashfully and averted her eyes, subtly trying to take in what the girls around her were doing so she could mimic it. Karen was still pushing on her boobs, and Gretchen was staring at her phone screen, her thumbs flying over it so fast they were becoming blurry. Regina surveyed her minions—raising her eyebrows at Cady standing there, just watching them—and turned to Karen, eying her face.
“Karen, let’s fix your eyebrows,” she said lazily.
“Ok!” Karen replied gamely. “Can I still have two?” She followed Regina into the bathroom gamely.
Gretchen made to follow them, but Regina slammed the door in her face, shutting her out. Cady watched Gretchen press her ear to the wooden door, struggling to hear what the two girls inside were saying.
“What are we laughing at?” she asked loudly through the door, then pressed her ear to the wood to hear a response. Cady couldn’t help but smile to herself as she watched—how was Gretchen so pathetic? She felt embarrassed for her just sitting there and watching. It was a wonder she wasn’t in the book—thinking of it, she returned to the bed and flipped the pink book open once more.
Each page had a different person’s picture inside, along with a comment written in black sharpie. The comments weren’t very nice—they were almost always about someone being ugly, fat, dumb, or some combination of the three. Cady figured that Gretchen and Karen both had their place in the book if those were the criteria, but of course she would never say that—something told her Regina’s cruel honesty didn’t extend to her posse as well.
“Hey, Cady? Did Regina seem like, mad at me just now or something?” Gretchen perched next to Cady, still eying the door warily.
“What?” Cady asked, confused. “Why would she be mad?”
“Oh, I don’t know, just, you know, things,” Gretchen alternated between checking her split ends and watching the door. A peal of laughter rang from inside and Gretchen bolted back towards it, pressing her ear against the solid wood again.
“Gretchen!” Cady laughed. “You’re fine, Regina’s probably not mad.”
“Then why are they in here, and we’re out here?” Gretchen asked worriedly. “Did you do something? Am I just being lumped with you by association or whatever?”
Cady shrugged, returning her attention to the book in front of her.
“Oh my god, where did you find that?” Gretchen squealed, momentarily leaving her position of pining at the door to sit next to Cady on the bed. Cady looked at Gretchen with confusion—had she really not noticed the book until now?
“It was sitting out on Regina’s desk,” she said, still flipping through the pages, taking in the nasty captions and graffitied photos. Gretchen giggled at a few of them, pointing out pictures and fleshing out the stories in more detail. If Cady had been secondhand embarrassed for Gretchen before, she felt like crawling into a hole for the girls inside the book now—how could they live with themselves after doing such humiliating things?
“Oh, you saw that?” Regina was suddenly in front of them, Karen tottering behind her. She had finished massacring Karen’s eyebrows—thankfully she was blonde, so the damage wasn’t too visible.
“Oh, uhh, Cady pulled it out! I just saw it!” Gretchen jumped up and away from the bed like it was on fire—clearly she thought Regina wouldn’t think kindly of them flipping through the books pages.
“Oh my god, take a chill pill,” Regina laughed, sitting next to Cady and taking the book from her hands without asking. “My mom found it earlier when she was snooping through my closet—can you believe she thinks she can still wedge into a size two?—and she pulled it out for me to look at. I thought it was funny.”
She flipped the page and Cady did a double-take.
It was a picture of Janis. It was clearly a yearbook picture, maybe from her freshmen or sophomore year. Cady had thought she wore a lot of make-up now, but her current look had nothing on the amount piled on her face in the photo. She looked like a raccoon, and while she still favored a darker plum lip now, she had worn pure black lipstick in this photo. Her eyebrows were plucked paper thin and penciled in dark black as well—Cady couldn’t believe it; she and Janis had a game now where they’d try to rub each other’s eyebrow hairs against the grain. They had found out by accident that it was a pet peeve of theirs that they shared, and since then it had become a sort of inside joke to try and get that rasping feeling on the other person. Cady envied Janis’s thick, dark, natural brows—she didn’t wax or pluck them at all, and they were full and even and gorgeous. Cady’s own paled in comparison—the same light color as her hair, all patchy in the middle. But looking at the photo, it was clear that Janis didn’t use to have brows like those—it looked like she didn’t have brows at all, besides those she could draw on with a pencil.
She had thick, heavy bangs—not the flattering kind—and her hair was a mess, matted and fuzzy around her face in a total hack job she probably did with kitchen scissors. She looked tired, with big bags under her eyes and a certain hollowness in her expression that spoke to a deeper exhaustion. She looked angry, too, though that could be the devil horns and mustache drawn over her face. Beneath the photo, someone had written, “JANIS IS A SPACE DYKE.”
“Wait,” Cady stopped Regina from flipping the page. “Janis is a space dyke?”
“Oh my god, I almost forgot about that!” Regina laughed airily in a way that told Cady she had most definitely not forgotten about it.
“Oh my god yeah!” Gretchen echoed. “She’s the freak that’s always hanging around that Damian Hubbard kid—the one who does all the musicals and stuff?”
“I like him,” Karen sighed, admiring her eyebrows in the mirror. “He dances pretty. Prettily? Prettily. And he smells good.”
“He’s like, too gay to function,” Cady snorted with laughter, remembering the way Janis had joked about Damian when she introduced them. Had that really only been just a few weeks ago? Damian had done a jazz square or whatever he called it when she had said it too—a typical, flamboyant response.
“Ooh, Cady, that’s a good one!” Regina stood abruptly and walked over to her pink vanity, pulling a yearbook out from the bottom drawer. She grabbed a pair of eyebrow scissors from a rack on the surface of the vanity and thumbed through the book until she found what she was looking for—Damian’s photo from the year before.
“Oh I didn’t mean it like that. . .” Cady tapered off, watching Regina cut carefully around the edges of his photo. She grabbed a roll of tape from her desk and meticulously cut pieces to fasten the corner of the photo to the page opposite from Janis’s. Cady watched, transfixed by the ritualistic nature of Regina’s actions—she was almost reverent as she pulled the cap off the black sharpie and wrote: “TOO GAY TO FUNCTION.” She finished the drawing with a black sharpie crown drawn on Damian’s pudgy head. A sour feeling filled Cady’s mouth, but she shook it off. It was all good fun—she could tell Janis and Damian about this book later and they could all laugh at it together. Speaking of which. . .
“Why is Janis in there?” she asked tentatively. “I mean, in the burn book.” She was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Because she’s a space dyke,” Regina laughed derisively. Cady wasn’t entirely sure what the word meant, but together with the joke earlier at their lockers, she could piece it together—they thought Janis was a lesbian.
“Get this: Regina and Janis used to be like, best friends!” Gretchen acted like it was the juiciest piece of gossip she’d ever shared. Cady shook her head to clear her thoughts—hadn’t Gretchen pretended to not even know who Janis was, like ten seconds earlier?
“Ugh,” Regina rolled her eyes. “Don’t remind me.”
“What happened?” Cady asked.
“It was eighth grade, and I was going to have a pool party for my birthday, and my mom said I could only invite like, six friends, so I couldn’t invite her because she would have been number seven or whatever. And when I told her she got really crazy. Like, she was already kind of obsessed with me, but after the party thing, it kind of showed her true colors, you know? She was like, a stalker or whatever. Totally scary. Anyways, she went totally psycho and her parents had to pull her out of school and send her to rehab or ‘art therapy’ or whatever. When she came back freshmen year, that’s what she looked like,” Regina nodded at the photo in the burn book, opposite to where she was now pasting Damian’s. “And now she’s all ‘painting her feelings’, which essentially means painting dead babies or rabid kittens or whatever.”
“Did she not look like that before?” Cady asked, ignoring the last joke—Regina was always like that with things others loved.
“No. Believe it or not, she actually looked kind of normal. I know, right? Hard to believe, what with her Hot-Topic-Wannabe get-up now.” Regina rolled her eyes.
“Oh,” Cady said. Sure, Regina was being a bit of a snob about the whole thing, but it seemed anticlimactic. Why was Janis so bent out of shape about one stupid birthday party? Sure, it sucked that Regina couldn’t invite her, but she could always go to the next party. Cady would have to follow up later with Janis and see why she hated Regina so much—from what Regina said, it sounded like maybe Janis was overreacting just a little bit.
They spent the next hour flipping through the burn book, laughing at the pictures and sharing stories about people as they were prompted by the old drama recounted inside.
“Oh yeah, Cady! You have to come to the kickback Karen’s hosting tomorrow night. We haven’t gotten you drunk yet. Have you ever even had alcohol before?” Regina was actually seemingly interested in the prospect of getting Cady drunk.
“I’m having a kickback?” Karen asked, still standing in front of the mirror and playing with her boobs. Regina rolled her eyes at Cady as though sympathizing over Karen’s stupidity. Gretchen mimicked her almost immediately, like a shadow.
Regina didn’t need to know that Cady drank with Janis and Damian almost every weekend. She also didn’t need to know about the plans Cady had with Janis and Damian tomorrow night to watch Sixteen Candles—Damian claimed Cady needed more Molly Ringwald to channel—she could always just cancel them or postpone them or something. If it meant penetrating the plastics inner circle, Janis and Damian would understand.
“Ok! Sure! We can do that. I’ve uhh, I’ve only tried wine with my parents, a couple of times.” Cady laughed awkwardly. She opened her phone to text Janis her cancellation.
Caddy: Hey girly, plastics invited me to something tomorrow night. I think Aaron might be there! Plus I can do more spying. Can we postpone?
“And it’s going to be intimate, tomorrow night, Cady, you understand?” Regina was eying Cady’s phone as she set it down, clearly disapproving. She opened her phone as well, beginning to text somebody. “Don’t go inviting anybody.”
“Of course,” Cady laughed awkwardly—she hated how her laugh was becoming less of a humor reaction and more of a reflex to the uncomfortable things Regina would say to her. “I wouldn’t dream of it!”
“Good, good,” Regina replied absently, her nose in her phone.
When she finished sending her text, she began planning her Halloween costume. Gretchen was ‘approving’ of everything with so much gusto that she reminded Cady of a hyena submitting to the pack alpha. In fact, the resemblance between Gretchen and a hyena was pretty remarkable. . .
Cady’s phone buzzed in her hand. She looked down to see a text from Janis.
Awesome! She could hang with the plastics and chill with Damian and Janis on Saturday. They got it. Important recon on the plastics, right? And more time with Aaron, if he was invited!
Cady still jumped at the sound of the doorbell—another adjustment she still hadn’t made form her canvas-tented years in Kenya.
She stopped in front of the big mirror on the way to the door, checking herself in the mirror. She was wearing leggings—these black stretchy pants that were skin-tight. They didn’t leave much to the imagination—Janis had helped her buy underwear that would fit under them, these tiny flossy things called thongs that looked miserable but were actually strangely comfortable. Janis had explained to her that whenever you wore tight pants, you needed to wear one, because the outline of your underwear was supposedly embarrassing. Cady had been grateful for that—Regina had taken her out to buy the leggings, but had forgotten to mention the underwear thing, so Janis had saved her from totally embarrassing herself.
She was wearing a tank top and a new bra as well—Karen had walked her through Victoria’s Secret and had the patience to explain the difference between a demi and a push-up and t-shirt bra and everything in between. For somebody who couldn’t do basic algebra, Karen was surprisingly knowledgeable about bras, and she had helped Cady out. The result was a pleasing heft to her chest that wasn’t usually there in her worn out sports bras. Aaron would like it. A spritz of body spray—also from Victoria’s Secret—and her hair in a ‘messy-but-sophisticated’ bun—Gretchen’s idea—had her totally ready for a hot study session with Aaron.
She opened the door and tried to put on her most winning smile as the sight of Aaron greeted her.
“Hey,” he smiled and gave a little half-wave, giving Cady ample time to take in his biceps and well-fitted t-shirt. Unf.
“Hi!” Cady said. “Come on in!” she beckoned him through the door and he stepped through hesitantly, taking in the space around them.
“Shoes off?” he asked.
“What? Oh, yeah! Sorry. Still not used to this whole ‘no-shoes’ thing.”
“You always kept your shoes on in Africa?”
“Totally. In case of beetles or spiders or, ya know, whatever.”
“Beetles?” Aaron asked with interest.
“Yeah, there are tons of them, and they can kill you, or just give you a nasty rash, so you keep your boots on at all times, and during their mating season you duct tape around your pant legs just to be cautious,” Cady explained. The Peace Corps volunteers used to be able to listen to her rant about this stuff for hours, always so impressed with her knowledge of the native flora and fauna. Regina grew bored with it quickly, however, and Cady watched as Aaron’s eyes grew wide with disgust at her story, clearly following in Regina’s footsteps. Right, so no talking about Africa.
“What’s this?” Aaron asked, gently brushing his hands over the intricate beadwork of one of her mom’s artifacts.
“That’s uh, a Masaai doll. Beadwork is really important to them there, but it’s like, totally boring.”
“Oh,” Aaron said, still running his fingers over the ivory beads around the dolls neck, transfixed.
“Wanna get to studying?” Cady asked, pointing at the kitchen.
“Sure,” Aaron murmured, leaving the doll behind reluctantly. He followed Cady into the kitchen, which was filled with other items her parents had picked up in their travels. Aaron made a slow loop around the room, looking at all the stuff—why was he so obsessed with it, if he didn’t want to know about it? Cady didn’t understand, but she sat at the kitchen table and watched him pace the room like he was in a museum.
“Do you want some water or something?” she asked, trying to hide the impatience in her voice.
“No, I’m good. You guys have a lot of stuff. From Africa.”
“I spent my whole life there,” Cady replied. Watching him take it in, she had a momentary pang in her stomach. It was hard to explain, leaving all of it behind, but this was clearly better, right? A cute boy looking at the jumble of relics was much better than the artifacts themselves. Or at least, that’s what Cady’s raging hormones were telling her.
“This must be a hard adjustment,” Aaron finally turned and looked at her. “North Shore, I mean. It must be hard to do high school after all. . . this.” He gestured around, taking it all in.
“Yeah. It’s definitely different,” Cady said uncomfortably. He wouldn’t get it if she tried to explain. Thankfully, he picked up on her discomfort.
“Sorry, you probably want to do math,” Aaron finally crossed to the table, sitting down next to her. “Have you started in on this homework yet? There were some tough ones in there when I glanced it over.”
They spent the next thirty minutes going over the assignment and divvying up the problems and then setting in on them. Cady couldn’t help but crane her neck every few minutes, taking stock of Aaron out of the corner of her eye. He had this little hair-flip he’d do whenever his bangs flopped in his eyes, and it made the veins on his neck stand out just a little bit, perfectly kissable up against his jaw. Cady had to stop herself before she drooled.
“So, you dated Regina?” Cady bit her eraser nervously after asking the question, peeking at Aaron. Why had she asked that? So out of the blue like that, and so invasive? What was her problem?
“Yeah,” he sighed. He leaned back in his chair, putting his arms behind his head to stretch. Cady forced her eyes to not linger on the inch of exposed skin between the bottom of his t-shirt and the top of his boxers. The smell of Axe body spray drifted to her nostrils and enticed her even further—this boy was dangerously intoxicating.
“I heard that it didn’t end too well?” Cady asked hesitantly. She wanted to hear his side of the story.
“You did?” Aaron was confused. Oh shit—what if he thought Regina was talking about him, or wanted to get back together or something?
“I mean, I heard it ended.”
“Oh. Well, yeah. It’s all on me. I kept trying to be ‘cool’ to fit in with her because—well, I mean, it’s Regina.” Even the way he said her name sounded tired.
“I get that,” Cady nodded, shaking the thought, just remembering the time she’d spent with Regina so far. It felt fantastic to have the people at school always watching her and wanting to be her, but actually spending time with the plastics was tiring. She always had to have her best face on. Already she was spending three times as much time every morning getting ready for school, putting on make-up and straightening her hair and consulting with the plastics on what outfits were and weren’t okay.
“I found it so frustrating!” Aaron recalled. “I kept losing sight of myself in order to be more of what she wanted me to be.”
“That sounds frustrating,” Cady batted her lashes at him, but he wasn’t looking at her.
“By the end of it, I had no idea who I was. It was awful—I don’t ever want to do that again. That’s why I’m swearing off of dating,” Aaron declared, finally relaxing forward from his stretch. “I just get stupid with love.”
“shit,” Cady whispered under her breath. Aaron didn’t want to date.
She hadn’t really thought she had a chance before, since she had promised Janis to stay in Regina’s good graces for spying and stuff. She had been ready to let that idea kind of slip though, to plant the idea in Gretchen’s mind and see if a rumor about her and Aaron getting together made Regina angry or not. Then she could gauge the reaction and maybe have the best of both worlds, dating Aaron and still being friends with—or, err, spying on—the plastics while keeping Janis and Damian satisfied.
“I’ll just never get it, ya know?” Aaron finally looked at Cady and she looked away quickly, afraid to meet his eyes. He didn’t want to date. That was that, end of story. There went her grandiose plan.
“I’ll never get it,” she mumbled to herself, beginning to wallow in self-pity.
“Never get what?” Aaron asked, finally tuned back in to the homework assignment spread out in front of them.
“What? Oh, uhh, I’ll never get this problem!” Cady laughed, eagerly covering up her slip.
“That? That’s a factorial. You multiply it,” Aaron pointed at the numbers.
“Thanks!” Cady gushed. Shit. Damian would be upset with her. But he didn’t really get it—if Aaron didn’t want to date, Cady was going to have to step up her game to convince him otherwise. And so far, acting stupid was what got Aaron to notice her, and pay attention, and it had gotten him to her house, one-on-one, right? Right now, all she had going for her were these tutoring sessions. Unless. . .
“Hey, are you going to Karen’s kickback?” she asked.
“What?” Aaron startled. He had been deep in thought over a problem—a basic derivation, Cady could see as she peeked—and his head flew up when she spoke, his bangs flopping over his eyes in that adorable way that made her insides melt.
“Karen’s kickback. Tonight. It’s small, but I figured you’d be invited. . .” Cady trailed off, looking through her lashes at Aaron.
“Oh. That. One of the guys on the team mentioned it, but I didn’t think I’d go. I figured it would just be Regina and her posse and all that—no offense,” he smiled at Cady and she thought she could literally see his tooth sparkle in the light.
“None taken,” Cady smiled. Her cheeks were starting to hurt from all this smiling. Why did people smile so much when they weren’t happy? “I get it. I’ll be there though! So it can’t be all bad, right? You should come!” she pled.
“I’ll consider,” Aaron smiled again, and this time it looked a little more genuine. “There’s still a lot of homework to get through first though, right? What do you make of number fourteen? I don’t get it at all,” he turned to his book and Cady eyed his profile for a moment, taking in his chiseled jaw and beautiful straight nose and defined brow ridge—how could any boy look so perfect? She drifted off into her imagination, calculus forgotten as she imagined walking down the hallway on his arm, people stopping and staring at them two perfect people making one perfect couple. . .
“What? Oh, yeah, fourteen. That one was hard!” Cady smiled blandly—she hadn’t even looked at the question yet.
“Oh. Well, what do you think of it, looking now?”
Cady shook her head and actually looked at the question in front of her—needing help was great for starting a conversation, but she couldn’t act like a complete idiot, or Aaron would think she was just a dumb person. But hey—if acting stupid got him to hang out with her, and go to the kickback, then it was working, right? She could have Aaron and Regina, and Janis—she’d just have to figure something out. If she could learn math, she could learn love. How hard could it be?
Cady smoothed her hair in the mirror by the door, running her hands gently through the loose curls. Her hair was naturally wavy, but Regina had mentioned how unflattering her flyaways were the other day, so she had tried to run a curling iron through to re-define the waves and make them more shiny and uniform. The thing was, she still wasn’t too good with heat-styling her hair, and the result didn’t look exactly like she wanted—there were weird tiny curls bouncing off the sides where she had tried to grab loose pieces of hair and force them into submission. Oh well; maybe Regina or Gretchen could help her next time.
She hadn’t known what was appropriate to wear to a kickback—Gretchen had shot down every outfit pic Cady had texted her, finally allowing her to wear the same leggings she had worn earlier to study with Aaron and promising to bring her a shirt to borrow. Cady was waiting now for Regina to arrive with Gretchen—she was in an old sweatshirt, hovering by the door so as not to make Regina wait.
Regina’s pink mustang pulled up twelve minutes late—before she’d even stopped the car, she honked the horn to signal Cady to come out. Cady yelled goodbye to her parents who were in the kitchen and shot out the door.
Her parents thought she was going to sleep over at Janis’s, but Karen had promised her she could sleep there instead. Her parents didn’t know much about Regina—Cady didn’t think they’d like her very much. The idea of her stern, no-nonsense parents meeting the pink, porcelain plastics brought a grin to her face.
“Hey!” Cady smiled at Gretchen as she jumped into the back of the convertible, which still had the top down, despite the chilly Illinois autumn air.
“You should be waiting outside next time; can’t you see we’re late?” Regina scolded Cady while she pulled the mirror down above her seat and re-checked her lipstick. She was wearing a lot of make-up for something Cady had been told was supposed to be a relatively chill event. Cady only had on a thin coat of mascara with a little bit of blush—Regina liked to grab Cady’s face and lament over how perfect her pores were, so Cady hadn’t made a habit of wearing foundation yet. Looking at Gretchen and Regina though, she felt distinctly out of place; they both had on full faces of make-up, and both were wearing cute, over the top outfits. Cady looked distinctly out of place in her sweatshirt and leggings.
“Gretchen, did you bring the shirt?”
“Oh yeah!” Gretchen turned and reached into her massive leather purse at her feet in the passenger seat. After a moment of digging, she pulled out a bright pink shirt—it was so small, it barely looked like it would fit on Cady’s arm, much less her torso. “It’s a crop top! It’ll look great on you,” Gretchen dropped the shirt on Cady’s lap and returned to primping herself in the mirror. Just as she was about to bring a mascara wand to her lashes, Regina slammed her mirror shut and put the car in drive, accelerating forward sharply.
“Ow!” Gretchen cried, scraping the mascara against her lid and leaving a massive black smudge.
“Oh,” Regina said with boredom, looking at Gretchen out of the corner of her eye. “Sorry,” she said with no remorse. Gretchen looked in the mirror, her eye watering with pain from the force of the blow.
“It’s fine!” she squealed shrilly, the pitch of her voice making it clear that it wasn’t fine. “I’ll just, ya know, re-do it!”
“It didn’t look very good anyways,” Regina commented. “Your eye-liner wasn’t even close to even. I did you a favor, really.”
“Thanks, Regina,” Gretchen clipped tightly. Cady couldn’t help but roll her eyes in the back.
They arrived at Karen’s after a few minutes of awkward silence. Regina seemed impermeable to the aura of anger and despair from Gretchen. When they pulled up, she checked her mirror one more time before getting out of the car.
“Are you coming?” she asked blandly, looking at the house.
“I’ll just fix this and then be in,” Gretchen was wiping furiously at her eye with a dry napkin.
“I’ve got to try this shirt on,” Cady looked at Gretchen as she spoke, wanting to stay and make sure her friend was ok.
“Fine, I’ll be inside.” Regina left without another word.
“Here,” Cady picked a water bottle up off the floor of the mustang, offering it to Gretchen. “You can use this to wet the napkin.”
“I don’t need your help!” Gretchen barked. Cady visibly recoiled, and Gretchen quickly deflated in front of her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.”
“It’s fine. That was really uncool of Regina. Is your eye ok?”
“Oh it’s fine! It wasn’t Regina’s fault!” Already Gretchen had re-gathered her façade. “We were late as it was, I shouldn’t have used that time to do mascara.” She took the water bottle from Cady and used it to wet the napkin, dabbing at the eye much more effectively.
“Sure,” Cady replied. How did Gretchen put up with being treated like that? And why would Regina behave so cruelly?
“Are you going to try the shirt on?” Gretchen asked, getting the last smears of black removed from her eyelid. Cady eyed the pink shirt again.
“You know, I like the shirt I have on beneath my sweatshirt. I think I’ll just wear that,” Cady began pulling off the sweatshirt as she spoke. Gretchen eyed her doubtfully in the mirror, beginning to re-apply her copper-colored eye shadow.
“Sure, whatever you think Cady.” She rubbed at her eye, which was red and inflamed, trying to mix the eye shadow properly. Cady watched her work, making a mirage of colors on her eyelid with different powders, then using an inky black eyeliner and tar-like mascara to complete the look. It looked awesome, even if the eye was kind of swollen.
“Are you ready?” Gretchen finally asked. As she spoke, a big SUV rolled up and parked on the street behind them, pumping loud music. A herd of boys in letter jackets spilled out of it, Aaron among them.
“Eyy Gretch!” One of them leered. “You ready to par-tay?”
“Gross, Kyle!” Gretchen played the game too easily, flipping her hair over her shoulder and smiling the perfect, exasperated smile at the boy. He walked up and opened her door for her, bowing as she emerged from the car and wobbled in her heels. Cady did a double-take when she saw them—they were supposed to wear heels? To a kick-back?
“Hey,” Aaron smiled at Cady and she shook her doubt from her face.
“Hi!” she greeted him enthusiastically. All the other athletes and Gretchen walked ahead of them up to the door. When it opened, Cady heard more bass thumping inside.
“You ok?” Aaron asked. Cady realized she had frozen after getting out of the car, standing and watching the house.
“What? Oh, yeah. Sometimes it’s all just a lot, ya know?” she smiled at him, trying to hide her insecurity. All her friends were perfectly done up and dressed cute and she was in leggings and chucks, barely wearing any make-up, her hair looking all haphazard. Her worries nagged at her—what if she looked like a total weirdo? What if people thought she didn’t belong?
“It’ll be fine. These things can be pretty fun. Come on inside—I’ll get you a drink.” Aaron smiled his signature perfect smile at her and Cady felt her inside melt a little bit.
“Ok!” she smiled, trying to replicate his picture-perfect grin. Together they walked into the house.
Inside, it was dark and hazy. Cady had never been to Karen’s house before, but the lay-out looked remarkably like her own. The music was pumped through a speaker system she couldn’t see, and a ton of people milled around inside, talking and creating a dull roar to accompany the rolling bass. How was this a kick-back? It seemed like a rave to Cady.
“I’ll go find those drinks,” Aaron smiled at her one last time and disappeared. Cady looked around, her stomach shrinking in on itself. Where were Regina and Gretchen? Where was Karen? She felt very lost in the sea of teenagers around her, of whom she recognized almost none.
“Cady!” a familiar shriek sounded. Cady turned and there Karen was—what was she wearing?
It was a pink number, a pair of shorts so short that half her butt hung out, perfect and bubble-shaped and without a stretch mark or inch of cellulite in sight. A tiny tank-top hugged her boobs, leaving her flat stomach with a perfect diamond belly button piercing exposed. She looked like she was freezing, and a pair of pink bunny slippers only confirmed that to Cady, completing the strange ensemble. She also had a full face of make-up on—Cady realized she was going to have to start wearing make-up like that everywhere if she wanted to fit in. Maybe Karen would teach her.
Before she could say hi, Karen pulled her into a tight hug, bouncing a little bit with excitement. “I’m so glad you came!” she squealed.
“Yeah, me too!” Cady replied absently, searching the crowd for Aaron. Where was he? He was supposed to bring her a drink…
“Let’s go do shots!” Karen offered excitedly. Cady let her friend drag her through to the kitchen, where a pile of bottles sat on top of the table. She poured them two shots of Malibu and they quickly downed them together. Aaron wasn’t in the kitchen—he must be searching for her in the rest of the house. Every time Cady tried to get away though, Karen grabbed her and pulled her back to down another shot. Cady’s stomach swirled dangerously after the fourth—it was too much, too fast.
“I’ve gotta go,” she murmured to Karen, ducking out to the hallway. Just like her house, the bathroom was down the hallway on the right. She ducked inside and stood in front of the mirror, watching her reflection swim in the glass in front of her. Before she could stop it, the door opened and Regina thrust into the tiny room.
“Oh, you’re in here,” she commented, edging in beside Cady in front of the mirror. Cady moved to the side reflexively, letting Regina have the middle of the counter. Regina checked her lipstick again, even though it was still perfect.
“You shouldn’t bother trying to fix your hair,” she said out of the corner of her mouth, scraping the edge of her lip with a fingernail. Cady hadn’t even been touching her hair, just examining her reflection and trying to quell her nausea. “Honestly you should just put it up.”
“Oh, ok,” Cady mumbled, eying the curls. Were they really that bad? She pulled them behind her neck and twisted an elastic from her wrist around them a few times to hold them.
She opened the door behind Regina and fled the bathroom—it felt impossibly crowded in there, even with just the two of them. Out in the living room, she spotted Aaron standing next to the fireplace and chatting to a blonde girl on the cheer team that Cady only knew from the back to school pep assembly. Cady’s stomach sank when she saw him—he was only holding one red solo cup, sipping out of it every few seconds. He hadn’t gotten her the drink he promised. He had forgotten about her.
Well, maybe that was for the better—the room was spinning dangerously in front of her, and there were so many people between them, she kept getting confused trying to plan a route through to him.
“You really shouldn’t stare like that; Regina might see you, and like I promised, I haven’t told her that you think that Aaron is cute, but I can’t promise she won’t find out if you’re looking that desperate.”
Gretchen was suddenly beside Cady, talking at her side while typing furiously on her phone.
“Oh, I’m not—”
“You totally were.” Gretchen looked up from her phone at Cady with pity. “Here, come with me. Let’s get you a drink.” Cady didn’t even bother trying to protest, letting Gretchen grab her wrist and tug her away from her post.
The kitchen was just as crowded as the living room. Cady desperately wanted to find a corner and go stand there and look appealing and hope that Aaron would come find her, but Gretchen kept a firm hand on her arm, guiding her to the island. She poured her some mix of pink juice and the same Malibu she had done shots with—it sounded completely revolting, and the first saccharine sip only confirmed Cady’s fears, but she gripped the cup tightly. It was a good distraction.
“Ooh! Bye!” Gretchen spotted somebody she wanted to talk to and disappeared off to the side. Cady took the opportunity and quickly walked over to the kitchen table, standing off to the side of it, out of the way of the door. Prime people-watching territory.
“Yo Africa!” Kevin G. walked up to Cady and held his hand up for a high-five. Cady went for it and missed, her pinky barely scraping his thumb. “Hitting up the booze table I see!” Kevin ribbed her good-naturedly. As he spoke, Cady searched through the door, desperately searching for Aaron in the living room beyond. She didn’t know what would be worse—seeing him still talking to the blonde, or not seeing him at all, assuming he had gone off to some dark corner with her to do things that Cady didn’t want to think about.
“So, have you thought about joining the math team yet?” Kevin asked. “Ms. Norbury said you got mad shquilz; you could be the first ever girl!”
“Not really, Kevin” Cady replied absently. “How did you get in here?” she asked. She hadn’t meant it to be rude, but she realized after it came out that it did sound mean. This just wasn’t what she pictured as Kevin’s social scene.
“I got hella friends on the football team,” Kevin clarified. “I help them pass math and they hook me up with sick party invites so I can get the ladies. It’s a win-win, ya feel?” he elbowed Cady again good-naturedly, not shaken by her remark at all. He was so nice that way. “Speaking of which, I spy a prime candidate right that way. I’ll spot ya later, kay Africa?” he disappeared without another word, leaving Cady alone.
She hadn’t seen Aaron. She downed her drink, trying to drown the swirl of anxiety in her stomach. The sickly sweetness made her scrunch her nose. He probably avoided her because she wasn’t dressed right for a kickback, and he was probably off with that blonde—he preferred blondes, didn’t he? Regina and all that. Why did Cady think she even had a chance with him?
Suddenly he was there, right in her line of sight in the living room, talking to a group of guys. No blonde in sight. Cady sighed in relief but didn’t approach. What would she say to a bunch of football players or jocks or whatever they were? She needed him alone.
But her hesitance caught her—another pretty blonde walked up to the group and greeted Aaron with a hand on his arm. His perfect bicep, under her delicately manicured fingernails. He turned to her and smiled and greeted her with a hug. Cady felt envy flame beneath her cheeks. But she couldn’t blame him—they hadn’t been together all night. Because he hadn’t gotten her the drink he promised to. Why hadn’t he? Was it because she was with the plastics?
“Take a picture, it will last longer,” Regina was suddenly beside her, also gazing at Aaron and his friends.
“Oh! Regina, I was just, ya know, the guys here are all so cute,” Cady’s cheeks turned bright pink, and she immediately regretted wearing the blush that she knew made it even clearer.
“Right. So you weren’t watching my Aaron?” Regina’s eyes turned on her and Cady felt herself shrink under the Queen Bee glare Regina was known for.
“No! I would never!” Cady tried to appease her.
“Right. Of course,” Regina said, making it clear she didn’t believe her. “Come do shots with me.” It wasn’t a question. Regina didn’t do questions; only commands.
The absolute last thing in the world Cady wanted to do was shots at that moment, but there was no way in the world she was going to say no to Regina. Not right after she had seen Cady pining over her ex-boyfriend.
A few shots later and the room was absolutely spinning. Cady walked through the house in search of Aaron, but all the faces seemed to blend together. Nobody was talking to her either—it was like she was some sort of ghost. Was she really that undesirable? She’d have to ask Karen to help her—helpful Karen, who seemed to make a profession out of always looking perfect. She would help Cady.
Cady spotted Aaron across the living room once more, this time talking to a group of girls. She had to get there and make sure he knew she was still around, ready to talk to him, make sure he knew she still existed. She walked through the room, leaving behind the walls she had been using to steady herself. Her toe caught the edge of the carpet and she tripped, arms spiraling spectacularly as she flung her solo cup—still half full of lemonade and vodka—across the room. She landed hard, her chin smashing into the floor and all the air knocked from her lungs. Ow.
A moment of breathless silence. Then people laughed. Cady stayed on the ground, assessing whether she could move or not through the pain of the impact. Gretchen and Karen were at her side immediately, helping her up.
“Just smile! It’s funny!” Karen supported her elbow, helping her sit on the couch. “If I had a nickel for every time I fell over, I’d have, like, a lot of nickels,” she giggled.
Cady tried to smile, but nausea was clawing at her throat. Aaron had looked when she had fallen, but then returned to his conversation. She didn’t know what could be worse—that he ignored her, or that he came over and admitted he saw the embarrassing, drunken mistake she’d made.
This whole night had been a disaster—Cady felt tears climb in her throat, her bruised chin wobbling. She had to get out—they could see her fall, but they couldn’t see her cry. She wouldn’t do that. She stood, her knee smarting as she put her weight on it—she must have knocked it in the fall.
“Cady?” Gretchen asked, standing with her.
“I’ve gotta go,” Cady mumbled.
“You’re like, really drunk. Maybe you should just go upstairs and take a nap in Karen’s room,” Gretchen suggested, trying to help as Cady marched to the door.
“No,” Cady replied thickly. She opened the front door and was out of the house in an instant, the cold night air a blessing after the muggy, alcohol-scented interior.
“Ok well, if you’re sure,” Gretchen said, pausing at the front door. She watched as Cady walked away nervously, then shrugged and closed the door behind her. Cady felt the betrayal for a moment, but then it passed. Of course, nobody cared about her enough to follow. Nobody cared at all. She really was just the weird new kid from Africa who nobody knew. A stranger and outcast, who needed to eat lunch by herself in the bathroom.
Wait—no. Janis. Cady looked down the street. She racked her mind, and then set out. Janis didn’t live too far away, right? Janis would like her still. Janis was always there. Cady didn’t have to be alone.
Bang bang bang!
Cady pounded on the glass door of Janis’s converted garage-studio in her backyard. She watched Janis jump on the couch inside, put a hand over her heart. Janis stood quickly, transferring the sewing needle to the hoop she was embroidering on, then setting it down to walk and open the door.
“Jesus, Caddy, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Cady felt her chin wobble, all the regret and angst welling up inside of her. “Sorry,” she sobbed, the tears bursting forth.
“Oh my god, what happened? Come in, come in,” Janis slid the door open wider and gestured Cady through. Cady trudged in and flopped down on the couch, shivering. The walk had been so cold, and why was her knee wet? She stood again and yanked her leggings down, wearing nothing but her bright blue thong underneath. Her knee had split open in the fall back at Karen’s, and the blood had soaked her leggings, marking her knee brightly. It had mostly stopped now, turning a sludgy, darker red color.
“I fell!” she wailed, pointing at her knee.
Janis stood in the door, taking in her friend in nothing but a shirt and thong, pants around her ankles, pointing at the cut like a petulant child.
“Give me a sec,” Janis held up a finger. She popped into her bathroom and emerged with a washcloth, some bandages and a tube of Neosporin. She squatted on the ground in front of Cady, dabbing at the knee with the washcloth to get the blood off.
“Ow!” Cady squealed, hiccupping.
“Okay, Caddy, I get that it hurts, but can you stop acting like a three-year-old for one second, please?”
“Sorry,” Cady hiccuped. “It was just so awful,” she moaned.
“Of course it was, you were with the plastics,” Janis retorted, finally dabbing at the actual cut. Cady flinched.
“No, because of Aaron,” Cady hiccuped again.
“I was dressed all wrong, and I wasn’t wearing enough makeup, and he was talking to everybody else all night, and my hair got messed up, and he didn’t bring me a drink, and I fell!”
“You fell at the party?” Janis asked. She smoothed a sheen of Neosporin over the split skin—the cut wasn’t actually that big.
“In front of everybody,” Cady moaned. “It was so embarrassing.”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not that much,” Cady said. Come to think of it, she couldn’t really remember. There had been the shots, and then the pink drink—how much alcohol had that had? And were there more shots?
“Sure,” Janis rolled her eyes. She smoothed a band-aid over the cut and patted it once. “There you go. All mended. Wound be gone. You’ll be fine.” She sat next to Cady and picked her embroidery back up, sticking the needle through the fabric.
“What are you making?” Cady asked, peering at the round hoop. Janis held it up: a swirly black font read “Fuck you”, and lots of brightly colored little flowers surrounded it. Very Janis-like. Cady watched her sew for a minute while attempting (unsuccessfully) to kick her leggings off. A violent shiver helped her complete the task, getting the stretched out elastic material over her heels.
“Sorry, you must be freezing,” Janis noticed Cady’s shivering. She reached to her other side and grabbed a blanket, handing it to Cady, who began crying again as she took it, bundling herself up. Janis looked at her for a moment as though deciding whether to try and reason with her or not—something about Cady, swaddle din the blanket, pants-less, deterred her. She refocused on her embroidery. Cady, displeased with being ignored, upped the tears. Janis paid no notice, nonchalantly threading the needle back and forth.
Cady finally seemed to realize that Janis wasn’t going to deal with her if she continued throwing a tantrum. Abruptly, she leaned over and laid her head down in Janis’s lap, sighing contentedly, tears forgotten. She knew she was being childlike, but for some reason she couldn’t help it. Janis held her hands up, unable to sew with Cady’s head in her way. She considered for a moment, then sighed and set the embroidery down on the coffee table in front of her.
“Are you ok, Caddy?”
“I just missed you. And I’m sad about Aaron.”
“It was probably no big deal. I’m sure he likes you still.”
“You think so?” Cady asked hopefully.
“I’m sure,” Janis replied firmly. She pulled the elastic from Cady’s hair and began scratching her head gently.
“Oh my god Janis your nails feel heavenly! Where do you get them done?”
Janis rolled her eyes and gently shoved Cady’s shoulder. “That is the most plastic thing you’ve ever said.”
“No it wasn’t! They’re just so nice!” Cady giggled and closed her eyes in bliss—the pony had tugged on her scalp miserably. They sat like that for a moment, Janis scratching and Cady closing her eyes, enjoying the sensation.
“Did you learn anything about the plastics?” Janis asked, rasping her nails against Cady’s scalp.
“I mean, Gretchen almost stabbed her eye out when Regina revved her engine earlier. Regina totally did it on purpose too. It was stupid—Gretchen should have just waited to do her make-up.”
“Sounds like a Regina move,” Janis replied, but Cady wasn’t listening. She had remembered when she was standing at the kitchen table, watching Aaron, and Regina had called her out for it. Regina knew.
Her chin wobbled and she began crying again.
“What’s wrong?” Janis asked with alarm.
“Regina knows!” Cady wailed, flashing back to the petrification she had felt when Regina called her out. Take a picture, it will last longer. That had been what she said. Regina would hate her now, and Cady would have to sit with Janis and Damian, and Aaron would never look at her.
“Hey. Hey. Hey!” Janis yanked Cady up sloppily and shook her shoulders. “You’ll be fine. It’s no big deal. And even if it is, you can’t know until Monday. There’s no use stressing like this, Caddy, you’re just working yourself up. Calm the fuck down.”
The two girls stared at each other in the room, lit again by just the tv screen, an abandoned episode of The Office paused in the background. Cady was immediately transported back to peach schnapps, Janis’s dark lipstick and floral scent and intense, electrifying eyes. Eyes that were staring at her, right now, in the darkened room. Her childish tears and angst about Aaron drained from her mind.
The air thickened. Cady didn’t even think in her drunken state. She leaned forward and kissed Janis.
Impossibly sweet. Lips so soft. . . firecrackers exploded behind Cady’s eyes.
Her first kiss. With a girl.
For a single, suspended second, Janis’s lips were frozen on her own, shock holding her still. Then she leaned forward, kissing Cady back, one hand wrapping around her neck and pulling her in deeply.
Cady thought she might drown in it.
Shivers coursed up and down her body, pleasure intensely rocketing her into the stratosphere—the room finally stopped spinning, and all Cady could feel was Janis.
They pulled away after a century, pausing, inches away from each other’s faces.
“Whoa.” Cady whispered, eyes locked with Janis’s.
Her friend wasn’t wearing her usual dark make-up—she must have taken it off for the day. She seemed tired, but still intensely, darkly beautiful. Her eyes angled downwards, giving her a perpetually sad look. But her lips were brightly colored, flushed from the kiss. Cady lifted a finger and touched them—they felt just as soft to her finger as they had to her mouth.
Janis let her graze her finger along her bottom lip. Then she reached up slowly, took Cady’s hand with her own and lowered it.
She leaned in and kissed Cady again.
They toppled backward, Janis lying on top of Cady, sparking little vibrations along her whole body. Cady couldn’t explain it, how wonderful and reassuring Janis felt on top of her. Her hands traversed the smooth curves of Janis’s back, under her shirt, feeling Janis’s soft skin quiver under her fingers.
Janis paused, pulling away for a breath, pulled the shirt off over her head. Cady stared at her friend, who stared back at her, a dark maroon bralette encasing her heaving chest.
Cady felt overly dressed. She quickly removed her own shirt, yanking it off ungracefully over her messy hair. Beneath was the push-up bra Karen had helped her buy, lacy and pink.
Janis smiled wryly, reaching out and grazing her elegant fingers over the lacy pink strap and ribbon bow at the shoulder.
“So plastic,” she whispered coyly, before leaning in and kissing Cady again.
They spent the next few hours like that, kissing and then stopping, looking at each other, whispering a few words that seemed immensely important and yet inconsequential at the same time. They never took off more clothes, never moved to do more than occasionally scrape over the other’s bra with the palm of their hand. It was so much, so intense, Cady didn’t know if she could handle more.
Eventually they slowed down, curling next to each other, legs tangled, heads rested. They fell asleep that way, one of Janis’s arms draped over Cady’s stomach, Cady’s hand resting on Janis’s back. Like puzzle pieces.
Cady woke in the middle of the night, groggy, her head pounding. Something like rancid cotton filled her mouth, dry and revolting. An icepick chipped away at her brain right behind her forehead. Her entire body felt like it was about to crumble and fall apart.
Janis had rolled up and curled over, huddling into Cady’s side. Janis wasn’t wearing her shirt. Cady wasn’t wearing hers. No.
That wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
Cady was supposed to kiss Aaron.
Or even just talk to him. This was wrong. It wasn’t the plan. Cady wanted to get with Aaron. She wanted to walk down the hall at school and have people see her with Aaron. She wanted him to kiss her up against his locker. Her first kiss. With Aaron.
Bile rose in Cady’s throat and she rose quickly and quietly from the couch, sprinting to the toilet and barely shutting the door before throwing up. She was supposed to be with Aaron.
Her vomit smelled like coconuts—Malibu. She stayed on the floor in the bathroom, sweating and crying, until she had thrown up twice more. Only then did her stomach settle. She knelt there for a moment, sweat beaded at her temples, her hair hanging in huge hanks around her head.
She avoided looking at herself in the mirror on her way back out to the room. Janis had moved and taken the space up on that end of the couch. Cady dug until she found her shirt and yanked it over her head blearily, falling onto the other end of the couch and curling into a tiny ball so as not to disturb Janis. She grabbed the blanket from its discarded location on the floor and wrapped it around herself, shivering and miserable.
“Oh. My. God.”
Cady groaned, holding her hand to her head. It felt like it might split open at any second, her brain abandoning her to find some less hostile host.
Then it all came back to her.
Regina calling her out, Aaron ignoring her, falling in front of everybody. Janis.
“Huh?” Janis sat up abruptly, rubbing her eyes.
“My head,” Cady mumbled. Something pulsed inside her head, threatening to blow her skull open. Her mouth tasted like a swamp. It felt like she had been hit by a car. Had she been hit by a car? She racked her mind.
No. Just the fall. And then Janis.
“I have Tylenol and ibuprofen if you want,” Janis sat up and stretched at the other end of the couch. She looked at Cady, a shy smile creeping into her features. Cady didn’t think she’d ever seen Janis look shy before. Brave, ferocious, and passionate, but not shy.
Janis turned and smiled at her bed mischievously. “Guess we never made it there last night, huh?”
“Made it where?” Cady asked, feigning obliviousness. She put a hand on her forehead. “Yes please on the Tylenol,” she moaned before Janis could reply.
Janis stood and walked to the bathroom, opening the cabinet under the counter and pulling out a little plastic bin of medications. She checked labels until she found what she was looking for, then stood and tossed the bottle to Cady. Cady caught it and moaned at the sudden movement and the havoc it wreaked on her head.
Janis laughed and grabbed a cup from on the top of the microwave-minifridge combo she had, filling it from the sink in the bathroom. She handed the cup to Cady, who tossed the pills back and drained the cup. She burped loudly and then covered her mouth, embarrassed. Janis just laughed.
“So, I have cereal and milk out here. If you want eggs or anything like that, we’ll have to brave going inside the house.”
“Do you ever go in there?” Cady asked.
“Not if I can help it.”
“I feel like Lucky Charms.” Janis stood and grabbed the box from the desk next to the minifridge. She poured herself a generous bowl and then looked at Cady, holding the box up. Cady nodded and Janis poured a second bowl. She only had almond milk, which was fine with Cady, since she wasn’t used to much dairy anyways—they didn’t really drink milk in Kenya.
The two girls sat on the couch and munched in silence. After a few minutes, Janis flipped the tv on from sleep mode and resumed the episode of The Office she had been on; together, they watched it finish. Neither laughed, even at the funny parts.
When the episode finished, Cady stood abruptly.
“So, about last night—” Janis turned and faced her, finally.
“Yeah, I’m so sorry about that,” Cady cut in quickly. “I shouldn’t have drunk so much; I probably totally embarrassed myself. Please tell me that the pants only came off once we were ready to sleep?” Cady pitched her voice much shriller than it usually was. She could feel the lie sitting there in the air between them, sinking in. She was going to play dumb.
Well, ok, fine. She was doing it with Aaron, might as well do it with Janis too, right? Maybe if she pretended hard enough, she could actually undo the night before, and her awful mistake, and be fresh and pure and remember vividly all the amazing firsts she would have with Aaron. Maybe. If Regina didn’t ruin her first.
“Are you serious?” Janis finally asked.
“What?” Cady asked blandly, fighting to keep her face innocent and blank. “Did I do something really bad? Ooh, tell me!” she feigned excitement, sitting back down on the couch.
“You don’t remember?” Janis asked, disbelief raising her eyebrows.
“Remember what? What happened, Janis?” Cady asked, intensely interested. If she really didn’t remember, she’d want to know, right?
Janis stared at her levelly, her mouth open as if she were going to speak. Cady watched emotions flit behind Janis’s eyes: confusion, then anger, then disappointment. They settled on resignation.
“Nothing,” Janis finally relented. “You just like, dropped your pants. So I could take care of the cut,” Janis gestured vaguely at Cady’s knee before turning away from her.
Cady looked down—she had half torn the band-aid off while she slept, but it didn’t really matter since the cut had scabbed over. She peeled it off, folding it up into tiny chunks before daring to glance at her friend again.
Janis just sat there, refusing to look at her. What would Cady do if this were real? How far should she say she remembered? She wracked her mind for a moment—she could pretend to remember everything up until the fall. That would be a good stopping point.
“Oh. My. God.” The mortification sounded believable, even to her. “I fell in front of everybody. In front of Aaron.”
Cady slumped back down onto the couch, putting her head in her hands. She peeked cautiously at Janis, but she was still sitting there, looking away from her. Was it mean to talk about Aaron now? Well, if she didn’t remember last night it wasn’t.
“You should go.” Janis didn’t look at Cady as she spoke.
Terror climbed down Cady’s spine. Had she slipped? Did Janis know? What had happened?
“Just go. I’ll see you later.”
Cady stood reluctantly. Janis was still turned away, hiding her face from Cady. She couldn’t see—was Janis crying?
Cady spun and fumbled with the lock on the sliding glass door, finally getting it open. It was dewy and cold outside—she slid the door shut and shivered, dashing across the yard. Her phone was dead, but she’d just have to walk home or find a phone to call her parents. All she could think about was Janis—did she know?
“I know, I know, the wheels are sweet, but you’ve actually gotta get in if they’re going to take you anywhere,” Damian leaned over Janis to speak to Cady out the passenger window of his mom’s minivan. He had somehow cajoled her into lending it to him for the day so they could go to the mall in Chicago—Janis’s favorite art store was having a massive sale and they had all agreed to go together.
It was Sunday. Cady had spent Saturday recovering from her mythic hangover and debating whether or not to text Janis. She had opened and started a new message over a dozen times, but each time she was at a loss for what to say.
If she tried to talk about the kissing, then it was admitting she had lied about not remembering. And if she told Janis it had been some stupid drunken mistake, then she was still admitting to lying, and she would probably hurt her feelings. Then there was the fact that she had been drunk, but Janis hadn’t been—did Janis like her? Like. . . a lesbian thing? Cady had shivered at the thought of it—Regina would never talk to her again if she revealed she had shared her first kiss with Janis, the space dyke.
No, Cady decided, it would be best to just stick to her story and ride it out. They would get over any awkwardness eventually, and she wouldn’t repeat the same mistake again.
“Sorry!” she smiled at Damian as she slid the sliding door shut behind her. “I thought the doors were automatic.”
“Honey, we’re styling, but we’re not that styling,” Damian rolled his eyes.
He filled the car ride with peaceful chatter—Janis laughed along with whatever he said and bantered back and forth like usual. Cady watched her in the rearview mirror—her dark eyeshadow was back on, the same plum colored lipstick, the same sad look on her face, hiding in her eyes. Janis kept catching Cady staring at her, and then they’d both glance away awkwardly, Damian noticing the lull in conversation and pursing his lips but not saying anything about it.
They pulled up to the art store after a solid forty-minute drive—Cady didn’t think she’d ever be so excited to see endless blank canvases and metallic tubes of paint. Janis looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
Before Cady could make it inside, however, Damian grabbed her denim jacket and yanked her back out the doors. Janis didn’t notice in her rush over to her favorite oil paints.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Damian asked Cady incredulously, picking up as though they were in the middle of a conversation.
“What do you mean?” Cady asked. She widened her eyes the way Gretchen did whenever she heard a choice piece of gossip—a look of pure innocence.
“Oh, don’t you be coy on me now! Janis told me about last night.”
“Jeez, you think she’d tell me what I did before telling you, but I guess not. . .” Cady rolled her eyes.
“Cady, don’t be stupid. Look at what that implies—that Janis would do that stuff with somebody who was too drunk to consent. How do you think that makes her feel?”
Cady’s heartbeat sped up. Janis had told him everything. How could she play this off without painting her friend as some sort of rapist? She said the first words that came to her mouth.
“Oh my god, are you saying we cuddled? You’re making all this drama over us cuddling? We cuddle all the time. Chill.”
“You know what you did.”
“No! I don’t!” Cady was shocked to find herself yelling. Her face felt hot—from raising her voice or lying, she couldn’t tell. “I have no idea what happened Friday night, all I remember is embarrassing myself in front of my crush and having Regina maybe find out that I liked him, and now both you and Janis are acting all weird and won’t even tell me what happened!”
Damian eyed her for a moment, as though gauging whether she was being honest or not. Cady felt her heart pounding in her chest, a staccato drum pattern. It was a stalemate, Damian watching her, waiting for her to slip. She couldn’t let that happen though—even though she could feel her cheeks reddening, her heart pounding, she held out, staring him down. He didn’t know her well enough to read the signs.
“Fine,” he finally relented. Cady let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.
Would this be the time to ask what happened? Or should she drop it? She had guessed cuddling—would she normally be happy with that as an answer?
“Fine what?” she finally asked. It felt stupid and lame, but she needed something from Damian—some sort of assurance that they were ok, that this wasn’t the end of their friendship or anything.
“Just fine. You’re fine. Janis is fine. Everything’s fine. Let’s just go in, ok?” Damian took off before Cady could answer. She followed him in, where they joined Janis at the canvas racks.
“Can I see the colors you chose?” Cady asked excitedly, trying to sound bright and happy.
“Sure,” Janis held out the basket she was holding.
“Ooh, that’s gorgeous,” Cady remarked, picking out a bright pink color.
“Of course you’d like it, it’s perfectly plastic,” Janis retorted. Cady froze in doubt for a moment when she heard the spite in the words, but then she caught the look in Janis’s eye—the sarcastic twinkle she had whenever she told a good joke. This was Janis trying to mend the weirdness between them. Cady laughed.
Just like that, the awkward bubble that had surrounded them in the car ride over popped. Sure, it still didn’t feel natural or fluid like it had before, but the tension in the air, the way that Cady had felt like she needed to hold her breath whenever she looked at her friends—that was gone. They would be ok. Cady would just pep it up, keep it flowing. She could do this.
She needed Janis and Damian to be ok, because tomorrow she’d have to go to school and face Regina and Aaron and everybody who had been at the party and watched her fall. That would be hard. She’d need good friends to see it through—Janis and Damian were so good for that.
“If you keep craning your neck like that, you’re going to break it someday,” Damian remarked. He was looking up from filing his nails, watching Cady peer up and down the hallway. She was on the lookout for the plastics.
“For real Caddy, stop moving, I just need your profile,” Janis squinted at her sketchpad, erasing a line she had drawn. She was working on quick-sketching, drawing Cady and Damian where they stood in the hallway before school started.
“Sorry guys, I just need to find Regina and make sure everything’s ok.” Cady didn’t stop turning, checking the ends of the hallway robotically.
“You think after Friday that you’d want to avoid Regina, but no,” Damian bit his lip as he yanked on a hangnail.
“I mean, I just have to make sure that she’s not like, mad or anything. About the Aaron thing. And that Gretchen didn’t tell her anything,” Cady reached down and itched at the side of her foot. She had worn the heels today that Regina had bought her on that first mall trip—the one where she had fatally revealed to Gretchen that she thought Aaron was cute. So far, Gretchen had kept her promise not to tell Regina about her ill-placed affection, but Cady didn’t trust her as far as she could throw her. And the heels were massively uncomfortable too.
Cady needed them though, to fit the part of a plastic. She knew that once people from the party showed up, she’d have to look physically flawless. Then they’d think her fall was cute and endearing—like if it had been Karen. Karen had been right when she said people laughed with her—or at least, they seemed to indulge her clumsiness, if it meant seeing more of her happy, bouncing chest.
Cady had worn the lacy pink push-up bra again as well. She flashed back to picking it out with Karen, and then to wearing it Friday night. . .
No. Janis was being great about dropping that, and Cady needed to be that good as well. The bra made her boobs pop and would make Regina think she was one of them. And she desperately needed that—if she didn’t have chances to hang with Aaron, she’d die. And if people saw her as some pathetic thing fallen from the grace of the Plastics… she shuddered at the thought of ending up in the Burn Book, the laughing stock of the school.
“Dear god Caddy, hold still!” Janis whined.
Just then, Cady spotted Regina at the end of the hallway, rounding the corner, Gretchen just behind her and to the right, exactly like a heeling dog.
“Bye guys!” Cady exclaimed, rushing off to meet them.
“God forbid she be seen with us,” Damian huffed, blowing on his nails to remove any particles.
“Done!” Janis exclaimed, turning and showing Damian her sketch. He couldn’t help but let out a laugh—he was drawn rosy cheeked and cherubic, looking like a total twink, and Cady was drawn in Barbie proportions, her head inflated like a balloon.
“You’re evil,” Damian teased Janis. She tried to laugh as well, watching Cady’s receding back as she hobbled to greet Regina. It didn’t sound real.
“Hey guys!” Cady called. She should have thought through wearing the heels a little more—it wasn’t even first period yet, but she felt like her feet were being sliced in half with every step.
“Careful,” Regina scoffed. “Don’t fall.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” Cady pulled up in front of Regina at her locker, leaning against the wall to relieve some of the weight on her feet.
“I wasn’t laughing,” Regina remarked.
“Hey Gretch, how’s your eye?” Cady turned to Gretchen, trying to brush off the rejection.
“My eye? Oh, that. It’s fine,” Gretchen’s face was buried in her phone, thumbs moving at a blurred pace as she texted someone. Cady’s stomach sank. She was being treated like the low man on the totem pole.
“So. . .” Cady started awkwardly, desperately searching for something to say. “How was the party Friday, after I left?”
“You left?” Regina continued eying the hallway like some sort of queen surveying her kingdom.
“Uhh, yeah. After I fell. I was like, soo embarrassed!” Cady pitched her voice higher, trying to play off the shame she had felt.
“Oh,” Regina replied absently, pulling her phone from her pocket as it buzzed. The taste in Cady’s mouth soured. She pulled her phone out of her back pocket and looked at it’s empty screen for a moment, mimicking Regina. She needed something to put her back in Regina’s good graces—she couldn’t live with this icky feeling of being the odd man out.
Gretchen was wearing some sort of statement outfit; red stilettos with a pair of jeans that was super low-cut and some sort of faux fur coat that rode up, revealing an inch or so of underwear at the small of her back. Were those bunny rabbits?
“Gretch, those bunnies are so cute!” Cady fawned. Perhaps not anatomically correct, the little buns had massive ears and some of them were eating carrots. Gretchen turned, her attention drawn from her phone, and yanked her jeans up, hiding the inch of underwear from sight, her cheeks red. Cady noticed the response she had caused and immediately paled.
“I’m so sorry, it was meant to be a compliment—”
“You have rabbits on your underwear? What are you, a middle schooler?” Regina giggled a bit, as though rabbits on underwear was pathetically hilarious. Gretchen shot Cady a dirty look.
“Cadyyyyyy!” Karen squealed from across the hallway, trotting towards the girls in her signature, bouncy style.
“Hi Karen!” Cady couldn’t help but laugh. Even if Gretchen and Regina were icing her, she could always count on Karen to be sweet to her.
“Look at what Shane Oman sent me! It’s so adorable!” Karen thrust her phone out to Cady.
It was a pixeled photo of her and Karen from the party.
She was on the ground, in the process of getting up from her fall in a way that made her look the furthest thing from graceful. Her shirt had draped away from her chest, revealing the embarrassing pink details of her push-up bra. Karen was above her, clearly trying to help her up but looking equally drunk and stupid in the process. The way she was bent over also revealed her bra—a more sensibly sexy piece that still left little to the imagination. At the bottom of the photo, somebody had put in glittery pink text “Klutz Slutz”.
Cady’s stomach dropped out of her body as she took in the image in front of her. She was speechless. Karen pulled her phone back and tapped out a text before putting it back in her pocket.
“Isn’t that hilarious?! I like, literally died when he sent it to me. It’s like, you and me! Now we’re the klutz slutz! Together!”
Was this what it was like for Karen, being the ditzy hot girl? She was supposed to laugh at that? She had wanted to channel her inner Karen to get through the embarrassment of the fall, but laughing about it like that didn’t make her feel better. It just felt. . . humiliating.
The bell rang and Cady fought her reflex to run to her first class of the day, to hide from the shame of the fall and her new moniker. If this was what it meant to be plastic—having Regina dismiss her, Gretchen fighting with her for Regina’s affection, and Karen rejoicing in the fact that they were called ‘slutz’, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to buy in anymore.
“So Cady, you need a boyfriend.”
Regina dipped a tater tot into ketchup on her tray before dropping the tot back among its peers. It was part of her latest fad where she did all the rituals that went with eating, besides actually eating.
“Sorry, what?” Cady set down her bitten tot, only realizing as she did so that she was the only one who had eaten any of her food at the table. Gretchen and Karen both dissected the greasy food in front of them without ever putting any in their mouths. Cady self-consciously shoved her tray away.
“You need a boyfriend to dress up with for Halloween. Duh. Do you prefer black guys? Because of, well, Africa?” Regina tittered as though it was a forbidden word. Cady blanched.
Regina wasn’t actually trying to help her, she was just trying to shame her. Or maybe, she was remembering the party, and how she had noticed Cady watching Aaron? Cady couldn’t be sure; Regina would be the kind of person to do something like this just because she was bored. But she would also do something like this as a cruel joke, or to get Cady to stay away from Aaron.
“Uh, yeah, totally! I mean, all guys are cute—there are a lot of cute football players,” Cady quipped.
“So you are? Into black guys?” Regina asked drolly.
“Sure, I guess.”
“Cady, Jesus, what did you eat last night? A block of Himalayan salt? I’ve never seen you so puffy!”
Regina reached out and pinched Cady’s cheek, poking her perfectly manicured nail at the bags under Cady’s eyes.
Cady had eaten a lot of salt last night—she had gotten fast food with Damian and Janis.
Janis had awkwardly manipulated it so she didn’t sit in the booth next to Cady. Afterwards, she had responded to Cady’s text that she had had fun with an overly enthusiastic, “yeah, me too!” and then ignored all the memes that Cady sent her.
Typically, she would send some back, or at least send some reaction gifs (usually sarcastic reactions to Cady’s favorite puns). Cady had thought things after last Friday were getting better, but the whole night had made her think twice about that.
She had tossed and turned afterwards, trying to get to sleep, worrying that Janis didn’t like her anymore and was going to stop being friends with her. It seemed so stupid to think about, but the churning in her stomach made it feel so real and terrifying.
That was probably why the circles under her eyes were so dark—the next thing Regina pointed out in their now weekly ritual of self-criticism in her massive bedroom mirror.
“So, how have you been lately?”
Cady sucked on the straw of her smoothie awkwardly, trying to suck out the overly thick mix.
“I’ve been fine,” Gretchen replied testily. She had opted for a juice instead of a smoothie—some sort of cleanse—and watched Cady slurp at her straw with condescension.
“I wanted to ask you for some advice,” Cady began hesitantly. In reality, she didn’t need any advice, she just felt like Gretchen had been acting weird towards her and wanted to do something to bridge that gap before it got weird. Plus, Gretchen could choose to reveal her Aaron secret to Regina at any moment, which would totally ruin Cady.
Gretchen perked up immediately, looking at Cady with interest. Advice giving typically came along with stories, which were typically secrets, and Gretchen thrived on secrets. Cady knew that, and was hoping the yarn she’d spun about some convoluted romance would help mend whatever was off between her and Gretchen. Plus, it would lead her off of thinking about Cady and Aaron.
The way Gretchen looked at her, attention riveted, just confirmed that she was right.
Cady always hated balancing Janis and Damian and the plastics at school. It was Thursday afternoon and she was walking with the plastics down the hallway towards the parking lot so they could go to the mall in Regina’s car. She was doing her best to keep up in the heels—she was wearing them again, after allowing Gretchen to help her ‘learn’ to walk in the them the night before—and smile and make it look effortless and laugh with Gretchen about something stupid.
She saw Janis and Damian way too late, standing by Damian’s locker. They glared at her as she passed, ignoring them. As she walked (painfully) away, she heard a locker door slam louder than it needed to. She knew they hated it, but weren’t they also the ones who wanted her to spy on Regina originally?
She fed them constant stories about the gossip Regina heard and the mean pranks she played—if anything, they seemed to be getting bored with it. Cady’s refusal to prank Regina in return seemed to bother them too. Saturday was Halloween—Karen had helped her choose a costume, and she was going to go trick-or-treating with Janis and Damian before watching a scary movie and getting drunk at Janis’s place. It was going to be a fun night, and Cady hoped some quality time would help mend the awkwardness caused by the way she had to act at school. Plus, she was having another tutoring session with Aaron tomorrow, and she would be able to debrief with them about how it went after. They couldn’t still be upset with her, not then.
Hi guys! This chapter is a bit of a montage of moments that hopefully give a bit of a window into Cady's mind right now. Thus far the story has mostly followed her, but we're going to be spending some time with other characters soon and I just wanted to round out some of her personality for all y'all before I delved into anybody else.
Thank you so much to everyone who has left kudos and comments so far! I appreciate that stuff so much and it honestly makes my day when I see something new was left for me. Get ready for more action soon! I'm getting re-excited about this story and I can't wait to share the rest of it with y'all.
“Do you want a grape spear, or a pineapple heart?” Damian held the skewers of fruit in his hand, proffering them to Janis.
“I swear to god you’ve got to stop doing this.”
Janis was lying on her back on her bed, flipping through her recently finished sketchbook. She liked to do that sometimes—go back over her old works, remember the feelings she had as she wrangled images onto the paper. Sometimes it was embarrassing, but she tried to empathize with her past self more and more instead of judge. It was one of the things her therapist emphasized—being ok with whatever journey she had gone on and where it had taken her along the way.
“Yeah yeah, I know. Which fruit? Pick your poison.”
“Honeydew. Like last time.”
“No. I refuse. Honeydew is an abomination, not a fruit.”
“If it’s so bad, why would you give it to Phillip in the first place? Asshole.” Janis tossed a pillow at Damian and he ducked, protecting his face with the grape skewer.
“Here, just take the pineapple heart. Before it makes me cry.” Damian returned to Janis’s bed, tugging the first grape off the wooden skewer with his teeth.
“You’ve gotta stop doing this Dam, he’s clearly not into it.” Janis bit off one of the points of the star, leaving dark lipstick on the rest.
“I can’t rest until my conscious is clear,” Damian protested.
“And meanwhile, you’re missing out on whatever Northshore show choir twinks there are! The world is your gay little oyster, you just have to shake this urgent need to prove to some old camp fling you’re not crazy. That ship has sailed.”
“He was not a fling!”
“Sure. I refer to my earlier statement: you’re missing out now.”
“Yes, because suburban Chicago is just swimming with gay boys for my fancy. How can I rest knowing he thinks I’m some obsessed psycho?” Damian yanked the last grape off and flicked the skewer into the garbage bin by Janis’s mini-fridge. He rested his head on her stomach mournfully.
“Dam, you were some obsessed psycho,” Janis retorted. She flipped the page and re-oriented the sketchbook to take in the next drawing.
It was the figure of a girl, a model of femininity. The silhouette had all the curves, but was also disarmingly masculine—large biceps, wide shoulders, heavy proportions on the legs. Janis had been pushing the limits, trying to get a feel for what transformed a silhouette from fem to masc to somewhere in between. On either side of the figure, penciled in more lightly, were more traditional feminine and masculine outlines, she had practiced on the edge before tackling the androgynous icon in the center. It was hard to defy the norms—she remembered feeling her pencil tug in, wanting to slim out the limbs, tuck in at the curves, conform to whatever ideals occupied her mind.
“I like that,” Damian pointed at the androgyne in the center of the page. His finger traced, following the vague lines down the figures body.
Janis’s heart sped up and she knew Damian could feel it through her stomach—she still wasn’t really used to showing people her art. She knew she’d have to get comfortable with it if she ever wanted to apply to art school, but Damian was the first person she ever let casually peruse her work. His compliments still made her feel this awful mix of embarrassment and pleasure.
His praise seemed oddly out of place though, especially considering how she had felt for that picture in particular. She had drawn it on a day when she felt like she didn’t belong in her own body.
She knew she was a girl—she wanted to be a girl, she felt feminine, she embraced the hormones that came along with her body parts—but on that day when she had gone to get dressed, everything felt distinctly wrong. She felt too large and wide and tall and thick in the areas that women shouldn’t be, but men should. She had put the frustration down on paper, trying to capture the strange in-between-ness that she had felt.
She hadn’t known how to describe it at the time. She’d had the same body issues that most other girls did—pinching the flab on her stomach, refusing to wear shorts or bikinis or tank tops at different points in her life as different body parts came to her awareness, even trying on anorexia and bulimia for size when they first came into fashion. Looking back on it, she still wanted to cringe. If only she could go and tell early, pubescent Janis to save her breath and wait for her own—very real—issues to come along, to leave the fads to the people who truly struggled with them.
But the gender thing—that had been weird. She’d never felt like such a stranger in her own skin before, looking at all the parts that comprised her and feeling distinctly wrong in them. It had passed after a moment, but it left her feeling shaken, staring at herself standing there in fishnet tights, denim shorts and a big, oversized army jacket. Shapeless, a little grungy, but still fem. She never wanted to not be fem.
“Speaking of my lonely love life, how are things on the Cady-front for you?”
“Get off,” Janis groaned, shoving Damian’s head off her stomach before her could feel her heart rate spike again. “That was a fluke, not a thing. I’m not into her.”
“It was a fluke that you made out with Cady? Or that you’ve been acting weird ever since?”
“I was drunk too that night,” Janis hedged defensively. “And obviously it’s a bit weird after, especially since she’s pretending it didn’t happen. We could have just laughed about it or whatever,” Janis muttered, flipping the next page sharply.
“Riiight,” Damian leaned on his elbow and looked at Janis, raising an eyebrow. She kept flipping stoically.
“You shouldn’t be drinking alone, babe,” Damian whispered.
“Drop it,” Janis threatened.
“Fine. I just worry about you, that’s all.”
“I said drop it. It’s not like that anymore.” Janis didn’t know what was worse—Damian thinking she had been drinking alone when she hadn’t, or Damian knowing she had gone and made out with Cady (a very drunk Cady, but Cady nonetheless) completely sober. And would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I meant with Cady,” Damian backtracked, sensing Janis’s frustration. “I worry about you with Cady.”
They didn’t talk about her slip-ups much. Once she went through treatment for them, she tended to want to leave them there. Damian knew facts and a couple details, but he knew that he was the only one who did—Janis kept her cards close to her chest. He made a point not to mention things like drinking habits, or her family, or food. The way he managed to work their friendship around those topics amazed Janis—and made her feel very loved. Even when he was being a total pain.
“I told you, I don’t like Cady.”
“Good. She’s way too much of a plastic now for you anyways,” Damian rolled onto his back, staring at Janis’s ceiling, on which she had painted a giant uber-vivid mural of the constellations. The stars painted over the blue and purple and black background were also in glow-paint, so when the lights were off the ceiling over her bed came alive.
“Cady isn’t plastic, she’s just getting her feet,” Janis rolled over and faced Damian, laying her sketchbook between them.
“Getting her feet? Is that what you call it?”
“Oh knock it off Damian, she’ll come around. Regina hasn’t turned on her yet, as soon as she does Cady will understand.”
“Is that what it should take though? Shouldn’t she just have trusted us from the beginning?”
“I mean, that’s what it took for me, remember? It feels nice to bask in the glow of whatever Regina has for a while. Then you realize what a monster she is. In that order.”
“You missed a step—the basking, the complete and utter betrayal and then the realization. In that order,” Damian peered at Janis knowingly, but she just lay there, looking at the ceiling, taking in her handiwork. When her parents allowed her to move into the converted garage, it had been the first project she tackled.
“Do you miss it?” Damian asked.
“Being friends with Regina.”
Janis turned back to the ceiling. Damian had never asked her that before—once she had told him the story, he was eager to jump on the Regina-bashing bandwagon with her. He knew it made her feel better about what had gone down, but he didn’t really know much about her life before.
“I don’t really miss it,” Janis finally said. “As in, I wouldn’t want to be a plastic now. But before all of that popularity bullshit became a thing, being friends with Regina was really fun. Her mom let us do whatever we wanted when we would have sleepovers, and always took us to Six Flags in the summer, and Regina gave the best presents at birthday parties. She was also just a force—I don’t even know how to describe it. Like she is now, but for better reasons. She gave the best pep talks, and was always so real with the teachers, but would still somehow convince them to give us extra recess, or the lunch lady to give us more dessert. She even convinced my dad to let us watch a PG-13 movie once,” Janis chuckled. Damian’s eyes widened. Janis never talked about her dad, much less chuckled about him. And if Regina had convinced the man to let them watch a movie like that. . .
“So it was nice. Before she got mean. Once she did though. . . it just wasn’t the same. I began worrying, and I never had to worry before. I kept telling myself that she was Regina—she had done all these things before, told me a million times I was her best friend, why did I need to worry? I talked myself down—I didn’t force myself to kiss a boy when we played spin the bottle at her seventh grade birthday party, and I kept wearing my old bathing suits, even though she said they were embarrassing and I should get rid of them. I never crushed on the same boys as her either. Which is probably what led up to whatever went down. I don’t know.” Janis fell silent.
Damian didn’t say anything, processing what she had told him. As much as he loved Janis, he often didn’t know what to make of her disclosures—she was tempestuous with her emotions, and it wouldn’t be unlike her to tell him all of this one moment and refuse to speak about it the next.
“Cady reminds me of her,” Janis said finally.
“How?” Damian asked.
“Just the way she is, the same type of forcefulness and can-do attitude and presence. You know what I’m talking about. That was what Regina was like, before.”
“And now Cady is slipping in the same way,” Damian finished her thought.
“Kind of,” Janis hedged. “I think she’s just blinded by it though. Or I hope so.”
“You’re not just justifying her actions right? Saying it’s ok right up until it’s way past ok?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s been treating us kind of shittily lately, and it’s up to you to decide when you’ve had enough of that. I think she’ll mess up though—tell Aaron she likes him, or assume she’s invited to something, or wear the wrong outfit on a Tuesday or whatever.”
“And you plan on being there to catch her when she falls,” Damian almost sounded disappointed.
“Don’t you?” Janis asked.
“Of course. But I’m not the one she’s pretending to not have kissed.”
“Damian!” Janis laughed and swatted Damian with a pillow.
“Hey, hey, watch the nose! My mom paid a lot of good money for this schnauze,” Damian held his arms up, protecting his face.
“Cady is being a little plastic bitch, but she’s still Africa-weirdo-Caddy underneath. Now go eat your sad rejection fruit and let me finish going through this book.”
“If I bring you some honeydew will you let me watch?”
“Only if you’re nice,” Janis scoffed.
“I think the honeydew is enough of a concession,” Damian sashayed back to the bed, the fruit skewer in his hand from his now-dismantled edible arrangement. Janis smiled and patted her stomach as she took it. Damian plopped his head back down and they returned to her sketches, their gazes lingering on charcoaled shadows and lacy figures.
“So, if I rearranged the fruit, would that ruin your whole piece?” Cady peered over Janis’s shoulder at the bowl of fruit in front of her. It was sitting on top of an over-turned wooden crate, catching the sunlight through the sliding glass door. Janis was standing in front of her easel, painting it.
“Assignment. Don’t dignify this thing by calling it a piece of art. Still life’s are not art. They’re musty museum exhibits,” Janis scoffed. She was painting the fruit for her art class—an old holdover of an assignment that her teacher still claimed could help her portfolio, somehow.
“Forreal though, you look like that one painter—what’s his name again?” Cady paced around the bowl of fruit, examining it from every angle as though she were going to paint it herself.
“My little pimping Picasso!” Damian chirped, coming up behind Janis and looking at what she was painting. Even as she tried to conform to an older style, her own artistic touch crept in—the shadows were slashed with her favorite charcoal, the colors gently pushed towards jewel tones and away from the primary palette.
“Ok. That’s it. I give up. You two are impossible.” Janis dropped her paint brush on the palette she was using to blend colors and stepped away, wiping her brow and accidentally smearing purple over her skin.
Cady’s face reddened with embarrassment. “Janis, no! I’m sorry, you keep painting.”
“It’s fine,” Janis reassured her, carrying the painting supplies to the sink in the bathroom. “The sun is too low now anyways, the light changed too much. I’ll work on it more tomorrow.”
“Baby doll, you’ve got some paint on you,” Damian pointed to the spot on his own brow where Janis needed to wipe hers. Janis kept on walking out from the bathroom though, away from the mirror where she could have checked for herself.
“Here, just help me,” she walked up to Damian and proffered her head for him to assist her in wiping the paint. He shied away, fanning at his nails.
“Did you not just see me put on my nourishing top-coat? My cuticles are getting destroyed by this weather.”
“Why don’t you just use the mirror?” Cady asked.
“Mirrors lie,” Janis replied simply. Cady’s brow twitched in response to that, but Damian gave her a look that warned her not to ask. Janis pretended not to notice.
“Ok, come here,” Cady beckoned to Janis instead. Janis paused for a millisecond, absorbing the idea of them being close again—it had been nearly two weeks since that night, but they hadn’t touched since.
She walked over and leaned in towards Cady, who used her thumb to rub the paint out.
“Wait just one sec,” Cady breathed quietly. “I have to get your eyebrow re-arranged too. I don’t want to mess it up.”
“Thanks,” Janis rolled her eyes.
Their faces were just inches apart, and Janis could feel that same magnetism she had felt that night, when they kissed. Could Cady feel it too?
The suspension held for just one moment more.
“There!” Cady announced triumphantly, leaning back with satisfaction. “Your brow game is on point once more.”
She didn’t bring up Janis’s refusal to use the mirror—something Janis was immensely grateful for. She had been having a series of bad days lately, and she had no desire to see what she looked like. Neither Damian nor Cady had mentioned the lack of make-up, or hair combing, or outfit coordination. They just rolled with it, and Janis had to bask in gratefulness for her friends.
Just when she was having doubts about Cady, she showed that underneath the judgmental plastic veneer, she was still kind-hearted and wonky. Janis ignored her pounding heart, which was urging her to find other positive traits in the girl as well. She didn’t need that right now.
“So, Hocus Pocus, or Friday the 13th, or Scream? Nightmare on Elm Street? What are we feeling this year?” Damian sat on Janis’s desk chair and spun around a few times as he named movies.
“Hocus Pocus? What is that?” Cady asked.
“Oh. My. God.” Damian threw his legs out to stop his spin, looking at Janis with astonishment. She couldn’t help but laugh.
“Dam, she’s from Africa! You can’t blame her for not having seen it!”
“Seen what?” Cady asked petulantly, unhappy with being left out.
“It’s a movie,” Janis replied, still giggling at Damian, who was holding his mouth open in continual shock. “A Halloween movie.”
“Oh,” Cady replied.
“We’ll do that first, then we can do something scary, a la tradition,” Damian finally broke his silence. “I will provide the boxed wine. No, no, don’t thank me,” he pretended to thank an adoring crowd.
“Oh, you mean like, on Halloween?” Cady hedged. The hesitation in her voice was obvious.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Damian replied sarcastically. “We tend to watch the traditional Halloween movies on Halloween—call it our nod to corporate America.”
“I might be busy that night,” Cady replied, glancing at her phone screen.
“A very plastic Halloween?” Janis asked sarcastically, trying to mask the betrayal she was feeling—they hadn’t even made the plans yet, so she had no right to be upset that Cady wasn’t committing. But maybe she should feel hurt, since Cady was turning down hanging out with them in favor of plans she hadn’t even made yet.
“I mean, it’s Aaron’s party, not Karen’s or Regina’s or anything, but, uhh, Regina hasn’t invited me yet. I’m sure she just like, forgot or something,” Cady laughed nervously, glancing at her phone again. “But uhh, yeah, I’d love to like, watch movies with you guys before that though! If I go,” she faded out miserably. Did she realize how shitty that sounded? Damian looked at Janis and she knew he was thinking the same thing. Cady was the only one who didn’t seem to realize how mean her words were.
“Oh shit!” Cady broke the awkward silence she didn’t even realize she’d formed. “I have to go, I totally forgot I had a study session with Aaron! Shit shit shit—how do I look? Is my hair ok?”
“You look fine, Caddy,” Janis rolled her eyes.
“I’m so sorry guys—just ugh. This is so my bad. Whatever ends up happening on Saturday, want to go and get cheap Chipotle first? I heard it’s only $3 if you wear your costume.” She buzzed around Janis’s studio, gathering her purse—since when did she start wearing a purse?—and other stuff.
“Yeah. We can get booritos. Sounds tasty.” Janis tried to hide the resentment and hurt in her voice. Cady was trying to make time for them. And maybe, if she went to that party, it would be the one where Regina showed her true colors. Finally.
“So, how’d you do on the last test?” Aaron asked, flipping his bangs as he sat down in the cheap, wooden Starbucks seat. Despite the fact that Cady had been almost fifteen minutes late to their study date—she had started jogging to get downtown, but stopped when she realized it would mean showing up sweaty—Aaron was only just now arriving, twenty-five minutes late. He didn’t even bother to offer an apology. Cady hid the tiny glow of resentment that bloomed in her stomach and smiled at him.
“Oh you know, I did,” she rolled her eyes. If she didn’t specifically state that she got a bad score, it wasn’t lying, right? Damian would never know.
“Yeah, I feel that. Ms. Norbury is not going easy on us. If she keeps going like this I’m not gonna be academically eligible for soccer come spring.”
“Oh no!” Cady exclaimed, eyes widening. She didn’t know much, but she did know that sports were very important to boys—for a moment, she flirted with the possibility of revealing that she was actually good at math to Aaron and offering to help him, but the thought of explaining it would probably make him hate her. Plus, it wasn’t very romantic for her to be the smart one and him the dumb one. It just went against the whole dynamic she was going for.
“It’s fine, I’m sure once we’re past this limits stuff and into actual calculus it will be fine,” Aaron shrugged. Cady’s stomach sank—he had no idea what he was saying. Limits were just the foundation—it only got harder from there.
Aaron settled his homework on the table while Cady went to retrieve their drinks—she got a vanilla frappucino, Aaron got a vanilla latte. Karen had told Cady that the frappucinos were amazing, but when Cady took a sip of hers, she made a face.
Aaron chuckled. “Not a fan of the vanilla?” he asked.
“I had no idea it would taste like this. This is. . . awful,” Cady wrinkled her nose at the aftertaste as well.
“Used to better quality vanilla products in Africa?” Aaron asked.
“Yes. Oh my god yes. This is awful. It’s like vanilla from a can. And the chemically after taste… what even is this stuff?” Cady looked at the icy white drink, stirring it around with her green straw to examine the little blue-black flecks of vanilla beans in it.
“It’s just vanilla flavoring. If you want good vanilla flavor, you’ve gotta try those blue tootsie-roll things. Have you had them?”
“Huh? Tootsie rolls?” Cady asked, cocking her head.
“Oh yeah! So regular tootsie rolls are this chocolate flavored taffy that gets rolled into like a tiny little log and then you chew it and it softens in your mouth as it warms up. The company also makes a bunch of fruit flavors like strawberry and lemon and lime and stuff, but the best is totally the vanilla one. It’s amazing. I’ll have some at the party Saturday night, you can try one then.”
“The party?” Cady asked, her heart suddenly pounding. Had he just assumed she’d come? Was that how these things worked now?
“Oh yeah, my Halloween party. I throw one every year—I just assumed you were coming ‘cause, you know, Regina.” Aaron smiled guiltily—the smile that Cady loved on him, glancing at her through his floppy bangs.
“Oh!” Cady exclaimed. Her heart felt like it might burst with joy. She had levelled up past Regina—he had personally invited her. That had to count for something. What should she say now though? Had he really invited her? He assumed she’d be there, but he didn’t actually ask her…
“You’re coming, right?” Aaron prodded. Cady’s cheeks glowed and her heart started beating even faster.
“Yes! Sure! Of course! I don’t have a costume though—is it even a costume party? I’ve spent so much time helping Regina with hers, you’d think that I’d started considering my own,” Cady giggled, then clasped her hand over her mouth—Regina probably didn’t want people knowing she had spent a ton of time on her costume. She liked making things look effortless.
“Huh. I told Regina and Gretchen to invite you when I sent out the original invite. You’d think if you had been helping her with that stuff she would have thought to mention it. Weird. I’m sure she just forgot or something. But yeah! My place, Saturday night, 10pm, bring your own whatever, you know the vibe. I’ll text you my address.”
“Ok,” Cady replied absently. Now she was thinking about Regina too—if Aaron had told her to invite Cady, and she hadn’t, it had been on purpose. Regina had purposefully tried to exclude her. The revelation stung a little bit—Cady had watched Regina do stuff like this to other girls, girls she had considered lesser because they weren’t in the inner circle, weren’t her and Karen and Gretchen. She had never thought that Regina would do it to her. And why shouldn’t she? They weren’t even two months into the school year—Cady could still be a fad friend for Regina, temporary entertainment. Something to be thrown away.
A gnawing feeling of doubt took seed in Cady’s stomach and began to grow, replacing the joy she had felt moments earlier when Aaron had invited her to his party. What was this? Insecurity? The same ugly thing that Cady saw marring Gretchen’s face all too often—the ugly uncertainty that flickered across her features whenever Regina turned away, ignored her, demeaned her. Cady had always thought Gretchen was overreacting before, but now the nasty imbalance crept upwards inside her, heating her features and planting an uncomfortable weight in every part of her.
“Cady? Earth to Cady,” Aaron waved a hand in front of Cady’s face, smiling indulgently. Cady snapped back to her senses, there in the overly loud, overly priced Starbucks.
“What? Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Cady blushed.
“You totally spaced out on me there. Was it the Regina thing? I’m sorry I mentioned that, I didn’t even think of it. I’m sure Regina just forgot or something. It’s nothing, really.”
The tone of Aaron’s voice was meant to be reassuring, but Cady knew they could both hear the lie in it, the note of finality. Regina most definitely did not forget. And they both knew it.
“Yeah no, it’s totally fine,” Cady reassured Aaron. He didn’t need to see that ugly side of her, not now. He’d want to see happy, smiling Cady, not mopy, awkward Cady. “Let’s get to work on these—if I’m gonna be partying this weekend, I won’t have time to catch up on math on Sunday, right?” Cady tittered as she spoke, trying to cover the awkward moment.
“True that, true that. Especially not if you’re hoping to avoid a repeat of last party, right?” Aaron ribbed her. Cady felt her cheeks redden even further as she remembered falling in front of everybody at Karen’s house.
“Yeah. Right,” Cady hedged.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you—”
“No, no it’s fine!” Cady cut in, reassuring him. “This is getting weird, right? It’s not weird. Everything’s fine.” She could hear her heightened pitch, the lie riding over her words. “Let’s just do math and leave this weirdness behind, alright? Deal?”
“Deal.” Aaron reached out with his hand for a handshake and Cady couldn’t help but smile as she put her hand in his own. Was it just her noticing how well her tiny hand fit in his callused palm? His hand was warm and dry and the way it enveloped hers gave her butterflies. Aaron smiled that winning smile of his across the handshake, not letting her go for a moment, holding them there.
Just like that, the awkward moment dissipated, left with tingling excitement. They would be ok. Cady would go party on Saturday and maybe kiss Aaron and everything would be fine, if this handshake was any indicator.
Hey guys! My apologies for the wait on this one; I moved back down to University and I've been involved in a really amazing theatre festival these past few weeks that has taken up quite literally all of my time (I mean in the 80-100 hours a week range). It's got me feeling immensely energized, however (both creatively and physically), so hopefully as that commitment wanes, this one will re-ignite a bit.
Thank you so much for those of you who left kudos and reviews in the mean time. Each email I get from this website telling me one of you has engaged with this story honestly brightens my day so much. I love hearing what you have to say about it, and I hope you keep on letting me know! You guys are the best.
Cady tugged her dress down on her legs. No matter how much she pinched and grasped and yanked at the fabric, she couldn’t make it any longer. The hem of the dress was barely below her buttcheeks, begging to reveal her butt to the entire world.
She was supposed to be cotton candy.
On Thursday evening, Cady’s mom had insisted that they go out Halloween-costume shopping together—“Our first homage to American customs!” she had squealed when Cady first told her that she was going to a costume party for Halloween.
They had gone to one of those terrible pop-up costume shops that always winked into existence in mid-September inside the hollowed-out corpses of abandoned super-stores. Cady had walked around the wire displays festooned with fake cobwebs and tinny-voiced ghouls and rolled her eyes at every potential costume her mother had proffered to her. She just didn’t seem to get it; Cady was sixteen, she wasn’t going to be caught dead dressed as a corpse bride or in a giant yellow banana suit.
Her perpetual anthropologist of a mother was thrilled at the cultural display of the costumes—from the appropriation of the Native American feather head dresses to the frightening dichotomy between the male costumes and the female ‘sexy’ costumes. Cady vaguely realized that it was probably shitty that her only options were horrifically ugly or so exposing her mom wouldn’t allow them.
Less than ten minutes into the trip and she knew that she’d have to rely on Karen to save her from the terror of her mother, who had already picked out matching clown wigs for herself and Cady’s father to wear for trick-or-treaters.
Thankfully, Regina had a teeth-whitening appointment Friday afternoon, so their regular mall-trip was cancelled. Cady had dragged Karen to the mall anyways. Originally, she had intended to piece together a costume from whatever she could find at Forever21, but Karen had laughed at her when she proposed that, and promptly led her to the nearest lingerie shop instead. Cady had blanched at the prospect of going inside, but she had to hand it to Karen; she knew her way around the scanty displays.
That was how she came to be dressed like this, in a tiny lavender silk slip with lace trimmed around the edges, threatening to reveal the bottom of her lacy lilac panties. She had thought the red in her hair would clash horribly with the color, but it actually brought out her strawberry tones and had her skin looking flawless. She had a massive lollipop that Karen insisted added to the cotton candy theme, a big pink puffy bracelet that looped around one wrist, and sky blue stiletto heels to complete the ensemble. She was insanely uncomfortable.
Karen had insisted that she needed yet another bra to perfectly fit the outfit, and while a gorgeous deep blue color, it felt like it was squeezing the life out of her chest. Plus, she was still inside in her toasty warm bedroom, but she already was shivering. When she had proposed adding a cardigan or something to the outfit, Karen had laughed.
“Alcohol is your blanket!” she chimed. “Three shots in and I promise you won’t feel the cold at all.”
Their shopping trip had ended at a grocery store, where Karen used her fake id to buy three bottles of blue raspberry flavored Svedka—“It tastes just like cotton candy,” she had promised.
Cady’s phone buzzed on the table beside her bed and she jumped in the air, shaken from her thoughts. It was a text from Damian—he and Janis were on their way to get her. True to her word, she was getting boorito’s from Chipotle with them before heading to the party. She’d have her fun, tame Halloween fun with them, then she was planning on getting an uber or something to Aaron’s—usually she’d depend on Gretchen for a ride, but she hadn’t talked to her or Regina about the party since getting invited. If they hadn’t wanted her there, then fine, she wouldn’t mention it.
For some reason, Karen was always the exception to that feeling of discord; she was just so bumbling and care-free, Cady never felt any animosity or jealousy from her. That was why she had asked her for the costume help—she could trust her to pick something cute—unlike Regina—and to not start any drama about them doing something together alone.
Cady gave another glance in the mirror, then hobbled over to her closet and yanked out a black trench-coat like jacket—maybe alcohol would be her blanket later, but she’d be sober (and cold) at Chipotle. Plus, she didn’t think Janis and Damian would look too kindly on her costume. With the trench-coat, she could be posing as a spy. A spy with sky-blue, stiletto heels, a giant lollipop, and a pink fluffy bracelet. Duh.
Even with her coat, the air outside was freezing. Damian had commandeered his mom’s minivan again, and Cady was shivering when she slid into the back of it. She checked out Janis and Damian, but neither seemed particularly costumed.
“What are you guys dressed as?” she asked excitedly, warming her hands in front of the heating vents.
“I’m gay, what are you?” Damian shot back. He was wearing his usual jeans and t-shirt combo. “I’m a, uhh, a spy,” Cady replied lamely. Cotton candy? Even she would need to be drunk for that to be funny. In the dark car, her fib went unnoticed.
“I’m a witch,” Janis said. Cady looked her up and down in the dim glow of the street lamps they drove past. Janis shifted uncomfortably away from her as she did. She seemed back to her normal self—her make-up was dark and heavy-handed once more and she was wearing her usual fish-net tights with jean shorts and a black shirt absolutely covered in sew-on patches proclaiming different causes: they ranged from saving the whales to funding libraries to using people’s correct pronouns and even honoring fallen firefighters. For her, it was nothing out of the usual.
“Here,” Janis leaned around the seat and handed Cady a clear plastic bag with a nozzle attached. It was filled with a translucent liquid that she couldn’t see the color of in the light.
“What is this?” she asked, taking the floppy bag from Janis’s hands hesitantly.
“Wine bag! Drink up—gravity is your friend here, hold it above your head.” Damian directed.
“Oh, I probably shouldn’t do that,” Cady held the bag gingerly, proffering it back to Janis in the front seat. “I read this thing that if you start the night with something with a low alcohol content and move up to a higher one, then your body absorbs the higher one at the same rate as the lower and you get wayyyy drunker. I’ll be drinking liquor later, so I should probably hold off.”
An awkward silence followed. Cady placed the wine bag on the ground by her feet. She sensed that her mentioning drinking had been a bother for Janis in some way, but she wasn’t sure how.
They drove in the awkward silence for a few minutes before Damian plugged in his phone and started blaring some musical—an eighties movie knock-off where all the girls had the same name. His falsetto was impressive, and as the lead character belted out some ridiculously high note, he matched her perfectly, his face turning beet-red with the strain of it. Janis laughed and punched his shoulder, beginning to argue with him to let her play her music instead. Cady wished he would; she loved Janis’s music, this angsty mix of EDM and alternative that always squeezed Cady’s heart in some way.
“No!” Damian squealed as Janis finally yanked out his aux cord. “Veronica Sawyer would cry if she ever met you,” he huffed, swerving to stay on the road.
“Whatever,” Janis laughed, plugging in her phone.
“Aww, whaddya know, we arrived!” Damian pulled the car into a parking spot so fast it almost went up on two wheels. Before the first chord of Janis’s song could even play, he killed the engine.
“Dam! You ruin everything!” Janis laughed. “Here, gimme that,” she held out her hand to Cady. It took a second for Cady to realize what she meant, and she quickly grabbed the bag of wine off the floor and handed it to Janis, who put the nozzle in her mouth and flipped the little plastic lever. She squeezed the bag and Cady watched the muscles in her throat pulse as she swallowed.
“Whoa there sweet thang, don’t you go puking before shoving a massive burrito into your gut,” Damian laid a hand on Janis’s arm gently. She sucked on the bag for another few seconds before flipping the nozzle back to the closed position. She held the bag for a moment, looking ahead with dazed eyes for a moment before letting out a massive belch.
“Here you go!” she said sweetly, proffering the bag to Damian.
“Aren’t you driving later?” Cady asked worriedly, watching him put the nozzle in his mouth.
“Relax princess, we’re eating a huge meal first,” Janis waved her hand lazily at Cady as she dismissed her concern. Her cheeks glowed red beneath her foundation.
“Plus, I’m not quite what you’d call a lightweight”, Damian held the nozzle out of his mouth momentarily to speak. He patted his stomach—which Cady had to admit wasn’t flat—before putting the nozzle back in his mouth and releasing the lever. Janis reached out and squeezed the bag for him—he squealed as the flow-rate increased.
Cady watched her friends drink in the front seat and felt a strange mix of emotions—partly left out, but partly… pity? Here they were drinking alone in their car in a Chipotle parking lot. Later, she’d be drinking at Aaron’s house, surrounded by everybody in the school that mattered. Janis always ranted about how much she hated the plastics, but in this moment, Cady knew that she would give anything to be one of them. She was a wannabe.
Damian flipped the nozzle and yanked the bag from his mouth, gasping for air. “You devil woman!” he snarled at Janis, laughing despite himself. Not even a moment later, he burped as well—a long, sustained low note. “Ok,” he said, “let’s feast.”
Outside the car, Cady finally had a chance to see Janis’s costume in full glory—she had a pair of Maleficent horns glued to a head band that increased her height by a good foot at least. With her make-up and dark clothes, she did look wicked.
The cashier at Chipotle was not a fan of Damian’s and Cady’s costumes. When Janis checked out, she laughed at the horns with her, but when Damian went she raised her eyebrows dubiously. She ended up giving him the discount, but it took much convincing on Damian’s part—Janis had to squeeze his arm before he started singing Patti Lupone to prove his point. Cady tried her spy line again, but when the girl just looked at her, she mumbled “I’m cotton candy,” pitifully, holding the lollipop up as though to prove her point. Janis raised her eyebrows in disbelief but didn’t say anything. The girl eyed Cady’s shoes and the puff on her wrist before shrugging and ringing in the discount.
“Cotton candy? Really sweetheart?” Damian sipped his lemonade and reached to grab Cady’s coat. “What do you have on underneath this?”
Cady unbuttoned the top two buttons to show the lacy top of her dress, blushing. Janis stood behind Damian, watching her disapprovingly, just like Cady thought she would—which was why she hadn’t wanted to tell her originally.
“It’s just for the party,” Cady found herself saying defensively.
“The costume’s fine,” Janis retorted. “I just don’t see why you wouldn’t tell us from the get-go. It’s just a costume, Caddy.” She rolled her eyes as she spoke in what Cady thought was an effort to lighten up the moment, but it didn’t make her feel any better or less judged.
They all split off to get seats and drinks and utensils for their food. By the time they sat back down, Damian had already launched into a hypothesis he had about the extracurricular activities of their history teacher—something involving underground sex clubs and racism, Cady couldn’t quite tell. Janis was studiously avoiding looking at Cady, and Cady was glad for it. It gave her a chance to alternate paying attention to Damian and watching Janis herself.
She still looked tired and somewhat haggard underneath all her make-up—or maybe the make-up was making her look more haggard. Cady still couldn’t really tell with that stuff. She had thought that Janis would judge her for the costume she was wearing because it was so—what was the word, slutty? But instead she had judged her for not telling her about it in the first place. What Cady hated was that her friend had judged her at all; and the fact that she felt like she still would have judged her if she told about the costume to begin with.
Damian kept on going with his stories and theories, keeping up an exhausting pace. Cady realized he knew that if he didn’t talk, it would lapse into one of those brutally painful silences they seemed to experience all too often now.
Cady’s phone buzzed with a call and Damian fell silent, looking at it. Karen’s name flashed across the screen and Cady felt Janis’s and Damian’s eyes on her.
“Well are you gonna get that?” Janis asked pointedly. Cady glanced at the phone for one more moment before picking it up.
The noise when she pressed the green ‘talk’ button was astoundingly loud. Thumping bass and screaming voices blasted from the speaker on her phone.
“CADY??” she heard Karen’s voice on the other end of the phone, tinny against the background noise.
“Hi Karen,” Cady held the phone away from her ear as she spoke.
“Oh my god Cady! You have to get here!” Karen said. Cady looked at Janis and Damian, who were both watching her, hearing everything.
“Are you ok Karen? Is everything alright?” Cady asked worriedly.
“Me? Oh my god girl, I’m thriving. Get here! I miss you! I love youuuu!” Karen’s speech slurred, and Cady had to fight a smile. When she was drunk, Karen got even more lovey than she usually was.
“Uhh, ok Karen. I’m coming soon.” Cady glanced at her watch—it was barely 8:30, super early for parties to be starting. She yanked the phone away from her ear again as Karen screamed directly into the microphone, then hung up.
Cady set her phone down and picked her fork up, avoiding looking at Janis and Damian. Everything felt even more tense now than it had before, if that was possible. She took a hesitant bite of her burrito bowl.
“Well?” Janis finally broke the silence.
“Well what?” Cady replied, her mouth still full.
“You’ve been summoned. The queen bitch awaits, right? Or should I call her your best friend now? You and Reggie, so tight.” The bitterness in Janis’s voice was overwhelming.
“I can eat dinner first. I said I would eat dinner with you.” Cady measured her tone carefully, trying not to let the irritation she was feeling show. Why did Janis always have to ride her like this?
“Oh! Well, since you gave your word, and we all know how much that means. . .” Janis rolled her eyes and looked at Damian, waiting for commiseration. He just looked at her, not knowing what to say.
Cady looked up at her supposed friend, dark eye make-up ringing her tired, sad eyes. Why had Cady ever thought they held fire, held anything but the jealous misery that her friend was?
“You know what Janis? Regina never gives me shit about being friends with you.”
“Maybe because she has no fucking idea that you are? You run and hide from us whenever she’s around, you never invite us to parties or stuff with her, you keep us entirely separate!”
“I thought that was what you wanted!” Cady shot back. “You and your ‘go spy on the plastics, Caddy’ mantra! I was doing it for you!’
“Oh get off it. This is all for you. Nothing about what you’re doing is spying.”
“Ok, ladies, let’s calm down,” Damian broke into their argument before their voices could raise anymore. “Let’s not say anything we don’t mean. Janis, you’re drunk. Cady, you’re being a brat. Go hang out with the plastics. It’s fine. We’ll see you at school on Monday, ok?” He gave Cady a warning look and she stood up in a huff, leaving her half-uneaten burrito bowl behind.
Janis looked away, refusing to meet Cady’s eyes.
Cady stood there, looking at her friends. Or maybe they weren’t her friends. As Damian gave her one last warning look, she had a sinking feeling that she wouldn’t actually see them at school on Monday. Something panged in her stomach, but she ignored it, whirling around and heading for the door. She wrapped her coat around herself tighter, departing the brightly lit restaurant into the chilly autumn air.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’d rather drink about it, if you know what I mean,” Janis grinned in the front of the dark car and reached across the console to elbow Damian in his doughy stomach. She was holding the nearly-deflated wine bag, catching her breath before downing the rest of it.
“Janis,” Damian’s voice was exasperated. “I know the whole ‘dealing-with-your-problems’ thing isn’t really your style, but I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Damian. Best friend. Gay love of my life. Leave it the fuck alone.” Janis finally held the nozzle to her lips and sucked down the last sips of wine inside.
“If I were you, I would have been really hurt by what Cady did back there.”
“Hocus Pocus or Friday the Thirteenth?”
“The way she’s been behaving lately is atrocious. We’ve both seen it, right?”
“Ooh! I have an idea! Let’s watch Halloween Town!”
“I know you say you’re not a Disney fan, but you’re lying if you’re saying that Lucas Grabeel was not one of your OG crushes.”
“It’s fine if you’re hurt by what Cady did. And if you want to cut her off, I get it. It’s fine. I’m sorely tempted right now.”
“The real question is, will we have time to watch the first and the second? Kalabar’s Revenge fucked me up in all the right ways,” Janis stroked the plastic maleficent horns in her lap lovingly as she spoke.
“Goddammit Janis!” Damian raised his voice.
Janis jumped in her seat slightly, then turned and looked out the window, away from Damian. For a moment, he could have sworn that he saw her chin tremble. When she turned back to him, it was gone.
“Look Damian, we know I have awful taste in friends. It’s fine. Whatever. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Damian looked at Janis across the console. She tried to meet his eyes, to hold his gaze, but her belligerence melted after a few seconds. She couldn’t do it.
“I mean it,” she whispered. “You’re enough.”
“It’s ok that I’m not,” Damian murmured. “But we know that’s not it. You were like this with Regina too—”
“Do not bring her up right now,” the glint of anger was back in Janis’s eyes. “Just don’t.”
Again, they sized each other up across the console in the minivan. Janis won this time.
“Ok. I yield,” Damian relented. “I want Malibu. Do you have any left from last time?” He killed the engine and they got out, walking towards Janis’s studio.
“Yeah, we didn’t even open it. Let’s kill it tonight, ok?” Janis took off, running ahead of Damian. She had already drunk most of the wine bag on her own, so she wasn’t exactly sober. She ran with her arms out, circling around her backyard like a child pretending to be a plane, making noises and giggling. Damian walked more slowly, glancing nervously at the window to her parents’ room. Thankfully it was dark, and they made it safely. Ten minutes later they were curled up on the couch, two Malibu and pineapple juice cocktails in hand, a giant bag of Halloween candy open in front of them.
Damian reached out his arm, inviting Janis to curl up with him as she always did, but she reached for a piece of candy instead, then brought her feet up between them when she sat back. He lowered his arm, trying not to let on that he was hurt by the subtle rejection. Janis pretended not to notice, flipping through different websites until she found a pirated version of Halloween Town. She finished her first drink long before he finished his. Her second too, an empty cup set back down on a table littered with empty candy wrappers.
The smell of weed, liquor, and vape smoke assaulted Cady’s nostrils when she opened the door to the house. She had been shocked by how expensive the uber was—she hadn’t realized that Aaron lived so far away from school.
The throbbing bass was everything it had sounded like when Karen had called her earlier. Cady was still fuming, looking back on the fight with Janis. She had agreed to get dinner with them—why had Janis been so eager to get rid of her? And why had she been so butthurt about the costume thing? She was so judgmental, it made Cady want to scream. And she had the nerve to think that Regina was the mean one.
“Did you invite her? She doesn’t have to come to every single thing.”
Speak of the devil. Regina was not ten feet away, yelling so Gretchen could hear her over the music. And everybody else in a ten-foot radius.
“I guess Aaron must have invited her!” Gretchen yelled back.
“Didn’t Aaron tell you to invite her?” Karen asked placidly, waving at Cady, breaking the invisible wall between the trio and the girl.
“Hi girl! Hi! Drink?” Karen yelled. Regina flashed a fake smile at Cady before turning and melting into the crowd. Gretchen looked like a deer in the headlights for a moment, glancing between Cady and Regina’s retreating back, then turned and chased Regina into the mass of sweaty bodies, pulsing to the music. Karen toddled over—her heels made Cady’s look petite in comparison—and grabbed Cady’s hand. “Alcohol is all in the kitchen,” she explained. “Also, what is this?” She pinched a wad of the fabric of Cady’s coat.
“It’s so cold!” Cady defended, but she had to laugh. She could see now why Karen thought she didn’t need a jacket—the heat created by the bodies in the house was sweltering. Cady unbuttoned the coat quickly and glanced around for a place to dump it. There was a closet to her left, which she opened to discover two boys kissing on top of the shoes inside. When the door opened, they sprang away from each other. Cady vaguely recognized one as some super involved boy from ASB and her math class, the other was a linebacker from the football team.
“Oh, uhh, sorry?” Cady said hesitantly. The linebacker was on his feet in an instant, fleeing the scene. Cady looked at the ASB kid still sitting there on the ground, looking dazed. He stayed there as she grabbed a hanger and hung her coat on it.
“Oh. My. God. I can’t wait til Regina hears about that!” Karen squealed as they walked to the kitchen.
“Maybe we shouldn’t tell Regina,” Cady faltered, looking Karen in the eye. The terrified look on that boy’s face was stuck in her head. “I don’t think either of those kids is. . . what’s the word? Out? Like, open about their sexuality and stuff. We probably shouldn’t spread that.” Even as she said it, Cady could feel the temptation to disregard her own words. If she was the one to tell Regina, then maybe together they could decide what to do with that info. In her mind, she could picture them walking down the hallway, laughing at the linebacker, tossing their hair, having people watch them. . .
“Ok!” Karen replied, oblivious to Cady’s train of thought.
In the kitchen, Karen successfully tracked down a bottle of vodka and poured Cady a double shot, adding some ginger-ale and squeezing a dubious looking lime on the counter. “Look!” she proffered the solo cup to Cady. “A Moscow mutt!”
“I think they call that a Moscow Mule,” a deep voice said behind Cady. She whirled around, and there he was, in all his glory. Aaron Samuels.
He was wearing a football jersey for a team Cady didn’t recognize. His hair was perfect—as always—and standing next to him, Cady felt very overdressed.
“Hi!” she gushed, nearly spilling her drink.
“Hey Cady! Glad you made it!” He smiled at her. Cady felt Karen melt away behind her, but she didn’t pay attention. She could practically see the light glint off Aaron’s perfect white teeth. “You look, uh, nice,” he hedged, hesitating to look at her body.
Cady blushed again, but not from pleasure. Looking around, she felt like she wasn’t any more scantily clad than any of the girls around her—Karen’s dress was entirely see-through, revealing the matching bra and panty set she had on underneath—but the way Aaron said it, it didn’t sound like a compliment.
“Thanks,” Cady muttered.
“I brought you a present,” Aaron smiled mischievously. Cady watched with confusion as he dug around in his pocket, finally digging out a blue-paper wrapped candy. “Wha-la!” he proffered it to her.
“What is this?” Cady asked.
“It’s that vanilla tootsie roll thing I was telling you about while we were studying. The one that’s better than the Frappucino?”
“Oh yeah!” Cady replied. She unwrapped the candy and popped it into her mouth. It was hard and hurt her jaw when she tried to bite it.
“Let it melt for a sec,” Aaron coached her, watching her excitedly. Cady tried to smile with the candy in her mouth, but it felt awkward. Eventually, the candy softened enough that she could chew it. The flavor was nice, but still too sweet, and it stuck horribly to her teeth. She wanted to dig around with her fingernail and remove the goop from her molars, but she held off with Aaron there. He wouldn’t want to see that.
“So?” he asked impatiently. “Whaddya think?”
“It’s good!” Cady tried to feign the proper excitement.
“I knew you’d love it,” Aaron smiled. “So, how is all this for you? It must be a lot, huh? Partying and all that? After Africa?”
A pang of homesickness hit Cady in the stomach. She would have given anything at that moment to be back in Kenya, listening to the rustling of the jungle on one of their overnight expeditions, the noise of this party forgotten.
“Cady?” Gretchen came up behind her, tapping Cady on the back before she could respond to Aaron.
“Oh! Hey Gretch!” Cady smiled. It felt brittle and fake.
“We’re having a bit of a nine one one in the bathroom.” Gretchen turned and spoke to Aaron. “Can I steal her for just a sec?”
“Sure,” Aaron replied.
“Awesome, thanks!’ Gretchen grabbed Cady’s elbow and yanked her away, to the bathroom down the hall. Cady looked back longingly at Aaron, who had already turned to grab himself another beer from the fridge.
Regina and Karen were in the bathroom, both examining themselves in the mirror, fixing minute flaws in their makeup and hair.
“So, Aaron Samuels, huh?” Regina commented without looking once the door had closed behind Cady. Cady glanced with panic at Gretchen, who smiled reassuringly.
“Uhh, what? What do you mean?” Cady asked, panic rising in her throat. Regina couldn’t know, not until after Cady had locked him down.
“Oh don’t play dumb, I saw you two talking just now. It’s cute. Really. Normally I’d be mad that you were trolling on my ex, but I think this is nice.”
“Oh. Uhh, you do?” Cady stood with the back against her door, feeling cornered. For all she knew, Regina could be ready to pounce right now, to tear her down completely.
“Of course! How can I help?”
“Uhh, I don’t know,” Cady’s mind was still trying to process Regina’s sudden one-eighty. “We’re just talking.”
“He was asking me if this was different. Than Africa.”
Regina burst out laughing. “He always was stupid. Wondering if a Chicago high school party is different than Africa. Sometimes I wonder how he manages to dress himself in the morning.” Regina continued picking at her eyebrows. Cady stood watching her, unsure what she was supposed to do, but eager to get back to Aaron waiting outside.
“Well, he loves talking about himself,” Regina finally spoke. “You can get him monologuing for days,” She rolled her eyes, obviously remembering past times when she was forced to listen to him.
“And don’t talk about Africa!” Gretchen chimed in. “Everything you say about there is like, gross, and ew and stuff. Don’t do that. It’s not feminine.”
Cady watched Regina’s face in the mirror to see if she approved of that statement or not, but she didn’t say anything, picking a clot of mascara from her lashes instead.
“Ok. Thanks, I guess?” Cady put her hand on the doorknob, waiting one more second before letting herself back out to the noisy party. Aaron was in the kitchen, standing right where she had left him.
“Here,” he held a cup out to her. “It’s the one you had before. I watched it for you, to make sure nobody messed with it. You can never be too safe at these things, right?” he chuckled morbidly.
“What? Oh, yeah, I guess.” Cady didn’t understand, but she didn’t want to seem stupid. They stood there awkwardly for a moment, watching the people around them mingle. Cady desperately searched her mind for something to say.
“I don’t miss it,” she finally blurted out.
“Huh?” Aaron replied.
“Africa, I mean. I don’t miss it. It was great and all that, but now there’s, well, this.” Cady shrugged, taking in the party around them. He was hosting it—he’d be hurt if he knew she wasn’t having as much fun as she should. Maybe she just wasn’t drunk enough—she took a big gulp of her drink. It was bitter.
“Oh,” Aaron said. Did he sound disappointed?
“So, do you play football, or are you just a fan?” Cady asked, her tone overly exuberant. If Regina said he loved to talk about himself, then Cady would get him to talk about himself, come hell or high water.
“I just watch. I’m a big Patriots fan actually. My family is originally from Boston.”
“Why are you in Chicago then?”
“Probably the same reason you are. Things change. Why don’t you miss Africa? I miss Boston constantly. Though I guess it is a city, so it’s different than being out in the middle of nowhere. Not that I’m saying Kenya is nowhere, though, I’m not like, racist or anything,” he chuckled awkwardly. Cady giggled too—he was cute when he was trying not to offend.
“Well, I mean, it’s just—”
“Aaron?” a boy cut in to their conversation. “There’s two freshmen out back trying to set one of your bushes on fire. Can you help?”
“Yeah sure,” Aaron replied. He turned and smiled guiltily at Cady. “This is why we never invite freshmen. I’ll be right back, ok?”
“Ok!’ Cady replied, but he was already walking away.
“Shots!” Karen was suddenly next to her, screeching in Cady’s ear.
Cady took two shots with Karen, then when Aaron didn’t come back for another two minutes, she got wrangled into playing a game of truth or dare with a big group of people. Regina dared her to finish her entire drink, and Cady downed it with a grimace, then had to ‘slap the bag’ which was essentially doing what Janis and Damian had done earlier, except this time with a bunch of people shrieking “Seven! Seven! Seven!” at her until she ran out of breath and couldn’t drink anymore.
By the time she bothered to look around for Aaron again, she couldn’t find him anywhere. She stood up in the circle—ignoring people’s eyes latching onto her, even though they could probably see her underwear—and glanced around the living room, searching. He was nowhere to be found. Cady vaguely remembered that he had asked her a question before leaving. She had wanted to answer him—she’d go find him now. She’d answer his question.
She walked carefully, remembering all too clearly in her drunken haze the mistake of the last time she walked in heels drunk, tripping on the carpet at Karen’s house. He wasn’t in the hallway, or the kitchen, or the stairway, and Cady didn’t want to climb the stairs, because hard. Finally, she made it back to the living room. There! Against the fireplace! He had his back turned to her—he was talking to someone. A blonde. A Regina blonde.
Cady started over—she could say hi! Maybe now they could clear up that whole awkward invitation issue. Regina wouldn’t exclude her—not now that Aaron wanted her. As she was almost halfway across the room, Cady faltered. Regina was leaning in closer to Aaron. She was whispering in his ear—her red lips were inches from his skin.
No. NO. Cady froze in place—Regina’s lips were inches away, centimeters away, millimeters away, Regina was kissing Aaron.
Cady’s vision blurred around the edges. Her worst nightmare come true. The kiss was long, and deep and everything she wanted with Aaron but would—apparently—never have. Something twisted in her gut. After an agonizing moment, Regina pulled away. She looked over Aaron’s shoulder. Caught Cady’s eye. Smirked.
The blood drained from Cady’s head. She blindly reached out and found an ottoman next to a chair. Ignoring the person already occupying the ottoman, she sat heavily, dizziness invading. She couldn’t watch, but she did, as Regina’s lips found Aaron’s once more, her hand climbing his neck, her fingers combing through his glossy, perfect hair. NO.
Cady didn’t even think. She needed her best friend. Her hand shook as she pulled her phone out, opened the uber app, called one that would charge her parents credit card over a hundred dollars. Janis would understand. Janis would help her.
Cady watched her screen intently for the next twenty minutes as she waited for the uber, the twisting nausea of fury in her stomach never fading. Karen dragged her into the kitchen again and Cady did more shots, not counting, not bothering to think about how much she was drinking, wanting only to forget. She just needed to wait til Janis was there, then everything would be ok.
OOH if y'all knew what I had planned for you! I've recently helped to found a writing group with some of my fave theater nerds and so I now have people holding me accountable for getting words onto paper every week. This is competing for bandwidth along with a play that I'm writing; regardless of what I do, I have a few very busy months coming up creatively and I could not be more excited. Stay tuned, because I already have the next chapter of this written up and ready to get sent out to you guys ASAP. Stay tuned to see more of Cady's absolutely wretched decision making!