What does he see in her anyways?
She asks him one day.
It takes him a long second to respond, so long that Tina’s not sure he even heard her even though she spoke right into his ear. Then again, she could only mumble it, too focused on the sensation on her neck. And maybe he’s too focused on her already bruised skin - small red patches Jimmy Jr. left from a quick make out session in the janitor’s closet. He always used too much tongue to leave an actual mark, but he seemed determined that day. Tina was over it when they crossed the three-minute mark; too much saliva and lips.
No, she likes this right here. Loves it. Zeke is all teeth and pressure. He bites, pulls, sucks, and it makes her body hum. She practically sings a symphony, one that lasts the - seconds? minutes? hours? - he takes to leave an impressive purple mark.
Tina stares at it for hours after, and through the night, her fingers can’t stop pressing it. It hurts, still so fresh and sore, but the pain sends a shiver down her spine and makes her toes curl. It’s right at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, back enough that it’s easily hidden by her shirt, but she still feels naked walking into school the next day. Everyone’s staring at her, or her neck at least. No one, not even Jimmy Jr., bothers to look one inch down. No one but Zeke.
She only sees him for 40 minutes that day at that one class they share together. In true nerd-troublemaker fashion, she sits in the front and he sits in the back. However, she finds that she can’t pay attention. Instead, she focuses on the mark and how it seems to be burning through her shirt. It pains her, not in a literal sense because she has long learned that she loves to hurt herself, but the fact that the mark is already healing makes her stomach churn. And then her head hurts because she can’t stop thinking about how stupid it is to mourn over a bruise. She’s bonded with a number of things before, but that was because she was a hormonal teenager. This weird issue was supposed to be left in middle school. Still, the thoughts don’t stop her from reaching over with her right hand and pressing. The sensation’s the same, maybe a little more intense with the burning, but her toes still curl, her thighs still clench, and she holds her breath.
The bell rings, and while she releases the pressure, she doesn’t move her hand - not even when she makes eye contact with Jimmy Jr., not when she makes eye contact with Zeke, and especially not when Jimmy Jr. looks between the both of them. Jimmy Jr. looks like he wants to say something, but Tina gathers her stuff quickly and goes to her next class that’s on the other side of school.
The walk there, she wonders if he knows. Or if he at least has his suspicions. But Tina knows better. She knows that Jimmy Jr. doesn’t care enough to wonder if she’s cheating on her. If anything, he’s wondering why Zeke was giving her so much attention in class instead of listening to his efforts on perfecting a new dance move. It makes her want to tell Jimmy Jr. the truth. She spent English class imagining how he would react. Would he get angry? Maybe. Sad? Probably. Turned on? No, he’s not that type. Betrayed? Most definitely.
It almost makes her throw up.
The pit stays in her stomach, even when she gets pulled into another janitor’s closet after school. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t want to call out the wrong name, but when a calloused hand grabs hers and moves it away from the mark, she breathes, “Zeke.”
“I’ll keep doin’ it as long as ya like, just don’t do it t’yourself. ‘Kay?”
She only nods. And that night, she doesn’t press on the mark. Instead, she scratches the bandage. It leaves a dull ache, a phantom of whatever fulfillment she achieved earlier that day. The burning is still there, but the aloe vera does its job, even if it’s dried and crusty.
She’s so frustrated. It makes her huff and press her heels into the mattress because that’s all she can do. The rest of her family sleep, unaware of the shifting world that Tina experiences: one where thoughts of Zeke, not Jimmy Jr., settle a warm feeling in her chest.
They’ve been doing this thing for years now, and while Zeke has nothing on the time her and Jimmy Jr. had, Tina can’t penalize him for it. Jimmy Jr. has a head start (after all, he was Tina’s first crush, kiss, and love all together), but Zeke’s right there. He’s always been there, Tina’s realizes, running the same race and jumping the same hurdles. He’s right there. And he’s getting closer and closer to the same place Tina holds Jimmy Jr.
But what the fuck does he even see in her? Why is he okay with a few secret moments in dark corners, cause Tina sure as hell isn’t okay with them. The pit in her stomach reminds her of that, of how horrible she is for not only doing this to Jimmy Jr., but those moments in the closet remind her of why she never tells Zeke to stop.
‘Just don’t do it t’yourself. ‘Kay?’
God, isn’t that the most romantic thing Tina’s ever heard?
It’s another afternoon in a janitor’s closet. This time, it’s Mr. Broncha’s because that's the only one with a working lock and she needs the privacy.
Jimmy Jr. cancelled another date, didn’t even have the audacity to tell her. Instead, he ignored her during lunch and only spoke with Tammy, making plans to meet up after school and get drunk off the leftover wine in his dad’s restaurant. Jocelyn was invited, so was Zeke, but Tina was ignored even though she was right. there. sitting next to Jimmy Jr. So when the bell rang, Tina dumped her plate and grabbed Zeke before class.
“Woah, T. Wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?” he asked, but she didn’t listen to him because if he really wanted to talk, he could’ve easily stopped her. Instead, he lets her drag him down an empty hallway, into the empty closet, and onto her. He doesn’t say anything else; his mouth only moves when it’s against her skin. He doesn’t remove the bandage, choosing to bruise the skin around it, and when Tina pulls his hair, he follows.
He trails up her neck, untouched by Jimmy Jr. for a whole week. It’s virgin skin, something Tina realizes with a shameful satisfaction, something Zeke seems to realize a beat after she does. He’s relentless, ravaging her neck like he’s never done this before, like he’s forgotten how to do this. It’s rough and unskilled and wet, and it leaves her breathless. There isn’t enough oxygen in the closet to stop her head from spinning.
But then he stops short of her lips, and Tina takes a deep breath.
It’s a boundary she placed the first time they started doing this. She had just watched Pretty Woman, and Julia Roberts made a very convincing case about only kissing people you care about. Kisses were for love, intimacy, and connection.
But fuck that. Today, kisses are for revenge.
She’s the one who drags him down, and he follows willingly. Enthusiastically. His kisses are just like his hickies: teeth and pressure, tearing into her mouth and bruising her lips. He likes using his tongue, just like Jimmy Jr. - but unlike Jimmy Jr., he lets Tina take charge. It’s give-and-take, and it’s not until Tina has Zeke pressed up against the door that she realizes how much she’s given and how little she’s received.
She’s starved, craving the taste, touch, and sensation Zeke is giving her. It’s their tongues sliding together, their hands entangled in each other’s clothes, their bodies stumbling into shelves and cleaning equipment.
It’s the door swinging open and Mr. Broncha gaping at them. It’s the way she walked into her class half an hour late, all eyes staring at her flushed face and swollen lips and bruised neck. It’s the whispers that circulate the school that very moment.
It’s how Jimmy Jr. refuses to meet her eyes when they (along with their siblings) walk home together.
Kisses are vindication.
Yeah I genuinely don't know where this is going, but enjoy the ride.
She’s on a date with Jimmy Jr. a week after the rumors started. He’s the one who asked her, promising a romantic night of just the two of them. They go to his dad’s restaurant, do the Lady and the Tramp thing with a bowl of fettuccine, go to Wonder Wharf, and ride the ferris wheel. He’s possessive the entire time, keeping an arm wrapped around her waist and staring down any guy dares to breathe in her direction. When they stop at the top of the ferris wheel, Jimmy Jr. grips her neck and pulls them together, dangerously rocking their cart with every rough movement.
Any other time, this would do it for Tina; instead, her eyes fall open and she keeps them on the stars.
She thinks back to how this mess started, when she was paired up with Susmita for the science fair, how they were stupid enough to believe they actually contacted aliens and doomed the Earth. She remembers how she ran down the hall, her mind set on kissing Jimmy Jr. She kissed him like he’s kissing her right now: too much saliva on her part, but she just wanted to memorize every inch of his mouth. If it left him with a dripping chin, who cared?
Then she ran, paying no attention to where she was going. Maybe she was running to her siblings, but none of it mattered when she bumped into Zeke.
“Aw screw it,” she said before kissing him with as much determination as with Jimmy Jr. it wasn’t anything special, just a pair of lips and another tongue. Zeke was more responsive, but just barely. Instead, Tina worked his lips (bigger than Jimmy Jr.’s) and plundered his mouth (hotter than Jimmy Jr.’s) and left him just the same - amazed, cause Tina knew how to kiss (for a thirteen year old).
She didn’t expect anything to come out of it. Maybe a little bit more commitment from Jimmy Jr., but definitely not anything from Zeke.
She didn’t expect to continue this for another two years, and she didn’t expect herself to think about it in the middle of making out with Jimmy Jr. It’s a bit sad, really, that she’s not satisfied with this. She has Jimmy Jr.’s full attention for the time being, but she can’t enjoy it because all she can think about is UFOs. Maybe she should write about aliens. The butt-probing trope is right there.
“You know I’m the only one who will ever like you, right Tina?” he tells her when he’s dropping her off at her house, and Tina just sighs and agrees because she’s tired and wants to go to her room.
She takes a hot shower, but it’s not enough to wash Jimmy Jr. off her body. She throws her date clothes to the bottom of her hamper and goes straight to her room. She avoids her family, giving them the excuse of finishing homework which they seem to accept easily enough. She drops on her bed, her head smashing into the pillow. Her nose hurts from the impact, but it gives her something to focus on for a few moments before her mind goes back to Jimmy Jr.
That’s nothing new for him, she knows that. He’s been telling her that only he can love her for years now, and to her thirteen-year-old self, it was the same as a proposal. She didn’t want anyone else but Jimmy Jr. to love her anyways. The line has lost its charm throughout the years, and now that she’s seventeen, that promise makes her skin crawl. She expects these kinds of words from him, but she’s so tired of them.
Is Jimmy Jr. really all she can hope for?
When I see you I fall apart, like a zombie. Ugh, she needs to change her ringtone. Her Boyz4Now-phase ended a year ago.
Reaching to her nightstand, she grabs her phone and opens it. She knows it’s Jimmy Jr. Who else would call her? She hums into the phone.
Tina rolls onto her back. “Zeke? Why are you calling me?” She pulls her phone from her face. Yep, it’s Zeke.
“Jimmy Jay’s told me ‘bout y’alls date,” he says. He sounds different on the phone, gruffer. Nervous, maybe? She can’t tell that well; she’s never been good at reading someone’s tone. Tone-deaf. She lets herself feel some satisfaction at the pun. “Just wanted ta make sure you’re a’right.”
“I’m fine,” she says, slowly sitting up on her bed.
“How’s ya throat? Any bruises?” Actually, now that he mentions it, her throat’s a bit sore. She puts Zeke on speaker and opens her camera, turning it to front-view. And there they are.
There’s faint red marks lining the sides of her neck. Four on her left, one on her right; five in total. They would look like hickeys if it didn’t obviously look five fingers. Shit, did her family see them? “A few from his hands.”
Zeke sighs. “Yeah, figured from what he was tellin’ me. Take care of 'em, Tina.”
“I don’t know how,” she admits. “He’s never done this before.” Verbally possessive? Yes. Physically? No. And she doesn’t really know how to feel about this line Jimmy Jr. crossed.
“Just do what ya do with mine.” Cold spoon, aloe vera, bandage. But...
“It’s not the same.” Tina can’t stop staring at her neck, even as her eyes water. “Yours are different.” She’s trembling, and oh my God how embarrassing is this?
“Ya want me to come over?”
“No.” It’s instantaneous. A little rude, but she doesn’t want to see anyone right now, especially not Zeke. “Can we hang out tomorrow?”
“Ya got it, girl. Touch tank?” She can hear the smile in his voice. It makes her smile too.
“Yeah. I’ll buy the tacos.”