Seven Saturdays following the group detention, John meets her in the parking lot behind the school. He's already got a cigarette clenched between his teeth as he drops to sit on the curb beside her.
"Thought you didn't get out until four," Allison says. She's busy unravelling one of her socks, pulling the thread and watching, mesmerized, as the polka-dot pattern dissolves.
"I don't," John says. He nudges her arm. "Don't do that."
"Why not?" She pulls harder.
"Waste of good socks, Allie," John insists. "You know how useful those things are for jerking it?"
Allison lets out a huff that sends her fringe fluttering. "I'll keep it in mind," she says. Seizing her ankle, she bends her body around to break the thread with her teeth. She knows John's making no attempt to hide his staring at her inner thigh as she twists her leg. She pretends not to mind, but she does. She wants him to look, the way he looks at Sarah's legs when her skirt rides up past her thigh-highs.
The thread snaps against her tongue and she spits it onto the pavement. The grey ball with flecks of orange and pink looks like some kind of exotic spider.
"You get lunch, or were you planning on just eating the socks?" John asks.
Allison huffs and immediately bends down to take the thread between her teeth again, starting to pull.
She feels John's calloused fingertips grip her chin and jerk her head back up. She squeaks at him, jerking away. Her skin feels cold in the absence of his.
"Whoa, hey," he says, in his mockingly placating tone. "Just saying a you need a balanced diet is all! Hate for you to waste away."
Allison scrunches her nose at him. He always laughs when she makes that face.
John only shrugs, holding up his hands in surrender. Allison likes the way she can see bits of skin through the black mesh of his gloves, like scales or kitchen tiles. "Look, last thing I wanna do is sound like your mom."
"That's the last thing I want you to do, too," Allison admits. She doesn't bother to point out that speaking to her is already too uncharacteristic for her mother. She doesn't want John to get the idea that she doesn't want him speaking to her.
"Well, there you go." John reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. The corners are barely bent, and Allison wonders if he picked it up earlier that day while skipping third period English.
(She notices when he skips. When John isn't sitting behind her, she has no one to pass her notes to in exchange for a casual, "Thanks, doll." She mostly notices because she misses the nickname.)
She holds out her hand, wiggling her fingers expectantly as John lights a cigarette. He raises an eyebrow as he lets out a slow exhale. The sky is grey, so the smoke fades quickly. "Didn't think you smoked."
Allison shrugs. "I don't."
John slips the carton back into the pocket of his vest. "Well, I'm not giving a newbie a full cig. We can share, all kumbaya and shit."
With a squeaky huff, Allison lays back against the cool pavement of the parking lot. She likes it better in the summer, when she can feel the heat against each bump of her vertebrae. It's like being grilled, which she doesn't think she'd ever want to actually happen but was fascinating to think about.
John shoots her a look. "What? Can't blame a guy for trying to be fiscally responsible!"
Allison blows her bangs out of her eyes.
She's slightly surprised when she hears John lie beside her. The metal buttons and chains of his vest clank and scrape against the ground like a wind chime. "Don't think pretty pouts work on me. Clare tried plenty of times."
Allison turns her head to find he's already looking at her, one eyebrow quirked in amusement. "I'm not Clare," she says. She's heard the exact words from the mouths of her classmates many times, in envy and disgust between groups and cliques in the halls. Frankly, she thinks it's stupid to be upset about not being someone, especially when it's much more entertaining to spiral into the frustration surrounding simply being oneself. So she just says it like the fact that it is.
John lets out a laugh through his teeth, smoke trailing between the pearly gaps and into the sky. "Thank god for that," he says. "Don't get me wrong, she's a doll. Just don't think I'd want her here right now."
Allison's half listening, and John knows it. She's scanning the cloudy sky, tracing patterns in her mind against the barest lines and shadows. "Why?"
John offers the cigarette. Allison takes it. The paper is smooth and slightly warm in her hand, and her fingertips brush John's as she accepts it. "She didn't like it when I smoked. Said it made kissing me taste like shit."
"Kissing is shit anyway," Allison says, before taking a long drag of the cigarette. Her lungs are instantly filled with a painful heat and dryness, like they're full of sand. She sits up, vision blurring with spots of color as she hacks and wheezes, smoke leaking out her nostrils and mouth.
John has an arm around her in a moment, patting her back forcefully. "Easy, Ally. Don't die on me, I can't afford a lawyer and I don't wanna give the folks more of an excuse to put me behind bars."
Allison barely hears him. The cigarette slips from her fingers and onto the pavement, rolling to rest against John's boot. And amused grin that should annoy her but doesn't is cracking along his face. "Not a fan, huh?"
Allison glares, squeaking indignantly.
John holds up his hands. He doesn't pretend to understand the noises, but he knows her well enough to know what sort of emotions they indicate. Really, he's the only one who's ever bothered to learn her well enough to know, besides Brian.
She runs her tongue across her bottom lip, the acrid taste of the smoke lingering. Her nose wrinkles almost involuntarily and she lets out another irritated squawk.
John huffs. "It's not that bad when you get used to it," he says. Almost mechanically, as if he does it without thinking, he procures another cigarette and match, striking the stick against his boot to light it.
"You owe me for the bum one," he mumbles, the cigarette bouncing between his lips.
"No," Allison says firmly.
John groans dramatically. "C'mon, Claire never paid me back ONCE for all the fags she slapped out of my mouth. You know how humiliating that is?"
"No," Allison repeats.
"Fair enough," John admits, taking a drag of his own. The smoke dances across his lips as he exhales and Allison wonders if they would taste as awful against her own as Claire said, or if the sourness lingering in her own mouth might cancel it out.
"Why'd she dump you?" Allison asks, picking absently at the pills on her tights. They're harder to unravel than the socks, so she sticks with gathering the little felt beads and wadding them up between the pads of her fingers.
John chuckles dryly. "Who says she did the dumping?"
He scoffs, shifting his weight back from his heels. A ball of smoke bounces out of his lips, dissipating. "Her fault she expected some kinda fairytale prince. Wasn't ever gonna be that."
"Why not?" Allison murmurs.
John glares, although it's not really angry. "Look at me."
She meets his gaze. "I am."
The pause is uncharacteristic and Allison wonders what John's thinking. She wonders if she'd even like to know.
"You're more of the evil witch type, anyway," he says abruptly, and Allison snorts with laughter. Between her giggles, she hears John continue.
"Besides, who are you to be giving me shit about Claire? Thought you and Thick Thighs broke up weeks ago," he says, bringing a hand up to his lips to chew the remnant of black nail polish off his fingernails.
Allison only shrugs. John doesn't push the issue. But whether that means he doesn't care or that he knows how much she hates to talk about it, Allison isn't sure.
Andrew wasn't enough of a mess. He was hard-edged and rigid and minimal. He could never find room amongst the clutter in Allison's heart, was never able to curl and bend in a way that would suit them both, and she couldn't clear enough of the mess away to fit him as he was. She had tried, and so had he. She loved him still, the first boy she thought might be her happy ending.
Maybe she just didn't want a happy ending anymore.
Maybe evil witches don't need happy endings to get what they want.
She's shaken out of her mental cage again as John blows a puff towards her. It's almost childish, an immature impatience with her lack of response.
"Yes. We broke up. Why's it matter to you?" she mumbles.
"Honestly? I was pretty relieved when you two called it off," John admits. There's a distinct and foreign lack of confidence in the statement that intrigues Allison as much as it confuses her. John's vulnerable around two kinds of people: the ones he loves and the ones he couldn't care less about.
She's not sure if she fits into either group.
His words sink in after a moment and Allison bristles slightly, brow furrowing over dark eyes smudged with gel. "Why?" she asks petulantly.
John gives her a sideways smirk. "Don't go getting all tigress on me, Ally," he chuckles. The cigarette is almost halfway ash now. He taps it onto the concrete and it flashes orange for a moment.
She pouts, squealing. "You have to answer the question."
Another indignant squeak.
John rolls his eyes, annoyed more with having to answer than Allison's antics. He meets her eyes, expression almost dull with resigned nonchalance.
"Long as Track Star had you, I couldn't. Simple as that," he says. His voice is flat and uninterested and Allison takes a moment to understand. She feels her breath knot in her chest, staring up at John with her eyes wide.
The smirk on his lips twitches as he answers her unspoken question. "Yeah."
Allison tilts her head slightly, a soft squeak tugging at her throat. It's questioning and nervous, and John's smirk is almost insufferable.
He takes her chin between his fingers and pulls her up towards him. There's a slight stubble across his jaw, and she feels it like a tiny sting as his mouth meets hers almost expectantly. Another soft squeak leaps from her at the contact.
Like most people, John is a lot of things, and patient isn't really one of them. His hands shift to cup the sides of Allison's face, the scales of his gloves strange against her skin. His tongue presses at the seam of her mouth and she feels the cold bite of a piercing. Instinctively, she squeaks, and John all but devours the sound. It's a wonderfully morbid sort of thought, she decides, imagining the very breath in her lungs being consumed completely as it escapes her.
The other thing she decides is that the kiss doesn't taste much like shit at all. There's the sour, smoky taste of cigarette curdling between their tongues but there's also hot coffee and ripe apples and bubblegum. Allison feels a spot of warm as John lets out a relieved sort of sigh through his nose, the air rushing against her cheek before he pulls back, sitting on his heels.
John quirks an eyebrow. "Why'd you do that?"
Allison tilts her head. "Was it bad?"
"No," he says bluntly.
Allison's lips quirk smugly in spite of herself. "Maybe I've been practicing."
She says it because she wants to see the way John's eyes flash. He thinks of himself like a wild animal and even though Allison knows it's all for show, it's fascinating to see him try to fill the role.
John smirks as he snuffs the cigarette on the pavement.
"Well then, doll. Show me."