“Marisa,” Suzanna says, standing in front of the fire, holding the other Johnny’s hand. I blink up at her. “We’re going to go hang out on the bus, okay?” I see the other group look over at them.
“Um, OK?” I say. “I’ll be here?” I watch her be led to the bus and disappear up the stairs. I finish my beer because I don’t know what else to do. Johnny K. looks over at me. His face is so close I can see the blackheads on his nose.
“Hey,” he says. He looks at my forehead and blows a piece of hair off my face.
“I have to pee,” I say.
“Sure,” he says, and helps me up. I walk back toward the fence until I’m sure it’s too dark to see me. I lean up against the cold brick and look up.
There’s a night I think about a lot. Back home we have a lake that freezes over right after Thanksgiving. Once, when my cousin and I were 11, we decided we needed an adventure. We waited until midnight and then snuck down to the coat closet. We bundled ourselves up in our snow clothes and walked the mile to the lake, quiet with excitement. When we reached it, we did everything by the book (stomped on the ice hard, it was thick and gleaming black). We ran out to the middle, slid on our knees and whooped into the darkness. We brushed off the snow off the surface and squinted down into the depths but saw nothing. When we were satisfied we picked ourselves up and walked back shivering. When we got to her house, our mothers were at the kitchen table red-eyed and holding hands. The sisters looked at us, wet and happy in our snowsuits, and began to shake us and shout. We started to cry, ashamed of how careless we had been with their hearts. We were grounded for a month, wallowing in our wrongness.
I shuffle my feet to keep warm in the dark, staying away from the fire for as long as I can. If I were Suzanna I would smile behind my hair at Tara and Alexa and tell them (the way Sean Paterson’s mouth kissed my collarbone, like in a movie, except now I can’t remember quite how it was, just “Goodbye, Wisconsin” when he dropped me at the end of my block). When I start to go numb I head back over to Johnny K., who pats the place next to him before I can sit down anywhere else. There is no one else by the fire. His thigh touches mine. I watch his hand make its way to the rip at my knee. “Hey again,” he says. “How would you like to join your friend?” My muscles tighten.
“Relax,” he says, running his fingers along the broken threads that press into my skin. “Something tells me you won’t be as easy to get on that bus.” He laughs in my ear and squeezes my leg tight. “You’re not a little slut.”
I throw off his hand and get up so forcefully I unbalance the bench and send Johnny K. flying backward onto the asphalt, my face suddenly hot. He screeches. Lying there, he lifts up a hand. It’s covered in blood. There is a broken beer bottle next to him. He looks at me. “You bitch,” he says. I heard buzzing behind me as the crowd comes back into the circle. I turn to look at them just as Suzanna jumps off the bus and runs toward me. The other Johnny follows. “You crazy bitch,” Johnny K. yells at me.
“Hey, don’t talk to my friend that way,” Suzanna says, pushing in front of me. The other Johnny grabs us.
“Listen, you need to go,” he says, grabbing Suzanna around her waist. “He’s got a bad temper.” He hurries us to the crack in the fence. I slide through and let them have their goodbye.
“Well it was worth the drama,” I hear him say. I hardly wait for her and march toward the car.
When we get in Suzanna says, “Christ, Marisa, you sure know how to fight them off,” laughing uncertainly.
“Sorry for spoiling all your fun, I guess.” I spit. Her lips, frosted in a sticky pink, part. Beside me I can hear her start to cry, so I turn up the golden oldies station on the radio, but somehow it only makes it me angrier. At Suzanna’s, we leave the car outside the garage so her mother won’t wake up.
“Marisa,” she says.
“What?” I kill the engine.
“I know what you all think.”
“What are you talking about?” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt.
“You want to punish me, that’s what you want to do.” She looks over at me. I squint at the windshield wipers. She hooks a finger under my chin, drags my face close to hers, and pushes her forehead into mine.
“Tonight was awful,” she says quietly. “It was nothing like I thought it was going to be.” I nod my head against hers and smell faintly the soapiness of her hairspray.
We walk in through the kitchen door. I grab us Pepsis from the fridge. Suzanna slinks to the cabinet and finds a bag of hard pretzels. We snap open the sodas and, suddenly hungry, I crunch the pretzels under the buzz of the ceiling light. She stares into her can. Her makeup has wiped off, and the glitter lies like gray freckles on her nose. I hear a floorboard creak, but no one comes down. We go to her room, don’t brush our teeth, fall into a bone-tired sleep. ♦
Monika Zaleska is spending her post-grad summer at home, driving by the places she haunted as a teen: the Dairy Queen, the 5 & 10, and the deserted-after-dark playgrounds. In the fall she’s off to teach English in Poland and reconnect with family on the other side of the Atlantic.