Authors: Danielle Vega
The sound of a motor cuts through the hum. I turn to watch a rusty sky-blue Buick rumble up the street. I grin, recognizing Shana's car immediately. She inherited it when her grandmother got too old to drive. Her grandmother's
CHASTITY IS FOR LOVERS
sticker still decorates the back bumper, but Shana scratched out “lovers” with her keys and carved “fuckers” into the paint next to it. She left her grandmother's rosaries dangling from the rearview mirror but hot-glued the head of her little sister's My Little Pony to the car antenna.
Shana pulls up next to the curb, and the little horsey head wobbles above the car like crazy. Obnoxiously loud rock music drifts out of her cracked windows. Julie fills her cheeks with air and presses her lips against the back window. Aya sits next to her, eyes squeezed shut as she croons along with the music.
“Oy, Case!” Shana hollers. She honks, twice. “Get that cute little ass down here!”
The soccer girls go silent. Madison frowns.
“Are they drunk?” she asks.
“No,” I say, although they probably are. Julie fogs up the back window with her breath and draws a penis in the steam. She doubles over with laughter. I start to smile, too, then bite my lip when I see the look on Madison's face.
“What are they
“I don't know,” I say. I really don't. I haven't seen Shana since getting back from rehab. She must've called my house to figure out where I was.
“Casey!” Shana lays on her horn. Without realizing I'm doing it, I pull my backpack up over my shoulder.
Madison freezes, a carrotful of hummus halfway to her mouth. “Wait, are you
“IÂ .Â .Â .” I hesitate.
The thing is, I never worry that Shana talks about me behind my back. If she had something to say, she'd say it to my face. And Shana would never invite me out just to be nice. Shana repels “nice” like water repels oil. She's the antithesis of nice. She's
I glance back at her car. She stares at me from the front seat, one eyebrow cocked. Like a dare.
“I'm sorry,” I finish lamely.
“Whatever.” Madison picks up her lemonade, shaking the ice at the bottom of the glass. The best friend charm glints on her wrist.
“The next time you have a sleepoverÂ .Â .Â .” I start, but Madison snorts and gives me a look that's pure venom.
“Sorry,” I say again. I set my lemonade glass on the porch railing and start down the steps.
“Casey,” Madison calls. I stop at the edge of her lawn and glance over my shoulder.
Madison stares at Shana's Buick. For a split second, I see things like she does: the rusted car that could break down at any moment, Shana drumming her hands against the steering wheel. Julie lighting a joint in the backseat.
Madison shifts her eyes back to me. I wind the backpack strap around my fingers, suddenly uncomfortable. I think of Rachel's puffy face and bloodshot eyes and have to clench my shoulders to keep from visibly cringing. I can't imagine what Madison sees when she looks at me. Only that I don't belong on her perfect lawn or in her perfect life. Not anymore.
Madison just shakes her head. “Be safe,” she mutters.
I MET SHANA TWO DAYS AFTER SCREWING UP MY
knee. I was slumped in a wheelchair in my hospital room. Alone. A thick cast covered my leg from ankle to mid-thigh, making it stick straight out in front of me.
blared from the TV mounted on my wall. Madison said she was going to call so we could watch it together, like we always did. But the show had started twenty minutes ago, and she had never called. Something squeaked outside my door. I glanced up and saw Shana watching from the hall.
Everyone at my school knew Shana. They said she had sex with our geometry teacher freshman year. She could get you weed and fake IDs. She skipped more classes than she attended. I'd heard her mom was a nurse at the hospital, but it was the first time I'd actually seen Shana here.
She sat outside my door in a wheelchair she obviously didn't need, her blue-tipped hair framing a pale, pointed face.
“Want one?” She held out a carton of cigarettes.
“We're in a hospital,” I said.
“Oh. Right.” She slid a thin black cigarette out of the pack and placed it between her lips. “Christ, what are you watching?”
“Something crappy.” I only said it because I was pissed at Madison, and
was her favorite show. But Shana smiled.
“Complete crap,” she said. “This show is the crap that crap craps out.”
I laughed. It was the first time I'd laughed all day. “I guess,” I said. “It's not like I have anything better to do.”
“Bullshit,” she said, shaking her head. “Follow me.”
She wheeled away without another word, chair squeaking. You know that story about the guy who plays his flute and all the kids follow him out of the city? That's how I felt. Like if I didn't follow Shana, everything would change. Or nothing would.
I wheeled after her, down the hall and out the back door, to a grassy stretch next to the dumpsters. I expected her to pull out a joint and offer me a hit.
Instead, she rolled to the edge of a hill. She glanced over her shoulder at me and wiggled her eyebrows.
“Look,” she said. “No hands.”
She launched herself down, lifting her arms high above her head. The wind distorted her scream, turning it feral. It blew her hair back in a rippling sheet of blue and blond. And then she was rattling down the hill. Her laughter bubbled above her, hanging in the air long after she disappeared.
I followed her to the edge, my heart pounding. I wanted everything she hadâthe hair, the laugh, the scream that sounded half wild. I launched myself over the side of the hill with a single push. A scream ripped from my throat and it sounded almost, but not quite, like hers.
My wheelchair rattled beneath me, threatening to fall apart. My stomach plunged and the wind made my eyes water. Adrenaline charged through my body, but then it was over, and I was rolling to a stop next to Shana. A wide smile cut across my face.
, I thought.
Shana looked back at me, eyes glinting. “Tell me you didn't love that,” she said.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
I hurry away from Madison's house, trying to ignore the whispers that erupt behind me as soon as I'm out of earshot. This will be all over school on Monday. Not that it matters. Rehab did a pretty good job of destroying my reputation already.
I pull open the door to Shana's rusty Buick.
“Hey, slut,” Shana says, winking at me. Platinum blond hair frames her face, but now the tips are dyed bright pink instead of blue. Thick eyeliner circles her eyes. I can't help smiling as I slide into her car. It doesn't really matter what Madison and the rest of my old soccer friends think about me. Shana makes them look like little kids.
“Bitch,” I say, and Shana's lips curl into an amused smirk. They're slathered with pink lipstick the same shade as her hair.
“Rehab made you feisty,” she says, wrinkling her nose at me.
I brush an empty Funyuns bag off the passenger seat and pull the door shut. Madison and the rest of my old friends watch from her porch. I turn away from them, heat climbing up my neck.
“Let's go,” I say. “They're staring.”
.” Shana's voice is always a shock the first few times you hear it. It's deep and gravellyâthe voice of a forty-year-old smoker, not a high school girl. She's talked her way into bars and clubs all across Philly. Which is insane, since she's a tiny pixie of a human being. Underneath all the makeup, she looks like she's thirteen years old.
“Don't you realize how hot we are?” Shana says. I roll my eyes, but her words loosen something in my chest. It's the way she says
. The way she thinks I'm more like her than I am like Madison.
She pulls away from the curb, blowing Madison a kiss as we roll past her house. She says, “I don't think it's an exaggeration to say we could get the entire state of Pennsylvania to bow down and worship us.”
I twist around to face the back. “Hey, guys!”
“Stop. Too much energy.” Julie yawns. She's stretched across the backseat, a bare foot propped against Aya's leg. Her bushy mane of hair falls past her hips. Only one eye peeks out beneath the crazy curls.
“Sorry!” I grin, tapping my fists against the back of my seat. All the nerves and anxiety I felt walking up the stairs to Madison's porch have disappeared. I feel relaxed for the first time since leaving Mountainside. No one is judging me here.
“So,” I say. “Where are we going?”
“Jesus, do you want an itinerary?” Shana rearranges her loose, gauzy tunic so the neckline falls over her shoulder. I can see her black bra through the fabric. “Does it matter?”
“No. It's pie.” I shift in my seat. If my parents find out I ditched Madison's sleepover, I'll be grounded for the rest of my life, but I push that out of my mind.
“We rescued you from suburban hell,” Aya adds. She squints at Julie's foot, a nail polish wand clutched in her manicured fingers. Three toenails are already fluorescent pink. “Aren't you excited to see us?”
Instead of answering, I crawl halfway into the backseat and plant a messy kiss on Aya's cheek. “Mwuah!”
“Hey!” Aya giggles, and shoves the wand back into the polish, screwing the cap shut. “Watch theâOh my God, what did you do to your hair?”
I touch the side of my head, and nerves start flickering through my stomach again. Shana jerks around to look at me, and the entire car swerves. I start to push my hair down over the buzzed side, but she grabs my arm.
“Don't be shy.” Her fingernails cut into my wrist. “Let's see.”
“It's not a big deal,” I say. But I brush my hair back behind my ear. Wind leaks in from the cracked window and tickles my skull. Shana cackles and drops my hand.
“You look completely deranged,” she says. She pulls out of Madison's neighborhood and hits the gas. I jerk forward, catching myself a second before I slam into the dashboard.
“Is that a good thing?” My voice sounds needy, which I hate. Shana has this way of looking at you when you do something lame. Like she's trying to solve a math problem. Like you don't quite add up. I glance at her, preparing myself for The Look. But she grins.
“Are you kidding? It's
.” She squints at me. “Why? Didn't those boring little soccer girls like it?”
“I think they were confused by it.”
Shana throws her head back and laughs.
“Of course they were,” she says. She wraps a pink strand of hair around her finger. “Fuck 'em. You look like one of us now.”
I grin and push my hair to one side to better show off my buzz. Shana nods her approval.
“Completely deranged,” she says again. This time it sounds like a good thing. Like something to aspire to.
“If I rub it, can I make a wish?” Julie asks. Aya snorts.
“That's not the first time she's said that today,” Aya adds. Julie smacks her on the shoulder.
“Why are you painting her toes in the car?” I ask, shifting my attention back to them.
“I thought we might need road-trip activities.” Aya purses her perfectly lined cherry-red lips. I stare at her mouth, jealous. I can't wear lipstick without smearing it everywhere. I blame my parents. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup until I was sixteen.
Aya wrinkles her nose at Julie's foot. “On second thought, the pink makes your skin look green.”
“I think it's rad,” Julie says, wiggling her toes.
Shana's car skids to a stop at a red light, and my head slams against my headrest.
“Oops. Sorry,” Shana says with mock sincerity. When I first started hanging with Shana, I used to bitch whenever she went over the speed limit or rolled through stop signs. But that just made her drive like more of a maniac.
Shana grabs my backpack and pulls it onto her lap. “What did you pack for the sleepover?”
I cringe, thinking of my strawberry pj's. “Nothing,” I say, reaching for my bag. The light turns green and Shana's car jerks forward.
“No, let me see.” She steers with one hand and yanks my backpack open with the other. She pulls out my pajamas and smirks. “These are
I want to die. I snatch my backpack from Shana's lap, but she holds the pajamas out of my reach. She grins, wickedly, and unrolls her window.
My stomach drops. “What are you doing?” I hiss.
“Liberating you,” she says. She thrusts my pj's out the window, her fingers clenched tightly around the cotton shorts and tank top. They flap in the wind like strawberry-print flags.
“Shana, don't,” I say.
“Casey! Maybe Madison and those other girls
their adorable matching sleepwear, but you're nothing like them.” Shana shakes her head, like she sees something in me that I don't. “You are oversize band T-shirts. You're black thongs and men's boxers.”
Her words stir something inside me. It's like she's describing a completely different world from the one I grew up in. Her world is exotic and daring and sexy. It's seductive.
Shana glances at me, her eyebrow cocked. “Do you really want them back?” she asks. I roll my lower lip between my teeth. I glance at the pink pajamas, then back at Shana.
“Do it,” I say. Shana grins and lets go.
The pink cotton shorts and tank top whip away from the Buick, narrowly missing the windshield of a white minivan before fluttering to the pavement. I watch them grow smaller, and it's like a weight has been lifted.
“You're psychotic,” I mutter. But I'm smiling.
“Face it, you're going to lead an incredibly exciting and dangerous life.” She winks at me. “Whether you want to or not.”
. It makes me think of discovering secret clubs in the city and partying with dangerous people and dating older men.
But then Rachel's bloated, vacant face pops into my mind. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to force the image away. There has to be a way to live an exciting life without winding up like her.
I look around for a distraction and my eyes fall on the book wedged beneath Julie's thigh. I grab it from her and flip through the pages.
“This is in French,” I say. Julie nods.
“Yeah,” she says in her slow, even drawl. “It is.”
“But you don't speak French,” I point out.
Julie purses her lips, tapping a finger against her chin. The black onyx ring she always wears glitters at me. “The meaning of the book transcends language,” she says.
“I don't get it either,” Aya says. She pulls a tiny silver compact from her purse and checks to make sure her chignon is still perfect. She adjusts the silky scarf tied around her head so the bow is right below her left ear. “She's been weird ever since her brother brought her this weed from Colorado.”
“Hey,” Julie says, frowning. “I was weird
Aya rolls her eyes. Neon blue liner wings away from the corners of her lids, the lines so perfect they look like art. Aya has a beauty channel on YouTube. She only has ten thousand followers now, but we all know she'd be famous if she put a little effort into it.
“Why are we talking about you two? You're boring.” Shana swerves in front of a white SUV. A horn blares. “I want to hear
about rehab,” she says, flipping off the SUV over her shoulder. “Did you screw any of the nurses?”
“The nurses were all female,” I say. Shana blinks.
“So did you screw any of the nurses?” she asks again. Julie groans and flops back against the window.
“I heard lots of girls experiment in rehab,” Shana says.
“You're thinking of college,” Aya interrupts, examining her cuticles. “You can't start sleeping with girls until you spend thousands of dollars getting an art history degree. Everyone knows that.”
“What if I don't go to college?”
“Then you'll just have to stick with boys,” I say, grateful for the subject change. Shana pretends to pout. She shifts gears and merges onto Oldtown Highway. I watch the speedometer needle shoot from fifty-five to seventy.
“So. What's new?” I ask before Shana can start asking about rehab again. “I hear Sarah Johnson's a Christian now?”
Julie snickers. “That girl is
. I told her I was an atheist, and she said she didn't know there was an atheist church in town.”
“Hand me my bag,” Shana says, waving at the slouchy leather hobo bag on the floor next to my feet. I thrust it toward her and she pulls out a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel's. She takes a swig, then hands it to me.
“I'm okay, actually,” I say, waving the bottle away. The needle on the speedometer's hovering around eighty now, but I resist the urge to buckle my seat belt, knowing that Shana would notice.
Shana groans. “
tell me you're not going to be all boring now?”