Authors: Danielle Vega
“She just got back,” Aya says. “Give her a break.”
“What?” Shana rolls her eyes. “She went for
, not alcohol.”
I feel a twinge of irritation. It's like she thinks I got back from summer camp, not
. “You know, I saw some really messed up shit in there.”
haven't seen messed up shit?” Shana catches Aya's eye in the rearview mirror and tosses the whiskey bottle over her shoulder.
“Watch the road,” I mutter. We're at eighty-five now.
“I guess it's kind of adorable,” Shana continues, smirking. “Little suburban princess got all freaked by the scary addicts.” She glances at me, and her voice hardens. “Do you, like, not want to hang with us anymore?” Her jaw tightens. “You didn't even call when you got home.”
She actually looks hurt. Guilt oozes into my chest.
“You know how my parents are,” I say. Shana doesn't look at me, and my stomach clenches. “Of course I still want to be your friend. Jesus.”
Shana cocks an eyebrow. “Prove it.”
Aya nudges me with the whiskey bottle. I slide it from her fingers and take a small sip. Even so, it strings my throat and makes my eyes water. Shana rolls her eyes.
“Or you could take a big girl drink,” she challenges.
“I haven't had a drink in, like, twelve weeks.” Still, I take a larger swig.
“Good girl,” Shana purrs.
“Casey's trying to find some balance.” Julie pinches her fingers together like she's mediating. “We should support her.”
Aya snort-laughs into her hand. “What are youâlike, a guru?” she asks. Julie cracks a smile.
“Call me Mother Julie. I'll teach you the secrets of life.”
“Casey doesn't need balance,” Shana cuts in. “She needs her parents to loosen the fuck up.” She looks at me for confirmation. “You know you didn't need rehab. Your parents flipped for absolutely no reason.”
“I know,” I mutter. My parents are the only people on the planet who think oxycodone is some big scary drug. It was bullshit when they sent me away to rehab like a common junkie and not just a regular teenage girl having a little fun.
Then again, nail polish remover isn't a big scary drug, either, and look what it did to Rachel.
I try to come up with something else to say. Something that'll convince Shana we can still rule all of Pennsylvania, even if I'm sober. “It was just creepy as hell in there,” I finally say. “I don't want to end up like those girls.”
Oldtown Highway narrows to two lanes. We call this stretch the Noose because the road curves in a big loop before merging with I-276, the interstate that'll take us the rest of the way to New York City. The highway here is narrow enough that you have to concentrate to stay in your lane. At least once a year some kid takes the Noose too fast and drives into oncoming traffic.
Shana slows as we curve around and roll up behind a rusted Jeep Cherokee going twenty miles below the speed limit. She swears under her breath and hits the turn signal, swerving into the oncoming lane to pass.
“Careful,” I mutter.
“What do you mean
?” Shana glances sideways at me. “Afraid I'm going to crash?”
We shoot past the Cherokee, but she doesn't pull back into her lane. Anxiety prickles up my spine. “A little,” I admit.
Shana gets a strange glint in her eye. “Maybe I
,” she says. “Maybe I should crash this car and let it burn.” She presses down on the gas.
“Ha, ha.” I say. Shana presses down harder.
“You think I'm joking?” she asks. The speedometer needle crawls past eighty-five. The Buick starts to tremble.
“Dude, I don't think your car's supposed to go this fast,” Julie says. “It's going to fall apart.”
“You're fine, aren't you, boy?” Shana purrs, petting the dashboard. She presses harder, and the needle climbs to ninety. My fingers itch to reach for my seat belt, but I just curl them around my seat.
“Maybe if we hit one hundred, we'll fly.” She smiles this little-kid smile that takes up half her face. I don't know anyone else who smiles like Shana does: it's pure, giddy joy. Like she doesn't care who sees her. The speedometer needle ticks up to ninety-five.
Headlights appear in the distance. They flicker through the trees, white and haunting.
“ShanaÂ .Â .Â .” Aya says from the backseat.
“I see them,” she says. A red pickup appears at the far end of the curved road, driving toward us.
“Maybe we should stop,” I say. Shana winks at me.
“We're playing chicken,” she says.
I dig my fingers into the car seat, trying not to notice how quickly the trees race past my window. I'm starting to feel sick.
“Get back in your lane,” I say. I think of the videos they made us watch in Driver's Ed. One of them was about how seat belts could be the only thing to keep you alive in a head-on collision. I pull my seat belt over my lap and click it into place, no longer worried about seeming cool. Shana snickers.
Aya leans forward and wraps her fingers around my headrest. “This isn't funny,” she says.
Shana throws her head back and hoots with laughter.
Julie giggles and starts humming the
theme song. The rearview mirror rattles like it might fall off, and I notice a crack jutting across Shana's windshield. If we crash into that pickup, the Buick will crumple around us like paper. I glance at the dashboard, wondering if this piece of crap car even has air bags.
The truck races closer. It flashes its brights at us, but Shana makes no move to swerve back into her lane. Pressure builds in my ears. They feel like they're about to pop.
“Shana!” I say again. We can't be more than a mile from the truck. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, like they taught us in rehab. Half a mile.
A scream rises in my throat. The truck flashes its brights again. Shana leans into her horn. I squeeze my eyes shut, and the long, low sound echoes in my head.
I brace myself for the impact. The Buick jerks to the right. It rocks beneath me and bounces over something, then slows to a stop. Adrenaline races through my veins, and my heart beats jackrabbit fast. I ease my eyes open.
We're pulled over on the side of the road. The pickup speeds away, quickly becoming a tiny red dot. Pine trees tower over us.
Shana stares at me, her face bright and excited. “
me you didn't love that,” she says. Aya swears, and Julie laughs so hard she starts to hiccup.
“Bitch,” I say, collapsing against my seat. Fear pricks my skin like needles and my breath comes in ragged, sharp-edged bursts. I thought we were going to die.
But we didn't.
My blood burns hot as I turn those words over in my head. I didn't die. In fact, I feel more alive than I have in three months.
Shana smiles at me again, the same giddy, little-kid smile as before.
“I hate you,” I say, smacking her on the shoulder. I try to glare, but I can't help it. Shana's smile is addictive. Everything about her is addictive. The corner of my mouth twitches.
“I told you,” she says. “You're going to lead an exciting, dangerous life. Just stick with me.”
JULIE WIGGLES THE CAR DOOR HANDLE. “SHANA,
does this thing even lock?”
We're parked on a narrow street behind a Food & Fun supermarket. A brick apartment building towers over us. Someone on the third floor has hung a Tommy Hilfiger beach towel in front of his window instead of curtains.
“Don't bother.” Shana leans against the Buick, lighting a cigarette. “It doesn't start unless you know how to turn the screwdriver in the ignition
right. And I'm taking that secret to the grave.”
I shake my head and stare down at the map on my phone. Shana still hasn't told me where we're going, but according to my phone we're somewhere in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the Cog Factory, this under-18 club she loves. I don't get the secrecy. I've been to the Cog with her at least a dozen times.
Shana winks at me and blows cigarette smoke at my face. I hold my breath to keep from coughing. She smokes black clove cigarettes that smell like pine needles and vanilla.
“Miss it?” she asks. I quit during rehab, but I never
liked cigarettes. I always imagined smoke clinging to my lungs and turning them black. Shana loves smoking. She says it feels like breathing fire.
I heave an exaggerated sigh and wave the smoke away. “Don't tempt me,” I say.
Shana laughs and takes another puff. Her skintight leather pants cling to her hips, and her black bra is perfectly visible beneath her gauzy white tunic.
I glance down at my own outfit. Aya thought my look was too boring to go with my new hair, so she let me borrow these long, silvery necklaces. I layered dozens of them over my loose T-shirt, grateful that I at least wore cute jeans tonight. Aya smudged dark makeup around my eyes and ran this goopy cream through my hair, making it fall to the side of my head in tousled waves. She said it makes my buzzed hair look fierce.
Shana takes the cigarette out of her mouth, and her lipstick leaves bright pink kiss marks behind. She cocks an eyebrow, considering me.
“What's up with the turtle?” she asks, touching the Myrtle pendant still dangling from my neck. I wrap my hand around it.
“It's like a good luck charm,” I say. I have a sudden vision of Shana ripping the pendant from my neck and tossing it down the gutter, so I tuck it beneath my T-shirt. “Better?”
Shana shrugs. “It makes your shirt bunch,” she says, pushing herself off the side of the car. “This way.”
We walk past a park and turn down a narrow alley lined with squat brick buildings that look abandoned. A cat weaves around dumpsters and mews at us before scurrying beneath a chain-link fence. The wind blows a grocery bag across the street.
“Brooklyn's kind of gross.” Aya sidesteps an abandoned Styrofoam container filled with leftover Chinese food.
,” Julie says.
I see the Cog Factory sitting at the end of the street, and any doubt I had about where we're headed vanishes. A dirt-encrusted garage door makes up the front wall. During the day the place looks abandoned, but the door's open now, revealing a club the size of a walk-in closet. Layers of band posters, neon flyers, and stickers paper the walls, along with a few dozen rusted gears that could probably give you tetanus if you were dumb enough to touch them.
I feel music vibrating through the street as we walk closer, but it takes a second before I recognize the song. I freeze in the middle of the sidewalk, dread oozing through my body.
band,” I say. Shana whirls around.
“Surprise!” she says, throwing her hands over her head.
“No.” I shake my head. This isn't happening. The last time I saw Sam was the day he dumped me. He had an eyelash stuck to his cheek, and all I could think about was how I wasn't allowed to brush the eyelash away.
There are lots of things you can't do when you aren't someone's girlfriend anymore. Brush away an eyelash, for instance. And you absolutely, one-hundred-percent
show up at his band's show unannounced. Crazy, desperate ex-girlfriends do that. Not me.
“Shana, we have to go,” I say. I take a step backward. “
. Before anyone can tell him we were here.”
A smile cuts across her face. “Don't be silly.”
“You don't understand.” I clutch my stomach, suddenly feeling like I've been punched in the gut. I never should have left Madison's. I'm being punished for being a crappy friend and disobeying my parents. “We've only been broken up for, like, three months. This
I yank my necklace out from under my T-shirt and rub my thumb over Myrtle's sterling silver shell. Shana stares at the turtle. She makes her math-problem face. Shit.
“Sweetie.” She speaks slowly, like she's talking to a toddler. She takes my hand and squeezes. “It's okay. You were invited.”
“Invited?” I shake my head, certain I heard her wrong. “By who?”
“Who do you think?” Shana says. “I told Sam you were coming home this weekend, and he mentioned that you should drop by tonight.”
“He said that?” The nerves in my stomach unclench. I study Shana's face. “Really?”
really.” She holds her hand over her heart, Pledge of Allegiance style. I swallow. My throat feels strangely dry.
“If this is some kind of trickÂ .Â .Â .” I say.
“You're so paranoid.” Shana rolls her eyes. “Now come on. If you don't show he's going to think you're blowing him off.”
I move forward, hesitant. Shana treats the truth like it's Play-Doh, stretching it into new and ridiculous shapes until you have no idea what she started with. But what could she gain by lying about this? She doesn't even like Sam's band. Maybe he really did invite me. Maybe he wants to see me.
“Wait, I need your arm,” Aya mumbles, grabbing my elbow. She's balanced on spiky, electric blue heels. Julie stares at them as she teeters past.
“How do you stand in those?” she asks.
“Practice,” Aya says. Her blue leopard-print dress rustles next to my leg. Tulle makes the skirt stand straight out, like a prom dress from the fifties. Aya describes the look as eighties diva meets extra from the set of
I stare, wishing I'd at least worn a skirt. Or is it better that I didn't dress up? I tug at my T-shirt, ignoring the nerves prickling through my fingers. I look casual this way. Like it's just another Friday night.
I'm still dissecting my outfit when we stop outside the club. Teenagers crowd inside and spill onto the sidewalk. I huddle behind them and rise to my tiptoes, squinting into the dark for Sam.
Shana stops next to me. “You aren't really planning on standing out here,” she says. “Like a commoner?”
“The place is packed,” I say. Shana rolls her eyes.
“Did rehab scramble your brain? I've got moves.”
I wrinkle my nose. “Did you really just say
Shana slips her hand into mine and squeezes. “Ready?”
Anxiety flutters through my chest. “Ready for what?”
“Take a deep breath.” Shana drops her cigarette and stubs it out with the toe of her slouchy, eighties-style boot. Then, taking a comically large breath, she tunnels through the crowd, tugging me along behind her.
Julie calls for us to wait up, but Shana doesn't slow down. Elbows and hips jab into us, and a few people swear as we push farther into the club.
“Excuse us,” Shana says. We shoulder past a group of boys in baseball caps. “She has epilepsy!” she shouts, giggling.
“I don't!” I call back, but we're already too far away for them to hear me. Shana squeezes my hand until the bones in my fingers pinch together. She doesn't stop moving until we've positioned ourselves directly in front of the stage.
“There,” she says. A tall girl wearing harem pants mutters “
” under her breath and sneers at us.
I barely even hear her. Samâ
Samâstands a yard away, his shoulders arched over his bass guitar. Waves of nerves crash over me. A sweaty strand of hair falls over his face and
oh my God
I forgot how freaking gorgeous he is. He's rolled his sleeves up, so I can see his muscles tense as he plays, and his T-shirt sticks to the small of his back, revealing a narrow line of skin above the waistband of his jeans. My cheeks burn.
His fingers fly over the strings, his eyes narrowed in concentration. I've never loved anything the way Sam loves music. It used to make me jealous actually. I'd try out all these weird hobbies, like ceramics or poetry or drama. I figured I'd eventually find something that consumed me the way guitar consumed Sam. It took me a long time to realize that kind of passion doesn't happen for everyone. Sam had a gift. A tiny worry line appears on his forehead. My fingers itch to reach forward and smooth it out.
“I'm bar bound,” Shana whisper-shouts into my ear. I motion for her to get me a can of soda, and she nods and tunnels through the crowd again.
Sam dances across the stage, head bobbing along with the heavy indie rock his band, Feelings Are Enough, is known for. He rocks his shoulder forward and taps his foot, and I suddenly realize I've been staring for three minutes straight. And I'm just
here. Everyone else is dancing, but I'm rooted to the spot. Like a zombie.
I force myself to move in time with the beat, pumping my arms over my head and hopping in place. Sweaty people crowd around me, crooning along with lyrics I know by heart. The music melts my nerves. I sing with them, shaking my shoulders and wiggling my hips.
I used to come to Sam's shows every weekend and stand in the front row, listening to the other girls whisper about how
the bassist was.
That's my boyfriend
, I'd think. People say that teenagers never realize how lucky they are. But with Sam, I knew. Meeting him was like winning the lottery. My chest pinches. I close my eyes.
I first saw Sam lying in the grass outside a house party, his feet propped against a riding lawn mower. Long brown hair curled around his ears and hung over his tanned forehead. I'd never made the first move with a guy before, but with Sam I couldn't help it. My feet started toward him on their own, leaving me no choice in the matter.
“Do you work here?” I asked. Sam pushed himself onto one elbow and considered me through squinted eyes. He seemed to be studying my face, almost like he expected there to be a quiz later.
“I'm the safe-ride-home guy,” he said.
“I thought only youth groups and sororities did that.” I kicked the mower's tires. “You're giving people rides home on
Sam leapt to his feet like he was spring-loaded. “
is a 1972 John Deere 112 with a Kohler engine and an electric deck lift,” he said, touching the mower lovingly. “I call her Matilda.”
I watched his fingers caress the steering wheel. Heat crept into my cheeks. “Of course,” I said, clearing my throat. “I drive a golf cart named Kevin.”
Sam cocked an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
Sam laughed. “Yeah, well, I can't afford a real car yet.” He scratched the back of his head. His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “Besides, I think I can convince drunk people it's a roller-coaster ride.”
He had me convinced. I ran my hand over the mower's leather seat, imagining a late-night ride around the neighborhood, my arms wrapped around Sam's waist. Maybe an unscheduled stop near a secluded grove of trees.
“Does Matilda handle well?” I asked.
Sam leaned in closer. His arm brushed against my shoulder. “Like a dream,” he said. My throat suddenly felt thick.
A chord cuts through the heavy rock, pulling me back to the present. My eyes fly open and I realize that Sam's only a few feet away. Watching me.
Every nerve in my body buzzes. His gaze feels like a physical thing. I shift in place, suddenly uncomfortable. He keeps his eyes trained on me for a fraction of a second longer, then turns away without so much as a nod or a smile.
Shana reappears, holding two cans of Coke.
“Refreshments,” she says, passing me a soda. I tear my eyes away from Sam and take the can from her, my cheeks burning. I want the floor to open up and swallow me whole. The corner of my eye twitches. I blink, telling myself I will notâ
Shana produces the bottle of Jack and tips some into my drink. I don't even bother protesting.
“Just a little,” I mutter. Shana lifts an eyebrow.
“You okay?” she asks. I glance at Sam, then back to Shana.
“He won't even look at me,” I say. “I thought you said he wanted me to come tonight.”
Shana takes a swig of Jack. She swallows, making a face.
“He did,” she says, shoving the bottle back into her bag. “He told me to bring you. Just give him some time.”
“I've been in rehab for two and a half months,” I say. I can't help the bitterness that creeps into my voice. “How much time does he need?”
“A couple hours?” Shana leans toward me and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “He's seeing you again for the first time in months. He probably feels just as weird about it as you do.”
Hope flickers through my chest. “You think?”
“Casey Myrtle, you are hot and amazing and every guy in this room is probably already in love with you.” Shana hiccups and raises a hand to her mouth, giggling. “If stupid Sam can't see that, you're too good for him.”
I roll my lower lip between my teeth.
Or he's too good for me
, I think. Before I can say another word, Aya and Julie push through the crowd to join us.
she didn't even get us a soda,” Julie says, scowling at Shana. She already looks disheveled. Sweat smudges the eyeliner Aya drew on her in the car, and her curls stick out in funny angles. Something drips from her black tank top.