Authors: Raziel Reid
He didn’t wait for me to answer. He just shook his shaggy head and pulled out his phone from his gym bag. He knew I was watching him, and he held his phone so hard I thought it might break. He looked up at me like he was about to say something, but changed his mind. I wanted him to say something. Even if he just called me a fag, especially if he called me a fag. I wanted him to say it with spit flicking off his bottom lip straight onto my tongue.
“I like your shorts,” I said as he put his phone back. “Are they new?”
“Stop looking at my shorts,” he said, slamming the locker door shut.
“All I said was that I like them,” I shrugged. “Then again, maybe I just like what’s in them.”
“What’s your fucking problem?” he asked.
“That I’m not fucking you.”
He took a step forward like he was about to knock me out, and I bit my lip because I wanted him to. I wanted him to touch me, even if it meant that my nose would get more deformed. All the best celebrities have had at least three nose jobs. But he stopped himself, brushing past me.
“You never learn,” he said. “Do you?”
At lunch, I went to Mr Dawson’s class because Angela was still ditching and I wanted some company. Sometimes he seemed even lonelier than me. I could see it in his eyes. Mr Dawson was always looking at me. I’d be sitting at my desk, working on an essay or something, and I’d suddenly feel like I was trapped behind a screen only to look up and find Mr Dawson fogging it.
When I caught him staring, I was never sure if he was really looking at me. His eyes sort of glazed over, and he seemed a million miles away. When he snapped back to reality, he’d meet my eye and sometimes seem surprised to see me staring back at him. He usually gave me a little smile or wink, but sometimes he did neither. He was lost in the fog.
As we ate lunch, I told him all about how I was going to move to Hollywood and be a prostitute.
“I thought you want to be a movie star?” Mr Dawson asked.
“Same thing,” I shrugged.
“Well, you definitely have star quality,” he said, and then blushed from the underlying implication. I could tell he wanted to reach for his wallet to see if he could afford me.
“I do have star quality,” I told him, spreading my legs. “And everyone’s already always talking shit about me, so I might as well get paid for it.”
Mr Dawson laughed so hard that he choked on his coffee, spilling some on his tie. “I should run this under water before the stain sets,” he said, getting up from his desk and walking to the door, but he stopped as Luke walked passed in the hall. “Oh, Mr Morris,” Mr Dawson called out to him, “I’m still waiting for your
Romeo and Juliet
essay. You’re failing without it. I expect you in my classroom at the end of the day.”
“Can’t today, Mr D,” Luke said, not even glancing at me as I stared at him from behind Mr Dawson. “I’m going to the shooting range with my dad.”
“Then have it on my desk by tomorrow. If you can find time for target practice, you can find time to write a thousand words.” Luke nodded automatically, like Mr Dawson was some bitch telling him not to come inside her because she isn’t on the pill. “You could always ask Jude here for some tutoring,” Mr Dawson told Luke, who froze. I watched as his ears turned red and then stared at his crotch, waiting for a jiz stain to appear. “Not only did he hand his essay in on time, but he got an A.”
“Yeah, Luke,” I smiled at him from behind Mr Dawson. “I wouldn’t mind helping you. For a price.”
He looked right at me, but his expression was blank. The colour of his ears went back to normal and his cheeks didn’t blush, so I felt like a total failure. I was losing my charm. I thought he might say something, but he quickly looked away, like he was afraid if I got into his head he’d never be able to get me out.
I didn’t tell Mr Dawson that I had a crush on Luke, but he knew. Everyone did. Luke, Madison, and I were our school’s top celebrity love triangle. We were always trending, and
“You know, Jude,” Mr Dawson said once Luke had walked off, his voice suddenly softer as he faced me from the doorway, “there’s something I hope you always remember, especially when you’re trying to make it big in Tinseltown.”
“Always get the money first?”
“That it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not.”
By the time I left school at the end of the day, the sun was setting because I’d had to stay late for detention. I always got detention. I was touching up my makeup during biology and, one by one, everyone turned to stare. I think it made Mr Hudgens jealous. But, really, no one gives a fuck about how their Big Mac is digested.
As I walked home, I tried to turn the bungalows into Beverly Hills mansions, but I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, they remained houses with chipped and peeling paint, buried in snow. It really scared me that I couldn’t even dream it. But then there was a voice in my head. I heard it so clearly that I stopped in the middle of the street and looked behind me to see if anyone was there. But it was just the voice, like a prompter reminding me of my line from off stage.
I walked through the parking lot of a Blockbuster that had closed down months before, but no new business had opened. Someone had spray-painted the sign so that it read
I didn’t want it to go. I had walked through that parking lot so many times and seen the empty shelves and the fluorescent lights in the vacant store, which for some reason were always on, that I just got used to the emptiness. I started to get scared of what might take its place. The longer the Blockbuster contained only movie star ghosts, the more I started to believe that the emptiness was meant to last forever.
From the parking lot I ran the rest of the way home, not stopping until I walked through the front door of my house. I knew what I had to do, and I wasn’t going to wait because, if I did, eventually the emptiness wouldn’t scare me anymore. It would just be there like it always had been, like it was all there ever was.
Ray was working, Keefer was at a friend’s house, and my mom was in bed sleeping. I stood outside her bedroom door listening for the sounds of her snores, and when I was sure she was asleep, I slowly crept in. The door made noise, but didn’t wake her. Her shoes were bulging out of the closet and there were red lipstick notes on the mirror above her dresser for her hair appointment, Keefer’s parent/teacher meeting, a list of groceries. She always wrote things on the mirror because she “never forgot to look in it.”
She was lying with her head on her arm, her long dark hair spilling over the side of the bed. She kept all her cash on top of her dresser tied with hair elastics, next to her bottles of nail polish and a framed picture of me and Keef.
I only had to take a couple steps into the bedroom to be able to reach the dresser. I kept my eyes on her face for any sign of consciousness as I glided across the floor. She didn’t budge. I picked up a stack of bills, rolled the elastic off, and pocketed a quarter of them.
When I got back down to the basement, I counted. I had twenty-seven bucks, all in singles. I put them in a shoebox and hid it under my bed. I was shaking like I was going through withdrawal, like it had been five minutes since someone had taken my picture. I was nervous and excited because for the first time, I had hope. It seemed possible, like I could do it. Maybe not with only twenty-seven bucks, but it was a start. Besides, I had read in a Madonna biography that she moved to New York with thirty-five dollars in her pocket and somehow, things worked out for her. And keep in mind, she had hairy armpits back then. If that doesn’t prove that anything is possible, I don’t know what does.
I couldn’t wait to not have to try to imagine that the defunct Blockbuster was the Paramount Pictures lot or that the “2 for 1” sign in the discount store on Main Street was a billboard on Rodeo Drive. I wouldn’t have to pretend that every time I sat in the park with Abel, I was having a lunch at The Ivy. I wouldn’t have to squint my eyes to fool myself into seeing the Hollywood sign on top of a mountain of snow. If I were there, it would be real. I would be real.
just don’t get it,” Angela said, flipping through a magazine and puffing on a cigarette as she sat on her parents’ bed with a box of their sex toys and porn. “Which one of them is into this stuff?”
“I’m guessing the pink wig is for your father,” I said, striking a pose in front of the full-length mirror in Mrs Adams’ wedding dress. “He is balding.”
“But what about what’s in this magazine?” She held up a picture of three cartoon animals going at it. “Which one of them is a furry?”
“Okay, call me a slut, but I would totally do that fox.”
“You’re a creep.”
I took another shot of the Sourpuss we stole from the liquor cabinet.
“Oh come on, like you wouldn’t.”
“Like you would,” she said, flicking her cigarette ash over the side of the bed. “You’re the one who’s still a virgin.”
“I can’t help it. I’m far too in love with myself to love anyone else.”
“That’s as transparent as saying you’re celibate by choice.”
“Well, I’m saving myself for Zac Efron.”
“Get over it, Jude. He’s not gay. That picture was a hoax.”
“He wouldn’t be able to resist me.”
“You’re going to die alone and miserable if you keep going after straight guys.”
“Says the girl who will have screwed and screwed over every guy in this town by graduation.”
“Do you think that’s why they went away for the weekend? So they could put on costumes and do it like animals?”
“Probably. I just can’t believe your mom wore white.”
“I’m not even drunk,” Angela sighed, taking another shot. “And I need to be drunk for this.”
“Well, I suddenly have an urge to roll on the floor and sing, ‘Like A Virgin,’ so I would say I’m … perfectly sober.”
“There might be enough vodka in the vodka bottle filled with water to catch a buzz.”
“I’ll go get it,” I said, winking. “I know you’re dying to try The Shake-Spear.”
I stepped into the hallway just as Abel’s girlfriend Carly was coming out of the bathroom.
“Nice dress,” she said, but her voice was flat, so I couldn’t tell how she meant it. I had never seen her in person before, only the picture Abel kept in his wallet. She had light brown hair, but I bet she put “blonde” on her driver’s license. Her skin was smooth, and she had light freckles on her nose. Her liquid eyeliner was smudged in the corners, like she and Abel had just been doing it. I looked at her and ached.
Abel came out of his room shirtless, and that’s when I realized that Carly was wearing his shirt, a blue button-up that was too big for her. She wasn’t wearing pants. Her legs were smooth and chalk white. We were all pasty; it had been a long winter. The sun only shone on TV.
“Your mother has great taste, Abel,” I said, doing a spin. “You like?”
“Sure,” he shrugged, scratching his bare chest, which was turning as red as his face. I couldn’t stop staring at his fuzzy blond treasure trail.
“Who wants to play Russian roulette?” Angela asked, stumbling out of her parents’ bedroom. The pink wig was crooked on her head, covering one of her eyes. She dangled a black gun from her middle finger.
“Where the hell’d you find that?” Abel asked.
“Underneath Mom and Dad’s mattress,” she shrugged. “They hide things there too.”
“You should’ve left it,” Abel said.
“Relax, loser. It’s not even loaded.”
“Why do your parents have a gun?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Carly said.
“Yours don’t?” Abel asked.
“See,” Angela said, putting the gun in her mouth.
“Angela, cut the shit!”
She pulled the trigger and it clicked. Then she started giving the barrel fellatio. Carly rolled her eyes and looked away while I cheered her on.
“Give it to me, you ho-bag,” Abel demanded, grabbing it out of her mouth. He aimed it at her head and pulled the trigger—it clicked. Then, he spun around like he was 007 and fired. I screamed as the gun went off, shattering the window at the end of the hall. It was so fast that, at first, I didn’t know what happened. But then Abel dropped the gun, and Carly jumped back like she was scared it might go off again. She stepped on the train of Mrs Adams’s wedding dress, which ripped.
“Jesus Christ,” Abel gasped. “I thought you said it wasn’t loaded!”
“Well, not entirely,” Angela laughed. “How else are we going to play Russian roulette?”
I stared at the gun, then slowly picked it up. It was heavier than I thought. I guess I expected it to be as light as a toy because that’s what it looked like. It was so cold, I was surprised Angela’s lips hadn’t gotten stuck around it.
Angela put on some music and Abel yelled for her to turn it down, but she couldn’t hear over the bass. He started putting cardboard on the broken window and Carly swept up the shattered glass. I put the gun to my temple.