The bell rings, as I stumble into the classroom. Every seat is taken, except for the one in the back row next to Tanya. I wind my way over to the seat and slump down. I start rummaging around in my backpack, pulling out pens, pencils, and loose papers, trying to place them in some sort of order onto my desk. When I look up I catch Tanya’s eyes on me. She twirls a string of electric green bubble gum around her finger, while simultaneously chewing it. Her eyes are rimmed with dark eyeliner, her lashes thick with mascara. Her dull apathetic grey optics scrutinize me. “You look different,” Tanya states.
I quickly avert my eyes back onto my paper. “Yeah, I grew.” I mumble, color rushing into my face.
“No, that’s not it,” she says, flatly. She blows a bubble that pops with a loud smack and she tilts her head slightly to the right to observe me from a different angle. I keep my eyes trained toward the board where Mr. Martin is explaining something about fractions, but his words blur into one another becoming garbled. I can feel Tanya’s gaze scorching my skin, every pore burns. When the bell rings signaling the end of class, Tanya blocks my path. “You should sit with us at lunch today, we eat under the willow,” she says, unsmiling. She spins on the heel of her black boot and strides away without waiting for me to reply, her motions swift and graceful.
* * *
“Oh god, oh god!” Abigail runs over to me, her long arms flailing wildly in the air, “I think I failed my math test! I don’t know what to do! My mom is going to kill me, oh god oh god!” Abigail paces back and forth in front of me, digging her fingers into her hair. A few strands have fallen out of her usual perfect bun.
“That’s terrible Abi,” I say, my voice lukewarm, “Listen, I am going to sit with Tanya today, so I will see you tomorrow?”
Abigail whips her head around to look at me, disbelief shimmering in her hazel eyes. “What did you say?”
“I am eating with Tanya.”
Abigail blinks a few times, furrowing her brow, “Why would you do that?”
“Because, she invited me,” I say lightly, trying to keep my veneer of calm. Abigail opens and closes her mouth a few times, fruitlessly searching for words that won’t come to her. I curve my lips into a smile, “Well, see you later, I guess,” I chirp.
“I guess,” Abigail mumbles, staring after me, as I head toward the willow.
* * *
Tanya’s group lies spiraled underneath the beautiful willow tree, whose leaves sparkle with trapped sunlight. My pace slows as I near them, suddenly unsure. They seem almost surreal with their worn bulky leather coats they wear despite the heat.
“Who is that?” a boy asks, staring at me from beneath his mess of black hair. Tanya looks up and motions for me to come sit down. “This is Scar,” she says. Then she points to the rest of the group, “Eva.” Eva smiles, her freckles dance on her cheeks like golden flecks of fairy dust. She brushes her unevenly cut chestnut hair out her face with a long pale finger so she can see me better. “Zack.” A corpulent boy, with green hair and small blue eyes lifts a casual hand. “Archer and Aireonna.” Archer doesn’t bother looking up, busy playing with Aireonna’s bra strap. Aireonna however lifts an elegant eyebrow, “Scar?” she asks, disgust clear in her voice.
“Scarlet,” I say hastily, “Its Scarlet.”
Aireonna snorts and turns back to whisper something into Archer’s ear, clearly dismissing me as not worth her time. “And Tristan.” Tanya ends, pointing to a tall, brawny boy. Tristan smiles, a large gap-toothed grin. “I remember you.” I nod, we had been going to school together since Elementary. His grin widens, “You’re really pretty.”
I feel heat crawl up my neck, “thanks,” I stutter, flustered.
“So we are all going to go to this party at 11:00,” Tanya says, “You in?”
“Yeah, sure, cool,” I say.
“Cool,” Tristan repeats. Aireonna cackles and Eva gives me an apologetic glance.
* * *
My alarm clock glows 10:30 and I quickly slip out of bed. The silence is palpable; I can almost hear my parents soft breathing from across the wall. I get ready in candle light; pulling on the low-cut black dress, I kept hidden underneath my bed, and paint my eyelids in dark magenta. It is surprising how easy it is to climb out of my window and step onto the grass below unnoticed. A crescent moon shines above the quiet houses bathing their white-picket fences and pruned bushes in an eerie glow. The night feels alive and ominous, a shiver run down my spine. I strain my ears and hear the low rumble of a nearing vehicle.
Tristan’s rundown jeep rolls down the driveway, another fleeting shadow passing through the streetlights. The back door opens and I jump inside, squishing myself between Tanya and Aireonna. “Watch out,” Aireonna snaps, as I accidently step on her foot. Tanya’s pale grey eyes are vivified; flaming with anticipation. She fidgets in her seat, constantly crossing and uncrossing her long legs and playing with strand of her freshly raven black hair.
“I like your dress,” Eva whispers in my ear, from the behind me.
“I like your’s too,” I whisper back. She blushes a little, flattening her dress that is little more than a formless green sag of fabric with holes for her arms. Even in the darkness, I can see the ugly discolorations that stain her pale alabaster skin.
“Yeah, both of you are unbelievably beautiful,” Aireonna laughs, her emerald green eyes glittering dangerously. The scent of her cheap lavender perfume is pervasive and I have to fight the urge to breathe through my mouth.
* * *
Archer parks the car in front of an old apartment building. The walls vibrate from the sound of muted music. Aireonna keeps on pulling her dress down as we walk up the steps leading to the apartment. We trudge in silence. I can feel Tanya’s breath, hot, against my neck. Tristan stops abruptly in front of a bland beige colored door engraved with the chipped gold number 116. “Welcome to the underworld,” Tristan drawls, his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight.
The door opens with definite creak, “My lady,” Tristan whispers, a stifled chuckle in his voice. I waver, my body tingling with mix excitement and fear. Aerionna lets out an exasperated sigh and jabs her skinny elbow at me to push her way inside. For a moment her red hair shimmers, before she is swallowed by the darkness. The others follow her, wordlessly. Tanya moves with her unearthly grace, while Archer and Zach slouch behind her. I am last.
The apartment is drenched in a deep indigo glow. Music thunders in my ears, a discord of noise that mutates into a line of shrill blaring tones. There are people from our school; juniors, seniors, and people I have never seen before; older people. Hot bodies rub against me and I realize with inclining panic that I am surrounded. Tanya is wrapped tightly around a stranger; their arms so entwined they seem to have become one swaying body. Aireonna bangs her head and jumps up and down oblivious to the tightening crowd. Archer pumps his fist to the music, his arm around a girl with bubblegum pink hair. Tristan and Zach lean against a wall nonchalantly puffing smoke. I search the crowd for Eva’s pale ethereal form; but there are too many people. I am drowning. The sea of pulsing bodies is endless. I grasp hold of Tanya’s arm, “Where is Eva?” She shrugs my hand off her arm with a disinterested ‘check the bathroom’.
The bathroom door stands open ajar and I hear a soft sobbing coming from inside. I step in. The pungent smell of sweat and vomit is almost unbearable. Eva’s body hangs draped over the toilet seat; her hair falls in greasy strands over her face. She raises her head when I come up, her eyes vacant bottomless pits. Dark trails of mascara run down her cheeks; black tears of infinite despair. Her body shakes as she clings to the rim of the toilet seat. Her baggy dress that is ripped on one side displays vivid purple and blue bruises.
Without a word, I grab hold of her, hang one of her fragile arms around my shoulder and hold her waist. I fight my way past the bodies; through the crowd; the giant black beast with gleaming teeth and thousands of rough, calloused hands that grab at us from all sides. I walk out supporting Eva. Away from the apartment, the music, and the monsters.
The air is cool and clean on our skin as we drag ourselves down the sidewalk. Eva’s weight is heavy on my knees. “Take, the bus.” Eva’s breath reeks of alcohol.
* * *
I knock on the door, no answer. “The key is under the mat,” Eva rasps. I bend quickly. Eva sways slightly, but manages to keep her balance. I jiggle the lock a few times and then the door swings open. Darkness. My hand searches for a light switch. It flickers a few times then stays on. A stained grey sofa stands in the middle of a small beige room. Empty Doritos bags, candy wrappers, dirty clothing, and cigarette buds litter the floor. On the table dirty plates, and leftover food piles.
I heave Eva onto the sofa. “Where is are your parents?” I ask softly.
“Somewhere over the rainbow,” Eva chuckles dryly, “somewhere over the rainbow.” Her head lolls to one side and her eyes fall shut. The hum of the refrigerator and Eva’s slow ragged breaths fill the air. I slump down into the worn couch and watch the hypnotic tick of the clock for a while, fighting the sleep pressing against my eyes.
When I open my eyes again the clock shows 4:00 in the morning. I shift to get up, but Eva’s skinny fingers clench my wrist. Her touch is ice cold. “No, wait!” she cries her voice laced with fear. Her pupils dilate and shadows play on her gaunt, skeletal face. “Don’t go!” she begs, her voice windchimes in a roaring storm. I take her hands in mine and promise her that I will stay the whole night.
* * *
The sun blazes white in a cloudless blue sky. “Hey Abigail,” I sigh as I slide into my usual place next her. Abigail doesn’t acknowledge me. She is in a heated rant about the B-plus Mr. Gibson gave her on her math test with Tara and Kate who are both nodding earnestly, their red ribboned ponytails bobbing up and down. I pull out my lunch that looks bland next to their colorful polka-dot lunch bags, filled with warmed pasta and gourmet salads. I nibble at my sandwich and listen to Abigail. When she finishes her tirade she turns to glare at me; her familiar kind brown eyes livid. I shuffle my feet, uncomfortable, but force myself to meet her eyes.
Her gaze softens a little, “You look terrible.” I nod. I borrowed Eva’s tie-dye shirt and worn out jeans and the make-up from last night still stains my face. She sighs and rolls her eyes. “Just, don’t ditch me again, Scarlet, or else you will be in some serious trouble,” she teases, pinching my side.
I catch sight of Tristan and Eva meandering toward the willow. Tristan nods at me and behind him Eva smiles meagerly and gives a tiny wave. Abigail follows my gaze, “You know you can sit with them, if you want.” I nod.