Tough Beauty - Uncharted

Tough Beauty

By Megan Cummins

Greta’s always got my back at parties, even last week when I cried about the tuba player in band who doesn’t love me back. She put a breath strip in my mouth before I walked home so my mom wouldn’t find out I was drinking. That’s the difference between us: I’m more likely to fall apart, but Greta’s tough. Sometimes I try to act like Greta but it’s always clear I’m copying, like this one time mid-party when Greta took someone’s macaw parrot from its cage and let it sit on her shoulder. Later I coaxed the same parrot onto my arm, but it bit me right next to my eye.

I took it too far that night with the parrot. Earlier, Greta had caught me diluting her drink with club soda—I was worried she was getting drunk too fast—and shame burned in my cheeks as I watched her expression darken. After that I took shots, which I hate doing, just to prove I was fun.

What I like more than the parties is just being alone with Greta, taking breaks from acting boy crazy and drinking. Greta and I like to spend time together reading, or Greta will lay down her tarot cards and we’ll decide what our lives are going to look like. This is what it used to be like all the time—the two of us together, not really needing anyone else—but then sophomore year came around and Greta started hanging out with popular kids. I’ve been trying to fit in ever since.

Sometimes I think I’d be happier hanging out with kids from band, but Greta’s my best friend. I can’t just leave her behind, even if the other day, when we were reading the tarot, she said she felt more special than our town, Hollis Hills, would let her be.

For a minute the silence between us was sad because she didn’t say I was special, too. I like Hollis Hills. I like taking lonely walks around town. But the sadness passed because we still have two years left of high school, two years that seem endless. It’s summer, and school’s out, and next year we’re going to be upperclassmen. We have coveted jobs at the swim club—me in the Snack Shack, Greta as a lifeguard.

One day at work Greta points out this new guy while we’re both on our break, sharing an armchair and a can of Coke. He’s been around the pool this past week, painting the buildings. He looks older, and everyone knows it’s hot to be older.

“His name’s Ian,” Greta says. “He just moved back in with his mom last spring. She’s my neighbor.”

“Have you talked to him?” I ask.

“Barely,” she says.

Ian’s wearing cargo shorts and a holey, paint-stained T-shirt. His muscles flex as he paints the eaves, and his eyes are hidden behind sunglasses. He must feel my gaze because he turns and catches it. I look away but not quickly enough. When I look back, he’s on his way over. My heart pounds because I think he’s coming over for me, but when he’s standing in front of us, he stares at Greta.

He holds out his hand for me to shake, and I shake it even though it’s crusty with dried paint. He keeps his eyes on Greta, though. He says, “I saw you outside your house this morning.”

“Oh,” Greta says. “I didn’t see you.”

The feeling in the air has changed now that he’s here. I avert my eyes to give him and Greta some privacy, unsure of whether or not I should just slink away without saying anything.

The pool spreads gelatinously before us, mostly full of bobbing children. One boy splashes another—a big wave of water right in the face—and Greta blows her whistle. “No horseplay!” she yells.

“No horseplay?” Ian says. “That’s a shame.”

The pool is closed the next day because of thunderstorms, and I’m grateful for the break, not from work but from drinking. Every night after the pool closes we drink, and I’m starting to feel ill all the time from trying to keep up with Greta.

During a pause in the rain, Greta comes to pick me up, and she takes me back to her house. The sky looks like the skin of a watermelon: green swirls of angry clouds. Once we’re there, Greta showers. I tell her she could get struck by lightning in there, but she says that’s an urban myth.

It’s early afternoon but the gloom outside darkens Greta’s bedroom; shadows accumulate in the corners, cottony and comforting. I curl up on her bed and listen to the shower compete with the rain. We feel at home in each other’s houses. Our moms are gone a lot, so no matter whose house we’re at, we have the run of the place.

Ingrid (Greta’s mom) and Mary-Anne (mine) are both single moms with jobs and Yahoo! Singles profiles. Ingrid’s an attorney, and my mom works as a secretary and is taking night classes to become a paralegal. Sometimes I think the best my mom could do is work for Greta’s mom. When it comes to men, though, they both married duds. Greta and I hardly ever see our dads.

We used to just do homework or lounge in Greta’s room after school, but then Greta got her license and an ancient Honda Civic, and we started going places, just driving and talking. I’m a good listener. Greta says she doesn’t know a better one.

Ian’s been bobbing up in my mind since yesterday. He won’t stay out of it, and trying not to think of him is like trying to keep a plastic bottle submerged in water. It’s not that I’m interested in him; it’s just that I wonder why I can’t captivate attention the way Greta can.

I grab a book from Greta’s nightstand in a feeble attempt to think of something else. When Greta comes in with a towel wrapped around her head she snaps on the overhead light. “You’ll wear out your eyes reading in the dark,” she says.

Greta sits cross-legged on the floor and rubs lotion on her face, her palms pulling her cheeks taut. She has red hair the color of wet bricks, and one crooked incisor that makes her smile lively. Her cutoffs are always just a little bit shorter than mine. As she brushes her hair, she says, “Can I tell you a secret?”

I put the book down to let her know I’m listening.

“Well,” she says, “Ian and I are sort of seeing each other.”

“What? You told me yesterday you hadn’t even met him.”

Greta gives me a look like I’m slow to catch on. “We’re neighbors. We see each other all the time. I just didn’t want it to get out at the pool, you know?”

The book falls shut in my hands. My thoughts dart around, all in turmoil.

Greta sees it, the hurt in my expression. “Don’t get all wounded,” she says.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Because I didn’t want you to mother me.” Greta’s voice is like a sharpened pencil. She scowls even as she dabs lavender eye shadow into the creases of her eyelids.

I must look stricken because Greta softens. “There’s nothing for you to worry about, E.”

“Totally,” I say, trying to recover. “But he’s so old.”

“He’s twenty-one. It’s not that weird.”

I let the idea of it sink in. I’m dying to know more, but I don’t know how to pick up the threads of the conversation.

“Do you want to lay out the cards?” Greta says finally. She traps strands of her hair between her fingers and twists them into a braid. In just a few minutes, she’ll have gathered a crown of hair around her head, and she’ll look ready for anything. It takes me an hour at least to interrogate my hair with a straightener until it confesses. I put in so much effort with so little payoff. I hope Greta interprets something good in the cards.

“Yes,” I say. “Outside? The cards are always better when you read them outside.”

Greta shrugs. She doesn’t believe me, that I get better results with the cards outside, but we gather ourselves and leave her bedroom. Her porch is a long slab of concrete with a high, second-story pavilion held up by wooden pillars. It’s raining all around us, but the porch is dry. The raindrops, big as eyes, give us privacy. We sit cross-legged. I get the chills when I lay out the cards in a Celtic cross and flip over the first one, as though there’s real magic in them. Greta won’t touch the cards, because she wants the reading to be about my energy. Sometimes I try to read the cards for Greta, but I need Learning the Tarot open in my lap and it takes too long. Greta gets bored.

“Oh,” Greta says, pointing to a card. “The chariot. This is an interesting one to get for the center card.”

She’s about to explain when Ian steps out onto his porch. Greta’s attention snags and the cards turn lifeless on the cement. I go where her attention is and watch Ian as he snaps a lighter in the breeze. Of course he smokes, and even though it’s a cliché, I’m sort of into it.

“He looks so melancholy,” Greta says, and I can tell she loves it. She stands and calls his name. A smile lights his face immediately. He runs through the garden with just a few springs and then he soars, he’s actually in the air for a moment, and his boots land hard on the porch. He looks proud, as though he’s just cleared a row of burning cars on a motorcycle. He envelops Greta in a soggy hug.

“Stop, stop!” She folds her arms over her chest, where he’s gotten her tank top wet, but her voice glimmers with laughter.

“Elizabeth!” he says, and he hugs me, too. I’m surprised by the genuine affection in his voice. How can he be happy to see me when I’ve only met him once?

The tarot cards are forgotten. Ian settles into one of Greta’s cushioned rocking chairs.

“So, where did you move here from?” I ask.

“I was in Chicago for a few years.”

“How could you stand to leave Chicago for Hollis Hills?” Greta asks. “This place stunts your growth.”

“Hollis Hills isn’t that bad,” I say.

I regret saying it, because Greta rolls her eyes.

“I’m serious,” she says. “They put something in the water that kills brain cells.”

“Chicago kind of chewed me up and spit me out,” Ian says. “Cities are hard.”

Greta nods sympathetically. She seems to like him, and I usually agree with Greta about other people. Ian’s been nothing but nice to me, but I still feel outcast, and the feeling pits me against him, and I don’t know why.

“How did Chicago chew you up?” I ask.

“It’s complicated.” Ian waves a hand as though to clear away the conversation.

I think about asking for more information—complicated how?—but he and Greta have sunk into a private conversation, like they did at work yesterday. I go inside for Cokes and chips just so I don’t feel so useless.

The next day at the pool, it’s like the storm never happened. The sun tractor beams all the puddles from the glass tables and lounge chairs. I wipe away the last of the moisture from the Snack Shack counter, then set out the ketchup and napkin dispensers, the salt and pepper, the cup full of straws. Ian’s back again, and he starts painting the Snack Shack. I retreat from the order window, wash the floor, and clean the ice cream cooler. I change the oil in the deep fryer. Ian starts singing “Ruby Tuesday” and I know he’s singing to get my attention. At first, I roll my eyes, but there’s something about it, something sweet, and I feel like he knows to give attention when someone wants it. I think the word is charisma. Greta has it. Ingrid has it, smiling and showing some leg in her Yahoo! Singles photo. Sometimes I glimpse it in myself, but as soon as I see it, it dies, like a glow bug caught in a jar.

Ian sticks his head through the order window. “You seem blue,” he says.

The truth is I’ve been agonizing over what Greta said, about how I mother her. I feel the urge to renew my efforts to ignore my worries and be more like her.

“I’m fine,” I say.

He smiles at me. He’s being kind. I think I should reciprocate, so I take out an ice cream bar and hand it to him.

The day becomes so hot and humid that most people choose to stay inside in the air conditioning. A fan in the Snack Shack bears oscillating witness to my boredom. Ian moves his paint buckets and ladder from the Snack Shack to the clubhouse, though he takes frequent breaks to linger under Greta’s lifeguard stand or to dare me to say something vulgar over the PA system. I pick up the handset once, ready to curse, but I chicken out. As the day goes on, I start to look forward to his visits to my window. It’s not personal, I tell myself. It’s just that getting attention is nice.

Everyone complains and sweats, but this is Michigan in the summer: the rain yesterday brought a chilly gloom, only to be swiped away by heat today. I love how curious the weather is, how desperate for attention it seems.

Finally, the pool closes. The gates swing shut, the assistant manager roars off in her car, and the party starts. Every night, after hours, we party. Someone puts music over the PA. I’m handed my first drink and I gulp it down. Everyone else is kissing, swimming, laughing. We all have a sun-worn look: hair washed in pool water, late nights, work in the morning, red sunburns. Those of us who drink often have had so many bad hangovers already that the miserable mornings combine to form one big everlasting summer hangover.

Just thinking of alcohol tonight, of the gelatinous liquid sliding down my throat, turns my stomach. I’ve just had a little too much lately, have spent one too many nights this summer clutching the toilet, with the fan on and the water running, trying to throw up quietly so my mom won’t hear. It would be so nice to take a long, lonely walk home, with the chirps of crickets leaping all around me, the sound of a car passing and the brief, second-long thrill I get thinking the car might stop, and I’ll meet a stranger who might change my life. And then the relief I feel when the car passes. Night is full of rushes like this, rushes that renew you—but I only feel these rushes when I’m alone. I’m too nervous around other people to feel anything but anxiety.

I see Greta across the pool. She’s on her lifeguard stand. Ian’s standing beneath her, holding one of her feet in his hand. People are eyeing them. It’s a gossip-worthy sight, but platonic enough to pass as Greta being just plain cool.

I want to stand near her but there’s no room for me when she’s with Ian. That much is clear even though it’s only been a few days since I’ve met him. I have nowhere else to go, though. My body is awkward and gangly and takes up too much space. I realize I’m clutching my left forearm with my right hand, as though the police are questioning me. How is it that no one else here looks like me—no one else’s brain is signaling their bodies to be terrified by all the ways things could go wrong, all the ways you could embarrass yourself for good, the final embarrassment that makes you a social Typhoid Mary.

I inch closer to Greta, just to make it look like I’m headed somewhere. I wish I had my phone to look at but it’s in my locker. I’ve already damaged it twice from pool water, and my mom has said no more repairs.

My toe catches the leg of a pool lounger and I stumble forward; my knees and palms meet concrete and I feel the burn of tiny rocks getting pushed into my skin. Laughter seeps into the air behind me. I look over my shoulder and see some of Greta’s friends—Wendy and Ryan—just sitting there smirking, hiding their laughter behind their hands.

“Had too much to drink?” Ryan asks.

I’ve had hardly anything, but I immediately react the way I think he wants me to: I throw my hair back and try to look loose-limbed. I say, “I am so wasted.”

Their smirks deepen.

“He was kidding,” Wendy says. “We know you’re not drunk.”

Shame takes my breath away. My eyes dart to where Greta is sitting. I see she’s watching. She’ll say something to help me, to chide her friends.

But then she looks away.

My heart fades in my chest, like the moon when it’s out during the day. It’s there, but barely visible.

I pull myself up. My knees and palms sting. Little bits of cement cling to my skin. I dust off slowly and move away. I hear Ryan whisper that I’m a poser.

The stinging I feel is from tears now. Greta still isn’t looking at me so I walk past her. It’s too late, but I look for something to drink anyway. Poser or not, what else is there for me to do?

I swallow one shot, then another. After the third, the world tilts a little and my mind is wrapped in a cozy blanket. I sit alone on the far side of the pool and watch Ian; he blurs in and out of focus. He’s surrounded by Greta and her friends, gesturing as he speaks, occasionally making the group erupt in laughter.

He’s the one who doesn’t belong here, so why am I the one sitting by myself?

I look sullenly at the sky. I’m sitting beneath my precinct of stars but the constellations make no picture for me, not without Greta to point out the mythical figures and tell me their stories.

I look for more to drink. The drinks find their way to me like bugs to light. I’m the light. Or maybe the bug. I might be getting drunk faster because I’m alone. When you’re with someone, talking, you drink more slowly, you expel some alcohol through your breath. Not so with me right now.

Cheers catch my attention. Greta climbs up the ladder to the diving board. When she’s up there, she curtsies, then dives in—a smooth, long-limbed, graceful dive. People clap. Whatever, I think. I could do that.

I could do more than that.

Greta glides through the pool underwater and emerges on the shallow end. She hoists herself up, and by the time she turns my way I’m already halfway up the ladder to the high dive. The ground beneath me falls away, and sometimes it feels like I’m climbing sideways rather than up. My fingers sweat, and with each rung I climb I get less giddy, my idea seems less good, but I have no choice but to keep going: first rule of the diving boards is once you’re up, you can’t climb back down.

I’m up. I walk the plank. Below, necks crane, people murmur, and I put my feet in fourth position, shoot up on one toe, and do a pirouette with my arms over my hand.

I almost keep my balance at the end, but I tumble off the board. My forehead catches the rough edge and all the way down I spin my arms to try to keep from landing flat on my back in the water.

I hit the water hard; a muscle in my shoulder pulls loose from its tendon. Dazed, drunk, my head hurt and spinning, I float beneath the surface for a few moments, like I’m just a ghost, or a memory, and the weightlessness makes me feel at ease.

Later I’ll think that I didn’t need saving; it’s just that I’d had a shock and didn’t quite realize, at first, I needed to kick, needed to breathe.

The surface of the water broke again, and I felt the rush of a moving current. Two hands grabbed me beneath my arms and I’m suddenly above the surface, gasping for air. When I’ve wiped my eyes clear I’m looking right at Greta, her dark wet hair clinging to her face. Her eyes blaze—angry, annoyed. I see no trace of concern. For the first time, I look around at the people surrounding the pool. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I swear no one looked worried.

She grabs my arm, pulls me kicking to the ladder.

When I’m out, she wraps a towel around me, leads me to a lounge chair, and pushes me gently into it. She gets close to my face. “Get your shit together,” she hisses.

I wake up the next morning and in my sleepy haze, I have no idea where I am. There’s something crunchy in my mouth, and when I spit frantically into my palm I see it’s a leaf. I blink and the world straightens. I’m outside, lying in the lounge chair where Greta left me last night. My head throbs; I bring my fingers to the tender, blood-filled bruise on my forehead. I pull myself up, my shoulder aches, too, and I go about examining my body for all the drunken injuries I sustained. My raw knees and palms, my aching ankle.

It’s early. I’ve never been here this early and the sunlight lands like netting on top of the water. A soft breeze sends calm ripples through the leaves, across the empty, shade-soaked concrete pool deck.

I try to summon memories of last night, but they’re hazy. I remember the fall, I remember Greta wrapping me up in a towel, but not much else.

A thought trips into my mind: my mother. I search for my phone, but it’s not on me, so I limp to the locker room and dig for it. I find it, finally. Its battery is about to die.

            Are you coming home soon, love?

            A few minutes later:

            Never mind, Greta called and said your phone died. Have fun my love.

My heart sinks. I picture my mom in bed with the covers pulled over her legs, papers and textbooks fanned around her, plus emails from work chiming in, and then I don’t respond, and she has to figure out what to do, if anything, about her daughter, drunk and loose in the night.

Good morning, Mom! I text now, so she knows I’m not dead.

I leave the pool wearing my bathing suit, with the towel wrapped around my waist, my flip-flops slapping the parking lot pavement wetly. I take them off—they’re annoying. Before I’ve even decided where I’m going, I head in the direction of Greta’s house, which is a short walk from here. The wooded road that leads away from the pool opens up to the wider country road that, if followed, brings you to town. Greta lives in a neighborhood on the town’s outskirts. Insects engage in small skirmishes midair. Birds swoop into the fields, making big parabolas. The road is dirt but I don’t put my shoes back on. If I bend over I feel like I might fall over and never be able to get up.

With Greta’s house in sight, my heart starts to pound. Her words have slipped back into my memory: Get your shit together.

I’m walking up to her door when Ingrid steps outside, her head bowed to her phone. When she sees me, she jumps. She’s dressed for work, carrying her car keys. She says, “Elizabeth, sweetie, are you all right?”

“Yes,” I say, brushing hair over my face to cover the bruise. “I had to work really early, to clean the pool. Is Greta here?”

Ingrid inspects me. She looks at her watch, at the car, at Greta’s window. She sighs.

“She’s asleep inside, hon.”

Just like my mom, she’s always too busy, always wishing she had more time, always a little too ready to believe we’re telling the truth. She inches toward her car.

“Have a good one!” I say, trying to sound cheerful, but my hangover is like a wood chipper and I spit the words out in an unused, choppy voice. Ingrid waves then drives away.

Just as I’m about to slide open the glass door that’s always unlocked, Greta emerges from the house next door. Ian’s house. She walks slowly and cranes her neck toward the road, maybe checking for her mom’s car. Strands of her hair are airborne in the wind. When she sees me, she stops. She looks me up and down. Her face is serious, but then she yawns, and the yawn collapses into laughter.

“You look like shit,” she says.

“Speak for yourself,” I say, but it’s not true, she looks terrific, a little tired maybe, but beautiful all the same.

“Come inside,” she says, “we’ll have breakfast.”

I follow Greta inside, and as I walk behind her I keep opening my mouth to say something, then closing it, then opening it again. I must look like a fish, my mouth pumping water. Before I’ve always been relieved that Greta forgets the ways she was annoyed with me, but this morning I don’t feel ready to forget what she’s said. She insults me and then applies the remedy of her attention, but small deposits of ridicule have been gathering in me ever since Greta started changing. She left me last night, and I was passed out and hurt, and now she’s pretending it didn’t happen. That’s what hurts the most—that she carries no memory of me from day to day. Of course she remembers me, but it’s not the same thing as mattering to someone.

She shakes cereal into a bowl in her kitchen. She asks what I want to eat, but I tell her I’m not hungry, so she shrugs and leans her elbows on the counter, shoveling big spoonfuls of cereal into her mouth.

So she’s not going to talk first.

It takes all of my self-control not to start off by apologizing to her. I do owe her a thank you, though, so I say, “Thank you for helping me last night. Helping me out of the pool.”

Greta rolls her eyes. “That was torture to watch, E. What were you thinking?”

I try to keep an even face, but there’s a scowl inside of me, deepening.

“I was drunk,” I say timidly.

“You were only drunk because Wendy and Ryan accused you of not being drunk.”

“Not true,” I say, my voice heating up. “I was drunk because I didn’t have anything else to do. You were ignoring me, and I’m not close with anyone else.”

“You don’t know them well because you never talk to them,” Greta says. “They wonder why you’re just standing around looking sullen.”

“They’re just not very nice,” I say.

Greta drops her spoon into her bowl. “You’re not my charge, you know. You have to learn to fend for yourself without doing stupid shit. You could’ve gone home if you were bored. If you don’t like the people at the pool.”

“They’re not really the problem, though,” I say. “It’s Ian. Ian who’s everywhere, who’s changing things. He’s so annoying—and so old. There’s just something gross about him.”

I don’t mean it—not all of it, anyway. But I know it will get Greta’s attention.

“Spare me,” Greta says. Milk runs down her chin and she wipes it away angrily. “I don’t need boy advice from you.”

“He’s not a boy,” I mutter. “Old man is more like it.”

“Shut up,” Greta says. “Just stop talking.”

“Look,” I say, frightened a little by how angry Greta is—finding myself, as I always find myself, desperate for her not to stray too far from being happy with me. “I just want to help you. I don’t want you to get hurt by this guy—he’s clearly taking advantage of you. It’s barely not illegal, what he’s doing to you.”

Greta turns cold. She dumps her cereal bowl in the sink, where it lands with a spin and a clatter. “You don’t know anything about what we’re doing together because I haven’t told you, and am not ever going to. You don’t own me. You’re not my husband.”

“First I’m your mother, now I’m your husband!” I say. “You’re crazy. You just don’t give a shit about me and you don’t want to be my friend, but you’re trying to find a way to make it my fault.”

The self-pity that has always been so much a part of my everyday life swirls like a double helix inside of me, but this time, I can’t let Greta see it. What she said—she’s trying to hurt me, I realize. Maybe she doesn’t realize it. Maybe she’ll regret it. But if I back down, she’ll only want to ridicule me more. 

“I saved your life last night,” she says. “Jesus Christ, what more do you want from me?”

“Uh, for you to not be the worst friend ever,” I say snidely.

“You’ve been annoying the shit out of me. It’s just not worth it anymore.”

“I’m trying to help you.”

“Well, you’re not.” She throws her hair up into a messy bun and grabs her keys from the counter. “I’m going for a drive. Be gone when I get back.”

The door slams shut behind her. The house makes all the noises of a quiet house, the ticking and creaking and sighing of the foundation. I feel wronged, but also guilty, like I messed up big time, too. I look around desperately, like I could find the pieces of our friendship on the floor and put them back together, but there’s nothing but the usual mess of Greta’s house, the piles of mail and loose shoes and her lifeguard suit hanging to dry over the back of the chair.

Panic settles in: it’s really over between us. My best friend doesn’t want me anymore.

I find it strange that I don’t feel empty inside. Instead, I feel so energized I might burst. I want to do something that will leave a mark on Greta, but all I can think of is cleaning up the kitchen so she’ll feel bad that I had to clean up after her—but she probably wouldn’t even notice. I think about leaving her a note to tell her how much she’ll regret taking me for granted, but I can already see the photos of the note pinging from phone to phone at the pool. The rumors that will spread about my attempt to make her miss me. 

There’s nothing left for me to do but leave. I put on one of her shirts and a pair of her gym shorts. I leave her towel, the one she wrapped me in, in the laundry room for Ingrid to wash. Cool morning air meets me when I open the door. I start down the road to walk the three miles home, feeling like I’m about to embark on the second phase of my life, the sad phase, the one without Greta, when a voice calls after me.

It’s Ian, jogging down the road.

He looks completely jovial. A cigarette sits between his fingers. He’s wearing a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up; a tattoo of a sword pierces his bicep.

“You had a rough night last night!” There’s laughter in his voice, but it’s not cruel laughter. He nudges my hurt shoulder. I grimace. “Oh, shit!” he says. “Sorry!”

“Yeah,” I say. “Last night was a real doozy.”

As friendly as he’s being, I’m ashamed of the way I look—bruised and dirty—and the fight with Greta is still echoing in my ears. I excuse myself, say I have to head home to clean up, when Ian pulls his car keys from his pocket.

“Let me drive you,” he says. “You look like you could use the break.”

I almost turn him down, but he’s already walking back toward where his car is parked on the street. I’m aching all over. My leg is bruised from where it hit the water. So I walk with him and climb in.

Greta’s somewhere not too far away, tearing up the roads, her aviator sunglasses perched on her nose. The windows rolled down and the music up. Ian doesn’t know anything about the fight, about what Greta said about me or what I said about him. Soon he’ll know, but for now, he doesn’t. He’s casually flipping through the radio stations, frowning at the offerings, finally reaching under my seat for a book of CDs. His arm brushes my leg, his face is near my knee, and when he straightens, I catch his forearm. I kiss him.

I’m smarter than this, better than this, less petty than this: but I want it this way anyway.

And the thing is: Ian doesn’t pull away. I know it’s nothing special about me—he’s confirming what I thought all along, that he’ll hook up with anyone. The fact that he kisses me back feeds my desire—not for him, but for some glimpse of attention, of affection. I know that later I’ll feel sad about Greta, and I won’t feel good that I was right about Ian, but right now I just feel like I want something, anything, and I don’t know what it is so I’ll just try everything.

Ian pulls me into his lap.

“This is an E. I haven’t seen before,” he says, his voice breathy, and I think he’s stupid for saying it, but I kiss him again.

I know that, soon, Greta will return home, and she’ll see us. Word will get out. Maybe I’ll be praised for what I’m doing, maybe I’ll be as cool as Greta, or maybe I’ll be ridiculed. A slut, a backstabber. It could really go either way.

As I kiss Ian, Greta’s tarot cards fan open in my mind. The chariot card—she said it was an interesting one to get for the center card, but she never told me why. I want to know badly all of a sudden. Maybe, if I’d asked her sooner, I would’ve known what to do today—I would know what it was I wanted.

Ian’s hand crawls up my shirt.

I could look the chariot card up online, but the answer from the Internet wouldn’t be as good as if Greta told me herself.

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