Today I will be sharing a short story I wrote recently as a response to a story I wrote in high school.
The original story was titled “Little Sister,” and followed a twelve-year-old narrator, Carly, who had a crush on her older brother’s best friend. I wrote “Little Sister” to help me process a bad situation I was in, which involved a classmate with a similar name to mine and a really unkind boy. The specifics of the real-world events aren’t that important anymore, but the story was significant to me as a writer. In “Little Sister,” our protagonist, Carly, does not get the happy ending she deserves. After Brian, the object of her affections, sexually assaults her at a house party, Carly runs out of the house and walks to the beach in the middle of the night. The story ends with Carly asleep in a lifeguard tower waiting for the lifeguard to come to her aid. That’s not exactly the redemption arc that an abused child needs, so I have been going back and giving my protagonists better endings, endings that empower the characters and provide at least a glimmer of hope.
In my writing practice, I have found it important to be open to doing things differently. Arbitrary rules such as, “I have to write in chronological order,” or “If it involves research, I can’t write it,” or “I can’t write unless I know the entire plot,” have done me no favors. For the response to my high school story, I decided I’d introduce a character who I came up with more recently, our spunky hero, Gee. In this story, titled “Half-Inch Halo,” I was trying to achieve a few different things (and I’m not sure if I quite hit the mark on all of them.) My main goal was to write a story that dealt with abuse but encompassed more of the survivor’s life than solely the impact of the abuse. I wanted to show that something terrible happening to Carly was not a death sentence, that she could still do regular kid things like running around in the hallways at school. This story does also deal with Carly’s self-harm habit, which is revealed towards the end. While it may seem strange to try to write an upbeat story about self-harm as a result of sexual abuse, there was a reason for this. I wanted to illustrate that it is not always easy to tell if someone is struggling with mental health or self-esteem issues.
I did use this story for an Advanced Fiction Workshop I’m taking as part of my minor in Creative Writing, and it garnered an odd reception. The overall reaction was that this story was inappropriately humorous, that I should either tone down the silliness, or I should come up with some other reason for Carly’s presence in the guidance counselor’s office. I decided to do neither of those things. This story is very near and dear to my heart, so I am excited to share it with you all.
Before you read, please note that this story deals heavily with themes of childhood sexual assault, self-injury, and victim-blaming.
Not that anyone’s ever asked me, but I think being ten was the worst year of my life. So far, at least. I just turned twelve, so I’m sure there’s still lots of time for things to get worse. I hate Nancy’s office even more than I hate Nancy. She keeps a bowl of hard candy on her desk that nobody’s allowed to touch. Since when is candy a decoration? Nancy says questions like that are “digressions,” but why would she have stupid stuff like a poster of a giraffe that says “Keep your chin up,” if I’m not supposed to notice them?
Nancy says that I think about the past too much, especially the bad stuff that’s happened in the past, and that it’s not really my fault that Brian isn’t allowed to come over anymore, and that it’s also not my fault that my brother hardly talks to me now, and that it’s also, also not my fault what Brian did at that party over the summer.
The worst thing about Nancy and her stupid “Support Sessions,” besides all the normal, boring adult things she cares about, like recycling and loafers, is that she sucks at asking questions. She never asks me questions about cool stuff that I notice like the fact that my brother uses the family computer to go on MySpace and then clears the cache, or the fact that I can recite every single line from Napoleon Dynamite and I know the dance from the talent show scene, or the fact that even though no one is allowed to touch Nancy’s hard candy, the supply has been steadily dwindling since I’ve been coming to these stupid sessions.
“Are you listening to me?” Nancy asks. It’s apparent that I am not.
“Yeah, sorry,” I mumble, pulling the sleeves of my hoodie over my hands.
“Aren’t you hot in that thing?” She asks me this almost every time she sees me.
“I like it. It’s comfy,” I say, my eyes downcast.
“What are you thinking about?” Nancy asks gently. “You look distracted.”
“I’m thinking about changing my name,” I say.
“Speak up,” Nancy encourages.
“I said, I want to change my name!” I repeat vigorously.
“But Carly is such a beautiful name,” Nancy says.
“But what if I don’t want to be beautiful?” I argue.
“Everyone wants to be beautiful.” If Nancy really thinks that, maybe she should try a little harder. She’s wearing an oatmeal colored sweater and a moss colored blouse.
Treading carefully, I ask her, “What about boys?”
“You’re not a boy,” Nancy insists. “We’re talking about you.”
“Two seconds ago we were talking about ‘everyone!’” I wave my arms in frustration and abruptly put them back in my lap when my floppy sleeves start to roll up. “I still don’t care about being beautiful! I want to look like a turnip!” I proclaim through puckered lips. When I let my face go back to normal, Nancy looks at me dejectedly, her eye bags a plaintive purple, her makeup all but gone stale. I work the fabric of the sleeves between my chapped fingers and Nancy marks something on her legal pad.
“Well, it sounds like underneath the silliness, you’ve got some big questions on your mind,” she says.
I tap the side of my head, like it’s a used car for sale. “Big head, big ideas,” I explain.
“Your head is perfectly normal sized. Carly, you’re so smart, you just need to focus. it sounds like you’re asking questions like, ‘Who am I? Where do I fit in?’ What do you think about those questions?”
I pop one of the hoodie strings into my mouth and chew, as though I’m seriously pondering Nancy’s dumb questions. The best I can muster is, “I dunno. All I said was that I wanted to change my name. It’s good to have options. If my name was Alexis, I could be Lexie. What am I supposed to do with Carly? Become Carl? Ew.”
Nancy blinks at me slowly through her bifocals, which are slightly askew on her stupid face. “Well… it’s good to keep one foot in the real world. Two on a good day! So, since Alexis is not your name, you can’t just go changing your name all willy-nilly. It would be anarchy!”
“Wait, what’s anarchy? Can that be my name?” The word sounds cool, way cooler than Carly, and it would yield numerous nicknames.
Nancy shuffles her papers roughly, her sweaty hands crinkling her notes. It’s pretty obvious that we’re not going to get anywhere today. “You’ll learn about anarchy next year when you take Civics. You certainly have a talent for derailing the conversation.”
“I’m going to practice my positive interpersonal skills and accept that as a compliment,” I say. “Can I go now?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” Nancy sighs. “I need time to make some notes, anyway.”
I scramble out of my seat, leaving Nancy’s office behind. I don’t even know what kinds of notes Nancy makes about me. I’ve only had a few S.S.’s with her, and she keeps saying weird stuff about how as I get to know her better, I’ll get to know myself better. I never wanted to get to know Nancy in the first place, and I don’t really like myself, so I don’t know what the point of all this is. I’m glad that I won’t have to sit in her flimsy arm chair and look at her stupid plastic plants for a while. Even her fake plants seem like they’re wilting. They’re probably dying of boredom!
I know if I go back into study hall, everyone’s going to stare at me. I also know that if I’m caught lollygagging in the hallway after a Support Session, I can weasel my way out of trouble. So, I decide I want to see if I can touch the top of the door jamb at the end of the hall. To accomplish this, I need to either grow past all of my four feet and five inches or get a running start. I back up, sizing up the door jamb, and I figure it’s somewhere between three and a zillion feet above my head. What can I say? I’m bad at math. But I am really good at making giant leaps. I jump up and down a couple of times and then fling myself down the hallway. My sneakers seem to cheer me on and my whole being is chanting, “I can do this! I can do this!” Just as I prepare for liftoff, a tremendous BONK stops me in my tracks. I skid across the linoleum and collide with the wall. On the floor, I’m seeing stars, hoping my obstacle isn’t an administrator, preparing to start the waterworks if necessary.
“Rough sesh with Nancy, huh?” says the human speed bump.
My vision is still mostly black. This is not the reception I was expecting. “How would you know?” I retort indignantly.
“Oh, Nancy and I go way back,” comes the other voice. The voice is husky and a little bit garbled, as if there’s something in the speaker’s mouth.
I see that the other kid has already righted herself. I don’t recognize her, though there’s really no reason I would. It’s not like I have a lot of friends. She blends right into the rest of the middle school: black hi-tops, jeans, and a plain t-shirt. I’m still seeing double; for a second she has two tongues. The fluorescent light silhouettes her and I see that her hair is cropped so close to her head she’s almost bald. The weird angle gives her a weird glow, a little half-inch halo. I shake my pounding head in an effort to make the stars go away, but it seems I only succeed in rattling my brain. She doesn’t look hurt at all, not even bothered, and is sucking on a lollipop that’s turning her mouth green.
Once my vision is clear, it becomes apparent that only my pride has been hurt, so I stand up. The girl looks me up and down, and I realize she’s sizing me up. Friend or foe? “A-are you a new kid?” I ask. I don’t like the way she’s scrutinizing me, and I can feel my face burning under her intense, green eyes.
“Me? No, I’ve been a kid for a while now. What’s your name?” she says, working the lollipop across her back teeth with a slobbery flourish.
“Funny joke. Ha-ha,” I snap at her.
“Ooh, sarcasm! What are you, twelve?” she says.
I roll my eyes so she can be sure I don’t think she’s funny. “Actually, yes! But I’m not stupid, okay?”
“No, no, I get it,” the girl puts her hands up in a “don’t-shoot” gesture. “Try being fifteen! You tell somebody that you want something and they’re like, ‘Oh, look who thinks she’s all grown up!’ It’s such a rip, dude, like, I can drive but only with one of my parents! How is that fair? We can’t even decide on a radio station!” She covers her mouth with her hand and makes a noise imitating radio static, “Chhhhttt, ‘This is Carlos von Boredom coming at you from the khaki pants factory! We’ve got live coverage of beige paint drying! More at seven!’ Oh my God, it’s unbearable! And then they get mad at me just for deciding we’re going to McDonald’s on the drive home. My mom’s like, ‘Who’s going to pay for this?’ Like, ‘I don’t know, Mom, you’re the one with the wallet!’”
I can’t help but laugh at her explanation. “You’re kind of right,” I admit. “So you’re not new here? What’s your name?”
“Everybody calls me Gee,” she says.
“No, I want to know your actual name. What does it say on your birth certificate?”
“My birth certificate?” Gee laughs incredulously. “Are you kidding me? That thing got lost in the shuffle, like, a billion years ago. What are they going to do, put me back where–”
“Okay, okay, your driver’s permit, then,” I insist.
“Alright, detective, you caught me., It’s a nickname.” She spins around in a clumsy, little circle, the lollipop very nearly falling out of her shiny mouth, and regains her balance as she takes a bow.
“Okay, then there’s no way that you and Nancy are friends and you have a nickname. She literally just got done telling me I can’t change my name. So unless you’re Nancy’s favorite, I don’t think you’re telling the truth,” I declare.
“Whoa, there, partner,” Gee says with a goofy southern accent. She wiggles her legs like she’s riding a horse and makes a circular motion in the air with one hand like a lasso. “I never said Nancy was a friend of mine. This ain’t exactly my first rodeo. Besides, I came with the nickname way before Nancy ever got her hands on me.”
“What?” I sputter, completely confused by the sudden shift.
She tips an imaginary cowboy hat with such precision that I can practically see brownish brim for a moment. Suddenly straight-faced, she says, “It doesn’t matter. To answer your question, my full name is Geraldine. You’d call yourself something else too if you had that name, wouldn’t you?”
I laugh despite myself. “Well, yeah. That’s a grandma name.”
“It’s an ugly-ass name, you can say it. I know.”
“Mine’s not nearly that bad,” I chuckle. “I’m Carly.”
She shrugs. “So, why did Nancy say you couldn’t change it, though?
I tug at the sleeves of my hoodie. It needs to be washed and is looking a little dingy around the sleeves. “She said it would be ‘anarchy,’” I make air quotes.
“Now that would be a cool name,” Gee says.
“Right? And just imagine how many nicknames you could make up! I don’t know what it means, though.”
“It means… like… when the government goes off the rails… something like that,” Gee explains, waving the lollipop through the air like a pencil.
I ponder this for a moment. “Hmm… I don’t think I like that,” I decide.
“Really?” Gee shrugs. “Well, it’s up to you I guess.” The hallway is silent for a moment, save for the hum of the fluorescent lights. The lights make parts of Gee’s hands look a little scaly. She absentmindedly rubs her fuzzy head, and I ask the obvious question, “Why don’t you have any hair?”
Her face splits into a huge grin and she sticks her green tongue out at me. Before she can answer, a door creaks open a few feet away. “I’ll see you later,” she whispers.
It’s Mr. Davis, the Civics teacher, coming down the hallway to refill his water bottle. “Why aren’t you in class?” he asks me.
“I just got out of S.S.,” I mutter. I peer down the hallway; it’s a straight shot, but there’s no trace of Gee.
“Oh,” Mr. Davis nods understandingly. “Well… go on back to… wherever you’re supposed to be right now.” Ever since the teachers found out what happened with Brian, they sort of tiptoe around me, like I might explode or something. “Were you talking to someone?” Mr. Davis asks. “I thought I heard another student.”
I decide to lie. “No, I wasn’t.”
Mr. Davis squints at me for a moment, then gives me a curt nod. As he walks away, the lie starts to cement itself in my mind. By the time the last bell rings, signalling the end of the school day, I’ve forgotten all about my surprise encounter with Gee. It’s like she was never there at all.
During my next S.S., Nancy catches me daydreaming when she asks, “What do you think, Carly, should we increase these sessions to three times a week?”
Suddenly she has my attention. “No! No way!” I shake my head vehemently.
Nancy nods, nonplussed by the fact that I hate her and her stupid office. “Then I think we’re going to have to see more effort and engagement from you if you expect to maximize your potential to succeed,” she says.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“I think you know what I mean. Use your active listening skills and mirroring skills and you tell me,” Nancy coaxes.
I give her my biggest, loudest, most obnoxious groan and let my body go limp in the chair. When I look back up at Nancy, her expression has not changed, but I know she gets my point. Tragically, I can only go so limp, while Nancy can remain stone faced all day. She cocks her head and props her lips up into an expression similar to a smile. I can tell she’s losing her patience. “I’m hearing you say…” I pause just long enough for Nancy to get her hopes up. “That you’re a big dumbass and that you suck donkey balls! Is that correct?”
“Carly, I’m going to give you one more chance to practice your skills the right way or there are going to be consequences.” The lines around Nancy’s mouth are getting deeper. Her wilting plastic plants seem to perk up a bit. “Sit up straight and try again.”
I straighten my spine but keep my head down. “I’m hearing you say… that your butt is too big for you to chase me down the hallway!” Before Nancy can do anything about it, I’m out of her flimsy armchair, out of her office, down the hall, out the back doors, and across the P.E. fields. I’m running faster than I ever knew I could, but the really cool part is that no one’s chasing me.
Once the school is out of sight, it occurs to me that no one knows where I am and I probably have a few hours until someone finds me to do whatever I want. Maybe I should head back to school. My hands start to sweat and my hoodie feels smothering. Suddenly, I hear that unmistakable sound of a baseball card in bicycle spokes, accompanied by the smell of candy apple slobber. Gee appears, as though out of nowhere, pedaling down the sidewalk on a rickety, old beach cruiser. The bike is red and rusty, it’s way too big for her, her hi-tops are barely touching the pavement. “Hey, where’s your helmet, dingus?” Gee says, skidding to a stop in front of me.
“Spoken like a true dingus,” she says. She unfastens her own helmet and throws it at me. I saw it coming, but I still miss the catch and the helmet clatters onto the sidewalk. “C’mon, you can ride on my handlebars. You wear the helmet so if we crash, your head will be protected and I’ll land on you.”
I can’t argue with that logic, so I get situated on the handlebars. By the time it occurs to me to ask where we’re going, we’re already careening down the sidewalk, and Gee is squawking the magic carpet song from Aladdin in my ear. Somehow, the lollipop remains lodged in her mouth the whole time, raining sticky, green apple spittle all over my cheek. The helmet covers my eyes, and I’m using both my hands to hold onto the handlebars so I don’t go hurtling onto the sidewalk. After a bumpy ride, Gee announces, “We’re here!” She parks the bike and leaps off of it, while I nearly topple onto the pavement, still wearing the helmet.
I am surprised to discover we’ve arrived at the mall. “What the heck are we going to do here?” I ask. This is the last place I’d think to go. The older kids from the high school walk around here. It’s not uncommon to see boys with their hands in girls’ back pockets, or kids sneaking cigarettes outside behind the food court.
“We’re going to mall-crawl,” Gee informs me. “Duh.”
“But we don’t have any money,” I point out. “What would we even buy?”
“Speak for yourself. I have eleven dollars. And, I’m willing to share.” She wiggles her eyebrows, which look comically thick in comparison to her fuzzy head, at me and I laugh.
“Eleven dollars isn’t going to last long here. C’mon we should go somewhere else. We’re going to get in trouble here,” I say, suddenly anxious at the prospect of my mom coming to pick up my brother and me from school and discovering my absence.
“Where else are we going to go? We won’t get in trouble! Let’s go get cinnamon buns.” Before I can explain any of these apprehensions, Gee is racing into the mall and I have no choice but to follow her to the Auntie Annie’s cart. The shopping metropolis is pretty barren in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. A few grownups wander around, some of them talking on cell phones, others just browsing, glassy-eyed as they peruse the trendy mannequins. Limited Too’s window shows sequined shirts with drop sleeves and gaudy animal print skirts. Gee walks like she knows where she’s going, and I feel like a spaz tagging along. It doesn’t seem like anybody notices us, but I still feel conspicuous because of my backpack. Gee gets us the smallest cup of cinnamon roll bites and hands me the cup of sweet dough. I lick the sugar crystals off my fingers. “Now what?” I mumble through a mouthful of carbs.
“Let’s go to the fancy ladies store and try on the most expensive dresses!” Gee says excitedly.
“The fancy ladies store? No way! I’m definitely not fancy, and you don’t look like much of a lady,” I say.
“I don’t look like a lady? What’s that supposed to mean?” Gee crosses her arms over her nearly flat chest.
“You don’t have any hair, dude!” I gesture to her fuzzy head.
“Well, neither does Mrs. Pacman, but nobody bothers her about it!” Gee’s face breaks into a smile because she knows she’s right.
“True…” I admit. It takes me a moment to call the image of Mrs. Pacman to mind, and then I realize, “But she has a hairbow!”
“Okay, well so do I!” Gee puts her hand on the crown of her head and waves her fingers around before flipping me off. “How’s that for fancy lady?”
She has me laughing so hard I can barely even breathe now, and it’s already becoming apparent that I can’t win an argument against her. We set off for the fancy ladies store, the one with slinky dresses and rhinestone-dazzled skirts and heels so high they look more like weapons than shoes. There are a few fancy lady saleswomen and a few fancy lady customers milling around. One of the saleswomen looks up when we walk in, but turns her attention back to re-folding the pair of slacks in her hands.
“What about this one?” Gee holds up a yellow dress with a sash around the middle and a plunging neckline. The fabric of the floor length skirt pools in a wad around her feet and she shoves it out of the way with her dirty hi-tops.
“It’ll work if you can grow six inches taller really quick,” I say.
Gee scrunches up her face at me. “You’re not one to talk about being vertically challenged.” She stretches up on her tiptoes and looms over me. “I like this one. Reminds me of Belle, y’know? From Sleeping Beauty.”
“Yeah, the movie for babies,” I laugh.
“For babies?” Gee is incredulous. “Are you kidding me? How can any of those princess movies be for babies? They’re so cool! If I wasn’t Gee, I’d be a princess. That would be my second choice.”
“Okay, well first of all, if any movie is a cartoon, then it’s for babies,” I inform her. “Plus, they’re fake movies because there’s no such thing as a princess anymore because we live in a democracy, and I learned that last week in U.S. History, so I know you’re wrong! And there’s nothing cool about being a princess! Who wants to have to wear dresses all the time?”
Well, my Pop-Pop says that real princesses are royal because of their actions, not their dresses And he knows pretty much everything. So if I act like a princess, then I am one!” Gee crosses her arms theatrically over her chest, in satisfaction.
“Your Pop-Pop? You mean your grandpa?” I correct her. She’s talking like a baby.
“Yeah, me and my Pop-Pop take care of each other.” Gee seems confused about the sudden digression.
“Wait, you and your grandpa take care of each other? Don’t you mean he takes care of you?” I say.
“Well, yeah… but I also take care of him. We have to take medicine and stuff, and we help each other make sure we remember to take it and all that. He helps me with stuff too, like civics homework and rewinding tapes,” Gee explains.
“Rewinding a tape? You’ve got to be kidding me! Your grandpa must be super old if you guys still watch movies on a tape!”
“Of course he’s old! He’s literally my grandpa! He’s got to be at least, like, forty, I don’t know. Or maybe he’s closer to ninety. And there’s nothing wrong with watching movies on tape. The RV came with a built-in tape player and it works just fine,” Gee says with a shrug.
“An RV? What are you talking about? I thought you said you lived with your mom,” I argue. I’m beginning to wonder if Gee is trying to trick me with this weird story. I want to believe her. But, should I?
“No, I never said that,” Gee says, waving her lollipop decisively.
“Yeah you did!” I protest. “You said–” I stop mid-sentence because Gee’s eyes have widened at something or someone behind me. Two of the fancy salesladies are approaching us, one wringing her hands, another furrowing her brow. I look back at Gee for guidance, What do we do? But suddenly she’s vanished, as though swallowed up by the princessy dress.
“Are you lost, dear?” One of the women asks me.
In Gee’s absence, my sudden solitude renders the fluorescent lights too bright, the Muzak too loud, and all at once, the floor is upon me. Or–more accurately–I am upon it. It feels like the entire mall is collapsing upon me and I have no idea why I’m crying, but I can’t stop. The first saleswoman, with a bob hairdo the shape and color of a chestnut, seems to recoil. The other, with a buttery blonde braid as fake as her smile, reaches for me, and I cannot determine whether she’s a friend or foe. She takes me by my wrist and I can’t stop wailing, and it hurts, but I don’t dare wriggle away. “Where did she go? Where did she go?” I repeat through shuddering sobs. She takes me away from the sales floor into a bleak little room and hands me a tissue out of her pocketbook. It smells like thick, jasmine perfume and I wipe my face the way the a princess would dab at her running makeup. My skin hasn’t been adorned with anything but sunscreen and sweat since I decided I didn’t want to be pretty that summer when everything happened, but with the saleswoman watching me, I feel like I should at least try for her. “I’m going to call your parents to come and get you, okay?” she says. Her voice is soft, but I know that the consequences are going to be very, very dire when I get home.
“Do you have any idea how it made us feel to get a phone call from some random shopkeeper telling us, ‘Hello, I have your daughter with me?’” my mom shouts at me. “No, of course you don’t. How do you think I felt when Nancy–who I have never even met, by the way–called ‘just to inform’ me that if you were missing for more than 24 hours, I would have to decide whether to call the police?”
“Well, I was actually missing for a lot less than that,” I interject. “So, that’s a plus, right?”
“And I don’t know who this ‘friend’ of yours is, but whenever I find out who she is, her parents will not hear the end of it from me!” my mom continues.
From the living room, where my brother is lodged in the couch playing video games and gleefully listening to our mom’s tirade, he shouts, “That’s a lie, Carly doesn’t have any friends!”
Despite myself, I feel tears gathering in my eyes. “Whose fault is that?” I shout back at my brother.
“It’s not my fault you had a stupid crush! You ruined everything because you’re a dumb attention whore!” my brother jeers.
“I hate you!” I scream back at him.
“Enough! Both of you, go to your rooms!”
My brother throws down the controller and gives me the finger on his way up to his room. I follow far enough behind him that he can’t fart on me and leave my bedroom door ajar. I hear my mom pour herself a glass of water.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on her?” comes my dad’s voice.
“She needs to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around her. Do you think that… guidance counselor, or social worker or whatever she is… do you think she’s helping Carly? She seems more out of control than ever.” says my mom.
“I think it’s probably too early to tell,” my dad says.
“Too early? Ron, it’s been three months!”
“That’s really not a lot of time for… for a… trauma like that–”
“A trauma? Don’t you think that’s a bit of an extreme for what really happened? It’s not like Carly was exactly minding her own business and Brian leapt out of nowhere and…” I hear them shuffling around in the kitchen, their words muffled by the clatter of cutlery and the whir of the fridge.
When I can catch the ricochet of their voices again, my dad is saying. “… instead of that social worker, Nancy–”
“We are helping her, Ron. We’re helping her by not indulging this kind of storytelling, this ‘I’m a victim,’ mentality.”
“What would you have her be instead?” There’s an edge to my dad’s voice.
By this point, I know they’re mad at each other, and I sink into myself, knowing it’s my fault that they’re fighting. “If she is telling the truth,” my dad begins cautiously, “Then we’re not doing her any favors by denying it.
I hear one of my mom’s world-class sighs. “What are we supposed to do, then? We’ve kept Brian away from her since she told us what happened. I don’t know what the right thing to do would be.”
“Yes, we’ve separated them, after the fact, and in place of him, Carly gets taunted nonstop by her brother, who is also learning from this as well,” says my dad.
“I just don’t understand why she waited two years before she even said anything,” counters my mom.
“My guess is she held it down for as long as she could.”
I hear my mom snort. “Really? You think she was so disturbed by, what, a boy–a boy she’s known most of her life–touching her when he had had a little to drink, for–what, two minutes? If that? That she ‘suppressed’ it until now? You make it sound like she went through combat. Like she’s deranged. What’s next, multiple personalities?”
“No, I’m being serious. And you make it sound like hardly anything happened at all. I’m surprised you’re not more understanding,” says my dad.
I hear my mom suck her teeth. The scornful expression she wears so frequently manifests in my mind’s eye. “If anything more than that had really happened, we would’ve known,” she insists.
“How? How would we have known? We didn’t know that Aaron and Brian were drinking. We certainly didn’t know they were drinking and driving. But we were just supposed to have–”
“Stop it,” says my mom. “They were kids being kids. You saw as well as I did the way Carly followed Brian around like a lovesick little puppy. She’s got to learn to take responsibility for her actions.”
I can picture my dad rubbing his forehead with his square, hairy hand and the kitchen goes quiet for a little while.
“Hey,” comes a whisper, rousing me from my fitful sleep. Half in a dream, I ignore the voice. But there it is again, more persistent, “Hey, hey, wake up.” When I realize it’s not my brother coming to torment me for having been born or some other sibling-related offense, I jerk into an upright position, fumbling around in the dark. As my brain flies through the various states of awakeness, my thoughts become increasingly panicked. Who’s in my room? How did they get in? Where are Mom and Dad? Is it Brian? Oh, God, it must be Brian and he’s coming to get me because I ruined his reputation and-
“Whoa, whoa, hey, relax,” says the voice. I realize it’s too familiar to be Brian, not that I don’t still remember every detail from that blistering summer, but those memories are further away, not as tangible as this voice in the dark. Suddenly, I see that half-inch halo formed by the fuzz on Gee’s head, which is directly in front of the full moon, hanging low in the bruised-looking sky. She is hanging upside down, outside my window. “Let me in,” she says, urgently, that crazed grin on her face. I notice that her teeth seem to glow green in the moonlight. Not knowing what else to do, I peel myself out of bed and open the window.
“Why were you up there?” I ask. I’m still in the process of waking up, and I wipe a trail of drool off my face with the back of my hand.
“You mean on the roof?” Gee bellows. I hold a finger to my lips and raise my eyebrows. She continues at full volume, “I had to get to your window somehow!”
“Shh!” I admonish her. Any time Gee and I hang out, I feel like I’m going crazy. “Stop yelling! You didn’t have to go on the roof to get to my window–it’s a one-storey house!”
“Okay, okay,” Gee is defensive, but at least she’s quieter now. We stare at each other in the bluish light of the moon.
“Why did you just leave me at the mall?” I ask. She says nothing. I wait. Still nothing. “I don’t think we should be friends anymore,” I say finally, too sleepy to sugarcoat my frustration.
“Why is that?” Gee plops herself down onto the bedroom floor with an alarmingly loud crash. She crosses her legs and puts her arms behind her knees like a human pretzel. Getting her out of here is not going to be easy.
I let out an aggravated sigh, which sounds alarmingly akin to my mother’s. I’m too sleepy to have this conversation. Again, I feel like I’ve lived this scene before, someone standing in the way of my getting in bed when all I want to do is rest and stop worrying.
“Dude, why are you being such a boner about this?” Gee says, from her spot on the floor.
Frustratingly, the tears come, despite my efforts to hold them back. I’ve cried more this week than I have in my whole life. My face gets all hot, and I know snot is running down my cheeks. I try to stifle my sniffles and I know that Gee is seeing exactly what Brian saw that night in the middle of the summer when I was ten. Even though it was a whole two years ago, all of the wisdom of being twelve now falls away. I sink to the floor and let Gee put her arm around my shoulder, feeling the fuzz of her buzzcut on my hot, damp cheek. “You’d be a terrible actress,” she says finally.
“What?” I sniffle.
She takes both my hands and I don’t protest as she rolls the sleeves of my hoodie up to reveal the self-inflicted scrapes, cuts, and burns that line my arms. I drop her gaze, but she won’t relinquish my hands. We sit like that for what seems like an eternity, with the truth laid bare on my bedroom floor. “I’d ask why, but I don’t think there’s really a good reason, is there?” Gee says gently.
“Not really. It’s just… if boys can do whatever they want with me, then I can too.” I’ve never said this out loud before, not even to Nancy, and I realize there are some asteroid sized craters in this logic that I’ve rearranged my whole world to revolve around.
“Boys can’t do whatever they want to you, though,” Gee says. “And of all the things you could do to yourself, why this? What are you trying to prove?” I chew my lips. Suddenly, I realize why Gee doesn’t have any hair.
“Nobody will believe me about him.” I barely know what I’m saying. My thoughts feel as thick as the blankets that beckon me back to bed.
Gee’s lips form a hard line. She looks like a turnip or a bowling ball. I’ve never seen so much tenderness in such an ugly expression. “If I ever find out who he is, I’ll kick his ass all the way to next-next-next Tuesday. The right people will believe you. I do.”
Somehow, I feel a little different, a little lighter.
“Do you have a notebook?” Gee asks.
“Of course,” I reply.
“Good, because me and Pop-Pop have to take the RV somewhere and we’re going to be gone for a really long time. I don’t even know where we’re going. Since the RV is basically our house–well, it’s way cooler than a regular house because, y’know, it’s on wheels–anyway, we don’t have a mailbox, so I need you to write to me a couple times a week. That’s it, just write me a few sentences now and then, whenever you feel like it, okay? I don’t want you to forget me.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I reply. “How are they going to get to you if you don’t have a mailbox? What am I supposed to put on the envelope, Gee McGee and her Imaginary Granddad?”
“You’re the one imagining my granddad. Pop-Pop is real, though. I want you to hang onto the letters. You can give them to me when Pop-Pop and I get back.”
I can see that she’s done talking and I’m relieved because I just want to go back to sleep. I rise from the floor and curl up in my bed. “Do you want me to tuck you in?” she asks, as I wrap the sheets and blanket around myself.
“I’m not a baby,” I say scornfully, already half in a dream. The last thing I hear before I zonk out for the night is some kind of weird, but relaxing music. If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was a princess movie playing nearby
The next morning, I wake up with a start, thinking I’m late for school. After a second, I realize it’s Saturday. With a sleepy sigh of relief, I sink back into my pillow. The sun makes a dotted pattern on the wall across from my bed. Even though I see the dappled light like that every morning, it seems especially beautiful today. Instinctively, I reach for the pen beside my bed, but my hand finds a green lollipop. I stick it into my mouth, and for the briefest of moments, everything goes sour apple.