Katherine C. Sinback
Kathy glistened. The baby oil sheen spread from her pale pink toenails to her face, highlighting the field of pimples on her forehead and chin. Shannon watched a droplet of oil mixed with Kathy’s sweat meander down the meat of her calf and stop at the knob of her ankle, suspended like a held breath before it released, darkening a dot on the wooden deck. Shannon blinked, refocused her eyes on the book in her lap to read the same paragraph over again, still unsure why her friend’s sunbathing body was such an irresistible puzzle. Kathy’s backyard deck was ripe with the smell of Johnson’s Baby oil mixed with Cheetos. Kathy lazily dangled a Cheeto over her open paperback, Danielle Steele taken from her mother’s secret stash. “She’ll never notice. Like she cares,” Kathy had snorted. Shannon wondered if there was ever a time when Kathy didn’t act like she was in a movie. Even the way she licked the orange gunk from her braces felt like seduction although Shannon was the only other person on the deck.
Kathy spritzed her damp hair with Sun-In. The sweet toxic smell found Shannon’s nose in the humid April Saturday afternoon. She sneezed and she sprayed nacho Dorito droplets, her snack of choice, on her paperback, the copy of Flowers in the Attic that had felt so forbidden last year when she was an eighth-grader, but now felt babyish next to Kathy’s Danielle Steele. Shannon’s mom didn’t have a secret stash. Shannon was stuck with the Dollanganger twins and their attic prison while the characters in Kathy’s books made love on kitchen counters and whispered, I want you inside me.
Beyond the wood plank gates of Kathy’s backyard, a car sidled up to the curb in front of the house. The sounds of idling engine, the slamming door, the smack of sneakers against pavement. Kathy jumped up from her chair, dropping the plastic bottle of Sun-In and knocking over the half-empty Johnson’s Baby Oil bottle.
“Rog!” she squealed and popped up from her chair.
Her feet slapped the concrete. Lines from the lounge chair striped the parts of her back that her black bikini didn’t cover. Her bottoms were riding high on her butt, dangerously close to wedgie territory. Shannon had the urge to pull them down for Kathy, a modern-day lady-in-waiting ready to attend to her mistress’ every fashion faux-pas. Kathy had plenty: acid-washed jeans that clung to every lump and curve, t-shirts that gapped at the arms so her black bras peeked out, and her dangling earrings always catching in the wings of her light brown hair. Shannon let these go, let Kathy glide through the halls of Jefferson High believing herself to be the sophomore goddess she thought she was. Kathy was the one with the stream of boyfriends and heart-shaped necklaces that left green rings around her neck, but Shannon tucked away this arsenal of weaknesses, secreted it away for some future use. Her mind, a velvet-lined box.
Shannon pushed up onto her elbows. This was the part when she was expected to disappear, when Kathy and her boyfriend du jour willed her sunburned body, the bulge and stringy brown-haired heft of her to dissolve into droplets on Kathy’s backyard deck.
Kathy’s hip grazed the hydrangea bushes that surrounded the deck. She rounded the corner of her house to the side yard, lined by the fence that looked like a pair of wooden wings springing from the concrete foundation of the house.
“Mm-hm,” Shannon said. She tugged at the leg hole of the black-one piece suit her mom had called “slimming” in the dressing room of the Young Missy section at Hecht’s. Shannon swore she heard a titter erupt from the stall at the end of the line of dressing rooms. Her mom had rolled her eyes, told her she was being ridiculous. Again.
Rog, short for Roger, was the best of Kathy’s boyfriends. He talked to Shannon like she was a real person, not some puppy who trailed Kathy, hoping for a treat. He always threw her a wide braces smile, the only boy she had ever seen to wear braces well. His mullet was more understated than Shane’s, the previous boyfriend, more Unforgettable Fire Bono than the dudes who prowled Mathis Avenue in shined-up Camaros Saturday Nights. Ex-boyfriend Shane barely had grunted a greeting in Shannon’s direction. He had lowered his head and ran his tongue over his stupid caterpillar mustache when he picked Kathy and Shannon up after volleyball practice. Shannon had been glad when, three months ago, Kathy started to curl her lip over her braces at the mention of his name. “Nah, Shane’s not picking us up today.”
Around the corner, Rog fumbled with the hook on the gate.
“I got it, dumbass. Save your hands for more important things,” Kathy said.
Shannon lowered her eyes to the blurred words in her book. When she looked up Kathy and Rog were locked in an embrace. Rog made eye contact and smiled. Shannon’s eyes skittered away. The hydrangea bushes, each a stout soldier, lined up between them. She concentrated on the order of their lines, the perfect swell of the blue-bloomed bellies.
Kathy murmured something in Rog’s ear. His eyes grew wide. They giggled. They walked hand-in-hand, crossing the threshold of bushes.
“Hey Shannon, s’up?” Rog said.
“Oh, you know, working on my sunburn.”
“Aw damn. You got it going on, girl.”
Shannon bit at the smile teasing the edge of her lips. So rarely did she get the chance to feel the flush of being a real girl.
“Break it up, you two.” Kathy playfully tugged on Rog’s arm. She pulled him in for another slurpy kiss.
The knot in the wooden deck’s floor stared up at Shannon. The whorl of wood a comforting black pool in moments of teenage make-outs that didn’t involve her, which, up to this point, was all of them. There was always a knot of wood, a slice of cushion escaping the vinyl in the backseat of Shane’s car, a slot in the lime green lockers at school where she could crawl, wait out the teenage affection that oozed around her.
A year ago, before Kathy, it had been Shannon and her best friend Camille against the world. They laughed at the kissing, the boy hands always sliding up and up shirts where girls leaned against the brick wall at the mall. “So gross,” they said, wrinkling their noses, then talked about what they would do when they had their first kiss.
“Definitely no tongue,” Camille said.
“Oh, I’m gonna do tongue,” Shannon giggled.
With Camille, a boyfriend felt possible. Anything had felt possible.
Kathy led Rog to the sliding glass door. “We’re gonna fix a snack. You want anything, Shan?”
“Sure, whatever you all are having,” Shannon said.
Rog and Kathy exchanged a look.
An embarrassed flush replaced the temporary happy one on Shannon’s cheeks.
“Or, uh, some more lemonade.” Shannon jiggled the ice cube nubs in her glass.
Kathy and Roger disappeared into the dark parent-free house, the shadowy blobs of them moving through the kitchen then around the corner. Shannon wondered how she had become this ticket to other people’s sex lives.
Camille moved away the summer before high school. Adrift in the high-school halls clogged with the unfriendly flotsam of faces, Shannon landed on Debbie, her volleyball teammate and the first person to talk to her for more than a minute about something other than wanting the answers to last night’s algebra homework. Debbie invited Shannon over to her house to spend the night and dragged her to a party in her cousin’s basement where Debbie got fingered under a Buffalo Bills blanket in the middle of a wood-paneled rec room while a huddle of girls stood behind Shannon, hissing, “Slut.”
When Shannon reported what the girls had said at the party, Debbie hadn’t been embarrassed.
“They’re just jealous. Wasn’t he hot? He’s a total fox. I think we’re gonna go out.”
“Yeah, he was pretty cute.”
Shannon couldn’t wipe the image from her mind of Debbie’s faraway look on the couch, the lumps of hands moving beneath the giant Bills logoed helmet. After the party when Debbie asked Shannon to come over to do homework, she pretended that she was busy. At volleyball practice, she picked another bumping partner, the recent Texas transplant Kathy, and acted like she was doing the coach a favor by helping out the new girl. Debbie saw through Shannon’s averted eyes. The sudden acquisition of a new bumping partner.
“What’s the deal? Do I stink?” Debbie caught up to Shannon after a week of practices, of Shannon avoiding her.
“No, of course not,” Shannon had mumbled. “I gotta go.”
“No, tell me. What’s your deal?”
Shannon stared at the dirt smudge on the tip of her sneakers. “No deal. I just gotta go.”
“Get your ass over here,” Kathy yelled half-playfully, half-not from the double doors at the edge of the newly varnished gym, waving her over. “Our ride is here.”
Debbie nodded. “Oh, I see. Ms. Texas ’85 claps her hands and you come. Whatever, Shannon. Enjoy your new little buddy.”
Kathy pulled Shannon into the car, Shane’s car, pulling the front seat down so she could climb in.
“What’s Debbie Does Dallas’ deal?” Kathy asked.
“I don’t know. We were sorta friends, but then—”
“Then you realized that you don’t associate with trash.”
Kathy turned to Shane. “That chick blew the quarterback in the middle of Roy Kingston’s party. Ugh. It was disgusting.”
“Sounds like a pretty good deal to me,” Shane said in his lazy drawl.
Kathy punched his arm. “You’re gross.”
Shannon had been a woman without a country since Camille had moved last summer. Camille would’ve raised an eyebrow and twirled her stub of a ponytail if she could see Shannon now. There was no one to tell Shannon to dump these girls, no one to care that Shannon was riding in cars with eighteen-year-old boys—her parents strictly forbade it, of course—or going to a squat dumpy house lodged between a twenty-four-hour mini-mart and a cemetery where no adults were in the living room to make sure, as her dad said, “things didn’t get out of hand.”
Shane lived with an older brother, Joey, who slouched on a sagging off-brand Lazyboy with golden velvet pile rubbed off the armrests. When they got to Shane’s house, Shane and Kathy deposited Shannon on the equally saggy brown plaid couch with scratchy yellow and orange wool blankets positioned to hide the spots where the stuffing poked through the weave, like tufts on a balding man’s head.
“Back in a minute,” Kathy said to Shannon. Then to Joey, “Now you make nice, ya’ hear?”
She followed Shane through a beaded curtain. Shannon had always loved the beaded curtains at World Bazaar in the mall when she was a kid. She had wrapped them around her shoulders and imagined herself entering a genie’s den. A tiny bit of her childhood chipped away as the beads clacked together in the dingy living room. The beads didn’t shroud genie’s dens, they were door replacements for doors that had been torn off hinges.
A grumble of undefined words emanated from Joey’s barrel chest. He scratched at the perpetual shadow of a beard on his chin. His eyes didn’t move from the flickering black-and-white TV balanced on a plastic TV tray.
“I can’t give you a beer. That’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” he grunted. He drank from the Miller Light dangling in his hand.
“That’s okay. I don’t like beer,” Shannon said. She tucked her hands under her legs.
He snorted. “Good.”
He had a greasy mullet pulled in a ponytail. His brown eyes were uneven, giving him a look of perpetual doubt. Shannon couldn’t imagine how thin, blonde Shane and this hulk of a man had come from the same parents.
“Not that beer isn’t fine. I, uh, just don’t like the taste,” Shannon said.
“More for me.” He slurped at the can. His tongue poked out when he drank, an indecent caress of can.
He watched the local news, each story seeding a new rant about the goddamned government and the dip-shitted president. “With his stupid fucking wig hair and his movie star mush-brain. What is this country coming to? Might as well let the Russkies bomb us to Kingdom Come. Fucking pussies.”
Shannon tried not to stare. She took in the decay of the living room, the leaning towers of TV Guides and Hot Rod Magazines, the rings on the dusty wooden end tables, peeling wallpaper with pictures of bucking broncos and cowboy hats. It was like a dead boy’s room had swallowed an entire house. Until she saw this house she hadn’t understood what a “woman’s touch” meant exactly. She was sure that aside from Kathy and a stream of other girls in tight acid-washed jeans, no woman had touched any surface of this house.
Over the next month, Shannon learned to bring homework to do on the sagging couch, to wear a spritz of her mother’s Anais Anais to mask the smell of cigarettes and sour beer, to avert her eyes from wet-eyed Joey and his parade of beer cans, which he used as pointers while arguing with the TV.
Shannon had told Kathy how she felt like she needed to shower after visiting Shane’s house, but Kathy had shrugged her off. “Yeah, I know. It’s pretty awful, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do for love.” Who was Shannon to stand in the way of love?
During the last visit before Kathy dumped Shane, Joey watched golf. Shannon read The Great Gatsby.
“Your pretty little friend ain’t no friend to you,” Joey broke the amenable quiet that had evolved between the two of them.
“Why do you say that?” Shannon tented The Great Gatsby on her lap.
“She dumps you here with Shane’s loser brother, yours truly, while they retire to the love palace to fuck,” Joey said, his words slurred at the edges. His arm jerked into the beaded curtain. The beads clacked back and forth, catching the light from the TV in their prism.
“They don’t do it,” Shannon said. “They don’t go all the way.”
Kathy was adamant that she was a virgin and would stay that way until she got married. She went to church with her stone-faced parents every Sunday and threw in a few “Praise the Lords” here and there, but not enough to make Shannon feel weird until the day she met Kathy’s mom.
“Which church do you and yours attend?” Kathy’s mom asked, handing Shannon a lemonade over the bar that lined the edge of the kitchen.
“Uh, we don’t go to church, but we believe in God and stuff,” Shannon said.
“Well, you need to find a church and get off the fence or you’ll be spending eternity in a very unpleasant place.”
“Mom!” Kathy said.
Later when they were tucked away in Kathy’s room, their notebooks sprawled open on the bedroom floor, Beastie Boys “Fight for Your Right To Party” set at whisper volume on Kathy’s boom box, Shannon said, “Your mom really thinks I’m going to hell?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, you are, unless you accept Jesus into your heart, but that’s your business. She was totally out of line saying that to you.” Kathy chewed on a pen cap. “She lives for an opportunity to get on her high horse.”
If her friend was so blasé about her salvation, Joey had a point.
Joey said, “So they don’t fuck. Whatever. I’ll bet you a six-pack, that I guess you won’t drink, she is a blow-job fucking queen.”
“Don’t say that. She’s my friend.”
Joey snorted. “Some friend.” He swished a mouthful of beer in his mouth. “I could be raping you or making you my blow-job bitch and they wouldn’t do a fucking thing. They dump you out here like a dog and do their business. I been a dog before. I know what it’s like to lap up shit.”
Shannon’s eyes darted around the room for a weapon. A pair of scissors, a knife, a baseball bat. Don’t kick him in the balls. They expect that. Gouge out the eyes: that’s what the padded-overall man on Oprah had said.
He held up his can and jabbed it in her direction, beer spilling over the lip. “You’re her alibi, not her friend. Take it from one alibi to another. Ditch that shit.”
Shannon’s breath turned ragged. She left sweat fingerprints on the page of her book where Gatsby lamented Daisy’s unreachability. He could own the world but never own her.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispered. “You’re drunk. You’re always drunk. You can’t even stand up.” Her voice got louder.
She felt like something was cracking open, escaping, her companionable silence with Joey slithering to the corners of the room. He had been growing on her like a loose tooth that you poke with your tongue and mourn when it falls out and there is only a bloody space. But now she wanted him gone, wanted to feel the rush of coppery blood in her mouth.
“And you’re a stupid kid.” Joey dropped the beer can. The liquid seeped into the carpet and made a pool.
He hefted himself out of the chair and walked over to the couch. Shannon folded into herself, tried to disappear like she did when she huddled in the backseat of Shane’s car, blocking out the darting tongues and smacking noises of Kathy and Shane’s kisses.
Joey bent over her, one hand on the threadbare armrest, the other on the cushion sinking beside Shannon’s head.
“What—” Her voice caught in her dry throat. Joey bent over her, his skewed brown eyes merging into one close-up Cyclops eye. The sweet-sour smell of beer hit her nose in puffs. Getting out of the chair had been an effort for Joey after all. How did he work construction without falling over from a heart attack? She shrank back from him, contemplating a kick in the crotch even though the Oprah man said it was a mistake, that you would only make the attacker angrier and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Her mind raced, her fingers clutched the pillow below her. Joey leaned in, touching his lips to hers, his swollen and chapped, hers thin and curled. For all of the rest of his body’s lack of grace, the bluster and doughy lumber of it, the kiss was almost delicate, a quick press of dry lips before he pulled back.
“Goddamnit,” he said and, straightening up, stalked out of the room.
Shannon imagined she looked like the blonde girl in a horror flick, plastered against the couch, her face twisted in horror. Murmurs came from the hallway. Hazy-eyed Kathy and Shane appeared in the doorway.
“We gotta bail. My mom is going to murder me,” Kathy said. She didn’t notice Shannon. She barely looked at her.
Shane dropped Kathy and Shannon off a block from Kathy’s house.
“Did Joey give you any shit tonight?” Kathy asked, her books hugged to her chest. Her lipstick perfectly restored to its pink frost although half-moons of mascara streaked under her eyes.
“Uh yeah. He’s kind of a freak. I don’t want to go over there when he’s around anymore,” Shannon said. The word kiss perched at the roof of her mouth. Could she admit that Joey was her first kiss? She didn’t think she could say the words out loud without opening up a dam inside of her, all the secrets that Kathy didn’t even ask, churning around them.
“He’s always around,” Kathy said. “Don’t worry, he’s a total freak but he’s harmless.”
Shannon kicked a rock to the edge of the grass. “How do you know?”
Kathy shook her head, the wings of her hair shaking and rearranging in perfect follicular order. “I know men. Joey’s just a pathetic loser who spends his life slamming beers on his Grandmother’s broken down Lazyboy. That’s his life. He doesn’t have enough energy for anything else. Anyway, I thought you all were getting along. Y’all were cracking up over something the last time we were over there.”
“Yeah. No. We’re not like friends. Or anything. I don’t want to go over there.”
Kathy walked ahead and stopped in front of Shannon. “Enough talk of that loser.” Kathy leaned close and dangled a cheap-looking heart on a chain in front of Shannon’s eyes. “Isn’t it precious? Shane gave it to me for our two-month anniversary.”
“Oh wow, that’s pretty.” Shannon lied.
The necklace hadn’t been enough to keep Shane around for another month. Kathy had tucked it away in a box full of her past boy trophies. Would Shannon ever have a box or would she just have Joey’s kiss clinging to her lips like a cold sore?
In Kathy’s backyard, Shannon rolled onto her side, then the other. She couldn’t deny her full bladder any longer. She imagined pushing open the door and finding Kathy kneeling before Rog, his head tossed back, braces poking through his plush lips. Or she could pee herself. She pulled on the sliding glass door. It didn’t budge. She rattled it.
“Uh, guys,” she called then knocked on the door.
The dark serenity of the indoors remained unbroken. She faced the yard, the painstakingly manicured hydrangea and rose bushes in rows circling the lawn, and the fence standing tall behind, guarding Kathy’s parents’ pride and joy. They bought the house because of the yard. “Oh, and the schools,” Kathy had said. “But I’m sure if there was a decent landscape potential in the ghetto they wouldn’t think twice about making me tough it out.” Kathy and Shannon weren’t allowed to walk among the flowers. They were restricted to the deck, a restriction that Kathy actually abided even though Shannon guessed her parents would be more upset to learn their daughter was having almost-sex with her boyfriends in their house more than she had knocked a petal off a rose.
Shannon knocked louder on the glass door. “Guys! You in there?”
Nobody emerged from behind the kitchen island or around the dining room corner. They were probably in Kathy’s room on the other side of the house, but it wasn’t like Shannon could ring the doorbell. Kathy would never answer anyway. Shannon turned back to the yard.
The fence was as tall as Shannon. There were bushes. No one would know. Bent over, she ran to the bush at the corner the farthest from the house just in case there was a smell. She imagined Kathy’s mother sniffing the air. “Dear Sweet Jesus, what is that odor?”
She wiped the image from her head. Her next obstacle: the swimsuit and the enthusiastically touted slimming panels that supposedly flattened her bulges with the side effect of making her feel like a sausage spilling out of its casing where leg flesh met suit. She could pull the crotch of her swimsuit to the side, but she might douse herself with urine. Then Kathy would smell her and wrinkle her perky nose at Rog and, at school on Monday, she’d have christened Shannon “Pee Girl” or “Tinkle Toes,” and Kathy would pick Debbie to be her next friend and they’d laugh at Shannon because she’d never been fingered under a scratchy Buffalo Bills blanket while everyone tried hard to pour enough wine cooler down their throats to turn the world soft and giggly. Even though Kathy still called Debbie, “Debbie Does Dallas” behind her back, Debbie wouldn’t care because she needed a friend as bad as Shannon did. Any port in a storm.
Nope. Shannon would have to roll her suit over her fleshy hips and tuck it behind the bush, but just for a minute, two at tops.
She plucked the straps from the divots they left in her shoulders and rolled it down her torso. The sun warmed her breasts, her belly, the expanse of her back never touched by air beyond Shannon’s bedroom and bathroom. She stretched like a cat, let the rays touch every hidden part that no boy had ever touched even as Shannon prayed every night that they would. At night, sometimes Joey crept into her reveries before she slept, the delicate ghost of a kiss.
She crouched down, holding to a thorny branch for support. A pink petal fluttered to the grass. Go, go, go, do it, come on, do it. In her concentration, she hadn’t heard the screech of tires, the Metallica spilling from the open windows, the slam of the car door.
Shane’s voice on the other side of the fence as she started to pee. “Kath-ay! Kath-ay! I gotta talk to you!” The gate shuddered as he pulled on the locked door.
“Don’t come back here,” Shannon called, trying to be quiet and authoritative but sounding squeaky.
“What the—? Who’s there? Where’s Kath-ay?”
“Go away, Shane,” Shannon hissed, still crouched down below the line of the bushes.
“Who the fuck are you?” he yelled.
Shannon didn’t expect to feel so hurt by not being acknowledged by Shane, but it stung. Shane rattled the fence, and then with a groan and a pop, the lock was dangling and the door gaped open. Shannon grabbed her suit, not caring that her heels landed in the puddle of urine. She folded one arm over her chest and held tight to the clump of rose bush as it pricked her palm with tiny thorns.
Shane’s head whipped back and forth as he searched for Kathy. His hair hung in greasy clumps, his face red and sweaty. The caterpillar mustache he’d been growing had filled out since he and Kathy had broken up. His eyes caught on Shannon. “What are you doing?”
“Stop there. Please, just stop.” Tears sprang to Shannon’s eyes.
Her first kiss had been stolen by Joey and now Shane was taking the rest of her. She stood at the precipice of something deep and jagged, a glacier about to break into pieces.
“Girl, are you wearing your birthday suit?” Shane put a fist over his mouth, called over his shoulder. “Joey! Get in here! Free girly show!”
Shannon stepped a foot in her suit and tried to wiggle it over her legs without extending to her full height. She glanced over the bush. Joey looked totally alien outside of the living room, his skin even more pasty in the sunlight.
“Girl, what are you doing?” Joey asked.
Shane stopped trying to tamp down the chuckles and was full-on laughing like Shannon had never seen him laugh before like her nakedness had released something long stored in him. With every move Shannon made, every jerky tug on the traitorous swimsuit that stuck to her sweaty lumps and seemed too small to contain her body, he laughed harder.
Joey punched him on the shoulder. “Don’t be a dick.”
“What? Come on, man? You a gentleman now? You her knight in shining armor?” Shane guffawed.
Joey waved him away.
The sliding door rumbled open. Kathy, the familiar smudges of mascara beneath her eyes, and Rog stood outlined by the dark.
“What the hell is going on out here?” Kathy yelled. Her eyes flashed at Shannon. “Did you let them in?”
“Yeah. What’s happening?” Rog said, trying on a voice several octaves lower than his usual tone.
Joey pointed at Shannon. “You make your friend piss outside so you can blow your new boy? Really?” He turned to Shannon. “I don’t know how much more you can take.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
“Fuck off, Joey,” Kathy said. “No one wants to hear what your crazy ass has to say.”
“No. I really want to know.” Joey stepped closer to Kathy. “You make your friend piss behind a rose bush so junior here can splatter your braces with cum?”
Rog stood in front of her, his hands on his hips. An attempt at authority that was as frightening as McGruff the Crime Dog.
“I think it’s time for you guys to get the fuck outta here,” Rog said, the full sentence exposing a quaver in his voice.
“Nah. I need to talk to your girlfriend, friend, and I ain’t leaving until I do,” Shane said.
“That’s not gonna happen, friend,” Rog said.
“Says who?” Shane took a wide stance, jammed his hands in his jeans.
Joey started to laugh. Shannon had never found a resemblance between Shane and Joey until the laugh started to move through his body, jiggling his stomach and turning his face red. Everyone stared at him. Shannon adjusted her suit so it felt almost normal.
“Great, he’s finally lost his shit.” Kathy snorted.
“There’s just so much pissing going on, I can’t fucking stand it. Pissing contest in one corner. Pissing girl in the other. No offense.” Joey gasped between laughs. He rubbed at the corner of his eyes. “Piss, piss, piss. This place reeks! Hoo-boy, okay brother, let’s go.”
Shane hesitated. He locked eyes with Kathy. She shook her head, her lips pursed over her braces.
“This ain’t over. We still need to talk.” Shane pointed at Kathy.
Joey walked closer to Shannon, grew suddenly serious. He smelled of dirt and body odor and something that reminded her of the rubbing alcohol she dotted on her ears after she got them pierced.
“You ditch her. She’s no good for you,” Joey said.
“Why do you even care?” Shannon whispered.
“Why do I even care?” Joey muttered as he spun on the heel of his battered sneakers.
Rog tried on his man voice again. “Get away from her.”
Shannon looked at Joey, the beads of sweat, the smears of dirt, the caked fingernails and sagging ripped jeans. What had Joey been in high school? Joey opened his mouth but stopped and walked through the gate with Shane. The car started, the muffler popped and then the music pounded out the open windows.
“What losers,” Kathy said.
“Total dicks,” Rog said.
Shannon retreated to her chair and gathered up her Bain de Soleil and her crumpled t-shirt and shorts. A wind cut through the humid afternoon, rustling the leaves of the bushes around Shannon. She felt everyone’s eyes on her, like they were seeing her body for the first time, the way her thighs rubbed together, the shift of her hips.
“Where are you going?” Kathy asked.
“Home,” Shannon said.
Shannon expected her to say no, stay, don’t go, but knew that between them something had shifted, something had been seen that couldn’t be unseen like when Shannon saw Debbie’s face while the boy touched her beneath the blanket.
“See ya, Shannon,” Rog said.
“Yeah, later Rog,” she said as she lay the bottle of sunscreen next to her book. The dead blue eyes of the twins stared up at her from the book cover. During the days of Shane, Joey had been her own personal Dollanganger twin, the two of them trapped together in a dilapidated living room while the normal world went on without them.
Shannon paused by the gate. The broken lock hung by a hinge. She lifted it and let it fall.
“Let’s just say that you pushed on the gate too hard when you got here,” Kathy said. “If Mom ever asks.”
“Yeah, sure,” Shannon said as she stepped through the gate, knowing that she wouldn’t be around long enough to be asked. She wasn’t sure if it was relief that trailed her as her flip-flops slapped the pavement on her walk home or the freeing feeling of being the one to walk away from Kathy, ending her days as girlfriend-in-waiting. The air shimmered around her like it did after Joey had kissed her, after she had survived her imagined rape at his meaty hands. In the stuffy afternoon, everything alive, everything possible.