by A.K. Riddle
The cafeteria serves only stoner food. French fries, frozen pretzels and canned cheese, square- sliced pizza bought in bulk, taco in a bag, Brisk, chocolate milk, Betty Crocker box mix confetti cake. The kids rush into the dirty kitchen, seniors first, line up in a crooked line, and inhale the smell of rusty grease. They tap around on their phones like insects while they wait — Instagram DMs or Snapchats to their boyfriend or girlfriend that goes to school in the neighboring farmtown, each no more than twenty-eight minutes away, if they went eighty-five. They would break up soon maybe a week or two after summer break started over “long distance problems.” The games are addicting. They occasionally turn their heads up to look at their friend in the eye and say something. Zoom in close, and you can see their chapped pale tu-lips, peach fuzz, and acne’d chins. Their breath smells like thirty seconds of brushing and the leftover taste of milk. The cafeteria has tiny clusters of dead flies laying in the corners of its open windows. A recurring grotesque image of one of the flies resurrecting and landing on a pink bubble somebody is blowing haunts my conscience every time the period bell rings and the lunch supervisor shouts “PHONES DOWN! ONE OF YOU SENIORS START US IN PRAYER.”
All the senior girls are starting to gain a little more weight in their ass and tits, I noticed. It’s second semester and the end of senior year. They are eating more potato chips and ranch than normal. They lick their fingers until the very last speck of Cheeto dust is gone and leaves their lips tainted a little more orange than pink — they don’t bother wiping it off. They are smiling more at the teachers during these last classes and laughing at all of their ass dumb jokes even though they are not even an ounce funny in the nearest galaxy. I rest my case aside, all we care about now is liquor, porn, and McDonald’s drive through.
If things were different, if we lived in downtown Chicago and we were city kids, things wouldn’t have been like this. It wouldn’t seem so out of place when these farm kids drive down these winding country roads to their booming rap music. Things wouldn’t seem this beautifully grotesque.
Nateline told me it smelled like fruity vape in the parking lot last night and this morning. When I asked her what vape was, she laughed at me and told me I knew nothing. When she left with her phone and said “she was going to the bathroom”, I got out my laptop and looked up what is vape. But even when she came back, I was still confused.
She says it was probably Vale, the sophomore. Vale — the one that looks like a mix of Hyde and Fez from That 70’s Show — scraggly stubble, curly ringlet hair, bell bottomed khakis with pointed shiny shoes. He is a stoner too. And Nateline says that you can tell who is and isn’t just by their eyes.
“I think his eyes look poetic,” I say.
“I think they look a little bloodshoot.”
“Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep. How can you tell?”
“Trust me honey. I know the ways of the world.” She rubs her perfect fake nails against each other and revels in the noise they make.
“I personally like his eyes. They don’t give too much away…look like they’re hiding some kinda mysterious secret.”
She doesn’t hear me and continues to Snapchat her boyfriend.
I think I have a secret crush on Vale, the hem of his pants, and his shoes for some odd reason, but I don’t risk telling anybody. When I go to the bathroom to pee, I meditate on that image of him smoking in the school parking lot — alone in his Jeep late at night under the lamplight.
The kid I tutor in English chain-smokes green cigarettes in his glow-in-the dark fidget spinner.
It’s right after school, and I run to the sophomore hallway to go fetch him before he runs away. He escaped two days ago when The Librarian interrogated me about the service project for the hungry in Haiti that I was in charge of. When I ask him where he went instead of coming to the library for tutoring two days ago, he laughs and runs his hand through the mop of curls on his head.
“Sorry I forgot,” he says and begins to fidget and toss his head with a kind of expression I’ve never seen before.
“That’s ok,” I mechanically reply.
“Just let me know what days work. I’m free whenever.”
“Kay. Uhm.. I have ta ask mah dad because he picks me up from school.”
“That’s ok, just let me know!”
And we parted our ways.
The English Teacher is making me tutor my chain-smoking student because he hates him and doesn’t want to waste his time.
“Gutter, come on, no fleece sweatshirts. That’s another dress code.” The Biology Teacher is a bitch from dress code hell, and it made no sense because her tits were always showing through her white shirt like two angry knives. Gutter ignores her and flips her off. Over the phone, me and Ryder play Fuck, Marry, Kill when our call gets to that point where we’re getting bored and hungry for dinner.
“I’d do Mrs. D in a heartbeat.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? She’s the devil and looks like a chipmunk.”
“What if I like em that way.”
“I think I just puked a little.”
“Fine. Name one teacher you have the hots for.”
“What the hell kinda question is that? They’re all frickin ancient, mean, and ugly.”
“Not even Father?”
“Get out you nasty kid.”
“I would rather die. I don’t know how his wife even touches him.”
“You sound unsure.”
“So is Mrs. D.”
“What about students?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Goodnight you filthy animal.”
I walk a few paces to the sophomore hallway and find Gutter stuffing his backpack with papers.
“Oh hey! We doin one and a half hours today right?”
“Ok good because that’s what I told mah dad.”
“Got everything you need? Get whatever books or notebooks…”
“I think so.”
In those three minutes since the dismissal bell rang, the hallways were evacuated empty — like the abandoned school hallways you see in movies. The lights already began to shut off, but it was so bright anyways that nothing became hidden. The Janitor sweeps down the corridor with his dirty mop and whistles to some old tune. His soul is a breath of fresh air — walking past — lawnmower grass, musk and earth, cold cologne.
Me and Gutter go into the empty stuffy library and settle by the table near the door.
“Ohhkay Gut-ter! So, where would you like to start?”
“Well I know you guys have grammar worksheets and some reading to do.”
“How theh fauck did you know?!” He intentionally drew out each word in a street gangsta slur even though he was white as hell.
“I have two eyes and can read the assignment board?”
“You’re funny,” he laughs and takes off his Hot Topic hoodie. It’s covered in white skull and rose graffiti. He slings it on the behind of the chair.
“Linking or action verbs…”
“Fuck this shittttt…”
“You guys are reading Fahrenheit 451?”
“I have no clue. I never pay attenshun in class because I always be sleepin whenever that mofo is talkin.” He puts his head down on the table to reenact.
“Mr. Mothenfocker annoys you?”
“He makes me mad!” He raises his head and fiddles with his thick gold chain.
“Me too Gutter, me too. You just gotta ignore him though.”
“But he always be chewin on that stinky pizza and it drives me nuts!” He bites his chain to demonstrate.
“Ok number one… is swim action or linking?”
“Idunnooooo. I told you! I always be sleepin in English class!”
Ryder gives me a lecture about his family tree for forty-five minutes, and I nod and smile to everything he says just in case we get married. The only part I remembered was that Grandma Coral married Grandpa Bo in 19-whatthehell and gave birth to his slutty Aunt Courtney who didn’t tell her parents she had a baby until two years after the birth. He was boring, and I almost fell asleep on the basement sofa.
“We’re having a jam-sesh on Thursday if you wanna come.”
“Oh cool!” “Um.. ya sure! I have to double check with my parents first though.”
“Yeah that’s fine.”
“It’s at one like always.”
I run upstairs and fumble to text Guy about the desperate situation. I’m embarrassed to even think about the possibility of going to a boy’s house. Hell, it would be the first time I was ever going to a boy’s house.
can u give me a ride on thurs to the jam sesh ?
Just curious tho as to why? Didn’t you get that nice blue Benz for your bday?
i don’t really like to drive & i didn’t tell my parents exactly where i’m going
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ye no prob tho. I gotchu girl.
thanks guy !!
I don’t know why I am doing what I am doing. It was even a surprise to me. Ryder never seemed very happy when he talked to me at first. I mean, he would send texts without any smiley faces or emojis and always ended things starkly with a cynical groan and a period. Maybe he’s just philosophically constipated.
“Oh. My. Goshhhh. AGHhhhh!” Krystal moans and burrows her head in between her crossed arms.
Her phone buzzes.
“What happened?” Lez asks and puts her phone down for the first time since lunch started so she can divert her full attention to Krystal.
“All the guys at Pecanokwa are just fuckin with poor Biny.”
She comes up for air. “One of the guys stole the chain I gave him for his birthday and now he can’t find it anywhere.”
“Ohhhh nooooo!” Lez overcompassiontes. She pouts like a sad fish and thinks about giving Krystal a hug.
“It’s just so frustrating! And the chain was like one hundred and fifty bucks.”
“The one you engraved ‘BK 4EVER’ on for fifty extra dollars?”
“YESSSSS!!” she wails even more.
“Burger King forever?” I snicker, and she gives me the eye of el diablo.
“Did he report it to the office.”
“Yeah, but they don’t do shit.”
Now Lez gives her a hug.
I put on my only cool tee — a boyish shirt that says CALIFORNIA: BEST PLACE EVER and jean shorts that I think make me look retro and some donut-print flip flops. I totally look like a hippie- rocker now. I’ll fit right in.
I told my parents I was going to a “spontaneously planned class lunch at the cafe downtown” and they said okay with no hair of suspicion raised. I was victorious and biting my nails at the same time.
It’s hard to sneak out of the house when you have a stay-at-home father who loves you and watches over your every move, and it was even harder to shake my conscience of its criminality. But, I kept reassuring myself that it was time to live now and that I wasn’t even doing anything that bad.
“Kari’s here Papa! She’s giving me a ride to lunch!”
“Ok baby! See you later!”
Guy kicks open the passenger door. Some punk music plays.
“Turn it down!! My dad can probably hear!!”
“Wassssupp girl?! Oh shit! Let me change this garbage. Whaddaya wanna listen to? Pop, rock, classic, rap, old shit, Beethoven…Antarctic Primates?” He smirks and feeds in the AP CD.
“You know me so well.”
And we start cruising our small town. It’s hella hot, he says, and blasts the AC. It’s not hot, it’s humid, I , and open the window all the way.
Guy is a big Samoan boy. I think he’s real cool because he knows all classic rock songs and he’s always throwing up the hang loose sign.
“Ryder said it’s gonna be a little bit until he gets back home.”
“Yeah. He said he’s out grocery shopping at Aldi’s with his grandma.”
We’re riding abound Ryder’s neighborhood now. I like the small pastel houses and crowdedness of it. It’s a real suburban neighborhood. We go up and down one hill again and again until Ryder rings up Guy and says it’s ok to come in. I watch the fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror knock against each other madly.
Guy parks his old black car at the curb of Ryder’s house. We go up the cracked concrete steps and ring the doorbell impatiently. The door creaks open and the skinny figure of Ryder welcomes us into his small house.
“Heyy guysss.” He’s barefoot and wearing a black Bruce Springsteen t-shirt and plaid cargo shorts. His eight year old sister, Bree, is watching some PBS Kids show even though it’s 2018, and she stares at me and Guy taking off our shoes. It’s scary how much she looks like Ryder. They both have the same rectangle wire rim glasses, except hers are purple. The same lazy alien eyes. She even talks in the same slow slur as him.
We toe down the seven concrete stairs to the “basement.” Mike and Ev are already there, messing around on the bass and guitar.
“It’s about time you boobs showed up,” Mike spits. He’s a sophomore like Ryder and Ev. His face is shaped like a baby eagle with a crooked nose. His father was a philosophy professor who taught at the community college, but he was buried in the graveyard across my house.
“Let’s get right to it I guess,” Guy adjusts the microphone and taps to test.
They perform what I didn’t know was Seven Nation Army. Mike looks like he’s nutting when he plays the guitar, Ev picks the bass like it was a lyre, and Guy sings like a reggae beachdweller. Ryder clashes the drums like he’s happy drunk and glances up at me periodically. He spins his drumsticks in tricks and tries to wink — I laugh and clap lightly. His scary Grandma peeks in the “basement” during the song, stares at me for a long minute, and walks away. The Dog sprints downstairs too and jumps, barks, licks my foot.
They’re panting by the time the song and their burst of teenage angst is done.
“That was a work of beautiful art,” I lie.
“You guys want a drink or somethin?” Ryder gets up from the drum set. His hairy toes are intriguing.
“Bud Light for me please,” Ev suavely requests.
“Comin right up sir.”
We all follow Ryder up the seven concrete stairs to his small kitchen. The refrigerator is covered in family pictures.
“How aren’t your Grandma and Dog deaf yet?” I ask.
“I have nooo clue.” He grabs the Blaze Hot Doritos out of the pantry.
We follow him to his blue bedroom and the boys plop down on the bed.
“You have a fridge in your bedroom?”
“Yah gurl! To keep my dranks cool.”
He whips five cans of Minute Maid Pink Lemonade at us, and we pop em open like fireworks. The boys slurp loud and crunch the chips like it was their last snack. The Dog bounces in and they roll off the bed and onto the floor to play with it.
“Ryder!!! Look!!! Your dog wants to lick my balls!!!” Ev is suffering. The Dog sniffs between his legs.
“Shut up you pedophile. Stop perverting my innocent doggo.”
“You mean dogophile?” I add.
“You can sit on the bed yanno…” Ryder says to me.
“Oh yeah sure!” I realize I am the only one standing and sit next to Ryder on the edge of the bed.
It’s an awkward position. The Dog comes over and licks my foot again. Ryder lays down, face up his glow-in-the-dark star-covered ceiling, sighs and sips. He’s really lanky and has braces, a Lennon bowl cut, and small constellations of forehead acne. I imagine an hour or two later when the boys would leave — I would be the last one to go. Maybe say that my dad was running late. It would happen then — him and I, two skeleton shadows, a first kiss for both of us near the open window — almost night, hot summer, cool breeze.
“LET’S PLAY BEAN BOOZLED!!!” Ryder pops up and shouts. The boys reply in a barbaric yawp back. I try not to keep noticing that I’m the only girl there.
We each take turns tasting jellybeans and trying to guess the flavor — lawnmower clippings, toothpaste, tutti fruitti poop, baby’s barf, rotten egg… We spit the bad ones out in his small toilet and then move on to play darts.
“The score thingy isn’t working,” I say and run my hands over the bumpy board.
Ryder’s father comes in to check on us, and Ryder complains to him that the dartboard’s batteries are dead. His father has a goatee and rectangle wire rim eyeglasses. He has a big belly and kind overprotective eyes like my Papa. He doesn’t hesitate and assures Ryder he’ll fix it. He loves his son a lot. His name is Aaron and when he’s fixing the dartboard’s batteries, he makes me stop and think about how lovely the name Aaron is.
Ryder “accidentally” brushes his foot against mine while we watch Mike, Ev, and Guy dart battle. He’s rolling around on the floor and he’s got a double chin when he’s laying down. I hang my leg two inches above his chest in a pretend kick, and he sighs please keep torturing me, it’s so hot.
We toss darts, make The Dog lick the crotch of Ev’s shorts, slurp more pink lemonade, play bad indie rock, and go home when Ryder’s mom comes in and tells him Mike and Ev’s parents are here.
Guy nudges me and raises his eyebrows like we should go too. I give in, and we head out.
Jamie and The History Teacher exchange Snapchat usernames at the end of Government class. They both giggle. They both wear cross necklaces. Jamie’s ass is bony, and her hair is thinning like a old man’s. She’s wearing a skimpy purple cami that flounces a little above her sunken orange-tan stomach, black booty jean shorts, and some “cute strappy black sandals” as she likes to call them. And as I looked at her, I thought of the similarities she shared with her mother — the bird bones, hawk faces, whining, chewing gum bad habit, dumb pretty tone they always talked with. Observing it all made me disgusted for some reason.
Her mother chomped on bubblegum. She was tryna quit chewin like the other farmtowners, but sometimes snuck outside to the front porch after dinner, when Jamie said goodnight and hugged her and went on Snapchat with her boyfriend instead of to bed, and put that wad of brown earth into the left pocket of her cheek. She would sit on the front step or rock in the rocking chair and look out over the fairgrounds and the few passing headlights of the trucks and gnash her teeth softly. There was nothing like the taste of it — sweet and warm and pulpy — and nothing like the nostalgia of years before it gave her.
There was a certain something about Jamie that confused me. There was a certain something about how she seemed to know all the things of this town — where everyone would be at 1 pm, 2:15 am, who drank, who smoked, who vaped, who got pulled over by the po-lice, who would sleep in who’s car that night. But, she never seemed to know the why about anything.
During Philosophy class The History Teacher taps around on his iPhone when we are taking notes on Socrates.
I raise my hand to test. “What were Socrates’s views on temptation?”
“You know. What did the man think think about human desire and temptation?”
“Idunno.” He tosses the question to the side and eyes me to make sure I’m still taking notes. He does this a lot when he feels childish. He is young and his new baby girl is six months old.
“I thought you were a Bible expert, Mr. G. I mean you told us your analysis on the Garden of Eden story everyday first semester.”
“I have no clue what you’re talking about. Just take the notes, Abba.” He crouches behind his podium and snaps a selfie.
I have to admit — he was a good liver. He and she were good live-rs unlike me, and it was irritating.
Cue the REO Speedwagon music please — Take It on the Run. Of course, this road only led to the train tracks and dead ends of the farmlands. The cars passed by in the same rushed speed you wouldn’t expect from a place like this. Every car that drove behind either honked or cut in front of me even though the road was painted in two straights of yellow that never broke. A couple of farmers and truck drivers flipped me off and yelled out their window that REO Speedwagon is a piece of shit while they passed in front of me, but I kept cruising at a lazy forty-seven, no more no less, smiled at their annoyance and rush and noise. It was confusing why they were in a hurry all the time. Wasn’t this supposed to be the beautiful sleepy part of America?
The next day it flooded.
The school was the kind of humid that makes your ass stick to your chair like tape and makes your hair a little more poofy than normal. The sun came in pouring streams of dust and burnt light. The rain came down hard and in a downpour all of last night — rattling trees and flash lightning knocking on your window like a moory ghost.
“I can’t tell if I’m peeing myself or if my ass is sweating.”
“I would sell half of my prefrontal cortex just to rub some ice on my back.”
At lunch, Krystal proclaims she’s in love with her boyfriend.
“You love him just because he buys you fancy gifts, takes you out to dinner everyday, and gives you hickies in the backseat of your car afterwards,” I tease.
She is offended and rolls her eyes at me.
“I know what love is. You have no idea what love is because you’re a loner.”
“That’s true,” I accept. “But at least I don’t run an emo loveshit Tumblr account.”
Mama yells at me when she comes home from work and finds me FaceTiming Ryder.
“Hey Mama! How was work?”
“Why do you care about me all of a sudden?”
“Whaaaattt?” She takes off her collared blouse and black trousers in front of me like she always does and changes into pajamas. “Why are you on the phone with boys for hours everyday now?”
“It’s only been twenty minutes! We were talking about music. And we don’t call everyday.” I follow her into the bathroom and wait until she’s done peeing.
“Don’t get too involved with people like him. They’re not like us.” She opens her facial elixir and begins to scrub her face over the sink.
“What do you mean? Just because he doesn’t have a Mercedes and a big house like us?”
“These people aren’t like us.”
“You don’t like my friend because he’s poor?”
She walks out of the bathroom, onto her bed, and flips on the TV, ignoring me just like everybody else.
Gutter’s eyes are a little red in the corners today.
“Did you get enough sleep last night?”
“I told you! I don’t sleep!”
“I told you so many times to keep healthy habits and take care of yourself. What happened to the schedule I made you?”
“Listen…I be workin on my music all night long because I got better things to do in life than homework and sleepin. You don’t gotta worry bout nothin cuz you rich as hell. People like me, we be up until the sunrise because sleep is fo’ the weak.” He gathers his curls into a ponytail with the stretchy friendship bracelet on his wrist. It sticks straight up like an onion top.
“Your boyfriend and I got into a fight today.” His eyes are googly, bug blue, and crazy.
“He’s not my boyfriend, and I know,” I say in my therapist voice.
“I don’t think so?”
“HE FUCK-KING SLAPPED. MY. ASS.” He hits the table on each syllable. “YOUR BOY-FRIEND FUCK-KING BENT ME OVER THE LUNCH TABLE, PULLED DOWN MY PANTS, AND FUCK-KING SLAPPED MY ASS.”
“He didn’t pull your pants down though. And Ryder’s just my friend.”
“YOUR BOY-FRIEND IS A GAY RETARD.” “AND EVERYBODY KEEPS ON SAYING I LOOK LIKE A FUCK-KING SLOTH.”
I go into brief philosophical discourse to try to put his mind at ease, but he resists and retaliates that I’m rich, talk like a professor, and have a gay retarded boyfriend. He says life is really hard for him and I’ll never get it because I’m not poor and my parents spoil me. He says his parents hate him, and he’s forced to sleep in a bedroom the size of a closet. He says he has to kill the scorpions and spiders that jump on him from his ceiling with his half broken flip flop. He says his older brother, the one that goes to the community college, doesn’t hang out or care about him that much anymore because he drives around town listening to his punk music and trying to impress girls.
“I’m a SoundCloud rapper. And I just know I’m gonna make it big.”
“Yanno my producer live in Norway and he hella rich.”
“Wanna read some of my song lyrics?”
After an hour and a half, all we’ve accomplished is me reading four pages of Fahrenheit 451 to him because he didn’t wanna read by himself.
“Remember to work on all those missing assignments.”
“I’ll try after I go to da studio.”
The kid I tutor in English chain-smokes green cigarettes in his glow-in-the dark fidget spinner. I know this because I see black tar tobacco under his short fingernails. He replaces the tobacco with green sometimes because it makes him feel like Post Malone or some other cool rap star. His father doesn’t know. His father is a nicotine addict too. His father looks like the devil, and after I tutor the kid, I walk outside with him to the parking lot, where his father waits in a beat up blue cobalt truck to old rock. A sticker that says Semper Fi is stuck to the back window. They both eye me like temptation does an innocent. My student’s eyes are a little bloodshot tainted to one side and are watery like the air is too cold to blink. My student mumbles his raps when he is doing homework and bites his gold chain and messes with the curls of his hair to attract me. He wants to kiss me when everybody leaves the library, but I change the topic to homework or something about literature and he rolls his eyes and eyes my eyes. I don’t know what is it with farmtown people, smoke, and eyeing people to their soul.
I remember sophomore year the most. I remember when I couldn’t drive and had to wait twenty minutes most days for my dad to come pick me up. But twenty always felt like fifty. That was the fall — some shade of October. On those days, the sun set early and the sky turned into a melancholy painting of blue, black, and orange. And some of the boys and girls were practicing basketball and some were lifting in the gym. I wished I could play with them and laugh along to their jokes and sing along to their rap. But, as I looked to the clear sky and opened the door a little to feel the cold air, I remembered that I was just a poet. I was just there to tell their stories, not be like them. I don’t know if I liked it that way, but that’s just the way things were.
The Principal’s Daughter smells like laundry detergent, Belvita, bubblegum, and lactose intolerant medicine. She has a Snapscore of almost a million, but she’s only had her phone for a year and a half. She has fat blue cow eyes and braces to match and her butt is two times the size of mine even though she’s two inches shorter.
After choir practice ends, she reaches behind for her monogrammed lunchbox. She opens it impatiently and crinkles open the blueberry Belvita she eats everyday. She farts a lot and I pretend not to notice. She crunches while she scrolls through her after-shower towel selfies to decide which one is hot enough to send to whatever boy she’s hitting up.
“Abba get in my selfie,” she commands. “Your space buns look cute.”
“You really think so?” “Oh happy day comrade!” She looks confused at what I just said and just clicks the selfies.
I stick my tongue out and throw up two peace signs.
“By the way, I think the twenty-eighth towel-selfie looks the best. Your eyes catch a little glare of the light in that one. It makes you look poetic.”
At the choir concert later that night, the Principal’s Daughter sits beside me because we’re both altos. She talks to Maci, the second soprano, who’s next to her. They’re both annoying and sophomores.
“I’m on my period so we can’t do anything,” The Principal’s Daughter moans.
“Tell me about it.”
“Don’t worry you’ll totally be bangable by the end of year dance next week.”
“Ugh! I hope.”
“Didn’t Sean say something really weird to you last weekend? After you guys were done at the softball game?”
“Something about something smelling?”
“Oh…he says I smell like butter.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“I dunno. Probably. I mean who doesn’t like butter?”
It was funny how Kyla was the principal’s daughter and the school scandal at the same time.
I texted Guy.
we need to start a band group chat
Can’t, Ryder’s phone doesn’t work with group chats
Ikr it’s frustrating
“September is totally a dance jam.”
“Hellooo??? Ryder you still there?”
“Hello hello Abba!!”
“I can’t hear you!!”
“My!! Phone!! Is!! Shit!!”
“Your!! Phone!! Sucks!! Shit!!”
And we were reconnected from the crackling at last word.
“What were you saying Ryder?”
“I…was…just wonderinggggg… if you’d go to end of the year dance with me??”
“That’s it? No fancy proposal or anything?”
“I-I can make you a poster or somethin if you want?”
“No you don’t have to princess. And yes, I will gladly go with you.”
“COOL I’M SO EXCITED NOW.”
We have a serious problem, he starts texting me after school when I’m out biking. He’s asking about which color shirt and tie he should get. Before I can reply, he begins sending pictures of black dress shirts and burgundy ties.
i told you no black!! it makes you look emo
You think I’m emo?
lololol noooo! i just think the pics would look good if your shirt matched the flowers on my dress
Ok whatever you say. You know about clothes way better than me.
hahahaha thnx XD
Yea. I’m shopping with my grandma and she said the black would make me look spiffy.
ur shopping with the crazy grandma ?? & i said n0 black !!!!
Yisss unfortunately & ok ok
His parents were the chaperones.
It was disappointing. I offered to drive him nevertheless. We would go to sushi first with our friends then to bowling before the dance.
I drove him to the bowling alley — alone — the first time I ever drove someone other than myself. He was quiet the whole day, so I asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing. I’m just thinking.”
“Are you sure it isn’t your stomach that’s thinking?”
“No, not today. I like sushi. I’m just thinking about this sunset and something else.”
“Here we are! You are my first passenger to arrive alive at our destination.”
“You killed all the other ones?”
We shittily bowled for an hour. Us girls squatted in our sparkly flower power dresses and chucked the bowling ball like a basketball. The boys threw backwards or aimed silly by laying on the ground. Our shoes were too big, untied, and we didn’t know how to play. But we ate too many greasy nachos, hogged the jukebox, and left when the sun was finally down.
We got in each others’ cars and Ryder got in mine, still quiet and dorky.
“Time to dance the night away!”
He silently fiddled with the radio.
We arrived at our school in the ghetto. I paid for our dinner and tickets, and we began to dance with our friends in the dark cafeteria. When we slow danced, it was grotesque. He was a sweaty skeleton, and he barely touched me because he was so scared. I whispered a couple of bad jokes into his ear just to make him laugh and loosen up. When he smiled, his braces shined in the disco light like little silver stars.
When it’s over, we part our ways and I hug him goodbye. He goes over to his parents. I take a few pictures with the other girls. I come back and hug him goodbye a second time and leave.
“Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?”
“No, my parents are taking me.”
There’s a drizzle of rain that makes the black air cold and the pavement slick shiny. When I look up as I walk to my blue car, I remember how much I love the tall yellow lamplights at night and how they make everything feel like a sad lovesong that never was.
My stomach is cramping — knots of blood vessels twisted round each other like they were playing tug-of-war or something. The sushi was probably bad. The radio plays quietly while the rain drops pitter patter and make me turn my wipers to full speed. I should’ve called Papa. He would’ve picked me up. I don’t know how to drive in the rain.
I almost pull over because I feel like I’m gonna throw up, but I can’t see that well with the flood on the windshield, so I just drive home slow as always.
Ryder doesn’t talk to me for the next few weeks. And when he finally does text he says come over for another jam-sesh.
I say ok and go over in the next hour. My parents know where I am going this time, they are fine with it, but still whisper about their concern over tea for me when I am gone.
All the boys are already there in the “basement.” They sit on the concrete floor this time — just Mike plucking at the acoustic guitar. They were all wearing gym shorts and socks. His house smelled like dollar store air freshener and off brand froot loops.
“Today we’re playin love songs baby,” winks Guy cryptically.
And so the jam-sesh begins — they strum and howl bad existential lyrics about how she’s so cold and only cares about God and not me. Ryder’s scary Grandma peeks in the “basement” during the song, stares at me for a long minute, and walks away. The Dog sprints downstairs too and jumps, barks, licks my foot. Ryder brushes his foot against mine, uses the floor as his drum, and keeps on whining that I should sing. The Dog keeps burrowing itself in Ev’s crotch. I am confused, so I get up.
“Where are you going?” Ryder asks and gets up too.
“Why? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” “IT’S JUST THAT I HATE YOUR SHITTY ROCK MUSIC AND MY MOM SAYS I SHOULDN’T BE HANGING OUT WITH YOU GUYS BECAUSE YOU’RE GONNA TURN OUT DUMB AND LIKE STONERS AND NEVER DO ANYTHING WITH YOUR LIFE AND I’M THE ONLY GIRL HERE AND I JUST WANT SOME REAL AND GOOD FRIENDS BUT YOU GUYS JUST PLAY SHITTY ROCK AND EAT CHIPS AND DRINK PINK LEMONADE AND LET THE DOG LICK YOUR CROTCH AND YOU ALL SMELL LIKE GRASS AND YOU MAKE ME SAD RYDER BECAUSE YOU’RE SO SKINNY AND HAVE NO SELF CONFIDENCE AND YOUR HAIRY TOES MAKE ME CONFUSED AND I JUST WANT TO GO HOME AND BE BY MYSELF.”
I meet Aaron at the top of the stairs, and he asks me where I am going so soon. I say I don’t feel that good, and I have to finish my shit-ton of homework anyways. He helps me out the door, rectangle glasses, pot belly, kind eyes and all.
At night it rained the type of rain that comes down just like it was the beginning of autumn again — cold, grey, damp, greenish skies…
I lug my tie-dye backpack up the twenty-four carpeted stairs then flop backwards onto my bed.
Ryder hadn’t texted me in two and a half weeks because he was too busy — talking to Venus. She had tits three times as big as mine and wore size eight jeans. In the overheard words of Ryder, she was damn thicc. She was a senior too, but she could actually sing lead vocals, and she actually used her car to drive around. She went on McDonalds runs late at night with Mike — him jumping through the passenger window to get into the seat — them laughing and all at the joy of teenage mischief. She played footsie with Ryder during band practice — when the two would sit on the floor and she would learn guitar from him, just like I once did, but not because they were friends. Venus thought Ryder was hot because she likes drummers. Venus had two declared boyfriends — who used and abused her — who only went out with her because she was damn thicc on Instagram and real life. Who can blame them? She wasn’t named Venus for nothing.
Mr. Mothenfocker and The Principal emailed me that Gutter went back to where he came from — Takota High because he was failing all of his classes and said this school was too hard and the people are shit. His parents had enough. They didn’t want to waste any more money they didn’t have. Mr. Mothenfocker was thankful. He said that Gutter was causing the school to deteriorate — because he was trying to “break down the system.”
The endless homework took the rest of the night — busy, useless work.
It was boring, restless, and unsatisfying. My phone was useless, my friends were useless, and my time after school was useless.
I got out my laptop. Googled pictures of garlic bread first, watched some Italian cooking videos, then Pinterested wedding ideas. I got bored again, brushed my teeth, scrubbed my dirty face, and went downstairs to kiss my family goodnight and get a glass of water. It was almost midnight. My parents were snoring. I got out the laptop again. I still wasn’t sleepy.
Talk to Strangers!
What do you wanna talk about? Add your interests here.
You: what’s your favorite food?
You: ew i hate eggs 😦
Stranger: You got a snap
You: na i don’t do social media
You have disconnected.
You’re now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
Stranger: bored girl here looking for a good time. i got pictures 😉 text me
Stranger has disconnected.
Stranger: how u doin
You: doin ok. just bored. wbu
Stranger: aren’t we all
You: we. are. all. bored.
Stranger: i love screamo music
You: u think u r one cool mofo?
Stranger: i was a vape god
You: what happened?
Stranger: parents found my stash
You: shitttttt. that’s not good
Stranger: have you ever been drunk
Stranger: or high
Stranger: or anything
You: nooo lololol. i don’t ever plan on doing any.
Stranger: ever made out
You: not even close
You: my life is kinda boring compared to yours
Stranger: then make it interesting
Stranger: I got quite an interesting life
Stranger: so go live your life
Stranger: you will look back when you are older and think i wish i had some fun
You: hahaha ya sure. how exactly do you live interestingly?
Stranger: sports, parties, girls
You have disconnected.
Verify you are not a robot.
Click all the pictures with roads.
Stranger: Hi, 19 F here
Stranger: I have various things to show you. Wanna see me shaking my booty? Wanna see my cam show now?
Stranger: Click here for endless hot fun.
Stranger has disconnected.
Stranger: Wanna hangout with me babe? My name’s Tate.
Stranger: I’ll meet you there… 😉
You have disconnected.
A.K. Riddle is a pseudonym for a recent high school graduate. Her previous story for us was “The Professor.”