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It's Our Time MAG
They expect me to get up this morning. I think they're delusional.
The door creaks and the next second my blinds are open. Sunlight pours in, sickly sweet with a little tang, like lemonade. I hate lemonade. My eyes squeeze shut to block the chemicals from entering my body.
I feel hands on my back. They're cold, like the hands of a doctor.
“Macy. Get up, darling.”
Hello, Doctor Mother.
I reply with a groan and pull the covers over my head.
I see her throwing Goldfish three feet into the air and catching them in her mouth as she winks at me … I see her diving into the pool, a splash engulfing her figure … She's a sharp knife, cutting through the water as if it's Jell-O … I hear her shrill scream echoing a thousand times into the night … I see her sweat-drenched bangs, caked with dried blood, covering her stony face ….
I feel the hands again. This time they're stroking my hair.
“Time for school, Macy,” Mom whispers near my ear. Her breath smells like mocha latte, extra sugar.
Go away, I scream in my head. I hear the silence bounce off the walls, back and forth, back and forth, until my mother can't stand it any longer. She grabs the covers and pulls them off. I no longer have anything to hide behind except myself.
“The car's leaving in 15 minutes, hon,” she says as she walks out the door.
As soon as I step into school, the whispers begin. They're like snakes hissing in my ear, slithering around my head, strangling my mind.
“Did you hear ….”
I walk to my locker, my head down to avoid eye contact, and twirl the lock aimlessly, hoping my fingers remember the combination. They don't. The hissing fades as people retreat to their classes, and the hallway becomes desolate.
I'm alone. My fingers graze the walls, feeling the cracks in the white paint on the borders of my jail. The heels of some teacher click down the hall. I turn sharply to see Ms. Carrol coming. She gives me a once-over – like teachers do when they're trying to determine if your shorts are too short.
The faux sweetness in her voice gives me an immediate stomach ache. I grunt in response.
“I heard you were returning today.”
Her sharp green eyes pierce into my face, trying to dissect me. Each strand of her straight hair looks as if it has been sewn to her scalp.
“I'm here,” I say. The words feel raw in my throat.
“So I see.” She smiles at me. Her front teeth are slightly crooked. “Well, run along to class then. Don't want to be late your first day back.”
I nod. I have no intention of going to class.
Ms. Carrol starts to turn and then decides that, as the guidance counselor, she should say more.
“If you want to talk about it, just come down to my office.”
The click of her heels fades as she rounds the corner. I stand by the wall and wonder how she ever got into counseling.
The first useful piece of information I got as a freshman was actually a threat. “Don't skip class. Teachers without a class that hour roam the hallways, and they will find and punish you.”
As a sophomore, it turned into “Skipping class is bad, but if you have to, avoid the hallways and go straight for the bathrooms.”
As juniors we're told, “Do whatever the heck you want; it's your life you're screwing with.”
I've found the sophomore approach easiest. I reach a bathroom and slip inside a graffiti-covered stall. I pull my knees up to my chest and hug my legs. My forehead rests on my knees as I close my eyes and wish it all away.
As soon as I opened that door, our friendship began.
“Hi! I'm Essa. Who are you?” A gap-toothed eight-year-old stood in front of me, wearing a bright pink jumper, black Mary Janes, and a purple bow in her wild blond hair.
“Macy,” I said hesitantly; I'd always been shy. “Macy Hammer.”
“That's a funny last name.” She giggled. “I like it. I'm eight. I lived in Massachusetts before my daddy got a job in Santa Cruz. I live four houses down, five if you count the shed. I have a little brother, two cats, and a goldfish named Fishy. My cat's names are Rupert and Celia; Rupert's the fat one. Daddy says Rupert weighs more than I do. I've always wanted to dye Celia pink with polka dots, but my mommy says that's not possible. I love lemonade. I just got a new tree house with a pink slide ….”
I listened to her voice squeal incessantly; I watched her mouth open and close. The full green branches swayed behind her as if dancing to her words. I remembered that my macaroni was on the counter getting colder by the second. I opened my mouth.
“I have to g-” I began, feeling a hungry rumble in my stomach.
“So you wanna see him?” She looked eagerly.
“My pony, of course!”
I looked at her in disbelief. I'd never seen a pony.
“Sure. I'll just-” Before I could finish, she joined her arm with mine and began to skip down my driveway.
The pony turned out to be pink. His name was Alfred. He sat on her bed along with his fellow stuffed animals.
The bell must have rung, because suddenly I hear thousands of feet barreling down the hallway. They're like elephants. I'm being trampled. The bathroom door opens, and cliques of girls huddle around the mirrors. They apply makeup, giggle, and gossip. One girl plugs in a straightening iron and begins to fry her hair. I'm stuck in my stall, hardly breathing. I don't want to be found.
“Everyone is saying she's back,” says a voice. Millie Radman.
I peer through the crack where the door never quite reaches the wall. Millie is standing beside Anna Lukas. Together they take up the entire mirror, but a hoard of other girls jump and stretch to catch glimpses of themselves. It makes me nauseated.
Anna flips her straight black hair. “But has anyone actually seen her?”
Millie caps her tube of mascara. “Doubt it. I bet it's all rumors.”
The bathroom begins to clear out. Millie starts toward the door, but Anna pulls her arm back.
“You don't think she actually pushed her, do you?” Anna asks skeptically.
Millie turns and flashes a smile. “There's not a doubt in my mind.”
With that, she's whisked off into the herd of elephants in the hallway.
Anna stays in the bathroom for another minute, and I watch as she bites her lip and inspects her eye makeup. Suddenly she turns and looks straight at me. We make eye contact, and I shrivel closer to the toilet. She blinks, and the next second she's gone. I place my cheek against the toilet lid. It's more comfortable that way.
Years passed since I was introduced to Essa's pony, and we'd become joined at the hip. People took to calling us twins, even though at 15 we looked nothing alike. I had short brown hair, green eyes, and a pale complexion. Essa grew tall, with blond hair that reached down her back. Essa taught me to talk more, and I had a lot to say. I took up writing poetry and even tried my hand at acting.
“You're coming to my game today, right, babe?”
“Ain't gonna miss it for the world, sugar,” I replied, in my best attempt at a Southern accent.
This sent Essa into a hailstorm of hysterics. I was awful at accents.
“Ya gunna spike those balls today, honey bunches?” I tried again, this time getting thrown off by my own giggles.
“Don't cha know it,” said Essa. “Those San Francisco Beetles best be scared.”
“Beetles? You better squash them. I've heard beetle juice is extra tasty.” I kicked a pair of jeans off my carpet and into my hamper.
“Oh, don't worry, we won't starve tonight,” she finished dramatically.
It was at that volleyball game that I realized how beautiful Essa really was.
There's the bell again. It's lunchtime. I kick open my stall without thinking and face a crowd of girls. They stare at me with wide, made-up eyes. I try to act invisible, but it's no use; there's nowhere to hide.
I walk with my head down, and people stop in their tracks. The whispers spiral around me. They're too familiar.
“She pushed her.”
“She pushed her.”
“She pushed her.”
I stop in my tracks, the word hitting me like a concrete wall. I feel the blood pulsating through me, pure rage building in my veins. My throat screams. My head screams. My body screams. The whispers fall silent as if holding their breath for the coming explosion. I take two steps toward Millie Radman. The monster inside me rocks back onto its hind legs, ready to pounce.
“Lesbian,” she repeats, as if egging me on. I take another step. I can smell her putrid breath on my face.
My palm hits her cheek with a smack.
“I love you,” Essa said with her back to me. Her forehead rested against the wall, and her eyes were closed tight, as if she was thinking hard.
“I know,” I said, letting my fingers fall onto her shoulders.
She turned to face me.
Tears wove their way down her cheeks like tiny streams. It was the first time I'd seen her cry. I felt my heart twinge.
“Millie kicked me off the team-” she said, her voice cracking.
“She's just jealous that you're better-” I began.
She took my hand off her shoulder.
“She also threatened to tell my parents. Millie goes to my church. She knows they're Catholic. She says she'll tell my mother. She'll tell her that I'm … that I'm a lesbian.”
She sank to the floor.
“The way she looks at me. The way everybody looks at me. Like I'm some sort of creature. Like I'm disgusting. I can't take it, Mace. What's wrong with me – what's wrong with us? I hate everything. I shouldn't be here.”
She closed her eyes while she tried to steady her breathing.
When she opened them, they were still swimming with glassy tears.
“I don't want to be here.”
When I float to consciousness, I'm lying in a cot. I can taste blood in my mouth and hear voices all around me.
“She's a lunatic,” I hear Millie say. I open my eyes a bit – enough to make out the figures around me, but not enough to be noticed. Millie points to where I socked her in the eye, which is now unmistakably black. “She's a disease.”
I close my eyes again. I really don't want to be part of this.
“How do I look?” Essa called before stepping out of the bathroom. A princess stood in front of me. Golden hair fell down her shoulders and danced across her back like waves. The baby blue fabric lightly grazed her thighs and complemented her icy eyes perfectly. Freckles flitted across the bridge of her nose, and lip gloss coated her cherry lips.
“Perfect,” I said, awestruck.
Her smile illuminated the room. I grinned back.
“Well, come on then, gorgeous, it's our time now,” she said as a giggle escaped from my throat. She hooked her arm through mine.
“It's our time now,” I repeated. Giddiness floated inside me. My extremities began to tingle.
As we stepped outside, the damp night closed around us like a blanket. The air held visible water droplets that you could almost taste when
you stuck out your tongue. I grabbed the wheel of the car and watched as the lights shone on the pavement. I could almost hear Essa's heart beat beside me. My own joined the song, pulsing rapidly as we approached our destination.
The car stopped and we sat in silence. I heard the rush of the highway not far away. The cars were filled with people going various places. Was there a family on vacation? A group of college buddies on a road trip? A businessman rushing home to tuck his little boy into bed?
“Come on, Mace,” whispered Essa. There was a twinge in her voice.
“Right behind you,” I said. I heard the car door open and shut again. I closed my eyes, feeling for the handle. My feet hit pavement.
A hand, cold and clammy, touched my own. I looked up at Essa.
“Are you sure this is what we want?” I said.
“This is what we planned. This is what we want,” she said, louder, to convince us both.
“Yes,” I said with a nod, and stepped away from the car.
Again I open my eyes, startled to find myself in familiar blue sheets. My mom enters my room with soft footsteps, carrying a tray of comfort food. Pancakes. I wonder how long I've been in bed.
I stare at the pancakes, imagining their warmth. Their sickly smell, syrup and butter, wafts through the room. I turn away and leave them untouched. Awareness creeps inside me once again, and my stomach churns on nothing.
I feel empty.
We stood there for a long time. A few cars passed us, but they didn't think anything of two teenagers in prom dresses on a bridge. We told our parents we were headed to homecoming and, dressed in fancy gowns and high heels, we were pretty convincing. The darkness became denser and denser until the trees were no longer visible. I could only hear the rustling of the leaves, talking to us as if issuing a warning. Below us, streaks of car lights sped past, and the rolling tires called our names.
“It's our time,” she breathed, and I turned my head to see her eyes closing. My throat tightened up. The world stopped. I bent my knees.
The word tickled my eardrums and edged me forward. I bent my knees further. My legs locked. I froze.
I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Her dress billowed out from her body like an ocean of silk whisking her away. Time froze, yet she continued to fall away from me. Her face was relaxed, eyes closed, mouth slightly open on the letter W. She was almost gone when her eyes opened for the last time. They met mine in the darkness, and she froze with a look of shock. Her scream reached me as she hit the pavement and echoed long after she shattered.
The door creaks and my blinds are opened. The cold hand is on my back again.
“Macy,” my mother says slowly, articulating both syllables carefully, just as she did when I was small. I push myself into her body. I feel a tear against my eyelid.
“Shh,” she whispers. I imagine a soft wind that pushes everything away. “It's time to get up, darling.”