In the half bath Joni is watching Sofia applying lipstick, jam colored, butter smooth and brand new, applying with ginger fingers to not crush the fresh angled plane of the stick. Joni’s on the toilet, skirt hiked, back of crossed legs pressed into yellow carpeted toilet lid cover. She’s wiping under her thighs in hopes that red stippling doesn’t bloom. The fan circulates nothing, buzzes under the light, a fly crypt that casts a sallow haze over the narrow room.
“Oh my god, how much was it?”
“Oh my god.”
“I know, right? My mom’s buying me whatever I want right now. Like, anything. You can try it but it’s really not your color.”
“I’m good.” Joni’s phone pings, a video of disembodied hands holding chopsticks feeding vegan sushi to a capybara on a turquoise sofa. For days her dad has sent her every cute animal video he can find. Ping: hamster picnic. Ping: husky puppies howling while a girl plays the flute. Ping: yawning hedgehog.
At the end of the parking lot surrounding Sofia’s apartment complex they slip into a path torn through a wall of honeysuckle. Down the pitch they skirt the edge of the bog preserve, stick to the wide, crushed limestone trail. It is the fullest, greenest time. Reeds and moss tremble and the peepers trill. Joni has 911 dialed and her thumb ready to send. Sofia holds her keyring in her closed fist with her sharpest key sticking out from between her pointer and middle fingers. Sofia topples off a sandal as the limestone shifts beneath her.
“That’s why I wear Chucks. Just take them off.”
“I just had a pedi. I am not walking barefoot on this.”
They reach the edge, the short but steep incline. Joni plants herself at the top and leans down to pull Sof up. They grasp forearms, Joni’s ash and Sof’s olive. Joni overperforms, more hoist than needed, and Sof falls into her. They topple uphill, legs entwined.
“Oh my god. Sorry.”
“Oh my god. Hilarious.”
“I’m, like, the clumsiest. I’m like a baby. Holy shit. What a dork.”
They laugh together, reclined on the peat, wipe their eyes and fix one another’s make up. Sofia reapplies lipstick. The dusk is honey.
Cresting the grade, they emerge in a lot behind an oil change place. They snake between cars, the metal and asphalt release the day’s heat. They dash across to the turn lane and wait for traffic to clear. The current from passing cars lifts their hair, cools their damp legs and napes. A beige minivan with GO GREEN CLASS OF ‘18 painted on the tinted windows passes, the last vehicle in sight, and they skip toward the berm. The marquis at roadside heralds GREEN SPIRIT FOREVER and is flanked by yards of browning flower sprays, lethargic Mylar balloons, laminated letters, and art.
Under the pierce of the tended ends — perennial ryegrass daggers in gooseflesh triceps — the turf is full and wet on their backs.
“Your boobs look hot.” Joni is talking loudly enough to be heard over the marching band playing “What’s Going On” but is trying not to be seen turning her head or moving her lips.
“Demi balconette. I made my brother wait 45 minutes while I tried a bunch on. I had to lie on the floor of the fitting room to see how they’d look lying down. You know, just in case this goes viral.”
Joni doesn’t anticipate a rest at the key change and is caught in a cackle. Señora Thompson, the Spanish teacher who had to eat half of a peach flavored cannabis gummy (bought for her by her nanny who has a med card) in order to leave the house shushes them for too long, listening to her own breath as it escapes her. “Sshhhh. Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
Joni and Sof scoff at her, heads turned slightly toward one another, mouth what the fuck.
Brooke Seits tells them to shut up. She’s wearing bracelets from wrist to elbow, a gilded snake around her bicep, a plain white tank top, and fatigue pants. She has been quoted in almost every piece about the school, a senior who quite suddenly had fertile college application essay material and took full advantage.
Eduard is looking up the skirt of the girl lying behind him, that cute, tiny freshman who looks tough enough to eat you. Jack Bostov’s sister. Joni. He’s looking both because she is there and available and because he is hoping to give himself something to fixate on to remove the image of Jordan’s body dead and bleeding on the floor of the chemistry lab. Jordan’s body spent most nights at Eddie’s in the summer before junior year. Jordan’s hands always beat Eddie’s at Mario Kart. Jordan’s mouth sucked down countless cans of beer supplied to them by Eddie’s brother Dominic. Jordan’s feet had the freshest, whitest sneaks in school. Jordan’s face told the whole junior class at the drunk driving assembly that alcoholism had ruined his relationship with his best friend when his best friend’s mom tried to “get with” him during the previous summer. Jordan’s brain knew everyone in school would make an immediate connection to Eddie.
“Oh my god, J, he’s totally looking up your skirt.”
Sofia kicks Eduard’s face, sandal to cheekbone. Fire rushes his skull and he doesn’t feel himself say, “do it again,” but he says it.
“Fucking perv. Freak.” Joni crosses her ankles.
The band quiets and lies down still in formation, joining the demonstrators. Brooke stands, approaches a preset microphone, says “The worst thing about this is that because we weren’t shot, everyone thinks we’re OK.”
Brooke’s words ring. She does not immediately continue. From the stands a young male voice breaks, “Go Vikings!”
The crowd in the bleachers is silent but the field lights moan. (Ping: kitten sleeping on mastiff. Ping: jumping baby goats in flannel pajamas.) Joni sees the bugs above her flooding the glare, gnats and mosquitoes spasming, no apparent intention.
Anne Hensley (left) is a writer, musician, and co-founder of Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), a literacy nonprofit that celebrates and amplifies youth voice by forging avenues for collaboration, creativity, and joy. Anne’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her family of humans and dogs. Find her online at https://weirderwonderland.com/.