Britney is knocking.
I lean my head against the door. Hey bitch, let me in, she says, I’m your god now, and I think yeah, that sounds about right. So I throw open the door like I’m ready to lead the parade.
Before she takes even two steps, Mom appears out of nowhere and kind of shoves her back out onto the porch, handing her a sweater. “Here, here, take this,” she says, like she’s trying to mop up a stain. “And don’t say that word.”
I get all red in the face, sigh loud, roll my eyes hard, make sure they both see.
“It’s too early for this,” Mom says. Shuts the door.
But Britney doesn’t leave.
She jiggles the doorknob. Naps in the flowerbed. Then in the treehouse. Then on the roof. Comes down, tries the backdoor. Wanders around the yard. Rips petals off a flower. Swats at a fly. Sits on the front steps, chin on her hand. Bounces her leg. Leans back, tilts her face toward the sun.
Mom goes around the house, pulling all the curtains closed before my eyes. “Enough of this,” she says, then disappears into the kitchen.
I sit down on the floor, lean back, tilt my face toward the ceiling fan. Watch the blades slice through the dull light.
Tomorrow, a compromise: Britney ties the sweater around her waist, and now we’re all three sitting on the couch: Mom. Me. Britney. It’s kinda awkward. But Britney has ideas. Knows what she wants. Like, doesn’t a grilled cheese sound good?
When she says “cheese,” Mom gets up and then it’s just the two of us.
I’m afraid of what comes next. We need each other. We need a plan.
Britney and I decide not to eat for three whole days. That’s the plan. We’re not sure why, but it feels just right. We haggle over what a day is:
“Is it 24 hours?”
Or does it reset when the sun comes up?
We ultimately settle on four sun-ups, because there is definitely a full day in between each one, and the extra hours today will be a bonus. We want to spend as much time together as possible, and it already feels like we’re running out of it.
We’ve watched The Price is Right, We’ve played N64. We’ve picked at our faces in the mirror. Now we’re watching TRL, shaky and bored. Britney braids my hair. You’re pretty, she says, and before I can disagree, Don’t you wish your hair was red, though?
I say, “Oh yes,” and it’s not exactly a lie, but it’s a lot like one.
Let’s go then. She gets up, drops Mom’s sweater on the carpet on her way to the door.
Mom shakes her head, watching from the kitchen.
I’m embarrassed for all the wrong reasons.
It’s six blocks to Putvin’s Drug Store. It’s the most beautiful day. We’re both wearing jean shorts with the hems rolled. Don’t look at them, Britney says from behind her sunglasses, and then I see the boys from school up ahead, grown three inches each since May.
“Look at this fat bitch,” one of them says. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Britney hands me her shades, but it’s too late. I’ve seen and been seen.
Outside, it’s the darkest kind of night. Inside, our hands are stained, the bathroom a crime scene: Britney holding a knife dripping in blood.
Mom raps on the door: “You okay in there?”
Absolutely not. “Yeah.”
Yeah, for sure.
I want to drown myself in the tub, think I might pass out. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and say, “I hate you. I hate you.”
Don’t be so dramatic, Britney says, dropping the comb, spattering the dye, making the mess a hundred times worse.
Outside, Mom just says something like, “Honey, we can go get it fixed tomorrow.”
It’s not a fight, it’s an exhalation. The way a bubble of gum deflates. The way Coke fizzes up in a glass, then goes flat. The way Mylar balloons shrink & sink. It’s all kind of sad. Britney is the air; I’m what’s left behind.
Mom says, “How are you feeling?”
Mom says, “I’m glad things are getting back to normal.”
Mom says, “Here, have some eggs.”
Mom says, “Where are your other shorts?”
Mom says, “You’re beautiful.”
Mom says, “Have you been here all day?”
Mom says, “Why don’t you go take a walk?”
Mom says, “I know, I know.”
Summer is over and everything sucks. Mom drops me off at school and before I get out of the van she gives me a sweater, “Here,” and when I close the door, a muffled, “Good luck.”
But you don’t need luck where I’m going. You need other stuff, like hair clips from Claire’s. Tiny backpacks. Different shoes. Friends. Luck has very little to do with any of it.
Inside, everything’s the same as ever.
Dead of winter. We’re doing The Lottery in Drama Club. I have exactly one line, the last line: “Get it over.” It always feels unfinished.
Mom’s driving me home. We’re stopped at a light and I see Britney for the first time in months, standing outside of the 7-11, just to the left of the doors, sucking on a blue Slurpee. She’s wearing a Hornets Starter jacket, her hair fringed with icicles.
She lifts the last three fingers of her right hand off the cup to half-wave. Hey bitch.
“Hey,” I say, my breath fogging up the glass. The light turns, and I wipe a circle in the fog, to look for as long as I can. I wonder how it feels to be that cold. I wonder if she’ll come tell me about it.