We just got done touching each other behind Miranda’s dad’s tool shed, our knees bruised in yuck, string bikinis in a soggy heap by the pool ladder, polka dots glazing our arms, Quincy made us prick a pearl of jam from our thumbs and stick them all together, made us promise not to tell, red blood cells white blood cells plasma dirt saliva dew from our panties, it was supposed to mean something, had to mean something, all those things we never learned in science class, us snapping pink against our tongues, us drawing dicks and hearts and puppy dogs on scraps of paper to stay awake, Meghan writing notes, Did you fuck him last night?, you scribbling Yeah in purple ink, you not caring who you fucked, who fucked you, you not really fucking anybody, Jolene kissing the back of your neck longer than the other girls, You like that baby? her breath white, Miranda squirming by the blow-up whale because she’s never felt like this, claws carving out her guts, everybody sucking up puffs of wind like the air was pulsing, and maybe it was, us twisting like grubs in a rainstorm, fingers pressed deep into doughy bits of flesh, us thinking we’d never let it go this far, but there we were, four girls tied up in a garden hose, searching for something in each other we knew wasn't there, and do you remember those sleepovers? braiding hair, painting nails, giving massages in the dark so god couldn’t see, the bible wrapped in mom’s pantyhose, you saying a prayer before you fell asleep, thighs humming with syrup leaking lust into the mattress, and you loved school dances, touching each other by the punch under those fluffy dresses you found at the thrift store, Jolene giggling, always giggling, she liked you best, and she didn’t know but you liked her too, you watching porn in the living room after mom went to bed, the volume low, you squinting holding your thumb up to the screen and seeing Jolene, Jolene sweating gasping choking suffocating, Jolene dead outside of Mickey’s Car Wash on graduation night, her breasts gleaming half moons next to the pay station, her downstairs a pocket full of raw meat, her arms pumped full of red velvet fudge, her blubbering Please, please don’t do this as her step-dad revved up her insides, as he popped her juice box, as he stuffed her mouth full of sponges, as she drowned on the concrete with bristles clawing at her legs, and you're at a party sitting on Richard's lap because he made you feel different, him whispering Baby let’s get out of here, him licking your earlobe, I want to taste you, let me smell that pussy, but you can’t stop thinking about Jolene, Jolene putting on makeup in your bedroom, blush lipstick eyeliner, make yourself pretty now, make them want you, Jolene digging inside you later that night when no one did, and you wish you could have told her how much you liked her in that sundress, her eyes licking up light on the hotel balcony, you wish you could have said I love you just to hear yourself say it, because now you never would, and when Richard nudges you off him and tells you it’s time to go you turn around and splatter him full of cherry vodka, you stand up and spit in his face and wait for him to hit you, and he does, he pushes you to the ground and pulls your hair and says You’re going to wish you were dead cunt, and he says Cunt real hard, like it’s a spark on his tongue, and you can feel him pulsing, his rod drumming at your thigh, his hand whisking up your face like cake batter, Richard hammering your chest into a board, and you decide that this is as close to sex as you'll ever get, so you wait, wait until its over, wait until everybody goes home, until your gut locker swells with bad behavior in front of the TV because there she is, there’s Jolene, keep giving her that thumbs up, and then you wait until Valentine’s Day, years later, until your jelly thighs melt into a wooden booth at the Munch Box, and you think about handstands and hula hoops and doing the splits, you think about paradise, where it is and what it means and if it’s her, and he comes back from the bathroom, his hands all gooped up in that soap that smells like the doctor’s office because he didn't rinse well, and all of a sudden you hate meatloaf and mashed potatoes and pecan pie, so you wait until he finishes and pays the bill and says I had a nice time and then you drive yourself to Mickey’s Car Wash and you pay eleven dollars for the Black Diamond Supreme and you pull in and you shut off the car and you open the windows and you scream, strings of foamy sludge filling your mouth, everything baptized in blue, and you can smell her and you can hear her and you can taste her, finally, and you think Yeah, yeah this must be paradise
The first time I slept over, her cat died. We met in science class. We were lab partners. She held the the frog’s head and I pushed down, hard, until something popped. Her cat was making awful noises all night. Screeching from the top of the stairs. Rolling on its belly in front of the fire, moaning. Her parents told us not to worry, to simply turn up the TV if she was being too loud. Like she wasn’t a breathing thing, like she was the smoke alarm, always going off unnecessarily, just to remind us it’s there. It was 1am and we hadn’t fallen asleep yet. We stayed up talking. She told me how one time she got kissed in the field hockey shed and they were so sweaty that she couldn’t feel her lips. I told her how one time I walked in on my brother changing and his dick was hard. How he knew that I knew it was hard. How we’ve never really talked since. I think we both knew the cat was dying. We could hear her through the door. We knew, but we didn’t want to know, and isn’t it funny how sometimes you don’t have to know the things you already do? There was a lull and my leg was against hers and I was staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling. I think she was staring at them too. She said, Should we go check on her?
In the waiting room of the vet clinic I held her hand. Our legs were still touching. She kept saying, fuck I think I should cry, but nothing came out. I admired that about her, how she knew she should do the things she couldn’t. After awhile, the technician appeared, asked if she wanted to say goodbye. She didn’t, but she knew she should.
I was wearing her brother’s water shoes because they were the only pair in the car, and in all the commotion, I had forgotten my own. I kicked my feet back and forth in front of me and thought about him swimming in the lake. I thought about him crying into the thick fur of his dead cat. He’s sleeping at a friend’s house and doesn’t even know yet. I think about his boner when he wakes up. About what boys do when they have sleepovers and wake up with boners. Do they hide them? Are they embarrassed? I would touch Kathleen if she let me. I thought about how, she probably would. I got up and went into the bathroom. It was 3am now and there wasn’t anyone else in the waiting room, not even a receptionist. Just me, in Jacob’s water shoes, and part of me wanted to run away.
When we got back to her house she said she didn’t want to go to bed. So we made Top Ramen and slurped it on the porch. I wanted her leg to touch me again, but I think that was over. She said, We’ve had that cat since before I was born. She said, I wish I cared more that it was gone. I didn’t say anything, because sometimes, that’s for the best. We stared at the stars, the real stars, the ones that make you feel replaceable. After a while I said, You can always get another cat.
I didn’t sleep over again until tenth grade. It was for her birthday party. We all went roller skating at the rink in the mall, ate pizza at Sbarro’s, and got drunk off a six-pack beer in her basement. I thought maybe tonight would be the night I got to touch her leg with my leg again. I thought maybe, if we got drunk enough, maybe we would even kiss. Ashley and Kendra wouldn’t shut up about how they fucked the same guy. Brian Elliot. Some guy who, rumor has it, let his dog lick peanut butter off his balls. They were gushing about him. His arms, his ass, how he felt inside them. The way they came. I thought Kathleen looked so pretty with half her hair pushed back behind her ears. We met eyes and I wished I didn’t know the things I know. Like how she fucked James, my brother, last fall, at a football game, in our parents car. Like how she wants to be like Ashley and Kendra, just like them, wants to like the things they like, do the things they do. Like how she hates the things she knows she wants, how she pushes them out. Like how I’m one of those things. How I’ve always been one of those things. Her and I split the last beer. We were sitting next to each other on the floor. Ashley and Kendra suggested we all make out. For practice, they said. For the boys. For the boys, she said, raising her beer, her eyes pasted to mine. For the boys, I mouthed. We did it for the boys. We did a lot of things for the boys. We touched for the boys kissed for the boys fucked for the boys. We did it over and over and over again. That night, the next night, the night after that. And we knew, we knew why and we felt why, her prickled skin scraping against mine, her tongue blotting my mouth, her cheeks flush, rubbed raw from movement. The whole time, we knew, and we knew well into our twenties, at college parties, in the backseats of cabs, in her basement on winter break. We knew the whole time she dated Chris, while I was fucking Greg. That’s what we thought in my backyard, days before we graduated, her leg finally finally finally pressed against mine, both of us looking to the stars, knowing thinking breathing, for the boys for the boys for the boys.
Chelsea Harris has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Your Impossible Voice, So to Speak, The Fem, and Quaint Magazine, among others. She received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago and currently works as the event coordinator at Fifth Wednesday Journal.