Wednesday, July 24, 2013

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART ONE

It's 1985. Dallas is on T.V., Madonna is dominating the airwaves and all Betsy wants is to stop having panic attacks, book a bigger gig for her band and get over her ex, Callie. And then there's Asha, who only wants to go to prom and be happy – which wouldn't be so hard if she could stop living in the shadow of her mother's misdeeds. When these two are thrust together, the connection is instant and surprising – but will their relationship survive their pasts?


It was 1985 and the Go Go's had just broken up. It was a bad time for pop groups and a worse time for me. With less than a month left until prom, Callie had just broken my heart and having to accompany my best friend, Glenn to the Cook High School junior prom was not my idea of a good time. Not now - not with no idea for a new song, no dress to wear and my band, The Windows getting ready to play a bar mitzvah in Little Village. 

The last Thursday of the last week in May started out the same as it often does for me: I was falling asleep during Mrs. Kimball's homeroom, my spiked bracelet making a nicely outlined indention on my face as my head slid down my arm to meet my desk. The next thing I knew, something smacked me in the back of the head and I jolted. On the floor next to my desk was the culprit: a balled up piece of paper. I looked around and everyone else had their heads down - either equally bored and drowsy or deeply interested in whatever was in their textbooks. Or, of course, the loser too chicken-shit to let me know they'd thrown the wadded paper. I had a few suspects, but no one was really worth getting upset with here. Not over just a crumpled ball of paper. Not until I had the bright idea to un-crumple it. There, in giant Magic Marker lettering, was only one word: DYKE

It was in pure fury that I slid the chair back, legs squeaking noisily as I stood up. Mrs. Kimball turned around and her eyebrows shot up.

"Miss Reynolds!  What do you mean by interrupting my class? Sit down!"

"I'm - " I began, but I wasn't sure what to say. All my thoughts clattered together. I looked over to where Glenn was sitting, staring at me in awe and shaking his head as if to say "what are you doing?" or, more likely, "have you finally lost it completely?" If you'd asked me right then, I would've had to say yes. 

"Mrs. Kimball," I began again. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. "Could I please be excused?"

Mrs. Kimball - poor Mrs. Kimball. Prone to visible agitation and always in her cardigans so that people called her Mr. Rogers behind her back. Her curly salt and pepper hair was scooped into a banana comb and some of  her mascara smeared across her cheek. She really was a mess and here I was, making her life a little more difficult and surely not for the first time. 

"Fine," she said finally, waving a hand in exasperation. "Go. Don't forget the hall pass."

I picked up my bag and scurried to the door, crumbling the awful note and stuffing it into my pocket on the way out.

And me, I was prone to panic attacks. More and more since Callie had stood me up for a day at the museum and later, handed me her note explaining why she didn’t think she could be with me anymore. I’d always had them, but never like I did after she dumped me. It had been seven days now and it felt like seven years. I’d been hiding in my bedroom, playing Foreigner records and crying a lot. I felt like such a loser.

Glenn came darting out of the class several steps behind me, calling my name.

“Betsy! Betz!” he was saying and when he approached and caught sight of my face, he grabbed my hand.

“What in the world happened in there?” he said. Fully engulfed by my panic attack now, I just shoved the now-wrinkled sheet under his nose. He grabbed it, looked at it, blinked and raised his eyebrows.

“Well,” he said, “they’re perceptive at least.”

“They’re assholes!” I gasped.

“That, too,” he said. I winced and stomped my feet a little. Yes, real mature, right?

“Oh, Betz,” he said. “Are you still upset about Callie?”

“Um…” I was starting to breathe normally again. “It was a week ago, Glenn! But no, that’s not what this is about. THIS is about my mother. You know, the one who could easily get wind of this if the word gets to teachers, to the principal or to anyone in higher authority. And my mom’s not dumb, Glenn. I’m sure she can put two and two together.”

“So?” he shrugged. “Maybe it’s time you come out to a few people in your life.”

“Are you kidding?” I said. “I know you have the perfect, understanding family so you wouldn’t get it. But it’s nothing like mine. My mom has some very specific ideas about how my life should turn out. And while I have no intention on fulfilling her dreams for her, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to pretend I will until – well, until I graduate. From, like, college!”

“Hypothetical here, but what if you can’t? Then what?”

I slumped to the floor at his words. He wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t like it would be hard to find out about my extracurricular activities. If she snooped in my room or followed me around much at all, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out which way my sexuality swayed. Not that I had much (okay, any) experience in the realm of the sexual. Footnote for anyone who cares: it should be stated that girls are rarely feminist heroines at 16 (or 15, 17, 18). I’m sure there are exceptions, but dyke or not, I am sure I would have my self-esteem issues. Who wouldn’t with pimples and hairs sprouting everywhere and now, lust? Not a great time to be heroic or even insightful on a regular basis.

“Then what? Then…I don’t know, Glenn. Perhaps I will run away and live in a box. Or leap off the tallest skyscraper. I have no idea. I can not even imagine. That’s how bad that prospect is.”

“Oh…okay. Well, then I guess you will be denying it?”

I shrugged, because he knew I was a bad liar and I didn’t know if I could pull off a denial.

“That’s why you have me, sweetie. I can pretend to be your boyfriend as long as you need me to. As long as you don’t mind me having my own boyfriends on the side.”

“I’m counting on it,” I said, smirking finally.

“Look, babe, I know you’re depressed. I know how you felt about Callie, but maybe she just wasn’t right for you. And maybe that will be a blessing in the long run?”

“Now you sound like my mom,” I said, “when she talks to my sister. I guess love is all the same, huh?”

“Guess so. But are you writing anything?”

I shook my head. I just couldn’t play my guitar or try to write a song when I felt this way. It would all come out mopey and Joy Division-esque anyway. How could I write with a broken heart?

“Ok, that’s it! You have got to get out of that house and go have some fun! Maybe you’ll meet a new girl. But you’ve got to! And I know just the place, ok?”

“I don’t know, Glenn. I feel like I need more mopey time.”

“NO! You’ve moped enough. You’re coming with me to Byron Hall tonight and we’re gonna party like it’s 1999!”

“But-” I began, but he held up one heavily jeweled hand.

“Nope,” he said. “No buts. You will come. Or you will answer to me!”

I sighed. “Okay, fine.”

“Seven o’clock sharp, ok?”

“Totally,” I said, burying my face in my knees.


Todd and I were sitting across from each other at my parent’s dinner table. He passed me the mashed potatoes and his hand grazed mine. I fought hard not to roll my eyes – it was so obviously an attempt to get me to make nice with him. I wasn’t having it.
We’d been together for almost a year – that’s, like, twenty in teen years, okay? And all he wanted to do was fool around when we were alone – and all I wanted to do was talk about the prom. I mean, he hadn’t even asked me and I already had my dress picked out. He could be such a jerk sometimes and all along, I’d been so caring and supportive. I just wanted this one romantic night before he had to go away to college. I wanted to be sure that he cared about me. I mean, I knew he did, but I wanted everyone else to know, too. I wanted him to declare it – but maybe that was just me being too needy.

“So,” my mother was saying, “Todd, do you know what your major is going to be next year?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Todd said between bites of salad. “I’m going into advertising. I want to make the big bucks.” He was pointing with his fork, a tomato hanging precariously in the air. When he finished his sentence, he crammed it into his mouth.

“Well, isn’t that…totally rad,” my dad said, trying to put what he assumed was “teen lingo” into the conversation. I saw Todd snort a little into his plate and I kicked him under the table.

“Hey, can we be excused?” I said. “We have chemistry homework.”

“Chemistry, huh?” my dad laughed and nudged Todd a little. I just thought, Ew. Now it was my mom’s turn to kick him under the table. Unlike Todd, he actually winced.

"Of course you can," my mother said, "but you'll have to do your homework in the basement tonight. Your father and I are going to be watching the game in the front room."

Great, I thought. I knew it was silly, but privacy with my boyfriend was becoming less and less desirable. Especially since he was so hot to grope me all the time. I'd told him ages ago that I was waiting until prom night, but he was always impatient. Maybe that's why he hadn't asked me yet - maybe he thought I'd do it sooner if I thought we weren't going to prom. That was so not going to happen. 

Downstairs, dad had set up a bar and a pool table for himself. The bar was always locked. For my brother, me and our friends, he had moved a convertible sofa down there and plopped an old black and white television with bunny ears in front of it. Usually my brother, Mark played Pong down there. I, on the other hand, always just did my homework down in the basement - or watched soaps down there on the days when I was home sick from school.

I brought my Chemistry textbook down and sat it in the middle of the automan. Todd sat down and draped one arm over my shoulders. I shrugged him off.

“Aw, Ash...c'mon. I'm not trying anything. I just want to be close to you.”

“Yeah, right,” I said stubbornly. “You want to be so close, how come you haven't asked me to the prom yet?”

“Prom? Is that what this is about? Baby, you know I wouldn't take anyone else to prom. Of course you're my date.”

My heart skipped.

“Really? I mean, I just thought maybe you didn't want to go anyway. I mean, with all my work on the prom committee, maybe you thought I'd be tired of it?”

“Are you?” he said.

“No! Of course not! It's prom! I'm dying to go and oh, I already have this dress and...” I trailed off and then punched him playfully. “You jerk, though! It's only a week away now and we don't even have tickets yet.”

I got us tickets,” he said, smiling triumphantly.

“You did?” I squealed. I was feeling much happier, knowing that he did want to be with me. To go with me.

“Yeah, babe. I know it's your night. I've got everything taken care of.” He smiled and leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “I'm slick like that.”

I kissed his cheek excitedly. Then I turned back to chemistry.

“Whoa, whoa,” he said. “I don't even get a little make-out session for that?”

“Todd,” I said, “I really have to study for this test. I'm not doing too great in that class."

“Ok, fine,” he said, sounding clearly annoyed. I sighed. I felt bad about hurting his feelings.

"Ok, how about this? We sit here and study for one hour and then, maybe we can find something else to do."

He raised his eyebrows and said, "Okay, babe. I like the way you talk." He leaned in for what looked like it would be a sloppy kiss. I backed away and tried not to look too repulsed.

"Whoa, whoa. Not what I meant."

He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. But he didn't make any more moves and for the next hour, we pored over our chemistry textbooks.

Finally, his watch beeped - he'd set a timer on it - and he got up and stretched.

"Okay, we're getting out of here," he said.

"What?" I said, "You want to go somewhere?"

"Why not?" he said. "I'm not getting anywhere with you here."

I sighed and stood up, too, closing my chemistry textbook.

"What did you have in mind, Master," I said with a tone dripping in sarcasm.

"If I was really your master," he began, but I held up a hand and didn't let him finish.

"Fine! Where? Where do you want to go, Todd?"

"Two words. Byron Hall."

"That place? Ugh. It's New Wave night tonight, too - you hate New Wave music and you're going to spend the whole night complaining. Plus, Samantha Fowler and her little clique from Resurrection are always there. Ever since I started public school, they treat me like I have the plague."

"But you like New Wave. And I like getting to see friends and maybe even have a drink. Or a smoke. Come on, it could be fun. You might see friends there. And have I mentioned that your hair looks incredible tonight? The whole city should see it."

"Yeah right," I said. I rolled my eyes and stuck out my tongue. But when he turned around, I patted my hair in the mirror. I supposed it wasn't bad this way - in braids on top of my head - for the mousiest, most drab head of hair anywhere. My chocolate brown locks would never get me as noticed as Samantha Fowler's white-blond curls. But I wasn't totally hideous. After all, Todd liked me.

"Ok," I said finally. "We can go. Whatever. I just want to be home by 10, because I need sleep if I want to pass that test." 

"Alright!" he said, pumping his fist and then he took my right elbow, trying to steer me toward the door.

"Not so fast, He-Man! I've got to change. I can't wear my crappy t-shirt and jeans to Byron Hall. I'm thinking I need to be at least a little more...interesting looking."

"You just want to blow those Resurrection bitches away," he said.

"No...that's your kind of thing to do. I just want to look like I was not sleeping all day."

I locked myself in the bathroom in my parents' room, making Todd wait down in the basement room while I changed into a blue lace camisole, my black silk skirt and a rhinestone studded belt that my favorite aunt had given me for my last birthday.Then I grabbed my purse and met Todd at the stairs. His wavy black hair was in his face and with his white t-shirt, he looked like someone off one of those late-evening cop shows my parents liked so much. I took his arm and he led me out to his silver sports convertible - we must've looked like Ken and Barbie. Well, he was Ken, anyway. I wasn't quite close to Barbie, but I'd pass. 

A new song by Prince was on the radio and Todd turned it up. I watched as the fog wavered in the air. My skin felt hot and prickly in the late spring warmth. I could almost feel steam rising from me. I watched as the neon lights stretched out before and behind us. 

We arrived at Byron Hall and Todd parked his car next to a little black Volvo and we stepped out, me almost collapsing on one high-heeled shoe. I was thinking to myself, "yeah, you should have stuck with the jellies." But I never really would have done that and looked like a colossal dweeb. 

Todd put his arm over my shoulder as if to steer me to the door. His friends, Brad and Mike were already there and they greeted each other with shouts of "hey, man" and "how's it hanging?" - all the while, I was looking around for faces in the lot I recognized.

That's when I saw them. The really tall girl - definitely a girl, though it took me a moment to realize it - with a very short, light blond pixie cut wearing a black halter top beneath a long, shoulder-less green sweatshirt. Her wide plastic gold belt wrapped around the middle and probably helped hitch up her yellow spandex leggings. Next to her was a short, skinny guy with spiked, double-colored bands on his wrists and a rat-tail in the back. Almost his whole outfit was made of fishnets and he was smoking his cigarette with dainty hands. They were both the prettiest, most unusual people I had ever seen. I was so intrigued and taken with them, staring without blinking, that I didn't even notice when Samantha Fowler came to stand in front of me until she coughed. I jumped a little and looked up at her.

"Oh. Hi Sam. How are you?" I said, pulling my eyes away from the couple and focusing in on her.

"I'm fine. And yourself?" Her voice has an edge to it.

"Great!" I said, with a little too much enthusiasm. I wasn't fooling anyone.

"Really? Get real, Asha. You're at public school now. You may be dating a quarterback, but your family is still considered trash." 

I was sure that the anger in my eyes glinted off everything - it seemed to set off sparks, but she didn't back off. She knew I wasn't a fighter. What my mother had done was now common knowledge and I was an easy target for Sam.

"You must be really bored," I told her, trying to affect a note of pity in my voice. "If you don't mind, I'm just going to step over there and speak with my boyfriend. Excuse me."

She scoffed, but I ignored her and walked away. I walked over to Todd and he put his arm around me.

"Hey babe," he said. "Was that witch bothering you?"

"Whatever," I said, shrugging. "As if I would let that airhead bimbette bug me. She tries to act like she's hot shit just because she can fly to Europe on her daddy's dime. I feel happy just knowing that I don't have to waste time around her anymore."

"Or, in nicer terms, that bitch can eat shit and die?" he said.

"That's nicer than she deserves."

"Hey, Ash," he said and I knew that face. It was the "I am about to ask you for something and you probably won't like it" face.

"Yeah?" I said.

"I was just wondering if you wanted to smoke a joint with us. Mike has this totally choice weed and he's willing to share it."

I sighed. Todd was always Todd. 

"No thanks, but you guys enjoy. I'll just go...mingle."

"Sure, babe," he said. "Thanks. Just stay away from the bitch from the Black Lagoon." 

I laughed, walking away, and almost bumped into Erica McNeill, a girl from my English class that I'd started talking to just this semester.

"Oh. Hi Erica," I said. "Sorry."

"Asha!" she said through her braces, seeming happy to see me.

"What are you doing here?"

"Probably the same as you," she said. "Just looking for a good time. Hey, wanna share?"

"Huh?" I said, but then looked at what she was holding on the inseam of her jacked - it was the top of a well-concealed flask.

"I'll buy you a drink," she said, "and then I can make you a real drink." 

"Excellent," I said. I mean, why not? It was always a party. Even when the only place to go for fun was the local teen center. Well, maybe not the only place, but darned close. 

We sat there on the stools at the end of the counter and the volunteer gave us a couple of Cokes. I watched Erica as she used a very steady hand to pour the contents of her flask into the Coke. I hadn't even asked what was in it. She held out her hand for my cup, but I had changed my mind. I knew what alcohol could do to someone.

"No, thanks, though. I actually think a Coke is just fine on it's own."

"Suit yourself," she said, shrugging. "So who were you watching out there?"

"What?" I said. "Where?"

"Before that girl got in your face. You were staring pretty intently."

"No I wasn't," I said, feeling defensive. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why exactly.

"Okay, whatever you say. It was nice to run into you, though - pardon the pun. I don't run into a lot of people from our school - no one I actually like, anyhow."

I smiled and took a sip of my Coke.
"Oh, hi!" Erica said to someone behind me. I turned to look and froze. It was her. The blond in the parking lot with her friend, the boy with the bleached spikes. I was suddenly speechless and I just sort of stared, until she looked at me.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Betsy. This is Glenn." It was the briefest of introductions. Then she turned back to Erica.
"Hi Erica. Anyone we know here tonight?"

"If you mean Callie, she hasn't been in that I've seen. What happened with you two anyway?"

"Betsy cannot talk about it on the grounds that she is not allowed to think of that...that...tramp tonight," Glenn stepped in.

"Watch it," Betsy said. "I still love that tramp."

"That tramp," Erica said, more defensive than Betsy was, "is my cousin. So yeah, back off."

"You got something in your flask tonight," Betsy said.

"Rum. Want some?" Betsy nodded and handed over her soda can with stealth. No one was looking and Erica slipped Betsy's drink beneath the counter and under her coat for several seconds, then handed it back.

"And there's more in my car if you need it later," Erica said. Betsy's expression was rueful. I realized I hadn't stopped staring when, suddenly, she looked back at me and winked.

"Nice meeting don't know your name."

"Asha," said Erica, before I could choke a word out. "She just transferred over to my school. She's in English class with Callie and me."

At the sound of Callie's name, Betsy seemed to wince. Glenn petted her back with affection and sympathy.

"Well, Betz," he said. "Looks like it's time for us to head backstage. You ready?"

"Oh," said Erica, "are you two playing tonight?"

"Yeah," Betsy replied in a dry tone. "Unfortunately. He talked me into it."
"Because you need to play again," Glenn said. "You need to get out there without the band - and without Callie."

"Without the band?" she said.

"Sometimes, yes," he said. With those words, he picked up a heavy-looking leather guitar case and lifted it over his back. "I will see you backstage. And Erica, it was nice seeing you. Nice meeting you, Asha."

He disappeared through the side door, the pastel lights around the door to the backstage rooms glinting off his blond spikes. Betsy turned back to Erica.

"Yeah, I'll see ya, Er,” Betsy said, abbreviating Erica's name so that it sounded like “air.” “Um...take care."  Then she followed where Glenn had strolled off to. I looked back at Erica.

"Who was that?" I asked. 

"That was Betsy, my cousin Callie's ex. Callie, well, she dumped her. Betsy is usually much more lively, but she was really devastated. Callie was pretty cold to her."

"Oh," I said, stunned. "You mean, she''s a...well..."
I felt like the most awkward idiot. Erica sat on the edge of the bar stool, patiently waiting for me to get the words out. When they didn't come she said the words for me. 

"Gay? A lesbian? Yeah, Betsy's one. Callie is...sometimes, too. I mean, I don't know what's up with Callie. Callie just likes excitement."

"Oh," I said, nodding like I understood. I supposed I could sort of see why that would be appealing.

Ten minutes later, the music started. Erica and I moved to the front of the stage, where Glenn was playing a melody on the keyboard. Betsy stood up front and started to sing. It was a lovely song that I had not heard before, but Erica said it was from the 60's. After awhile, a boy with long black hair came and asked Erica to dance and she bounced off with him, her bangles clanking on one arm as she started to jump about on the floor. I just stood, mesmerized as Glenn started up a more synthesizer-like sound on the keyboard and Betsy began another song. This time, it was a song by The Cure. But by this time, as lovely as her voice was, it was easy to see that Betsy was having trouble concealing some serious emotions. It was hard to complete a love song, I imagined, when your heart was broken. Her voice started to break over the chorus line. The rowdy teenage audience was unsympathetic. 

"Awww...poor baby," some jock that I vaguely recognized from my school sang out unsympathetically.
"Get off the stage, sister!" someone else shouted.

By this time, Betsy was nearly sobbing into her mic, but the audience were being assholes. I was just about to say something to the jerk next to me who had just made an intolerant comment, when Betsy herself began to shriek. I was taken aback and for the second time that night, stood frozen to my spot.

First, it was just long, high-pitched howling. However, it quickly turned to something else altogether as she began to shout back at her crowd. It was suddenly clear to me that Erica had given her more to drink that I initially thought.

"Fuck you!" she slurred from the stage. "Fucking punkasses! What do you know?! What do you know about music?! What do you know about love? You sicken me. You're all" she stumbled over her words. Someone threw something and Betsy retaliated with a glass of ice. It hit the wall behind the audience and smashed, glass scattering in shards all around. Someone in the back screamed. I could see audience members begin to disperse, some making their way toward the exit.
"You will never find love that lasts!" she screamed. Then she slurred, "It doesn't exist. You er all waiting on something that...that ith a figment of your pathetic" -she paused here to make sure she'd gotten the word right this time- "imaginations!"

By this time, Glenn had tried to touch her, to pull her from the mic, and she pushed him into his drums. He looked stunned and hurt - more emotionally than physically- but he got up and walked off stage. A second later, a security guy was trying to steer Betsy off stage. It wasn't without a fight. She was still shouting about love and pain and insert bleep here, kicking her legs and convulsing. I wasn't sure if this was all just a bad reaction to alcohol or what. Maybe she was a druggie, too. I frowned, not wanting to believe that for some reason. 

As the guard pushed her toward the doors, I saw her spit at him and then barf on his shoe. Then she was gone - thrown out.

Everyone who remained stood around in awe for about fifteen minutes, assessing what had just happened. And then, a custodian came and swept and the volunteer deejay began a new record. People were dancing again and it was over. I grabbed my coat and my Coke and headed outside, to the side lot. That's where I had last seen Todd and his friends, but they seemed to have vanished.  I slumped down on the porch and sipped my pop.

It was silent except for the echo of the music inside, which was why I jumped a little when I heard a rustle and realized I was not alone. 

"You drinking, too?" her voice said, coming out of the shadows and up behind me. "Because I can say from experience that it's not that great and I don't know if I'd recommend it as a regular past-time." 

I laughed. "No, it's not alcoholic. I am not much of a drinker. It's just plain old pop. Want some?" I extended the cup to her.
Betsy shook her head. Her face still looked a little green.

"Hey, are you okay?" I said. "I mean, do you think you need to puke again?"

"No," she said with a short laugh. "Thanks."

She pulled a cigarette from a silver case and stuck it in the side of her mouth. She cupped her hands to light a match.

"You know, those things'll kill you," I said, half-heartedly. I smiled to let her know I knew it was none of my business.

"You don't say," she said, winking.

"I know, I know," I said. "I'm a super-dork, mega-prude. Ignore me."

She stared at me a minute and then took the cigarette from her mouth, dropped it on the ground and crushed it with her heel. I just stared at her slack-jawed.

"You're not a dork," she said. "Anyway, you're right."

I just shrugged. Why did she care what I thought, anyway?

"So," she said, "Why are you here alone?"

"Oh," I said. "I'm not. Not really. My boyfriend, Todd is around somewhere."

"You both go to school with Erica?"

"Yeah. I didn't start so long ago, but Todd's always been. He and I met while working as Santa's Helpers one Christmas at the mall. And when - well, my family had issues and they couldn't afford to send me to private school anymore. So now I go to school where Todd goes. It's a little weird."  In my head, I was thinking why am I telling her all this? "Um, where do you go?" I said, trying to change the subject - steer it away from me. 

"Bryson. It's a prep school, but my mom is administrator. So we don't pay much for tuition and my mom gets to keep an eye on me. Which may prove not to be such a great thing."

"What do you mean?" I said. Before she could answer, we heard a metallic crash and I jumped. Betsy turned around and then promptly bounced backward. The crash had been the sound of Todd running, arms flailing, into the trash can and Betsy's quick move was a reaction to his projectile vomit. He was clearly drunk, or high maybe. It was hard to tell.

"Ash-ah," he said, drawing out my name like he'd never heard it pronounced before. "Babe, I've been looking for you everywhere. Where did you go?"

"I've been right here, Todd," I said, standing and giving Betsy an apologetic look. She just stuck her hands in her jacket pockets and rocked backward on her heels. Todd came over and sort of fell on me - I'm not sure if he was trying to hug me or shove me - and I was startled enough to be knocked off balance briefly. I teetered and then, once steady, I let him lean against me. He smelled sour, like rotted apples and acrid milk. I had to breathe through my mouth.

"I guess we should get going," I said, more to Betsy than to Todd.

"Wait," she said. "Is he driving you?"

"No, I have the keys."

"Oh," she said. "Good."

There was an awkward pause.

"It was nice meeting you," I finally said.

"You, too. Drive safe," she said and then turned back toward the other end of the parking lot. I could see her friend, Glenn waiting for her at the car. 

On the drive home, Todd fell asleep against the window. I gave him an empty cookie box that had been among the trash collecting in the car's backseat, in case he needed to barf again. The Cars were on the radio and the summer night air was chillier than usual due to the clouds that were now cast over the moon. After I got Todd up the stairs to his house and back to his bedroom, I quietly stepped back out and took the car back home. I knew Todd well enough to know he would be skipping classes the next morning, which would give me plenty of time to bring it back. 

At home, my parents were in bed already - though the door to their bedroom was cracked and it seemed like their TV was on. There was the faint blue glow and vague conversations. Dad had probably fallen asleep watching the news again. I tiptoed to my room and turned on the light. I considered studying more but felt just tired enough that I knew my brain couldn't handle it. I'd be drooling on my textbook in no time.  Instead, I found the mix tape that Erica had given me after we'd had a few English classes and a few study sessions together. I hadn't had a chance to listen to it yet but she'd said most of the bands were somewhat obscure. I popped it into the cassette deck and plugged in my headphones. 

I sat up in bed, listening to strange sounds of reggae, new wave and punk bands that I'd never heard of before. I started to drift off after a few songs, but it was a half hour later when I was suddenly awakened by a song on the tape. It took me a minute to focus before I could hear the slightly husky voice clearly. It was lovely - the words and the music. The voice. I sat up and reached for the cassette case on the nightstand. I looked at the song and artist list and found this one: "Record Break My Heart" by a band called The Windows. I hadn't heard anything like it before and I knew I had to ask Erica where I could find more of their stuff.


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