The diner bathroom was so narrow that it barely fit the both of us. I was five-foot-five and 125 pounds, you were less. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere.
“All people do here is drink coffee and smoke cigarettes," you said, waving to the door as you locked it. Slender things don’t need much room. My plan was to piss and check my face, but you followed me in, telling your boyfriend we had girl stuff to talk about.
“This thing has nothing more to give,” you pointed to the soap dispenser—a bright pink udder, crusted shut.
I said, “Same,” and we both laughed.
It had been three weeks since John went to rehab, which made me lonely, and also, somehow, brought me closer to you. He was our rope, we could’ve been untethered. But then, two weeks later, you started sending me text messages to see how I was holding up, and then to see if I wanted to stop by for a drink. At first, it felt like you were doing it out of obligation. But something flipped, you told me about your parents and how much you hated them. You started opening up, and things started to feel normal, like life was bubbling again, little pops in the boredom growing, gurgling.
You wiped the counter with your sleeve. “I’ve got something for ya, hun,” you said, though you appeared to be talking into your purse. You pulled a tiny blue envelope out of your wallet and carefully tore it open with your teeth.
“I’m just making you a baby,” you said, opening the already impossibly tiny thing.
I’d never seen anything as thin as the line you stretched with your credit card, and then you cut it in half. Here’s what I already knew about heroin: it wasn’t big and showy, like coke. If it were, I would’ve seen it coming. Instead, it took me months to discover John was on it, not that knowing would’ve changed what happened.
Here’s what I didn’t know and needed to: why all the love my seventeen-year-old body could give wasn’t enough. This was his fifth time kicking. I thought he’d stop once he fell in love with me. I hoped that this line would show me exactly why he didn’t.
I brought my face down to the counter to breathe into a rolled-up dollar bill. It tasted like dirty diapers, Tums, and salt. I felt nothing. Then I felt my eyes water, and the back of my throat drip, and my stomach churn, and a wave of nausea so big I had to grip the sides of the toilet, I had to rest my sweaty face on the seat.
You told me I’d feel better soon. You could’ve told me anything at that moment and I would’ve believed you. I was in love with you then. Tell me this bathroom is my new home, I thought. Tell me I can only eat off the floor and I have to fuck the dishwasher forever. Instead, you said your boyfriend was probably wondering what was taking us so long. Your boyfriend, he was nothing like us. He wouldn’t let anything happen to you.
My stomach dropped a little when we got back to the booth. “No, no, no,” was the first thing he said. He said it to you, but it was me he kept looking at. You didn’t answer, maybe it was the drugs but it felt like something bigger and I was embarrassed to see it. “I promised John to keep her away from it. I had one job.”
“Who are you to keep a job?” you said.
“Oh really. Have I not shared everything with you? In fact, fuck you for saying that.” He was so angry.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. You do. I love you! It’s just that I haven’t had a girlfriend I could hang with in such a long time.” You really were sorry, which made me wonder if I was going to be okay. I felt perfect.
“John doesn’t own me! He’s the one who needs someone to wipe his ass now.” I said before you two could really start going at it. I saw where I fit. I fit right in the middle of you two. At that moment, that’s where I belonged. It felt like the simplest thing I’d ever said, so clear, so honest, stolen from a joke John made once, only slightly altered.
On our first date, the blur of his older brother’s car he borrowed, he opened the door for me. The movie we went to, The Notebook, and we really tried to watch, really, but what was more interesting was the flask he brought and the hand that held it, then started holding mine. We were sitting in plush seats, my one leg over his, watching the love story, dark all around us.
“When we’re old, like 30, let’s get married,” he whispered.
“Maybe when we’re old-old, like 75.”
“We’ll be wiping each other’s asses by then.”
When he touched me, my insides lit up. I kept my eyes on the movie, but everything else was lightning and fingers and limbs.
Your boyfriend paid the check. He drove us back to his parents’ big house, the parents I never met who, you said, let you hide you from yours. The whole time I watched the scenery from the backseat flicker on and off, a motion picture. My eyes couldn’t focus on one thing or the other, but I saw you talking to him. I saw you turn the radio up up up, then I felt you shake me awake.
We sat next to the pool, I was rocked by the hum of the filter, watching tiny sailboats of water go up and down on the surface. Hip hop played through speakers disguised as rocks, but I could barely hear with the propeller whirring in my brain.
“We’re going inside to grab a drink—need anything?” you asked me in a tone that said I should stay exactly where I was. You wanted me to stay outside because I kept puking, and I kept puking because it felt beautiful every time.
“What about the bag?”
“Well, we did that already, it’s gone,” you said. With a little more practice, I might have seen that you were lying, but I still trusted you. In my peripheral, I saw your boyfriend slamming the sliding door shut. He didn’t seem angry now, just sad. You turned to walk into the house after him, but then spoke over your shoulder.
“But if you have Julian’s number, he might have something.”
We both agreed that John’s older brother, Julian, was a creep. The way he hung out with John’s friends because he didn’t have his own, how he was always stealing his parents’ checkbooks, then paying for everything with checks. At John’s going-away party, he was the only one old enough to buy us beer, remember? Even John admitted that was why he was invited. He just stood there, like furniture, and when you all went into the bathroom he leaned over to me and said, “what do you think they’re doing in there?” As if I didn’t know. He wore this smile like there was a punchline. When I told you about it later, you said you weren’t surprised. He’s a 20-year-old Republican, you said, like that settled it.
You came back with two beers and no boyfriend, asking me if I needed anything else. Should we turn the pool heater on? Did I like the music? I puked in the landscaping and asked for your phone. My phone only had one bar, it was not enough. He answered on the first ring. You asked him what’s up, if he wanted to come over, if he had anything. You asked you asked you asked and he said yes. Fifteen minutes later you were saying, “when’s he getting here?” Like I knew better than you did. It was just past midnight and we were willing the birds to be quiet, lighthearted that every passing car was his. When he finally pulled into the driveway, I asked you where your boyfriend was.
“He just doesn’t feel right without John,” you told me. You told me that.
The most I’d talked to Julian was at that party. He was always in his bedroom when I came over. With the door slit open, he was just a dark figure in front of a blinding computer screen. I didn’t know what to say to him, so you did the talking. Casual stuff like what was he up to earlier that night, and did he want a cigarette, a dark beer or a light one? He said either, so you took him to the fridge in the garage. But when he came back, you were gone.
“So, you’re doing dope now?” He said to me, that punchline smile reappearing. “Don’t worry, It’s cool. I’m not gonna rat you out.” He dropped tiny blue envelopes on the table, one by one. So light, you’d think they’d blow away, but they landed, each with its own thud. “John always said you were innocent, ha. We’re all innocent. So how many do you want? One, two, three? Here, try it first.”
The lines he cut across the table were much thicker than the one you gave me. They looked mean, like they were saying, lookwhatyoufuckingdid. He rolled up a hundred dollar bill and handed it over. I pushed the sick down and inhaled.
“You’re probably bored now that John is gone,” he said.
I tap, tapped the rolled bill and inhaled again. Before I could answer, there was another line laid out. Then another. Then, when his clam fingers took the bill from my hand and dropped it on the table, when he lowered my hand into his lap, he said, “We can be bored together.”
You told him I was the one who called.
You told him I wanted him to come over.
How many bags did he give you to leave us alone?
Gene Lynn is a writer who loves dirty realism and also Crocs.
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