A short story
Everybody was mad.
All the fourth-grade kids knew Molly was hyper and clumsy and kinda useless, that’s why no one wanted to sit with her goofy ass. That’s why the critical mass of the room shifted in atomic unison away from Molly and toward the windows and exits as soon as Mrs. Ortiz started counting off.
Molly just smiled agape and glowing like the sun was about to fly out of her mouth.
Even Mrs. Ortiz knew what the deal was here. Basically: Watch Molly close; hide all fragile objects and cherished articles of clothing.
After Mrs. Ortiz finished assigning everyone into groups, five kids to a table, her lips turned mild and plaintive as she watched Caprice huffing affronted and rolling her eyes and twirling in place next to her stool like a pissed-off backup dancer.
Molly was just happy to be here.
Gnawing the butt of a Wild Strawberry crayon. Stuffing said crayon up a nostril or two. Repeat.
Molly was psyched.
Mrs. Ortiz shoved the huge roll of glossy grey sheeting from one end of the table to the horizon, where Caprice stood eager and ready to catch the roll so it wouldn’t fall to the floor. Before Caprice could indeed catch the cylinder tumbling inbound, Molly slapped it mid-table to a slanted halt, and then she bowed forward with a hearty breathless squeal, basically daring anyone to believe for a second that art class would proceed as planned.
Mrs. Ortiz looked over to Corey, least visibly distressed of Table 4, like, sucks for you guys, I’m sorry.
Table 4 was Molly, Tyler, Caprice, Molly II (all the kids called her Maw), and Corey.
Acrylics. Simple shit. Mrs. Ortiz stacked six wide-mouthed plastic jars at the center of all five tables, and she let the kids squirt all the different colors into the bowls from the cruddy translucent ketchup bottles. Molly sniffed the tip and unscrewed the cap and plowed her nose as deep as it would go. All four of the rest of the kids at the table knew that, if only for a second, Molly was for real thinking, Why does this ketchup smell like paint, and how’d they get it so green?
Maw was sitting on the stool closest to Molly and sharing that side of the table with Molly’s lebensraum-chomping elbow. Already Maw was pretty annoyed, you could tell, not saying much and just trying to focusfocusfocus on the paper and get her paint on. Teasing her thin undipped brush in contemplative sketch an inch over the parchment’s grainy face, her tongue peeking stiff through her thin pinched lips, Maw was quiet and hunched and severe. But Maw was always quiet and hunched and severe, even on Fun Days. No, it was Maw’s wide-eyed flinching whenever Molly’s shoulders swiveled even an inch to or fro on the stool, Maw’s remarkably sharp PreTSD reflexes, that hinted Maw’s fear both for her life and for her crisp super cute black dress with the big brown buttons.
Just paint, guys, this is a Fun Day. Just paint.
This really was not that hard. This really should not have posed any problems. But ten minutes in, with a pent flick of her wrist while she was etching a purple mustache onto (what some may have discerned as) a lion, Molly knocked the jar of candy red paint onto its side and flooded the table with a quick-seeping flesh wound. Soaked the edges of all their paintings except Maw’s, even though Maw’s was closest, because Maw had all along been gauging Molly’s blast radius.
Man down: Caprice.
Caprice sprung from the stool and hollered, “Mrs. Ortiz, she done got paint all over my jeans!” Caprice did not identify who she was, nor did Mrs. Ortiz need Caprice to do so.
“It’s okay, it’s okay—” rushing over with a roll of paper towels clutched in her hands like a steamroller front, Mrs. Ortiz hushed Caprice by her own loud mimicry of a whisper, “Don’t worry, it’s washable, it’s washable. It’s okay.”
Though Caprice sustained a homicidal glare despite Mrs. Ortiz’s managing to swipe most of the red blotch from her knee with a wet paper towel, across the table Molly was sufficiently assuaged: That it was okay.
Molly got back to painting that lion a full head of hair.
For the rest of class Table 4 didn’t talk.
Molly didn’t talk, but she didn’t really notice that she wasn’t talking, through all that drippy grinning, cast downward along with an intermittent trickle of snot that bored a muddy hole in the steep blue slope of one of her mountains. She was just too busy with / proud of her bizarro lion and the flock of green fish that she’d smeared across her crowded skyline, which also featured a blunt yellow sun and a leaking blue moon, all at once and an inch apart.
Only Corey and Maw (and Molly) were still trying to paint at this point. Caprice and Tyler were both like, Wow, just staring blank at their pages and shaking their heads for half an hour.
While Table 4 wasn’t talking, four of the five were thinking and grunting. And they all knew what they were thinking and grunting about: all the reasons why they hated Molly Welsh.
Molly wore high-water overalls.
Molly had a big-ass forehead.
Always, Molly would kick her shoes off in class, and her socks stank like old salad dressing.
Nine times out of ten Molly was the reason you weren’t getting recess today.
Molly never apologized for ruining things.
Molly ruined everything.
That was it for the most part.
That was fourth grade.
Everybody grew up but not really.
Maw transferred to a white people school across town a couple years back, in middle school, at her parent’s insistence and considerable expense. No heads up. No send-off. No goodbyes. It just sort of happened, and no one ever bothered to figure out why. Tyler guessed it was because her parents were racist or something, and Freeman Middle and Tyson High had too many black kids. Corey and Caprice nodded limp concurrence like, Yeah, yeah, why not, that’s probably it.
So now there was only one Molly.
Just one of Tenth Grade Molly’s tits was the size of Fourth Grade Molly’s head. By the typical frump of her t-shirts, Molly’s chest rattled like a sack of planets strapped to the bed of a pickup truck that was plowing through intergalactic turbulence.
Caprice was not so fortunate.
Caprice’s chest was a Euclidean plane, basically.
Between fourth grade and high school, somehow Caprice had gotten thinner, barely any taller, like her body had sunken into itself. Her cheeks were craters, hollow and dark. Caprice had filled out like the stem of a lamp, mahogany whittled by wind and sand. Caprice played intramural soccer, so this wasn’t the worst thing in the world. She ran faster than any other girl in school, even the twelfth grade girls. Could’ve ran track if she wanted. In fact briefly she’d considered this sophomore year, but the girls on the squad that year were the worst. White bitches who only ate grapes and little carrot chunks rationed all day from the frowning Ziploc snack bags in their lockers. White bitches who were just hungry and horny all the time, trying to figure out when J.C. and Michael Sexton (Sex, Ton, hehe) would be at lunch today, and why even go if the cutest boys in school wouldn’t be there to peep them fluttering their eyelashes and sipping Gatorade Zero.
Sophomores at Tyson High, Corey, Caprice and Tyler remained, all friends. And sometimes classmates, though it was mostly Corey and Caprice who were in classes together, since Corey and Caprice were grinding through the early APs while Tyler was sparring a rematch with Algebra I.
Corey’s favorite president was Obama.
Caprice’s favorite president was Jackson.
Andrew Jackson was a salty motherfucker who wrote cocky mean letters to his haters, and Caprice much admired this about him, even though Andrew Jackson killed a whole bunch of brown people and was pretty racist.
Tyler didn’t really give a shit about any of this.
Corey and Tyler preferred hanging out with Caprice, obviously, but then they otherwise enjoyed staring at Molly’s tits volleying beneath the taut drape of her gym shirt tucked to the lasso waist of her shorts whenever Mr. Green made them do stretches or any sort of running.
So long as Caprice wasn’t around.
Caprice did, however, catch Corey and Tyler’s eyes trailing Molly’s hydraulics through other common locales around campus, like in the cafeteria whenever Molly wobbled by their table at lunch, carting her tray beyond the last row of seats and into a black hole, where she presumably ate, alone.
“Man, y’all are gross,” Caprice leaned in and snapped her fingers at the tip of Corey’s nose, “Seriously.”
“What?” one of them squeaked, as both of them shrugged alternatively.
“Y’all need to stop tripping over that dirty-ass white girl.”
Corey sucked his teeth, “Why you tripping though? Shit, ain’t nobody worried about her.”
Tyler sucked his teeth, “Molly’s crusty ass.”
Corey didn’t really agree with the ‘crusty ass’ comment, but he kept this to himself, now inconspicuously tight-lipped.
“What you mean, crusty ass?” Caprice sat back, folding her arms and looking off somewhere beyond them, somewhere less offensive than their faces right now, “She ain’t even got no ass.”
This was true. But then neither did Caprice. Okay, Molly sometimes smelled like a wet dog. But then Caprice often reeked of her dad’s menthols, a musk seeped faint and eternal in the ratty stitch of her one denim jacket.
Naw, that’s all Corey, see. Watch. I bet Molly gon let him smash one day, just wait.
Molly also had acne, and kinda hairy forearms, and ghastly pale skin, but none of this was her fault, really. Also her cheeks were fuzzy blonde, like a peach, and splotchy, like a peach, but none of this was—
She gon be all on the floor like a dog, son, like ‘woof-woof’!
—her fault, really. And her face really was so ripe, and she always smiled, was always laughing, had really nice teeth and mysterious bangs.
Bout to let you hit it from the back, Corey. Bout to let you bust that cherry wide open.
Molly was kinda cute, you had to admit.
Thinking about the pasty winking backs of her knees.
Tyler ribbed on, elbowing Corey’s slouched belly under the table, “Yeah, I could see Corey tapping that. My man Chub-Rock over here!”
Since freshman year Corey had gotten kind of fat. Chubby. HenceChub-Rock. His chin was not so flattering, and his man boobs were pretty undeniable at this point. At the park on Bledsoe Road every few weekends Caprice would clown Corey on the basketball court in games of 2-on-1, which typically ended about fifteen minutes in with Corey hunched over and panting and waving his hand meek in the air, like,Stop stop I’m sixteen and having a heart attack. Worst look of all was Corey in his marching band uniform, all white from cap to toe. In the stands during the halftime show, from so many yards afar, even from the bleachers you could see it: Whenever Corey flanked and swung his trumpet, his gut pitched along with it.
Caprice never called Corey Chub-Rock, though. Caprice thought Corey was kinda cute, especially his glossy exotic curls, which looked maybe Cuban or something and made Caprice think of a palm tree struck by summer rays. Corey’s face was always turned toward you and open, like he was always listening to you even when you weren’t saying anything.
“Corey, I swear to God,” Caprice rocked back in her chair and flexed palm to God, her braids clacking like rosary beads as they whipped the plastic back of the seat, “If you mess with that crusty ass white girl, we can’t ever speak again. I’m sorry, but—”
Molly was in band, too. Saxophone. Alto. Back in middle school when she first started playing, she was pretty much the Robespierre of kids with instruments: honking and squealing absolute terror to anyone within earshot, including Ms. Glenn’s screeching parrot in the bio lab across the hall. Only note Molly could play was that screech from old horror film soundtracks. That parrot was not a fan.
By eighth grade, though, Molly had honed her pitch and made second chair of the altos. Now she was first chair. For whatever it was worth, though, the rest of the altos couldn’t even tune properly; and Molly’s first order of business this year was working to rectify her section’s woeful buzzing.
Caprice and Tyler showed up to one of the jazz band’s after-school spring concerts to cheer for Corey from the back row of the auditorium. Corey soloed to a swampy ‘Caravan’, stuffing mute to bell of his strangled brass and just trying to live through to the last breath. It was a mushy forty seconds, he had to admit. But good try, good try. Applause nonetheless.
Molly had a solo that night, too. ‘25 or 6 to 4’, which was all bass and smoky tenor. Except for the solo, which was Molly writhing at the mic stand and mashing the alto buttons with exceeding gusto as if she might crush the sax in her hands all together, ball it up, pitch it to the back of the auditorium and then explode into a puff of smoke. Way too much histrionics on Molly’s part, swinging like Lisa Simpson up there. Cloying as fuck. But she killed it music-wise. As she trailed her last G, everybody clapped and looked at each other, nodding. Corey clapped for a hot sec before it was his turn to blow again. Caprice and Tyler did not clap.
Out in the auditorium hallway after the show there was a swarm of kids and parents, including Molly and Molly’s mom and dad. Balanced on his outstretched forearms Molly’s dad presented to Molly a wide black leather case with silver trimming along the edges. Molly flicked the latches and opened it right there, and lifted a brand-new alto sparkling harsh under the hallway lights: ebony brass adorned with thin gold rails and butter pearl keys.
Corey thought, damn, it’s like a pretty-ass gun almost. Like, a Bond villain would shoot up a casino with that shit.
All Caprice and Tyler could think was, damn, Molly’s parents must be loaded.
Whoa, wow, Molly was loaded.
Caprice wondered aloud, “Why she always dress like she homeless then?”
Corey shushed her and swerved himself between Caprice and Tyler, and Molly and her parents a few steps away. “Come on, yo, her parents are here. Leave her alone, alright?”
Out front on the curb it was dark. On the sidewalk kids passed, said what’s up, patted Corey on the back. Molly was taking off from the auditorium now. Up the ramp. Down the sidewalk. Across the parking lot. Hopped into the back seat of her parents’ fresh white SUV.
Eyes tracking the glint of her sax case through the dark, Corey noticed that no one patted Molly on the back, no one other than her folks. At Tyson High, no one commended Molly Welsh’s bravado, not ever. Teachers rolled their eyes and rushed to call on anyone else, hell, even kids who were face-planted to tablet-arms and dozing. Girls sneered at her serial crimes against color-coordination, and her often reeking, for some reason, of cabbage. Boys wouldn’t even flatter Molly Welsh’s formidable rack, at least not if any other kids were around to catch them peeking.
Shit is sad, Corey thought, with Molly’s tits haunting foremost.
They were whooshing through the pristine moonlight on the way back from regionals, where the Tyson High Symphonic Band placed third.
When Corey woke from a wavering nap at the back of the bus, Molly’s head was toppled firm onto his shoulder, nestled into the drape of his neck, like a key tucked snug into a lock. She was snoring in spurts from the bridge of her nose, choking on a dream or something. Molly could have just leaned against the window, but here she was drooling onto Corey’s t-shirt. Corey stirred, jerked his shoulder as his arm tingled numb; and Molly snorted up and muttered and straightened up in her seat.
Then Molly farted, it sounded like.
But it was just her butt rustling against the leather seat.
But it sounded like she farted.
And by Corey’s glancing at her long and strange Molly braced this misunderstanding. And for once, the only time Corey had ever seen her wince anything resembling shame, Molly whimpered apologetic.
“No, it was the seat. It was just. My skirt’s all. Bunched.”
Corey already knew it was the seat. Now Corey felt bad that he’d made her blush and stutter. So Corey smiled with a bare laugh, like, Yeah, yeah, I know, I got you, I got you.
Crossing her arms with a counterfeit pout, “See, this is why no one talks to me,” Molly muttered to the back of the rattling headrest in front of her, half-whispering so as not to piss off the night silence and everyone dozing in the seats ahead.
Corey said, “You’re alright,” which was the only response that came to mind. It took him a second to grasp that he actually meant this, sincerely if vaguely.
Molly wiped the spit from her lip with the back of her hand and, with her bangs a sheer tangled curtain across her eyes, turned to Corey.
“I think I’m gonna quit band next year.”
“I dunno. No one likes me.”
“I like you,” which wasn’t exactly what Corey meant to say.
“Is that why you sat next to me?”
The answer was yes.
Molly lifted Corey’s palm and landed it just above her knee, which felt nice. Warm groove. Like warm dough. Like the dough Mrs. Zimmern taught them to make in home ec. back in seventh grade. Molly was there for that too, though on the opposite side of the room, where she pummeled her allotment of flour and sugar and yeast and water into (what some may have discerned as) a heart and carved a smiley face in its center with a spoon. Mrs. Zimmern kneaded the dough heart back into an ugly aborted oblong before she’d let Molly sprinkle the mozzarella.
“Yuh-huh,” Molly murmured in return, her lips caught between a smile and a smirk, her eyes glinting grey without blinking, not even once.
Corey nodded as if to concede, though he wasn’t quite sure what he was admitting here, with his mere meek yeah whispered too soft to matter. He thought to surrender further, and louder. Spill his guts to her pried perfect teeth.
Felt, rather. Felt he should—
Molly was a smart girl. By the busy blinking evasion of Corey’s eyes even as he declined to glance elsewhere, as his cheek nested against the headrest with his face rolled toward hers, Molly could tell. She could even take Corey’s pulse; she tugged his index, rolling his knuckles gentle but familiar as a cigarette. Her knees shifted a bit. Corey was trying to be absolutely still, but then he shimmied in the seat a bit, curled toward her subtle as he could manage. Molly’s far knee bowed further toward the window, thudded against the AC rail as she steered Corey’s finger along the inner curve of her thigh, which felt more like rough tire rubber than dough; to the touch of wet cotton pressed along an alien patch of skin and tiny hairs.
Corey didn’t resist any of this. Felt about right, actually. Just right. Like whatever he knew, or thought he knew about wanting or skin or privacy or other people, now he succumbed without doubt or dispute to her posited wisdom of where fingers belonged, why they belonged there, their most sacred applications, and what came next.
Neck writhing, Molly’s chin swiped away, contemplating the window with her eyes closed. Corey’s left hand was tense, listless, tapping the butt of the armrest, twitching envy of the spelunking right. When Molly turned back toward him, Corey blinked and nodded yes for no real reason. She arched up, peered once over the headrest, and after that, after she eased back to onto the cold leather with Corey’s fingers tickling her verge, the bus was just the two kids breathing hot traces of ham sandwiches at each other with a view of the moon slipping away over sleeping tobacco.
As Corey curled his finger deep inside her sticky terrain, Molly cooed and clamped her thighs gently around Corey’s wrist. Skin warmer still. With eager strain Corey prodded deeper, finding Molly quite vast and intriguing within.
Maw transferred from the white people school to Tyson High second semester, which made no sense since it was senior year. Then Eddie Taylor set Tyler correct: Maw had to repeat seventh grade due to poor academic showing plus some legendary cheating conspiracy. Honor codes were broken, administrators humiliated, and now Maw was a junior.
What’s more, now Maw was a goth.
Not a sad boo-hoo goth. A rager goth. Now her hair looked like a sheet of fried black wax. Maw’s face was all dark streaks of green and purple. Chin, lips, tongue, nose, eyebrows all pierced with silver loops and rods like a Christmas tree. Now Maw’s big brown buttons were ginormous studs in her radically new big-ass earlobes.
Also now she went by Mal.
Caprice, Corey, Tyler—they said hi to Maw / Mal a few times in the hallways between classes, but after a while they all sort of understood that none of them much give a shit about whatever Maw / Mal was into these days, with her weird friends who hung outside the bathrooms by the back parking lot during study hall.
But words spread, and Tyler caught a few. Mal loved her some pills. Mal was a lush. A budding sociopath in black leather. Mal brought little bottles of vodka to school all the time, which she hid in the many pockets of her baggy cargo fatigues.
Mal was pretty buzzed during lunch one afternoon and bumped into Tyler in the wide fluorescent hallway outside the gym.
A stumble of two dissimilarly tipsy souls, bound for one another by the massive gravity of vice.
Mal and Tyler fucked in the nearest bathroom stall.
Riding the rickety-hinged porcelain seat for all of two minutes before Tyler thoughtlessly came all over the bottom drape of Mal’s t-shirt, which she’d just have to tuck into her pants for the rest of the day.
Mal was woozy on Tyler’s lap. Hypnotizing herself. Barely there. Like a boxer fazed, tilting up toward perdition. Earlobes flapping against her neck and making a faint sound, a minor tapping, that struck Tyler dumb for a sec wondering whether Mal was maybe made of plastic.
Before Tyler and Mal could dip discretely into the hallway, Mal flung herself back to the sink and vomited fierce. Every time Tyler thought she was finished and ready to trail him into the clear, Mal spun back to the basin, hacking even louder, until she was collapsed to her knees on the floor and arching her neck up to cough another fleck of sick against the mirror.
It was the Girls’ restroom anyway.
So Tyler left without her.
Two arduous mouthfuls. Oral sex was antidote to boredom, reciprocated with loud dutiful sighs: in either of their bedrooms, or in either backseat, in whichever parking lot they stalled…
For a couple months, Corey and Caprice gave it a shot.
The sex was mortifying; the anxiety mutual.
By the end of March the whole Corey-Caprice pairing wasn’t working out so well. Already as friends they fought all the time, but usually about silly shit, and anyway they were just joking. As a couple, though, even in their earliest throes, it was all, Why you gotta cough so damn loud? Shoot, and, Why I always gotta buy the condoms though?
Silly shit, still. But silly shit that stung, and sometimes lingered.
Worst off was Tyler, who had to play go-between whenever Corey and Caprice didn’t feel like talking to each other for whatever reason. From the start Tyler was skeptical about the whole arrangement. To be clear, Tyler was not jealous of Corey fucking Caprice, he was just jealous of Corey fucking anyone. Corey was fat. Tyler had muscles and a neat head of cornrows. But Tyler was quiet and none of the girls ever really noticed him, not amidst all the varsity stars that packed most of his classes.
“I’m just saying, why don’t y’all just be friends? Y’all fight all the damn time now,” Tyler pleaded over Traveling Nachos at lunch one day when it was just him and Corey, “Y’all like my damn parents, almost.”
Corey was really not trying to be like Mr. and Mrs. Norton, who could find shit to yell at each other about even during halftime in the bleachers.
Maybe boys and girls just fight, that’s just how it is, Corey thought.
Tyler suspected what Corey wouldn’t say: that Corey and Caprice breaking up on rough terms would upend everybody’s shit. Lunch would become shuttle diplomacy between warring tables, with Tyler stuck running up and down the aisles and having to front like he’d just been off to the bathroom. So long as even that might last. Corey and Caprice would split from each other, and then as if by some hard law of physics, they’d split from Tyler.
Tyler was gonna try leaving the two of them alone for a while.
Tyler was smoking a lot of weed these days with some dumpy ex-football dudes who’d opted for GEDs so they could linger outside one of the auto repair shops around his way, just shooting the shit out back all morning / afternoon / evening / night / morning. Brothers who would never in their lives set foot out of Franklin County. One of them, Jo-Jo, was a tall hood lout who’d slammed Corey up against a locker back in the day, the first week of high school, on the count of Corey’s looking at him funny that morning from his neighboring locker, newly-assigned.
“Man, that’s water under the bridge, nahmsayin,” Jo-Jo grunted as he passed a steaming blunt back across the picnic table to Tyler. Water under the bridge.
And so Tyler drifted.
Molly was learning guitar now, from some creepy college boy over on Gleason who was in to hanging out with seventeen year-old girls, apparently.
Molly didn’t quit band. First chair of the altos still, but you could tell she was over it. Always blowing flat on chipped reeds that she couldn’t bother to replace. Every day, as soon as the bell rang, she hustled quick to the band closet to dump her loaner sax (she kept the new one posted by the desk in her bedroom) and then out into the hallway, beaming in whichever direction.
Molly wanted to be in a band. A real band. Molly wanted to be famous. Adored, rather. Loved massively, and wholesale. Singing lead.
Molly’s voice was like the creak of an old door.
One day before the lunch bell, Molly hovered next the percussion pit at the back of the room, staring up at the clock and waiting for someone. Corey was curious. Took everyone else filtering out into the hallway and Molly turning toward him for Corey to realize that she was waiting for him.
Corey walked over, “What’s up, Molly?”
“Show you something.”
Molly propped her sneaker to the edge of a chair and rolled up her pant leg.
A tattoo? Christ, Molly, for real? Shit, let my mom ever find out I…
Just above the hem of her ankle sock was, amidst a red patch of raw weeping skin, a tattoo scrolled like a princess bangle hugging the taper of her calf, in black / blue cursive:
I’D TELL ALL MY FRIENDS BUT THEY’D NEVER BELIEVE ME
Corey squinted, scrutinized for typos: zero.
Sincerely Corey wondered whether Molly had any real friends.
Corey winced a few seconds too long at the awful sick sweat of her wound, which looked like a virus, like it might give him red eye or Ebola or something if he looked at it too hard. Now he didn’t even feel like asking her about the tattoo, why she got it, what it meant, why she was showing him. Oh, wow, cool, just nodded, looking up to Molly’s proud eyes staring back at him. Then she dropped her foot to the floor and looked off, her face spoiling sour.
“I feel bad.”
“Everyone thinks I’m a brat or something. Since forever. Everyone thinks I’m a bitch.”
“No,” Corey inched toward, and after hesitation, for good measure, “I don’t think you’re a—I don’t think you’re a bitch.”
“What do you think, then?”
“I think you’re—dangerous. No—”
“What does that—”
“It’s like,” Corey swelled soft and slow, “You’re free, and most kids aren’t, is all. You know what I mean. Motherfuckers are just bitter. So they just wish you’d just sit the fuck down sometimes, you know?”
“Do you wish I’d sit the fuck down?”
Both her eyes and the question struck Corey callow. His voice wavered, and he threw up his hands, answering honest as his nerves commanded.
“I don’t know.”
Molly got accepted to Stanford, which no one could believe, but which also no one would admit to caring about in the first place. Except Caprice. Why did Caprice even give a—
“Because, you know white people just buy their kids everything, shoot,” she slapped the nearest locker as the three of the paced down the hallway. “She ain’t even that smart. She just got all them extracurriculars and whatnot. Because she flaky as fuck.”
“She’s not flaky,” Corey objected looking over toward the opposite row of lockers, knowing well enough to not bother defending Molly to Caprice’s face, “She’s just different.”
Tyler stayed out of this. Tyler was used to laying low between the two of them at this point. Tyler just walked with his hands stuffed in his pockets, and feigning a whistle through bored puckered lips.
Caprice whined, “Why you gotta be defending her anyway? That rich white bitch. Shoot. Dank ass.”
“Because everybody’s always giving her shit,” the rejoinder spilled thick from Corey’s teeth, long-bided, landing like a mortar round. “She’s just doing her.”
Caprice sucked her teeth and shoved off from Corey’s arm, pointing snappy accusation. “Shoot. Just because you wanna lick that dirty white girl booty hole.”
Corey did not want to lick Molly’s booty hole, but in a deep and unspeakable sense, he knew what Caprice was getting at. That in any given second between the hours of nine and four, Molly’s tits and outfits and outbursts were the most intriguing facts of life at Tyson High.
Corey sighed, “Man, whatever.”
Why were they still talking about Molly? Molly didn’t even come to school that much anymore. Off with her band, or whatever she was up to these days. Off doing her.
One day just before school let out Molly texted Corey:
want to come to a show tonight?
Corey drove. The Mayweather on East Broad at seven o’clock. He showed up early hoping to spot her prepping the stage or warming up, he’d give her a hug. But she was nowhere to be seen. A couple other sets performed, and then Molly stepped out from the back curtain as her bandmates darted back and forth across the stage, thumping their mics and squealing the speakers. Corey stayed for The Why Axes’ whole set, swaying awkward on a stool at the back of the venue, feeling miles apart from the girl on stage who looked quite lovely in black jeans and the tight wifebeater that framed her tits foremost. Molly, shiny by sweat, singing wild with a voice that Corey recognized for sure, but whose high hollow pitch had taken on a quivering cataclysmic gravity, a heaven-bound collapse that sounded like crying while fighting.
Like a girl haunting a boy over the phone well past midnight.
Caprice broke up with Corey by not calling him anymore and not answering his texts and stomping straight over his backpack in the aisle to get to her desk in Mr. Tuggs’ class.
It was April anyway. It was gonna be over sooner or later.
Tyler didn’t even notice until later, and then he just sucked his teeth and shrugged.
The door slammed, the bells jingled against the trembling glass as Tyler and Jo-Jo took off on foot. Sprinting one. . . two. . . three blocks so far, so close; stressed wads of cash in hand, bills dissolving behind them in flight. . .
Before a swinging car door clotheslined Jo-Jo to the pavement, and Officer Krupke hopped out the seat, stood over him, boot conquering chest, taunting, “Son, do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
No, not exactly.
But that’s how Tyler recalled it, in a haze as thick as his drawl, as thick as the cool tart syrup lining his throat. That’s how the chase played in his head. Ten minutes after he’d slipped away, catching his breath in a grim constricting alley just a few blocks further uphill from where shit went south.
Corey wondered how Molly was doing. Not that he did anything to chase his curiosity to conclusion. But he wondered. Whether Molly was still hanging out with old grimy white boys in garages.
College would be someplace new and full of promise, so Corey tried wondering about that instead.
Summer spent to the end of its wick. Molly left for Stanford, Caprice left for Howard, Corey left for UVA, and Tyler was just chilling on Monument Ave, graduating from weed and over-the-counter fare to more complicated sedatives. For a couple months. Intensive intravenous. Until wherever Tyler was, he was likely shuddering in the dark.
Tyler pressed the barrel of a .38 snub to his temple and flashed his brains into thick matted splay against a bystanding dumpster.
No, not really.
But that’s what his delirium often presaged in all shades of day, waking or sleep: cold blunt steel pressed firm and feeling actually quite tender-loving against his scalp, massaging him dull; and Tyler thinking he’d be fine with that as his ecstatic exit. In any case he’d acquired the gun and kept it handy in his Pathfinder’s glove box with the latch that always jammed.
Mal had plowed her mom’s Accord into a traffic pole on Cumberland Ave and was hobbling on crutches in and out of stale courtrooms, though no one from Tyson High knew this. Damn near all of Franklin County had given on Molly Pastira—a name now muttered or else barked in the communal shower, reeking of mildew and urine. Downtown lockup was a drab grey jumpsuit and life without piercings or buttons, which left Mal feeling naked in a drafty cell. No piercings, no buttons meant two ginormous gapes in the flaky creased skin of her earlobes, which were pretty gross and made her look much older than she was.
Everybody grew up but not really.
Winter break was Caprice coughing crescendo into a phone receiver, pretending to her mother that she was quite ill so she wouldn’t have to go home for Christmas. A holiday apart from her loud-ass family’s mean shrieking in a cramped kitchen proved less liberating, more boring than Caprice had anticipated. Alone in her dorm hearing police sires all night. Reading Harry Potter finally to see what all the fuss was about, and because her roommate owned all seven books, and because Caprice had nothing better to do. In this marathon boredom the Internet served its ends: first and last refuge of kids digging for distractions, especially when bitter, especially when shut in by malicious ice spilling from scowling clouds.
Caprice wasn’t Facebook friends with Molly, but she could still see some of Molly’s photos. Prompted by stray and indelible curiosity, a timeless spite of that one weird bitch who smelled like onions, Caprice did indeed check.
Molly’s cheeks were no longer splotchy and fuzzy; or else she’d mastered the art of makeup after zero years prior trying. Molly wore plaid skirts and sunny yellow tops. Molly had gotten a little pudgy, you could tell. But somehow her tits had swelled even larger than they were in high school, and they cast a mirage contrast with her waist that made her look thinner than she probably was. Molly’s tits. Bulging, dangling, scrunching proud; glistening by the flash of all the photos in which she happened to be leaning forward. Which was all of them. Like her tits were coming after you and you’d better watch out. Like she didn’t give a shit if you stared.
As if Molly ever gave a shit.
One day Caprice friended Molly on Facebook just to see what would happen, whether she’d accept or decline or send some characteristically weird message in response.
Ten minutes later Molly accepted without a word.
Caprice browsed her page. Watching a glitchy lo-fi video of Molly on a dim dingy stage with sour crimson spotlights overhead, flanked by a few friends who were propped on stools and tuning their guitars. Molly was swinging by a mic stand and belting some violent love song with a wild grin, just practicing, with more guts than grace. The mic wasn’t even hot, yet there she was about to take a tumble in her heels if she didn’t sit her ass down.
Sorted by timestamps, the most recent photo of Molly was of her and a boy standing abreast with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists, grinning preciously ludicrous with twisted tongues and wrinkled noses, posed in front of a pebble beach with waves hurling to shore in the background. One photo previous was Molly and the boy in the same shot, but kissing earnest, Molly clenching the lapels of his pea coat and pulling him close.
Sure enough, Corey also scrolled these photos. He could tell that lover boy’s chest was probably quite solid, and that Molly’s hand likely glided quite smooth from lover boy’s collar on down. Corey more than kinda regretted not kissing Molly so deep that one night at the back of the bus, and every day thereafter. He’d only pecked her lips, just once. And scratched her surface, so to speak. Could’ve dug deeper, longer, for months. Maybe forever. But he’d demurred.
Which, in hindsight now, was wholly regrettable.
Not those two photos; rather the ones that excluded lover boy and more prominently featured Molly’s boobs:
Every now and again in his dorm, when his roommate left for classes, Corey would rub one out at his desk to the reel of Molly’s snapshots. Always trembling silent once he’d finished soaking the paper towel in his other hand. A couple weeks of this. Until Corey found Molly’s still mirth a foot above and beyond his cock deeply infuriating.
Except for the one last time.
One afternoon in December, hunched at his desk in his old room back home. Finishing off to her photo album, Corey poked Molly, dismissed the window, wiped his palm with a stray crumpled napkin, slammed the lid, and that was that.
White people money, Caprice thought/groaned as she sifted the coins in her palm, coming up thirty-five cents short as she waited for the bus to pitch her cross-town to Adams Morgan. Thirty minutes she waited in the cold, getting her mean cheeks whipped by the chilly wind. Where the fuck—
Bus prolly wasn’t coming.
Caprice could’ve walked. Granted, it’d be a couple miles in below-thirty, but most of the ice from the weekend had melted from the sidewalks. And Caprice had nothing better to do at 1:43pm on a Tuesday when the city was empty, bored, pretty much just waiting on her. Caprice had her thick grey coat with the frayed gaping pockets, her mismatched mittens, her mom’s old scarf hugging her neck. No earmuffs, but only white people wore earmuffs.
So Caprice could’ve walked. But for the wind, and the chill, and her having weathered long enough already. . .
Caprice turned back to the dorm and unwrapped her baggage onto the back of her chair, plugged her bony ass to the seat and cast her ire back into the trivial recesses of the Internet. Order of the Phoenix sat thick at the far corner of Caprice’s desk, under the drooping balanced-arm of a lamp lacking a bulb, with Harry flexing his wand and peering through the film of dust across the hardback’s jacket. Until by Christmas Harry’s eyes were glazed over, and he could no longer see.
Tapping trackpads in humming rooms, alone.
The Internet reminded her:
The Internet reminded him:
Molly Welsh was on a full ride to Stanford.
Molly Welsh was laughing on a beach. And singing wild about love. And heaving her tits in your face. And fucking a boy with pretty hair.
And everybody was mad.