SISTERS — Chapter Four — Never Knows Best

People are automatic, right?

That’s what I was thinking, walking to the Smoker Friendly on the way back to my house. It was cold, starting to snow, and I had a feeling that everything was wrong, somehow.

Andrea and I had… Gotten closer. But something was gnawing at me. It was too good to be true, right? And even if it was real, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I had always had a girl crush on her, but I didn’t think it was… That.

Of course, before the whole thing with Riley, I was just one of the miserable nobodies at the fringes of Buffalo Falls. Being a lesbian would probably just give people the first reason they’d ever had to pay me any attention. But since I was me, and Andrea was Andrea… It probably wouldn’t be good attention. At all.

And people had no other choice but to look at us and think we were freaks, because they couldn’t imagine a world where we were anything but that. They couldn’t imagine a world where their parents didn’t drive SUVs, work shitty desk jobs, and end up divorced. They couldn’t imagine a world where Riley Baker was anything other than the hottest guy in school, or that being on the football team was the highest mark of achievement a guy could aspire towards. And girls either dated some guy on the football team, or were nobody.

It was impossible not to spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat talking shit about other people to feel more significant. It was impossible to feel like you were anything other than absolutely insignificant, unless you plastered over your own meaninglessness with shitty half-baked judgments about people you’d never really talked to.

And I wasn’t any different. I hung out in the background, thinking everyone was full of shit. Telling myself that even though I was worthless, I was somehow better than they were, because I could admit it out loud in my own head.

And committing to smoking cigarettes was where this was all going to stop. My automaton nature would vanish. Sure, it’d probably give me lung cancer, but every time I smoked a cigarette, I’d have to think about what countermeasures I was going to take to make sure I didn’t die from it. At least not like, tomorrow.

It would keep me from eating compulsively. I wouldn’t need to throw up anymore, because cigarettes curbed your appetite, and if you smoked often enough, made you thin. Sure, they fucked with your lungs, but I wasn’t a singer or a swimmer or a runner or anything else. I was just a depressed girl, who would probably look cool as hell doing something that everyone else thought was uncool.

That was the appeal, that by admitting that you didn’t give a shit how uncool you looked smoking, you were, somehow, in the scheme of things, becoming that much cooler than everyone else around you.

These were all of the excuses I fed myself from the time I left the tree house until I walked through the glass doors, so that I wouldn’t have to acknowledge the fact that I was mostly there on a mission to impress Andrea.

The only problem was, I didn’t know anything about cigarettes. When listening to music, watching movies, or reading books, I had to make a set of deeply real decisions about what kind of person I wanted to be. I could listen to Bright Eyes sometimes, but I didn’t want to be that girl who listens to Bright Eyes. I could have a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, but I didn’t want to be that girl who’s seen Titanic a thousand times.

So it was important to pick a brand of cigarettes that would signify exactly who I was, and what I stood for.

I knew Andrea smoked Newports, but if I bought those, it’d be painfully obvious what I was doing. A quick google search told me that Marlboro Reds and American Spirits were staples of the Bushwick Hipster canon, but I wanted to go even beyond what was expected of an out of place girl who hadn’t escaped to the big city yet.

Also, I wanted to spend as little money as possible, just in case I didn’t end up smoking them all. Andrea’s Newport made me feel like I was made out of sludge, and I didn’t expect anything else to feel better.

Then I saw a poster for Montclair Menthol Golds. From The House Of Parker & Simpson, Montclair suggested a kind of low-key elegance that was as mysterious as it was pretentious. Best of all, an entire carton was only thirty-five bucks.

This would be the first time in six months I actually committed my all to doing my homework. I imagined myself sitting on the edge of a loft bed, holding a spiral notebook, listening to When Your Heartstrings Break, writing the first pages of my award winning screenplay, a Montclair hanging from the edges of my smudged lipstick.

I imagined typewriters. Coffee shops. Los Angeles sunsets. Fast friendships with alternative models who were, mysteriously, not the least bit vapid. Striped sweaters, and a closely cropped haircut that, rather than being indicative of my anime obsession, showed people that I was a connoisseur of old French movies.

And when I got bored of my self-realized La La Land lifestyle, Andrea and I would take her beat up Mad Max license plated muscle car from Malibu all the way to Ontario.

Dude. What the fuck was I thinking?

“Can I help you, little lady?” A drone of redneck southern politeness that would’ve given Faulkner a raging hard-on addressed me as, irritating though it was, exactly what I was.

“Yeah. I’d like Montclair Gold Menthols. 100s, please.”

The UnaBomber specced old guy behind the counter squinted at me, a smirk forming beneath his pedophiled out facial hair.

“100s? Those might be taller than you are.”

“I want to die as quickly as possible.” I said.

He hitched his pants, clearing a disgusting blend of chaw and throat cancer from somewhere in the inner recesses of his grizzled skull, which looked like it might make an appearance on Dateline, if Chris Hansen was still having girls who looked younger than me do most of his dirty work trying to entrap sex criminals.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to see some I.D.”

I handed over my State I.D., since I didn’t have a driver’s license.

“This don’t look a thing like you.” He said, looking at my hair, the words “butch bitch” dancing devilishly on the edges of his gutter yellow teeth.

“I got a military make-over since that was taken.” I said, pointing at the American flag on his camo bomber jacket.

“Nice try, princess.”

“C’mon, dude. You can tell by the depressed eyes and total lack of recognition of anything positive ever happening again that the girl on that card is the girl in front of you.”

“Could be a fake.” He said.

“Could be.” I nodded. “But you could sell me thirty-five bucks worth of cigarettes, or I could just walk out of here and find somewhere else that will.”

“She’s tough.” He smiled. “Menthol Golds, right?”

“Yep.” I said, running a hand through my hair and looking in the circular mirror in the corner of the Smoker Friendly ceiling. Well, I didn’t look any different, despite my obvious victory over the Patriarchy.

I opened the front door, and my dad was standing a foot away, staring straight at me.

“Molly. Where have you been?”

“I um, I was with a friend.” I said, trying not to give him any clues about the searingly awkward girl on girl action that had taken place only hours ago. My dad was decent, as far as dad’s go, but we had never talked about my obvious lack of interest in boys who weren’t Riley Baker, so I didn’t know how he’d feel about having a daughter-in-law some day.

“The school called.” He said flatly. Fuck. Two options. He knew everyone at school had seen my ass. Or worse, he knew I had kicked Wyatt’s dick in.

Shit. If he knew about the second one though, he’d obviously know about the first.

“Do you wanna tell me what happened?” He asked.

Classic. Fucking. Dad. Trap.

“What do you mean?” I asked, acting like I was dumber than any human being, least of all my dad, would ever believe I actually was.

“Richard?” A voice called out. “Is everything alright?”

Dad looked over his shoulder, and a gorgeous woman was standing in our hallway.

Okay. What the fuck.

“Dad.” I asked. “Who’s she?”

My dad flushed bright red. He’d obviously left a few crucial steps out in his plan to torture me into telling him how the entire school ended up seeing me naked. That, or he’d added a few steps that weren’t in the manual. Judging by this bitch’s plunging neckline, and the sultry voice she used to call him Richard when she obviously wanted to be calling him Dick in loud orgasmic tones, he was caught in an even bigger fuckup than I was.

“Molly… Uh… This is Sarah.”

Sarah? Fucking seriously, dude? You start scoping out replacements for your corpsified wife, and you pick one with the same name?

“Sarah?” I asked. “Huh. Sounds familiar. Have we met before, Sarah?”

“Oh. No. I don’t think so? Unless you’ve seen me working at-”

“Molly’s uh- She’s- That’s an inside joke between me and her. She’s a real prankster, my daughter.”

Dad put his hands on his hips like he was in a sitcom, and Sarah laughed politely. If she was chill with him having a nearly adult daughter, she’d probably come prepared for dad jokes. And some other disgusting shit I really didn’t want to think about.

“Would you like to join us for dinner, Molly?” Sarah asked, her eyes as bigger as flying saucers. Was she on cocaine, or just one of those terminally happy people who can never catch a drift?

“Oh. Molly uh- She ah- She’s not a big eater.” Dad said.

Wow. Thanks, dude. Tell your skank girlfriend about my eating disorder the second we meet.

“Yeah no, I’d probably puke it all up anyway, watching this old slob.” I elbowed him in the ribs, half-Lisa Simpson, half-Dad-I-Will-Fucking-End-You.

Sarah laughed blithely. “You two are a riot!” She said.

And then she walked over and took one of my hands in hers.

“Please, Molly. I’ve heard a lot about you. Your dad never shuts up about how smart you are. I’d love to pick your brain about a few things.”

I’ll admit, the newly-minted lesbian in me felt the warmth from her hands, the view of her… Features, and the syrupy sweet affect of her voice and, you know, for a second, maybe this wasn’t the worst bitch my dad could have picked to replace mom with.

But then I looked at him, and the dumb fucking expression he had on his face, and I wondered if the man who had taken care of me all these years had disappeared. He looked like a horny sixteen year old spying on the captain of the cheerleading squad in the showers. And somehow, he had forgotten all about however much he knew about my debacle at school.

Which, was a good thing, but still. Come on, man. Responsibilities.

I looked at Sarah and wondered which option would fuck my situation up more. Going along with it, and probably saying something incredibly shitty to her or my dad or both, or sneaking up to my room, giving my dad plenty of space to remember that his daughter was either an amateur pornstar or a violent testicular terrorist.

The carton of 100s was suddenly dead weight on my back. The first order of business was making sure my dad had no idea I’d started smoking, until I was in a position to prove to him it was an educated decision, following in the footsteps of Sartre, Jean Seberg, and his personal favorite, Ben Affleck.

“You know, actually, now that I think about it, I’m starving.” I said.

“Let me just go drop my bag upstairs, and I’ll be right down.”

I checked out of the conversation before anyone could respond and flew up the steps at breakneck speed. Sure, that’d probably tip my dad off, but he probably was too busy living in some mid-life crisis fantasy to really suspect anything.

In my dad’s world, hoping against hope always paid off.

In mine, eventually the entire world would fuck you, and your best bet was to hide, regroup, and then run away as fast as possible.

So that’s what I was going to do.

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