by Lacey N. Dunham
They sprawl on the yellow lawn, stomachs stretched to the sun. The August day dies around them. They are sixteen and want everything—anything—but theirs is a small town, rural. Maybe they have choices; maybe they don’t. Each one dreams of rescue and excitement, but adventure begs for money and Tina’s parents are unemployed and Drew’s father’s hours at the auto plant are half what they were last year. Chass says her father sees fewer clients these days, but no one believes that a lawyer lacks for money.
Boredom is exhausting, Drew says. And I feel faint.
I wish it would rain. Chass uncrosses her legs, smooth flesh the color of cream. I want to stand naked in the rain.
Drew licks the sweat mustache on his upper lip. He’s called FD—Filipino Drew, his baptismal name melting into his brown skin—and though he hates it, there are worse things. All names have a price, but some leave deeper scars.
Tina, Fat Tina not quite behind her back, shakes her head with a cluck of her tongue. I’m only naked in the shower. Her eyes finger Chass’s alabaster limbs—as close as she dares to beauty. Her pastor says perfection of the flesh means an imperfection of the soul. She rubs her thumb over the smooth crucifix dangling on a gold chain at her throat. I can get the sprinkler? she asks meekly.
Chass coils and uncoils her long hair that is the color of garden strawberries and ignores her, slipping instead into the shade of the oak bent crooked over the lawn. Above, the leaves are aflame in the sun.
She glows pale even in the shade.
Drew follows and settles his heavy limbs beside her in the prickling grass, jealous of Chass’s rosy skin and silky hair that is an apotheosis of beauty. He plucks at the lint between his toes.
Tina drags the sprinkler from the garage. Almost as good as the beach, she jokes, but when she turns the water on, it fritzes and sputters in a single stream two inches high. Chass shakes her head. Even Drew is annoyed. Tina sits near them and tugs on her shirt, its tattletale sweat stains peeking from under the armpits.
Summer’s turning out to be such a waste, Drew mumbles.
But isn’t that the idea of summer? Tina picks at a scab on her foot. It means we did it right. She pulls off her glasses and rubs the lenses with her T-shirt, her hair matted in greasy clumps.
Stop or you’ll scratch them, Drew says. Tina digs harder at the glass, grinding her thumb into the curve of the lens. Her dad can’t hold a job and her mom doesn’t leave the house, so what does Drew know of scratches?
I almost stole a pack of Wrigley’s from Walmart last week, Chass confides. I wanted to see what it felt like, but I lost my nerve.
Drew tugs his fingers through his hair. Isn’t that, like, a dollar? Why steal something you can afford?
Chass shrugs and tosses an arm over her eyes to block the light. She wants to shake her tiny snow globe world. She’s a girl without purpose. A dangerous sort, and motherless to boot.
A Camero snakes down the street, bass rippling the stagnant air. Its black skin gleams. Limbs jettison from the open windows and cigarette smoke spirals from the driver’s side. Tina scrunches her face when the car slips to the curb.
Chass arches her back into a crescent and waves at the grinning boy in the driver’s seat, mysterious behind his large sunglasses. I’m gonna go now, she says with a shrug.
They watch Chass amble down the lawn. She leans into the window, her right knee pressed against the door, her butt small and perfect in her jean shorts. An arm with silver bracelets passes a brown bottle. Chass sways when she drinks.
Tina squints against the sun on the tinted windows. Who does Chass know that smokes cigarettes?
Kyle, Drew says. Kyle the Mile.
Tina thinks of her pastor’s sermon last Sunday and shakes her head. All I’m going to say is she better be careful, she warns, squeezing the fat of her stomach through her T-shirt. She knows the reason Kyle chose Chass. Why her sister Rosa’s boyfriends always pick Rosa. Tina cuts breakfast and sometimes dinner because Rosa is more beautiful, but unlike Rosa, Tina is saving herself for the perfect husband. She knows that, for girls, there is always a price.
Drew bites his fingernails. Why should she be careful? he mumbles. I wouldn’t, not if I were her. He’s spent several evenings jerking off to thoughts of Kyle the Mile, though he’s never told Tina—or anyone—because the cost is too great.
Chass swings her long legs into the backseat, her hair flickering like a flame. The engine revs and the car whips around the corner, her marble arm dripping from the window.
Author Bio: Lacey N. Dunham’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, CHEAP POP, and The Other Stories, among others. A first-generation college graduate originally from the Midwest, she now lives in Washington, DC.