When the rottweiler arrives at the shelter snarling, barking, gristly, you spend hours sitting near the end of the rusted chain sweet-talking, saying, “Hey girl, it’s okay,” cupping your hand full of canned food until finally she licks at you. “No one will adopt a rottie,” Carol informs you, marking her chart for Friday. Each day you loosen her collar so that if she would back away from the chain, lower her head and twist, she could slip through and be gone forever. And yet she never does. In chemistry, Greg Gifford asks you out, and you say quickly, “I have a boyfriend, thanks,” and he looks surprised, baffled, stumped. “You?” he repeats. The class color of the year is yellow. The class quote is “Wazzuup.” The union renegotiates, and there are overflowing trash cans for weeks at a time. The entire school smells like Bath and Body Works, Sugar Cookie body splash, Victoria’s Secret Love Spell mixed with trash. At lunch, you and Amber Ringer discuss possible futures with Mack: the one where he falls madly in love, the one where he loses his job and you get pregnant, sustain yourselves by running a cleaning business, eating Snickers bars. The one where you break up and adopt every dog at the shelter, become a kind-hearted hoarder—but just when you’ve given up all hope, he returns. Amber smokes a pack a day, dates older guys, the kind of guys who worship her smooth, heart-shaped face and say, “You’re old for your age. You’re trouble.” Sometimes you play Never Have I Ever, and she deliberately lists the crazy things she’s done. She whispers, “Have you ever heard of the hummingbird?” The internet is full of Ask Jeeves, full of GeoCities, but no real answers to life. When your sister comes home late on a Saturday night drunk after a fight with Sam or Clint or whichever guy she’s dating, she throws books, clothes, a paperweight directly at your headboard screaming, “Get the fuck up, bitch. I know you stole my black dress. I’m going to cut off all your hair, I’m going to fucking kill you.” You think about what Mack would do, how he would reverse the situation. You get out of bed and say, “Throw one more book, and I will lose my shit. I will finish you. I swear to God.” Your backbone is like the string of a balloon, like a straw inside a caffeinated drink, but somehow, she doesn’t call your bluff. When she leaves, you slide your dresser in front of the door, stare up at the skylight, imagine a sister planet, where everything is slightly warmer, lighter, different, benign. It is late. You turn on pop music, someone crooning “I’ll never make you cry…” on an old FM radio and drift in and out like rain. Anger sizzles in the electricity, hangs from the rafters. Your father works long hours, has no tolerance for this madness. He says, “The two of you need to grow up,” and leaves it at that. The weight of what you or he or someone put on this earth, and what they took away.

* * *

You take FST, economics, chorus, string notes together like beads on a necklace, take magazine quizzes during lunch, but cheat so that you come out flirtier, more confident than you really are. At the animal shelter, you loosen another collar, leave a cage unlatched, and finally, an old hound slips his collar and disappears. Carol covers for you, says, “You better get that load of newspapers to the dumpster,” hands you a pile of urine-soaked blankets for the wash. She has no idea who you are. Your shoes have kitty litter in them. Your hands always smell like bleach. In five months you will graduate high school. And then what? On weekends, you and Amber shoplift padded bras from department stores, lacy underwear from the bins. She informs you about T-zones, about G-spots and B-movies and all the other alphabetical landmines. Alone, you sneak out under half-moons, under fuzzy crimson skies to meet Mack. You have decided upon the future where he takes you away in the middle of the night; you have nothing but the clothes on your back. For years, your high school classmates would speculate about what happened to you. They would do séances on stormy nights. You would possess them for all eternity. Mack kisses you like in the movies; you ride on his back through the city streets while he shouts, “Precious cargo, coming through,” and you laugh like starlight slanting through a gap in the sheet. You forget the hard things, the decisions, the conflicts that loom and tip on the horizon. “When will I meet your friends?” you ask again, and he says, “Baby, do I seem like the kind of guy who needs friends?” He gets drunk on Manhattans, spins you around a dance floor singing Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone: I put a spell on you. As you exit the club, an old man on a bench says, “Run for your life,” explains that it’s about to storm. “Ha!” Mack says, as though he knows something you don’t, as though he’s one step ahead. “The way you follow me around,” he says, smiling. Then he pets your head. He loosens your collar. The summer warmth rises off the pavement—weeds and cement and grease and fast food drifting over the river. It doesn’t matter what he says. The words are already ether to you, cloudy, ephemeral. They are gone by the time you lift your head to look at him.

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