“Hey.” Casey whispered as she slid onto the stool behind the counter. “Hey.” Lana replied absently. The younger girl pulled her bag into her lap and fiddled with it. There was a woman wandering around the store still, seemingly vacillating. Lana leaned out over the glitter speckled counter. “Need any help?” The woman shook her head and set down whatever was in her right hand. “No, no. I’m finished.” Lana raised an eyebrow but waved her over to the counter. “You sure? It’s buy one, get one half off.” The woman shrugged. She was dressed in a light blue uniform, crispy hair trailing from her pony tail. Wrinkles dragged at her eyes and lips, making her look older than she was. “Yes.” She said with a sigh. Lana rang up the glittery ponytail holder and bagged it for her. “Have a nice day.” The woman just nodded absently and left.
“Uh…” Casey started, but Lana had slipped around the counter and gone to put away the odds and ends people left everywhere. “Lana?” The girl finished what she was doing before looking up. “Mmm?” She hummed as though preoccupied. “Lana, are you okay?” Casey asked, fidgeting uncomfortably on her stool. Lana nodded, disturbing the messy waves of her cherry red mane. “Of course. Not how I’d planned to meet your family though.” It was said with a little smile, but Casey couldn’t help but be suspicious that smiley wasn’t really how Lana felt. She slid off the stool and went over to the earing rack where Lana was organizing. “Are you mad at me?” There was a little puff of air that could’ve been a laugh. “No, why would I be? Tess is an asshole.” Casey flinched, but she supposed Tess deserved it. “Can I see?” Lana turned around with a sigh. She’d plastered makeup on it, but her jaw was still a bit purple, her lower lip decorated with its ragged little scab.
Casey gasped quietly, stroking a finger over the broken skin. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. Lana shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.” Her eyes still looked preoccupied, but that went out of Casey’s head as Lana took the girl’s hand and kissed the fingers. Tingles spread up her arm. She looked at Lana, eyes widening.
Just then the bell above the door rung. “Can I help you?” Lana called as a couple of teenagers walked in. Casey reached for Lana’s arm, but the girl slipped away. With a pout she tried to keep to herself, Casey returned to her stool. The two girls who’d just walked in were talking happily with Lana. They were both a little skanky, but then again they were on the wrong side of the river for class. Lana was different. From her hair and the safety pins through ears to her high tops. An original, through and through. Casey loved that. There was no color in her house, in her life. No one like Lana. Eventually, the two girls checked out with their load of junky jewelry.
Lana came back and hopped up on the counter with a sigh. “So.” She said. Casey nodded. “Is this going to hurt your scholarship stuff..?” Lana winced. “Don’t ask that.” The smaller girl gasped. “Oh no! Lana!” Lana put her hands up and waved desperately for Casey to stop. “Hey, hey, I don’t know. It’s probably too late for them to pull out. It’ll be fine, Casey. I swear.” Casey jumped off her stool. “You sure?” Lana reached out and drew Casey in so she was between her legs. Instead of answering she kissed Casey lightly and hugged her. Her breath ruffled Casey’s short brown hair.
Warm bubbles of happiness welled up in Casey, just like they always did. “I love you.” She whispered. Lana released her, and the sudden cold was worse than a blow. Lana stroked her face. “Those are big words. Save them until you’re sure.” Casey shook her head. “Of course I’m sure.” Lana lifted her hands with a shrug. “Okay, I believe. I believe. I’ll see you tonight, okay? I’m really not supposed to have visitors in here.”
Casey pulled back, watching as Lana became distant. She did this sometimes… Well more often than just sometimes. When she was afraid, Casey thought. Of what, she couldn’t be sure. But the working theory was that Lana was absolutely terrified of love. “See you tonight.”
The bus stop on Cane and Wedworth was a good couple of miles from Casey’s house, but worth the walk. Any closer, and someone probably would have spotted her. The night was gorgeous, so not a bad time to be walking. Well, a little chilly. The weather had been pretty bat shit recently. Mother nature had clearly lost the spring memo. In the shadows, there were even occasional piles of whiteish, crusty, icy substances better left unnamed lest more arrive. Still, the sky was clear and the moon looked really close. The wind pushed under the folds of Tess’s old jacket, imprinting a pattern of goose bumps on Casey’s skin.
The girl folded her arms tightly and picked up her pace. As she turned the corner onto Cane she squinted at the bus stop shelter like she always did. It was hard to tell, but maybe there was a blur of cherry red in the near corner. As she drew closer the blur clarified into Lana. The older girl stepped out of the overhang and leaned against the edge, a welcoming smile on her lips. The cigarette she’d been smoking was crushed beneath her shoe. Casey tried to ignore that, she really hated it when Lana smoked. Lana took Casey’s hand with the very same fingers that had been holding that cancer stick to her lips moments before. She was pulled inside and into the warm circle of Lana’s arms. Casey shivered, to which Lana only held her tighter, rubbing hands over Casey’s trembling back. “God it’s freezing out.” Her girlfriend murmured Casey nodded, too busy feeling things to reply.
The crinkly material of the windbreaker Lana was wearing, her hair tickling the face Casey had buried against Lana’s neck, Lana’s… chest. She smelled like bubblegum, cigarette smoke and the faintest ghosts of some incense tinged perfume. “What do you want to do tonight?” Lana asked, squeezing Casey lightly. “I don’t know… just whatever.” Lana snorted. “Okay, but just remember you let me choose.” Casey shrugged. “Well you’re the older one. You have more experience.” Lana groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
“What? Why not?” Casey asked, a little miffed. “Nevermind, Case.” Lana said with a sigh. “Na uh.” Casey replied playfully. “You’re always whining about how you’re so much older? Who cares?” Lana looked down at her through shaggy bangs. “Seriously? Your sister for one.” Casey rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry for what she did to you, but can we please not talk about Tess?” Lana smiled, rubbing a thumb over Casey’s flawless cheek. “Okay.” Casey gave her a quick kiss. “Ow!” Lana said, jumping. “Watch the lip.” She poked at the sore spot experimentally, wincing as she did. “Sorry.” Casey whispered, putting her hands over her mouth as she blushed. Lana leaned in and laid a kiss carefully on her forehead. The woman on the other end of the bench was watching them. Lana shot her a look and the tired woman rolled her head to the other direction with a sigh for the state of today’s youth.
The bus at last appeared, and the doors creaked open. The couple took seats near the back, and settled back to people watch. This line went up mostly to the government housing and apartments by the river, so the people you saw on this route tended to tired out, mostly working class. Quiet. It’s why Lana always made Casey meet her on this one, not the earlier or later busses. Those always had more… interesting people on them. Lana put her arm around her girlfriend and Casey put her head on her shoulder, thinking how sweet Lana always was and how she always felt safe with her.
Suddenly, Casey was jarred awake. Lana released Casey’s shoulder and stood up, offering a hand. The groggy teenager took it and was pulled up. “You fell asleep.” Lana said, amused grin playing across her lips. Casey nodded. Then to her horror she felt a wet spot beside her mouth. There was a matching smear on Lana’s jacket. Her girlfriend didn’t seem to notice or care. Instead she took Casey by the hand and pulled her up the street toward the bridge.
“Woah, losing your balance…… Tessss.” Uno put his arm around the girl and pulled her up against him. The world swayed and Tess realized she was walking sideways. Wait. No. She stopped, and Uno nearly pulled her over. “Le’go.” The guys hooted and catcalled as Tess bent over, breathing deeply. Uno let go and whistled. “Shit girl, you had way too much.” She would’ve reacted, but turning her head was making the world spin. Good god, Tess was actually afraid she’d puke. Never before. “Babe, if you can’t keep up, don’t play the game.” A pitchy voice snarked. Even though she was fifteen feet away, Tess could’ve sworn she could smell the cum on her breath. Or maybe it was just because Mindy always accessorized her shirts with stains. Necklaces were overrated.
“Fuck you.” Tess said. Determined not to embarrass herself in front of the school whore, Tess managed to go vertical again and swallowed hard. Tacos. Not that bad, really. As vomit textures went, anyway.
“Oh, honey. You couldn’t afford it.” Mindy giggled at her own joke, bubble gum colored lips smacking. “I very much doubt that.” Tess said, setting off again. She gave Uno a good shove so the rest of the group would migrate obediently along. Mindy giggled again somewhere in the background, then stopped when Yale explained what Tess had said. After that the idiot was blessedly silent. Uno pressed up against one side, while Mitch slid an arm around her waist to steady her. Tess gave up and leaned against him. “Hey, you gonna be okay?” He asked. “Yeah. Of course.” Tess stared ahead. A couple more building’s until they reached Uno’s place. “What’s going on, can I do anything?” Mitch asked in an unusual display of giving a shit. Tess didn’t say anything right away, which left an opening for the ever situationally appropriate Uno. “You can blow me.”
Mitch dropped Tess to slap the back of Uno’s head. “Get out of here, you stupid fucking fag.” Tess stumbled forward, rolled her eyes and picked herself back up again. “That’s it. I’m gone.” Tess turned down the street to her left, it didn’t matter where it went. “Hey, hey… Tess.” Mitch caught up, wrapping his arms around Tess and pulling her back against him. “I’m sorry. Come on.” He tugged her back. “Mitch…” She said warningly.
“Don’t leave.” He pouted. “Don’t leave me alone with these guys. I’ll look like a loser.” Tess shoved him off with a hiss. “Fine. Whatever.” The street wavered hard, but Tess made it to the building. The stairs were the real bitch, but sooner or later Tess was on Uno’s couch. The weed was crap though, so really, it was a waste of a trip. It wasn’t hitting at all on top of the alcohol.
Tess pushed the bong away when Uno shoved it at her next. And then everyone else did. Finally Uno threw his hands up. “Fine. Fine. But because I love you. Only because I love you all so much.” And then he passed out the acid.
When Tess finally rolled over to pull her phone out from under her, some great and threatening amount of time had passed. Groggilly, She clicked a button. Shards of razor sharp light penetrated her tightly shut eyelids. Uno groaned beside her, shoving against Tess’s stomach weakly. Then he cuddled up. Tess shook him off, jumping up onto the couch out of reach. God, the scene wasn’t pretty. Uno’s apartment was no Hilton to start with, but after last night it looked like a tsunami had washed through. If they weren’t inland, she could’ve almost even believed it. Tess looked down at her little plastic brick. Only then did she remember that she’d drawn with highlighter all the way to her elbows. Last night it had been fucking art. She remembered that now. She hadn’t called it art, it was fucking art. Fucking amazing art. Except not really. Not even admissible as abstract.
Groaning, Tess turned on her phone again. Through eyelashes she managed to make out that it was almost seven am. Not good. Gathering her coat, Tess tumbled out the front door. The blast of clean air was like a bucket of ice water, and it felt so, so good. Sinking to her knees, Tess laid her head on the railing, looking down over Custer street. She knew she was good to get up as soon as the stink of piss and rotting garbage penetrated her fog. The trip back home was wobbly, if uneventful. It was what happened as she began easing the bedroom window open that shocked her.
Casey came around the side of the house and squeaked in pure alarm. Tess locked eyes with her sister and saw red. The window banged open, slapping against the warped frame. “In.” Tess ordered. For a moment, just a moment, the fourteen year old looked as though she would bolt. Then, with surrender in her eyes, Casey climbed through the window. Tess swung onto her bed and locked the window again behind them. Casey was facing her own bed, fiddling with the covers. The older girl sat back on her haunches. “How the hell did you think you’d sneak over me?” The window was right above Tess’s bed, after all. Casey shrugged. “Dunno…. Hoped you’d still be out, I guess.” Tess rolled her eyes. “Do I even need to ask where you’ve been?” Casey’s dark look was more than enough.
“Casey, nothing’s changed! What do you want me to say? She’s using you.” The girl’s fingers clenched in the blanket. “You don’t even know her.” Tess sighed. She needed to calm down. That’s what she’d decided, anyway. To be calm and logical the next time the…. Issue came up. “Casey… Let’s not talk about her for a minute. I wanted to ask if you’ve thought about it, where it’ll end.” The girl’s hands stilled. “What?” Tess lowered herself crossed legged onto her bed, satisfied Casey wasn’t about to make another break for it. “Okay. So you’re a lesbian. Theoretically. How is that going to work out? We’re catholic.” Casey snorted. “Our parents are catholic. I don’t give a shit.” Tess raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to hell.” Casey rolled her eyes. “Cool. But if I’m going to hell, where are you going?”
Touché. “What about our parents? Huh? What will they think?” Casey sat back on her bed. “If they love me they’ll accept me.”
“Bull. Shit.” Casey stuck her tongue out. “No, Case. Listen. They won’t just get over it. Father Crane won’t. No one will. The rest of your fucking life, you’ll be a freak. No marriage. No kids. That’s what you want?” Casey started curling in on herself. “No family. Is that what you want?” Casey sat there, stony faced as tears welled up and over. Her lips trembled. Tess felt no remorse, she hadn’t said anything that wasn’t true. “Bitch.” It was a whisper, just a whisper. But it felt like an icy stiletto between the ribs. “I want her. That’s what I want. All I want. She’s so beautiful Tess, and she makes me feel beautiful. Which is more than any of you’ve ever done for me.” Casey’s voice trembled, tears running over her strained throat. She was trying to keep the words in, but it was useless. “Tess, you bitch. You fucking bitch.”
Tess just looked on, flat faced and cold. “Yeah.” She said. Then the older girl laid down with her back to Casey.
The girl stared, trembling violently, one muscle spasm from complete and utter breakdown. Why was it wrong? It was so stupid. Her whole life, Casey had just wanted love. Now that she had it, everything was wrong when it was supposed to be right. Every single second spent with Lana was illicit, guilty. Her sister who she loved more than life had put her out in the cold. Casey was swallowing glass. Falling onto her bed, the girl groped until she found a pillow, hugged it against her chest and cried into the blankets.
Tess listened, head pounding. The hangover was almost worse than the knots her insides had tied themselves into. Her baby sister, her light. Fuck Lana. Casey was the one pure thing in her life, and that wetback little bitch had ruined it. Why the hell should Tess be the bad guy? Lana was the one fucking pissing all over everything.
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