When Marcy Contreras said 'Next Time'

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young woman preparing for her date is caught off guard by a disturbing memory of friendship.

Submitted: June 19, 2013

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Submitted: June 19, 2013

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My face sweats under the hot buzz of the bathroom light.  Blush is melting off my cheeks in fat red trails.  I try to fix the problem, but to no avail.  Roger will be here in twenty-two minutes for our second date.

We’re gonna go hiking, he told me over the phone.  We’ll try swimming next time, Penny.

Now that it’s summer, the memories of her are rushing back faster than ever.  For a moment I think I can sense that girl, Marcy Contreras, hiding in my bathroom somewhere.  I think I can hear her too, her small, fragile voice saying, next time, Penny

The memory seeps into my mind abruptly, like a haunting or a bad dream.  I can smell her pink cotton T-shirt laced with the thick summer odors of firewood and chlorine.  I can see her small dark hands clutching the railing of the bus.  In an instant we are nine again, and I can picture her clearly, sitting next to me on the bus ride home, with her heavy under-eye circles—the markers of a mother or someone who stayed up late at night because they had jobs and babies and problems large enough to make them turn in their bed at night. 

But Marcy had none of those things.  She had two brown braids and a stuffed turtle named Spice. 

 The bus had come to a stop, and I asked her if she would miss camp.  By camp, though, I really meant me.

She tucked Spice under her sweater and smiled.  “I think I will, Penny.”

As the bus sped on, vehicles and nature bled into the past.  I watched this happen through the window of the bus, objects growing smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared, vanishing altogether, all at once. 

I looked back at Marcy.  Her cheeks glowed pinkly.  They were, as always, imprinted with two glossy magenta circles.  I had wanted to know more about these magenta circles since the beginning of camp.  Where did they come from and what were they for?  They simply appeared, like crop circles, over the smooth canvas of her face. 

Midway through the bus ride, Marcy pulled from her backpack a slim silver container.It intrigued me greatly, but intrigued me even more when she flipped it open.  Inside the container was a small hill of rosy powder.  At once, my heart filled with everything good in the world.  This must be where the circles come from

“Teach me how to make the circles,” I said.

A gust of icy wind tunneled through the window of the bus, and she bundled Spice more tightly into her sweater.  “What circles?” 

“The circles on your cheeks—the pretty ones, the ones that came off whenever we swam in the lake, but always came back the next day.”

“It’s called blush.”

She continued to stir her brush into the container, as if she was cooking a pot of beauty.  The pink dust enveloped her like steam from soup.  She streaked two pink circles on her cheeks, and I watched as carefully as I could through the rich magenta steam. 

“Oh, please, teach me,” I cried.

“Next time, Penny.”

I began to feel nervous.  Her words worried me.  Next time.  Every time I had ever heard someone say next time, nothing ever happened. 

I’ll tell you next time.

 I’ll talk to you next time

I’ll try harder next time.

 It was an escape from commitment, a precursor of a broken promise.

The bus turned again, closer now. 

“But I’m afraid I won’t see you again,” I said.  “What if this is the last time I see you?” 

The bus turned again, here now. 

She smiled.  “That’s not true.”

She tucked the blush into her backpack.  The bus driver’s brakes began to whine as the bus crawled to a stop.  She zipped up her jacket and began to gather her belongings.  There were the crinkles and the crunches and the zips—the painful sounds of going away. 

“Goodbye, Penny.”

I clenched my sweater.  “Goodbye.”

 “I’ll see you next time.”

Again, I became scared.  I rose from my seat, and pulled the lace of her T-shirt.  “Don’t say that,” I said.  “Don’t say next time.” 

Confused, Marcy paused for a moment.  “But I thought you wanted to see me next time, Penny.”

“Stop saying ‘next time’,” I said.

“But why?”

“Because there won’t be a next time.” 

Her expression sank at this.  I remember it clearly, how her face sank in the most painful sort of way, the sort of way that seems to add extra flesh to a face.  And after a long strange pause she said oh, and then, okay.

She picked up her bags and turned away.  The bus driver saluted her with a tip of his yellow cap.  She didn’t seem to notice this, though.  She just walked on, limply, her bags hanging a little lower than they did before.

The bus door clicked shut, and like that she was gone.  I returned to my seat, confused.  I sat down and folded my hands in my lap.  All that was left of Marcy was the warmth of her plastic bus seat.  I thought of our exchange for a moment, but thought little of it.  All I knew was that it made me sad.  All I knew was that next time meant never.

 

The light bulb buzzes erringly above me.  Its yellow glare stains my face.  I splash my face with water, and wonder where Marcy is.  If she ever made sense of what of I meant; that I didn’t mean I didn’t want a next time, but that I was scared there wouldn’t be a next time.

I add more blush to my face, then more and more, until it’s too thick, too dark.

 I want to fix it, but I can’t.  The doorbell has rung, and Roger is already here.


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