Jamie gets a surprise when she is asked to spend the afternoon with Mikey, and she makes a new friend.
Mikey simply returned a cheesy smile, albeit a slightly apologetic one. ‘Do you care what they think?’ He asked bluntly. ‘Or do you just like a nice, clean, shiny locker?’ He winked at me.
‘I would just prefer not to have the adjective pinned to me anymore than it already is,’ I answered honestly, sighing at the prospect of never getting it off.
‘Why don’t you just tell the teachers about it? I’m sure they’ll be able to get it off.’
‘I would, except it’s not the first time this has happened. I don’t want to get sent to the school counselor or whatever, and they made it sound like that’s what would happen if it ever happened again.’
A look of comprehension dawned on Mikey’s face. ‘So why do they choose to slap you with that particular insult so frequently anyway?’
I could tell he was just trying to sound mildly curious, even though he really wanted to know.
I shrugged and decided to be honest with him. ‘Because I don’t really conform to society’s double standards I suppose.’ He didn’t say anything. ‘Look, I don’t walk around looking to get into bed with guys, I just don’t often refuse to.’
‘Why?’ He wasn’t being rude. He didn’t even seem to be frowning. I wondered if he was secretly judging me, and just wasn’t really letting it on. Or if he was wondering if he could get me to sleep with him. But his face seemed innocent. And there was an emotion I couldn’t discern; concern, maybe?
‘Because I enjoy sex.’ I replied simply. His response surprised me. He shrugged as if to say ‘fair enough’ and continued on with a new subject matter. It wasn’t the slightest bit awkward. I wondered if he would feel differently the next day, if he would avoid me. But I supposed I would just have to wait and see tomorrow.
In case you’re wondering, nothing had changed. The next morning Mikey flopped himself right next to me in English. He didn’t look at me funny, or recoil from me for fear of catching some kind of ‘whore disease,’ as the jocks put it, and I was beginning to like Mikey even more for it. It seemed, for the first time in my life, I hadn’t been judged. I wondered if he’d be so relaxed if I took him to my house and showed him my mom passed out on the couch. I mentally scolded myself. This guy was being perfectly nice to me, and I was thinking about all the ways in which I could alienate him. I concluded that I should be grateful he even wanted to be my friend, and make the most of it. This was senior year; how much longer would I know him for? It wasn’t like we’d been friends long enough for him to wanna keep being friends after graduation.
As my mind was in overload processing all this information, Mikey very suddenly turned to me, an eager look on his face. ‘Wanna hang out after school? I’m picking up my friend, Frank. We were gonna go to Newark for the afternoon, maybe see a movie, hang in Branch Brook park.’
I sat, staring at him, speechless. I had thought our friendship was superficial, a way to amuse ourselves until graduation came around. That wasn’t to say I didn’t like him a lot, but I hadn’t been so sure that he’d liked me. He wanted to spend time with me. And not to have sex with me. To do ‘friend things’ I supposed, seeing as his friend Frank would be coming. What did friends do? I wasn’t quite sure. I spluttered out an incoherent yes, while he smiled at me, like he knew that I wasn’t often invited anywhere.
I didn’t know what to do with my hands while Mikey drove through the streets of Arlington. I had never been in a car with a friend. I felt socially inept, totally unprepared for hanging out with anyone, but Mikey was relaxed and carefree which seemingly calmed me down a bit. Mikey’s friend Frank went to a Catholic school in North Arlington called Queen of Peace High School, apparently. Mikey told me Frank was a year younger than him, a total troublemaker, and a lot of fun. He also told me that Frank liked punk rock music, and that his favorite band was Black Flag. This got us talking about our favorite music and I laughed as Mikey told me about his guilty pleasure; Journey. I felt as if I had never laughed before this car trip. Mikey was so easy to talk to, and so funny. Sometimes during the journey, we sat in silence, but not uncomfortably. He didn’t speak unless he had something interesting to say, and he got straight to the point. He didn’t smile or laugh unless he genuinely felt the need. Mikey was real. Which I think is what we had most in common.
When he pulled up in front of the school, I looked at the structure in awe. It was located alongside a church of the same name, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be different if I had gone to a Catholic school. Would I be a better person? Would I feel differently about sex? I shook my head to rid myself of these thoughts. I never would have been sent to a Catholic school. My mom would have considered it a waste of money. I didn’t believe in God anyway. My mom was proof alone that there wasn’t one. I turned to Mikey and realized he had been speaking to me. He was frowning.
‘Huh? Sorry, I was just checking out the place. Zoned out.’
He grimaced skeptically. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Uh huh, yep.’ I replied hastily.
Mikey nodded, but his eyes were still narrowed. ‘Well, as I was saying, that’s him.’ He pointed at a boy who had just passed out through the school gates.
Frank Iero was just over five feet tall. He walked with his hands in his pockets, a crooked, closed-mouth grin on his face. His complexion was slightly olive. With a name like Frank, I guessed he was Italian. I found out later that I was right. He had a mop of messy black hair on his head and his hazel eyes were bright, dancing in the afternoon sunlight. The kid looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. I was jealous of that. He approached the front passenger side, and upon noticing my presence, retreated to the back seat, a slightly surprised look on his face.
‘Drive, quick.’ He said immediately, upon throwing his bag in the back seat and falling into the car. ‘Mr Ingham caught me pissing on the oval ‘cause the line in the men’s was too long.’
Mikey sighed and shook his head. ‘When will you learn?’
‘Hey!’ Frank’s voice took on a defensive tone. ‘The human body is a beautiful thing!’
Mikey snorted. ‘Idiot.’
Frank grinned cheekily at me as I laughed. ‘And who would you be?’
‘Frank, this is Jamie.’ Mikey said as he pulled away from the curb.
‘Ah, English girl. Good to finally meet you.’ He looked like he meant it.
‘You know who I am?’ I asked.
‘Of course,’ Frank smiled. ‘You’re Mikey’s only friend in that dump so he talks about you a lot.’
‘Oh,’ was all I could reply with. I couldn’t believe he actually told people about me.
‘Hey, I have friends,’ Mikey argued fervently as he turned a corner.
‘The guy who flicks spitballs at you in History doesn’t count, Mikes.’
I had a feeling my afternoon was going to be the most fun I’d had in a long time.
‘I’m just saying,’ Frank said as we stomped through the snow Branch Brook Park, blowing cigarette smoke into the dusk air. ‘There had to have been a better movie than ‘Phantoms.’’
Mikey made a face that bordered amused and frustrated.
‘I mean, we ask you to go buy tickets to something while we get popcorn. I thought you quite capable of film choice, but now I’m starting to think I was wrong.’
Mikey looked like he was going to speak -
‘I mean, all I’m saying is, Ben Affleck? In a horror film? Really?’
‘Frank – ’
‘Didn’t you learn from ‘Glory Daze?’ We made a grave mistake when we saw that movie. We also made a grave mistake when we saw this one. Common denominator? Ben Affleck! Don’t you learn from your mistakes, Michael?! Don’t you learn?!’
‘Sorry Frank. Next time, I’ll make sure we see the Spice Girls movie instead,’ Mikey retorted.
‘Yeah, well…’ Frank trailed off looking like he wasn’t sure which film was worse.
On the car ride home, Frank turned to me. ‘I like you. I think we’re gonna keep you.’
I had been pretty quiet all afternoon. Frank’s overpowering personality had sent me into shyness overdrive. I had thought he would think I was weird. The truth was, I just liked the company, regardless of whether I opened my mouth or not.
‘What do you think, Mikey?’ Frank turned in the front seat, which he had shotgunned, to ask his friend.
‘Yeah, I think so too.’ Mikey smiled.
‘You remind me of him a bit, you know,’ Frank said to me, as he jerked a thumb at Mikey.
‘You’re both quiet. But I can tell you’re smart, and a good person, you know? You only really talk when you think you’ve got something to say. You don’t talk just to make sounds, unlike the rest of us.’ He grinned sheepishly.
Mikey pulled up to the curb in front of a little house. We were back in Belleville already. I couldn’t believe how the car ride had flown. Frank turned to Mikey. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow. Comic book store on Wednesday, yeah?’
‘Always,’ Mikey grinned.
‘Cool. See you.’ Frank lugged his school bag out of the car and turned to me. ‘I’ll see you again soon, right?’
I nodded, smiling. ‘Yeah.’
He smiled kindly back, and turned and walked into his house. I got out of the back seat and into the front alongside Mikey.
‘So, what did you think of Tornado Iero?’ Mikey asked, grinning.
‘He’s great,’ I genuinely couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. ‘So are you. Thank you.’
Mikey lightly patted me on the leg and smiled, proceeding to drive me home. I was the happiest I think I’d ever been.
That happiness was short-lived. I walked in through the front door of my house, wiping my feet on the doormat outside to rid myself of excess snow. I could hear the television on an unnecessarily loud volume in the kitchen, and smell something burning. I sneaked towards the stairs as quietly as possible.
‘Where’ve you been?’ A voice slurred behind me.
‘With friends. I was going to call you but then I thought I shouldn’t disturb you at work.’
‘Friends?’ My mother scoffed at the word. Jamie? Friends? And pigs could fly too now, huh?
‘Okay, what were you really doing, Jamie?’ She thought I was lying.
‘I just told you.’
‘You don’t have friends. So what were you really doing? Buying drugs?’
‘Ma, I’ve never taken illegal drugs in my life.’
‘Or maybe,’ she continued ranting, as if she hadn’t heard me. ‘You were off fucking some guy off the football team?’ By this point, my mouth was gaping. ‘Don’t think I don’t hear about what you do when I’m not home, Jamie. Some kids actually talk to their parents you know. They tell them about Jamie Gunn, the slut from school. And those parents, they come to me, expressing “concern” for my child’s wellbeing.’
I could tell my face was blank. I was too shocked to even be able to process the information and translate it into a facial expression. ‘So, do they pay you Jamie?’ My mother taunted. ‘You may as well get paid for it, I’m sure they’d be willing.’
‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!’ She screamed, pointing an accusatory finger at me. ‘I DO THE BEST I CAN TO RAISE MY DAUGHTER, ALL BY MYSELF BECAUSE HER FATHER HAD BETTER THINGS TO DO, AND THIS IS WHAT I GET? A WHORE?!’
I couldn’t even answer her. That only seemed to further madden her. She stumbled over the kitchen stove, yanked a saucepan off the hot plate, and tossed the contents of it at me. It burned my arms and chest so my eyes watered. My skin was screaming, but still, I couldn’t move.
‘Here, I made you some fucking soup,’ she sneered. ‘Now get out of my house.’
The Belleville Coffee Shop was toasty warm and empty, as usual. I didn’t like it. I felt as though I would feel better if I were doused in ice. The burns underneath my hoodie stung, and the elderly lady brought me coffee without my even asking. I was so preoccupied with my own misery, that I almost didn’t notice my favorite dark headed stranger, looking curiously at my pained face across the shop. When our eyes met, he instantaneously looked down, his hand and pencil moving furiously over the page of his sketchbook. I decided to get up and inspect my burns in the bathroom while I waited for my coffee to cool down.
When I entered the bathroom, I was mortified at what I saw. First and second degree burns covered my chest up to my collarbones, the skin red and tender. I knew it was going to blister, and recoiled from my own reflection in disgust. My eyes travelled from my body up to my face. It was obvious I had been crying. My blue eyes were tainted with red from tears and lack of sleep, and my black, tangled hair was a mess. As I looked at myself, I had to force myself not to burst into tears again. My eye makeup was already smudged as it were, and there were faint tear tracks along my cheeks. I dabbed some water over my face and onto my burns, wincing at the stinging sensation.
Deciding my reflection was as good as it could possibly look under the circumstances, I left the bathroom and returned to my table to drink my coffee. I had left my notebook open on the table, as distracted as I had been with the state of my body, but on top of the pages sat a loose leaf of sketch paper. Drawn on this paper was a portrait. A girl, black haired, blue eyed, her long hair blowing in the wind stared back at me from the page. I did not recognize her by these features, but by the sadness in her eyes. It was me. Although she looked lost and unhappy, she was still beautiful. I didn’t have to guess to know who had drawn this. Did he really see me this way? Beautiful, but broken? I looked up towards his table to thank him for the picture. He was gone.
I fucked some guy on the park bench in Belleville Park that night, the portrait sitting, carefully preserved between the pages of my notebook. If I had been alone, I would have been clinging to it as if it were my only friend.