Updated: Jun 11
Cover Photo: © Rosalie Thorne
Best Fronds Creations, LLC
Editor – Z. V. Ezell
To that bitch I used to know:
Happy birthday, this March 28th.
(I remember when you used to call
The Twilight Saga your bibles.)
That Bitch: A Love Story
By Rosalie Thorne
“I’m not perfect, I’m no snitch,
but I can tell you she’s a bitch.
- Don’t Trust The B- In Apartment 23
THAT BITCH: A LOVE STORY
“This is a work of fiction. Still, given an infinite number of possible worlds, it must be true on one of them. And if a story set in an infinite number of possible universes is true in one of them, then it must be true in all of them. So maybe it’s not as fictional as we think.”
“How is it looking?” Cailey asks, without glancing up from editing her most recent Instagram story.
We had spent the last Saturday before senior year giving her bedroom suite a Great Gatsby makeover. Though, making sure to keep the Parisian, gothic, vampire, luxury-girl undertone she is known for. The last few weeks had been filled with shopping, redecorating, and rearranging, and yesterday it all boiled down to the more glorious of Instagram feeds. @FleurDeLis will never be the same.
Today, until she is ready to show her personal makeover, she is posting perfectly manicured “behind the scenes” stories. Granted, I had taken most of the videos and pictures for her, but they were all meant for her account. Well, except for the few she discarded and said I could post and tag her in.
That’s the life of a beta, I guess. And as I double-check that the line between her natural brown hair and dyed black hair is straight and clean, I look at her face in the mirror. “Your roots are done; you can’t even tell. I just need to clip it on top and then we wait.”
Her eyes flick to mine in the mirror for a moment and there’s a shadow of a smile. Back to her iPhone, she lets off her signature hum before saying, “You know, if I wasn’t doing this hairstyle, and you did it, you’d totally look like Narcissa Malfoy.”
Which is why I had suggested the hairstyle at the beginning of Summer, finally feeling courageous enough to dye my blonde hair. “Oh, but I could never dye my hair black… remember all those videos you sent me of how the blonde would never be the same and it would take years to grow out?”
Now she smiles and slips her phone upside down on the bathroom sink. “Exactly. Really, though, Delilah, how you could ever change from the pale hair with the pale skin and the pale eyes? It’s so naturally vampiristic.”
Yes… yes… I am the vampire, pale with pale features, thin, soft-spoken, and I was raised to be more sophisticated with great etiquette. Bethany is the witch, tall, dyed red hair, with a fiery spirit to match, bohemian style, and kind of floats on the edge of different friend groups. Tamera is the werewolf, dark skin with dark features, petite, curvy, overly emotional, and has a crush on so many guys it’s hard to keep track. And Cailey is the evil queen, the alpha, intelligent and cunning, always with some sort of plan brewing, traditionally beautiful, and has crafted a meticulously perfect appearance, (in person and online), for the world to see. We formed the gothic Mean Girls in eighth grade and have been ruling the alternative world of Fairmont High ever since.
Waiting for her to leave the bathroom, I then follow her through her bedroom and into the kitchen. As I fill two glasses with her mom’s spiked lemonade, she opens the DoorDash app to order Subway. “That teriyaki chicken sandwich, right?”
I nod, “Please.”
I gave up a long time ago lying to myself about one of the benefits of being Cailey’s friend is the money. She almost never comes to my house because then we’d have to eat frozen pizzas or soup or something cheap and basic. At her place – that has been my second home this Summer, where I will also spend before and after school and most weekends – she gets to order whatever she wants us to have.
I also gave up lying to myself a long time ago that I much prefer it when it is just me and her, instead of the whole group. (Which Cailey sometimes calls her wolf pack, vampire clan, or witch coven.) She is way less formal and less authoritative when it’s just the two of us.
I love when we’ll sit on the cool tile of the kitchen and actually talk about emotional things. Those nights in the empty house, as we lay on the kitchen floor waiting for sweets to bake, that’s really where our friendship bloomed. She actually opened up to me about her parents’ divorce, about her romantic entanglements, and that she cared for our group deeply, willing to do anything to protect us.
Being an only child myself, I understand her need to belong… I think that’s why our group works so well. A true pack dynamic, in fact, with a rather Slytherin attitude. Those we trust, though few and far between, are closer than family, and those we’d defend at all costs. Which, incidentally enough, is why Bethany got suspended Freshman year.
I had loaned her my paperback copy of The Beast, the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood book at the time, and when a kid snatched it from her hand and wouldn’t give it back, she smacked him so hard across the back of the head his face smashed into his own desk. No one messed with our group after that, and Cailey likes to think we are feared.
As I glance at the timer on my phone for Cailey’s hair, I wonder how much of that is true. How much of Cailey’s talk about how everyone perceives our group… perceives her, is true. Freshman year, Sophomore year I loved like to think we were the powerful bitches of the school. But when we started to separate because of our classes and extracurricular activities, and I got some space? I’m not so sure.
The doorbell rings, taking me out of my train of thought. Because Cailey is waiting for her hair dye, it is up to me to grab the food. Back in the kitchen, I see her waiting on a bar stool, a smirk on her face. “Guess what I just got,” and she waves her iPhone back and forth.
I smile, “What?”
“A personal, texted invite to Elias’s back-to-school party!” Smiling, she starts unpacking the Subway bag. “I bet you’ll get the Facebook invite soon enough.
“God, it sucked that he had to stay with his father in Montana all Summer! What the Hell is in Montana anyway?” she rolls her eyes.
“His pictures on Instagram were really beautiful,” I comment softly. I had probably liked and saved all of them… ‘big sky country’ was right and where he was in the southwest corner was gorgeous. Plus, I totally word-vomited in his comments my jealousy of the Milky Way pictures he got on his grandparent’s farm.
“Yeah, but he must have been so bored, you know? And the cell service was so bad we barely got to text.”
Which is something I knew to be true, too. Though that might have been for the better because without being in the same French class anymore, I was totally nerve-racked to talk to him without a default subject to fall back on. “Right… I think he posted on Facebook that he could only ever connect to internet at his dad’s place.”
Cailey waves her hand dismissively, “Well, anyway. He’s back! He’s back, he’s single, end of Spring and Summer sufficiently enough time for him to get over What’s-Her-Face.”
Claiming she was too insignificant to be remembered, Cailey never says Jennifer’s name. But we of the group knew it was because she hated ‘that bitch’ for ‘snaking Elias away’, out from under Cailey’s grasp, (or as she liked to describe it). I hadn’t been in their advanced math class, so I couldn’t be sure.
As Cailey continued to gush about Elias, I noticed my phone light up with a new and find a missed message:
Elias: Hey girly, you’re coming to my party, right? Cailey said she’s down, so you have no excuse!
Of course! I wouldn’t miss it.
“Why are you all smiley?”
“Oh, Mary sent me pictures of her cat,” I lie quickly.
Cailey rolls her eyes. She hates Mary because… well, she can’t control Mary. Mary is my only best friend outside of our group. I met her when I joined color guard, (which is something Cailey also hates, seeing as her stance is anti-anything High School-related), and I bonded with her because she helped me catch-up with the rest of the team. On the rare occasion she is free, I hang out with her. But, because of her totally stereotypically strict Asian parents, that isn’t very often. So, we mostly talk on Instagram or Facebook.
Becoming overly interested in my bag of chips, I ask “… did Elias say anything else about the party? He usually does it next Saturday, right? The first Saturday after school starts?”
But the timer on my phone goes off suddenly, and Cailey literally drops everything and heads to the bathroom. Her bedroom door is closed without another word, and I find myself scrolling through the familiar stream of pictures on Elias’s Instagram feed instead.
The apartment I call home always seems that much smaller after staying a significant time at Cailey’s huge house. To be fair, it is a three-bedroom apartment with an eat-in kitchen, living room, and screened-in patio big enough for a hammock and two chairs. As Mom says, if it was big enough for me to grow into, it’s big enough for us to stay in.
Fending for myself because Dad is out of the country – God knows where, because of the Air Force – and because Mom’s job as an EMT has crazy hours, it takes a grand total of five steps in any direction to move around the kitchen and make mini pizza. Mom and I are blessed with a Gilmore Girl-esque metabolism and color guard keeps me pretty active… though, as I eye the clock on the microwave, I am running out of time for my nightly jog.
Easing into the corner chair around the tiny kitchen table, I start mentally prepping for the first day of school. For a moment I close my eyes and try to remember my classes in order and where they are on campus. Struggling with what comes before lunch, I look down at my phone. “French two… right.”
Are you taking French II this year?
Elias: Yes, ma’am.
I think my class is right before lunch.
My heart thuds hard in my chest.
Guess we’re study-buddies again.
And then the smirking emoji?
I look around, my brows knotted. The smirking emoji? Really? The “if you know what I mean”, flirty, heavily sexual smirking emoji?
Probably a mistake, I side-step it all together and reply:
Did you use Duolingo at all this Summer?
Nah. Internet sucked in MT.
MT looked gorgeous tbh
Oh, for sure!
Just felt like an alternative universe or something.
Is it really that different from OH?
My dad lives in this tiny town…
I STG, it was an hour to the Walmart.
And four! Four hours from the airport.
Wow, that’s crazy.
Are you happy to be home?
I’m happy to be back at school.
To be back with the people I care about.
Yeah! That does sound a lot better.
Well… I need to go for my jog.
See you tomorrow?
Yep! Have fun.
Forty-five minutes later I walk out of the bathroom in a towel and realize I still have no idea what to wear tomorrow. Following Cailey’s rules means no blue jeans until Friday, all black is reserved for Wednesday, and we can only wear our hair in a plain ponytail for gym. She had sent a picture of her outfit earlier, as well, which means I can’t wear red and black, or it’ll be too match-matchy to her vintage Frederick’s Of Hollywood corset. Though I don’t always fall in with the goth aesthetic, she had made it clear she wanted us to make a statement on the first day back….
Looking through, but not really seeing the contents of my closet, I stand and wonder. It is still a little too hot for a dark academia look, so perhaps something vintage? Twenties? No. Fifties? Eh. Nineties? Now, that could work.
Unplugging my phone from the charger, I quickly look through my saved photos on Insta. There was an image of a girl in shorts with tights that came to mind, though a little more grunge than I was thinking, but. Yep! There it is….
I’ll do my black uber-sheer tights under my black jean shorts, with the black leather Coach belt I got from the outlet for Christmas. I just need to get my grey, cami bodysuit out of the dryer and find my oversized, floor-length, black lace cardigan. With my black Oxford booties to match, I’ll just need to finish it off with my faux black pearl earrings, a black ribbon choker, and my matching medallion necklace (that each of us in the group has), and I should be good to go. Posting it to the group chat, I head to the bathroom to blow dry my hair.
Ready for bed, I notice a reply.
Cailey: Trade out the belt.
The gold clashes with the silver medallion.
Plus, I want us all to wear the Tiffany bracelets I got us this Summer, remember?
God, how could I forget!
Right! Of course.
I send a corrected picture:
Morning comes way too quickly, my night filled with crazy, abstract stress dreams. Feeling not at all rested, I am so sluggish getting ready that it becomes too late to eat before heading to Cailey’s. Leaving a rushed note for Mom on the kitchen counter, I remind her it’s my first day of school and I’ll be home by six.
Though the habit of me being at Cailey’s before and after school started Freshman year, when I couldn’t drive and Mom’s schedule was during school hours, it is still something I do today. Even if that means driving past the school to get to her gated neighborhood, I make my way across town and park on the street outside of her house…. I had texted her my ETA, but also knock on the door loudly.
The uncomfortable moment between knocking and her answering always seems like forever, my stomach tumbling, and my intrusive thoughts making me question what if (for some reason unbeknownst to me) she doesn’t let me in? And a sense of relief spreads through me when she swings the door open.
After a flicker of a smile she waves me in. She doesn’t even say anything as she walks away, while I close the door and lock it. As per usual, I follow her to her room on the other side of the house and sit on the edge of her bed as she goes into the bathroom.
Glancing at the morning news that she always has on, it seems the weather will be quite pleasant for this Ohio in August school day with a high of seventy-five, blue skies, and sunshine. After the blow dryer is done, Cailey pokes her head into the room, “Did you see Elias post his schedule on Facebook?”
“Oh? No. I haven’t checked anything today.”
She leans against the doorframe, “I cannot believe I don’t have a single class with him this year, ugh!” she grimaces.
“There’s always the Autumn play and Spring musical,” I offer.
The tension in her face lessens, “Right… and we have the same lunch.”
“And his party on Saturday! Plus, you’re still having that pool party before your mom closes it up for the season, right?”
She lifts from the frame with a mischievous smile, “Very true. Well, maybe this semester won’t be a bust after all.”
Knowing it is about time for her to start her makeup, I move to sit on the toilet next to the sink. I am one of the very few people that have seen her fresh-faced since she started wearing makeup every day in ninth grade. Even when she posts that she’s wearing no makeup, she is. Still, it always surprises me how quickly she can do full face makeup, with perfectly winged eyeliner and easily applied false lashes.
“Have you heard from your dad lately?”
I sigh, “No…. But he’s supposed to video chat with us on Saturday morning.”
She stops cleaning the edge of her lipstick to look at me fully. “I’m sorry. He’s okay though, right? I thought you said you got an email from him saying he was actually in a pretty safe place.”
I gnaw on my lip. “Yeah… yeah. He’s at a base. But… I mean, you know how it is. It’s all still a war zone.”
Cailey puts the Q-Tip down and leans to hug me. “He’ll be okay, Delilah.”
When she pulls away, she offers me a tissue. “Here.”
I stand next to her to see if my makeup was messed up by the tears at all. “Just one more month and he’ll be home again.”
She smiles softly, “You and your mom doing a welcome home dinner again?”
Nodding, I smile a little. “Like always.”
All finish in the bathroom, she hip-checks me and nods to her room. “Let’s get some selfies before we have to go.”
I see a blur of blonde hair and black lace enter the French classroom just down the hall. Lifting from the wall, I shove my phone in my back pocket and reposition the strap of my backpack. I’d been waiting for Delilah to cross through the door, so I could follow and then sit next to her instead waiting and of hoping she’d sit next to me.
In the back corner, the spot to her right is open. I hover for a moment before sitting down. “This seat taken?”
She has to double-take from her planner. Then there’s a huge smile on her face. “Elias! Hi! No, go ahead.”
I cock my chair towards her, slipping my backpack under the table. “How’s your first day going so far?”
She closes her planner and tucks a lock of honey hair behind her ear. “Good… good. And yours?”
Her heart-shaped face is truly beautiful, and her aquamarine eyes are stunning. I had crept on her Instagram every day in Montana, the crush I had had while dating Jen snowballing into something more. “Great, actually,” which is true, now that I get to sit next to you.
“You had AP world literature with Grayson, right? Does it seem like it’ll be a hard class? I have him sixth period.”
Taking a moment too long staring at her face, her brows lift. I clear my throat and start unpacking my supplies. “Nah, I think it’ll be easy. Especially for you.”
I can see her cheeks pinken out of the corner of my eye. “I don’t know how you do it. AP everything! I’m basically taking tenth grade math and remedial science.”
“I could tutor you!” I blurt out way too quickly, throwing my hand between us.
Delilah expression becomes one of bemusement. “Um… sure! Sure, okay. Thanks! I’d hate for that to be the reason I don’t graduate.”
There’s a lull in the conversation for the final bell. But, it’ll be a couple of minutes before Miss Lavigne is ready, so I lean closer to Delilah, “Are you still thinking Ohio State?”
“Yep. That’s where my mom went, so why not?”
I nod thoughtfully. “That’s where I’m thinking, too.”
When Miss Lavigne gets underway with the first-day instruction, I daydream a little of Delilah and I going to the same university. Dates on campus, late night study sessions in the dorm, being away from all the bull shit of High School. God, wouldn’t that be great?
“Vous devriez vraiment utiliser Dulolingo pour aider avec le français,” Delilah giggles.
Catching ‘use Duolingo’ ‘with French’, I elbow her softly. “Ouais, ouais, d'accord.”
I follow her down the stairs as she heads out of the old building. She looks back for a moment, pushing herself towards the wall by the door. “Did you need to go to the cafeteria?”
Shaking my head, I open the door to the courtyard for her. “Nah, I brought lunch. You?”
She pulls her French textbook against her chest and squeezes by me, “Same.”
In the fresh air and sunshine, we slow and meander our way to the benches under the oak tree. Before sitting, she tucks her book into her bag and slides the bag off her shoulder to land on the grass. Then she takes off the lace cardigan and sits down. She closes her eyes, tilting her chin up, sunbathing.
As I sit, I notice little freckles on her shoulders. “Got some Sun this Summer, huh?”
She turns ever so slightly in my direction, though with her eyes still closed. “It’s never enough, though, is it? With Winter feeling like it lasts forever.”
There’s a sudden yell of “Elias!” that makes us both look across the courtyard. Cailey Rachel Hooper and the rest of her posse are bee-lining straight for us. Cailey is decked out in her usual goth attire. The black part of her hair is in a bun, her bangs are straight across her forehead, and the brown lengths are pulled forward to curve around her corseted chest. Today’s choice is a black and red one over black skinny jeans. You’d think the corset would force an hourglass figure and she’d look hot, but really, she just always looks like she’s trying too hard.
Behind her, Tamera is holding her own lunch tray but also a bag from Chipotle, and Bethany walks without looking up from her phone. When they arrive, Cailey sits right between me and Delilah and takes the Chipotle bag. “I love that DoorDash will deliver to the campus.”
“Are you sure you won’t get in trouble?” Tamera asks, getting comfortable on the grass.
She shoots down a look, “I never left school property, did I?” And when Tamera shakes her head, Cailey turns to me. “So, Elias, was Montana absolutely dreadful or what? Isn’t it all just farmland and shit? You totally missed some amazing bonfires.”
I bob my head, “Yeah… kind of sucked it was the last Summer of High School and I had to spend it there. But, I was talking to Delilah earlier about –”
And she cuts me off, “You got my text back saying I’ll be there on Saturday, right?” Her flat, brown eyes stare at me, almost unblinking; the ever-subtle purse of her lips and lift in her brow giving a lot of attitude while still appearing to be friendly. “It’ll be so much fun to blow off some steam after the stress of the first week back.”
Making myself busy with getting lunch out of my backpack, I just nod. “Should be a lot of fun,” I reply passively.
Easing back into the bench, I try to catch Delilah’s eye. Instead, Cailey flashes a smile and folds the brown part of her hair over her shoulder. “You know, I could come to your party a little early if you want… help set up and all that.”
“Ah, sure… thanks.” I catch Delilah’s gaze finally, “Why don’t all of you come? Keith and Tanner will be there, too.”
Cailey leans forward, putting her hand on my knee. “Sounds like a plan, I can’t wait.”
Friday is here and for the first time in a long time, Cailey is totally freaking out about what to wear (to Elias’s party). In the middle of the group’s regular Friday night routine of eating, drinking, and watching goth content, Cailey paused Supernatural and started tearing through her closet. Tearing through her closet and recounting all her interactions with Elias in the past week, of course. Which, Bethany and Tamera are eating up… even if it is the third – fourth? – time she’s going through it.
“It is so great having lunch with him, don’t you agree? That way all our time together isn’t interrupted by class and teachers and work….” She tugs another dress off her personalized mannequin. “And I have to say… I love how he’s trying to set his friends up with my friends, you know?” She tosses a glance at Bethany. “I think Keith is going to ask you out.”
Bethany, (who is known for having a hard time dating because of her tall height, and would actually be a perfect match for the kid known around school as the ‘tall Asian dude’), perks up. “Yeah? That would be kind of great, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course. And, Tamera, I know Tanner has totally had a crush on your forever.”
Tamera, (who has been trying to argue that Tanner has a crush on every girl and doesn’t know if she should date him, but has actually liked him since elementary school), tries to smile, “Really? You really think so?”
The way Cailey nods is as if to say her word is law. Which, to be fair, she has earned over the past four years. She has a knack for knowing critical things when it comes to just about everyone and especially if it is beneficial to the group, she knows just how to handle it.
With her last dress on the floor, I finally join the conversation. “What about another corset? He really seemed to like the corset on Monday.”
She points to me. “Good point. What about…” and then a few minutes later she shows us her dress form. “Burgundy button-down with the underbust corset, black leggings with ankle boots? It’s not too pirate-y, right?”
“No! Of course not,” replies Tamera.
“Totally chic,” Bethany tries.
Cailey looks at me, her gaze sharp.
“You’ll look amazing,” as she always does.
Cailey arrives with her BMW with just enough time to pick me up and get to Elias’s thirty minutes before the party is to start. Bethany and Tamera are in the back as I slip into the passenger seat. Just as I think we’re about to pull out, a hand is shoved in my face.
“You forgot this at my place. We’re all wearing them tonight.”
I take the Tiffany charm bracelet from her quickly and fasten it around my wrist. “Right. Thank you so much.”
But her tone is one of warning when she says “You’re welcome,” and the glare she gives me as she turns around to look out the back window can easily be read as ‘don’t do it again’.
It doesn’t take long for us to arrive at Elias’s gated neighborhood and once we’re in, Cailey seems so much less stressed. “I am one of the lucky few that got the gate code. Everyone else is supposed to use the lot at Gleason Park and walk.”
She pulls up just past the mailbox. “Okay, let’s hurry up and get a group shot before heading inside.”
As we walk up the driveway, I find myself feeling nervous. Of course, I had been to Elias’s house before, but usually, Cailey likes to be fashionable late and there are already a ton of people. Plus, my crush on her soon-to-be boyfriend is getting out of hand.
I’d stayed up way too late texting with Elias and exchanging memes over Instagram. And though I didn’t mean to be at first, I got more and more flirty as the night went on. Which, now I realize probably made me look like a total fool. Pulling the hem of my dress down, I then fold my leather jacket over myself. I really needed to just hang in the shadows tonight and try and force a new crush. That would be safest, I think.
It is Keith who opens the door, but just as we cross the threshold there’s a yell from Elias towards the back of the house. Tanner comes from the open kitchen, a red solo cup already in hand. “Ladies!” and he throws an arm across Tamera’s shoulders.
If I didn’t know any better, I was the seventh wheel. Cailey leaves us in the dust as she goes to hunt down Elias. Tanner takes Tamera to get a drink. I’m a few steps behind Keith and Bethany who are totally doing that nervous, flirty thing where he pushes his hair back and she giggles a lot.
But then they hover before getting too close to the French doors, Keith lowering his voice, looking around – looking at me. “You know Elias is like totally in love with your friend, right?”
She nods. “I figured.”
He nods at her, then winks at me, and they head to the pool.
I am surprised to find Delilah sitting by herself, her feet moving in slow circles in the hot tub. Everyone outside is either by the fire pit now that it’s gotten dark or crowded around the beer pong tournament. A red cup in her hands rests softly on her lap, her eyes looking up to the sky, even though there are barely any stars.
A little stunned when I first saw her, she looked like a movie star in real life – like when tabloids post pictures of stars doing normal things like getting coffee. Her beautiful blonde hair has big, loose curls down her back and her makeup is barely noticeable. Then, when she took off her kick-ass leather jacket, she revealed herself to be wearing this black, sexy, silky, lace-trimmed slip dress. I’d honestly been staring at her all night, a little overwhelmed, not knowing how to handle myself.
As she sits pensively, though, away from all the people, it feels a little easier to approach her. Thankfully, my jeans were already cuffed, and I sit down next to her, my feet in the water too. “Salut.”
Startled, she must have been lost in thought, her eyes wide when she sees me. But then her expression settles into a sweet smile. “Salut.”
I touch my foot against hers, “You having fun?”
Though she smiles, there seems to be something – a sort of shadow in her eyes. “Yes, of course.”
Wondering if I should just ask what’s wrong, I think about something she said the night before. “Did your dad have to reschedule your video call?”
Now she really looks shocked. “Y-yeah. Yeah… to next weekend.”
I place my drink down and push off from the hand I had been leaning on and raise it to her shoulder. “I am so sorry. Is everything okay? Is he safe?”
Her eyes drop from mine to the water, “That’s what he says but –”
“Elias! Ee-lie-ess!” Cailey scream sings from the side of the pool. She holds her hand out when she reaches us, “Be my beer pong partner, won’t you? Please?”
I frown. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
She cocks a brow. “You don’t mind, do you, Delilah?”
She shakes her head quickly. “No, of course not.”
Cailey gives me a ‘seriously, let’s go’ look. “Tanner says he deserves a fair fight… com’on! They’re waiting for us.”
Unfortunately, Cailey leaving the party meant Delilah was leaving too. Even though I told her I’d be happy to drive her home later, she waved me off and said that didn’t make sense. As soon as she texted me she was home, I texted her back.
I am sorry about your dad.
Is there anything I can do?
I should probably get ahead on homework anyway.
Do you want help?
You should enjoy your weekend.
That was a great party, btw.
Thank you for coming.
Trying to figure out how to segway the conversation, I’m surprised when there’s a new message so quickly.
Actually? You know what…
Why don’t you come over tomorrow?
We can study French…
I can bring lunch?
One sounds good.
Since Cailey seemed to hit it off so well with Elias the night before, it seemed their fate was sealed. So, I felt no guilt at the idea of him coming over for lunch. There’s nothing wrong with having more friends, right?
In one of my favorite outfits, which is usually reserved for Mom-and-Daughter time or hanging out with Mary, I toss my hair into a loose bun at the nape of my neck. My white with pink rose print bodysuit is very complimentary to my light wash jean shorts. Feeling totally comfortable in the apartment with the windows open, ceiling fans on, and AC off, today definitely seems like a good day.
And then, when there’s a knock on the front door, I am pleasantly surprised to see Elias with a Panera bag in one hand and a drink carrier in the other.
I can’t help but smile. His shoulder-length, chocolatey brown, curly hair is a bit wild today, but still looking soft enough that I have to fight the impulse to touch it. His plain, mossy green tee matches his eyes, and his big smile goes from cheek to cheek. “Hey you.”
“Hey!” I waved him in. Quickly, I continue, “My room is the second door on the right or you can go into the living room,” and I curved my hand to the left.
He takes the bedroom option and I’m glad my parents aren’t home. Not because I think anything will happen, but because they get weird when I have people over. Even the girls.
He goes straight for my desk, dropping the Panera bag in the only free space and plopping down on my computer chair. “I guess I should have texted for your order, but I noticed what you usually get on Instagram. The frontega chicken sandwich and a strawberry smoothie?”
Laughing, I nod and take the smoothie. “Yep. That’s me.”
When I sit on the bed I notice him eyeing my room thoughtfully. I wait patiently, knowing I’d love to see inside his room. Finally, he smirks at me. “This is not at all what I anticipated.”
The light lavender of her bedroom walls is almost grey, the sheer white curtains by her windows letting so much sunlight in. Her queen bed that’s shoved against the corner has a bedspread that is thick and white, with a peak of pink sheets by the pillows. Across from her bed is a white bookcase, filled with what looks to be a Barnes And Noble section worth of romance novels, with leatherbound books between geode bookends on top. Above are perfectly placed butterflies, groupings of them in their own clear display cases, looking as if they’re flying from the bookcase to her ceiling.
Against one of the windows is the white desk I’d placed the Panera bag down on with a window straight ahead. There’s a collection of printed pictures, Polaroids, and other instant film shots in a chaotically organized fashion on the wall to the left. But, funnily enough, they are shots of nature, museums, and what I can only assume to be her parents. There are maybe three photos of her friends.
Then, when I look her over one more time as she sits on the edge of her bed, it’s like… where has this person been all this time? Her blond hair is fluffy, loose, and parted in the middle with a huge bun at the base of her neck. She’s wearing this romantic sort of shirt, with roses and a low neckline. And then little jean shorts that hug her perfectly.
Away from the darkness and she shines. “This is not at all what I anticipated.”
Her eyebrows raise and she takes a long sip of her smoothie. She looks around too, then, finally responds, “Yeah. I guess not, huh? I think most people assume I have a room that looks like Cailey’s.”
That is the assumption I had wrongly made. “It’s a bit of a dungeon, isn’t it?”
She snorts and then claps her hand over her mouth as she laughs. “Yeah… yeah, you could say that.”
Feeling triumphant, I nod. “I mean, she’s got some cool stuff, but it always seems so dark. Is it really that dark in real life?”
She shrugs and reaches for the food. “Yep.”
I shake my head. “Depressing.”
Situated with her food, back against her pillows, she sits with her legs crisscrossed. After a huge bite of her sandwich, she nods towards me. “What about you? You don’t really post your room, either.”
I lift from the computer chair and make a place on the opposite corner of the bed. Back against the wall, I lift a shoulder. “It’s fine. A typical boy’s room I imagine. You’re welcome to check it out next time you’re over.”
There’s a twinkle in her eye and she holds a hand over her mouth, still chewing she replies eagerly, “Sounds good.”
It is almost dark by the time I arrive back from my jog. As I chug the last of my water, I think about how the first three weeks of school flew by and I cannot believe it is the middle of September. Soon enough, the Sun will set too early, and I’ll have to get the treadmill out of storage and set it up in the office.
Fumbling with my keys in the lock, I think about how every year I say I’m going to get a gym membership. Because, the treadmill we have is only meant for walking… one of those small, foldable ones that Mom uses around the holidays. But… well, a gym costs money, and my allowance is going to “my half” that I still owe my parents for my 2009 VW Beetle. (Which is roughly five hundred left.)
I almost run into Mom around the corner, “Shit!”
She must have gotten home while I was out. Her auburn hair is still slicked back in a tight knot, but she’s in her favorite baby blue sweats. “Lord have mercy, Delilah. You left your phone!”
‘Cause I had gotten nostalgic and used my ancient iPod… “Shoot, I’m sorry.”
As I take the phone, she cups my cheek in her palm and kisses the top of my head. “You know I don’t like it when you are out and I can’t reach you.”
I nod. “I am sorry.”
The tension in her face leaves and she stretches. “Also, someone must really want your attention because it was lighting up like crazy.”
After a second kiss, she wanders back into the living room where I hear her current binge, Chernobyl. In the bathroom, I start the shower while catching up on all the notifications. Swiping away all the social media and my email, I’m left with texts.
A few texts from Mom before she realized I left my phone. A text from Mary about the football game tomorrow. The girl’s chat blew up because Elias texted Cailey about the pool party on Saturday…. And Elias texted me asking how I think I did on the French test. All of which could wait until I was cleaned up.
Just as I turn the water off, Spotify is interrupted by a phone call. Confused, I rush to dry off my hands. Barely wrapped in a towel, I perch the phone on my shoulder after answers. “Cailey?”
“Jesus, Delilah, I thought you died.”
I put her on speaker, wrap my hair then rewrap myself. “Ah… nope, very much alive. What’s up?”
“You haven’t responded to the group chat. Or my texts. Hell, I even messaged you on Facebook,” I can hear her eye roll. “… so?”
I sit on the edge of my bed. “So?”
“You’re coming over after school tomorrow so we can start prepping for the pool party, right? B and T will be over in the morning, but I totally need you there tomorrow night.”
“Ah… I have the color guard performance at the football game, remember?” Like I have been for the past couple of weeks.
She groans. “Can’t you just skip that thing for one week?” Then there’s a pause. “Please…?” her voice softened. “I think Elias might officially ask me out.” The and I’m really nervous and need my best friend went unsaid.
She’s right… it’s just one game. “Of course.” I hold the phone away so I can take a deep breath. “Of course, Cailey. I’m always here for you.”
I can hear her smile when she says “Thank you! We’ll have fun, I promise.”
With the garage door loudly closing behind us, we come into Cailey’s kitchen. “So, my mom is on a spa thing all weekend, so we don’t have to worry about that, at least.”
Dropping by bags by the door to her bedroom, I nod. “I’ve always thought it’s kind of cool that she doesn’t care if you throw parties.”
Standing in front of the open fridge she shrugs. “I think it’s just another excuse for her to get out of the house.”
Trying to tread lightly on the subject, seeing as her mom hasn’t spent more than one night at home in a row since the divorce was final, I lean against the kitchen counter and ask, “So what swimsuit are you thinking for tomorrow?”
This brings a huge, genuine smile to her face. “Well! All that dieting has paid off. I fit into that tiny, black bikini again. The one that has the hard wire right here like a bra?” she places her hands on her ribs.
Thinking back to not this past Summer, but the one before eleventh grade, I ask “Is that the one with the crisscross bottoms?”
She nods and drops her hands down. “There’s the main bottom that lands on my hips, but then that extra strappy part that goes up to my waist.”
God, that’s way sexier than anything I have. I second guess my choice, not enjoying how much curvier I am compared to how rail thin she is. “I bet Elias will love that.”
For the first time in a very long time, her expression is one of vulnerability. “I think so,” but she actually doesn’t sound as confident as normal.
When she tastes her lemonade, she realizes it doesn’t have vodka. I shake my head at the Grey Goose, to which she shrugs. “Anyways, I’m glad he’s going to make it official tomorrow. We all know he’s mine but it’ll be nice to make sure everyone knows it, too, you know?”
She laughs a little and guides us to her bedroom. “The prettiest people end up with the prettiest people, the smartest with the smartest. So, naturally, Elias will end up with me. Which only makes sense… the most popular girl with the most popular guy – well, alternatively speaking.”
As she eases onto the end of her bed, she puts her weight on her backhand, crossing her legs, and then looking up at me. “It seems that tomorrow B and T will be arriving with Keith and Tanner. I wonder if Elias has a third friend for you? Oh! What about Adrien?”
“Double bubble disco queen, headed to the guillotine, skin as cool as Steve McQueen, let me be your killer king!” Drink in one hand, dancing with the other, swaying my head back and forth, and bouncing on the balls of my feet, I sing along to one of my favorite Panic songs. In the middle of the group that’s closest to the speakers, I recognize so many familiar faces from school.
The September sunset that is winding down overhead is a brilliant array of bright and bold colors. The darkest of the sky is still a deep navy, not yet black. The light streaking across the sky makes the random clouds fuchsia and burnt orange. And the Sun is just about hidden by the horizon.
The pool lights are glowing bright from underneath the water, the strings lights above adding a warm glow around the patio. The bonfire is finally getting big enough to be noticeable on the far end of the yard, and the sliding glass doors are fully open to connect the party inside and out.
After the end of the Panic song, I finish my drink and break off from the huddle. The air is still refreshing but I can tell it’ll be chilly soon. Knowing Cailey made sure the pool was heated all day, I decide to get back in one more time.
I pass Cailey on the way and stop to say hey. She’d perfectly crafted the black part of her hair into a messy, but full bun on the top of her head, the brown part curled and delicately placed down her shoulder. She’d been in her bikini almost all day, though hadn’t gotten in the water once. In fact, she had full face makeup and jewelry on, her whole look finished off by a sheer coverup.
Stopping at the bottom of the lounge chair, I smile. “I’m thinking of getting back in the pool. Wanna join?”
She chuckles. “Nah, I’m good.” Reaching back, she fluffs the lengths of her hair. “There’s still some time left before I’ll have to change.”
Which means it would be a perfect time to get into the pool? I put my empty cup down on the table next to her then shrug, “Alrighty!”
Coming down the main steps, I see Elias waving me over. “Delilah!”
I give a huge wave back, “Hey!”
Even though he’d been here for a few hours, I still can’t get over him in only swim trunks. All the manual labor he’d done helping out his grandfather over the Summer paid off, and I have liked every Insta post he’d made about going to the gym regularly. Last year he’d been more of a Loki than a Thor, but now I’m standing in front of the God Of Thunder.
He meets me halfway, a huge smile on his face, pushing a hand through his soaking hair. “Adrien and May wanna play chicken. Be my partner?”
Tugging at my hand before I can answer, I laugh and nod. I am not at all worried about being on his shoulders, and when he grabs my calves a bolt of electricity shoots through my torso. His warm, calloused hands follow up my legs to my thighs, resting just above my knees. He gives me a quick little squeeze as May gets into place, then rubs his thumb across my skin. Totally unable to focus, I hold my hands to my chest until Luke calls to start.
Ten rounds later, Elias and I are the clear champions and totally exhausted. He dips in the water one more time to let me go but then wraps his arms around my waist. “Wanna go change and then sit by the bonfire?”
Unfortunately, he lets go of me but holds my hand until we get to the steps. When the night air hits us, my whole body tenses. “Jesus.”
Looking down at me, he chuckles. “You brought a change of clothes, right?”
Walking quickly to get into the house, I bob and weave through the crowd. “Yep. They’re in Cailey’s room. You?”
I glance back to see a nod. “She said to just through our stuff in the guest room.”
The kitchen is between both rooms, so I slip my hand out of his and gesture between us, “I’ll meet you back here in a couple of minutes?”
His smile is soft, a sort of half-smirk. “Totally.”
Thankful Cailey had French-braided my hair, I step into her shower for all of three minutes and use her fruity body wash. I’m not totally dry when I pull on my sweats and tank top but try and move fast. All that’s left is to spray my perfume before tugging my cardigan out of my bag.
Careful to close the bedroom door behind me, I’m shocked to find Cailey inches from my face when I turn to the kitchen. “Oh, hey!”
But she is not happy. To be honest, her expression is of stone, a statue from the Baroque period. Her jaw is clenched, lips thin, brows slightly knotted, and nostrils flaring.
I frown, “What’s wrong?”
Her chest heaves once… then twice… then she takes a step back, crossing her arms. “Get out.”
I blink a few times and look around, completely flabbergasted. “I’m sorry, what?”
Her lip curls, a slight snarl before she lets out a breath laugh. “Get. Out. Of my house.”
I cannot stop myself from laughing, my anxiety reaching uncomfortable levels. “What are you talking about?”
She closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. “Get your shit out of my room and get the fuck out of my house.”
“Cailey, what the Hell? What the Hell is going on?”
She pushes me to the side, opening her bedroom door. My bags are thrown across the space, hitting me in the legs. “Here’s your shit. Now, leave.”
Unwelcome tears sting my eyes. I try and reach out for Cailey’s arm but she yanks her body away. “Just leave.”
“Cailey, com’on! What is going on?”
Cailey points one finger at the garage door. “Get out or I’ll call the cops.”
I look around helplessly, trying to find Bethany or Tamera or Elias… trying to find someone who can explain what happened. But it is only the two of us in the kitchen now…. Me against the queen bitch herself. Knowing better than to go head-to-head, I pull my bag straps over my shoulder and do as instructed.
The apartment is dark when I arrive home. Mom’s note says she’s working a double. Dad isn’t due back for another week…. The air conditioning is off since I was supposed to be at Cailey’s all weekend. The silence is deafening and the loneliness crippling.
I had tried texting her when I got into my car and when I parked downstairs, but nothing. Sitting in the corner of the kitchen, I hug my knees to my chest. A part of me wants to stuff my face, but the other part feels nauseous.
What the Hell had I done?
Notifications keep popping up on my phone, mostly of people tagging me over social media. But every time I see the screen light up, I hope it’s Cailey. It never is, so I don’t know what else to do but shut my phone off.
After a Mordor hot shower, I slide a pizza into the oven and make myself a Dirty Shirley. I feel a sort of mental paralysis, where I can’t think. I just don’t understand…. Finally, when I seem to be all out of tears brought on by panic, confusion, and fear, I turn my phone back on.
After the rush of missed notifications have ceased, I go straight for my texts. Much to my dismay, the girl’s chat is silent and there still isn’t a response from Cailey. There are a few frantic messages from Elias though.
Hey. I’m alive.
Kicked me out?
He responds almost immediately:
Elias: Wait, what?
What do you mean?
I changed out of my swimsuit and there she was.
And she was pissed.
And then she told me to leave or she’d call the cops.
What the fuck indeed.
I send back the shrug emoji.
Are you okay?
Do you want me to talk to her?
Do you want me to come over?
It’s almost ten o’clock and I feel… heartbroken.
But, my train of thought is clear, though. The last thing this situation needs is Elias having to talk to what I’m assuming by now is his girlfriend. Regardless of how nice he is to me and considerate he is to Cailey’s friends, I don’t think there is anything he can do. Cailey takes the whole Sweeney Todd “never forget, never forgive” thing way too seriously and if she thinks I did something wrong, she’ll lash out at anyone who argues otherwise.
No, no, it’s fine.
Just stay and have a good time.
Unable to distract myself successfully, I send one, last, desperate text before calling it a night. When a response arrives, I am petrified to read it.
Cailey: You think you are so innocent, don’t you? Playing the role of the doey-eyed beta, who is so naïve they couldn’t possibly do anything wrong. I have invested so much time and effort and money into you, and this is how you repay me? Crawl back to your hidey-hole little rat, you’re playing with fire.
Please, just tell me what I did so I can fix it!
Don’t act like you don’t know exactly what you’ve been doing. I am not going to sit here and dignify your lie of ignorance with a response.
At wit's end, I call her.
“You know what you did. You hear me, bitch? He’s mine.”
Shocked, confused, and nauseous, my head starts to shake. I just… just lower the phone as she hangs up.
For the first time in a long time, I feel suicidal. Not in a way where I would do anything, but in a way where I would like to die for the sole purpose to escape the emotions life is forcing on me. Being ripped – no, torn and forced apart of my friends… from this group that is my chosen family, I feel like I’m somehow less than human.
And in a way I know it is all so stupid – I am able to recognize, logically, that I should not feel this upset over an argument with Cailey. People fight all the time, families fight all the time. Mary and I have had a few fights, and Mom and I sure as Hell have. I should not even want to kill myself over this… this miscommunication with Cailey, and yet….
When I had finally fallen asleep on Saturday night, it was a horrendous and anxiety-ridden, restless sleep where it felt like I woke up in the morning only five minutes later. Then, I did my best to avoid Mom because I didn’t want to talk about it, knowing my red and puffy face would give me away. Sunday passed in a blur, the sort of mental paralysis in effect, leaving me desperate for some sort of peace but not able to do anything to get there.
The girl’s chat was silent. Cailey never texted, messaged, nor called back. Given the last thing she said to me, I avoided all of the conversations I was having with Elias. I hadn’t meant to… well, flirt? With Elias. I hadn’t meant to break the girl code or break the clan’s pact. He just is a good friend and I truly, honestly, thought that I had had my emotions and flirting under control.
Just before bed, Mom calls down the hall to remind me of my doctor’s appointment in the morning. I call back my confirmation and for the first time in twenty-four hours I feel a slight sense of relief. I wasn’t sure if Cailey would let me in if I had driven to her house in the morning, and now I can push that off a day. Plus, if I’m lucky, I can arrive back to school after French class, possibly even after lunch, and avoid everyone altogether. Especially Elias.
Thank fuck school is over. Now I can drive to Delilah’s house and make sure she’s okay. My obsessive checking of my phone, which got me in trouble in three classes, yielded no helpful information. The last thing she said to me – out of all of our conversations through text, Instagram, and even Facebook – was to have fun at Cailey’s party.
Which, I had left as soon as Delilah had told me she’d been kicked out. I had been halfway to the apartment when I started second-guessing myself. There had been a lot of booze at the party, some drugs… and if my sister taught me anything about girls, is that I will never understand girls and their weird, love-hate friend dynamics.
But then today happened. Delilah hadn’t been in French, hadn’t been at lunch, and I didn’t even see her in the hall between fifth and sixth periods. Plus, when I asked Cailey about what happened and where Delilah is she reacted by not reacting, completely ignoring what I had said.
Looking up from my phone to see if it’s safe to cross to the other side of the parking lot, I halt in my tracks. Delilah is standing by a car I had recognized at her apartment complex, digging in her messenger bag. I throw my hand up and yell, “Delilah!”
She looks up quickly, looking around. I yell again, “Delilah! Hey!”
Her eyes catch mine just as I’m two cars down. But, instead of her usual smile, I am faced with a solemn expression. Keys in one hand, her other tightens its grip on her bag strap. “Elias? Hey.”
I try to hug her, as per our normal greeting, but she retreats farther back towards the driver’s door. So, I have to ask, “What’s wrong? Are you okay? I’ve been worried.”
Stricken, she blurts out, “I can't hang out with you anymore.”
I still. My head twitches, my brows knotting together. “… what – why?” I think back to the party… to the flirting, to the touching. “Was it something I did?”
Her silence kills me as she opens the car door. After throwing her bag into the passenger seat, she finally turns to face me. I take a step closer, studying her… she is not her usual put-together self. Her golden hair is frizzy and pulled into a chaotic, lopsided bun, her makeup-less eyes are glassy and the lids puffy, her nose red and her lips chapped. It’s obvious she has been crying, and her voice shakes, “Cailey is my best friend and the last thing I want to do is get between you two.”
Blindsided, I ask, “What? What is that supposed to mean?”
Her head shakes as she gets into her car. Hand on the handle, she looks up at me, “I have to go. I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess,” and that’s it. Door closed, engine on, and she doesn’t look at me as she backs out.
Tuesday, October 1st, Cailey finally breaks her silence. As I am walking to my car after another day where I barely spoke a word to Elias and ate lunch in the library, Cailey calls my name. Standing by the trunk of my car, I look up, the void in my chest now erupting with life, the shards of anxiety and shrapnel of loss and withdraw tearing at my insides. “H-hi.”
She’s wearing a pretty typical fall look for her, which has been one of her favorites to break out in years past. Her hair is parted down the middle, slicked back on either side. Black jeans, another vintage Frederick’s Of Hollywood corset, and her pirate coat from Pyramid Collection. Finished off with her heeled combat boots. Her arms are crossed over her chest and she arches her brow, “Delilah.”
I nervously re-tuck my bangs behind my ear. “Cailey.”
Face full of attitude, she looks side to side and sighs. “Don’t forget we’re going costume shopping this Friday.”
She shrugs. “Elias isn’t sure if he wants it to be a costume party or not, but we might as well look around.”
I nod, the knot in my throat finally loosening after this Hellish week. “Right, of course.”
Squinting slightly, she gives me a once over, then glances at my car. “Come to my place tomorrow morning and I’ll help you do something about that hair.” She turns around without another word and heads toward where she normally parks.
Sitting in the driver's seat, I find myself crying again. But, this time it is a cry of relief. Warm, light tears roll down my cheeks, my torso shaking. I’m back in with Cailey and Dad will be home tonight… things are going to be okay. Things are going to be okay.
The town car dropped Dad off half an hour ago and I have probably hugged him twenty times. Mom, who had just finished making a call for delivery to his favorite pizza place, comes back into the living room with a huge smile on her face. Dad gives me another one-arm hug before standing to give affection to his wife. After a moment, I stand too, joining in a family hug.
“So, should we tell her?” Mom asks, bringing a palm to my cheek.
I look between them, “Tell me what?”
“Well, sweet pea, I have some amazing news.” I raise my eyebrows and he continues, “That was my last trip.”
My heart pounds against my ribs, “What?”
Mom kisses her husband’s cheek.
“All this six months home, six months away is done. I have officially moved positions. Though I will be working closely with the boys over in Dayton, there’s a local position that will allow me to work a normal nine-to-five job… being home every night.”
The tears are heavy on my cheeks, and my vision is totally blurred. I find myself falling against my dad’s chest, my arms wrapping around his torso tightly. It has been almost five years of this crap and, finally, it’s over. I finally have my dad back. Really, really, everything is going to be more than okay.
TO BE CONTINUED in the novel. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.)