Jake took her hand, lacing their fingers together, and pulled her towards the bonfire. Half the crowd in the clearing bobbed up and down to the music, while the rest stood idly by. At least only half a dozen had their phones out. A rare event. Maybe there was crappy signal.
Heat scorched Izzie’s skin as she and Jake rounded the flames and headed for the cooler. As the fire whipped around in circles, barely keeping itself within the chained off outer limits, the sheer heat alone felt powerful enough to burn her eyebrows off.
Jake let his hand fall away to pull out two new beers. He attempted to give Izzie some knockoff brand beer. She just stared at him. His green eyes sparkled in the light of the flames.
“I said I didn’t want anything.”
He laughed. “You’ve been holding that drink this entire time. You’re not that smooth. Try this instead. Maybe you’ll like it.”
She bit her lip. That wasn’t why she’d been pouring it out. She didn’t want to drink it, but she’d still wanted a red solo cup in hand to fit in. “I’m just not super into it.” She shrugged.
He opened them both. “More for me.”
“Jakey!” Carl called. As he walked toward them, the fire blazing behind his back, he looked aflame. “Save some drinks for us, man.” He snatched a beer from Jake and turned to Izzie. “How are you, milady?” He laughed himself out of a sloppy curtsy. “Sorry, I’ve ingested some–” He held a hand to his chest and burped. “Ouf, alcohol.”
“I see,” Izzie said. She held up her half-thrown-away drink in solidarity.
“So, do you think we’ll beat Woodson?” he asked, leaning forward.
Izzie leaned closer too, trying to at least engage in his humor. “For sure. Just don’t show up this drunk next week and you’ll do great.”
He laughed and took a sip of his new beer. “And you’ll be there to cheer us on! I like this one, Jake. Good choice to be practically married to. Right? How long has it been?”
Izzie’s cheeks burned.
Jake laughed. “You literally introduced us, man, you should know.”
That was the only good thing about Izzie and Carl’s lab partnership freshman year, to her. She was just smart enough to impress Carl and tutor him, and Jake was struggling just enough in Biology to take Carl’s advice on a lab partner the last year.
Carl’s eyebrows furrowed. The boombox skipped, creating an awkward silence as Carl considered this incredible fact. “Fuck, that’s right.” His eyes widened to saucer size. “Dude, I should start my own reality matchmaking show.”
Izzie smothered a laugh. Jake had no reservations; he burst out laughing.
“Dude.” Jake took the beer out of Carl’s hand and set it down. “Let’s cool off.”
Carl put a hand on Jake’s chest. “You’re right. You’re right.” He threw his arm out to encompass the entire clearing. “The night has just begun. I must find a maiden.” He trotted off.
Izzie laughed quietly at Carl’s retreating figure. Jake slid his arm around her waist, briefly brushing the skin between her jacket and jeans. She moved away.
“He’s fucking crazy.” Jake let his hand fall away as if nothing had happened.
Izzie’s phone vibrated in her back pocket. When she pulled it out, the battery was pulsing red. Not good. She needed to check in with her mom. Rules. So many rules. And her mom didn’t even know she was at a party. Well, her mom never knew that. Izzie was always “studying at Francesca’s.” Francesca’s parents were never home, so it was a good excuse. No one to pick up the phone and tell Izzie’s mom that Izzie wasn’t there.
She handed her drink to Jake. “I need to go get my charger.”
“You want me to come with?” he said.
A few feet away Carl yelled, “fuck.” Jake began to set his beer down, his eye on Carl’s fallen figure. He stopped midway and looked at her.
“I’ll be ok.” She pointed to just beyond the trees where a couple dozen cars waited. It was well within his eyesight. “It’s not a dark alley.”
“Ok,” he said, sounding unsure. When Carl yelled out again, Jake kissed her, said “Holler if you need me,” and left to help drunk Carl.
Izzie opened her car door and fell into the driver’s seat. She stared at the BMW logo, and sighed. Every party got longer and longer, and Carl always became the center of attention. No doubt she’d be driving him home tonight, along with Jake.
She grabbed her purse from the backseat and rifled through it for her charger.
After she plugged it in, she let her head fall back against the headrest. Why did she even go to these parties? It was just alcohol and madness. No real human conversation. She’d driven away the one person who’d offered her that, when it got too real: Garrett.
She checked her phone. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t hope for Garrett’s texts some days. After he’d found the razor blades under her sink, well, she’d straight up “fell off the face of the earth” or so Garrett had put it after he’d showed up at her house last summer. What would she have said, if he asked about her day? He would’ve wanted a better answer than what she would’ve given him. It had been better, safer, more easily avoidable, keeping her little secret.
And a nasty little secret it still was, now that she and Garrett didn’t talk anymore. The only person who saw her for all the fucked up glory she was. Sad and pathetic fucked up Izzie.
No. No, Jake knew her too. Not the wounds, or the blood, the gauze, and the blades. The real Izzie. Not sad Izzie. Jake and Izzie had real conversations. Sometimes, after a party, they’d just sit in her car and talk. Being with him, even in silence, she didn’t have to worry about anything else. She was calm. He steadied her with his presence. It was addicting.
She played with the hair tie on her wrist. He knew a better her. That was what mattered.
Her phone beeped, and the screen lit up with a text from her mom: just your friendly reminder that curfew is eleven, now. Fuck. It was 10:15. She’d completely forgotten the new curfew. Imposed after she’d broken the last curfew one too many times.
She sighed, twisting her hair tie and pulling at it till it almost broke. She just wanted to have some fun, feel like once, just once, an elephant wasn’t sitting on her chest while her mind ran wild. She let the hair tie snap against her wrist. A tiny tendril of pain echoed through her. Barely even noticeable. Izzie yanked her phone from the charger.
When she left her car, she almost walked into Garrett.
He raised his eyebrows at her and coughed amidst the cloud of cigarette smoke. “Uh– partying. That’s–” He cleared his throat. “New.”
Her cheeks flamed, remembering the last time they’d talked. “From what I remember,” her chest constricting on the last word, “you weren’t a partier either. Or did you come to watch?” Now she’d just made him sound creepy. Way to make your severed friendship even worse, Izzie. Now he won’t want to text you back, if you ever even try to repair your friendship.
He flicked away some ash. “I have to keep up with all the drama somehow. After you stopped giving me the weekly scoop.”
The scars on her arms burned beneath her shirt. She wasn’t sure she had a response. “I mean,” she said. “You can always ask.”
“So it’s my job to pester you into answering my texts?” Garrett said. He threw his barely finished cigarette onto the gravel. They watched the embers fade.
She could feel tears brewing behind her eyes. She picked at her phone case.
“Hey,” he said, putting a hand on her arm. “I miss you, and worry. I’m not mad. ”
He could see right through her, to sad Izzie. She could walk away, again. Or she could stand here and talk about it. Those were her options. Her only options. And she wanted neither.
Carl came stumbling over. “What’s going on over here?” Carl said. Garrett dropped his arm, standing up straighter so that he was almost flush against his truck.
“The fuck you want, Carl?” Garrett towered over Carl.
Garrett’s attitude had become angrier, it seemed. The sarcasm and joking deflection had worn off now that his home life had settled after his parent’s divorce.
Carl stood in front of Izzie’s car, wavering and drunk but not backing down. “Why you so defensive, Jiseli?”
Garrett flinched at his father’s last name. After his parent’s divorce his mom had refused to let him change it, saying “that’s the way things are done.” At least his parents had the guts to divorce, unlike Izzie’s.
“You do know that Jake and Izzie are dating now, right?” Carl said, half-burping at the end. “Wait, maybe not.” Carl nodded to himself. “Wasn’t Izzie your only friend? Probably realized what the rest of us were thinking.”
Garrett pushed himself off his truck and stepped forward. Izzie put a hand out to stop him. Another fight, an increasingly common occurrence, or so she’d heard, was the last thing Garrett needed.
Carl chuckled. “Oh, I see what this is.”
Izzie felt sick as Carl looked between them, her hand on Garrett. No. Not like that. She moved away from Garrett. “Carl, you’re drunk. You didn’t even know Jake and I were dating like thirty minutes ago. Don’t be stupid.” Why did her defense sound hollow and pleading even in her own ears?
Jake appeared, walking towards Carl. “Carl what are you doing? I told you to wait by Izzie’s car, not start a fight.” He took the beer out of Carl’s hand and looked at Izzie. “I’m sorry.” He grabbed Carl’s arm, but Carl shook Jake off.
“I’m not going anywhere until I figure this shit out.” He gesticulated so wildly he almost lost his balance.
“There’s nothing to figure out,” Jake said. “They are friends. Let it go.”
Izzie looked back to see Garrett rolling his eyes.
Carl continued muttering as Jake led Carl to Izzie’s backseat, and Garrett drove off.
Izzie watched Garrett leave, her stomach in her throat. She’d had an opportunity to explain, say anything to repair their friendship. Had she even said sorry? She wiped a tear from her eye and messed with her hair tie. She was useless, couldn’t find any words, much less the right words to say. Sure, Carl had interrupted, but she knew even without his interruption she would’ve just walked away. Again. Why was she such a shitty friend? She wanted to scream.
“Can you help me take him home?” Jake said as he shut Carl in her car. “If I had known, I would’ve drove.”
Izzie turned around, opening her car door without looking at him. “Sure.”
Once they were on the road, and Izzie thought Carl had gone non-verbal, Carl put a hand on her seat, jolting her.
He leaned into the armrest between Jake and Izzie. “Listen,” Carl said. “You’ve been dating for like, months. Six? Three?”
“Carl,” Jake warned.
“That’s a long fucking time,” Carl said. Izzie focused on the road, unsure of where he was going with this topic. He continued, “and Jake’s been a standup man, you know, so like he deserves a little–”
“Would you shut the fuck up, Carl?” Jake yelled. Izzie gripped the steering wheel.
Her mind wove back to the last time Jake had reached his hand up her shirt and she’d shoved him away. He’d asked her if something was wrong. If she was uncomfortable? She’d said she was fine. It was partially true. She liked Jake, maybe even loved him. But anytime she considered taking her shirt off, all she could think about was her secret.
Izzie shifted under Jake, her arm curling around his torso as they kissed. His hand ran over her shirt, grazing her breasts, and then down toward her jeans. When his fingers brushed her stomach, barely touching her skin, she let him go and sat up. Jake backed away, smoothing out his hair.
“What did I do?” he asked. “Izzie, I don’t understand– every time…” He sighed.
She opened her mouth to explain, but no words surfaced. Her body yearned for his touch, in places she’d never felt before. But the pit in her stomach, the warnings pulsating through her mind –don’t let him see, can’t let him see– kept her firmly upright and fully dressed. If he saw her scars, the dried blood crusted over fresh cuts, that was it. He’d see her, all of her.
The world seemed quieter around him. Her life seemed a little more ok, silent, peaceful, bearable. She couldn’t let him go, but she knew how high school worked. How many times would he understand before he was too frustrated to keep understanding? Maybe, maybe she could– no, she could never show him. Never on purpose.
“Just tell me,” he said.
He wanted to talk about it, like they did all his problems. But his problems involved his family, his brothers, social drama that almost always included Carl. Nothing heavy. That’s why they talked about his problems, not hers. He had words for his problems; he was never the problem.
She opened her mouth to say she was sorry, but she knew that would do nothing for either of them. Sorry would only keep the secrets etched onto her arms, her stomach, her thighs.
When still no words spilled from her lips and the silence had settled between Jake and Izzie, Jake reached for his jacket. He paused at the door, as if he too had words he couldn’t say. He tried, “I,” and started again: “I’m sorry.”
Izzie looked at her hands. Poor little fucked up Izzie. She let him believe he was an awful jerk to her, when all he’d wanted was to touch his girlfriend, love her. She almost laughed. She’d been delusional to think that Jake could’ve ever been hers.
Izzie fiddled with her long braid. The wind running through the school parking lot tore at the loose pieces of hair around her face. Her heart beat in her chest, threatening to climb up her throat and suffocate her before she could utter a word.
Jake stood with his hands in his pockets as if it weren’t cold at all. He’d tried to hug her when they’d walked out hand in hand, but she’d simply stepped away. He watched her like he knew what she was struggling to say.
“We should break up,” Izzie said. Each word fell from her lips, clear and precise: the opposite of her warring emotions. With this she was giving up any peace and already wanted to reach for the pin in her boot. But she kept playing with her hair instead.
“You can’t be serious,” he said.
A thousand words swam to her lips. Poor little fucked up Izzie. This was always how it would end anyways.
“Izzie,” Jake said, reaching for her. “Why?”
She stepped away and immediately regretted it. She wanted his arms around her, to stop the emotions tumbling through her brain. She wanted one last moment of silence in his arms. But she’d done it. It was over. She looked around the parking lot. A couple hundred cars waited for dismissal, with only Izzie and Jake in sight. Some part of her wished they’d get in trouble, be blamed for skipping. Maybe if they sat in the office long enough the silence would break her. Maybe then she’d tell him everything.
“I get it,” Jake said.
She looked up at him, as he nodded to himself in affirmation. Had he seen? No, she’d been careful. He had to be talking about something else.
“I guess Carl was right,” Jake continued. “Damn, I didn’t want to believe him.” He looked out towards the cars. “You never wanted me.”
Now it was her turn to reach for him. “What? Jake no–”
“Forget it,” he said. He turned around and put his hands in his pockets.
As he walked away she wanted to stop him. Tears curled down her face, hugging her cheeks, her chin; they melted into her t-shirt, soaking the collar. She plopped onto the curb and hugged her knees to her chest. Regret bloomed around her undigested lunch. Maybe this is what love felt like when you lost it.
She covered her sob with the cuff of her sweatshirt.
Izzie leaned into her locker and closed her eyes. Just for a moment. She had to get to class, keep going through the day even though nothing could settle in her brain. Well, except for the stares. Even when her peers tried not to look, it was obvious. Everyone knew and no one understood how she could let Jake go. It was smothering.
She sighed. Lunch was over. Only two more classes to go, if she even went at all. After standing here ten minutes past the bell, skipping sounded so good.
Another locker smashed shut. Izzie opened her eyes. Carl came around the corner, settling himself between the already claustrophobic rows of lockers. If only his locker had been on the other side of the school, and he didn’t already wander the halls on the regular. What luck.
He crossed his arms like he was hot shit. “I didn’t think you’d come to school today.”
She lifted her head and glared at him. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Being home alone was the last thing she needed. Even though she was suffocating from the looks, she’d be a mess anywhere else. Teachers rarely gave out more than one hall pass a class. Her body could only handle so many cuts.
She hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder. Carl was the last person she wanted to talk to about Jake, if anyone. She tried to step past him, but he put his arm out against the locker to stop her.
“Because of what happened,” Carl said.
Her eyebrows twitched. She could almost hear sympathy in his voice, but the sneer on his face told her otherwise. “We all know why you tossed Jake away, you whore.” He almost spit in her face.
She recoiled, her mind throwing the day’s scenarios at her. First, before homeroom, there was the almost truth: Jake and Izzie had a major falling out. Then, before lunch, whispers of secrets, from both Jake and Izzie, peppered the halls. So of course here was another theory; their breakup was too juicy. No one had seen Jake in two days, so she’d heard, and everyone had been shocked they’d dated to begin with. She turned around. Let Carl spread whatever rumors he wanted.
Carl grabbed her backpack, stopping her, and spun her around.
Her back fell into the lockers. Go ahead, Carl. She wasn’t afraid of blood.
He towered over her. “So, do tell, you slept with Garrett, didn’t you?”
“What–” Her eyes widened. The bonfire. No. Izzie and Garrett had just talked. It wasn’t true. Jake knew. Carl knew. It wasn’t true. “Carl, that’s insane.”
“Yeah?” he said. “Tell that to Jake.”
Jake’s comment. No. Had he really thought? “Carl, I–” Her voice broke.
Carl pointed at her. She flinched.
“You’re full of shit,” he growled. “For fucking up my best friend.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked away, leaving Izzie alone in the sea of lockers.
She wiped a tear from her cheek and fled into the bathroom. She hurried into a stall and threw the door closed. Tears pooled in her eyes, blurring the floor. She covered her mouth, desperately trying to shove the sobs back into her lungs. A few sputtered out anyways, cutting through the silence in short bursts.
Her phone buzzed in her back pocket. She pulled it out, blinking away the tears so she could read the text from Francesca: I don’t want to text this, but you need to know before someone else tells you…everyone thinks you slept with Garrett. And it’s going around that Jake broke his arm, in a car accident after you guys broke up.
Izzie put her phone back into her pocket. Now Jake couldn’t play lacrosse for the rest of the season. Just one more thing Izzie fucked up.
As Izzie passed by the her old history class, right after the last bell rang, her world felt like it was shrinking. The stares seemed to multiply the longer she walked.
She could see it. And in the silence, she could hear it. Blame, over Jake’s broken arm.
She raced down the stairs. What if Jake had been going a little faster, turned up the music a little louder, or took a turn a little too fast? He could be dead.
She rushed into the bathroom. She just need to breathe. To calm down. Her hands were shaking as she locked the stall. She slid her hand inside her left boot. Tears pooled in her eyes. She took off her boot and set it aside, sniffling. When she reached into the fold between her two socks, her finger brushed metal. She unhooked the safety pin from her sock and looked at its pointed edge.
She lifted her t-shirt, revealing an angry array of lines. They scattered her stomach, some healed, some caked with dried blood from yesterday. She twisted the safety pin toward her, aching for blood.
As soon as the pin split her skin, her pulse slowed. Her tears drained away and the emotional current coursing inside her brain quieted. All her focus melted into the pulsing wound. School, Jake, Carl, Garrett, they ceased to matter. Her simmering skin cooled. She lifted the pin from her skin, grateful it was duller than a blade, and watched blood bubble to the surface. Not too much, but enough. Not like yesterday, when the blood had worried her. This time she could enjoy the thousand pricks of delicious pain spiraling from the tiny bloody beads.
She grabbed a piece of toilet paper to dab the fresh cut and wipe the blood off her safety pin. When the pin was refastened to her sock, she fished a Band-Aid out of her back pocket. Her hands were steady as she set it over the fresh mark. Her heartbeat thrummed in tune with the pain that occupied her brain.
She let her shirt fall back down, covering her scars as if the last few minutes hadn’t happened at all, and headed to the parking lot.
She slowed down when she saw Garret waiting for her, by her car, and almost decided to go back inside. He closed the distance between them. She could feel the eyes on her. Izzie’s fresh cut shouted at her; the throbbing pain drowning out all the stares.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve told everyone I can that it isn’t true. I’m not sure it’s done any good.” He looked around the parking lot, which was still filled with half the junior and senior classes. Most hung around until after the buses left, since it required luck to make it out before the buses carted off the underclassmen.
She pushed her hair behind her ear. The ten macramé bracelets she was wearing brushed her cheek. Garrett’s eyebrows furrowed. He grabbed her wrist, looking down at the red lines sandwiched in between the bracelets. Her stomach lurched. No. The old tears threatened to return. After she’d just calmed herself down.
He looked up from the crusty lines and let her arm go.
She studied her arm like she’d never seen it before. Excuses marched to her lips, but no words filled the void between her and Garrett. Shame bloomed in her cheeks, again.
“I’m tired of not talking, Izzie,” he said.
She shook her head, her throat too thick with tears. “I can’t.” Each word felt like separate sentence. She looked at the students milling about, blurry through her tears.
He pulled her to his car, where she sat in the passenger seat, with her head in her hands. He leaned over the console, saying “Izzie, talk to me,” but she could barely hear him.
Sometimes no volume of blood could keep sad Izzie at bay. A sob erupted from her throat. “I can’t.” Her skin tingled, begging to be sliced open with a thousand cuts.