On the morning that this story begins, my father was peering at me over his newspaper, watching in disgust as I sprinkled yet another spoonful of sugar on my grapefruit.
“I think that defeats the purpose, Mac.” He grinned. The look I gave him was as sour as the fruit.
“It’s gross.” I replied.
“Mac.” My mom frowned as she bustled about the kitchen. “You’ll give yourself a cavity. What the matter? You always liked grapefruit.”
I had no answer for this, stabbing at the poor fruit with my spoon instead. Mom shook her head and yawned. She had just walked in the door from another nightshift at the hospital and was probably in no mood to deal with me. She poured herself a coffee instead.
I pushed the fruit aside as my father shook his head and returned to his paper. My black nail polish was chipping. I sat back and picked at it.
“You know Mac, it’s supposed to be a really hot day,” Mom eyed my hoodie, “maybe you want to wear something lighter. What about the skirt I got you?”
“I don’t do skirts, mom. You knew that when you bought it for me.” Of course she did, but the fact that I didn’t dress up all pretty for school bothered her. She felt inclined to leave these none too subtle hints upon my bed from time to time, skirts and trendy shoes and button up blouses. They all became smunched into a pile in the back of my closet, which really isn’t saying much because even my preferred clothes ultimately ended up that way. It’s not that I don’t care about my appearance, I’m not a grunge or anything, but I’m not into the valedictorian-wear my mom feels is necessary. My typical outfit involved blue jeans, some sweet t-shirt, a hoodie, and any kind of dark skater shoes that made my size nine feet look at least two sizes smaller. Today I was wearing my favourite shirt, a dark blue Three Stones sweater with orange cuffs on the sleeve and a flaming fireball emblazoned on the front. I knew she hated it.
“I’m wearing a shirt.” I informed her. She sighed and nodded curtly, yawning into her cupped palm.
“So, Mac.” My father set his paper down. “How comes the job search?”
I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “This again?”
“Yes, this again. You’re seventeen years old with no plans for higher education. You can live here, that’s fine, but not for free. You’re plenty old enough to get a job. When Marcy was your age—”
“I’m well aware of Marcy’s fantasticness, thank you.” I interrupted him. I turned my focus from him to the ends of my long, curly dark hair, pretending to look for split ends. I hoped he’d get my hint. He didn’t.
“Well, fine. I’ve leaving town until Saturday. When I get back, I’d like to have some answers. Maybe you could get a job at the hospital. Are they still hiring, Deb?”
“Oh, there’s always work.” Mom perked up. “You may have to Candy-Stripe at first, but that always looks good on a resume. Do you want me to speak to Doug for you, Mackenzie?”
I looked at their hopeful faces incredulously. There was no way in hell I’d volunteer to clean up after a bunch of sick people. “Uh…we’ll see.” I answered. I was saved then by the loud, off key baap of a car horn out front.
“Oh, Riley’s here.” I said with relief. “I gotta go.” Mom made her face then, almost on cue, the face that makes its appearance whenever Riley’s name is mentioned. It’s not that she hates him exactly, but she feels I could do with better friends, a bunch of girl friends preferably. Also, she considers Riley the boy from the “wrong side of the tracks.” I like to remind her from time to time that Riley and I only met because we lived next door to each other for years while my mom was still in school, before my parents became “established.” Apparently she forgets that, and the fact that she and Riley’s mother used to be very, very good friends. Before we moved into a new house in a new neighbourhood, that is.
I rolled my eyes at her and waved absently to my father.
“Alright, bye.” Nothing annoyed me more than “the face.” I grabbed the books that I brought home last Friday and hadn’t touched since on my way out the door.
Riley’s car was a sight. It was giant purple and rusty, with red velour upholstery and a beaten up dashboard, but it was my chariot to freedom. My first sincere smile of the day was given for his benefit as I hastened happily towards his car.
“Hey man.” I sank into the front seat beside him.
“Hey.” He said warmly. He sat back in the seat and gazed at me for a minute.
“What?” I asked abruptly.
“Nothing.” He decided, pulling the car into the road. I shrugged and lit my cigarette, taking that first precious drag and blowing the smoke satisfyingly out the window. I felt the tension melt away.
“So,” he sounded nervous. “That was some party, hey?”
“Oh, yeah.” I groaned. “I felt so sick yesterday.”
“Is that why you didn’t call?”
“I guess so. Why, did I say I would?”
We rode in silence for a moment, and I gazed at Riley through the corner of my eye. He was acting very strange. I had known the guy since we were in kindergarten, and such a close relationship enabled me to know instantly when something was amiss. He was without a doubt my best friend in the whole world, better than any girlfriend I’d ever had, someone who really understood me and didn’t judge me and someone I could have tons of fun with without having to worry about the petty, trivial shit that accompanies most high school relationships. We were totally accepting of each other, no matter what.
Riley looked different today. His hair was dark, short, messy curls, but today I detected some kind of styling product in it. He was wearing his good Darkstar shirt too, the one he usually saved for going out on the weekends. I leaned closer and took a whiff, inhaling the deep scent of men’s cologne.
“…mmm. You smell good today, Ry. Alright, who’s the girl?” I smiled conspiratorially. He was too easy to figure out.
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, tell me. Who’s the girl you’re so dolled up for?”
“Um...I don’t know…Mac, how much did you have to drink the other night?”
“Ohhhh…” I groaned again. “So much. Too much. I can remember up until the Quaalude and then it’s all just a black patch in my memory.” I laughed. “Why, did you hook up with someone? Oh, I’m so pissed I can’t remember. Don’t make me guess, just tell me who it was.”
“It was…it was nobody.” He mumbled. “No one you know.”
“Oh really? Was she hot?”
“Yeah, she was.”
“Really? Oh...” I laughed and groaned. “Who brings ‘ludes to a party anyway? This isn’t 1974 and we’re not in California.”
“You need to be careful with that shit.” Riley warned as he turned a corner. “Mixing that stuff with alcohol can mess you up.”
“Right, like you can talk.” I accused. “Mr.E. I’m surprised your heart still works.”
“Not only does it work, my heart could out-beat your heart any day.”
I laughed with him and sunk back into the seat, glad that he had relaxed.
“So, are you going to introduce me to her then?”
“No, I’m not.”
“What?” I pretended upset. “Why not?”
“You know why, Mac.” Riley shook his head and shot me a sideways glare. It was true, I did know why. Something seemed to come over me every time Riley had a girlfriend…not exactly jealousy but…possession almost. I’ve tried to be a good supportive friend and accept his new relationships, but I can’t help myself. As soon as he and his girl of choice become “official,” I panic at the thought of losing my best friend to the claws of a she-devil that will occupy all his time and energy. My fear is that one day he will become so enamoured with one of these girls that I’ll be out of the picture indefinitely. And it’s not like I want him for myself; Riley is like my brother. But I don’t w