Tales from Your Lovely Local Girl Gang
part of a larger piece.
Mama tried to raise me up to be a proper young lady. She wanted me to slide right into the slot society had waiting for me. Dance lessons and charity balls and putting me into the right school that had girls of my ‘caliber’. Too bad none of that ever worked out for me. The universe or God or gods or whatever the hell is controlling all this made a mistake when they assigned where I was going to be born, where I was going to grow up.
If Mama could see me now she would say a girl like me doesn’t belong in a place like this, but my mama walked out when I was twelve years old so she doesn’t get that kind of say. She made me grow up soft and sheltered in the worst kind of way but I don’t want to be like that anymore. Being soft makes people walk over top of you because you’re too nice. Because you smile and act like things are okay when they aren’t. I smiled the day my mama left, but if I had that day back, I’d ball up my little fist and knock her straight in the mouth.
My eyes open to see the popcorn ceiling of a stranger’s apartment I don’t quite remember arriving in. This is the kind of thing Mama would say whores do and I smile, my arms stretching in an L shape, one above me in the pillows and the other crossing a man’s stomach. The contrast in our skin is stark and looks like something you might see painted on a canvas hanging in the city. Dad wouldn’t like me being here with him, he wouldn’t like that I’m in bed with any man, but what dad doesn’t know won’t hurt him and it won’t hurt my allowance either. It’s not like this is serious anyway, things like this are meant to last a night and fade quicker than a hangover. When he wakes up, I ask to use the phone. I know he isn’t going to offer to drive me anyplace and I don’t plan to let a stranger know my real name, let alone my address. Within an hour, I’m dressed in yesterday’s blouse and led out because he has a job to do and working men can never be swayed into getting coffee.
“Dolly!” I hear the voice of Izzy call, using that stupid nickname like she always seems to. Madeline Dahl, that being pronounced ‘doll’, is the name that nobody calls me unless it’s in a private classroom with a bunch of snobs. Dolly is the name my friends gave me out in this city slum that feels more like home than the place I live.
Isabella sits on her motorbike, glaring towards me. Usually she wears a bright smile, one where you can see the glinting gold she has in the gap between her two upper teeth. Izzy’s made of metals— copper skin, iron grey eyes, little silver piercings running up her left ear, a platinum bar on the right, and that gold in her teeth. She’s the reason I never want to have a guy with me for more than a night because those guys will never be her, they’ll never have her fuck it attitude and they’ll never radiate the way she does.
And right now, she’s glaring at me.
“Glad to see I don’t need a cab.” I walked over to her, unfastened the cargo net that held the extra helmet. I wore a smile and hair mussed in a way that showed the lack of a proper brush in the stranger’s home.
“You tell that one how old you are?”
I roll my eyes, pull the helmet on, push the visor up.
“I’ll be eighteen next month, does it really matter?”
“Might matter to him.”
“He won’t see me again.” There’s a small nod at that, maybe approval. Either way, she looks a little relieved. Less tense.
“Get on, Dolly, let’s get you home.”
I mount the bike behind her and wrap my thin arms around her waist as she revs the engine. Then we’re flying. Izzy doesn’t use real drugs but I always figured if adrenaline was one, she’d be a junkie. She loves fast cars, fast bike, fast love—or so she’s gushed to me before. I find myself squealing with laughter as she speeds through a light even though she has to swerve to the side when a truck doesn’t notice us right away. The driver honks and one of my hands raises off Izzy’s waist to show him the glittering rings on my middle finger. I can feel her body shake a little and that makes my smile widen. Even though I can’t hear it, I can imagine the way she laughs, imagine the little twittering giggles because a girl doesn’t forget her favorite sound.
It takes over half an hour to reach my house on the other side of the city with no set speed limit and no obedience to stop signs—unless Izzy sees a cop in which case she becomes a model driver. Dad isn’t at home. Even though it’s Saturday he’s at church. Not that he believes in God or heaven or hell but his current attempt at a new wife does. Or at least she acts like she does. She’s closer to my age than his and annoying as hell but I know as soon as he brings up a prenup, she’ll hightail it like the rest have. My dad might be lonely but he’s still smart and he won’t take away my inheritance. That’ll be what keeps me floating in the world when he’s gone.
“Are you going to stick around for lunch?” I ask, knowing the answer as I step onto the stone pathway that carves to the front door. She’s parked behind the small beat up car that belongs to her mother, the woman who’s cleaned the house since I was five. She’s the whole reason I have Izzy in my life, and I thank whoever is out there every day that Dad didn’t let Mama fire her when her wedding ring went missing. ‘Her kind’ she had said, raving to Dad as Izzy and I peeked under the door of my room. I’d never seen my friend look so upset by words. The ring had showed up a few days later on Mama’s hand and she said she had found it in her car. At the time the only thought I had was why she had taken it off in the first place.
“What kind of a question is that?”
We walk together through the door, straight up the stairs. If Mrs. Carrion catches me coming in like this, looking like I rolled straight out of someone else’s bed, I’m going to get put in my place and Izzy will have to deal to the lecture at home about how she’s ‘encouraging my behavior.’ It’s in both our best interests that doesn’t happen. Just like with my dad, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
“Bev coming over today?” Izzy keeps her voice down and peeks around the corner before pushing me towards my room.
“Supposed to be. She’s picking up Roxie and her brother, too.”
“Bev’s crushing hard time on him.”
“Did you seriously just say crushing?”
I shrug and open my door. The room is large and clean but not because Mrs. Carrion has been inside today. It’s more because I haven’t been in it since yesterday after school when I put down my backpack, changed clothes, and grabbed my spare wallet with the ID that says I’m twenty-three instead of seventeen. Bev was the one that swung by to get me on her way to the city from work. I have my own car but it’s expensive and if it gets scratched or dented or stolen, Dad will ask questions I don’t want to answer. I prefer not leaving it on the curb or the parking garages. I can pay gas money just as well—usually I insist on it because charity isn’t something need and it’s not something I’ll take.
“I’ve said it and I’ll say it again, your room is unsettling.”
“Going to tell me I’ve got a ghost in here again? I think the Ouija board proved you wrong on that.”
“It’s not that. It’s that I come in here and expect to see life-sized Barbie in this place.”
“Wouldn’t that be me?” I shake my head and walk into my closet to find something that won’t make me look like I’ve been at a club all night.
“You’re too short for that, Dolly.” I can hear the mattress creak as she sits down on it.
“I’m not that short.” Pushing aside sundresses, I find a shirt that at one point belonged to Izzy or maybe Bev, the name of some heavy metal band faded and the material soft from so many washes. I pull it down, grab jeans that cost more than my friend’s whole outfit, and start to change.
“Might want to take a shower first. You smell like sex and smoke.”
She’s laying back on my bed with a magazine in her hands when I look out of the closet at her, just in my underwear and if I glanced into the mirror I’d see the bruises left by lips on my body. But I don’t. Instead I just nod, move from the closet to the bathroom. I can’t help but feel a little sad that Izzy’s eyes don’t look at me at all. Not that she should, she’s just my friend but hope for more always prickles when she’s around. That maybe one day she’ll look at me and those grey eyes will sparkle with the adoration I saw once when she was looking that girl who dumped her last year.
Mama used to preach to me about ‘the gays.’ That’s what she would call them in a haughty tone whenever she saw a man holding another man’s hand or a woman kissing another woman on the cheek. Sometimes I’d look and they’d seem more like friends to me, but she’d go on preaching like it was any of her business. My dad never talked much about it. I doubt he cares, it isn’t a subject that touches his life enough for him to. He cares about different things like making money and keeping a good face when people do interviews and finding pretty women to take to bed. I never really cared either, always figured I liked men until I met Isabella and then I wasn’t so sure anymore.
I’ve kissed another girl but only once. If Mama knew, she would screech about hell, but she’s not around to know so that’s not really a problem. I was fifteen and the other girl was nineteen, someone who Roxie—the oldest in our group at twenty-four now—knew. It was a party Izzy tried to talk me out of because I was too young, but I didn’t want to listen, I just wanted to be around people that made me feel alive for a while. I’ve always been stupid in that way, but it never goes far enough to hurt too much. The girl was lean and tall, and she looked a little like Izzy if Izzy wore more make-up. We were dancing close, her chest against my back until she turned me around and pressed her lips to mine. She tasted like tequila but I’ve since learned that’s a better taste than beer. It seemed like hours we stayed like that together and I closed my eyes to pretend she was my best friend instead of a stranger. Then in a flash it was over with a crack. My eyes opened, and that girl was on the ground with Roxie on top of her, fists flying. Roxie was pulled off pretty quick, but she left a busted lip and a black eye in her wake. After that we left and from there on Roxie watched me like a hawk whenever we were out together.
Ever since I started ditching parties, she won’t give me rides unless Izzy comes. She says the people who come with her leave with her and she knows I’ll ditch her. I don’t ditch Izzy.
I put on my shirt before I wrap my hair up in a towel. Wet spots form under my arms and small breasts and makes the cotton stick to my skin.
“Are you going back out tonight?”
“You offering to drive?” I pull on my jeans and walk to the bed to sit beside her.
“No, I wanted to tell you that you shouldn’t go if you were planning to.”
“Since when does it matter to you if I go out?”
“Since you started calling me at eight in the morning on weekends from all over the city to pick you up.”
“I can start calling cabs instead.”
“That isn’t the point, Dolly.” She closes the magazine and looks up at me, frowning. “Look, I know I sound like a mother hen but you’re running yourself right into the ground. You’re going to get into big trouble, and the way you’re going, you won’t be the only one dragged down.”
I know she’s serious but I don’t want serious right now so I grin instead.
“You’re right, you do sound like a mother hen,” I tell her. The look I get is less than amused and it melts the smile right off my face, takes the breath out of me with a sigh. Izzy takes the chance to further her case.
“Dolly,” she says and then takes a deep breath, moves so her face is level with mine. I feel my chest tighten a little. I wonder what she’d do if I kissed her right here and now, but this is nowhere near the right time. Izzy wants me to listen to her, so I’ll do just that even though I know I won’t like what she says. “Madeline. Listen. Tell me you’re listening.”
“I am.” I cross my arms and my lips pout without my permission. “Don’t call me that, it’s weird to hear you say my real name.”
“I’m making sure you’re paying attention. This is important, Doll, I’m worried about you. You’ve been acting older than you are since I introduced you to Bev and Roxie, and it was fine because you only did it when we were around. I don’t know when you started getting the idea you need to go out by yourself to have fun but it seriously needs to stop.”
“Izzy, come on.”
“You’re going to get hurt.” There’s something in her voice, the way it pitches. Almost breaks. I realize her eyes are wet and it breaks my heart. “You don’t think I’ve noticed you’re getting thinner and paler? You don’t think I’ve noticed this?” She grabs my arm and holds it tight, pointing at the inside of my elbow. There are three miniscule scabs there but I don’t look at them.
“That was just some party.”
“The one Roxie took you to?”
“No, I met a guy there and he drove me…”
“Did you sleep with that guy too?” Her free hand grips my other arm. “You are too young to be doing this kind of shit. I bet none of those guys know they slept with someone underage and you’re lucky you haven’t been hurt by one of them. What the hell are you trying to prove?”
“If any guy tried to touch me, I’d deal with him. I know how to hold my own, Iz. I’m just having a good time.”
I expect the glare I get and my shoulders slouch.
“Don’t make me get your dad involved, Dolly, I’m not above that.”
“You aren’t as tough as you think you are.”
I want to tell her she’s wrong, that I’m as tough as her even though I was raised soft. I want her to know I’ve been hurt enough even if it’s not true, even if the only fucked up experience I can speak of is Mama telling me she’d be back soon but leaving instead with another man and another daughter both better than the ones she had at home. Izzy has more stories than that, more heartbreak. She’s told me everything, probably because she doesn’t want me going through the same things she has if she can prevent it. But she can’t, not really. I’m not good at listening.
The door opens and there’s Mrs. Carrion in her white apron and her thick black hair in a bun, the hand on the knob wrapped up in a latex cleaning glove.
“Everything alright, girls?” she asks in a voice with accent thick and comforting to my ears. Izzy’s voice reflects it in a softer way, softer than it used to be, like she’s trained herself not to have it anymore. “Isabella, I didn’t see you come in.”
My other friends filter past her—Roxie, then Bev and Roxie’s brother. Those two look rather pleased and Roxie looks like she wants to punch something. Probably Bev.
“I got here about an hour ago. Door was open, I let myself in.” Izzy lets my arms go and she’s not looking at me anymore. She doesn’t want to make our business everyone’s. For that I’m grateful. “We were just talking is all.”
“Just talking,” I agree.
Roxie goes to the mirror and fluffs her wild hair, her brother following Bev to the window seat on the back wall. Guess that crush worked out for her. I don’t think it’ll last long. That man has one of those faces that says it won’t last for them, but I doubt Bev cares and I don’t plan to say anything.
“How about I make some sandwiches?” Mrs. Carrion offers.
“There’s cucumbers and turkey in the fridge. Delivered yesterday.” I try smile but only one side of my mouth manages to quirk up. Mrs. Carrion doesn’t notice, turning and closing the door behind her to start on lunch for us all.
“What are we doing today, anyway?” Roxie looks at me through the mirror. Her eyes narrow a little. “You two really okay?”
“Fine.” Standing, I walk to the mirror and stand beside her instead of staying on the bed with Izzy giving me the cold shoulder. As soon as she can, I know she’ll be lecturing me again, but I have a few hours of peace before that storm can run its course. “Is there a party tonight?”
“I think a movie might be better,” Izzy says, voice almost stern and I know that no one is going to suggest something else. I don’t look at her, but I know the look that’s on her face. The one she gets when she’s mad with her jaw all clenched.
“Alright, I’ll pay if you want to go,” I offer because maybe that’ll soften her up.
“Anything good on?” Roxie asks.
I shrug my shoulders because I don’t really care if it is something good or not so long as it takes me out of my own world for a while. Bev starts giggling and Roxie shoots an irritated look over at the couple occupying my window seat. Izzy’s picked up the magazine again as I briefly try to remember Roxie’s brother’s name, feeling a bit bad I’ve forgotten it, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I give him a week at most.
“Well I guess there’s nothing better to do.” Turning towards me, Roxie brushes fingers through my hair. “Come on, I’m braiding your hair. If I don’t have something to do with my hands, I’m probably going to strangle someone.”
Halfheartedly I laugh, and I pull the stool out from under the vanity to sit for her, looking into the mirror. Izzy is looking at me. I look back at her. Then we both look away again before anyone feels the tension.
Ashley Cash is a Junior at Austin Peay State University, studying English with minors in Creative Writing and Professional Education. For all of her life, she has lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, watching the town she grew up in grow. She is an advocate against Teen Dating Abuse and spends her free time to raise awareness on this subject. While she hopes to use her experience to help people through writing a memoir one day, she currently enjoys writing fictional pieces.