“Ah,” Dave said. “My favorite kind.”
“Mine, too,” Rogerson said, sliding his arm around my waist and forgoing the food as I leaned back against him, eating my Hamburger Helperwhich was, quite honestly, one of the best meals I'd ever eaten. “Oh, Jesus, Corinna,” Dave said as he looked at the TV, where they were showing the Before picture of the cheerleader again. “Why do you always have to watch this crap?”
“Hush,” Corinna said. “Eat your food.”
“She's obsessed,” Dave told us. “This acne commercial, it's on every single time I come home. I don't get it.” Corinna smiled at him, reaching to smooth one hand over his face. Her bracelets fell down her arm, one by one. “Just one more time,” she said, putting her now empty plate on the coffee table. “I just love to see a happy ending.” So we all sat there, silent, our eyes fixed on the pock-?faced cheerleader, watching the Before and After as the acne medicine worked miracles, smoothing over bumps, wiping away scars, changing her face, her future, her life.
As December began, when I wasn't in photography class with my mother and Boo, continuing my rapid falling out of favor with the cheerleading squad, or listening to Rina wail about her love life, I was at Corinna's. It was the only place I felt like I got some peace of mind, and I found myself drawn there whenever things got crazy. I'd creep up the front steps and knock softly, always worried I was interrupting something, and she'd yell out for me to come in. When I pushed the door open I usually found her sitting on the couch with a cigarette in one hand and the remote in the other, smiling as if she'd been waiting for me to show up all along. We'd sit on the couch, smoking, and watch soap operas, eating frozen burritos and talking while the world outside went on without me. I'd discovered that Corinna and I had a lot in common. Besides the fact that we'd both gone to Jacksonshe was three years ahead of Cassher mother and mine were each Junior Leaguers, and she'd grown up in Crestwood, a subdivision on the other side of the highway from mine. She said she'd been a geek her freshman year, doing time in student council and dance committees, until she met Dave, who was two years older. She fell in love with him and became, in her own words, a “burnout,” spending more time in the parking lot than in class. In her yearbook, which she kept on the coffee table, there was a picture of her sitting on the hood of someone's car in cutoff jeans and a tie-?dyed T- shirt, barefoot and wearing sunglasses. She was laughing, beautiful, even then. For graduation, she'd gotten a tiny green vine tattooed around her left ankle, and Dave had given her the first of the thin, shiny silver bracelets she wore on her left wrist. He had continued to give her one for every Christmas, birthday, and Valentine's Day since. They clinked against each other whenever she walked, or gestured excitedly, or reached to brush her hair out of her faceDave said it was her theme music. But what I liked most about Corinna was that she liked me. She was pretty, smart, and funny but I didn't feel like I faded out when I was with her, like I always had with Rina and Cass. I loved her easygoing manner, hanging on every one of her horror stories about waitressing at Applebee's and her own wild high school years. She seemed to have the perfect life to me: independent, fun job, living with a man who loved her in their tiny, funky farmhouse. I could see me and Rogerson like that, someday. Us against the world. It was the way I imagined Cass living in New York with Adam, starting over all on her own. Being with Corinna always made me miss Cass a little less. She didn't talk to or see her family much, even though they lived right in town. One afternoon we went to the grocery store and bumped into her mother, leading to a strange, awkward exchange in the frozen food aisle that made me so uncomfortable I slipped off to the produce section. Her mom looked a lot like mine, with the blond bob, khaki skirt, conservative V-?neck sweater, and pearl earrings. She was buying salad dressing and scallops, and when she asked Corinna about Dave her nose wrinkled just slightly, as if she'd gotten a sudden whiff of something rotten. Afterwards, riding home, Corinna chain-?smoked cigarettes, hardly talking except in small argumentative spurts, as if her mother was still there, arguing back. “They never even tried to like him,” she said, hitting the gas to pass a slow-?moving school bus. “They hated him on sight. But it was never really about him. They had already decided they wanted me to be chaste, go to college, and be a lawyer. It was always about what they wanted.” Then she hit the volume on the radio, cranking it up to drown herself out. We drove on, and a second later she reached forward, turning the sound down again. “I mean,” she added angrily, “they'd already, like, decided exactly what I was supposed to do, and be, for God's sake. I never even had a say in anything.” I nodded as she twisted the volume up, the speakers rattling around us. We drove on, whisking past the dairy farm at the top of the road, the smell of cows and manure wafting in through the open window. “And now,” she said, reaching impatiently to cut off the radio altogether as we bumped down the dirt road to her house, “they're so disappointed in me. Like I've let them down by not doing everything they planned. I can see it in their faces. Like waiting tables is so awful. I'm not costing them anything, for God's sake. I mean, I can't even afford to go to the dentist, but do I ask them for help?”
“No,” I said as she yanked the wheel and we sputtered to a stop behind Dave's truck. “No,” she repeated. “Exactly. I don't.” She got out of the car, grabbed her one bag of groceries, and slammed the door. I followed her up the steps into the house, where Dave was sitting on the couch in jeans and a Spam T-?shirt, an open bag of Fritos on his lap. “Hey there,” he said cheerfully as she brushed past him into the kitchen, the door swinging shut behind her. I could hear her bracelets clanking as she moved around, putting things away, cabinet doors banging shut, one by one. Dave, with one Frito halfway to his mouth, raised his eyebrows. “We saw her mom at the store,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said, popping it into his mouth. “How'd that go?”
“Shit!” Corinna said loudly, as something crashed and broke in the kitchen. “Goddammit.”
“Not so good,” I told him. He sighed, standing up. “Here,” he said, handing off the Fritos to me. “I'm going in.” I watched as he pushed the kitchen door open. It started to swing shut behind him before catching on the stubborn piece of kitchen tile that poked up at the edge of the threshold. He walked over to where Corinna was standing, crying, holding a piece of broken plate in her hand. “This fell,” she said, holding it up as proof. “I didn't drop it.”