Bill Skerrit had already bought Rina a friendship ring, which she wasn't wearing, and Jeff was a dog and never called her when he said he would. Of course, she was mad for him. “Oh, God,” she'd say to me as we sat outside the gym after practice.
“I don't want to be like this, you know?”
“Like what?” I'd say. “Like such a total bitch. I mean, poor Bill, you know?” Bill, who assumed he and Rina were both saving themselves for marriage, had not the slightest inkling that she was, ahem, involved with Jeff. I'd only met him once, at the mall. He was tall, with a big floppy shock of blond hair he was always getting out of his face by jerking his head suddenly to the side, whiplash-?style. Rina found this incredibly sexy. It made me nervous. During all of this I was also spending as much time as I could with Rogerson, who still complained that I wasn't around enough. My grades kept slipping as he talked me into going out with him every night, always sweet-?talking me into it the same way he coaxed me out of the house. And the nights when he just showed up, not talking, just wanting me to sit with him while he recovered from something he wouldn't even discuss, became more and more frequent. I noticed bruises on his face, red marks and puffiness around his eyes, but he shrugged off my concern, dodging it gracefully, again. I felt desperately helpless, unable to protect him from some awful force I couldn't even name. It kept me up nights, long after I'd watched him drive away. I was running from one problem or place to another, with no time left to study, or sleep, or just breathe. I felt pulled in all directions, fighting to keep all these obligations circling in the air above me. It was only a matter of time before something fell.
It was the Friday of the Winter Athletic Ceremony that it happened. After last period I was supposed to go to a cheerleading meeting, then home to meet Rogerson, who wanted me to go to the mall to help him buy a birthday gift for his mother. After that, I would return home to shower, change, and ride back to school with my parents and Boo and Stewart for the ceremony, where I'd get a corsage from some football player. This would be followed by us all sitting through an endlessly boring speech by Principal Hawthorne detailing the “virtue of competition” and the “lessons we learn from teamwork” that we'd all heard the year before, and the year before that, while we waited for Cass to get her trophies. Finally I would be given a cheap plaque, my mother would take about a dozen pictures (in all of which I would have a partialor nohead) and somehow, eventually, it would be over. By 3:15, it was clear I needed something to help me get through this. I drove to Corinna's with one eye on the clock, just wanting a few minutes of peace. When I got there she was in her uniformtoday, her button said super steaks! the new sensation!and rolling change on the coffee table while watching reruns of the Newlywed Game. “I have to make at least a hundred bucks tonight after tipping out,” she explained as I sat down, taking the bowl as she passed it to me, the lighter balanced on top of it. Now she didn't even bother to ask me before she packed itwe had a routine, a system. Rogerson had even begun to give me my own small supply of pot, as well as a bowl, tiny and white ceramic with a wizard painted on its tip. With it, my bag, cigarettes, and a lighter, I was like Barbie all over again, just with different accessories. Now Corinna exhaled, blowing out smoke as she stacked pennies, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Dave's out of work at least till next week and the power bill's due Monday. Plus I wrote a check for groceries that's gonna bounce if I don't deposit something tonight.”
I took the bowl and lit it, watching as one of the couples on the TV won a new bedroom suite. The woman had seventies hair, all hair-?spray and feathered bangs, and was jumping up and down, kissing the host. “I'm sorry,” I said. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, piling pennies into a roll and twisting the ends shut. “We'll make it somehow. We always do.” Corinna always seemed to be working, but I never could quite figure out what Dave did, exactly. He seemed to do some carpentry work, sometimes, and for a week or two he worked at the Quik Zip, selling gas and cigarettes on the night shift. More often, however, he was in the next room sleeping, where I could hear him snoring sometimes as Corinna and I spoke in whispers so as not to wake him. I was learning that with Dave, as with Rogerson, it was best just not to ask questions. After we'd finished smoking I glanced at the clock: four sharp. The meeting was beginning, and I could just see Chelsea Robbins taking her spot in front of the assembled squad, decreeing who would be escorted by which football player at the banquet. It seemed like a long way back to school, suddenly, and I wondered if anyone had noticed yet that I wasn't there. Corinna looked up from stacking dimes. “Aren't you late for practice?” I thought of Mike Evans pinning a corsage on my chest and leading me to the stage while my mother snapped pictures that would never come out. “Nope,” I said, settling back into the couch. “Don't have it today.” She picked up the remote and flipped a few stations until the phone rang, leaving it on a commercial for car wax as she got up to snatch the cordless off the top of the TV. She walked into the kitchen, lowering her voice, as I heard Dave mumble something, asleep, from behind the half-?open door to my right that led to the bedroom. Then I heard music I recognized. It was yet another Lamont Whipper rerun coming on. It was so popular that now they'd added yet another showing, making my mother that much happier. I watched as the camera zoomed in on Lamont himself, holding his microphone. He announced the day's topic“Better Run While You Can, 'Cause You've Been Messing with My Man!” Cass was standing behind him. She was wearing a brown sweater and jeans, her hair up and twisted into a hasty bun behind her head, held in place with a pencil, the old Boo trick. She was holding a clipboard, her eyes glancing quickly around the studio, checking something I couldn't see. As her gaze moved across the audience, she stared right into the camera for one instant, and it was suddenly like she was looking right at me. And as she did, she lifted a finger and smoothed it across her eyebrow, turning her head slightly. I felt a slow, creeping chill crawl up the back of my neck just as Corinna came back through the door, turning the phone off with an angry jab of her finger. “Oh, so listen to this crap. The five-?thirty wait called in sick with a freakin' hangover, so I'm on my own till six. On a Friday, no less.” She sighed, sitting back down and shaking a cigarette out of the open pack next to her stacks of coins. “Can you believe that?”