Home > One Small Thing(2)

One Small Thing(2)
Author: Erin Watt


“Beth,” I cut in sharply.

I don’t miss the irritated flicker in her eyes. “Beth,” she corrects, dragging out the one syllable as if it’s so inconvenient for her to utter.

Like my parents, my best friend is having a tough time adjusting to my new name. Scarlett doesn’t think the name Lizzie is juvenile at all—It’s more juvenile suddenly calling yourself something else after going your whole life as Lizzie! was her response when I announced at the start of the summer that I was now going by Beth. But of course, she’d say that. Scarlett is a badass name. Who would ever dream of changing it?

“You don’t even know these girls,” Scarlett points out.

Another shrug. “I’ll get to know them.”

“Beth,” she says miserably. “Come on.”

“Please, Scar,” I say, equally miserable. “I need this. After what happened today, I just need a fun, crazy night where I don’t have to think about anything.”

Her features soften. She knows all about the slap and the college application betrayal—it’s all I’ve been talking about since I got to her house tonight. I think that’s one of the reasons she suggested going out and driving around. She was tired of hearing about it.

“I really don’t want to go, though,” she admits. “But I don’t want you to go alone.”

“I’ll be fine,” I promise. “I’ll go for a couple hours, scope out the scene and then come back to your place, and we can stay up all night eating ice cream.”

She rolls her eyes. “The ice cream’s all yours. I’m on a crash diet ’til Monday. I need to look hot for my first day of senior year.”

A loud honk comes from the direction of the waiting Jeep. “Yo! Come on!” the driver shouts.

“I’ll see you later, Scar,” I say quickly. “Leave the back door unlocked for me, ’kay?” Then, before she can object, I hurry over to the Jeep. “I’m coming,” I tell the girls, because if I don’t do something outside my parents’ perfectly prescribed routine, I will implode. There won’t be anything left of me but scraps. That’s how I feel right now, actually, like I’m nothing but scraps pasted together by my parents.

“’Bout time,” one of them mutters, while the other blows a bright pink bubble with her gum.

“Beth!” Scarlett calls.

I glance over my shoulder. “Did you change your mind?”

She shakes her head. “Just be safe.”

“I will.” I climb into the back seat next to the blonde. Her friend hops into the passenger seat and whispers something to the driver. I lean over the side to address Scarlett again. “If my parents call, tell them I’m asleep. I’ll be back in a few hours. Promise.”

I blow her a kiss, and, after a beat of hesitation, she pretends to catch it in her hand and smacks it on her cheek. Then she heads for her car, and the boy behind the wheel of the Jeep revs the engine and we tear out of the gas station parking lot.

As the wind snakes under my hair and lifts it up, I count all the sins I’ve just committed.

Accepting a party invite from kids I don’t know.

Going to a party in the next town over, an area that’s not exactly white picket fences and apple trees like my pretty, safe hometown.

Getting into a car with strangers. That’s probably the biggest sin. My parents will ship me off to a convent if they find out about this.

But guess what?

I. Don’t. Fucking. Care.

They’ve already announced that I’m expected to spend my college years with them. We’re at war now.

I feel trapped in my own life, weighed down by their rules and their paranoia and their fears. I’m seventeen years old. I’m supposed to be excited about my senior year. I’m supposed to be surrounded by friends and dating cute guys and having the time of my life right now. People say it’s all downhill from here, and that’s just depressing because if these are supposed to be the best years of my life, exactly how much crappier is life going to get?

“What’s your name anyway?” the blonde girl asks.

“Beth. You?”

“Ashleigh, but you can call me Ash.” She points to the front seat. “That’s Kylie and Max. We all go to Lexington High. Gonna be juniors this year.”

“I’ll be a senior at Darling,” I tell her.

A slight sneer mars her red-lipsticked mouth. “Ah, okay. You’re a Darling girl.”

I bristle at the implication. “Not everyone in Darling is rich, you know.” I’m not lying; my family definitely isn’t as rich as some of the other families in town. Our middle-class suburb is safe and quiet, though.

The party we’re going to is in Lexington Heights—or Lex, as its residents call it—a working-class neighborhood where the houses are smaller, the people are poorer and the kids are rowdier. In Darling, coke and molly are passed around along with hash. In Lex, you’re more likely to be offered meth.

My parents would freak out if they knew I was here. Scarlett nearly had a panic attack when we had to stop for gas in Lexington tonight.

“So whatcha doing over in Lex on a Saturday night?” Kylie twists around from the front seat to voice the question to me. “You looking to score some party favors?”

I offer a shrug. “I just want to have a good time before school starts.”

Max whoops loudly. “Girl after my own heart! What’s your name again, good-time girl?”

“Beth,” I repeat.

“Beth.” Driving one-handed, he reaches his other hand toward me. “Gimme some sugar, Bethie. Time to get our party on.”

I awkwardly slap his hand and manage a smile. I suddenly feel really bad about ditching Scarlett, but I tamp down the guilt until it’s buried deep and forgotten. Besides, she was okay with me going in the end, even though I don’t think she totally gets why I had to go. Scar’s parents are cool. They’re laid-back and hilarious and they give her so much freedom she doesn’t even know what to do with it.

I get it. I really, totally get it. I do. Mom and Dad lost a daughter. I lost a sister. We all loved Rachel and we all miss her, no one more than me. But my sister’s accident was just that—an accident. And the person responsible was punished for it. Isn’t that all we can ask for? Rachel’s never coming back—that’s not how life works. But justice was served, as much as it could’ve been.

And I’m still alive. I’m alive and I want to live.

Is that such a bad thing to want?

“We’re here!” Ashleigh announces.

Max parks across the street from a narrow house with a white clapboard exterior and an overgrown lawn that’s littered with teens. Beer bottles and joints are being passed around right there in the open, like nobody even cares if a police cruiser drives by.

“Who owns this place?” I ask.

“This guy Jack,” Ash answers in an absent tone. She’s too busy waving to some girls on the lawn.

“Are his parents home?”

Kylie snorts. “Um. No.”

Okay then.

We climb out of the Jeep and weave our way through the crowd toward the front door. Kylie and Max disappear the moment we enter the house. Ashleigh sticks close to me. “Let’s grab a drink!” she says.

I can barely hear her over the deafening hip-hop song that’s shaking the walls. The house is crammed with bodies, and the air smells like a combination of perfume, body spray, sweat and stale beer. Not exactly my scene, but the bass line is sick and the kids look friendly enough. I half expected to see bare-knuckle brawls and people screwing against the walls, but it’s mostly just dancing and drinking and very loud conversation.

Ash tugs me into a small kitchen with linoleum counters and outdated wallpaper. Half a dozen boys crowd around the open screen door, smoking a joint.

“Harley!” she shrieks happily, and then she lunges forward and throws her arms around one of the guys, who separates himself from the group. “Omigod! When did you get back?”

The tall boy lifts her off her feet and gives her a very sloppy-looking kiss right on the mouth. I think he’s high, because his eyes are almost completely glazed over. I awkwardly lean against the counter and pretend like I belong here. This is what I want, I tell myself. A hard party that would drive my parents insane.

“Really late last night,” he says. “We stopped for dinner in Chicago and then powered through for the rest of the drive. Marcus said he’d rather drive through the night than pay for a motel.”

“You shoulda called me first thing this morning,” Ash whines.

He slings an arm around her shoulders. Is he her boyfriend? She hasn’t introduced us yet, so I have no idea.

“I didn’t even wake up ’til like an hour ago,” Harley says with a laugh. “Otherwise I would’ve called.” His eyes narrow. “You seen Lamar yet?”

“Nope. Don’t plan on it, either.”

“Tonya says she saw him with Kelly at the arcade last night.”

“Goody for Kelly. Can’t wait for Lamar to dump her skanky ass just like Alex did.”

Harley. Marcus. Tonya. Kelly. Lamar. Alex.

Who the heck are all these people? I stand there by the counter, growing more and more uncomfortable as Ashleigh and her maybe boyfriend toss random names back and forth to each other.

I look around the kitchen. Ash and Harley are still talking, arguing almost, about their friends. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t come here to listen to gossip. I’m tired of being passive, of allowing myself to be controlled. For the past three years, I’ve done what I’ve been told, taken the electives recommended, gotten the job that my parents set up for me.

And what’s my reward?

Another four more years added to my sentence. The cell door got slammed shut before I even got a chance to step outside. I glance at the case of beer. I could get drunk, but that’s too easy. I could get high, but that’s too dangerous. I need to do something between drunk and high that would make me feel good and piss my parents off.

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