by Amreen Ukani
It’s the night of our high school graduation and Marina and I are, as usual, at a party. I don’t know whose party it is. Marina finds the parties, and I go to them. We are great at parties; we are beautiful and young and drunk and slutty. Or maybe we’re terrible at parties, and we just don’t care. We don’t need anyone else.
Only now, I’ve lost Marina, or at least, given up on finding her. I’m sitting on a couch, curled up and looking at my phone, when a guy sits down next to me and hands me a drink.
“Couldn’t have you sitting here all lost and empty handed,” he says.
“That’s okay, I’ll get a drink later.”
“Roofie-free, I guarantee.” He takes a gulp from the cup and holds it out. “I’m Mike,” he says when I take it.
I’m sure I’ve met him before, but I don’t know where. He puts his drink between his legs so he can gesture with large, quick hands while we talk. He keeps leaning in close to me when I speak, and I’m not surprised when he kisses me. When he goes to the kitchen for more drinks, I remember that he has a girlfriend, but I don’t really care.
He’s back seconds later, without drinks. “You need to go to the balcony,” he says.
Marina is slumped against the railing, throwing up and crying. She slides down to the ground bonelessly, and I crouch beside her. She’s clammy and pale, hair stuck to the side of her face. I push the damp strands back and hold her, ignoring the vomit next to her and flecked, I’m sure, on her clothes.
She scoots away from me and curls herself up, leaning against the railing. The first thing she says is that she saw my mom earlier that day, which explains a lot. There’s an acceptance letter from the University of Georgia tacked up on my fridge, and I start a summer freshman program in a week. I have told Marina none of this. She hasn’t applied anywhere; the applications I printed out for her myself still sit on her dresser.
“Let me take you home,” I say. She will forget this tomorrow. We’ll wake up in her bed and she’ll pretend this didn’t happen and I’ll let her. And when I tell her I’m leaving, she’ll pretend she didn’t know. We’re good at pretending, when we need to.
The overhead lamp catches the tears on her cheeks; her face is striped with light, perfect except for the redness around her eyes. She wipes her face. “UGA, huh? I thought you’d at least make it out-of-state.”
I am used to this. When Marina is hurt, she is as vicious and hissing as a cornered animal. It is my job to coax her, but today, I can’t. “I thought you’d make it with me,” I say. “Guess we’re both wrong.”
She wobbles to her feet, shaking off the hand that I can’t help but put out to catch her. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll make lots of new friends in your sorority.”
She comes toward me, hand on the wall to support herself. She only makes it a few steps. I kneel beside her and hold her, the wood floor of the balcony digging into my kneecap. I find Mike. “Can you help me get her in the bathtub?”
He carries her to the bathroom. I turn on the shower and let it rush over her. She jerks once, when it first hits her, but then she’s still. I sit on the ledge of the bathtub and wipe her face with a washcloth. The cold water strikes my arm and shoulder in an unrelenting tattoo. When I feel my arm going numb, I turn the water off and hold my breath until Marina twitches and gurgles.
Mike puts his hands on my shoulders when I stand up. I’d forgotten he was there, my world narrowed as usual to Marina and me. He kisses the back of my neck, closes the door to the bathroom and slides a hand inside my bra, circling my nipple until it gets hard. The light over the mirror pulses bright. I look at Marina, beached in the bathtub. Mike turns me around so that we both face the mirror, away from her. He puts his hand around my neck, moves it over my collarbones and down my chest. Marina’s reflection looms in the bottom corner of the mirror; I cannot escape it. Her hair is matted to her cheek and shoulder and her skin is vaguely green in the fluorescent light. Mike pulls me harder against him, erection pressing against my lower back, and runs his thumbs along the inside edge of my waistband. In the bathtub, Marina shifts, and moans some lost, half-swallowed sound.
I flee for the door, pushing through the still-crowded living room. Before I leave—I can’t help it—I look back. Through the space in the bodies, all I see is Mike, already turning around, closing the bathroom door behind him.