I’m in a stranger’s bed
a college guy from the cigar shop at the mall. He smells like
tobacco, tastes like mints. He pulls my shirt over my head, weaves his fingers
through mine to pull me down. And I get the same thought.
Every time. The same. I shouldn’t be here.
But the bedroom is dark. Warm. So distanced from everything I hate.
His lips find my neck, seeping heat through me, a simple sedative.
I slump against him. His fingers run up my spine, rest at the base of my
skull, bury in my hair. I shouldn’t be here.
I move a leg toward the edge of the bed.
“You’re so beautiful, Steffani,” his voice soaks into my ear.
And the rush comes. Blood and adrenaline and a surge of power.
I lie still. Think of the things that don’t matter anymore.
My pathetic home. My lame grades. How dying,
at least for this moment, doesn’t seem like the best option.
My phone on the corner table chimes, light and innocent as a church bell.
“Who is it?” he asks, untwining himself from me. I glance quickly
at the phone’s face, but I already know. “My boyfriend.”
He waits for me to answer. To make a choice between him and the voice in the phone.
But I’m too far gone to choose. The choice is his.
He nods, wraps his fingers in my hair, pulls me to him.
I drop the phone onto the shag rug. Because this, right now, is all that matters –
his lips like a bandage against my own, his legs wrapped around me like gauze, this
simple fix to get me through the day, to curb my voracious need,
my steady craving, my F’d-up thirst for
“Where were you today?”
Seth’s question is expected, but my pulse
races when it hits me.
I keep my voice as light as the
early spring sun pouring down on us in the park.
“When I texted earlier.”
A million senses flash in my head – I smell the tobacco shop guy,
taste him, feel him all over me. I soften my eyes,
crinkle the corners to caring, grab Seth’s face –
beautiful chin, pupils floating in super blue irises,
perfectly angled nose. I kiss him until
“Library,” I say. “For that killer report due tomorrow.”
(The one I finished last week.)
He nods. Satisfied. We lean back against the park bench,
watch children hang by their knees from iron bars.
“Marshmallows or sprinkles?” he says, and I flood with
happiness. I love Random Question Time.
“Uh, hm.” He nods, agreeing. “Doberman or Shi-tzu?”
“Doberman. Definitely.” He smiles, eyes the playground.
Then his finger flies up, points at the
upside-down children. “Let’s do that!”
“What?” I ask. He takes my hand, drags me
to the monkey bars, makes me giggle
like crazy as he flips me upside-down
and hooks my knees over the bar.
He finds his own bar next to mine. We stare at each other,
our heads toward the ground. Swinging. Laughing.
And I think how upside-down and
backwards we are in so many ways.
How I’ve cheated on him so many times.
And he doesn’t even know.
How I’ve lost several boyfriends
because they suspected, accused me
of lying even though they had no proof besides
the hollowness in my eyes.
But Seth is different. Never suspects too much. Never accuses.
Trusts. Loves. Makes me feel good without even touching me. It’s a precarious balance,
being who I am and being with him. But I want to hang on to him.
I want to be carefree like this. Relaxed
and swinging wild. I want to be
him for a long,
Before her debate practice
Juliette stops by. Slumps on my bed. Sprawls across the aqua comforter.
“I really like Weber Graham.” She sighs, staring at my ceiling.
“I know.” I hover over my open math book.
I’ve drawn dancing figures and swirling flowers in the white
spaces between the numbers, overlapping some
of the crisp, straight integers until they blur into art. I can’t stand
the rigidity of numbers. Can’t stand how definite they are. You
are either right or wrong. I’m usually wrong.
I’m more comfortable when things are grayer.
Juliette rocks at math. Like she rocks at most things.
“I want to kiss Weber Graham,” she says.
“I know,” I tell her.
“Why won’t he even look in my direction?”
Her head lifts, her face rising like a pale flower from the aqua bedding behind her.
“Am I ugly?”
“No way!” I tell her. “He’s just blind.”
And she nods, knowing, as her best friend, I’d say that. I smile, but
there are many things I can’t tell Juliette, like how far
I go, who I go there with, how often I’m there. And I can’t tell her
now that Weber Graham is far from blind. It’s that he sees
her too clearly. He sees she is definite and strong, like the numbers
in my math book. As perfectly angled as a seven, as ripe
as a nine. She knows where she stands – University of Michigan-bound, oldest
child of two world travelers, a moral compass as solid
as steel. Her success mere steps in a forward direction.
Weber Graham can see that for sure. Can see she’s as true
as x. As right as any square root. He can see she’s as pure as Pi,
and she never gets it wrong.
But Weber Graham likes it gray. Most
guys like it gray. Otherwise,
they wouldn’t agree so freakin’
quickly to blur the lines when
a girl like me
catches their eye.
The phone rings
while I’m getting ripped into.
My step-dad’s got me in a corner. It’s a doozy
of a night. Apparently, I’m stupid, irresponsible,
and a bitch. His eyes are glassy. His words
are slow. I’m going to say… um, eight beers.
Maybe nine tonight. He loses strength after ten, has to
sit down to yell at me. But tonight he’s hovering.
Somehow backed me against the wall with his words.
My sister, Breanna, locked herself
in her room hours ago.
She’s conditioned. When she was
super young, my mother and I
would hide her away when the first shouts came, shuffle her off, play
Sesame Street CDs to cover up the craziness. Now that she’s
older, it’s a habit — hear the yelling, close the door. Purely Pavlovian.
My mom went to bed during a lull,
thought the fighting was done for the evening. But apparently,
my step-dad was just reloading with two beers and six
more reasons why I suck. So now
I’m left alone to deal with it.
His breath is rank. His gestures — swinging arms
and hands — are close to being blows. But the chime
of the phone stops him short.
“Who is it?” He asks me like I’m telepathic. Like
the receiver isn’t half-way across the room.
“I’m stupid, remember?” I say. “I don’t know.”
“Shut up,” he says and stalks into the bathroom to pee.
When I answer the phone, the voice is familiar. “Steffani?”
“Hey.” It’s this guy from Coffee Haven. I met him last month.
He’s called several times now. Which is good. The attention,
I mean. But I can’t get close. He knows that.
I have Seth.
“Can I see you?” The silence on the other end waits for
me to think, to make a choice.
But I’m weak tonight. Stupid. Irresponsible. And a bitch.
So I write down his address. Grab my car keys. Head for my coat.
Slip out before my step-dad stops me. Think of what
I’ll say if Seth calls and I’m not here.
my locations carefully, as carefully as I choose the guys.
Can’t meet them too close to my hometown. Can’t meet them
anywhere where Pineville High students frequent.
Rumors are whirlwinds through school. And I have to maintain
my image – passable student, good girlfriend to Seth, not a trouble-maker.
So I choose guys living several towns away,
I make the drive to feed the habit.
Huh… funny I call it a habit. Like I’m into crack,
all syringes and snorts. Like I can’t get enough Jim Beam
or I live for vodka shots.
I mean, I’m not jittery or anxious.
I don’t have withdrawal symptoms. I’m not my step-dad.
I just hate myself more than usual when I’m not with a guy for a while,
when I can’t press someone’s lips to mine,
when I don’t feel arms around me hard enough
or hands gripping my back or words that seep
out breathy and half-sincere like “You’re amazing” or
“God, you’re beautiful.” Or sometimes, if the guy’s
super weak and things are going really well, a
loose “I love you.”
I can coast on those comments for days, lick
at the residue of their echoes in my
skull like they’re chocolate
batter in a cake bowl.
It may not be cooked or whole
or done, but it’s
My heart jerks hard
when I pull into Coffee Haven guy’s apartment complex and realize
this place is unsafe. I’ve been here before.
With a friend who has cousins living in Building 203. If I’m seen,
that’s a problem. I pick up my cell, call him.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” I tell him. “I’m outside right now.”
He slips through the building door, slides through the night and into
my passenger’s seat. “Hey,” he says, looking
clean-shaven, smelling like a mix of cigarettes and fresh moss. “Where?”
“Just somewhere else.” My voice is urgent. I sound on edge. Try
to slow my heart. Try to forget I’m doing something I shouldn’t be. Think
natural. Think organic. He likes me. I like him. It happens. It happens.
He points to the main road. “Take a left. We’ll go to Coffee Haven.”
I hesitate. That’s not safe either.
He smiles, knows we’re undercover. “We’ll go in the back way. I have a key.
We’ll bolt to the basement store room and no one will see us.”
No one will see us.
So I slip the car into drive and ease through the darkness.
His keys jingle
way too loudly outside the back door of the coffee shop.
His hands are shaky. He fumbles for the right
key on a key chain of twenty or more.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” I say. Watch a car with the stereo blaring
P!NK weave through the back lot before easing toward the front.
I pull my hoodie over my head,
hide my face.
“Got it,” he says as something clicks. He glides the door open. Light spills
onto the ice-covered concrete in front of me. Inside, a girl
giggles super loud. A coffee grinder drowns her out. I follow
him in, past shelves of Styrofoam cups, plastic
lids and piles of fake sugar packets. The smell of coffee
grips my nose, makes my nostrils flare. My eyes
dart sideways. My heart beats fast.
It always does beforehand. But tonight,
I don’t feel right. Tonight is too dangerous. Still, I follow
him down a flight of stairs, leave
the giggling girl, the steamy gurgling of coffee behind.
His fingers twine
around mine. He pulls me down the stairs, down, down
where it’s black, and I realize there’s a moment, every time, when
I reach a point of no return, when I’ve gone far
enough that it doesn’t seem to matter anymore what
I do after. I’ve come here.
Into the darkness.
far enough. I’ve
the line. And I’m
It’s so completely dark
that we bump against boxes like pin balls. His fingers scrape a wall, finding a trail in the
dark to someplace. I wonder where he’s going. Then his lips are on mine, his tongue flicking
against my own for a long minute. His breath beats warm and fast against my face before he
slides away from me. First his lips and then his hands slipping over my back and arms before
he disappears completely.
I’m left flailing in the darkness. I try to see him, wish my eyes could adjust to the dark,
but there’s not a shred of light to help me. It’s a weird feeling, when your eyes are wide
open but everything is still black.
My hand reaches out to find him. His fingers find me first, curl around my thighs as my hands
fall against his head now hovering near my stomach. He is seated in front of me. With a groan,
he pulls me onto his lap. My knees dig into firm cardboard as I straddle him. He lies back,
yanks me to him to kiss him more, and my mouth finds his smiling in the blackness.
“Told you no one would see.” His voice is husky.
“I can’t see a thing,” I say.
He laughs. “Just feel then.”
feel my jeans slide off.
feel he’s got decent biceps for being on the thinner side.
feel his tongue trace a warm line behind my ear.
feel a twinge of guilt before I
feel that feeling that brought me here. That ripping,
howl inside my gut, a starvation for something I
can never quite feed enough. I wish I knew why
it rises out of nowhere when I least expect it. I wish
I knew why Seth – amazing, sweet, loving Seth – is never enough,
why no matter how many times he tells me he loves me, I still find myself
in my beat-up Civic at 9:30 at night driving
two towns over to get my fix from a stranger.
In the middle of it all
a toilet flushes. A door swings open. Light
sprawls across boxes of coffee stirrers, bags
of sugar, my bare legs and back. Coffee Haven guy sits
up from underneath me, peers around my torso as I turn
to see Ty Blevens – basketball player at my high school, the
guy who sits behind me in Social Studies. His half-wet
hands clutch brown paper towel. His eyes widen as he
realizes what he’s seeing – my bare
skin, this guy
beneath me, the most
private of acts.
like a strobe in my head and every muscle
tensed and rock hard, the anxiety buzzing, spilling
out, overflowing, the way it might feel for a soldier on the ground
to watch a dropped bomb fall toward him, starting in slow motion, then
moving closer, closer for a long time. And the knowing. The anticipation.
Waiting. For the moment when it all combusts. I’ve been moving so, so
slowly toward this moment. Waiting. Knowing it would come.
And now, for the first time, I’ve been caught by someone
who knows me.
for my hoodie as Coffee Haven guy jerks out
from underneath me.
“Wow,” Ty says. I can hear the smile, the amusement
in his voice. “This is unexpected.”
I slide on my jeans, flip the hoodie over
my head, down over my face as far as I can
even though it’s too late.
I can’t hide now.
“Steffani. Wow,” Ty says again,
everything sinking in, his eyes blinking,
adjusting to the dimness, and I yearn
for the blackness again, yearn
for the moment when my eyes, when
everyone’s eyes were wide
open but no one could
see a thing.
to face Ty. My head still half-covered.
My hands, my legs, my organs and bones, shaking from
the impact, from the silence that’s crawling like spiders out from behind
the cardboard boxes. There is nothing to say. Nothing to explain.
I just have to get out now. Get out now.
“I have to go,” I say.
I take the basement stairs two at a time,
push the back door open,
plunge into the night.
But nothing seems dark anymore.
Everything is hyper-bright,
as if the parking lot, the trees,
the towns for miles around,
as if the whole freaking world is
blowing up around me.
as soon as I walk in, Breanna’s bedroom door opens. She stomps
down the hall toward me. “Where were you?” Bree says.
She pushes close to me, accusing, as aggressive as the paparazzi until
I fall back against the pea-green couch covered
in booze stains and cigarette burns.
“You left.” Her face is streaked
with dried, salty lines. “You left and dad came after me.”
The spike of guilt lodges in my chest.
“And Seth called four times,” she says.
I check my phone. He texted, too.
“Four times,” Breanna says again, like an annoying conscience,
like a moral compass that I want to knock off-kilter.
“Shut up, Bree.”
She looks shocked, then bugged. “Don’t tell me to shut up.”
I rise from the couch, wanting to leave, wanting to stop the accusations.
Bree steps even closer. Unafraid. She doesn’t see the bombs
blowing up around me. She doesn’t see the fight or flight craziness in my eyes.
She says, “You were out with someone else, weren’t you?”
“Shut up, Bree.”
“Seth’s a good guy, Steff. Why are you screwing it up?”
“I said shut up!”
“You can’t make me,” she says, lifting her chin in defiance.
And I don’t think. I just lunge. Grab her by the shoulders.
Shake her. “Shut the hell up!”
Her head snaps back as I dip her down. It slams
against the cheaply padded arm of the couch. She grunts in pain.
I let her go, shell-shocked. She stumbles forward, grabbing
the sofa she just cracked against to help herself stay upright. And her eyes
burrow into me,
hurt, shocked, confused.
Get out now, my head demands.
Get out now.
I run to my room, slam and lock the door before I melt against the aqua comforter,
huddle against the fake pink rosettes, wait
for the bombs
in my brain
The bloody tissues in the bathroom
trash can the next morning send me to the toilet
to puke. Not because I can’t stand blood.
But because I know they came from
Breanna’s head, from my pushing
her against the couch, from my
anger, my guilt, my fear.
I wretch and wretch,
try to purge it all, but I still
feel the same when I stand up, slip
out of the bathroom, want to slip out of the
house and get to school way early so I won’t have to
see anyone – not my parents, not Seth, definitely not
Ty Blevens, not even Juliette – before I absolutely have to.
I head to my Civic,
my keys jangling in my fingers, but
I stop cold in the driveway. My step-dad is already
in his truck, classic rock belting
on the radio. Across his mud-stained jeans rests
his grease-streaked metal file box filled with today’s
schedule and invoices – a lawn sprinkling installer’s briefcase.
He looks up at me. His eyes are dark, tired. His face sags. It’s early for him, too. He looks
like I feel. And I wonder if he feels this every day.
I wonder if cracking me into a corner every night
with his You Bitch! and his Fuck You! with his flailing arms and fiery eyes makes him
feel as if he’s drawn blood. I wonder if he grinds me down, slams me down over and over
because he can’t stop whatever the hell he’s feeling. I
wonder if pretending like everything is fine the next
morning makes him want to stay in one of the deep, muddy pits he digs every day in the front
yards of the rich and frivolous. We stare at each other, really looking for a minute until he
blurts, “Have a good day, Steffani,” and drives away. And a feeling of nausea so thick bursts
through me that I bend and puke against the wheel of my mother’s Subaru. And still, when I
stand up and stumble into my car, I don’t feel the slightest bit of relief.
Yes, I am. Like every nerve
is exposed. Like I’ve been third-degree-burned beyond
recognition. I walk zombie-fashion through the school halls. Avoid
the hallways that I know Seth strides through,
the ones Juliette marches down to get
to class. But while my body trudges, my eyes dart around, hyper-fast. I
wonder what Ty has told people.
I watch every muscle in every face, try
to read lips, wonder what’s been said, who knows what.
I gauge the gazes that fall on me, try to read if the shooter of the look is
sickened by me, disgusted, amused,
suspicious. But all the looks blur together. Or maybe
it’s my head that’s blurred, that can’t process the way it should.
When the hour for Social Studies comes around, I’m too tired
to try to get through it, too scared to make myself move toward
the classroom. I can’t make myself sit in front of Ty Blevens and face
whatever will be on his face or tongue. So I go to a far
bathroom, the one by the back exit that the girls never use because
the toilet paper is always out and it always smells like whatever
disgusting low-grade concoction they’re cooking in the cafeteria on
the other side of the wall. I sink down on the grimy floor, my back flush with
the cool, cracked wall tile.
I’ve never skipped class. I don’t skip class. Giving my step-dad another
reason to call me shit is not on my priority list. I want to
follow rules. I need them. Even now, as I’m skipping, I don’t have
the guts to leave the school. I hang in the bathroom so any minute, if
I change my mind, I can go to class. Can do the right thing.
I check my phone. Over fifteen texts and calls from Seth. A sorrowful text
from Juliette about how she overheard someone saying
Weber Graham is going out with a girl from a neighboring
school. The first thing I think is that I’ll have to be even more
careful where I choose my guys. And then I hate myself for not
caring more about how crushed Juliette must be.
I bounce my head hard against the wall tile, feel the pain pound
into my skull, the pain that I deserve. I’m a crap friend.
“But I’ll be ok,” Juliette has written. “I’m Xtra solid at the core! BTW, where R U today?
Can’t find U.”
I almost laugh. “When you find me,” I say to Juliette, to the reeking bathroom air,
to myself, “let me know.”
I trace the blackened grout between
the floor tiles with my finger nail, think of how much I’ve broken the rules
lately. My step-dad’s.
The school’s. Even my own.
I think of Bree’s blood staining the white tissues in the bathroom trash. I think of how
opposite I am from Juliette,
how the inside of me is
hollow, empty, endless. How whatever a guy does to fill me up just drains so fast,
empties me again so quickly.
I think of how, if I could
step into myself, I could jump into my gut and fall for years, nothing to catch me.
Then, the bathroom door swishes open. I look up, expecting
to find some chick with a cigarette, ready to smoke, or even
someone who legitimately has to pee. Instead, I see Ty Blevens. My heart
stops. The nausea I’ve fought all day tramples in my stomach.
“Someone said they saw you go in here,” he says. His tall, lanky body looks
odd in the girls’ bathroom. I’m sure the guys’ bathroom
looks the same as this one, but he’s out of place. So out of place.
“What are you doing in here?” I think of running. I think of pushing
past him and bolting back to class or even out of school. But he’s
blocking the door with his wide shoulders.
“I wanted to check on you.”
I stare at him, suspicious. He doesn’t owe me anything. Why would
he care? He steps closer. I press hard against the tiled wall.
“I haven’t told anyone what I saw.” His words should be like a steel
beam lifting off me, but I’m so used to feeling crushed and afraid, it takes me
a second to realize I don’t have to worry right away. That people
don’t know. That Seth doesn’t know. At least not yet. But Ty is looking
at me oddly, his lips curling, his eyes lazy and lax.
“Why not?” I ask.
He shrugs, steps closer. “Why should I? What you do is your business, right?”
And then he’s next to me, sitting on the ground right beside me, his thigh
pressing against mine, and I am throbbing with remnants of the fear that people
know who I really am and what I do, with anger at myself for being so careless, so stupid,
with guilt over shedding my sister’s blood. And it’s like he knows. He knows.
“What anyone does is their business.” His eyes look into mine. “Right, Steffani?”
His hand slips over my knee. And he’s so close. So close. His body is warm. I
want to soak up every heated cell and sponge it intomy system. I want to
fill myself up. I am so empty. So raw.
His face gets close. His nose touches mine. “Right, Steffani?” he says again.
His hand slides from my knee to my thigh. And my hand, as raw as the rest of me, reaches up and presses hard and fast
against his hot, flushed cheek.
When it’s over,
I stumble toward the door of the bathroom. Adjust my clothes, but I can’t feel my skin. Can’t feel my face. My brain is way, way
numb. The line of what’s right, my line of rules – no skipping class, no hooking up with someone I know, in a place where I could
get caught – that line is so blurred, so far away, I can’t even make it out. What have I just done?
Ty is behind me, at the door. I think his hand is on my shoulder or resting on the back of my neck. But I can’t feel it. Can’t feel a
thing. The door swings open to the gray of the hallway. So gray. And there, stopped and staring, a bright pink hall pass in his
And I am frozen. I am
ice for bone, frost for
blood. I am the girl
whose world has
ceased. In one
second, I’m a
“Why?” Seth whispers, or maybe yells. I
can’t tell. And I can’t answer him
back. My mouth won’t move.
My vocal cords are glacial.
My lips are too heavy,
too cold. Somewhere
in my head, the truth
of what I’ve done
trickles like a
in my brain. But I can’t retrieve
it, can’t wade past the freezing,
the clogging to gather it.
And if I collected it,
if my lips could
I say to
What would I say?
That I’m a skank? A slut? A cheater?
A goddamn bitch? That I suck?
Just like my step-dad says I suck.
A thousand times over.
The school bell rings
around us. But Seth, Ty and I stay frozen, a triangle of deceit,
an electric fence of emotion connecting us while all the
students pour from the classrooms.
Eyes focus, connect,
hook on us. On me.
I’m on my knees.
I think I hear Juliette.
I think the sun is on my face.
I think I’m thawing.
“It’s going to be O.K.,” Juliette says. “Seth was awesome, but he
was just not the right one for you if you felt attracted to Ty.”
I look at her eyes, clear as zero, endless as Pi. So right versus
wrong. So cut and dry. I love that about her.
But it’s so far from the way things are.
“I wasn’t attracted.”
My brain rushes faster, the folds of tissue unfreezing, the truth surging
forward, finding my nerves,
dribbling to my throat,
dripping down to my tongue.
“What? Then… I mean…why?” she asks, her eyes spilling against mine.
The truth lodges like an ice cube in my stomach,
tumbles out between us, cold and pure and clear.
“I can’t help it.”
Juliette’s forehead crinkles. Her eyebrows bend in confusion.
“I need it,” I say. “Sometimes, I just need
to be with someone… like that. Like in that way.”
Juliette shrinks from me, wilting
in the opposite direction, even as she nods, her mind
processing, crunching the factors for my indiscretions, carrying the
enormity of it all from one column to another, assessing
the remainders, finding the ultimate solution.
she spits out, “You need help, Steff.
You know, like a therapist or psychologist. If you
can’t stop, you need to go figure out how.”
At first I think she’s copped out by passing
my problem to someone else,
that I’ve stumped her, given her
too much gray to work with, left her lacking
But then I realize she’s probably right. It could be
that black and white. It could be the inevitable
answer to my absurd,
Two hours past
the time I usually get home, but I needed
talk-time with Juliette. So much to talk about. My step-dad
is singing limericks in the shower when I walk in, a sure sign
he’s boozed up and the night will suck. Breanna’s door is closed,
but she’s not in her room. I go outside, find her
on the swings of our ancient play set, the metal hooks
and chains super rusted from years of Michigan weather.
Breanna won’t look at me. I sit on a swing next to her, sway
in the same rhythm she does. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s over, Steff,” she says, her eyes on the gravel of our driveway.
“Let it go.”
Hide it away. Close the door.
And I want to fight it. In some ways, I want to make her talk
about it, the way I’ve been talking about it all afternoon with Juliette.
I want to tell her I’m thinking about asking Mom to take me to a shrink,
that maybe she should go too. Just to let some things out of ourselves,
let some things out of our house. Open the door, even just a crack.
But her face is turned from me. She’s done talking.
We all have our habits.
Inside, the phone rings. Mom comes out holding
the receiver. She smiles when she sees Bree and me
together, swinging like we are little again.
“My sweet girls,” she says, more to herself than to us. Then
she holds the phone out to me.
“Steffi, there’s a boy on the phone for you.”
I stop my swinging, my lapse into childhood sloughing away quickly.
I feel the lilt of excitement, the rush the unknown boy brings.
It’s a conditioned yank and pull — my step-dad slurring
already, the night promising to be full of shards and rips and prickling insults, the yearning clawing up from my gut, a guy waiting for me.
It could be Seth.
It could be the guy from the movie theater concession stand or
the one from Game Hut or Ten Lanes Burger and Bowl
or the car wash. It could be any boy.
I take the receiver from my mother, walk away from
my family and get ready to speak.
Inside the house, my step-dad swears loudly,
slams something hard.
“Hello?” I say into the phone, in a voice
as sweet and as sexy as I can muster.
And I wait for the guy to answer, wait for the vibrating current of his voice
to drip and drain into me, feel my spiking thirst for it.
are really hard
My only disappointment with [Him] was I couldn’t read beyond what was submitted. From the start, “Him” took me to a different world. The writer is one of those rare talents who can create a realistic setting and characters with few words. Aside from those attributes, I felt an instant compassion for the flawed main character, despite her bad choices. That is no easy task. Bravo!
—Kimberly Wills Hold, 2011 Katherine Paterson Prize Judge