By Onastasia Youssef
It wasn’t hard to tell she was on drugs.
“Can I help you?” I said. Her eyes were big and round. Any second they might fall out of her head and it was a wonder they stayed inside.
“Yeah,” she said, looking a little glazed. “You know where the third floor is?”
I merely blinked. It was the stupidest question I’d ever been asked, but I was distracted by the cherry lip-gloss she was wearing. How would it feel if –
“Up or down?”
I blinked again, “You’re on the first, so it’s two floors up.”
“Thanks,” she said. I looked back down at my book: Like Water for Chocolate. Three pages later, and I hadn’t heard her footsteps. My eyes rolled up to her face. She hadn’t moved. I zigzagged across her floral skirt using my glance and then dropped them to her shoes. Didn’t want her to notice I was staring.
“You live on the third floor?”
Instead of taking a hint, she must have smelled my hormones and sat down across from me, “Sure do.”
Her voice was starting to sound like a chain smoker’s. Smelled like it anyway, but I could only think about her long fingers resting against the polished wood table. I allowed myself to look at her breasts for a moment.
“What’s your name?” she asked. “I’m Monica.”
God, I thought to myself, even my name is boring compared to hers. Her hair fell perfectly around her shoulders, even after being disheveled from whatever party she was probably at and her complexion was smooth. She could’ve been a model, and, in the dim light of the mansion, I questioned whether she was even real. On a whim, she started talking to me about feminism and then started rattling off everything she knew about Ezra Pound.
She’d either had a lot of crack or was bored out of her mind or had else gotten into a fight with her roommate. There was no reason a woman with a brain like that and a body like that would waste her time talking to me. I knew it, I just knew it. As she talked, I watched her tongue roll up and down inside her mouth, and traced the curve of her waist with my eyes as she shifted in her chair.
“Wanna walk up with me?”
“Sure,” I said, surprised I could speak. I thought I’d gone numb. I must have. I must have looked even stupider than she did. Her legs were long and lean. Anyone in the dorm could’ve labeled me a pervert. But I didn’t think it was my fault. They were so distracting. When we got upstairs, I focused on her collages instead of the bra she’d left on a folded pile of laundry. One of works reminded me of the so-called schizophrenic art the mental patients had made in the 1800s. Her sheets were soft and clean, though. She must’ve expected visitors often.
I sucked in a breath quickly when she brushed a hair away from my face, her fingers touching my temple.
“It was out of place,” she said.
I smiled. Maybe for once someone had really found a reason to waste their time on someone overweight, dull, pimply. (They’d sworn the acne would disappear before I reached college. Lucky for Proactiv, they never left.) Although she never mentioned those red marks on my face, the hair was just the start. Everything else she did for the months after that became a crusade of perfection.
Monica told me I never went out enough. I never had fun enough. I hadn’t gotten drunk enough. I hadn’t spread my legs far enough. I hadn’t supported her when she had a mental breakdown in the grocery store enough. Never mind that I’d gotten her help, it wasn’t enough!
Of course, everything about her was perfect. Her perfectly placed posters on the wall, her perfect collages of chaos that she called creative, her perfect way she had of smoking a cigarette, her perfect way of putting on her expensive shoes, her perfect way of writing a poem, her perfect way of critiquing mine, her perfect way of getting me to try things I hadn’t before, her perfect way of getting me to c— but that’s too graphic. We’ll just say I was right. Those long fingers and lean legs knew their stuff, and more than just mine.
“Who was that?” I asked one night as I came into her room. The present I’d tucked into my backpack for our one-year anniversary had been weighing me down as I passed a familiar blonde guy on the stairs.
“A friend,” she said grinning, before pulling me in and shutting the door.
“The one in the Facebook photos?”
Her head bobbed yes, before she pulled her own present out of the drawer. “Look what I have! OREOs.”
The crackle of the wrapper wasn’t tempting like it was last week. Blondie’s ruffled shirt had made me lose my appetite.
“Not hungry,” I said, throwing down my backpack and pulling out a book on the Renaissance.
A giggle tumbled out of her lips, “Of course you are!”
I tried staring at the words on Duccio as she tried to convince me, carefully taking apart the cookie and slowly licking off the crème.
The clock read eleven-fifty. Ten minutes until the end of our anniversary. She was still running her tongue over the snack.
“You think that’s going to work?” I said, choosing to ignore the fact that she hadn’t hinted at our anniversary yet, even though it was going to be over in nine minutes.
“I was hoping it would,” she said, putting aside the cookies and crawling onto the bed next to me. “What ya reading?”
My tongue bled as I bit down on it with my teeth. Part of me wanted to tell her everything I knew. It would bore her to death until she either started telling me some exciting story about a downtown scuffle or until she’d snuggle up in my arms and fall asleep on my chest, drool and all. I would’ve kissed her forehead and wrapped a leg gently around her hip, as we both fell asleep waiting for the alarm clock to remind us in the morning that there was a world outside.
The Joe Boxer band peeking out from under her bed beat the clock to it. I closed the textbook and got off the bed, grabbing my backpack.
“What’re you doing?” she said. Her round eyes bulged out even further and started to well with tears.
“I just realized I promised someone we’d study for the history exam.”
“Well, okay, but…” she stood up and pressed her lips to mine. Still no mention of our anniversary. “Visit me again tomorrow. We’re gonna drive out to this pancake place and it’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had! ‘Til we get you drinking that is. Oh, and don’t forget to brush your hair.”
“I always do.”
“Really, baby?” Another giggle. “I couldn’t tell!”
She thought she was sounding playful when she laughed. I thought she just sounded high. Judging from thebitter taste left over on my lips, she probably was. Monica was distracted with leaving the taste on my neck, and I slipped my copy of the key to her room on the desk. Gripping tighter onto my shoulders and leaving her lip-gloss on my collarbone, she didn’t notice.
“See you,” I shoved her gently from me.
She pulled out a roll of tobacco as I left the room, “See you soon.”
Claire was busy making flash cards for the history lesson that day. The exam wasn’t for a month, but she let me in anyway.
“Wanna watch Marvel or something?”
“You know it,” I said, kicking back on her beanbag. My friend tried not to stare at the wet, red marks on my neck and collarbone as the lights from the film danced over my face. Stupid movies always made so much sense. The taste of cocaine on my lips didn’t. My body started getting restless. My muscles kept twitching and I could barely wait until the end of the movie. I didn’t need her, but my hormones just wouldn’t get the memo. Instead of taking a hint, my feet pulled me out of Claire’s beanbag chair and walked back up to the third floor.
Her mouth was covered in chocolate crumbs from the OREOs when I came inside the room. She grabbed my waist and pulled me onto the bed.
“Couldn’t stay away from me, huh?”
My heart cried out more honest than any of my poems, and maybe even hers, as I whimpered: