Because every girl had a Rayanne Graf in their life.
This is: half-true, half-made-up, in the way that many stories are.
In Ms. Finley’s trigonometry class she was telling everyone about sex with Eric Danzinger, using her hoop earring as a visual aid. We could see Ms. Finley turning redder and redder as E. waved the earring in the air, saying He was this big! and how they did it for hours on her sofa, The Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi playing on TV.
“I wish she would stop talking,” Becca hissed to me as I sat with her in Trig. She rolled her eyes as E. held up the hoop earring, sticking her fingers through the hole and wriggling it. Everyone who was within five feet laughed. Becca didn’t, of course. “Disgusting,” she whispered to me. “She’s so gross.”
I didn’t ignore E., though I pretended to. Instead I stole glances at her from across the room. She caught me once as I stared at her. She was drawing all over her homework, large loopy sketches that seemed to find their way onto her friends’ papers, her arms, the desk, the wall behind her. She was always drawing in this absent-minded way, like her mouth was saying one thing but her pen was expressing something else entirely. She was talking about Eric, but drawing a strange staircase that curled in on itself when she looked up, right into my eyes.
I looked away, feeling my face turn red and hot, looking back down at my paper full of numbers that made no sense to me. I snuck another look at E., who was watching me, her strange catlike eyes gleaming as she smirked. She grinned, and her voice stretched across the room towards me, like an open hand.
She started coming up to me in the halls, at my locker, in between classes, in the girls’ bathroom, chattering like we’d been friends all our lives. It was bewildering at first, like feeling ambushed by a very cheerful, very energetic Chihuahua. She liked to plop herself in people’s laps, sling her arms around them as they walked together, hit them playfully on the arm. But watching her more closely, I realized she did this with everyone she talked to. Strangely, it made me feel disappointed, like I wasn’t anything so special.
She liked to walk with me between gym class and English. Our English classes were in the same wing. We were actually right across from each other in separate classrooms: we both sat near windows looking into the hallway. If I turned my head to the left, she was there, two panes of glass and three feet of hall between us.
But she was in Regular, and I was in Honors. It was the one Honors class that I had, but that seemed to really impress E. for some reason. “If you had all Honors,” she said, “you’d be just a boring smart person.” But having just one, according to her, showed that I had “aptitude,” talent. She was full of theories like that. She had a million of them. Not many of them made sense all the time and some contradicted one another, but she liked having them on a case-by-case basis.
One day she showed me her notebook. “I’m drawing everyone in the school,” she said. It was her personal project. There were tons of portraits, of teachers, students, even the janitor, who leered on the page just as he did from the corner of the gym during class. They were really good; they looked like who they were supposed to look like, but more important, they just seemed like the people they were portraying. And they were funny, in this sharp way. Like Becca: she got the way Becca pursed her mouth when she was irritated. It made me giggle to see, to know someone had seen what I had seen, even just for a moment.
E. looked pleased at my reaction, her face lighting up like a kid’s. “You like?” she asked. “I haven’t showed these to anyone yet.” We had reached our classes and the bell was going to ring soon. I wanted to see more, and to see if I was in there, of course. I wondered what E. drew of me, how I looked like.
Instead the bell rang and we darted into our classes, a feeling of disappointment chasing me. I peeked over at her in her Regular class, the glass panes of two rooms separating us.
She grinned and held her up notebook. And there I was, on a page, staring out the window of English class, looking dreamy and slightly bored. I felt strangely satisfied, enjoying the weird feeling of infinity you get when you look at a picture of yourself in English class looking at a picture of yourself in English class.
Becca cornered me after gym class. I was still sweaty, my t-shirt clinging to my back, feeling gross and clammy. How did I get so sweaty when I tried to exert as little effort as possible in gym? It made me feel like my body was a gross accident waiting to happen.
“She’s just using you!” Becca said to me, pulling on her Banana Republic t-shirt, the one with the animal menagerie on the front. It had the saddest-looking zebra I ever saw on it.
“She’s not. She’s not using me.” I crossed my arms over my chest. Becca had caught me just as I peeled off my shirt, and I felt weird talking to her in just my bra.
“You think she’s all cool and everything. But she’s not.” The weird thing was that Becca wasn’t even looking at me as she talked. She was just fluffing up her bangs with a small comb and a bit of hairspray. The hairspray smelled like fake strawberries.
“She’s not using me,” I insisted, hunched over, still in boob-protection posture.
Becca just gave me a look, like Was I that stupid? and then Wow, you really are so stupid. “Whatever. Just don’t come running to me when she pulls you in whatever trouble she’s got going.”
Done with her bangs, Becca walked off, her white sneakers squeaking against the shiny floor. It was weird how the girls’ locker room was always clean. It was really so shiny. I looked down at myself in the floor, still in my bra. How can she use me? I thought sourly to myself. What could she possibly use, anyway?
I let my arms hang to my side and looked at my boobs in the reflection on the floor from this weird low angle. I noticed for a moment that they looked bigger from below, and wondered why people didn’t do cleavage the other way. Then I instantly thought how lame that was. Upside-down cleavage, that’s just really stupid, I said to myself, and put my shirt on.
So E. and I went to shows, and we went to parties, and we went out with boys and I watched E. make out with them all, feeling strangely anxious to watch their hands trying to get into the crevices of her body. She was usually nice enough to leave a boy for me, but usually they just ended up watching, like they were waiting their turn. And maybe they were, really.
But my favorite times were in E.’s room. She had a cool room. She had scarves strewn up in corners, and strange little mobiles she made out of origami paper animals and Christmas lights. She had so many clothes, and they made islands throughout the room. I imagined a little boat floating between them, and I was like the navigator, or whatever you call the sailor who hangs up at top of the pole and gets to sight land and yell, “Land, ho!” Only I would yell stuff like, “Ahoy, Goth slutland yonder!” or “Skate hippie fields in the distance!” Because E. really did have the coolest clothes.
E. was trying on some outfits one night. It was fun to watch her try on clothes, because she struck funny poses and spoke in funny accents, like a human personality jukebox. We were going to see Bludgeoned Nun. It was this local band, and E. was obsessed with the lead singer, this super-skinny guy with all these homemade tattoos all over his body. She was trying out this silver sequined mini that I had liked for ages, but for some reason I was always scared of it. I didn’t like the idea of shiny things on my ass. But I liked the way it looked on the hanger, and when E. wore it, I like how she sashayed in it, and the way the sequins caught the light.
She caught me watching her and smiled at me in the mirror. “You have to wear it!” she demanded, wiggling her butt. “Come on!” Her wiggling made the sequins dance, all of them swaying together like in an old 50s musical.
“No!” I laughed. It was too funny to look at, her hands folded up against her sides like little paws as she shook her hips. “You look like some sixties go-go girl.”
She batted her imaginary fake eyelashes and wagged her bottom again. “Come on!” But I only shook my head.
“Fine,” she scoffed, stepping forward, a wicked grin on her face, closing off the space between us suddenly. I could see the gold flicks in her hazel eyes, and a small patch of blue in one of them. I wondered suddenly if this is what she looked like when boys were about to kiss her. Was this what they saw? Why they liked her so much? To get close enough to see that patch of blue in her eyes?
But before I could even stop thinking, she reached down and yanked down the boring blue denim skirt I was wearing.
I started laughing again, too startled to do anything else, as E. stepped out of her skirt, showing off surprisingly cheerful string bikini underwear. “Don’t be a fucking chicken,” she ordered, handing the silver skirt to me.
Hiding my burning face as I changed, I stepped into the skirt and she pulled it up, settling it around my hips before she zipped it up, her skinny arms encircling me. She looked down intently at the skirt, the way it sort of just hung there limply on my body, and I could smell the Doritos we’d been eating on her breath. Her lashes were long, caked in purple mascara.
She looked up at me and smiled, and the patch of blue in her right eye seemed to flicker on and off, leaving behind just the faintest trace of a devilish glint.
At Bludgeoned Nun E. stood in the front, staring up at Sam the lead singer, her eyes riveted. I couldn’t really bear to watch; he sang with his shirt off, one hand tapping out the rhythm on his concave stomach, the other scratching absentmindedly at his happy trail. It was embarrassing; I didn’t want to watch a guy scratch his happy trail. But E. stared and stared, almost as if willing Sam to look down at her. E. didn’t need cleavage, or even upside-down cleavage, to get boys to look at her, and Sam did, motioning for us to come join him backstage.
We sat on the grossest sofa you can imagine; it smelled like toilet and spunk and Old Spice and a dash of vinegar. I felt the back of my thighs sticking to it, and it just grossed me out. I picked at the silver sequins on the skirt, trying to set them evenly upon the fabric, but some of them were too bent to make right.
E., however, was sprawled on the sofa, draping herself on the leather, arranging herself like a still life or one of the scarves draped on her dresser in her room. Sam was straddling the arm of the sofa, right next to her, looking down her tank top at the creamy hint of cleavage there. He had his arm out and she was drawing on it with some marker, drawing her strange sketches on his pale, pocked skin: a microphone, the way guitar cables lay on the stage floor.
They were babbling about something, both of them half-drunk — she had been pounding Coronas since we got backstage. I wasn’t really listening, kind of staring at all the hand-written graffiti on the walls: band signatures, political slogans, sex advice, lewdly detailed drawings of human anatomy, aliens with penises. It was a bit like being in the world’s largest toilet stall, sitting there on the shitter reading all the writing while trying to take a dump. It was really just as boring and interesting as you’d expect.
Suddenly someone hit me on the arm. I looked up. It was Sam, all skinny with shaved head, his grin lopsided like a sad birthday cake. “You like drummers?” he asked. “I got a few drummers for you, if you need to be occupied.”
I must have had yet another dumbfounded look on my face because he only laughed more. “Come on, man, she says I can’t just abandon you back here by yourself!” He hit me on the arm again, like we were old army buddies or something, but it really kind of hurt. He turned to E. “I’m trying! You see I’m trying! Now come on, the van won’t be free for that long.”
E. was giggling, ,her head thrown back like she was melting into that gross sofa. She shook her head, reaching over and pulling me close. “She’s with me,” she purred. She reached over and stroked my hair, like I was a pet cat. She looked at me and smiled, eyes heavy-lidded with alcohol, and leaned her head forward, touching our foreheads together. “We’re a pair,” she slurred. I could smell Corona on her breath, and cherry-flavored gum, and the tips of her boobs touched my chest.
I looked over at Sam, and he was sitting there, grinning like an idiot, like he couldn’t believe his luck. “Yeah? You come as a pair then?” His voice was oily with insinuation.
E. just smiled, looking in my eyes for a moment. She grabbed the marker out of Sam’s hand and then turned to me, still smiling. “No. She’s no one else’s.”
E. leaned forward, her hand on my knee, all creamy skin and drunk smile and the patch of blue and gold flecks in her eyes glittering like a disco ball. Her marker began drawing on my thigh, tendrils of a strange, surreal, flowering vine that sprouted sleeping girls with slightly parted lips.
And then she slipped her hand in the crook under my knee, the skin there feeling strangely soft and vulnerable against the unexpected boniness of her fingers. Her marker still flickering over the skin of my leg, she lifted it up slowly, angling it out like a door as she began drawing on my inner thigh.
It was like everyone got real quiet in the room, watching me and E. I couldn’t say anything; I was so surprised, like the breath got rolled right out of me. She uncapped the marker with her teeth. Angling my leg even wider, she scrawled “BY E. THIS IS MINE” in black marker on the inside of my thigh, the marker’s tip making my skin ripple all itchy and cold at once, like a shiver.
And then she sidled onto her side and held her own leg open, the skin white and smooth and sluiced with blue veins, drawing the same flowering vine on her leg. She smiled. “Now we’re a matching pair,” she whispered.
I didn’t know what to say. I could only sit there, gaping, the marker ink still feeling wet and near-smearable on my inner thigh. I was scared to press my thighs back together for fear that I’d smear the ink on my other leg, but I felt weirdly open, my legs apart like this.
E. just sat back, slouching further, her leg still held open like a flag. Behind her I saw Sam approach, just a big white midsection and happy trail coming at the back of her head. He stood behind her, his hands touching E.’s hair. She kept her eyes on me as he ran his fingers through it, placing his hands on her shoulders. And then his hands crept down, sweeping over her boobs, cupping them like a harness. Her eyes stayed on mine, curious, audacious, as he hoisted her up by them, lifting her into the air as he crushed her into a kiss.
I kept waiting for her to stop, to pull away from it, laughing, like she often did. Instead I sat there, watching her get lost, my legs held apart, the ink still feeling wet and cold on my inner thigh.
E. started dating Sam, as much as you “date” anyone like him. I heard it was really more making out after band practice and shows, but I know she started drawing their show flyers and potential album covers, so maybe that was good for her. Her Bludgeoned Nun flyers plastered her locker, filled with, yep, bloodied nuns with guns and garter belts. I guess that was Sam’s thing.
You could hear all about it in geometry class, where she still regaled everyone with her stories. She drew visual aids in her notebook instead of using her earrings, making everyone in the near vicinity laugh. I think Mrs. Finley was relieved, but it made me wonder if she was still drawing everyone in the school anymore. Becca still sat near me, but we didn’t really sit together anymore like we did. She started whispering about E. with the girl on the other side of her. I didn’t mind, honestly. I was happy to be left alone.
E. still walked with me sometimes to English class, talking at me in the rambling way she had. She held her books tight to her chest, though, in boob-protection posture. She looked down, as if she were reciting from the floor. It was like all the words were the same, but the jukebox was playing a weirdly accurate cover version of the song that was E. It was the strange infinity of someone doing an impersonation of themselves.
I still have the silver skirt that E. gave me, its sequins now mostly bent or falling off, leaving bald patches of tightly netted fabric. If you flip up the underside, you can see just a bit of the drawing she did that night, the strange flowering vine, imprinted on the cheap polyester lining from the wet marker. Just a bit of a girl sleeping, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. A ghost of a girl on the inside of the skirt, like she was barely there in the first place.