“All these stabs at conversation, I should really just give it a rest. For starters I killed you, and exhibit B, I’m kind of on the lamb from an institution slash fleeing a multiple homicide. Best keep up a non-psychotic appearance.” Needy paused, staring at the unsmiling figure in the corner. “Okay, I know we’re alone, I just don’t want this to be habit-forming.”
A knock at the door sent Needy, cross-legged and hovering several feet above her motel bed, crashing downward to the hard mattress below.
“Occupied!” she shouted, listening as footsteps and the squeaking of cleaning cart wheels continued on to the next dingy room. She settled herself and turned back to the object of her attention, who was now lying sideways on the bed, propped up on one elbow.
Her gaze fixed intently on an old newspaper, Jennifer Check began sketching a moustache and horns in red ink onto the smiling black and white face of Nikolai Wolf.
“I hate when you do that,” Needy said, her tone flat, unfazed by this sudden change of locale. “Can’t you at least make noise and walk like a normal person? You were just standing in the corner.” Needy glanced at the doodle and gave it a satisfied smirk.
“Those Low Shoulder fuckers. You should have seen them, Jen.” Needy got up and moved away to a small table that held a yellowing, ancient coffee maker and an ice bucket, the only luxurious amenities the room provided. She gave the TV a whack as she passed, causing flashes of blinking static fuzz to illuminate the room before the picture came into slightly better focus. She made a note that the next place she found to crash at better have working cable. “It was just…blood everywhere and dead eyes blankly staring out of these like thick eyeliner frames it was insane. If there’s a hell for pop singing, talentless, douchebag murders I hope they’re in it. If there’s a hell for anything specific that’d be it, right? That and maybe oppressive dictators.”
Needy grabbed a small, blue box and pulled the last stale Pop Tart out of the open silver wrapping. She peered into the empty box before tossing it into the trash.
“I bought these because you like them best. But that was fucking stupid, wasn’t it. It’s not like you can eat.”
“Pop Tarts are better. Pop Tarts. Are for winners.”
Needy sunk her teeth into the slightly burnt frosted cherry Toast’Em, dark brown flakes breaking off and falling onto her green stripy pajamas. Her favorite set, because they matched Jennifer’s pink pair. She began casually flicking them to the floor one by one.
“I like Toast’ems. They have real fruit filling, see?” Needy pointed at the brightly colored box. “Nutrition. Does a body good.”
“That’s milk, not,” Jennifer pulled the box down and twirled it around expertly to read the nutrition facts, “a bunch of words I can’t pronounce.”
“And eggs are edible while simultaneously incredible. I’d rather eat these,” Needy’s words worked their way through a mouth full of fruit goo and pastry crust.
“Oh my god, Needy,” Jennifer laughed, “you got cherry splodge all over your chin. You look like that fat baby eating spaghetti who’s parents thought it was cute and put it on YouTube and I sat there and watched the whole thing for five minutes until I realized how much of my life I just wasted.”
Needy swallowed her over ambitious Toast’Em bite with a self-conscious air, twisting her mouth to the side.
Jennifer bit at the insides of her mouth, a sign Needy recognized as contemplation, and ran her thumb over a small bit of cherry filling that sat next to the corner of Needy’s lips. Jennifer brought her thumb to her mouth and licked.
“Not bad. Tastes like pie.”
“They really fucked things up, didn’t they? Low Shoulder. I know there were some… imbalances in our relationship but…“
Needy pressing her back against the wall as she finished her Pop Tart, tugging nervously at her hoodie sleeve.
“Well, okay, then you became an evil succubus and killed my boyfriend. And then there was that whole business where I stabbed you, so. It’s kind of coloring the past for me a bit. I don’t know if this is just my mind doing some Oprah self-help type bullshit or if you’re really there. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I guess I’m just trying to put all these realizations in context.”
Jennifer looked up from the paper and glared.
Needy stood still and returned the gaze for as long as she could before looking away, addressing her words to a faded carpet.
“I should have figured it out sooner, those things Chip kept trying to tell me. So maybe we didn’t have everything in the world in common. That wasn’t what it was about. Us, I mean. For some reason, I keep thinking of all these scenarios where we might have worked through our…issues without all the yelling and stabbing and blood and death.”
For the first time, Needy noticed the red, angry scar peeking out of the neckline of Jennifer’s tee-shirt.
She closed her eyes. There were flashes of sand, a dirty tack. She remembered her lips on Jennifer’s palm, the taste of pennies on her tongue. She opened her eyes to look at the mark she had made, the one she could never kiss and make better.
“I know I went along with a lot of things because you wanted to do them, because you were always in control. More confident. More powerful. More beautiful. At least it felt that way. That I needed you, just to get through everything. School. Life. All that crap.”
“Why do I always have to be the guy?” Needy asked, legs akimbo and leaning back on her arms, fingers sinking into Jennifer’s plush bedroom carpet.
“Because, Needy,” Jennifer responded while simultaneously applying lip gloss in her vanity mirror, “your boobs are way smaller than mine and you only ever wear pants.”
Needy looked down at her chest and back at Jennifer’s. “I think you might have a depth perception problem.”
“Whatever. The pants part is accurate.” Jen poked at Needy’s arm. “C’mon. I want to practice, remember like in that movie Cruel Intentions?”
Jennifer yanked Needy’s hand upward, pulling her to her feet. “Boys are going to expect me to, you know, know how to do this stuff. And be really good at it.”
They stood facing each other. Jennifer tugged at the black and white polka dot adjustable bra strap that was peeking out from under her tank top. She pulled it farther away from the tank strap, making sure her first non-training bra was visible for the world to see, even if the world, for the moment, was Needy.
Needy bit her lip.
“I’m not going to bite you, if that’s a concern you’re having. Seriously, the back of my hand isn’t going to kiss me back and it doesn’t have a tongue, either, that’d be gross, so.”
“Okay, okay, just. Shut up, Jennifer. I want to.”
“One,” said Jennifer.
“Two,” Needy counted.
“Three,” they said in unison.
Needy pressed her lips firm against Jennifer’s. Jennifer moved in response, following Needy’s lead. She opened her mouth wider as Needy slowly moved her tongue outward. Jennifer responded in kind. Needy raised her eyebrows when she realized how tightly she was squeezing her thighs together. After a few moments, she pulled away and ran a hand across her lips.
“You taste like Dr. Pepper.”
“It’s my Bonne Bell.”
Needy listened to the pops and fizzles of the Dr. Pepper can she had just retrieved from the vending machine down the hall. “It's really disconcerting, Jen. All this staring and continuous lack of talking,” she said, bringing the can up to her lips. “It’s been weeks. You could talk to me. Even if you want to yell.”
She took a swig of soda. “You’re not real, right? This is me, slowly going mental? I mean, even more than I am already?”
Needy lowered herself into a wooden desk chair and sank down low, her head resting below the top of the chair back.
“You're mad at me. I understand. But I did what I had to do. It’s what you would have done. I couldn’t let you have your way. Keep doing what you were doing. Not anymore.”
Jennifer sat up, pulling her knees up to her chin.
“Please say something, Jen.”
“Talk to me, Needy. You're too quiet.” Jennifer spun away from the three-way mirror at the end of the dressing room hallway to face her.
“I'm contemplating whether I should get matching shoes or just plain black ones.”
“What you should be contemplating is this dress I'm wearing and how totally awesome it is. This is the dress.”
“That is the dress.”
Jennifer gestured at Needy’s outfit and shot her a look that said quite plainly that Needy should have figured out what was on her mind already.
“So you should put the one you have on back, and go look around some more. Make sure yours matches this one, but you should have straps. Maybe even a shawl or something. Might come in handy if you break out all over the place, too.”
“But I love this dress.” Needy ran her hands across the skirt, smoothing it down against her legs.
Needy sighed and went back into her fitting room, shutting the door slightly louder than necessary.
“You're going to look naked in pictures in that one,” she yelled out, struggling to unzip the back as the zipper snagged. “Isn't there like an official photo or some shit? Snowflake Queen's going to look more driven than pure in that.”
“Fine by me,” came the retort, and Needy laughed in spite of herself. She took one last glance in the mirror at her dress of choice before peeling it over her head.
Needy examined her reflection in the mirror above her bathroom sink. She twirled a length of hair between her fingers. It was lackluster, and she found her complexion paler than normal. And she did her best to ignore the feeling in the pit of her stomach that had been getting stronger.
“Levitation first…then I…” Needy looked at Jennifer, sitting on the side of the bathtub. “I never actually died or had a ritual performed on me, so. I don’t know if the same thing’s going to happen with the…the needing to eat. I didn’t actually do that, with the band. That was just for you. Plain old vengeance. Cross out Low Shoulder.”
As she finished tracing an invisible X with her index finger, her stomach growled.
“I need some actual dinner. And I’m not trying to have an existential crisis. It’s more a morbid curiosity. I suppose I’ll have to find out one of these days. Or not find out, depending. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. If it’s going to get as bad as…” Needy trailed off, seeing an accusatory look beginning to form on Jennifer’s face.
“This whole ‘satanic rituals from Google actually work’ thing is a bit intense. I’m not exactly sure how to process. I know you killed people but I hope your soul or whatever isn’t in hell. I’d rather not think about you occupying the same afterlife as Low Shoulder. Also, I’d like not to end up anywhere unsavory, either.”
Jennifer picked up a disposable razor resting on the tub’s edge. She spun it around in between her fingers.
“Do you miss flags?”
She put the razor down.
“If you’re not just in my head, then what do you want?” Needy’s voice was growing desperate.
At the expected lack of reply, Needy turned and walked out of the bathroom. A small black object skittered across the wall to her right. She grabbed the newspaper off the bed, rolled it up, and walked calmly back to the wall. She raised her arm above her head and smacked the paper against the unsuspecting spider making its way across the room.
“Stop hyperventilating! I’m trying to go back to sleep.”
“But the walls were shaking, Jen!” Needy pulled her sleeping bag up to her chin.
“The terrifying boom box, it caused all these new fault lines to form right under this cabin,” Jennifer laughed.
Needy kicked the wooden bunk bed two feet above her head in retort, raising her sleeping bag in the process, which promptly sent a spider falling down from the beam over her pillow.
“Aaah, oh my god!” Needy rolled out of her sleeping bag and jumped to her feet, taking deep, controlling breaths.
“What now? There a ghost or something?”
“Spider. Ew! Ew ew ew. Big, crawly monster thing just almost fell on my face.” Needy eyed her bunk with distain.
“Aw, poor Needy.”
“Can I sleep in your bunk?”
Jennifer pulled out the mosquito net from under her mattress. “Hurry up. You’ll let the bugs in.”
Needy climbed up and tucked the netting back. She adjusted onto her side, facing Jennifer.
Jennifer reached over and pulled at the new gold chain around Needy’s neck. She pulled her own out from under her shirt.
“That’s what bffs are for, right? I’ll protect you from the monsters. Just don’t kick me. You’re a kicker, you always do when we have sleepovers.”
“Remember Girl Scouts, Jen? That lasted all of two seconds.”
Needy smiled at the recollection, but Jennifer only blinked twice, her expression unchanged.
“I just want to try and sleep. I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately, as in…not really being able to at all so can you please get off the goddamn bed?”
Jennifer didn’t move.
“Look, the night of the dance, I said a lot of things. I’m not taking any of those words back. It was true. You know it, and so do I,” she was almost shouting now, uncaring about the late hour or the other inhabitants of the depressing rooms that flanked hers, if there were any. “The lemonade, the toys, the rules, all of it’s true. I always ignored people’s inability to understand why we were friends. What did they know, right?”
Needy sat down on the bed. She took a deep breath and swung herself around so that she and Jennifer were face to face.
“I don’t know why this had to happen. Why we couldn’t have just had some major blowout in college or some shit and then drink a bottle of gin and have a laugh about it all. I wish we could have done that. Over and over again.”
This time, she held her gaze.
“I was thinking that if I’d never said that thing to Nikolai about you being a virgin maybe this would all be a bad dream. It’s not my fault. I know it, but. I was just sticking up for you. As usual.”
Needy bit her tongue.
“Fuck it. This is going to sound even more State Fair microwavable corndog than it does already, but it’s the truth. I never imagined my life without you in it.
And I know it was the same for you. Because…I figured it out and it wasn’t me that really needed you.
You needed me.“
Needy dug into the back pocket of her jeans.
“It was stupid but after I broke out I went home just to get some clothes and shoes and this was on my dresser. I don’t know why but I grabbed it off the floor of your room before your mom and the police…well. You know. I don’t really know how it got there in the first place. Anyway.”
She clutched the heart-shaped pendant in the palm of her hand and unfolded her fingers.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. This is all very, very fucked and I don’t have anyone. I don’t want to do this by myself.”
She brought both hands up and held them out in offering.
Jennifer picked up the charm and dangled it between them before undoing the clasp and drawing it around her neck. She straightened it so that the golden heart fell against the gash on her chest.
Needy reached out, wanting to touch it, but let her fingers linger just millimeters away.
She reached into her shirt and pulled out her own necklace.
“Where’s it at, Monistat?”