Marina doesn't have friends. She doesn't have friends because she brings her friends to James. It's what they do: he wants girls, and she will find them, entrap them, and take them to him. And he will romance them and tear them apart, and throw them away when he is done. Then, Marina finds someone else, and she doesn't mind. She doesn't need friends as long as she has James.
James has friends. Marina knows this; she chose them. James has friends, but none understand him like she does.
When he was nine and she was six she vetoed his friends based on how they could tie bows on her dolls’ dresses and if they would let her watch episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise with them. He’s a tortured artist, lacking patience and wanting results. Marina organizes his life: she’s thirteen when she introduces him to Rico through the friend of a friend of a friend, and finds him a band. He’s better than them, really, but Marina knows the key is to start small. She lays on his bedroom floor, listening as he practices. There’s a teen magazine spread over her chest, white bold lettering asks, ‘What do guys want?’ Marina doesn’t need to read it; she knows what James wants. She brings him girls and apologizes for his mistakes, coaching him through phone calls and first dates.
James considers Maggie at one point. He never says so explicitly, but Marina knows what that head tilt means, the slouching of the shoulders and the darkening of the eyes. She steps in and warns him away. He’s easily convinced, the air-conditioning in his car chills her arms as she recites the reasons why it would be a bad idea. Maggie’s broken, and she won’t go far. She’s a star and her father is a star, and James needs someone who is a nobody; someone who makes him look good and looks up to him, not someone who is a star herself.
She knows his friends, gives them the once over whenever they come over to watch a game, but nothing more. Vinnie tries. He flirts, gives her rides when James isn’t around. But he fails at subtlety, and Marina knows that will be his downfall. There is already a list of checkmarks against him, and last weekend Amalia had spotted him tailing her in the mall.
There is a basketball game on the television, and Marina is curled up at one end of the couch, pad of paper in her lap. It’s legal-sized, and empty, and they’ve been brainstorming ways to make Amalia take James back. James wants to dedicate a song to her, and Marina has to admit it is a good idea even though a part of her thinks Amalia is taking too much. She wonders if maybe James should cut her now and pick-up someone new. Marina wouldn’t mind, she’d like to hang out with new people. Amalia is getting old and stifling, and she doesn’t seem to understand that Marina isn’t her friend. James gets up, saying he has to use the restroom, but Marina knows her brother and knows he is going to go call Amalia. He leaves, and Vinnie sidles up next to her, and she tries to ignore him, but Vinnie has his hand half-way up her bra before she pushes him away. The thump is enough to draw James’ attention and he finds them like that, Marina on the sofa and Vinnie on the floor, a bowl of overturned popcorn between them.
James stills in the entry, and crosses over to them in two large strides. Marina recognizes the look on his face, knows nothing good will come from this, but she lets him drag Vinnie away, relishing the sound of the front door slamming because nobody touches her like that and gets away with it. James comes back and he sits close, lets her curl up next to him, his hand protectively curled around her waist, thumb snug under the waistband of her panties.
Vinnie passes her in the hallway the next day. There’s bruising around his left eye, and a cast on his wrist and he stares at his feet as he walks past.
They kick James out of the band, and Marina lays with her head in his lap while he calls Rico and Bruce, screaming into the phone until they hang-up and then calling back until the phone line disconnects. James has a temper, but Marina is vindictive and she wants nothing more than to break Vanish apart and shred Amalia Vargas to pieces because nobody breaks her brother’s heart and steals away the one thing he loves. Marina knows how high school works, and she spreads all the rumors she can think of: Amalia and Justin are fucking around, Rico got picked up for heroin, Maggie is a neurotic bitch, and Patti has breast implants. But James hasn’t given up hope for his band. Even though Marina tells him it is a bad idea, he tries to woo his way back into Vanish. James leaves rose petals in Amalia’s locker, but he brings Marina a rose. Its stem is long and he carefully threads it into her hair.
“You’re better than them,” Marina says. It’s 3a.m on a school night, and James isn’t sleeping. He’s sitting on the bed, fiddling with his guitar, and Marina lays next to him, her sleep camisole hitched up, exposing her stomach. She already has her eye on somebody else for him. Cheryl seems like a nice girl and free with her adoration; Marina figures she’ll wait a week before approaching James with news and by next month James and Cheryl will be dating. She rolls over, buries her nose into his hip. Amalia had bought him Calvin Klein for Christmas, and Marina hated it, sweet and fresh and everything James was not. Tonight he smells like Gaultier, sharp and spicy; like himself again. The girls are just passing fancies; he always returns to her.
James buys her matching underwear sets, and perfume, and other things that would raise their parents’ eyebrows-- if their parents were ever around. But their parents aren't around, and even when their bodies are in the house, their minds take no notice. So James buys her accessories, and he buys his girlfriends jewelry. The girls can be foolish and silly, and when they aren't watching Marina will nick the gifts: sneaking a bracelet out of a locker, or a pair of earrings from the unwrapped package sitting in the console of a car. She steals the jewelry and puts it on in the privacy of her own bedroom.
He gives Cheryl a ruby necklace with gold filigree, and Marina watches from the backseat of the car. She's stolen it by second period, a slight of hand in the gym changing rooms. It's an expensive habit, she knows, and she leaves James to deal with the crying girlfriend. He finds her at her locker between classes, and tells her that he can’t give her a ride home because he needs to take Cheryl to the mall. She nods like this makes sense, and they both neglect to mention the necklace tucked in her pencil pouch.
James comes home with a small pink bag tucked inside a lager bag full of guitar strings and picks. He hands it to her after dinner, backlit by the blinking hall light that the housekeeper should have replaced two weeks ago. It's a set of red lace lingerie, with a tube of bright red lipstick nestled in one corner of the bag. Marina strips slowly, not bothering to turn her back or close the curtains, and James leans against the door frame watching her. She undresses, and slides the panties up her leg, lace tickling the inside of her thigh. They fit perfectly, of course, because this is James and he knows everything about her. The bra is slightly more difficult, and she fumbles with the clasp for a moment--James doesn't offer to help her and she doesn't expect him to.
She adjusts the straps, makes them just a little too tight, forcing everything to be pushed up and out. The necklace's pendant rests at the hollow of her throat. She tilts her head, hands on her hips, sucking her stomach in and puffing her chest out, putting on a show for James, who is still standing in the doorway. She has to face the mirror to put on the lipstick, lines precise even in the dull fading light. And then she crosses the room and bends down, relishing the feeling of James' eyes tracking her every movement. When she straightens, Cheryl's necklace is in her hand. It sparkles in the blinking light, something bright and pretty, and she holds it out to James, then turns around and gathers her hair over her shoulder. He clasps it around her neck, thumbs brushing against her spine and over her throat, resting on her racing pulse point. She leans back and just for one moment, their heartbeats are aligned.