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"Aw, shit."

Gretchen is standing out back of the school by the track and the big caged-in blacktop where they sometimes allow the students to roam during warm weather lunches. She is smoking and not attending American History, which is where she's supposed to be; instead she's here, crushing weeks worth of cigarette butts under her Doc Martens and making a futile attempt to get her lighter sparking again. It's a no go.

Gretchen is deeply considering shoving two pebbles together like they did in pioneer times when she hears a sound that could not possibly be a human voice, but may be a cat or even a possum that has somehow gained the ability of speech. It is high pitched, with clipped consonants and babyish vowels, not altogether unlike the animal sidekick of a Disney princess. It is coming from somewhere to Gretchen's left, and when she looks she sees a girl in a gigantic (like, tent-sized) fuzzy pink sweater over a dumpy beige skirt with deflated brown hair and glasses.

"Gretch, right? I got you."

Gretchen blinks uncomprehendingly at the girl, but then notices the disposable mint green lighter in her hand, flame flickering merrily. She ambles over, bending head and cigarette until she makes contact, then exhales a stream of smoke. "Thanks," she says. "And if you call me Gretch again I'll disembowel you." Another drag and exhale, slow as molasses just to be an asshole. "And you are?"

"Lindsay," the girl says, but it's with a little implied question mark at the end – Lindsay? – like she isn't sure that's her name. "Um, my sister is Becca, you know. The cheerleader."

Gretchen makes an uncontrollable gagging noise that blossoms into a full on vomit mime. "Okay, since you live with her, you tell me: does she actually poop or is her butthole fused shut because she's so uptight?"

She half-expects this Lindsay girl to cry, or maybe show some backbone and tell her off. But instead Lindsay laughs, pulls out her own pack (Menthols, god), and says, "The only time I've seen her go anywhere near a bathroom is if she's planning on puking in it."

Gretchen grins, delighted. "Bitch!"

 

 

Before she leaves for the day, Gretchen takes her bag into the bathroom. She switches out her Docs for sweet little white tennis shoes and exchanges her ripped jeans, black top, and flannel for a skirt and sweater set. She scrapes her short, choppy hair back with a flower barrette. Then she shoves her school clothes back into her locker, which is getting fit to bursting, and goes home.

She's really going to need a better hiding spot soon.

 

 

Here's the deal on Lindsay and Becca:

Lindsay is younger, thirty pounds heavier, and actually has a soul – sort of. She has a good eye for color, which doesn't matter much to Gretchen who only wears black, red, and white, but it still bears noting. Becca is like a cardboard cutout of a person walking and talking; sometimes Gretchen thinks there's a string sticking out of the back of Becca's head that you have to pull to get her to repeat key catchphrases.

Becca's the one who came up with the Fat Lindsay thing and once it caught on, it spread like wildfire. Gretchen offered to throw down for Lindsay's sake, but Lindsay said she could handle it; the next day at school, she had a crack in the frame of her glasses and Becca had a heavily concealed black eye. Oh, sisters.

It's not that Gretchen and Lindsay are friends. Gretchen has friends, other girls with edgy haircuts who go to raves with her over the weekend. But Lindsay keeps her company when she cuts class and always has the good snacks in her bag, so Gretchen figures they can be co-workers for now.

"I'm like your school wife!" Lindsay coos in her blow up sex doll Marilyn Monroe voice.

"Ew," Gretchen says, then considers. "Yeah, sort of."

 

 

Becca throws a house party when the 'rents are out of town and Lindsay invites Gretchen so they can sit around in her room drinking crummy beer out of red cups. Or at least that's what Gretchen thinks they're going to do until she shows up to find Lindsay doing body shots off one of the dudes from the football team.

"The fuck?" Gretchen says.

It turns out Lindsay probably is the rave type, or at least Drunk Lindsay is; she's foregone her normal look for a dress that very well might be Becca's for how much Lindsay's spilling out of it. She has red solo cups in both hands and she's bopping her ponytailed head around and caterwauling along to Missy Elliot. She kisses Gretchen hello on both cheeks and on her forehead.

"I feel like I'm watching one of those movies where the nerd gets a sexy makeover." Gretchen bats cat-like for one of Lindsay's booze-filled cups, which are difficult to get a hold of thanks to Lindsay shimmying around. "Who knew you were stacked?"

"Who didn't know!" Lindsay exclaims, sort of nonsensically in Gretchen's opinion, and shakes her boobs in Gretchen's direction. "Whoo!"

Becca does not seem pleased about her baby sister co-opting the party. She has a distinct vein popping out dead center in her forehead even as she tries to remain picture-perfect, posed with her delicate little ankles crossed and her hands in her lap. At one point she leans towards one of her friends to stage whisper, "She knows slutting it up is the only way she'll get any attention, so…" Becca then raises her eyebrows pointedly and shrugs her shoulders like what can you do.

It makes a little pulse of protectiveness flare in Gretchen's gut. Before she knows it she's crawling up onto the sideboard behind the couch, holding her drink up in the air, and declaring, "This party is awesome! And you know who threw this awesome party? Lindsay!"

The crowd catcalls and whoops, but Becca's eyes go so round they look as though they might just go popping out of her head and boomerang around the living room.

"Fat Lindsay!" the room choruses.

That…is not really what Gretchen was going for, but hell, take what you can get. "To Fat Lindsay!" Gretchen shouts, thrusting her drink emphatically. It splashes all down her arm.

"Fat Lindsay!" the room echoes back.

Job done, Gretchen hops back down to find messy, sloppy, drunk Lindsay gazing at her with eyes brimming with drunk tears. "No one ever made a room chorus my name before!"

Uncomfortable as she always is with direct shows of emotion, Gretchen shrugs and tries to keep any revolted wincing to a minimum. "Yeah, whatever."

"I love you, Gretch!" With that, Lindsay throws her arms around Gretchen and ends up pouring the rest of her beer down Gretchen's back. So there's that.

"Yeah, yeah," Gretchen says, awkwardly patting Lindsay's back. "You too or whatever."

 

 

Sometime that night, long after everyone has gone home and the house is just a garbage dump of teenage debris, Gretchen is wearing a pair of Lindsay's cutesy jammies and looking for the bathroom. She had to fold up the sleeves of the pajamas three times and hoist the pants all the way up under her boobs; she feels kind of like a little kid who got into mom's clothes. She throws the bathroom door open carelessly and then nearly jumps out of her skin because of the earsplitting shriek that greets her.

"Don't you know how to knock?" Becca demands. She's curled on the floor next to the toilet, brow damp with sweat and mascara all runny under her eyes.

"Holy shit, are you crying?"

Becca throws her beeper at Gretchen, who sidesteps it neatly. "You know you ruined my party. You and my stupid sister." She slumps back against the wall, defeated. "I was really sure Tor Borgfeldt was going to make a move tonight too."

"Gross," Gretchen says, nose wrinkling. "You never know, he still might."

Becca glares at her blearily. "Not after Lindsay licked salt off his collarbone."

"Again, gross." Gretchen gives Becca an assessing look. "So, you got the vodka pukes?"

Becca groans and leans forward to rest her head against the toilet seat. "Do not even say the word vodka to me."

"Vodka," Gretchen says again, undaunted. "So, no offense, but I'm gonna burst here, so it's either move your face or enter the line of fire."

Becca glares again but rolls away, leaving the toilet free. "Don't people like you ever feel bad messing things up for people like me?"

"I don't even know what that means." Gretchen sits. "You still had your party. You still got your friends drunk. If you're accusing me of having it out for blonde cheerleaders everywhere, you're – well, not wrong, but that shit isn't exactly high on my list of priorities." She wipes, gets up, flushes. "Get thicker skin." She smirks. "Or grow a shiny scaled exterior like me. It's cute. Scales go with everything."

"You're toxic," Becca tells her as she pulls the bathmat around her shoulders like an old lady shawl. "You're green slime."

"Then maybe contact with me will give you superpowers." Gretchen steps right over Becca. "Toodles."

 

 

Gretchen starts keeping her school clothes in Lindsay's closet. It just seems easier.