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[fic] the salt wound routine

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She could feel the irrational burst of dislike as soon as the tall blonde stalked past, refusing to apologize for bumping into her and making her drop her things. She wasn’t Casey Hans from her high school, the one that Troy had fawned over with annoying regularity, but she was Casey Hans from high school, and that in itself totally validated her hatred.

The short, blonde girl she’d left behind was still standing stock-still, lost in thought, gazing blankly at something in the distance.

“Don’t listen to her,” Annie said, and could have nearly bitten her tongue because how was this any of her business, “I think those are very nice.”

The girl turned to her, a lost, confused, faraway look in her eyes, “what?”

“Those,” Annie could feel herself flushing, pointing to the underthings the girl was holding, “are very nice. I think your…friend was wrong. About them. Being not sexy, I mean. I think they are. Sexy, I mean. Very much so. I think they’ll look very nice on you.” That sounded like a pick-up line. That totally sounded like a pick up line, oh god.

The girl was still staring at her like she hadn’t really registered her, and here she was, rambling like an idiot. Dammit, she’d only caught the tail-end of the conversation anyway; something about a guy who didn’t like one pieces or something, she didn’t even know what the whole thing was really about. Maybe this girl had stolen the other one’s boyfriend or whatever, and just being tall and blonde and hot and Casey Hans-esque didn’t necessarily make her a bitch.

And what was with the projection onto every girl with that heartbroken look? Maybe it was a definitive character-trait or something that she hadn’t yet realized she had; this inability to stop projecting. She’d apparently been projecting the Annie-of-it-all onto Jeff Winger’s ridiculously sculpted chest all year. God, she’d been so stupid.

“Is it your first time?” she asked, in a rush, because if she didn’t say something she’d think about Jeff and Britta, and it was almost better making a fool of herself in front of a stranger, than that, “because it’s totally a hype. It doesn’t have to be perfect or anything. Really. Even Cosmo said so. I mean, they’re kind of the Bible on that sort of thing, right? Like, they take polls and things, and statistics never really lie, if you have a large enough sample space.”

She’d mentioned Cosmo to a girl in butch boots, who looked put together, and not neurotic, and hey, she was actually totally Jeff’s type. Blonde and hot and tough, who probably had a can-do attitude towards lesbianism. Disney princesses were for children. And she’d read somewhere in the papers that even those were being pushed off the market to make space for the Doctor Barbie for better role-models for young girls.

That was a weird metaphor, but whatever, it was her mind. And her mind had the tendency to do weird things, like convince her that Jeff Winger was interested, and that long, lingering glances meant something other than she was in his line of vision, and he was too lazy to bother looking away.

“I mean, my first time was with a guy who turned out to be gay. And I was pretty much the only person in school lacking a gaydar. So yeah, first times aren’t so hot. I mean yours could be, of course, I’m not saying you should have a terrible first time because I did. Oh my god, I’m so sorry, that was totally the wrong pep talk, and I wanted to be student body president and I can’t even pep talk right. I’m not the standard of judgment for first times or anything. I’m sure your first time will be epic.”

Okay so, apparently word-vomit was another character-trait that she could lay claim to. Maybe that was why Jeff liked Britta. Because when she talked, she talked about important things like feminism, and big brother watching people, and the capitalistic take-over of the sources of production, and didn’t freak over the stupid history assignment that wasn’t even due till the end of a fortnight.

She can’t believe she’d actually thought the Annie-of-it-all was going to win over the Britta-of-his-bedroom. ‘Britta’ and’ bedroom’ was alliterative too, she and Jeff were always fated to be, clearly. It seemed Annie couldn’t even read the universal symbolism correctly.

The girl’s mouth twisted up at that, in an odd sort of expression, a half-smile, and a half-crushedness. That wasn’t a word, but she couldn’t think of any other to describe it. That was what came of not having covered the vocab section in her S.A.T books because, oh wait; she was in therapy for Adderall addiction. She was doomed to a lifetime of not knowing big words to describe tense situations and expressions because she was such a mess, she couldn’t even handle high school.

“Yeah,” she said, in a half-mocking tone, but Annie had the distinct feeling that, for once, she wasn’t the one being mocked by a girl her age, it sounded kind of like the girl was mocking herself or something, an inside joke that she was missing, a not very funny inside joke that she was missing, “epic.”

“I’m just saying,” she continued, because Lame Little Annie Adderall, that was her full title, after all, double alliteration, perfect symbolism, “there’s too much pressure on women to have the perfect romantic setting, and it’s unrealistic, and it’s misogynistic, because it caters to an idealization of the sexual experience for women as ‘giving up’ their virginity, while the man ‘takes’ their virginity, establishing the status quo.”

Maybe if she could do feminism like Britta, or social justice like Britta, then it wouldn’t matter that she wasn’t blonde or older or hotter or not stupid.

Trust me, I’m not under any romantic illusions about perfect first times,” the girl said, and her carefully blank expression suddenly made Annie feel uncomfortable, like she’d completely missed out on something. Again.

The other girl’s voice brought her into the present, “yours are nice too,” she said awkwardly, as if she wasn’t very used to being open to strangers, or maybe open at all, pointing at the— lingerie, Annie forced herself to think, lingerie— she wasn’t the young, virginal, desexualized Annie Edison vs. 1.0 that he tried so often to categorize her under, she was a woman.

She blushed when she thought of buying them, with a super-planned, checklisted, seduction strategy, neatly written out in white sheets with neon markers lying at the back of her drawer. At least she’d been saved the embarrassment of executing it. Unlike the embarrassment of being told that she’d been constructing chemistry in her head that Pierce and Abed could easily be substituted for her and Jeff in, because it didn’t exist in the first place.

“Apparently they’re nicer off someone else than on me,” she said cattily, and immediately felt terrible, because what sort of an awful person would cryptically bitch about her best friends to a perfect stranger. She’d been the one stupid enough to buy them in a high-end Californian shop that she couldn’t even afford. And then she had to wait to come back again a year later, on the annual parental vacation slash guilt trip, to actually return them, because they’d reached a whole new level of redundancy. They’re still in their covers, but she doesn’t even know if the store will take them back a year later. She should have just sold them on E-bay.

The girl looked at her again, except this time her eyes had a shade of sympathy, a shade of understanding, like she too desperately wanted to project on someone and not be the only person in the universe feeling that way.

Which was ridiculous anyway, they couldn’t possibly be the only people in the world feeling that way, considering the sheer number of people in the world, and the existence of mathematical probability. She wasn’t even sure of what she was feeling in the first place. Whether she had a right to feel at all. Because he didn’t owe her anything. She’d been the Harlequin-obsessed child who created sexual tension out of thin air, and thought kissing someone a couple of times, and accidentally brushing past them a couple more times, made for an epic love story.

“Are you buying those?” she asked. Suddenly, she wanted to get out of there as fast as possible and go home and practice her happy face for the next time she saw him— them. She could do it. She was Annie Freaking Edison; nearly student body president, nearly valedictorian, nearly Most Likely to Succeed, nearly Ivy-league. Nearly a lot of things, basically.

The girl started, as if she’d just realized she was holding up a line, “no, not really. I don’t think there’s— yeah, no. You can go ahead.”

“You should,” Annie said impulsively, for some inexplicable reason, “you should buy them anyway. For you, I mean. Cosmo says that if a girl feels sexy inside, it shows on the outside.”

Jesus. She obviously needed to be on meds again. Or at least to stop subscribing to Cosmo and it’s Is He That Into You quizzes which didn’t even have a category option ofYou Idiot, He’s Into Britta.

But this time the girl looked a little amused, in a sad sort of way, still blinking too fast, hands still shaking a little, but amused, definitely, “if you don’t return those, I will. Buy these, that is.”

Annie looked down at the—lingerie— that she’d waited a whole year to return, and didn’t think about the exorbitant rent for her apartment, this one time, she didn’t, “deal.”

The girl nodded, “okay,” and placed her things back on the counter she’d picked them up from, when the Casey Hans had left, “ring ‘em up.” Most of the chirpy tone was pretense, Annie knew, but maybe some small, hidden part of it was real.

When Annie walked out, packet still in hand, it was probably the fact that she was several hundred dollars short that made her feel just a little bit lighter. Probably that.