“Freshman are so cute. Look at them, they’re so tiny. Like walking, talking examples of why to use condoms.”
I snorted and glanced up at my best friend. I’d met Lacey Parker in fourth grade, when she’d very seriously told me that I was allowed to be her friend because I was pretty. In retrospect, that was likely the type of toxic shit parents told their daughters to stay away from, but Lacey could pull it off like collecting attractive friends was no different than collecting cute erasers.
“They’re not that much younger than us,” I pointed out.
Lacey hummed. “It’s not the age that matters, babe. It's the maturity.”
“Where’d you get that line,” I asked. “Your latest college pedo case?”
“I can’t help that I look 21,” Lacey defended.
“Actually, you can,” I said, but Lacey chose to ignore me, just like I chose to not really get on her case about the company she kept. Lacey was beautiful, dark skinned and curvy, with a smile that looked like it belonged in a dentist commercial. Her mother had braided her hair for the first day of school - I was silently making funeral preperations for anyone stupid enough to ask to touch it.
Then, Juliet James caught my eye. I’d been waiting to see her since the morning assembly, where the new kids were announced. She’d walked in like a bat out of hell - thigh high boots, ripped up leggings, wearing just an oversized Sex Pistols T-shirt like it qualified as a dress. Her hair was beautiful, it cascaded down her back in a shade of blonde that actually looked natural.
“She’s pretty,” I said. That was an understatement. She was so beautiful it made me want to cry.
Lacey looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Sure, if you’re into that tragic sort of thing.”
I shook my head at her. I loved Lacey, but sometimes she was a mess. “Hey, you’re on the welcoming committee. You should go say hi.”
“Whatever,” Lacey replied. “The committee is for the Freshman.”
I rolled my eyes and slid off of the table I’d been sitting on. “Fine. I’ll go say hi.” I snagged one of the pamphlets reserved for the incoming newbies on my way across the cafeteria.
The new girl was texting when I approached, but she looked up when she noticed I was headed her way, and wiggled her black fingernails in a half wave. I almost stopped walking. I’d thought she was pretty from across the room, but I hadn’t realized how pretty. She was pretty in a simple kind of way, rounded cheeks, pouty lips, large bright blue eyes.. She wore very little makeup, except for what was dark around her eyes, making them stand out even more than— I was sure— they would on their own. She peeked at me through her lashes, the corners of her mouth tugging in a smile.
“H-hi,” I stuttered out. I’d been staring too long.
“Hi,” She said back, a little warily, although she was smiling. My stupid mouth had gone dry. She shifted, tucking her phone away, and gestured slightly to my forehead. “Is it Lee-na or Len-ah?”
I’d almost forgotten I’d taken one of the committee's name tags in a fit of boredom and slapped it on my head like a fucking weirdo. I snatched it off now, wincing as the sticky side pulled at stray strands of hair. “Uh, Len-ah. Most people usually go with the first.”
She lifted a shoulder. “It’s more common.”
“It’s short for Helena,” I explained. “I was named after my great-grandmother.”
“I’m Juliet,” she said, holding out a hand. “Named after Capulet.”
“Your parents big fans of dramatic thirteen year olds?” I asked.
Juliet cracked a smile. “Not really. My mother was in the theater, she was playing Juliet when she met my father. I guess it meant something to them.”
I nodded, and we found ourselves in that awkward situation where there wasn’t enough to talk about, so I turned my attention to the pamphlet I’d brought. “Oh, um, these are usually for Freshman but, since you’re new and all, I figured you could use it.”
“Thanks,” Juliet said as she took it from me. She gave it a quick flip through, then studied the map for a moment.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Just Bridgewood,” she said.
My eyebrows rose. “Oh shit, did you go to BA?”
“Yeah,” she answered. Bridgewood was a rich city, and it was mostly known for Bridgewood Academy. It was a good school, even kids from Grant often made the drive to attend. She glanced at me and shrugged. “Needed a change of scenery.”
The bell rang, causing a shift in the cafeteria. I had left my bag over by Lacey, which meant I had to cut the conversation off. Probably for the best, before I shoved my own foot in my mouth. “Well, hey, I gotta run but, um, feel free to find me if you need any help.”
“Thank you,” Juliet said, and she looked a little amused as she watched me go.
“How was your first day,” my mother asked when I got home that evening. She was sitting at the kitchen table with a whole mess of shit in front of her. My mother fancied herself an inventor. Sometimes she was, sometimes she wasn’t.
“Still high school, still a waste of time,” I said. “What are you making?”
Mom sat back and stared at her collection, like she wasn’t sure herself. “I think it’s a . . . well, I don’t really know what it is.”
I grinned at her and went to fish a snack out of the cabinets. “What were you aiming for?”
“A toaster,” she said. “But, larger. For more toast, and maybe other things.”
“So a toaster oven?” I asked.
She sighed and pushed her glasses up into her messy curls. I wasn’t sure how she’d put her hair up either. It seemed to be defying gravity. “How is Quinton?”
“Still my ex, mom,” I said. He’d been the longest relationship I’d managed, which didn’t mean much, just that he’d lasted through the entire summer. Well, most of it anyway.
“Shame,” Mom sighed. “He’s nice to look at.”
I shrugged and stuck a spoon into a jar of Nutella before sitting across from her. There were pieces of what looked like it used to be a toaster on the table.
“You could put that on a plate or something,” my mother said.
“You could get over Quinton,” I shot back.
“Fair enough,” she concluded, and slid her glasses back down low on her nose so she could go back to tinkering with things.
“We have a new girl,” I brought up. “In our year. We share some classes. She’s kind of . . . interesting.”
“Oh?” Mom asked. “How so?”
“I don’t really know,” I said, popping a spoonful of hazelnut goodness in my mouth. “Lacey doesn’t like her.”
“Does Lacey like anyone?”
“She likes me!” I protested.
My mother chuckled. “How, I have no idea.”
“You hush.” I grabbed my snack and headed to the living room. “I’m going to spend the rest of the night watching bad reality tv, if you want to join me!”
The third day of school it rained so hard there was a black out, so they sent us home. It seemed unreasonable in my mind to throw out a bunch of teenagers in cars if the storm was bad enough to knock out the power. But an early release was an early release, and I wasn’t going to argue.
Lacey leaned against my locker and I frowned at her, sensing a bad idea on the horizon. “What?”
“Want to come to Aaron’s with me?” she asked. “They’re having a black out party in his dorm. There will be booze and sex, I’m sure.”
“And STD’s, I’m sure,” I replied mockingly.
“You’re so boring,” she said, pushing herself away. “Why am I even friends with you? I'll catch you later.”
I shook my head at her and opened my locker to grab my stuff before leaving the building. The sky was dark and angry looking, pouring down water, but it was oddly calming in a movie scene type of way. If I wasn’t at school I might have enjoyed it.
I was about to make a run for it when I noticed someone familiar perched on the half wall under the awning. Juliet was drawing on a sketchpad, completely ignoring the rush of people around her, in her own little world.
We hadn’t talked much since her first day. She’d asked me a couple of times where things were, and waved at me in the hall, but that was about it. I wanted to know more about her, maybe even be friends, but I wasn’t sure how.
Before I even knew what I was doing, I was standing next to her, gently tapping her shoulder to get her attention. Her hands subconsciously fell over whatever she was working on as she looked up with me, then she smiled. “Lena, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Aren’t you going home?”
“No car,” she replied. “I’m waiting on my brother, he’s gonna drive in from Bridgewood if he can get off work.”
If. I wondered what she was going to do if he couldn’t. The busses wouldn’t stick around forever. “You shouldn’t have to wait out here. Come on, I’ll give you a lift.”
Juliet looked surprised, probably because I was still technically a stranger. Great, I was weird.
“I don’t wanna be a burden,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “I wouldn’t have offered if it was going to be a problem.”
She considered me for a moment, likely weighing the chances of me murdering her or something, then flipped her sketchpad closed and tucked it into her bag before sliding off the wall.
I grinned at her and we both faced the parking lot. The rain was still coming down hard, so she squared her shoulders and slid her hand in mine. It sent a jolt up my arm, surprise from being touched so casually like that from anyone but Lacey, and I cupped my fingers over hers.
“Lead the way,” she said.
I stared at the curtain of rain ahead of us, my heart beating in step with the pounding drops, pushed my thoughts away, and took the first step.
It didn’t matter that I’d tried to wait for a break, because we were soaked almost immediately. Juliet laughed, and then she ran ahead of me, and suddenly I felt like a child again - jumping through puddles, not caring about the cold or the water or how uncomfortable it would be in the car. I pointed her in the right direction and when we slammed into the hood of my car I had a feeling we were both crying, hands still clenched and slippery.
Juliet’s hair was plastered to her back and shoulders, and her make-up was running down her face, but she was somehow still beautiful. Maybe even more beautiful.
I pulled my keys out and got the car unlocked and we fell into the seats still laughing as the doors slammed closed, cutting off the sound from outside. I watched Juliet sweep her hair out of her way and wipe her face before she asked, “Did we just do that?”
“Yeah,” I said with a shrug.
“We’re soaked,” she pointed out.
“Yeah,” I said again.
“Do you want to do it again?” she asked. I grinned at her, and without a word we opened the doors and ran around the car again. It was stupid, and silly, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever had more fun.