I’ve never told anyone this before. It’s one of those stories that’s been locked up in of me, tucked into some crevice behind my heart so that nobody can ever get to it. I don’t open up easily. Nobody sees what’s in my insides, and usually I forget to look. It’s much easier that way, if I just pretend that all I have in me is the dark twisting coils of intestines and brains. There’s nothing but blood and guts in there. No truth, no hurt.
When I was thirteen my best friend was Ann who lived three floors up. She was two years older and I followed her around everywhere. I’m sure I was like a little puppy, just tagging along hoping for a rub on the head and an affectionate word. We’d been friends for ages, and it didn’t used to matter as much. That is, she’d been the cool older girl but when she was younger she had played mother, pretended to take care of me and laughingly protected me from the terrors of the swing set or the fire escapes. When we got older she didn’t want a kid to take care of when she was hanging out with her friends. I would tag along, yes, but I sat and tried not to be a bother while she did whatever it was that cool older kids did. She got these new friends in high school, Eric and Jay especially, and she spent a lot of time with them. Something about them made my skin cold and my shoulders hunch.
Eric seemed to have a thing for Ann right away, and she almost but not quite teased him about it. She would give him that sidelong glance and her eyes slid right over to him and her lashes curved in just such a way that they only did for him, but for ages that was all. He pined after her, putting an accidental hand on her waist and absentmindedly playing with a strand of her hair, while she demurred. I think even she got bored of flirting with him like that. Anticipation can run on so long that you’re not tense with it anymore, you’re just tired.
Once she had the boys over, Eric and Jay, just like always, and I left to go downstairs and do some of my homework. I knew she didn’t really want me there because she sent little jabbing glances at me. I stood their pricking for a while and then, stung, I left. When I got into my own apartment my parents were out and my little brother was at a friend’s, so I really had to do homework. I sat and did my math problems, itchy with anger, until I gave up because I couldn’t concentrate. I went back up to Ann’s and her mom let me in and then retreated back to the kitchen. She always did hide from her daughter. I walked down the hall and then I froze.
The hallway was long, with the rooms all branching off to one side. Ann’s room was at the very end, and the door was ajar. Through it I could see a sliver of her bedroom, and in the sliver I could see her and Eric. Jay’s laughter was snaking through the crack in the door so I could tell he was in the room, but I didn’t even think about that until later. I could just see Eric, leaning over Ann where she was against the wall, his hands pressed against the wall on either side of her, his face close to hers. She was smiling in a funny sick way, her mouth in a line. Eric slid his hands down to her shoulders and pressed closer, put his face into her neck. Ann said no, Eric, come on. Look Jay’s right there. Stop it. He didn’t stop. He just pushed closer to her.
I was standing in the hallway, my whole body cold and my face hot. I burned and froze there, unseen, until my mind came crashing back and I turned and ran. I don’t know if they could hear my feet pounding away but I didn’t look back, I just left. I don’t know what happened after that. When I saw Ann the next day she didn’t act like there was anything wrong. Eric and Jay ignored me like usual.
I could have interrupted them, maybe. At least the annoying kid from downstairs might have made them stop, but I didn’t. I stood frozen until I ran like I’d been scalded and I had to get away and never go back, but I could have done something.