It was hot. I could hear the rattling churn of the air conditioning as it coughed out its last breath. It was 103F. Hotter then Hades my old granny would have said.
I felt a bead of sweat slowly wind its way down my right temple and glide onto my reddened cheek. I could feel the aching of the salt on my stinging cheek. I caught the drop with the tip of my tongue and used it to wet my cracked lips. I slumped into the ratty armchair, my legs slightly splayed out, encased in faded light blue jeans. My black tank top clung to my tanned body-a second wet, slippery skin. No breath of air stirred in the muggy room as I listened to the honking and yelling outside the cracked window. A baby was still crying somewhere in the apartment upstairs. No escape from the heat.
I drummed the fingers of my left hand on the faded orange plaid of the arm of the hair. I could feel the rough weave under my fingertips. I concentrated on the texture, refusing to feel anything else. My breath spurted out in a small, warm stream, interrupted by the choking puffs as my jaw clenched in an effort to find control. I could feel the heat on my flexed cheek, which only magnified into a simmering fire as more sweat dripped and slid down my cheek. The salt in the sweat was enough. I closed my eyes and the images jumped unbidden behind my eyelids, jerking like an ancient black and white movie projector. It was fitting. All the color drained out.
I strode into the house, my eyes trying to adjust to the dark. A tepid rush of air met me, and gurgling air conditioning assaulted my ears. A baby was crying upstairs. No relief from the heat. It was 101F, and the heat rose up from the cracked tar outside to enshroud all the houses and apartments on Leslie St. I nonchalantly dropped my book bag on the kitchen table and opened the refrigerator door to grab a Pepsi. I peered in, relishing the coolness. Two Pepsis, one Mountain Dew, half a loaf of bread, some sort of luncheon meat, and the usual condiments stared back at me. I noticed nine Buds were missing from the new twelve pack.
I hunched my shoulders slightly and ran a hand through my shag blonde hair. My hemp choker itched on my skin as I took a deep breath and turned into the living room. I could see the soft glow from her cigarette as she sucked on the other end. She gripped a bud with her heavily ringed left hand. The rings were big, too big. An effort to prove he was better than she was. I could barely make out her features in the gathering gloom. I stood in front of her, cocky in all my eighteen years, desperate to believe that I could stand up to her.
"Talked to Jim Morrison this morning." Her hoarse voice grated across my nerves, and the hair on my arms prickled. I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry.
"Yeah" I prided myself at holding my voice steady.
"You and Brianna are good friends aren't you." She smiled, her lipstick highlighting the slash of her mouth. "She's a nice girl, a really nice girl. You two spend a lot of time together."
"You're friends, aren't you," she repeated. Silence. I shifted uneasily from foot to foot, no longer cocky. She smiled again as she took a long pull of her cigarette and then washed it down with the beer. The ash fell. My mouth was dry. Her eyes seemed to glitter, or maybe it was a reflection of my own fear. She knew the answer. She was playing with me- flexing her claws and licking her lips, biding her time before going in for the kill. She would rip me until I bled, then rip me some more.
I tensed my muscles and felt the sweat slowly slide down my neck and into my tank top, down between my breasts, over my stomach, until it was sucked dry by the rim of my jeans.
"Where were you last night?" The question caught me by surprise, and I stuttered my response.
"Just around, went to Bud's Boat shop, then to the diner." She arched a carefully plucked eyebrow. She stumped out her cig and lit up another, taking a healthy drag, holding it in her mouth and lungs with a look of sharp pleasure on her face. I'd seen that look on Brianna's face before, but neither Bree nor I smoked. I smirked at the thought. She suddenly let the smoke out in a rush, her craving temporarily satisfied.
"Bobby saw you at the Bridge." I froze. My blood ran cold. Cliché, but it did. I knew what was coming next. It was over, all over.
"Brianna was with you." My body sagged as my fists clenched. I'd kill him! I'd kill the little pervert. I just knew he'd stayed and watched before running off to Big Jim Morrison to fill his ear about his little girl and the big, bad Sarah Johnson. That's right. Who would have thought-Sarah Johnson, daughter of white trash and Brianna Morrison, daughter of the only town doctor. But that was us, different as could be. Where I'm poor, she's rich, I'm an introvert, she's an extrovert. But our bodies fit together as one piece. I don't know where she began, and where I end.
Silence. But I could feel it growing and morphing across the room. She stood clumsily to her feet, tripping over beer cans. She fell toward me, but I didn't reach out to steady her. I couldn't. It was too accepting of what was to come. Her hand closed around my shoulder, and she dug in her nails. I tried not to wince as she snarled in my face.
"You little bitch. You ungrateful brat!" her breath hit me full force, and I almost gagged. She shook me and kept digging in her nails. The tears came to my eyes.
"You disgusting pervert," she screamed as she slapped me across the face.
"No," I whimpered. "Not like that." She slapped me again. This time I had the good sense to turn my face to she smacked her hand on my hard head. She yelled in pain, but kept screaming at me. I gritted my teeth and concentrated on the sound of the air conditioner. I turned and finally met her eyes, staring at her, defying her. She stepped back slightly, unsure of my self-assured smile. I stood alone feeling the glory of young love she couldn't touch. I had Brianna that was all that mattered. I was stupid.
A feral smile slinked across her lips, and she bared her yellowed teeth at me as her hand fisted in the neck of my tank top. She reached out and gently ran the fingers of her right hand through my hair, tenderly, as if she loved me.
"Oh my baby, my poor sweet baby," she cooed and kissed me on the cheek, staining it with garish red lipstick. Like blood. I shivered. Suddenly her eyes darkened and she hissed at me, "Big Jim is sending Brianna to the Cape to visit her great aunt for the summer, and then she will be off to Europe to attend boarding school. She won't be coming back."
She smiled. "Ever."
A door slammed somewhere. She shoved me away, laughing. "I need more cigs," she mumbled as she teetered out of the house locking it behind her. I stumbled as my breath came out in short gasps. I grabbed the phone in my slick palm and dialed the number from heart. It rang and rang.
"She should be home now. She is always home now," I mumbled into the still air. "Hello, is Brianna there?"
"No." The dial tone rang in my ear. The tears slipped past my tightly clenched lids. I stumbled over to the armchair, knocking over the ashtray. I slumped in the chair.
It was hot. I could hear the rattling churn of the air conditioning as it coughed out its last breath. It was 103F. Hotter then Hades my old granny would have said?
I hated her, how I hated her. My fingers clenched into fists, and I felt my muscles tense and coil, ready to strike. The blood and adrenaline plowed through my system. I was ready to pounce. I heard a key click in the lock. I smiled. The baby was still crying.