Saturday, September 22, 2007
Not Without Anna by Vicki M. Taylor
"Come on, Anna. Hurry up!" Mike called from the car parked in the driveway.
"Wait a sec," pleaded Anna from the doorway of the house. "I gotta say bye to my mom." She disappeared back in the house with a slam of the door.
The rest of the teenagers slumped dejectedly in their seats. Jeff, the driver of the car, turned accusing eyes toward Mike. "Look, man," he began his typical tirade. "You said she'd be ready. Let's just go."
"No," Mike yelled. "Not without Anna."
"Jeez, don't you two ever do anything apart?" The question came from the backseat. Jessie, the youngest of the group and still a junior in high school didn't quite understand Mike and Anna's explosive relationship; they were either fighting or making out. Her hair was cut short, like a pixie, and dyed a deep magenta with bright yellow tips. Her outward appearance matched her personality. She was open and outgoing.
"Yeah," said Mandy insolently. "You're like freaks." She nervously touched the delicate gold filigree hoop protruding from her left nostril. She had it pierced a week ago, but it was still tender. She resented Anna's intrusion on their group and she resented Mike dumping her last year for Anna.
"Shut up, Mandy." Mike said with no malice in his voice. From experience, he knew the best way to handle Mandy when she got in one of her moods was to not provoke her and eventually she'd get over it.
But Mandy wasn't in the mood to just let it go. "You sure spend a lot more time with her than you ever did with me."
Mike slammed his hand down hard on the plastic and vinyl console between the two bucket-style front seats. "Look, guys. Anna is my girlfriend." he pointedly stared at Jeff who was drumming impatiently on the steering wheel. "If she doesn't go, I don't go."
Jeff threw up both hands in surrender. "Ok, fine. Damn, boy. Take a pill or something." He looked up at the sound of the front door slamming. "Be cool, man. Here she comes."
With a quick kiss, Mike helped Anna into the car and they sped away from the quiet suburb of Anna's neighborhood to spend another hot, muggy weekend night cruising the streets of their hometown with other bored teenagers. Looking for something, anything that could keep them entertained until they got bored and moved on, always searching for the next thrill.
Floating lazily in the pool, Jessie wiped the heavily chlorinated water from her eyes that splashed up over her face.
Irritated, Jessie rolled over onto her stomach to see who was making waves. She scanned the surface of the pool looking for a smirking face.
Boys are so immature. They think it's so cute to be annoying.
She searched for the source of the waves. Of all the teenagers in the pool, no one looked guilty enough to have been purposely splashing water at her.
Then she saw them.
What are they doing?
Shadowed in the corner of the deep end, near the eight-foot marker¾Anna and Mike.
Oh . . . Mike.
Jessie watched Mike cup his hand under Anna's chin. For a brief second, jealousy openly flickered across her face.
Mike, you should be my boyfriend.
Day and night, she daydreamed about him. Tall, cute, tan. Popular. Did he even know she was alive? Hardly. Instead, the object of her crush preferred the Barbie doll-type.
For the life of her, Jessie couldn't figure out why. They argued all the time, but seemed obsessed with each other. Inseparable. Totally. Just like they were right now.
Unable to stop her morbid curiosity, Jessie stayed where she was and watched the pair as they moved about in the water oblivious to their audience.
Mike's back faced toward her while his body blocked most of her view. Jessie could see Anna's arms wrapped around Mike's neck and her fingers clutching his dark, wet-slicked hair. A glint of silver flashed in the bright moonlight.
I helped him pick out that bracelet for her.
Slightly embarrassed, Jessie half-stared, even while trying to look away. Engrossed, she watched Mike move his body against Anna's, causing the water to ripple out as small waves. Anna's legs kicked out, side to side. Water splashed the sides of the pool.
Jessie's mouth gaped open.
Oh, God! Are they doing it? Right in the pool?
Embarrassed to be caught staring, she abruptly turned her head. In doing so, the flash of silver again captured her attention. Without self-control, she held her breath and stared.
It looks like it hurts.
Anna's fingers gripped Mike's hair so tight it looked like she would tear it out by the roots. In a few seconds, the fingers relaxed, then slid to Mike's shoulders.
Was that it?
Exhaling abruptly, Jessie couldn't bear to look at them any longer. With powerful strokes, she pushed herself through the water toward the opposite side of the pool, hoping it looked like she hadn't seen anything.
Shuddering, she reached out and grabbed the side of the pool intent on getting out. She couldn't get the image of Mike and Anna out of her mind.
In the pool. How gross could they be?
She pulled herself up out of the water and sat on the side of the pool, letting her legs dangle over the edge. With both hands, she pushed her short, spiky hair back from her forehead.
Were they really doing it?
Water drops ran in tiny rivulets down the side of her face. Swiping her hands down her arms, then down her thighs, she sluiced most of the water from her petite, boyish body. The one-piece tanksuit she wore fit snugly, without bunching at her waist. Another swipe of her hands and she easily compressed most of the water out of her suit.
Big boobs. That's what the guys liked.
With familiar regret, she sighed silently as her hands slid over the nearly unnoticeable bumps that passed for breasts on her small chest. What was it her mother had called her? A "late bloomer."
Jessie pictured her mother's tiny frame and barely distinguishable breasts. Somehow, she didn't think that all the patience in the world was going to change genetics. With any luck, she might have inherited a little bit of her father's genes. At six foot, he towered over her mom.
She sighed again, this time blowing it out in a loud whoosh. Kicking her feet in the water, she only hoped she didn't inherit his dorky-looking legs.
Jessie craned her neck up to see who was standing next to her.
"Hey, John, what's up?"
"Here, have a drink of this."
"What is it?" Jessie asked as John handed her a plastic cup half filled with fizzing red liquid.
John smiled his slow little smile. "Just a little of this and a little of that."
Jessie grinned back. "John, come on," she said half-seriously. "You know I don't drink anything I don't know what it is."
"Alright," John laughed, "you little wussy, it's just some Hawaiian Punch and 7-up. Feel better?"
"Nah, it's all we had left in the apartment. Go ahead, drink it." John squatted down next to her and tousled her short, magenta-dyed hair. Even though it was dark, he could still see the bright yellow tips reflecting in the light. "Besides, I think it's time we all started sobering up, anyway. Cool?"
Jessie smiled at John and leaned over to lay her head on his arm and sipped her drink. John Cooper had been her best friend for as long as she could remember. Even though he was two years older than her and just graduated from high school, they still hung out together.
Too bad I can't feel about John like I feel about Mike.
Jessie tilted her head back. "Your mom is going to be so pissed when she gets home and finds all her booze gone."
She watched his eyes narrow and darken, and then he turned his head away and said, "Yeah, well, maybe she'll be too drunk to notice."
Jessie could feel John's muscles tense up where his shoulder touched hers. He got that way every time his mom went on one of her binges. She put the empty glass next to her on the pool deck. It fell over and rolled a short distance. Instead of reaching over to pick it up, she decided to lighten the mood.
Jabbing an elbow to John's ribs, she prodded, "Hey, you only graduate from high school once, ya know." Another jab. "Although, in your case I'm sure they could make an exception."
The next jab went into empty space and she nearly fell over with the force. With no time to react, Jessie found herself sliding over the edge of the pool and the next second she was over her head into the water.
As she sputtered to the surface, she saw John standing on the edge of the pool. His laughter rang in her ears. Her mouth full of water, she spit as hard as she could and hit him full in the chest. Instantly, he picked up a pool chair as if to throw it at her.
Pretending fear, her shriek of laughter resounded in the night air. It drew a combination of shushes and questions from the rest of the teenagers scattered about the pool area.
John put his fingers to his lips and whispered loudly. "Shhhhhhhh . . . you wanna wake up the whole apartment complex?"
Jessie blew him a kiss and turned over on her back to float in the water.
He really is my best friend. Well, my best friend, next to Anna.
Smiling, she half-closed her eyes and laid her head back further into the water. Her ears filled and suddenly she was surrounded by a rushing noise. It was loud, after the stillness above the water. She closed her eyes completely and listened to the water rushing around her ears as she paddled her hands gently to keep herself from sinking.
The water was warm, almost tepid, like cooling bath water. The day had been hot, nearly ninety-seven degrees, a new record, or so the weatherman had boasted. With the humidity, it felt more like a hundred and ninety-seven.
Well, okay, so it wasn't quite that hot. But, it could have been. What was a few degrees here or there? Especially when they'd broken another record today.
Why did weathermen get so excited about new high temperature records, anyway? Were weathermen in hell as excited about rising temperatures? Did they get ecstatic over new records too?
Dipping one hand in the water, Jessie, splashed the water on her face to cool down. Still high from the joint she'd smoked earlier and all the beer she drank, she giggled at the image of a weatherman giving a forecast for hell.
"Hello, folks, looks like another scorcher today. We'll beat our old record of nine hundred and forty-three degrees."
She giggled again, just because. The night air pressed down, forcing her giggle back to her, like it bounced off an invisible barrier. What a really weird night.
She lifted her head to look around. Through glazed, red-rimmed eyes, from too much chlorine and too many drugs, what Jessie saw made her giggle again. This time, a nervous giggle. Like she saw something funny, but it wasn't really funny.
How weird. Like some bizarre scene out of a horror movie.
Most of the other teenagers were still in the water, all floating, either on their backs or fronts. No one was making a lot of noise. The obscure muted image of the full moon reflected eerily in the nearly still water of the swimming pool.
Intermittently, the image would shimmer and be broken by a lazy slap of a hand or kick of a leg. The effort would be just enough to keep someone floating on top of the water away from the wall so they wouldn't bump their head.
An anxious shiver coursed through Jessie's body. She wondered if Stephen King ever had an image like this in his mind while writing his books. Teenage bodies floating in a pool in the middle of the night. She shivered again at the creepiness of her thoughts.
Next thing I'll start imagining monsters attacking.
Taking a deep breath, she breathed in the wild jasmine. Night air in Florida always smelled so good.
Summer was just starting and Jessie was with the coolest group of kids in town. All her hard work had paid off. This was going to be the best summer ever. Next year she'd be a senior and hanging out with the best crowd.
Life was good.
Making a vow to herself, Jessie promised that no matter what it took, she'd be the number one girl of the group this time next year. Who else would take the place of the most popular girl, but the most popular girl's best friend?
Not like I didn't earn it, this year.
Covering for Miss Goody-Two-Shoes for the last few months should get her in if nothing else did. Jessie experienced a small twinge of guilt and looked up quickly to see if the target of her thoughts was anywhere nearby. She liked Anna-a lot-and most times they got along really well, usually telling each other everything. But, sometimes Jessie felt so inferior to her friend.
It's so unfair.
Some people got everything¾looks, brains, boys, luck¾while others, like herself, had to make do with leftovers.
Jessie's eyes skimmed the water and found the familiar cloud of blond hair. Anna was in the corner of the deep end¾without Mike for once. She lay still, floating on the water. She even made floating in the water look beautiful.
Hastily dismissing Anna from her thoughts, Jessie turned to look for Mike. Maybe she could go talk to him for a few seconds without Anna interrupting.
Deep in the back of her mind she knew it was useless to think she would ever be anything but just a kid to him. Just the kid who hung out with him and Anna.
Well, all that was going to change this year.
Jessie was at Anna's house when she got her college acceptance letter today. She was waiting for Anna to tell Mike. As far as she knew, Anna hadn't told him yet. She was sure she'd know when Anna did, because Mike was bound to hit the roof.
Jessie recalled their talk earlier that day when they were finalizing plans¾and collaborating stories¾for tonight. Anna said that Mike was going to be so pissed when he found out she was accepted to the college in California. The strange thing was, Anna said she didn't care what Mike thought.
Jessie remembered how surprised she was to see the determined look of defiance in Anna's eyes. Not wanting to get caught up in another one of Anna's tirades about how much Mike loved her and didn't want to be away from her, Jessie had quickly changed the subject.
Now, Jessie wondered if Anna had told Mike at all. Maybe he didn't take it as hard as Anna thought he would. Jessie imagined that Anna exaggerated quite a bit when it came to Mike's devotion to her. She sometimes thought that Anna wouldn't be as easy to get along with if she didn't have as much attention as she did. Anna was a pretty high maintenance friend.
Jessie made her way over to where Mike was sitting and plopped down next to him on the lounge chair.
"Hi, Mike," she sing-songed and was immediately rewarded with a gagging reflex motion from John who stood close enough to hear her. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Hi, Jessie," Mike automatically responded as he nervously looked over his shoulder toward the pool.
Jessie followed his gaze. Anna. Of course. But this time, Anna didn't rush over immediately and throw herself in between Mike and anyone else.
She hasn't seen us yet. Good.
Jessie figured she probably had a few minutes before Anna decided Mike had been on his own long enough and she needed to be the center of his attention.
Jessie nodded her head toward the pool where most of the group was still in the water. "All the floating bodies. Like a scary movie."
"Yeah, pretty creepy, I guess."
Jessie jumped when Mike reached out and stroked her hair.
"Uh, thanks." Jessie fingered a short lock.
Mike's touching me.
"I colored it special, for the graduation."
Stupid thing to say.
Jessie tried again. "Anna helped me, did she tell ya?"
Without responding, Mike stared off into the distance with a strange look on his face.
Jessie waited for him to answer, and when he didn't she rubbed her sweaty palms on her knees and tried a new topic. "So, Mike, have you heard back from any of the colleges you applied at?"
"Huh?" Mike jumped as if he had been pinched. "What makes you ask that?"
"Just wondering if you were going to be around next year," Jessie replied. "Hey, are you okay?"
"I dunno, you just seem distracted, is all."
"I've got a lot on my mind, Jessie." Mike said with an impatient gesture. "Decisions, you know, stuff like that."
Smiling brightly, Jessie patted his arm gently and said, "Okay, okay. Take it easy. Jeez."
"Hey, there's Paul, he's supposed to have my smokes. Later."
Abruptly, Mike stood and walked over to where Paul was intently embroiled in a discussion with two other guys. Jessie stared at his retreating backside as the smile faded slowly from her face.
"Give it up, Jess." John said as he sat down in the space Mike vacated and gave Jessie a brotherly hug.
Jessie pushed John's arm away. "Give what up? I was just trying to talk to the guy."
John raised his hands in a sign of apology. "Okay. My mistake." He glanced at his watch and sighed. "Three o'clock. God, no wonder I'm tired."
Jessie swallowed her pride and pushed her disappointment about Mike out of her mind. She grinned back at her friend. Playfully punching him in the arm she said, "Awww, poor baby, you already getting so old you can't party like you used to?"
"I'll never get too old to beat the crap out of you, you little runt."
Jessie squealed as John tickled her unmercifully until in mutual surrender they stopped to rest.
Panting from their physical exertion, John's face became serious. "Look, Jess. He's not worth it."
Jessie rolled her eyes. "I know, I know, he's not good enough for me, right?"
"Right. That's the attitude." John stood and clapped his hands, then rubbed them together briskly. "Okay, then. Glad that's settled. Now, how about helping me kick everybody outa here before we get busted?"
John yelled out to the group that it was time to pack it in and head home.
Jessie stood and impulsively hugged her friend. "Thanks."
John hugged her back, holding her close. "Hey, I don't suppose your mom knows that you're here, does she? You got a place to stay?"
"Yeah, I told her I was staying the night at Anna's."
"You guys are gonna get in trouble one of these days." John said as he started gathering plastic cups and putting them in a large black plastic trash bag.
"Nah, we got it covered. We do this all the time."
"Don't come running to me if you get grounded for the rest of your life." John flashed a sudden grin. "Again."
Playfully, Jessie pushed John away. "Shut up."
John shoved back. "No, you shut up."
"No, you shut up."
Jessie scrunched up her face and stuck out her tongue. "Dork."
John opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by a tall, perfectly proportioned redhead pulling on his arm.
"John, can you make them get out of the pool? They're not listening to me." Amanda pouted and clung to John's arm with a hand of brilliantly painted, ridiculously long, purple nails.
Jessie mumbled under her breath. "Jeez, talk about a whiner."
"I heard that," Amanda said. She looked contemptuously down her nose at Jessie and waved her brightly colored hand in a dismissive gesture while she ran her other hand down her curved hip in a practiced pose. "Go bother somebody else, little boy."
I'll show you a little boy, you big fat cow.
Seething, Jessie balled her hands into fists, ready to knock Amanda on her perfectly shaped ass. Before she could even take the first swing, John pulled Amanda aside, handed her the trash bag, and asked her to finish picking up the plastic cups while he took care of the slackers in the pool.
Jessie uncurled her fists and smoothed out imaginary wrinkles on the front of her suit. Looking down, she could see straight to her toes, with no enticing curves blocking her view.
Little boy, huh? We'll see about that Miss Nose Ring. Jessie smiled a little as she thought about reaching up and ripping the little gold ring out of Amanda's perfectly shaped nose.
They'd probably make me pay for the plastic surgery repairs.
Jessie glanced over her shoulder and watched Amanda gingerly pick up an empty potato chip bag between two perfectly manicured nails and daintily drop it in the trash bag.
I hope a lizard jumps out and runs up her arm.
For a split second, Jessie smiled at the image, and then she sighed.
Just my luck she'd have every boy over there to protect her.
Her chest tightened. An ache pulled at the back of her neck.
My head hurts.
She hated the feeling right before sobering up after a good high. It was so depressing. Her head was buzzing and she could feel the start of a headache forming. Amanda's interruption didn't help, either. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Hey, Jessie, come here."
Jessie turned toward the pool to see John coaxing a group of stoned teenagers out of the pool.
"Be right there," she called back. Using the back of her hand, she wiped at her face. Normally, she didn't let Amanda's comments bother her so much. "It must be the stupid mood I'm in tonight," she thought.
Dragging her feet, Jessie made her way over to the side of the pool where John was threatening a tall skinny boy with a painful wedgie if he didn't get out of the pool immediately.
"They're just laying there like a bunch of floating logs." Jessie said as she stood next to John.
"More like a bunch of floating turds."
Jessie cupped her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and yelled, "Alright, you slackers! Get your butts out of the water now. It's time to go home."
"Thanks, Jess," John said dryly. "I could have done that."
"Yeah? Then why'd you call me over to help?"
"I dunno, wait . . . oh, yeah, I remember now." John slapped his forehead. "Can you get all the trash out of the pool?"
"Well," Jessie leaned back to look up at John and drawled with a big grin on her face. "I dunno, some of that trash looks too big to fit in a garbage bag."
Confused, John looked at Jessie with a blank expression then burst out laughing when he finally understood her sarcastic remark. "You think you're so funny, dontcha? A regular Jerry Seinfield." He gently pushed Jessie from behind toward the pool. "You just pick up the real garbage, I'll take care of the floating turds."
Jessie laughed and skipped away to get the long handled net to scoop out the cups, bags, and other party garbage the celebrating teenagers carelessly threw in the pool.
Methodically, Jessie dipped the net into the pool and filled it with trash, let the water drain, then emptied the net in a pile on the pool deck. At first, it was hard to avoid accidentally bumping into the other kids with the net, but as she continued, she discovered it was necessary sometimes to give one of the kids a whack just to motivate them to get out of the pool.
Lazy bunch of bums.
By the time she got to the deep end, most of the kids had groggily vacated the pool. Jessie looked down and saw Robbie gripping the edge of the pool, struggling to stay afloat.
"Come on out, Robbie."
"I'm gonna sleep here tonight," the skinny, olive-skinned boy responded grumpily.
Jessie poked him with the pool net, forcing him to lose his balance and go under water.
"Hey," Robbie sputtered as he resurfaced. "What's the big idea?"
"It's time to get out of the pool, let's go." Jessie swished the net threateningly close again.
"Okay, okay. Why don't you get Anna out too?" Robbie pointed to the last person left floating in the water.
What am I, the designated babysitter?
"She's next. Just get out and help clean up, okay Robbie?"
Robbie splashed indignantly at Jessie but obediently swam to the shallow end and crawled out of the pool.
"Yo, Anna," Jessie called to her friend. "Come on, it's time to get out. You're gonna look like a wrinkled old prune."
Jessie scooped the last of the trash out of the pool and turned to lend Anna a hand.
Anna hadn't moved.
Jessie laid the pool net down on the deck and knelt close to the edge.
"Anna!" she shouted.
Jessie reached a hand out to tap Anna on the arm. Still no response. With shaking fingers, Jessie grasped Anna's arm and tried to pull her closer to the side of the pool.
Slick with water, Anna's arm slipped away.
"Hey, John! Robbie! Somebody! Help me!" Jessie's voice quivered with apprehension.
Not Without Anna
Vicki M. Taylor