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Coming of Age Contemporary High School

Marianne insists on taking me to the party even though I don’t want to go. Marianne, like that old song, and Marianne is more than a feeling. She lives for all the feelings. She doesn’t care about a lot of things but she likes to play with people’s minds because it makes her feel guilty, and excited, and fearful, and she gets a real kick out of it. 

She tumbles right into some conversation with some people that I’ve never heard of, and she hands me a drink absentmindedly that tastes just like orange juice but I know it isn’t because my cheeks are very warm and the portrait on the wall keeps on playing tag with my eyes, and I’m losing, it’s just running, running away. 

It reminds me of when I was very young and I would play with marbles that would roll away from me all the time, and it reminds me of just last year, when people would roll right away from me too until Marianne decided that I was a specimen of interest, pocketed me like a dirty penny, and has carried me with her since. Wherever she goes. It’s like this dirty penny has moved to a land of magnets. Only the magnets merely get close enough to spy that old dust and rust and then they move on to form a perfect bubble around it, held off by some magical invisible eddy of that thing that insulates loneliness and keeps it safe. 

Anyway, I’m done wasting my time with marbles and people and paintings, so I rove the room amiably, with my drink, and the little bubble follows along with me and my not-so-orange juice and it clears enough space for me to sit with a pillow in my lap, alone. Or maybe, not-so. This drink is pervasive. 

Not so alone anymore. It’s like a fairy tale, to be honest, a damn fairy tale. Maybe it’s that subversive orange juice making everything a strange shade of blue, but there I am, a short, brunette, miniskirt-clad Cinderella, and there is the prince, sitting with a group of whoever they are, singing along with that song that’s everywhere now, she just moved to LA, go to UCLA... and then you look at me. Me, everybody thinks I’ve gone nowhere but where Marianne has been, and that I don’t know anything, but I lived in LA, do you know that? 

You’re really something. Something like redolent. It’s in a way about your smile. Normally when guys look at me there are many other words for it: sweet, scary; diffident, cocky. But those are not the right words, you see, because, well, you’re redolent; I look into your eyes and I've never met you before, but you see right through me like these walls are nothing but lacy veil, you’re remembering this future that we had that I’ve never lived. 

Or perhaps your face is just redolent of a dream I once had and I’m confusing redolent with radiant, I always have gotten too caught up in the past. 

And this reminds me of something I read once where it said that orange juice cleans dirty pennies, makes them shiny and new and clean again. But that’s an untroubled penny. Maybe this penny is already bright and flashy on the outside, and it just needs a new worth; it’s not worth a penny like this, something’s wrong in the center of it. It’s counterfeit and invalid and it knows this. 

Though I am aware that I am a pretty penny on the outside. Marianne would not have thought it fit to add me to her collection if I wasn’t, and that is the plain simple truth. But nobody has ever dared look too close, you see. They like to see my walls and turn around, dead end, melt this penny down and separate out the useful parts to give to the new pennies and just throw out the dead bits. There’s no need for them. 

Then I look up from the cleansing acid in my cup, ready for it to devour me and scour me spotless, and there you are. You smile right in my face and my vision finally sharpens. The painting anchors itself in the center of the rightmost wall. 

Hey, you say, I heard you lived in LA. 

I did. 

You like it there? 

Not so much. 

I’ve never lived anywhere but here. 

I sip my drink, mumbling, Lucky. 

Lucky? 

Lucky, that was a stupid thing to say. You lean closer. Lucky how? 

I shrug. I could talk shit about the seasons, but the orange juice forces words to flow out of my mouth unbidden. Moving’s not worth it, I guess. 

You haven’t ever wanted to, like, escape? Leave? Find something new? 

Escaping isn’t so fun when you want to escape just as bad from the new place you hit up. 

Really? Your face falls. Really. Like it’s so disappointing. 

And my face softens, though it’s not trying to, and I hear a faraway voice say, Well, maybe I never escaped with the right people. And it’s true, because I always manage to escape those I want to love and I

keep moving steadily along with the people I am trying to run from. But you aren’t supposed to know. 

Want to escape with me? 

Where? 

Your laugh is like the fresh cut of an apple corer. You got me. And then your eyes settle like a fine layer of dust. Outside? And they spark like a flame I thought I’d covered hours ago. 

Sure. 

Those are my words, aren’t they, running, running away. 

---

Outside. What did I think that meant? It’s only a few steps away, and just as crowded. 

It’s a nice house that Marianne brought me to. I feel bad for this girl’s parents. Their house is gorgeous, covered with artful decor. White and pink. And lots and lots of drunk teenagers. 

Outside. Spring has unrolled its blanket across the neatly manicured yard. Apple blossoms are fresh, lime green and white like a sliver of silk, fragrant claims on the night sky and petals rain like syruped stars. And the air smells faintly of sweat, as well, and juice, and beer and a little tinge of vomit. Mostly it’s the music that swallows my senses. It pounds. I like the song. People don’t think I like this music but I do. I think it’s poetic, because it’s true, all around us there are couples, being cute, being extra, being gross, and this could be us, this could be us, but you’re playing - well shit, that’s all I was saying. 

I’m the one playing. You turn to look at me for real. 

Have you ever seen me before today? 

Um, no. Sorry. 

You laugh, unbothered and amused. Nah, you’re playing. 

I’m not trying to, I swear. 

You’re cute when you smile. 

Yeah? 

I take a sip of the orange juice. Because I want to have seen you before but I can’t see too far out of my own head. You take a sip out of my cup too, and grin that little evocative grin. When it tastes that good it makes the headache that much worse, you know that, right? 

I smile but I’ve got nothing to say. You lean against the tree with me, sing along, spin the bottle, spin the fuckin’ bottle, if you’re the reason why it’s empty, baby, spin the fuckin’ bottle. 

Is that why you’re taking my drink? To make it empty? You trying to get a kiss? 

Hey, hey, I just like the song. 

Yeah? 

Yeah. 

Yeah, me too, and you taste like spring and orange juice and like you’re smiling while you’re kissing me. 

You taste like something new and old. 

I stop myself from asking you if we’ve kissed before. 

The way you look at me is like how I’ve always wanted someone to look at me, and there you go, running, running to me, slotting in all the holes my dreams left for interpretation. 

You pick up my hand and my drink and take another sip, and you kiss me again and you taste like orange juice more than before, and biting alcohol, to cleanse my wounds and soak all the old stains off of those gauzy curtains that shelter me. 

Come on, you say. 

You’re already holding my hand. 

Fine, you shake your head, glittering down at me. Come on, climb with me. 

Are you crazy? 

Nah, just drunk. And so are you. You point at the guilty party with your free hand. The guilty party plants her feet. 

I’m not climbing a tree with you. 

You’ve never wanted to actually be sittin’ in a tree... k i s s...

Shut up, and this tipsy, tennis-shoed Cinderella steps up to the carriage. 

I hope you know you’re ridiculous. 

I hope you know that you’re here - you’re ridiculous, too, just like me. 

Shut up. 

That’s your favorite thing to say, isn’t it? 

---

This Cinderella has never liked parties, but she has also never met guys at parties with little hinting smiles who want to talk to her after the party, nothing fancy, just sober and dirty-pennied entirely with no orange juice to sweep in and clean it up. This guy wants her phone number and maybe he wants to deal with the messy parts of her, too. 

Even the sad songs have beautiful lyrics. 

I remember when I met you, thought the universe sent you. 

And the universe is Marianne, and it is the bubble that follows me around, and it is the silly party music and the apple blossoms and the childish rhymes that are sung by childish people, like me and the young redolent prince who will certainly not live up to my dreamlike expectations but my dreams were never real and this is, so the tradeoff is more than fair. 

I remember the sunrise easy as anything. I remember everything about him. I remember the sky turning light blue and deep purple and young, bright orange woven with soft yellow, and I watch the sunrise in the reflection of his eyes, an old horizon all new now. And he remembers it too. Just as well.

February 22, 2022 23:18

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4 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
21:12 Mar 01, 2022

Wow, there is so much to like about this story! There's a couple things you do really, really well. The first one is the way you start, just jump right in, no backstory or anything. Excellent short tory technique if done right, like you have, because the reader is pulled right in! Dialogue without speech marks can be tricky because it's so easy for the reader to get lost in who's saying what, but you've structured the story so well, you avoid that trap entirely and it works perfectly! And then I think my favourite thing is the recurring ima...

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Kenley Ellis
06:42 Mar 02, 2022

Thank you so much!! This really means so much to me, especially considering how much I admire your writing. I loved hearing about what worked specifically! To be honest, the whole thing with the orange juice and the penny wasn't even planned - it was a happy coincidence that I realized about halfway through. I'm so glad you liked it! Thank you for your comment!

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Kenley Ellis
19:40 Feb 26, 2022

just in case anyone was wondering - the songs mentioned are "ucla" by rl grime, "this could be us" by rae sremmurd, and "lost in the citadel" by lil nas x in that order. enjoy!

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16:04 Mar 10, 2022

Love this paragraph...This Cinderella has never liked parties, but she has also never met guys at parties with little hinting smiles who want to talk to her after the party, nothing fancy, just sober and dirty-pennied entirely with no orange juice to sweep in and clean it up. This guy wants her phone number and maybe he wants to deal with the messy parts of her, too.

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