“Are you coming tonight?” Yael asks. It’s phrased as an inquiry, a sentence ending with a question mark that has equally viable answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
But Elizabeth knows better. There is no way she can say no, no matter how much she wants to. The question Yael poses is not really a question. It’s a politely phrased command that is in Elizabeth’s best interest to follow.
Yael is standing in front of the mirror hanging on her bedroom door. She’s dressed nicely; dressed like she’s going to a party, in her shimmery green dress and attractive but sensible heels.
She looks a little like a mermaid who’s washed ashore and discovered the wonder of Chico’s (or secondhand boutiques that sell merchandise from Chico’s and other clothing stores that elegant, yet professional, ladies like to shop at).
Elizabeth feels subpar in her frumpy white nightgown. She had hoped, desperately, uselessly, that when Yael had called her that morning, asking her to come over in that sweet, guileless lilt of hers—that which is to never be trusted, but Elizabeth had been foolishly, hopelessly hopeful—that the two of them might spend the night cuddled close on the couch, feasting on candy and comfortable in warm pajamas.
Instead, Elizabeth sits in silence on Yael’s comforter, not answering that Question which is Not a Question, watching Yael as she moves from her mirror to her closet, removing a delicately floral print shirt-and-skirt set that, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be precisely Elizabeth’s size and colored in shades that do everything to complement her complexion.
Elizabeth looks at Yael with large, mournful eyes. She wills herself to summon a precious few tears or make her lower lip quiver or wring her hands together in a meek, pitiable way.
But Yael only smiles and nods and pulls Elizabeth up and into the bathroom to change.
“The windows are locked,” she says, and Elizabeth stops in her fruitless endeavors to jiggle the window away from its sill.
“I have the key,” she continues, when Elizabeth has a mind to take the pins from her hair and fit them into the lock.
Ten minutes later, Elizabeth and Yael are in an old, noisy car that (in the name of safety) should be ready to be retired as scrap-metal, and Elizabeth now knows why Yael had been so adamant about attending this gathering.
Athletic Rick, Yael’s on-and-off, ‘we’re just friends’ fling sits in the driver’s seat, one hand on the steering wheel and the other on Yael’s wrist. Yael’s in the passenger seat, messing with the radio and refusing to turn her head to look at Elizabeth. Elizabeth knows Yael must feel the way her eyes burn into her.
She imagines there are scorch marks on the back of Yael’s neck.
Elizabeth is unhappy and squeezed into too-tight-to-be-comfortable clothes, and now she’s sweaty from being sandwiched between Athletic Rick’s sweaty, athletic friends. On the radio, a man whines about how he is going to keep on loving youuuu and Elizabeth wants nothing more than for the scrap-metal car to break down and propel her from the backseat and out of the windshield.
Elizabeth feels something wet drip down her cheek. Her cheeks flush and it hurts to swallow.
She wishes she didn’t have to be here. She wishes she had never answered Yael’s call. She wishes that, all those years ago, she had ignored Yael’s offer of friendship, that she had never showed up to her house with a smile so tentative, with her favorite pastry book cradled in her arms like an offering as raw and tender as her heart.
Elizabeth drops her gaze from Yael.
She hadn’t wanted to be here. Here, choking back tears in the back of Athletic Rick’s car and swearing off the girl she thought was her best friend.
Elizabeth is shocked by a sudden touch. Rick’s friend sitting to Elizabeth’s left nudges her softly and places something in her hand.
When she peers through blurry eyes, she notices a dainty blue handkerchief folded tidily in her palm.
She glances to her left, looking up.
Athletic Rick’s friend—the tall one, with the neat button-down and the long-lashed eyes—is staring at her so intently her tears dry before they fall.
“Don’t cry,” he says, quiet enough so Elizabeth is the only one who hears, “You smell nice.”
Elizabeth is dumbfounded. She wonders why this is happening to her, of all people. She feels strange, like she’s been turned inside out and then put back as if nothing at all was wrong. But most strangely of all, Elizabeth finds herself thankful of this boy, this friend of Rick’s—Rick, who Elizabeth has known as the only man Yael has ever wanted but was too afraid to have—with his quite earnest and sincere (if not slightly questionable) attempts to comfort someone in obvious distress.
There is some thankfulness in Elizabeth, so much that she feels she may be sick with it—so it seems all at once perfectly natural and reasonable and nerve racking and equally as questionable as telling sweaty girls that cry in the backseats of junk cars that they smell nice—that Elizabeth reaches out to Athletic Rick’s pretty-eyed friend and takes firm hold of one of his hands.
Yael and Rick are murmuring to one another in the front of the car.
The guy sitting to Elizabeth’s right, who has been quiet for the duration of the car ride, is now looking intently out of his window, as if trying to block out all of the happenings around him.
Elizabeth is holding Pretty Eyes’s hand. “I didn’t want to come tonight,” she whispers. “Thank you. You smell nice, too.”
Pretty Eyes looks touched by her heartfelt confession. His jaw trembles with unspoken emotion.
Elizabeth has never felt like this before. Sad and anxious, and suddenly anxious and excited, holding hands with boys that think she smells nice.
Pretty Eyes feels warm now, instead of sweaty. The moaning man on the radio suddenly sounds angelic and not like his wailing cries could wake those of the dead who were resting peacefully.
Going out to a party who-knows-where thrown by who-knows-who suddenly seems like a not bad idea.
Elizabeth is still mad at Yael, though.
Their relationship might not survive this.