“You wanna do something fun?” Her shit-eating grin was the first thing my eyes gravitated to. It complimented her fierce eyes and pointed nose. I don't remember her walking in my direction, but there she is, standing over me as I sit on the floor, picking at a piece of thread unraveling from my jacket. I could barely hear her over the sound of rain hitting the pavement outside, falling from the inky sky
She can sense my hesitation but continues to push, “Oh, come on. It’s not like anyone will miss us.” Looking around I can tell she’s right. Our principal has gathered every student who was at school into the auditorium to wait out of the storm. It's seven at night and with all the afternoon clubs our school offers it's packed with annoyed teenagers just wanting to go home. Even with the constant hum of talking you can still hear the cracking of wood and the movement the wind seems to sway the building.
“Okay.” I stand up, my nails digging into my hand to hide the knot of anxiety tangled in my stomach, crescent shapes already taking form. “Just promise me we won't get into trouble.”
She grabs my hand, interlocking her fingers with mine, replacing the distracting pain with warmth. “Then it wouldn't be fun.” There it is again—her smile—there is just something about it. The way the corners turn up and the cupid's bow stretches. I don't know why but it puts me in a trance. I could stare at it all day and yet it would still terrify me.
I’ve always been the girl in the middle of the line. Always there, but lost in the crowd. Never talking, but always listening. Only a handful of these people know my name and we’ve gone to school together since kindergarten.
Astrid is different. She’s always been the girl at the back of the line. Never there, but always thought about. Always talking, but never seen. Out of everyone in my class, I noticed her the most. Her dark long hair collapsing down her spine framed her sharp cheekbones and washed out her gaunt skin. This haunting looked paired with baggy clothes always in muted colors—washed one too many times—gave her a unique look. She was simply interesting to look at.
My feet scuff on the floor as I am lead through the crowd of people, being extra careful I don't step on anyone’s fingers. Astrid lets go of my hand, so she is able to grip the spring-loaded, metal handle and push past the all-too-familiar school door into the constant downpour. I inhale the strong scent of rain, pausing a moment to let the drops mist my face before leaving the protective awning Astrid and I are standing under. Before I know it, my hand is in hers as she yells at me to run. By the direction we’re running I assume we’re headed to the train station, rounding the corner and passing a hole-in-the-wall taco shop everyone goes to when the bell rings for lunch.
The rain is making our hands slippery, almost losing my grip with every rough tug or sharp turn Astrid makes. Luckily, we hurry down the stairs of the subway, escaping the rain and into the cold, humid air that smells like years of mold and germs have been multiplying like rats. The fluorescent underground lighting casts a yellow tint to everything, bleeding down the walls and flickering as each train races past us. It’s not until we stop and breathe, we notice we’re soaking wet. Her baggy clothes melting from her limbs and my shoes squelching with every movement, leaving a growing puddle on the off-white tile. My wet bangs cling to my forehead, but before I decide to push them up and out of my eyes, she picks at them with her fingertips, delicately arranging each strand to frame my face. “There,” she smiles, her breath reaching my eyelashes, “All better.”
All of her work is undone in an instant when a train races past us, halting to a stop and sliding its doors open graciously. Astrid starts moving and I am eager to follow her anywhere, so I passed the threshold and watch the doors, this time, squeak shut. The cart is mostly empty because of the storm and yet Astrid doesn't seem to know what personal space is. I don't know what to say when she is standing this close to me so I offer her a small smile. She doesn't seem to notice my lack of response and smiles back at me, looking over my face like we’ve been best friends since childhood. Both our moms pregnant over the course of the same nine months, celebrating our shared princess-themed birthdays, and both of us joining Girl Scouts and competing over who can get the most badges. If any of that were true maybe I wouldn't be so surprised when she finally lets me in on her definition of fun.
“Are you ready?” The question I’ve been dreading since I agreed to this four blocks ago.
“Ready for what?”
She hesitates, wanting to take in my reaction as each word falls off her lips. “Together, we’re going to scream into the abyss.”
I look around, my eyes finding red plastic seats lining the walls, the drooping face of a man in a suit, and an abandoned coat laid on the floor like a rug. “What abyss?”
And then, as if there is a gravitational pull that I wasn't aware of, her hand is in mine again. I’m starting to like the sensation of her hand in mine more than anything else. It makes the knot become harder to untangle, but I wouldn't mind spending hours unraveling it if, in return, I could run my thumb over hers over and over again.
She starts to walk straight and orderly with purpose. I think she is about to lead us straight into the wall when her free hand clutches the handle, opening it enough her fingertips slide into the tiny opening and push it open. The immediate sound of wheels screeching on the tracks filled the cart with rapid winds. I look down and stare at the blur the ground creates as it rushes underneath our shoes and before I can turn back she’s headed into the next cart. She does this four times, every time the people around us looking terrified and confused about what we must be doing before we finally reach the last one. I catch a glimpse of her grey eyes before we descend into darkness on the outside of the train hurdling at twenty miles an hour.
I grip the railing with my left hand so hard my knuckles turn white while my other hand nervously fiddles with my necklace swaying from my neck. I run my pointer finger over the cold metal in the shape of a circle. The forgotten pattern of a bee, washed away by the oil of my fingers. Astrid pushes herself near me, wrapping her arm around my waist so she’s close enough I can hear her talk.
“It’s time to scream, don't be afraid, this is supposed to be fun.” She screamed into my ear.
“What are we screaming about?” I screamed back.
Too easily, she whispers in my ear, “Nothing. Everything. Because we can.”
“I don't know if I can, ” I admit. I feel a pang of guilt slither down my throat at the thought of saying yes to Astrid and not even going through with it at the end.
“Here I’ll go first.” I find her eyes in the darkness as she squeezes them shut, letting out the most high-pitched scream, goosebumps springing to life down my arms. I can hear the echo as it bounces off the walls, disappearing the more distance we put between then and now. I can feel her body relax as if everything she has been wanting to get out of her mind was trapped in that scream.
With the wind still curling around my hair, stinging my eyes, and numbing my hands I decided to let go. I start to inhale as much as I can until it feels like my lungs are going to burst, letting the burning sensation continue to grow and settle before slipping my eyes shut. The scream escapes me, containing the weight equivalent to me and I focus all my energy to mentally push it down the center of the tunnel, burying it underground. The feeling I get is a lot to take in at once, making the edges of my head fuzzy with the lightheadedness that pairs well with yelling.
Once my lungs are empty and my voice is gone, I suddenly sense the train slowing down. I turn to Astrid so I can tell her with my eyes that the fun is over and we are going to get caught, but once I adjust to the soft yellow light again, I’m standing alone. The door slides open fast and I’m being pulled into the cart by a man in his forties, wearing the look of a responsible father on his face. I scan the cart looking for Astrid as I am sure she just walked back inside without me noticing, but I don't see her. The only thing I see is the man's lips moving, assuming it's in the form of a lecture, and his eyebrows pinched together.
But she wouldn't leave me. Would she?