All the rage, p.28
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       All the Rage, p.28

           T. M. Frazier
 
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  worse. Those days, they were fiery. I think they were so harrowing because I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t accept the fact that when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning of two-thousand-and-fourteen, I had everything to live for, and by the time the doctors held me down and sedated me on Thanksgiving night, the only person I had left in the world was Damon.

  The small portable television sits on the kitchen counter, switched on to the local news, filling the kitchen with static-edged chatter. I hear the words missing girl and my ears prick up, something to take my attention away from this kitchen and the uncomfortable tension that fills it. You should be nicer to Damon, more than one person has said to me. He’s doing the right thing, taking care of you while your mother is sick. Fuck those people and their well-meaning noise. My mother isn’t sick—she’s dying. I’m seventeen years old with a dying mother and a boyfriend in prison. I’ve got nothing. And I don’t give a fuck about being nice.

  The news. It draws me in, greedy moth to overhead light. Missing Girl. Her name is Jennifer Thomas, and I go to school with her. At least, I did before she went missing. A picture of her flashes up, her smile dazzling, dressed in her cheerleading uniform. I have a matching one upstairs, though I haven’t worn it in a year. The reporter keeps talking about Jennifer, how she vanished after cheerleading practice on Friday evening, how there are no suspects. The police weren’t sure if it was a kidnapping, or a runaway teen. She’d been fighting with her parents.

  “They used to put missing kids on milk cartons,” Damon says, gesturing at the television. “Now everybody’s got a TV and a cellphone.”

  He’s right. I imagine everyone will be glued to their phones today, Facebook and Snapchat, sending frantic messages. Did you see Jennifer on Friday? She will be revered, her cheerleading photo plastered across town. I already know this—I’ve lived it once before, two years ago, when another girl went missing. She was a couple years older than me, and they found her body floating face-down in Gun Creek a week after she disappeared. I can’t remember her name now, in my hungover state. Karen? Carolyn?

  There are so many people passing through our tiny town that her death was blamed on a passer-by; a trucker, probably. It made everyone in our town feel safer when all we had to do was watch out for the people we didn’t know. Nobody wanted to believe that one of us was capable of such a horrific crime. But now, two years later, it’s happening again.

  Predictably, the reporter shifts to talking about Karen’s case—I was right, her name is Karen, Karen Brainard, seventeen years old, dead before she’d ever lived. She fucked anything that moved, including the entire football team, and she smoked meth more days than not, but in death, she is a hero, she is tragic, she is perfection.

  People will be talking about Karen Brainard today.

  The report switches back to Jennifer, urging the public to call a special hotline if anyone knows anything. 1800-JENNIFER. I feel sorry for the operators. I volunteered for Karen’s hotline two years ago. I was only fifteen, but there were so many calls that they let me take a couple shifts. My mom and I answered calls, side by side, and the weird fuckers who get off on things like missing girls astounded me back then.

  “Are you looking for her?” I ask Damon. He scowls at me. “What do you think? I’m the Sheriff. Of course I’m looking for her. Whole town’s looking for her. Where have you been?”

  He looks me up and down, as if reminded of my drinking. “Oh. Of course. You keep doing you, darlin’. The rest of us’ll look for your friend Jennifer.” He reaches across and snaps the dial on the TV to off, the screen going black as a familiar silence settles around us once more.

  She’s not my friend, I want to say, but I don’t, biting down on the tip of my tongue instead.

  I lick my chapped lips and drink more coffee.

  “Do you think she’s dead?” I ask, my tone almost casual.

  Damon sits across from me, eyeing my unbrushed hair and my bare cheeks.

  “You look like shit,” he says, ignoring my question.

  I dig my spoon into the bowl and suppress a gag. The last thing I want to eat is something full of milk and carbs. My churning stomach needs dry toast, or saltine crackers, or preferably nothing at all.

  “You smell like a fucking pine forest,” I mutter around a mouthful of frosted flakes. Damon’s aftershave situation definitely isn’t helping my stomach.

  “Don’t swear at me,” he says, his eyes narrowing to slits. “It’s very unladylike.”

  Getting drunk-fucked in the middle of the night and not being able to remember is pretty unladylike, too, but I don’t mention that. My life wouldn’t be worth living if I started talking about that. I throw my spoon down after two mouthfuls and stand up, in search of coffee. The pot’s been brewed a while ago, and the treacle brown liquid inside is lukewarm at best, but it’s better than nothing. I take another mug out of the cupboard and set it down on the sink, watching a moose wander by outside as I pour my liquid crack and take a sip.

  “You’re skin and bones,” Damon says, interrupting my daydreaming and moose-watching. “Finish your food.”

  I sit back on my chair with great reluctance, washing cereal down with giant mouthfuls of coffee. I drink two cups of the stuff just to get through my tepid breakfast, all the while being watched carefully by Damon’s bright blue eyes.

  “Thanksgiving tomorrow,” Damon says. “Did you get the turkey organised like I asked?”

  I nod. I’m lying. I haven’t. I will. Damon’s a traditional guy, wants the roast turkey and all the trimmings. I’ve got no clue how to make it, but Google will help me, no doubt.

  “Are we going to see mom?” I ask, probably a little too hopefully. But it’s a holiday tomorrow. School is out for the weekend. I haven’t seen my mom in over a week, and I miss her. Apart from Damon, I’m the only person who ever visits her at the hospice three counties away. I’m not allowed to go without him, and as the sheriff of Gun Creek, Damon barely has time to take off and visit a woman who probably doesn’t even know we’re there, each holding one of her hands as a machine breathes for her.

  “Did you get the wood chopped?”

  My heart sinks. Damn. All week I’ve been walking around in a state of semi-anxiety, knowing I’ve forgotten something. “I’m planning on doing it tonight,” I say quickly. “I was busy with the shopping.”

  Damon’s face turns from dispassionate to angered.

  “You know, Cass, you’re useless. Can’t even get out of bed in time to do your chores. Do you know how goddamn hard I work to keep this house paid up?”

  I swallow cold coffee, unmoved by Damon’s martyr speech. For the first time this morning, I notice his face is puffed out on one side, and there’s a small cut above his right eye.

  “What happened to your face?” I ask, taking another bite of toast.

  Damon just glares at me with those eyes.

  “Get dressed,” he says, making a face after he drains his last inch of coffee. “I have no idea how you make this sludge taste good, but damn.”

  “Maybe I’ll be a barista when I grow up,” I say sarcastically. It’s an old joke from happier times. The closest Starbucks is a two hour drive from here, and besides, I really don’t want to get out of Gun Creek just to sling coffee.

  Damon stares at me, unimpressed. “Hurry. Up. Or I’ll take you to school in your fucking pyjamas.”

  “The boys would love that,” I reply, pushing my chair back and standing. I jump as a hand curls around my upper arm and yanks me back.

  “That’s not funny,” Damon grinds out. “You want everyone thinking you’re the town whore like Jennifer?” Ouch. “No,” I say softly.

  His hand squeezes tighter. “You know what happens to girls like Jennifer?”

  “Yeah,” I say, meeting his steely gaze. “I’m thinking it’s pretty similar to what happens to girls like Karen.”

  He doesn’t say anything for a beat. Then, apparently satisfied, Damon drops his grip and I hurr
y upstairs.

  I drag jeans and a clean long-sleeved shirt on, scraping my long blonde waves up in a messy ponytail. Function takes place over form in winter, at least for me. I don’t have the energy for all that bullshit preening and careful wardrobe selection that other girls do. Girls like Jennifer. Girls like Karen Brainard. They put so much effort in, and look where it gets them. Taken. Dead. Floating in a creek.

  In the bathroom, I don’t bother with makeup. Makeup draws attention, and the last thing I want is for anybody to look at me too closely. Some days I feel like I’m made of glass, my clothes and my hair and my downturned eyes the only things that stop the light from getting in, from showing the world what’s happening within me. Who’s touched me. Who’s been inside me.

  Nobody can ever know the things I’ve done.

 
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