by JD Kell
Rated: E · Short Story · Young Adult · #1589637
An unhealthy friendship between two fourth graders and the secret that binds them.
|Maya scanned the lunchroom for Alexis. They weren't supposed to save seats, but she had saved the place next to her by draping her purple windbreaker over the green plastic chair. Her right hand rested protectively on top of it, and she leaned uncomfortably to one side, trying to appear casual so Mrs. Marcum wouldn't notice. The lunchroom was noisy. Too noisy for Maya, who knew that the shouts and squeals of third and fourth graders would build to a deafening level until Mrs. Marcum blew her whistle and turned off the lights for silence; leaving Maya to wonder if she'd gone deaf after all, before the noise would start to build again. |
Their class was first in the lunchroom today on account of their sub, Miss Reed, who was filling in for Mrs. Wilkerson. Miss Reed was younger than Mrs. Wilkerson, who was older than most everyone. She was prettier, too. She had long, blond hair pulled back into a ponytail with a blue bow and wore lipstick and smiled a lot. Mrs. Wilkerson didn't wear any lipstick and had short white curls that lay flat against her head. Miss Reed was nicer than Miss Wilkerson. She didn't yell and talked in a soft voice, even when they were being noisy or not following directions; although, Maya noticed that Miss Reed's blue eyes glanced at the clock a lot, especially, when the boys in her class started throwing a paper airplane around the room. After that, Miss Reed passed out crossword puzzles and asked what time Mrs. Wilkerson walked them to the lunchroom. Travis Humphrey raised his hand and said 11:45, which was a lie. They never left the classroom until 11:55, but the other kids, Maya included, backed him up. When they got to the lunchroom, which was also the gym, the tables were still being put up, and they had to wait in line for ten minutes. Miss Reed stood beside them, a tight smile on her face. She kept looking at the clock on the far wall, and seemed relieved when Mrs. Marcum, her silver whistle hanging around her neck, came into the lunchroom and offered to watch the class, so Miss Read could go.
The tables were filling up now. The kids eating hot lunch sat at tables in the center of the gym. But the cold lunch kids sat at tables against the far wall. Fourth graders clutching brown paper bags, and colorful lunch boxes searched for seats. Cynthia Dutch attempted to pull the chair Maya was saving out from the table.
Maya leaned all of her weight onto the chair. "Alexis is sitting here."
"You're not supposed to save seats." Cynthia held onto the back of the chair. Maya could hear her rasping. Cynthia had a perpetual cold and was always wiping the snot from her nose onto the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Gross.
"I'm not. She's sitting here. She just got up for a second."
"That's a lie. Her class isn't even here, yet." Cynthia gave an indignant sniffle.
Maya look around for her friend and spied her just coming in through the double doors of the gym. Alexis, carrying an insulated lunch bag, made to look like a purse covered in psychadelic swirls, and wearing hot pink leggings with a black ruffled mini skirt and a tight black t-shirt, had veered off from the line of hot lunch kids and was making her way toward the cold lunch tables. Maya gave a big wave with her free hand. "See, there she is. Right there." She turned to look at Cynthia triumphantly, but Cynthia was already pulling a chair out from the table behind her.
"Hey, you saved my seat. I hope snot nose didn't breathe on it." Alexis said this last sentence loudly, before plopping onto the chair without removing Maya's windbreaker. Maya saw the back of Cynthia's neck turn pink. Nobody challenged Alexis--except the teachers, who corrected her gently with a hint of sarcasm sweetening their voices, like the fake sugar Maya's mom stirred into her coffee each morning.
Alexis Irwin was not the prettiest girl in the fourth grade----that was Brianna Isley. Nor was she the smartest----that was Annaliese Lang. Or the richest----that was Meredith Fincher. But she was the coolest, and if she liked you, then you were cool, too. She wore fully cooridnated outfits, which looked like they came directly off the mannequin displays in a major department store. And her mother let her wear sparkly purple eye shadow and candy apple lip gloss to school. Once, Alexis' teacher, Mr. Dugan, sent her to wash it off in the girls' bathroom, and Alexis' mother showed up right after that to meet with the principal, Mrs. Mueller. From then on, Alexis could wear eye shadow and lip gloss, as long as she put it away during class; although, Jessica Wilson, who sat behind Alexis, told everyone that Mr. Dugan just rolled his eyes when saw her putting on lip gloss while he was teaching.
Maya opened her Garfield lunch box. It embarrassed her. When she saw it in the store at the beginning of the school year, she'd thought it was cute. Now, it seemed childish. And it didn't help that almost half the third graders had one. Maya wanted a lunch bag like Alexis', but her mother said it was way too expensive. And when Maya told her mother she would settle for a plain old insulated one, her mother insisted she wait until next year to get it. By then it will be too late, she thought miserably, as she took out a tuna sandwich and a Ziplok bag filled with Lays potato chips.
"Are you seriously going to eat that?" Alexis was nibbling on a carrot and drinking a can of Diet Coke. Maya saw this was all Alexis had brought for lunch.
"It's not that bad. Where's the rest of your lunch? I'll share with you, if you like."
"Are you kidding? Do you know how much mayo goes into tuna salad? TONS. I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole. No, make that a hundred foot."
Maya took a bite of her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. It tasted good enough. So what if there was mayo in it. She liked tuna salad. She watched Alexis take a swig of Diet Coke. "Well, Diet Coke has tons of fake sugar, and that's supposed to be, like, really, really bad for you." There. She had trumped Alexis with that one. Now they were even.
"At least I won't get fat," Alexis smirked at her, and Maya blushed. She was not skinny like a lot of the fourth grade girls. She wasn't fat like Elisa Nelson, who all the kids made fun of and wore jeans with an elastic waist that were a size too small for her, so that her butt crack showed whenever she sat down. But she wasn't a rail, either. She was somewhere in between. Her mother said it was just a bit of baby fat--she would grow out of it once she hit puberty. Her father told her not to worry--she was still his beautiful little girl. Her older brother, Parker, made oinking noises at her whenever they fought--which was most of the time.
"Don't worry. I'm sure you can eat tuna for at least a week before you wear the same size as her." Alexis pointed at Elisa, who was sitting at the table in front of them. She had a Garfield lunch box just like Maya's, and she leaned forward onto the table and lifted a sandwich up to her lips. Maya could see her butt crack and felt annoyed. Why did Alisa have to have the same stupid lunch box as she did? It was bad enough that half the third graders had one.
"Hey---hey, Elisa, what kind of sandwich you got?" Alexis smiled broadly, and her eyes held a glint of something that the fat girl, turning around suspiciously, mistook for kindness.
"Tuna salad." Elisa smiled shyly.
"See," Alexis poked Maya in the stomach. "You're practically twins." Elisa beamed at them and turned around to take another bite.
"So. How's your brother?" Alexis smiled sweetly. Maya's best friend.
"I don't know. A stupid jerk, as usual." Maya's stomach tumbled in disappointment as Alexis' motives for sitting next to her became clear; Alexis liked Parker. A lot of girls liked her brother; although, Maya couldn't think of a single reason why. A year older and a grade ahead of her, Parker walked around like he was the greatest thing on the planet. He was always fixing his hair in the mirror. And he, somehow, always managed to get the last can of soda, even after Maya hid it behind a giant jar of pickles in their refrigerator. But worst of all, he teased Maya about her baby fat, her frizzy hair, her Garfield lunchbox, her favorite pair of fuzzy pink pajamas. In fact, Parker teased Maya about everything. And now Alexis was sitting next to her because she wanted to get closer to him. Ugh. Maya took another bite of her tuna sandwich.
"I really can't believe you're eating that. AND YOU'VE GOT POTATO CHIPS." Alexis smacked her forehead.
I could have had a V8, thought Maya.
Alexis continued. "You are too much. You shouldn't say that about your own brother, you know. You're family. Flesh and blood. That's the strongest tie of all." Alexis was an only child.
"Easy for you to say," Maya grumbled under her breath. She was getting a little tired of Alexis. Maya had been surprised and flattered when Alexis, standing next to Maya in the four-square line a week ago at morning recess, had asked Maya to save her a seat for lunch. Butterflies fluttered inside of Maya's stomach, and she'd fidgeted excitedly in class until lunch time. Now, she was starting to see that being friends with Alexis was not nearly as fun as it looked.
Maybe that's why she changes best friends like she changes outfits, Maya thought.
"Hey, Alexis, are you really going to have a dance party for your birthday?" It was Travis Humphrey. He had been quietly eating a banana across from them. Maya had been so intent on making sure she saved a seat for Alexis that she'd forgotten he was there. Her spirits lifted. Maybe being friends with Alexis was worth it after all.
For her birthday last year, Alexis had invited twenty-five girls to a spa. Maya wasn't even sure what a spa was. She'd had to ask her mom, who told her it was where you got massages and funny creams on your face and took baths in mud and other hoity toity stuff like that. (Hoity toity was one of her mom's favorite expressions, as in, "Don't go getting all hoity toity on me," whenever Maya complained about her generic sneakers.) Maya told her Alexis was having her party at one, and her mom arched her eyebrows to the ceiling, asking no one in particular, "What, on Earth, is her mother thinking?" Maya told her it didn't matter, because she wasn't invited, anyway. "Well, thank God for that," her mom said cheerfully. But it didn't make Maya feel any better.
Maya took a potato chip and popped it into her mouth. Alexis was looking at Travis with a coy smile. "Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. What's it to you?" Alexis took a sip of her Diet Coke.
Travis shrugged, flustered. His freckled face reddened, and he addressed Maya, instead. "I like tuna fish, too."
Alexis' eyes hardened. Her smile curdled a tiny bit. "Well, lucky for you, you're still a skinny little runt, huh?"
Travis tossed the empty banana peel into his Snoopy lunch box and got up from the table without saying a word. Alexis watched him exit through the side door onto the playground before saying, "I wasn't going to invite him, anyway."
Maya finished her sandwich and chips. She ate quickly, wanting to be out of the suffocating lunchroom and into the open air of the playground among the other kids playing four-square and jumping rope. She felt trapped, sitting in such close proximity to Alexis, whom she had liked much better in theory than as an actual friend. Madison Chance had been best friends with Alexis. She and Alexis had spent recess under the oak tree near the monkey bars, laughing at private jokes and looking at stuff that Alexis had brought to school, until they'd had a falling out two weeks ago. That's why Alexis had been standing next to Maya in the four-square line. Madison refused to disclose the details of their parting. Now, Maya wondered if this was less from Madison's loyalty to her former best friend than her fear of her. Far more puzzling to Maya, was her own desire to impress Alexis--even though she thought her a tiny bit horrible. OK, a lot horrible. Somehow, Alexis' opinion of her still mattered; though she wasn't too keen on the idea of being friends with her, anymore.
Maya brushed a few potato chip crumbs from the front of her plaid jumper. She compared her outfit to the mini skirt and leggings Alexis was wearing and suddenly felt foolish, too young. Perhaps she could convince her mom to buy her some leggings, Maya thought. Although, the chances that she could were slim to none, seeing as how her mom had taken her shopping for clothes less than a week ago. Maya had loved the jumper then, had begged her mom to buy it. It was like the lunchbox. She seemed destined to be unhip. It's like I have some special dorkiness gene, thought Maya.
"Are you ready?" Alexis was already standing, waiting for her. Maya's windbreaker was still on the chair.
"Sure, OK." Maya rose, stuffed her plastic baggies into her lunchbox, grabbed her windbreaker and followed Alexis to the double doors on the other side of the gym, leading to the playground outside. Just before the exit, Maya stopped and threw her lunchbox into the green plastic bin marked, "Mrs. Wilkerson---4th Grade”, in black marker, where landed atop a pile of lunchboxes with a clang. Alexis tossed her lunch bag toward the bin marked "Mr. Dugan---4th Grade". She missed, and it landed on the gym floor near Mrs. Marcum, who turned in their direction, but Alexis was already out the doors and onto the playground. Maya smiled apologetically, bent down and carefully placed the lunchbox in Mr. Dugan's bin.
Outside, Maya blinked her eyes, willing them to adjust to the brightness. The sun had warmed the playground considerably from the chill of morning recess. Maya wished she had left her windbreaker inside and then remembered that she'd needed it, anyway, to save a seat for Alexis. She scanned the playground. A long line had formed on the concrete next to the basketball court, where a square with four quadrants had been painted for four-square. Inside one of the squares,Travis was waging war on Cynthia Dutch, aiming the rubber ball like a missile at her scuffed white Keds.
Ashley Kemp, Maya's best friend, waved at her from the line for double dutch jump rope. Ashley ate hot lunch and was in Mrs. Phillip's class, so Maya only saw her on the playground during recess. Maya raised her arm to wave back when Alexis came up next to her and grabbed it, linking her arm in hers.
"Come on, silly. Jump rope is for babies. Let's go over by the tree." Alexis pointed to the giant oak next to the monkey bars. Maya turned away from Ashley, who gave her a wounded look. The other girls in line--Jessica Trudell, Jordan Markis, Meagan Rotham and Livette Davis--looked impressed, even envious. Jessica should understand, Maya rationalized, Maybe I can convince Alexis to invite us both to the party. Last year, Ashley had not been invited, either.
"You can't seriously like her." Alexis, who was taller than Maya by a good several inches, walked slightly faster than her, so that Maya had to walk--run to keep Alexis from dragging her across the playground.
Walk, run, walk, run, skip, hop, walk, run, hop "Who?" Maya tried to breathe normally. She was out of breath.
"You know. Ashley. Ashley Kemp. She's such a baby. I heard she still plays with Barbie dolls."
Maya blushed. Ashley, did, indeed play with Barbies. In fact, she and Ashley played with Barbies together. "No, she doesn't. She just keeps them from when she was little."
"Oh. Well, I guess you would know. Seeing as you two are friends, and all..." Alexis let the sentence hang in the air before continuing, "Of course, maybe you both play with Barbies."
They had come to the oak tree. Alexis let go of her arm. Maya was grateful for the chance to catch her breath. She saw Elisa by herself next to the monkey bars. She was staring at the ground and kicking at the dirt with her shoe. "Look, there's your twin," Alexis sniggered.
Maya pretended that she didn't hear Alexis. "So, who are you going to invite to your party?" Maya asked.
"Well, Brianna and Meredith, of course. I haven't really decided on anyone else, yet. Maybe Kendall and Jason."
Well, that would certainly pair things up, Maya thought. Kendall was the cutest boy in the fourth grade, and she was pretty sure that Jason was one of the richest kids in the world.
"Actually," Alexis gave Maya a wheedling look, "I was thinking about inviting you---and Parker. Do you think he'd come? Parker, I mean. You could give him the invitation."
"Probably. I mean, sure he would come. He'll definitely come. We'll both come." Maya was pretty sure her brother would come. But she couldn't help hoping that he would come down with the flu on the day of the party.
"And.." Alexis looked down at the dirt. She seemed embarrassed. "I was thinking about asking him to dance with me."
"Oh." Maya couldn't imagine wanting to dance with her brother. In fact, she'd didn't know if her brother could dance. She smiled inwardly at the thought of him moving around like a big, dumb monkey with Alexis on the dance floor. Then Maya felt a boulder lodge inside her stomach--she didn't know how to dance, either.
"Do you think he'll say 'yes' If I ask him? I mean...to dance with me?" Alexis waited for Maya to answer, concentrating all of her attention, as if Maya were a guru getting ready to impart some important truth.
"Uh, yeah, I guess he would." The answer sounded less confident than Maya had intended. Truthfully, she had no idea what Parker would say. And, to be honest, she really didn't care one way or the other.
But Alexis seemed not to notice the halfheartedness of Maya's reply: her ego appeared more than intact. "Great. Excellent. I'll bring the invitations tomorrow." She smiled at Maya almost warmly, and Maya felt half-way cool, again. Then Elisa waved at Maya from the monkey bars.
"Hey, I think your twin wants to talk to you." Alexis was laughing.
Maya pretended she thought Elisa was waving at someone else, but Alexis waved back, giggling hysterically.
"She, actually, thinks we want to be friends with her. Maybe I should invite her to my party. Ha ha ha...We'd have to buy extra food..hee hee...just to feed the two of you..ha ha ha." Alexis was doubled over, her long, blonde hair bouncing upside down at her knees.
"Ha ha. Really funny." Maya realized her hands were balled up into fists.
"Oh, don't be sore. Really. I'm just joking. Anyway, I have an outfit for my party that I'm going to let you borrow. Maybe you can come to my house after school. My mom picks me up. She can call your mom and drive you home afterward."
Just like that. Maya felt better. Alexis was a complete jerk to her, and now Maya was excited, again, at the prospect of being in her good graces. Her mother would have told her to stop being so foolish, but Maya couldn't help the way she felt. "Gee, thanks. That would be great."
Alexis looked at Maya, appraising her figure. "Sure, don't mention it. It's too big for me. And you have three weeks to fit into it. You know, to diet--if you don't."
To diet. Maya had never been on a diet in her life. Her mother was constantly starting one and never finishing it. As in, "Tomorrow, I'm going on a diet, so tonight I can have chocolate ice cream," or "Today is the first day of my diet," which usually lasted all the way to lunch. Her mother was not a very good dieter. She was determined, however, and any new diet that came along got posted to the front of their refrigerator, where it would remain long after her mother had abandoned it, until it was replaced by the next one that came along. Maya did not think she would be a very good dieter, either. She liked tuna fish and potato chips way too much. She didn't want to admit this to Alexis, though. Dieting seemed like such a grown-up thing to do, and to admit that she really didn't want to do it was like admitting that she still played with Barbie dolls. Instead, Maya nodded her head and tried to look determined.
Mrs. Marcum blew her whistle then. Boys and girls began to run, walk and drag their feet towards their prospective lines at the entrance to the third and fourth grade building just as the fifth and sixth graders started streaming out of the lunch room.
Alexis grabbed Maya's arm and began dragging her to the entrance of the gym. Walk, run, skip, hop, walk, run, walk, run. "Where are we going?" Maya huffed. "The entrance is thataway."
"Just a minute. I want to say 'hi' to your brother."
Maya stifled a groan. Fifth and sixth graders pushed past them as they stood at the double doors of the gym peeking in. Some of them waved at Alexis, who waved back. A couple of the fifth grade girls told Alexis that they were excited about her party. Maya didn't know any fifth or sixth graders except Parker's friends, who made faces as they shoved past her. The whistle had stopped blowing. Maya was pretty sure that she and Alexis were very late. She was glad that there was a sub today. It would be easier to make up an excuse.
At last, her brother made his way over to the double doors of the gym. He walked with a swagger, as if he knew he was special or gifted or something, and everybody else needed to get out of his way. He spotted Maya and made a face. "What are you doing here, spaz? Don't you know your lunch is over." Seeing Alexis, his expression changed to one of bewildered bashfulness, "Oh. Hi, Alexis. Didn't see you there. You hanging out with my sis, huh? Well, good to see you." He smiled at Alexis, his face the color of a cherry red tomato.
Alexis smiled sweetly. "Hi, Parker. Can you come to my party? Maya's going to come, and I want you to come, too." She flipped her long blonde hair off her shoulders with a shake of her head.
Yep., Maya thought, Alexis' ego is definately intact.
"Sure. That sounds cool." Parker tried to look nonchalant, but the color of his face made it pretty much impossible.
"Well, good. I'll give Maya the invitations. Don't forget. It's a birthday party, and I expect a present." Alexis smiled, coquettish.
Maya was growing more disgusted by the minute. Plus, she was having a hard time coming up with a believable excuse for her tardiness, sub or no sub. She turned around to leave. "Well, I'll leave you two to it. I've got to go to class."
Alexis waved her off. She was dispensable now that her brother was on the scene. "Don't forget. My house after school. I can tell you what I want for my birthday." She looked at Parker again.
Maya waved and ran across the playground to the third and fourth grade entrance. Her classmates were long gone. She pushed the door open and walked quickly to her class, trying to think of a good excuse for Miss Reed.
As luck would have it, Miss Reed was too flustered trying to work the DVD player to notice as Maya entered the classroom quietly and slipped into her seat. When Old Yeller finally flickered onto the screen, Miss Read turned around to face the class with a look of relief, and it was clear that she'd never realized Maya was missing in the first place. Jessica Trudell leaned over and nudged Maya in her seat, "Lucky," she whispered. Maya shrugged her shoulders and tried to concentrate on Travis and his dog for the remainder of the afternoon.
Alexis' mother looked like a movie star. Or, at least she did in comparison to Maya's mom, who was short like Maya and slightly plump. Alexis' mother, who had instructed Maya to call her Vanessa, because Mrs. Irwin sounded so darn old, was tall and willowy. She had long hair the same shade of blonde as her daughter's, and like Alexis, Vanessa appeared to have stepped right off the pages of Vogue magazine. In contrast, Maya's mother, who went by Mrs. Martin or simply, Maya's mom, had curly brown hair, like Maya's, that bordered on frizzy most of the time. She favored shorts and t-shirts in the summer and jeans and sweatshirts in the winter. When Maya's mom dressed up, she put on a blouse or a sweater.
Vanessa drove a red Nissan Pathfinder, and on the way to Alexis' house, Maya sat in the backseat while Alexis sat up front with her mother. Alexis turned the radio up, and a pop tune Maya didn't recognize filled the car from the speakers in back. Alexis and her mother were talking and laughing, but the music drowned out their words, and Maya began to have the distinct feeling that they were talking about her. Then she noticed Vanessa looking at her from the rearview mirror. Her lips were moving.
"What? I'm sorry, I didn't hear you." Maya felt like she was shouting.
Vanessa turned the radio down. "I said, Alexis tells me that you and your brother are both coming to her birthday party. Is that right?"
"Oh. Oh, yeah. We are." Maya smiled and hoped that she was making a good impression.
"And you need something to wear?" Vanessa's eyebrows were raised.
Now, Maya felt embarrassed. She wondered what Alexis had told her mother. "Well, uhm..Alexis said she might have a dress that I could borrow for the party.." Maya let the sentence trail off, not sure if she should be defending herself or making conversation.
"Oh. Well that's good. I hope that it fits," said Vanessa, and Alexis turned the radio back up, leaving Maya to wonder if she had just been insulted.
Alexis lived in an upscale neighborhood, but her house, a green ranch style with dark red trim, was modest next to her neighbors. The house was filled with pictures of Alexis and her family, the three of them smiling for the camera, dressed in various versions of the same outfit, at different stages of Alexis' life. The living room housed overstuffed leather furniture and a giant entertainment center, and the kitchen featured copper pots and pans that hung from a low wood beam in the ceiling. Alexis' mother followed the girls into the kitchen and asked them if they would like a snack. Maya wondered if a snack meant a repeat of carrot sticks and Diet Coke, but Alexis was already pulling out a box chocolate ding dongs while her mother poured two glasses of milk.
"Here you go." Vanessa handed Maya a glass of milk. Maya thanked her, and she smiled absent-mindedly.
"We'll be in my room, OK?" Alexis put the carton of ding dongs under one arm, grabbed a glass of milk and headed out of the kitchen without waiting for her mother's response. Maya followed Alexis through a hall lined with family photos until they came to Alexis' room, which was the size of Maya and her brother's combined. A braided rug composed of various hues of red lay in the center of the room on the hard wood floor. A pink canopy bed, the mattress hidden under a mountain of clothes, sat against one wall, next to the open door of a walk-in closet. A vanity table cluttered with nail polish and lip gloss lay next to the open door of a bathroom. Posters of various pop bands covered the top portion of the walls, while rose colored wall paper wrapped the lower half like a package.
Alexis set her glass of milk and the box of ding dongs on the floor, then plopped down next to them on the braided rug. Maya put her milk down carefully and sat on the edge of the rug across from her. Alexis opened the box of ding dongs and pulled one out, tossing it to Maya. She took out another one and began unwrapping the silver foil.
"I thought you didn't eat stuff like that." Maya watched Alexis chomp down on the cupcake, taking half of it in one bite.
"Only sometimes." Alexis looked embarrassed, almost human. Maya smiled at her and began to unwrap the ding dong. The foil tore off in tiny bits, littering the rug like tinsel. Alexis took a swig of her milk, then finished off the rest of her ding dong and began to unwrap another.
Maya tore off a piece of the chocolate cake and popped it into her mouth, chewing it slowly, savoring the sweetness. "You're lucky you can just take the box. My mom would have a fit if I did that--not to mention my brother."
"Vanessa doesn't care," Alexis' mouth was full of chocolate and frosting. "as long as I don't make a mess." She frowned and looked around her bedroom. "OK, so the dress is somewhere in there." Alexis pointed to the open door of the closet. "I just have to look for it." She got up from the rug, shoving the rest of the second ding dong into her mouth then licking her fingers, and went into the closet, where she began tossing the clothes on the floor into a pile as she looked. "Found it." Alexis came out holding the dress up for Maya to see.
Maya looked at the dress that Alexis held in her hands. It had spaghetti straps, and a black satin bodice with a bow. White cotton with an overlay of black lace billowed out from underneath the empire waist. It was the type of dress her mother would never, ever buy for her, no matter how hard she begged. "Wow. It's beautiful."
"Yeah." Alexis shrugged. "Here, try it on. You can use the closet." She tossed the dress over to Maya and sat back down on the rug, taking another cup cake from the box and beginning to peel the foil.
Maya took the dress into the closet. The light was on, and a full length mirror hung on the inside of the door. She peeked at the size on the tag--10. Her heart fell. She wore a size 14. Slowly she unzipped the side of her jumper and stepped out of it. Then she took off her black turtle neck, pulling it over the top of her head. She still had on her tights, but decided not to go through the trouble of removing them, kicking her loafers off instead.
"What's taking you so long? Come out so I can see." Alexis called, impatient.
"Just a sec." Maya pulled the dress over her head and tugged it down hard over the rest of her. Success, the dress was on. But it was too tight: the bodice hugged at Maya's chest like an ace bandage and the spaghetti straps dug into her shoulders. Maya sighed. No way was Alexis going to see her in this. She struggled to pull the dress back over her head, but it stuck half way up her chest, and she found herself immobile, unable to move the dress any farther.
"Come on, Maya." Alexis called, again.
From under the fabric of the dress, Maya heard the closet door open and realized that Alexis was standing in front of her. "I'm stuck," Maya said meekly.
"Here. Let me help you." Alexis yanked the dress past Maya's head, bruising the tip of Maya's nose in the process.
"Well, I guess it doesn't fit," Maya tried to keep her voice light, but her face was burning, and she could feel a lump forming in the back of her throat.
"Yeah, I guess it doesn't." Alexis stood holding the dress in front of Maya. "That's OK. You've got three weeks." She grinned. "I need another ding dong." And with that, Alexis left the closet, leaving Maya to stare with disgust at herself in the mirror, before she stepped back into her jumper.
When Maya sat back down on the rug, Alexis was just finishing the last of her milk. The box of ding dongs was empty. Foil wrappers lay inside of it like fancy tissue paper. Alexis wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and eyed Maya carefully. "OK. Here's the deal. I can show you how to fit into that dress by my birthday if you want to."
Maya sighed. "I know. I know. My mom has tons of diets. I just wish I hadn't started off with a ding dong this afternoon."
"It's easier than dieting." Alexis continued to scrutinize Maya, waiting for her reaction. "If I show you, you can't tell anybody. I mean anybody. Even though it's no big deal. My mom even does it. I just don't want it to get around school, you know. But I think I could show you, because it could, like, really help you, so I'm willing to help you, if you promise to keep your mouth shut."
Maya stared at Alexis. She was flattered. Alexis trusted her enough to let her in on a secret. A big secret. A secret she didn't want anyone else to know. A secret that would only be shared between the two of them--three of them, if you counted Alexis' mom. Maya nodded her head solemnly. "I won't tell anyone. Not a soul. I just want to fit into that dress."
"OK. Just remember. Don't tell anybody." Alexis picked up her empty glass and walked over to the bathroom. Maya followed her. "The key is to drink lots and lots of water." Alexis said as she filled her glass from the tap and gulped it down. She filled the glass a second time and handed it to Maya,” Now you." She gestured for Maya to do the same.
And then Alexis lifted up the lid of the toilet and bent over it. "OK. Now you can watch me." She pulled her long hair back with one hand and shoved an index finger down into her throat with the other, moving it violently up and down until her body retched and a thick liquid that vaguely resembled chocolate milk intermingled with globs of partially gurgitated chocolate cake began splashing into the toilet, splattering the sides and the mauve colored tile of the bathroom floor. Maya watched, revolted, as Alexis continued to make herself vomit until there was nothing more than bile coming up from her stomach. Finally, Alexis flushed, stood up and went over to the sink. In bathroom mirror, Maya could see streams of milky vomit clinging to the sides of Alexis' mouth and chin. A film of chocolate slime enveloped Alexis' left hand. Alexis washed it in the sink, splashing the water up onto her face as though she were auditioning for some hideous Noxzema ad. She looked at Maya's reflection in the bathroom mirror and smiled. "It's your turn."
Maya was hesitant. Splotches of dark brown vomit clung to the toilet seat. Alexis was at the sink brushing her teeth. Her eyes were red and puffy. "Look," Alexis spat a glob of toothpaste into the sink. "nothing that's worth doing is ever easy. You get used to it. And no one has to know. Consider it my most guarded beauty secret--from me to you. Unless you want to end up like Elisa, after all."
Maya tried to convince herself that what she had just witnessed was not the grossest thing ever. That it was a part of growing up--a right of passage on the road to becoming popular. "Face it. You won't fit into the dress without doing this. You're fat right now. I'm showing you how to become thin." Alexis voice had grown hard, hateful even.
Alexis' words gouged Maya more deeply than all the years of ridicule from her brother. Resolve seeped in through the wounds like an anesthetic. "Alright." Maya leaned over the toilet and tried to emulate what Alexis had showed her. It was not easy. Her throat burned. Her eyes blurred. She gagged again and again, but nothing came up.
"Drink more water," Alexis instructed, holding a glass out to her. "Don't sip. Gulp." Maya took the cup with her left hand. Her right hand was slippery with saliva. She leaned back over the toilet. "Use two fingers, push them down further." Maya did as she was told until she felt like she was shoving her entire fist into her throat. And finally, she puked. Water and milk and globs of chocolate gushed around her fingers and into the toilet. "You have to keep going until there's nothing left." Alexis was like a football coach, urging her team on to victory.
Maya swished her fingers in and out and back and forth until her throat ached and only clear liquid surged from her stomach into the toilet. She removed her fingers and stood up, gasping. She felt exhausted, like she had stayed up all night running a marathon. And just beneath her exhaustion was a relief so intense it made her giddy. She washed her hands and face like Alexis in the bathroom sink and saw Alexis watching her reflection.
"We're like sisters now." Alexis' voice held genuine affection. "You'll fit into that dress in no time." And just like that. Maya felt good again.