The tough girls stand in the bathroom, applying Lee press-on nails. Simone’s their leader, and she leans against the grey cinder block and hotboxes a slim menthol cigarette. Her bangs fan up toward the ceiling, stiff and shining with extra-hold hairspray. They are epic. I shrink into my stall and hide behind the scent of glue and smoke and the iron of the trash bin where we throw our used pads. I can see her through the crack between the door and the jamb. The light pours through, a beacon. Hey, Dana, she says, and points at me.
I didn’t think she knew my name. I breathe deep to calm my heart and take one step across the linoleum. Yeah?
Aren’t you John’s little sister?
Ignoring the glares of the other girls, she walks toward me. She comes right up, close in the tight space, and places her hand on my shoulder. She leans her face three inches from mine. Her hand is hot and dry through my T-shirt.
I thought so, she says. You have the same curly hair.
She starts to walk home with me after school every day. Instead of doing homework, we watch music videos. We raid my parents liquor cabinet and pour tiny splashes of whiskey into our grape pop. The smell is sweet and sour, and when I drink it burns my nose. Simone insists she’ll marry Billy Idol when she grows up. I’d prefer Grace Jones or Debbie Harry, but say the guy from Flock of Seagulls.
When my brother comes home from basketball practice, Simone pats the couch beside her and tells him to take a load off. He smirks, messes my hair, and says he needs a shower. I check my bangs and feel my face go hot.
Because I’m fifteen, I have a learner’s permit. Nights and weekends, John teaches me to drive. We do squares in the gigantic parking lot of the discount department store. Right turn, left turn, brake. Once I’m good enough, we hit side streets, then the main drag, then the highway. The car’s an old compact—I hit sixty and the engine shakes. I’ve started to like it, though. The cheap grip of the vinyl steering wheel under my hand.
Simone shows me how to do my makeup. She draws eyeliner into thick, bold streaks, and paints my lids with dark black and brown. Her breath on my face, her lips close to mine, the foam pad of the applicator tickles. With my eyes shut, I place my hand on her waist so I don’t lose my balance. I giggle and squeeze. She’s done and tells me I’m gorgeous. I look in the mirror and think maybe she’s right.
The night before my driver’s test I practice one last time. Simone, as usual, is hanging out at my house. She and John get in the back seat together. Don’t worry, he says to me, you got this. If you were legal, you wouldn’t even need me.
I click “Rebel Yell” into the tape deck. I pull out of our driveway and into the street. We drive through downtown and my passengers chat.
I drive down Walnut. Down Main. Down Lincoln and across. By the time I pull onto the freeway, Simone and John are quiet and making out in the backseat. In the rearview, I see John’s hand inside her shirt. I roll down my window. Push my foot against the gas. The little car shakes and Billy Idol sings for more.
Chelsea Voulgares lives in the Chicago suburbs and is the editor of the literary journal Lost Balloon. Her work has been published recently in JMWW Journal, Bad Pony, Passages North, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her online at www.chelseavoulgares.com or on Twitter @chelsvoulgares.