My lollipop was toxic. Someone must have slipped industrial chemicals—bleach, lye, formaldehyde—into the molten syrups before the candy was skewered and wrapped in waxy plastic. Sucrose doesn’t normally corrode taste buds, right? I had sores on the roof of my mouth. The stick dissolved into pulp between my teeth and, as I crunched off the last slivers of red #40 candy, Susie screamed louder than my speakers. It was a skull-slicing scream, the sort reserved for slashers and torture porn. A we’re all gonna die scream. Marina jolted. A nail polish bottle toppled sideways and scarlet splattered across my sheets.
“What the literal fuck, Susie. You could have knocked.” I peeled my gaze away from Marina’s half painted toes and tried to stab Susie with a glare. “If you’re gonna act like a horror show, you shouldn’t have showed up at all.”
Susie stood shaking, all trickling lashes and dripping hair, and her hysterics smothered all attempt at communication. Her skirt was askew. She clutched her stomach and breathed in, breathed in, breathed in—her face was bloodless and her knees buckled. She pitched forward onto my floor, seized fistfuls of fluff y rug, and retched.
Marina slid off the bed and landed beside her. The splotches of red polish on her toes smeared off on my rug. Marina hauled the sniveling Susie into her arms, pulled the sopping hair off her forehead, and rocked her. “Hush,” Marina said as she kissed her brow. “No tears. You okay?”
“Jesus, Marina. Does she look okay?” I tried to purge myself of sympathy by staring at the screen. Standard Susie. It was probably nothing. On the screen the Lisbon sisters were still alive. Cecilia was in the bathtub. I chewed the inside of my cheek.
“Don’t be a bitch, Addison.” Marina flipped me off and then stroked Susie’s hair like she was a sick kitten or something. “Tell us what happened, babe. Tell us everything.”
Susie shrank into Marina’s neck. Her eyeliner left murky splotches on Marina’s blouse. The white was never going to be white again, but if Marina minded, she did a damn good job keeping quiet.
Susie opened her mouth, and her Chatty Kathy voice fell out in a slur. “It’s just. I just.” She wiped her cheek with her sleeve. “I mean. It’s Jason.”
Something sour unfurled in my stomach. “Jason. What the fuck about Jason?”
Susie howled, but when Marina dragged her closer, Susie yanked herself free and stumbled to her feet. She lunged at me and grabbed me by the wrists. Her nails sank into my skin. “I need you to come see,” she said. She tugged at my hands.
I felt something snide bloom in my mouth, but I swallowed it. I slithered off the bed and jerked my hands out of her grip. “Don’t grab me like that.”
She nodded once, wet ringlets swinging, and skittered back into the hall. Marina and I were just a step behind. We followed her through the kitchen and out the back door, which I apparently forgot to lock.
My backyard was my parent’s favorite baby. The hedges were meticulously sculpted, the trees preened, the flawless lawn peppered with plastic flamingos and beach chairs. The pool in the middle glittered aquamarine. Susie’s socks, along with Jason’s letterman jacket and his pink polo, were draped across the diving board. His BMW was parked by the back fence.
Jason was floating face up.
A second moan tore out of Susie, so I took a fistful of her shirt and yanked her towards me. I clamped a hand over her mouth and she went rigid. Her hair was cold on my cheek. Marina skittered to the poolside and heaved herself forward. Her hands broke the water’s glassy surface and, as she reached for his wrist, she said “Jason?” like he might answer. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
“Susie. Sweetie. Kindly explain what the fuck is going on.” The chlorine was sharp in the back of my throat, and Susie skipped shivering and fell straight into tectonic tremors. Her teeth chattered in my ear. I had the bizarre urge to kiss her cheek, but I wasn’t going to revamp that line of dead conversation. I squeezed her shoulder and tried to ignore the lurching in my stomach.
Marina hadn’t shut up. She was precariously close to toppling in, but she still hadn’t managed to grapple onto him. She stammered like a record skip: “Jason? Jason? Jason?”
Jason’s eyes hung half-lidded. His arms drifted at either side of his torso, limp and milky pale in the pool glow. The water leeched all the color from his cheeks. He looked younger without his prickish smirk. It was wrong.
“It wasn’t my fault! I mean, we were just fooling around. I knew your parents weren’t home and he was giving me a ride here from cheer, and I was like, you know, why not? And I just, he thinks it’s cute when I dunk him, and I held him under too long, and, and...” Susie hiccuped.
“You’re saying that you hooked up with fucking Jason in my pool and accidentally drowned him, just to be cute?”
“I mean.” Susie sniffled. “Am I a bad person? Do you hate me?”
I licked my teeth and tried to assess whether or not the world was going to miss Jason any more than I was. Booze-guzzling, skirt-hunting, queer-smearing Jason. Jason the straight-maker. “No. I don’t hate you.”
“Am I going to hell?” Susie asked no one in particular.
“Probably,” I said. “It’s whatever.”
“He’s dead. Guys, I think he’s dead.” Marina held a hand over her heart. “Jesus Christ, Jason’s dead.” Her mascara was starting to seep.
“No shit.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose. Jason’s gaze was set somewhere around my knees, and I reflexively stepped out of its way. I didn’t like him looking at my skin. It didn’t make sense, Jason being a floater, dead at the hands of Tinker Bell-ish Susie. He should have just sunk. My pool should have instinctively whirlpooled as soon as his toes dipped into the water. It should have yanked him down by the ankles and slammed his skull against the concrete until it split. All that raunch and pomp and vinegar should have solidified into an anchor in his gut. It should have pinned his broken body to the bottom. But no. That bastard had sex with my Susie in my own goddamn pool, and now he was and wasn’t watching me, and it took more restraint than I knew I had not to hurl a beach chair on top of him and pry those blind eyes off my legs.
“I’m sorry,” Susie started. “Addison, I’m sorry.”
“Shut up.” I fished an American Spirit out of my pocket and jammed it between my teeth. “Stop apologizing.”
“Why are you apologizing to Addison? You murdered your boy toy! Shouldn’t you be apologizing to him?” Marina hadn’t so much as looked away from the stupid buoyant corpse, but her voice still managed to slap Susie across the face. Susie cringed.
“She’s apologizing to me because she knows I’ll fucking fix it. I swear to God, Marina, if you snitch, I’ll Natalie Wood you.” I fumbled for a light. “Call the cops. Claim self-defense. Say he tried to assault you and you shoved him to get away. Keep crying.”
“But he didn’t,” Marina said. She neglected to notice how quickly Susie was dialing. “This is fucking Jason we’re talking about.” I found my lighter, singed the end of my cigarette, and took a soothing drag of poison. “It’s justice.”
Cherry lights warped across my pool. He asked Susie what happened again.
Susie was good at this part. It was damned strange, watching her milk the sheriff with just a pink pout and some fluttery lashes. When she so much as sniffled, he clasped her shoulder and told her he was just so sorry about all of this. It was the same routine that worked on teachers when Susie didn’t feel like doing her homework and that worked on her boss when she forgot an entire week of shifts and that used to work on me when she neglected to show up at my birthday parties.
I snuffed my American Spirit on my thigh. I wasn’t sure if they’d card me in the midst of all this, but I didn’t feel up to finding my fake ID. I was fucking done forever. I’d never swim again.
Susie bawled into his sleeve when he called her parents, who didn’t pick up, because when have they ever picked up? Then the sheriff called Jason’s parents, who said they were mortified and maybe pressing charges. Maybe. Jason’s mother was the cheerleading coach. Maybe the maybe meant she understood more than counting off as girls clambered over girls and hurled other girls off their girl-pyre. Maybe the maybe meant she knew a damnable thing or two about her son. He had several damnable actions for her to pick from, and if my folks were right about tarnation, just one sin did the trick. The paramedics heaved Jason onto a stretcher. They didn’t bother pumping his lungs.
Marina had turned cottontail and hop-hop-hopped her way over my back fence before the cops rolled up. God knows where she was. She had crossed her heart that she wouldn’t rat on us, but she was Marina, and her bursts of Good Samaritan Kindness were unpredictable at best. It’d royally fuck everything up if she decided to be the better person and describe Susie’s escapades to the authorities. I didn’t trust her not to be that better person. There was a time when pinky swears were sacrosanct with the three of us, but Marina was doing her damnedest to grow up and stay up, and I didn’t know if she’d surpassed loyalty when she shucked off her training wheels.
My pool looked mysteriously identical to the way it was two hours ago, boring and shiny and blue. I sat sideways in in a beach chair and when I swung my feet, my toes knocked against a pink flamingo’s stupid loopy neck. The flamingo was hollow, and it made a little ting! sound when I kicked it. I really wanted my cigarette back. I wanted it, but I had smothered it like a cabin-fever mother pillows her babies and I was stuck aching for the taste.
My parents were going to be beyond pissed when they came home, and they’d undoubtedly miss Jason. They liked him because everybody did. They had no reason not to. I’m no snitch.
Susie peeked at me and winked.
I kicked the flamingo so hard that its neck dented. Susie mouthed see you at school? and I hugged my knees to my chest, which meant yes. Sure, fuck it. Anything for you.