They met at summer camp, scratched their secrets into wooden bed frames and decided that boys tasted like gold. At night they washed their feet in dew and cried on the dock as the stars moved. Held hands and watched midnight storms melt into the tree line, hoped the lake would flood so they could disappear by daylight. Teenage boys made them wrap their thoughts in honey’s and baby’s and sweethearts. Told them to swallow pink pills beneath the cold light of a public restroom, and caught them in the kind of unforgivable romance that slit the wrists of fourteen-year-olds in porcelain bathtubs. They were nowhere girls, ate cold cheeseburgers from convenience stores, smoked in the parking lot during school assemblies, and never told their parents when they were coming home. They thought life was escapable, rode it like a roller-coaster until the tracks squealed and the cart flung them over the moon and into a black pit of babies crying, mail piling and husbands whining. Until they couldn’t hold their breath and drowned in thank you cards and bake sales and grocery lists, in the things that made them women.
In the fall the girls chain-smoked in Lizzie’s bedroom until the shades turned gray and their fathers pulled into the driveway, their ties loose and their cherry necks throbbing with love bites from women that would never be their mothers. They drew on themselves in purple ink, pretended they were old enough to get tattoos, to run away, to sleep with men twice their age who knew twice as many things. Men who would tell them they were beautiful despite their stained bodies and broken hearts. Lizzie was the leader. Her loose lips signified her power. She never cut her hair or plucked her eyebrows or painted her nails. The boys liked her chaos. They liked the stains on her shirt, leftover ketchup from the fourth of July, ashes from the cigarettes she smoked in the dark. They liked her cut-off shorts and her bony legs, and the way she looked at them after gym class, hair tied back, cheeks tainted red, like she wanted them to follow her into the showers and paint her neck with the scent of their mouths.
Courtney always slept in, her rough blonde hair suffocating the sheets, staining it with loose bobby pins and the smell of the sea. Everyone called her sweetheart. Everyone chewed on her neck, tangled her locks, and hid her panties in their trunks so they could spend longer drowning in her thighs. Her parents owned a cottage, lined it with baby pictures and teacups, with sand dollars and watercolor paintings, with the things that separated them from her and the nights she spent naked by the shore, sinking her body into the earth and waiting for it to disappear. Her aunt sent her fancy bags from Paris that she hid from her sisters in the back of their father’s corvette. After dinner she would sit with them in the front seat, rest her head against the dash and rub them until their shine came off in her hand, until they glittered with bright lights and parasols, until the Eiffel Tower was close enough to touch.
Bloodstained baby-blue tights climbed her legs, split at her thighs, exposed her snow-white skin, made the boys think she flicked her open sign on. Mia knew how good they felt lying on their backs in the bed of her grandfathers pick-up truck, and she liked to keep them there, watch their eyes change color as the sun set, run her palms down their legs until their mouths caved in. They tasted sour, made her tongue peel, but she kept suffocating in their sweet misery because they wanted her, and it made her feel alive.
The girls grew up too fast, painted their eyes with glitter on their tenth Halloween and let the calm October night mask their shrill voices. Let it turn them into girls with long faces and broken cherries. Their mothers watched them sprint across the sands when they were kids. Watched their stubby toes get caught on smoothed pebbles and chipped shells, watched their bare bottoms breath in the suns wandering glow. They closed their eyes and prayed the waves would pull their daughters out to sea, to somewhere that would keep their hearts safe. But they watched the horror of life unveil itself in their childhood bathrooms, let their blood run deep into the rug. Made their mothers believe it was ketchup before they disappeared downtown where the darkness could hide their scars. Banana splits and pinball machines became their camouflage, and they buried themselves in it until it tasted like the sea.