It had been a little over a month since my transformation from “Lauren Albright’s ugly little sister” to “Lesley Albright, basketball goddess” and my life had never been more glamorous. My new favorite thing was to pose in the middle of the cafeteria so everyone could ogle us: backs straight, heads high, and hair higher. The smell of grease and Aqua Net permeating the air was somehow fresher, lighter than before. This was where Claire, Kara, and I would laugh loudly, talk about our after-school plans, and mock the nerds who wandered too close.
Claire was in one of her moods. It’d been happening a lot recently; I figured she was still pissed at Kara for getting a perm without her.
“Lesley, I want to go to a corn maze after school and you’re going to take me,” Claire said, before picking up her fork. She poked at the sauce lump splattered across her tray before setting it back down again, the clang of the fork making my ears ring. She tossed her crimped hair, which was pulled to the right with a neon pink scrunchie, over her shoulder before flashing me a smile, lips stretching thin to show perfect white teeth. It almost looked predatory. She turned to Kara. “You’re too busy right? So sorry. You can totally join next time.”
My stomach started twisting into knots, but I could feel dozens of eyes boring into the back of my head, so I just smiled. “Sounds fun!” I said. I didn’t even glance at Kara. I couldn’t.
The night of the first basketball game of the season, I scored the winning shot from half court. It was against our long time high school rivals and we hadn’t beaten them in like a hundred years or something. After the game, I had been waiting outside for my mom to come pick me up in her beater when Claire had approached me.
“Good game,” she said. I think she tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. You’d think I’d kicked her in the shin.
Claire very rarely, if ever, deigned to talk to someone beneath her status, so there was a quickly amassing crowd, though they gave us a wide berth. I wondered how odd it looked. Me, still in my yellow and black uniform, drenched in sweat, Adidas shoes falling apart. Her, with a tight satin miniskirt, hair exactly like Michelle Pfeiffer, lips glossed to perfection. She was everything I wanted to be.
“Thanks,” I replied, voice soft. I was praying my mom would get here soon, that she’d see me with the most popular girl in school and know I was finally following in her footsteps.
Claire pulled out a pack of gum, popping a piece in her mouth before shoving a piece into my hands. “You should sit with us at lunch Monday,” she said, lips slapping each time she clamped her teeth together. I crammed the gum in my mouth before nodding a very eager yes.
Claire sighed, pulled her hair off her forehead, and said, “I can’t believe we’ve been here less than fifteen minutes and we’re already lost.”
I shrugged. “I can.”
I saw her jaw clench, the tan skin pulling taught over her angular face as she slowly turned her head back to look at me. “You’re going to bag your face or you’ll be eating lunch in the bathroom for the next month. Understand?” She tugged her jean jacket tighter around her body and crossed her arms in front of her remarkably flat chest.
I nodded and continued following her. To be fair, this wasn’t totally my fault and we weren’t even lost, but I didn’t want to lose my schoolwide fame, not after I just got it.
And, call me lame or whatever, but I don’t think most farms have mazes, especially mid-November, so I suggested we just wade in the field for a bit. I’d done it a few times before, it’s actually kind of fun. Jesse, my cousin and the owner of the farm, gave us the okay and off we went.
Claire was also the one who kept turning around every five minutes just to delve back deeper into the field.
The first time Claire had come over to my house, my mother had been more nervous than I was. It was about a week after the game when Claire had noticed I hadn’t been wearing any of the latest trends, which she was not going to put up with any longer, but I couldn’t get my mom to buy me hair spray let alone new shoes. Claire was certain she’d be better at convincing my mom than me.
Just before she arrived, my mom was making sure the house was straightened up. “Her last name is Danvers, right?” she said as she fluffed the pillows on the couch. I nodded. “Oh, I used to run around with her mom back in the day!” She was beaming, the corners of her mouth folding to form deep gashes. My mother had more wrinkles than a pug and had gained weight since high school, but that’s what happens when you get married and have kids. And besides, she wasn’t that ugly; if she stopped caking on foundation and updated her colors she’d be decent, at least. She turned to look at me sitting at the table. “Will you get up and help me? Lauren would be helping me right now. And straighten your back, you look like a little hoodlum.”
I stood, but I didn’t know exactly what she wanted me to do, so I just retreated further into the kitchen where she couldn’t see me. I stayed there for a few moments, wondering if I could sneak a call to Lauren at her college when the doorbell rang. I rushed to get it.
As soon as it was opened, Claire pushed past me to get into the house, turning a thousand watt smile on to my mom. “Hi, Mrs. Albright, I’m Claire.” She thrust her hand forward, neon nails glowing.
“Welcome, come in, take a seat!” my mother replied, gesturing the chair I had just occupied. “I hope you like meatloaf, it’s my special recipe.”
Claire smiled. “Sounds delish.”
After an hour of walking, Claire had to sit down and take off her Keds, bending (and breaking) several stalks of corn in the process. The snaps sounded like bones, making my elbow hurt. Last season a girl went down on the court and her arm bent back in half like in some sort of horror movie. It made me nauseous hearing the sound.
Claire’s feet and ankles looked swollen, so much so I was worried she’d been injured somehow. I sat down next to her and began rubbing above her right ankle like Coach had taught me to do when I first started playing.
“What are you doing?” she asked. She was a little pale and sweat was dotted along her forehead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sweat before. It was odd, too, because it wasn’t even the kind of pretty, radiant look some girls got; she just looked sick.
“Basketball trick. What’s up with your feet? They don’t look good,” I said. She watched my hands for a few seconds before beginning to mimic me on her left. It was silent between us, the only sound being the wind whistling through the stalks and the cawing of crows.
She finally spoke when she was putting her shoes back on. “I think I’m pregnant.” She wasn’t looking at me.
She scoffed and tossed her hair over her shoulder before stumbling up to her feet, leaving me in the dirt. “You heard me.”
“I know it’s just… I don’t know,” I said. I paused, not sure if I should ask my next question, but curiosity got the better of me. “Is it Scott’s?”
She stuck her hands on her hips, her small, narrow hips, before spitting out, “Of course it’d be Scott’s, I haven’t boned anyone else!” I looked down at my lap away from her glare.
Scott was her long-time boyfriend, a member of the boys’ basketball team, and a cheating asshole. Everyone knew it, including Claire, but she still stayed with him. Said it was part of her image. I heard her sigh before she sat down in front of me again.
“Sorry,” I said softly.
“About the question or the pregnancy?” she asked. I looked up and she had a genuine smile on her face. It was kind of nice, but she looked so much older than 16.
I gave a small laugh, a huff of air more than an actual noise, and said, “Both.”
She began picking at her nails, looking away from me again. “I don’t even know if I am. It’s only been a week, Mom says it’s normal to fluctuate. I mean it’s not like she knows, but… Yeah. And if I am, I’m getting rid of it. No big deal, you know?” She looked like a child curled in on herself, missing her mother, alone and frightened. After a moment, I reached out and put my hand on her knee.
“If it does turn out that you are, I can go to the appointment with you. For like, moral support or whatever,” I said. She smiled again before putting her hand on top of mine and giving it a squeeze. It was as cold as an operating room.
I shrugged. “What’re friends for?”
It got dark really quickly, like the sun had dodged behind the Earth trying to avoid the moon. It was 40 degrees, tops, and Claire was wigging out.
“We’re going to die here, Lesley, we’re going to die in a fucking cornfield!”
I admit, this is more my fault. I had allowed Claire to wander around the corn and followed listlessly behind her instead of pointing out the obvious to just keep walking in one direction. Like she said, shut up or eat lunch in the bathroom. We were at a standstill in the dead center of the field. I leaned up against the scarecrow, who I affectionately began calling Bubba, and stared at Claire, who was doing her best to pace with all the stalks in her path. I could see her door-knocker earrings swinging wildly, her hands ringing her scrunchie like a dishcloth.
“I’m going to die,” she kept repeating. “I’m going to die in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa, in a cornfield with a fucking loser.”
I stood up straight. “Excuse me?”
“What?” She’d stopped her pacing. “Did I offend? I’m so sorry.” She sneered at me yet again, her head high like the fucking queen she thought she was. A cold wind picked up. Her now frizzy hair flew into her face, sticking to her lip gloss. “Don’t worry, it’s probably just genetic.”
I scrunched my eyebrows. “What are you talking about?”
She pulled her hair from her lips, smearing the pink goop across her cheek. “Your mom. She was in the chess club, so you shouldn’t feel too bad. I mean, girl sports aren’t that cool, but nothing’s as lame as that.” Her hair had clumped in the corner, pasting itself against her jaw as she laughed.
I scoffed, but I couldn’t look her in the eyes. I hugged my arms around my chest. “Are you kidding? Our moms used to hang together!”
She snorted. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. You’re a loser just like your mom.” She rolled her eyes, then laughed again. I turned around, pulled my jacket tight against my body, and began walking.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going walk straight for a while. Once I hit an edge, I’ll make my way back to Jesse’s house. Have fun dying, bitch.”
I could hear her jaw pop, so I assumed it’d dropped open. “You… you knew how to get out? This whole time?”
“Like it’s difficult, a dead dog could find his way out before you! And besides, you told me to bag it,” I turned back to look at her, basking in the glory of Claire finally being outshined. A bloodthirsty smile spread across my face; I couldn’t wait to tell everyone tomorrow morning how much of an airhead Claire actually was.
“You’re so dead! Forget your 15 minutes of fame!”
I scoffed. “Yeah right.”
As soon as I entered the building the next morning, I could tell something had happened. People normally stared as I walked past, but now they were whispering and giggling to each other, pointing at me like I was some sort of freak show here for their amusement. And then I heard Claire in her loudest, most obnoxious voice say, “And then I said, ‘Like it’s difficult, a dead dog could find his way out before you!’” and a cacophony of laughter follow, the loudest being Kara.
I sprinted around the corner to find her and like fifteen students all standing around the lockers. She, of course, was dead center and Kara was to her left. They seemed to have made up real fast.
I shoved my way through the crowd, body checking more than a few of them, and stopped in front of Claire. “We need to talk. Now.”
That predatory smile once again crept across her face. “Sure. Bathroom?”
Once we were in the nearest bathroom and kicked everyone else out, I turned to face her. The air was thick with musky perfume and I felt like I was choking. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to run out and tell everyone what really happened. “That wasn’t true. You lied to them,” I said softly.
“Maybe, but do you think they’ll believe a wastoid over me? And don’t even bother trying to say you’ll tell them I’m pregnant or whatever, you’re just going to look like a desperate loser rather than just a dumb one.” She stepped closer, until our chests were almost touching. I felt my eyes burning, but I couldn’t give her the satisfaction of watching me cry. “I’m always right, Lesley. I thought you’d learned that by now.” She paused, putting her finger up to her mouth in mock thought. “Unless…”
It was silent for a moment. My chest burned. “Unless?” I asked finally.
“You let everyone know that you’re the one who got lost, you back up my story. If you make yourself look extra pathetic, you can even continue sitting with us at lunch! But you’re not allowed to talk to me for at least a week. Do we have a deal?”
I swallowed thickly and looked down at my shoes, white Keds that weren’t even a month old, dirt from the cornfield climbing up the sides. I closed my eyes. I thought of my mom, how excited she’d been. I thought of the baby Claire might be having. I thought of my pride, or whatever might be left of it. I opened my eyes and looked into hers.
“Yeah. Yeah, we have a deal.”
Amber Schulthise is a Creative Writing major at the University of Evansville and an emerging author. She is the social media manager, the creative nonfiction section co-editor, and a copy-editor for The Evansville Review.