In the bathroom I open my eyes as wide as possible, feeling tears building up at the edge of my mascara. “I can’t believe you, Dawn.” My voice is heavy and scratched. “Telling that guy I was hot for his skank friend.”
“He’s all right,” Dawn says, putting on lip gloss with a fingertip. “He has long hair. What’s with you?”
“I don’t want to hang with him, is all.” I press my index fingers to the corners of my eyes. The tips of my fingers are black with mascara and tears. There’s a noise at the back of my throat that wants to come out, but I know Dawn will be mad if I let it.
My stomach feels huge. The thought of that skanky Barney Rubble out there makes me want to puke, though he’s no worse than some of the others I’ve had to put up with. It’s no coincidence that every babe Dawn finds has a skanky-looking best friend along with him. That’s what people see when they look at Dawn and me. I’ve noticed how beautiful people like to have a skank friend to hang out with. It makes them look even better.
“Oh, man,” Dawn says. “Are you my best friend, or what?”
“You know I am.” My voice cracks in half. Carefully I wipe away the black tear running down my cheek with a twist of Kleenex. “I just don’t want to be with that guy,” I tell her. “He’s a skank, and you know it.”
A lady comes into the bathroom carrying a shopping bag. She goes into a stall. Dawn turns the hand dryer on so we can talk privately. “Look,” she whispers, “if you’re my best friend, you’ll do this for me. Because I’ll tell you one thing for sure: only my best friend can sleep over at my house tonight.” I stand there weeping. It takes forever to get my breath.
“Janine,” Dawn says finally, tiring of my crap, “fix your face and let’s go.” I get out my compact and brush powder across my cheekbones, and then redo my mascara and eyeliner. I work quickly, knowing Dawn will leave me behind if I don’t hurry. A woman comes in with a little boy, chocolate ice cream smeared down his cheeks. She lifts him up to the sink and wets a tissue to wipe his face. I want to go away with her.
“Look,” Dawn says, her voice softer now. “You don’t have to do anything. I just don’t want to be alone with the guy the first time. We’ll stick together, I promise. And later when we get home, we’ll eat some eggs or something. OK?”
I nod my head. My face is glowing again in the mirror. I open my eyes wide, testing my mascara. A toilet flushes, and the woman with the shopping bag comes out, washes up, looks at herself in the mirror. She slides her lips against each other, evening out her lipstick. She’s pretty for an old lady. She must be at least 40. It’s depressing to think about all the years I’ll have to worry about my makeup and my hair before I get old enough that no one cares.
We leave the bathroom, head to Macy’s, and there they are, waiting for us by the exit. The babe sees us and pulls a wig crooked on a mannequin to show off. I smile. My skin is tight with layers of powder, but underneath it I can feel my face swollen from crying.
“Hey, what’s up?” the babe says. “This is my buddy. Stevie. He’s cool.”
“Hi,” I say. I bend my lips up into something like a smile. Dawn is giggling with her hand over her mouth.
“What’s up?” Stevie says. His eyes are crooked and small.
We head out to the parking lot. It’s dark out. Headlights reflect off cars as we walk out to the strip of grass that separates the highway from the Macy’s parking lot. Thick green bushes are planted in a row leading to the entrance and exit signs that separate the lanes of traffic in and out of Macy’s.
Dawn and me lean against the Enter sign. Stevie and the babe stand across from us. The babe has a pint of Southern Comfort. He passes it around. A wind is blowing, drying the sweat under my arms.
“So,” the babe says finally, “what’s up?”
“I’m cold,” Dawn says.
“Here,” he says. He takes off his leather and wraps it around her, leaving his arm on her shoulder.
Suddenly they’re going at it. She falls against the Enter sign with a bang, and I move away quickly as he presses into her with his hips and chest. I look at Stevie, and past him at the cars streaming by on the highway. He makes a noise in his throat and spits on the grass.
“What’s up?” he says.
“Nothing,” I say, looking down.
He puts his arm around me. The babe has a hand up Dawn’s shirt. I catch a corner of her bra under his cupped hand. Stevie’s hand curls around my shoulder slowly. I can tell he thinks I won’t notice.
The babe breaks away from Dawn and says, “Time to hit the Pit?”
Dawn looks at me. “Come on, Janine.” I shake my head. She puckers her lips. We go behind the Exit sign. She’s sweaty, her makeup rising like a film over her face. “Janine, you want a place to sleep tonight?” Her voice is thick, breathless. It’s dark enough out that I just let my mascara run with a flood of tears. I know Dawn can see, but she just flips her hair and steps back away from me, talking loud so the guys can hear.
“You think you can do better?” she says. I look at her. Even in the wind from the cars and the sweat on her face, she’s still something I’ll never be. From the tiny points of her shoulders to the long swoop of her legs, down to her ankles, like glass balanced on high heels. I give in.