We cross the highway and take the path down to the woods we call the Pit. It’s just dug-up land from where they took the dirt to make the cement for the mall a million years ago. Thin pine trees planted along the highway have grown tall to block out the streetlights, and below, sticker bushes divide the Pit into narrow pathways and openings where people hang in the dark to fool around or do drugs or hide from the cops.

Stevie has a hand on my ass. He whispers in my ear, “You got a nice body, OK?” The babe and Dawn have disappeared into the woods. I call her name, but she won’t answer. From up the hill I hear a truck shifting gears, a horn. Some guy screams, “Dildo.” Stevie says, “Shh, relax.”

We walk further into the Pit, passing the dark outlines of couples against trees or rolling slowly in the dirt. We find a clearing with an overturned shopping cart, and Stevie sits. I go to sit next to him, but he grabs my head tight over my ears so that everything sounds like an ocean. And behind the roar I hear him whispering, “I love you. Yeah, I really love you, OK?” Pushing me down to my knees, pushing my face into his zipper. And then there’s the smell of him, gagging me through his jeans.

I’ve been in this position before, lots of times, because of Dawn and other girls who were once my best friend. And lots of times when I thought maybe a guy might really like me. I know I’m supposed to go numb, just open my mouth and let it happen, and then wait for Dawn to call me to go home.

But this time I can’t seem to. This time there’s no pretending that I’m doing it for Dawn or for myself or for any reason at all. Because this time I can see suddenly that Dawn is getting tired of me. Even if I play this right with Stevie, my days are numbered as her best friend.

I open my eyes. After a moment, the gold thread along the zipper of his jeans appears. Tears are running into my mouth. I try. I try so hard for Dawn, for my best friend. I try to keep my face pressed against his zipper, but I can’t. And when his hand comes down and unbuttons his jeans, I pull away and stand up.

“You’re a skank,” I hear myself say.

“Hey,” he says. “Come on, help me out here. You can’t leave me like this. It’s killing me, OK?”

I call for Dawn, but she still won’t answer, so I turn and start back up toward the road.

“Hey,” Stevie yells after me. “You on the rag or something?”

“I’m leaving, Dawn,” I yell one last time. I know if I walk back to the mall, I’ll be doing something awful. I know as soon as I step out of these woods, I won’t have a best friend anymore.

“Oh, get lost, fat girl,” Stevie yells from behind me. Then after a moment he adds, “It’s your loss, OK?”

I start to run. I run up out of the woods and across the highway and through the lines of parked cars and into Macy’s. I run through lingerie and pantyhose and piles of scarves. I run to the center of the mall where I stop, with a burning cramp squeezing my side, feeling my fat stomach covered in sweat under Dawn’s borrowed sweater. I stand there panting, my face aching with dried tears. No one seems to notice me.

The benches by the fountain are empty, and something tells me if I’ve lost Dawn, I’ve lost Gail and Carol, too. I’ve lost all the girls that sit at Dawn’s lunch table at school. I’m all alone, and I have nowhere to sleep tonight.

I go into Anthony’s and buy three slices with pepperoni with the last of my money. I eat as fast as I can, with warm grease dripping down my neck. My throat burns with swallowing so fast.

Inside the Sears bathroom there are two girls at the sink. I don’t know them. One girl has her head back, and the other is French braiding her hair. Best friends. When they see me, one of them reaches up, turns on the hand dryer to shut me out.

I go into a stall and lean over the bowl, one hand holding onto the toilet paper roll. The other hand turns into a knife. I stick it down into my throat until my stomach starts to shake and my mouth gags open, and the pizza rushes back up me and down, splashing into the bowl.

The hand dryer clicks off. One of the girls says, “Lisa should never wear yellow. Have you noticed that? She looks like a frog in yellow. It’s weird.”

I lean against the wall of the stall, my head against the coat hook. My stomach feels thin and flat, empty. I let out a deep breath of air, and just for that one moment, between letting air out and filling myself up again, I feel beautiful, like a puzzle piece sliding in to fit. But then it’s gone, and I flush the toilet and walk back out. ♦

This story originally appeared in Evil, a collection of short stories by Rennie Sparks. Copyright © 2000 by the author, and reprinted with her permission.

Rennie Sparks writes stories, essays, and songs, and is one half of the gothic country band the Handsome Family.