Somewhere in the distance an alarm-clock sounded. Brandi rose from bed, rubbing her eyes as the sound increased; and then she pressed the buttons, until it became silent. Turning, she withdrew her hand and knocked over a wooden picture-frame, which contained the only photo of her parents in the house, as far as she was aware. The plastic screen thumped out and Brandi stooped to pick it up. Glancing down, on the far right, she noticed a young girl who had been hidden under the border of the frame. She squinted, peered closer because the woman appeared to be looking directly at her father, whose features seemed nonchalant. His back was stiff and head erect. She shook her head, moving closer to the light, thinking that the woman almost looked like Teresa. She shook her head, that would have been impossible. She shoved the picture and the dismembered frame into a drawer. Not believing in coincidences.
As she picked up her phone, which buzzed in her hands. It was already 6:30. Watching the text message flit across the screen, she opened the phone and read it. Be there shortly, T. She dashed towards the wardrobe, pulled out a few dresses that her mother had insisted they buy and then, she dropped them onto the bed. Moving between the space of the bed and the full length mirror, Brandi held up each of the five dresses that she had taken out, and modeled with them until she was down to two. A black dress that seemed to hug her waist and a blue sequined piece that seemed a bit more flashy. She laid the others aside and gave the final two dresses some space, hoping that after a quick shower, it would be easier to decide. All the while also telling herself that everything would be okay, although something else was telling her that it would be wiser to stay away.
But she ignored it. The concoction of cold medicine making her feel as if somehow she was now invincible. She felt her neck, knowing that the fever had already broken and rushed into the bathroom.
She wouldn’t need to think too much about tonight, she thought, her mind becoming hazy, as the cold water sapped her skin. She adjusted the knobs, knowing that at the party she would be nothing more than a spectator: observing couples. Besides, there would be nobody else from their school there, since there was no one called Jason in their grade. Or the one higher. She passed a hand over her abdomen, feeling a thin scar, where her mother had said the wound was healing nicely. But she removed it, because she couldn’t avoid the icky feeling that accompanied the application of the salve, which had somehow remained with her. And yet, it had been a life saver because the arrow hadn’t damaged a vital organ.
She shut off the water, dried her skin and returned to the bedroom, not wanting to think about it, because besides almost failing English, her knowledge of health class was even more iffy. She took her time to get ready, even though, she knew that Teresa would be there soon. It didn’t matter. She had time, she thought, casting a peripheral glance at the pendant.
At the bed, she bit her lip, and decided to go with the black dress and a pair of low heels because the blue dress seemed a little too flashy. As an after thought, Brandi wrapped a matching shawl around her neck and then picked up the pendant. How would she be able to wear it openly? she thought, not wanting to discard the extra abilities that she was almost certain it had given her. Besides, she didn’t want them to be locked away. Or hidden.
So, sending caution to the wind, she removed the shawl and fastened the clasp. The pendant dropped below her unflattering neckline, between an ample bust, as she adjusted the straps, hoping that the pendant’s necklace-effect would make her seem more mysterious, rather than questioning. Brandi slipped her feet into the low heels and walked over to the window to look out. But she wasn’t focusing on the Red Dragon sign that usually held her interest, even though it seemed to be spinning faster than usual, like some sort of homing device.
Instead, she wondered if the more upscale restaurant that her mother worked at, was more crowded. Perhaps even packed, as a slow wind picked up. She took a deep breath and wondered if she was making the right decision to follow Teresa. Or even to go to the party. And whether or not, she should be feeling so much doubt. She passed a hand through her hair, as if deciding, and then moved away from the window to powder her nose.
She had been in bed for most of the week and a little partying never hurt anyone, she assured herself, trying to get rid of a frown. Pouting, she added a thin layer of red lip gloss to her seemingly chapped lips, and brushed back her hair. When she was finished, she dropped the lip gloss and a few other essentials into a purse, before turning off the lights, going downstairs and then out the front door.
Once outside, she locked the door, pulling the shawl more tightly around her, she pushed the key down into the purse, where the bottle of cough syrup seemed to be fighting for a way out. Drawing a ragged breath, Brandi leaned against the door and shoved it down further, doing her best to zip it close as she heard the sound of a car’s exhaust backfire in the driveway.
Her face lit up when she laid eyes on the yellow hummer, and she saw Teresa’s head pop out through a side window. Her friend waved as the car came to a stop.
“Chica, your chariot awaits,” Teresa gushed from the end of the driveway.
Brandi squealed, moving closer. This was the first time that she had seen Teresa spare no expense and she wondered what was so important that it demanded such exquisite taste and lavish decadence, as her friend got out of the car and pulled her in. She gasped, realizing for the first time how beautiful Teresa was, with her hair up and her sparkly pink dress. A silent smile spreading across her lips until she saw two other bodies pushed into the seats opposite them.
There was Tracy Devers, a slim African American girl she recognized from band, who hardly ever spoke during class and Latoya Evans, her more outspoken cousin. Truth was, Brandi couldn’t stand Latoya, firstly because she talked too much and secondly because she had once ratted her out to Mr. Ono, their math teacher. He was one of the few teachers that Brandi respected. And even though at the time she had been trying to get out of a homework assignment, she could have easily completed, she had blamed Latoya for being sent to the principal’s office and almost getting a two week suspension. Since then, of course, she had sworn never to engage in idle talk with her. But then Teresa smiled at them and nudged Brandi.
“You two know each other, right?”
Brandi nodded, taking a shallow breath, everything inside her body telling her not to rescind, even as she stretched out a hand to them and smiled. “Tracy, Latoya, it’s good to see you again.”
“No,” Latoya said, her eyes steady. “I think the pleasure is all mine.”
Brandi watched, the green peacock feathers on her dress and hat light up in the dim glow of the car’s internal lights before the door closed. Tracy barely grunted and for a second she wanted to kick herself for enacting a truce; even if it was there only to keep Teresa happy, she assured herself as the car sped off and they were on their way.