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The second night, the whispers were louder.
Let me taste you. Give me pieces of you. Put your finger through the crack and let me feel how tender you've grown.
Marlie slept, but lightly. Every passing car woke her up, and whenever the headlights slid from wall to wall like a messy Tinker Bell, the closet doors shook.
The social studies teacher went on and on about the Oregon trail, but Marlie heard nothing but the students behind her.
"Broadway rocks!" hissed Jill. Every repetition struck Marlie's spine like a poisoned dart. "Broadway rrrrrocks!"
Marlie held painfully still, petrified by the knot of tears in her throat. She should have known better than to wear a t-shirt with a slogan that stupid. Hand-painted, even. Drama camp is different from regular school. She should have known.
"Broadway rocks!" Two or three others echoed the whisper. More than that snickered.
Marlie stared at the whiteboard but could not make out a word.
I want to gnaw your softest flesh. I could dance to the tides of your blood.
Go to hell, mouthed Marlie. She couldn't quite manage it out loud.
You mean go back to hell.
Its laugh was shattered glass thrown shard by shard onto steel.
They followed her down the hallway. "Broadway rrrrrocks!" said Jill, no longer constrained to an in-class voice, relishing the growl of the second word. "Broadway r--"
Marlie turned and brought her textbook into Jill's face.
The others stopped, doubly shocked: once that Marlie had reacted at all, and once at the short bright burst of red. Jill dropped to a crouch, clutching the side of her head. Marlie raised her textbook. The lower corner dripped blood.
One of Jill's friends screamed. Marlie clutched her book to her chest and pushed through the crowd. By the time the gym teacher found her in the bathroom, she had washed her book of almost all the blood, but her sleeves still held the stain.
The closet monster rattled the wire-locked doors earlier than usual that night.
I am warden, you are ward. We give each other purpose. Your heart grows delicious as it hardens.
"Shut up," said Marlie.
Her father, in passing, banged once on the bedroom door. "You better not have a phone in there."
Marlie rolled over. She dreamed about being trapped in the closet--and then bursting free, choosing whose neck she might sink her teeth into, and inventing a thousand poisoned words to whisper as she ate.
The doorbell rang doom. Jill, with an extraordinary bruise over the cut on her temple, arrived for her apology on schedule. Marlie delivered it with her head down. While their mothers made awkward passes at friendliness, Marlie was ordered to show Jill her room.
In the hall, Jill whispered, "Does your room rrrrrock?"
Marlie remembered the crunch of Jill's skull. She opened the bedroom door.
Inside, she didn't dare to speak. Her room spoke for her: every painfully childish trinket and every toy and the cartoon-flowery bedspread and the poster of the Disney Channel girl band might as well have screamed I HAVEN'T STARTED MY PERIOD YET and PLEASE HATE ME. Marlie's pride backed into a corner to die. She sat at her desk so Jill couldn't.
Jill sat on the edge of the bed instead. "I'm going to mess up your face."
She said it so conversationally that at first Marlie thought she could not have possibly heard right. "What?"
"We'll catch you after school. I want to give you a cut to match mine. It might take a few tries. I wouldn't be surprised if we hit your eyes." Jill smiled. "By mistake."
Marlie stared at her. A future of taunting stretched out before her, a lifetime hearing hateful words at her neck, fearing knives literal and figurative at her back. She could not live that life. She had to do something.
"I have weed in the closet."
For once, Jill's smile slipped. "What?"
"Pot. Take it. I don't care. Just leave me alone."
"You're a secret drug freak," Jill marveled. "I knew it." But she went to the closet. "God, you're dumb. Don't you even realize? I could walk out there and hand it to your mother. I could tell the cops or stuff it in your locker and just narc on you." She put a hand on the closet door and made a half-turn over her shoulder to grin. "You need to get a brain."
She jerked the wire hanger from the knobs and threw open the closet.
"I know," said Marlie. She stood. "I'll start with yours."
The midnight air was still. Once in a while a police car cruised past, its red and blue lights flickering through the shutters.
"They might keep asking," said Marlie, snug in bed. "I'll just keep saying she left."
The shadow in the unlocked closet shifted behind the slats. We make a clever pair, we two.
"I guess so."
Do you feel it? How the tasting whets the hunger? We must go on. I want to taste a boy.
"Me too," said Marlie. She thought of the mocking echoes: Broadway rrrrrocks. So many choices. She rolled over and pulled the flower bedspread tight around her shoulders. For once, Marlie slept soundly. And the monster slept with her.
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