31 May Teenage Crush: Part Three
When she arrived at the doctor’s office, she slowly entered the space of the quiet and tense waiting room. She saw the room was empty all but for the nurse who was clacking away at her keyboard. The nurse looked up from her computer, and, in a tired monotone, she said, “That’s a cute dress.” Then she went back to typing.
“I have to tell you something,” Brittany said, “I think I need to quit.”
“Oh, why?” The nurse stopped typing. She gave Brittany a puzzled look and slowed down her pace of pressing into the computer keys until she finally stopped.
Brittany avoided eye contact as she said, “I told everyone Travis is gay and has AIDS.”
The nurse stared her down as if gazing at her like a disappointed mother. She clenched her jaw and said, “Cool. So, you spread a bunch of misinformation and hurt a bunch of people including your best friend.”
Brittany felt the insides of her stomach stretching as she held back tears from messing up her mascara. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t say sorry to me,” the nurse said through her teeth. “Save your apologies for those you hurt with your vicious gossip.”
Brittany felt a sinking feeling in her throat when it was implied she was no longer the nurse’s friend. She coughed then she said, “I’m off to do that now and come clean with Travis.”
“Good,” said the nurse. She sighed. She took a deep breath and continued to say, “There should be consequences, but seeing as you’ve helped a lot around here and you’re pretty much a child, with some serious issues I might add, I’m not going to tell anyone about this. So you’ll still be able to apply for nursing school if you keep your nose clean here on out.” Her mouth creased into a look of someone mourning. “And I don’t think we can be friends anymore. Not after what you did to sweet Travis.”
Brittany stifled a cry of despair, but let out a soft squeak that warned of an imminent sobbing fit.
A tear rolled out from under the nurse’s glasses. She sniffled and said, “If my opinions mean anything to you, which it seems like they don’t, I’d suggest whenever you wanna hurt someone, think about the credo, do no harm.”
Brittany left the free clinic with her lip quivering and her head hung low. After a bit of walking, she was able to clear away the threat of tears with long, deep breaths.
She made her way down the road toward her meeting place with Travis by the river, as she nervously swished her floral dress. She thought about how to fix things with Travis and if they could ever be friends again.
As she walked the gravel road leading to the river, she practiced her apology. “I’m sorry,” she said to herself, “I’m sorry I lied. I’ll tell everyone I fibbed over the school announcements tomorrow. Even if I have to break into the office to do it.” She shook her head, grimacing. “Maybe, we can figure out how to repair your reputation, together,” she whispered to herself. She twirled a lock of her hair. “No, that’s stupid.”
The whole walk there she skipped as she thought of them playing basketball late into the night again. Cheering him on from the bleachers as she sat in on his Football practice, egging him on. Or, hanging out at the prom dance together by the punch bowl.
She daydreamed all the ways she could think of them together again – at least as friends – until she reached the sounds of the rushing river.
Getting closer to it, the spot where all the kids went to park and fool around in the back seat, she gagged. She swallowed the fowl taste lingering on her tongue. Then she rushed over to the nearby ditch, bent over, and vomited. She started to cry, holding her hair back, gagging, saying to herself, “What did I do? What did I do? What did I do?”
She puked all over the gravel road the two of them, Brittany and Travis, used to run and play tag along. The rest of that walk towards the river her legs felt shorter than they were.
The treeline broke open and she stood in front of the gravel parking lot by the rushing body of water where Riverside students usually lose their virginity.
She saw Travis’s beat-up Volkswagen parked in the empty parking lot.
And she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she looked around the empty lot which was usually packed bumper to bumper with cars rocking around on their axles with teenagers crammed in the backseats.
She nervously ran her fingers along her knuckles, cutting herself on her little heart-shaped rings. That’s when she felt a warm throbbing swell within her throat. And she broke out into a hot-sobbing-fit as she stood on that backwoods road, alone.
When she found her footing, she wandered into the Riverside parking lot, and she saw Travis sitting on the hood of his car, smiling at her. She watched him shove his hands into his letterman jacket pockets. Just like he did at the dance. She felt a sudden rush of adrenaline to run to him, apologize and beg for forgiveness. Instead, she smiled back at him, wiping away tears of relief.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a football player crouching in the bushes. A football player hunkered behind foliage, clutching his cell phone up as if he were recording them.
But when she did a double-take the football player was gone.
She looked over at Travis, cupping her mouth, she called out to her childhood friend, “Come over here and hug me.” She called him away from the rushing water, so he couldn’t push her into the river if that’s what he was planning.
He shrugged then he walked over to where she was standing as he smiled wider than she’d ever seen him smile. “I’ve got something for you,” he said with his hands behind his back.
This is when she flinched like she used to whenever they played the game Punch Buggy on all those road trips they’d been on. A game where you hit your friend as a Volkswagen Beetle passes you. They used to play it all the time in her dad’s pickup truck.
She clenched her fist tight as her father had taught her. But all Travis brought around from behind his back was a bouquet of white carnations.
The bags under his eyes drooped as he said, “You don’t like them.” He hung the flowers from his sleeve toward the ground. They shed their pedals onto his sneakers.
She heard a violent rustle through the bushes where she previously saw a glimpse of the football player, and she jumped, covering her face.
But it was only the wind blowing through a set of branches.
Travis, still reaching out with the flowers, he asked, “What’s got you on edge?”
She went to check the bush, rubbing her knuckles, sawing at her fingertips with her worn metal rings.
He asked, “What are you doing?”
And she stepped around the bush. And no one was there.
Travis put the flowers on his car’s roof then sauntered over to her. He shoved his hands into his pockets, saying, “You’ve been acting weird ever since you tried to kiss me on Halloween.” He rubbed his leather sleeve. “Look, I-I wasn’t ready to escalate our friendship into something else.” Reaching out for a hug, he said, “But now I think I am.”
She jumped backward from his advance.
He dropped his arms and said, “Oh.”
Looking at his sagging frown for a moment, she slowly stopped running her fingers over her knuckles. She closed the gap between her and Travis and she said, “I have something to confess.”
“I know,” he said, getting close.
They stood within touching distance.
Then he leaned in to kiss her.
It took all the emotional strength within her to push him away and not pull him into locking lips. Into the kind of embrace, she had wanted since seventh grade.
He pulled back, he asked, “I thought you wanted this?”
“I do,” she said, getting so close to him they could feel each other’s hot panting breath.
He asked, “Would do me a favor?”
“What is it,” she said, “Anything.”
He said, stuttering, “I’d like us to kiss.”
“Okay,” she said, smelling his sweet minty breath. “But first we should talk.”
“Or,” he took her face in his palms. “We could do what horny teenagers do and we could climb into the backseat of my car.” He went on, “Ever since I accidentally walked in on you that time when you were changing in my bedroom after playing one-on-one last September, the thought of it has destroyed me. You know when I walked in on you and saw you in your bra? It was super awkward but it also drove me sex crazy. Now all I want is to see you topless. Just one peek,” he said, his eyebrows crinkling as if saying it physically hurt him.
She saw him look at the bushes behind her for just a moment.
She took a quick look around for that imaginary football player with his phone to see if anyone was spying on them.
She bit her lip, gnawing on it, her face twisting in this might-be-the-real-deal look. She thought maybe she deserved it if the Football players snapped a photo of her boobs. Maybe if she flashed him quick enough they wouldn’t catch it on camera. Maybe it was all in her head.
“I don’t deserve to hold myself back like this,” she said to herself, “I’m going to enjoy life as it’s meant to be.”
“Alright,” Travis said as he awkwardly smiled. “Come on then.” His voice cracking, “Please?”
She slowly pulled the shoulder straps to her dress down her shoulders. She wiggled herself out of her bra, baring more of her skin. Then she heard the click of a phone camera far off in the bushes. She looked over and saw only leaves rustling but heard people giggling.
She asked Travis, “Did you bring anyone with you?”
He shrugged his eyebrows as he said, “No.”
She shook her head and pulled her dress down around her cleavage. She felt the cool breeze of the air drifting off the rushing river playing across her skin. Then, she heard more giggling.
She stopped. “Okay, there are definitely other people here.” She pulled her dress straps back onto her shoulders, covering herself. The giggling foliage had gone quiet but she ripped them back anyways and what she saw was a large Football player pointing his camera at her. He quickly aimed it at the ground, fumbling with the flashlight function, he said, “Can you help me find my k-keys?”
She whipped around and shouted at Travis, “What the fuck?”
She saw another bush jiggle and she ran over to it and kicked it back. Peeling back the brush, she revealed a group of Riverview cheerleaders, wide-eyed, and pointing their phones at her.
She shouted at Travis, “You lied.”
Travis rushed over as she looked around at the treeline surrounding them.
She saw the bespectacled fat kid in the distance aiming a high-grade camera at them with its shiny telephoto lens the size of his tiny head.
Travis reached out to her, an arms-length away, saying, “I’m so sorry.”
And Brittany swung her fist so hard his jaw cracked as her knuckles made contact with his teeth.
He stumbled backward, pressing his wound, clutching fistfuls of blood. He gasped, and said, “Brittany, what, the, fuck.” Then he spat out a tooth fragment.
People walked out of the bushes, laughing, pointing their phones at them. They were filming the whole scene. She had humiliated him like she promised herself she would do. Embarrassed him before he ever had the chance to pull off whatever revenge porn scenario he’d planned.
Blood ran from the gash in his mouth, his eyes widening, looking around at all the cameras clicking. His eyes grew big and shiny as if pleading for help. He looked the way a cat looks when it’s injured and dying. He hyperventilated, stumbling and falling into the gravel. He fumbled around in a cloud of billowing dust.
Brittany held up her knuckles, stained in red, cocking them at him. She stalked over to him as the people at her back rhythmically chanted, “Hit him, hit him, hit him.” She got closer, knuckles wound so tight they turned white.
And the crowd kept cheering her on, encouraging her instead of jeering at her.
They saw her. They smiled at her. And they celebrated her for this act of violence she was doing to her old friend.
A sob escaped her throat as she said, “I came here to apologize.” She hiccupped as tears streaked down her rosy cheeks. “I wanted our friendship back to being right again.”
This is when Travis, the boy who she used to call her childhood friend, smiled ear-to-ear showing his broken front tooth. He laughed at her, “Fuck, you’re awkward.”
She hung over him, engulfing him with her shadow. She clenched her fist with a burning hot sensation in her chest for all those years that were thrown away, crushing on him, only to have him destroy her when she was being vulnerable.
She straddled him, kneeling her once white dress in the dust. She gripped him around the collar, crying, as she said, “I just, came, to, apologize.”
She hit him as the crowd asked.
She hit him again, saying, “I’m sorry.” And again, “I’m sorry.” Sobbing as she wailed on him.
She panted, tired after striking him and ruining the shape of his lips. She slouched over, sweating, close enough to be within kissing distance, she said, “I’m sorry for all the rumors and lies.” She looked around at the students gathering in a circle around them and she shouted over their chanting, “He doesn’t have AIDS.” She shouted louder, “I don’t even think he’s gay.” She looked down on Travis in his pitiful, bloody position in the dust.
She smiled at the way she had crushed on him.
And his messed up face broke into an even wider cracked grin.
Her moment of intense concern for her beaten friend shattered and she blankly stared at him, saying, “What?”
He coiled his head back. Like a cobra does as it attacks. And he spat a bloody gob at her.
His fake-plasma-infected-spit hit her right above the lip. It dripped into her mouth and she gasped in horror.
The crowd of students huddled around them aiming their phone cameras at them. Some of them stood around with astonishment drawn across their faces. A few students stared at the scene through their phone screens with looks of disgust. The silence was so thick in the air you could feel it.
Brittany tasted the salty, metallic flavor of Travis’s blood.
And Travis, who she never got to have sex with, he locked his sharp, pin-pricked eyes with her round, wet ones.
His corrupted smile with his teeth cracks filling with blood, he shouted, “Guess who has AIDS now?”
Then a person deep from within the crowd shouted, “She has AIDS.”
The crowd groaned. Some of the students said, “Ew.” Saying it together as if they were a choir pitching in unified harmony.
Brittany with her face-stricken, sweating dread let Travis go.
He fell into the dust. His head bounced off the ground and he lay there, laughing to himself.
She quickly wiped the bright red spit off herself, smearing it across her cheek. She batted at her face like she was swatting at an angry bee. She felt her eyes sink into their sockets. She felt she had betrayed her dreams of working in a hospital with her lies.
She crawled away from Travis in the dust, squirming onto her back, pulling herself along on her elbows. She skittered away from him. Her sight narrowed into tunnel vision. She watched Travis shrink as she was pulled backward through the crowd. It felt like her friendship was quickly dying.
She shouted, “No, it’s not true.” She spun in the mass of people, “It doesn’t even matter if he has AIDS.” She stumbled over her words, “I mean, no, that’s not what I meant.”
The crowd groaned like they were watching someone fumble a football in an important game.
Brittany shouted, “It’s a very treatable disease. It’s no longer a death sentence. You’re feeding a terrible stigma.”
The student-body mob snapped into a wave of laughter. They clicked their cameras. They pointed their phones at her as they recorded. And they picked up a new chant, saying, “Gross, gross, gross.”
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.