My bangs were stuck to my forehead, the taste of freedom lingered in the summer air. I had two more days of riding the bus before eighth grade would become history, before it would mesh together with the few years before it, before it didn’t matter to me anymore.
I didn’t know it then, but the end of my eighth grade year would become impossible to forget.
My head bounced against the window stained with fingerprints, my hair was frizzy. I rested my sticky palms on my knees as I zoned out. My vibrating cell phone brought me back to reality as it buzzed in my pocket. I took it out, and when my eyes set on his name, I smiled.
“Is it him?” asked Hannah, who sat next to me, as she took the ear bud for her iPod out of her ear.
I nodded my head as I read my text message.
Hannah laughed as she eyed my face, her blue braces shined. A crinkled piece of purple gum was tucked in her cheek.
“What did he say?”
“He wants to hang out today.” My feet shuffled.
Hannah squealed as she leaned over to see the text message Damien sent me. “That is so awesome, Meg! You better hang out with him, you need yourself a dude!”
“Is that that guy again?” Jake asked as he hung over the back of the seat, head phones around his neck, some punk band faintly screaming.
“Yeah,” I said as I focused on what to text back to Damien.
“You’re retarded, Meg.” Jake looked down to pause his music.
“You’re just jealous,” said Hannah.
I was convinced Jake had a crush on me, though he never told me himself. But we were just good friends. I thought that if we ever became more than friends and then something bad happened, we wouldn’t be able to be friends again, without it being awkward (it happened to Hannah and one of her ex-boyfriends). Jake was the only guy friend I had, but most of the time (besides for when he stared directly into my eyes when we talked, so much that it intimidated me) he seemed no different to me than any of my girl friends. I didn’t get tingles throughout my body like Hannah did when she was around her boyfriend. Most girls I knew in my school had boyfriends, but I never did. I was quiet and didn’t catch the attention of many guys. Most of them went for the artificially tanned girls with dye in their hair, too much makeup on their faces and clothes that looked as if they were painted onto their skin. I wasn’t into any of those things.
Then there was Damien. I met him on a social networking site and I thought he was cute. He had a car, he was polite, and most importantly, he was mature. He was 16.
I was in the middle of texting mall when Jake snatched my phone out of my hands.
“Jake!” Hannah and I both shouted.
He sat back down in his seat, looked out the window and whistled. He tried not to smile.
“Loser!” shouted Hannah.
I rolled my eyes. “Jake, give me my phone.”
“Huh?” His green eyes glistened. “What’s up, Meg?” He pulled on the lower part of his ear.
I stretched over the seat to see where he put my phone, but I didn’t see it.
“Jake, seriously! Give it to me!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” sighed Jake.
Hannah joined me in leaning over the taped up seat. Her purple glue-on nails dug into the top of it.
“Come on, Jake. Taking Meg’s phone is no way to win her over,” she said.
I pretended that I didn’t hear what Hannah had said, and kept my eyes on Jake, who smiled like an idiot as his eyes swung from me to Hannah. I swatted at him. He ducked.
“Missed me, Meggy!”
“Jake!” I stamped a Converse on the bus floor.
His leg beneath his baggy camouflage shorts shook. “Nope.”
Hannah flipped her dirty blonde hair behind her sweaty shoulder. “You’re such an ass, Jake. Give it to her.” Her gum snapped.
“I’m sorry if I think it’s stupid for my best friend to-”
“Hannah’s best friend,” Hannah cut in.
“Whatever,” Jake said. “It’s stupid to meet some creepy dude from the Internet, especially by yourself. You little girls don’t know how men think.” Jake’s eyes locked with mine.
Hannah raised her finely shaped eyebrows. “Are you saying you’re a man?” She laughed. “Maybe it’s just you who thinks like a perve. Ever wonder ‘bout that?” Hannah’s laugh boomed throughout the bus.
Jake kicked the back of our seat, legs aimed at Hannah. The coins in his pockets rattled. “You’re annoying.”
He looked at me as he moved in closer. “I’m just looking out for you.” His lips formed a weak smile and his dark hair fell over his eyebrows.
I looked away. I thought he was jealous. “Just give me my phone.”
Before Jake got off at his stop, he gave me my phone, but only after one zillion questions about where I’d be with Damien later that day.
I had my big white fan turned up to full blast. It swayed the air onto my tanned skin, my hair fluttered in the warm breeze. My fingers moved across the keyboard; they formed flirtatious comments to Damien. I enjoyed the attention I got from him over the Internet but I was nervous about meeting him in person. There was something that held me back when we actually made plans to meet. My parents wouldn’t be coming back for a few hours, I had the house to myself, and the plan was that Damien would pick me up and we’d hang out at the mall. But when he asked me for my address, I wouldn’t give it to him, I stalled, said random things. It just didn’t seem right. He typed things like: You’re cute. But about that address…it’s something I need, cutie, so we can hang out!
Then I had an idea that made me feel so much better. I’d meet Damien with one of my friends.
I called Hannah, but she was on her way to the orthodontist with her mother, but suggested that I have Jake hang out with me and Damien. She said that it would give Damien competition, it would make him desire me more. I told her that I would feel bad if I dragged Jake into this, because he liked me. Hannah said not to worry about it and that it would be good for Jake to see that Damien is a good guy. So I went with her advice. She was more experienced with guys than I was.
Jake seemed hesitant at first, but said he’d be right over. I instant messaged Damien and told him that I was sorry about the confusion, and that it was because I had a friend over. He said he didn’t mind and that we could all hang out. I told him where I lived.
I heard Jake’s tires rub against the warm concrete as he came to a stop. He then wheeled his bike up my driveway and rested it against the garage. I called his name out my open window. He waved and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
I had trouble unlocking the screen door, it jammed up all the time. Jake smiled at me and my eyes darted to the lock when we made eye contact.
“Oh, the trouble you get yourself into, Meg,” he said.
“Shut up.” I finally unlocked it and held the door open for Jake.
Jake scuffed his sandals across the mat when he entered. “I can’t believe you’re actually going to meet this freak.”
“Jake, you don’t know him, don’t judge him.”
“You don’t know him and you’ve already judged him. Big mistake. Good thing I’m here to protect you, Meg-o.”
“Seriously, it’s going to be fine.”
“Seriously, then why did you call me? You’re scared, admit it. You know this is stupid.”
“Yes, Meg.” Jake looked out the screen door. “So where are we meeting this bum?”
“We’re meeting Damien here.”
“Here?” Jake’s eyes squinted beneath his heavy brows. His jaw hung open a bit. “What?”
I looked at my feet. “Yes, here.”
I raised my head but looked out the screen door. I watched the sprinkler spin. Jake grabbed me by the waist and jolted me closer to him. I whipped my head around and stared into his eyes, the first time without looking away. My hair flopped over my shoulders.
“You don’t know him, Meg. You met him online! He’s desperate. He’s not normal!” Jake’s voice cracked as he tried to yell at me. His voice was changing.
“There’s a reason why he’s doing this,” he said. “He’s a creep and he can’t get what he wants! He knows you’re naïve and he’s taking advantage of it!” Jake softened his voice. “Worst of all, you shouldn’t have let him know where you live.”
Jake’s eyes were wide; he really was concerned, not jealous.
I suddenly felt like crying, crying in his arms. I felt weak and stupid. I went to bury my head in Jake’s chest and tell him that I was scared, that I just wanted to fit in and be liked. I wanted him to comfort me, but just as I went for it, he let go of me with a little push. He turned his back to me and stared outside, both hands on the screen; one index finger tapped a steady beat. “Call him and tell him not to come over. Tell him you gave him the wrong address and that you can’t talk to him anymore.”
I didn’t move. I couldn’t speak.
“Meg,” Jake said, without turning around. “You have to. For your own safety. Don’t worry about what he thinks.”
I blinked long and hard, my lips trembled. When I opened my eyes, my vision was blurry. Tears slipped down my cheeks. I was ashamed of myself for being so naïve and putting myself in danger. I didn’t want to believe it. Jake knocked some sense into me. I really knew that Jake cared about me, not because of my body or how “cute” I was. He liked me for who I was, he knew me, flaws and all. That’s what I’ve always wanted and it was there, right in front of me, for a very long time. And I ignored it because I didn’t ever want to lose Jake, or the attention. I realized it there, right there in front of that old screen door. I had to admit it to myself, and to him. I liked Jake.
I stepped over to Jake and poked the back of his white shirt. He didn’t turn around.
“Jake.” My voice shook.
He turned around and looked down, directly in my eyes. I was surprised to see that his eyes were watery too.
He scooped me up in his arms and rocked me back and forth. His face was lost in my hair. I could smell June on his chest.
“Don’t cry.” He lifted his head to look at me. I smiled and placed my head on his chest–his fingers explored my hair.
I glanced up, his eyes looked into mine. I wiped underneath both eyes with the back of my hand and smiled. This was it, I thought. The next time I look up.
I went for it. I probably gave him this seductive stare, because when he saw my face, his facial expression changed into something I’ve never seen before. I got on my toes, his head tilted inward and his shaggy hair swept his forehead. His breath mingled with mine. We saw each other in each other’s eyes. He combed the back of my head with his hand and pressed his forehead against mine. I licked my lips so they weren’t dry. I put my hands around his damp neck as his ventured down my body. He squeezed the tan skin around my hips that was exposed as I stretched upward. Our bottom lips barely touched when we heard a car motor riding up the driveway.
Jake closed his eyes and his lips hung in the air. I felt a chill when he let go of me, and then an even stronger one when he grabbed my hand and led me away from the door. He went back and tried to lock the screen door, but it wouldn’t budge, so he shut the inside door and locked it.
Without a word, we ran to my room where there was a clear view of the driveway. Our eyes hid behind blinds.
When I saw the black Mustang I’ve heard so much about, a nervous feeling erupted in my stomach. Its motor reminded me of a train coming off its track. I saw the figure inside shift and the motor was quiet.
Jake and I exchanged uneasy looks, fingers entwined.
The black door opened and out came a skinny leg. Then, all at once, there he was; not behind the computer, but in front of my house. He was tall with dark hair on his head and on his chin. He wore a black sleeveless shirt. He looked older than 16.
I backed away from the window. “What do we do?”
Jake kept his focus on Damien. “Just don’t answer the door,” he said in a high whisper.
I bent down beside Jake and looked him over; my eyes squinted from the sunlight.
This is what I want, this is what I need, this is exactly what I’ve been waiting for! I dodged to my dresser and snatched my phone as it sang.
Jake ran over to me. “Turn it off, turn it off!”
My phone leaped like a slippery fish, out of my hands. I caught it and turned down the volume. Jake squatted and looked at me, out of breath.
“Meg?” asked an unfamiliar voice.
I heard feet plow through the grass, closer to my window. My blinds backed away.
I followed Jake into the hallway, right around the corner from my room.
“Is that you in there?” I could tell by his voice that he was grinning. “Meet you at the door.”
“He heard my phone, he heard my phone!” I shoved my fingers in my hair and pulled.
“Shit,” said Jake, and he looked around as if he were looking for something.
We heard Damien’s hands fidget around the screen door that would not open.
“What the fuck?”
“Meg?” he shouted, voice aimed at my window. His feet made a path through the grass, toward my room.
I shrieked and stepped out of my doorway. Jake stood across from me; his head leaned on the wall.
Damien bent down. He probably tried to see my room through the blinds. He tapped the screen twice.
“Meg? It’s me, DamYou00,” he said with a chuckle.
“What?” Jake asked me.
I rolled my eyes. “His stupid screen name.”
“Are you ladies in there?”
Jake gave me another confused look, crinkled his eyebrows.
“He knows that I’m not alone, remember? He probably thinks you’re a girl,” I whispered.
“That piece of shit.”
“Hello? I hear you ladies in there. What’re ya doin’?” He sounded like he was speaking to a puppy.
“I have an idea.” Jake walked toward the end of the hallway.
“No!” I ran in front of him and stood in his way.
Jake threw his hand over my mouth. “Quiet!”
I grabbed his skinny wrist and pulled his hand away. “What are you doing?”
He fingers gripped my shoulders. “He obviously knows there are people in here. I’ll answer the door and tell him that he’s got the wrong house.”
I paused. It was a good idea. “Okay.” I swallowed. “Okay.”
I heard the door squeal as Jake opened it.
“Hello?” Jake said quickly, in a staged voice.
Damien forced a laugh, scratched his head; looked around. He cleared his throat. “Does Meg live here?”
“Who?” asked Jake. He sounded startled.
“Meg,” repeated Damien.
“No. You’ve got the wrong house.”
“I was given this address, this exact place. Are you sure?”
“Am I sure? Of course I’m sure.”
Damien studied Jake. He nodded. He stretched out his arms and had a look around at his surroundings.
A nervous laugh. “Then why the hell did she give me this address? I don’t get it, I don’t understand. This is the place.”
“Don’t know, man. Wish I could help ya, but-”
“You must know her. You’re around her age.”
Jake shrugged. “No. Don’t know any Megs.”
“You’re messin’ with me, kid.” He looked behind him, then pushed his power onto the screen door and his eyes shot into Jake’s. “What is going on? I know I’m at the right house. I heard her ring tone. I know what it is. She’s in there, boy,” he said through his teeth. He violently pulled himself off of the screen and spit on the stoop.
I nervously shook in the hallway. Sweat covered every part of my body.
“Hey, who are you? Meg doesn’t live here, whoever she is. Is this some kind of sick joke?”
“I heard her cell phone. She’s in there. What’s going on? I don’t like being fucked with, kid.”
“That was my cell phone that you heard. Can’t a kid’s mother call him anymore?”
Damien’s foot tapped, his fists curled. “What is this? Am I being set up? What kind of game is this?”
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about.” Jake stared at him, hands behind his back. His smirk vanished.
Damien jammed his big hand into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He pushed buttons and kept eye contact with Jake as he held his phone to his ear. His foot tapped.
My hand shook uncontrollably as Damien lit up the screen on my cell phone.
Damien snapped his phone shut and dropped it in his pocket. He stretched himself upwards and tried to peek inside the house, behind Jake.
“Excuse me,” said Jake.
Damien perked up, surprised. “Look kid, if you’re gonna play these childish games, things aren’t gonna turn out good.”
“All I’m saying is that you’ve got the wrong house. That’s it, okay? Get off my property before I call the police.”
“Call the police, yeah? And what’re ya gonna tell them? You’re the one causing problems. What are they gonna do?”
“If you stand around, you’ll find out. Plus, my parents should be getting home any minute.”
“Nah. Her mother will be home around 6:00. Later tonight for Pops. I’m not worried about your parents. They don’t live here.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You’re a terrible actor, kid. Cut the shit. If you just bring me the girl, or let me come in, as things were planned, everything will be fine. If not, you’ll have to suffer the consequences. I don’t like being played around with.”
“Or you can just leave. Meg and I were supposed to hang out today, don’t know how you got dragged into this, but stop pretending to be all protective and tough. Let us be and go on home. Your parents are coming home soon, don’t want them worrying about you.”
I sat in the hallway up against the wall. I cried and shook uncontrollably. I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock.
“You were given the wrong address,” Jake said.
Damien threw back his head and chuckled silently. When he lowered his head, his expression was darker than his hair. “Open the goddamn door!” Damien yanked on the handle and grunted angrily.
Jake gasped and slammed the inside door shut and locked it. I heard his feet stampede toward me.
“Come on!” he grabbed me by the wrist and we darted for the back door. Damien shouted by the front door; he threw punches at the screen. I don’t remember running through my yard, but I have this image in my mind of Jake with his phone to his ear, and I remember his scared voice that he found between breaths. I remember opening the back gate to see Damien running at me. I swung the gate behind me as my adrenaline carried me in the opposite direction. I heard Jake scream my name as he chased after me, still on his phone. I turned to see that the gate didn’t shut and Damien had made his way into my backyard.
“Meg,” he panted. “I knew you were here, Meg. What is this? What’s going on? What’re ya, afraid of me?” he stretched his arms out. “Come here. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I shook my head, along with the rest of my shaking body. Jake stood beside me, breathing into his phone.
“Who’s this?” Damien asked, pointing his chin at Jake.
“Get away from me,” my voice trembled.
“I thought we had a nice day planned out, Meg. What made you change your mind?” He began to walk over to us. I screamed.
“Get away from me! Get out of here! Get away from me!” I shouted. Tears soaked up my face.
Damien stopped in his tracks. “Alright, alright,” he said calmly, showing us his palms.
His eyes ran over Jake’s body. “Drop the phone.”
Jake whispered something in his phone.
“Now!” yelled Damien. I screamed and covered my ears.
Damien laughed a disgusting laugh. “What’s the matter, Meg?” he shouted and stepped closer.
“No!” I screamed. Jake and I stepped back. His arms hung at his sides, the phone in one hand.
“Get off of her property. Just leave,” said Jake.
Damien glared at me–a yellow toothed grin. I clung onto Jake’s arm.
“I thought we could meet up, Meg, do a little hanging out, get something to eat. But what’s this? Who’s your little buddy here? I just want to spend time with you. You didn’t tell me about any boyfriends. You playin’ with me, Meg?”
I could barely see out of my eyes. I shook my head. “No, no,” I whined.
Damien shook his head. “Yes ya are. Yes ya are.”
He came closer. Jake and I backed away.
“If it weren’t for this guy, we could have ourselves some fun. I wouldn’t be mad then Meg, I wouldn’t be scarin’ ya. I’m sorry for acting this way. I don’t want to scare you.” Damien clenched his fists and grinded his teeth. “I want us to be happy. I don’t want this. You want to be happy, don’t you, Meg?”
I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. I squatted down beside Jake’s legs and uncontrollably gasped for air.
All at once, Damien came at us. I screamed and tried to get up but fell back down. Jake picked up my hand and pulled me to my feet as he repeated “Come on!”
Damien grabbed my shoulder. I screamed, let go of Jake, and began to run, but I fell down again.
“Don’t touch her!” I heard Jake yell, anger mixed with fear in his voice. He ran over to me and got me to my feet again. A powerful, warm dizziness flooded my head as I stood up. Damien turned into a blur, and his voice and Jake’s voice thundered throughout my head. My body, the inside and the outside, was hot. I thought I was dying when I heard cry-like sounds in the distance. They got louder. I thought I was floating to Heaven, and the angels were singing.
I remembered the green leaves as they stretched for the sun. The clouds were fat and white.
I woke up to a crowd of neighbors and police cars. I was leaning against Jake, who sat behind me. His chin rested on my head.
My parents arrived shortly after. They both came running at me in tears. Jake helped me up and my parents hugged me as if they would never let go.
I later found out that Damien Young was not 16, but 23. He wasn’t mentally stable, either. The thought of sleeping pills and alcohol hidden under the Mustang’s passenger seat gives me a feeling of coldness that I cannot describe. DamYou00 won’t be on his computer for a long time.
A few weeks later, when the majority of things were settled, Jake walked me home. We didn’t speak of that day again; not the good parts, not the bad.
I was about to go inside my house through the garage, but Jake was set on opening the stubborn screen door.
He pressed his thumb on the sticky button to the white handle, and he pulled. It opened easily and Jake flung backwards, but caught himself. We laughed.
“Hey! The old thing finally worked,” I said.
“It’s about time!” Jake said. He studied the door as he closed and opened it.
I was digging around in my bag for my keys when I felt a tickle underneath my chin. I looked up, and I got that tingly feeling. Jake felt my face with his hands and pushed my hair back. I closed my eyes and pressed my lips against his.