The Secrets Inside
Constance Marie Baltimore. I’d hated the name since I could write it. Naturally I blamed my mother. She was in her Harlequin Romance phase and Dad had been reading way too many books on how to keep expectant mothers happy. Mom thought that Sarah, Katie, and Jessica were all too plain, too normal names for a daughter. So in grade school I begged for the nickname “Connie,” but now even that was starting to grate on me.
I’m going to get it legally changed, I decided as I sat on a toilet in my high school restroom. Well, squatting was more like it. The wood in the toilet a few inches under my butt read “PISS HERE” in crooked letters and it gave me the creeps to think someone actually spent the time to carve it in. So I was in a squat with my thighs on fire from all the lactic acid building up in my muscles, trying not to let the sharp crackle of paper alert anyone that I was putting on a pad.
Suddenly I heard the click of heels as two girls came into the bathroom and made their way to the communal sinks.
“When did you realize you loved him?” asked a breathless voice.
The other girl giggled. “I know exactly when. We were lying in bed and he was staring into my eyes. He said that I was the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“It’s true.” A pause. “I think I want to marry him.”
“But you’re only seventeen! Are you sure?”
There was the running of water, then the scraping of paper towels. “More sure than I am of anything.”
“God, I envy you.”
“Don’t envy me,” said the girl playfully. “You’ll find yours soon enough.” Then the door opened and they strode out.
I sighed, unable to stop a sudden flood of jealousy. I’d never been in love. In all my eighteen years on the planet, I’d never had a serious boyfriend. Sure, I’d been on a few dates, but my expectations were always crushed when I learned the guy either only wanted inside my pants or we had nothing in common. Someone once said you had to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your prince, but I doubt that person spent four years kissing horny toads. And it wasn’t like I was hideous or anything. People have actually said I was pretty. Of course, most of those people were in my immediate family, but still. It was something.
My theory was that I looked twenty-five. My wardrobe consisted mostly of hand-me-downs from my older and only sibling, Alison—who, incidentally, had been mistaken for a Ford model since she was a teenager. She made it a constant point that all my inherited clothes were from her “fatter” days, before double zeros had become her reality. God it’s hard having someone so gorgeous in the family. It’s like she’s the sun and I’m just some dinky little asteroid.
But I won’t get into that just yet. What was on the forefront of my mind just then was my absolute hatred of periods. I never knew when they were going to hit. It always seemed to happen right in the middle of class. I’d be taking notes or listening to a lecture and then boom. I felt that horribly icky familiar warmth boil up and seep into my underwear. I would cross my legs in the hope I could dam it all back, which of course was impossible. At the sound of the bell I’d sprint for the door like a dog on a racetrack.
My mom told me it was my cross to bear, but she never went six straight weeks with a period. That was two months ago, and around the time she decided to put me on the Pill. I finally had an appointment with my gynecologist who spent fifteen minutes drilling me on safe sex, how the Pill doesn’t protect against STDs, and that I needed to take it at the same time, every day, in order to prevent pregnancy. I almost laughed, thinking, Don’t worry, Doc. I’m going to die a virgin with or without this thing. So I started popping them every morning first thing, waiting to see if I’d also get a flawless complexion and perfect nails. Nothing so far. But the cramping had diminished, so that was something.
Enormous wooden clogs suddenly filled the space between the stall door and the floor and I heard a familiar voice say, “Hey, Boob.”
I never knew why Dee Ramsey called me “Boob”. My breasts were the size of grapes next to her double-D melons. “How’d you know it was me?” I asked, starting to pick up my jeans then wondering why, because it’s not like she had X-ray vision and could see me half-naked through the door.
She chuckled. “Recognized the shoes. And the hour-long break on the pot. Honest to God if you don’t take a piss like everyone else. You know no one cares if they hear ya give the pad a rip?”
Normally I would’ve shot back a witty remark, but I was distracted by her peculiar Irish drawl. “What’s with the accent?” I asked as I crumpled the pink paper and shoved it down the dispenser. “You high on Lucky Charms or something?”
She laughed—even this sound was audibly different—and the enormous clogs moved to nearly touch the bottom of the door. Good Lord. She had to be pressed right up against the stall.
Even though she’d been my best friend for years, there were times when Dee was still a total mystery to me. Once she came to school with bright purple hair. When I asked her why she’d done it, she’d shrugged and said, “I dunno. Haven’t you ever just felt purple?”
But she was fun and easy to talk to. She always listened to me whine about my sister, the dorkiness of my parents, or my lack of a boyfriend (although sometimes it was hard to confide the latter, since Dee never suffered from a vacant love life).
“Top a’da mornin’ to ya, lassie,” Dee said and I swore her voice was green and would be sprouting shamrocks. “Me Mum’s sis be coming by dis aft’rnoon. Heard she flew all da ways from Dublin.”
“Well, that explains it,” I said, flushing the toilet, hiking up my pants, and pulling down my sweater. I opened the door and she practically fell on top of me, her crimpy red hair falling into my face. I pushed her back and said, “You looking through the cracks to see me again? When are you going to admit you’re a freakin’ lesbian?”
She laughed and slapped me on the back as we moved to the sink. “Sorry, lassie, but you’re not me type. Ah know ya love me an’ all, but ya mustin’ be getting’ ya hopes up, ya hear?” And she laughed again as the water rinsed the soapsuds away. Then, her voice low and normal once again, “So. You excited to finally be on the Pill?” She glanced at her wrist, as if there was a watch there. “Hmm. It’s had enough time to take effect by now. So are you excited?”
I reached for the paper towels and dried my hands quickly. “No. Should I be?”
She grinned mischievously. “Well, now you can have sex without worrying about it.”
“Good to know,” I replied, rolling my eyes as I tossed the sopping ball into the overloaded trashcan, “seeing as how I was so inconvenienced before.”
She cackled as we exited the bathroom. Lunch was almost over and the anxious rumble of students clamored up the stairs. The cafeteria was located just under our feet and since our school fit nearly two thousand people for three grades and only had two lunch breaks, the whole building seemed to shudder when the final bell rung.
“I love being on the Pill,” Dee said abruptly. “Only gained three pounds. And they came off easily.”
“Uh, huh,” I said with a knowing smirk. Dee didn’t use the Pill to regulate her period. She had other motives that slingshot her to the pharmacy counter once a month.
The florescent light overhead snapped on and off, causing our shadows to flicker in and out of focus on the moldy carpet. I wondered if I would ever see fully functioning lights throughout the building, or a graffiti-free stall in the bathroom. “How’s Elliot?” I asked at length. Elliot was her latest fling and future king of his choice fraternity. Naturally the most popular girls gave a collective howl when he’d showed up to school with a beaming Dee on his arm. I was both happy for her and secretly thrilled that all those anorexic socialites were wrecked he’d not chosen one of them.
“Mr. Right.” That was my nickname for him since he thought of himself as God’s gift to women.
“Oh.” Dee pouted as we turned a corner. “Didn’t I tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
She gave a cavalier toss of her red curls. “Mr. Right turned out to be Mr. Oh-So-Very-Wrong. I broke up with him two days ago.”
This came as a shock. Dee told me everything. Why hide this when the news would have spread anyway? “But I thought everything was going great.”
She frowned at the floor. “He slept with Rachel Morgan. Again.” She shook her head. “You know I don’t take that kind of shit. Not from anyone.”
I reached out to touch her shoulder. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said and I knew she was. She was used to crap like this happening to her. And I didn’t like Mr. Right anyway.
“I was only with him for the sex,” Dee reminded me.
We said nothing for a while. Just kept walking. Suddenly the bell rang and our fellow classmates came thundering toward us like a monstrous tsunami.
Seconds before we collided, I said, “Bastard.”
Dee nodded. “Total bastard.”
We smiled at each other. It was then that I realized the best of friendships are forged on moments like this.