We Can’t Be Friends by Cyndy Etler (Excerpt)
Three Years and Three Months Out
I’m sitting on the roof next to Doug Bianchi. Yes, that Doug Bianchi. Short little muscle guy. Popular kid. His Rabbit is on the driveway with the windows down. I can smell his stack of pine-tree air fresheners from here. Doug’s car is the only one parked right, with four wheels on pavement and the emergency brake pulled up. Doug’s best friend, Brent Riga, left his Rabbit on the street at a “hit me, I dare ya” angle. Zack Fox’s Jeep has two wheels in his house’s front flower bed. Ty Naylor’s Jeep is the bull’s-eye in the middle of Zack’s front lawn.
I am at a two-Jeep party. Me. I’m on the roof of the pool house in Zack’s side yard, looking down at the cool guys’ parking jobs. Their cars graph out the social order. Doug gives too much of a fuck—seventeen air fresheners—and Zack gives zero.
I couldn’t find this place again if I tried. It’s on one of those tiny, fake streets Monroe’s founding fathers penciled onto the map just to fuck with us. There’re two houses, three, tops. There’s not even a street sign. But Doug got here lickety-split, like a homing pigeon. Doug belongs.
When we first got here, Doug checked his alignment in the rearview mirror, grabbed the six-pack I didn’t know was behind my seat, pushed his door open, and said, “Stay here.” Then he walked in Zack’s front door, no doorbell, no knock. Doug belongs like that.
For a while I’m the only girl at a two-Jeep party, which probably makes you wonder, “Where are the parents?!” But that’s because you don’t know Zack Fox. He’s not a kid like us. He’s from frigging Canada, for one thing. His two front teeth are removable, from a hockey incident. His eyes are green and his hair covers one of them and he drives a Jeep. Kids like Zack? They don’t have parents or bowel movements or weird shit from their past they don’t talk about. They just are, and they’re perfect.
Zack is sitting up on the roof with us, on the other side of Doug. He’s one Doug away from me, with his tan, bare feet and his fray-bottomed Levi’s. He’s so cool even popular Doug, in his purple-flowered Jams, looks like a clown next to him. Doug sounds like a clown too. He’s talking wicked fast about some rude thing his brother did and how he’s gonna join the marines and show his brother, who’s only in the navy.
“ShaddAP, Dougie,” yells Ty.
I can’t believe Ty talked. Legends don’t talk. They do shit like float around the pool in a Styrofoam armchair, with their eyes closed and their paw gripping an uncracked beer. Doug, the un-legend, keeps yammering.
“Jeezus, kid. What’re you, on coke?” Ty yells, which makes Zack laugh, and Brent Riga laugh, and Doug turn bright, bright red. I kinda laugh too, even though I’m not supposed to. I mean, I came here with Doug. Without him, I wouldn’t be within a trillion miles of this place.
Doug gets me back though, when the pink Buick pulls up with the popular girls. Wendi Rosini gets out and looks up at me, first thing.
“Cyndy Etler?” she says, hard, and Doug just shrugs.
Kathy Radcliff gets out of the driver’s side, and Tiffani Malta gets out of the back. They start talking in voices I can’t hear. I get really interested in the roof tiles.
“I’m going inside, Zack,” Wendi says. This time Zack shrugs.
“Okay thanks, Wendi,” Brent Riga says back to her, and cannonballs off the diving board onto Ty.
I’m here. At a popular party. Laughing at a joke about cocaine. If the people at Straight could see me now, I’d be on the firing line. Three hundred ex-druggies would be gearing up to spit on me, screeching, Sobriety! Slippery slope!
You’d have to live it to understand. Straight doesn’t give a single fuck if nobody likes you, if the whole school stops talking and stares when you walk in the room. Straight doesn’t care if being at a real, live, popular kid’s party is the moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Straight only cares about one thing: your piece-of-shit druggie ass staying sober. And I am the ultimate Straightling. At least, I was for the sixteen months I spent in Straight. And when I first got out, three years ago. But…now I’m here. I rode in a car with a six-pack of beer. And I laughed at a cocaine joke.
Wendi, of course, is Zack’s girlfriend. You’ve never seen anyone shine so hard. She’s got muscle legs and her cut-offs are an un-tight size eight. In all the years we’ve had classes together, I’ve talked to her once—that day we had English outside and I was feeling really good about myself. As she walked back inside ahead of me, I said, “I love your hair. Where do you get it done?” and she just said, “Thanks” with, like, her sneeze face on. As if saying that one syllable was so painful.
Doug has stopped talking now, and Zack never talks, and of course, I’m not saying a frigging word. We’re all in some mystical land in our heads, picturing how Wendi is gonna look in her, no doubt, fucking string bikini.
I hear the crack of the opening can the second Brent Riga starts yelling. It sounds like the crack of a—
“Doug! Douggieee! Jump, Dougie! Jump!”
He’s splashing in the shallow end, curling his arms, to show Doug the path from roof to pool. There’s another crack, and Zack passes Doug one of the beers he must have had in his Levi’s back pockets. That’s twice today that beer has been within three feet of me. And I laughed at a cocaine joke. Who the fuck am I?
“Dougie baby! Come to mama!” goes Brent Riga.
The popular girls cross the driveway in little tank tops with their bikini straps showing. They’re gonna take off their tops and be all laughy and beautiful. And Doug’s gonna jump off this roof into the pool. And Ty and Brent are gonna fuck around trying to drown each other, and Zack will be silent and golden, surveying his domain. And I’ll be the clean and sober black hole, all covered up in mom shorts and sneakers. I’ll be tongue-tied and quivering—slippery slope!—because somebody smells like a beer. Cyndy Etlerrr.
“Here,” Doug says, shoving his—his beer into my hand.
I hold it by two fingers like it burns. “Wait, I—”
“Go ahead,” Doug says. “Take a sip.”
“Do it, Cyn,” Zack says.
“Douggieeee!” Brent yells.
“Doug-ie! Doug-ie!” says Ty, Brent, and those girls, muffled by the tank tops they’re pulling over their heads. “Doug-ie! Doug-ie!”
“You take a sip, and I jump,” Doug says to me.
My stomach dips like I jumped off the roof because SOBRIETY!!!
The elite-level popular kids are all watching.
“One sip,” Doug says. “I jump. Ready, set, go.”
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