Mike Murphy is Fiona Murphy’s brother. Fiona is in your class, but Mike is one grade ahead and about a foot taller. Your mom calls them Irish Twins, but you’ve seen that half-open-mouth-look Mike wears on his face most of the time, so there’s speculation around the lockers that he was held back. Last week someone called him a word you would never use, a word that made its way through the hallway like a bullet: “SPED”. It’s a name fired not necessarily toward those who are actually in Special Ed, but who other students decide should be. No one has ever aimed that particular word at you, but we’re middle schoolers. We’ve got an arsenal.
You probably wouldn’t have thought about Mike much until he started messaging you online. The currency of attention is incredible like that. Not only do you become more beautiful with it, but so does he. My sister gave me your screen name, he types. Your screen name is shamrocknrollx. You want it to advertise that you are half Irish––that you don’t drink yet, but when you do, you will do it well. That your music has a little danger in it. The “x” is a little kiss.
When you are old enough, you plan to get a tattoo of a shamrock on your hip bone, with one clover red instead of green, like a heart. In the future you have hip bones.
Ur Megan, rite? he asks.
yepp, you type back, but ppl call me Megg.
You’ve been doing the two ‘g’ thing since 6th grade. In K-5 you tried on a few other names: Snow White, Juliet, and Tuesday (inspired by The Addams family’s morbid heroine), but you’ve outgrown trying to be someone else. You are yourself now. With a little something extra.
Mike keeps trying to confirm that you are blonde, and you keep trying to tell him that you are not. maybe a lil dirty blonde in the summer? you write him back. sometimes i use sun-in?
It’s true. You and Lee spray the bottle all over your heads. Its ingredients are water, peroxide, aloe, lemon juice, and a little imagination. Afterward, you sit outside and wait for your hair to lighten, as if the sun was a stylist giving you Jessica Simpson highlights because you brought in her picture. Both of your moms made you wait until you were in fifth grade to use it. You swear to each other that you can see the difference.
i saw u at the pool, Mike types, good stuff.
It’s been a long time since you’ve been swimming. It’s October, and hard to believe someone would see you in a bathing suit and think, good stuff. He mentions the name of the indoor pool, but you’ve never actually been there. You would remember. The smell of chlorine is your absolute favorite. Your mom says that scent is linked to memory. Says some people even like the stench of skunks if it reminds them of camping trips with their father. In a swimming pool you are weightless.
i think you have the wrong megan?? lol, you type.
But Mike writes back, no way.
You hatch a plan to meet up after school, in the hallway outside the art room. Four o’clock. You lay out your best outfit the night before: jeans you had to beg for because they came with holes. A turquoise t-shirt with the word Juicy rhinestoned across boobs you almost have. Your nipples are inverted but the pediatrician says they will pop out eventually. Just give it time. You know that no one can see them naked until that day comes. Mike will have to wait.
You wake up a little earlier and have Mom straighten your hair. This doesn’t involve a flatiron like the other girls use. On your dining room table you lay down a towel and drape yourself under the chandelier like a dead bird on a holiday. Your mom plugs in the clothes iron, normally reserved for pant legs, and runs the whole thing over your hair. You snap crackle pop like Rice Krispies poured into milk.
It’s harder to concentrate in class than usual. The forecast says drizzle and you decide not to walk to lunch, but eat in the cafeteria instead, alone. You don’t want your hair to wrinkle.
When the final bell rings, you drag Lee up to the third floor. You lay your art project out on the linoleum. You want to look busy when he meets you, want him to see that you are an artist, a bit bohemian, not like the other girls. Mike sees you through what your mom calls rose-colored glasses––the eyes people wear when they have a crush. To him, you’re a little blonder, a better swimmer. He thinks it’s kewl that you’re an athlete. No one has ever called you that before. Athlete. For a moment you get to try on what it feels like to be your brother, to slip into his fortunate skin.
You sit with your legs spread as wide as they can, a straddle-split you learned in dance class. It seems like a good idea to show off that you are flexible. Rumor has it that it’s important for sex, but you have a hard time picturing how. You suck your stomach in so it does not flop over your jeans, or at least so it flops a little less. What you are doing is not exactly breathing, but it’s close enough that you don’t die. Between your legs is a palm tree beach scene rendered with Cray-Pas, sunset bleeding into ocean––the only thing you know how to draw (or will know how to draw your entire life).
Quick, can I use your lip gloss? you ask Lee, who is picking at a mosquito bite until it bleeds. She rolls it to you across the floor. Her mom bought it from Sephora, a “plumper”––made with cinnamon oil or something. The first few seconds after you slick the wand across your mouth it feels bee-stung. The gloss draws all the blood to the surface of your lips and inflates them, as if injected, or bitten. The tube’s label: Lip Venom.
How does it look? you ask, wishing you were on the second floor, where your locker is, and could pop it open to give yourself the once-over in your dollar store magnetic mirror.
It’s as if you can feel him before you see him. The energy of a boy about to round the corner. Maybe, down the hall, he has just made the music of a sneaker scuff on the floor as he leaps up to smack his hand against some bar on the ceiling––the choreography of teenage boys. How they move. As if always playing some kind of invisible sport, or the real life Player 1 from a video game, jumping to collect a coin.
And there he is.
You’re not sure if it’s 3:59, or 4:01, and you don’t have a watch, but if you did, you feel like knowing would make a big difference. He looks at you, at Lee, then squints, as if trying to look through you, as if you’re an object in the way, beyond which is the thing he actually came here to see.
You give a small wave. It’s Megg, you say. You hope he can hear the two G’s when you say it.
You’ve learned about blind dates in movies and how sometimes a man will peer through the window of the restaurant to see who he’s supposed to meet––a woman wearing a red rose on her blouse as promised. You’ve seen the man on the outside of the window sum up the potential date at the empty table, and then you’ve seen him pivot, reverse, back to where he came from. As if the movie was being kind and rewinding. You’ve watched the woman wait, order another wine, slip an excuse to the waiter, you watch her wonder what happened, and then, the worst part––you watch her know.
But this is not a blind date. You said maybe he had the wrong Megan. He said he knew he did not. He had the right girl. But looking at you, his mouth opens and closes, like a dumbfounded fish.
You’re not…who…I thought you…he points his finger at you, then turns before he can finish the sentence, taking his finger with him. Before the end of the longest ever walk to the end of the hallway, he transitions into a jog.
Oh my god, what a SPED, you say to Lee. A new kind of venom on your lips.
That night, you find her. Online. The other Megan. Blonde as the trophies she wins, swimming for the state. Her red bathing suit and white legs ripping through the blue. Her body, the national anthem.
Your name is pretty common, you guess. You change it back to Tuesday.