From early on in my friendship with Luna & Tucker. October, maybe?
I started climbing the steps. Suddenly, Tucker's eyes shifted to my face. I hadn't seen him sitting at the top and, caught unprepared, I did not have the time to shift my eyes to the floor, like I always did. Sweat beaded at the nape of my neck, and I clenched my muscles around the center of my body. I twined my already-crossed legs tighter together and strained under the weight of my heavy, thick hair. He looked tired and riled up in the way that business men on the red-eye do.
He shifted in his seat on the steps, seeming puzzled. Tilting his head, he carefully raised his hand and made as if to--slowly--push my heavy, weighted hair out of its stranglehold on my neck. Sudden hope flared up in me--could he see how much it pressed into my air supply, how it weakened me?
I sucked my bottom lip between my teeth and braced myself. His gaze darted to the movement, only to fasten on my eyes again.
He half-smiled and began, "Wha--"
"Tuck!" He whirled quickly, eagerly towards the slender girl who had produced that exultant exclamation. Luna. I looked at his wide, slender shoulders from behind and saw the muscles in the back of his neck jump.
I felt my own throat tighten. Eagerly, I looked at the way the sunlight struck the high planes of her cheekbones, the way the shadows nestled against the hollows of her cheeks and in the valleys of her neck.
He smiled again, breathlessly. Quickly, he looked at her feet, suppressing his smile. He nodded, dignified, as she approached in a graceful, lithe half-glide.
"Tucker. Oh, god. Some freshman just spilled her cheap body spray all over the locker room, and now I'm a little high."
She threw herself onto the concrete steps, throwing her messenger bag bodily aside.
Smirking, he replied. "I have that effect on people. Don't worry--you'll get used to it." She threw back her head and laughed up at the sun. It was a rich sound, not like the high empty giggles of the girls in the bathroom or the unkind sound of the thick-jointed boys in my Chem class. It was full, inviting, and very real.
"I'm rubbing off on you," she teased. She looked very suddenly at me, crouching against the wall near their seated forms. "Hey, Jenny. How's life?"
My mind ran suddenly blank. Life? She wanted to know how life was? How could she ask me such a general, all-encompassing question without warning, or preparation? How was I to answer it without somehow stumbling, or crossing the line of what you could say in public without those weird glances? What could I say to keep her from dismissing me, to keep her from saying some subtle goodbye or ignoring me until I had to walk away?
"Monday," Tucker cut through, "Did you hear about Jill Louis?" He smiled down at his evenly-laced shoes, as if he knew what it was like to be under that stare, answering her life-determining questions.
She titled her head, carefully. Now that the attention was off me, I could speculate on how small her face was. Truly, it was like a cat's face, tilted and fey. She didn't seem human, half the time.
"Is she the one with Uggs and the brown hair? She has that old Prada backpack she drags everywhere?"
"Luna, they all look like that."
"No, most of them have bags from Bloomingdales or L.L.Bean." James shrugged at this. "Well, it's her," she continued decisively.
"Well, Dave Cohen told me she got tripped at a sweet sixteen last...Saturday? She fell into a table and got soaked."
“Ha, she didn’t get tripped. It’s those clear plastic heels she wears out.”
“Listen, a girl has to advertise somehow. It’s not like she has a lot going for her.” They laughed together, and I laughed with them. They looked at me, as though they had forgotten I was there.
With my fingers suddenly grown cold, I asked, "Do you know why?"
For some reason, it was the right question. Luna looked at Tucker with interest.
"I think it was a catfight. Dave said Julia Madderly did it."
"Oh," Luna said dismissively. "Word on the street is that they're fighting over Billy O'Donnor."
I stared at ladybug on a blade of grass, astonished. Billy O'Donnor was in my Health class, and he was mind-blowingly stupid. His face was covered in acne scars and from my seat near his, I had glimpsed the red blemishes that crawled up from his back, beneath his shirt. He wore too much cologne, but for some reason had a lot of friends among boys who looked exactly like him.
Luna hopped off the step then, and helped Tucker up. Hitching his bag over his shoulder, Tucker pulled his keys out and jerked his head toward the parking lot. Luna skipped down the steps, prancing and leaping like a child, Tucker descended, chuckling, and I followed them both, helpless.