**TW: self-harm mention**

We’re cross-legged on Angel’s bed, her last four phones spread out in front of us. She tells her mother that her latest stopped working and she gets a new one. I’m at least three models behind her. I pick up her iPhone 6.

“Can’t you sell these on eBay?”

Angel gives me that look she reserves just for me—kind of do you even live in 2018? combined with do I look like I need the money? Her mother is a special kind of superstitious, beginning with Angel’s name. Everyone knows that Angela is the feminine form of Angel, but she’s named after a stillborn brother. This is where it gets complicated. He was christened Bryant, but because he’s presumably an angel and her mother got pregnant again immediately, Angel gets stuck with being the reincarnation of her dead brother. See what happens when religion sucks all the logic from your brain?

“Lulu? Your father needs you to pick up milk on the way home.” Angel’s mother pokes her blonde head in the bedroom door. Her hair looks like a bathing cap, sleek and the color of dandelions. I wonder if a hairdresser convinced her this was a good look. Angel gives me her half-smile because we both think her mother is more than a little off, kneeling before all these tables she has set up with pictures of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus. It ruins the flow of the house, kind of an anti Feng Shui.

I don’t think my father cares about milk. He’s just checking to see if I’m really at Angel’s house. After three letters from school informing him of my unexcused absences, he makes feeble attempts to monitor my whereabouts. He’s crafty, my Dad, pretending to need help moving furniture or fixing the insulation so I’ll stick around. Once he saw me put a jackknife in my backpack before walking to the bus.

“I don’t need you getting suspended from school, Lulu.”  

In the old days, he’d ask me what my mother would think but he doesn’t go there anymore. Neither of us believes she’s perched on a fluffy cloud with a harp, watching over us. Bald as a baby when she died, I hope her hair grew back, even underground. She liked to wear it in a braid and there were just a few white hairs mixed with the dark brown. I braid my hair when I’m not home because it makes my father sad to see a long braid. All of us have been stained by death.   

Angel and I call ourselves consorts in whimsy. If one of us anticipates something about the other, we change it up. I thought for sure she’d ask Lucien to the sophomore dance, but she asked Sylvie instead so I took my Dad. He even rented a tux. We like to be outside what’s trending, #killingit. That event was the culmination of years of practice. Last month we staged a flash dance duo of “Singing in the Rain” in the lunchroom, both of us holding up paper drink umbrellas while the lunch monitors ran around trying to regain control.  I didn’t see her pretend conversion to Judaism coming and she never guessed my two-week vegan phase was fake. #againstanimalcruelty. That jackknife came in handy when I picked her locker to leave a croissant, linen napkin, and a plastic wine glass filled with cranberry juice #breakfastofscholars.

“Privacy. Remember when that was a thing?” Angel unbuttons her top button. Her socks are the color of blood except for the splatters of black.  Kindergarten finger-paint socks. No, I don’t remember. My phone knows everything I’m doing and it doesn’t have facial recognition or even a functioning microphone.

“Do you think about dying?” Angel’s eyes are chocolate lab brown.

“Course. You?”

“Lately. My fam is getting ready for the dead bro ceremony.”

A special mass for Bryant was held every year at St. Justin’s Church. We went because it was a way to show respect, though Angel and I talked more about the refreshments her parents ordered from Sweet Things Bakery. Each year, they hauled in a bulletin board of family photos. Bryant was a stillborn so there weren’t any pictures of him, but there is seriously one of his room.

“We need to shake something. YOLO, Lulu.”

“Yeah. Carpé Diem.”

Truth is, I’m not down with interrupting someone’s religious moment even if I think it’s some made up shit. Her mother just about had a breakdown and if the Blessed Virgin and Jesus are helping her to keep it together, fine.

One time my mother put me in the water without my swimmies and held me up so I could feel weightless. When I paddled and kicked my legs, she took away her

hands and I stayed up. “Oh, Lulu, you’re swimming. Big girl!Her voice emphasized big so I kicked harder and harder. I made the swim team in sixth grade but by then Mom was having chemo and I couldn’t stay after for the practices. In the summer, Dad gets a cottage for a week in Rockport and I practice being weightless until my fingertips shrivel. Angel hates to swim, so she sits on a sand chair and drinks iced tea.            

The wedding is going to be in Vermont at some inn. I get it that Dad should have sex and someone to keep him company, but not Freesia. At first he told me that

she was the “best of the worst.” Then she became “better than most” and they got engaged.

“Your mother’s been gone five years,” he said as if that was the magic time to find a new wife. Maybe this one comes with a better warranty. Freesia is thirty-eight and my dad is forty-six. She’s divorced and doesn’t have kids so there could be a half-sibling in my future. It reads like a crappy romance novel.

“Remember when I brought Sylvie to our dance and you invited your father?”

“Uh-huh,” I say.

Angel bites her lip when she’s thinking. She’s skinny with crazy intense eyes. Teachers love her because she gets it—chemistry, algebra, doesn’t matter. She sucks up knowledge like a kid slurps chocolate milk. I’m the underachiever—my report cards are filled with comments about my wasted potential. Even when I pretend school matters, it seems pointless. Once I snuck out to a party to see if something would make me feel alive, but there were just drunk seniors and one of them grabbed my ass.  I screamed so loud he backed away like I had the plague. Every time I passed him in the hall at school after that he’d smirk. Smirks are the evil twin of smiles.

“I kind of like Sylvie. Not like that, but she’s smarter than Lucien,” Angel twists the silver ring she got for her fifteenth birthday.

Sure. A ferret would test better than Lucien. He’s on the boy’s swim team and although he’s hot in a bathing suit, there isn’t much else to like about him. Angel moves closer to me on the bed.  Then I get it; Angel, the reason I go to school at all, is in the B category of LGBTQ.

“If you’re going to say what I think you’re going to say, don’t say it.” I stand up, but the room isn’t wide enough for me to pace. B is fine. Most of us are B, just not a best friend.  

“This isn’t about you.”  She rolls up her sleeve and shows me tiny cuts lined up like a strange hieroglyphic. Didn’t see that coming #unchartedterritory.

“Got to go. Text you in an hour or so,” I stand up, towering over her on the bed with her sleeve still rolled up and a geometric design of lines on her left arm. She pulls her sleeve back down and stretches out her legs.

“It’s not a regular thing.”

The milk I have to pick up for my father becomes urgent. I am a devoted daughter and my father is a grieving man with a wedding to plan. It’s the least I can do to keep our household supplied until the lady with the stupid flower name moves in. What happens to awkward moments? I mean, I’m only fifteen but my bin is full. We used to pretend not to care. People laughed when I brought my father to the dance. Angel told me I was a genius, that bringing Sylvie wasn’t half as surprising as bringing my father. Is cutting training for a suicide attempt? This is way beyond whimsy.  We have the dead bro service to go to and my father’s wedding in Vermont next month #cantputitbackinthebox.

“It’s a mood thing, Lulu. You know how I get about the service. Stressfest.”

“Sure,” I say because we’ve now made an agreement to have this box of tension between us.

The thing about consorts of whimsy is that sometimes they do what the fuck they want, even if it pokes a hole right through the other person. I close the door and pass Angel’s mother on the stairs. She gives me a big smile because I’m the perfect friend for her daughter.

“Do you want to ride with us?”

“Can’t, sorry. I promised to go with my father and his fiancée.”

A lie told with an earnest face is always believed.  Freesia said it was ridiculous to have a church service for a stillborn all these years later. And this wasn’t just any service. There will be testimonials and a reception that uses up the better part of an afternoon. Angel’s mother beams because I’m lucky enough to have a father who finally got over his wife dying. My mother was a grown woman with a career and most of a PhD. finished. Your son never had a chance to make memories so it’s not the same. It’s not anywhere near the same.

I close the door hard enough for Angel to hear. I know she’s standing at the top of the stairs. In about five minutes, she’ll text me one of our hashtags like #unstablelabradoodles or #kittensforacause. The secret club of us except now there’s that box of tension.

I don’t know why she doesn’t sell her phones on eBay, even for cheap. There are people out there who need to get in touch with someone. It’s selfish to hoard something that could benefit others.

Maybe there wouldn’t be an Angel if Bryant didn’t die. Who knows what goes through the brains of parents when they decide to have children. I roll up my sleeves. I have an oval shaped mole on my left arm that my mother called a beauty mark. I buy a gallon of milk even though we only need a quart. I hope Freesia likes milkshakes and lattes. Dad said I could move to the guest room so the two of them could have the whole upstairs. I’ll have a bathroom and a little deck. On summer mornings, I can eat breakfast out there.

I wonder if I’ll go back to Angel’s house, play Cranium, plan our next consort of whimsy flash duo. Dad isn’t home so I put the milk in the refrigerator, look at the text.

Awks. Sorry. Then she calls.

“I’m donating my phones to this organization that reconditions them and gives them away.”

“Good,” I say, but I’m already thinking about the long hours Dad will be out with Freesia.

“La La Land,” she says.

“Pastel dresses,” I say. “Matchbox cars. Jazz music.”

Tomorrow is the day we usually get together.

“Fake, Lulu. I did it with a paperclip and a red Sharpie. #notacutter”

I think about the crisscrossed lines on her arm and I’m pretty sure some of them looked deep enough to draw blood.

“Got me,” I say.

Her deep roar of a laugh fills my ear. She’ll buy pizza and I’ll load some jazz on my phone. I tell her about the room downstairs and the little deck.

“All you need is a potted freesia,” she says.

 

Lisa C. Taylor is the author of four books of poetry and a collection of short stories, Growing a New Tail. Her honors include Pushcart nominations in both fiction and poetry and the Hugo House New Fiction Award in 2015. A new collection of fiction called Impossibly Small Spaces is due out in summer of 2018. Lisa holds an MFA from Stonecoast and offers writing workshops. www.lisactaylor.com

(Image credit: Flickr)

 

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