On the First Friday Night of Junior Year
New York City, NY
Professional Children's School
On the first Friday night of junior year, we sit on the hood of Vivian’s car in the Walgreens parking lot. Vivian reminds us to take our shoes off so as not to scratch the paint, but I run my finger over the red acrylic and dig my nail into the slightly dented curve whenever she laughs that girly giggle of hers. Callie and Alex go into the store, clutching their fake IDs like their mothers clutched pearls and when they are in there, Vivian and I do not talk. When Callie and Alex return, giddy and bouncy, Vivian sits up straight and claps her hands, hoisting the other two up until and we squeeze tight together, pretending that the hood of Vivian’s car is big enough for all of us to coexist.
Alex uses her teeth to open the pack of cigarettes. I know she does not like smoking, not really, but Callie said she would pay and Alex’s ID does not scan right anyway. Callie lights up first, and she inhales, hard, before passing the lighter to Vivian, who does the same. Alex politely receives the lighter and after one drag I can see that she is suppressing a cough, but Alex knows how to stifle. The rest of us have not quite learned, and I choke on my breath as Vivian watches.
We stretch out our legs, still tanned and hairless from the summer, and Vivian, previously a ballerina, instinctively points her toes. When we were freshmen our legs seemed to go on forever, but now the thought that we could be limitless seems ridiculous. Alex’s legs look the fattest, and she reaches out and pinches the skin on her thighs between her fingers. She doesn’t say anything and I am glad because I do not know what I would have told her.
Callie was the first one of us to get pretty, after seventh grade. We studied her in jealousy, in reverence and now I watch her, head tilted slightly back so that her ponytail almost brushes the hood of the car and I wonder if she sees herself like we see her. I wonder if we see her like the boys see her, and I wonder if she knows there is a difference. She fixes her gaze on Alex –– you’re so much more fun when you’re high ––who reluctantly places the cigarette between her lips. We know it is not Alex’s first time
opening her mouth for something she does not want. As Callie got pretty, Alex seemed to forget how to curve her mouth to say no, to say not right now, to say I don’t want to. She opens her mouth for everyone but herself, and with us, she tries, but it is hard to say no to Callie.
Alex got pretty next, we know, but it is easier to pretend that Vivian did, easier to pretend that Alex’s persistent baby fat disqualified her from even marginal beauty. It was easier to pretend that The List was right, that Callie was a 9.5 and Vivian hovered just below an 8 while Alex straddled the line between 7.2 and 7.3. Noah, its author, was biased, we knew, but his calculations checked out, Callie insisted. I do have the biggest boobs. I have the best eyebrows. I am the skinniest. The frothiness in her voice was present enough that we allowed ourselves to laugh and not take extended offense. It’s stupid anyway, she had concluded. You’re gorgeous, and your boobs will get bigger soon, she had said to Alex who smiled and set down her Oreo. Whenever The List was mentioned, passively or otherwise, Callie protested its idiocy, but I knew that she stuck a post-it on her mirror with “9.5” scribbled in glittery purple gel.
Alex isn’t Callie pretty, but she has Bambi eyes and Dumbo ears and knows how to bat her eyelashes and shrug her shirt down slightly in the hopes that the lace of her bra will make up for all she lacks. Callie had shown her how she could loop her fingers around her wrist so they touched each other, and when Alex had tried, her fingers strained, yearning to graze each other. They never quite made it.
Vivian is doing that thing she does, pulling her knees to her chest and cradling herself. She wants to concave, to depress, to wane. I watch her fingers bounce on her leg and the softness beneath her fingertips has, since the last time I saw her, given way to rough edges. She takes up the least amount of space atop her car, and I watch her slowly blow smoke out of her mouth and ignore the open bag of Tostitos.
“Noah was looking at me during math today,” Vivian says to Callie, and the trepidation in her voice smells like smoke.
“You’re so full of shit,” Callie retorts, rolling her eyes and taking another
inhale. “I just wanted to tell you,” Vivian says. “I wanted you to know.”
“I don’t care,” Callie says, too forcefully for it to be true, and Alex watches them, then looks to me, and back to them.
“Noah is the worst,” Alex puts in, unhelpfully and unnecessary, which seems to be her specialty. She takes up too much space, I decide. She should work on that.
“I heard he’s writing another list,” Vivian says, looking down. “Friend groups. Highest average wins.”
Callie pauses, her cigarette perched between her fingers in a way I imagine she thinks looks very sophisticated. “Really?”
Vivian nods. “Grading starts next Tuesday. I think he’s using a new algorithm.” “Interesting.”
Callie leans back again, and Vivian holds her knees tighter. “Interesting.” She sticks her thin
fingers in the bag of Tostitos, and we watch as she licks the seasoning off. Her
tongue dances around the chip’s sharp edges, and I know she knows she has spectators. When she’s finished, the chip limps, lamely bland, and she places it next to her. She takes another inhale of her cigarette, and I watch the creases in her face slowly slacken until she is smiling, watching us. When Alex reaches for a chip, Callie laughs, loudly, and the sound of her giggles echo across the parking lot, and I am sure the people in Walgreens can hear her, so unafraid of her own noise and body and space. Alex licks her lips and sets the chip down.
“Fuck it. We’re going to win this year.”
The conviction in Callie’s voice smells like lime and we breathe in, the year before us, the numbers still uncalculated. The car moans under our weight for the first time tonight. We are heavier, somehow.
Brimming with vivid characterization and colorful voice, “On the First Friday Night of Junior Year” presents a wonderful exploration of “space”—whether the characters are taking up too much of it, taking up too little of it, or completely “unafraid of [their] noise and body and space.” Jordan Ferdman does such a wonderful job capturing these characters in this fleeting moment in time, that I can feel the full weight of their desperation, as if I’m sitting on the groaning hood of the car with them.
Jordan Ferdman is a high school senior. She is passionate about the usage of the word "girl."
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