Her mother wakes her up before her alarm with a tender squeeze of the arm and a kiss on the forehead. Norah registers the shift in light beneath her eyelids but keeps them tightly closed. Everything feels too good to move: the pillow soft beneath her head, the sheets curled around her body, keeping her warm. Norah would stay in bed forever if she could, but her mother hums softly until Norah stretches languidly and flutters her eyes open. The two share a look, then trade smiles. Most of the time Norah’s mother looks at her daughter like she’s a stranger, often lamenting the loss of her “little princess,” but here, cocooned in her blankets and made very small, Norah can almost recall that version of herself and the tidy obedience of her girlhood. It’s a tender moment, in any case, the kind she can feel her mother tucking into her heart for safekeeping. Norah unlocks her own and does the same.

“Good morning, my sweet girl,” her mother says.

She slips out of Norah’s bedroom. Norah lies there a moment before pushing the covers aside and getting out of bed. 

Her alarm sounds. She turns it off.  

Norah is excited about the day before her. She contemplates it, sat in front of her bowl of cereal while her mother argues with her father on the phone. She shoves a spoonful into her mouth and relishes the crunch before it turns mush enough to swallow.

“Gary—Gary, if you don’t fucking stop—”

Her mother glances in her direction and then slips out of the room. She doesn’t like Norah seeing or hearing how much they hate each other. Norah wishes she could tell her mother it doesn’t matter anyway—that it’s less something you see or hear and more something you feel.


* * *


On the walk to school, she ducks behind the bushes in front of Mr. Johnson’s house. He’s ninety, confined to his bed, so it’s safe enough for her to do what she does next: she peels off the spandex shorts under her red plaid kilt, then rolls the kilt at the waist until it’s quite a few inches shorter, so far up her thighs it near reveals the fancy panties she bought at the mall over the weekend. She and her best friend, Beth, marched into Victoria’s Secret together and combed the racks, their hearts beating wildly like they were committing some kind of crime—but like Beth said at the time, Everyone’s got a right to a nice pair of underwear.

Norah settled on a pink bikini cut that had lace all on the front, smooth and silky on the back. Later that night, she paraded in front of the mirror on her closet door, and that was all she was wearing, and when she assessed herself, her thoughts landed on the word sexy. It felt, to her, so far removed from her mother’s princess, it made her shiver. Norah loves that shiver, a tether to a world she often feels herself floating above, pushed in any direction the wind blows.

She unbuttons the first two buttons of her blouse. She doesn’t know how long she’ll make it before the uniform infraction registers with one of her teachers. If she gets past homeroom, her first class of the day is English with Mr. Arbor, and he takes a particular delight in all the skin the freshman girls aren’t supposed to be showing. Second period is with Mrs. Brown, who doesn’t give a damn about anything because she’s retiring at the end of the year. After lunch, third period with Ms. Randolph will be her last and biggest hurdle, depending on how bad of a mood Randolph’s in. If Norah skirts past Randolph, Norah wins the day. 

At the very least, she likes to make it to lunch.

Norah doesn’t know when the uniform game started, but she knows girls at St. Christopher’s were playing it long before she first stepped foot in its hallowed halls. And Norah knows the reason why she likes to play: she loves standing victorious at the end of the day because it’s a beautiful act of defiance, owning her body. She gets that shiver. There’s nothing worse than being one of the girls floating into the cafeteria wearing their kilts at knee-length with their blouses buttoned to their necks just because the school told them they had to.

She shoves her shorts into her book bag and steps out from behind Johnson’s bushes. Last month she made the mistake of picking the bushes in front of Brendan Nichols’s house to change behind. The old gossip was looking through his window and had her dad on the phone about it before she even got off his lawn. Her father picked her up from school that day and yelled at her about it without actually yelling. He called her slutty, called the girls who dressed like her sluts, asked her if that was who she really was and who she really wanted to be. Norah said, No, of course not, because it wasn’t like he wanted to hear the truth.

She’s glad she only has to see her dad on weekends.


* * *


“Hey, Norah.”

She’s halfway to school when Lark Casey pulls up in his (older brother’s old) Prius. His arm is out the window, and he moves slowly along the curb, keeping pace with her.

Norah likes Lark a lot, even though there’s nothing truly special about him besides his face—or maybe because of that. Norah’s mother warns her not to be shallow, that there’s more to life than looks, but her mother married her father for his personality, and Norah knows how that turned out. Lark is bland, even-tempered, and beautiful, sporting a six-foot, two-inch frame, deep brown eyes, and pillowy lips. Lark makes her blush.

“Hey,” she says, biting back a smile.

He makes her feel giddy too. She’ll be doing nothing and then suddenly his face will flash into her head and she’ll find herself giggling. She feels supremely happy and supremely silly in those moments.

“You want a ride?” he asks.

She shrugs. “It’s not that far.”

“Get in the car, Norah.”

They’re a couple, but they’re mostly pretending otherwise, and it’s mostly because Lark is a senior and Norah is a freshman and she doesn’t feel like explaining that one to her parents, even though they were friends with Lark’s mom and dad before the divorce. Everyone thinks Lark is looking out for Norah in the way big brothers do, and that repulses her. She never wants to think about Lark that way. It’s kind of funny how much it would piss her folks off, because it was their divorce that got Norah and Lark together. He pulled the car over to tell her how sorry he was about it. He’s one of the few people who knows about her father’s affairs. He offered her a ride the rest of the way to school, and then another the day after that, and another … 

She rounds his car and gets in the passenger side. He doesn’t look at her, but he smiles at the horizon, pleased she’s there in the car with him, and that makes her heart sing. It goes a long way, feeling even a little wanted, and Lark wants her more than a little.

“Hey, beautiful,” he says.

Kissing is for behind closed doors, curtained windows. Hand-holding might do, but the ride to school isn’t all that long, and what’s the point in wasting time? He turns to her and waits until she nods, and then he reaches over and puts his hand on her thigh. She shivers at its warmth, its weight, shivers even more as it moves farther up. He teases her, tickling her a little. She giggles, leaning her head against the headrest and delighting when his fingers reach the unfamiliar. He turns to her and says, eyes wide and surprised, “What is that?”

She shrieks. He pushes her kilt back, one eye always on the road, and says, “What are those?” and she yanks her skirt right back down, laughing so hard now she can barely breathe. When she finally collects herself, she turns her head to him, and his face is red. 

“You like it?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says and then, after a moment, nods vigorously. “Yeah, I do.”

He reaches over and lifts her skirt up again, feels the lace front of her underwear, and she loves the feel of him feeling it, and they’ve just about reached the school when he says, “God, you know what you do to me?”

“No,” she says like she always does, because this is the game they like to play, and she watches him fidgeting with anticipation as she guides her hand to his crotch.


* * *


“Hey, Norah, nice underwear.”

She panics briefly before realizing Dan Sanchez is just fucking with her, and once she does and her heart settles, she thinks a little smugly, I know.

She got through homeroom without reprimand owing to the fact that Ms. Larson had her eyes fixed on her computer screen. She was looking up when the boys came in, though, and she never said anything. The boys are walking uniform infractions, their shirts perpetually untucked and unbuttoned, ties loose around their necks. They always get away with it, and it’s not fair, but whatever. She meets Beth at her locker. Beth is pulling at her ass like there’s something wedged up in there, and her greeting confirms it: “Why did I buy a thong?”

“I told you,” Norah says.

“My mom always says you can’t feel these things, and it’s … not … fucking …” She sighs, dropping her hand to her sides. “Anyway, it’s not true.”

“Why are you talking to your mom about thongs?”

Beth rubs her ass-hand in Norah’s face, and Norah shrieks and ducks, and they make their way down the hall to English. They pass Marianne Marsters along the way, hovering at her locker, looking twitchy. Marianne, the perennial good girl, is wearing the uniform like all the girls are meant to wear the uniform: kilt to her knees, shirt buttoned to her chin. She’s opted to layer with the cardigan today, and it’s buttoned all the way up too.

“How much would you pay me,” Beth asks as they reach the door, “to bend over in front of Arbor?”

Norah rolls her eyes. Beth won’t do it, but she needs to be told, and so Norah says with a hint of a plea, “Beth, don’t.” They step into the classroom, and Beth doesn’t, but Arbor is at his desk, intensely focused on their entrance. Until Arbor, Norah had never been ogled by an older man. Or maybe that’s not true. She never noticed it, though, because until Arbor, she’d never experienced something so blatant and so lascivious (she learned that word in Arbor’s class). He eats you with his eyes, Beth said thoughtfully one day, and that was exactly it. They step into class and are devoured. Some days Arbor makes Norah feel like she’s just shy of ruling the world, but most days he makes her feel like this is all she can ever hope to expect from it. That made her want to dress to code just to escape it until she made a promise to herself: she couldn’t under any circumstance let the old man win. So what she does now is pause at his desk and wait until he looks her right in the eyes before moving on. 

I see you, she thinks, and it means something.

It has to.

Two minutes after the bell sounds, Marianne runs into the room, breathless. Mr. Arbor has nothing for her except lunchtime detention.


* * *


Norah makes it to lunch.

She and Beth high-five and enter the cafeteria, scoping out the miserable faces of girls who didn’t get so lucky. The two of them line up for food—Cokes, mac and cheese, and fries, a total carb overload—and sit in the corner of the room. They won’t be alone long; Jeremy Holden will meet up with them with his shadow, Clark Anderson, and then things will get loud because Jeremy is loud. For now, though, they enjoy the relative quiet. 

Beth stabs the macaroni with her fork and shoves it in her mouth. Norah grabs a fry and dips it into the molten cheese. It tastes so processed, so chemically engineered, it’s delicious, and Norah knows that when she’s her mother’s age, she’ll be forever chasing this taste of her youth so she can feel something akin to a hug from her past.

Shortly after, Jeremy bounds onto the scene with his usual zeal, Clark shuffling behind him. Before Jeremy can even sit, Beth is digging her money clip out of her boot and handing a bill to him. Jeremy glances cautiously around before digging into his pocket and sliding a dime bag of weed her way. Beth palms it, tucks it neatly away, and then it’s like the whole thing never happened, but Norah is acutely aware that it happened.

Beth wants them to smoke together, says it’s great, and Norah is as intrigued as she is scared, or maybe a little more scared than she is intrigued because stuff with Beth has a habit of sometimes going off without a hitch but more often than not getting out of hand.

Like last month, over the weekend, Beth’s parents were out of town. Norah and Beth sneaked into her father’s liquor cabinet and drank. Norah got fuzzy-headed and sleepy, dozed on the couch all night, and Beth got so wasted she passed out on her back on the floor, ended up throwing up in her sleep—and didn’t die. Norah didn’t realize it was a possibility, that you shouldn’t let drunk people sleep on their backs, until the two of them woke up the next morning and Beth stared at her foul, sick-covered shirt and said, somewhat amazed, “You didn’t even roll me over?”

Jeremy plunks down next to Norah and reaches across her mac and cheese for a handful of her fries, stuffing them into his mouth. That’s how he is with her, and it drives her crazy, but she doesn’t say anything because the last girl who told Jeremy Holden to go fuck himself ended up with her picture, street address, and phone number plastered online in some ugly places, and her life got pretty ugly as a result. No one said outright that it was Jeremy, but there was a way he held himself afterward that made it obvious it was him.

Norah doesn’t know why Jeremy is so into her now. His interest has revealed itself within the last month, first in the form of staring at her when he thought he was being subtle about it, then in the form of his overbearing closeness. He didn’t used to come to their lunch table all the time, and even now that he does, he doesn’t really talk to her, doesn’t try to hold a conversation to figure out what they might have in common. (Norah already knows: nothing.) He wants her, though, and he’s made it clear. It makes her sick. Jeremy would probably back off if he had any clue about Lark, but no one does. No one ever will. Norah gazes wistfully around the room. Seniors have a different lunch time—Lark is enjoying a free period now.

“How you doin’, Norah?” Jeremy asks. Norah shrugs and fills her mouth with fries because she doesn’t feel like talking. Jeremy nods to Clark, sitting across the table from them. “Clark shot a cat last weekend.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Clark says immediately, his ears reddening. 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Beth asks.

“Clark shot a cat last weekend.” Jeremy leans forward. “We took his BB gun into the woods, just aiming it at anything, right, and Clark pulls the trigger, and we hear this scream, like this ridiculous fucking yowl, and this cat just—”

“I’m trying to eat my lunch here,” Beth interrupts.

Norah has already lost her appetite. She brings a hand to her mouth, picturing the whole thing a little too completely. “Did it die?”

Jeremy laughs. “It was just a BB gun.”

“Did it die?”

“No, it didn’t fuckin’ die,” Clark says.

Norah thinks of the poor cat in pain—her mind, for some reason, makes it a tabby—not understanding why it’s in pain, and Clark and Jeremy laughing at it. From that point on, the cat would never trust another human being. It upsets her enough that she can’t keep it off her face. Clark reaches over to punch Jeremy in the arm and says, “I told you not to tell—”

But his arm jostles Norah’s Coke, and what happens next is the sweet, syrupy drink ends up all over her shirt, her lap, and her thighs. She shrieks and pushes away from the table. A few heads swivel in her direction, trying to pinpoint the commotion. 

“Aw, shit, aw, Jesus, Norah, I’m sorry,” Clark says frantically, stumbling over the words, at the same time Jeremy asks, “Can I have the rest of your fries?”

“I don’t care,” Norah says, and Jeremy pulls her tray toward him, not just the fries but the macaroni too. She glances at Beth. “I gotta clean up. I’ll be right back.”

“You fucking losers,” Beth says to the guys.


* * *


In the bathroom Norah wets a paper towel and sops it all over herself, trying to get as much of the sticky sugar out as she can. When she’s done at the sink, she awkwardly positions herself under the hand dryer and presses the button over and over again until she’s dry.

On her way back to the cafeteria, she passes a group of senior boys, Lark among them. They’re loud, louder than you’re supposed to be, and so beautiful and alive. His eyes meet hers and he grins, makes a point of stopping right there in the hall and asking if she needs a ride home from school. He loves this, the innocent pretense of them. He gets off on it, she thinks. She does a little too because the moment is entirely in her hands, the yes or no of it, keeping up the ruse or giving them away. She has no intention of giving them away, of course, but that she could, right now, makes her shiver.

She says, “Yeah. Please.”

“Great,” Lark says, totally cool about it, nothing on his face suggesting where her hands were this morning. As the boys move down the hall to wherever it is they’re heading, she hears one of his friends say in a mocking falsetto, “Yeah, please,” like the whole moment belonged to Lark, somehow, and Lark smacks him on the back of his head and says, “Fuck off, she’s like a little sister to me,” and some of the thrill dies.

Norah checks her watch. Not a lot of time to get back to her mac and cheese, provided there’s any left (she doubts it), but she hustles. She’s just about past Mr. Arbor’s door, which is along the way, when she hears a whimper, a kittenish kind of mewl, and then his voice, indistinct. She pauses, feeling her shoulders tense, but she doesn’t know exactly why.

“Marianne,” Norah hears Mr. Arbor say.

Norah moves forward on her tiptoes and peers around the doorframe. Marianne’s cardigan is on the floor next to her chair. Marianne herself is sitting at a desk, Arbor behind her, leaned over her, one arm on her shoulder, the other planted on the desk’s surface. His head is bowed, his mouth close to her ear, and he’s whispering something into it. Why is he so close? Why does he need to be whispering anything in her ear?

Norah’s stomach turns, but Mr. Arbor acts like he’s exactly where he’s meant to be, like this is just what teachers do. There’s nothing guarded about him, no tension in his stance, and if he were doing something wrong, wouldn’t he act like it? Wouldn’t he keep one eye constantly trained on the door for someone like Norah so he wouldn’t get caught? Norah studies Marianne. She looks so rigid and uncomfortable, but Marianne always looks that way; everyplace she is seems to be a place she wants to get away from. Norah waits for something dramatic enough to occur to direct her next course of action, but it doesn’t happen. She decides to leave things as she found them, but when she finally moves away from the door, she hears it again, that soft whimper, and realizes she can’t. She raps her knuckles against the doorframe. Marianne’s eyes dart wildly around before spotting Norah. Arbor takes it all in stride, gently moving himself away from Marianne and asking Norah what she needs.

“Mrs. Allen asked me to get you,” Norah lies. “She’s in the teachers’ lounge.”

Arbor clears his throat, glances at the clock on the wall, and regards Marianne for a long minute before saying, “All right. Thank you, Norah. Marianne, you may go.”

He leaves the room, Marianne following him to the door. He heads one way and she goes the other, Norah caught between them.

“Marianne,” Norah calls after her retreating figure. She realizes Marianne left her cardigan in the classroom, on the floor. “Hey, Marianne.”

She watches Marianne float away.


* * *


When Norah gets back to the cafeteria, Beth and Jeremy are gone. Clark is still there.

“Where’d they go?” Norah asks.

“They went to smoke.”

“The weed?”

Clark stares at her. “Duh.”

Great. Norah and Beth have math together, and she’s going to be stressing the whole time that Randolph’s going to realize Beth is high. If Randolph does, it’s going to be World War III. Randolph loves an excuse to scream. Norah’s stomach grumbles, and it’s just as she thought: Jeremy polished off her entire lunch for her. She stares at Clark, and she’s surprised to see that his eyes are a little watery, like he might be on the verge of crying.

“What’s wrong?”

He sniffles. “Nothing.”


He’s quiet for a long moment, then finally manages, “I feel really bad about the cat.”

She doesn’t want to get upset about the cat again. She tries to push it out of her mind, but all she can think about is the crack of the BB gun giving way to a soft mewl of pain …

“It was an asshole thing to do,” Norah replies.

“I didn’t see it!” Clark exhales sharply. “I just fired this shot, and it like … ran out of the bushes. And Jeremy’s a fucking psychopath, you know? He wouldn’t let it alone.”

Norah studies Clark. He keeps his gaze fixed on something beyond her, or maybe something she can’t see.

“Clark?” she finally asks, uneasy. “Did the cat die?”

He doesn’t answer. He stares at his hands and says, miserably, “Jeremy’s gonna ask you to fall formal, and I’d say yes if I were you.”


* * *


All thoughts of Jeremy disappear for worry about Beth, who even if she didn’t totally reek of pot and weren’t totally red-eyed is so clearly, painfully high. As they step inside Randolph’s classroom, Norah turns herself into a human shield, blocking Beth from view.

“I’m so mad at you right now,” Norah tells Beth, who rolls her eyes.

“You’re not the one who’s going to get into trouble, so calm your tits.”

They sit at their usual table, which isn’t as far back as Norah would like it to be today. The bell has rung when Randolph unpleasantly surprises everyone with a pop quiz. Beth murmurs, “Oh shit, I can’t even think straight,” and Norah tells her it serves her right.

After everyone’s done groaning, Ms. Randolph orders Norah to distribute the quizzes. Norah takes the stack and begins handing them out. She’s just passing one to Beth when the papers slip from her hands, spilling across the floor. Randolph makes an audibly annoyed sound.

Norah bends hastily to pick them up, and Beth explodes into giggles, and then Randolph yells, “Are you kidding me right now?” and Norah thinks, Oh fuck—Beth.

“Norah, front of the room. Now.” 

What? Norah’s heart pounds as she scrambles to pick up the remaining papers, but her hands are suddenly too sweaty to grip them. 

“Leave them,” Randolph says sharply.

Norah makes her way to the front of the room.

“Norah, according to the dress code, where should your kilt fall?”

“To the knees,” Norah says.

She feels the eyes of her classmates on her, feels their embarrassment over her embarrassment—at least the ones who aren’t hungry for it. She raises her chin slightly. The small pushback doesn’t escape Randolph’s notice; hardly anything does.

“Is your kilt the appropriate length?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Fix it.”

Norah gets to the excruciating task of rolling down her kilt in front of her classmates. She tugs until it falls, tickling just above her kneecaps, and it suddenly hits her: when she dropped all the papers and bent over—her new pink underwear.

“Your shirt. Fix it.”

She’s above her body now. She watches her fingers fumble with the buttons of her shirt, their clumsiness extending the whole ordeal of this sick reverse striptease. From this distance she sees that it’s not just that she’s in front of her class, humiliated; it’s that her classmates are part of the show whether they want to be or not, whether she wants them to be or not. 

When Norah is done, Randolph tells her that if she comes to class like that again, she’ll be written up. You get three write-ups on the uniform, you get suspended. She makes Norah finish handing the quizzes out. Norah does, her eyes filled with unshed tears, as her classmates look on. Her clothes feel heavy. Her skin feels too tight. Every person she hands a quiz to looks at her, but not in the way she gave them permission to.

“At least you weren’t wearing the thong,” Beth says when Norah sits back down beside her. Norah forces a smile, but when Beth’s looking elsewhere, she swipes her hand across her eyes. She imagines herself in front of Johnson’s house hours ago and the promising shiver that started her day. It feels so far from her now.


* * *


“Does Mr. Arbor mess around with students?”

It’s not the greeting Lark expects. They’re in his car outside the school, everyone milling around the building, making that slow trek home. Marianne has caught Norah’s eye. She’s standing under the maple right by the front door, waiting for her father to pick her up, and she still doesn’t have her cardigan. Her head is ducked, and she’s not looking at anyone, and no one ever seems to look at her. Norah thinks about that plaintive cry she heard coming from inside Arbor’s classroom just before she reached the door and just after she moved away from it.

What has to happen to a girl to make a sound like that come out of her?      

“What?” he asks as he pulls onto the road.

“I don’t know. Marianne Marsters got detention at lunch,” she says. “With Arbor. I walked past them, and it was … weird.”

“Weird how?”

She describes the scene, the way Arbor stood over Marianne, the untowardness of it, even though technically she guesses nothing really happened. Lark pulls away from the school, and he tells her she can’t just get a teacher in trouble for standing too close to one of his students. Norah says she wasn’t going to, she just wants to know if Mr. Arbor is … bad.

“Bad?” Lark snorts. “He’s just a harmless fuck, Norah, that’s all. If you don’t want him to be a creep, don’t put yourself on his radar.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means. You don’t have to hike your kilt up to your—” He stops himself, but it’s already too late. “You know what you girls do. You just don’t have to do it.”

“But I want to do it,” Norah says, her face flushing with anger.

Lark stares at her, and she stares back at him.

“Well, then, you know what’s gonna happen,” he finally says.

“What’s going to happen?” she asks. Lark shifts, and he opens and closes his mouth several times. He doesn’t know what to say, and she wonders what kind of answers might be flitting through his head and if she’d still like him if he said them out loud. What happens, Lark? she wonders. You end up in the passenger seat of a car with a senior?

She persists: “How did Marianne put herself on Arbor’s radar?”

Because even Lark knows Marianne buttons her shirt up to her chin and wears her kilt down to her ankles. He doesn’t respond. Norah watches the town drift by her window.

“Jeremy Holden is going to ask me to fall formal,” she says after a minute.

“Kid’s a psycho.” Lark sounds relieved at the change in subject.

“I know. That’s why I don’t want to go with him.” She revises the statement: “I’m not going to go with him.” Fuck Jeremy.

“You think that’s a good idea?”

She turns to him. He’s serious. “What the hell, Lark?”

“Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but that kid’s a fucking freak. Even the seniors don’t mess with him. He’s not a good one to make an enemy of.” He glances at her. “You really should be looking out for yourself.”

“By going to fall formal with him?”

He doesn’t answer. He hasn’t answered her at all. Norah leans back in the seat, frowning. She doesn’t like the way he’s made her feel here in his car. She wants the magic of the morning, to have a choice laid in front of her, to be in control of that choice, to choose. 

So she sighs softly and stretches a little, her chest pressing against the seatbelt. She opens her legs wide. Lark notices, fidgets. Smiles. 

He says, almost too softly for her to hear, “Norah.”

“What?” she asks innocently.

“We’re just about to your place.”

“So pull over.”

A few minutes later they’re on the side of the road and Lark is moaning, and he’s saying it again, the thing he said that morning: “God, do you know what you do to me …”

Yes, Norah thinks. What I do to you.


* * *


Norah gets Marianne’s number from Beth. They partnered for a science project once.

Norah’s thumbs hover over the screen of her phone.

Do you want to talk?

She contemplates it awhile, and then she hits send. She figures if Marianne doesn’t answer her, she’ll make a point of talking to her in the morning, and whatever happens next happens next. Norah is exhausted—the push and pull of the last eleven hours has worn her down, as it so often does. Her head is full of things she doesn’t want to think about, but she feels everything building for want of an outlet. She stretches out on the couch in her pajamas and turns the TV on. She gets past the parental lock on the porn stations and starts flipping through them before finally settling on an X-rated movie that looks like it’s at least pretending to have a plot.

On-screen, two naked, writhing bodies are pressed up against each other. Norah takes note, there on the couch, of the way the woman tops and how simple it all seems.

Norah soothes herself with the uncomplicated nature of the woman’s wanting, taking, having, and being, but then she thinks about the camera trained on the actress’s body and the director orchestrating the shot, and it doesn’t seem so simple anymore. She thinks about being with Lark in the car and whether he believes he’s the one directing them both. She thinks about her father and Ms. Randolph and how twisted with shame it makes her to wear her body to their specifications and how that doesn’t even matter anyway because you can do everything how you’ve been told and still end up in Arbor’s classroom with him whispering things in your ears, crying like a wounded cat might cry. 

She thinks about herself in her bedroom after she came home from the mall. 

She pulled the underwear from the Victoria’s Secret bag and held it in her hands, running her fingers over the delicate lace. When she put it on and looked at herself in the mirror, the first word that came to mind was sexy, and it felt powerful. A moment between her and her body that she’d given to herself. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but she always wants it to feel that way … and is it really too much to ask?

Her phone chimes. A text from Marianne.


She exhales.


Norah startles at the sharp, devastated sound of her mother’s voice. Her mother stands behind the couch, her eyes on the television, her mouth hanging open, her face fully scandalized. The couple on TV moans loudly in response. Norah’s mother rips the remote from her daughter’s hands. She turns the television off and stares at Norah like she’s a stranger.

“You’re too young to be watching that,” she says.

{ Edited by Trisha Tobias. }