Cowboys and Indians

When Dev first raised the suggestion, it had been met with a general outcry. The theme was antiquated. Old-fashioned. And worst of all, it was not politically correct.

True, true, and true, Dev said, but there had already been one luau, a toga party, and two pimp-and-ho parties, and the Bleaker Street Party-Planning Collective was running out of ideas.

Jacob was not particularly concerned with any of this. He was tired of the parties and their ubiquitous themes. He was tired of stringing up decorations and of spending the next morning raking plastic cups off the lawn. At Dev’s insistence, he dressed half-heartedly as Billy the Kid, only to find that pretty much everyone was dressed as Billy the Kid, and most of them had invested far more time and effort in their costumes.

He was slouching indifferently by the stereo when Aberdeen Garey burst onto the scene, followed by Kylar Ross. It occurred to him in an odd rush that maybe all girls like Aberdeen had a friend like Kylar—someone to walk in front of, to be taller and thinner than.

Aberdeen was the one who kissed Jacob that night, shoving him back against the entertainment center as the music thumped on and on. He could feel the bass vibrating between his shoulder blades like a series of blows. Her mouth tasted like blue candy and beer.

Aberdeen was dressed as Annie Oakley, with a white hat and a sleeveless red blouse covered in fringe. A pair of matched cap pistols nestled in twin holsters. Her skirt was breathtakingly short, a calculated reminder of how glorious her legs were. Aberdeen was always wearing relentlessly short skirts. She was always kissing someone.

But Kylar was the one Jacob kissed, later and at length.

Kylar appeared to be dressed as an Indian but the effect was somewhat baffling. She’d painted her face with something iridescent. If he had to guess, Jacob would have said eyeshadow. It was smeared across the bridge of her nose and ran in vertical stripes down her cheeks. From across the room, the pattern tended to suggest that she was crying gray and purple tears and for one excruciating moment, he found himself indulging a fantasy of brushing them away.

Out in the cold garage, packed shoulder to shoulder, she’d looked up at him. He’d moved without hesitation, drawn by the shimmering purple tears. There was not much that Jacob did without considering the consequences, but he’d found himself nearly hypnotized by her plaintive expression. From the doorway, he saw Aberdeen watching them, but it hardly mattered.

Now, it was past three o’clock, and people had mostly gone home. A few still sprawled in front of the muted TV, or slept against various articles of furniture in potentially crippling positions. Dev was in the kitchen, making Cup-of-Noodles, which probably constituted a safety hazard.

Only Aberdeen remained vital. She danced to The Birthday Massacre, and to “Miss Murder,” twirling in the middle of the living room.

“I would totally have sex with Davey Havok,” she said, waving her arms above her head.

It was the kind of thing Aberdeen often said, laboring under the misguided impression that she was being provocative and shocking.

Jacob glanced over at Kylar, who was curled on the sofa, along with Dev’s twin tabby cats and Nate Hammond’s little brother. The kid was small for his age, and miserably pale. He’d just turned fifteen—one of those annoying little mistakes who tried desperately to be cool and never quite got it. He’d spent the first half of the night sloppy-drunk and the second half sloppy-sick. He was holding onto Kylar’s wrist in a way that made him seem particularly young, like a little kid. Kylar’s other hand rested on his hair.

Jacob thought of the kiss in the chilly garage and felt a small twinge of jealousy. He wondered what it would be like to sleep next to her. It had been a long kiss—a good one—and after she’d disappeared into the crowd, he’d looked for her.

Aberdeen stopped dancing. When she laughed, the sound was hoarse and bitter. “I hate her,” she said, giving Jacob a challenging look.

He squinted and shook his head. “Sorry?”

“You heard me. I hate my best friend.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re deep in it now,” Aberdeen said, executing a wobbly pirouette, her gun-belt clanking as she turned. Her expression was bleary, but she spoke with absolute certainty. “Completely, utterly entrenched, like one of those wars that lasts for a hundred years.”

Jacob turned back to where Kylar slept, her arms around the Hammond kid. Everything shy or young or pitiful seemed to make its way to Kylar eventually. One of the cats stretched and rested a paw against her cheek. She was the very embodiment of coming home.

“Oh, don’t be such a little punk,” Aberdeen said following his gaze. “She likes it when everyone gets all sappy and sentimental about her—just look at her, look how sweet she is—Kylar is so sweet. Don’t you get it? That’s what she wants.” Aberdeen’s voice dropped, and all at once, she sounded frightened. “Just like her crap costume tonight. She doesn’t need a costume, she can hide in plain sight. No one ever sees what she is unless she wants them to. She gave me everything, you know—anything I wanted. Pretty? Sure. Popular and cool and fun? And all I had to do was give her this whenever she wanted.”

With a defiant expression, Aberdeen held out her arm. There, on the inside of her elbow, was a raw, oozing sore, crusted at the center and bruised at the edges. All around it, the veins showed a deep poisonous blue.

Jacob was tempted to mention septicemia and hepatitis and the other dangers of needle drugs. The words were forming in his mouth, when from the kitchen, Dev began to swear suddenly, in a fluid torrent that suggested disaster. Jacob bolted to turn off the stove and when he came back out to the living room, Aberdeen and Kyler were gone. The stereo was still blaring, and the cats were sitting up now, rumpled and blinking.

The idea that Kylar Ross had anything over Aberdeen was, of course, ludicrous. She was sad and sweet, and basically a pushover. Hell, she’d spent most of the night taking care of the Hammond kid, who still lay passed out on the couch. Jacob stood over him, trying to figure out what was different about him. His features seemed harder somehow, not so pathetic. In sleep, at least, he wasn’t begging for acceptance. His elbows were scraped from falling in the driveway and there was a mark on the inside of one wrist, like a gently fading bruise.

18 thoughts on “Cowboys and Indians

  1. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon here: this is a fab story. I like the way you play with our perception and expectations.

  2. That is good 🙂 since I’m seriously considering turning it into a legitimate short story (2500-3000 words), only with, you know . . . scenes.

  3. Hahaha–I’ll just pretend quietly to myself that this represents an entertained *blink* and not the what-the-hell-is-going-on kind (I read your comment in my sub-par Keanu Reeves voice, by the way. I think it worked out)

  4. I’ll confess it got away from me a little, which I suspect affected minor things like coherency, but never fear–I’ll be coming back to this one for sure. I am not done with parasitic girls, not by a long shot!

  5. Yes, it was a very positive blink!

    Though I suspect even bad reactions are better when read in an accent. 🙂

  6. Please, please do. This onereally hit a nerve for me, there’s something about it… I just adore Aberdeen.
    And I am so intrigued by Kylar. I love the concept, and the character- she’s such a dichotomy! “The very embodiment of coming home” and at the same time… Something much more sinister. =33

    *loves on you*

  7. I love this. Yes, more please. It didn’t feel like one of yours, but I don’t know whats different. I love the characterisation. “You heard me. I hate my best friend.” Best line – fatal attraction.

  8. This is getting me even more excited to work on a developed short story! Thanks for your enthusiasm and thanks for commenting 😀

  9. I’m so glad everyone seems receptive to the idea of this one being longer, because I don’t think I’m ready abandon it yet.

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