Jailbait

By Zelly Martin


Artwork by Marilyn Minter

S

he met Jack at a party her stepmom was throwing for her dad. She was sitting alone in the corner, bored, when Jack sat next to her. He was wearing a suit without a tie and nice shoes. His eyes were a deep, obvious blue, like hers, and his hair was light brown. He looked young and tan and handsome.

They talked for 20 minutes on the couch, and by the phone after that. He was helping her with the SAT. When she got a 1400 on a practice test, he took her to dinner. He ordered mussels. When she said she had never had them, he plucked one from its shell, swirled it around in the bowl, and held the fork across the table. She thought about leaning forward and eating it off his fork, but instead took the fork from him.

“You know, I tried out for cheerleading in middle school.”

“Really?” Jack said.

“Mmhmm.” Marie nodded and sat up in her chair. “I didn’t make it the first year, so I never tried out again. I really regret that. I don’t think I’m really the cheerleader type.”

Jack insisted they share a dessert, and outside he opened the door for her. They got in his car, and she flipped through the stations until she found a Biggie Smalls mash-up.

When Marie and Jack pulled up in front of Marie’s house, Jack turned to look at her. She was sitting in the passenger seat with a cigarette between her fingers, her bare feet on the seat.

“You remind me of a little kid,” he said.

“Oh no.”

“A little smoking kid.”

Marie exhaled. She said, “Wanna come in for a second?”

“Won’t your parents mind?”

“No, they’re asleep, anyway. As long as we don’t wake them up, they won’t care. We can climb in my window.”

It took a bit of talking, but she thought it would be worth it. Or, she wouldn’t let herself hope it would be worth it, but she would be let down if it weren’t.

They climbed up the tree next to the house. It had thick branches and plenty of places for feet, but Marie’s dress kept getting caught, and Jack didn’t have as much experience climbing trees as Marie would have guessed. But she liked him more because of it. They both made it to the branch next to the roof. Jack scrambled over Marie and onto the roof, brushing her legs with his. He opened her window, and then held out his hand for her. She grabbed it and stepped onto the roof, and then half fell into her bedroom, headfirst. She laughed and turned around to help Jack, but he was already in.

He sat on her bed, and she sat down next to him. He lay down on his back. She did, too. They were quiet for a minute. Marie felt self-conscious every time she blinked, and worried about the sound of her breathing.

It started to rain. It smelled like rain, and reminded Marie of Seattle. But this rain is more of a Texas rain, she thought.

“Jack?” she asked. “How do you think of me?”

“As a friend. A peer.” 

“Good.”

Marie turned on her side to face him. “Jack, if I ask you something, will you promise to answer honestly? You won’t hurt my feelings if you’re honest. I just want to know.”

“OK.”

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Yes.”

“Really? You don’t have to say that, you know.”

“Really, Marie, you’re very pretty.”

“Thank you,” Marie said. “Jack?”

“Yes, Marie?”

“Are you attracted to me? And answer honestly, please. You won’t hurt my feelings.”

“Yes, Marie.”

She smiled. She wanted to reach over, so she turned over on her other side. She closed her eyes and focused on slowing down her breathing so she could pretend to sleep. She said, “I feel like you’ll fall asleep and I won’t, and then I’ll be alone.”

Jack sat up. He saw a book on her nightstand and picked it up. “I love this collection,” he said. He opened it and read a couple lines out loud.

“Yeah, I love that part,” Marie said. She sat up. “Even though it’s about religion.”

“I don’t think it is. I know that’s what people say. But I think it’s about just what it says. It’s about a girl washed up on a beach.”

They were sitting next to each other. She wanted to drape her legs across him or put her head on his chest. “Do you still want to be friends with me?” she asked.

He wrapped her in his arms, like a dad or an uncle.

“Would things be different if I were 18?” she said.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, do you like me?”

“Yes, Marie.”

“Would you lie to me?” She couldn’t let herself get excited yet.

“No, Marie.”

“If I didn’t run around town telling everyone, why would it matter that I’m younger? Couldn’t this be a secret? Why does age even matter? Everyone is different. How did we even decide on 18, anyway? I know 18-year-olds who should not be considered adults. We should judge that person by person, if it wouldn’t be so difficult and time-consuming.”

“You’re right about some things,” Jack said.

Marie tried to look serious, but she was too close to beaming. She pressed her face down into the pillow and then turned and looked up at him. Her shoulders were pushed down, slightly uncomfortably, and she thought it must be very unflattering. “Like what things?”

Jack just smiled at her and then looked away. This was the first time Marie had seen him act shy.

“If I were 18, would you kiss me right now?” She felt a little pushy, but at this point, how much did it matter?

Jack lay down, exhaled into her hair, and said, “Yes, Marie.”

He turned her face toward him and traced her lips with his finger. She smiled with her mouth closed. He pulled his hand back. Then he ran his hand through her hair, slid it under her neck, pulled her face toward his, and kissed her. From that moment on, Marie was a high school dropout. 

More from this year's Fiction Issue:

Miami

Forked River Roadside Shrine, South Jersey

A Ghost Story