A Perfect Order by Jennifer Howell

In eighth grade, I gave my eyes to a boy named Kurt. He stood three steps away, his blue eyes bright and his arms covered in fuzz. I watched the sun paint the small hairs gold. 

“Move, fatso,” Kurt said. 

His eyes felt strange, dragging my chin down with their weight. Strong legs, my mother called them, but those eyes saw mud-splattered tennis shoes crowned by round, sagging knees and thighs that trapped sweat between them. I moved. 

In tenth grade, I gave my tongue to a girl named Clarice who danced down the halls dressed in flannel and ripped denim. “Are you serious?” she said, her words tripping over her laughter as fast as her feet tripped toward our lockers. “Of course Brantley doesn’t like you.” 

“Of course,” I said, rolling the muscle in my mouth into a shape that felt familiar and the note from him into a ball small enough to eat. She closed her locker, biting into an apple. Its wetness clung to her chin. The eyes in my small locker mirror traced the round softness of my chin. “Of course not me.” The words settled under my skin. I left the sandwich in my locker, chewing on my thumbnail instead.

In twelfth grade, I gave what was left to a boy named Kai as I lay beneath him, arms and legs held together by the silver stitches of my prom dress. His tongue was wet against my skin; I watched the windows fog and his shoulders hunch up and down. My legs clung to the wet polyester of his seats when he sat back, red-faced and sighing. I tried to match the look on his face. He tugged my dress down. “Are you hungry?”

I picked a bobby pin up off the floor and pinned back a curl his fingers forced loose. He smelled like cheap beer and cheaper body spray when he leaned across to buckle me in, his hand lingering on my thigh. I waited to feel free. I waited to feel like this had been my choice. He turned up the music, moved his hand to his phone, and drove us to the diner.

The waitress slid a blue-rimmed plate with two sunny-side-up eggs and a piece of wheat toast on it in front of me. The eggs wobbled, round and lopsided like the breasts I hid beneath wire and gel padding. Kai smiled at me from across the table, his cheek already round with waffle. 

“Everything okay, sugar?” the waitress said. She shoved a pen in the pocket of the apron tied around her waist. “The eggs not done right?” 

I felt my cheeks flush. “No,” I said, gripping the fork and the knife so my hands wouldn’t wipe at my smudged eyeliner. I could feel its zipper against my spine, the wetness where my legs pressed together. “They’re perfect.”

Kai reached across the table and stabbed a piece of toast in one egg, ripping the yolk open. He winked at me as he bit the messy edge off the toast. “Let me have some then.” 

Two booths down, another couple laughed. They sat on the same side of the table as each other, ankles intertwined, hands touching where they rested on the green plastic seat cover. He hid behind a menu; she kissed his cheek. The yolk hemorrhaged. 

He saw them too; he moved to chain my hand with his. I dipped my finger in the yolk instead and dragged it across the plate, drawing a curving line and two sightless eyes. He chewed, and watched me, his smile twisted with uncertainty. I licked my finger. I looked up at them again, watching their lips fasten together, realizing that the person in my body didn’t want that. Not with him. 

“These are mine,” I said. I picked up an egg and closed my mouth around the bleeding white the way I’d closed my mouth around him. I watched his smile tighten, screwing down until the look in his eyes tightened into the opposite of need. I wondered what my face looked like, and hoped, for once, it mirrored his. In the car, he hadn’t bothered to reach inside my bra. I did it for him now, pulling two gel-filled pads out and throwing them onto the table where they lay shimmering, ideal, and dead. 

I picked up a fork and gently skewered this fake part of me, bought and pressed against my body to make it look the way someone else wanted it to. I twisted, ignoring the yolk on my lips and the look in his eyes. My dress hung loose from my shoulders, made to fit his expectations and not my own. 

“Those are yours,” I said, and for the first time in years, it sounded like me. 

Jennifer Howell (@howlsmovingjenn) is a marshmallow with a gooey nightmare center. Her novels and other works can be found at www.jennihowell.com. She is repped by Claire Friedman of Inkwell Management.

Image: unsplash.com