Laina and I acted older than we were because we could. We dressed like whores to anger our parents who couldn’t be bothered to get angry, an act of defiance that didn’t defy anyone. But we also acted older because we thought that was how we were supposed to act—anything less would be beneath us, pathetic, like Laina’s twin cousins from Santa Cruz with their hair scrunchies and Little Miss t-shirts.
We took photos of ourselves posing and sent them out in pieces—my tits, her face. My ass, her little girl’s waist, straight as a pole and with those knobby hip bones poking out. Privately I wondered if my curvy waist wasn’t sexier, more adult, but we had a routine and I wasn’t about to stray from it. And besides, as Laina told me whenever we wore bathing suits, I had a skin tag above my belly button.
Using these fragmented photos, we created Marnie—a 24-year-old barista and part time SMC student comprised only of our best parts. Marnie had profiles on OKCupid, Tinder, and although plenty of online dating forums warned against it, Men Seeking Arrangements. Laina liked to laugh at the messages we got through that site and then find the men on Facebook and make fun of their profiles. Sometimes if we were drunk enough, she’d threaten to message their wives, or if they weren’t married, their mothers, though I convinced her not to by warning her that our profile would get deleted.
Though we never met up with anyone, it was fun to send messages and pose for pictures. On an average photoshoot day, we took hundreds of photos in her grandmother’s hot tub while the mist rolled in from the ocean and made it look like we hadn’t cleaned our lenses. Laina assured me that the mist added mystique, kept them wanting. We posted the photos and waited for them to come to us.
“Who’s ‘them’?” I asked the first time we did it.
Take Rush, for instance—some guy who worked in the office of the sleepaway camp that Laina had attended the previous summer. We originally found him on OKCupid as Marnie but he quickly recognized Laina and called us on our lies. Luckily, though, or perhaps unluckily, he was too seedy to care.
Rush was older and butt ugly—he had the pustule kind of acne and bright red hair—but he also had a car and money. Laina called him fire pubes and made him take us on alcohol runs.
“If he has red hair then his pubes are red too,” Laina told me. We were watching T.V. in her grandmother’s living room, a show called Hoarders. On screen, a woman sobbed and clutched a plastic loaf of bread to her chest while the host tried to wrestle it from her hands.
“Bull shit.” I took the opposite side, just to have something to say. Laina smiled and took a swig from the bottle of Southern Comfort she had swiped from my parent’s cabinet.
“I’ll prove it,” she said, pulling out her phone. My tits, her face. My ass, her midsection. We sent the photos off and waited for a reply.
Rush: cool haha
Rush: take the top off
“I hate my nipples,” I said. “I’m not taking off my bra.”
“Yeah, they’re gross,” Laina agreed.
Laina: send us a pic of you first
Laina: tit for tat
Rush had no pubes. They were completely shaved off and the photo was even blurrier than the ones we had sent—his dick looked like the cheese sticks my old babysitter used to put in my lunch. He gripped it in his fist and pulled it out slightly so that we could see his balls.
“Trust me, if he had them they’d be red.”
Rush was good to us but sometimes he’d get angry and tell us to get lost, find some dolls to play with. This infuriated Laina, and she usually responded by reminding Rush that he was singing a different tune last night when we were sending him our nudes.
“Cell phone companies can get their hands on that stuff, you know. Trace it back to you.” Rush knew that Marnie was really just two bored fifteen-year olds—he had hung out with us several time —so if he got caught, he couldn’t claim that the false profile had drawn him in. We didn’t know exactly how old he was, but we assumed he was old enough for Laina’s threats to worry him.
If Laina and Rush were fighting and we couldn’t find anyone else, then we’d bother the hipsters who hung around outside the bar on Main Street—they’d usually buy us cigarettes, or at least let us bum some. Laina and I would wait until Main on Main got crowded and then loiter outside the door in platform shoes and black skinny jeans. Her grandmother must have been a flapper or a flapper wannabee because she owned a lot of those gauzy ‘20s style shirts with nothing but the faintest suggestion of a built-in bra in the chest.
We tended to each choose a top from her grandmother’s closet, although sometimes Laina wore one of those spandex dresses that hug your figure so tight that you can’t wear underwear.
“I have the hips for these dresses,” Laina would say. “You don’t.”
If we struck out with the hipsters, which we usually did, I’d take the bus home around midnight, which is what I would have done that night had Laina not found someone to buy us booze. She waved me over to the liquor mart next door and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. Behind her, two men came out of the store, each carrying a brown paper bag.
“Let my friend here pay you guys,” she said, nodding at me. I reached in the pocket of my jacket and pretended to look for the twenty that we had spent earlier that day on the Promenade.
“Nah, don’t worry about it.” I pulled out my hand and smiled at the cuter one.
“We’re actually gonna head back to my place now, but you guys are welcome to come.” Laina pointed to her grandmother’s high-rise in the distance. “We have a hot tub.”
On the way over, Laina talked to me as though the men weren’t there, one of her various ways of making us seem more intriguing than we were. “I saw Frank at the co-op earlier,” she told me. Frank was her grandmother’s next-door neighbor, old and grizzly but vaguely cute in a The Dude sort of way. He was far enough into his career as an alcoholic to have rounded the corner from fun out-of-control drunk to pathetic self-isolating drunk, and his antics provided Laina with an endless source of amusement. “He wanted me to buy him that really expensive orange juice that costs like, nine dollars for two sips.” She laughed and tossed her hair over her shoulder.
“Was your grandma there too?” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth—any life details that made us seem fifteen were strictly forbidden. Laina gave me a tight smile and didn’t answer.
When we got to the apartment, the boys peeled off their jeans, put their phones and wallets on the table, and eased themselves into the hot tub in their boxers. I stripped down as well, and Laina excused herself to go upstairs and get plastic cups, though I knew it was really to put on the underwear that she never wore with those spandex dresses. We didn’t use cups when we drank.
While she was gone, one of the boys asked how old we were, anyway. I was used to this.
“Legal.” They laughed and slapped each other on the back—a horrible wet sound. I hoped Laina would come back soon, that she wasn’t agonizing over which pair of underwear to put on.
“Clearly not,” one of them laughed. “At least not when it comes to buying alcohol.”
“Twenty and eleven months. Born on the same day. We’re sisters, actually—twins.” I had figured out that if I lied enough—about my age, my hobbies, where I had spent the night—then most people lost interest and moved on.
“No, you’re not,” the other one said. “You look older than her.”
Laina came down with cups and left them by the edge of the pool—we didn’t use them, like I knew we wouldn’t. Instead we drank from the bottle and talked about the men, careful to keep the conversation focused on their lives and not ours. They worked in marketing, or maybe it was advertising. Or maybe they are the same job and it’s just a question of wording. When we ran out of things to talk about, we started in on the second bottle and one of them went to turn on the jets.
When it seemed like they were drunk enough to pull us onto their laps, Laina gave me the look.
“I think we’re gonna head upstairs,” she said, putting her wet hair into a bun. “But it was really nice to meet you guys.”
“No way,” the cute one said. “You’re supposed to invite us up, too. For a nightcap.” He reached out for Laina who grabbed hold of the hot tub’s edge and pulled herself out. She looked down at us in the tub, steam rising from her body. I got out and joined her.
“We don’t have any alcohol, remember? You bought us some and then we drank it all, so . . . no nightcap.”
“All right. We’ll head out.” He sat back and smiled. “But actually, something’s been bothering me all night.” Laina rolled her eyes.
“I’ve seen you before.” The man got out, grabbing his phone from the table. Though Laina and I feared we knew what was coming—it was honestly a miracle we hadn’t been exposed as Marnie already—we stood there together, huddled against the mist, waiting for him to pull up Marnie’s profile and trying not to laugh.
“Look,” he said, triumphantly shoving the phone in our faces. Since Marnie had Laina’s face, he had only recognized her, not me. It scared me, how relieved I felt.
The guy took his phone back and scanned through Marnie’s personal information on Tinder. “You said your name was Laina, but this here says Marnie…” he trailed off and looked at his friend, who shrugged.
Laina and I giggled, which the guy didn’t like—those types hate it when you laugh at them. He grabbed Laina’s shoulder and pulled her close to him. “Who the hell are you?”
“Chill,” she said, pushing him off. He slipped on the wet ground and knocked over one of the bottles, where it broke on the ledge, scattering shards of glass into the hot tub.
“What the fuck is your problem?” His friend got out, carefully avoiding the glass shards, and started to put his clothes on, slowly buttoning his shirt. It clung to his wet skin.
“My problem?” Laina laughed at him again. “You’re really pathetic. If this is how you pick up girls then no wonder you’re frustrated.” I winced at this, hoping the guy would just leave it alone and not take the bait.
“I’m not the one with a fake dating profile. What are you, twelve?”
Laina smiled prettily. “Yeah, we’re twelve. And we’re leaving. We have school in the morning.” The men looked at each other, confused.
“Perverts,” Laina spat. That did it. One of them forgot his shoes in his haste to get away.
We stayed in the hot tub until the pool lights shut off and it got too dark to see. Since we didn’t have towels, we took the service elevator back upstairs, dripping wet, clutching our clothes to our sides. Inside the apartment, Laina’s grandmother’s breathing machine was so loud that it drowned out the sound of cars from the street—a Darth Vader type of noise that had scared me so badly when I was younger that sleepovers at Laina’s house were out of the question.
“Shhh.” Laina slurred, though I hadn’t said anything. It occurred to me that she was trashed but had kept it together downstairs in front of the men—she was at least careful in that respect. In her bedroom, though, we could feel free to be as drunk as we liked, giddy about our getaway, whatever we wanted, so long as we didn’t wake her grandmother.
“Which guy did you like best?” she asked.
“Uh . . . the cute one?”
“No way, me too!” Laina snorted and then covered her mouth with her hand, making me laugh too.
“You wanna watch T.V.?” Laina liked The George Lopez Show, said it was even more pathetic than Hoarders. We sat on the couch, leaving wet spots where our bodies touched the fabric, and settled in to watch. I fell asleep, but Laina woke me when the episode was over.
“We have to change out of our wet clothes,” she whispered. “Come on.” In her room, we peeled off our underwear and threw them on the floor, putting on a dry pair and some t-shirts that Laina used to wear to softball practice.
“Wait,” she said. “Did we ever find the bottle that guy knocked into the hot tub?” I knew we had forgotten about it, had remembered as soon as we got upstairs, but I was drunk and exhausted and didn’t want to go back down, so I made it into a sort of joke.
“They’ll think it was Frank,” I said. “They’ll see the bottles and the shoes that guy left and just assume.” Frank had reached peak patheticness earlier that year when he started his habit of giving us pennies “for the penny candy store” and then asking for them back days later, saying he needed them. That was his idea of making conversation. Laina’s grandmother once told us that he used to be a famous architect.
“Okay,” Laina said. “Fuck it.” I grabbed the fleece blanket from the drawer under her bed, wrapping it around me so that Laina could have the covers.
Before falling asleep, Laina always set her alarm for school—she maintained that as long as we showed up and pulled Bs, we’d be fine, able to go to college and make money and do our own thing. I appreciate that school was non-negotiable—even then, I had a sense of the shit we’d have gotten into if we didn’t have school to tether us.
Laina plugged her phone in and placed it on the nightstand, made sure it was charging, then flipped back over.
“Hey, whose pussy would Marnie have, mine or yours?”
“I thought we said we weren’t gonna do that.” She looked at me from across the bed like I was stupid.
“It was a hypothetical question,” she said, turning off the light.
When I next went back to Laina’s, I walked in to find her grandmother on the phone, which was strange since she never picked it up.
“Telemarketers,” she’d say when it rang. Laina always said that one of the perks of having no one who calls you is that you always know when it’s a telemarketer.
I went to join Laina on the couch—whatever she had been watching was almost over and I didn’t want to interrupt.
“Okay,” her grandmother said. “Come by later—I’ll tape the key to the front door.” She hung up, calling to us from the other room. “Frank’s finally getting kicked out.” I went into the kitchen where Laina’s grandmother was sealing a set of keys inside an envelope. “It’s a marvel he still has my phone number and that I never lost his extra key.” She shook her head. “Asshole never says hi when he sees me in the hall, but when it’s time to do him a favor…”
She poured herself some coffee from the always-full pot she kept on the stove. “You girls should give him back his pennies. Don’t make him grovel.” She paused, as though thinking about it. “Or do. I couldn’t care less.”
I tried to swallow my rising panic, irrationally worried that if I showed any concern, people would know that the broken bottle was our fault. “Where’s he going?” Despite Laina’s insistence that he was a loser and a perv, I had always had a little crush on Frank. Laina’s grandmother scrawled Frank’s name on the envelope, grabbed a thing of tape and opened the front door, taping it to the front.
“No idea. All I know is that they found another bottle of alcohol by the pool. This time he left it in the damn hot tub.” I looked at Laina to see if she was hearing this, but she was intently watching the last few minutes of her show.
“Well . . . are they sure it was him?”
“He admitted to it, so yes.” Laina’s grandmother had been angling to get Frank to move for a while. He was often dropping things in his kitchen late at night, so loudly that not even the sound of the breathing machine could drown him out.
Without turning away from the TV, Laina smiled, maybe just to show me she was listening.
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