Alex Koplow

I switchblade out the file on the tiny nail clippers I keep in my locker. Patrick insisted on holding my hand during lunch, and now two of my nails have chipped. I salvage my triangular tips, imagining the way I’ll slash and jab while playing defense tonight. I dab more yellow polish on my nails, Puma Pride!, and head to Algebra.

During seventh period I meet with my counselor in a small group that includes Patrick, because we’re so alphabetically close. She’s short with thin gray hair and surrounded by photos of flowery campuses, stone buildings, and multi-racial discussions. She informs me that relying on basketball isn’t a realistic college plan, even though she’s never seen me play.

“I forget,” Patrick says, picking his teeth with a pamphlet he took from her desk, “did you get a basketball scholarship?”

“No.” Our counselor responds and types something into her blocky computer.

“So you’re admitting that you have no clue what you’re talking about.”

She eyes me, like somehow I’ve made him behave this way.

“I’ll just go to some easy college near hers,” Patrick says in front of the group when she asks about his plans.

My grin becomes a wince, and I avoid him until game time.

The bleachers are even emptier than normal. The boys’ team is playing our rivals across town and the volleyball girls are playing in their pornographic shorts in the other gym. It’s just a few parents, the JV girls who have to be here, and Patrick.

He sits right behind our bench and hollers my name even when I’m just making baskets in warm ups. I’m the only senior girl left on the team and the last one announced during the starting lineup. The cheerleaders don’t acknowledge me because a few of them think I had sex with one of their boyfriends last summer. But all he did, all I’ve ever done, is finger me in the backseat while his parents drove us to a movie. And, of course, I didn’t enjoy it.

We are playing a team that has beaten us the last three years. I’m determined to not let it happen again. In the third quarter, the refs don’t see when I poke my nails into one of their player’s armpits. I get a steal and an easy lay-up. She has to check out of the game because she’s bleeding. I finish with 17 points, 4 blocks, and my personal best, 22 rebounds, but we lose again.

After Coach consoles us, Patrick is waiting outside the gym. He hugs me and kisses the spot where my chin meets my ear, like he likes the taste of my sweat. I tell him he can come over later. My mom drives me home and makes the two of us dinner.

When I get out of the shower, Patrick’s sitting on my bed. Just sitting. He’s not checking his phone or watching TV. I change into sweats in front of him. Patrick is the only boy who’s seen me naked. He loves my freckles. My appendectomy scar drives him wild. He gave some beautiful name to the creased, puffed-out fat between my armpit and my breast. No one will ever appreciate my stumpy body as much as Patrick.

“Wouldn’t it suck to be Neptune?” he asks, reclining on my bed. “You’d have rings too, but people only care about Saturn’s rings. Why is that?” He reminds me of all the things I need to change. Those stupid glow-in-the-dark planets I stuck on my ceiling in elementary school. And Patrick.

He pulls me on top of him. He’s skinny and never made any sports teams, but he can lift me with frustrating ease.

“Tell me why you like me,” he says, squeezing the fat on my hips.

We’ve dated for almost five months, and his stare is still intimidating. He has the constant eye contact of a puppy or a Mormon.

“You’re always there for me,” I mumble, realizing that it’s also a reason I don’t like him.

Some nights before Patrick goes home, I’ll change my number in his phone, so that he texts his feelings to some faraway person that he thinks is me. Manipulating him is so satisfying. I can imagine him sitting awake for a reply, his insecurity growing all night. Then at school the day after, I’ll say I fell asleep early and switch my number back in case I actually need him.

As I push his hands back down to my thighs, he explains why he likes me, even though I don’t ask. His reasons are sweet and intricate. It’s clear that he only asked me because he already thought of his answers.

I inch my hand under his shirt and rub my palm in circles around his belly-button. His stomach contracts as I tickle a trail of oily black hairs. I feel him stiffen in his jeans, and he surrenders his eye contact.

His hands move back to my sides and he’s really mashing the rolls on my hips, way past the point I’d let any girl manhandle me on the court. The overhead lights reflect off my yellow, tack-sharp nails. I ease one into the side of his abs.

“Ow!” Patrick finally flinches. He checks his stomach for a bug or something that’s stung him because he doesn’t believe it could be me.

I stare down at him, pretending nothing’s wrong. In our relationship he hurts me without knowing it, and I hurt him without him knowing it was me.
Perched on top of him, I wish I were one of those random people he texts when I change my number in his phone. I could tell him what I think with the freedom of being someone else, and he couldn’t distract me with his compliments.

He resettles his sweaty palms on my hips. I let him squeeze, because I know one day soon, I’ll really hurt him.

 
 
 


Alex Koplow is a writer originally from Virginia and now volunteers with the 826 LA writing tutoring center. His fiction has appeared in Metazen, decomP, Thieves Jargon, and Thunderclap Press.