So I know that Jennifer’s hair was on fire, and it was totally embarrassing and maybe dangerous, but I shouldn’t have been suspended. Like, I get that smoking is against the Honor Code, but Mr. Balfour is always standing right there on the lawn, just openly smoking. And we look up to him. He’s, like, my role model, so if it’s okay for him to just openly smoke there, why can’t I?
Anyway, so Tessa and I go behind the school, exactly where Mr. Balfour had been like twenty minutes earlier, and we see Jennifer and are like, So now she’s smoking? But she was just standing there in her Glenda the Goth Witch dress—not even smoking, just standing there. She kept flicking this Zippo and staring at the fire and why would you do that if you weren’t going to smoke, unless you were worshipping Satan or something, which P.S. is also against the Honor Code? She looked so nervous I offered her a cigarette, out of the goodness of my heart. It calms the nerves. I’m not sure if that’s true. Mr. Balfour’s always talking about nerves in Bio, so he would know.
So Tessa and I say hey and Jennifer says hey in that weird shaky way. I knew she had a secret. I mean, we were best friends until she un-BFFed me last March. She started taking her baloney and gothcakes sandwiches to eat in the bio lab with Mr. Balfour and the fetal pigs, and he sat there forever and listened to her. Who knows why. Probably she was like, Oh, I’m way into this squid manga or I have a lot of feelings. Or whatever. And Mr. Balfour just kept smiling, like he didn’t want her to feel bad.
It was kind of hot, actually.
But he didn’t, like, like her like her. One day we were learning about survival and the fittest or something and he told us that sometimes animals chew off their own legs to get out of traps. Which, barf, but I kept taking notes. I’m like an honors student, basically, and plus there was this flicker in his voice like I needed to listen. And I swear to God, he looked straight at me and said with his important voice, For their own good. It was like a sign, like a freaking sign just for me.
Jennifer had to go.
So I stopped butt-bumping her by the lockers and asking her to sleep over or whatever, which was no big. She never came over anymore anyway.
But we were friends, so when Tessa and I saw her, I was like, Hey JenJen, what’s the crotch beyotch, like old times. And she sparked and sparked that Zippo until she got the word runs and blabbed some teacher’s pet B.S., like I’m just waiting for someone and smoking’s against the Honor Code and blah. And I was like, yeah, but Mr. Balfour’s always right exactly here, just openly smoking, so why can’t we? I figured she just didn’t know how to light one, so I lit one for her.
And how was I supposed to know she’d planned to lower her head just exactly when I passed the cig her way?
I mean, I didn’t mean to catch her on fire. I didn’t make her lower her emo bangs at that exact second, or to use two cans of Aqua freaking Net a day. It just happened, just like the time my aunt tucked herself into bed with her Virginia Slims and forgot to stay awake. No one suspended my aunt, not even when her whole bed went up in flames.
So Jennifer freaks beyond freaking and starts screaming like oh no oh shit oh no, like a tiny teeny little fire was going to freaking kill her, and we’re right under the back window of Miss Elderbeth’s class. If someone looked down we’d be done for. So yeah, I pushed her down. But Jesus, we were almost in so much stupid trouble, and for what? So I held her head down in the grass until she calmed her face down.
I mean, sum total, I saved her. Period.
Mr. Balfour was right about her, anyway. His sign pointed me right in the right direction. I got suspended for three days, which P.S. was ridiculous, but Jennifer got sent to Jackson, where six months later she pushed out a baby. Can you imagine? It was for her own good, Mr. Balfour told me. And anyway she wasn’t anyone’s pet. I’d watched Mr. Balfour watch her, and the way he looked at her wasn’t in the same solar system as the star eyes he uses to look at me. Now that she’s not death-boring him with her Tales from the Dorkside, he can tutor me through lunch every day. By the end of the year, I’ll have an A+ in Biology. Watch me.
Emma Bolden is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, 2016) and Maleficae (GenPop Books, 2013), and four chapbooks. A Barthelme Prize and Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize winner, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry and The Best Small Fictions as well as such journals as The Rumpus, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Conduit, Indiana Review, Harpur Palate, The Greensboro Review, Feminist Studies, The Journal, and Guernica. She serves as a Senior Reviews Editor for Tupelo Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter at @EmmaBo.