Easy. Easy, tiger. Slow down, buddy. If that dermatologist said it would be fine, it would be fine, right? The floor tilted like a boat’s deck and I stumbled outside.
In Clark Hall, I sat down on a toilet seat, one hand on my forehead, examining the gummy brown seams between the floor tiles. I stood and walked to the sink mirror. Usually I either avoided my reflection or just glanced fast.
My skin looked jaundiced and the lights, fluorescent like school restrooms, purpled my blemishes. I touched the clusters on my chin. I prodded the base of an extra-sore zit just above my mouth. When I squeezed, the pimple reddened but did not pop. The pain made me lick my lips. I knocked a foamy squirt of soap from the dispenser and rubbed my cheeks in circles, the hard pits under my fingers. Next, I splashed water over my face and patted myself dry with a paper towel.
That thing on my lip was outrageous. Before I could think, I grabbed the zit between two knuckles and pressed with all my strength.
No pop. My mouth throbbed. Maybe Andy really would stab me tonight. When my eyes pooled, I wiped them with my sleeve.
Back in the empty cabin, I slightly cracked open the window by my bunk bed and curled inside my sleeping bag.
* * *
Somebody pushed my shoulder. “Hey,” a man’s voice said. Counselor P.J.? I pushed my nose into the pillow. “Wake up. It’s dinner time, buddy. We’re all in the cafeteria, eating.”
“Sick,” I said.
“You need to see the nurse?”
“Well, you tell me if you need to visit the nurse.”
* * *
The moon shone on my wrist, which lay across the sleeping bag’s slick shell. I smelled the sweet odor of cedar. Everyone slept. What time was it? Had something woken me? I nudged the zit above my lip, which was still tender.
No one had stabbed me.
Andy was not in his bed. Stewart either.
Something rapped against my window. Pearl’s profile, crazy with hair, filled the glass. I lifted one hand, then slipped out of my bag, scooped my flashlight, and dressed.
Outside, as I approached, Pearl stood rubbing her forearms.
“Let’s do this, make that good hot blood pump,” she said. She grabbed my flashlight, aimed at the ground, and clicked it on and off and on.
“Andy and Stewart are gone again,” I said. She swung the light into my eyes. I blocked my face with one hand, so she shifted the beam toward my feet.
“Crap, really?” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“They could get sent home.”
“Us too. For sneaking out?”
“We know about them. They don’t know about us.”
“True,” I said.
My voice sounded burly in the dark. “That’s a really great point,” I said to hear myself.
“Let’s find these suckers,” said Pearl. “We’ll build a portfolio of evidence. This is too perfect.” She pointed at the moon and wiggled her fingers. “Thank you Jesus,” she said.
“We shouldn’t tell anyone. It would show that we snuck out,” I said.
“You’re so smart.”
We strolled down the path, side-by-side, shivering in the breeze, arms almost touching. My flashlight caught rocks and limbs and stumps. The light wriggled shadow rings up the trunks of trees.
“We should scare Andy good at least,” I said.
Pearl laughed. “Okay.”
“Sweet chicken-suit revenge,” I said, stepping over a bowed root.
What would Jim think of Pearl? They would like each other. Love each other. Get engaged. “May all your ups and downs be in the bedroom,” I would say at their wedding reception, lifting my glass of champagne high. I would wear a cummerbund. I would weep and daintily imbibe from my glass of fine champagne. Alone in the corner, near the pate and crackers, I would shuffle to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” until my shirt untucked.
Or we could start a volleyball team. We could teach Pearl bass.
“Want to learn bass?” I said.
“No,” Pearl said.
“You know the trumpet is a dead end.”
“Bands are retarded,” Pearl said. “Just kidding.”