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“I get it.” I grinned. “Now I can’t stop thinking about it either.”

We were both laughing when Mercy came barreling into the room, her arms loaded with dolls and tiny teacups. Jolene squeezed my arm before I went outside with Mercy and made a face that relayed her thanks.

“I’m glad you’re my neighbor, Fig. It’s nice to have a friend so close.” I smiled because I was glad too. So glad.

When I was a girl I’d pretend to be other things. Not other people, just other things, like a lamp, or a wallet, or a tube of lipstick. Things people needed and used a lot, and carried on their person. I’d imagine the lips I’d touch, and the hands that would run their fingers up my spine in search of light. I wanted to be wanted. The feeling had not waned or dimmed, it had only grown stronger. It switched from objects to people sometime around high school. Then, all of a sudden, I wanted to be Mindy Malone. She was ugly on the inside, but oh god—her outsides were glorious. Everyone knew it too, and they all pandered for her attention like a bunch of circus animals. It made me furious, actually. I wanted them to see who she really was, but I also wanted what she had, so I hung back and observed. She mostly flipped her hair, that’s what the popular girls always did. And if she didn’t like you, she’d snicker as you walked by—her friends would do it too, and then there’d be a chorus of snickering up and down the school halls. She had soft, milky white hands—she touched me with them once when she dropped something and I bent down to pick it up for her. A CD, Jewel.

Our fingers brushed and she said, “Thanks”—just thanks. Not thank you, or thank you, Fig. Just a toss of the words like she didn’t really mean it. And, in fact, she hadn’t even bothered to look at me when she said it. I bought the CD the next day from the FYE in the mall and listened to it while lying on my bedroom floor. I imagined which songs Mindy Malone related to, which ones she sang along with. It was weird; Jewel was weird. I carried the CD to school the next day, holding it in my hand, hoping she’d see. She saw all right.

“Oh great, Fig Pig has discovered Jewel,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I wonder how that happened?” There’d been a lot of laughter from her lackeys. Nasty bitches. Mindy Malone didn’t own Jewel. I stared straight ahead and ignored them. That was the best thing to do with bullies, pretend they didn’t bother you at all.

I didn’t know who I was. It’s like I was digging through piles and piles of loose hair, and broken teeth. I was mostly disgusted, but there was that grim fascination too that I could be this ugly and still exist.

I pined for someone to hunger for me. The want to be wanted was a giant swell that rose with age. I was bored and filled with small-scale grudges and passivity. I knew that about myself from an early age: that I’d never forgive Mindy Malone for making me feel small, or George for making me feel neglected, or Jolene for having what I wanted. I watched people, and then I wanted what they wanted. Does that make sense? I wanted everything, all the traveling, all the men, all the attention. I was a glutton for life. A whore for venture. I wanted to cut open my skull and pour experiences into it—good ones, bad ones, heck, even the meekly mediocre ones would do. I didn’t want to live them all, living gets messy and exhausting, and let’s face it, I still had a fucking job.

I carried my pack of cigarettes to the backyard and peeled off the wrapping. They were the same ones Jolene and I smoked together that night on her back porch, long and thin like her fingers. I smoked one then two, not inhaling. I didn’t want to get addicted; I just wanted to feel like I did that night—exciting and edgy. Not myself, more like Jolene.

They were going on a vacation to France. Jolene finished her manuscript and it was with her editor. Darius had brought home flowers the day she finished. I watched him carry them into the house, a goofy smile on his face. He liked when she wasn’t writing, he told me so. She was more attentive, happier. It was true—I’d seen it myself. I brought a cake over as a surprise. Jolene loved ice cream cakes. She clapped when she saw it, and of course, invited me in.

“What do you want to do to celebrate?” Darius asked her.

“I want to watch a scary movie. That’s all. Just lie on the couch and eat my cake,” she winked at me, “and watch a scary movie.”

“Okay,” said Darius. “That’s what we’ll do.”

“Will you stay and watch it with us, Fig?” Jolene asked. “Just after I put Mercy to bed.”

“Sure,” I nodded, even though I hated scary movies.

But, we never did watch one. Darius drank too much and went on a tangent about the Pope. When Jolene reminded him of the movie, he waved her off and kept talking till well past midnight. Finally, she just went to bed and I let myself out. Still, she was nicer.

She even set me up with some of her author friends, building websites for them. It seemed that when Jolene recommended someone, everyone jumped on the bandwagon waving their dollars. I was booked halfway through next year, which was so great.

I watched her pack her suitcase two days before they left. She was sitting cross-legged on the carpet, piles of bold colors all around her. I was jealous. I wanted to go, but she was taking Darius, not me. I’d made a joke about it, and she’d turned to me and very seriously said: “I’ll take you on my next trip. Have you been to Europe? You have to go to Europe. It’ll change your life.” I was still recovering from that one, imagining us walking through the streets of Paris together, when she dropped a bomb on me: “Darius wants to have a baby.” She was looking down at the pair of jeans she was folding, and I was glad. If she’d seen the look on my face she would have known.

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