CHAPTER 2 - GINGERBREAD MAN
I sat propped against soft pillows on my narrow bed, my laptop comfortably resting on my legs, and adjusted the lenses on my face. I had a collection of nonprescription glasses and today I wore the purple plastic frames. Lots of people wore them as a fashion accessory, which had become the trend since prescription lenses became a thing of the past, but I liked to wear them because they detracted from my nose. It had a notable bridge, and I was always self-conscious about it. Teagan said it made me look refined and sophisticated, but that was easy to say when you had a cute little ski-slope for a nose.
My eyes zeroed in on the campus website’s front page. “Did you see these special bulletins warning girls not to walk alone after dark?” I said to Teagan. “There’s even a free self-defense class offered.
Teagan glanced up from her tablet and frowned. “This campus is safe, right? Those announcements are just the administration doing its due diligence. Right?” She stroked the blue streak in her hair. “There hasn’t been a serious crime committed against a student at Detroit University in over fifteen years.
“I’m sure it’s perfectly safe,” I responded, fully aware of her OCD process when it came to sending out college applications. “But it’s always good to be on alert, no?”
Teagan nodded, her shoulders relaxing, and her attention returned to her tablet. She twisted the blue streak in her hair around her fingers. The splash of color was a new addition, a move of passive rebellion against her controlling mother. Teagan and I became best friends the day I moved into the house next door to hers, back in fifth grade. She ran over to say hi, a bubbly wide smile on her round babyface. Her mother followed quickly wearing a body-fitting dress and high heels. I remembered, even at that young age, that she didn’t look like any mom I’d ever known, and certainly not like my mother who wore loose jeans and an oversized sweater with sneakers on her feet most days.
Mrs. Lake introduced herself politely, but I didn’t miss her look of disapproval. She apologized for interrupting us since we were obviously very busy moving, and then pulled Teagan away by her skinny arms. I thought that would be the last I’d see of Teagan, but we had to ride the bus together and ended up in the same class. Mrs. Lake couldn’t stop us from being friends and eventually she just accepted that I was going to be a part of her life like an annoying stray dog. After a few years she began to soften toward me and now I believed she actually liked me a little bit.
“Did you know Van Gogh went crazy?” Teagan said. “Died before he saw any success. Makes me wonder once again about the wisdom of going for an arts degree.”
“Because you’re a fantastic artist,” I said. Only a few weeks into the first semester and Teagan had already decorated our room with her art projects. They made the small space feel warm and cozy.
She flashed me an appreciative grin. “And I’m crazy.”
“You’re not crazy. I couldn’t imagine you doing anything else.”
“Ah, thanks besty.”
I laughed at her. “You know it’s true.”
“I checked the time and took a deep breath. If Teagan had her way, we’d stay in every night, just the two of us, watching streaming TV or listening to music while doing homework. I needed more. I needed different. I also didn’t want to hurt Teagan’s feelings by leaving her out, so I extended another offer. “A few of us are meeting for drinks soon. You should come this time.”
Teagan let her tablet fall to her lap. “Again? What the hay? You’re not even old enough to drink.”
“They serve pop, ya know. It’s just a social thing. It’s not about getting drunk. Teagan, come with me! You’re acting like an old lady staying home all weekend alone. All you need are a couple cats.”
Teagan’s face fell and I steeled myself for another rejection, a repeat of her mini lecture on how she preferred small social groups of two, three tops, but she surprised me by saying, “Fine. I’ll go.”
“Great!” I bounced a little on my bed, but restrained myself from showing too much enthusiasm. I didn’t want to scare her off. “It’ll be fun, you’ll see.” I winked. “Maybe you’ll meet your ‘cute, well-rounded, thoughtful guy.’”
She threw a pillow at me. “I so regret telling you that!”
I chuckled. Teagan had made it through high school without a boyfriend. She claimed to be too busy with her art projects and working on getting the best grades she could. Dating took up too much time. She claimed she was waiting for a cute, well-rounded, thoughtful guy.
I often accused her of being too picky. She said she wanted a romantic, mature guy who didn’t think burping the alphabet while drunk on beer was the epitome of modern culture.
She had a point. I’d dated enough immature guys to know.
Plus there was her mother. I didn’t blame Teagan for not wanting to bring guys home with her there. For many reasons.
I pushed my laptop aside and began to dress. I searched for my cleanest jeans and a long-sleeved blouse. Almost time to make a trip to the laundry again.
Teagan stared at the pile of clothes that cascaded out over her open dresser drawers. “What should I wear?” she asked. “Is this a cute-little-dress function or a jeans-and-pretty-blouse affair?”
“Jeans,” I said. “Do you have heels with you? That’ll dress them up.”
Teagan didn’t often wear heels because she was already quite tall and I knew she hated feeling like she was towering over everyone. She tended to slouch to compensate.
She sifted through an assortment of scarves lifting a red one with white polka dots in one hand and a purple and yellow paisley print in the other. “Which one?”