Gina slipped through the door and out on to the fire escape. The thump of the bass was muted out here. She stared down at the graffiti scrawled on the faded brick of the building next door to Jeff’s. It wasn’t even very good graffiti. It was just a single word, bridge, in big blue block letters.
She pulled out a cigarette and dug in her pocket for her lighter. She’d just gotten the cigarette lit when she heard the door open behind her.
“What, Jeff? What?”
“Why are you out here? Party’s in there.”
“Yeah. Some party. Just a bunch of stupid ugly jocks and stuck up high school bitches who think they’re all that.”
“Hey, is that any way to refer to your bosom childhood friends?”
“Oh come on, Jeff. Haven’t you ever wanted to get out of this place? Go somewhere else? See the world? Do something? Be somebody?”
Jeff looked at her. “Girl, do you have any idea how freaking stereotypical you sound right now?”
Gina took a long drag on the cigarette, savoring it, taking her time. Then she blew the smoke in Jeff’s face. “Fuck you.”
“Hey come on, it’s not that bad. Come on back inside. I’ll get you a drink.”
Jeff turned and went back through the door, obviously expecting her to follow him. She tapped her cigarette on the fire escape railing and watched as the ash fell on the metal.
She’d get out of this place. One day. She’d go to Le Baron in Paris, Plastic in Milan, Fabric in London. She’d find the little raves that no one else knew about, the dive bars where the locals went. Real parties, with real people. Not frosted blonde cheerleader chicks crying in the bathroom because their football team captain boyfriend cheated on them with the school slut.
She flicked her cigarette off into the alley below. It came to rest under the graffiti. She glanced at it, at the word bridge, and went back inside.
Everybody wanted Gina to come to their graduation parties. She was just so damn popular. “You always bring the best music.” “You score the best weed.” “Ain’t nobody’s Jack Daniels like Gina’s Jack Daniels.” Which that last one, she didn’t even know how that worked. Everybody bought the same damn Jack Daniels.
She told them all no. She was done with them, She was about to get out of this podunk town. Let them score their own weed.
On graduation night, she told her parents she was going to Jeff’s party. They didn’t blink. They were used to her going out, and she always came home in one piece.
She parked the car in the lot of the twenty four hour grocery store and waited for the guy from the internet. He said he’d meet her here. She looked across the parking lot at the old abandoned liquor store. There, on its wall, was that same graffiti from Jeff’s place. Same big blue block letters. Bridge.
A new Camaro pulled up next to her. The driver rolled his window down. Gina got out of her car. The guy whistled.
“Hey good lookin’. What’cha got cookin’?”
“Got some E. Supposed to be pure quality stuff.”
She opened the passenger door and got in. He’d said in the email that he knew about a rave in the city and he’d be glad to take her. He was the older brother of one of the cheerleader chicks, so she was pretty sure he wouldn’t try to kill her.
As they left the parking lot, she looked one more time at the graffiti on the side of the liquor store. She had a weird feeling about it, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She pushed it to the back of her mind. In a few hours, rolling on the ecstasy, she’d forgotten all about it.
It was the first week of college, and Gina was already learning her way around the frat houses. Not that she had any plans to join a sorority. She’d never really gotten along with the sorority girl types. But the frat guys knew how to throw parties, and it was fun taking their attention away from the sorority girls.
One of the Phi Gamma Delta guys sat next to her on the couch. He offered her a drink. She took it, but she knew better than to drink it. She liked to party, but she wasn’t stupid.
He struck up a conversation.
“So how’s your roommate?”
“Dude, I don’t even know. I asked her to go out with me but she just stays in the room all the time, organizing her schedule and, like, I don’t know, rearranging her underwear drawer or something. I don’t know how I got stuck with her.”
“Man, that sucks. Why don’t you rush a sorority? I could help you get into one of the good ones. Then you could move into their house.”
“Please. There’s more to life than showing off how much money your parents have and swooning over hot guys and seeing how many unnaturally tiny dogs you can squeeze into one purse.”
The frat guy snorted. “I like you. You got balls.”
Gina sniffed. “I prefer the term ovaries.”
He laughed at that. He took her hand and pulled her up off the couch and she went with him. They danced, and then they moved up to his bedroom. Gina’s roommate was on her own with organizing her underwear drawer tonight.
The frat boy’s name was Preston. Gina stayed over at his place most of the time. The frat house was gross, what with all the guys who’d never had to clean up after themselves in their lives, but it was better than staying in that tiny room with Emily. Emily gave her the creeps. She was so quiet and mousy, always studying or surfing the net or reading. At the frat, there was noise and movement and life. Someone was always doing something. Like Preston, as she found out one Friday night.
Gina didn’t see him anywhere on the first floor, so she went up to his room. She heard the bed squeaking before she opened the door. She looked Preston straight in the face and said “Dude, you could have put a sock on the door.” Then she closed the door, softly, and left them to it.
She would not cry in the bathroom because her boyfriend cheated on her with the school slut. She would not.
She left the frat house and walked back to her dorm. It wasn’t quite a walk of shame. It wasn’t Saturday morning yet.
Maybe she’d ask Emily if she could borrow a book. Maybe that was what she needed. A quiet day in the quiet tiny dorm room with the quiet mousy girl. No guys, no beer, no loud techno music. She’d take a shower and change into comfortable cotton pajamas and put on some nice soft music and borrow one of Emily’s books, and she’d just chill out for a while, until the images of Preston with some frosted blonde sorority chick left her head.
When she walked into the dorm room, Emily was nowhere to be found.
Maybe the girl had grown some ovaries and gone to get a life. Wherever Emily was, Gina hoped she was having a better time than her tonight. She took a trip to the dorm bathroom. It was eerily empty this late on a Friday night. She went back to the room and rummaged around in the far corners of her pajama drawer for the set her mother had given her and that she’d sworn she’d never wear. It might fit Emily’s taste, though.
She went over to Emily’s bookcase to find a book. The one about a wizard and his adventures in some old school medieval world sounded pretty interesting. She picked it up and turned back towards her side of the room.
Emily appeared right in her path, out of nowhere.
The girl turned towards Gina, surprise and horror on her mousy little face.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know you would be here! You’re always gone! I didn’t mean to…I didn’t mean to do anything! I’m sorry!”
Emily was crying and giving occasional sad little sniffles.
“Hey, it’s okay. No problem. You’re right, I’m not usually here. Are you okay? What happened?”
The sun was up and shining by the time Gina had managed to pull the whole story out of the weeping girl, about the glowing bridges that just kind of appeared and took Emily wherever she wanted to go. Gina didn’t know whether or not to believe her, but well, she had just appeared out of nowhere. The door had been locked and it hadn’t moved. Plus…plus she remembered the graffiti back home. The word bridge, in those big blue block letters.
She sat down next to Emily on her bed and put her arm around the other girl. “You know, I used to see the word bridge around my hometown, like it was following me or something. Maybe this is destiny, you know? Maybe I’m meant to know about the bridges too.”
“Yeah?” Emily looked up at her. The girl’s eyes were all red and puffy from crying, but if you looked past that, she could be kind of cute. Maybe.
Gina had an idea.
“Maybe I’m meant to go on the bridges with you! You say they go anywhere in the world?”
“Yeah. I just kind of think about where I want to go, you know, and then the bridge takes me there.”
Gina didn’t have to wait until she was older, until she had money, until she landed some rich dude who was more into her than he was into sorority girls. She could go now. She could have the dive bars, the raves. She could go to the clubs she’d dreamed about. She could see Paris, London, Milan.
“Hey so, I don’t have anything else to do today, and it’s been a rough morning for you, with all the crying and telling someone about the bridges for the first time. Want a makeover?”
A few days later Gina took her first bridge trip. Emily held on to her hand, a little bit too tight, and took a step to the left. Gina was pulled into the inbetween space.
It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. The bridge glowed blue, the same blue from the graffiti back home. She took a deep breath and walked to the edge, to see what was out there. The bridge hung in a vast black space. Gina thought she saw little blue dots of light off in the distance. Maybe there were other bridges?
Emily’s squeaky little voice interrupted her reverie.
“Aren’t you scared?”
“No, why should I be? Are you? You said you’ve done this a lot of times.”
“Yeah, I have, but well, I mean, don’t you feel the bridge sort of wavering?”
“Nope. Feels steady as a rock to me.”
Gina jumped up and down on the bridge. Emily’s eyes got wide. She should say something before the girl could wuss out and pull her back to their dorm room.
“Let’s go to Paris, Em! Please? It’ll be lots of fun!”
Emily said “All right.”, her voice a bit unsteady. Gina ignored the waver in the other girl’s voice. She was going to Paris. She was going to Le Baron. She was going to party like an interdimensional traveler. Also like a rock star.
The bridge space was even prettier when she was high. She kept wanting to stop and look at the other bridges, the other tiny bits of light in the distance, but Emily said no. Emily dragged her back to the tiny little dorm room. It was so small. So suffocating. It was a prison. She couldn’t breathe. She had been free back in Paris. She’d had the whole universe to breathe in. There had been beautiful boys and lovely girls and bright lights and loud thumping bass and she’d been in love with existence and all its color and glory, and she couldn’t stand the stupid boring dull white dorm room with just her dull washrag of a roommate for company.
She needed more. She needed more color, more bass, more parties. Emily had to take her on the bridge again.
They went to Milan. Gina danced all night at Plastic. She made out with Italian boys. She dropped acid and was sure that she saw the God of Bridges smiling down on her, telling her that the bridges were created for her, so that she could be happy. But, like a sadistic fairy godmother, Emily was always there to make the carriage turn back into a pumpkin. She’d drag Gina back across the bridge, back to the dull dreary dorm, back to classes and grades and Preston and sorority girls.
They went to London, and Gina finally got to dance at Fabric. The boys there loved her accent and kept asking her to talk to them. Emily, like always, hung back in the shadows, looking pale and mousy and washed out, even with the makeover Gina had given her. Why couldn’t Gina use the bridges? They were wasted on Emily. All she ever wanted to do was study or go to a library or some boring nature preserve.
It was never enough. Gina always needed more. More lights, more boys, more drugs. She found the little dive bars. She found the directions to the raves, hidden away on secret internet forums. She dragged Emily around the world with her, to every club she could find, every party she could score an invite to. She noticed the rings forming under Emily’s eyes, but it wasn’t her fault if the girl wouldn’t do anything but just sit there in the background. Gina had offered Emily some weed once, but the mousy little girl had declined. It was her choice, if she just wanted to be quiet and mousy and not have any fun. As long as she kept the bridge trips coming, Gina didn’t care.
Emily cracked the night they were taking the bridge back to London. Gina missed one of the boys who’d asked her to talk so much, and she wanted to go back to Fabric and see if he would be there again.
They were crossing the bridge when the other girl came out of nowhere with her “I’m not your party bus! I have papers to write! I want to study! I want to go to cool places like Disneyland or zen gardens or stupid museums of boringness and tapioca pudding!” It was like she’d become some sort of mouse monster, all raring up on her hind legs and squeaking and shaking her paws at Gina.
Gina could feel her new life slipping away from her. She had to get the mouse back in line, quick.
“Come on, Em. You know the guys in London are way cuter than the ones at Disneyland. Plus there they’re probably married with kids, and who wants that? And why would you want to see some ancient bit of stone in a museum? Dead bits of stone are for dead people. We’re alive, Em. Come on, let’s go to London and do some living before we dry up and die and get put in one of your boring ass museums.”
It sounded like a very good, persuasive, reasonable speech to Gina. So she was rather surprised when Emily pushed her.
Blue. Black. Blue. Black. Gina saw the bridges, bright blue against the infinite black, constantly falling away from her. Constant falling. Blue. Black. Blue. Black.
Author’s note: This was written for a writing contest, and this week we had to have a partner. So you can read the companion to the piece here, at my partner’s blog. Bridge.