Looking across the living room, I watched my sister tear into the calendar she'd recently received as a Christmas present from her boyfriend. The bikini-clad woman stared back at me from her position of supplication, draped across the hood of a shiny, red convertible.
I cringed when she shoved her fingernail into the plastic covering, wondering if she was giving herself a paper cut. "How can you do that without scissors?"
"It's cause they're so long, that's why." Tearing into the plastic, she removed it and tossed it in the direction of the garbage can, too busy hanging up the calendar to throw out the trash properly.
As she hunted around for a pushpin, I picked up the plastic and put it in the can, then rubbed my hands up and down my bare arms. "Don't you ever cut yourself?"
Her gum crackled as the pin slid into the drywall with a soft hush. "Nah."
Rolling my eyes, I watched her hang up the calendar, the face of the brunette January model looking out into the apartment as she pressed her scantily-clad breasts to the handlebars of a black motorcycle. "I can't believe you're hanging that stupid thing up, Em. You should've thrown it out, or at him. Or taken it back to the store for a refund."
"It's tacky when you return a Christmas present, Eva."
"It's a calendar with half-naked girls draped over convertibles and motorcycles! It's such a guy calendar! He probably bought the thing for himself, and then the day before Christmas he was all 'Damn, I forgot to get something for the girlfriend I walk all over and treat like garbage. I'll just give her this so I can stare at it when I'm over at her place.'"
Emily turned and gave me a dirty look, the blue of her eyes overwhelmed by her black eyeliner and purple eye shadow. "Blow it out your ass, Eva. At least I've got a boyfriend."
"Hey, I'm the one who took care of Mom while she was sick. What did you do? Sit around your apartment all day? Drink until you passed out? Sleep with your stupid boyfriend in an attempt to make him give a damn about you?"
"Screw you." Stalking towards the kitchen, Em opened up the fridge and pulled out a can of beer, popping the top. The sound echoed through the apartment. Loud, like gunfire. "You took care of Mom because you didn't want to deal with your life. Your own boyfriend, who was full of pretentious crap, by the way, left you. He took your furniture, he took your money, and he took your self-respect and dignity. Mom's illness was the perfect way for you to push life aside."
She took a big drink from the can, and gestured at me with it. "You made Mom's life your life, and if you don't suck it up and put your head back on straight, you're going to waste away and die like just Mom did."
I stared at her, wondering how she could be so cruel, so hard-hearted, so mean. She didn't know what I'd been through with Mom, what I'd done to keep her alive, what I'd said to her to keep her spirits up. She didn't know. She didn't understand.
"Go to hell, Emily."
The sudden knock at the door made us both jump, and Em scowled at me as she went to answer it. Once the door was open, her expression changed from one of anger to one of joy and absolute pleasure. "Hey, baby! I missed you!"
"There's my girl." Em's boyfriend picked her up and kissed her, backing her into the apartment.
They started making out, completely wrapped up in each other, and completely oblivious to me in the living room and Em's boyfriend's friend watching from the open doorway. I didn't recognize him, but then I didn't know a lot of his slacker/stoner/hopeless punk rock star friends. The few I did know I avoided like the plague, mostly because of the beer and pot smell that trickled out of their pores.
The moaning and the groaning and the slurping made me feel sick, and I walked over to the nearby window, pushing it open.
The sounds of the street below drifted up to my ears, filling them with the overwhelming buzz that could be found in every major city. A breeze barely brushed past me on its way into the apartment, and I looked out at the other buildings, wondering if anyone else was having as strange a morning as I was.
A dark shape slid into the edge of my vision. I blinked to clear it, thinking it was an eyelash, but when it didn't go away I turned towards it. Em's boyfriend's friend stood a few feet from me, staring at me with pale eyes surrounded by dark eyeliner.
A cigarette was tucked behind his left ear, possibly because his right ear was filled with silver piercings. More silver rings dangled from his eyebrows, made visible with his black hair being slicked back with mountains of hair gel.
Watching me, he brought the cigarette down to his mouth until it dangled from the corner of his lips. "Hey."
"Hi." I looked over at my sister still kissing her boyfriend, slowly walking with him towards her bedroom, then back at the boyfriend's friend. "Did you want something?"
A lighter appeared out of nowhere and he touched the tip of the flame to the cigarette. "Yeah. You think I could use the window?"
"What? Oh, sure."
Once I'd moved away, he took my spot in front of the window, blowing a thin stream of smoke out into the city. "Thanks." He inhaled again, still staring at me. "So, you're the sister."
"I know." Exhaling, his head turned to face the apartment buildings across the street. "Em always talks about you when we're all out at a club or a bar. 'Eva's the good one, Eva's the smart one. Eva got a scholarship to a classy school and then she got her degree and a good job but then she got dumped so she decided to take care of Mom until she died.' Sorry about that, by the way."
I shrugged it off and turned away, not really caring anymore. "It's okay. It happened weeks ago."
"Still, it's hard losing someone you care about. When I was 12 we lost my dad in a car accident. The next few weeks were rough on all of us, especially my mom. She walked around the house in a daze, like it never really happened, and it took her a few weeks to come back to us. It ripped a hole in her, one we couldn't fix, no matter how hard we tried."
Something in his voice, something sad and filled with loneliness, made me look at him.
He still faced the outside world, his eyes staring at something I couldn't see. Smoke drifted around his face and out the window, and the end of the cigarette flashed a bright red when he inhaled.
I didn't know why I kept watching him. Maybe it was because he'd been through the same thing, or maybe it was because he was the only one in the room talking.
Maybe it was because he wasn't judging me as much as Em did.
The quiet moment, almost peaceful, stretched out, but he ruined it by putting out his cigarette on the windowsill. "Well, it's been fun, smart girl, but it's time to blow this popsicle stand, if I can tear him away from your sister."
Scoffing, I rolled my eyes and sat down on the couch. "Good luck. Whenever they get a chance to be together they end up stuck at the mouth."
"Or at other parts of their bodies."
I rolled my eyes again, wondering how he could be so insightful one moment, and then so crude the next. "Nice."
"Hey, no offence to your sister, but she's really hot." He flopped down next to me, his legs outstretched and crossed at his boots. "When he first met her I told him that if he didn't snatch her up, I'd be all over her like a kid on a piece of candy."
"You're so charming. Did you win over your girlfriend with that mouth?"
"Don't have one right now. Why?" An appreciative light came into his pale gray eyes, and he brought his arm up to rest across my shoulders. "You interested, smart girl?"
"Don't flatter yourself." I elbowed him in the side, and he laughed as he pulled his arm away. "I didn't get your name."
He chuckled dryly, glancing down at his boots. "Yeah. My folks were big on old-fashioned names."
"It's not so bad." I looked away and smiled to myself when I heard him chuckle, but the smile disappeared once I heard the shouts in the other room. "Perfect. They're fighting."
"Yeah, well, they were due for a good fight." As he got up, he leaned in towards me and slipped something into my hand. "See you around, smart girl."
I looked down as he headed for the doorway and saw a phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper. When I brought my head up, I found him staring at me. "What's this for?"
I was confused, and soon felt the corner of my mouth kick up in a half-smile. "You know, calling you wouldn't be smart."
"Calling me's never smart, but you have to take a risk every now and then." He winked, a grin curving his lips, and headed out when Em's boyfriend told him it was time to go.
I tucked the phone number into my pocket as Em walked into the room, and took in her annoyed expression. "What did he do this time?"
She made a frustrated noise and pushed a hand through her hair before slipping another piece of gum into her mouth. "I don't want to talk about it, but he's basically being a jerk. Like I really want to do it with him when you're sitting out here." Em looked at me, her head tilted to the side. "Did Martin bother you?"
"He's always got this cloud of smoke surrounding him. I don't understand how other girls find it attractive."
I got up off the couch and we stood in front of the calendar hanging on her wall, staring at the brunette pressing her fairly ample chest to the motorcycle's handlebars.
"That thing really does suck."
She sighed, then blew a bubble, her gum snapping when it popped. "I know."
"And it says 2009 instead of twenty-ten."
"Yeah, I noticed that, too."
I turned to look at her, and when our blue eyes met, we burst out laughing.