fifty-one days before

The next morning,I didn’t hear the knocking, if there was any.

I just heard, “UP! Do you know what time it is?!”

I looked at the clock and groggily muttered, “It’s seven thirty-six.”

“No, Pudge. It’s party time! We’ve only got seven days left before everyone comes back. Oh God, I can’t even tell you how nice it is to have you here. Last Thanksgiving, I spent the whole time constructing one massive candle using the wax from all my little candles. God, it was boring. I counted the ceiling tiles. Sixty-seven down, eighty-four across. Talk about suffering! Absolute torture.”

“I’m really tired. I—” I said, and then she cut me off.

“Poor Pudge. Oh, poor poor Pudge. Do you want me to climb into bed with you and cuddle?”

“Well, if you’re offering—” “NO! UP! NOW!”

She took me behind a wing of Weekday Warrior rooms—50 to 59—and stopped in front of a window, placed her palms flat against it, and pushed up until the window was half open, then crawled inside. I followed.

“What do you see, Pudge?”

I saw a dorm room — the same cinder-block walls, the same dimensions, even the same layout as my own. Their couch was nicer, and they had an actual coffee table instead ofcoffee table. They had two posters on the wall. One featured a huge stack of hundred-dollar bills with the caption the first million is the hardest. On the opposite wall, a poster of a red Ferrari. “Uh, I see a dorm room.”

“You’re not looking, Pudge. When I go into your room, I see a couple of guys who love video games. When I look at my room, I see a girl who loves books.” She walked over to the couch and picked up a plastic soda bottle. “Look at this,” she said, and I saw that it was half filled with a brackish, brown liquid. Dip spit. “So they dip. And they obviously aren’t hygienic about it. So are they going to care if we pee on their toothbrushes? They won’t care enough, that’s for sure. Look. Tell me what these guys love.”

“They love money,” I said, pointing to the poster. She threw up her hands, exasperated.

“They all love money, Pudge. Okay, go into the bathroom. Tell me what you see there.”

 

The game was annoying me a little, but I went into the bathroom as she sat down on that inviting couch. Inside the shower, I found a dozen bottles of shampoo and conditioner. In the medicine cabinet, I found a cylindrical bottle of something called Rewind. I opened it — the bluish gel smelled like flowers and rubbing alcohol, like a fancy hair salon. (Under the sink, I also found a tub of Vaseline so big that it could have only had one possible use, which I didn’t care to dwell on.) I came back into the room and excitedly said, “They love their hair.”

“Precisely!” she shouted. “Look on the top bunk.” Perilously positioned on the thin wooden headboard of the bed, a bottle of STAWET gel. “Kevin doesn’t just wake up with that spiky bedhead look, Pudge. He works for it. He loves that hair. They leave their hair products here, Pudge, because they have duplicates at home. All those boys do. And you know why?”

“Because they’re compensating for their tiny little penises?” I asked.

“Ha ha. No. That’s why they’re macho assholes. They love their hair because they aren’t smart enough to love something more interesting. So we hit them where it hurts: the scalp.”

“Ohh-kaay,” I said, unsure of how, exactly, to prank someone’s scalp.

She stood up and walked to the window and bent over to shimmy out. “Don’t look at my ass,” she said, and so I looked at her ass, spreading out wide from her thin waist. She effortlessly somersaulted out the half-opened window. I took the feet first approach, and once I got my feet on the ground, I limboed my upper body out the window.

“Well,” she said. “That looked awkward. Let’s go to the Smoking Hole.”

She shuffled her feet to kick up dry orange dirt on the road to the bridge, seeming not to walk so much as cross-country ski. As we followed the almost-trail down from the bridge to the Hole, she turned around and looked back at me, stopping. “I wonder how one would go about acquiring industrial-strength blue dye,” she said, and then held a tree branch back for me.

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