Authors: Nadia Simonenko
by Nadia Simonenko
t's strange how fairy tales always take place a long time ago in a land far away and never on a rainy Thursday afternoon near your apartment. It's always beautiful princesses, wicked witches and brave knights, but never once a chance meeting on your way back from the library.
Maybe fairy tales just don't happen anymore.
Or maybe you just don't knowighi>< that you're the princess until one day, it's suddenly Happily Ever After...
have a test in the morning tomorrow and I can’t study for it. No matter how hard I stare at the pages of my English textbook, I still can’t concentrate. My headphones don’t help because I have nothing to plug them into—they’re just a poor excuse for earplugs now that my cassette player is gone.
Nobody’s used a cassette player in over a decade, so I don’t know why Mom thought she’d get anything for it.
Even if I had earplugs, they wouldn’t help tonight. They’d block out the sounds of my mother on the living room couch with whatever ‘boyfriend’ she’s brought home this time, but I’d still know it was happening. I’d still hear the sounds in my mind—the moans, the creaking of the sofa, the sounds that no sixteen-year-old girl ever wants to hear her mother making.
I’d still know she's in the next room fucking someone who won't even remember her name in the morning.
Whoever he is—it's almost never the same man twice—she has to please him if she wants to get her next fix, and she
wants her next fix. I haven’t exactly asked any of them, but I somehow doubt the other girls at school worry about stepping on needles when they walk to the bathroom at night.
My stomach grumbles loudly, reminding me of the other reason I can’t study. My high school gives me free breakfast in the mornings, but that was it for me today. Mom took my last paycheck from the diner to pay the electricity bill, so I haven’t been able to afford lunch this week. They pay me again in three days, though. I can survive on breakfasts until then if I have to.
Mom cries out in the next room—an empty imitation of pleasure and happiness—and I feel my desk shake as the back of the sofa slams against the wall.
"She’s just doing what she has to," I whisper to myself as I close my textbook. I have to rationalize her actions to myself before I get angry, before I do something stupid like stomping in there and yelling at them to be quiet.
That would just draw her customer’s attention to me, and that’s the
thing I want. Instead, I bite my tongue and head for the window.
With quick yank on the handle and a hard shove, the window creaks open on its rusty hinges and I wriggle through it and out onto the fire escape. The rich girls at school all think that I’m trailer trash from "the Hill" in New Haven, but Mom and I actually rent the third floor of a house near the train tracks. Not a damned one of them would
set foot in my neighborhood; they’d be too afraid that someone might see them. It’d be a stain on their pristine reputations to be suspected of maybe, just
hanging out with one of us filthy poors.
Fuck all of them. Fuck every last one of them and their fake, perfect smiles and full stomachs.
I close the window behind me and climb up the fire escape to the roof. The street is empty tonight as I lie back against the gray shingles and stare up at the sky. The sky’s tinted red by the bright lights of downtown like a never-ending sunset. The late September breeze feels wonderful... I could sas 3tay up here all night.
"It’s a shame you live downtown, Nina," calls out Isaac from further up the roof behind me. "Tonight’s the peak of this week’s meteor shower and the lights are drowning it out."
I smile as he shuffles carefully down the steep roof and then plops down beside me. I should have known he’d be here. He lives more than ten miles away, but somehow he's always here when I need him.
"Yeah... not a chance," I say. "With all the streetlights, you can’t even see the stars, let alone a meteor shower."
I sigh and shake my head, and Isaac squeezes my hand comfortingly. His touch is warm and caring, and it almost makes me forget where I am. The first time he touched me last year, I nearly had a heart attack. He’s almost a year older than me and, well... I thought he was like the others—like Mom’s countless boyfriends. He isn’t. He’s the only boy at school who talks to me, the only
who I can call a friend, and he doesn’t care what it does to his reputation with the other rich kids.
He looks over at me and smiles, and his green eyes glitter in the dim light as if they’re holding in the punch line to a joke that I’ve been dying to hear. I feel comfortable holding Isaac’s hand now. I feel safe with him.
"If we can’t see them in the city, what if we go out into the country?" he asks after a long silence. "What if I drove us back to my mom’s house and we watched the meteor shower out there?"
I look over at him in surprise. Who is he kidding? It isn’t fair of him to ask me something like that. He already knows the answer because I’ve been to his house once before.
I’d never seen a house as magnificent as his until he invited me to his birthday party last year. He lives with his mother in an enormous, beautiful mansion built out in the woods overlooking Glen Lake, about five miles north of the city. It felt like something out of a fairy tale.
A fairy tale with an unhappy ending, though... his mother threw me out the second she saw me. She told me never to come back and yelled at Isaac after the party for inviting "the wrong kind of girl."
I’ve never felt so worthless in my entire life as when she dragged me to the door in front of everyone and pushed me out onto the porch. The other guests pretended not to watch, but I still heard the snickering.
It wasn’t Isaac’s fault but I still hated him for weeks after that all the same.
"I’m serious," he insists, rolling on his side and looking me straight in the eyes. "We’ll go straight up onto the roof like we do here. Just you, me, and two mugs of cocoa. It’ll be great."
Mom screams like a whore downstairs, and I turn away from Isaac as my face flushes with humiliation. I hate where I live. I hate who I am, where I come from and—most of all—that I’ll never, ever get away from here.
"Come on. I don’t care what my mother thinks. She doesn’t have to know," he urges, placing the palm of his hand softly against my back as I roll and face away from him. I stiffen at his touch but force myself to relax. He doesn’t understand the problem—maybe even can’t understand it. How could he? He gets to be my Isaac all the time, but I only get to be his Nina when nobody else is around.
"Promise she won’t throw me out again?" I ask, lookind f ask, lg back over my shoulder at him.
"I promise," he answers with a smile that makes my heart skip a beat.
We carefully climb down from the roof, sneak down the fire escape, and then run together to his car parked down the block. His car is a sleek black Mercedes sedan, and when he holds the door open for me, I’m surprised that it doesn’t have the usual new car scent I’ve grown so accustomed to smelling. Instead, his car smells like pepperoni pizza.
"Oh yeah," he says with a wink, "I forgot to tell you about that part. I didn’t see you in the lunch line today so I thought you might like some dinner."
I want to slap him, hug him and cry into his shoulder at the same time. I’m starving but I feel terrible that he brought me food. I don’t want him to feel sorry for me and I
want to be a burden to him. I’d do anything to not take a slice of pizza, to pretend I’m full and happy even though I’m skin and bones, but... but it’s
I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I’m salivating just from the tantalizing aroma.
"It’s okay, Nina. I’m hungry too, so dig in before I eat it all," he tells me as if reading my mind, and then he gets into the driver’s seat. His car is so quiet and smooth that I can barely tell it’s moving. My stomach grumbles loudly, antagonized by the irresistible smell wafting up from the back seat, and I finally give in and pull a slice out of the box.
"You know," I babble in between wonderful, gooey bites, "I’m eating pizza in a car worth more than everything my family owns added together and you don’t care at all. What if I spill grease on it? Shouldn’t you be flipping out on me?"
"It’s just a car, Nina," he answers with a shrug as he gets onto the highway and leaves the run-down houses of the Hill behind us. The bright lights of New Haven fade into the distance and then disappear completely as trees spring up around us.
car," I protest, but he only shakes his head and laughs.
"A drop or two of pizza grease isn’t going to make it catch fire or anything. Relax, Neenie... oh, and grab me a slice while you’re at it, okay?"
We stuff our faces with melted, cheesy deliciousness for the entire ride, and by the time we arrive at his house fifteen minutes later, my hunger is finally sated and my dull, throbbing headache from low blood sugar is receding. Isaac has no idea what a lifesaver he is to me.
He holds the passenger door open for me with a smile and then we sneak together through the darkness toward his house. Strategically placed spotlights light up the mansion’s granite façade and illuminate the ivy trellises affixed to the conservatory exterior, shining so brightly that the house is probably visible from across the lake.
That’s probably the point
, I think as I follow Isaac around back and into the garden. It’s not about making the house pretty; it’s his mother showing off how wealthy she is.
"Shh," he whispers in the dark, ducking out of sight beneath a window and pulling me down beside him. "Mom’s still awake."
I hear footsteps inside the house and the creaking of wooden floorboards as I huddle in the grass beside Isaac. We’re sitting so close to each other as we hide from view that I can feel his breath on my cheek. His body presses against mineht against from shoulder to hip, and it’s doing something strange to my brain. It’s... it’s thrilling. I feel as if I’m in a spy movie or something, but I’m in it with Isaac and that makes it even better.
As his mother’s footsteps disappear off to the other end of the house, Isaac pulls away from me and the spell is broken. He’s just Isaac again and I’m just Nina. My skin feels cold now that he’s not touching me.