by Chris Eng, illustration by Karlene Harvey
Jenn changed back into her school clothes before she got home. The jean jacket and mack came off, the blouse and sweater went on over the t-shirt. The skirt went on over the jeans, the jeans came off, and the stockings went on real quick. She did it all in the park, and after she changed she hung out and just basked, taking her time.
She rolled into the TV room around six and was just depositing her knapsack beside the loveseat when her mother’s voice echoed down the stairs.
“Jenn?!” It was only half a question.
“Yes?” she yelled back up.
“Dinner,” came the flat response.
Dinner was a spartan affair, composed of two or three things her mother had assembled after boiling them in their respective bags, and the atmosphere at the table was even more tense than usual.
“So,” her mother said, a forkful of what appeared to be sweet and sour chicken locked in a holding pattern in front of her. “Out with your friends again?”
“Yes,” Jenn responded with as much patience and courtesy as she could muster.
“I thought you said you didn’t have any.”
“Hesther,” her dad interrupted.
Jenn felt her mother’s eyes on her and tried to ignore the sensation as she worked on finishing her dinner with as much nonchalant speed as she could.
“What’s that?” her mother said low and casually, practically purring, like a panther toying with its prey. Jenn looked over warily to see her mother pointing a knife at the back of Jenn’s hand. At Spit’s address.
“It’s an address.” Jenn looked down at her plate and continued to work through dinner in as little time as possible. “I told you I had friends,” she said to no one in particular.
“Mm-hm,” said her mother, still purring, and Jenn swore she could feel her mother’s gaze burning a hole through the back of her hand.
Friday was like Christmas when Jenn was seven. Christmas when she lay awake all night because she couldn’t sleep. Christmas when her waking days were lengthened by a factor of ten or more. Each of Jenn’s classes seemed to last 12 hours, but even though it was torture, Jenn couldn’t shake her good mood, and she endured her scholastic prison sentence with the serenity of a Zen monk.
After school she went home and stuck around for dinner, partly because she didn’t want to pay for it and partly because she thought it would involve less interrogation from her mother (which was becoming a larger and larger concern). As Jenn predicted, dinner was a conversational dead zone and everybody ate in silence. Jenn knew her dad was happy (or at least satisfied) if she and her mother avoided going for each other’s throats and Jenn wanted out of the house with as little fuss as possible. She was going to have to bring it up, though.
“I’m going out tonight.”
“You’re going out?” her mother asked, incredulous.
“I don’t think I know Claire.” Jenn could hear the panther tones creeping back.
“She’s never been over here.”
“Is she one of your new friends?”
“Is she the one whose address was on your hand the other day?” The panther leapt.
A shock ran down the length of Jenn’s spine, but she replied calmly and pulled a name out of the air as she spoke. “No. That was Fiona.”
“I don’t know Fiona either.”
Her dad rubbed his temple in a small circular motion with his index finger.
“Hesther,” he said, injecting himself into a conversation he clearly didn’t want to be a part of. “She said she has some new friends. It’s good Jennifer is making new friends.”
His wife glared at him as he spoke to Jenn. “Honey, we may not know Claire and Fiona, but it’s not like we need to meet all your friends. Go have fun tonight, all right?”
“Okay. Thanks, dad.”
The sound of silverware clinking on plates dominated the room, punctuated only briefly by the low sound of her mother talking under her breath. “Well… look who grew a pair.”
They finished their meal in silence.