—Three Months Earlier—
A hand slid smoothly into the back pocket of her jeans, and Catherine startled, her head snapping up in a reflex. A square head with a puff of straw-blonde hair on top was turned towards her, a big smirk lingering on the boy’s adolescent face. “What?” Terry Connors asked her. “Why so serious?”
She couldn’t help it: a smile dawned on her face. “Where is your lipstick, joker?” she teased him in return.
In response, he withdrew his hand and adjusted his faded red-and-white baseball hat, still grinning. “Left it in my locker this morning. Are you up to hanging out with Jack and Courtney today? They’re throwing a party later today, too—there will be plenty of alcohol and some other stuff. . . .” He trailed off meaningfully.
“I don’t know,” Catherine replied, distracted by the noise down the hall. “What do you think is going on there?”
Terry stood on his toes and stretched his neck, but then relaxed and stooped back down. “Nothing important, just Johnny having fun and pushing a kid around—you know, that one boy, the nerd.” He laughed and let himself fall against a locker, ignoring the loud clang it caused. Instead, he directed his eyes at the girl again. “So are you?”
She looked up and thought for a moment. In her mind, images of her mother appeared: concerned, angry even, that she had gone. Yelling at her, eyes full of tears and words full of accusation.
Then again. . . .
An ear-splitting grin broke out on her face, and Catherine Hughes brushed her blonde hair aside with a gesture that wasn’t uncommon to her. “Why not?”
The music was too loud—way too loud, Catherine thought, covering her ears and squinting her eyes as she tried to see through the thick smoke that the joints were causing. Somebody should have opened a window a long time ago, but they were probably afraid of the neighbors smelling the marijuana. Not that they didn’t suspect it already. Mr. Morgan—the elderly man everyone knew who had lost his wife five years ago—was rapping on the door, trying to make himself heard above the loud beat.
Some techno song the girl didn’t recognize was booming across the room. Most teenagers were fist-pumping to the beat, while others were smoking or making out wildly in a corner. Several clothing articles were lying on the ground and she even thought she could see a completely nude girl dancing on the kitchen table. Groans came from closed doors located near her and she could hear someone yelling angrily upstairs—judging from the amount of time the word sex was dropped, the girl wasn’t drunk enough to commit the act.
Catherine knocked over an empty beer bottle with her foot and wobbled to and fro, a hysterical laugh bubbling up in her. How many beers had she had? More than one . . . two, three—five?
All she knew was that her sight was blurring even more, and it was getting harder to concentrate as well. A can was pushed into her hand and a guy she thought was Terry was pushing his body against hers. His hard-on was obvious, but although a part inside her tried to swim through the surface and push him away, her limbs just wouldn’t move and she let him. Her head became hazier and bobbed up and down to the music while those arms pulled her closer and spun her—around and around and around and around. . . .
“What were you thinking?” Denise Hughes demanded, her voice trembling with anger. “Going to a party like that without my permission? What has gotten into you?!”
Catherine mumbled something and leant her head against the cool glass of the window. It was soothing, numbing even. Like pressing ice against your temple, she thought vaguely, closing her eyes. Her mother’s voice was a mere buzz in her ear, like that of a fly you just couldn’t get rid of and made you wonder whether it was time to take a shower. Unconsciously, Catherine made a brushing motion with her hand, as if to wave her mother away.
A continuous line of questions followed, each one sharper than the one before it. The tone grew higher and more choked—her mother must be near tears. She knew she should care and reply, but her tongue felt heavy and lazy in her mouth.
“It is two in the morning, Cathy. Why did you lie to me?” Mrs. Hughes squeaked, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “You said you had a sleepover . . . why, Catherine?”
Cathy had always imagined a parent’s anger to be one of the worst things to feel inflicted upon you emotionally. The restrictions that would undoubtedly follow, the loud voice full of authority that washed over you, the dark eyes, piercing into your soul and knowing all the bad and wrong things you did. Even worse, the sinking, meek feeling of obedience, doing everything they said because you were afraid—of what, she never knew.
It turned out disappointment was worse. The sad look in her mother’s eyes made Catherine’s soul contract in pain—just a tiny feeling in her chest that was enough to bring stinging tears to her eyes.
From the moment you were born, your parents had expectations. They expected to give you everything they didn’t have when they were young, force all those chances upon you. That first moment—that look in their eyes—when you did something wrong, when they realized that you would make the mistakes they had made, and worse . . . when that moment occurred, you knew you could never live up to their expectations. Your throat clogged while your eyes swelled—and your heart . . . it was ripped into pieces—yet beating more loudly than ever—as it sank like a stone. You would feel it going through your whole body until it somehow dissolved into nothing, leaving you hollow inside.
That was precisely how Catherine Hughes felt.
“Sorry. . . .” she mumbled, shutting her eyes more firmly and knocking her head against the window softly—a reprimand for what she had done.
Denise gripped the wheel with her left hand and sniffed, before igniting the engine and speeding off towards their home. For the remainder of the journey, mother nor daughter spoke, but listened to the tense silence instead. Until then, Catherine had never thought it possible for stillness to be loud. And surprisingly, her head cleared.
Things change, she realized. Santa becomes a fraud, friends become enemies, your parents shift from heroes to villains, old playmates are suddenly love-interests. From wishing to be a grown up to begging the stars to let you be an innocent child, just for another day. But, she knew, even if you wished upon a star, things would never go back to the way they used to be.