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#21

Older Girls



      After spending all day driving, Justin’s dad made a family decision that no one would leave the hotel the first night so they could all get settled into their rooms and get a good night’s rest before hitting the beach in the morning. Justin had to share a room with his two older brothers and all they’d wanted to do was watch a basketball game that he didn’t care about, so he’d been wandering the halls of the huge hotel ever since he’d finished his share of the pizza. The pool was deserted, the weight room was empty, and everyone Justin passed in the halls seemed to be on the way out for the night, dressed for restaurants, bars, and clubs, their faces already showing signs of vacation stress as they wondered if they were having enough fun to justify the time and effort and expense.

     After a long look out over the city from a window on the top floor, Justin decided he should go back to his room so his parents wouldn’t get worried about him and call security, an embarrassment he’d endured at a hotel before and didn’t want to repeat. He got onto the elevator and pressed the button for the fourth floor, leaning back against the mirrored wall and whistling the song his trombone teacher had given him to work on over break. Then, only one floor down from the top, the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and a laughing, chattering flood of older girls in tiny dresses poured in, filling the elevator to its capacity and forcing Justin into the back corner.

     As far as he could tell, none of the girls had even noticed him. A redhead in a sparkling silver dress was standing so close to Justin that he could feel his arm pressed against hers, their skin sticking together. Justin edged as far as he could into the corner, pulling his arm as close to his body as possible, slowly peeling it away from the redhead’s arm. He felt the flesh separating little by little. Then he couldn’t move any further and they were still touching, his tricep against her bare shoulder. If he turned to the right, he’d be facing the corner, which would be ridiculous, but if he turned to the left, he’d be pressing his crotch against her lower back, which was clearly an impossible option.

     The girls’ conversation was piercing. They were giddy over something that had happened earlier in the evening, recounting it through gasps and bursts of hysterical laughter. One of the girls lost her balance in the middle of an exaggerated pantomime and fell against the redhead who staggered back against Justin. He pressed himself back against the elevator wall with his hands at his side. The redhead glanced over her shoulder at Justin, apparently seeing him for the first time, and then returned her attention to the other girls.

     “Sorry,” said Justin, although he didn’t know what for. Maybe just for being there. The redhead didn’t acknowledge him.

     The elevator stopped at Justin’s floor.

     “Hey, what?” said a loud, short girl wearing sunglasses even though it had been dark outside for hours. “The fourth floor? What?”

     “That’s me,” said Justin, trying to wedge himself sideways between the redhead and an Asian girl who was yelling, “I said I’m on an elevator!” into her cell phone.    The short girl didn’t hear him and began repeatedly punching the “close door” button with her finger.

     “Whoa,” said Justin, struggling around the tightly packed, scantily clad bodies. “Hold on, I’m getting off here.” He tried to keep his hands up around his neck to avoid touching the girls in places that might cause a scene.

     A brunette with very short hair and a huge, gaudy handbag laughed and clapped her hands. “I didn’t even know he was on here? Did anyone notice him?”

     “Excuse me,” said Justin. “Sorry, excuse me.”

     The short girl was holding her hand out through the open door to keep it from closing, but she said, “What, you don’t want to come with us? You don’t think we’re fun to hang out with?”

     “Ha,” said Justin. “I don’t know.”

     The short girl pulled her hand back and the elevator door started to close. Justin made a little lunge and bounced off of the brunette on his way out. “Easy,” she said “I don’t wanna get pregnant.” She grinned at Justin as the other girls cackled and then the door closed and Justin was alone in the hallway, his heart thumping painfully and his hands trembling.

     Back in the hotel room, the lights were off and both of Justin’s brothers were asleep in front of the flickering TV. The room was furnished with two queen sized beds and they had each claimed one. They were sprawled out so there was no room left on either bed for Justin. He went across the hall and knocked on the door to his parents’ room. His dad, dressed only in pajama pants, let him in. “Just wake one of them and tell them to move over.”

     “Yeah right, dad.”

     “Well, what do you want me to do? They’ll be even madder at you if I come over there and make them move.” Justin’s dad was lining up the family’s four varieties of sunscreen on the counter next to the sink.

     “Can I sleep in here?” asked Justin.

     “No,” said Justin’s dad. “No way. Your mom and I aren’t just your drivers. This is our vacation too.”

     Justin went back across the hall to his room and stood staring down over one brother and then the other, hoping that this would cause them to wake up. It didn’t work. He took the one remaining pillow that his brothers weren’t lying on or wrapped around and laid down on the floor between the beds to try to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he saw nothing but makeup and flashing teeth and shimmery pieces of fabric carefully arranged over smooth, sun-tanned skin. He watched TV for a while, but every show was filled with pretty girls, and if the show wasn’t, then the commercials were. Finally he got his notepad out of his bag and went out into the hall where he sat cross-legged on the floor just outside the door to his room with his back against the wall and started drawing big, interlocking designs that crept over blank page after blank page.

     Justin was just starting to feel tired enough to fall asleep, even without a bed, when the elevator doors a short way down the hall opened and the short-haired brunette from earlier stepped out, all alone and looking more unsteady on her high heels than she had before. She looked over at Justin and he looked back down at his notepad, feeling his face flush.

     “What floor is this?” she asked.

     “Four,” said Justin.

     “Four! I didn’t want to get off on fo-ur.”

     Justin glanced up at the girl and saw her looking him over with narrowed eyes. “Ohhh,” she said. “You’re that kid.” She smiled and her big handbag slid down from her shoulder and caught on her elbow, jerking her sideways. “Aren’t you that kid? You are.”

     “I’m him,” Justin admitted.

     The girl took a few wobbly steps, and then stepped out of her high heels and left them sitting in the middle of the hall as she walked over to Justin on bare feet and sat down next to him on the floor, her legs stretched out straight in front of her. She smoothed her slick blue dress over her thighs and sighed. “I need a break,” she said. Her eyes were glassy and she smelled like perfume and cigarettes. “Do you remember me?”

     “Yeah,” said Justin, closing his notebook so the girl wouldn’t see his drawings. “You made a joke. About pregnancy.”

     “Oh yeah!” said the girl, and she cracked up again at the memory, grabbing Justin’s arm in delight. “I made that up right then! I can be really funny sometimes.”

     “Where are your friends?” asked Justin.

     “We got separated.” The girl was still giggling and she didn’t elaborate. Then she seemed to remember something and began to rummage through her bag, pulling out little items and scattering them on the carpet. “Well,” she finally said, shoving her bag away from her. “I can’t find my key card.” She bumped her head back against the wall a few times and then said, “How old are you?”

     “Thirteen,” said Justin. He felt ashamed to be thirteen, which made him angry.

     “I’m twenty-two,” said the girl. “Why are you so quiet?”

     “I’m not quiet. I talk all the time. I just don’t know you.”

     “So what?” said the girl. “I’m drunk and I’m on vacation. What would you say if you knew me?”

      Justin sat in silence for a while, wondering if he could really ask what he wanted to ask. Then he said, “What do you think my chances are of dating someone like you when I’m your age? Just…what do you think my chances are?”

     The girl cocked her head and gave an apologetic smile. “Honestly? Sorry, if you’re even asking that question, your chances aren’t very good. The guys that I date have never asked a question like that in their lives.”

     Justin scowled. “How do you know?”

     “I do,” said the girl. “My guys don’t wonder. And they don’t think in terms of chance.”

     “That’s stupid,” said Justin. He stood up and fought the urge to kick the girl’s stuff as she started scooping it back into her bag. “No one knows for sure how things are going to be.”

     “Maybe so,” said the girl. “But I like guys who think they know.”

     “I have to go to bed,” said Justin.

     “Me too,” said the girl. “But I’m not going to.” She stood up and grabbed Justin’s shoulder to steady herself until the initial wave of dizziness passed. Justin felt strange when he realized that he and the girl were the same height. She grinned and said, “Have a fun vacation.” Then she walked back to the elevator, pressed the button, the doors opened for her immediately, and she was gone. Her shoes were still sitting in the hall.

     Justin went back into the hotel room and flashed the lights on and off a few times before leaving them on. “Wake up, idiots,” he said. “One of you is moving over.”