Cerise wore glasses and had super long hair when they were in grade 8. Shauna had shoulder-length hair back then but still dressed the same, in black clothes and docs. Cerise was wearing a dress that day. It was English class and everyone had to pair up for a project. Shauna had seen Cerise around before and always figured she was popular because she was pretty and so she was probably also a bitch. But they were both left alone when everyone else paired themselves up so the teacher told them to work together.
“I’m Cerise,” she spoke first. “Like cherry in French.”
“Ok so who should we write the letter to?”
“The assignment? We’re supposed to write a letter. Who do you wanna write it to?”
“Ok well, how ‘bout we write it to the teacher and the letter can be saying how we think this assignment is stupid.”
“That’s funny,” said Leanne.
“Yeah, I thought so too,” nodded Shauna as she sipped her giant coffee. “I told her so. She said I should write while she dictated so I did but then she looked at what I was writing and then she decided she’d write. But she wasn’t mean about it. I’ve always had shitty writing but she wasn’t mean about it.”
“Did she do the whole assignment?”
“Yeah,” nodded Shauna. “It was really funny. It was saying how the assignment was dumb, how like we should be learning to write an e-mail, not a letter you send in the mail ‘cause no one does that anymore. But it was still doing the assignment, all the points the teacher said to do.”
“Ok, so then you guys became friends?”
“Yeah, she didn’t have any friends either. So we did everything together. It was great. It was like that for two years. We ate lunch together every day and sometimes we’d hang out after school too. We even had sleepovers a couple times.”
“But then things got weird. She stopped wanting to hang out. She’d like, well, she’d never called me but she stopped being home when I called her and she stopped wanting to do stuff on the weekend. I thought she had other friends but she didn’t seem to. I never saw her with other people. She just, I dunno, talked less and less and didn’t wanna hang.”
“Why do you suppose that is?” asked Leanne.
“I dunno,” Shauna shrugged, feeling way less drunk than before. This coffee was doing the trick but Shauna wasn’t sure she wanted the trick done.
“Well something must have brought it on.”
“How the hell should I know?” Shauna thought back to that day in gym class. Back in grade 10 when that girl had said it.
“You guys aren’t allowed to hang out with us.”
Shauna couldn’t even remember the name of the girl who’d said it, or what she’d looked like. But she remembered how it had made her feel. They’d been in gym class, Cerise and Shauna sitting on a stack of gym mats, waiting for the class to begin. Some random girl had come up to them and said it and Shauna immediately felt like shit. They hadn’t even asked to hang out with this stupid girl but she said it anyway. She indicated her friends and they all laughed and Cerise looked embarrassed but neither of them said anything. And then the girl walked off and Cerise looked at Shauna all angry like.
“You think she blamed you for you guys getting picked on?”
Shauna looked up at Leanne, realizing she’d just told that story out loud. She’d never told anyone before. “I dunno. I guess. I was a loser. I guess I didn’t do much for her rep or whatever. Everyone hated me. They called me Take a Shower Shauna.”
“Better than Porta-potty chick I guess.”
“That’s so mean,” said Leanne in disgust.
“Well it was true I guess. I didn’t like showering back then. I take baths now all the time,” she clarified quickly. “But back then I didn’t. I had greasy hair I guess. One time a bunch of girls pushed my head in a toilet and said how it would make me cleaner ‘cause that’s just how dirty I was.”
“Oh my god, Shauna, that’s awful.” Leanne leaned forward in her giant chair and patted Shauna’s hand.
“When Cerise asked why my hair was wet I told her and she was grossed out.”
“Did people bully her like that?”
“No. Everyone made fun of her name. Calling her Fruit Salad and everything but that’s pretty much it. No one ever dunked her in a toilet. At least not that I know of.”
“So she didn’t wanna be around you anymore?”
“We’d still eat lunch together and stuff. Sometimes we’d hang out after school but she got kinda quiet. And things got really bad after…”
“Ok, you’re gonna be married to Adam Moncton!” giggled Cerise.
“Eww!” squealed Shauna, falling back on her bed.
It was grade 10 and they were hanging out after school. Cerise hadn’t come over to Shauna’s house in about a million years and Shauna kept asking and finally Cerise said yes. They were playing on the computer, a site where you could put in names of boys you know, and houses and cars and jobs and then it would mash it all up and tell you your future.
“And you’re gonna live in a shack behind the school and you’re gonna drive an SUV and you’re gonna be a milkmaid.”
“A milkmaid?” Shauna laughed. “I’d never marry Adam Moncton!”
“I don’t think he’s so bad,” Cerise shrugged.
“I guess not.”
“I kinda like him,” said Cerise.
“Oh yeah. I guess he’s pretty cute.”
“Really? Ewww! He’s hideous! And you’re gonna marry him! Freak!” Cerise laughed and laughed.
Shauna laughed too and told her to shut up but she kept taunting and saying Shauna would marry Adam Moncton and finally Shauna pushed her. Cerise pushed back and then Shauna pushed Cerise down on the bed and got on top of her, pinning down her arms.
“Get off me!”
“Take it back!”
“Take what back?”
“Say I’m not gonna marry Adamn Moncton!” Shauna leaned down over Cerise.
“You’re totally gonna marry him!” Cerise laughed.
“Take it back or else!”
“Or else what?”
Shauna leaned down further, until their noses were inches apart.
Cerise looked weirded out. “Ok, I take it back, god, get off me.”
Shauna leaned back but didn’t let go.
“Fucking get off me!”
She sounded so angry that Shauna got up. Cerise said she had to go and she left.
“You wanted to kiss her didn’t you? When you were on top of her. You were aroused weren’t you?” asked Leanne, looking at Shauna in that way she had.
Shauna shook her head, trying to make it not be true. Why did Leanne have to make her think about this stuff? Now she just felt like shit. She put down her coffee and picked up a napkin, wiping her eyes.
“Shauna, it’s ok.”
“No it isn’t. She hated me. She didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“That doesn’t mean it was wrong of you to have those feelings.”
“Of course it was wrong! I think she was scared of me. One time in grade 11, we were at a new school and she’d been ignoring me all year but then I dunno, I guess she felt sorry for me and I invited her over. I got drunk I guess. I told her how I was so happy we were friends again and then I hugged her. She got all freaked out and said she had to go but I didn’t want her to leave! I grabbed her. I think I fell or something and I grabbed her leg and wouldn’t let go. And she was trying to leave but I kept holding on and she fell down. I got on top of her and I told her I liked her new haircut. It’s all I could think to say. I touched her hair and she totally freaked.”
“God, can you blame her?” asked Leanne.
“I was drunk. I’m such a fucking loser.”
“You’re not a loser.”
“I’m a freak.”
“You’re not a freak. You just have to be with someone who returns your feelings.”
Leanne froze. “Um, no offence, Shauna, I like you a lot. But as a friend.”
Shauna couldn’t help but chuckle. “I mean gay like you.”
“Yeah, Shauna. Exactly. Someone gay.”
“My dad says gay people go to hell.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Cerise says there is no hell. There is no god.”
“What do you believe?”
“That my dad’s an asshole.”
“Well a lot of people have fucked-up families,” said Leanne. “It’s no reason to deny who you are.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Just ask yourself, what did you feel when you were with Cerise? Like just hanging out with her?”
“Good. Happy,” Shauna shrugged.
“And when you were on top of her?”
“Scared,” Shauna sniffled and wiped her nose with a napkin. “But good.”
“What do you feel when you think of her now?”
“For real, Shauna.”
“Sex,” Shauna mumble-whispered. Then she started crying. Full-on, snotty crying. So bad everyone in the Starbucks looked at her and Leanne came over to her giant chair and put her arms around her. “I’m sick, Leanne!”
“No you’re not!”
“Everyone was right! I did need to take a shower and I did fall in a porta-potty and I was a loser and I am stalking Cerise and I am a psycho! And I am a lesbian! I’m sick Leanne! I’m sick in the head!”
“It’s not a sickness, Shauna! You’re just scared and confused. And you’ve believed everything everybody has said about you and you’ve believed all the shit your parents have said about the world but it’s all bullshit, Shauna. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“But it is wrong to stalk Cerise, right?”
“Yeah, but you never hurt her, did you?”
Shauna shook her head.
“You were just lonely and desperate for someone to care. For someone to acknowledge you and tell you it’s ok. Well Shauna, it is ok. There’s nothing wrong with who you are.”