Shasta Grant won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, judged by Ann Patchett. Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in cream city review, Epiphany, Whiskeypaper, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a prose editor for Storyscape Journal.
By lunchtime on Monday, almost everyone knows that Jason fingered Heather at the post-game party on Saturday. When Katie first hears it, she doesn’t know what it means; she thinks Jason has put his finger on Heather, meaning he selected her, claimed her.
At lunch, she tries not to stare at Jason but she keeps watching his hands, the way his long fingers grasp his sandwich, wrap around his apple. She tries not to think of where his fingers have been.
She feels a twinge of jealousy but doesn’t know why. She doesn’t even like Jason. He is tall and kind of dumb, one of the sophomore boys who can blend in with the upperclassmen, which makes him a star. He wears his collar popped and his Red Sox hat backwards. He plays a sport every season: football, basketball, baseball. There isn’t a ball he can’t master.
Katie and Heather’s friendship cooled the minute Heather stepped into her cheerleader uniform in September: that tight blue and white sweater, the ridiculously short pleated skirt. Last weekend, Heather ditched Katie after the game, a brutal loss to Richmond of 38-6. “We have to cheer up the boys. They get so depressed when they lose,” Heather said. Katie watched Heather’s pompoms swoosh as she ran to catch up with Jason.
Poking her fork in the cafeteria lasagna, Katie imagines how the girls cheered up the boys, hiking up their pleated skirts: Do you feel better now? How about now?
Katie watches as Jason pulls the lid off his container of chocolate pudding. He sticks a finger inside and then licks the pudding off, looking right at Heather, who blushes and pretends to ignore him—lashes, heavy with mascara, fluttering.
On Friday, Heather finally keeps her word about getting together. Katie hasn’t been to Heather’s house in months. The posters of New Kids on the Block and covers of Tiger Beat that decorated the walls of Heather’s room in August are gone, replaced by pictures of the cheerleaders and Jason. Heather tosses her backpack onto her bed. “I hope you don’t mind but Jason is coming over,” she says.
Katie does mind but knows she shouldn’t say anything. Jason brings pizza and they watch MTV together until Heather goes into the bathroom for a long time. Jason stares at Katie, drumming his fingers against his legs; she keeps her eyes on Paula Abdul. When Heather returns to the den she is wearing sweatpants, her hair pulled into a messy bun. She says she doesn’t feel well.
“Can I get you some water? Or aspirin?” Katie asks.
“No. I think you better go home. I need to go to bed,” Heather says.
“I can bring her home,” Jason volunteers.
“Can you stay? I don’t like to be alone when I’m sick.”
“No offense, but I don’t like to be around sick people. Big game tomorrow and all, I can’t risk it,” he says, placing his Red Sox hat on his head.
“Oh,” Heather says. She walks them to the door and looks up at Jason, expectantly. He gives her a little wave and pulls the door shut.
Katie opens the door of his car, a red Oldsmobile 88 that used to belong to his mother. She picks up his textbooks and Trapper Keeper from the front seat and places them on the floor by her feet; he’s too cool to carry a backpack. Jason drives toward town, toward Katie’s house, although she hasn’t told him where she lives.
“You’re different from the other girls at school,” Jason says.
Katie doesn’t ask how she is different; she knows he won’t say anything she wants to hear. The truth is she doesn’t want to be different from the other girls. She reaches for the radio and changes the station. She skips past the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall and then past “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” before settling on an Aerosmith song she doesn’t like but is popular with the football team. She is learning how a girl gets a boy.
“You wanna drive around a little?” he asks.
“Sure,” she says, thinking about the pictures in Heather’s room—the pictures of this boy and the group of new friends who have replaced her.
Jason drives down Main Street, past the pizza place, past the bridge where upperclassmen sit sipping cans of beer wrapped in paper bags. Katie has never cruised around town before, never understood the appeal of it until now. They roll the windows down and let Steven Tyler’s voice spill out, the cool air slipping through the fingers of her outstretched hand. Cars she recognizes from the school parking lot pass by and honk and she feels part of something for the first time since starting high school.
They make the loop several times and then Jason drives up Country Club Drive, toward the golf course at the top of the hill. She has heard about the golf course. It is dark and the parking lot is empty; he parks sideways, taking up two spots. He turns the headlights off but leaves the engine running and the radio on. Katie wonders: Did he bring Heather here? Is this where all the girls get the boys?
He talks about football and she pretends to care. Another car turns into the golf course, its headlights shining bright through Jason’s windshield before moving to the opposite end of the parking lot. When the car’s headlights dim, Jason turns to Katie.
He doesn’t tell her that she is pretty or smart or anything at all. He doesn’t have to. She already wants his hand to slip under her shirt, feel the satin of her bra. She already wants him to claim her.