Katie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. She has earned prizes in
contests hosted by Narrative Magazine, River Styx, Silk Road, and elsewhere, and her fiction, nonfiction, and
poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, [PANK], Crab Orchard Review, Cimarron Review, Willow Springs, Passages North, and The Tusculum Review, among other journals.
You didn’t ask to go to Catholic school. All your friends go to Stone Middle on the air force base and you want to follow them to Lyle Junior High where there are lockers and kids even closer to their teens than you are. But first the town high school almost loses accreditation, and then you have to ask your mother what Kahlua is,
because Kristin Q. was drinking it at recess from a tiny vanilla extract bottle, and then, finally, poor, picked-on Danny P. gets beaten after school until his collarbone snaps and his attackers flee, afraid they’ve killed him.
So, in seventh grade it’s Catholic school for you. By the next year, after a lifetime of goody-two-shoeness, you are the one sipping Orange Crush spiked with vodka on the long bus ride off-Cape to St. Joseph’s. You listen in on rumors about Robin’s date with a junior at Bishop Stang who drives, and how it ended in a blow job the mechanics of which you cannot—hard as you try—imagine. In Catholic school you befriend the headbanger boys who smoke weed, talking to them at night while your phone cord asphyxiates your finger. When your mother drops you at the bus stop, the first thing to you do is roll your skirt at the waist.
And when the bus comes, you set your smirk, open one more button on your Oxford shirt, and follow Shannon to the back where most days you will kiss four or five boys on the way to school, and the same four or five on the trip home. The kissing isn’t choice so much as a neverending game of Truth & Dare with a moratorium on Truth; the bus driver’s bossy daughter its arbiter. A command to lick ‘em and stick ‘em means you slick your palm with spit and drag it down somebody’s face. The kisses are chaste, for the most part. Brendan has lips perpetually chapped. Up close, Bob’s face is moon-round with eyebrows that blend into his skin. Anthony is the pick of the litter. He’s Italian, like you, and never groans when the bus driver’s daughter calls out his next pairing. His father is in jail: Pennsylvania, Maximum Security. No one has to tell you he’s out of your league. It’s obvious as the need to breathe.
At recess you are torn between the girls who collect erasers (rainbows, hearts, stars) and the St. Jacques twins—blond, rail-skinny, death metal sweethearts you can only tell apart by looking for the freckle on Kyle’s earlobe. You almost always pick the twins—who are still in eighth grade because one didn’t pass last year and the other begged to stay back. You never remember which was which. They don’t ride the bus. Their talk is all of bong hits and BB guns and a cat you hear meowing when they call you late at night. Three years down the road, one of them will die from an accidental gunshot by the other’s hand. You will get the call on a school night and laugh before you cry. The wake will be closed casket. “Free Bird” plays at the funeral and whenever you hear it later, you’ll remember.
In the far away future: Bob will turn arborist instead of arsonist, and more surprising, become a Tea-Party Republican; Shannon has kids young, is your tenth bridesmaid, and then, without you noticing, shrinks down to the size of a Facebook profile; Anthony, wherever he is, still makes you think: Italian Stallion; Brendan’s band plays all the Irish pubs.
After high school, you’ll move to New York for college, lose track of the Sox, drop your wickeds, and never really—no matter how much you want to—feel at home on the Cape again.
Now, though, at thirteen, you’re locked in, oblivious to everything but Shannon’s deliciously irreverent question at recess. “What do you think Sister Muriel wears under her habit?”
“A G-string,” Kyle says.
“A chastity belt,” says his twin.
“Not a damn thing,” you say.
By the way they laugh you know you’re part of the crew. Cool for the first and last time, but too worried about whether anyone thinks you’re pretty—even a little bit—to enjoy it.