Put Me Back TogetherBy: Lola Rooney
The day I met him was the coldest of the year, and I wanted an ice cream cone. That’s why I was out on a Thursday night wearing sweatpants and my ugly glasses—the ones with my old prescription, which I only yanked out when I accidentally sat on the cute ones with my new prescription. It had been a long day. I was also wearing a pair of Uggs, which had survived three winters in Vancouver in pristine condition, but now, after just three months of winter in Kingston, they were covered in so many stains from the slush and salt on the roads that they looked like they’d been flushed down the toilet. The wind bit at my ears and cheeks as I trudged down the sidewalk. I pulled up the fur-lined hood of my jacket just as the phone in my pocket buzzed ominously. Okay, not really ominously, because ominous buzzing isn’t a thing. But it was still pretty weird. Nobody ever texted me, except…
Em: Omg, this party is cray-cray. Like, there are no words.
Me: Give me the highlights.
Em: Guy just flashed his junk at me. Girl just walked by wearing bottle caps over her nips.
Me: So it’s a naked party? Tell me you still have your clothes on.
Em: Most of them.
Em: RELAX! I took my shoes off. But if you’re so worried, come and join me!
Me: Not that worried.
Em: :( Don’t stay home wearing your ugly glasses all night!
Me: Don’t pull your pants down for anyone!
Em: No promises. ;)
A part of me hated that my sister, Emily, was out at a party getting drunk and eyeing genitalia while I was on my way to Dairy Queen, but not for the reason you might think. I had no interest in going to some obnoxious party where I wouldn’t know anyone—in fact, that was a perfect example of something I would avoid at all costs. What I didn’t like was thinking of her there on her own, without me to look after her. I had to remind myself that Emily was never on her own. She’d probably rolled into the place with an entourage. I was the one who found myself alone when Em went out on a Friday night. I was the one who didn’t have any friends.
Not that it bothered me. I liked it better that way.
As I reached the corner I looked longingly down Division Street. Division was the fastest way to get to Dairy Queen, the alternative being a twenty-minute detour down University Avenue. If I turned now, I could be back home in twenty minutes, happily riding my sugar high as I defrosted my toes on the radiator. But Division was also home to “party central,” a trio of houses rented out to a horde of the most horrifying species of university student: the boozy jock. After a memorable interlude on this block during my first week in Kingston—I stepped in a pile of vomit on the sidewalk, had the drunken vomiter himself ask me if I wanted to take a ride with him (the real meaning of “ride” only made clear to me later when my sister broke it down for me), and then watched him vomit again, this time on my shoes—I’d made a firm rule never to go down the block again, especially when there was a party going on, most especially a last-day-of-winter-break party. Already I could feel the thump of the bass in my chest, even from halfway down the street.
Biting my lip, I stared up at the interminable red light, willing it to change. Just being this close to partyland was making me break out in a cold sweat. The idea that this might be the party Emily was at didn’t make me feel any better. I felt a hot tightening around my ribs as I imagined her running out to find me and dragging me inside, the suffocating crush of bodies, the seizure-inducing music, the roomful of eyes following me, watching me, and absolutely nowhere to hide…
Giving up on the light, I crossed the street at a gallop and narrowly missed getting hit by a minivan full of old men who shook their fists at me.
Like I said, avoid at all costs.
I tried to focus on the ice cream cone I planned on getting—one scoop…no, two scoops…no, at this point it was looking like a sundae, with brownies, and nuts, and extra hot fudge—to keep my mind off my near-death experience and freezing toes. Stupid Uggs. My mother had told me they weren’t adequate footwear—they were slippers. I hated when she was right. Then I heard voices in the empty lot coming up on my right, and all thoughts of ice cream vanished.
It was a corner lot, snow-covered and dotted with doggy pee stains. Three big guys were hunched over the bushes by the fence dividing the lot from the sidewalk I was on. They were refugees from the party, I had to assume, judging by their lack of coats, overall drunken demeanor, and the fact that they were laughing at a clump of bushes. Two of them had beer bottles in their hands, which I was sure was totally legal. There was another guy over at the far end of the lot, but I didn’t get a really good look at him.
“Here, kitty, kitty!” said Drunk Idiot Number One.
“Pour some beer on its head,” said Drunk Idiot Number Two.
“Ow! It scratched me!” That was Drunk Idiot Number One again.
“Oh my God, you’re such a baby,” said Drunk Idiot Number Three. “Want me to kiss it better?”
I stared through the chain-link fence as One and Three scuffled with each other. Then Three slipped on the snow and fell.
“You’re such an asshole. I think I broke my ass.”
“I’ll show you a broken ass!” said Two, launching himself on top of him.
Interestingly, I wasn’t the least bit nervous about being spotted by these three. It helped that they were morons and weren’t paying me any attention. I would have just walked on, but something held me back.
“I got it!” said One.
He held a small orange cat up by its scruff as his buddies scrambled to their feet. They all looked tickled. The cat looked pissed as hell. When Three leaned in to look at him, he took a swipe at his nose and missed by millimeters.
“He’s a mean little guy,” said Three. “Quick, get the bottle!”
I looked at the three boys, the howling cat, and the bottle, and that was when I surprised myself.
I stepped into the lot.
“What’re you doing to that cat?” I demanded.
They all spun around, Three almost losing his balance again. Two dropped his bottle. It was possible I’d yelled a little.
“We’re gonna get him drunk!” One announced gleefully, just as the cat wiggled out of his grasp and hightailed it back into the bushes. The other two swore and crouched down to find him again.
“Like hell you are!” I said.
Shoving my way past One, I stepped right over Two and placed my foot into the closest bush, the one that was too small for the cat to hide in. As soon as I smashed the branches down, the cat shot out between Three’s legs, making him fall over for real this time. The rest of us chased after the cat, but I grabbed him first, mainly because they were sloppily drunk and couldn’t run in a straight line to save their lives. I stuck him inside my jacket, zipping it closed over his fur, and folded my arms to hold him in there. I could feel him shivering against me, his heart beating rat-a-tat-tat.
“Aww, come on,” One whined. “Give him back!”
“There’s no way in hell I’m giving him back to you,” I said. “He’s frozen and terrified. He’s too small to be outside in this weather.”
“We weren’t going to hurt him,” Two said, stepping forward, his massive chest exactly level with my eyes. He was standing a little too close for comfort, and I took a step back.
He said, “Just let me see his little head. I want to pet him.”
I didn’t like the dark look in his eye, or the way he was towering over me.
“Not on your life,” I said.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed One coming up on my right side. As soon as Three picked himself up out of the snow, they’d have me cornered with my back to the fence. My heartbeat began to quicken as I took them all in. Suddenly they didn’t seem quite so harmless or quite so drunk. Moments like this, guys like this, always reminded me of Brandon. Suddenly it was six years ago and I was thirteen again, peering into a boy’s face, wondering what kind of violence might explode out of him. As much as I’d tried to change my life, to fix it, to control it, I was still that same girl, perpetually taken by surprise.