Truth or Dare
After the final bell rang in West Seneca High School on October 3rd, on the day Lisa Ferris would die after crashing a moped into a tree, Erica Wessler, the girl with size eleven feet who wore sports bras because her breasts were so large, walked over to the three boys sitting on the steps. She thought it was a bad idea even before she saw Tommy Leroy snicker and whisper something to Josh. She knew Simone and the other girls were watching, probably snickering themselves, as she made a fool of herself in front of Tommy, the guy Simone claimed she loved. He was her neighbor, and she didn’t have the balls to talk to him herself.
“Tommy,” Erica said, “Simone wants to know if--” she was aware of the perspiration under her armpits and wondered if they could see it through her shirt. “—If you’ll go out with her this Saturday.”
Aidan jabbed Tommy in the ribs and laughed. “Go out where?” he said.
“Anywhere you want,” Erica said. “You can be creative.”
“I got shit to do Saturday,” Tommy said.
Erica heard Josh whisper loudly in Tommy’s ear “Hey man she’s that girl who lives down the street from you, ya know? The cute one?”
“I said I got stuff to do Saturday,” Tommy said. “But Josh would love to. He was just talking about her, saying all this stuff about how he wanted to take this Simone girl out somewhere.”
“Shut up, Tommy,” Josh said. “Shut up.” Josh was one of those boys who couldn’t think fast on his feet, so he’d say a simple sentence over and over again.
As soon as she turned away from the boys, she buttoned up the top two buttons on her shirt which had been revealing a hint of her large breasts, which, by popular consensus, were her best feature, bulging out of the top of her sports bra. It had been Simone’s idea to have Erica show some cleavage, just to be extra persuasive, though Erica thought that maybe it was to compensate for the one feature that Simone lacked. She glanced over at the girls sitting on the other end of the steps, knowing they were vicariously enjoying her boldness.
“Erica!” Lisa squealed. There were throngs of people pouring out of the doors and passing by them. “What’d he say?”
“It didn’t work,” she said when she neared the three girls waiting for her on the other side of the entranceway. “Tommy has stuff to do on Saturday.”
“Well, at least you did it,” Jo said, pulling a cigarette out of her purse. It was still strange to Erica to see someone as skinny as Johanna Bentley with cheekbones like razor blades puffing away at a cigarette like she were some French movie star. She had turned sixteen that summer, yet, to Erica, she didn’t look older than twelve.
Simone stood up and pulled her backpack over her shoulders. There was a sharpness in her eyes that made her eyelids appear almost nonexistent. “Well that’s that,” she said. “Erica did her dare, and that’s what counts.”
Simone and Lisa were smoking also, but Lisa, Simone’s younger sister who had just started, was coughing with her mouth closed after every drag. “Why do people like this?” she said in between coughs. “Erica, you’re the smartest one. It tastes like I’m licking an ashtray.”
“No, like this,” Jo said and inhaled deeply. She blew it out in one smooth breath. “Now you try.”
“Wait,” said Simone. “Whose turn is it now?”
“That’s the last dare I can handle,” Jo said.
“Let’s give Simone one,” Lisa said. “Look Simone, I’m smoking it better now.”
Erica watched Simone roll her eyes at Lisa. Simone was the oldest, the one who always wanted to play truth or dare so she could boss everyone around. Normally the dares centered around Tommy and his friends, and they usually had to do with Erica and Lisa humiliating themselves in front of Tommy while Jo and Simone giggled from afar. Simone wouldn’t have been seen looking stupid in front of Tommy. The most she’d ever done was dress up in her dad’s work clothes and ask Josh, in a man’s voice, if she could have a smoke. She hadn’t even done the voice right, and to make it all more unfair, she hadn’t even tried that hard. She had giggled the whole time under her breath, and all Josh had done was blush and say “Yeah sure, Simone.”
Erica always thought it was because Simone was so beautiful that she didn’t want any real personal stuff about her getting around. Stuff that could tarnish her image in the eyes of the boys. Erica didn’t care about what those boys thought of her. She was so quiet during the day in school that she knew people didn’t expect it of her to be so crazy, and that was part of the thrill of it. But there was something else: like for a few minutes she was being given permission to be someone else. It was real easy to do as soon as she started imagining someone else was in her body, and this other person was the one acting and doing things, not her. This other person didn’t care if she, Erica, would be embarrassed later. That’s how she was able to make-out with Trisha Robert’s golden retriever by putting peanut butter all over her face. And how she had balanced on one foot for two and a half hours in Simone’s driveway, and best of all, how she had ended up with her eyebrows plucked out for two weeks. Simone always seemed to like her best at those moments, and Lisa, who seemed inspired by her daringness, would tell all of her friends about Erica’s feats.
“I can’t do one now,” Simone said, looking meaningfully at Jo, and then whispering loudly to Lisa, “I have a really good one for Erica.”
Lisa was smoking and grimacing at the same time. “You guys are so lame,” she said, looking at her older sister. “The only one who ever does anything interesting is Erica.”
“Okay, Lisa,” Simone said. “We’re gonna give you a nice one. Go over to those boys and ask whose dick is biggest.” Jo laughed and inhaled.
“Ew, I don’t wanna know gross stuff like that. I’m not disgusting like you are.”
Erica was usually quiet during these conversations, even though Simone had been her friend since second grade. Their parents had arranged a play group together at Simon’s house, which was bigger and had more of a real backyard with a swing set and all. She and Simone had invented a whole story about the swing set and claimed it as their castle, defending it against any intruders, such as Lisa, who was then too much of a baby for them to include. When they first entered middle school, they had dressed up in Mrs. Ferris’ lingerie when she was out doing errands. Simone knew exactly where her mom kept the lacy bras and the leopard print ones and the ones that came down all the way over your stomach and had hooks that held up stockings. Simone, who was always delicate and small, had to use a safety pin to hold her mothers bra tight around her body, even while on the smallest clasp. They both stuffed their bras with her mother’s pantyhose, but Erica was always aware that Simone needed multiple pairs of pantyhose for each cup, while she only needed one. Another favorite game of Simone’s had been to put on her mother’s makeup and walk around the block, seeing if the older boys from St. Mark’s High School would whistle at her. Simone soon abandoned this game when she realized that the boys had noticed Erica and not her, and simply because Erica’s breasts had developed earlier, and Simone’s stuffed cups did not deceive them. Erica always looked older, and she hadn’t minded getting the attention from the boys, which came from a few obnoxious freshmen, but mostly they got bewildered stares from mothers pushing young children in strollers and old couples returning from the drug store. That had been the only time, she remembered, that she ever attracted the attention of boys over Simone, and even then, she had been too embarrassed that she had sometimes hid them beneath a jacket and let Simone strut while she walked timidly at her side.
The girls all walked slowly toward where the line of school buses waited. Lisa started singing softly to herself, sometimes replacing words with hummed notes, so it sounded like a bad recording that kept skipping.
“I think we should do another dare,” she said. For a second she seemed so much younger, not thirteen at all, but a small child who tagged along with them for lack of friends her own age. “And I think it should be someone taking Tommy’s bike, like Simone said we could do last week.”
“Shut up, Lisa,” Simone said. “I didn’t say that.”
“I’d do it,” Lisa said. “I’d do it. And I bet Tommy would let me have it too.”
They all went on the same bus, and before Simone and Lisa had moved to the other side of the town, the nice side where the houses didn’t have chipped paint and old push lawnmowers rusting in the yards, they had all gotten off around Sycamore and Maple. That was before Simone had started wearing push-up bras and tight jeans that made her butt look real big. When they were in seventh grade, they had gone to the Levi’s store for men’s jeans, which they agreed were more comfortable. Simone had said she would never be caught wearing those tight-ass jeans that ride so low that your fat spills out on the sides. “Katie Ray wears those jeans,” Simone used to say. She liked to bad-mouth all the girls Tommy was into. “And you can see more fat on her sides than you’d need to fry bacon for a year.”
Simone started smoking after she met Jo, and that was the second half of ninth grade. Jo claimed that it was the smoking that kept her so skinny, and this was why she was able to eat the baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches her mother packed her for lunch everyday, as well as all the candy she could afford from the vending machines. She ate whatever she wanted, and drank so much Gatorade and 7-Up that she was always going to the bathroom throughout the day.
“Erica,” Simone had said. “I understand if you don’t want to try it, but it only tastes bad for the first few weeks.”
The summer after ninth grade, in the secrecy of her garage, Erica had smoked one. She had snuck it out of Jo’s purse, and she smoked all of it despite the dry coughing and then opened the garage door to let the smoke out. Later, she had stood in front of the full length mirror in the bathroom, wondering if she would feel thinner. Her head seemed too small for her body, and her hips and thighs felt huge and cumbersome. An image came into her mind of the huge inflatable Paul Bunyan outside of Dick’s Lumber Co. If he could walk, she thought, his thighs would brush together as hers did.
“Lisa, go sit up front,” Simone said. “I want to talk to Jo and Erica.”
“Shut up, Simone. Why do you always gotta be so mean to me? You gotta do your dare anyway. Call Tommy, that’s your dare. I dare you.”
Some little kid was screaming at the front of the bus. It was Ted Scrotters, one of the first graders who was always getting beaten up by the punks who sat in the back of the bus. The punk was Toby Bryant, one of the older kids who went to the Technical School across from the high school. The bus swerved to the side of the road, and the bus driver, a short woman wearing jeans pulled up too high over her stomach and Reebok sneakers, shouted in the overhead mirror for Toby to take his seat.
“I barely did anything,” Toby protested. “That little kid’s a liar.”
“He sat on me,” Ted wailed. “He sat on me with his big huge butt.”
“She’s gotta do her dare because she said she would if we weren’t around Tommy,” Lisa said, ignoring the screaming.
“Ha, you’re right,” Jo said. “You did say that, Simone.”
“How about Erica does one,” Simone said. “She’s so much better at it. Erica, why’re you always so quiet?”
Erica was pretending to do her geometry homework, but the bus was too noisy and she kept reading over the same problem multiple times.
“So,” said Simone, “Are we still getting together at my house tonight?”
“Hey,” Jo said loudly. “Hey!” Some little kid had pushed past her and spilled milk on her and just kept on going down the aisle. The kid was talking loudly to someone in the front of the bus. Simone was dabbing at her with some leftover napkins.
“Hey, you kid,” Lisa shouted. “You can’t just do that. Come back and apologize.”
“I’m not gonna apologize to you,” the kid shouted.
Lisa was standing in the aisle and her face was starting to color. She looked no older than ten, and her collar bone pushed sharply through her brown tank like a tree root.
Erica got up and slowly walked to the front of the bus. “Hey, do you think you can just do whatever you want?” she said calmly.
The kid was looking at his friend and smirking. “I don’t have to listen to you.”
“Do you think you can come apologize to my friend?”
“I said I don’t gotta listen to you!” he screamed.
Erica grabbed his lunch box and emptied the contents out on the floor: a half eaten mayonnaise sandwich, carrots, a Twinkie. She stepped on the Twinkie because she wanted to see the filling squirt out. The kid started crying and Erica walked back to her seat.
Lisa was looking at her in wide-eyed astonishment, and no one said anything.
“He deserved it,” Jo said after a while. “Look, my blouse is stained.”
At the next stop, the kid got off with two other little girls. He was still crying, and his mother, who met him at the stop, stepped on to talk to the bus driver.
“Shit,” Lisa said. “Erica, you’re gonna get in trouble now unless you hide. Go under the seat.” Lisa threw her gym pants and sweatshirt over Erica, and she ducked down in the space between her own seat and the back of Lisa’s. It was a tight space, and her hips wouldn’t fit. “Erica, go lower,” Lisa was saying.
She heard the bus driver say loudly “If they’d all just stay in their own seats,” and then the mother said sharply above her “Andy says he was in his own seat and some girl came up to him and took his lunch box.”
“Well, I don’t know who it was. These kids kill each other on a daily basis.”
“Get down there, Erica,” Lisa said. “Go all the way under.” Erica was wedged so tightly in the seat she didn’t know if she would be able to get out. She thought for a moment of Emily Terrington, a girl who had wedged herself in one of the baby swings and had to be sawed out by the police. What if she couldn’t get out at her stop, and she had to stay down there all the way to the bus garage and wait for someone to come and remove the back of Lisa’s seat?
“Well I don’t want to find Andy crying again when I come and pick him up,” the mother said, stepping down slowly. “It shouldn’t be too hard to maintain some order here.”
The bus lurched to a start and continued on. Lisa whispered to Erica to come out, but she couldn’t move.
“I’m stuck,” she said. “I can’t get my hips out.”
She could hear Jo talking to Simone about Tommy. Her voice sounded like the dull scraping of windshield wipers. For a second she thought she might cry, but then she tensed her stomach muscles and cleared her throat, which blocked the surge rising within her.
“Oh, Erica’s stuck,” Simone said, as if this was a huge inconvenience for all of them. “Hey, do you guys remember that time Emily Terrington got herself stuck in the baby swing?”
“Oh, I remember that,” Lisa said. “They got the police and everyone to come saw her out. She was way too big for that swing.”
“Looks like Erica’s too big for the seat,” Simone said.
“Hey Erica,” Lisa said. “Just push up with your legs.”
Erica wriggled out of the space and sat in her seat. She still felt like she could cry, but instead she said “Yeah, and that girl who got stuck in the swing had those huge welts on her hips where the swing was pinching her.”
“So,” Simone said sitting up very straight and shaking her dirty blonde hair off her shoulders. “We all coming to my house like we planned?” She was looking at Jo, who was smiling.
“I can come for a little while,” Jo said. “My dad’s taking us out for my brother’s birthday.” Jo’s parents were divorced, and she and her brother were always having two birthdays, two Christmases, two of everything, something that Erica at first had envied and later felt sorry about, like Jo’s world had been chopped right down the middle, and she was chopped too.
“You’re gonna call him, right?” Lisa said, looking at Simone. “That’s your dare, Simone. We all did one today except you.”
“Oh, buzz off. Erica can do one. She’s better at it.”