is an online magazine of the literary arts.

18 September 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 3

Into Her Mess

"You look like shit," Toni hissed at Theo from behind her textbook. It was propped on her desk and she was drawing something, hunched over so Theo couldn't see.

"You're not such a beauty queen yourself," he said. The substitute teacher for fifth-hour Spanish was letting them do homework during class. Theo was almost finished, but all Toni had accomplished was ten minutes' worth of her latest cartoon sketch.

"Let's see if we can both get a hall pass," she whispered. "I'll let you see my surprise."

"Another installment of your sadistic comic strip?"

"No, my tattoo, dork." She set her book flat and walked toward the teacher's desk. The substitute couldn't find any hall passes, so she wrote a note, and Toni winked to Theo on her way out, shoving the paper in her pocket. Theo counted to sixty and got up to ask if he could go to the bathroom.

Toni wasn't in the hallway. He figured she was probably smoking a cigarette in one of her hiding spots. Theo didn't get why she liked him so much. She'd sat next to him the first day of Spanish, making him laugh with demented comic strip characters scribbled onto torn sketch paper and being very nonchalant when he told her he was gay. They were unlikely friends. Toni didn't settle for rough around the edges. She went for jagged. She was a junior and had friends that would never waste their time with someone like Theo, a sophomore, nondescript loner-jock type who always did his homework on time and ate Sunday dinner with Mom and Dad. Toni's friends wore black clothes and eyeliner and chains. Like them, Toni's take on life was dark, and he wasn't sure why she liked him enough to put up with his middle-class, white-washed way of seeing the world. Except that he was gay. Maybe that qualified him weird enough to be her friend.

He stood in the bathroom before a urinal, reading the magic marker messages that hadn't yet been covered with flat, gray paint. Does yer girl spit or swallow? Three tally marks to fifteen. Those straight guys loved to brag.


Theo ignored the sound and zipped his jeans. After he turned the water off and dried his hands, he heard it again.

"Psst. Theo."


The stall door to the far right opened slightly. There weren't any feet showing beneath it.

"Come here."

"Who is it?" he said, thinking it would be smarter to just leave.

"It's Toni." She pulled the door all the way inward, and he saw her squatting on the toilet, a sly grin lighting her face.

"What the hell are you doing in here?"

"Get in here and I'll show you."

He looked around, although he knew he and Toni were the only people in the bathroom. The guys' bathroom.

"Lock it," Toni said, so he did.

She was standing upright on the toilet, facing away from him. She unzipped her canvas khaki pants and slid them down to her skinny hips. "Voilà."

"What? You want me to see a bandage on your ass?"

"No, shitface. Lift it… gently, from the bottom."

Theo moved toward her and put his fingers on the gauze, trying not to touch her skin, but he couldn't help grazing the place just above her hipbone. A brilliant yellow sun smiled at him from the base of her spine, encircled with flames. "Nice," he said, leaning closer to see the details of the eyes and lips. Ointment was smeared across the orb, making it glisten in the fluorescent light blinking above Toni's head. She twisted at the waist and watched Theo.

"You can touch it," she said.

"Doesn't it hurt?"


He let his finger rest on the tips of the flames, and felt the swelling beneath her skin and the slick substance protecting the wound. "What is this stuff?"

"Some kind of jelly shit," she said as Theo put the bandage back in place. She pulled up her pants and buttoned them, rearranging her feet on the toilet.

Theo took her hand and helped her down. The top of her head reached just above his shoulder.

She pulled a cigarette from her jacket pocket. "Wanna smoke?"

"No," he said. "Unlike you, I need my lungs." He turned the knob, unlatching the door, but then the outer door to the hallway opened, and after a long pneumatic hiss, closed. Toni's finger was raised to her lips, though Theo didn't need a reminder to be quiet. She took his hand again and stepped up onto the toilet.

Whoever had come in was at one of the urinals. Theo pushed the door the rest of the way closed, locked it, and then leaned his shoulder against the metal partition. Toni rested her hand on his shoulder, shaking. He looked up and she had her other hand across her mouth, trying to keep from laughing.

This time, Theo put his finger up to his lips, and she snorted. He put his hand over her mouth and the guy at the urinal coughed. Theo wrapped his other arm around Toni's waist to steady her, and she let out a muffled yelp behind his hand and bit the loose skin between his index finger and thumb.


"My tattoo."

"Sorry," he whispered and shifted his hand to her hip.

A voice from the other side of the door spoke. "Grade principals are making bathroom checks…"

"Thanks." Theo stifled a snort of his own. He looked down at his feet, at Toni's feet perched on the black rim, trying to stop laughing. The top of his head brushed Toni's stomach, and she rested her hands on his shoulders.

When the hand dryer shut off, the bathroom was silent. "Wanna see something else?" Toni said.

"Definitely not." He reached to take her hands from his shoulders.

She held him and bent forward, her cheek near his ear. "I like you, Theo." She bit his earlobe and then pushed him backward as she jumped from the toilet. "See ya," she said and unlatched the door and was gone.

He stood there a minute, running his hand through his hair.

Even though Toni—unlike almost everyone else at his school—knew he was gay, she wouldn't let up with the flirting. For the rest of Spanish, Theo managed to avoid looking at her. Which is probably why he didn't find the note she'd slid into his backpack until he was undressing in the locker room for track.

Two cartoon characters were trapped in a bathroom stall: one with spiky hair and a nose ring (Toni) standing on a toilet, the other with wavy hair and a hoodie (Theo) standing before her. Two bubble thoughts floated above their heads, one for each of them. But they both said the same thing: If only…

She wasn't at school the next day, so Theo called her that evening. He was with Jonathan, his best friend slash boyfriend. His parents had just recently found out about the boyfriend part, and it was causing major problems in the Williamson household. Being gay hadn't been such a big deal when they thought he wasn't having sex with anyone.

Toni answered on the first ring, her voice quiet.

"It's Theo."

"I figured. Where've you been?" she said.

"I was at school. How 'bout you?"

"I left a message last night. You were supposed to call me."

"Yeah, well I didn't get the message because my mom's trying to ground me."

"Trying?" she asked.

"I didn't go home today."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at Jonathan's," he said. Jonathan and Toni had a mutual dislike for each other, which made Theo feel like shit. He waited for Toni to give her usual he's-such-a-jerk monologue. But she didn't. "Is something wrong?"

"No… Yes. Eat lunch with me tomorrow," she said.


"And have fun with your lover boy."


"I gotta go. Bye." She hung up before he said goodbye. But