I thought the scariest movie I’ve seen was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I mean, one: there are zombies popping out randomly. Two: it literally looks like part of their faces have just withered away. Three: Elizabeth Bennett cut off Mr. Wickham’s arm. On camera. Insert the green emoji here.
But that movie is apparently child’s play compared to what real horror is like. I’m curled into a little Ash-Ball on Bec’s couch as the slasher in a white mask taps on the car window. The protagonist whimpers, and that’s my cue to shield my eyes.
“How are you going to make ‘A Night of Horror’ if you can’t even watch a horror movie?” Bec asks, pausing to shoot me a judging look.
I really wish she paused it at a better time. The girl is in the car, but I can see the killer slinking into the trunk behind her.
“I’m watching it,” I mumbled. “And I can still hear it if I’m not looking at the screen.”
“So you’ll know the perfect ambient sounds then,” Bec replies with a smile.
Is that… a bemused smile? Or is she trying not to laugh at me? I sit up with a bit of a huff.
“I’m sorry I have too much empathy for the characters,” I say. “I’ve already watched, like a dozen people get murdered. Should I be eating popcorn and laughing?”
Bec chuckles. Chuckles.
“You know, eating while watching actually helps,” she says. “There are studies that say, like, your mind doesn’t fully focus on the movie when you’re snacking. So maybe that’ll work.”
She hands over a half-filled bowl of buttery microwaved popcorn and resumes the movie. It almost makes sense, so I reach for the bowl cautiously. The masked killer leaps from the back of the girl’s seat. The protagonist screams and jumps out of the car at the same time I feel my body spasm. The popcorn bowl flies in the air, showering kernels all over the couch and floor.
“I’m sorry!” I say and swear. “Here, I’ll pick it up.”
Bec pauses the movie again. The girl is mid-run with the killer close behind her. I really wish she’d stop pausing at scary parts. Bec scoops up popcorn from the cushions as I pick up kernels from the floor.
“Maybe eating wasn’t the best idea,” she says.
“Why don’t you just give me, like, the SparkNotes version of these movies?” I ask. “Before I accidentally ruin your house.”
“Technically it’s not mine,” she counters. “So, feel free to ruin all the furniture you want in here.”
I glance around, expecting her mom to come running in to scold her. Then I remember the rest of Bec’s family was gone when I came over.
“Is your family…” I begin and trail off.
What am I supposed to say? Are they all out to dinner without you?
“On a camping trip,” Bec says, like she’s read my mind. “It’s apparently a family tradition of theirs. Second weekend of the month. They left right after school and won’t be back til Sunday night.”
“Oh, sounds… fun,” I say.
“I was invited,” Bec says, knowing what I’m about to ask. “Half-heartedly. No one was torn up when I declined.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” I say, but I’m kinda hoping she does want to talk about it.
Anything to delay having to watch the rest of this movie. Plus, she has a faraway look on her face. Like she’s lost in some internal battle.
“Not much to talk about,” she replies after a moment, her face melting into indifference. “I was basically forced here when my dad deployed to Europe, to everyone’s dismay but his apparently. I got sent here, where everyone acts like they’re happy to see me, but I can tell when I’m not wanted. Now, I’m just waiting for graduation to get the hell out.”
“You didn’t want to go to Europe?”
“He didn’t want me to go,” she corrects. “He said it would disrupt my last year of high school, but I’m pretty sure he just missed the single life.”
I realize she’s really good at saying things that are impossible to reply to. She’s looking at me, too, like she’s waiting to see if I’m going to give false sympathy or pity or something.
“He sounds like a dick,” I say finally.
I honestly thought it’d sound cooler, but it comes out sounding like it’s the first time I’ve said dick. Which is true, and I will definitely leave dismissive remarks like that to TV characters from now on.
Bec chuckles again. I see her reach for the remote.
“You know, I’m a really good listener,” I say. “If you want to talk about it more.”
She gives me a curious look. Then, she smiles. “You’re trying to get out of finishing this, aren’t you?” she guesses.
“What?” I reply, but my voice is too high-pitched to sound believable. “I’m just very interested in your life.”
I realize how weird that last sentence sounds, and I flush.
“Got a crush on me?” she teases.
I make a psshh sound in response. I mean, the obvious answer is no. We have nothing in common. And she’s an annoying know-it-all. And she doesn’t own a pair of pants without at least one hole. I reach for the soda on the table.
“We only have, like, half an hour left on this,” she says, nodding to the TV. “Can you be brave for a little longer?”
I want to give her a biting reply. Something like I’m always brave or it’s not even that scary. But we both would know I was lying.
“Oh, and, I meant to tell you,” she says, focusing on the TV. “I saw on Instagram that there’s a local band playing nearby tomorrow. The vibes seem like they’d fit with your Bash. We could check it out together, if you want.”
Checking out a band seems infinitely better than seeing another horror movie. I nod.
“Only if we take my car,” I say. “I’m not going on your deathtrap.”
She just smiles and hits the play button. Soon, I’m curled up into my Ash-cocoon again, trying to detach from my own eyeballs as the plot twist decides to twist into three different twists, which just adds confusion to the fear. Bec looks invested though, and she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s sinking into a more comfortable slouch next to me. Or that her hand is drifting closer to mine, and I could probably just stretch out my finger and touch hers—
“You okay?” she asks, and I jump again, pulling the blankets around me guiltily.
“Huh? What? Yes, fine. The killer just got hit with a TV,” I say, glancing at the screen. “We can definitely… work… TVs… into the dance…” My voice trails off and I clear my throat. “I’m paying attention.”
“Sure you are,” she says with a smirk, and I wonder if she caught me staring at her hand.
I decide it’s safer to sit up and keep my hands under my legs for the rest of the movie.
I try to act like I didn’t spend the entire next morning and afternoon planning my outfit. But it’s a lie. I spent hours combing through my closet, realizing it’s mostly comprised of the same neutral colored sweaters and plaid skirts and pants. Nothing that really screamed ‘going to see a band at the local Warehouse (a bar and grill that plays live music every weekend and a place I’d never really cared about til now)’. I finally found some black jeans that fit, despite being folded in a drawer for well over a year. I paired it with my least-preppy sweater: oatmeal colored with a loose fit.
I think my outfit doesn’t look half bad. Until Bec shows up. She’s wearing the same combat boots and ripped jeans, but she has a long-sleeved, netted crop top that shows off a black sports bra underneath. She raises a brow at me.
“I didn’t realize you were just dropping me off before your PTA meeting,” she jokes.
I flush. And try really hard not to stare at her or her surprisingly well-developed abs.
“Kidding,” she says. “You look nice.”
“Thanks,” I say and hesitate. “You look…”
My voice trails off and I nod.
Nod. What does this even mean?
It’s my own house, but I already want to just run away and never come back. I force myself out the front door and lock it behind me. Bec’s bike is parked in the driveway, but it’s tucked away in the corner. I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t mind having it there, even if it means the neighbors might gossip. I unlock my door and climb in.
“Do you need directions?” she asks, pulling out her phone after buckling her seat belt.
“I know where it is,” I reply coolly.
I know this because, when I wasn’t trying to find decent clothes to wear, I was studying the map on the Warehouse website. Bec already thinks I’m some lame, uppity girl.
“It’s one of the only places in the city to see good live bands every weekend,” I add.
“I’m surprised,” she says. “You don’t really strike me as the ‘goes to live music shows’ type.”
“The Warehouse, despite its name, was actually once used as a barn in colonial times,” I continue, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel nervously. “It was converted into a church, restaurant, and finally the Warehouse about fifty years ago.”
I hear Bec chuckle, and I flush. Maybe I researched the place a little too much. I reach for the radio and pause. What if she hates my music choices, and we’re stuck together for another couple hours?
“Um, you can connect your phone,” I say casually. “Since you’re the guest.”
Bec doesn’t need me to say it twice. Soon, I hear what sounds like riot grrrl music blasting through my speakers. It doesn’t surprise me. We listen silently for a few minutes. Bec’s probably jamming out. I’m trying to read all the tiny street signs.
The music suddenly changes. I hear a clip of a familiar track as Bec jumps and grabs her phone. She changes the song quickly, but it’s pretty unmistakable.
“You listen to Adele?” I ask.
“She’s… alright,” Bec replies with a shrug. “She has a couple catchy songs.”
I smile in spite of myself.
“I won’t tell anyone you listen to pop music,” I promise. “It’d probably damage your scary, edgy delinquent image.”
“Is that my image at school?” Bec asks.
I can’t tell what the tone is. She sounds surprised, but not entirely happy or upset about it.
“Yeah,” I say, glancing at her. “I mean you’ve gotten into a verbal confrontation with, like, every faculty member already.”
Bec shrugs, obviously unable to argue with this. She slouches into her seat and looks out the window.
“What was your image at your last school?” I ask.
“Head cheerleader and captain of the debate team,” she replies immediately.
A snort escapes my nose, and I honestly debate just crashing my car to end this embarrassment.
“Well… one of those maybe,” she says, giving me a wry smile. “But I guess delinquent works too. It keeps people from bothering me.”
I try to think of what she was like before. If she was debate team captain, maybe she was in plaid and knitted sweaters like me. But the image doesn’t seem to fit. I try to think of her as cheer captain and get a visual of her in a white mini-skirt. I feel my face grow warm and I clear my throat.
“Don’t worry,” I say, not knowing why. “I know it’s not true.”
“I’m not a scary, edgy delinquent?” she asks, the corners of her mouth twitching up. “Are you sure?”
“You’re more of a nerd than anything,” I reply and grip the steering wheel harder.
I’m this close to just turning into the next light post.
“How so?” Her tone is teasing and inviting at the same time, like she’s not finding this awkward at all.
“Your protest against the school dress code was obviously inspired by Martin Luther,” I point out. “Which means you pay attention in class, or you know a lot of history. Either way, nerd.”
“Plus, you had a list of horror films,” I add. “A list. I saw you open your Google Drive to find it, and you knew a lot of random facts about the behind the scenes things in every movie we watched.”
“We only watched three movies,” Bec says. “Because someone was too scared to watch past the first five minutes of each.”
“Either way. Random film knowledge paired with random history knowledge,” I say. “That screams nerd to me.”
“Nerdier than someone who researched a venue for a single concert?” Bec teases.
I ignore her as I pull into the parking lot. The place is a lot more crowded than I thought it would be. Bec drops the subject as we go inside and find a table near the stage. The good thing about the Warehouse is that it’s a grill with music, which means I can order a large side of fries and sit down instead of standing like I’d have to at a concert. Bec orders a burger combo before pointing to a band standing nearby.
“That’s the group I was looking at,” she says. “They call themselves the Babes in Black.”
“Their sound is really good for Halloween,” she continues. “And they have thousands of followers on their social media accounts.”
“And they look like witches,” I add.
All three of them are in full black (one in leather, one in fishnets, and one with some meshy fabric I can’t place), with black hair streaked with a bold color. The girl with the guitar has short black spikes with bright green fringe over her face, the girl holding drumsticks has long black and hot pink braids, and the third girl has curly black and blue hair that’s cut just above her chin.
“They’re pretty hot,” Bec says. “Which is a definite selling point.”
I almost agree with her out loud.
When she says hot—
Does that mean?
I bite my tongue before the words can escape and glance over at her. Her attention has moved away from the band and towards the food that’s being delivered to us.
It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s into girls, I tell myself. She’s wearing plaid and combat boots.
But then again, that’d mean the school population of non-straight girls just doubled. I try to clear the thought from my head as the band is welcomed to the stage. Bec scoots her chair closer to me, and I just about spit out the fry I’m trying to eat.
“I was thinking, if you like their sound, we can meet them after the show,” she says, raising her voice to be heard. “I’ve already talked to one of them, and they’re interested in a low-paying gig as long as they can film it for their YouTube channel.”
I nod, trying to focus on the music. It’s a good sound, I think. Not so punk that it’d scare people off, but enough of an edge to be perfect for The Bash. It has enough of a beat for people to dance off-key to also, which is always a selling point.
The thing is, it’s really hard to focus because Bec is still sitting right next to me. She didn’t move her chair back to its original place. Her elbow is resting on the table centimeters away from me. My heart is suddenly matching time to the drummer’s solo. I turn to look at her face, right as she leans over to whisper something to me. Her eyes are inches away from mine, and I know mine widen under her gaze.
The music seems to fade. Her eyes are a deep, warm brown—
I look away quickly, trying to re-focus on the band. She taps my arm and gives me a curious look.
“Why were you—” she begins awkwardly.
“Oh, I was just gonna say we should definitely have them at The Bash,” I say quickly. “Why were you—”
“Yeah, same,” she cuts in. “Same.”
We both give the same nervous chuckle at the same time. I reach down and shove a handful of fries in my mouth as she takes a loud slurp of her drink, and we turn back to the show.