At fourteen, Janelle still wore her hair in a ponytail and slept with her collection of stuffed toys.
At fifteen, she pierced her nose and dyed her hair black; she bit her fingernails but painted them black, too. She pierced her ears multiple times and wore a safety pin in one.
At sixteen, she painted her eyes with thick, dark eyeliner and mascara, but left the rest of her face pale. She sneaked out with older boys to drive to Harrisburg and Lancaster to see bands she didn’t even really like. Sometimes she let those boys kiss her.
At seventeen, she smokes pot she buys from the farm boys looking to get some extra cash to fix up their muscle cars or buy steers to show at the Farm Show; she doesn’t ask and doesn’t care. She steals liquor from her stepfather’s cabinet and tattoos a small star on the webbing of her right hand between her thumb and forefinger. It takes her mother four months to notice, though Randall figures out about the vodka and bourbon a lot sooner than that. At seventeen, Janelle doesn’t have a boyfriend she secretly hopes to marry, one who gives her his class ring or his letterman’s jacket. She has a lot of boyfriends, but though everyone including her parents thinks she’s sleeping with all of them, Janelle’s still a virgin.
Janelle’s mother tells her she has two choices—reform school or rehab. It’s Nan who steps up to offer the third choice, to come and live with her. It sure isn’t something Janelle’s mom would’ve come up with on her own, and she’s not happy about the idea. How on earth will Nan make sure Janelle behaves herself, when her own mother can’t?
Maybe Nan understands that the booze and drugs, the makeup and clothes, are only things Janelle does. They aren’t who she is. Maybe raising five boys makes Nan feel she can handle one wayward teenage girl….
Now she’s here in Nan’s house, sweating in the summer heat. Her shirt sticks to her skin. Sweat tangles her hair. When she runs her tongue along her upper lip, she tastes salt. She can smell herself, the tangy scent of her perfume and body odor, the lingering tinge of smoke from her clothes. Her mom confiscated all the cigarettes before Janelle left. She ran her hands inside the linings of Janelle’s suitcases, in her pockets, searching for pot or pills. She found the stash easily enough; Janelle hadn’t hidden it very well. She let her find it so her mom could go away satisfied she’d done everything she could. There’d always be more weed. It’s all about power, and by giving her mom the illusion of it, Janelle keeps most of it for herself.
Opening the window might let in some cool air, but someone’s painted the sill shut. It will take a screwdriver to pry it up. Muttering a curse, Janelle grips the painted wood. Her black nail polish is chipping, and she doesn’t remember if she packed the bottle.
When her dad was working, he saw her once every few months for a weekend or a couple days. A week or so in the summer. Sometimes she came and spent a few weeks with Nan while her dad traveled. Janelle has many fond childhood memories of her time spent in St. Marys, but none of those visits have prepared her for what it’s like to actually live here. One small movie theater. No mall. Still, even a town nestled so deep in the mountains it was like its own world had to be better than rehab or reform school.
And…hello. The brick house next door. That’s where those Tierney boys live. Gabriel is her age, and the twins, Andrew and Michael, four years younger. She used to hang out with Gabe sometimes when they were little kids, but she hasn’t seen him in years.
Now she does.
A movement behind the curtains in the room directly across from hers alerts her, but with the light on in her room, it’s hard to see. Janelle reaches for the lamp, turns it off. Blinking, she steps to one side to tug the curtain just enough for her to peer out.
Gabe Tierney went and growed himself up, Janelle thinks. He has the long, lean build of a swimmer, but his body is liberally sprinkled with hair. Something catches in her throat at the sight of his arms, abs and pecs as he turns from the dresser, where he must be searching for something to put on. She’s been with boys before, but Gabe…he’s a man.
Something strangled and low comes from her throat when he drops the towel. He’s not facing her, but the back view is as nice as the front had been. More hair furs his thighs and a small dark patch at the base of his spine. She’d have thought a hairy butt would be gross, but all at once everything about him is so masculine she can’t imagine how she ever thought smooth chests and bodies were attractive.
She can’t handle the sight of his bare front, she knows she can’t, but even though heat floods her, Janelle doesn’t look away as Gabe pulls a pair of white briefs from his drawer. Turning with them in one fist, he’s fully exposed. Everything. Every part of him is as perfect as the next, and she can’t stand it. She’s been with boys before, she’s taken them in her fist and a few times even in her mouth. She’s let them touch her, though their fumblings have never come close to making her feel as good as her own hand does. It’s all about power.
And Gabe Tierney has it.
* * *
“No more,” Janelle said aloud, twitching the curtains closed, though the temptation to keep watching was like a real physical force.
All of that had been a long time ago. They’d been kids, stupid, playing with things they didn’t understand. She wasn’t that girl anymore.