Illustration by Kat Morgan

By the spring of Reggie’s junior year, there was only one thing she looked forward to each day: Matt Shames, smiling his lazy smile. Sometimes it was even directed at her and receiving Matt’s smile made Reggie proud of herself. 

She and Matt weren’t exactly friends, though Reggie was hopeful. Matt was easygoing with everyone, most of all himself. Every so often he caused trouble and got suspended, but a few days later he’d roar up again in the ’67 Mustang he’d refurbished himself, flinging the car into its assigned spot, yelling a friendly obscenity to a pal across the parking lot. 

He was a junior, too. Reggie longed to have him swear at her like he did his friends. He had beady eyes, but Reggie liked his look, which was a little bit punk. He was thin and looked half-starved, but he wore it well, like a badge. Rumor had it he did drugs. And a reciprocation of Reggie’s feelings wasn’t out of the question. Lately he’d been paying her more attention in their sociology class, and Reggie clung to that attention. It helped her get through the day. 

She needed a distraction from what was wrong in her life: her mom’s new boyfriend (a loser), her father’s three-year prison sentence (vehicular manslaughter), her midsemester progress report that showed a 1.7 GPA (for the whole month of February she hadn’t been able to find her chemistry book). Unlike these problems, the absence of Matt’s affection for her could be remedied. There might be room in his life for her. Often she saw him hanging out with people she wouldn’t have expected: the religious kids from the megachurch; the geeky president of the robotics club; or the willowy blond named Arielle, an exchange student from France who—thankfully—would be gone at the end of the school year.

Besides Matt, Reggie had one other sort-of friend, a prickly girl named Jewel with whom having fun was a chore. Jewel and Reggie argued all the time, but no matter how angry they made each other, Jewel always returned to school the next day ready to be friends again. Reggie suspected that Jewel thought she could fix Reggie’s life somehow. She was always burdening herself with projects—people, pets—if only to feel the satisfaction of disappointment. 

Officially, Reggie was getting help from Ms. Thorne, the school guidance counselor. Ms. Thorne was young and had been a cheerleader at Michigan State, a characteristic that in Jewel’s mind made her unfit to counsel anyone. Reggie didn’t mind Ms. Thorne. She was on the receiving end of no one else’s sympathy at the moment. In fact, most people hated her, and in the glare of their derision she was simply shutting down, as though her life were a large switchboard and she was throwing one switch at a time. Her affection for Matt was the only thing she was truly devoted to right now. 

***

One morning in March, Reggie was called out of her life skills class to see Ms. Thorne, who’d heard that Reggie had burst into tears in the cafeteria the previous day. 

“I’m worried about you,” Ms. Thorne said. She’d braided her mahogany hair into a crown around her head as though she were a princess in a fairy tale. “I’m also worried about your grades. You started the year with a 3.2.”

“I know,” Reggie said, not wanting to be reminded. 

“A lot has happened to you this year,” Ms. Thorne went on, “but you do have control of your GPA. What we might be able to do is get the school to approve extensions for your work, and maybe some extra credit that you can turn in over the summer.” 

“Ted Irish got extensions for all his work,” Reggie mumbled. “He doesn’t even have to come back to school until April.” 

Ms. Thorne went pale. It was Ted Irish’s father that Reggie’s dad had hit and killed with his car. Ted Irish had been out of school most of the year; he was only returning because baseball season was starting and he was hoping for a scholarship. Reggie hadn’t seen him since early in the fall, before the accident, but he would return in a matter of days. 

Reggie lived in a small, conservative town in southeastern Michigan. She’d never really fit in, but now she was a complete outcast. William Irish had been a figure in town. He’d owned an accounting business where everyone got their taxes done. With tax day approaching, his low-budget advertisement still played on the local channels, and when his face appeared on the screen Reggie’s mind tricked her into hoping for a few brief seconds—he’s not dead, there he is!—but then Reggie’s mom, Carla, would swear and ferret around the couch cushions looking for the remote so she could change the channel. 

Reggie wondered why the Irishes didn’t stop the ads. Were they doing it on purpose in order to torture Reggie and themselves? Were the remaining Irishes sniveling into tissues while the gray-haired, bespectacled ghost of William Irish pointed at them and said, “It’s your money, not the government’s. We’ll help you get the big refund you deserve.” 

Ms. Thorne said quietly, “That’s true. Ted Irish has been getting homeschooled since the accident. But again, we’re talking about you here.” 

Reggie listened to what Ms. Thorne had to say. Then she agreed to more after-school appointments with Ms. Thorne as well as extra tutoring.

Reggie returned to her desk in Ms. Bird’s life skills class. Jewel hissed, “What did Ms. Thorne say?” Reggie didn’t respond. She felt tears brimming behind her eyes. She was always almost crying. She tried to think of Matt to make herself feel better. While Reggie backhanded a tear away, Jewel yawned. She would only give someone attention without getting any in return for so long. 

Ms. Bird stood in front of the class, holding a bag of flour. “You’ll dress up your flour babies, you’ll name your flour babies, and your flour babies will go everywhere with you for two weeks.” 

The flour baby project. Ms. Bird had been talking about it all semester, and finally, it was time. In a way, the project offered Reggie a reprieve: it was worth half her grade and was very easy. She would have to endure a certain amount of embarrassment for pretending a bag of flour was her baby for two weeks, but at least she would be taunted for doing something normal, something other people were doing, too. 

The class spent the rest of the period gluing yarn to the scalps of their flour babies and drawing clumsy dresses and overalls on the bags. 

“I’ll be coming around to sign your bags of flour,” chirped Ms. Bird, “so there’s no swapping out broken babies for new ones.” 

On her own bag of flour, Reggie drew plump lips and colored them red. She turned to Jewel. “Do you think it’s weird that Ms. Bird is branding our babies?” 

Jewel, however, was staring at Reggie’s flour baby. “Reggie,” she said, “the red lips make her look slutty!” 

***

Later, Reggie slipped into her sociology class just as Mrs. McMahon was closing the door. 

“Tardy, Ms. Taylor,” Mrs. McMahon said, not without some fondness. 

“Sorry,” Reggie mumbled. She settled into her desk and stuffed her flour baby into the book tray beneath her seat. 

Matt was sitting across from her. She caught his eye; he tapped his wristwatch and wagged one finger back and forth. Reggie tried to smile casually and give a flirtatious half shrug, instead of bursting with the huge, sloppy grin that was welling inside of her. 

Reggie wasn’t failing sociology but only because Mrs. McMahon never failed anyone. She wasn’t doing very well, either. Teachers, students, everyone: they were all siding with Ted Irish. Even Mrs. McMahon had grown cooler—using “Ms. Taylor” or “Regina” in place of “Reggie.” 

Mrs. McMahon started class, but Reggie’s eyes lingered on Matt. He’d been held back in elementary school, whispered the school gossips. Others claimed he’d spent time in rehab. Lately, though, Reggie had eclipsed him in notoriety because of her father, and this formed the basis of Reggie’s belief that they were right for each other. 

Eventually, Mrs. McMahon set the class to their group work. Reggie focused on the sheet of paper before her. She was supposed to discuss No Child Left Behind with her “quad,” what Mrs. McMahon called the groups of four desks she’d pushed together. Reggie’s group, however, only had three people, the desk next to hers empty. Next to Matt sat Jewel. Theirs was the loser quad.

“So, what do you think?” Reggie asked the two of them. 

“I don’t know,” Matt said, twirling his pencil in the air. “Seems okay.” 

“It’s like gay marriage,” Jewel said. “Everyone deserves to be equal.” 

“Well, yeah,” Reggie said, “but are we going about the school thing right?” 

Matt stared furiously at Jewel, and before Jewel could respond to Reggie’s question, Matt had pulled out a pocket-size Bible and slapped it on his desk. “The Bible says being gay is wrong.”

Reggie frowned at him. 

“The Bible is made up,” Jewel said. 

“The Bible got me through some shit,” Matt said. His face lightened. He could change his mood easily, rocketing from bullish to breezy in moments. “Hey, I saw this thing on the History channel about Jesus, and he was totally ripped.” 

“That’s funny,” Reggie said with forced conviction. 

Jewel straightened the cardigan she had used to swaddle her flour baby, which she’d placed atop the empty desk. “Where’s your baby, Reggie?” she asked. “This desk can be daycare.”

Reggie pointed beneath her desk. “Napping?” she offered. 

“Reggie, I’ll tell Ms. Bird.”

Reggie wanted to strangle Jewel’s ugly baby. She needed to succeed on the project, but she hoped to do so clandestinely. 

Matt looked curiously between Jewel and Reggie. Reggie sighed and brought up her baby. 

“That baby is rad,” Matt said, and he reached across the desks to grab Reggie’s baby by its face. 

“Careful!” Jewel said. 

Matt tossed the baby up and down as though it were a football, laughing as he did. Reggie studied him. He could have a good time so easily. Anything he did glimmered. 

***

Rummaging through Carla’s closet after school was a catastrophe. Nothing Reggie tried on looked good. Her boobs weren’t big enough for Carla’s shirts and sweaters. Jewel, meanwhile, sat in the wicker chair by Carla’s window, judging as Reggie stood before the full-length mirror. Both flour babies were in Jewel’s lap. She looked like a harassed grandmother.

“Where’s your mom?” Jewel asked. She looked Reggie’s reflection up and down. “That outfit’s not… you.”

“She takes night classes,” Reggie said, ignoring Jewel’s critique. 

Carla attended classes in the evenings after spending all day answering phones for a law office. After class, Carla normally settled in for a few drinks at the pub. She’d also started drinking more at home. She could be heard moving through the house by the chink of ice in her glass, like a cat wearing a bell.

Reggie imagined the new boyfriend sitting with Carla in the wood-paneled bar with the plastic hanging plants. Reggie should’ve seen him coming, but she hadn’t. The only way she’d found to deal with her dad was not to think of him if she could help it—and her mom was doing the same thing. Still, she wished her mom hadn’t changed so much in the past few months. The drinking wasn’t the only thing. She’d unearthed these new sexy outfits from piles of junk at the Salvation Army, driving all the way to the one in Ann Arbor because Ann Arbor was where the college girls donated their clothes. 

Reggie pulled on a red tank top with a padded bra built in. The back was made of two panels of see-through lace that met in a V near Reggie’s tailbone. She also found a short jean skirt that fit, mostly. 

“Remember to set alarms tonight,” Jewel said. 

Ms. Bird had told everyone in the class to leave three voicemails (she would turn off her phone’s ringer) that night so each of them could feel what it was like to be woken and obligated to take care of something. “I will,” Reggie said. “How does this look?” 

“I’m not sure why you’re dressing up for Matt,” Jewel said. “He has no redeeming qualities.”

“It’s not for him,” Reggie said. 

“You’re lying,” Jewel said.

Reggie whirled around and glared at Jewel, who was unimpressed by both the outfit and Reggie’s withering stare. “I’m tired,” Reggie said through gritted teeth. “I think I’m going to go to bed.”

Jewel left and Reggie sat on her bed with her books spread before her. Flour Baby sat on the dresser. Reggie intended to stay awake until Carla came home. She felt secure knowing everyone was in the house. She balanced a few chemical equations, but mostly she thought about Matt. She settled lower and lower against her pillows. Then one of her thoughts caught on a gust of sleep, and she didn’t wake up until morning. She had not called Ms. Bird. 

***

“You look different today, Reggie,” Ms. Thorne said that afternoon. “Aren’t you cold?” 

“It’s just clothes,” Reggie said quietly. Ms. Thorne wasn’t the first person to ask her if she felt cold; the question was code for you look slutty

Reggie had worn these clothes for attention, but she was embarrassed that people were noticing, and staring. Ted Irish’s friend Damien had come up to her in the cafeteria and whispered, “Reggie, with your dad in jail, I guess you’d have to become a prostitute to support yourself.” 

“Go to hell,” Reggie had said hotly. Afterward, she cried in the accessible bathroom. She wondered what Ted Irish had heard about her. Stupidly, she’d called his house once, in January, thinking they could talk. Ted’s voice, low and bored when he answered, turned brassy when Reggie said her name. “Don’t you dare call here again,” he’d said. 

It was strange to imagine Ted Irish’s family in a state of collapse. In a way, it made Reggie feel better—they were all miserable because of this—but Ted must have told someone about the call, because later her father’s lawyer lectured her. “You may not call the Irish family,” he said. “It will look like we’re applying pressure.” 

She’d called Ted to apologize, to share how badly she felt, to say she would have put herself in Mr. Irish’s place if she could. No one had cared, though. No one was acting like a human being anymore. 

Someone pounded on the bathroom door. The girl in the wheelchair needed it. 

Ms. Thorne had heard about the incident in the cafeteria and told Reggie that she understood her anger, but she should do her best to ignore the nastiness of others. 

Even worse than all this, Matt was absent from sociology. She’d seen him later on, taking the stairs two at a time, but she hadn’t been able to catch up with him. 

“Are you trying to get someone’s attention with the new look?” Ms. Thorne asked casually. She straightened a porcelain figurine on her desk—an angel with its hands clasped in prayer—and ran her fingers over her perfectly painted nails. 

“No,” Reggie said quickly. 

“I just want you to focus on what’s important. Your grades, Reggie, and feeling better.”

Reggie wanted to say that what she wore didn’t have any effect on her grades—it was all the other stuff that did—but instead she pointed to the clock on Ms. Thorne’s wall and reminded her that she had to go to chemistry tutoring. 

After an hour of tutoring, Reggie left the chemistry room feeling sad. She’d gotten a D on her last exam. All of her worries grew like an air bubble in her brain, taking up space. She knew she was smart enough to pass, probably even to get a B, but she couldn’t focus, couldn’t remember anything. 

She found Matt sitting outside on a bench by the bike racks, the only bikes left belonging to band kids whose instruments echoed from the football field. With Flour Baby cradled in the crook of her elbow, she went to sit next to him. 

He smiled and scooted closer to her, nudged her foot with his. 

“What are you still doing here?” he asked. 

“I just had some stuff to take care of,” she said. “Where’s your car?” 

“Grounded today. No car.” Matt swung his arm and snapped his fingers in mock defeat. “That’s why I wasn’t in soc. Missed the bus and had to walk.”

“It took you three hours to walk here?” 

“I may have made a stop or two.” 

A ray of sun fell on Matt’s body. He squinted against the brightness. His brown hair shone. Reggie almost couldn’t take it. A gloomy cloud engulfed the sun but to Reggie the world was incandescent at that moment, and the barrage of demons that had plagued her for months vaporized. 

“I guess I’m walking home,” she said finally, gesturing in the direction where she and her mom lived. She hoped Matt would walk with her but he only held up his hand for a high five. Their palms slapped. As soon as she retreated from him, the cloud gathered around her again. 

***

“Are you staying with your gentleman caller again tonight?” Reggie asked Carla when she got home from school Thursday afternoon. It was near the end of the first week of the flour baby project, and so far Reggie had no clue about her grade. Ms. Bird watched them hawkishly during class. Reportedly, she had spies throughout the school, and she planned to send a questionnaire to parents about the caretaking that had gone on at home. Carla would sign whatever Reggie wrote. 

“His name is Jared,” Carla said. “I don’t know, Reggie. I don’t know what this is. I just want to have fun.” 

They sat together at the kitchen table. Carla smiled at Reggie and squeezed her hand. Reggie couldn’t help it; she smiled in return. 

Once Carla had gone for her night class, Reggie wrapped herself in her jacket and sat on the splintered porch with a sleeve of rice cakes. Feeling lonely, she went inside for her flour baby, and when she returned she put her feet up on the railing, the baby in her lap. The night around her was inky, the stars an unfinished mural. Reggie chewed a rice cake slowly. 

A car turned onto her street and Reggie moved her wristwatch into the porch light to check the time. Too early for Carla, but the car slowed as it approached and Reggie heard the roar of an old engine, a fast one. It stopped in front of Reggie’s house and she looked at it as though it were a mirage. A rust-red Mustang idled, and when the window lowered she saw Matt behind the wheel. 

Reggie rose from her chair and sprang down the porch steps. Her half-eaten rice cake was still between her fingers.

“How’d you know where I live?” she said, leaning inside Matt’s window.

“School directory, bitches!” Matt said in a high voice. “Get in.” 

The headlights pulsed. “Hold on,” Reggie said, and she ran back to the porch. Her flour baby was inert in the chair. She scooped up the baby, along with the package of rice cakes, and shivered as she slid into Matt’s car.

Matt pulled away from the curb. There was a rosary hanging from his rear-view. He drove them down Eight Mile until the road turned to dirt and his car hobbled over potholes. He drove all the way to Walled Lake, where the road was paved again. The lake water trembled in the dark and Reggie rolled down her window so she could listen to the waves lap the shore. Matt rounded the lake swiftly and Reggie leaned her head into the curve. In the moonlight, she could imagine they were driving on the rim of a silver dollar. 

The road veered away from the lake and Matt made a left onto another dirt road. His headlights caught a Dead End sign. He killed the lights but left the engine running, the heat blasting. Reggie strained to see his face. He was rummaging in his pockets. 

He extended his palm toward Reggie. Two pills sat stark white against his skin, bright as eggs. She pinched one between her fingers, examined it smooth surface. She watched the lump in Matt’s throat bob up and down as he swallowed his pill. It was instinct that made Reggie stash hers in her pocket when Matt turned to flick his cigarette out of the cracked window.

He turned back around and started kissing her, pushing her jacket from her shoulders. She’d only kissed one boy before, and now Matt’s hands were all over her. This was what she’d wanted but she felt too nervous to close her eyes completely. In her peripheral vision she could see Matt’s rosary, swaying a little in the ambient air. Normally this sort of thing would have turned her off. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in God. She sort of thought she did. But she didn’t like the way the religious kids at her school judged people, as Matt had done in soc the other day. Matt did weird things like this to her—he should have made her crazy and angry but instead she was falling in love with him. It almost wasn’t fair, the way he could convince you he deserved to be careless. Like he was just trying on personalities, and Reggie’s job was to admire all of them.

There was more to her love for Matt, though. He was the only person who never brought up what her father had done. Maybe it was because he thought about himself too much, but she needed for at least one person in her life not to bring it up. She let herself relax. Matt’s hand went under her shirt, under the built-in bra of her tank top. She’d never been kissed like this before and though she had all kinds of ideas about waiting to have sex she could see how she might let him take her clothes off. So she was part relieved and part disappointed when they pulled apart. 

“It’s getting late,” Reggie said, to fill the silence.

Matt held his hands in front of his face, pivoting his wrist. He ran the index finger on his left hand down the index on his right and said, “I can’t feel my fingers.”

“Maybe it’s the cold,” Reggie suggested. 

“No, it’s the pills,” he said. He put his finger on her face and traced a line from her ear to her shoulder. 

“Stop that,” she said, shivering. “What kind of pill was that we took?” 

“Never mind,” Matt said. “I know you didn’t take yours.” 

Reggie froze. But Matt grinned. He didn’t seem to care. 

“You can drive stick, right?” he said. “The pills make me light sensitive too.” 

“I don’t have a license,” Reggie said, eyeing the keys he dangled before her.

“Who cares?” Matt tossed the keys into her lap. 

“Okay,” Reggie said. Though her dad had taught her to drive a manual last summer, and though she’d turned sixteen not long ago, she’d never taken the test. It had seemed wrong for her to drive after what happened to William Irish. 

Reggie flushed when she pulled up to Matt’s house and he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. She started walking home, a distance of almost two miles. It was drizzling. She zipped Flour Baby in her jacket and forced herself forward. When she got to her house, she realized she hadn’t brought her keys with her. Through the window, she could see the set with its dangling blue flower keychain on the table by the door. Carla was home, her bedroom light on, but when Reggie tried the door it was locked. She rang the bell, pounded the knocker. No one came.

She set Flour Baby down on the porch rail, then hoisted herself up the rain gutter. From the roof of the garage she could climb into her bedroom through the window, which she never locked. She clambered across the shingles and pried up the glass with her fingertips then rolled onto her bed. Her shoes left wet prints on the comforter. 

***

The next morning, Flour Baby had a soggy bottom. Reggie had forgotten it on the porch and rain had soaked the bag.

Her project was falling apart before her eyes. Even with a fake baby that required no real care, she’d ruined everything. Just like her parents before her, she thought miserably. 

She plugged in her hair dryer and blew hot air on Flour Baby’s yarny scalp. She put tape over its skin to reinforce the structure. Eventually she ziplocked it in a gallon freezer bag, put it in her backpack, and left for school.

***

Reggie waited for Matt in the parking lot. She went up to his car when he pulled up and said, “Want to skip first period?” She held up her sodden flour baby. 

Matt laughed and said, “You bet I do.” 

They ate hash browns at the McDonald’s down the road. Matt leaned over the table and kissed her with a full mouth. It was gross but still exciting. 

“Let’s just skip the whole day,” Matt said. “We’ll go to the movies.” 

They kissed more in the movie theater; they kissed everywhere. They went back to Reggie’s house and ended up in her bedroom. Reggie still wasn’t sure what she wanted, but Matt was sure, and the more he touched her, and with each piece of clothing that came off, she became more and more confident that he was worth it. She let him inside of her. She stifled her gasp and gripped his skin. He kissed her as he came. 

Afterward, they lay on top of the comforter. “Ted Irish comes back to school on Monday,” Reggie said softly. With her hand she explored Matt’s curls. Matt said nothing; he’d fallen asleep. 

“I don’t know how I’ll face him,” she said. 

***

Reggie felt bulletproof as she walked into school with Matt’s arm around her on Monday morning. But then they parted for their separate first periods and Reggie went to her locker to find it graffitied with red marker. 

SLUT

A crowd formed behind Reggie. The hall monitor came up behind her. “Oh, jeez,” he muttered, and he spit a few words into his walkie-talkie. 

Reggie wanted to say something lighthearted, to show she was above all this, but she couldn’t find the words. She wasn’t above it. She was buried beneath it, and none of the adults seemed to care. She pushed through the people gathered around her and sank with her head down to Ms. Bird’s class. 

She nearly walked straight into Ted Irish, whose eyes fell so coldly on her that Reggie did an about-face and took the back hallway to class. In the corner of Ms. Bird’s room, Arielle, the French girl, was surrounded by a gaggle of girls, the school gossips. In her beautiful accent, the words falling out of her mouth like water, Arielle said, “She thinks she’s special because he had sex with her, but he’ll have sex with anyone.” 

Reggie was always astonished by how quickly these girls could call up an invasion of misery. 

“Don’t listen to them,” Jewel said when Reggie sank into her seat. Steadfast Jewel, there by Reggie’s side even though Reggie had ignored her calls all weekend. 

In sociology, Matt moved to sit next to Reggie instead of across from her. He wound his fingers through her hair until Mrs. McMahon said, “Enough, Matt. Save that for after school.” 

Everyone laughed, except for Jewel. Reggie saw Ted Irish lean over and whisper something into his girlfriend’s ear. Reggie couldn’t hear them, but her face burned anyway. She wondered if this day would ever end. She somehow couldn’t imagine herself ever making it through.

After school, Ms. Thorne said, “I am very sorry about what they did to your locker. I’m not saying this will be easy. But you’re shutting down, Reggie. Skipping school. Not respecting yourself.”

Reggie looked at Ms. Thorne. Ms. Thorne was a good person, she cared about Reggie because it was her job, but Reggie couldn’t connect with her. She was part of the system that had fallen into place after the accident, where respecting Ted’s grief meant sacrificing Reggie. None of the kids who were bullying her had to go to counseling. Reggie was so upset she was shaking. 

“I don’t drink,” Reggie said desperately, “or do drugs.”

“Good,” Ms. Thorne said, though she looked confused. 

“Do you know how drunk my dad was?” Reggie asked. 

Ms. Thorne shook her head mournfully. 

“0.29,” Reggie said. “That’s really high. He turned onto a sidewalk.” 

It was really crucial for Reggie that Ms. Thorne say something—she felt strongly that right at that moment she needed guidance—but Ms. Thorne was silent. Reggie felt like she’d been carrying an armload of bricks these past few months, and the longer the silence lasted the more she felt like letting the bricks fall. She wondered what had been the point of all this talking.

***

When Matt pulled up that night, Reggie went to his car. She had Flour Baby with her.

“Forget Ted Irish,” Matt said through the cranked-down window. “He’s a pussy, blaming you.” 

“Can I drive?” she asked. Matt shrugged and unbuckled his seatbelt. Reggie slipped into the driver’s seat and Matt shut her door for her. From the passenger side, he told her to go back to Walled Lake, but Reggie turned east instead, toward Detroit, and the night fled from the headlights as she accelerated. She felt the engine ask for a higher gear and she shifted into it. 

She’d left Ms. Thorne’s office feeling strange, feeling like screaming. Carla had tried to talk to her—“I got a call from the school, sweetie”—but Reggie shrugged her away and phoned Matt. 

“Where’re you going?” Matt asked. 

She turned to look at him, the wheel shaking beneath her fingers. A stoplight turned yellow as they neared it, but Reggie sped up and blew through the intersection in the stolen time between the red light for her and the green light for cross traffic. A cop car pulled out behind her and its flashing lights pivoted in her rearview, casting a pretty glow on Matt’s face. 

“I’m tired of being a rule follower,” she said, and she drove faster. There were tears in her eyes but for the first time they felt cathartic. “Everything’s a mess and I haven’t even done anything wrong.” 

The cop sped up too, setting his siren wailing, and Reggie kept going. Her whole life seemed visible on the road before her, ready for ruin, and she thought, get the bad stuff out of the way now. Get it all out. Get arrested now and maybe she wouldn’t later; make mistakes with boys now and she’d be too hurt to make them again. 

She glanced at Matt as she careened onto the highway entrance ramp. He looked to be teetering between uncertainty and excitement, as though he’d never done anything quite this bad. Then Reggie had an idea. “The flour baby,” she said. “Throw it.” 

A slow smile crept over Matt’s face. Whether or not they were right for each other, they could, as Carla said, have fun. He was easygoing, quick to agree, fine with anything, fine with Reggie. And she was desperate to bind herself to him because he was one of the only people who cared about how she felt. And even if he didn’t care for long, he did right now. 

The cop was close behind them. “Go, go, go!” Matt said. He reached down and pulled Flour Baby from its dark nest in the foot well, tearing away the plastic bag. He cranked down the window and sent the bag of flour soaring toward the cruiser. In the rearview, Reggie watched the baby hit the cop’s windshield and explode in a poof of white powder. For a moment, everything behind her was weightless and pure.

Megan Cummins

Megan Cummins is the author of If the Body Allows It, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. She is the managing editor at A Public Space and A Public Space Books. Her work has been published in Ninth Letter, One Teen Story, Guernica, and Electric Literature.

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