Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2010 Whitney, Daisy
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780316090537
Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I’m naked, and I’m waking up next to a boy I don’t know.
And there’s a fourth thing now. It’s ridiculously bright in my room. I drape my forearm over my eyes, blocking out the morning sun beating in through my windows, when it hits me—a fifth thing.
These are not my windows.
Which means this is not my bed.
My head pounds as I turn to look at this boy whose name I don’t remember. He’s still asleep, his chest moving up and down in time to an invisible metronome. I scan his features, his nose, his lips, searching for something, anything that rings a bell. A clue to connect me to him. But remembering last night is like looking through frosted glass. I see nothing. But I can hear one word, loud and clear.
The word repeats in my head.
It’s beating louder, commanding me to get out of this bed, to get out of this room.
Get out. Get out. Get out.
My heart hammers and my head hurts and there’s this taste in my mouth, this dry, parched taste, this heavy taste of a night I don’t remember with… I squeeze my eyes shut. This can’t be this hard. What’s his name?
Remember, Goddamn it, remember.
His name is Carver.
Deep breath. There, no need to panic, no need to be all crazy-dramatic. I’ve got his name. Another breath. The rest will come back to me. It will all make sense, so much sense I’ll be laughing about it any second. I won’t be able to stop laughing, because I’m sure there’s some perfectly reasonable explanation.
As I look at the matted bedsheets twisting around this boy and me, snaking across his naked waist, curling around my exposed chest, a draft rushes through the room, bringing a fresh chill with it. That must be it. It’s chilly… it’s cold… it’s January. Maybe it was snowing—we went sledding, I took a spill, changed out of my ice-cold clothes, and then crashed here in Carver’s room.
No, it’s Carter.
I’m naked in bed with a boy and I can’t even get his name right.
This boy, this bed, this room, me—we are like clumsy fingers on the piano, crashing across the wrong keys, and over the jarring music I hear that one word again.
I slide closer to the edge of this too-small twin bed and dangle my naked feet until they touch the standard-issue Themis Academy carpeting—a Persian rug. His is crimson and tan with interlocking diamonds. I don’t want to see a carpet like this again. Ever. I stand up slowly so the bed won’t creak.
Then I grab my clothes from the floor, collecting underwear, jeans, tank top, purple sweater, pink socks, and black boots, all scattered on the diamonds of the carpet. I’m cold without them, freezing even, and I’d really like to cover up my breasts. I spot my bra in the indentation of a cheap red pleather beanbag. My adorable, cute, black-and-white polka-dot bra thrown carelessly onto the worst piece of furniture ever invented.
He threw my bra.
The room tilts, like I’m on one of those fun-house walkways, angling back and forth. Only it’s not fun, because fun houses never are.
I snatch my bra, pulling it close to me, and get dressed quickly. As I yank up my socks, I notice a trash can teeming with Diet Coke cans. Carter doesn’t even recycle? Way to pick a winner, Alex. Then I freeze, seeing something worse, far worse. Two condom wrappers on top of his garbage, each one ripped down the middle, each one empty.
I close my eyes. I must be seeing things. It’s the morning, it’s hazy, the sun is far too bright.
But when I open my eyes the wrappers are still here, Carter’s still here, I’m still here. And nothing adds up the way I want it to. I zip up my boots in a flash, obeying the voice in my head shouting Leave now! Carter’s still sleeping, his mouth hanging open unattractively. Small lines of white crust have formed on the corners of his lips. His blond hair is sticking up in all kinds of directions.
I step gingerly across the carpet, spying a small black bag near the closet door that looks as if it holds shaving lotion and stuff boys use. I don’t want to open it and know what else is in there—tweezers? Do boys use tweezers? I don’t want to know what they’d tweeze—but I hate the way my mouth tastes right now, because it tastes like last night. I grab my coat, then crouch down by the black bag and slowly undo the zipper, tooth by metal tooth. I hold my breath, look back at Carter. He shifts, flips to his other side.
Don’t wake up. Don’t wake up. Don’t wake up.
I reach a hand into the bag, feel around for a tube of toothpaste. I pull it out, uncap it, squirt some onto my index finger. I scrub it across my teeth, erasing the sour taste, erasing the evidence, and drop the tube into the bag, the cap falling next to it. And at that moment Carter wakes up.
“Hey…,” he says, not even groggily. He’s just awake, plain and simple.
“Hey,” I mumble. I don’t usually mumble. No one is a mumbler at Themis Academy.
He rubs his chin with the palm of his hand.
A hand that touched me.
I wonder if I thought he was good-looking last night. In the morning he’s not. He has white-blond hair, a sharp nose, pale eyes. Maybe he was funny is all I can think. Maybe he made me laugh. Maybe he’s a riot and I laughed so hard my sides hurt. I place my right hand on my waist, hunting for the physical evidence.
He raises an eyebrow, almost winks at me. Something about the gesture reminds me of a politician. “So, did you have a good time last night?”
Let’s see: I’m tiptoeing across your room, praying you won’t wake up, can barely remember your name. Yeah, I had an epic night, just fantastic. Care to tell me what transpired between, say, midnight and, oh, ten minutes ago? Wait, don’t bother. Let’s just pretend this never happened and we’ll never mention it again. Cool?
He leans back on the bed, rests his head on the pillow. “Want to go again?”
I narrow my eyes at him, crush my lips together, shake my head quickly. He thinks I’m easy.
“I have to study,” I answer, taking a step backward toward the door.
“On a Saturday morning?”
Everyone at Themis studies on Saturdays, yes, even on Saturday mornings.
I nod. Another step.
“But term just started two days ago.”
“Crazy teachers giving out homework already,” I say, managing two steps this time. What, you don’t have homework yet? Are you in the slow track? I want to say.
But he’s not in the slow track. There is no slow track here. I wonder if Carter is in any of my classes.… Then I do the math. A junior class of two hundred, the odds are this won’t be the last I see of him.
If I were a conductor, I would wave the baton and make all this vanish.
“Know what you mean,” he says. “Spanish teacher assigned some massive essay already. I haven’t started it yet.”
That’s one class where I’ll be spared. I take French. Dieu merci.
“I gotta go.”
“Okay, well, I’ll call you,” he says, making some sort of stupid phone-to-the-head gesture. Then he practically jumps out of bed. I jerk my head away because he’s still naked and I don’t want to know what he looks like naked. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice him reach for his boxers. He pulls them on as I wrap my palm around the doorknob, gripping it tightly.
I desperately want to leave, but I need to know for sure. “So, uh, I have to ask.” I stop, barely able to choke out the words. “Did we…?” I can’t bring myself to say them.
He smiles, looking as if he would beat his chest with his fists if he were maybe one species less evolved.
“Yeah, twice. After we saw the band. It was great.” He looks triumphant.
But I feel like I just tasted tinfoil by mistake, the awful accidental taste that makes you want to spit it out. I pull the door open and do the one thing I should have done last night.
Because you’re supposed to remember your first time.
Author’s NoteThough The Mockingbirds is entirely fictional, I feel close to Alex. Like her, I was date-raped when I was a teenager.It happened in the fall of 1990, just a few months into my freshman year at Brown University. Even now, I can still picture that night with a harsh kind of clarity. I can still remember how it felt to walk the long way to class and avoid the cafeteria at all costs so I wouldn’t run into him. My entire schedule was dictated by staying far away from one boy.I didn’t want to spend the next four years of college living in fear, so I decided to do something about it. I pressed charges through the University Disciplinary Committee.It wasn’t an easy choice or an easy road. In fact, my case was one of the first heard at Brown after a very contentious time when it seemed to many that the school had looked the other way. Back then, many universities were largely ignoring women who were date-raped. Most schools didn’t have systems in place to hear cases. Awareness programs didn’t even register on their radar screens.Naturally, many students at colleges all around the country were angry. Some women refused to stay silent. At Brown, women who had been date-raped started writing down the names of the perpetrators on a bathroom wall in the university library. But they didn’t stop there. They went to the administration and demanded that the university step up. The New York Times even wrote about their efforts. It’s amazing what a group of vocal students, the image of a long list of names of rapists on a bathroom wall, and a national newspaper article can do!Brown began changing its own processes and procedures for handling date-rape cases, and I was able to file charges in this newly revised system, which operated a lot like a traditional court. Both students called witnesses and presented their sides to the disciplinary council through an “advocate,” who acted as a lawyer. The system was similar to the one in The Mockingbirds except for one big difference: The administration knew of and supported the process. Cases were heard in one of the university buildings, rather than in a basement laundry room.My case was tried one winter evening, and I testified in front of the council and in front of the boy.The committee ruled in my favor, and he was suspended for a semester. I felt safe again.So did other women who went on to press charges. I know because I heard from them. One night during my junior year, I got a phone call from a girl who’d been through the same thing. We met in her room and sat on the carpet while she told me what happened the night she was date-raped—the chilling effect it had on her studies, and what was said during the trial itself. It was as if we could finish each other’s sentences.I decided to keep speaking up. I wrote about my experiences for the school newspaper, and I heard from even more women who’d been date-raped and from others who hadn’t but who were glad the school was finally listening and acting. Other universities took notice of what happened at Brown and also started changing their policies and systems for handling date rape. Things are different now, and schools are doing a better job of protecting women.Looking back nearly twenty years later, I know my experience speaking up and listening to others was critical to my own healing and, eventually, forgiveness.As you can probably tell, I’m a big believer in speaking up, but I am also keenly aware of how it can feel to believe you have no options—to have to resort to writing on the walls. The Mockingbirds is inspired by one of my favorite books, to kill a Mockingbird, and born of that feeling of powerlessness I once felt. What if no one can protect us? What if the school can’t help us? Can we help ourselves? Can we do the right thing?I’d like to think the answer is yes.