Twelve days after Christmas, prowling the attic for her mother’s prescription pills, Melanie finds beneath the toolbox a prescription bottle filled with finishing nails. Apparently, Ativan and carpentry were so last year. She shakes the bottle, creating a manufactured hailstorm. The noise brings clarification to her New Year’s resolution to hang clothes on her bedroom walls—except for space above the headboard plastered with a 20×40 poster of Tom Selleck’s hairy-chest. She fills the inaugural wall with black pantyhose, a blue bra and lace panties, a gray mini skirt, and a zebra-print blouse and belt. Finding a new way to get high until an old high is reinstated is still a type of high. Ah-ha moment number one.
“Where’d you get the money for the clothes?” her mother asks.
“You have your secrets and I have mine.”
“On that, we’re in agreement.”
On Valentine’s Day, after vomiting sixteen boxes of candy hearts in the backyard, Melanie uncovers from beneath an arborvitae a sandwich baggie laced with Percocet, Cyclobenzaprine, Codeine, and Vicodin. She binges for a week. She blacks out on the mattress on Saturday morning and has her stomach pumped at Regions Hospital on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday morning she’s admitted to rehab where she convinces herself that life, like twenty-eight days of sobriety, sucks. During rehab, her parent’s find Jesus at Lakewood Baptist Church and begin hosting a potluck brunch for an after-church crowd. After rehab, Melanie stays in her bedroom and dreams of getting high. On something. Or someone. Soon.
On Memorial Day, a new couple, Doctor and Mrs. Jacobsen, show up at church and brunch, carrying a fruit tray and a bottle of Merlot, wearing cream-colored linen and leather sandals. Karen Jacobsen works as a cartoonist. Tom Jacobsen works as a neurologist. Similar to Melanie’s new perm and Tom’s poolside physique, the summer of 1985 is shaping up quite nicely. Lots of bounce and swagger. Lots of hometown appeal. Lots of rod and reel potentiality. Yummers McNummers.
Two days after the 4th of July, Karen and Tom purchase the rambler to the right of Melanie’s parents two-story home, relegating Sunday brunch from all-are-welcome to five, then six, once Betsy, Karen and Tom’s first child is born. Melanie’s bedroom wall, thanks to the many inattentive employees at JCPenney, is an homage to America’s love affair with red, white, and blue. Spandex never looked so cheap and easy.
September arrives and Karen and Melanie’s mother hang around town like mosaic drapes while Tom and Melanie’s father smoke cigars and drink Merlot in the basement. Melanie babysits Betsy, a stinky, slobbery ten dollar an hour job that Karen and Tom could easily afford to pay fifteen. For twenty bucks an hour, she might even clean up after Betsy. Okay, make it twenty-five. Even then: no.
For Halloween, Melanie hangs on the wall a blood red tweed jacket, a black and white checkered shirt, two lime green socks, and a Ronald Reagan mask from Spencer’s. Which isn’t the easiest place to shoplift. Thank God she’s Caucasian with straight teeth. White people really do get all the breaks. Ah-ha moment number two. Karen and Melanie’s mother practice in the den their Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumb marching song while in the guest bathroom, adjacent to Melanie’s bedroom, Melanie’s father perfects a bad impersonation of Captain Morgan while Tom rocks in the full-length mirror a Tarzan loincloth and sexy, hairy chest. Ah-ha moment number three.
“Jane likey,” she says as Tom passes the bedroom.
He stops and backtracks. “You okay doing candy patrol all by yourself?”
“Sugar’s a girl’s best friend.” She lifts from the dresser an orange bowl filled with candy bars and lollipops. “Comfort food for at least a month if nobody shows.”
He scans the bedroom. “So you do this on purpose?”
“Do what?” She undresses a lollipop and sucks.
“Dress the walls.”
“Tom, we’re leaving,” Karen yells from the kitchen. “Come on already.”
“I’ll join ya on Blackberry Street.” He winks at Melanie. “Melanie and I here are discussing appropriate candy to kid ratios.”
“Don’t bore her with all your stupid mathematics stuff,” Karen says, disappearing down the street, alongside Betsy and Melanie’s parents.
“Why on the walls and not on your body?”
“I can’t wear them until they’re ready.” She sets the bowl between her legs. “They need time to familiarize themselves with the new environment.”
“How considerate. How long does it usually take to break them in?”
“It depends on their virginity.”
He laughs. “You’re funny.”
“You find my clothes virginity funny?”
“I’ve never heard you talk before.”
“I can stop.”
“No. I’m definitely interested in what’s going on here.” He widens his stance. “Please continue, candy girl.”
“Once the fabric bonds with my skin.” She looks directly in his eyes. “I know things will never be the same.”
“How perceptive. And analytical. You should be a doctor.”
“It only works when the time is right.” She closes the window blinds, eviscerating the yellow light streaking in from the street lamp. “Like right now.” She drops to her knees and rips off the loincloth. Ah-ha moment number four.
“Here it comes.”
She swallows and pushes him away. “I need Percocet.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Not even for a fifteen-year-old girl?”
“I thought you were seventeen.”
“I need Vicodin and Ativan, too.”
“Tom, where are you?” Karen yells from the front door.
Tom cowers behind the mattress while Melanie sticks her head out the bedroom door. “I’m afraid he’s already come and gone.”
“Did he say where he was doing?”
“Something about going downtown.”
“Did he change clothes?”
“Oh, he changed alright. That I can tell you for sure.”
“Well, if he comes back, tell him Betsy was crying for him.”
“You can count on me to tell him exactly what he needs to do. And know.”
Twenty-seven days later, during Melanie’s father’s funeral, while her mother and Karen sob, and while Tom reads scripture verses about friendship, faith, and finding eternal peace through rest, Melanie, riding the high on Percocet, Vicodin, and Ativan, sits quietly between her mother and Karen, cradling Betsy as if she were her own. Ah-ha moment number five.