It's raining – not enough to merit an umbrella, but the right amount of mist to coat everything in a thin layer of moisture. Drizzle. It's a word she'll one day block out of her head – a word that will always cause something to shift in her chest – but right now she's happy for the grim backdrop.
She likes it best when it rains on graveyard days.
The tall iron gate is already open by the time she gets there (and it's not her fault that her school lets out fifteen minutes later than everyone else's, but she still gets blamed), so she slips through the entrance and weaves her way to the back of the graveyard, tucked in a pocket of maple trees, where she finds herself every Tuesday.
The children's graves.
'Tana's sitting on one made of pink granite; her swinging feet covered in bright yellow rain boots.
"Lucy," she calls out, brushing damp bangs out of her hair. And there it is: snaking down the side of her face from just under her eye to her mouth – the wine-colored mark that's been causing so much trouble.
Sometimes Lucy hates that mark as much as she hates her own nose.
She takes a seat on a gravestone across from 'Tana and drops her bag on the wet ground, only now noticing the date embedded in 'Tana's granite seat. 1972-1983. The name above the date reads Emily Allisand suddenly Lucy's throat hurts because Emily died at the same age Lucy and 'Tana are now.
Sometimes it really isn't fair, that people have to die so young. And yet here she is, mostly prepared to kill off the girl she is now in favor of the goddess-like one she's set to become.
But they don't talk about that here. The graveyard is a surgery-free zone. Neither girl wants a reminder of the change that's soon to come.
'Tana fishes a small box out of her backpack and Lucy crinkles her nose in recognition, still not wanting to take part in 'Tana's disgusting habit. Cigars aren't cool. Though neither of them has ever really had to worry about what's cool or not – at least not out of earshot from their parents.
There is one part of this gross hobby, though, that Lucy finds fascinating: 'Tana's fingers seem to create a blossom of fire from the lighter like magic.
She wonders if they let it, would it bloom into a flower? Could they pick it and plant a garden full of flames licking up trellises and scorching white picket fences? One time she tried with matches but she set her Barbie Dream House on fire instead and all that happened was the plastic went all black and drippy, like emo ice cream.
That's 'Tana's word of the week: emo. She says it's lame. Lucy's not sure they're allowed to say what's lame or not. Yet.
With the cigar lit, 'Tana holds it in her fingers and takes a delicate puff, her face flushing as she tries not to cough. She always says ethnic people don't blush but Lucy was there when Chloe told 'Tana she had really pretty eyes and 'Tana's cheeks went as pink as the roses in Lucy's mom's garden.
'Tana does blush. And it's always when girls tell her nice things. (One time Lucy told her she had perfect lips, and 'Tana went all pink and quiet, and her eyes grew darker like it meant something either really awful or really wonderful. They don't talk about lips anymore. Or girls. 'Tana makes them practice for when they have to be obsessed with boys, like they won't be able to breathe unless they have a boyfriend and a swishy skirt.)
When 'Tana does breathe out, her face grows triumphant, and it's the sort of pretty that makes people forget about the birthmark that cuts through most of her face – like she's a normal eleven year-old girl who's still not allowed to use makeup.
Lucy thinks it's really cruel that 'Tana's mom makes her wear makeup when the family has important people over for dinner.
Maybe they're not ever going to be on the cover of any magazines, but parents are supposed to love their children exactly as they are. That's the problem, really. Their parents know they can make their daughters 'better', so they don't even see who the girls are Before.
Lucy and 'Tana spend a lot of time not talking about After. As if that'll stop it from happening. But sometimes it's nice thinking they'll be ugly together, as opposed to beautiful strangers.
That's the worst part: to complete the transformation, they'll have to pretend they never knew each other, or else someone might link up their pasts and discover the truth.
(Lucy secretly hopes they'll end up at the same high school, just so she can see how happy 'Tana is when everyone else finally recognizes her beauty.)
She really wants to hate 'Tana's dad for suggesting the operation. Every time she sees him, she spits outDr. Lopez with as much venom as she can muster but she knows that even if she's not happier, after, she'll be better off. And she's grudgingly thankful to be forced into the change.
She does, however, hate Dr. Lopez for making his daughter succumb to surgery to remove her birthmark. 'Tana will never be able to help how she's born and Lucy can't help but worry this might be a sign for things to come.
(It will be, much later – when he throws a dining room chair through the picture window because his daughter can't be a goddamn dyke, for the love of Christ; get this faggot out of my house before I throw her out on her ass.)
Lucy looks for a lot of signs. She read on the internet once that it's a sign of schizophrenia and she spent three hours convinced she had a horrible mental illness and her family would lock her up forever like they did her uncle that nobody speaks about. But her sister Frannie told her to calm the fuck down before she popped a zit and later explained that most kids have imaginary friends, so looking for signs isn't an actual sign of mental illness.
That night she became convinced it was some sort of sign that her sister swears so much and she asked Jesus to protect Frannie from being possessed by the devil.
If it happens in movies, it'll probably happen in real life at some point.
She didn't think this until 'Tana showed her one of those Lifetime movies where the ugly girl gets a complete transformation and suddenly everyone loves her and she has the hottest boyfriend in the school. Lucy knows the same thing will happen to her and 'Tana. Only when she says it out loud, 'Tana looks at her with the most heartbreaking expression and Lucy begins to wonder if it's really okay to get a nose job at eleven.
(She sees the same expression when she learns of the summer boob job and those hurting eyes still send a crack through her heart, despite the silence between them.)
'Tana crosses one leg over the other and once again Lucy's floored at how effortless it looks and sheknows 'Tana's diet must be working because a month ago, neither of them could move their legs like that without ending up face-first on the ground. Though she's pretty sure in 'Tana's case, it was more nerves stunting her coordination.
'Tana's not fat. Lucy knows this and Frannie knows this and they're sure Dr. Lopez must know this as well, but Mrs. Lopez doesn't seem to realize it and 'Tana's been convinced otherwise since she could talk so 'Tana's on that same awful diet as Lucy and all it does is convince Lucy's mom that Lucy must be slacking because 'Tana keeps getting prettier.
And Lucy's still fat. (Frannie knows this. Dr. Lopez knows this. Heck, even 'Tana knows this, though they don't talk about diets so it never comes up.)
Sometimes Lucy just wants to shake 'Tana and tell her she's already skinny-pretty, that she doesn't need to kill herself in gymnastics class and only eat that weird green slop her mom pours out of the blender, but nobody ever listens to Lucy.
If it were up to her, 'Tana would know how beautiful she is even with the birthmark and Lucy herself would just exist to make 'Tana look prettier by default.
She'd really be okay with sacrificing herself for someone else's happiness.
(In years to come she'll sacrifice everything so another girl will see her own potential and will actually get out of this shitty town; and no one will be there to say that she herself has any potential of being something more than a pretty face. Until they do – and all she can do is wonder why a slap feels more intimate than a kiss and why she wants to do it over and over again with lips and tongue and an apology for everything.)
Lucy doesn't tell anyone, but she keeps having nightmares of being trapped in the Before section of those weight-loss flyers and the girl on the After side keeps giving her nasty looks like she's to blame for the years of misery and shame.
If anything, Lucy wants to blame her sister for looking like a goddess and a sinner wrapped up with golden locks and a perfect Christian boyfriend.
But she sort of likes being the only person in her family that accepts responsibility. At eleven, it feels like a trophy. (At seventeen, as she mops up another smashed bottle of port, it will be a burden nearly as heavy as her empty womb.)
There are some things Lucy knows she'll never be able to hide with weight loss or hair dye. She makes a promise with 'Tana to bury her heart right here in the graveyard and 'Tana says she'll bury hers at the playground so neither girl has to suffer through high school years of crushes and caring about people that really don't deserve it.
(And yet one day her heart will turn up, battered and swollen, clutched in the waving fists of a tiny infant. And then in a brown paper towel handed to her so carefully at Prom. And once again at graduation, when she finally holds onto it, because she wants her parting words to have actual meaning.)
She catches a glimpse of 'Tana's hair playing with the breeze and it dislodges something in her chest because she knows, right now, that in front of her is a girl whose birthmark is actually a map to her heart with precise directions on how to love her. Once it's gone, she'll have no chance.
(A girl will come along with blue eyes that see through perfectly healed scars and a deep-set knowledge of how to love properly – even better than the directions could ever describe. They'll both agree she either fell from a space ship or heaven.)
Finally, with one last puff of chalky smoke, 'Tana breaks the silence between them. It has to be a coincidence that the sun chooses this exact moment to break through the clouds – but then again, Lucy knows a sign when she sees one.
"Two days, Lucy."
They don't talk about it, but they do: in smaller words that mean bigger things.
"Two days," she repeats, tucking the cigar box back into her bag. "Then what's it going to be?"
Lucy drops her gaze and runs her eyes across the gravestones; anything to not have to see the patience in 'Tana's face that will disappear with the birthmark. She nearly pitches forward as her focus falls on a crumbling stone angel with a small name etched underneath.
"Luce?" 'Tana nudges, a sad smile on her perfect lips.
Lucy nods. She isn't ready, but she is. "Quinn."
"Quinn," 'Tana echoes. After a beat, she shakes her head. "Lucy's a lot prettier."
"I know. So's 'Tana. And yet."
'Tana sighs. "And yet."
Lucy stretches her foot out so the toe of her sneaker brushes against 'Tana's yellow rain boot and they create a bridge of grass-stained jeans and Lucy wants more than anything to walk her fingers across it to take 'Tana's hand and tell her it'll be okay, but she drops her foot instead like the ball in Times Square that starts the countdown.
"Bye, 'Tana. I love you."
"You're my best friend, Luce. Nothing's gonna change that."
"I know. But just- don't forget."
"I won't. Remember me?"