Models by Tyler Barton

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, April 21st, 2016

"...the ghosts in our empty driver’s seats -- and the humiliation..."

JG aka AMOXI photography teenager skateboarder
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The girl whose father shot her mother and then himself, she sat across from me in homeroom. Every morning I shivered through the pledge in Mrs. Cage’s class, staring at Alexis Cashman’s empty seat, selfish and stupid, wondering exactly how much school you get to miss if your dad loses it that bad.

This was Pennsylvania, early spring in the mid-aughts. Silver mornings with steady breezes blasting the paper mill’s assbreath through the single stoplight of Deliver borough. During the short crosstown walk from mom’s apartment to Deliver High, the sun could never make its way above the hills we called mountains.

Distant is who I wanted to be, but failed, wearing my new camo crewneck it turned out three other juniors had also found at Walmart. Blonde metalhead hair frizzed out to my shoulders, just short of hiding the cords of my earbuds. Cool, removed, in it but not of it, a step back, cracking jokes, smiling only if you mistook my sneer—yet there I was, fixed on Lex’s absence. That empty seat.

I’ll say it though. Lex was a real bitch. She was. From first grade until the day her parents died she was, and she stayed that way until we all graduated and failed at disappearing into the world.

In 5th grade I saw her throw a kid’s iPod from a moving bus, and I could feel it, freshman year, when she kicked Cara square in the back. She was unpopular as punk and could break you down with a breath. She was always one foot taller than me.

Her mother modeled in ads for her father’s dealership. Golden hair, miles of leg. Tess was her name, the closest thing Deliver had to a bombshell. It took too long for them to clear the billboards.

After three weeks of watching that empty seat, Lex returned with hair much shorter and newly maroon, and no one spoke up anymore when she acted awful. Also, none of us could stop looking at her.

I still wonder how it feels to have eyes sticking all over your skin.

She bought a yellow Mustang that June and didn’t even have her license.

When Lex caught someone looking, she’d buck, make you flinch, truly scare you. People wondered about her. They really did. Every siren in Deliver we heard, we thought of her.

That spring, when she’d pull your chair out and yell Nerd! Nobody’d chant with her like they were supposed to—but they never told her off either. You’d just sit down on the ground and take it. When she made jokes comparing your hairdo to a sandstorm or stale pasta, you just listened, you just nodded. When she put her hand up in History class to ask, Why don’t we just round up every Muslim and put them on an island? there wasn’t any laughter, and no one called her on her shit. Holding it in is what we learned to do, that and pretend. Like we didn’t hear. Like we didn’t see.

Senior year, Lex’s hair only came to her ears. Plus the color was always new—orange, black, blue. We pretended not to notice, which seemed like a favor to her. But it was only for ourselves. For our comfort.

We both got Best Car that year. My busted Buick Century won out of irony, with a hundred band stickers and little four-leaf clovers stuck all over it. I used to pile in seven misfit friends and spin laps around Deliver, throwing selfish insults at the locals we’d soon be—Hey fatass! Will you marry me? Get a goddamn car! My pale hair sometimes sucked out the open window and flapped like wedding streamers.

They announced the superlatives over the loudspeaker during homeroom, our names coming one right after the other, and Lex glared at me like, How dare you? One other kid won too, some dick I don’t remember with a bright S-10 he flew double confederate flags from.

The three of us had to gather together with our cars for the yearbook picture. I was late that morning, speeding through the parking lot toward her Mustang and the truck, and someone with our school’s only SLR on a tripod. I made a big show of circling them twice, revving my shit engine in mock pride. Avenged Sevenfold blared from the one working speaker. My fingers frozen in the morning cold, the windows all down.

It’s sad how truly proud it turns out I was.

There were still six months till graduation, but it just felt over.

Their shining cars, I nearly hit them as I parked.

“Watch what the fuck you’re doing,” Lex said. She had another new haircut—silver, gelled, and spiking out in all directions.

“Would it be funny if I laid across the hood all sexy?” I asked the kid with the camera. I threw my greasy hair back like Paris Hilton. I was on. I really was.

I smirked in Lex’s direction, no eye-contact. She raised her fist into the air. I asked coolly if what she thought she was going to do was hit me. The two other kids just watched us, waiting.

The ground shifted as she moved. I couldn’t look, but I knew what was coming and ran.

Lex chased me in tight circles around the cars, gaining each lap, closing the narrow gap, her hand groping for the shirt on my back.. Four times around we ran before I saw myself from a distant perspective—from the school’s security camera, or the sun, or the ghosts in our empty driver’s seats—and the humiliation landed. I was winded and stopped and turned and faced her. Our white breath blended. She grinned and tightened and pulled back her arm. I would’ve let her fist break me if she would have let it go. I would have.

In the photo, she reaches for my curls.

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Header image courtesy of JG aka AMOXI. Visit him online, here.

tyler barton fictionTyler Barton lives in Mankato, Minnesota, but is originally from South-central Pennsylvania. He is the fiction editor of Third Point Press and an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in NANO Fiction, Smokelong QuarterlyKnee Jerk Magazine, and others. You can find links to his other stories at tsbarton.com. You should follow him at @goftyler.

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).