Salt on the Rim

Posted on: July 17, 2014

Continued from Tequila Sunrise

“You need to get out of bed,” Lori throws a granola bar by her feet, “and you need to eat something.”

“What’s the point?” Whitney says. Her voice is rough. When she rubs her eyes it feels like sandpaper. She wants to cry, but the tears won’t come.

There aren’t any left.

Lori sits, crossing her legs. Whitney feels like she is being inspected, surveyed. Lori’s round face registers worry and fear.

Whitney has only seen Lori embrace her mother and ex-boyfriend. She loathes physical contact, flinches when someone touches her, and makes it a point to distance herself in crowds. When Lori clasps Whitney’s thin, clammy hand, it is a precious gift: a reminder that love and compassion still exist.

After Whitney showers, she discovers Lori still in their dorm room. She flips through Wired, looking disinterested and bored.

“I’m taking you to breakfast. We don’t have to talk about anything, but I think you might want to,” Lori says without looking up, “and I’m here to listen to anything you want to tell me.”

Whitney nods and offers a half-smile. Lori is missing her favorite class right now, something about theoretical math where boys made bedroom eyes at her until they found out she was their intellectual superior. Such a turn-off.

Clad in black American Apparel leggings and an oversized hoodie, legs jittering under the table because she is so nervous (and maybe because of the strong coffee), Whitney spills everything. She picks at her veggie omelet, but devours half of the pancakes they’re sharing. Their favorite diner is deserted because it’s a Tuesday morning, and Whitney feels safe to tell the story.

“She said she isn’t sure she wants to be in a relationship anymore,” Whitney begins, “and I was so floored by it. Who says that?”

“It’s bullshit,” Lori agrees, taking a swig of coffee.

“It is bullshit. One day you love me, and the next you want to go out and fuck without a care?”

Lori chokes on her coffee, the laugh bubbling over the cup in the form of hot caffeine-laced spit. Whitney begins to giggle, and when the waitress comes over to refill their mugs she eyes the two of them and hands them some extra napkins without a word. Lori mops up the spill on her side and Whitney dabs at the droplets that made it to her part of the booth.

For almost two minutes, she does not think about her now ex-girlfriend.

That afternoon, Lori insists that she cleanse herself of the last relationship.

“Destroy any trace of her,” Lori says. She swears it helps, and holds out a trash bag.

It’s easier than Whitney thought it would be. Most of it is in her top desk drawer: pictures and ticket stubs, miscellaneous mementos of blossoming love. Whitney throws them all away, but not the lesson: love grows, and sometimes dies.

Her hand lingers against the last item: a white envelope. She opens it and sees the dried remnants of flowers, color fading to sepia tones like an old photograph.

“Is that ‒ money?” Lori asks. There are crisp bills in the envelope, too.

“Three hundred bucks,” Whitney sighs.

“I didn’t think she was that, erm, financially well-off?” Lori tries her best to not sound judgmental or bitchy. “Did she give you three hundred dollars?”

“It’s mine,” Whitney looks away. “These are the flowers she gave me on our six-month anniversary. I saved up enough cash so she could come with us for spring break. It was gonna be a surprise.

“Do you think ‒ maybe if she knew ‒ ”

“No,” Lori’s voice is firm and a shade angry. “No, absolutely not. You do not need to pay someone to be your girlfriend. Not a girl who once referred to you as ‘her little Mulan,’ which is easily one of the most racist things I’ve ever heard. Not a girl who can’t see how wonderful you are, who doesn’t love you or even like you enough to know she wants to be with you. She is a stupid, ignorant twat who will only weigh you down.”

Whitney picks the flowers out of the envelope and throws them in the bag.

Lori insists Whitney spend the money on herself. A treat. A new beginning. Anything that could be construed as absolute self-indulgence. Whitney considers getting another tattoo, but doesn’t feel like exposing herself to unnecessary pain. She keeps the money tucked away until she can decide.

The day before their flight, she realizes what she wants.

She sits down and places the envelope on the counter. The mirror reflects a maudlin girl with a silver glitter headband, flakes of which have fallen onto her long, shiny black hair like twinkling stars.

“That’s three hundred dollars. Give me whatever you’d like.”

The stylist nods. He asks a few questions about her typical style and daily routine. Since Whitney’s doing research over the summer, she doesn’t need something that can transition to what the stylist sarcastically calls the “corporate cut.”

“Too many econ majors come in here,” he moans, “‘Oh, give me something really edgy ‒ like bangs, but really subtle bangs.’”

“What are subtle bangs?” Whitney asks.

“Face-framing layers,” the stylist responds.

The cut he gives her isn’t subtle. It is edgy ‒ a short, choppy thing that strays into rebel territory when he colors it a bold lipstick red.

“I can’t get over it,” Lori gushes. They’re catching dinner before the flight, perched at the bar at the airport Chili’s.

“Ladies?” The bartender places two napkins in front of them.

“Chips and salsa,” Lori chirps.

“Two margaritas, on the rocks, salt on the rim,” Whitney catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and grins.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal

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