In Literature class, students read from Hamlet in pairs.
“Are you fair?” inquires a head of hair gel atop a skinny junior.
“My lord?” replies Mae, wondering why Ophelia is so passive. Always 'my lord' this and 'my lord' that.
“Are you fair?”
“What means your lordship?” A bit of plastic daisy protrudes from her purse, in which the flower pen is nestled. What to do with the drawing is like a puzzle—there is an answer, she's sure of it, but so elusive.
“That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.”
“Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”
The solution comes to Mae swiftly, while she listens to a mumbled monologue about virgins and whores. She will make it seem like a boy drew it, by writing 'No Homo' or something across the top, and she will post it in the boys restroom. It's not inconceivable that two football players might be lovers; it's the type of closed locker door scenario everybody secretly hopes for.
“I just said: I did love you once.”
“Oh. Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.”
Before lunch, Mae stands with Taylor in the third floor hallway between the water fountains and a life-size sculpture of the school's bear mascot, its open mouth a degraded repository for discarded soda cans, balled up fliers, and the occasional pom pom.
“What are we waiting for?” Taylor asks.
“We'll know him when we see him.”
He is a freshman named Oscar, who slinks around in a black hoodie and khaki pants, waiting for his first major adolescent growth spurt. Mae pulls him aside and explains that she'll pay him five dollars to hang a piece of paper in the boys bathroom.
Oscar blinks blankly. “How am I supposed to hang it up? I don't have any tape.”
Mae sighs. “For the love of god.”
“I just...can't.” Taylor retrieves a piece of gum from her mouth and sticks it to the back of the cartoon. Mae does the same. They hand the image back to Oscar, along with four dollar bills and three quarters.
“You said five dollars.”
“Just go in already.” Oscar disappears into the restroom. Turning to Taylor, Mae plasters on a flawless smile. “So what's for lunch?”
Outside the lunchroom, Ethan sits with Abby Giles at a card table. His legs splay open in a folding chair. She leans forward in a tight t-shirt that barely adheres to the dress code. “Lollipop?”
“Please,” Mae responds graciously. She chooses two and hands one to Taylor, who immediately blushes. Flags encouraging them to Vote for Ethan ;) have been lovingly taped to each stick. At their regular lunch spot, a sun-drenched round table by the windows, Shelby is already soaking up pizza grease with square napkins. The girls sip chocolate milk and peer pressure each other to eat iceberg lettuce. Mae inspects the tiny piece of Ethan propaganda. “I want to record a video response,” she announces, handing her phone to Shelby and unwrapping the lollipop. “Start the countdown.”
Shelby steadies the phone with both hands. “Three, two, one.”
Click. Mae moans and ravenously sucks on the strawberry candy. Click. “That's right, Ethan. You can suck it.” Click. “Uh, vote Mae Brady for president! That's me.” Click.
With feverish glee, Mae watches the tiny progress bar fill with color as the video uploads. She knows enough to keep this intense pleasure to herself, but it registers in her gleaming hazel eyes, the way she addresses the girls at the table. “Just wait til this goes live, you guys. So many people are gonna like it.” In unison, her friends nod sagely.
And after school, while Shelby heads to her SAT prep class, Taylor and Mae trek through empty hallways to the third floor to check on their work. “Go on and see if the drawing's still there,” Mae instructs. “I'll stand watch.”
“I can't go in there.” Taylor peers down the hallway: empty, dark, with no camera in sight. “It's illegal.”
“One of us has to go in and one of us has to stand watch.”
“Well you have better eyesight.”
“That's true,” Mae concedes. She opens the door. Florescent lights buzz against dull blue tiles. Lonely urinals stand at attention. No sign of the drawing. How is it possible for this bathroom to be so much dirtier than the ones she uses? A roll of toilet paper snakes across the floor like an errant paint stroke. Mae finally peeks in the trash bin and there it lies: a little crumpled but right on top. She clutches the sketch to her chest. Glancing up, she catches a glimpse of herself, wide-eyed and sallow, in the mirror. “Ah, fucknuggets.” Mae pulls bronzer from her bag and frantically brushes it against pale cheeks.
Taylor waits outside. “Now what?”
“I'm thinking of a plan.”
“Okayyy. The janitor's gonna get to this floor soon. I heard him downstairs.”
“Taylor. You don't understand. I'm going to think of a plan. But not here.”
“Somewhere safe, where there aren't any people. The mall.”
Which is how the two find themselves in the middle of the quiet food court on a Tuesday evening, sipping orange sodas. Legend has it people used to come to this mall to buy things from real stores, which seems a bit far-fetched since fully half the mall is permanently dark and has been for as long as Mae has lived in town. The only restaurants left in the food court are the cookie place, the Chinese place and the pretzel place, which is where the girls purchase drinks with the quarters they didn't give to Oscar.
“Maybe,” Taylor suggests timidly, “We should just throw the drawing away. It makes us look mean, anyway.”
Fizz rushes to the roof of Mae's mouth. “That's it!” The plan opens itself like a flower inside her mind. She is on fire. She is a political genius. “Taylor, you need to post this to your account. We can't use mine; that's way too obvious.”
“Are you trying to make me look mean? I'm not the one who—”
“Would I make you look mean, Taylor? Do you think I'd do that? I'm your friend. You know I'm your friend, right?” Taylor's eyes drop. Mae dictates that Taylor will take a picture of the drawing with her phone. The post will state that Taylor found the image outside a bathroom at school, and since bullying is wrong, and whoever drew it should be ashamed (since all love is equal and tolerance is important), she has no choice but to post it in order to shame whoever drew it. Taylor's thumbs flit across the screen. “And add some tags to that shit like #tolerance, #bullying, #school, anything else you can think of. See? It makes you look fucking compassionate.”
With that, the image is released into the wild. “Now what?” Taylor asks.
“Now we wait for everybody to see it.”
Shelby sees the image in SAT class.
Abby Giles sees the image while watching sitcoms with her sister.
Jasper O'Toole sees the image on his way home from football practice.
Ethan Harrington sees the image after his shower.
The freshman named Oscar sees the image while streaming porn in his bedroom.
As Mae and Taylor stroll around the cavernous, somber mall, sipping sodas and forcing themselves to ignore buzzing phones, Mae fills the space by explaining that she's been making a list of auditions in Chicago as part of her ultimate goal of becoming as famous as possible. “There are all sorts of open calls, for reality shows and horror films, mostly.” They ascend an empty escalator to the shadowy second floor. Shuttered stores behind metal grates stand at attention against glistening marble floors. “I mean, I definitely need professional experience before I'm eighteen and I'm already sixteen, so I'm cutting it close.”
Taylor stops walking. “For fuck's sake, let's look.”
They peer at their phones with glowing, purple blue faces. A few cursory swipes indicate that the sketch is writhing around the internet at a startling pace.
“Oh em gee, thirty comments already!”
“What are they saying?” Taylor asks.
The first response sums up a nearly universal sentiment: 😧 sooo shocked, never would have thought these 2. thx 4 posting!