The Goodest Girl

“I’m not afraid of a dare,” I said. “I’ll do whatever.”

Kenzie was the last to arrive to the sleepover party, which I assured the girls was just “hanging out or whatever.” It was surreal seeing her again in the entrance to my house; she had been over all the time when we were kids, but now she seemed a million times taller, plunking her monogrammed TNA gym bag on the ground. (Where had she got that? We didn’t even have an Aritzia in town.) She slid off her UGGs. They were the real UGGs too, the ones that cost three hundred dollars and had the label on the back and felt like clouds and only came in camel and were ugly as sin and completely impractical for Canadian winters but were for some reason the outdoor footwear coveted by every girl in my grade. Kenzie was the only eighth grader to have a real pair; most settled for the grape or forest-green knock-offs. My mother offered to buy me a pair last time we were at the mall, but I begged her instead for a pair of hot-pink Doc Martens, which were half the price. She scoffed and asked if I really wanted to be one of “those girls.”

I wondered if, in a bigger city, Kenzie would still be considered popular. She didn’t look like the girls in the teen magazines my mom subscribed me to, angular reality-TV starlets with long blond extensions, pink velour tracksuits, and chihuahua accessories. But Kenzie had a natural confidence that everything she was doing was exactly what she should be doing, as well as exactly what everyone else should be doing. And though I thought the sleepover was stupid, I was grateful she had shown up to give whatever was happening that night some legitimacy. 

After pizza (Kenzie refused to eat the crust because she wasn’t “into carbs right now,” and Alyssa and Steph D. followed suit while I tried to hide that I had already had two slices), after watching Bring It On (“God that’s, like, so our lives,” said Alyssa; no school we knew of had a cheerleading squad), we set up our sleeping bags in the living room, sprawled out like a cross with our pillows at the intersection. Mom had decorated the room with streamers, which I had quickly torn down and shoved under the couch before anyone had shown up. Kenzie lay on her stomach on her sleeping bag, dressed in a floral tank top and matching shorts, propping herself up on her elbows. The rest of us mimicked her position on our own sleeping bags.

“Are we sure Anita’s asleep?” Kenzie said. Hearing her refer to my mom so intimately jarred me.

“Uh, I guess so?” I said. “She’s a light sleeper though, so we should probably be pretty quiet.” 

“Perfect,” said Kenzie. She pushed herself up and reached into her TNA bag near the head of her sleeping bag and pulled out a bottle of amber liquid. “It’s called Fireball. My brother got it for me. It tastes really good, not like beer at all.”

“Is that . . . alcohol?” I asked, dropping my voice to a whisper. I looked around at Alyssa and Steph D., but they seemed untroubled. Excited even. Kenzie screwed the top off the bottle and took a swig. I had never had booze before.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “My brother isn’t going to tell anyone.” She passed the bottle to Alyssa, who took an equally large swig. I didn’t know what would happen to a person when they got drunk. I didn’t know what would happen to me. On TV, characters seemed transformed from their regular selves, unaware of their actions, free from consequences until the next morning. The thought terrified and thrilled me. Would I know what I was doing? Would I be like a person possessed—completely out of control, at the mercy of a little voice in my head brought on by the Fireball—and do something really stupid like strip down naked, run out into traffic, and end up in jail? People did stuff like that when drunk. I’d read the news.

Alyssa was next to me with her arm outstretched, passing me the bottle, and I realized they were all waiting for me. “I don’t know,” I said. “My mom’s right upstairs. We could get in trouble.”

“Come on,” Alyssa said. “We’ll be quiet. She’ll never know.”

“It won’t be fun if you’re the only one sober,” Kenzie said. “I’ve done this before. It’ll be fine. Don’t you trust me?”

She was sitting cross-legged on her sleeping bag in her pyjamas, but sitting up straight, she had an authority to her. She seemed to have figured out eighth grade in a way that I hadn’t yet: how to drink, how to have boobs, how to simply live without fear. In that moment, I wanted to believe everything she had told and would ever tell me. I took a sip. It tasted pretty good, like cinnamon hearts.

“That’s not gonna do anything,” Kenzie said. “You have to drink a lot really fast if you want to feel the effects.” I took a larger swig, winced as it burned down my throat, and passed the bottle on to Steph D., who squealed and clapped her hands, and Alyssa quickly mimicked her. I sat up a little straighter at their approval. 

We passed the bottle around the circle three more times before deciding to play truth or dare. Kenzie asked Steph D. who her crush was, and Steph D. named Richard, a boy from our class we had all known since kindergarten. We all burst out into giggles—it was so funny, why was it so funny, I couldn’t stop laughing at how funny every- thing was—and Alyssa said, “He is pretty hot.” I didn’t know boys our age could be hot. I still associated Richard with the time in second grade when he threw up at our  class Halloween party after eating too much candy. I shud- dered. Don’t think about vomit right now. 

“Alyssa, truth or dare?” Steph D. asked.

Alyssa started to giggle, and the rest of us joined in—everything about the game continued to be the funniest thing in the world, my friends were so funny, my best friends, I was light and happy with my best friends and nothing bad would ever happen to us while we were safe on our sleeping bags—and then she said, “I don’t know. Dare, I guess.”

“I dare you to . . . hmmmm.” Steph D. looked around the room for inspiration. “Get on your hands and knees and bark like a dog.”

“Ew, that’s so gay,” Kenzie said. I flushed. I knew we weren’t supposed to be using gay as an insult, but it seemed like the wrong time to correct anyone, least of all Kenzie. Steph D. looked embarrassed too, self-conscious that her dare had been criticized.

“I think it’d be funny,” she said, picking a piece of lint from her PJ bottoms. “How is that even a dare? You should dare me to drink more Fireball,” Alyssa said. Her words were starting to slur. How long did it take to get drunk? I realized I had no idea what time it was, how long we had been sitting there. Nothing mattered anymore, nothing except the taste of cinnamon hearts and playing the game. I looked at Steph D., who was still focused on her PJs, looking like she had done something wrong.

“I’ll do it,” I announced, the words out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying.

“You’ll drink more Fireball?” Alyssa asked.

“I’ll be the dog.”

“Ew. Why?” Kenzie asked.

I sat tall, rolling my shoulders back. “I’m not afraid of a dare,” I said. “I’ll do whatever.”

There was a moment of silence, and Alyssa looked to Kenzie as if to find out what her reaction should be. Kenzie burst out laughing. 

“You’re so funny,” she said. “I forgot how funny you could be.” The other girls started giggling again too, and I joined them, a safe, warm laughter.

I crawled onto my arms and knees and let out a little yap. Kenzie started laughing again. “You’re so good at that,” she said. “You sound just like Smarties. Do it again.”

I yapped twice more, then stuck out my tongue and started to pant. I was making Kenzie laugh harder than I had ever seen her laugh, and it felt good. She jumped to her feet. “Wag your tail!” she commanded, adopting the condescending voice I had heard her use when talking to her family’s golden lab. I did as she commanded, and Steph D. clapped her hands. “Good girl, good Smarties!” Kenzie said, and I wiggled my butt even harder. Right then I knew I had to keep making her laugh, to keep that smile on her face as she looked down at me, to know I was doing a good job, the best job, everything that was expected of me, everything I needed to be doing.

“I have an idea,” said Kenzie, and she turned and started walking out of the room. She stopped, looked over her shoulder at me expectantly, and ordered, “Heel girl!” before continuing. I crawled after her. Alyssa and Steph D. jumped to their feet and followed.

Kenzie brought us to the kitchen, where she grabbed a cereal bowl from the cupboard and filled it up with water. She placed it on the floor by her feet. “Drink, girl!”

I did as she commanded, lapping up water from the bowl, my hips still in the air. “Keep wagging that tail!” she said, and I obliged, listening to another chorus of giggles above me. “Good Smarties! Good girrrrrrl.” That last word fell out of her mouth a long drawl, and she crouched down to tenderly scratch me behind the ears. Her hands smelled delicious, like apricot body lotion and something else, something indescribably and uniquely Kenzie. I wasn’t able to smell her for long because Kenzie pushed my face farther into the bowl until my whole jaw was submerged, the tip of my nose feeling the cool wetness, and I was unable to do anything but follow orders and make Kenzie happy. “Keep drinking,” she said. “And that tail wagging, girl.” I lapped away at the water. I wondered if I could finish the whole bowl from that position. I bet Kenzie would be impressed if I could.

“What the hell is going on here?” My mother’s voice stopped us cold. Kenzie released her hand from the back of my head. I started to raise my head, water dripping down my face, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mother, or to make eye contact with anyone at all.

“Mrs. Selberg!” said Kenzie, her voice honeyed. “We were just playing this game. It’s something everyone is doing at school. We’re so sorry if we woke you. We definitely didn’t realize how loud we were—”

“Have you been drinking? Where did you get that?”

Still on all fours, I allowed myself to turn my head to see what she was talking about. Steph D. was holding the bottle of Fireball. It was half empty. The bottle swayed in Steph D.’s fist. No, not the bottle. My vision. The sleepover party was over after that. Mom split us all up; Steph D. and Alyssa stayed in the living room, their sleeping bags moved to either side of the coffee table. Kenzie got my bed. I had to sleep in my mom’s room, listening to her reproaches as I climbed under the covers of her big bed, tears stinging my eyes.

“I don’t know what kind of sick game you were playing, or what on earth would possess you to debase yourself,” she was saying as I put the pillow over my ears, my body turned away from hers, shame like I had never felt coursing through my body. She was still going off as I fell asleep, the alcohol knocking me into a heavy slumber. 

By the time I woke up the next morning, Mom had already driven the other girls home, an hour before they were scheduled to be picked up, and I somehow felt even worse than I had the night before. A hangover? No, guilt. No, both. Mom met me in the bathroom with a glass of water and a Tylenol as I kneeled over the toilet, retching up the cinnamon-scented contents of my stomach. Later, I came down to the kitchen, where a pot of herbal tea and dry toast were waiting for me. Mom was wiping down the counters. I started to speak—I expected she would want to talk about last night—but when she heard me enter the room, she made eye contact with me, frowned, shook her head, and left the room. We didn’t speak for the rest of the day.

I was mostly ignored at school the next day too. I learned that my mom had told Alyssa, Kenzie, and Steph D.’s moms that we had been drinking, and they had all been grounded. They—and their friends, and by extension most of the grade—seemed to take it out on me, as if I were the one who tattled. The silent treatment I could handle; I never cared much about being popular, but the shame felt new. I didn’t speak to anyone except when I was called on in class until, third period, I was stopped by a voice behind me.

“Hey, Lucy!” A pink-polished hand touched my arm. I jerked my head up. Kenzie had a serious expression. I opened my mouth to speak, to apologize—though I wasn’t sure what for—but she spoke first. “Don’t tell anyone, okay? About the dog thing. I mean it.” She looked in my eyes when she said this and took off down the hall before I could respond. Watching the back of her UGGs, it struck me in that moment that she could feel the shame too.

Excerpted from Good Girl by Anna Fitzpatrick, out now from Flying Books.