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Authors: Jennifer Banash

White Lines

BOOK: White Lines
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WHITE LINES

JENNIFER BANASH

G. P. Putnam’s Sons | An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

For Marc Sandy Goldsmith

 

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Published by The Penguin Group.

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.).

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.

Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.).

Penguin Group (Australia), 707 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3008, Australia

(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd).

Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India.

Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd).

Penguin Books South Africa, Rosebank Office Park, 181 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North 2193, South Africa.

Penguin China, B7 Jiaming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China.

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Banash. Title page photograph copyright © 2013 by Alen Popov.

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Published simultaneously in Canada. Printed in the United States of America.

Design by Ryan Thomann. Text set in Minister.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Banash, Jennifer. White lines / Jennifer Banash. p. cm. Summary: In 1980s New York City, seventeen-year-old Caitlin tries to overcome her mother’s abuse and father’s abandonment by losing herself in nights of clubbing and drugs, followed by days of stumbling aimlessly through school.

[1. Coming of age—Fiction. 2. Nightclubs—Fiction. 3. Drug abuse—Fiction. 4. Family problems—Fiction. 5. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 6. New York (N.Y.)— History—20th century—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.B2176Whi 2013 [Fic]—dc23 2012008725

ISBN 978-1-101-60788-6

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Copyright

Dedication

* * * *

One

Two

Three

* * * *

Four

Five

Six

* * * *

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

* * * *

Eleven

* * * *

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

* * * *

Fifteen

Sixteen

* * * *

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

* * * *

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

* * * *

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

* * * *

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Acknowledgments

 

To whom shall I hire myself out?
What beast must I adore?
What holy image is attacked? What hearts shall I break?
What lies must I maintain? In whose blood tread?

—Arthur Rimbaud,
A Season in Hell

It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under.

—Grandmaster Flash, “The Message”

* * * *

 

IT’S SEVEN A.M.,
and the sidewalks are dotted with men in double-breasted gray suits, punks in shades of dust and ash, girls crawling home after a night out, mascara smeared and sticky as tar. The sound of a motorcycle revving its engine mixes with the shriek of a car alarm, too loud, too loud, so I grab the pillow from beneath my head and try to stifle the noise. I am underwater, the sounds of the busy morning receding with every frantic, amphetamine-laced beat of my heart. Skip. Then stop. Skip. Then stop.

I close my eyes and the world falls away, the VIP room at the club rising up from the dim recesses of my brain, the red velvet drapes whispering as they swing gently shut, the doorway gaping like a rotted tooth. The mirror spread out over my lap in a river of silver, my reflection looming and distorted as I bend toward it, white powder disappearing up my nose, a magic trick, whoops, there she goes again, a rabbit plunging into a black satin hat.

Now you see me. Now you don’t.

ONE

 

I REACH ONE HAND OUT
from beneath the warm dark of the quilt and turn off the alarm, the shrillness breaking the early morning silence. I open one eye and the face of Mickey Mouse grins back at me, his hand held up in a jaunty wave, his red lips parted in a grin so cheerful it borders on psychotic. When Giovanni gave me the clock a few months ago for my seventeenth birthday, he laughed, tossing his shoulder-length ringlets away from his face before throwing the box in my lap.

“Darling, it’s purrrrrrfect. It’s better than Prozac! Think of it—not only will you be able to make it to school on time for a change, but you’ll never wake up in a bad mood again!”

Famous last words.

I swing my feet around and tentatively place them on the wooden floor, waiting for the inevitable spins, which I know will be followed by a bout of nausea so intense, I will wish I were dead. Even though I should be used to this schedule by now, it’s still a struggle to force my eyes open after four hours of sleep—sometimes less—to move my lethargic body through the morning rituals of teeth brushing and toast. For the next twenty minutes I’ll stand in the shower trying to lather my hair with one hand while simultaneously holding on to the wall with the other so I don’t fall and crack my skull open. Girl Dies While Scrubbing. News at eleven.

I run a brush through my shoulder-length hair—dyed black this week—flicking droplets of water all over the floor and my feet, and stare at my reflection in the mirror. The circles beneath my eyes the color of bruised plums. The bangs plastered straight across my forehead, glossy as a helmet. My face has all the required features—nose, eyes that are a blue so dark, they look almost black unless you look very closely, and a wide, full mouth that made me the subject of various insults throughout elementary school. But somehow, without makeup, nothing really seems to come together. Even though my complexion is a light shade of olive, without added color I’m as pale and indistinguishable as a ghost. If you walked past me on the street when I wasn’t wearing makeup, you might ignore me completely. And most of the time—during the daylight hours at least—it feels like a relief. The only time I’m really comfortable with the feel of eyes gliding over my skin is at night, hidden behind a veil of powder and paint.

I look around the living room, at the clothes I wore last night draped over the back of the green thrift store couch I bought when I first moved in six months ago. It has a few busted springs that squeak when you sit down, but it’s comfortable enough. The ceiling in the living room slants down at a sharp angle, forcing anyone over five foot eight to stoop a bit when they walk through the front door, but I love the slightly cramped space. The narrowness of the rooms, the way they’re laid out railroad style, one opening onto another like a story unfolding in perfect rhythm—living room, bathroom, and straight back to my bedroom—makes me feel tucked in for the night and safe.

In my bedroom, the windows are covered with heavy black fabric. A huge Joy Division poster hangs over the bed, emblazoned with the image of a marble angel in black and white, wings outstretched, the words
LOVE WILL TEAR US APART
written in bold lettering across the top. I open my closet, grabbing a black tunic that falls to my knees, and pull on a pair of neon-green tights that bag a little around the ankles, signaling that I’ve lost weight recently. Stuffing my feet into my favorite pair of motorcycle boots, I grab my leather jacket and shrug it on, throw my backpack over one shoulder and I’m out the door.

I attend Manhattan Preparatory Academy. It’s basically a school that caters to rich kids (read:
troubled
) who don’t like high school and would rather be doing anything else—which is what I suppose I am. I usually do my homework during lunch, sitting by myself on the front steps of the school, or on the subway, my notebook sliding over my knees. As rigorous as the school is purported to be in the glossy brochures that feature girls smiling wide, their teeth sharp enough to devour the city itself, it usually takes only around forty minutes to finish everything. But it’s not like I do the best job, either. Who really needs to know how to do advanced algebra in everyday life? It’s not like I’ll be at the supermarket someday and suddenly need to solve some complicated algorithm just to figure out whether or not I have enough change for a box of Fruit Roll-Ups.

I turn the corner, walking quickly up Third Street, past the brick façade of the local Hells Angels headquarters and the collection of motorcycles parked outside, and turn onto First Avenue. I stop at the ATM and check my balance, green numbers illuminating the screen. From the looks of it, I’ll have to call my father’s secretary for the second month in a row to ask for more money. I don’t have a set allowance, but my father usually puts enough in my account to pay the rent, buy food and drag my laundry to the Laundromat on the corner once a week. But over the past couple of months the amount has been slowly dwindling. I wonder if this is his usual passive-aggressive way of wanting to talk to me—denying me something until I’m forced to make contact. Of course, it would be so much easier to just call me up on the phone, but my father has never been good with being straightforward. Or with confrontation, for that matter.

A white plastic bag wraps itself around my ankle, and I shake my foot twice to dislodge it, shoving the transaction slip into my pocket as I walk away. Even though Joe’s Pizza is closed, the smell of grease still hangs in the air beneath the red awning. The metal grate covering the front is sprayed with white paint that reads
DA BOMBE
, followed by an illegible symbol scrawled in bright purple—some tagger’s signature. It’s freaking cold out here for early November, my breath releasing in hot white puffs of smoke, and I wish I’d worn a scarf.

I stop at the bodega on the corner. Inside it’s almost steamy, the smell of toasting bread and frying eggs sliding seductively under my nose. The shelves are stocked with canned goods, loaves of Pepperidge Farm and Wonder bread, boxes of Entemann’s cookies stacked alongside bottles of Tylenol and rolls of toilet paper. A small glass case at the front of the store holds empanadas, the pale crescents crimped at the edges. Rows of candy bars line the register along with packs of batteries and a glass jar of tough-looking beef jerky. Merengue music plays softly from a boom box behind the counter, and the sound soothes my tired brain, lulling me back to sleep.

The same Dominican guy who’s usually working in the morning stares down at me, licking his lips.

“Whatchu wan’ today, mami? The usual?”

He’s wearing a pressed white T-shirt, sleeves rolled up to expose his biceps. I see a tattoo of a heart on one arm, the anatomical kind, the valves and meticulously detailed chambers pierced with what look like thick metal spikes. He grins at me, pouring a small coffee before I even ask for it. I don’t come in here often enough to be considered a regular, but I force myself to smile, my face stretching uncomfortably, and order a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese. In the club, dressed in yards of satin or tulle, witty remarks slide effortlessly off my tongue, but here I’m unsure, hesitant and tongue-tied. In real life, daylight steals my words like a vampire running from the sun. Which is probably why I’ve pretty much given up on trying to communicate with anyone at all. As he wraps up my bagel in shiny tinfoil, placing it in a brown paper bag, my stomach growls loudly.

When I was very small, my mother would lean across from me at the dinner table and cut my meat, her silk blouse whispering against my skin, the musk and spice of her perfume overwhelming me. This was before the divorce, when we were still a family. My father drank intermittently from a glass of red wine, his face lit with a gentle smile as if the very sight of me gave him pleasure. When I think about the way he used to look at me, my throat swells with emotion, cutting off the supply of air. Tightening my grip on the brown paper bag in my hand, I blink my eyes quickly to chase away the tears and head back out into the street.

Stupid, stupid, stupid,
I hiss to myself as I reach into the bag.
Stop feeling fucking sorry for yourself.
I rip off a piece of warm bread and shove it into my mouth, chewing in time with the slap of my boots against the pavement.

At the corner, I duck into the subway station to catch the train uptown. I drop a token into the turnstile while simultaneously ignoring that same bum who’s always begging for a free ride, his big, blackened toe protruding from one of his ripped Nikes.

“Just let me get in behind you,” he pleads, grabbing on to my jacket, and I shake my body hard until he lets me go. Last week I gave him a dollar as I slid by, which was clearly a mistake, because he’s been lighting up like a Christmas tree at the sight of me ever since.

“Leave that girl alone now,” an ominous voice booms over the loudspeaker. I turn around and lock eyes with a small man with white hair working the token booth. His face is weathered, and he stares out at me with concern. He raises his chin in my direction ever so slightly as the train thunders into the station, the cars streaked with black and silver graffiti. The platform smells like days-old urine and the peanut-scented belch of hot exhaust. The crush of schoolkids on the platform reminds me of last night, the crowds of brightly dressed partygoers that pushed at the velvet rope, willing me to let them inside.

I clutch my bagel and coffee tightly as I enter the train, the doors closing loudly behind me. It’s crowded, and I hold on to the silver pole with one hand, trying my best to shove as much bagel into my face as I can with the other. Since I moved out of my mother’s apartment, my eating habits have been random at best. With no set mealtimes, I’m either ravenous or totally disinterested, with no happy medium between the two. What’s the point of throwing food into a pot or setting the table when I’m the only one eating?

“You’re so effing lucky,” Sara moaned when she first found out I was getting my own apartment, throwing her lanky body down in protest onto the oversized white leather sofa that took up half of my mother’s living room. Sara is basically one of the few girls I can actually stand. She always says exactly what she thinks, and her level gaze behind her black rectangular-shaped glasses is unflinchingly honest. She’s got this huge shock of white-blond curls that seem to spring uncontrollably from the depths of her skull, and there is nothing in her wardrobe that isn’t some washed-out shade of black or gray. When she moved across the street from me in the fourth grade, I wanted to meet her so badly that I stole her bike from in front of her apartment building, hiding it in our basement storage, then watched from the plate-glass window of the lobby as she stood there on the pavement looking confused, hoping she’d come across the street asking if I’d seen it. She never did, and I sheepishly wheeled it back a few hours later and left it with her doorman, taping a pack of M&M’s to the handlebars along with a note.

With the exception of Sara and Giovanni, I really don’t have any close friends. I’m part of a huge circle of kids who are paid to throw parties—club kids, they call us—but I wouldn’t consider any of them real friends. We’re more like a bunch of loosely associated lunatics who throw parties with themes like Dante’s Disco Inferno! or Iron Curtain Chic! The club-kid scene isn’t about forming everlasting friendships or getting real; it’s not about having money, though I do make decent cash as a promoter, which comes in handy when I squander away my father’s money on magazines, dark chocolate, and records. It’s about being on top, where I rarely belong.

“You’ll move downtown and I’ll never see you again,” Sara whined, hurling herself abruptly to the floor, where she collapsed in a fit of fake sobbing. “Good-bye, cruel world!”

Sara goes to Nightingale-Bamford, the school I also attended until last year, when I was “asked to leave” by the headmistress. This may have been because I was basically showing up one day out of five. It also might have been because I was found in the girls’ bathroom at the start of the school year, chopping a line on the smooth, granite countertop, a rolled-up dollar bill in one hand. When the door swung open, I looked up at the girl framed in the doorway, her auburn hair the color of burnished strawberries, her legs wrapped in pale pink tights that made me think of pirouettes, a haze of tutus, feathers drifting slowly across a darkened stage. Her rose-colored mouth opened in a wide O, and as she stared at me, her eyes blinking slowly, I froze, gripping the bill tightly in my hand, her face blank and unreadable as the door slowly swung shut. When I was summoned to the headmistress’s office the next period during French, I placed my pens and pencils and textbooks carefully into my backpack, my movements slow and deliberate, masking the sinking sense of failure that crept over me like a bad dream.

Even though Nightingale is only fifteen blocks from Manhattan Prep, it might as well be at the other end of the universe, as Sara is in all honors classes and basically lives in the publications lab as coeditor of the yearbook. That’s the weird thing about Sara: even though she looks like the bastard offspring of Madonna and the Cure’s Robert Smith—all black rubber bracelets, dark eye makeup that she basically sleeps in until it smears artfully and her mane of wild blond hair—people like her, seek her out and want to be her friend. She manages to exist in a space where she cannot be clearly labeled or defined, moving seamlessly from clique to clique, belonging to none of them. If I had even one ounce of Sara’s self-confidence and charisma, her solidified sense of self, I could probably rule the world. Instead, I’m the weird girl who goes to a school for “special” kids, that even the other special kids avoid.

“Oh please,” I said, smiling at her antics. “Like I won’t see you all the time anyway.”

BOOK: White Lines
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