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Sweet sixteen is when the claws come out.
We’re all flash tonight. Jenny and Summer and Mads and me. Vodka and heels we could never quite walk in before, but tonight we can. Short skirts—the shortest. Glitter and highlight. Matte and shine. Long hair and whitest-white teeth.
I’ve never been blond before but tonight my hair is platinum. Mads bleached it too fast but I don’t care because tonight’s the only night that matters. And my eyes are jade-green tonight instead of brown, and Summer swears the contacts Jenny bought are going to melt into my eyes and I’ll never see again, but I don’t care about that, either.
Tonight I’m sixteen.
Tonight Jenny and Summer and Mads and me, we’re four sirens, like the ones in those stories. The ones who sing and make men die.
Tonight we’re walking up the driveway to our best party ever. Not the parties like we always go to, with the dull-duller-dullest Hancock Park girls we’ve always known and the dull-duller-dullest wine coolers we always drink and the same bad choice in boys.
Tonight we’re going to a St Andrew’s Prep party.
Crashing it, technically.
But nobody turns away girls like us.
We smile at the door. They let us in. Our teeth flash. Our claws glimmer. Mads laughs so shrill-bright it’s almost a scream. Everyone looks. We all grab hands and laugh together and then everyone, every charmed St Andrew’s Prepper is cheering for us and I know they see it—
for just a second—
—our fangs and our claws.
The first thing I do is cut my hair.
But it isn’t like in the movies, those crying girls with mascara streaks and kindergarten safety scissors, pink and dull, looking into toothpaste specks on medicine cabinet mirrors.
I’m not crying. I don’t fucking cry.
I wash my makeup off first. I use the remover I stole from Summer, oily Clinique in a clear bottle with a green cap. Three minutes later I’m fresh-faced, wholesome, girl-next-door, and you’d almost never know my lips are still poison when I look the way a good girl is supposed to look instead of like that little whore with the jade-green eyes.
The contact lenses go straight into the trash.
Then I take the knife, the good long knife from the wedding silver my sister hid in the attic so she wouldn’t have to think about the stupid man who never deserved her anyway. The marriage was a joke but the knife is perfectly, wickedly beautiful: silver from handle to blade and so sharp you bleed a little just looking at it. No one had ever touched it until I did, and when I opened the box and lifted the knife off the dark red velvet, I could see one slice of my reflection looking back from the blade, and I smiled.
I pull my hair tight, the long hair that’s been mine since those endless backyard days with Jenny and Summer and Mads. Always black, until Mads bleached it too fast, but splintering platinum blond for the St Andrew’s party on my sweet sixteen. Ghost-bright hair from Mads and jade-green eyes from Jenny and contour from Summer, almost magic, sculpting me into a brand-new girl for a brand-new year.
My hair is thick, but I’ve never been one to flinch.
I stare myself straight in the eyes and slash once—
And that’s it. Short hair.
I dye it back to black, darker than before, with the cheap box dye I made Jenny steal from the drugstore. Mads revved her Mustang, crooked across two parking spots at three in the morning, and I said:
Get me a color that knows what the fuck it’s doing.
Jenny ran back out barefoot in her baby-pink baby-doll dress and flung herself into the back seat across Summer’s lap, and Mads was out of the lot and onto the road, singing through six red lights, and everything was still slow and foggy and almost like a dream, but when Jenny threw the box onto my knees I could see it diamond-clear. Hard black Cleopatra bangs on the front and the label, spelled out plain: #010112 REVENGE. So I said it out loud:
And Mads gunned the engine harder and Summer and Jenny shrieked war-cries from the back seat and they grabbed my hand, all three of them, and we clung together so tight I could feel blood under my broken claws.
REVENGE, they said back to me. REVENGE, REVENGE, REVENGE.
So in the bathroom, an hour later and alone, I dye my hair revenge-black, and I feel dark wings growing out of my back, and I smile into the mirror at the girl with ink-stained fingers and a silver sword.
Then I cut my broken nails to the quick.
Then I go to bed.
In the morning I put on my darkest lipstick before it’s even breakfast time, and I go to Nailed It with a coffee so hot it burns my throat. The beautiful old lady with the crooked smile gives me new nails as long as the ones they broke off last night, and stronger.
She looks at the bruises on my neck and the scratches across my face, but she doesn’t say anything.
So I point at my hair, and I say, This color. Know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says, Good girl. Kill him.
“What are you going to do to them?” Mads asks me.
They’re in my bedroom, her and Summer and Jenny, when I get back. Summer and Jenny sit on the bed, one knee touching, and Mads stands lookout-sharp against the wall.
“Your hair,” says Jenny. “It’s short.”
I sit down and Jenny reaches out and strokes one hand over the paintbrush ends. Little Jenny Kim from two houses over, still in last night’s dress. Her cat-eyes are smudged to smoke but her lips are fresh pink, a tiny perfect heart on her perfect little face. She wears a rose-gold chain with one white pearl nestled under her throat.
She is so sweet it could kill you.
“I’m ready for war,” I say.
“So are we,” says Summer, next to Jenny. Summer, supermodel blond and supermodel tan and supermodel gorgeous, sunny and irresistible, enough garage-band songs about her to fill ten albums, the hottest virgin in California. Last year a football boy drove whiskey-fast up Pacific Coast Highway just to make her want him. Plunged his Maserati off the saw-blade cliffs. Summer went to his hospital room and left a lipstick kiss on the window so it was the very first thing he saw when he woke up. She never talked to him again.
He lived, but everyone knows he wishes he hadn’t.
“Tell us what you want,” says Mads. “We’ll do it, Elle.”
My parents named me Elizabeth Jade Khanjara. Everyone calls me Elle: they always have. Last night, I told the St Andrew’s Prep boy with the dazzle smile and the just-for-me drink, I’m Elle, and he said, Elle. Pretty name, but not as pretty as you.
“I’m not Elle,” I tell them.
Mads waits. She doesn’t blink.
“I’m Jade,” I say.
“Good,” says Mads.
If I were the kind of girl who cries I’d cry right now for Mads, my favorite. Mads, my very best friend in all the world, since we were four years old together and she moved into the house on the other side of the fourteenth green. When her parents still called her by her deadname and the only time she could wear girl-clothes was when she was with me. Mads, who last night was the only one I could think about once I could finally stand without falling, and when I found her out back by the pool, tall and regal and lit up like a goddamn queen, that was when I could breathe again. Mads, who knew what happened without me saying anything, and found a pair of lacrosse sticks in the pool house and together we broke all the windows we could find, and the glass shattered and caught in the nets and our hands bled bright and furious.
Mads, my Mads, who once upon a time when we were eight and taping knockout-pink Barbie Band-Aids over skinned knees, looked at me and told me the name she wasn’t and said, I’m Madalena, and I said, Good.
“Jade,” says Jenny—
“Jade,” says Summer—
“Jade,” says Mads—
—and it’s magic, dark magic. A spell from my three witch-sisters.
“Find them,” I say, and I close my eyes because I can still feel it, almost, the poison the dazzle-smiled boy put in my drink last night so the world turned flashbulb bright but slow, so slow, until I couldn’t fight anymore, and when I tried to scream they smashed their hands over my mouth and I bit and bit and my fangs drew blood and they said, God damn, she’s feisty.
I open my eyes—now, this morning, here in my coven with Jenny and Summer and Mads—and they’ve done magic again. There on the screen Summer’s holding, I see the boys we’re going to ruin.
Summer prints it in color on the purring sleek printer my parents bought me to make sure I get into Stanford. They want me to be a doctor. I want to be the queen.
The paper looks like those WANTED lists in the post office, but instead at the top it says St Andrew’s Preparatory School Varsity Boys’ Lacrosse. One smug smile after another. Secrets you can feel even on paper.
Mads finds a scarlet lip liner in her purse. I point at pictures and she paints bold circles onto the page:
Four boys from the room with the white sheets and the spinning lights, and four red circles in front of us now.
“We can kill them,” says Mads, quiet, and she means it.
I look at Jenny in her baby-pink lace; Summer in her silky black shirt with the deadly plunging neckline; Mads with gold rings in her ears and fists ready to fight.
They are mine and I am theirs.
My nails are long and silver. Ten little daggers, sharp enough to tear throats open.
Copyright © 2020 by Hannah Capin