We rode the bus home together everyday, sharing snacks and drinking from the same water bottle. Our stop was in front of a blue-shutter-house with dead bushes. The front porch was crumbling. We walked to the end of the street together before going our separate ways.
One time, before parting, Alana made me laugh so hard I peed. I felt the warm urine trickle down my inner thigh like a train track. It reached my kneecap, then absorbed into my white knee high sock. The walk home was uncomfortable. I kept looking down at the little spot of yellow as it dried in the cotton. I felt the urge to pee every time Alana made me laugh. The worst time was at recess with our red cheeks and runny noses. Only the smart girls wore pajama pants beneath the plaid uniform skirts. The smart girls had warm, protected legs. The smart girls jumped rope on black asphalt.
Alana and I stood in a circle with some boys from homeroom. Everyone had their fists scrunched into sweatshirt sleeves. The boys kept their hoods up, sniffling and wiping their eyes. As a joke, Alana told Shane to put on her sweater. I watched Alana unzip her green woolen cardigan. She handed it to Shane with a huge smile on her face like something great was about to happen. Without removing his sweatshirt, Shane forced his arms into the cardigan. He looked fat and protruding. He laughed the entire time. Everyone did. Alana looked at each face in our circle with her arms folded on her chest. She was a generous leader, passing mints to me in math class. At the lunch table, she auctioned off her vanilla pudding or cookies.
Alana saw the pain in my eyes. I looked deaf and worried. I felt cold and awkward. A whistle blew and recess was over. Shane tossed the cardigan to Alana. Our circle flattened and we stumbled back to school like a misplaced bridal party. I felt an arm float around my neck. Alana’s touch was gentle. With her thick muscles and rough skin and scabby knees you wouldn’t expect delicacy. I turned my head to her. She was smiling and looking onward. I had a wonderful feeling that she knew what I had done. I felt safe under her arm. She would take care of me.
I went right to the bathroom. It was empty. I chose the stall on the far end for privacy and because it always had the most toilet paper. My uniform skirt slapped the tile floor when I unbuttoned it. I lowered my shorts and underwear. The fabric was heavy and saturated with urine. It smelled like my grandmother’s basement after a flood. I waited. I started wondering if any of the boys had noticed. If they had, I decided I would tell them it was a condition, that I couldn’t help it.
A group of eighth grade girls, with knotty hair and dry lips, entered the bathroom. I watched them through a wide crack in the stall. They laughed and swore and stuck their tongues out. Some applied lip gloss. A tall girl, wearing a ponytail tied with blue ribbon, lifted her shirt. She wasn’t wearing a tank top like we were suppose to. Her torso was pale and shaped like a box. She gathered the attention of her friends and showed them how many times she had rolled her skirt that day. She told them how she walked past Mr. Henley without getting caught.
The bathroom door flung open. I saw Alana’s reflection in the mirror. A crumpled plastic bag was in her fist. She went into a stall three down from mine. Once the eighth graders left, Alana whispered my name. I told her I was in the furthest stall. She began to fiddle with the lock. Then, with her fingernail, she tapped on my door. Seeing her dirty sneakers and permanently knotted laces, I let her in. She handed me the plastic bag and told me to put my wet underwear inside. I did as she told me. I trusted her like a godmother. Then, from beneath her skirt, Alana lowered her shorts and underwear. We both stared at the fabric around her ankles. We both felt a slight terror rush through our little girl limbs. Until this moment, I never saw Alana hesitate before sharing. She had given me her toothbrush, her bed. She had smuggled granola bars out of the pantry for me during the night. She rode her bicycle to my house in the rain.
She handed me her underwear. The cotton was soft and light pink. A trim of white eyelet graced the waistband. I stepped into the leg holes and pulled them up. I felt restored. Alana pulled her shorts up her legs. I put my skirt back on. She tied the plastic bag tightly into a double knot. With a broad, firm wrist, Alana handed me the bag and told me to bury it in my backpack right away.