In the original draft, there is a scene just before prom wherein Rachel drags Josh to the mall to get her ears pierced for prom…and also tricks him into getting his ear pierced. It was a nice little scene that helped solidify their relationship, but it wasn’t really necessary at this point, so I cut it. (There’s a reference to a little running gag in the original manuscript here, as Rachel tries to find a good song on Josh’s iPod. In the original draft, every time Zik or Rachel goes somewhere with Josh, they would try to find a decent song on the iPod — Josh apparently has lousy taste in music!)
If this scene had survived the cuts, it would have ended up on page 268, right before the prom.
Rachel wants to get her ears pierced for prom. Her mom originally pierced them for her when she was fourteen, but she never wears earrings these days, so the holes closed over a couple of years ago. I grab a shower after practice and loiter around the girls’ locker room like a pervert, waiting for her to finish. Softball players file out one at a time or in pairs, eyeballing me like a piece of rancid steak left out in the sun too long. I give them my best smile, which quickly becomes tiring, but it’s my only option, really.
Rachel emerges in a plain white t-shirt and skintight shorts. Her hair is just barely long enough that she’s got it tied back in a ponytail under her Bobcats cap. She grabs my hand and kisses me on the cheek in full view of half her teammates. I feel horribly exposed.
“Don’t worry about them,” she whispers to me. “They’re just jealous. They all want me for themselves. Buncha dykes.”
I almost choke on my own spit. Rachel laughs and pulls me off to the parking lot. Michelle drove her to school today and is going to pick up Zik, so it’s just the two of us and the Ford Focus That Time Forgot.
Rachel leans back in her seat and props her feet up on the dashboard, offering a taut, perfect view of her best asset – calves to kill for, thighs like they were chiseled out of stone. I force myself to pay attention to the road.
“Kaltenbach still busting your balls?” she asks as she searches my iPod for something worth listening to.
“Yeah. But I can handle it.” Coach has had me running ragged in the outfield during practice, just enough that I’m almost – almost – too tired to lift the bat. He’s not really smart, but he’s got a sort of instinctive, cruel animal cunning. He knows just how to run me down without making me useless at the plate. He still needs me to kick The Heat’s ass and put South Brook on the map for future scouts, with their expense accounts aimed squarely at Coach Kaltenbach. It’s almost like he wants me get pissed at him so that he has an excuse to screw me over with Coach Graves at Stanford. But he still needs me. It’s like a Mexican stand-off. So he runs me ragged just to remind me who’s in charge, but he doesn’t do any permanent damage.
Which is fine by me, I tell Rachel, because I’m not going to let the fucker have the satisfaction of seeing me weak.
“You should hit him again,” she says, and she’s totally serious about it. “Wait until after graduation and then just – Pow!” She swings her little fist in the air, and it’s funny, even though I know she’s got power in that arm.
“He’s not worth it.”
At the mall, I feel as if news cameras are trained on me. I feel like I’m glowing with some kind of dark energy that compels people to look at me. I never come here, if I can help it, or if I do, it’s to duck in and out as fast as I can. But now I’m walking down the main strip, Rachel’s arm linked in mine, and she’s going slow, walking at a leisurely pace, and everyone has plenty of time to see me.
I hate it.
At the earring pagoda, Rachel suddenly freaks out. “It’s gonna hurt, isn’t it?” she says. She’s sitting in the chair and the woman who works there is ready with this little gun that kind of looks like a staple gun. She sighs and lets her gun-hand fall to her side.
“It’s not gonna hurt,” she tells Rachel.
“It’s not gonna hurt,” I tell Rachel, as if I know. “It’s no worse than sliding on the base path.” How would I know? “You had it done when you were a kid, right? And it didn’t bother you then, right?”
Rachel hops off the chair. The pagoda woman sighs again, as if the world is conspiring against her. Get a life, pagoda woman.
“You go first,” Rachel says to me.
“Come on. You go first.” She pushes me towards the chair. “My boyfriend is getting his left ear pierced,” she informs pagoda woman.
Her boyfriend? Her boyfriend? I don’t know what stuns me more – that she said it, or that it sounded kinda…nice.
I find myself in the chair. The entire world is tuned into JoshTV, watching.
“You ready?” pagoda woman asks, bored.
I’ve taken line drives to the gut before. I’ve had pitchers hit my knuckles with fastballs. I can’t wuss out of this.
“Fine,” I say. Rachel has a hint of a grin on her face.
“The blue one,” she tells pagoda woman, who loads up her gun and brings it up to my head. My earlobe is enveloped in cool steel.
“Count to three,” says pagoda woman, and when I get to two, I hear a “chnk!” sound and it’s like I just got a shot in my earlobe.
I hiss in a breath and that’s it. Pagoda woman holds up a mirror. I have a little blue gem-type thingy sparkling in my left ear.
“See?” I tell Rachel. “No big deal.”
Rachel takes the chair next, suddenly confident and poised. “Here and here,” she says, pointing to each earlobe, “and then a second one here,” pointing to her left lobe again, “with the same one he got.”
A minute later, it’s done – Rachel has one hole in her right ear, two in her left, one of them occupied by the twin to my earring.
As we head back to the car, I point out to her that she got over her fear of the piercing pretty quickly.
“You must be the world’s stupidest genius. I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to make sure you got one, too.” She kisses me lightly on the lips.
“Terrific. What’s next, tattoos? His and hers?”
“Don’t tempt me!” She pokes my gut and laughs, and I laugh with her and for a minute, it’s like we’re the only two people in the mall, with no one watching, no one knowing every last secret.