Please be advised, Sykosa is a book for mature YA and literary readers. It includes sexual situations, adult language and is not intended for an audience underneath sixteen years of age.
First period. American history.
Who knows which is worse. At this hour, it’s too early to care. Luckily, it’s never too early to bitch and moan. And she would do so, save her teacher is already on it. He’s up at the board—in shock that not a pupil noticed how his cuff smudged all his bullet points. Like wrist trajectory were her problem. That’s a math problem. And math problems aren’t her problem for another two hours. Yawn. He’s still going on—something about full attention being on…
Fingernails, you see, are better than lectures.
Particularly these lectures. Particularly this class.
She wishes nail polish didn’t break the Academy’s Personal Code, then her fingernails could be pretty colors, and she’d feel like a pretty girl. They should let her do her nails in class. It’s no different from doodling. It also increases hygiene, and in high school, that’s nothing to scoff at. She may paint her fingernails this afternoon, just for fun, then remove it and—
Hang on. Her teacher said something will be on a test.
Never mind, she already knows it.
Anyhow, if she does do her nails, she has a problem. She doesn’t know what to do. However, she does know she doesn’t want to do something she’s already done. If she’s gonna do her nails for one night, then it’d be nice if it were a departure of some type. Alas, her brain has no ideas. Being pretty is hard! Yet, she likes it so very much. That does it. She needs to talk to Niko. For one, Niko’s her best friend. Two, Niko’s gifted in the department of being glamorous. And luckily, Niko’s her neighbor, so she drafts a note that she passes across the table.
What should I do with my fingernails?
Niko reads the note in delight, then dies of boredom.
I thought you were gonna share good gossip or something.
No, I want to do my fingernails.
Do something slutty. That’s always good for a thrill.
That’s a good idea.
Niko always has good ideas. Niko’s brilliant!
She wishes she were Niko.
And Niko wishes she were Sykosa’s breasts. That’s me, Sykosa! Well, technically, it’s my breasts. Breasts are an urgent topic for Niko, seeing as her prime puberty years have passed, and to Niko’s horror, she’s all As in the bra and all Ds on her report card. That’s harder on a girl than people think. And it’s why Niko collapses her cheek on her hand, then inconspicuously stares at those far-bigger boobs. Niko thinks she does it for a second or two. In reality, it’s seven or eight. Now, before anyone makes any assumptions, Niko’s not gay. She’s about as boy-crazy as a girl gets. To the point that she collects boyfriends as if they were Girl Scout badges.
And to be fair, this breast-staring is harmless.
Though every girl has her limits.
Hers have been exceeded. Not by Niko, but by Tom. He also has his cheek in hand, his eyes overcome by her chest—for what is maybe ten or eleven seconds.
Unlike Niko, he’s thinking of her as if she were some toy.
He may be right.
In the only snowstorm of the year, as the Academy froze under the sickly sweet smell of a dysfunctional oil furnace, she retreated behind the two bell towers of the Academy chapel. And on that very day, this very boy—in his ski jacket laden with those sticky tags they put on bags at airports—stumbled onto her smoking self and put his tongue in her mouth. It was a bold move. And it impressed her. They didn’t need to “talk.” Besides, it woulda fucked up the moment. I get shy fast. Accordingly, she kissed him until her heart beat so hard she became faint. It meant something. This feeling. She caught her breath. They sat beside each other. Seconds later, she wished they hadn’t stopped, so they restarted, then kept at it.
This time without the tongue.
Niko steals the note, then writes a new one.
Why is he looking at you like that? Only I’m supposed to look at you like that!
Niko’s the type who admits her faults shamelessly. While its slightly backwards, Niko does so not as a deterrent from such behaviors, but to enable them. She rarely complains. Because that’s Niko. And somehow that excuses everything Niko does. That said, she supposes she’s predisposed to Niko’s jealously over her body, perhaps to the point of flattery. You see, this Tom-thing is nothing. Or if it is something, it’s certainly not enough of something. Not enough for her to buy a prom dress.
Why do you think he is looking at me like that?
Because you * him.
Not to delve too far into the well of note-passing dynamics, but she—and the Queens—use secret codes in case of confiscation. “*” means fuck, in all forms and conjugations. She has not * Tom. She has not * anybody. Her lips quiver at the *. It feels like something she’ll put off until she is thirty. Simultaneously, she also feels like it could happen in the immediate future.
Sometimes she just “knows.”
But, she is afraid. Everything is too complicated. It should not have to be. She goes behind the chapel. He goes behind the chapel. They make out. Simple, right? It’s not. Regardless, if even that must be complicated, then certainly the concept that she wants to go to Prom, thus he should ask her to Prom and then they should go to Prom is simple, right? It’s not. You see, he has this best friend, this confidante, this main focus, this everything—and her name is not Sykosa, but Mackenzie.
Or as you will soon find out: “M.” That’s what he calls her.
So, every day, she faces the fact that, outside of the chapel, they are merely acquaintances. Two pigeons in a flock of nine hundred who dress the same, talk the same, and act the same. That’s okay. Pigeons are only pigeons because conformity is only conformity. After all, those goth girls who wear heavy eye makeup and piss off Mother Superior, they’re conforming. It’s okay to be like everyone else so long as she is always herself. And that is the reason, because there is no other reason, why she makes out with this boy. Other than she likes it. Kissing is fun. She’s lying. There is another reason. Another trivial teenage doodad—what the priests describe as an “infatuation” or perhaps inappropriately labeled as “puppy love.” When she talks to him, lame as it sounds, she feels like she is being herself, just as she is definitely not herself when with Niko, her parents, her teachers, Mike Holler or Lonny or Donna, and most of all Mackenzie.
Tom’s never understood this. He sees no issue in how she feels like a phoenix, but is only regarded as a pigeon—and not only a pigeon, but one pigeon in a flock of… Never mind, conformity * sucks! She blames herself. At first, these back chapel indiscretions barely affected her, and it wasn’t until the days turned into weeks turned into their kinda-sorta three-month anniversary that her feelings became…a tad poisonous. And he is wonderful. He’s a bit of a perv, but he’s quick-witted and pretty, and he kisses her and his jokes are funny. Yet, like she said before and she will say again, he never holds her hand in the hallway or runs his finger along her jaw before they separate for class or cups her cheek and whispers those three wonderful words in her ear.
I, love & you.
It reminds her of this morning, really every morning, when she undergoes her final inspection in her bedroom mirror. Her back is always straight and her shoulders are always proper, her knee socks aligned and her skirt taut, the fabric above the last-buttoned button of her blouse separated to show the faint-est touch of her neckline. Then she strokes her hair, examines the fluidness of her foundation and scans her forehead for pimples. Once she determines it’s safe to be seen in public, she promises to break up with him if he avoids the whole Prom subject.
She always chickens out.
Niko writes back.
He’s still looking at you.
He is still looking at her, and she’s beginning to understand his subpar grades. All he does is obsess about her. And she finds it charming. However, in these in between days of April, she has found a new dilemma with him has arisen. His penis. And not only his penis, but her manipulations of it.
Well, her one manipulation of it.
She was between his legs and, above her, a stained glass Peter, Paul, and John peeped upon the five fingers of her right hand, which had released his navy pants, then clamped down on his erection. He insisted that she motion up and down. She did and then watched him lean his head about while listening to him moan. It was encouraging that he was so moved by the movements of her wrist, and she squeezed harder, then went faster. She did so consistently until he called her name in urgency. “Sykosa!” To be followed by a gyrated thigh, a locked jaw and his spray like a garden hose from beneath the spout.
She had to clean this unforeseen mess.
No one told her it was so sticky.
Write about something else.
I need to copy your math homework!
Typical! Both her American history teacher and Niko want her for her math skills. But, I’m not Asian like that. The math gene skipped her. Either way, she can’t pass the homework now, so she tells Niko to wait, then waits out this class and, over the next hours, the duration of her day. She knows it’s over when the bell towers ring dismissal. She crumples her papers into her backpack, stops by her locker for her books, then walks a wing of empty classrooms, out the rear of the Academy and across the campus, towards the aforementioned bell towers that reach high into the sky like castle lookouts.
Behind the chapel, a slab of cement is laid by a locked fire exit. She leans against the wall and then sits like the Chinese people sit in China, her skirt tucked between her legs and her sweater vest pulled over her neck. She fishes out a cellophane-wrapped package and thrusts a cigarette between her lips.
Niko rounds the corner, drops her bag, removes her sweater vest and stretches her shoulders to her toes. Then, her arms, which have disappeared inside her blouse, reappear with her white bra. She tucks it inside her bag. “Really, that’s such a disgusting habit.” That’s how Niko asks for a cigarette. Niko gets one, and it blows out of her mouth. “I swear, did you see how short Ass Girl’s skirt was today? She musta rolled it like five or six times. She’s such a slut. I heard some sophomore say she was all over Hazu this weekend, and she walked around with her hair all JBF.”
JBF is another note-passing code word.
It stands for: Just-been-fucked.
“Doesn’t surprise me, she acts like an idiot around him.”
“I think Hazu’s asking her to Prom. Stupid bitch, I thought he might ask me.”
“Would Timmy go with you?”
Timmy is Niko’s current infatuation. The devotion of all her romantic energies whenever Hazu (shortened from Haruhide), Niko’s real love, is indisposed. “I’d take Timmy, but he hasn’t asked. Plus, he’s a college guy. I’m sure he thinks it’s lame.”
“Has he mentioned it?”
“Timmy and I don’t talk about things like Prom, but I can’t believe your knight in shining armor hasn’t asked you.”
Niko means Tom.
“He’ll ask. I know he will.”
“If you don’t get asked, you can’t buy that dress you like.”
“I know. Let’s talk about something else.”
Niko holds out her finger. “You need to be authoritative. You tell him if he wants anymore anything—”
She interrupts. “If he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to.”
Niko’s tiny Nokia rings a computerized jingle. Niko presses the plastic against her ear and talks in a sexy slang. It worsens with each twirl of hair. Thus, Niko’s caller must be Hazu, the leader of the Speed Stars, a local racing team/hoodlum gang who all drive RX7s. After school, the team loiters in the Academy parking lot where they stand over their engines like cavemen over a fire pit and talk about…whatever boys talk about. Niko joins in to learn how to better control her own 7. Also, Niko suffers a weakness for boys who drive too fast. She likes getting drunk with them—see Hazu—and then dancing inappropriately to obscene rap lyrics.
Be that as it may, this is not actually Niko. It’s Niko3.0.
More on that later.
Niko ashes her smoke and flakes of gray settle by her foot that stomps the dropped cigarette. “I gotta jet. Hazu wants me to listen to his new speakers.” She shakes her slightly shorter-than-shoulder-length hair. It’s not as punky as usual. The school limits the amount of product girls can use. “And I need your help with our math assignment sometime.”
“Why don’t you ask me for the answers again tomorrow?”
“Alright, I’ll try to get it done tonight.”
Niko points her finger again. Her breasts poke like teeny-tiny mounds. “You’ll try? What’s going on? You’re not doing your homework, you’re passing notes for answers on tests—as if I would know any—and you smoke like a chimney!”
“I don’t know, it’s…” He came behind this chapel and he kissed her, and she thought her long wait was over. She would have him and she’d finally be free. She thinks she knows why she isn’t. Last year. It’s hard to discuss, and like a lot of things that’re hard to discuss, it’s pretty much the root of every issue in her life. But, also like a lot of things that’re hard to discuss, there’s tremendous consequence to discussing it, thus there’s tremendous incentive to not discuss it. This incentive has a name: blackness. It’s something she’s all too familiar with. She even feels bits of it now. She ignores it. “I wish he would ask already.” The blackness has a way of splicing her from reality, so like the first day Tom came back here, he’s snuck up on her, separating two fingers over Niko’s head like bunny ears. She smiles the smile that only happens around him, and she calls to him. “Stop it!”
Niko turns to face his untucked Academy shirt and blazer. “Oh, it’s you.” Niko puts her finger in her mouth and fakes a hurl before jogging off. “You know I hate those cigarettes, Sykosa! I’ll be in the parking lot when you’re ready to leave!”
Niko drags her feet to a stop. “In case I forget, don’t forget to ask your parents about you-know-what.”
She looks up at him. He looks down at her. He smiles, and she makes her obligatory evaluation of him. He’s dressed like usual—below expectations. Even in parochial school, with its Personal Codes, and in the case of the boys, its button-down shirts, burgundy ties and gray blazers, there’re those who cannot keep par. It doesn’t bother her much. Boys who dress better than girls are weird.
He talks first.
“It’s nothing-to-know.” As in he shouldn’t worry, but she will…later. For now, he’s hers.
“I’m fine, yourself?”
A second passes where neither does anything beside stare. She is sure. Positive. He’s about to ask. Instead, he complains about how school was terrible today. “I’m failing American history. I think it’s your fault.”
This isn’t her story. This isn’t her life.
He’s usually charming.
“Is it really so hard when I’m around?”
He crouches, then softly kisses her lips. “It’s impossible.”
That was happiness. She was secretly hoping he’d bend over to kiss her. “I thought about you a lot today—”
He interrupts. It’s his bad habit. “What exactly?”
Her response is another soft kiss. It’s also really nice.
She thinks this chapel is their place and, geographically, it’s the worst place to break up.
Yes. It’s a geographic thing.
Kiss me again.
He stands up and she stands up. Her cigarette follows the toss of her wrist and her hair follows the roll of her fingers. She waits in anticipation, aware of his intent. Then his tongue parts her lips and her hands lay on his shoulders. She leans to accommodate his circles of saliva and his hands, eager as always, press against her sides. She forgets that these actions are real and his hands… They feel good. Even though all they do is dig out her blouse and yank her undershirt into her arm-pits. Too distracted to notice his breast petting progressively traveling to her red and gray skirt, playing with the elastic of her panties and grasping her butt, lifting her onto her tiptoes. She moans. Almost gone, almost lost…until his hand passes the valley of her hips and his fingers tickle the first hairs.
“Hey!” She pulls away to fix her blouse. She remembers that comment about JBF and straightens her hair, too. “You aren’t allowed to touch that.”
“Come on, it’s no big deal. I tell you what, let me touch it for five seconds. You can count.”
“I’m not counting seconds while you touch my… I’d rather you just touched it.”
“Okay, that’s what I’ll do.”
His eyes are mournful. It’s cute. His penis pulsates against her side. It’s less cute. She grins anyway. In some moment she cannot recall, she became such a sucker for this boy. But even now as her grin dissipates, the goodness vanishes. She kicks at the ground, so he knows he’s upset her and to fix it.
Unlike the last two days.
“Are you feeling alright?”
“All these girls are freaking out over Prom. It’s stupid, don’t you think? I mean, we’re only juniors, right?” He shrugs his shoulders. He’s never gonna ask. It’s particularly hard since she decided, like, a year ago she wanted to go to Prom with him. For now, she puts her finger through his belt loop and leans against him. Actually, it was almost a year ago—exactly. The date has significance not only to her, but to the blackness, so she forgets both, and hopes everyone else chooses to do the same. “Say something.”
“Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”
“I’m feeling weird, that’s all.”
He kisses her again and she kisses him back.
Then, he leans to her ear. “Hey, I was thinking, remember that time, last week—”
She interrupts. “That’s all you think about!” She pulls away and looks into his eyes—to see he was looking into hers first. And his look beautiful and mysterious. She cannot stand not knowing what he is thinking, what he is feeling. Primarily because she knows he’s thinking about her, and her heart tells her it’s incredible. She knows this because, last year, he did something incredible for her. It was out of this world and, as Niko said, totally knight-in-shining-armor stuff. So he has incredible things inside of him. He just never says what they are! “What’re you really thinking?”
He looks bad. “I was thinking about that time, last week…”
She puts her other finger in his belt loop. “Is that really all you were thinking about?”
Why does he make it so hard? “What is it then?”
“Your hair is perfect today.”
It has been a terrific hair day. He’s not just saying it.
He pulls up his slacks and lowers himself onto the cement slab. She lowers herself between his legs and tucks her skirt between her ankles and butt. She notices a pack of scars—discolored, even a little deforming—on his right hand. They are her fault. He got them by saving her, which was part of the incredible thing she was thinking about. It provokes the black-ness. She still breathes, it feels like she’s getting 5% less air. She’s adjusted to ignoring it, and does so—motivated by those scars, much the same as they motivated her last time, and this time, she pets him and pulls down his zipper, lets him take it out since she fears hurting it or something, then once it feels like a fine time to start, she—without his instruction—massages.
The experience isn’t quite what she anticipated.
The excitement is gone.
His penis is unchanged and the act is repetitive, and it seems ordinary, like a household chore. To jerk him off is to take out the garbage, necessary—yes, annoying—yes, expected —yes, unbalanced—yes. Everyone produces garbage. Only one person takes it to the curb. Two people sit behind this chapel. One person feels. The other works. She thought he would be as concerned for her own pleasure as she is for his. But, no, that’s not gonna happen. His eyes are either closed or watching her hand or watching her boobs or… And here I was supposed to break up with him if he didn’t ask me to Prom. And other thoughts that never find a way to words. Mostly because she’s distracted—by his semen. It dribbles off her hand and onto his stomach. This time she brought tissue and she blots at the divots of her knuckles.
How does he get to me like this?