Other Woods 

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We told her she was being crazy. Did she have a death wish? Did she really want to die a virgin? We heard doing it made your butt bigger and all knew Jayne was obsessed with the idea. Anything to fix her pancake ass. Jayne mimicked one of the high school softball pitchers, the one with the long blond ponytail who whipped her arm in three wide circles before she sailed the ball to a strike. Except Jayne didn’t let it go. She looked out to the cars and said it’s not the right time. We watched her watch the cars, their tires kicking up bits of gravel and dust. She stepped away from the guardrail and pulled her arm back, bowling this time, then whipped the ball forward. It skidded through the first two lanes just fine but hit the tire of a rusty truck in lane three and ping ponged back toward us, skipping up into the air. We screeched and ran, not knowing where it’d land, not wanting to get yelled at by the angry drivers or, worse, our parents if the drivers found us out.

Once the honking and yelling died down, Jayne started laughing. She gestured wildly across the highway, laughing at all of us still crouched behind trees. The bright yellow ball was unmistakably sitting pretty on the other side, an egg in a nest of scraggly highway grass. Other tires must have hit it back to the other woods. What do you think they’re like? she asked us as we came back to the clearing. The other woods?

They aren’t real woods, we told her. The highway curves around. It’s just a pocket of trees, we said, but she had a look in her eyes like she didn’t believe. Before we knew it Jayne was lifting her leg over the guardrail, then straddling it. She sucked her stomach in and pushed her chest out, saluting us like a soldier in a sappy movie. She hopped off the guardrail and ran into traffic—behind a blue car, in front of a screeching minivan, in front of a black car, and blew a kiss to the driver of a car in lane four, an old guy who slammed on his breaks and swore out his window. On the other side, Jayne lifted the softball into the air and started a savage dance—all hip thrusts and whoops and waving arms. We joined in for a moment before sitting down, resting our chins and arms on the guardrail and whispering to each other about how we’d get Jayne back. She kept on dancing, did a cartwheel, then disappeared into the trees. We stopped whispering. We knew she couldn’t hear us, wouldn’t care anyway since she always admitted she was the crazy one. Well she clearly is the crazy one, we agreed as we pulled leaves from the trees and ripped them into tiny pieces. We showered ourselves in the green confetti and wondered what Jayne would do when she realized she was wrong. Those trees weren’t another set of woods, just a break in the highway.

If Jayne was disappointed, she didn’t show it, still danced as she emerged from the other woods, tossing the softball from one hand to the other. A knowing smirk on her face like a dare.

One by one we left. Kate saying she didn’t want to be here when Jayne tried to come back. That the traffic would get worse before it got better. Samantha having to finish homework and hungry for dinner. Leigh not wanting to get in trouble. Her mom would actually notice if she wasn’t back before dark. Until it was just me and Jayne, each sitting behind cold metal guardrails, separated by four lanes of traffic, and wondering if gangs were real or imagined. •



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