My first indication that something was really, really wrong was that afternoon, at her house. We were quickly bonding over a shared love of Sick, Sad World and pizza when her brother came into the room. She had her back turned to the door, so didn't see him come in.
"Hey, Janey," he said, grabbing her shoulders and proceeding to give her an impromptu massage. "Who's your new friend?"
Jane's expression went from a mirthful smile to a painted-on rictus. "Oh, hi, Trent. I didn't know you were home. This is Daria." She began to breathe faster, almost hyperventilating.
"Daria, huh?" He gave me a sly smile. "She's a cutie, Janey. Is she staying long?"
"No, Trent, sorry, she was just leaving," she sputtered out. There was a pleading look in her eye, and I took her cue.
"Yeah, I was. See you at school tomorrow, Jane." I shouldered my backpack, noticing when I walked past that Trent's hands had stopped massaging, and had started squeezing. The way his bones pressed against his skin, and the increasing way Jane's grimace displayed agony made my stomach churn, but I kept my mouth shut and walked home as fast as I could.
I was amazed I made it that long without throwing up.
The next day at school, I attempted to breach the subject. "So, Jane, your brother seems..." I looked at her. Her face was a blank slate. She...she was biting her lip. I could tell because I could see blood starting to seep its way out. "Uh..." I hesitated, not knowing what to say. "It looks like...you put on a little too much lipstick this morning, Jane," I finally said.
Her shoulders sagged in relief, as she let up on the lip. "There's no such thing as too much lipstick, amiga," she chided me, some of the humor I had heard in her voice on yesterday's walk home from school making a comeback. She did withdraw to the bathroom, and I put my ear up to the door to hear her spitting and running the water after.
A few days after that incident, she came up to me at the beginning of lunch, and urged me to follow her into the bathroom. I obliged, wondering idly if she had found an interesting bowel movement that had gone unflushed, which would require me to stop being her friend. I had almost let myself forget what I had seen at her house.
She lifted her shirt, exposing her stomach. My breath got caught in my throat. My name was carved on her stomach (just the first name, thank God - I later shuddered at the idea of her carving 'Morgendorffer' into her flesh). "What do you think?" she asked eagerly.
My mouth opened, and I almost went with my first instinct, which would have been to scream. But I noticed other scars on her stomach which could have once been letters, letters which fit into other people's names. Other people who, no doubt, had also screamed.
I looked up into Jane's face, and it bore a hopeful smile, but I also saw the tears brimming in her eyes, already anticipating the rejection I would give her.
And I almost did reject her. But one thing stopped me. It wasn't that she had an obviously terrible home life, or that I was the first person to show signs of friendship to her in months (or longer).
It was that my name on her stomach was the most sincere gesture of wanting anything whatsoever to do with me that I had ever received.
"It's fucking cool," I finally responded.
"Really?" Jane gaped at me, the tears shocked loose by the surprise. She dropped the hem of her shirt and leapt forward to embrace me. I was embarrassed at first, but after a moment I returned the hug.
I think this is going to go some pretty dark places, fair warning.