You’re choking on your candy flesh.
Britney breaks up with him while he’s painting her toenails.
“Justin,” she says quietly, firmly. She’s laying on the bed of some nameless hotel room, on her back with one leg straight, one bent. He’s sitting Indian-style in the v of her legs, holding her sole gently in his hand, as if he’s cupping something delicate.
“Hmm?” he inquires, seeming fixated on his task. When the polish on her toenail smears, he wipes it with his thumb, a black streak edging across his skin. Britney likes black polish; has ever since the Harper’s Bazaar shoot.
“I think that we should see other people.” It feels so clichéd on her tongue, but tastes good in her mouth.
When he looks back up at her, she’s staring blankly at the ceiling, blond hair spread out on the pillow like a halo. He smiles at the sight of it, then turns back to her foot, blowing softly on the wet varnish. It looks like black tar.
“Mmm,” he replies neutrally, his voice a low, soothing hum.
Britney sighs, a half-frustrated, half-affectionate sound, and then closes her eyes, giving in, if only for the moment.
* * *
Help me, she says, I am not free.
When she wakes up, her fingernails are painted too. Black, shiny like oil. Tiny dots of silver glitter sparkle when she moves her hand.
She admires them quietly, then says, raising her voice so he can hear, “They won’t let me keep them this way, you know.”
He comes out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel over the soft fuzz covering his skull, and shrugs. “Maybe.” His nails are painted too, and she knows they’ll let him keep them, just like they let him keep his hair the way it is. She runs a hand through her own blond hair, feeling it brittle and dry between her fingers.
They wouldn’t let her shave hers off.
She beckons him over to the bed, and he sits on the edge without protest, letting the towel drop from his hands. He always does everything she tells him to do, and its both annoying and endearing.
She takes his hand and lays it on her thigh, letting him feel the silky skin, covered with fine, soft stubble. (She doesn’t bother to shave when she’s with him.) Then she picks up a cotton ball from the night table, drenching it in remover and stripping his nails of color, one by one.
He lets her, without protest.
* * *
I pay good money not to be ignored.
Then why am I a teenage whore?
Justin never lets her go, even when she sleeps with other boys. Even when she sleeps with other girls. Even when she writes him long letters, describing Peter’s hands and Abby’s tongue and Drew’s long, beautiful thighs in perfect, detached detail. She surrounds herself with flesh for his benefit, but it never seems to faze him.
She even gets another boyfriend once, a man who is nothing like Justin. He doesn’t obey her, ever, and when he fucks her he leaves bruises on her soft, vulnerable skin. When she visits Justin she wears sleeveless tanks that show off the rows of purple fingerprints on her upper arms, and she tells the press that they’re from rehearsing with her dancers. She tells Justin the truth.
She breaks up with him, though, after Chris corners her in the hallway, telling her warningly that “those aren’t the right kind of bruises.” At the time she shrugs, annoyed with his interference, but she secretly agrees with him, so she dumps him over the phone, the next day.
He lets her.
* * *
Is she pretty from the back?
She hates her skin. Now that her makeup guy has disallowed tanning, she has to use spray-on tanner, so she’s mostly orange.
She loved tanning, so much that she got a bed put on her bus. She loved the bright white heat of the ultraviolet rays on her naked body, the coffin-like box, but she also loved it when she had to stop, and her skin turned milk-white and soft.
Now she looks faker than ever, and she hates it. She remembers when she liked the way she looked, skin like golden butter and hair blonded like the sun. Now she looks like a fucking Barbie doll with her white, even grin, her orange plastic skin, her brittle yellow hair. She feels like she should be shut up on display, like her dozens of Marie Alexander dolls, behind the doors of a glass cabinet.
When Justin buys her one of his dolls, its funny. When he buys her one of her own, its not.
* * *
All waste and void, all waste and void.
Britney takes up smoking because she thinks he’ll hate it, but secretly he loves it. He loves the sight of her smoking by the window, golden in the early morning light, her tiny wrist bent and fragile, cigarette clutched between her first two fingers. He even loves the taste of tobacco when he licks the inside of her mouth.
Once she tasted like rainwater. He thinks he likes this better.
He considers taking it up, too, but Brit laughs and tells him, “Don’t even think about it, J. your voice is husky enough.”
When he asks about her voice, she laughs again, this time humorlessly, and grinds her cigarette out on the table. It’s alarmingly close to her other hand, and he flinches when he sees a spark leap onto her tanned flesh. “How often do you think they let me sing live?” she asks.
He doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just takes her hand, wiping off the smudge of black ash.
* * *
East is east,
West was west,
And mine was you and mine was best.
She likes to watch them together. When she turns on MTV, they’re there, smiling at each other shyly, even though they’ve known each other for years.
They’re pretty together.
* * *
She’s walking tall.
She thinks about basketball a lot. About how powerful she always felt on the court, actually using her beautifully developed muscles instead of just having them for show. She usually feels like a zoo tiger, long and sleek and beautiful, but with no real purpose.
She knows that Justin made it the main event of Challenge for the Children, just for her, because she almost never gets to play anymore. Usually her nails are too long, and she loves that she gets to cut them short for that one game a year, gets to put her hair back in a ponytail and act almost like a normal girl.
When she bruises her leg on the court, she’s not allowed to play anymore, even in the charity game. When they tell her that, she bumps into everything she can for two solid weeks, until her legs are covered in new and fading bruises. They give in.
The next time she sees Justin, he runs his finger over a yellow-black bruise on her shin. “Its kind of pretty,” he says. She kind of agrees with him.
She likes bruises better when they’re self-inflicted.
* * *
Just like a pro she takes off her dress
And she kicks you down in her snow-white pumps.
Britney kisses JC because she wants to kiss JC, and because he wants to kiss JC. At least, that’s what she tells him, after he curses her for a solid five minutes. JC just looks at them both with wide, hurt eyes, and leaves the room, letting them be alone.
“What the fuck do you mean?” he spits at her. He can’t ever remember being this mad. She’s fucked around with other people before, but never anyone close to him. Never anyone close to them. Never anyone who could be so easily hurt when she discards them, as JC would be.
Britney rolls her eyes and goes back to packing. “I’m breaking up with you,” she says, sneaking in one of his shirts. He knows that she’ll sleep in it, missing him every night, so he lets her.
But still, he scowls at her. “Why did it have to be JC?” he persists.
“That’s what I should ask you. You’re the one that wants him.” She says this gently, like its something that he should already know.
“I don’t want anyone but you,” he says, feeling desperate.
She zips her bag, then walks up to him slowly. He closes his eyes before she even touches her lips to his, and when he licks the inside of her mouth, she tastes like tears, not cigarettes or rainwater.
He doesn’t know which one he likes best.
Britney pulls back, the runs her hand enviously over the soft fuzz on his scalp. “I’m breaking up with you,” she says again.
He always gives her anything she wants. He lets her.
She tears the hole even wider.
Lyrics from the album ‘Pretty On The Inside’ by Hole.