The third time they did it, it was Heidiâ€™s turn to draw the design and she did a swirly heart pattern for Valentineâ€™s Day. The girls went straight to Emmaâ€™s house after school.
â€œYou first,â€ Heidi said to Emma, grinning and bouncing on the bed. Both girls were in their panties; Heidi wore a bright red lacy bra that belonged to her older sister and Emma wore her favorite Hello Kitty t-shirt. The door was locked just in case and the music was blaring.
â€œWait, put the towel down,â€ Emma said. She didnâ€™t want her mom finding any stains.
â€œOkay, okay, silly,â€ Heidi laughed.
Emma had lined up their tools on her bedside table: the sewing needle from her momâ€™s strawberry-shaped pincushion, her granddadâ€™s old Army pocketknife, which she swiped from her dadâ€™s basement workroom, a pink plastic lighter for sterilizing the metal, several towels, cleansing pads, Neosporin, band-aids. Last summer Emma had taken a first-aid class so she considered herself an expert.
Heidi reached for Emmaâ€™s leg. Emma jumped. â€œYour hands are freezing!â€ she giggled.
â€œSorry,â€ Heidi mumbled and rubbed her hands together. She started on the inside of Emmaâ€™s right thigh, using the needle to outline her design. With every prick, Emma startled, the pain raising the hair at the nape of her neck and making her nipples poke through the tops of the kitty ears.
â€œMmm,â€ she said every time the needle entered her skin.
When Heidi had finished outlining, she carefully placed the needle on the table and gently dabbed a towel over the specks of blood on Emmaâ€™s thigh. She reached for the knife and began to connect the dots. The knife barely hurt at all as it sliced Emmaâ€™s soft pale skin â€“ the pain would come later. Emma held her breath, watching the path of the knife along her skin. Heidiâ€™s hand was steady.
â€œYouâ€™re so good at this,â€ Emma said in awe as Heidi finished up her design. The blood seeped over the knife tracks, obscuring Heidiâ€™s work. Emma felt the pain rising along the cuts, so sharp and pure and perfect. â€œAh,â€ she moaned and lay back on the bed.
Heidi cleaned the tools while Emma chilled on the bed. After a while, Emma sat up and reached for the lighter, using it to heat the needle until it glowed red. â€œYour turn,â€ she told Heidi.
Emmaâ€™s hands always wavered, even when Heidi went first. She would never be as talented as her friend, she thought sadly. Still, she continued, doing her best. She loved the sight of Heidiâ€™s blood rising along her thigh, she loved her friendâ€™s sighs, she loved and hated how Heidiâ€™s hand slid down into her panties while she worked.
Emmaâ€™s thigh throbbed hard under the band-aids as she dabbed away Heidiâ€™s blood with another clean white towel. She sterilized the knife and ran it along the needle pricks, her heart pounding as Heidi began to hum. She worked slowly, with both hands so Heidiâ€™s small thrusts wouldnâ€™t jerk the knife. After a few minutes, Heidi lay silent on the bed. When Emma finished tracing the design, she wiped away the blood and spread Neosporin over her friendâ€™s thigh. She applied three Tinkerbelle band-aids over the cuts.
â€œItâ€™s time for you to go home,â€ Emma said. â€œMy mom will be home in twenty minutes. Help me clean up,â€ she poked Heidi on the shoulder and reached for the pocketknife. She carefully wiped it clean and flipped it closed, then cleaned the needle.
Heidi sat up and grabbed the trash bag, tossing the band-aid wrappers and dirty towels. She tied it shut and shoved it inside her backpack to get rid of on the walk home.
The girls sang along to Counting Stars and danced around the room, thrilled with their matching bandages, their matching wounds, their matching pain.
After they dressed, Emma put all of their supplies in her art box. If anyone saw it, they wouldnâ€™t think twice since it was already full of odds and ends â€“ pencil stubs, dried up erasers, her compass. She stashed the art box under the bed and checked and re-checked her room. No one could ever know what happened here.
â€œDonâ€™t forget to clean it,â€ Emma warned Heidi, and gave her friend a quick hug before she left.
Later on, after dinner, Emma’s mom circled the house collecting laundry. She found the blood-speckled towel still spread across Emma’s bed and panicked.