Asking For It
Two teen girls—Kema and Layla—sat on the edge of a wishing well. A fountain of water trickled out of a dragon’s mouth and back down into the well. Light flickered over the quarters at the bottom of the well, giving a clear blue sheen to the water. Most quarters were marked in black, though some had other colors—blue, red, purple. The color didn’t matter, only the writing and the intent behind the coin.
Layla scoffed at Kema. “I thought that was for wishes?” she said.
“It can be. I’m wishing for luck,” Kema said. “You should, too.”
“I don’t think so.” Layla checked her phone for the time. “It’s about time we go, anyway.”
“No, look—” Kema took a quarter out of her purse. She scribbled KM—her initials—on it with permanent marker. She kissed the quarter, then threw it into the wishing well.
“That’s stupid. Kem. You don’t actually believe that stuff, do you?”
Kema shrugged. “Why not?”
Layla rolled her eyes. Whatever, she thought. She looked into the well where Kema’s quarter had landed. “What exactly did you wish for?” she asked.
Kema laughed. “I can’t tell you that.” A middle-aged woman approached them, and Kema hopped up off the fountain. She gathered her backpack and purse. “I do need to go. See you later?”
“See you later,” Layla said, her attention still on the quarter.
Kema walked off with her mom. Layla furrowed her brow as she continued to stare down. Something nagged at her, as if a voice called out to her. “What’s the harm?” it said. “She threw me away! She won’t mind.”
She wasn’t sure what’d gotten into her. Despite her sense, she kneeled on the lip of the fountain and reached in. It took her a few tries, but she eventually pulled up the quarter Kema had thrown in. If it was lucky in the well, it’d be just as lucky in her purse.
Layla dropped her bookbag on the living room couch and headed off towards the garage. She held the quarter tight in her hand. An imaginary weight burned into her palm. It didn’t hurt, but there was a warmth there she was sure coins didn’t give off.
In the garage, she went through her dad’s workbench until she found his drill. She wasn’t experienced with it, but she found a bit she thought would work and attached it. The metal sparked when she pulled the trigger and pressed it against the quarter. She huffed when she saw that all she’d managed was to scratch the coin.
“You’re gonna be is so much trouble for that,” came a voice from behind her.
Layla turned around to see her older brother, Justin, standing in the doorway into the house. “Only if dad finds out. But he’s not gonna, is he?” She turned back around to look at the quarter again. When he didn’t respond, she felt a knot of unease take her stomach. “Justin?”
One more moment of silence built between them before he spoke. “Just don’t kill yourself, kay?”
Layla waited until she heard the door close behind her before she continued with her work. Eventually she managed to put a hole in it just big enough to push a string through. She took some of her dad’s twine and knotted the quarter around her neck.
She could have sworn she’d put it in her bag! Layla dug through it—zipping and unzipping the different compartments—but it wasn’t there. The bell rang while she frantically searched her things.
“Assignments in the basket,” the teacher announced. “No late pieces.”
Layla zipped up her bag and groaned. It was too late now.
Kema sat down next to Layla. She leaned over and whispered, “Can I copy your homework?”
Does she know? Layla wondered. “I, uh—” She crossed her arms and slouched in her chair. “I can’t. I turned it in already.” She nodded towards the homework basket.
“That sucks,” Kema said with a frown. “Guess I’m missing this one.”
Me, too. Layla mirrored Kema’s frown. Where did I put it? She loosened her arms and played with the quarter she’d tucked under her shirt. What sort of luck was that?
Finally—after what felt an eternity—lunch came. Layla hurried into the Cafeteria, not bothering to wait for Kema; she’d catch up. She found their regular table and sat down. Other teens trickled in, some sitting around her. Kema came in just as Layla pulled her lunch-pail out of her bag.
The seam of her lunch-pail ripped as soon as she touched the zipper, spilling the contents over her, the table, and the floor.
Layla groaned. “Today sucks,” she said. She got up to get paper towels and clean herself off. Didn’t really want lunch anyway, she thought. Is it time to go home yet?
Last period came around. Layla bounced her leg impatiently, watching the clock tick away each minute agonizingly slow. Hurry up! she urged it. She wanted to go home and sleep off the rest of the day. Tomorrow would have to be better.
Fifteen minutes until the final bell rang, her mom came into the class. She snuck in toward the teacher’s desk. The two leaned in close, and Layla’s mom whispered something quick. The teacher nodded. “Layla?” She motioned for Layla. “Your mom’s taking you out early. Don’t worry about tonight’s assignment.”
Layla raised a brow in confusion, but she gathered her things and followed her mom out into the hall. “Mom?” she asked when they were alone.
Her mom looked at her, and only then did Layla see that her mom’s eyes were puffy and bloodshot. “Justin’s— he, uh—” She cleared her throat. “A truck hit his bike. He hasn’t woken up yet.”
Justin finally made it out of the hospital after two weeks. He’d needed two transfusions in that time, and for most of his stay they were convinced he was going to lose his leg. After what Layla could only explain as a miracle, the doctors were able to drain the muscle and save the limb.
Two weeks, and not a single day had gotten better than the first one. Layla was fed up.
She’d walked to the mall, back to the stupid fountain. She stood over it, staring down into the clear, blue water. Whatever you did to me, she thought, undo it. She pulled the quarter up over her head. Holding it up by the string, she watched it twirl in the florescent light of the mall.
Don’t do it, the quarter called. I’m lucky.
Layla scoffed. She tossed the quarter—string and all—into the well. So much for luck.