Button, Button

Photo via Pixabay

There’s a glint of light on the walkway by the river. Rachel thinks it’s a gold coin, as if people just randomly drop gold coins on the ground without noticing. When she picks it up and they all see it’s just a button, she’s about to toss it in the water.

But wait. Look again. They lean in closer. A shape like a head in profile is embossed on the button over the words THE ONE. It’s weird and a little creepy, which makes it cool.

Mia decides that it should be hers. She says it’ll look perfect on that vintage black coat she bought at the secondhand store. It’s shiny and golden and just the thing to fill in the spot where two broken threads hang from her lapel, spoiling the look.

But Rachel is not so much on board with that idea.

“I saw it first,” Rachel says.

“So?” Mia snaps.

“So you don’t get to take everything just because you’re the …” Rachel isn’t sure how to finish that sentence but she doesn’t even have to, because they know. You could end the sentence like this: Prettiest. Coolest. And-or Richest. Mia’s all of the above. If any of them can wear a button that says THE ONE, it’s Mia.

Mia knows it too and it makes her feel awkward and defensive. “What would you even do with it?” she says, glaring at Rachel with her olive-green eyes.

“Well, I don’t know yet,” Rachel says, trying to keep the whine out of her voice. “But I found it.”

“But I need it,” Mia shoots back. “For my coat.”

“You can buy a button. That one doesn’t even match. It’ll look stupid.”

“If it’s so stupid, why are you getting all myyy preciousssss about it?”

Rachel’s face gets as red as her hair and she clenches her fists. This is going nowhere good, and it’s going there fast.

Jenna, who’s been staying out of this, does the only thing she can think of to derail what’s coming: “Can I see it?”

At first the other two just glare at her. But then they both realize that if Jenna has the button, at least the other one won’t have it. Mia hands the button to Jenna, who puts it in her jeans pocket.

“Hey!” Rachel says.

“I‘m gonna look it up online. Maybe someone lost it, you know? Maybe they want it back.”

What Jenna doesn’t say is that she’s been feeling jumpy all afternoon — some boy not much older than they are disappeared from this spot by the river just a few months back. And now to top it off, her friends are getting on what’s left of her goddamn nerves. She’ll keep the button until they forget about it.

“I’ll give it back,” she says. She doesn’t say to who, but Rachel and Mia both assume she means them, and that’s good enough.

*****

When Jenna gets home she takes the button out and sets it on her dresser. She sweeps her blonde hair out of her face and peers more closely at it. Before long she’s thinking that maybe Mia and Rachel don’t deserve to have it. Jenna’s the one who didn’t act like a stupid little baby over it, so it should really be her button. She puts it back in her pocket like she’s officially claiming it.

And then her mom calls up to her.

“Jenna? Rachel’s here to see you.”

Rachel never comes over on school nights. And it’s almost dinnertime, too. The house smells of spaghetti sauce and Jenna hopes her mom doesn’t invite Rachel to stay, because Jenna doesn’t want to spend the next hour bitching back and forth.

Rachel’s standing in the foyer, twisting red hair around her finger. “Did you find out if anyone’s looking for my button?”

Her button? “Not really.”

“Where is it?” Rachel asks, her eyes glittering behind her glasses.

Jenna doesn’t want to answer, but those glittery eyes are bothering her. Something about all this isn’t sitting right. They never acted like that with each other before.

“I have it here,” Jenna says, fishing in her pocket and pulling out the button. “But Rachel — “

And zip! Rachel snatches the button out of her hand just like that.

“Rach! What the hell?”

“You said you’d give it back.” Rachel looks maybe a little embarrassed, but not as much as she should be.

Jenna’s pulse is pounding in her ears. She wants to leap on Rachel, knock her flat on her skinny ass, grab that button back. The thought of her mom having a fit is the only thing stopping her.

“I should probably go,” Rachel says finally.

“Yeah,” Jenna says. She’s not about to offer spaghetti, not after that.

“See you tomorrow?” Rachel says.

“Sure.” Jenna’s not enthused. They don’t hug before Rachel walks away.

Jenna leans against the doorframe, wondering if Mia is going to be mad. Sorry, Mia, Jenna will tell her. I guess she just wanted it more.

*****

Rachel knows Jenna is pissed, but she doesn’t care because she has the button. She clutches it in her hand along with her phone, but what she really wants to do is to run around waving it in the air like it’s Willy Wonka’s last Golden Ticket.

She knows she should be getting home but she doesn’t want to lose this feeling of winning. It’s not something she’s felt often. Jenna’s the one who knows everything, and Mia’s the one everybody else wants to be, and Rachel has always just been kind of there.

She takes a detour through a park that’s close to her house. Rachel’s not an idiot and she knows girls shouldn’t walk through there alone when it’s getting dark, but she doesn’t care. She’ll take the path closest to all the houses and head back into the neighborhood the first time the trail forks, like she’s done a million times. No problem at all.

She is just at the point where the trees start to hide the houses from view when she hears scuffling. Leaves crunch behind her. She looks and doesn’t see anything. It’s probably a squirrel.

The one.

Who said that?

Rachel looks around again and this time she sees someone moving towards her. It’s dim back there in the trees and she wonders how this person can see when they’re completely covered in what looks like a black shroud. There’s a weird and bad smell overtaking the scent of autumn leaves, a smell like the time the refrigerator died while Rachel’s family was on vacation.

The one.

Rachel’s skin is prickling under her shirt. Part of her wants to run, but that thing under the black cloth must be after her button. Why else would it keep saying The one like that?

Well. That thing is out of luck.

It reaches Rachel and stretches out a bony clawed hand from under the cloth. She almost laughs at how weak and frail the whatever-it-is looks. The strongest thing about it is that horrible stink.

The one.

“You can’t have it,” she tells the thing. “It’s mine.” She raises a hand to knock away the claw.

But the claw whips up and snatches her hair and starts pulling, and it isn’t a silly school-fight hair pull. It yanks her off balance. She drops her phone and her button to grab at the claw. Now that thing is hauling her into the woods, and she can’t even get her footing to fight back.

The one.

“It fell over there! Take it! Just let me go!”

The creature is still dragging her and dragging her and her scalp is one big searing pain and then they’re deep into the woods and nobody will hear her.

*****

A jogger finds Rachel’s phone and turns it into the police, but it doesn’t reveal anything about where Rachel actually ended up. She’s gone, just like that boy from a few months ago, and the kid before him, and the ones before all of them.

Jenna will remember all the mean things she thought about Rachel just before she disappeared, and she’ll wish she could open up her head and scrub her brain until the stains of those memories are all gone.

Mia knows that they didn’t part on the best of terms the last time she saw Rachel, but she doesn’t really remember why. She won’t believe Jenna when Jenna says “You guys were fighting over that button she found.”

The button? Maybe an animal will carry it off. Maybe a bird will fly away with it. Maybe it will be buried under leaves and no person will ever find it again. But the button is bright and shiny and made to be admired and fought over. And things like that don’t stay hidden for long.