“Tough Love,” by Amanda Woodard

Jun 17th, 2020 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

“I’ve always loved you, Jessica,” I type in the messaging app of my friend’s iPod Touch.  “I won’t let anyone get in the way of our love.” Although Jessica and I did make out once, I’m not in love with her. I’m writing to her under the clever alias “Jason Smith” because my friend, Ceci, and I are bored. The year is 2010, and we’re 19-year-old community college dropouts with only one hobby: baking. And I don’t mean making cookies. When Ceci asked me, “Do you wanna pull a prank on Jessica?” I was eager for a new activity. Plus, Jessica’s an esteemed partier, prone to good vibes and nearly nightly blackouts. If anyone can take a joke, it’s her.

Little did we know, Jessica had gone to elementary school with a boy named Jason Smith.

None the wiser, “Jason” writes, “I know everything about you. I know that you have five tattoos. I know your dog’s name is Peanut. And this boy in your Facebook profile? He’s about to get taken out of the picture.”

Ceci’s like, “Hang on.” She calls the boy from Jessica’s Facebook page. “Travis,” she says, “we need your help with something.”

Within moments, Jessica calls Ceci, nearly hysterical. “Some guy just told Travis that he would kill him if he didn’t stay away from me. Travis says he’s gonna meet him later to straighten him out. Should I call the cops?”

Ceci’s eyes widen, but with an even tone she says, “Nah, it’s probably just some guy pulling a prank. Listen, I’m about to go to work, but Amanda will be here. Why don’t you come over so you’re not alone?” When Jessica agrees, Ceci and I launch Phase Two of our prank:

We go to Ceci’s little sister, Sam, and solicit her help. We cover the top of Sam’s body with a trash bag, careful to cut a hole around her face so she can breathe. We practice fitting her inside the trunk of Ceci’s car. Just a test run. It’s not time to initiate Phase Three yet.

Ceci promises to buy red paint after her shift. When she leaves for work, I give Sam the iPod Touch and ask her to await my instructions.

Jessica comes over. She tells me the whole story, quoting my own words. It takes all of my willpower to look her in the eye and feign surprise. I tell her I have to text a friend, but really I’m texting Sam as Jason Smith. Sam copies everything I send her, and uses the iPod Touch to send those messages to Jessica.

“He’s still texting me!” Jessica shrieks.

“What the hell is wrong with him?!” I say, with zero trace of irony.

On schedule, Sam comes in to tell us she’s going for a run. I nod, deciphering the code: “Ceci and Travis are outside.” In reality, Sam’s going to slip, quietly as a corpse, into the trunk of Travis’ car.

Minutes pass. Ceci calls Jessica, asking her to come outside, and I tread behind her.

Jessica runs to meet Travis. She wraps her arms around him but quickly pulls away. “What’s on your shirt?” Red paint is smeared all over him. “Is that blood?!”

“What the hell happened to you?!” I shout for good measure.

Travis rubs his face, runs a shaky hand through his hair. “We can’t talk about it here. Get in the car.”

Without a word, Ceci slides into the passenger’s seat, and we follow her with equal haste. “Someone tell me what the hell is going on right now,” I demand.

“Shut up!” Travis shouts. “I’m trying to think!”

Sam starts knocking from inside the trunk. We told her to be frantic, like she woke up in the dark and panicked, but instead she knocks slowly like a ghost in a campfire story.




“What was that?” Jessica whispers.

Ceci turns to Travis and screams, “I thought you said he was dead!”

“I thought he was!”

“Who is dead?!” I shriek. “What are you talking about?!”

Jessica is quiet. Her eyes are wide.

Ceci says, “We need to check on him.” Travis kills the ignition, and we clamber out of the car. Travis opens the trunk. Sam—crinkling in her trash bag, covered in mounds of blankets, coated with red paint— is shaking with silent laughter.

Jessica rolls her eyes. “Oh, my god. I can see them laughing.”

Travis looks Jessica dead in the eye and says, “He’s gasping for air.” As soon as he says it, the whole charade crumbles to pieces. Sam rises from trunk-grave, and Ceci, Travis and I practically collapse, we’re cackling so hard.

“Y’all are dumb,” Jessica says. She’s just relieved she doesn’t really have a stalker. We were right to aim Cupid’s arrow at her. If it had been anyone else, we probably would have gone to jail.


Amanda Woodard is an MFA candidate at Antioch University and a freelance copywriter. She studied Social Science and Journalism at University of North Texas and attended writing workshops at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and Writing Workshops Dallas. Her work has been performed in Oral Fixation and published in Ten Spurs, Keep This Bag Away from Children and FlashFlood.


Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.