Authors: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
LITTLE WOMEN and Me
FOR MELANIE CECKA,
WITH GREAT THANKS
“There’s no such thing as a perfect book,” Mr. Ochocinco says.
Mr. Ochocinco is my English teacher, but that’s not his real last name. Or at least it wasn’t until last year when my older sister, Charlotte, had him. Back then his name was Mr. Smith, but then when he thought his favorite football team, the Bengals, had a shot at the Super Bowl, he legally changed his last name to that of his favorite player, Chad Ochocinco, who had changed
name to match the number on his jersey and whose own real last name before he changed it was Johnson.
This is all by way of saying that Wycroft Academy, the K–12 school where I’m currently a freshman, is an odd place. But then, aren’t all schools?
“A writer may
his or her book is perfect when completed,” Mr. Ochocinco continues, “and pity the poor writer who thinks that! But in reality, there’s probably something that the reader
would change. Maybe it’s just a single extraneous paragraph. Maybe it’s a character or an entire plot point! And of course it’s possible that no two readers will agree on what that imperfect something is. But no matter how beloved a book, there’s usually something.”
I normally love English class, which doesn’t even feel like school to me, but today I just want him to get on with it. Never mind if some novel needs changing. I’ve got my own problems, my own things that need changing. Like destroying Charlotte’s love life. Well, not for the sake of destroying it, but because—
“Your assignment,” Mr. Ochocinco goes on, “is to pick a novel that you have always loved deeply. Then I want you to write a paper telling me three things you love about it and one thing you would change.
.” Mr. Ochocinco glances at the clock on the wall, sees we’re out of time just as the bell rings, and hurries to finish assigning the assignment.
“It’s Friday,” he says in a rush, raising his voice to be heard over the sounds of students tossing items into backpacks, pushing back chairs, and stampeding toward the door. “I want outlines on my desk Monday morning, finished papers the following Monday. Dismissed.”
For a guy who loves football so much, he sure can sound all formal English teachery at times. But who cares? I’m finally sprung!
Now I can get down to what this day should really be about.
Well, no, I’m not really excited about it being lunch because of the food. I mean, normally I would be, because it’s pizza day, but
that’s not it. Plus, I don’t even get pizza, because I don’t want Jackson to think I’m a pig, so I quickly hit the salad bar, piling a plate high with as much designer lettuce as I can. Then I throw on a few other fresh vegetables and put some fat-free dressing on the side in a little cup. Put the cup of dressing in its neat little slot on the salad plate, add a carton of juice to my other hand, and voilà!
Salad is the one food that even when you pile it into an enormous mound on your plate, like I have done, does not make you look like a pig. On the contrary, the more on your plate, the more you look like an anti-pig.
Which is definitely the image that I want to project when I sit down to eat with Jackson, like I’m about to do right now.
Jackson is an architectural marvel of a boy, the architectural part having to do with the way he’s constructed. He’s tall, thin, but with wide shoulders—only a sophomore, Jackson’s a starter on the varsity football team. He’s got a Roman nose, Slavic cheekbones, Scandinavian blond hair, and Mediterranean blue-green eyes. Really, looking at Jackson is like going on a tour of Europe. Right now, though, his cheek is lethargically smushed against a lethargic half fist, his elbow lethargically slouched on the table as he stares at his uneaten pizza.
He comes to life at the sound of me putting my plate and juice carton on the wooden table.
“Emily!” he says, excited to see me.
If only that were really the case.
Yes, he is excited to see me—
—but the truth of the matter is it’s really my sister Charlotte he wishes were seated across from him. How can I be sure of this?
Because Jackson has had a thing for Charlotte all year, but he’s too shy to express himself directly to her. You could say I’m his proxy Charlotte. Meanwhile, I’ve had a thing for Jackson all
year, but I haven’t let him know, because if he knew, he’d be uncomfortable talking with me about Charlotte and then I would get to spend no time with him whatsoever. I’ve been biding my time, waiting for him to see that I would make a much better girlfriend than Charlotte would.
True, on the surface, he and Charlotte have more in common, like both being involved with sports, while I tend to be more cerebral; like both being tall and gorgeous, while I am somewhat less than. Still, I know I’m meant for Jackson. And Jackson’s meant for me. Sometimes these things don’t make sense to other people, but then, sometimes, a girl just
. It’s the way I feel when I see him and I don’t see how I can feel what I feel without him ever feeling the same way back. Now it’s just a matter of getting Charlotte out of the way.
Unfortunately, biding my time has not been working out so well for me thus far. Jackson has yet to realize that Charlotte’s all wrong for him and that I’m all right. I mean, who’s been metaphorically holding his hand and eating salad while he’s been mooning over Charlotte? I’ll tell you one thing: it hasn’t been Charlotte. It’s been
, playing the gal pal, the good buddy, the supportive listener.
But as I say, that hasn’t been working out, so it’s time for me to take matters into my own hands.
“Did you talk to Charlotte last night?” Jackson asks eagerly.
“I did,” I say neutrally.
“And?” he asks, still eager.
Here’s what I was supposed to be asking Charlotte about: I was supposed to ask her, on Jackson’s behalf, if there was any chance she might like him. It was all my idea.
Oh, and who does Charlotte like, if I like Jackson and Jackson
likes Charlotte? Why, she likes Jackson, of course. Who wouldn’t? After all, he’s got that whole architectural-Europe thing going on. But Charlotte doesn’t know that Jackson likes her, because she always sees him eating lunch with me, and I certainly haven’t told her, nor did I ask her The Question last night.
“I’m sorry,” I say now, feigning sadness, “but she said no. As a matter of fact, she likes someone else.”
This last inspired tidbit snaps him out of sadness and into surprise.
“Who?” he says. “I never see her hanging with any one particular guy regularly.”
“Charlotte likes …,” I start, but then I’m stumped. I hadn’t planned this far ahead. “Charlotte likes …” I scan the dining hall quickly, spot Charlotte standing in line waiting for her pizza, with her perfect long black hair. Right behind Charlotte and her perfect long black hair is Boyd Tarquin. As far as I can tell, they don’t even know each other all that well, since he’s a senior. Still, I get another inspiration. He’s standing really closely behind her, probably eager to get his pizza. This could work.
“Boyd Tarquin,” I say. “She likes Boyd Tarquin. And he likes her.”
“Boyd Tarquin?” Jackson says in equal parts shock and disgust.
“See?” I say, giving a chin nod toward the waiting pizza line. “There they are together now.”
Jackson looks just in time to see Boyd reach across the counter to accept his pizza from the server. As Boyd reaches, his elbow grazes Charlotte’s arm and they turn to each other, exchange words we can’t hear. He probably said, “Excuse me,” and she probably said, “No problem,” but it certainly looks intimate from here.
“Huh.” Jackson looks deflated. “I never would have guessed.” He sighs. “I guess maybe it’s time for me to accept the inevitable and move on.”
Yes. Yes! He’s finally going to turn his attention to me, see what’s been right under his nose all this time:
. Which is doubly true, because I’m short. So what if it took a little lie or two or three to get me here? I wait, eagerly, for Jackson to come to his senses. I’m sure when he does, it’ll be just like a Taylor Swift song.
Jackson brightens suddenly.
Jackson brightening suddenly—that
be a good sign!
“What do you think my chances are with Anne?” Jackson says.
?” I’m so thunderstruck, I drop my salad fork. “Who is
“Your little sister. Anne. I know she’s only in eighth grade now, but next year she’ll be in Upper School with us. I can wait. I’ll be a junior, she’ll be a freshman—not too big an age difference. And she’s really cute.”
I can’t believe this. What, is my life a sitcom with me the butt of all the jokes?
I contemplate the idea of my younger sister, Anne, with her pretty blond hair. I could see where a guy would like her, even an older guy.
But never mind that now, because …
I’ve wasted so many lunches eating salad while listening to Jackson moon over Charlotte … and now he’s going to switch his affections to
This cannot be happening to me.
When I get home, I go straight to my room.
I cannot believe how much my life stinks.
Immediately, I fish my iPhone out of my backpack and text Kendra. Kendra and I have been best friends for as long as I’ve been at Wycroft, but our schedules this year are so different, plus I’ve been wasting all those lunches eating but not eating with Jackson, that sometimes I barely even get to talk to her until after school.