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Authors: Margaret Lesh

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BOOK: Normalish
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September 18 -
Bad Picture Day

 

We got our pictures back and I derped.
I couldn’t believe it. Me, who has gone to modeling school—I derped. My eyes are looking up and my mouth is open going “durr-hurr.” (I wasn’t ready for the picture. The photographer snapped, and I knew. I knew.)

We got them in homeroom. Summer was already passing hers out to her BFFs, who apparently had a pair of cuticle scissors in their purse. Being bossy Summer, she demanded one of mine. I tried to hide them, but she grabbed the sheet out of my hand and ran with it.

“Stacy, you derped! Oh my God.” Giggle, giggle. “These are terrible.”

Then she walked away laughing,
and
I could tell she was telling Chelsea and Hannah about my derp. God. She is the devil.

I will destroy them.

When I saw Rose and Bethany at lunch, they brought their pictures out. Rose looked so pretty in hers. She wore a bright yellow short-sleeved turtleneck that looked great against her red lipstick and copper hair. Bethany’s were fine. She’s not a makeup girl, and she didn’t do anything with her hair—it just kind of hung there—long, brown, and limp.
But
at least she smiled in her picture and didn’t look like she’d been given a sedative.

“Stacy, I want one of yours. Lemme see,” Rose said as she handed me hers. She’d already cut it out and signed the back. She’s very organized that way.

I shook my head and lied. “Um, I didn’t turn the money in. Sorry.”

She and Bethany exchanged looks, then Bethany handed me one of hers.

“Looks good, Bethy.”

“Oh, come on. I look terrible.”

“Oh, they’re not
even
as bad as mine.”

“Wait,” Rose said. “I thought you said you didn’t get them?”

“Okay. So I lied. You’re not getting any though.”

We argued; we ate; I looked for Anthony. He didn’t walk by, but Chad did. He said hello to Rose and Bethany and looked through me—right through as if I were a ghost.

After school, while I waited in the parking lot for Becca and Roman to give me a ride home, I seized the opportunity to take a mental inventory of my life and the ways it’s a big, disappointing, horrible mess.


1. I miss my dad.


2. I don’t have a best friend.


3. I don’t have a boyfriend.


4. Chad’s not speaking to me.


5. I still don’t have any money, and my clothes still blow chunks.


6. Becca has been acting strange. (Stranger than usual.)


7. And my bonehead Algebra class is completely over my head. (But still not as bad as actual death.)

In light of my life’s general suckiness, I decided to also make a list of the things that don’t suck, because I’m an optimist (and so that I don’t decide to lock myself away in my room forever).


1. I have Rose and Bethany (my reliable elementary school friends).


2. Jill is so busy with work and school that she’s not bossing me around about cleaning the bathroom.


3. Mom’s been in a good mood lately—smiled today twice, laughed once.


Charles (my cat) likes me.

September 20 -
That Temporary
Happy Feeling

 

Summer’s voice at the other end of the phone
was breathless as usual.

“Stacy! Hi!”

“Summer?”

“Yes!”

Summer has a way of drawing you in and making you feel special.

“Hey, there’s a party tonight! Wanna go?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, without knowing important details like: who was having it, where, and when.

“’Kay. We’ll pick you up at seven fifteen.”

“Wait. Summer—”

I was able to catch her before she hung up. She’s always in a hurry, like she’s got a million things to do, places to go, people to see.

“What?”

“Where’s the party?”

“Chelsea’s house. Bye.”

I really shouldn’t have said yes. A party at Chelsea’s house was like walking into enemy territory. Sometimes I
really
wish I could be more like Becca, who doesn’t care about anything, or alpha-sister Jill, who would take the party and
own
it.

September 20, Later –
And the Awkwardness Begins

 

The first words out of Summer’s mouth
when she picked me up were a good start. She complimented me, and it wasn’t backhanded like her compliments sometimes are.

“Stacy! You look great! I love that blouse! Is it new?”

I looked down at Becca’s plaid shirt I’d borrowed—one that she hadn’t altered or cut,
and
it didn’t smell like cigarettes.

Summer, of course, looked perfect. Cute jeans and strappy heels. She’d left her hair down, and it was beautiful and flowing, highlighted in exactly the right places.

We arrived at seven thirty.

Me: “Hi, Chelsea! Thanks for inviting me to your party!” (Dork!)

Chelsea: “Hi, Stacy.” (Fake smile.) “Cute, um, shoes? Where did you get them?”

“Oh, these?” I looked down at Becca’s green high-tops—the ones that Roman had drawn skulls all over—shoes Chelsea wouldn’t be caught dead in. “They’re my—”

She’d already moved on.

“Summer!” Hug, hug. “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Probably a guy. Summer didn’t even look back. The two of them left me in the dust. Just like that.

I tried making small talk with Jenna and Ariel. The two of them stood next to the food table talking but not eating, which was annoying all by itself.

“Hey, Jenna. Hey, Ariel,” I said as I picked a handful of party mix out of a bowl, and when I said it, it wasn’t in a very enthusiastic way since they don’t like me.

“Hey, Stacy,” Ariel said, all bored and distracted. Jenna stared at me as I shoved a few pieces into my mouth.

“Fun party?” I asked.

Ariel shrugged. “No one’s here yet.”

“You two look great, you really do,” I lied. If I were going to be mean, I’d describe their look as two hookers in training—short-shorts and boots, tons of makeup.

Jenna rolled her eyes, and Ariel gave a half-smile and turned back to Jenna so they could continue their deep conversation about the very
best
way to shape eyebrows and the controversy over threading or plucking.

Parties are weird. You find yourself making conversation with people you’d never speak to in real life. People like Jenna and Ariel. I mean, when I say they’re shallow, what I really mean to say is they’re completely awful, gossipy girls possessing the combined IQ of an anteater, which I’m guessing is not very high. (I mean, they eat ants.)

Given the choice of being ignored by two witches or sitting alone, I decided on the third option of taking a self-guided tour of the house. Chelsea’s got a great house. Two stories. Her dad does something important. I think I heard he was a sports agent. Who knows? But her parents are loaded with cash. They’ll probably give Chelsea an expensive car when she turns sixteen, like a BMW, and pay for her to go to any expensive university she can get into. (But knowing how dumb she is, they’ll probably have to bribe someone to let her in.)

Wait. Do I sound jealous?

As I quietly walked upstairs to look for a place to hide, I took in the posh surroundings. Chelsea’s room is very sophisticated (I know because I kind of pushed the door open a little bit). Everything is done in maroon and black, and it looks very professional. No posters taped to the walls or random pictures shoved up with thumbtacks. She even has all of her shoe boxes lined up on special shoe racks. We live in two different worlds. Her world is a money world. Mine is not. Plus, she’s shallow. (Did I mention that?)

Finding myself slightly depressed by how great her room was and agreeing with my own assessment that Chelsea totally didn’t deserve to live in such luxury, I slouched back downstairs and found a place to hide. I sat alone in the family room playing Ms. Pac-Man on an old game machine, watching her eat all the little dots. I made it to the second level of sucky crapulence, and just as I was about to get to level three—Hell, at the point when I couldn’t take any more and was about to call my mom to rescue me—something happened. I felt hands over my eyes. Man hands. Hands that could only belong to one person.

Anthony had his hands over my eyes.

This was where time began to warp—speeding up and slowing down at the same time.

Of all possible scenarios of how this night could have turned out, Anthony’s hands covering my eyes as I played Ms. Pac-Man was probably the last thing I would have expected.

Legs: like JELL-O. Insides: all wobbly.
Get hold of yourself, you big dork!
Trying not to breathe too fast. Trying to maintain some sort of composure.

Weak in the knees, I turned around, and there he was looking great and handsome. His hair was perfect. He smelled of aftershave and power. (If you could smell power. I mean, is that a thing?) He’d managed to turn a plain white button-up shirt and jeans into cutting-edge fashion.

“Long time no see,” he said to me, as if it were an opening line people actually used. (Fail!)

But his eyes were like these deep, brown pools of handsomeness.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” I said dorkishly. (Oh, come
on
!)

“Well, you know. I’ve gotta spread myself around.” And he laughed. I laughed. We laughed. Hahaha.

Anthony knew I had a thing for him. (I don’t know if he knew about my trailing him at school like Harriet the Spy.) But he knew about my thing for him. Ever since the seventh grade when I’d go over to his house to do homework with his sister Jessie. I fell in love with him then.

He was: handsome, older, confident, in charge of things.

I started going over to do homework with Jessie more often, hoping to accidentally run into him on purpose (which I’m a little ashamed to admit). Nothing ever happened between us though. Nothing until that moment in Chelsea’s family room.

“You look really nice tonight,” he said.

It must have been Becca’s shirt. Or maybe it was the shoes. (Nah.) Maybe it was the shady modeling school makeup tips and tricks I’d applied to my face and hair.

“Thank you,” I said, since all the clever and witty things I usually have rolling around in my head had left me.

“Why don’t you come over anymore?” he said, smiling playfully at me like he was the cat and I was the scared, little mouse. “I miss having you around.”

You mean you noticed? You actually noticed?

“Um, I don’t know.” (My lack of eloquence was appalling.)

It was just the two of us and Ms. Pac-Man. And some guys in a little group off to the side of the room. His eyes penetrated my soul, and I think I might have stopped breathing when he took my hand. His was rough and warm. It was bigger than mine, and I hoped he didn’t notice that my hand was starting to get sweaty.

“Do you want to go outside?” he asked.

It was a simple request, but time warped again. One one-thousand, two one-thousand.

I asked myself:
Why does he want to go outside
? I answered myself:
Oh, you know.
One deep breath, trying to slowly exhale.

“Outside?”

“Yeah, let’s go out to the balcony. We can look at the view, get some fresh air. Shall we?”

He was very smooth. So smooth that I couldn’t argue with the logic of his ridiculously sexy face. So we walked outside onto the balcony. It was cool out, and the lights from the Valley below were twinkly like stars. It was all pretty spectacular, the whole thing. I stood next to him near the heat lamp, and he held my hand. He turned, his dark hair falling into his eye, making him look even more handsome. He leaned in, and this is the part where I left my body for a few seconds.

The kiss. It wasn’t the kiss of an amateur. This was a professional-grade kiss. I mean, compared to all the other kisses I’d had up to this point—all two of them—this kiss had heat
and
electricity. As we kissed, our life together flashed through my mind—our marriage, honeymoon, dark-haired babies. Whole years passed. I don’t know how else to describe the magic. I would have followed him anywhere—ironed his shirts, washed his car, done his homework. (Except for math.) My body tingled in an every-cell-encompassing-fantastically-incredible-time-warping few seconds.

But then he had to go and ruin everything.

The beautiful kiss turned into a grab-her-anywhere situation. His hands explored my body like I was the beach and he was a metal detector.

Momentary shock, sudden weakness. Sensory overload. Confusion. Brain impulses in an uproar. I was going to pass out or fall over.

I regained my senses, not being ready for sex. Being fourteen.

What the heck, Anthony?

Still, I let his hand rest on top of my blouse—on top of my
breast
—for about five seconds before I moved it. Things were moving
way
too fast. The heat we generated between us was scorching, the heat lamp totally unnecessary.

When the five seconds were up, I moved one hand from the front of me and one hand from the back of me as I pulled away and gave him my best indignant look.

“Um, that was nice, but do you
think
you can back it off a little? Maybe slow down a bit?”

I couldn’t help it. It was that sarcasm thing I’ve been trying to sort of work on.

He looked surprised.

“I’m sorry, Stacy,” he said quickly and stopped, taking a step back.

His face suddenly became earnest. He shook his hair out and composed himself. His look was all thoughtfulness and concerned apologies.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay? I guess I got carried away.”

He looked at me so intently, studying my face. His nose was five inches away from my nose. His wavy, dark brown hair was five inches away from my semi-professionally-styled hair. He repeated himself saying softly, “I’m sorry.” He looked like the handsome prince again, the one who would most definitely carry me away to his castle in the sky. The fairy tale.

“That’s okay,” I said to the prince whose pawing me was probably a fluke.

This is where Stacy York left the building. Those puppy eyes of his just destroyed me. At that moment I would have reached right into my purse and handed over my wallet, cell phone, cash. I would have given him everything I owned and joined his Anthony cult.

This is where he looked at me like he was Yogi Bear and I was the picnic basket.

Luckily, I heard my phone.

“Just a sec. It’s my mom.”

I promised her I’d answer when she called. I
totally
believed her threats about grounding, punishment, and other forms of general harassment. Plus it gave me a chance to catch my breath after being worked over by Anthony’s hands. Plus, plus: it gave me a second to work on my strategy.

“Okay, I’ll meet you out front,” I told her. “Anthony, I’ve gotta go. My mom’s picking me up.”

I waited for his reaction, feeling the butterflies in my stomach, getting lost in his brown eyes.

“I’ll walk you out…in a second.” He pulled me close and kissed me one more time, and this time it was soft and sweet, and I got the little goose bumps all over. And he
didn’t
try to maul me.

“How was that?” he asked in a soft voice.

Words failed me, so I smiled. He smiled back. It was very much like the fairy tale again. It definitely had that sweet feeling of unreality, like
this couldn’t possibly be happening to me, right?

He took my hand in his, and we went back inside the party. And I was experiencing this slight floating feeling until I saw Chad talking to horrible Vanessa and some other girls. I was about to open my mouth to say hello, but he looked away when he saw Anthony’s arm around me, and it hurt. I mean, it hurt like an actual physical pain, because I
miss
Chad. But Anthony’s arm was around
me
. I could always feel bad about Chad tomorrow.

We waited together outside. Anthony’s arm was draped around me, casually, like it was a totally normal thing for him to do, and I felt happy again, all tingly and excited, because my world was a magical place with rainbows and glitter, unicorns and lollipops.

Mom pulled up, and we said our goodbyes.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said handsomely.

“Okay. Bye, Anthony,” I said, all starry-eyed. I gave him one last smile, and he smiled back, a genuine smile that assured me everything was right in the world.

Mom drove, and I floated the rest of the way home.

It was the most amazing night ever.

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