Authors: Rachel Vail
WHEN I CAME
out of the bathroom, my older brother Henry said, “The awesome one in pigtails.”
“What?” I asked. I mean, yeah, I had pigtails in, trying it out, not sure if maybe it looked babyish. It was the
part that seemed very un-Henry to say.
Book 7, Athena disguises herself as a young girl. Homer describes her as âthe awesome one in pigtails.'”
“Oh,” I said.
“As in âthe awesome one in pigtails led Odysseus through the city.' Remember that part?”
“Henry, I didn't read the wholeâ”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, that was last year, I don'tâ”
“Remember? And she was leading him through theâ”
“Cool, Henry. I got it. Athena. That's not what I'mâ”
gray, like hers. Who are you helping escape?”
“Nobody,” I told him. “But, Henry, do you think they look awesome? On me?”
“The hair! The pigtails.” I gave my head a little shake. “Or is it babyish? Come on, Henry. Tell me.”
He shrugged and went back to whatever he was reading. I took the ponytail holders out. I didn't feel so awesome in them. Every time I try something more interesting with my hair than just wearing it flopped down around my face, it feels like I'm in some sort of costume. Like I'm a little kid again wearing Mom's nightgown, pretending to strut the red carpet in a gown at the Oscars.
“Who are you wearing?” Natasha would ask when we played red carpet.
“Ronzoni,” I'd answer. “You?”
“Fig Newtons,” she'd say, or something like that, both of us talking in whispery voices, pouting our lips toward wooden spoonâmicrophones while we watched ourselves in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door.
It's different in eighth grade, obviously. It's great, of course, especially now that I'm hanging around more with the Populars. Great but a little confusing. Natasha is so sweet, but then sometimes in a flash she's a little, well, kind of mean to me. But maybe I am being oversensitive. Hazel thinks I'm oversensitive and spoiled, even though she won't talk to me now and explain what she meant by that. Spoiled? What does that have to do with anything? How am I
Mom said she thinks Hazel is just mad and jealous that I'm hanging around sometimes now with Natasha, and that's reasonable. The thought crossed my mind of saying
thank you, Captain Obvious
but of course I would never actually say that to anybody, especially Mom. I do think it's a pretty hilarious put-down, even though I felt kind of terrible when Natasha used it on me. But then she said it to Evangeline one time later this afternoon and Evangeline cracked up so I decided it's just a thing they all say to one another and I should not let it bother me.
It's hard when friends go in different directions, Mom was saying.
“I get that,” I said instead of
thank you, Captain Obvious
. “And it's probably that much harder because Hazel hates Natasha.”
“Does she?” Mom asked
“Totally,” I said. “She has told me on many occasions that she can't believe I used to be best friends with Natasha when Natasha is such a shallow plate.”
“A shallowÂ .Â .Â .”
“Plate. I know. Whatever that means. One thing I am not missing so much now that Hazel isn't talking to me is her weird expressions.”
Mom laughed at that. I like making her laugh.
That only thing that has me worrying that maybe Hazel is right, that I am spoiled and a not-nice person, is: Natasha used to say stuff like that to me about myself, too. One person could be just striking out, trying to say a hateful thing. When it gets to be a chorus, maybe they're telling the truth?
Well, but. The fact is, Natasha used to say that critical stuff to me anytime I didn't want to play exactly what she wanted me to play. I had my suspicions I was not the one who was acting spoiled. According to Mom, Natasha was definitely the one who was spoiled when she made me cry so often in early elementary. But then again, Mom only heard my side of the story. And she was not used to dealing with friendship traumas because Henry is more of a keep-to-himself kind of kid.
I read some books about highly sensitive kids, and it's true I can't stand tags in my clothes or sudden noises and tragedies, so maybe Natasha wasn't completely wrong. Or Hazel either.
It's funny they hate each other when they have some important points of agreement over my faults. Or they used to. Natasha and I have made up now. Which feels really good. For almost two years I'd watch her in the halls and know she was going to pretend not to see me. I spent so much time, and so many fallen eyelashes and birthday candles, wishing it would not feel so awful between us anymore.
I went over to her house yesterday and it was such fun. We danced around in her room and took silly pictures of ourselves. The two of us dressed up in some of her dresses. She made me try on the pink and white one she wore to her aunt's wedding last spring. She stuffed socks in to make me look all filled out like her. It was hilarious. She asked me if I like Jack. Jack? I told her I've never had one conversation with him. She said she caught him smiling at me a few times today. “No way!” I shrieked, and we laughed about how silly Jack and I would look as a couple, him so tall and strong and me looking like a baby. We put on lipstick, full eyeliner, and tons of mascara and pretended to be seventeen, heading out to clubs, sticking out our tongues at the camera, pressing our faces cheek to cheek, pouting our lips. It was like a replay of being little kids playing dress-up, but the teen version.
“If you posted any of those,” I told her, “my mom would kill me.”
Natasha laughed and kissed my cheek. “No worries. Show me your sexiest pose!”
“You are too pretty!” she yelled. “Why are you so photogenic? It's disgusting! I hate you!” But she was totally smiling and kidding. It felt really good, like my life was finally back on its track.
So today, I kept reminding myself of all those nice things Natasha said yesterday and told myself
Stop being oversensitive!
I have to toughen up if I want to chill with Natasha and those guys. Suck it up, Evangeline says, if anybody whines about a grade or catches a ball funny and jams her finger on the playground: suck it up and deal.
So I was telling myself
Suck it up!
after Natasha asked me “Talk much?” as we were leaving social studies this morning.
I had raised my hand in class a bunch and got called on three times. Maybe that's too much talking for an eighth grader, even if the topic was the Civil War and I love the Civil War. Henry and I watched the whole Ken Burns documentary on it more than once over the summer. But, okay, shut the heck up, I was realizing, too late. Was I acting like Hermione in the first Harry Potter book, before she got cool and popular? Because that would be bad. You don't want to be Book One Hermione. Books Five to Seven, yes. Not Book One.
I swallowed hard and didn't say anything back to Natasha. Instead I sucked it up and dealt.
“Don't let her bother you,” Brooke whispered to me right then. “She's mad because Clay keeps staring at you.”
“Oh, my goodness,” I whispered back, both because, wow, really? Clay Everett was staring at me? Why? But also, yikes, she startled me, appearing suddenly beside me and whispering at me while being Brooke. I still wasn't fully used to being somebody Brooke would whisper to.
“Not that that excuses what a hair ball she's being, butÂ .Â .Â .”
“No, it's fine,” I said.
“Natasha is justâyou know.”
I didn't know. I mean I did, of course, but I wasn't sure I should be gossiping about her with Brooke. “Should I apologize, you think? OrÂ .Â .Â .”
“For, you know. Clay?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” Brooke said. “
Sorry your ex keeps staring at me.
That would be good.”
It's not always easy for me to tell whether Brooke is just joking around. I'm still not completely fluent in the rhythm. But I tried teasing back. “How about if instead I said,
Sorry you're being such a hair ball
Brooke laughed. “Perfect,” she said.
TRULY SAT WITH
again at lunch yesterday. It's becoming a bad habit. Something had to be done, and I was the girl to do it.
So first thing this morning, I waited at the cluster of lockers right near the center pole in the eighth-grade hall. That's where all
have their lockers, bunched together. They smiled quizzically at me. I smiled back. Undeterred. I sat down in front of Brooke's locker cross-legged and waited.
When she finally showed up, I said, “Hi, how's it going, Brooke?”
“Great,” she said. “You?” But she was looking at boy-wonder Clay, not at me. Maybe she was hoping he'd remember my name and mouth it to her.
“Great, thanks Brooke,” I said, and then I asked her if she wanted to come over sometime.
stopped breathing. It was a thing of beauty.
“Oh, uh, thanks,” Brooke said. “That sounds greatâbut I'm really busy.”
Every day from now on forever?
I didn't ask.
I stood up and smiled again. As if I didn't get it, that I could not ask Brooke to come over. In what possible world could a middle-school nobody with a hunched-over, but still I do believe grand manner, just haul off and ask the number one most popular girl in the entire school to come over sometime?
Not the one we all live in.
Here in this world I cannot really even say hello to her. But to ask, Hey Brooke, how's it going. Do you want to come over sometime? Hahahaha! I might as plausibly have walked sideways across the lockers and spoken in Elvish.
But I did it. I asked her to come over sometime. Yup. Forced her to look all awkward. Brooke Armstrong, fidgeting. I did that.
“That's okay, Brooke,” I told her, like I was used to just calling her by name, aloud, any old time. Three times so far.
Their mouths were hanging open,
their eyes darting between Brooke and me. Seeing me. If they'd noticed me at all, before, I probably only registered in their minds as that mild-mannered mildly depressed zero with the green hair. But now I was on their radar as that superweird girl who asked Brooke to come over to her house.
Good to meet you all.
“No worries, Brooke,” I added. Four. I smiled at her. “Maybe sometime next week?”
“Sure,” Brooke said. “That would be great.”
“Yes,” I said, “it will be,” and walked away with all of them still watching.
ALL I KNEW
about the girl who showed up at my locker today was she had green hair and she's in my math class. I couldn't even remember her name. Opal or Thelma or something. But she asked me over, and since I couldn't think of a good no, I said okay, sure, sometime.
All my friends were like
To be fair
she is one of those girls who stomps around in her heavy-soled boots and tights with holes, moody and awkward, and probably writes poetry in her notebooks during class about how nobody understands her. Not my usual pal. But my mom says,
You don't have to be friends with everybody, you just can't be unkind to anybody.
So, whatever. Probably it'll never happen anyway.
First, though, everybody was coming over to my house, and how was I going to explain why both my parents were home? I really did not need to be explaining my family's private business to the whole world. Or even just my closest friends.
And no way this crew would not ask a lot of questions.