Read an Excerpt
By Wendy Lawton
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2004 Wendy Lawton
All rights reserved.
Dinner's ready," Mrs. Wells called loudly enough to be heard upstairs in Chickie's room. The simmering smell of homemade spaghetti sauce had been teasing the two hungry girls for the last hour.
"I should go home now," Briana said.
"No. Stay," Chickie said. "Mom always cooks enough."
"I feel funny eating so many meals here ...," Briana said, all the while hoping her friend would insist.
"Come on." Chickie motioned to Briana to follow as she headed down toward the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time. "Mom," Chickie yelled before she was halfway down, "you don't mind if Briana stays to dinner, do you?"
"Slow down on those stairs, Channing Wells, or you'll end up bumping head over heels all the way to the bottom." Chickie's mom had said those very words for as long as Briana could remember. It never slowed Chickie down, and her mother never seemed to mind.
"Yeah, slow down, Channing," Briana whispered, emphasizing the name.
Chickie's mom always insisted on calling her daughter by her given name, Channing. Mrs. Wells often complained that she had picked the prettiest name she could find for her one-and-only daughter only to have that daughter end up nicknamed after poultry.
"And," her mother continued, "I don't mind Briana staying."
Chickie's dad walked into the dining room with his eyebrows drawn together in an exaggerated look of worry. "You mean Briana's not one of our kids? Why didn't someone tell me? I'm afraid I may have mistakenly claimed her on our income tax last year." He took the salad bowl from his wife's hands and put it on the table. "Trish, you've got to keep me straight on these things."
Chickie's mom smiled as she went back to the kitchen.
"Oh, Da-ad." Chickie rolled her eyes. He could be so goofy, but his joking made everything fun. "Don't tease Bree. She worries that she's overstayed her welcome here."
"Can't happen." He turned to Briana. "You do know you're practically part of this family, don't you?"
Briana didn't know what to say. She mumbled an inadequate "Thanks." Her cheeks burned, so she lowered her head to hide the flush. At least she didn't blush as readily as Chickie, whose classic redhead coloration —pale, delicately freckled skin—meant that she could flush from her throat to her ears in a matter of seconds.
That all-too-frequent blush would be worth it if it came with Chickie's carrot-colored hair and russet eyes. Briana was the one who had named the color of Chick-ie's eyes. "Don't say brown," she always told her friend. "They are so much more than brown. They are burnt sienna ... terra cotta ... café au lait ... russet." Of all those names, russet was the color name that stuck.
Yep. Chickie's coloration always turned heads. Some of their friends insisted that Briana's dark hair, pale skin, and clear blue eyes set her apart as well; but next to Chickie, her combination seemed run-of-the-mill.
"Where are the boys?" Chickie's dad asked.
"Geoff's still upstairs and Sebastian hasn't come home yet," Mrs. Wells said.
Chickie turned and yelled up the stairs for Geoff to come down. Turning to her parents, she said, "I don't know why he needs a personal invitation. We ought to let him starve a time or two."
"Channing, be nice." Mrs. Wells brought in the rest of the meal as Geoff came down the stairs.
"Let's ask a blessing while the food is still warm," Chickie's dad said as they all quieted. He spoke a short prayer and dinner began.
"Did you call your mom, Briana?" Chickie's mom asked. "To let her know you are here?"
"My dad's still out of town, so she decided to work late—month-end." Briana's mom worked as a bookkeeper. "She knows if she can't get me at home, she can call me here or leave a message on my cell."
"Your dad is sure gone a lot." Geoff talked with his mouth full of spaghetti.
"Geoff, don't be rude." His mother gave him a disgusted look. "Your comment alone is rude enough, but when it comes with dripping spaghetti sauce, it's more than any of us can take."
Briana jumped in to smooth things over before anyone got upset. "Since you guys say I'm practically part of the family, it's my turn to do dishes tonight."
"No fair!" Geoff whined. "It's Sebastian's turn for dishes. How come he always gets out of it?" At seven years old, Geoff always complained about things not being fair.
"That's sweet, Briana," Mrs. Wells said, ignoring Geoff. "I'm sure Sebastian will be happy to have your help."
The thought of helping Sebastian do dishes conjured up a picture for Briana. Sebastian already attended college since he was a full twenty months older than his sister. When Briana's family first moved across the greenbelt from the Wells' house, Sebastian played with Chickie, Briana, and her older brothers, Michael and Matt. As they got older and Briana's brothers went away to school, Sebastian stopped hanging out with the girls. Now he spent most of his time playing sports and staying busy with college friends.
But Briana never stopped admiring him. In fact, she loved the whole Wells clan, including the very annoying Geoff. How lucky am I to be able to have a friend like Chickie with a welcoming family like this?
The Harris family had moved to Mercey Springs in the central valley of California eleven years ago when Briana was six. She and Chickie would be next-door neighbors if not for the greenbelt that ran between their houses. It looked like a strip of park, but it actually collected water into a wash of sorts during rains. It had something to do with conservation or flood control, but Briana didn't know exactly what. She did know it created a parklike space between her house and the neighbors.
The Wells house had a Second Street address. Briana's house was on the corner of Second and Pace, but it faced Pace. As you looked at her house, there were no neighbors to the right either—just a finger of the green-belt separating the Harris house from the shops on First. It was one of the reasons her parents liked the house. It offered the privacy of a buffer zone all the way around the property.
Of course, Mercey Springs barely qualified as a town. It was just a small collection of vintage houses, a handful of modern housing developments, a few stores, a cardlock gas station, and a Quik-Stop—a typical valley town. Most people lived out in the country on farms or dairies and shopped in Merced about twenty miles away.
The Harrises chose Mercey Springs because it seemed so isolated and somehow secure. Briana's father, a marketing manager for a chemical firm, spent a lot of time on the road, so he wanted to plant his family in what he saw as a safe place. Briana's mom chose the house because there were no immediate neighbors around it. As she always said, she was a private person and didn't want everyone knowing her business.
"... Mmmm, Mom." Chickie let her tongue run across her bottom lip. "This spaghetti is good."
"It is," Briana agreed.
"Does Briana eat here because they don't got any food at home?" Geoff asked, mouth full again.
"Geoff Wells! What kind of manners are you displaying here?" His mom turned to Briana. "Forgive this boy's atrocious manners. And his grammar." Mrs. Wells shook her head as she repeated, "Don't got any." She looked steadily at Geoff. "He meant to say that he'd be happy to do dishes all by himself tonight to relieve both you and Sebastian."
Chickie started to laugh, but her dad gave her a warning glance before turning his attention to his youngest son. "Geoff, I'm hoping that you were just concerned about our good friend, but comments like that do not belong at our table."
Before Geoff could reply, Briana jumped in. "It's OK, Mr. Wells. I understand curiosity. When I was seven I had all kinds of questions." Actually, now that she was seventeen, she still had all kinds of questions. She'd just learned not to voice them. "Geoff, we do have food, but we don't have anybody at home most of the time to eat it. My house is no fun—not like yours."
Geoff looked embarrassed. "You can come here anytime, Briana."
"Thanks, Geoff. Guess what?"
Geoff looked up from his plate. "What?"
"You and I will do dishes together, and we won't let Sebastian touch so much as a dishrag. OK?" She felt movement behind her.
"And will somebody tell me why I am being plotted against?" Sebastian stepped into the room and lowered his backpack onto the floor near the stairs. He smiled at Briana.
For the second time tonight, she felt a flush creep up her cheeks.
"Hi, Sebastian," his dad said. "Wash your hands and sit down before these guys eat everything."
"Sorry I'm late, Dad, Mom. Practice ran over. It took Coach well into dinnertime to finish yelling at us."
"That good, huh?" Chickie got up to pour milk for him. "At least there's happy news on the home front. Bree and Geoff decided to relieve you of dishes tonight."
"I think I love you, Bree." Sebastian once again turned that gorgeous smile Briana's way. She couldn't think of a single thing to say.
"What about me?" Geoff said.
"Hmmm," Sebastian said as he loaded up his plate. "I do love you, but I have a hard time believing you volunteered."
"Channing, while Briana helps with dishes, why don't you go upstairs and try to muck out your room." Her mom didn't wait for an answer.
"I take it that's not a suggestion?" Chickie asked.
Her mom just gave her the look.
Briana loved Chickie's room. The pale colors and airy fabrics made the room feel light and summery. But Chickie kept saying she was tired of it. Lately she barely kept her clothes picked up enough to allow a walkway across the floor.
If I had that room — Bree stopped herself. Remember the rules. No what-ifs. She used to waste hours and hours wishing. When she wasn't wishing, she'd be venting. How many times had she gone around her room, around her house and kicked every surface, whispering, "I hate this room. I hate this kitchen; I hate this bed; I hate this ... " What good had it done? She finally decided to follow the pattern of her brothers and escape.
Of course she couldn't escape to an out-of-state college like they had—at least not yet. Neither brother had come home once since the day they left. They always had good reasons to stay away, even on Christmas.
No, she couldn't physically escape, but she could spend as much time away as possible.
"... And I don't understand why you don't keep it up like you used to." Chickie's mom must have been talking about her daughter's lack of cleanliness.
"I'm tired of my room. I've had it like that since I was nine."
"Sounds like an eon ago," her dad said with a grin.
"Oh, Dad. How many seniors do you know who still sleep in a white and pink princess bed?"
"How 'bout you, Briana? Do you sleep in a white and pink princess bed?" Mr. Wells turned his smile to her.
"I wish—no, I live in a cave."
"Do you wish you had Briana's cave, Chickie?" he asked.
Chickie shrugged. "I've only seen it once or twice. I can't exactly remember it."
Briana's heart thudded and her breathing began to quicken. Change the subject. Fast. "Speaking of caves and fairy princess rooms, if Geoff and I get the dishes done quick and you finish your room, maybe we could squeeze in most of Flip Flop." They both loved watching the reality television show where two teens traded bedrooms and, with the help of the show's famous designers, completely redecorated each other's room.
"Good thing I have homework," Sebastian said. "I don't know if I could take another night of teenage decorating angst."
"Good idea, Bree." Chickie jumped up and began clearing the table. "I'll help you clear the table. Let's work fast, and I'll do my room and meet you in the family room in twenty minutes. And just ignore Sebastian. Now that he's in college, he's just too brainy for all of us."
Oh, but those brains are packaged in such a great package. Sebastian's soulful eyes made heads turn, that's for sure. Briana had observed plenty of that head-turning when he was still in high school with them. Tall, athletic, great hair—moussed and messy—stop. Where are you going with this?
"C'mon, Geoff. Let's jam," Briana said. "We'll finish clearing the table so your mom and dad can have one more cup of coffee in peace."
As Briana washed the pots, she couldn't help thinking how close she'd come to danger tonight. Watch yourself. If you get too comfortable, all your secrets may come tumbling out. It's like Pandora's box. Once it's open, you'll never get it all back under control again.CHAPTER 2
Flip on the TV, Flop on the Floor
I worried that I'd end up watching the show all alone." Briana put the magazine down as Chickie came flying into the family room.
"My room needed a bulldozer, not a quick cleanup."
"I don't see how you can live like that—it's not like you." Briana kept her room as close to perfect as she could get it. She even color-coded her shirts in her closet. Order and organization —it could have been her middle name. Well, middle names.
"I used to keep it clean, but my room is so not me that I can barely stand to be in it anymore." Chickie flopped on the floor and picked up the remote from the coffee table. "I don't get it; you say your room's a cave, yet you still spend so much time cleaning and straightening. How do you make yourself do it?"
Careful, Briana said to herself. If you go into the reason that order is so important to you, you'll be treading on dangerous ground. "My cave might be dark and unimaginative, but it's still my little hidey-hole. I like to keep it tidy ... everything under control." Now steer her away to other things.
Talking to herself was nothing new to Briana. She had talked to herself for as long as she could remember, managing to keep a running inner commentary going at the same time as she answered questions and made conversation. She used to wonder if it made her weird, like, mental in some way; but after reading some of the literary novels in senior English, she finally decided she was no weirder than most of the characters. I wonder if everyone keeps a conversation going inside their mind?
"You are the control queen, hands down," Chickie said, handing Briana the remote with exaggerated ceremony. "I'm bestowing control of the remote to you."
Briana laughed. "As you well should. Anyone who could have lost her car keys in her own bedroom for an entire week needs a friend who can take control."
"I would have found them...."
Briana raised her eyebrows and mouthed her favorite phrase, "Yeah, right." She turned on the television and scrolled through the channels until she came to the one that carried Flip Flop. "Is anyone else going to watch with us?"
"No. Dad's upstairs on the computer; Geoff's in bed; and Sebastian alleges that he's doing homework. Mom took off for some kind of meeting."
As the commercial for a nonchemical wallpaper stripper ended, the Flip Flop theme music swelled and the show's opening credits ran—quick vignettes of wild rooms, funny teen antics, and harried designers set into flash-changing multiple screens. The credits always included a few fleeting teasers of the upcoming show.
"Cool. It's not a rerun." Chickie took one of the squishy floor pillows and scrunched it into a ball to prop her up as she wiggled to get comfortable on the floor. The Wells family room practically forced you to get comfy. The couches and chairs were oversized and overstuffed so a person would sink deep into the cushions. The square coffee table dominated the center of the room. Chickie's mom had picked one with a distressed finish so that nothing could harm it further. No one ever worried when the table became littered with soft drink cans, popcorn bowls, board games, or magazines. Mrs. Wells always said she purposely planned the design for their active family—far easier, she said, than trying to redesign the Wells family for a too-fussy room.
"Woo-hoo! It's going to be Claire and Petra," Briana said when she saw which designers headlined the show. She liked Claire's designs much more than Petra's. Her rooms seemed way too wild for Briana. "I pity the poor girl who gets Petra."
"Yeah, but it always cranks up the tension to worry about a design," Chickie said. "Besides, if everyone did classic or pretty, no one would tune in after a while. Half the fun comes from watching outrageous ideas take shape."
The premise of the show was simple enough—two teens, two designers, two bedrooms, two days, two slumber parties, and two checks made out in the amount of a thousand dollars. The teens exchanged rooms and, with the help of their respective designers-in-residence, redecorated their friend's bedroom from floor to ceiling.
"I dig Petra's designs. They're wild and retro." Chickie had been on a retro kick lately. She'd bought the cutest fifties-looking taffeta polka-dot halter dress for the junior prom. It looked like something right out of I Love Lucy.
"Not me. I like Claire's light and airy take-me-away kind of designs," Briana said.
"Well, if you like 'take-me-away,' what about Petra's beach bungalow?"
"Oh, kill me." Briana put her hands over her heart. "The turquoise ocean colors were bad enough, but when I saw them carting sand into the bedroom for an indoor sandbox, I couldn't watch."
"Claire doesn't always do light," Chickie said. "I remember the Out-of-Africa bedroom that freaked out the girl's little brother so badly he refused to step inside."
Excerpted from Flip Flop by Wendy Lawton. Copyright © 2004 Wendy Lawton. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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