Read an Excerpt
Jraise my mini golf club and try to focus on the clown’s chomping mouth. Other lips are on my mind, though—Bryan’s, to be honest. As my eyes wander in his direction, Eva leans in to kiss those lips. Bryan belongs to my sister, a circumstance I’d rather forget. My ball sails over the polka-dotted clown hat and disappears deep into Nowheresville, where the gum wrappers live. Mom bribed us into coming tonight by inviting our boyfriends. Except I don’t have one.
If life were one big stage (and it is), this would be the scene where the heroine (me) seethes with jealousy and the desire for revenge. The thick folds of her wool cloak conceal a weapon. She unveils the silvery blade to gasps from the audience and advances toward the doomed couple. O happy dagger!
But the pint-sized windmill in the background is all wrong. It creates a trashy-teen-movie sort of ambience when the scene calls for romantic boudoir. Think Othello taking the life of his beloved Desdemona.
Eva and Bryan’s kiss goes on for an eternity. When they finally come up for air, he looks over her shoulder right at me. I choose feigned disinterest over murder and saunter off in the direction of my lost ball. My so-called search leads me to a hidden bench that’s perfect for an intermission. I stretch out and close my eyes. Here’s what I should’ve said to Mom this afternoon: “Alas, no miniature golf for me tonight. My allergy to Astroturf, you know. Have your people call my people to reschedule.”
A sweet smell hovers over my bench. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty,” Bryan says, brushing my cheek with a half-opened rose.
I am so lying.
There are no flowers for miles around. Actually, the smell bears an unfortunate resemblance to cigarette smoke. When I open my eyes, I see Bryan leaning against a chain-link fence a few feet away. He inhales.
“Are you okay?” he asks through a toxic cloud. The glow of his platinum blond hair in the artificial light haloes his face. A girl needs sunglasses to look at him without hurting her eyes.
“I’m tired, that’s all,” I mumble.
After his parents divorced three years ago, Bryan broke my heart by moving away from Yolo Bluffs. Last September he came back with his dad, and my romantic dreams were rekindled. Sadly, before he could fall madly in love with me, he succumbed to Eva’s perky cheerleader routine. And who can blame him? She is amazing in every way. Half the boys at school swoon in her presence. Still, here’s my chance to make him notice my less-obvious charms, to make him change his mind.
“You seem out of it,” he says, dropping down next to me. I sit up.
“I stayed up too late on New Year’s Eve. Mom’s grad student party,” I say. Inside my head I scream at him, Are you blind? You picked the wrong sister.
His smile reveals even teeth, not too big and not too small. The song “Sweet Cheater” runs through my head. My heart pounds out a few extra beats.
“Where’s your ball?” he asks.
“I don’t believe in balls,” I say.
Smoke pours from his mouth when he laughs. I cough. He immediately drops his cigarette and rubs it out with the heel of his white sneaker. “Eva says I should quit.”
“You should do what you want.”
Personally, I believe smoking compares unfavorably to eating raw banana slugs, and I’m one of the few who’s tried both. At least when he kisses Eva tonight his mouth will be tainted by eau d’ashtray. I take comfort in this.
“I can’t help it. I’m bad,” he says.
“That’s your best quality,” I say.
In the third grade, I would stare at him for the entire lunch period, spending many dreamy minutes on each dimple. Once Eva helped me write him a love survey: Do you like me? Will you kiss me? Will you marry me?
Bryan filled it out yes, no, and yes. Nothing ever came of it, but my crush lived on.
“Great shot, Eva,” shouts the member of the Eva Fan Club known as Dad.
I savor the last moments of our intimate silence until Mom ruins it by yelling, “Roz, where are you?”
“Coming,” I yell back.
“Something’s up with you,” Bryan breathes into my ear. “Call me.”
Okay, so he’s not totally blind. We stand up and join the others. The moment we appear, Eva grabs on to him, circling her arm around his waist like a noose. Her face gives nothing away. Then again, she’s a better actress than I am, and I’m the best.
I poke around Eva the Diva’s room the next morning after she leaves for her ballet lesson. I haven’t come in here since she got mad at me before Christmas. More than mad. She took the folder on her computer desktop titled Roz: sister and best friend and moved it to trash.
The first thing I see is her journal. I’m not tempted. It rests seductively at the center of her night table, and the latch appears to be broken. Still I don’t touch it. Even though she’ll never find out. And even though it might reveal why she deleted me from her life.
Okay, then, one little peek.
December 20—Last day of practice before Christmas break. Finally got chorus line routine together. Skipped the cheerleaders’ party. Went for walk with Bryan.
The rest reads the same. Maybe TV Land hired her to write a script for America’s Boringest Home Videos. To be honest, I’d hoped for a confession, a green light to go after Bryan. Something like, “Roz wants that loser Bryan. I’m going to hook up with him to get back at her.” But back at me for what? I’m innocent. And I’m not looking for a new nickname—boyfriend-stealing lowlife—either. Still, there are extenuating circumstances to consider. For one, I liked him first. For another, all’s fair in love and sibling rivalry.
So that my morning won’t be entirely wasted, I close her journal and move on to pillaging her closet. We used to trade clothes constantly, without bothering to ask each other first. When my growth spurt made that impractical, we still shared accessories all the time—BD (Before Deletion), that is. Her new ivory scarf feels soft. I wind it around my neck, lie on her bed so my cheek rests on the angora, and hope for a miracle.
The blue pom-poms hanging on her door look like a pair of punk trolls in need of a haircut. I hate them. Since Eva deserted me for her petite cheerleader friends, I fantasize about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade. My fave internet advice line says it’s normal for sisters to grow apart during high school. True, we live in the same house, go to the same school, and hang with the same theater-geek crowd. The 24/7 thing can wear on a person. Except we didn’t grow apart. She dumped me, and it hurts.
Eva is one grade ahead of me, a senior in high school. Even BD we pretty much ignored each other in public by mutual consent. When we were alone, though, she used to tell me everything about everything—who kissed with too much saliva, how she had to wear a hoodie around her waist when her tampon leaked, things like that. She stopped spending time with me around Halloween to hang with Bryan. That always happens with a new boyfriend, so I didn’t freak. After Thanksgiving she started acting odd, and then she dissolved and recrystallized into a stranger.
Her door swings open. “Did you forget where your room is?” She tosses her gym bag into the closet. “Oh. Your GPS broke down.”
A National Enquirer headline flashes before my eyes. LITTLE SISTER TURNS INTO A GIANT ZIT ON BIG SISTER’S FOREHEAD. PICTURES INSIDE. She glares at the scarf. I remove it from my neck and set it on the bed. At least she noticed me.
“What do you want?” she asks.
Bryan. A rare bout of self-restraint shuts me up. My big mouth and my conniving side make a sorry twosome.
“I traveled far from a distant land to wait upon your gentle personage,” I say.
She sits on the edge of the bed. “What do you want to talk about, Chub?” The parents mistake her nickname for me as cute, not seeing the jab at my weight. I did plump out in fifth grade before shooting up in seventh, but I lost most of those pounds.
I roll onto my stomach to cover the lingering flab. “Anything. How’s cheerleading?”
A conversation cannot happen through a glass wall. She sees me fine but can’t hear what I’m saying. Maybe louder will work. “Isn’t there something in the whole freaking universe we can talk about?” I shout.
“Cheerleading sucks, actually.”
This unexpected opening knocks me off balance. My silver tongue and I soon recover. “Did something happen?” I ask.
“It’s gotten so competitive.”
“You like competition.” My elbow grazes a hard lump under her down comforter. Is she hiding something in her bed?
“No I don’t. I like to do things well.”
“Like thieving boys, you mean.”
She loads an angsty CD into her stereo and lowers herself into a plié using her ballet barre next to the supersized mirror. “You mean Bryan?” she says after a few dips. “From whom did I thieve him?”
Like she doesn’t know. “Nobody.”
I run my fingers along the edge of the mysterious object under the blanket. A book. Before I can read the title, Eva pounces. She’s the mountain lion to my jogger, pinning me and wrenching the book out of my hands. The back cover rips off in the struggle. I manage to stand up and hold it out of her reach. She gives up and goes back to the barre.
Expecting smut, I read the blurb aloud for maximum embarrassment factor. “‘A beautiful coming-of-age story about a girl who falls in love with another girl and their journey of self discovery.’ . . . Oooh, does Bryan know about your side interests?”
Her face flushes red. “As if a cheerleading babe could be a dyke,” she says.
“I didn’t call you a dyke.”
The old Eva would’ve made a joke of it. Now you know. Just between you and me and the tabloids, Britney Spears and I are lovers.
“Andie lent me the book. The stage tech with the eyeliner.”
“So she’s your secret girlfriend,” I say.
“Don’t be bitchy. Oh, I forgot. You can’t help it.”
Overreactionville. Silly repartee has always been our trademark. The oh-so-thin filter between my brain and mouth fails once again. “You’re the one who’s going off. Maybe you really are gay.”
She comes over to where I’m sitting on the edge of her bed. “You guessed my secret. I wanted to tell you sooner,” she says, taking both of my hands in hers, “but I was afraid. Do you still love me?”
“More than ever,” I say. We embrace. “It’s cool having a lesbian in the family.” The word lesbian rolls out of my mouth like I use it every day.
Another tender moment in the invented life of Roz Peterson.
When I say to Eva, “Maybe you really are gay,” she casts me a scornful glance.
“Reading a book about lesbians doesn’t make you a lesbian,” she says.
My foot taps the floor. When I force it to stop, the other foot takes over the job. “I know that,” I say. “So why did Eyeliner Andie think you’d be interested?”
She pitches her voice low and sweet. “How would I know, Chub?”
I’m not one to give up, especially when common sense dictates I should. “Maybe she has a crush on you.”
“Go away and bother your imaginary friends.”
“What about Carmen?” I ask. Carmen is Eva’s best friend and cheerleading partner. “She’s cute.”
“Though parting be such sweet sorrow . . . get out!”
In elementary school Eva used to beg for my company while she practiced ballet. Of course I was sweeter and more pliable back then. When I was nine, I read aloud five volumes of Little House on the Prairie while she lengthened her arabesque. At the time, I thought she was doing me the favor. On my way out, I turn off Alanis and her whinefest about her self-absorbed life.
“That’s mature,” Eva says.
I roll my eyes and take Andie’s book with me.
Back in my room, I can’t sit still. I pick up the glass butterfly that Eva gave me as a thank-you gift years ago. She couldn’t stand being the center of attention and proposed running away from home to avoid performing the solo assigned to her in our grade school play—Pirouette for a Lacewing. I came up with a better plan. After her grand entrance, I tumbled onstage behind her, somersaulting wildly to distract the crowd.
Maybe Eva really does like girls. That hardly seems like a reason to cut me out of her life, though. And the details don’t support my theory. For one thing—if she has the hots for girls, why the long parade of boyfriends? She’s run through six in the last two years. And for another—the make-out sessions with Bryan look all too real. The butterfly slips from my hand onto the floor. With a little help from Mr. Superglue, it becomes Frankenfly, a blobby and misaligned creation not unlike my life. I throw the whole thing in the trash.