Read an Excerpt
The One That I Want
As I opened my locker, an envelope fell toward me with Gemma written in Robert’s tight scrawl. My majorette tryout was in ten minutes. He must have known I would stop here to dump my books and grab my batons before I ran down to the gym. For two years we’d been sending each other Grandparents Day cards on our birthdays and Halloween cards on Christmas. Now he had left me this St. Patrick’s Day or Father’s Day card to wish me good luck.
My heart had already been pounding with anticipation of the tryouts. It jacked into overdrive at the sight of the card. Robert hadn’t wanted me to try out for majorette. He’d said I wouldn’t make it. That I was the wrong type of girl. That everybody in school would make fun of me. I had hung with the artsy crowd my freshman and sophomore years of high school. He’d said that by trying out, I was admitting that I’d wanted to be part of the golden crowd after all. That I was a fraud, and I deserved what I got.
At least, that’s what he’d said. What I’d been afraid he’d meant was, You are too fat.
I had listened to his harsh words since November, when I’d signed up to try out. His card meant that at the eleventh hour, he’d changed his mind and decided to support me. Maybe—crossing fingers—he’d finally started to see me not as a sexless friend, but as romantic material.
Just as I’d seen him the whole time.
Grinning, I slipped the card out of the envelope.
It was a sympathy card.
Okay, it was a sympathy card on the outside. That didn’t mean he wasn’t wishing me good luck on the inside. With shaking fingers, I opened the card.
Inside, Robert had crossed out the inspirational advice for coping with a loved one’s death. Underneath, he’d scribbled:
Congratulations on giving in to the American culture of bourgeois capitalism that markets eternal emaciation and youth.
After the initial wave of fury, I wasn’t sure what was more unbelievable: that Robert had sent me a sympathy card, or that he had signed it Your friend.
I talked myself down. He’d thought I would find this card as funny as he did. He was wrong, but I couldn’t dwell on it. The hall was full of people jogging downstairs to see me. I grabbed my batons, slammed my locker door, and tossed the card into the nearest trash can. Then I stepped into the tide of humanity and got swept toward the gym.
“Gemma! Why do you have all three of your batons?” Addison hissed as I skittered into my place in line outside the gym door. We were twenty wannabes trying out for six open spots to be majorettes with the marching band next year.
The statistics were cruel enough. But even worse, rather than a panel of judges picking us on the merits of our figure eights and vertical spins in the privacy of a closed room, we had to perform our routines in front of the whole school. Every girl who’d ever taunted me for eating more than my share of Girl Scout cookies and every boy who’d ever made fun of me for driving a train with a huge caboose would decide who made the cut and who was a Loser.
Worst of all, even though I’d lost thirty pounds in the past five months, I was still the heaviest girl trying out.
I was under a little stress. And my so-called best friend Addison picked now to quiz me on how I set up my baton routine? She had badgered me into trying out with her in the first place.
“Last-minute change,” I whispered back. It was a lie. I had planned to use three batons in my individual routine since November. Anticipating that she’d copy whatever I did and then tell everybody I’d copied her, I’d performed a dull routine whenever we’d practiced together. I’d kept my real routine supersecret.
“Well, do you want me to sit in front of you and hand you the extra batons when you need them?” Addison asked, making even her whisper sound hurt.
“No, thanks. I’ve got the pickups planned.” I’d engineered them carefully, anticipating every disaster. If I started by twirling baton number one, placing two and three at the edge of the gym floor where I could dive for them at the appropriate points in my routine, mean boys would kick them underneath the bleachers so I couldn’t reach them. For this reason, most girls had friends who would sit off to the side and hand them batons, as Addison was suggesting. These girls obviously trusted their best friends not to sabotage their routines by letting the batons roll away “accidentally.”
I did not trust Addison. My batons would wait right beside me in the middle of the floor. I might trip over them, but that would be better than someone else tripping me. At least I would be in control.
Inside the gym, the voice of the principal, Ms. Zuccala, escalated in the microphone, probably announcing, “Let the games begin!” like we were gladiators about to be thrown to the lions. I couldn’t hear what she really said because the gym exploded into a deafening roar of screams, whistles, applause, and feet stomping the bleachers. Majorettes were a big deal at our high school. Also, everybody was really happy to be skipping calculus.
In front of me, Delilah bounced on her toes. I had a few classes and band with her, but she was quiet, and I’d never had a conversation with her until we started majorette tryout meetings. The first thing I’d learned about her was that she was prone to panic attacks, though she was petite and beautiful and had a lot less reason to be nervous than I did. I leaned forward to whisper in her ear, “Good luck!”
She looked over her shoulder at me. “Thanks, Gemma. You too!” she said through the tooth-baring majorette grin she’d already pasted on her face.
Then I turned to Addison, who was not beautiful but faked it well. Her makeup was model-perfect. She’d bleached her hair several shades blonder than natural and flat-ironed it into submission until it didn’t dare curl in the Georgia humidity. “Good luck!” I told her.
She flared her nostrils. “Thanks,” she said, half smiling, still puzzling at my three batons. When she was not privy to every detail of my life, she felt betrayed. She would not forget this.
I ignored a pang of guilt. She had betrayed me first. Our moms had been majorettes together at this high school. We’d been ten years old when Addison’s mom told my mom that Addison wanted to take baton lessons, but only if a friend would take lessons with her. Wouldn’t I take lessons too? I hadn’t wanted to be the heaviest girl in that group either. But my mom had asked me, “You don’t want Addison to miss out on something she wants to do, do you?”
Five years of baton lessons later, Addison had decided that both of us would try out for majorette. I had told her not no but hell no. She’d asked me, “Why in the world not, Gemma? Every girl at our school wants to be a majorette, and you’re so much better at baton than a lot of them.” And when that didn’t convince me, as she knew it wouldn’t, because I was not a person who did stuff just because other people were doing it, she’d asked with her usual tact, “It’s the sequined leotard you’d have to wear during football games, isn’t it? You’re letting your weight hold you back. If you refuse to try out for majorette, you’re admitting that you have a serious problem.”
The prospect of dancing in front of the entire school had forced me to lose the weight Addison had been bugging me about the entire time we’d been friends. So here I was, thirty pounds lighter. We wore T-shirts and shorts to try out, thank God. I still wasn’t ready for the sequined leotard. Luckily, I didn’t have a chance of making the majorette squad. I would have loved Robert’s support, but he was right that my effort was futile. Majorette tryouts were a popularity contest, and I was not popular.
Mrs. Baxter, the majorette coach, guarded the door into the gym. She was grandma old. She was thin, but the skin underneath her chin wobbled when she moved, in time with the jeweled chain hanging from the spectacles perched on her nose. She’d been the coach when my mother was a majorette. Mrs. Baxter had been a majorette herself several centuries ago. She ran our school’s twirler line like she was stuck in time, and she always held her head perfectly level as if she were wearing a tiara.
As each girl approached her, she looked the girl over one last time, smoothed her hair or tucked a loose end of her T-shirt into her shorts, and sent her inside the gym amid renewed whoops from the student body. Mrs. Baxter looked Delilah over and didn’t see anything wrong. She just put her hands lightly on Delilah’s cheeks, so as not to smear Delilah’s heavy makeup, and said, “You will do great. Good luck!” Delilah stepped over the threshold, into the Roman coliseum.
Mrs. Baxter turned to me.
Blinked at my hair. The guidelines for tryouts had specified that we needed to be “in full hair,” which translated apparently as “big hair.” My usual style was to wear my long brown hair straight with purple streaks. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to create movie-star hair easily. Long ringlets cascaded around my shoulders. I’d even worn a rhinestone tiara that I’d bought at the costume store, because it made the purple streaks seem ironic.
Mrs. Baxter’s gaze moved to my face. The majorette tryout guidelines had specified “full makeup” also. I was wearing an even heavier version of my usual smoky eye—maybe more of an evening look for most people rather than something they would wear during a dance tryout, but it went with my movie-star hair.
Her gaze shifted to my T-shirt. While the other girls had opted for white or bright colors, mine had a picture of Courtney Love, for luck. If Courtney Love had tried out for majorette—which I was pretty sure she hadn’t, because she was in juvie by the time she was my age—I thought she would have worn a tiara and striped her hair purple too. The new shirt was a lot smaller than what I usually wore, because I’d lost so much weight. But I was careful to make sure it wasn’t too clingy. It disguised the stubborn roll of fat still hanging around my midriff. I wore long black shorts and thigh-high black-and-white-striped socks, because they amused me, and black Converse high-tops. This was the way I had dressed for my first two years of high school.
And I had fit in, more or less. I just wasn’t someone you’d peg to try out for majorette. I’d gotten a lot of guff from my friends in band, especially Robert, for losing so much weight, trying out for majorette, and showing what a popular-girl wannabe I was. Trying out wearing my usual clothes with my usual purple hair was a concession I made to my friends, to show them I didn’t think I was suddenly too good for them and their style. They were the only friends I had. Them and Addison. What a selection.
“Good luck,” Mrs. Baxter said to me without emotion. I could tell that in her mind, I was not a contender. In my mind, I wasn’t either. But I would try out. I would placate Addison and give Robert and the rest of the band something to talk about behind my back for the next few months. And after that, it would be over.
“Gemma Van Cleve,” Ms. Zuccala called. I smiled my own brilliant smile and high-stepped into the gym, walking forward but facing sideways with my grin to the crowd, as Mrs. Baxter had taught us wannabes. There was a smattering of polite applause and an ugly groan from the band section. Before I could stop myself, I glanced in that direction and saw Robert, his dyed-black hair unnaturally glossy in the gymnasium lights, cupping his hands over his mouth to boo.
Reaching my designated place for the group routine, I turned forward, bent to place my third baton out of the way, and took my position with my arms extended, batons in hands. The booing had faded away with the applause. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got, and the bigger I grinned. I would not make the majorette line, but I would twirl a flawless performance, and Robert could suck it.
Ms. Zuccala announced Addison, whose applause was a little louder than mine. Then came the girls behind her in line. They were a year older than us and had been majorettes this year. The applause for them was enthusiastic.
The school’s fight song blared over the loudspeaker. It was a recording of the marching band. I was part of that marching band too. Only girls who’d been in band were allowed to try out. But for once, I wasn’t playing alto sax. I was kicking and skipping in front of the band, pinwheeling my batons like a pro. If we’d been judged on our performance during the fight song alone, I would have been a shoo-in for majorette.
Some of the other girls had been taking baton for only a few months, since deciding to try out for majorette. Even Addison had dropped out of lessons in eighth grade—because baton was boring, or because I was a lot better than her, depending on whether you put more stock in what she said or how she acted. She’d started lessons again when she decided to try out. Only one of the juniors and I had been taking lessons for years. I even helped with the little kids’ classes at the dance studio after school, just so I wouldn’t have to go home.
I stayed on pattern, keeping my batons spinning in a plane, while the other girls’ batons wobbled. I caught my tosses with the big end of the baton up to keep my spins neat, while the others grabbed their batons wherever they could. Not that the crowd would know the difference. What they would notice was how many times the other girls dropped their batons and had to chase them as they rolled away in a semicircle across the gym floor.
Sure enough, as the second stanza of the fight song began and all twenty of us wannabes attempted a high vertical toss while we turned underneath, three sickening thuds sounded, batons dropping to the wooden floor. Mine landed squarely in my hand. Another few thumb-flips, one toss caught behind our backs, and a horizontal twirl in one hand with a vertical twirl in the other just to make sure everybody was well coordinated, and we were done.
The recording stopped abruptly. The last strains of trombone echoed in the rafters. Two more batons thudded to the floor, and rubber soles squeaked on wood as girls scampered after them. I stood with both batons extended gracefully, my third baton on the floor next to my toe, right where it should be, and grinned my glamour smile. Really, the look was meant for Robert. I had not embarrassed myself as he’d told me I would. The applause was louder now.
Hot with exertion and adrenaline, I scooped up my extra baton and filed into the empty row of bleachers reserved for us. I sat between Delilah and Addison. Another sophomore strode to the middle of the floor and started her individual routine to a classical piano piece, of all things. I should have watched her. Instead, my mind spun with anger at the boys who had booed me. They were sitting directly behind me, six rows up.
Robert and I had been friends since the beginning of ninth grade. Addison and I sat next to each other in the alto sax section, but I couldn’t shadow her all the time. I wanted to be an engineer someday, whereas she did anything she could to stay out of advanced math. That meant we didn’t have every class together like we had in middle school. I’d fallen in with the art/drama/music geek crowd, where purple-streaked hair and Courtney Love T-shirts were the norm rather than the exception. And I’d fallen for Robert.
But he hadn’t fallen for me. Everybody put up with the pudgy, quiet girl with the dry wit, but nobody fell for her. In ninth grade, Robert had hooked up with eighth graders too young to understand he wasn’t as cool as he thought. Now that we were in tenth grade, he trolled for ninth graders. I had been the girl/friend he talked to about his girlfriends.
I should never have fantasized that he would finally fall in love with me when I lost weight. That was my own stupid fault. But he should not have made fun of me the way we’d both (I’ll admit) made fun of the doll-like girls on other schools’ majorette lines at football games last year.
Delilah’s hand slipped into mine and squeezed, returning my thoughts to the competition, and the fact that eight girls had already taken their two-minute turns. Okay, I did not hold girls’ hands. It smacked of sororities or beauty pageants or both. But I was not going to pull away from this panicking girl. I squeezed back.
Now Addison took my other hand. Without looking at her, I let her hold it. She’d never held my hand before, but she must have felt left out. I stared down at my hands, with Delilah’s dark thighs on one side, Addison’s white ones on the other. My own thighs were fifty percent larger than theirs.
I did not want to be here.
My insecurities were drowned out by Delilah’s heavy breathing. “You’re going to pass out,” I whispered. “You need to calm down and breathe normally.”
“Okay,” she said between deep, abnormal breaths that were not helping at all.
I had to get her mind off her performance. I felt bad about talking through someone else’s routine, but this was an emergency. I said the first thing that popped into my head. “Do you know Robert Cruise?”
She perked up immediately. “Cutie-pie!” she exclaimed. “With the hair, right?” She shook her hair out of her eyes in a terrific imitation of Robert. “Plays trumpet? He’s in history with me. You’re really good friends with him.”
“I thought so,” I said, “but he left me a sympathy card in my locker.”
Her eyes got huge. “Like somebody died? Instead of a good luck card?”
She acted so horrified that I backtracked and defended him. “Yeah. It was supposed to be a joke. We send each other Grandparents Day cards on our birthdays and Halloween cards on Christmas and . . .”
I stopped because her brows went down in a scowl, and she was shaking her head sternly at me. “No. This is different. He does not send you a sympathy card on majorette tryout day. No.”
That’s what I’d thought when I saw the card. But I could hear Robert’s excuse in my head, and I repeated it to Delilah. “Trying out for majorette is out of character for me. He never believed I wanted to do it. I guess the card was his last-ditch attempt to talk me out of something I’ll regret later.”
“I don’t care what it was,” she seethed loudly enough that Addison leaned forward to look at us curiously. “That is un-ac-ceptable!” She sounded just like her dad, whom I’d had for eighth-grade algebra. “This tryout is a big deal. It’s taken a huge amount of work. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to be a majorette.”
“True,” I said, because it sounded true, whether it was or not.
“Friends support each other no matter what,” Delilah said firmly. “Oh God.”
I looked up to see what she’d gasped at. The twirler in front of us was finishing her routine by chasing both her batons across the floor. Now it was Delilah’s turn. Dropping Addison’s hand, I hugged Delilah hard. Over the applause, I shouted, “You’ll do great!” and meant it.
Delilah groaned. Her eyes flitted around like she was making sure she had space to faint on the floor.
I took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Don’t think about all these people. Keep your eyes on me. I’ll send you good thoughts.”
“Okay.” Delilah strutted onto the middle of the floor and grinned through the cheers and cat-calls, but sure enough, she watched me. I smiled at her.
“Traitor,” Addison said in my ear.
“I can cheer for more than one friend,” I said without looking at Addison.
“I mean, you didn’t tell me about your third baton. You told me not to use a third baton. And all because you planned to steal my trick.”
“I did not steal the concept of twirling a third baton from you,” I said reasonably. “And I told you not to use a third baton because you would drop it.” Which was true. But I had snuck my third baton in behind her back. I did not have to approve everything with Addison, but I had hidden this from her, which was not what a good friend would do.
She scooted away from me on the bench, toward the girl on the other side of her, putting as much space between us as she could—one symbolic centimeter.
I tried not to think about it. I watched Delilah. She executed a perfect toss-up with a two-turn, then an illusion, kicking up one leg and twirling the baton beneath her, spinning her body as she went. I cheered for her, and whenever she glanced my way, I let her see in my face how great she was doing. I really liked Delilah—she was one of the few genuinely nice human beings I’d ever met—and I wanted her to do well. Also, focusing on her routine kept my mind off me. And Addison. And Robert.
Delilah struck a pose with her batons crossed above her head, signaling her finish. The gym exploded with applause. I jumped up, eager to make it to the center of the gym before I decided to run out the door instead.
“Break a leg,” Addison said.
I turned. She scowled up at me without a hint of goodwill in her face. I was pretty sure she wasn’t really wishing me good luck, and she wouldn’t have minded if I’d broken a leg for real.
I high-stepped majorette-style to the center of the gym. Then I carefully placed my third baton to one side on the floor and put my hands holding the other batons on my hips. As I waited for my music to start, I stared at the back wall, feeling I did not have a genuine friend in this entire crowd of twelve hundred.
“Shake it, Gemma!” came a shout of five or six voices. The rest of the crowd giggled and looked to see who had yelled. They might not be able to tell, but I could. Robert and the trumpets around him bent their heads, hiding their faces.
If I’d had any lingering doubts about whether I should be furious with Robert, they were gone now.
My music started, thankfully. And for once in my life, I felt like I had total control. I’d picked a song with a booming disco beat that I knew the crowd would love. To keep their attention, I twirled one baton while I tossed the other incredibly high and turned three times beneath it. I had snuck into the gym and practiced to make sure my Converses wouldn’t get hung up with too much traction on the slick floor. Before I could panic, the heavy baton smacked into my outstretched hand.
The crowd roared.
I concentrated on my routine, determined to make it through. I had choreographed the song with my body in mind. I did some toss-ups with double and triple turns, my flashy specialty. But my back was to the audience for only a split second each turn. Other than that, I never turned my back on the crowd. The trumpets had already told me to shake it, but nobody was going to shout “wide load” during my number.
I hadn’t included any illusions, either, a staple of advanced routines. Delilah had impressed the crowd with one. She had a cute figure. But I refused to expose the insides of my thighs. This was why, though my baton teacher had told me I was her best student, I had never competed. I had never performed at all, except for the mandatory dance recitals at the end of the year. I kept my thighs to myself.
Carefully placing a second baton on the floor so it wouldn’t roll away, I flipped the other on my elbows and spun it on the back of my neck. It wasn’t hard once you got the hang of it, but it looked impressive. Only one junior with a lot of baton experience had this in her routine. The crowd noise now was an impressed “Oooooh.”
I swept up my batons. It was time for my grand finale: juggling all three of them. This was a trick for a feature twirler, an expert who performed an independent routine on the football field. A regular majorette didn’t need a move like this in her arsenal. Majorette routines for the halftime show were dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. If the whole line couldn’t do a trick, none of the twirlers would do it.
But I would. As my song drew to a close, I gave the last baton some extra oomph, caught the one I already had in the air, spun around twice, and caught the last baton. I’d tossed it so high that it reached terminal velocity on the way down and clobbered my hand as it connected with my palm. I did not wince. I grinned until my cheeks ached, and I put my hands on my hips.
Then I prepared to transfer all three batons to one sweaty palm so I could use the other hand to shoot the whole gym the bird. Ms. Zuccala would surely suspend me. Addison wouldn’t speak to me for a week because she would be embarrassed I was her friend. Robert and the music crowd would shun me because they would know the gesture was meant for them. But to tell them publicly how I felt about the way they’d treated me, it would be worth it.
Before I could shift my batons, the entire audience jumped up with a yell so loud, I felt the force of it in my chest.
Except for Addison, who was bent over in the bleachers, getting up her nerve. I was sorry she had to follow me. I could still shoot the gym the bird, removing myself from the competition. I had dropped a baton on purpose at our dance recital in sixth grade because Addison had dropped hers twice. I hadn’t wanted her to hate me afterward for showing her up.
But removing myself from the contest out of fear of how my best friend would treat me, or out of spite—those were things I would do if I still thought I didn’t have a chance of winning.
And now I thought I did.
I gripped my batons tightly and high-stepped back to the bleachers. I passed Addison as she marched on. She did not give me a high five.
A few hours later, at the end of the day, Ms. Zuccala came over the loudspeaker and called the majorette candidates into her office—probably so the Losers didn’t swoon in public, fall into their Bunsen burners in chemistry lab, and sue the school for pain and suffering. Personally, I would have preferred to stay en classe de français. Nobody there had ever spoken to me except in French as directed by the teacher, asking me to bring them a citron pressé. But today at least five people leaned across the aisle to tell me I’d done a great job in tryouts. I enjoyed being the center of friendly attention for the first time in my life, and I dreaded what would happen next. Addison was in English then. I did not want to face her.
When I dragged myself into Ms. Zuccala’s crowded office, Addison didn’t rush over to me and hug me. She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and deliberately turned her back, laughing with the popular juniors like she was working the room. Delilah talked with someone else. I didn’t really know the other girls. Several of them looked at my hair—I was still wearing the tiara—then down at my shoes, and took one step backward. Since I was cornered by a huge glass trophy case, I pretended to be interested in the awards inside: the state football championship last year, the wrestling championship from a few years before, and lots and lots of trophies the majorette line had won at band contests.
“May I have your attention, please,” Ms. Zuccala called. The giggling and shrieking quieted. Ms. Zuccala spoke to us and into the microphone, which broadcast across the school. We could hear her voice and her echo on the loudspeaker from the waiting room.
She consulted a slip of paper for several end-of-the-school-day announcements. Finally she winked at the room and said, “The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The members of the new majorette line are, in alphabetical order: Delilah Allen.”
Everyone around Delilah smothered her in a group hug. Several girls squealed and shushed themselves, because whatever we said could be heard over the intercom. I imagined those squeals would be funny to hear if you were sitting in band. It was the sort of thing Robert and I would have rolled our eyes at together.
But I finally understood the emotion behind those squeals. I was thrilled for Delilah. When I’d heard her name, I’d let out the tiniest squeal myself. At least some good had come out of this warped experience. She’d wanted so badly to make the line. Now if she could figure out how not to faint on the football field during the halftime show next fall, she would be golden.
Ms. Zuccala called two juniors’ names, and they jumped up and down together. Then, “Addison Johnson.”
Addison put both hands to her mouth. That was all I saw before she was obscured by girls hugging her. I was happy she’d made the squad. Really happy. If I kept telling myself this, maybe I would feel it.
No . . . I was a terrible person, because all I felt was dread. She had made the majorette line, and I hadn’t. She would lord it over me. She would hang out with the other majorettes from now on. I would go crawling back to Robert and admit that he’d been right. Majorette tryouts were a popularity contest. They had nothing to do with talent, since Addison had made it.
Ms. Zuccala called a junior’s name. Addison walked over to Delilah, hugged her, and whispered to her. Addison very deliberately did not look at me. I should have approached them and hugged them both. But I knew Addison had not forgotten the three-baton fiasco. When she was in this mood, she would stare at me coldly and turn her back on me.
Luckily, the stress of the majorette announcements would be over in the next ten seconds. The girls whose names hadn’t been called made fists and squeezed their eyes shut like they had a chance of making the squad, even though the alphabetical order had already passed them over. Didn’t they realize this? The last girl called had been an S. There were only two people left in the room who could possibly make the squad: Charlene Tandekar and—
“Gemma Van Cleve,” Ms. Zuccala announced.
I froze. Was she still calling out the names of the girls who’d made the line? Or had I been daydreaming, and she’d moved on to the names of the Losers?
Bodies jostled me from all sides. People were jumping up and down and hugging me, I realized after a few panicked seconds. I pasted my majorette grin on my face and hugged them back. I might even have managed a squeal. I was a majorette now. My brain told me I should be happy, but all I felt was numb.
Several of the girls who hadn’t made it burst out of Ms. Zuccala’s office to have a dramatic cry. The more gracious losers congratulated the new majorettes. Through the bustle, Addison snuck between girls and finally reached me. She threw her arms around me and hugged me hard enough to hurt. Then she whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad you made it. Now you can vote for me for head majorette.” She held me at arm’s length. “Our moms are going to be so happy! We’re majorettes together, just like they were!”
“Yeah,” I managed. Addison’s mom would be ecstatic. I wasn’t sure my mom really cared, but she would act politely cheerful. Maybe my dad would be happy for me. I would call him to tell him the news, but sometimes he didn’t return my calls for a month, and he usually called back during school when he must know my ringer was off.
Addison was definitely happy. She would be voted head majorette for our senior year. The only other choices were Delilah, who was too nervous, and me.
I was not the type to be head majorette. I was not the type to be a majorette at all. Slowly my brain was processing what had happened to me. The school had chosen me for my talent, despite the purple streaks in my hair and my weight. I should be happy. Instead, I worried that being a majorette with Addison would provide her with new ways to torture me.
The final bell rang. I caught Delilah on her way out of Ms. Zuccala’s office, overcame my natural disinclination to hugging, and gave her the big squeeze she deserved. As Addison and I jogged down the front stairs, into the bright spring afternoon, and walked down the hill to her car, all these kids I knew only vaguely or had never noticed before in my life waved to me as I passed and congratulated me. The third time this happened, Addison stomped her foot and protested, “I made majorette too!” I hoped for Addison’s sake that they hadn’t heard her.
My cell phone beeped with a text message. I only got texts from Addison, who was walking a few steps ahead of me, white fists squeezing the life out of her batons, and who obviously did not have her thumbs on her phone. And from Robert.
I stopped and dug out my phone. Robert had changed his mind, right? He was proud of me, and he’d convinced the rest of our band friends to be proud of me too. I clicked to his message.
You sold out.
There in the warm sunlight, I went cold, except for my cheeks, which felt like they were flaming hot.
Realizing I was not following her, Addison walked back to where I stood. She peered over my shoulder at the message.
“I guess he doesn’t want to be friends anymore,” I said, trying to sound like I didn’t care.
“He’s such an ass.” Addison had always hated Robert. “If he did want to be your friend, you’d be insane to be his.”
Addison was never right about anything. But I had to admit, at least silently to myself, that she’d hit on the truth this time. Robert knew I didn’t want to be a majorette, but he also knew the tryout was important to me, if only for warped reasons. We’d been friends for two years. We’d sat together on every band trip when Addison was with her boyfriend of the week and Robert’s younger girlfriend wasn’t around. I had achieved something, and he owed me more than an insult.
Thinking about this, I realized that I had achieved something. Addison was looking over my shoulder, interested in my social life, rather than the other way around. That had never happened before. Never, in the six years we had been best friends. Now that I was a majorette (I was a majorette! So weird!), I might actually get a social life. Every majorette at my school had one—a real one that included boyfriends, not just unrequited crushes.
But I would need to fight for mine. For the first time ever, I was enjoying some mediocre level of social acceptance. Unless I took immediate action, I would lose my newly favorable position at my school when my fat roll was exposed to the world. Every week this fall, I would be forced to wear a skintight sequined leotard on a football field in front of the entire student body and thousands more people packing the stadium. I was determined not to be the comic relief.
I would have to lose more weight.