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torch redcolor me torn
By melody carlson
TH1NK BooksCopyright © 2004 Carlson Management Co., Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy life is pathetic. Really. It's embarrassing, humiliating, totally Loserville. I mean I can't even admit this to anyone-outside of my family, that is-but I actually spent this New Year's Eve babysitting. Babysitting! Now how lame is that? I mean it was okay when I was thirteen or fourteen and needed to make a few extra bucks. But I am sixteen, for Pete's sake. Sixteen and three-quarters to be precise, and I didn't even have a date for New Year's Eve.
And as long as it's time for true confessions, the sorry truth is that I've never even had a real honest-to-goodness boyfriend. Oh, a couple of guys have asked me out in the past year, and I actually went out with Clark Harris for a while back in middle school, but then we never even kissed. Now here I am, a junior in high school, soon to be seventeen, and I don't even have a boyfriend. So I ask you, what is wrong with me?
Oh, yeah, I know I'm not drop-dead gorgeous like Andrea Boswell (she could be a professional model) or that airhead cheerleader Kirsti Quackenbush, but I'm not exactly chopped liver either. And com-pared to some girls who date regularly, I'm really not that bad-looking. Getting my braces off last fall helped, and I haven't even had that many zits this year. My friend Emily Schuler says I look like Winona Ryder, and I'm thinking she may be on to something since I've got those same kind of dark brown eyes and straight brunette hair-although I'm not into shoplifting.
And I have to admit, there are boys who do give me a second look and have even come on to me at times. But unfortunately they're usually the kinds of boys I wouldn't give a second glance anyway, guys like Spence Harding and Aaron Place. It's not that they're losers, exactly, but they don't really strike me as "boyfriend material." Not that I have a right to be too picky. But I really don't want to go out with a guy who is, shall we say, "second rate." I know that's totally shallow, considering I just spent New Year's Eve babysitting, but I suppose I have higher hopes.
What gives me the right to keep these hopes so high? Well, I suppose that's the problem with being "marginally popular." You see, I kind of hang with a pretty cool bunch of kids. This is mostly due to my best friend, Emily (who is a cheerleader, although I am not). And so I suppose I get this idea that if (and that's turning into a pretty big if these days) I ever date anyone, it should be someone from within that same circle of friends.
Now, I know this is pretty stupid (did I mention shallow?), but it's like I'm in this trap and I don't really see any way out of it. And you know what really makes it seem totally absurd and crazy, or like I'm on some sort of beat-myself-up trip? Well, there's this one particular guy that I've had this sort of secret crush on for years. His name is Nate Stein, but he's really an outsider. The problem has nothing to do with his looks. In fact, he could possibly pass for Orlando Bloom-not with the blond braids as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, but the way he normally looks with his brown hair and sultry eyes. The problem is that he's really into religion, or so I hear. And for whatever reason, that's just not cool with my crowd.
As a result, girls like Kirsti, or even Andrea and Emily, who actually are pretty nice, would never in a million years give a guy like Nate the time of day. But ever since he and I were in band together back in middle school, I've always thought he was kind of cool (and that was before Orlando became hot). But would I go out with Nate now that I'm in high school? Probably not. Now really, how pathetic is that? I suppose I really am a shallow person. And I probably deserve exactly the kind of life I'm living.
It's just that I've had this brief reprieve during winter break. My dad decided to take our family on a ski trip to Colorado during Christmas, and it was so amazing to be away from all the crud and pressure at school. But now it's time to go back, and the prospect seriously has me down. I get so bummed when I think about the disgusting things that are said in the girls' locker room every single day of the school year. And, as if that's not bad enough, I feel ashamed about how I've turned into such a big fat liar this year.
Now, you must understand that my lies were simply a means of survival, and they were of the variety that should just blow over in time. Instead, they've turned into this thing I just can't seem to shake. I mean it all started out innocently enough. It was early September. We were in the locker room getting dressed after fourth-period PE, and it seemed like every girl had to show off her new Victoria's Secret underwear, or Gap or whatever (although some girls actually clip off the labels, like if their moms bought their "unmentionables" at JCPenney or Wal-Mart). And, as usual, this underwear talk quickly led to other kinds of talk. Okay, sex talk, to be precise.
Now when it comes to sex talk, some girls are subtle and rely more on innuendo (meaning they act like they're saying something big, but you could never really prosecute them based on their actual words). Andrea is an expert at this, as is Emily. But that is only since late last summer, when she actually lost her virginity to her current boyfriend, Todd Barker. Before that, she didn't get involved in this kind of talk at all.
But then there are girls like Kirsti and her best friend, Thea Weller, who don't mind telling all (and I mean every skanky detail) to anyone who will listen. And let me tell you, it can get pretty disgusting.
"I just don't see what the big deal is," said Kirsti, who in my opinion has been a tramp since middle school. "It's just like kissing," then she giggled, "only using different body parts."
"Eww!" said Emily as she threw her wet towel at Kirsti. "Too much information!" I tossed Emily an appreciative glance meant to convey, "Thanks for voicing my opinion exactly," as I shimmied into my jeans and quickly buttoned them before anyone noticed that I wasn't wearing a thong. (I happen to think they're uncomfortable.)
"Don't be such a prude," said Kirsti as she threw the towel back at Emily. "Everyone does it."
"Everyone does not," said Andrea as she adjusted what had to be the coolest bra in the locker room that day. Obviously Victoria's Secret and, I suspect, slightly padded, maybe with gel or water or whatever it is they put in those things. I'm glad to say I don't need that kind of help.
Thea rolled her eyes at Andrea. "Well, everyone knows you're too much of a goody-goody to have any real fun when it comes to guys. Lucky for you that Jamie doesn't seem to mind."
"Yeah," said Kirsti, "but you'd better watch out, Andrea, or some other babe might come along and give your boy toy a run for his money." Then she made a loud slurping noise and laughed.
"You're disgusting," said Emily as she pulled on her T-shirt.
Kirsti laughed. "Poor Emily," she said with mocking sarcasm. "We shouldn't be so shocking when there are virgins around."
Well, all eyes were on Emily just then. Okay, maybe some were on me too. But then I realized that Emily was no longer a virgin-which meant I would be the only virgin left in this big-mouthed circle of so-called friends. And I think I actually began to sweat. Fortunately, my deodorant was nearby and I pretended to be completely absorbed in applying layer upon layer to my damp armpits. I did this with such focused perfection that I might've won an audition for a Secret antiperspirant ad.
"You don't know everything about me, Kirsti," said Emily. "Unlike some people, I don't go around blabbering about the private details of my sex life to the entire student body."
"Yeah. And we all know why you don't."
I glanced over my shoulder at Emily, hoping and maybe even praying that she wouldn't spill the beans. But it was too late.
"Fine," said Emily. "If you must know, I'm not a virgin anymore. There." She glanced around. "Are you happy now?"
Thea put her arm around Emily's shoulders and smiled, and I could tell by her expression that she already knew about Emily's little secret. Still, it was weird the way Thea looked sort of like this proud mother, like Emily had just learned to ride a bike. Or maybe it was like they were in some special club together, with a secret handshake and everything. And then there was Emily, just smiling like she'd received a national honor or college scholarship or maybe even the Nobel Peace Prize. I just stared at them in amazement.
"Emily has officially joined the ranks of womanhood," Thea announced to everyone within earshot in the locker room. Several girls clapped and cheered.
"No way," said Kirsti.
"Way." Emily firmly nodded.
Kirsti frowned at Thea now. "How come you never told me?"
Thea put a finger to her lips then winked at Emily. "Sworn to silence."
"I still don't believe it." Kirsti's eyes narrowed as she turned back to Emily.
"Whatever." Emily just shrugged.
"You and Todd really did it?" asked Andrea.
"Well, it wasn't me and Zoë!" Emily laughed and nodded in my direction. Thanks a lot, I was thinking. I mean not only did that stupid comment make me look totally lame, it was a reminder to the other girls that I was still there and, worse than that, still a virgin. Worst of all, I was now the only virgin in our group-perhaps the only virgin in our entire school, maybe even the planet. As I tugged on my sock, I vaguely wondered if there might be some tribe out on a deserted island somewhere that might pay good money for a real honest-to-goodness virgin. Perhaps I could be used as a sacrifice somewhere to appease a volcano god or something.
"So it's just Zoë now," said Thea in what actually sounded like a sympathetic voice. "The only one left." She patted me on my head as I tied my shoe. "Our little girl."
Well, that just got me. So right then and there I decided that the only way out of this thing was to lie-simply and believably. And so I did.
I looked right up at Thea and, using my best poker face, told a whopper. "What makes you think that?"
"Huh?" Now Andrea turned around and looked at me with wide eyes. "Really? You too?"
Our area of the locker room got a lot quieter and I felt my friends all staring at me now. Without even blinking, I returned their looks, avoiding Emily's eyes completely. I mean if anyone could blow my cover, it would be my best friend. Just the same, I decided to risk it. I nodded at Andrea and then shrugged as if it were nothing. "Yeah, it's no big deal."
"No way," said Kirsti as she sat down on the bench beside me. "You're making this up, Zoë."
I rolled my eyes at her. "Yeah, like I would make this up."
"When?" demanded Thea. "With who?"
"Last summer," I lied like an expert. "Remember when I went to California to visit my grandma?"
"No way," said Kirsti again. "You met a guy in California?"
I smiled and nodded. "Yeah. A surfer."
"No way!" shrieked Kirsti. "You did it with a surfer dude?"
"I don't believe you," said Thea. "What's his name?"
"Daniel Englewood," I said without even blinking an eyelash. It was actually the name of a little neighbor boy that I'd babysat a couple of times while staying at my grandma's house, which, by the way, wasn't even close to a beach. "He was tan and blond and really buff." Then I actually sighed as if the memory was making me light-headed. "Daniel was so incredibly cool. I really miss him."
"Way to go," said Kirsti, patting me on the back.
"Yeah," agreed Thea, apparently convinced. "Was he good? Did you do it on the beach?"
"Oh, yeah." I stood and looked at Thea. Emily would see right through me. "But it was more than just the sex, you know. He was really nice too. We were together the whole time I was in California. We promised to write."
"Do you love him?" asked Andrea.
I pretended to consider this. "I'm not sure. But he was a cool guy-a great first, you know."
It wasn't until Emily gave me a ride home later that she questioned my little story. "You never told me about this Daniel guy, Zoë," she said as she drove away from school.
I just shrugged and looked out the window. "Everyone has some secrets."
"But I'm your best friend. I told you all about Todd, practically the next day."
"Well, that was different. You and Todd had been going together a long time. I guess I was a little embarrassed about my fling with Daniel, since I'd just met him, you know, and he lives so far away."
Emily didn't say much after that, but I sensed that I'd hurt her feelings. I even considered telling her the truth, but somehow I couldn't make myself do it. And so for the next few months, I engaged in the locker-room talk a bit more, just so I could be believable. Oh, I never actually said anything too specific when it came to sex. I followed Andrea and Emily's leads by remaining slightly elusive and aloof. But I'd sometimes laugh at Kirsti's off-color jokes and then I'd just roll my eyes at Thea's sleazy descriptions of her latest sexual exploits. But all the time I just kept thinking that I didn't fit in, that I would never fit in.
So now that it's time to go back to school again, it seems more painfully obvious than ever that (1) I don't even have a boyfriend, (2) I am living a complete lie, and (3) I am the last remaining virgin on the planet.
Excerpted from torch red by melody carlson Copyright © 2004 by Carlson Management Co., Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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