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By Shauna Cross
MacmillanCopyright © 2007 Shauna Cross
All rights reserved.
The Not-So-Sweet Life
I don't know how it happened or what sort of backroom deal went down, but apparently I'm living in a small Texas town with two culturally clueless impostors for legal guardians, when I just know my real parents are out there somewhere. They're probably these supercool artist types with a loft in New York. Or maybe they're in San Francisco. That would work too. I'd take San Fran over this cow-patty town any day.
Dear Potentially Cool Parental Folk,
If you suddenly realize you're missing one charmingly sarcastic 16-year-old daughter, send a plane ticket. I'm ready to come home.
Your Forgiving Offspring
P.S. If you aren't my real parents and you happen to find this note (and you are hip and childless), I urge you to consider the wonderful world of adoption.
I wrote that on a note card last spring when I was forced to participate in an oh-so-lame balloon release at school (don't ask). So far, I've had exactly zero responses, but I'm keepin' hope alive.
Hope is pretty much the only way to survive Bodeen, Texas. Unless, of course, you're a football-throwing, truck-worshipping, country-music-listening hick. Then, naturally, Bodeen is your soul mate of a town. Yay, you.
But if you happen to be an indie-rock-loving, thrift-store-prowling, homemade-T-shirt-wearing, blue-hair-dying misfit girl who thinks life is a '60s movie, then Bodeen can be, and often is, one giant ball of suck.
Ah, beautiful Bodeen, home of the unironic mullet and the "world-famous" Bluebonnet ice cream factory. The frozen yum-yums are produced locally, and people travel far and wide just to get a glimpse of the ice cream makin' in action. Honestly, the process is about as riveting as golf on Saturday TV, but the tourists ooh and ahh like it's a freakin' religious experience, like the rocky road they're munching on isn't the exact same crap they can buy by the gallon at their local Piggly Wiggly.
By the way, when I say tourists, I don't mean to imply Bodeen is a mecca for world travelers or anyone remotely interesting, i.e., crushworthy boys. The whole ice-cream-factory-as-vacation-destination thing doesn't really speak to that demographic. Believe me, I have done my research on this one. I have spent countless hours watching tour bus after tour bus unload, desperately hoping for a glimpse of male cuteness among the fat-ass, fanny-pack parade — it never happens. You will see Jesus skateboarding the streets of Bodeen before a hot guy ever wanders across the county line.
And if that isn't enough, Bodeen has somehow become synonymous with "romantic getaway for two," which means other people's parents drag their sad relationships out here for a little weekend "rekindling." They check into one of our charming bed and breakfasts and get busy doing whatever it is parent folk do when surrounded by grandma wallpaper, doily curtains, and the scent of fresh-baked muffins (cringe factor high!).
Every Friday night, when these couples descend on my little town, I think, Somewhere scattered across Texas are a bunch of teenage boys whose parents left them alone for the weekend. And I think there must be one boy, one witty, music-obsessed cutie, who could really appreciate a girl with blue hair and an impressive CD collection ... and I think, Why aren't I with him? I SHOULD BE THERE WHILE HIS PARENTS ARE HERE.
It hurts. It really does.CHAPTER 2
Little House on the Scary
So, you might as well know my name is Bliss Cavendar. God, just saying it out loud makes me want to hurl. The Bliss part is particularly cruel, considering I haven't experienced any (unless you count my banana Laffy Taffy obsession — but that only takes a girl so far). Obviously, my nutso mother was expecting a tap-dancing ray of sunshine when she was shopping for baby names. Instead, she got me. Surprise. No tap dancing, no sunshine.
To make matters worse, Brooke (my alleged real mother) suffers from a rare but raging illness: addiction to beauty pageants. Tiara-ism, I like to call it. Apparently Brooke was a major hottie back in her day, winning a slew of titles, crowns, and sashes, including the local end-all, be-all crown, Miss Bluebonnet. My grandmother and great-grandmother were also Miss Bluebonnets.
Unfortunately for Brooke, Miss Bluebonnet wasn't enough. She hungered for, but never quite made it to, the pageant big leagues, a fact that has fueled her epic, Lord of the Rings style quest to ensure that her child wins the ultimate crown. Yep, Brooke decided that if she couldn't be a Miss America herself, she would be the proud mother of a Miss America. That's where I come in, victim #1.
I spent my formative years participating in one rhinestone torture-a-thon after another (I was so naive then). Brooke would tease my stringy hair skyscraper high and spackle on so much makeup that, I swear to God, you could see it on satellite photos from space. I never won anything more than "Certificate of Participation," which is pageant-speak for "big-ass loser."
But that didn't stop Brooke, who does not let little things like reality get in her way when she is doggedly pursuing a goal. She hooked me up with a coach, and on my thirteenth birthday, I debuted a new talent routine that was supposed to propel me to the title of "Little Miss Howdy-Roo" in the nearby town of Dripping Springs.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Y'all give a big Texas welcome to Bliss Cavendar, baton-twirling sensation!
You have to believe me when I tell you I gave that damn baton everything I had. I twirled, whirled, and step-ball-changed like my life depended on it. But the hairspray made me dizzy, and somewhere in the middle of my showstopping finale, the choreography gods took a smoke break and left me hangin'. The baton ricocheted off my cartwheeling foot, sailed into the audience, and coldcocked judge Darla Schaffer right upside the head. Well, you can't say it wasn't a showstopper. It took Mrs. Schaffer five minutes to regain consciousness.
On the rainy drive home, as I clutched yet another "Certificate of Participation," Mom kept saying, "It's okay, sugar. We just gotta nail that finale and we're golden. You don't get to be Miss America by giving up, you know." But I did know, and I was over it. Two weeks later, I launched a Gandhi-inspired hunger strike and finally secured freedom from my mother's pageant cult. Sort of.
She still expects me to compete in Miss Bluebonnet in December — a painful fact I try to keep buried way, way in the back of my mind. I consider it the final stop on my long and completely unsuccessful pageant train ride.
Meanwhile, Mom turned her Miss America sights on my little sister, Shania (another bad but very pageant-friendly name), who just turned ... drumroll please ... four years old. I call my angelic little sis Sweet Pea because I find her Brooke-given name too repugnant to utter out loud. Plus, when Sweet Pea grows up and looks back on her childhood, I want her to know I was fighting the good fight on her behalf.
The strange thing about Sweet Pea, the four-year-old pageant queen, is that she really seems to love competing. She never cries or threatens to run away when Brooke teases her hair. And, get this, the kid actually squeals with delight when she gets to wear that abominable piece of bedazzled cotton candy pretending to be a dress. Maybe that's why she always wins. She's Brooke's pageant dream come true.
Sometimes I feel guilty, like I should be protecting Sweet Pea from my mom's cult (being a survivor, and all). But, at the same time, I'm grateful because my little sis brings home the trophy bacon like I never could, which keeps Brooke off my back. And my motto is, the less Brooke in my life, the better.
Of course this JC Penney family portrait wouldn't be complete without mentioning my pa, Earl Cavendar. Here's all you need to know about good ol' Earl. The Cliffs Notes if you will. He owns Longhorn Furniture (home of the world's ugliest sofas), says maybe three words a day, and usually falls asleep in his maroon velour ("melour") La-Z-Boy after the football report. Earl knows he's no match for the Texas Twister he married and has adopted a cunning survival tactic: He does exactly what he's told and stays the hell out of Brooke's way.
Oh, and here's a fun fact. I recently discovered that, contrary to official family records, Earl and Brooke's actual wedding date is only five months before my birthday. Surprise, surprise. Ain't true love grand?CHAPTER 3
The Pash Amini Show
Despite the staggering odds against me, I have managed to find the best friend a small-town weirdo girl like me could ever hope for: the one, the only, Pash Amini. Last year, when I was dying from boredom (I'm talkin' ICU — it did not look good), Pash moved to town and nursed me back to social health.
She wasn't in the school forty-five minutes before she hunted me down at my locker. She fearlessly approached, tossing all new-girl-in-school rules blithely to the side.
"Hey," she said, "my name's Pash, as in passion."
I took one look at her '50s pencil skirt and homemade skull earrings while she silently graded my tuxedo-striped Dickies and '70s "Hopscotch for Jesus" T-shirt. It was best friend love at first sight.
Not only is she hilarious and crazy smart (straight As, honors everything), but Pash is the most beautiful Arab-American bombshell this side of the Pecos River. The only Arab-American bombshell, she would remind me. Naturally, Pash's exotic gorgeousness has yet to receive the props it deserves from the knuckle-dragging idiots at Bodeen High. I know her pain. Not that there are any lads worth swooning over, but it would be nice to be admired. Secretly admired, even.
It's the height of summer and a thousand and two degrees in the blistering August heat, just a friendly reminder that Bodeen, Texas, really is hell. Pash and I wander through town enjoying our last half hour of freedom before we clock in at The Job So Awful We Dare Not Speak Its Name (TJSAWDNSIN).
* * *
Okay, I'm going to explain this once and once only. Then, you should swallow this piece of paper because I was never here. Pash and I work at the Oink Joint, a barbecue restaurant "famous" (i.e., not famous at all) for the giant, two-story pig sculpture that sits in the parking lot, the most tourist-trappy of tourist traps.
TJSAWDNSIN is so awful that I was holding out for a job at Wal-Mart before I took it. It's the place you go when no one else will have you. Naturally, Pash and I were shoo-ins.
* * *
We share a double-dip Bluebonnet waffle cone of cookies and cream (me) and mint chocolate chip (her), sword fighting with our plastic spoons. Now, as much as I detest the tacky tourist trade that has sprung up around the Bluebonnet factory, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that their ice cream is my most beloved food group. Those Bodeen dairy cows have got some serious skill.
I could, however, do without the Bluebonnet ads that dot the town landscape. You can't walk two blocks without having a billboard shoved in your face, and not just any billboard. The Bluebonnet billboards are a cultural phenom unto themselves. They always feature the reigning Miss Bluebonnet in a cleavage-baring milkmaid costume, smiling as she licks a glistening ice cream cone. Sexy, yet wholesome (so as not to cast doubt on Miss Bluebonnet's chastity, this being a Christian community, and all).
Now, you-know-who cannot pass a billboard without sighing dramatically, "That's your destiny, Bliss," which only happens about ... thirty-five times a day. Give or take.
The current competition for the Miss Bluebonnet crown is Corbi Booth, varsity cheerleader and a real chipmunk of a girl. Frankly, I'd just hand her the crown today if it wouldn't send Brooke into a tailspin. Corbi and I were best friends (BFF!) a million years ago, but when I discovered real music and she devoted her life to the pursuit of the perfect lip gloss, it was time to go our separate ways.
Now, you know and I know, and everyone in the whole free world knows, that come December Corbi will get the crown and I'll fade into pageant obscurity, but there's a little hitch. Corbi's mom, Val, a poster woman for all things plastic, still sees me as stiff competition because of my impressive Miss Bluebonnet lineage. Oh, and the fact that my mom kicked her ass the year she won.
So, no matter how much of a dark horse I seem — c'mon, a girl with blue hair? — I'm persona non grata on Corbi's bitch-o-meter.
What Corbi lacks in intelligence she makes up for in catty gossip and tiny skirts. She also happens to be the longtime girlfriend of Bodeen High's star quarterback, Colby Miller. Colby and Corbi — awwww, isn't that so cute? (Answer: not cute at all!)
The whole town is under some sort of twisted assumption that this cliché masquerading as a sweeping high school romance is Bodeen's answer to a Hollywood couple. They can't get enough of the adorable twosome.
But Pash and I have had more than our fill, thankyouverymuch. We can't even enjoy our ice cream without the dynamic duo suddenly appearing out of nowhere in Colby's my-dad-bought-me-this-ginormous-pickuptruck-because-I-am-a-football-god mobile with his future Miss Bluebonnet nestled at his side as "Brooks & Dumb" blares out the windows (the cherry on this little torture sundae).
And what is it with teenagers who have perfect zitfree skin right in the middle of what is supposed to be the zittiest time in their lives? It is beyond unfair. Surely there will be some payback later in life for that ... or there is no justice.
The lovebirds stop at a red light, and Colby glances at us — at me, actually. His face contorts with contempt and confusion, like, How the hell are you even allowed to exist? Corbi shudders and clutches Colby's steroid-inflated biceps, as if to say, Get me out of here before their weirdness totally rubs off on me! (Like I'm not the girl whose bed she used to pee in when she spent the night at my house — how dare she judge me?)
The second the light turns green, Colby and Corbi speed away like terrified teen lovers fleeing a pack of hungry zombies in a trashy horror flick. I never knew I was so scary. I almost take it as a compliment.
Pash and I are silent as the hot Tejas air hangs between us. We are both thinking the same depressing thought, so there's no point in actually saying it out loud. How come those idiots can find love when we have to suffer a romance drought? But Pash can't keep her mouth shut for long. It's physically impossible, medically documented.
"Bliss, I know my New Year's resolution was not to obsess, but if I don't get some serious boy-on-Pash action stat, I'm gonna explode," she says.
"Then people really will think you're a terrorist," I offer, and Pash cracks up. Yes, racism is alive and well in Bodeen, and my girl has suffered her share of slurs and suspicious stares, so we mock the hillbillies any chance we get. Dark humor rules.CHAPTER 4
Le Joint d'Oink
I could go on and on about the horror of facing the public in a heinous gingham smock, the constant stench of barbecue in my hair, and the soul-sucking task of timing unhealthy people as they try to eat the Squealer Sandwich (ten pounds of pulled pork) in ten minutes so that they can win a free T-shirt and have their picture placed on the "Squeal of Fame."
But really, it's not so bad as long as Pash and I have the same schedule.
We amuse ourselves by constantly rebelling against the Oink Joint system. It also helps that Dwayne "Bird-man" Johnston is totally in love with both of us. Not that that's flattering in any way, shape, or form. Trust me. Bird-man is all geek, all the time, and not of the chic variety. Although he's kind of been on a power trip since they officially promoted him to manager.
Like today. Pash and I were up to our old survival tricks, taking some brilliantly funny pictures (if I do say so myself), then covertly posting them on the "Squeal of Fame" billboard among all the yellowed snapshots of fat tourists holding up clean plates. Bird-man comes flying from across the restaurant waving his skinny arms.
Excerpted from Whip It by Shauna Cross. Copyright © 2007 Shauna Cross. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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