The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.
At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.
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About the Author
Carrie Pack is a published author of books in multiple genres, including Designs on You, and In the Present Tense. Her novels focus on characters finding themselves in their own time—something she experienced for herself when she came out as bisexual recently. She lives in Florida, or as she likes to call it, “America’s Wang.”
Read an Excerpt
Grrrls On The Side
By Carrie Pack
Interlude PressCopyright © 2017 Carrie Pack
All rights reserved.
Heather's got her stupid flannel shirt tied around her stupid, tiny waist. I don't know if I'm more annoyed that she looks cuter like that than I do or if it's because I know she's only wearing it as a fashion statement. She's no more into grunge music than I am into Ace of Base. It's been like this all year. Heather and her cronies walking around pretending to give a shit about music and social causes. In reality, they only care about that stuff so they can meet boys and go shopping.
We used to be best friends. We used to do everything together: We played softball in middle school, rode bikes around the neighborhood, went camping with our Brownie troop. Everything. Then Heather's mom bought her some lipstick and a bra, and it was like I didn't exist. She started hanging out with Adina Monroe, Jen Radford and Molly Zawicky, whose mothers also bought them makeup and adult underwear, and left me sitting at the bus stop with my Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers and my Discman.
In a weird sort of way, I guess I have her to thank for my flawless taste in music and absolute disdain for all that is mainstream, but sometimes — although I would never admit it to her — sometimes, I miss my best friend.
"Oh look, it's Flabby Tabby." Heather tosses her freshly dyed blonde hair over her shoulder and giggles. Her friends all follow suit. Molly oinks.
And sometimes I want to punch her in the face.
I duck my head and pretend not to hear her as I forge my way toward first period trigonometry. Sure, I'm fat, whatever. That doesn't bother me nearly as much as the nonstop judgment I get for it. Heather knows it bothers me; that's why she does it so I can hear. I still don't understand why she turned on me. Most days I don't care. I just keep my head down and ignore her, but some days it's tougher than others — especially on the days I'm an alien life-form walking alongside perfect specimens of the human race.
I'm starting to think this is just how life will be: fat and friendless. My only friend nowadays is Mike Bernbaum. And I use the term "friend" loosely. He's more like my music dealer. We swap CDs and the occasional cigarette behind the 7-Eleven. He works at the video store, and the only reason I talk to him at all is because he's not a girl.
As I edge my way past a cheerleader, a cloud of perfume assaults my nose and I hold my breath to keep from inhaling any more of it than I absolutely have to. The cheerleader's blocking the doorway to my classroom so she can passionately make out with her boyfriend for a few minutes before they're separated for a whole stupid hour. I mutter, "Excuse me," but they don't move.
I rub against the cheerleader as I pass. It's an accident, but she doesn't seem to think so.
"Watch it, fatso!" she says with a sneer. "That lesbo grabbed my ass," she says to her boyfriend.
"I can't blame her, babe." The boyfriend takes a squeeze for himself. She giggles, and he goes back to eating her face.
It's not a new thing, me getting called a lesbian. I confessed to Heather once that I thought Winona Ryder was cute, and now she tells everyone I'm gay. Some kid in my Spanish class asked me if he could watch me make out with another girl, so I'm pretty sure the whole school heard Heather's rumor. Truth is, I'm not sure if I'm gay or not. But I wish she'd shut her stupid mouth.
"Sorry," I mumble as I roll my eyes and snake my way through the rows of desks to find my seat near the front. It's easier to concentrate up here, and I don't have to serve as go-between for everyone passing notes. The teacher, Mrs. Sansone, is writing problems on the board.
"Hey, Tabitha," she says with a smile. "I swear one day you're going to get here earlier than me."
I smile. Why not? Mrs. Sansone is nice enough. Sure, her breath always smells of stale cigarettes and gallons of black coffee, but she's good at explaining complex equations and she never makes us do problems at the board. I like her. And she likes me because I answer questions when no one else will. Teachers generally like me because I'm quiet and get my work done on time.
The classroom slowly fills up and then the bell rings. Mrs. Sansone is still writing a problem on the board when Brad Mason slams his backpack onto his desk and kicks the back of my chair. I don't bother saying anything. If I do, he'll just kick harder. Asshole.
The rest of the day is just as bad. I manage to drop my lunch — bland, freezer-burned cafeteria pizza — in my lap, leaving a nice blobby dark stain across my thighs. I can still smell the fake cheese and tasteless marinara in seventh period. I hear Heather giggling. I think Molly says something about me being "flabby and sloppy," but I do my best to ignore them by sitting on the other side of the classroom. By the time I meet up with Mike behind the 7-Eleven after school, I'm pissed off, sweaty, and, in true Tabitha Denton fashion, my eyeliner has migrated from my eyelids to just above my cheekbones. I don't know why I bother.
Mike must see on my face that I'm in no mood for small talk. He hands me an already-lit cigarette and nods once. I inhale deeply while trying not to cough. I hate smoking. I don't know why I do it, other than it gives me something to do with my hands. And I only do it when I hang out with Mike.
He's taller than me, but only because he's standing on the curb. It probably bothers him that we're the same height; I'm not really a fan either. If I have to be bigger horizontally, I'd rather be smaller vertically. Looking up at him, I wonder if he has a former friend who turned on him, too. I don't remember him from middle school. One day he was just there, wearing a faded Stussy shirt and jeans that were made of more holes than denim.
He's wearing that same shirt today, but his jeans have been swapped for a newer pair. His nearly black hair obscures his eyes as he wraps his full lips around his cigarette. He hums to himself while he finishes his cigarette and lights another. He finally speaks.
"You interested in going to a concert with me on Saturday?"
I quirk an eyebrow. "Maybe. Who's playing?"
"A couple of local punk bands and that girl band you like, Bikini Kill."
"Yeah, sounds cool."
I try to hide my excitement to save face, but I've been dying to go to a Bikini Kill show since I found a dog-eared copy of a zine plastered with song lyrics and feminist rants in varying degrees of poor grammar. The writing was a rambling miasma of personal manifesto, crazed fangirl doodles and important social commentary that made me both want to edit it for them and write my own angry punk music. I take another drag and exhale slowly, savoring the tiny puff of white as it curls around my face and dissipates.
Mike hops down from the curb and kicks the toe of my boot. "Those new?" he asks.
"New to me. I got them from a thrift store. I'm pretty sure they were someone's work boots." I bang the toe of my left boot against the side of the building as hard I as I can.
"Steel toe. Nice." Mike's words are decorated with smoke as the acrid smell floats between us.
The boots look awesome, but my feet are sweating, and I'm sure they'll reek when I take them off. Doesn't matter. It's a statement. A statement that maybe got me an invite to a Bikini Kill show.
"I didn't know you liked girl bands." I'm digging but I'm trying to get a read on Mike. We don't usually talk too much, and that's the way I like it. But today, there's something he's not telling me.
"I'm into whatever," he says with an air of fake nonchalance.
Of course, I only know it's fake because I saw him pull the same move on a girl he liked last year. Mike always says, "He who cares least has the least to lose." So he's trying to show me he cares less than I do? Okay. Two can play that game — even if his dark eyes are pulling me in. Did he always have those dimples?
"Yeah well, maybe I can go. I'll have to see." I scuff the heel of my boot on the bright yellow curb at the head of the parking space we're standing in. It leaves a satisfying black streak on the painted concrete.
Mike and I finish our cigarettes, and he says he'll try to call me about the concert. He throws in a few "whatevers" to sound bored, and I pretend not to notice.
I take my time getting home.
My house is on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of older houses. The shag carpet and linoleum sport putrid shades of brown, orange and green that haven't been in style since the Nixon administration. I'm not sure they were in style then. Who would ever want their house to look like someone vomited pea soup everywhere? My parents, apparently.
As I hit the edge of our cul-de-sac, I pass Mrs. Zimmerman. She's the lone retiree on our street and spends every afternoon either in her garden or reading on her front porch. Today she's kneeling over her spring annuals and pulling up weeds.
"Hi, Mrs. Z!" For her benefit, I force my natural scowl into the hint of a smile.
She looks up and smiles at me from under her large sun hat. Her skin has the look of broken-in leather, so she only recently must have discovered the joys of UV protection. "Hello, Tabitha. Where's your boyfriend?"
I resist rolling my eyes and choose to shrug instead. In Mrs. Zimmerman's world, every girl gets a boyfriend.
"Ah, don't worry," she says. "A pretty thing like you? You'll be beating them off with a stick before long."
God, I hope not. I'd prefer to stay invisible, thank you very much. But I don't say this. I smile at Mrs. Zimmerman and continue toward my house.
There aren't any cars in the driveways on our cul-de-sac. Everyone's still at work, but by six, the street will be swarming with four-door sedans, minivans and station wagons. Lots of working parents where I live. Tons. Heaps. A plethora. It seems like my parents are the only ones divorced, though. Of course, Heather's perfect parents still hold hands in public. Barf.
Our house isn't anything special — small with no frills — but I've always liked it better than Heather's house. Her house is positively cavernous with its big, sweeping staircase and five bedrooms. When we were kids, she was always over at my place, though. She said our house was cozier. Whatever. I would have killed for her bedroom with the window seat and canopy bed. Doesn't matter now, though. One more thing to add to the "Reasons I hate Heather Davidson" list. It's a long list.
My key sticks in the latch, so I have to jiggle the handle to get the tumbler to engage. Sparky, our ten-year-old mutt with a spot-on impression of a dirty mop, barks from inside.
"Shut up, you dumb dog!"
Sparky barks louder as I stumble through the door. Then, with his dog genius, he realizes it's me and jumps up to lick my face.
"Ugh! Get off!"
Sparky sulks into the corner and flops down. We both know he'll find his way into my bed tonight, and I'll wake up tomorrow with a face full of fur.
"Dumb dog," I mutter.
I dump my backpack in the foyer and grab a bag of chips from the kitchen to go with my usual Dr. Pepper. Then I go upstairs to get my homework out of the way.
The phone rings before I even rip the potato chip bag open.
"Hey," Mike's voice drawls over the line. He always sounds like he's high, but I don't think I've ever seen him smoke anything other than his usual menthols. He's simply that laid back, or at least he's trying to be. His immediate phone call says otherwise. "We can pay the cover at the door for ten bucks, but if you can get a fake ID, it's only five."
"I've got the ten," I say, not wanting Mike to know I tried to get a fake ID once. It cost me fifty dollars for a faded picture of an Indian guy named Mark Chaudhary, who was very obviously not me. It's in my bottom desk drawer under some old coloring books. It will never see the light of day.
"Cool," he says. "I'll meet you behind the store at nine-thirty. Bring the boots." The wink in his voice makes me cringe.
"Okay." When did we start doing the flirty thing? I didn't sign up for this.
"See you Saturday," he says, and the line goes dead.
I spend the rest of the afternoon wrestling with an essay for English and errant, interrupting wonderings: "Is this a date?" and "Do I want it to be a date?"
Eventually I give up on both and fall asleep in my clothes. I never hear my mom come in.
The club is dirty and small, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to see the stage, but I don't care because these are my people: the hardscrabble freaks and losers who are angry at the world for their lot in life. Dramatic? Sure. But no one here looks at me like I'm some sort of zoo animal. An elephant with too much hair. A rhinoceros missing her horn. Here I am just a girl with cool boots, who maybe looks like she could kick your ass.
Mike seems in his element, too, and taller somehow, protective almost. When a guy with a safety pin through his left eyebrow bumps into me during the opening act, Mike shoves him back. At first I think we've won, but Eyebrow Piercing continues to thrash. I step to the side and let him go crazy. Who cares? This band is shit anyway. Mike lifts his brow as if to say, "Want me to kick his ass?" But I shake my head. No point in getting kicked out before the good bands start. We make our way to the other side of the venue where I can see the stage a little better.
We stand there for a while, taking in the scene. The opening band continues to suck. I'm not even sure the bass player's amp is on. Their sound is top-heavy, like a car stereo with the speakers blown out. Mike nods in the direction of the merch tables. Looks like all the bands are selling CDs and a couple of girls are handing out flyers. We sidestep the thrashing masses to get a better look. I pass up the CDs; I don't get my allowance until Monday, and I already blew my savings on the boots. A girl about my age catches my eye and smiles. Her brown hair is barely past shoulder length and much shinier than mine. Bright pink barrettes frame her pale face near her forehead. It should make her look childish, but instead she looks cool. I smile back.
"Hey, you interested in doing some shit?" she asks. Her pale green eyes sparkle with determination.
"About all the bullshit in the world that girls have to put up with."
Thinking she's joking, I laugh. "That's ambitious."
"Just because we're girls doesn't mean we can't change things. Here." She hands me the flyer I'd noticed her passing out. "We meet on Tuesdays."
"Thanks." Before I get a chance to read it, she thrusts another piece of paper under my nose.
"This is my zine," she says. "It's just my thoughts and stuff, but it's free. If you want to subscribe, send a dollar and some postage to that address on the back."
I flip over the tiny booklet — it's photocopied and folded to look like a small magazine. The pages are a mixture of typed and hand-written passages with pictures that seem to be cut out of Sassy or Seventeen. It reminds me of that Bikini Kill zine I had.
In the absence of anything better to say, I mumble, "Cool," and shove the zine into my pocket along with the flyer. The girl smiles again, and my stomach flutters, just as Mike taps me on the shoulder.
"They're getting set up. Let's try to get a spot closer to the stage."
"Sure." I turn to the brunette, wave and offer a halfhearted "Thanks." I still don't know what the hell she gave me, but I wish I could talk to her longer.
While the band sets up, a petite Asian girl stands up at the mic and shouts, "All the girls, come to the front!" I hesitate. Maybe she's talking to her friends. I glance around for a clue. No one seems to be moving. Mike nudges me, and I stumble over my heavy boots.
"Girls to the front!" she shouts again. "Come on. All the girls need to be up here, right down front where the band can see you." She waves her arms wildly, beckoning us forward. A few girls follow her command, but I'm frozen.
"Tabitha, you're a girl," Mike insists, shouting over the noise.
I inch closer, but I still feel like a fraud. I'm not cool enough to be part of this group of girls.
"All girls to the front!" the girl onstage shouts again, and the room reverberates with feedback.
I'm attempting some half-assed excuse when a pale girl with hair so red it could only have come from a bottle grabs me by the elbow. Without a word, she tugs hard on my left arm. Before I know it, I'm close enough to the stage that I can reach out and touch it, and the redhead still has her arm looped through mine. I want to pull away but I don't. She smells like vanilla body spray, and her arm feels like silk where it grazes my bare skin. We're in this together now.
The house lights dim, and the crowd erupts into screams as the band rips into their first song. By the chord change, I've forgotten all about my awkwardness and I dance my fucking face off.
Excerpted from Grrrls On The Side by Carrie Pack. Copyright © 2017 Carrie Pack. Excerpted by permission of Interlude Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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