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Love Me Never

Page 9

   


She takes it, beaming. “Thanks!”
“Is Avery still mad at you for leaving the party?” I ask.
“Oh, no. I mean, Avery never really gets mad mad, you know? She sort of just, doesn’t talk to you. Or look at you. Or acknowledge you exist.”
“Ah, yes. Perfectly reasonable.”
“I was supposed to, um, talk to Wren. You know, student council president guy.”
“Your student council prez goes to boozers? Consider me impressed.”
“He’s cool like that, but at the same time he’s also intimidating. Like, really intimidating. He’s going to MIT and he doesn’t look anywhere at you except your eyes. No lips, no boobs, not even your eyelashes. Just. Your. Eyes.”
She stares at me as if demonstrating, wide-eyed and unrelenting, and I shudder.
“Alright, alright. I get the picture. Mega creep.”
“Yeah, but like, a socially accepted mega creep. It’s weird. He’s friends with everybody. And I mean everybody. He watched an entire season of Naruto just so he could talk to the anime club kids.”
I whistle. “He’s certainly impressive. Hellbent. Also possibly from actual hell.”
“Anyway, Avery wanted me to, um, talk to him.”
“Just talk?”
Kayla nods a little too hard for my liking. “She wants more funds for the French club. She’s president of that. She’s trying to set up a trip to France for them or something.”
“So you talking to him would get you funds? Are you that good at talking?”
“Just, you know. I’m nice. I can get things from people.”
“You’re pretty.”
“But I’m also nice! And I’m smart! Okay, maybe not in World History, but who even cares about stupid plagues anyway? We have vaccines now! I’m really good at home ec and Mrs. Gregory said I have a natural talent for geometry, okay? I’m a lot of things besides pretty so don’t just say that like everyone else!”
Her chest is heaving, and her face is a little red. I put my hands up in surrender.
“Okay. I’m sorry. You’re right. You’re a lot of things besides pretty. I just meant…I just meant –”
“You just meant what? I know I’m pretty, okay? I know that! That’s all anyone talks about! But I’m not pretty enough, I guess, because you’re the one Jack Hunter kissed and not me!”
She shouts the last sentence. It hangs in the air like icicles, cold and jagged.
“I didn’t - I’m sorry –”
“I don’t wanna talk about it anymore,” she murmurs. “I have to watch Gerald, so if you could just leave, that’d be great.”
I feel all the air punch out of me at once.
“Oh. R-Right. Sure.”
I grab my backpack and books, shuffling them away. Kayla gets up and goes into the kitchen, wiping dirt off her brother’s face and scolding him for trying to eat daisies. I want to say bye, or apologize again, but there’s a thick curtain of awkward closing on the stage that is our tenuous friendship. I want to say a lot of things to her. I want to thank her for being the first person to really invite me over to their house, to talk to me, to eat lunch with me. But those words get stuck in my throat, the gratitude I have for her dammed up by shame.
As I leave and start my car, I mentally kick myself. Of course she gets told she’s pretty. She gets it all the time. Pretty girls like her are sick of hearing it. I was insensitive to even say it – but how could someone like me understand what pretty girls experience?
Ugly girl.
Jack kissing me – was it really such a huge deal for her? Maybe I underestimated her feelings for him. She must really like him if she’s that upset. Hell, if I still believed in love and had someone I liked and they kissed my sort-of-friend, I’d be mad at that friend too.
She has every right to hate me.
Mom texts me, asking me to buy sponges and some blueberries on the way home. I’m feeling terrible about what I said – so terrible I grab a bar of chocolate. Or three. When I get home I sneak into Mom’s bathroom and count her pills – she’s down two. That’s good. That means she took them. I can breathe easier, and maybe get a solid night’s sleep.
“There’s a package for you from your father,” Mom says. She’s up and baking muffins – hence the blueberries. It’s a good sign. No, scratch that; it’s the best sign I’ve seen in a while.
“Thanks.” I smile. Forced smile. Always a little forced. It won’t be a real smile until she’s really better.
But I don’t remember what better looks like, anymore.
The package is wrapped in brown paper and on my bed. The box inside reads Chanel. Dad married a rich programmer from New York – they’ve got two-year-old twin girls, and a boy on the way. I’ve never met them, but just knowing I have stepsiblings wigs me out. I see them on Facebook through the pictures Dad posts, but it’s like they aren’t real. It’s like they’re photoshopped Loch Ness monsters and the University of Whatever is going to prove the hoax by showing me the beam of light in the background is wavy or something.
They’re real.
Sometimes I wish they weren’t.
And that’s horrible, so I stop wishing that. Or at least I try to.
Inside the box is a beautiful chiffon blouse. It’s light and fluffy and with dozens of frills, expertly tailored to my measurements. Dad’s new wife wheedled them out of me two summers ago when I visited. She’s nice enough, but it’s things like this that remind me she just wants me to like her. She thinks gifts of expensive name brands are all it takes to woo a high school girl.
She’s half right. A blouse like this would woo any girl. Any girl who isn’t ugly. But before I can fold it carefully and put it in my closet to never touch again, I stop and consider this one. If I wore this, would I be prettier? Will it make me prettier? Maybe if I put this on, I can be pretty, and understand a smidgen of what Kayla’s problems are, what she feels. Maybe I can understand her better.
I pull my shirt off and slip the blouse over my head. It’s so cool and airy, and the ruffles bounce with my every step. I can see my angry red stretch marks on my stomach through the gauzy fabric, but they don’t bug me as much for some reason. I smile at myself in the mirror – I look different. Prettier.
Maybe Nameless was wrong. Maybe I am pretty.
The door to my room opens just then, and I’m frozen in the headlights that are Mom’s eyes. She looks me up and down, and immediately shakes her head.
“Oh, honey, that doesn’t suit you at all.”
The air punches out of me again, but this time in a deeper way. A more final way. Mom opens the door wider, totally oblivious to how deep the wound is.
“The muffins are ready. Come down and have some.”
“Awesome. One sec. Just, uh, let me change out of this stupid thing.”
When she’s gone I can’t look at myself in the mirror without flinching. The ruffles seem to droop idiotically. The color is an eyesore, especially on me. It’s not my thing. Being pretty is not my thing and I was stupid for testing the logical facts and practical boundaries. There are rules. And the number one rule is don’t try to be someone you’re not. I’m myself, no matter how ugly that is, and trying to be someone prettier is stupid, a waste of energy. I won’t do that ever again, no matter how much I want to. It’s not worth it. I will never be anything but ugly. And I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve made my peace with that.