Until There Was You

Page 9


Emma was far too nice. “Hey, Posey, how’s it going?” she’d say. “Do you have Mr. Rivers for math? Oh, my God, he was the worst!” One time… Oh, the horror, the horror. “Posey, Liam and I are going to the movies. Want to come along?”
Sure, right after I jump off Memorial Bridge, Posey thought. “Oh, thanks, but I have plans,” she chirruped. Right. Plans to do what? Lie on her bed and fantasize about Liam? Wonder what it would be like to be kissed? Still, she knew better than to tag along like some unwanted orphan.
As for other boys, nah. By the time she was sixteen, Posey’s bra size was a roomy 32A. Pants a size 12, boys’ slim. Her weight concerned her mom, who was six feet tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds, and so Posey was dragged to the pediatrician, who concurred.
“Well,” he announced, glancing at her paperwork, “your thyroid and blood work are normal, but I’m a little concerned.”
“I eat everything that’s not nailed down,” Posey protested. At his sharp look, she added, “And I don’t barf it up. I just have a fast metabolism.”
“She’s like a hummingbird, our little girl,” Stacia agreed fondly.
“Right,” he agreed. “But if you got sick, you don’t have anything in reserve. Two days of stomach flu, and we’d have to admit you to the hospital. And down the road, it can contribute to fertility problems.”
“Oh, no!” Stacia exclaimed, clutching Posey’s hand.
“Are your periods regular?”
Posey blushed. “Yes. Sort of. For the most part.”
“Will she be infertile, Doctor?” Stacia asked in a whisper.
“I can always adopt,” Posey said, her voice sharp. Stacia squeezed her hand again.
“It’s too early to talk about that,” the doctor said. “But let’s try to pack on a few pounds, okay? And listen. Most girls would love to have this problem. You’ll never be fat, look at it that way.”
“Well, I’d like to have boobs,” Posey grumbled. “Got anything for that?”
“It’s mostly hereditary,” the doctor said amiably. Great. Apparently, Posey’s birth mother was a stick insect. Gretchen was already a C-cup, something Aunt Ruth had called to announce that very morning. “But a little fattening up will help, too.”
Which is why Posey started going to Sweetie Sue’s Ice Cream Parlor every day after school. Sweetie Sue’s, where Emma Tate worked.
“Hi, Posey!” she said, looking irritatingly adorable in her pink uniform. “Good thing you came in, I was just about to fall asleep, it’s so dead in here.” She smiled. “What can I get you?”
Seeing Shiny Emma just reinforced all that was wrong with her. Posey swallowed, for once not hungry. “Can I have a hot-fudge sundae? Coconut ice cream, extra whipped cream, extra nuts.”
“You bet.” Emma scooped up the ice cream, drizzled the hot fudge, seemed to spray on the whipped cream for three full minutes. “Here you go,” she said, smiling as she handed it over. “I sure wish I could eat like you.”
Suddenly, Posey’s eyes were wet. “No, you don’t,” she whispered.
“Posey? You okay?” Emma’s pretty face creased in concern.
“I have to eat six times a day or I get lightheaded,” Posey blurted. “I eat more than my father, but I can’t keep any weight on, I don’t have any boobs, and the doctor just told me I might have trouble getting pregnant someday. This isn’t fun, you know.”
Emma’s hand went over her mouth. “Oh, Posey, I didn’t mean… I’m really sorry, I am.”
It was Emma’s niceness that did Posey in. To her horror, she started to cry in earnest, the words tumbling out. “It’s just…I can’t even wear girl clothes. Do you know where I shop? In the junior boys’ section, ages 8 to 12. Not one guy has ever checked me out, let alone asked me out.”
Emma came around the counter and put her arm around Posey’s shoulders. She guided her to a table, pulled some paper napkins from the dispenser and handed them to Posey.
“The stupid doctor told me I have to gain weight,” Posey said, her voice wobbly. “All I do is eat, and I just burn it all off, and I hate the way I look.”
“But why?” Emma said. “You’re so cute, Posey! You are!”
“Right. Which is why my nickname is Anne Frank.”
“No! Who calls you that?”
“The mean girls.” Posey cut her a look. “You know.”
“Yeah, I do,” Emma said grimly. She sighed. “So your doctor said you have to eat ice cream? I’m sorry, but that’s hardly cancer, okay?”
Posey couldn’t help a smile. “I know. As prescriptions go, it’s pretty good.”
“Exactly. So listen. Come here every day, and I’ll help you, okay?”
And so began a sort of friendship. Not that they hung out. The two-year age difference was significant, at least in high school, and Emma was one of the popular kids. She was going to Pepperdine in the fall, she had friends, cheerleading, student council. And Liam, of course. Emma seemed so much older, so much more…together. But at school, Emma did something rather stunning—she acknowledged Posey. Said hi sometimes, or waved in the halls, causing Kate to ask if Posey was blackmailing Emma.
About six weeks after she started the Campaign for Boobs, as she thought of it, Posey was power-eating a Snickers ice-cream sundae with caramel sauce and Reese’s Pieces when Emma asked, very casually, “Posey, has anyone asked you to the prom yet?”
Posey snorted, having become quite comfortable with Emma. “No. And no one will.”
“Well, if someone did ask, would you be interested?”
“Sure. I’d also be interested in taming a unicorn,” Posey answered, flicking through a magazine. “Also, I always thought it’d be cool to talk to undersea animals, like Aquaman.”
“Listen,” Emma said, ignoring the sarcasm. “Rick Balin just broke up with Jessica, who had it coming, let me tell you. He said he’ll go to the prom solo, but I thought you and he would make a cute couple.” She wiped her hands on the dishcloth. “So what do you think?”
Rick Balin? Blond, rich, good-looking Rick Balin? Second to Liam, Rick was…well. It was silly even to discuss. “That would never happen,” Posey said.
“I think it would!” Emma bounced over to her and sat down, golden ponytail swinging. “You’re wicked cute, even if you don’t know it. And you’ve gained a few pounds, haven’t you?”
“Four,” Posey answered. The ice cream had definitely been helping, as well as the three scrambled eggs with cheese she ate right before bedtime.
“And if we got you one of those demi push-up bras from Victoria’s Secret, you’d have a nice little package there. I totally bet he’d ask you! Especially if I give him a nudge!”
How could Posey resist? It wasn’t lost on her that if pigs did fly and Rick asked her out, she might be hanging out with Liam a little more. And just being near him, outside of the restaurant…that would be worth quite a bit indeed. Not that she wanted to break him up from Emma or anything. Just the chance to get him to remember how they’d bonded over Joe…to be able to tell him something funny and get him to laugh, just to be—perhaps—his friend…that would be enough. More than enough. That would be wonderful.
A week and a half later, and one pound later, and one thirty-five-dollar push-up bra later as well, Rick Balin approached Posey at her locker. “Posey, hey.”
“Hi, Rick,” Posey said, as if she’d ever said anything other than “excuse me” to him.
“So, Emma said you might be free for the prom,” Rick said, his famously soulful brown eyes scanning her up and down, pausing on her chest. That bra was worth every cent.
“Um, yeah. I’m free,” Posey said casually, her cheeks scalding. But Emma had coached her on strategy, and she knew to play it light.
“So, you wanna go with me?” Rick asked, grinning.
She shrugged, though her hands were shaking. “Sure.” She glanced at him, gave him a little smile, then looked back into her locker.
“Great. I’ll call you with details. Ciao.”
Rick sauntered off. Posey fought off the urge to faint.
Emma was smug with pride. Gave dress advice, discussed hair styles. Kate was a little grouchy, but Posey reveled in the glamour of prom, of Emma’s friendship, of possibly changing her status in Liam’s eyes.
On Saturday afternoon of the sacred event, Posey had her hair done at Curl Up and Dye, the best salon in town. Her short hair was highlighted, trimmed and blown dry so that finally it seemed to have some semblance of style. Then she dropped by the restaurant to meet her mom so they could go home together, do makeup and put on her beautiful shimmering green dress, take a thousand or so pictures. This night was a coup for Stacia, too. Gretchen, also a sophomore, hadn’t been asked to the prom, something Ruth tried very hard to pretend didn’t matter.
Posey went in the front door of the restaurant for a change, rather hoping to make a grand entrance, delight her father and possibly dazzle Liam into seeing her as a woman. It was still early, only three, so most of the staff wouldn’t be there yet. As she approached the doors that separated the dining room and kitchen, Posey paused at the sound of some voices. Liam’s. And Rick’s (she could identify his because he’d called her—twice!—and also from all the times he’d blocked her locker). There were other voices, too, an explosion of male laughter. Posey peeked through the crack in the door.
There they were. The popular boys, who occasionally swung by when Liam was working. No sign of an adult, which made sense, since it was early. Liam often opened the restaurant for her folks, which Posey thought showed how trustworthy and wonderful he was.
Suddenly shy at the thought of encountering them en masse (they were seniors, after all), Posey stepped back a little. But she could hear them.
“Dude,” one of them—Luke Mayhew?—said. “You’re killing me by still being with Emma. God, she’s beautiful! Give someone else a chance, right? I mean, come on! Just the way she walks down the hall, you can tell—”
“Shut up,” Liam growled, and Posey felt a flush of pride. Liam Murphy, defending his woman. He had class, juvie or no juvie. Someone else said something—the water was running and she couldn’t quite hear. Then Rick, or possibly Luke, said something, but it was lost too, and the guys all hooted and hollered.
The water shut off.
“Here’s what I want to know,” Liam said, and Posey couldn’t resist another peek. He was unloading the dishwasher, stacking the plates just the way Stacia liked, and the other guys were grouped around him. “Rick, my man, Posey Osterhagen? I mean, I know I work for her parents, but were you that desperate? She’s nothing but a bag of bones. Built like a ten-year-old boy.”
Their roar of laughter drowned out the little squeak that escaped Posey’s mouth. Her hands flew up to cover any more noise, and silently, so carefully, she backed away from the door, her legs watery with shock, heart twisting and convulsing. When she was far enough from the door—from them—she turned and tiptoed to the front door of the restaurant as fast as she could, colliding right into her mother.
“There you are, sweetie! I went to the salon to get you! Did you forget? Or were we supposed to meet here? Oh, look at your hair! It’s so beautiful!”
Mom didn’t notice that Posey was quiet…or she did and assumed it was nerves. A floating feeling settled over Posey as they drove home. She went through the motions—makeup, dress, jewelry—and smiled as her father took pictures. Henry was home for a rare weekend, and he looked up from his textbooks, acknowledged that his little sister was growing up and smiled, which was lavish praise for him.
When the doorbell rang, she was somewhat shocked to see that Rick had actually shown up. And he was nice. Polite, attractive, looking somehow younger in a tux than he did at school. He shook hands, posed for a few pictures. There was no limo; Rick had driven his latest Mercedes, and Max asked the usual fatherly questions and issued warnings against drinking and driving.
Posey barely heard. “Bye!” she called as her mother dabbed her eyes. Rick held the car door for her. Got in the driver’s seat. Maybe this won’t be so terrible, Posey thought. Maybe Rick really likes me, no matter what Liam said. At the thought of his name, pain speared her heart. It was still so shocking that Liam—her Liam—thought of her that way. So vicious, those words, that she flinched at the thought of them.
She swallowed and looked at Rick, biting her lip. Maybe he, too, had hidden depths, and she could fall for him, instead of…the other one. Rick’s pretty brown eyes were on the road, his blond hair ruffling in the breeze.
“You look really nice, by the way,” she said.
He didn’t answer.
“Are you excited?” she asked.
Rick still didn’t answer. Didn’t look at her, either. Stupid question, Posey! her brain hissed.
Years later—heck, hours later—Posey would berate herself for not standing up for herself. She should’ve said, “Hey, idiot, I’m talking to you.” Surely her older self would have. But at barely sixteen, having no experience with boy-girl stuff whatsoever, terrified at the thought of offending one of the cool kids, she just…pretended. Pretended it was okay that her date drove in silence, even as her stomach ached and her hands went clammy. Pretended not to notice when he didn’t open the door for her when they pulled up at Whitfield Mansion, didn’t wait for her, didn’t even look back.