“Beep, beep,” Lindsay calls out. A few weeks ago my mom yelled at her for blasting her horn at six fifty-five every morning, and this is Lindsay’s solution.
“I’m coming!” I shout back, even though she can see me pushing out the front door, trying to put on my coat and wrestle my binder into my bag at the same time.
At the last second, my eight-year-old sister, Izzy, tugs at me.
“What?” I whirl around. She has little-sister radar for when I’m busy, late, or on the phone with my boyfriend. Those are always the times she chooses to bother me.
“You forgot your gloves,” she says, except it comes out: “You forgot your gloveths .” She refuses to go to speech therapy for her lisp, even though all the kids in her grade make fun of her. She says she likes the way she talks.
I take them from her. They’re cashmere and she’s probably gotten peanut butter on them. She’s always scooping around in jars of the stuff.
“What did I tell you, Izzy?” I say, poking her in the middle of the forehead. “Don’t touch my stuff.” She giggles like an idiot and I have to hustle her inside while I shut the door. If it were up to her, she would follow me around all day like a dog.
By the time I make it out of the house, Lindsay’s leaning out the window of the Tank. That’s what we call her car, an enormous silver Range Rover. (Every time we drive around in it at least one person says, “That thing’s not a car, it’s a truck ,” and Lindsay claims she could go head-to-head with an eighteen-wheeler and come out without a scratch.) She and Ally are the only two of us with cars that actually belong to them. Ally’s car is a tiny black Jetta that we named the Minime. I get to borrow my mom’s Accord sometimes; poor Elody has to make do with her father’s ancient tan Ford Taurus, which hardly runs anymore.
The air is still and freezing cold. The sky is a perfect, pale blue. The sun has just risen, weak and watery-looking, like it has just spilled itself over the horizon and is too lazy to clean itself up. It’s supposed to storm later, but you’d never know.
I get into the passenger seat. Lindsay’s already smoking and she gestures with the end of her cigarette to the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee she got for me.
“Bagels?” I say.
“In the back.”
“Obviously.” She looks me over once as she pulls out of my driveway. “Nice skirt.”
Lindsay tips her head, acknowledging the compliment. We’re actually wearing the same skirt. There are only two days of the year when Lindsay, Ally, Elody, and I deliberately dress the same: Pajama Day during Spirit Week, because we all bought cute matching sets at Victoria’s Secret last Christmas, and Cupid Day. We spent three hours at the mall arguing about whether to go for pink or red outfits—Lindsay hates pink; Ally lives in it—and we finally settled on black miniskirts and some red fur-trimmed tank tops we found in the clearance bin at Nordstrom.
Like I said, those are the only times we deliberately look alike. But the truth is that at my high school, Thomas Jefferson, everyone kind of looks the same. There’s no official uniform—it’s a public school—but you’ll see the same outfit of Seven jeans, gray New Balance sneakers, a white T-shirt, and a colored North Face fleece jacket on nine out of ten students. Even the guys and the girls dress the same, except our jeans are tighter and we have to blow out our hair every day. It’s Connecticut: being like the people around you is the whole point.
That’s not to say that our high school doesn’t have its freaks—it does—but even the freaks are freaky in the same way. The Eco-Geeks ride their bikes to school and wear clothing made of hemp and never wash their hair, like having dreadlocks will somehow help curb the emission of greenhouse gases. The Drama Queens carry big bottles of lemon tea and wear scarves even in summer and don’t talk in class because they’re “conserving their voices.” The Math League members always have ten times more books than anyone else and actually still use their lockers and walk around with permanently nervous expressions, like they’re just waiting for somebody to yell, “Boo!”
I don’t mind it, actually. Sometimes Lindsay and I make plans to run away after graduation and crash in a loft in New York City with this tattoo artist her stepbrother knows, but secretly I like living in Ridgeview. It’s reassuring, if you know what I mean.
I lean forward, trying to apply mascara without gouging my eye out. Lindsay’s never been the most careful driver and has a tendency to jerk the wheel around, come to sudden stops, and then gun the engine.
“Patrick better send me a rose,” Lindsay says as she shoots through one stop sign and nearly breaks my neck slamming on the brakes at the next one. Patrick is Lindsay’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. They’ve broken up a record thirteen times since the start of the school year.
“I had to sit next to Rob while he filled out the request form,” I say, rolling my eyes. “It was like forced labor.”
Rob Cokran and I have been going out since October, but I’ve been in love with him since sixth grade, when he was too cool to talk to me. Rob was my first crush, or at least my first real crush. I did once kiss Kent McFuller in third grade, but that obviously doesn’t count since we’d just exchanged dandelion rings and were pretending to be husband and wife.
“Last year I got twenty-two roses.” Lindsay flicks her cigarette butt out of the window and leans over for a slurp of coffee. “I’m going for twenty-five this year.”
Each year before Cupid Day the student council sets up a booth outside the gym. For two dollars each, you can buy your friends Valograms—roses with little notes attached to them—and then they get delivered by Cupids (usually freshman or sophomore girls trying to get in good with the upperclassmen) throughout the day.
“I’d be happy with fifteen,” I say. It’s a big deal how many roses you get. You can tell who’s popular and who isn’t by the number of roses they’re holding. It’s bad if you get under ten and humiliating if you don’t get more than five—it basically means that you’re either ugly or unknown. Probably both. Sometimes people scavenge for dropped roses to add to their bouquets, but you can always tell.
“So.” Lindsay shoots me a sideways glance. “Are you excited? The big day. Opening night.” She laughs. “No pun intended.”
I shrug and turn toward the window, watching my breath frost the pane. “It’s no big deal.” Rob’s parents are away this weekend, and a couple of weeks ago he asked me if I could spend the whole night at his house. I knew he was really asking if I wanted to have sex. We’ve gotten semi-close a few times, but it’s always been in the back of his dad’s BMW or in somebody’s basement or in my den with my parents asleep upstairs, and it’s always felt wrong.
So when he asked me to stay the night, I said yes without thinking about it.
Lindsay squeals and hits her palm against the steering wheel. “No big deal? Are you kidding? My baby’s growing up.”
“Oh, please.” I feel heat creeping up my neck and know my skin’s probably going red and splotchy. It does this whenever I’m embarrassed. All the dermatologists, creams, and powders in Connecticut don’t help. When I was younger kids used to sing, “What’s red and white and weird all over? Sam Kingston!”
I shake my head a little and rub the vapor off the window. Outside the world sparkles, like it’s been coated in varnish. “When did you and Patrick do it, anyway? Like three months ago?”
“Yeah, but we’ve been making up for lost time since then.” Lindsay rocks against her seat.
“Don’t worry, kid. You’ll be fine.”
“Don’t call me kid.” This is one reason I’m happy I decided to have sex with Rob tonight: so Lindsay and Elody won’t make fun of me anymore. Thankfully, since Ally’s still a virgin it means I won’t be the very last one, either. Sometimes I feel like out of the four of us I’m always the one tagging along, just there for the ride. “I told you it was no big deal.”
“If you say so.”
Lindsay has made me nervous, so I count all the mailboxes as we go by. I wonder if by tomorrow everything will look different to me; I wonder if I’ll look different to other people. I hope so.
We pull up to Elody’s house and before Lindsay can even honk, the front door swings open and Elody starts picking her way down the icy walkway, balancing on three-inch heels, like she can’t get out of her house fast enough.
“Nipply outside much?” Lindsay says when Elody slides into the car. As usual she’s wearing only a thin leather jacket, even though the weather report said the high would be in the mid-twenties.
“What’s the point of looking cute if you can’t show it off?” Elody shimmies her boobs and we crack up. It’s impossible to stay stressed when she’s around, and the knot in my stomach loosens.
Elody makes a clawing gesture with her hand and I pass her a coffee. We all take it the same way: large hazelnut, no sugar, extra cream.
“Watch where you’re sitting. You’ll squish the bagels.” Lindsay frowns into the rearview mirror.
“You know you want a piece of this.” Elody gives her butt a smack and we all laugh again.
“Save it for Muffin, you horn dog.”
Steve Dough is Elody’s latest victim. She calls him Muffin because of his last name, and because he’s yummy (she says; he looks too greasy for me, and he always smells like pot). They have been hooking up for a month and a half now.
Elody’s the most experienced of any of us. She lost her virginity sophomore year and has already had sex with two different guys. She was the one who told me she was sore after the first couple of times she had sex, which made me ten times more nervous. It may sound crazy, but I never really thought of it as something physical, something that would make you sore, like soccer or horseback riding. I’m scared that I won’t know what to do, like when we used to play basketball in gym and I’d always forget who I was supposed to be guarding or when I should pass the ball and when I should dribble it.
“Mmm, Muffin.” Elody puts a hand on her stomach. “I’m starving.”
“There’s a bagel for you,” I say.
“Sesame?” Elody asks.
“Obviously,” Lindsay and I say at the same time. Lindsay winks at me.
Just before we get to school we roll down the windows and blast Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” I close my eyes and think back to homecoming and my first kiss with Rob, when he pulled me toward him on the dance floor and suddenly my lips were on his and his tongue was sliding under my tongue and I could feel the heat from all the colored lights pressing down on me like a hand, and the music seemed to echo somewhere behind my ribs, making my heart flutter and skip in time. The cold air coming through the window makes my throat hurt and the bass comes through the soles of my feet just like it did that night, when I thought I would never be happier; it goes all the way up to my head, making me dizzy, like the whole car is going to split apart from the sound.