Authors: Lauren Henderson
Scarlett Wakefield 01 – Kiss Me Kill Me
by Lauren Henderson
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
On January 1, I made two wishes. I know it’s supposed to be resolutions, but the two things I really wanted you can’t exactly make happen, like you can with resolutions.
I wished to kiss Dan McAndrew. And I wished to have breasts, instead of two flat pancakes on my chest. God, how I hated it when girls would come by and flick their fingers on my back between my shoulder blades and laugh mockingly because there wasn’t a bra fastening there, because I didn’t need to wear one.
(Actually, that’s three wishes, isn’t it? One kiss plus two breasts equals three, the magic number.)
Cut to June, nearly six months later, when I’d pretty much given up hope that I would get either of those things, ever. I had resigned myself to being flat-chested and unkissed for the rest of my life.
And then everything happened at once, and my life was changed. Though not, I might add, for the better.
Be careful what you wish for.
“Scarlett! Round-off, two back handsprings, back tuck! And keep it tight this time!”
I stand at the edge of the floor, bracing myself. I can do this. Ricky’s halfway down, at just the right place to give me a spot on the second back handspring if I need it. But if I need it, he’ll shout at me afterward.
Long and strong, Scarlett, I say to myself. Long and strong.
I’m running. Three steps to the round-off. Land and flip, jump up, jump back . . . my hands push the spring-loaded floor and bounce me up, feet land and I’m already jumping off my toes to the second back handspring, reaching away, reaching long . . . yes! No touch in the small of my back, which would be Ricky thinking I needed that tiny bit of help to arch on the second one . . . land on my feet again and use the momentum to rebound up, high in the air. Spot the high bar across the room, which gives me that fixed point I need to focus on for the split second before I tuck and flip myself backward like a ball through the air, thrown by an invisible hand. Land straight, knees not too bent, slightly dizzy, but knowing I made it.
Across the room, Alison and Luce, my two best friends, are clapping and whooping. I beam with happiness and look at Ricky for approval.
“Better. But go a lot longer on the second back handspring” is all he says.
That is approval, believe it or not. You don’t expect bouquets of flowers from Ricky, no matter how good you are.
And then he looks at my chest.
“Strap those things down, Scarlett, can’t you?” he adds. “They’re bouncing everywhere—they’re getting in your way when you tuck up! Jesus, where did they even come from?”
This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to have Ricky talking about my boobs in front of everyone.
“Get a sports bra, for God’s sake!” Ricky says, waving me away.
Like every single other girl here, I used to have a massive crush on Ricky, who’s built like a rugby player—wide shoulders, muscles bulging through his tracksuit—with thick blond hair, bright blue eyes, and a really nice smile, which you get to see, on average, once a year. Ricky’s incredible grumpiness is the reason my crush faded. And the insults he throws at you. And the fact that he’s gay. (No reason you can’t have a crush on a gay guy, of course—it just feels increasingly pointless as time goes on.)
I move to the side, giving Alison a clear run across the floor. As she starts, I walk around the edge of the gymnasium, back to where Luce is standing.
“I’m wearing a sports bra already,” I say. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Get one of those tops with a built-in thingy,” Luce suggests. “You know, the shelf support.”
I pull my top a little away from my body so she can see.
“I am,” I say hopelessly.
Luce has the ideal build for gymnastics—like a wire.
She’s small (you shouldn’t be over five feet, five inches, that would be too much of you to send spinning through the air) and has no excess fat on her entire frame. Her breasts are pretty little points under her pale blue leotard: Luce can still wear a leotard over footless tights because she’s so lean. Most of us gave that up years ago for something a bit less cruel to our curves. She wears her hair in two twisted bunches on either side of her head—a style that’s easier for gymnastics, because it keeps her hair out of her way, but it makes her look even more like a little girl. Creepy old men are always giving her weird stares. But Luce is the most stubborn person I’ve ever met; if I suggested she change her hairstyle, she’d put plastic bobbles on her bunches and walk down the street sucking on a lollipop, just to show me.
“Maybe you should go to a sports shop and ask,” she suggests.
I grimace. “They weren’t much help when I went to buy the bra,” I say.
Luce looks helpless. “I’d love to have ones like you,” she says. “But I know I never will. My mum’s flat as a board. The only time she had any was when she was pregnant with me, and she said she cried for weeks when they went down again.”
“Better for gymnastics,” I say.
“Lucy! Scarlett! Stop gossiping! Lucy, you’re up!” Ricky yells.
I watch Luce precipitate herself into a blur of motion. She flies through the air, her twisted bunches spinning as she goes; in her front handsprings, she’s almost perpendicular to the floor for a brief, breathtaking moment. Arms by her ears, legs almost straight out behind her. That’s why we call that moment “Supergirl.”
I think about what Luce said about her mum. If I had a mum, I could ask her about the sports bra thing. Maybe she would take me to the shop and talk to the snotty assistants.
In photos of my mum, she has breasts. That’s what gave me hope that I would eventually get mine, too. They appeared practically overnight. I pretty much woke up and there they were. It feels weird sleeping on my tummy now. I can feel them underneath me, like two airbags. And when I walk around, everyone stares at them. Plum pointed them out the first day I was brave enough to walk into school in a T-shirt that wasn’t huge and baggy.
“Oh my God, look at Scarlett’s boobs! She looks like a porn star! Scarlett sweetie, you might want to take that Wonderbra off, it’s just a little desperate looking, don’t you think?”
That garnered a chorus of laughter from her entourage, of course. It’s more than their life’s worth not to laugh when Plum makes a snarky comment.
“Scarlett, stop daydreaming! Same again but better! I want really clean landings from you!” Ricky shouts.
One great thing about gymnastics: it is what it is. You land your back tuck somersault or you feel Ricky grabbing the back of your T-shirt, helping you rotate, bringing you safely to ground again. You work on things and you improve. Nothing changes in gymnastics: the rules are always the same. Stay tight, keep your hollow shape, go long, don’t lose your nerve.
Sometimes I wish the rest of my life was like that, with a set of clear rules that, if I follow them, will keep me safe: sometimes I’m scared of things changing. Right now, it feels as if things are happening much too fast for me. I was so desperate to get my period. I was really late getting it—sixteen! That’s so late!—and now that I have it, I really don’t like it that much. I get the munchies the week before, and that makes me put on weight, which Ricky always notices. And when he comments on it, I get much more emotional than I used to. My hips are getting wider, which isn’t good for gymnastics either.
And then there’s boys. A year ago I didn’t think about boys at all. St. Tabby’s is an all-girls school: we don’t meet any boys here. And I don’t seem to meet any of them the rest of the time. Of course, there are millions of boys in London. But I hang out with Luce and Alison. Neither of them have older brothers who might bring friends round, and we don’t do stuff like go clubbing or to parties.
We meet up at Luce’s or Alison’s and watch videos, or listen to music. Mostly Alison’s, because her parents did up the basement for her, with comfy old sofas, a TV and a DVD player, and even a fridge so we can keep our drinks cold. It’s like my home away from home, Alison’s basement. (Hah. That’s assuming I have a home to begin with, which I honestly don’t.)
Or we go to the cinema, or to cafes, places sixteen-year-olds can hang out without spending tons of money. But we have gymnastics practice three times during the week plus Saturday afternoons, and you get quite knackered after that. In the summer we like to go swimming in the Serpentine, a sort of lake in Hyde Park. They have a sunbathing area. And we get ice cream.
God, we are the most boring girls in the history of the world.
Alison’s mum, who’s lovely, says we’ll have all the time in the world for parties when we’re older and at uni. She makes us popcorn (no butter, we’re all careful because of Ricky) and buys lots of low-fat frozen yogurt for us (ditto). But for the last few months, I’ve been getting restless. I feel as if there’s more out there. A whole world to explore. And here I am, sitting on the sidelines with my two best friends, eating low-fat frozen yogurt and watching Bring It On or Stick It for the umpteenth time. I know there’s more to life than doing gymnastics . . . or sitting around watching girls in Hollywood movies doing gymnastics.
Which brings me back to boys, doesn’t it?
I think about them a lot. More than Alison and Luce do, I know. It used to be just giggling about the latest boy-band singer, who we fell in love with on sight and had forgotten all about six months later, by which time we’d been madly in love with three or four other pretty-faced, snarling, skinny lead singers with messy haircuts. But now I think about real boys, not ones who are safely behind glass on the TV screen.
I say “boys,” but what I really mean is Dan McAndrew.
And when I think about him, I feel like I’m blushing inside.
We have gymnastics practice after school, so it’s six-thirty by the time we spill out from the school gates, a happy, giggling threesome. Jumping, bouncing on trampolines, throwing yourself through the air—it gives you a lot of energy. Alison, Luce, and I have been training together for five years now, and that bonds you really tightly. We’ve seen each other through a ton of ups and downs. Floods of tears. Frustration when you keep falling on your bum. Losing at competitions. Ricky’s criticisms. Feeling fat—that’s me and Alison, as obviously Luce doesn’t exactly have a problem in that area. (Being fat is a really, really big deal in gymnastics. If a girl puts on a few pounds, she has a weight problem. Seriously.
Alison is bitching about her mum and dad, who’ve booked a family holiday for them this August that she doesn’t want to go on. I’m only listening with half an ear, because it feels as though Alison hasn’t talked about anything but being-trapped-in-a-villa-in-Greece-with-her-boring-cousins for the last few months. I could recite from memory every word of her complaint.
Luce must feel the same way, because she breaks into Alison’s rant, saying, “Oh look, Princess Plum’s holding court again.”
We look across the road to the park opposite our school. There, sitting on the stone steps leading up to the fountain in the center, is Plum Saybourne, the reigning princess of our school, St. Tabitha’s.
We dump our schoolbags on the bench outside the school gates. Alison’s dad is due to pick us up and give us a lift back to Alison’s, where we’re going to hang out. For all her bitching about her family, Alison doesn’t realize how lucky she is: they’re really close. They take it for granted that Alison and her friends will come back to their house after school to watch TV, raid the kitchen, and listen to music. Luce is an only child, but she’s got a mum and dad who dote on her and give her anything she wants.
I’m the only one who doesn’t have any of that. I have to get it secondhand, tag along in my friends’ lives. I wish I had something to give in return, but I don’t.
Behind us is St. Tabby’s, huge, made of red brick trimmed with great swirls and curls of white stucco that looks from a distance like that nasty hard icing they put on old-fashioned cakes (the kind that little kids snap off and eat to get a sugar rush). The building’s very imposing. In fact, the first time I walked down the street and realized that this was my future school, I was overawed and impressed at the same time.
However, I must also note that St. Tabby’s looks like exactly what it is: important and expensive. It’s one of the top three private schools for girls in London, and it’s the one with the poshest location. Just inside the main entrance, in the big echoing marble corridor, is a series of mahogany panels on which is etched, in gold letters, the names of all the St. Tabby’s students who got into Oxford and Cambridge, the two snobbiest universities in England. Parents cough up a lot of money to send their girls to St.
Tabby’s because they think they’ll get the best education going, and because they want them to make friends with girls from the richest, smartest, most socially connected families.
Only it’s not as easy to make friends with girls like that as parents think. Take this geography, for example (a subject every single St. Tabby’s girl dropped like a hot potato as soon as they could. Geography is Not Sexy). Here we are at Point A—the bench outside St. Tabby’s, where we wait for Alison’s dad’s Volvo to pick us up. Point B, of course, is the fountain in the small but perfectly groomed park across the street. St. Tabby’s is in the heart of Chelsea, one of the prettiest, most expensive, most exclusive areas in London—naturally, the park is as lovingly tended as Plum Saybourne’s manicured nails.