Authors: Colleen Clayton
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Girls & Women, #Love & Romance, #Social Issues, #Dating & Sex, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Sexual Abuse, #Juvenile Fiction / Girls - Women, #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues - Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues - Sexual Abuse, #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues - Dating & Sex, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance
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It’s four in the morning
and I’m sitting on my porch steps waiting for my friends. The streetlight casts a pale glow over my yard and I’m so exhausted that the snow is starting to shape-shift into an enormous feather bed and soft cotton sheets. I should go back inside where it’s warm and wait by the window, but I’m more tired than I am cold, so I guess I’ll just stay where I am, hunkered down like a frozen gargoyle.
I didn’t fall asleep until almost two. I just laid there imagining Kirsten, Paige, and me on the slopes, ski bunnies on the rampage; no parents, hot guys everywhere. When the alarm went off, I didn’t even hear it. My mom came in and shook me awake—
Get up already, jeez, it’s all you’ve talked about for weeks—
then stalked back to her room like a zombie.
Finally they pull in. I grab my stuff and head toward the clownmobile that sits all candy-apple-red at the end of my driveway. It’s a car designed specifically for amusement or torture. Clowns, contortion artists, and Kirsten Lee Vanderhoff—these are the people who buy MINI Coopers.
Paige has shotgun so I stuff all five-foot-nine of me into the cramped, but thankfully empty, backseat.
“Is there time for a nap?” I groan.
Paige tries to hand a cup of hot coffee and a paper bag back to me. I wrestle with my duffel, stuffing it into the tiny space next to me, and then take the coffee and bag from her.
“Rise and shine,” Paige says, singsongy, “no naps allowed. The party has officially started.”
Paige is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as usual: makeup on, hair done, a whole raring-to-go-I’m-just-happy-to-be-alive look on her face.
“What’s in the bag?” I ask, setting it on top of my duffel and taking a sip of the best coffee ever poured.
“Breakfast. A clementine and a muffin,” Paige says.
Kirsten looks at me through the rearview mirror and says, “Compliments of Paige Daniels, Future Soccer Mom of America.”
“Shut up, brat, or I’ll tell your mom you’re speeding again,” Paige says.
“No, I’m not,” Kirsten argues.
“Yes, you are,” I say, “and there’s a cop up ahead in the Malloy’s parking lot so slow down.”
“Shit,” Kirsten says, pressing down on the brake too quickly.
Kirsten already has four points on her license. If she gets two more, her parents are going to dump her from the insurance and bury her keys in the yard till she’s twenty. We pass the cop, all of us quiet and holding our breath, staring straight ahead like he can read our minds or something. He doesn’t pull out when we pass him, so we relax and Kirsten turns on some music. Paige pulls out a wet nap from her purse and wipes off the coffee that slopped down her hand. The hot coffee and the music and my friends’ stupidity—it all starts to work its magic and wake me up.
She’ll deny it, but Paige loves being the Type A Goody Two-Shoes of our merry trio. She’s always there to pick up the slack and remember the details. I mean, wet naps? Kirsten’s right—Paige is going to make some six-year-old soccer star very happy someday. Some people find her tireless perk and nerdish tendencies a turnoff. Not me. I dig nerdy little Paige. Especially since I skipped breakfast and have a three-hour bus ride ahead of me. I bite into my muffin. Banana nut. Yum.
We get to the school lot, park the car, throw our bags onto the luggage heap, and climb aboard our assigned bus, which is freezing cold. I grab us a seat as far back from the PTA chaperones as possible, a few seats up from the Callahan brothers, who are sprawled out in the backseat like two kings. Sean’s a junior and Devon’s a senior and they’re both on the wrestling team. They’re pretty good-looking; not drop-dead-gorgeous-hand-me-a-towel-because-I’m-drooling kind of hot, but decent enough.
“Ladies, plenty of room back here,” Sean says, patting his legs and winking at Kirsten. Of the three of us, Kirsten usually gets the most guy attention. She’s blond, and she has a nice body and a great smile. Paige is pretty cute, too. She’s super tiny—about five feet tall and ninety pounds, like a little bookworm pixie. She only just got contacts last year, after spending the first fourteen sporting thick-rimmed goggles. It took Kirsten and me ambushing her in the mall and dragging her into LensCrafters to finally make her ditch them. Still, even without the goggles, she radiates this I-heart-Harry-Potter type of vibe—like the glasses disappeared from her face but resurfaced in her personality or something.
“Yeah, you’d like that, Sean,” Kirsten says, smiling, “but, sorry. Older brother already beat ya to it.”
“Oooh, burn,” Devon says, laughing as he reaches over to punch his brother.
The Callahan boys are notorious in our town. There’re eight of them altogether, and not a female among them, except for their mom. Kirsten hooked up with Patrick Callahan last year at his graduation party. The Callahan graduation parties are legendary keggers, and there’s one practically every year.
“It’s all good,” Sean says, “there’s always more brotherly love where that came from.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Kirsten says, rolling her eyes at Sean, then squeezing into the seat with Paige and me.
“Brothers comparing notes over the dinner table,” I mumble, “that’s what you need.”
“Exactly,” she says.
Paige is squashed between us like a loaf of bread. I could seriously put Paige on my lap and never even know she was there. Still, I move closer to the window to give her more room.
“What the hell, man, I can see my breath,” Paige says, blowing out a stream of vapor. “There should be a law against this—child endangerment, inhumane traveling conditions—something.”
The PTA chaperones start clapping their hands and barking orders, taking roll call, and passing out lift tickets. Then the bus takes off. After about twenty minutes, the heater finally kicks on, and before long the bus goes from meat locker-on-wheels to rolling crematorium. It becomes so suffocating and hot that the excitement and chatter cease altogether. By the time we cross the Ohio border and into Pennsylvania, everyone is sitting in roasted agony, staring into the thick, sweaty silence.
“I’m so hot, I think I feel cold,” Paige says, gazing into the void, her voice limp, her hairline soaked.
I look up toward the front of the bus at the back of Mrs. Winthrop’s head. She’s the lead chaperone and gave everyone strict instructions not to open the windows. She’s about two hundred fifty pounds and is sporting that
Kate Plus 8
-But-A-Bit-Too-Late hairstyle that went out ages ago, swinging that fringe like she invented it.
“That’s it,” I say. “I don’t care what that PTA bitch said, I’m opening a window.”
I lean up and slide down the pane and call out, “Opening up a window, Mrs. Winthrop. People are getting queasy back here.”
Immediately, every window on the bus is snapped down and an audible wave of relief sweeps through the aisles. “Just till it cools down! And no throwing things out the window, not even gum! Arms and legs inside, people!” Mrs. Winthrop yells out to no one in particular
“Legs inside?” Kirsten groans. “Are we five?”
“Thank god we’re not stuck in that woman’s group,” I say.
“Yep. Dodged a bullet there,” Paige says. “Once we get to the lodge, we’ll be under the not-so-watchful eye of Cougar Di.”
Kirsten adds, “And then the fun can begin.”
Cougar Di is Taylor Anderson’s mom and the chaperone for our condo group. Her real name is Diane Mason but she also goes by The Former Mrs. Phil Anderson of Anderson’s Custom Paint & Tile or The Former Mrs. Rick Sheffield of Sheffield & Zuckerman, Attorneys-at-Law. She’s a navel-pierced, botoxed, gold-digging, career divorcée who thinks she’s Taylor’s hot big sister rather than her mom. The original Real Housewife of Cuyahoga County, and she’s all ours for the weekend.
“Can you imagine being stuck in a condo with Mrs. Winthrop?” I say. “The Queen Bee Nazi of the PTA? It would ruin the whole trip.”
“I heard a rumor she’s brewing up some kind of game night at their place,” Kirsten says. “She brought a slew of prehistoric board games—Parcheesi, backgammon—and she’s setting up stations around the condo for some kind of weird relay.”
Poor Ellen,” Paige says. “She’s been stuck with that woman every day since birth. She must be mortified.”
“Uh-huh,” Kirsten mumbles, rifling through her coat pockets, then holding up a compact mirror and sliding on tinted lip balm. “These are the times when I’m actually grateful to be the by-product of upper-middle-class alcoholism.”
She snaps her compact shut and smiles matter-of-factly.
“Doesn’t count if it’s expensive, right?”
I laugh, even though technically it’s not funny because it’s so completely true. Kirsten’s parents spend their nights and weekends smashed on imported wine and Grey Goose martinis, fighting like two drunken pit bulls. I know it really bothers Kirsten about her parents, so I throw a bit of my own dirty laundry into the mix, spread around the misery, so she doesn’t feel like a leper.
“I know what you mean; times like these, I’m happy I have a deadbeat dad. No time to chaperone when there’s only one parent and she’s busting her hump to feed the kiddies.”
Paige sits uncomfortably quiet. I give her a playful shoulder shove.
“What’s your excuse, Miss Perfect?”
“Yeah,” Kirsten adds, bumping her shoulder against Paige, too. “Where are your parents in all this? Judge and Delores are always looking to bust up your good time.”
Paige shrugs, halfheartedly trying to defend her paranoid, overbearing parents. “They’re not that bad.”
Kirsten looks at me with her eyebrows raised. Maybe Judge and Delores have decided to loosen the apron strings?
A moment of silence passes. Then Paige comes clean: “Bible retreat in Columbus or they’d totally be here—Parcheesi and backgammon in tow.”
We all bust out laughing. Then we settle in and relax quietly inside of our friendship, safe in the knowledge that when it comes to the family ideal, all three of us got screwed.
We arrive at the resort
around eight a.m. Our condo has direct slope access. Just walk out the back door, slap on your skis, and slide downhill. We hit the powder at eight thirty sharp, and by eight thirty-one, it is apparent to all who witness the carnage that I suck entirely.
Usually I’m more athletic than either Kirsten or Paige, but apparently skiing is not my forte. Three hundred bucks down the drain. Kirsten’s parents, despite being high-functioning alcoholics, make decent bank. Paige’s family is also fairly well off, so it’s not a big deal for them to spend three hundred dollars. I had to beg my broke-ass mother to let me join the ski club this year, and all I got for Christmas was a homemade gift certificate wrapped in a neck warmer:
SKI CLUB MEMBERSHIP WORTH 300 CLAMS. NO REFUNDS.
Kirsten and Paige push me to the bunny hill and work patiently alongside me for two hours, instructing me on various novice techniques that go by precious names like “making pizza slices” and “cooking French fries.” None of their hard work and patience is paying off. For the hundredth time, I unscrew my limbs, dust myself off, and look up at my friends’ faces.
“It was better, I swear,” Kirsten says, helping me up.
“Right.” I say. “Face it, I’m a ski bunny reject. A ski-ject.”
“But you stayed up a whole six seconds that time!” Paige says, nodding her head up and down, beaming a little too enthusiastically.
They’re trying hard to be nice but I know it isn’t fair. They’d be doing some world-class skiing right now if it weren’t for me. Zigzagging down black-diamond runs with menacing names like CPR Gully and Body Bag Drop-Off.