I think of Em again, the need to call her, to tell her surging inside me. She’s my best friend and she’ll support this. She’ll support me, right? And she’ll always be honest. I need to know exactly what she thinks when she looks at me.
Turning for my cell, I jump when I see a figure standing in my doorway. “Mom. You scared the bejesus out of me.”
Her arms are crossed in another suit. It’s almost bedtime and she hasn’t changed yet. “What were you doing?”
My tongue itches to tell her. To really ask her what she thinks about me, but I’m scared of the answer. “Nothing.” I shrug.
I turn back to the mirror and she comes up and steps behind me. “I’ve been thinking…”
She fingers my hair. “How would you like a few highlights? It might be fun to do something different, don’t you think?”
Actually, I kind of like my hair. I didn’t realize it until this second. “Maybe…”
“We can make a day of it. Have a spa day. Manicures, pedicures. There’s a new shop in town I’ve thought about making an appointment at. They specialize in clothes that help…they’re slimming, accentuating your assets.”
When I look in the mirror now, I don’t see the boobs I’d been admiring moments ago. My eyes don’t look as blue and now my lips just feel fat, not like kissable rosebuds. I’m thinking about the dimple in my thigh. The stomach that’s anything but flat. I even forget the girl who helped Tegan because it was the right thing to do.
But really I wonder why Tegan bothers looking.
DOUBLE THE REJECTION
I’m wearing a pair of gray sweats and a black t-shirt when I pull up to Let’s Get Physical at ten minutes to six. In the passenger seat is my backpack with a change of clothes, just a simple pair of capris, one of those shirts with the tie underneath my boobs and sandals. Not sure why I brought them, but figured the last thing I would want is to be in need of something other than sweats and not have it on-hand.
I turn off my car and fiddle with my keys while waiting for Tegan to get here. It’s so crazy, being here and waiting for him to go jogging. I haven’t jogged for fun in—wow, I can’t even remember. And now I’m doing it with my trainer? What was I thinking?
Shaking my head, I fight to stamp down my doubt. He won’t push me too hard. That I can tell about him. He’s good at his job. Understanding and encouraging, which is what I need. Even if he is a little cocky and moody some of the time.
Picking up my cell phone, I glance at the time. 6:10. Nerves start a slow boil in my belly. Not everyone can be on time all the time. Especially at six in the morning.
Shoving my keys back into the ignition, I give power to the car to listen to music. I wonder where we’re going to run. Hopefully it’s not someplace that’s packed with people. For some reason, I think Tegan knows better than that though. I’m sure he knows I’m a total wuss and it would make me uncomfortable.
I glance up to see a few people walk into Let’s Get Physical. What if he’s waiting inside? I didn’t even think about that. For the second time I turn off my car before heading inside. He’s not standing by the door, but Supermodel is sitting behind the desk.
“Hi, Annabel. You here to do a solo workout today?” She asks.
Her words pretty much answer my question, but I ask anyway. “Is Tegan around?”
“No, not that I’ve seen.”
Thanking her, I walk out. The nerves start to bubble over now, a rapid boil like right before you toss noodles into the water. It’s only 6:25. He wouldn’t have asked me to come if he didn’t plan to show up, right?
I climb back into my car because the last thing I want to do is stand here on the street waiting for him. I try the radio, nothing is on. Hit play on my CD player, but then turn it off because I’m not in the mood to change the CD. Immediately, I reach for my phone: check my email, look for a text from Em, change the wallpaper.
Finally, the boil bubbles over, spilling throughout my body. 7:00. He’s not here. He’s not coming. What was I thinking? Shaking my head, I toss my cell into the passenger seat, start my car and drive off.
I don’t bother to grab my bag when I get home. I’m half afraid I’ll chuck the dumb thing across my lawn. Maybe he asked me to run with him to pacify me. To look like he actually cared, knowing that I’d be too proud to back down after I promised him I’d keep working out. But that doesn’t feel real. Doesn’t feel like him.
I lean my head forward so my forehead presses against my front door. What am I thinking? I don’t know this guy. Actions speak louder than words. His actions spoke pretty loudly.
My door pulls open and I stumble to catch myself. I’m so shocked to see my mom on the other side of the door, that when she asks me what I’m doing, I answer honestly. “I went jogging.” Okay, maybe not completely honestly since I didn’t actually jog, but I’d planned on it.
Doubt is written all over her face. “You went jogging?”
I stand taller. “Yes.”
She looks at me for a minute, as if she’s trying to figure me out. Should she be happy or not? Believe me or not? “I don’t like you out and about without being honest with me about what you’re doing. I’ll let it go this time, but next time, try the truth.” She checks her cell phone, grabs her keys, and the urge to grab them out of her hand and throw them the way I just thought about throwing my bag takes over.
“I’m not lying. Thanks for the vote of confidence though.”
She sighs. Her colored-in brows pull together. “I’m not trying to be a monster here, but you don’t look like you’ve been exercising. You look rested. You’re not sweating and this may sound harsh, but I’ve never seen you get up this early and go for a jog before.” She steps outside. “I’m running late. We’ll talk about it later.”
And then she’s gone and I’m left feeling even worse than I did waiting on a boy who never came.
“Scoot over.” Em plops on my bed beside me. Her ever-present hoodie is laid across my computer chair. The only time she doesn’t wear it is at home, or in my room. Even the teachers let her wear it during PE. She has a copy of Edgar Allen Poe poetry on her lap. She’s always been into poetry, reading and writing. While I like it, I usually don’t read the same kind of things she does. I’m more of a paranormal romance kind of girl. Sad… I know, but if a girl and a fallen angel can fall in love? I guess that gives a girl hope.
Or at least a few hours of quality entertainment.
“How did things go at the doctor?” I ask. Her mom is always bringing her to see specialists about her birthmark. It’s different than the way my mom is about my weight though. I know Ms. M does it because even though Emily will never admit it, she wants it gone. More than anything, Em wishes she could make it disappear.
She’s such a contradiction. She hides behind her hoods and hair, but then goes on about how she doesn’t care what other people think. Wants to disappear, but will draw attention to herself to defend me. Pretends to not care about the mark, rolls her eyes at her mom when they make another doctor’s appointment, but really hope ignites in her eyes.
She drops the book onto her lap. We’re both lying on our backs, knees bent. “Same old thing. I don’t know why Mom’s always dragging me to the appointments.”
Her words spark visions of the gym. Of Tegan. I push him aside, because I don’t want to think about him. Not about how it felt when he bailed on me. I’m going to the gym for me and it has nothing to do with Mr. No show.
But my working out and her doctor appointments are kind of the same thing, aren’t they? We’re both going to try and change the things that seem to define us. I know the real answer to my question and I know what she will say, but I ask anyway. “Don’t you want to go though? I mean, just to see?”
Em sighs. “Why? So I can fit in with people like Billy Mason? They’re a**holes and they’ll keep looking for a reason to put people a step below them.”
I immediately feel foolish, because the main reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because of people like him. Because I want to show them I’m more than they think I am. “Yeah, but you’d have to admit, it’d be nice to shock them, ya know? Show them we’re just as good as they are.” Show my mom I’m not a liar and that I’m as good as she is too.
Em rolls over to face me. “But it won’t. People in general are jerks. That’s why I don’t like anyone but you and my mom. There are certain people who will always be the ones getting stepped on and those who will always do the stepping. That’s the way the world works, Bell. Crappy, but true.”
I don’t believe her. I can’t. What’s the point of it all if that were true? But what if I’m lying to myself and I really believe it? I’d thought just like her the first time I saw Tegan. I turned out to be right about him too. There’s a part of me who fights to share her beliefs. “I don’t know about that.”
“And that’s why we fit together so well. Why we’ll always be best friends. You’re the softie while I’m the hard-nosed bitch. See? Perfect.” And then she sits up and smacks me with a pillow.
“Ugh, you are a bitch.” I roll off the bed, grab a pillow and hit her with it in retaliation. Before I know it, we’re laughing like crazy and smacking each other with my pillows. Somehow Em helps me forget about Mom and Tegan.
“You’re going down, Malone.” I take a swing at her, but when I do, she rips the pillow out of my hand and starts hammering me with hers. I fall to the bed. “You’re such I cheater! I give up.” Em falls down beside me again, laughing, free in a way she isn’t very often. It makes me sad for her.
“I always win, Bell. Remember,” she points to herself, “hard-nosed bitch.” I shake my head, her words swimming around inside my ears.
“It sucks… People, I mean.”
“I know, but at least you have me.” Emily laughs, making me laugh too.
“You’re right. Who needs those jerks?” And I’ll show Tegan. I’ll show up at the gym like nothing happened. Maybe I’ll pretend I didn’t show too. And Mom? My chest pinches. No matter what, I will always want her to love me. I will never stop fighting for that.
Right about then, my cell vibrates with a text. I pull it out and look. “Mom’s home. Come on. You’re staying for dinner.” After what happened this morning, I need Em’s support. I just hope and pray she doesn’t say anything about my jog this morning.
“I can’t believe your mom texts you from downstairs for dinner.” Em pulls her hoodie on as we’re walking out of my room. “Even worse, I can’t believe you’re making me eat with her.”
“What are best friends for?” I bump her hip as we go down the stairs. Dad is sitting in his spot, slacks and t-shirt, while Mom looks like she’s at a business dinner. You know, the typical night around the Conway household.