Authors: Jessica Alcott
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2015 by Jessica Alcott
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Crown and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Even when you lie to me / Jessica Alcott. — First edition.
Summary: Because she sees herself as ugly and a misfit, tolerated only because of her friendship with pretty and popular Lila, Charlie dreads her senior year but a crush on the new charismatic English teacher, Mr. Drummond, makes school bearable until her eighteenth birthday, when boundaries are crossed.
ISBN 978-0-385-39116-0 (trade)
ISBN 978-0-385-39117-7 (lib. bdg.)
ISBN 978-0-385-39118-4 (ebook)
PZ7.A3349Eve 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014006648
eBook ISBN 9780385391184
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The day after I turned eighteen was the day Mr. Drummond left for good.
I was never a pretty girl. I knew it more from people’s silences than from anything they said. They didn’t call me beautiful. They didn’t say I was winsome or sexy or gorgeous. They told me I was smart. They told me I could write. On the subject of my looks there was dead air, like a space in a cracked tooth waiting for a cap that never came. There was something complicit in it, as if they were waiting for me to duck my head and apologize.
Drummond was the only one who ever made me feel any different. And I was the reason he left.
It was my last day of summer, and even though I hated summer, I was dreading the end of it. I stretched out on my bed, annoyed and hot. In summer I was always too hot. Clothes stuck to my skin like a greasy coat of paint. The sheets had twined themselves around my legs during the night, and I kicked them off impatiently. I’d woken up early, nervous about the first day of school, and now my mind wouldn’t slow down. The longer I lay there, the more I thought about it.
My phone rang; it was Lila. “Pool?” She had been lobbying for the pool all summer.
“Ugh, really? Do we have to?”
“It’s our final day of freedom and you’ve come to the pool
Yes, we have to.”
“But it’s hot outside.”
“That’s the genius of it, Charlie. You go to the pool when it’s hot and the water cools you down.”
“Or—follow me here—you stay inside, in the air-conditioning, and never get hot in the first place.”
“I am not letting you go to the library again. You’re frightening the librarians. You’re supposed to leave at night.”
“They have free books and comfortable chairs and no limit on how long you’re allowed to stay, all right? I checked.”
“Fine,” I said, though my pulse sped up.
“Thank you. You could bring Frida.”
“To the pool? I don’t think she’s allowed.”
“We could tie her up outside the gates and let her out in the park after. Good guy bait.”
“I’m not using my dog as some kind of man lure.”
“I’ll be outside in twenty minutes,” she said.
I took a quick shower, blasting water at my knotted hair and finally scraping it back in defeat. It was just going to get wet again anyway. Frida, who’d been sleeping in my room, woofed softly as I left. She was a big dog, a malamute—my dad liked to call her a husky enlarged by 150 percent—but she had the temperament of a semiconscious pillow.
“Bye, Dad,” I called. “Frida’s upstairs if you need her for…napping.”
He appeared in the front hallway. “Off with Lila?”
I said. “You sure you don’t want any help today?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he said. “You should not have to spend your last free day working in the basement with me.”
I had been his assistant over the summer: he was an artist, and he sold most of his work over the Internet. My mother had helped him for years, but just before the summer she’d gotten a new job—she was some kind of bank manager now; I could never remember the exact title—and she’d been working late nearly every day since.
I sighed. “Mom got to you too, then?”
“What did Mom get to Dad about?” My mother came in from the kitchen with her hair in a sun-yellow slick of ponytail, wearing workout clothes that skimmed her body like a tongue. I had on some paint-spattered terry cloth shorts and a faded floral bathing suit with one sagging paralytic strap. I was suddenly aware of how tight the suit was against my stomach.
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you’d left for work already.”
“No, you didn’t get quite that lucky, Charlotte,” she said. “You want to come running with me? Get your energy up for your last day?”
“That’s funny,” I said.
“I’ll take it slow,” she said. I could feel her looking at me like she was assessing a used car for damages. “You can change first if you want.”
I could feel my neck flushing. I turned to my dad. “Why don’t you ever get asked to go running?”
“Your mom gave up on me before you were even born,” he said.
“You’ve still got the short shorts, though, don’t you?” I said. “I saw you wearing some while you mowed the lawn last weekend.”
“That was a laundry emergency,” he said. “But I apologize if I caused any permanent retinal damage.”
My mother watched us like we were playing a game with rules she couldn’t follow. “Okay, well, if that means you’ve decided you’re not coming, I need to get a move on,” she said. She pulled my dad to her for a kiss. I looked away.
“Bye, Charlotte,” she said. “I hope you have a good last day.”
I waited until she left to say, “I’m changing.”
When I came downstairs again, my dad was getting ready to take Frida for a walk. He was silent for a moment as I pulled my shoes on. Finally he said, “Kiddo, I know it’s hard sometimes, but she loves you.”
“She could show it a little better,” I said. “Those clothes were something, huh? She looked like she got hit with a cannon full of Nike products.”
He ran his hand through his graying hair and tried not to smile. “Don’t start.”
“I’m not,” I said. I stood up. “You definitely don’t need me?”
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Now please leave. Frida and I have a busy napping schedule to adhere to.”
I gave him a hug. As always, he smelled faintly of the cigarettes he pretended not to smoke. “I’ll be back,” I said.
“I hope so,” he said.
Lila honked outside. “Okay see you later byeeee,” I said all in a rush, then slammed the door and sprinted down the front steps. We lived in the thick of the suburbs; most of the houses in our neighborhood were restored old colonials, repainted in tasteful pastels. Our house was the smallest on the street, crammed in like it was jostling for its place. It felt like our limbs stuck out the windows when we tried to stretch.
Lila’s car was as cool and dry as a cave. She looked annoyingly pretty that day: big brown eyes and a wide warm slash of a mouth. A pair of oversized white sunglasses barely pinned down her long dark hair, and she’d kicked off her flip-flops already. Her bare foot rested casually on the accelerator.
“Where’s Frito?” she asked as I shut the door with the satisfying
of an expensive car. Lila’s parents were comfortable.
“Told you, she’s not man bait. My dad needs the company, anyway.”
Lila attempted a three-point turn that eventually became a nine-point turn. “This stupid car’s too big,” she muttered.
“They say girls don’t have a good sense of spatial relations but I think that’s a myth.”
She glared at me. “Sexist.”
“Curb!” I shouted as the front tires reared up.
Lila swore, then said, “I’m testing the bumper’s resilience.”
“Is it working?”
“Considering the number of times I’ve tested it, yes.”
“And the neighbors’ mailbox?”
She squinted at it. “It’s shaped like a cow. I did them a favor.”
She grinned in a way I resented: it was so warm and flirtatious that I couldn’t help smiling back, but when I saw her use it on other people I hated them for being drawn in by it. When we were younger, we were both outsiders—she was too loud and too brash, and I was too quiet and too shy: a flimsy negative of her. But as we got older, she began to tame herself into someone people liked; she kept her smile but learned not to lean in too close. And I—I watched.
When I was with Lila, I saw how much attention it was possible not to get. The waiter would bring her free drinks, or the cashier would write his number on her receipt, or the guy at the stoplight would roll down his window and lick the empty space between the V of his outstretched fingers. They acted like she owed them something just because they thought she was pretty. Watching it happen made it impossible for me to pretend that I was attractive. I could feel people’s eyes slide off me as if I were coated with Vaseline.
She seemed to inhabit a different universe than I did, where even the most mundane interaction throbbed with sexual energy. It seemed exhausting. But I was interested in her stories of making out with random guys at the movies both because I was jealous and because I was curious. It wasn’t like I had any of my own to occupy myself with.
Lila turned on the radio and twisted the knob, scrolling through station after station, only glancing at the road occasionally to ensure we hadn’t drifted into oncoming traffic.
I pushed her fingers away. “Is driving boring for you? I take my life in my hands every time I get in this car.” A DJ I liked came on and I settled back, satisfied.
“The greatest soft-rock hits of the eighties, nineties, and today,” Lila said. “This is why we’re so popular.” But she didn’t change the station.
By the time we got to the pool it was already crowded. Acid fizzed in my stomach.
“Come on, you’re not going to melt.” Lila opened the passenger door and I stepped outside. The heat pressed down on me like an iron.
“Blurgh,” I muttered. “If I die, tell my mother I’m glad I didn’t waste my last day of vacation by going on a run with her so we could talk about stride rates.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear that.” Lila hooked her arm around mine. I hesitated. I never knew what to do with myself when people touched me, even people I knew as well as Lila. It felt like they were going to take something I wasn’t willing to give. But Lila gripped me firmly, pulling me toward her, and I let her.
“I would be if I were her,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”
When we got to the changing room, I sat on a bench as Lila changed into a bikini.
“You’re going to be boiling in those clothes,” she said, nodding toward my black shirt and dark jeans. “Why did you wear your disgusting old sneakers to a pool?”
“Better boiling than burned. And I wore them because I like them and they are impeccably fashionable.”
Lila sighed. She stripped off her shorts in one swift movement and turned her back as she lifted her shirt up. I couldn’t help looking. Her body was beautifully simple, an unbroken sine wave of curves. My skin didn’t fit the same way; it puckered and spilled out in places as if whoever had engineered me hadn’t bought enough fabric.
Lila glanced at me, caught my eye, and quickly turned away again. I stood up and started to pace. Just then, a group of girls’ voices crashed into the room ahead of them, ricocheting off the tiles like bullets. I stiffened, but I didn’t recognize any of them. I watched as they collided with one another, screeching and cackling and squealing and teasing.
“I’m ready, dude,” Lila said. She saw me watching the girls and looked over at them too. “Charming. Come on, let’s go boil.”
We’d entered through the changing room, and even though I knew how busy the pool was, the noise and the crowd hit me with the force of a punch. A tinny radio was blasting a Top 40 station, and toddlers were screeching as they splashed each other with water. The sun was so white that the people crowding around the lip of the pool looked spectral. I couldn’t help scanning the place for kids we knew, but I didn’t see anyone yet. My T-shirt and jeans felt huge and ridiculous. I hesitated at the door, trying to think of some excuse to stay inside.
Lila spotted a couple of vacant sun loungers and sprinted over, her towel billowing behind her like a flag. When she noticed I wasn’t following, she shouted, “Charlie! I found some
The lifeguard twisted to look at her and then at me. “Goddammit, Lila,” I muttered as I moved back into the shade. It was all too much. I hated the creaking, rusted loungers with their loose rubber slats that felt like a child’s damp palm on your skin. I hated walking in the oil-slicked puddles on the concrete, hated the noise and the heat and the blinding sun. I couldn’t go out there.
Get your ass on this
Now more people were looking, though when I didn’t move they lost interest, used to teenagers shouting at each other.
Lila waved at me and raised her hands in a
what the hell?
gesture. I made myself walk toward her, keeping my eyes on the lounger. When I got to her she said, “Sudden-onset agoraphobia?”
“Something like that,” I said, settling myself as the chair shrieked underneath me. “This thing’s a safety hazard.”
“It’s fine,” Lila said. She stretched out; her towel slipped lower to expose her smooth belly. She pulled her giant insectile pair of sunglasses down and adjusted them on her forehead.
“Are we playing canasta later?” I said, gesturing at them.
“Screw you, denim. They’re trendy.” She lowered them to the bridge of her nose and gave me the finger.
They looked good on her, but I never would have admitted it. I settled back and closed my eyes against the white glare of the sun.