Authors: Ann Brashares
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Fiction
Stunned, Carmen walked back to the living room. “Nobody here,” she said, not recognizing the possible implications of her words until she looked at Porter.
He didn’t look lecherous exactly, but he was probably wondering what she meant. She had invited him to come up, after all.
Her mother had left the apartment to Carmen on the night of her first actual, official date? What was she thinking?
Carmen could march Porter right into her bedroom and go the whole damn way if she felt like it. Yes, she sure could.
She looked at Porter. His hair was sticking up a little at the back. The soles of his tennis shoes were oddly wide and flat. She looked through the open door of her bedroom. It made her vaguely uncomfortable to think that Porter could see her bed from where he sat on the sofa. Hmm. If a guy seeing your bed made you feel embarrassed, it was probably a sign that you were not ready to get in it with him.
“Listen,” she said. “I have to get up early to go to church tomorrow morning.” She yawned for effect. It started out fake but turned real in the middle.
Porter stood quickly. The combination of God and the yawn had done the trick. “Okay. Yeah. I better get going.”
He looked slightly disappointed. No, maybe he looked relieved. Was it possible she couldn’t tell the difference between disappointed and relieved? Maybe he didn’t like her. Maybe he was glad to be getting out of there. Maybe he thought the storied Pants on her short legs looked like the weirdest thing he’d ever seen.
He had a very, very nice nose, she realized as it came toward her. He was standing close and hunching over a bit as they stood together in the doorway. “Thanks a lot, Carmen. I had a great time.” He kissed her on the lips. It was quick, but it wasn’t disappointed or relieved. It was nice.
Did he have a great time? she wondered, musing at the closed door, or was he just saying that? Was his idea of a great time different from her idea of a great time? Sometimes Carmen marveled at the sheer volume of thoughts cramming her head. Did other people think this much?
The success of any date was all about expectations, really, and Carmen possessed a singular genius for stacking hers straight up to the sky.
She turned to face the empty apartment. Where the hell was Christina? What in the world was her mother thinking? How was Carmen supposed to transform raw experience into a good story without her mother here to tell it to? What was the deal?
She went into the kitchen and sat restlessly at the small Formica table. When her parents had still been together, they’d lived in a small house with a yard. Since then, she and her mother had lived in this apartment. Her mother seriously believed that you couldn’t have a lawn without a man to mow it. The kitchen window looked at three other kitchen windows. The area between them was what real estate agents called a courtyard but what ordinary people called an airshaft. Carmen had long ago gotten into the habit of not picking her nose or anything when she sat in the kitchen.
This wasn’t right. She couldn’t just go to bed. This night was crying out for narration. She couldn’t call Bee in Alabama. She tried Tibby’s dorm room, feeling as though she were calling a different universe, a future universe. It rang and rang. In this future universe, it appeared, you weren’t there to pick up your phone at eleven thirty. She was hesitant to call Lena at this hour in case she woke up Lena’s dad, and his temper along with him, but she went ahead and did it anyway.
She braced herself for two long rings.
“Hello?” It was Lena’s whisper.
“Hi.” Lena sounded sleepy. “Hi.
How was your date?”
“It was . . . good,” Carmen pronounced.
“Good,” Lena said. “So . . . so do you like him?”
“Like him?” Carmen repeated this as though the question were not entirely relevant. She had thought about many things over the course of the evening, but she hadn’t really thought about that.
“Do you think he has short legs?” Carmen asked.
“What? No. What are you talking about?”
“Do you think
have short legs?” This was clearly the more tender question.
Carmen was thoughtful for a minute. “Len, did you ever run out of things to say to Kostos?”
Lena laughed. “No. I had more the problem of not being able to shut up. But we only got together at the very end of last summer, after a lot of crazy stuff had happened.”
Usually Carmen spoke to Lena as freely as she spoke to herself, but for some reason she felt shy about admitting that her famously big mouth had shriveled in the presence of an actual boy. Instead, she launched into a long consideration of the whereabouts and motivations of her mother.
Lena was silent so long Carmen suspected she’d fallen asleep. “Len? Len? So what do you think?”
Lena yawned. “I think it’s nice that your mom is out having fun. You should go to bed.”
“Fine,” Carmen said sulkily. “It’s obvious who needs to go to bed.”
After that Carmen still couldn’t fall asleep, so she wrote an e-mail to Paul. Paul was so sparing with words that writing to him was somewhat like writing to nobody, but she did it often even so.
Then she decided to e-mail Tibby. She began by describing how Porter had looked. She was going to say something about the color of his eyes, but when she stopped and tried to picture Porter’s eyes, she realized that she hadn’t really looked at them.
Tibby winced. Silence. She wished she could change her birth certificate. And her school transcript and her social security card.
“That’s, uh, just Rollins. Tibby Rollins,” she said to the screenwriting instructor, Ms. Bagley.
“My . . . middle name.”
Ms. Bagley checked her list again. “So what’s Anastasia, then?”
Tibby sank down in her seat. “A typo?” She heard laughter around her.
“Okay. Tibby, you said? Fine. Tibby Rollins.” Bagley wrote a note on the list.
It was one of the many ironies in her life that Tibby was the only member of her five-person family who still hauled the stupid name Tomko around. It was her mother’s maiden name. When her parents had been hippies and communists and feminists and everything, her mother had derided women who changed their names when they got married. She’d been Alice Tomko then, and she’d stuck Tibby not only with the name but with the hyphen. Thirteen years later, when Nicky came along, her mother had actually dropped the name Tomko herself. “It just makes everything so complicated,” she had muttered, becoming Alice Rollins. She vaguely pretended the Tomko didn’t exist for Tibby anymore either. But the birth certificate didn’t lie.
It took a while for Tibby to recover enough dignity to drag her eyes up off her desk and look around the room. One girl two seats over she recognized from the sixth floor. A few kids she’d met at the orientation dinner and party last night. Many of them had hungry looks on their faces. They needed to make friends fast; it didn’t much matter with whom.
Two kids didn’t have the hungry look. One was a noticeably good-looking guy. His hair was long in the front, messed up and half in his eyes, like he’d just gotten out of bed. He was slouched far down in his chair, so his legs stuck out into the room. The other was a girl next to him. Her hair was pixie short, both black and maroon, and she wore pink-tinted rimless glasses. Her T-shirt looked like a size 6X. Clearly they knew each other from before.
Sophie, the girl in 6B3, had already invited Tibby to have lunch today. The roommates Jess and somebody else whose name also started with a
from somewhere in 6D were eager for Tibby to hang out tonight. But Tibby felt herself eschewing all the kids who were desperate and friendless like she was.
She watched Bed Head and Pink Glasses. Pink Glasses whispered something to Bed Head, and he laughed. He looked sort of hungover. He slouched lower in his chair. Tibby’s ears tickled with the desire to know what the girl had said.
Tibby wanted these two, who didn’t need to make any friends.
“Okay, folks.” At last Bagley was done with her list. “Let’s play a little game to get to know each other and help remember each other’s names.”
Pink Glasses raised an eyebrow at her friend and slouched down to join him. Tibby felt herself slouching a little too.
“Ready? Here’s how it goes. Tell us your name and two of your favorite things that begin with the same letter that starts your name. I’ll go first.” Bagley considered the ceiling for a moment. She was in her thirties, Tibby guessed. Her dark eyebrows crept in toward her nose, Frida Kahlo style. For some reason, Tibby suspected this meant that she didn’t have a husband. “Caroline. Uh, crawfish and . . . Caravaggio.”
Tibby watched Pink Glasses whispering to her friend some more while a girl named Shawna told everyone she liked shish kebab and Shaquille O’Neal. Pink Glasses looked up, surprised, when she realized it was her turn. She obviously hadn’t been listening to anything anyone had said. “Oh, uh . . . my name is Maura and . . . I’m supposed to say two favorite things?” she asked.
“Okay, uh, Milk Duds and, um . . .
A couple of people snickered. Tibby shook her head. If Maura had just said “movies” like a normal person, she would have gotten the assignment right.
Bed Head’s name was Alex, and he liked aardvarks and acorns. He drew out the
sounds. Tibby had the suspicion he was trying to make both the teacher and Maura feel like idiots. But he had a nice, kind of growly voice, and he flashed Maura a dazzling half smile.
I want one of those,
Tibby found herself thinking.
He wasn’t wearing socks with his Pumas. Tibby wondered if his feet smelled.
It was Tibby’s turn. “My name is Tibby,” she said. “I like Tater Tots and . . . tweezers.” Tibby didn’t know what had possessed her to say that. She slowly turned forty-five degrees and saw Alex looking at her from under his hair. He smiled at her.
On the other hand, she did know what had possessed her. Or, anyway, who.
Bridget took a lot of extra steps up the front walk of the two-story brick house. There were little anthills along one side. Grass pushed up triumphantly through the concrete in many places. A doormat said
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
in large letters decorated with pink and yellow flowers. Bridget remembered that doormat, and she also remembered the brass door knocker in the shape of a dove. Or a pigeon. Maybe it was a pigeon.
She banged on the door a little harder than she’d meant to. She needed to keep it moving. “Come on, come on,” she mumbled to herself. She heard footsteps. She shook out her hands to keep the blood flowing.
Here we go,
Bridget thought as the doorknob turned and the door swung open.
And there she was.
The old woman was the right age to be Greta, though Bridget did not actually recognize her.
“Hello?” the woman said, squinting into the bright sunlight.
“Hi,” Bridget said. She stuck out her hand. “My name is Gilda, and I just moved to town a couple of days ago. Are you Greta Randolph, by any chance?”
The old woman nodded. Well, that was that.
“Would you like to come in?” the woman invited her. She looked a little suspicious.
“Yes, thank you. I would.”
Bridget followed her over white wall-to-wall carpet, amazed by the smell of the house. It was distinctive in some unidentifiable way . . . or maybe it was familiar. It stopped her breath for a moment.
The woman invited her to sit on the plaid couch in the living room. “Can I offer you a glass of iced tea?”
“No, not just now. Thank you.”
The woman nodded and sat in the wing chair across from her.
Bridget wasn’t sure what she had been looking for, but this wasn’t it. Greta Randolph was overweight, and the fat was distributed clumsily around her upper body. Her hair was gray and short and permed-looking. Her teeth were yellow. Her clothes looked straight from Wal-Mart.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, looking at Bridget carefully, probably to make sure she didn’t swipe any of the crystal doodads on the bookcase.
“I heard from your neighbors you might need a little help around the house—you know, odd jobs. I’m looking for work,” Bridget explained. The lie came effortlessly.
Greta looked confused. “Which neighbors?”
Bridget arbitrarily pointed to the right. Lying was easier than most people thought, she decided. Which was key, because liars preyed on the general truthfulness of everybody else. If everybody lied, then it wouldn’t be easy anymore.
The woman shook her head, puzzled at the thought of that. “Well, we all need a little help, I guess, don’t we?”
“Definitely,” Bridget said.
Greta thought a moment. “I do have a project I’ve been meaning to do.”
“I’d like to clean out the attic, then maybe turn it into an efficiency and rent it out in the fall. I could use the extra money.”