“BUT Mom, we have the same nose.”
“Not anymore,” said her mom cheerfully, now ensconced on the bed, surrounded by mail, slicing open some envelopes with her nail file but tossing most into a junk pile. “Where’s Señor? Why isn’t Señor here? Señor?” she called. “He’s rejecting me, what can I do? How have you been? Tell me everything.” Her mom patted the bed for Sukie to sit.
“How did you change it?” asked Sukie, standing in the doorway. She’d been twirling her hair nervously and was surprised to discover that she’d yanked out some strands.
“Well, aren’t you a broken record. It’s just one piece of the pie.”
“What pie?” Sukie didn’t know what to do with the hair in her hand. She stuck it in her pocket.
“My face. Stop obsessing.”
“I’m not obsessing.”
“You are obviously obsessing. I obsess, so don’t tell me you don’t obsess. Come on, sit, talk.”
“Today was horrible,” said Sukie.
Her mother flinched. “Don’t touch your stitches,” she scolded herself. She slapped her own hand, which had misbehaved and scratched a spot under her ear. “My whole scalp itches,” she confided. “I have a staple in my head. What happened?”
“My phone. I lost it. At the club.”
“They’ll find it, I’m sure. Don’t go getting hysterical.”
“I’m not hysterical,” said Sukie, wondering if she was.
“Because you’re always getting hysterical.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Don’t bother to deny it. Doesn’t Sukie get hysterical?” she asked her husband, who had creaked in carrying a bag of frozen peas. He carefully lowered himself into an armchair, flicked on the TV, and pressed the bag against the bruised and battered side of his face. “Doesn’t she?”
Sukie’s dad simply winked at Sukie with his only visible eye.
Her mom perused a letter. “Well, this is inconvenient.”
“What?” said Sukie.
“The big school meeting about college is Wednesday night.”
“You don’t have to go,” said Sukie.
“Of course we have to go.”
“This counts, kiddo. Big time,” said her dad.
“No, really, you don’t have to go.”
How would she explain her mother? What lie would cover it? A box fell on her head. A spa accident. What was a spa accident? Sukie’s mind was racing while her mother prattled on. “You have to get into the best college. We have to make sure that we’re doing everything and that you’re doing everything. Perhaps you should volunteer at a homeless shelter. Is there one nearby? That would be so wonderful for your college application. We’ll see what they say on Wednesday. We’re not the kind of parents who don’t care that we’re not doing everything possible for your future. Look at me, Susannah Danielle Jamieson.”
Sukie twisted to face her mom directly, realizing as she did so that her mom had pieces of Scotch tape next to her eyes and below her ears.
“We love you,” said her mom.
“I love you, too,” said Sukie. “What’s that tape for?”
“To hold my stitches in place.” Her mom leaned close. Sukie could see the bits of black thread underneath.
“How long does the tape stay there?”
“Until the stitches come out. Listen, darling, don’t worry. I’ll wrap myself in something fantastic. No one will ever know.”
Sukie wandered out of her parents’ bedroom and into her own. Señor was waiting. She looked into his eyes. She often did that to channel his strength, his confidence, his judgment, or another of his gifts that she wished she possessed. Today, feeling the damp sweat that heralded the onset of the jumps, she searched for Señor’s stillness, hoping to shore up her own. After a minute of silence, Señor made himself clear. “I know,” said Sukie, “but who?” She didn’t have a close friend. She liked Jenna, but Jenna was best friends with Frannie. Sukie couldn’t possiblyspend time with Frannie. She couldn’t even look her in the eye.
Maybe Issy would understand. She was older, but she was so friendly and warm. Still, Sukie couldn’t just turn up at Clementi’s, order a pizza, and pour out her heart.
A true friend. She was reluctant to write how much she longed for one even in her private journal, for her eyes only.
Usually she pushed it out of her head.
She planned her school days judiciously, making sure she had a meeting every lunch—Educating Girls Globally, Debate Club, Spanish Club, Math Club. On Fridays, when there were no meetings, she went to the cafeteria. Kids never minded if she joined their table, but no one ever called her over or saved her a seat. Sometimes she sat alone, spread papers around as if she needed the entire space, and knocked off the weekend’s homework. By these means, if she didn’t stop herself from feeling lonely, she at least kept everyone else from thinking that she was. Friendless. The bleak word skittered around the fringes of her mind, scurried ahead of her through the halls, clearing the empty way.
In her journal she railed against the unfairness of it. It’s not my fault that I’m the total package, looks and brains. Everyone’s jealous. That, she told herself, was why her cell phone hardly rang, even though every week she changed the ring as if the ring tone had become stuck in her head from hearing it again and again and again.
She let herself fall backward onto the bed and crossed her arms over her face. This was a way not to cry. Tried and true. Tears could trickle out, but mostly, in this position, her eyes would simply fill to the brim like glasses of water.
Your dad’s slime.
Already she could hardly remember the grim man’s face, only his red Windbreaker and his thin lips barely moving. He hadn’t spoken in a threatening way, more as if he were breaking the news, tipping her to it.
Your dad’s slime. Never forget it.
Bury it. Bury it deep. It’s not a truth, it’s a falsehood. A horrible lie. Blot it out. Think about something else—ice cream, dancing elephants, Señor’s eyes. Bobo. Think about Bobo. Your dad’s slime. Never forget it. She had buried it and already it rose from the grave.
Sit up. That’s an order.
It wasn’t Señor’s idea, it was Sukie’s, but she knew he would approve.
She stormed into the bathroom and faced the mirror. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” she ordered. “Hup, two, three, four.” Calling out the numbers, she marched in a circle until she came face-to-face with herself again, and then, almost as if someone were beckoning her, she drew closer.
“If I can’t have an actual friend, I want a friend in the mirror,” Sukie announced, and, in a blink, instead of her own reflection she beheld Issy with her punky pink hair and sly eyes twinkling with fun. Issy was wearing an outfit Sukie had once admired—a baby-doll dress with straps that came over her shoulders, crisscrossed under her breasts, and wound around her body at least two more times (binding her tiny waist snugly) with still enough length for her to twirl the ends languidly as Issy in the mirror was doing right now. It was a summer dress, but Isabella, who Sukie suspected never did the obvious, wore it in cold weather as a jumper with a long-sleeved jersey underneath. “I love your dress,” said Sukie.
“You can borrow it,” said Issy. “Anytime. We should go shopping.”
“I’d love that,” said Sukie.
Issy smiled her wonderful, wide, and welcoming smile. “If I had a little sister, I’d want her to be you.”
“Thank you,” said Sukie. “Today, especially, I really need that.”
Issy disappeared from the mirror, and the good feeling generated by an imaginary visit with Issy dissolved as Sukie confronted her own nose.
From the tip to the top, she pinched it, trying to round the narrow flat ramp.
Scotch tape. That’s what she needed.
Sukie had a label maker. She used it to identify things that didn’t need identifying, like her Scotch-tape dispenser. She’d printed SUKIE’S SCOTCH TAPE and stuck it on. The label wasn’t a warning to her younger brother: “This is mine, don’t touch.” She just loved to label. Everything that could be labeled was labeled, and had assigned seating across the top of her desk. A place for everything, everything in its place. In rows straight and even. The Jamiesons’ housekeeper, Louisa, who came in twice a week, marveled at Sukie’s order and at how little work she had to do in Sukie’s compulsively arranged room. Lopsided equals bad luck, Sukie believed it utterly. She tore off short strips of tape, about two inches, sticking one on each fingertip. If she fluttered her fingers, they waved like flags.
Returning to the mirror, she stripped the tape bits off and, so that they would be handy when she needed them, stuck them on the silver frame. As she did, she leaned sideways. She could still look at herself, but at the same time she could see back through the doorway into her bedroom where the telephone sat. “Do it.” She cracked the whip. “Just do it. Grow up, you miserable baby.”
She marched to the desk and dialed.
The phone rang and rang. To distract herself from the depressingly inevitable—no answer—she examined her cuticles.
“Shoot, how does this work?”
“I can hear you,” yelped Sukie.
“Who is this?” The man sounded amused.
“Susannah Jamieson. This is my cell. You have my cell.”
Sukie tried to tell if he disapproved of her dad, but it wasn’t like talking to Mrs. Merenda, where she sensed something weird. “Yes,” she said. “I dropped it at the club.”
“Here you go.”
“I was talking to the conductor.”
“I’m on the train.”
“I’ll have some of those, please. Sorry. Wait a second while I pay for this.”
Sukie straightened the stapler. She turned the mug of pens so SUKIE’S SHARPIES faced front. Lopsided equals bad luck. Lopsided equals bad luck.
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “I meant to leave your phone at the club, but I put it in my pocket and forgot all about it until it just now rang. I’ll cruise by your house and drop it off as soon as I get back.”
She tapped down the paper clips so she could close the box neatly. “Back from where?” she asked.
“New York City.”
Her phone was on its way to New York City. “When are you coming back?”
Four whole days. She wanted to bang her head against the wall. She really did. She wanted to walk over to the wall and knock herself out.
“You know what? I’ll drop it at your dad’s office. I’m Glen Harbinder. Your dad knows me.”
Sukie adjusted the label maker. Now everything on her desk was straight. Later she wrote in her journal,Emotionally I was at the edge of a cliff. Should I leap? I closed my eyes.
Sukie leaped. “Would you please read me my text message?” She trotted out her most pitiful little-girl voice.
“How do I do that?” he asked.
“Touch the little green square at the top.”
“Got it. You’ve got two.”
“Two?” Sukie’s eyes snapped open.
“Two from Bobo.” He enjoyed the name, she could tell. She could hear him thinking, How cute.
“What’s the capital of North Dakota?”
“That’s the message?”
“No, I’m not telling you the message until you answer the question.” He chuckled, or maybe chewed.
“Bismarck.” God, was he mentally ill? She knew them all. She could recite the presidents backward and forward. Who did he think he was dealing with?
“‘Meet me after the game.’”
“That’s the message?”
“And the other is ‘Danger cation.’”
“Is that one word?”
“Would you spell it?”
She hung up and began jumping. She bounced into the bathroom and back into the bedroom. MEET ME AFTER THE GAME. DANGER CATION. Cation? Cation? Caution. He must mean caution!
MEET ME AFTER THE GAME. DANGER CAUTION.
Definitely caution. He must have misspelled it. Everyone makes mistakes texting. Lots of really smart people were bad spellers too. She’d heard that somewhere.
He is not only a bad speller, he is bad. She’d never known a guy who was bad. There was no one bad atCobweb. Kids there were sickeningly decent. ROLL ME OVER. Sukie was tingling.
Thank God she’d straightened everything on her desk. Who cared that he couldn’t spell? She was a good-enough speller for both of them. With luck, their children would take after her.
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