He can’t even look at me. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, shut up. You know what I mean. You were there. You heard what he said.”
At this Mark finally has the decency to look guilty. “Jack was just being a jerk. He didn’t mean it.”
“You still should have said something.”
“What could I have said? He was kidding around. I didn’t want to make it into a big deal. Anyway, it’s not like you care what anybody thinks.”
I do care. I care what people think, and I care that Mark tossed me to the wolves today. I care that he picked his buddies over me, his oldest and most loyal friend. I care a lot.
“You’re right, I don’t care. I couldn’t care two licks what Jack or anybody else has to say about me. But he is a jerk.”
“Nah, he’s a good guy. He just says dumb stuff sometimes. I’m just sayin’ you didn’t have to rub his nose in it when he lost.”
“And I’m just sayin’, Jack Connelly got what he deserved today.”
Mark shrugs and smiles. “You were pretty good.”
Everything inside me tingles when he looks at me like that.
We’re standing in front of my house, and I throw my towel over my shoulder and start to walk up the driveway. It’s been a good day. “See ya, Mark.”
“See ya, Annemarie. Oh, hey, you have something on your bathing suit.”
“On your butt.” I twist around to see.
Oh God oh God oh God. It’s the hole. It’s back. How long has it been here? Oh God oh God. Panicked, I tie the towel around my waist and quicken my pace.
“Hey, what was it?” Mark calls after me.
“Mind your own business!”
I storm into the house. The TV is blaring in the family room, and I storm in there too. Mama’s lying on the couch. Panting, I run over to the TV and turn it off.
“Shug, you’d better have a good reason for cuttin’ into my show.”
A good reason? I’ll show her a good reason! I rip off my towel and spin around. “It’s all your fault, Mama!”
Her lips are pursed, and I can tell she’s trying not to laugh. “Darlin’, it’s not so bad. Maybe no one even saw.”
“This is all your fault! You said you could sew!”
“I said I could sew, I never said I was a miracle worker. When you left this house, that hole was sewn up.”
“Yeah, well, obviously not very well! Thanks for nothing! Every other girl at that party had a brand-new two-piece, and what did I have? A tore-up, holey one-piece from two summers ago!”
“You’re in a right tizzy and you’re lookin’ for someone to blame, but don’t look at me. I did the best I could, Shug.” She reaches for the remote control and that’s that. Conversation over.
We’ll just see about that.
“If Daddy was here, he’d have made sure I had a new suit,” I say.
“Well your daddy’s not here now, is he?” She turns on the TV and away from me. She always has to have the last word.
“I wish he was here,” I mutter. Then I tie the towel around my waist and retreat to my room. After I slam the door nice and hard (but not too hard), I hurl myself onto my bed. It’s a good thing Mark was the only one who saw that hole. If Jack had seen it, I never would have heard the end of it. But wait, what if someone else did see it? What if everyone saw it? Was that a smirk I saw on Mairi’s face as I was saying good-bye? Did everybody know all along? No, Elaine would have told me. Thank God for Elaine.
I learned two new things today. Lesson number one: The mere threat of junior high is changing everything. Annemarie and Mark as I knew them are a thing of the past. The old Mark would never have let me down today. He’d have fought like a pit bull for me, just like I would have for him. Instead he rolled over on me. Lesson number two: Mama’s best just doesn’t cut it. It never does; things always end up a big ol’ mess.
When Celia comes home, she asks me how the pool party was. I tell her what happened, and she shakes her head. “Mama isn’t that great at sewing, Shug. You should have known better. Bring your bathing suit to me.” I retrieve it from the wastebasket, and Celia sews the hole up tight. If Celia had been home last night, this never would have happened. I don’t know if I’ll ever wear my one-piece again, but I feel better knowing that it’s back to the way it’s supposed to be. Almost.
The first time I ever saw Elaine Kim, she was standing at the bus stop wearing a white parka. She had on a fuzzy white hat, and her hair was sleek and hung straight down her back. Her boots were the kind I wanted, tall with furry white trim. I knew right away we were meant to be friends.
I said, “I like your boots.”
She smiled at me and said, “Thanks. I’m Elaine. I just moved here from New York.”
Then I said, “New York? Wow. You must really hate Clementon.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
I said, “Me too.”
She said, “Really? Where are you from?”
We sat together on the bus, and by the time we got to school, we were like long-lost sisters.
I will always be grateful that I was the first one at the bus stop that day, that it wasn’t Hadley Smith or Mairi Stevenson who saw her first. If they had seen her first, they would have recognized her inherent coolness and snatched her away. They would have plucked her off the tree like perfect fruit and made her one of them before she even had a chance to see me.
I’ve never been one of the supercool girls at school. In sixth grade I was allowed to sit at the cool lunch table, and I was even invited to Mairi’s Friday night sleepovers, but only because Mairi’s mom always made her invite us girls from the neighborhood. Now that we’re gonna be in junior high, I doubt the old rules will apply. Mairi will invite whomever she wants to invite. I know she’ll want to invite Elaine. This is because Elaine is special; she is clearly one of them. But she chooses to stay by me.
Some days it feels too good to be true. It’s like my days are numbered, like one day soon, she’ll realize that I’m a nobody just like Sherylin. One day Elaine will realize that she made a colossal mistake picking me, that she should have chosen Mairi and Hadley after all. But today is not that day.
Today we are buying new school supplies. I look forward to shopping for school supplies all summer. There is something thrilling about fresh notebooks with blank pages and brand-new Magic Markers and clean erasers and fancy fountain pens. Mama lets me buy one new fountain pen per school year because she knows how important it is to me. If you want to write well, you need a fountain pen. You just do.