The Upside of Unrequited, p.1Becky Albertalli
For the women who know me way too well:
Caroline Goldstein, Eileen Thomas, Adele Thomas,
Gini Albertalli, and Donna Bray.
And in loving, wistful memory of Molly Goldstein.
This one’s for you.
About the Author
Books by Becky Albertalli
About the Publisher
I’M ON THE TOILET AT the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.
This isn’t random. There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here. Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot. If that’s even a thing. Bathroom mascots.
But the door opens, letting in a burst of music from the club. This is not a bathroom you can enter discreetly. A stall door clicks shut just as I’m opening mine. I step out.
There are mirrors above all the sinks. I suck in my cheeks so it looks like I have cheekbones. And it’s quite a transformation. Sometimes I have the idea that I could maintain this. I could spend the rest of my life gently biting the insides of my cheeks. Except for the fact that it makes my lips look weird. Also, biting your cheeks definitely gets in the way of talking, and that’s a little hardcore, even for me. Even for cheekbones.
“Shit.” There’s a voice from the stall, low and sort of husky. “Hey, can you hand me some toilet paper?”
She’s talking to me. It takes me a moment to realize that. “Oh! Sure.”
I grab a wad of it to pass under the girl’s door, and her hand brushes mine as she takes it. “Okay, you just saved my life.”
I saved a life. Right here in the bathroom of the 9:30 Club.
She flushes, and steps out of the stall, and the first thing I notice is her shirt: red cotton, with an awesomely artistic rendering of the letters G and J. I actually don’t think most people would recognize them as letters.
But I do. “That’s a Georgie James shirt.”
The girl raises her eyebrows, smiling. “You know Georgie James?”
“Yeah.” I smile back.
Georgie James. They were a local DC band, but they broke up years ago. You never really expect to meet anyone our age who’s heard of them, but my sister used to be obsessed.
The girl shakes her head. “That is awesome.”
“It is the awesomest,” I say, and the girl laughs—one of those quiet laughs that bubbles up from your throat. Then I really look at her. And oh.
She’s short and slender and East Asian, and her hair is such a dark shade of purple, it’s almost not purple. Thick-framed glasses. And there’s something about the shape of her lips. She has very well-defined lips.
Cassie would definitely be into her. The glasses, especially. And the Georgie James shirt.
“Anyway, thanks for saving my butt. Literally.” She shakes her head. “Okay, not my butt.”
I giggle. “It’s okay.”
“Thanks for saving my labia.”
I shrug and smile back at her. There’s just something about this kind of moment—this tiny thread connecting me to a total stranger. It’s the kind of thing that makes the universe feel smaller. I really love that.
I drift back into the club, letting the music settle around me. It’s a local band I’ve never heard of, but the floor is packed. People seem to like how loud the drums are. I’m surrounded by dancing, moving bodies and dimly lit faces, heads tilted up at the stage. Suddenly, everything starts to feel huge and impossible again. I think it’s because there are so many couples, laughing and leaning and earnestly making out.
There’s this feeling I get when I watch people kiss. I become a different form of matter. Like they’re water, and I’m an ice cube. Like I’m the most alone person in the entire world.
“Molly!” shouts Cassie, waving her hands. She and Olivia are near the speakers, and Olivia is actually wincing. She’s not exactly a 9:30 Club kind of girl. I’m not sure I am, either, but Cassie can be pretty persuasive.
I should put this out there: my twin sister and I are nothing alike.
We don’t even look alike. We’re both white, and we’re both sort of medium height. But in every other way, we’re opposites. Cassie’s blond, green-eyed, and willowy. I’m not any of those things. I’m brown-haired and brown-eyed and nowhere close to willowy.
“I met your dream girl,” I tell Cassie immediately.
“I made a friend in the bathroom, and she’s really cute, and I think you guys should fall in love and get married and have babies.”
Cassie does her raise and wrinkle eyebrow thing. She’s one of those blond girls with brown eyebrows, and it’s hard to explain how perfectly it works on her. “How does that happen?”
“How does love happen?”
“No, how do you make friends in a bathroom?”
“Cass. You’re missing the point. This is the dream girl.”
“Wait a minute.” Cassie flicks my arm. “Is this a Molly crush? Is this crush number twenty-seven?”
“What? No.” I blush.
“Oh my God. Your first girl crush. I’m so proud.”
“We’re at twenty-seven already?” Olivia asks. Which I’m choosing to interpret as her being impressed with me. So, I’m a prolific crusher. That’s not a bad thing. Not that this is a Molly crush.
I shake my head and cover my eyes. I feel a little helium-brained. Maybe this is what it’s like to be drunk. My cousin Abby told me being drunk feels like you’re floating. I wonder if it’s possible to get drunk without drinking.
“Hey.” Cassie peels my hands away from my face. “You know it’s my job to mess with you.”
But before I can reply, Olivia holds up her phone. “Hey, it’s eleven forty-five,” she says. “Should we be heading to the Metro?”
“Oh!” I say.
The Metro closes at midnight. Also, I’m starting work tomorrow. I have an actual summer job. Which means I should probably get at least a little bit of sleep, so I don’t pass out at the register. I hear that’s not professional.
We weave toward the exit, and it’s honestly a relief to step outside. It’s cool for June, and the air feels nice against my legs. I’m wearing this cotton dress that was plain black when I got it, but I sewed on a doily lace Peter Pan collar and some lace around the bottom. It’s completely improved.
Cassie and Olivia both text as they walk, and they don’t even trip over the curb. I admire that. I hang back a little, just watching them. They fit here, on U Street. Cassie’s got this perfect messy ponytail, and she’s dressed like she threw on the first thing to fall out of her closet. Which is probably accurate, but it works on her. More
I do wonder, sometimes, what people think when they see me.
It’s strange how you can sometimes still feel self-conscious around people you’ve known your whole life. Literally. We’ve known Olivia since our moms were in La Leche League together. And for seventeen years, it’s been the four of us: Cassie, Olivia, me, and my cousin Abby. Except Abby moved to Georgia last summer. And ever since, Cassie’s been dragging Olivia and me to the stuff she used to do with Abby—open mic nights and concerts and wandering down H Street.
A year ago, Olivia and I would have been tucked up on her living room couch, watching Steven Universe with Titania, her schnauzer-beagle mix. Instead, I’m surrounded by people who are infinitely cooler than me. Everyone on U Street is doing one of three things right now: laughing, smoking, or making out.
I turn toward the Metro pole, and right away, I see the dream girl.
“Cass, it’s her!” I pull on Cassie’s tank top. “In the red. Look.”
The girl leans forward, digging through her purse. There are these two hipster white guys hovering near her, both absorbed in their phones: a redhead wearing skinny jeans, and a dark-haired one with dramatic bangs.
“But you never explained why she’s Cassie’s dream girl,” Olivia says. The girl looks up from her purse, and Olivia turns away quickly.
But she sees me. The dream girl waves, and I wave back.
“Oh. She’s cute,” Cassie whispers.
“I told you.” I grin.
“She’s walking over here.”
And she is. The dream girl is walking toward us, smiling. So now, Cassie’s smiling. She’s staring at the ground, but I can tell from her cheeks.
“Hi again,” says the girl.
I smile. “Hi.”
This girl must seriously hate drip-drying.
“I don’t think I even introduced myself,” she says. “I’m Mina.”
“Your shirt,” Cassie says, “is the most perfect thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m just.” She shakes her head.
Mina laughs. “Thank you.”
“I’m Cassie, by the way. And I’ve never met anyone who’s heard of Georgie James.”
Okay, that’s bullshit. I’m standing right here.
“You know what’s funny,” Mina starts to say—but then the dramatic bangs boy pokes her arm.
“Eenie Meenie, let’s go.” He looks up, catching my eye over Cassie’s shoulder. “Hi. Nice to meet you guys, but we have to catch this train.”
“Oh shit,” says Mina. “Okay. Well—”
“So do we,” Cassie says quickly. And somehow it happens: our groups merge. Cassie and Mina fall into step beside each other, and Olivia’s right behind them, in her own world, texting. I step onto the escalator and lean into the handrail, trying not to look like a sheep that lost its herd. Molly Peskin-Suso: disoriented introvert, alone in the wild.
Until I look up and realize: I’m not actually alone. The hipster boys are a step below me on the escalator. I accidentally lock eyes with the redhead, who asks, “Why do you look familiar?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m Will.”
“Like the drug,” says Bangs.
Like the drug. Like I’m a person you would associate with drugs.
The train pulls into the station almost as soon as we step off the escalator, and we have to sprint to catch it. I slide into a seat, leaving room for Cassie, but she plops down next to Mina.
Olivia settles into the seat beside me instead. And then moments later, Mina’s hipster boys drift toward us. Bangs is reading something on his phone, but the red-haired guy grips the pole and smiles down at us.
I look up at him. “Will, right?”
Okay. So he’s cute. He’s a tiny bit really extremely cute.
“Good memory!” he says. And then Olivia introduces herself, and there’s this weird, hanging pause. I wish I were the kind of person who knows how to fill a silence.
I’m not. Olivia’s definitely not.
“Oh, and this is Max,” Will says after a moment.
Bangs glances up from his phone with a tiny smile. “What’s up?”
And ugh—he’s cute, too. Except no: I’d actually describe him as hot. He’s one of those guys who’s so hot, he’s not even cute. But he should rein in the bangs.
“So, who does Molly look like?” Will asks, staring me down. “Sorry, but it’s driving me crazy.”
Max appraises me, pressing his lips together. “No idea.”
“She seriously looks like someone.”
Actually, I get this a lot. I think I must have one of those stupidly generic faces. Weirdly, three entirely unrelated people have told me I look like this particular teen actress from the seventies, though I’m sort of a fat version of her. And strangers are always telling me I look like their cousin or someone from their summer camp. It freaks me out just a little bit. Like, there’s this part of me that wonders whether I actually am related to all these cousins and camp friends.
Here’s the part where I should probably mention that Cassie and I are sperm donor babies. So that’s a thing in my life: that tiny niggling idea that everyone I meet might actually be my half sibling.
“I’m just going to gawk at you until I figure it out,” Will says.
Across the aisle, Cassie snorts—and I suddenly realize she and Mina are watching us. They look extremely entertained.
Heat rises in my cheeks. “Um, okay,” I say, blinking.
The train slows to a stop, and Olivia stands. “Well, here’s Chinatown.”
“That’s us, too,” Will says. I guess that’s not surprising—half the world gets off here to transfer. The doors spring open, and Cassie and Mina trail behind us as we step onto the platform. Cassie’s typing something into her phone.
“Where are you guys headed?” Will asks, still staring a little too hard at my face.
“Takoma Park. Red Line.”
“Oh, okay. Opposite direction. We’re Bethesda,” he says. “So, I guess this is good-bye.”
I never really know the protocol for this kind of situation. It’s like when you’re in line at a store, and a grandma starts telling you all about her grandchildren or her arthritis, and you smile and nod along. But then it’s your turn to check out, so you’re just like okay, well, good-bye forever.
Which is kind of tragic, if you really think about it.
There’s a little computer sign that says how long you have until each train gets in. Red Line to Glenmont arrives in ten minutes. That’s us. But the Red Line train to Shady Grove is basically pulling in now. Will and Max and Mina leap up the escalator to catch it.
By the time we reach our platform, their train has already left the station.
So, that’s it.
EXCEPT CASSIE HAS MINA’S NUMBER. It shouldn’t surprise me, since Cassie’s great at getting girls’ numbers. Sometimes she gets a number and immediately forgets about it. Or she hooks up with a girl once and then loses the number on purpose. Cassie can be kind of ruthless.
Olivia nudges me. “That Will guy likes you.”
“That’s a thing. You pretend to recognize someone as an excuse to talk to them.”
“According to who?”
“The internet.” She gives a very serious nod. Olivia is a very serious person in general. I honestly think there are two kinds of quiet people. There’s the kind like me, who are secretly full of storms and spinning gears. And then there’s the kind like Olivia, who is the actual personification of an ocean on a sunny day. I don’t mean that she’s simple. There’s just something peaceful about her. There always h
“Hey, guess what.” Cassie pops up over the back of the seat in front of me. “Your boy is single.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your ginger. Mr. Peach Butt Hipster Pants. He’s single and ready to mingle.” She waves her phone at me. “Mina confirmed it.”
She grins. “You’re welcome. Mina’s going to get the ball rolling.”
I freeze. “What?”
“You think he’s cute, right?”
I don’t respond. I just gape at her, and Olivia giggles.
“Because you looked pretty happy to be talking to him.” Cassie pokes my arm. “Look. I know your crush face.”
“I don’t have a crush face!”
Holy shit. Do I have a crush face? Does the entire world know every time I think a guy is cute?
My phone buzzes in my pocket, startling me. A text from Abby. Molly!!! Tell me about the hot redhead guy!
“Are you kidding me?” I show Cassie the phone. “You told Abby?”
I feel sick. I might actually throw up. Preferably all over Cassie, who’s now texting again. Probably about me. And my supposed giant crush on some guy I talked to for five minutes. Cassie always thinks she knows me better than I know myself.
I mean, yes. Will is pretty fucking cute.
Olivia gives me this tiny smile. “You look so horrified right now, Molly.”
I shrug wordlessly.
“I thought you wanted a boyfriend.”
“Exactly,” Cassie interjects, turning back to us suddenly. “Like, this whole Molly thing with the secret crushes that go nowhere. I’m over it.”
“Oh, you’re over it?” My throat tightens. “Uh, I’m sorry boys don’t like me.”
“That is such bullshit, Molly. You don’t even talk to them.”
Here we go.
Cassie’s soapbox: the fact that I’ve had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. Apparently, it’s because I need to woman up. If I like a guy, I’m supposed to tell him. Maybe in Cassie’s world, you can do that and have it end in making out. But I’m not so sure it works that way for fat girls.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes