The summer i turned pret.., p.13
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       The Summer I Turned Pretty, p.13

           Jenny Han
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  She chased after me and grabbed my arm, but I shrugged her off.

  "Please don't be mad, Belly. I want things to stay the same with us forever," Taylor said, brown eyes brimming with tears. What she really meant was, I want you to stay the same forever while I grow bigger breasts and quit violin and kiss your brother.

  "Things can't stay the same forever," I said. I was saying it to hurt her because I knew it would.

  "Don't be mad at me, okay, Belly?" she pleaded. Taylor hated it when people were mad at her.

  "I'm not mad at you," I said. "I just don't think we really know each other anymore."

  "Don't say that, Belly."

  "I'm only saying it because it's true."

  She said, "I'm sorry, okay?"

  I looked away for a second. "You promised you'd be nice to him."

  "Who? Steven?" Taylor looked genuinely confused. "No. Jeremiah. You said you'd be nice."

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  She waved her hand in the air. "Oh, he doesn't care."

  "Yeah, he does. It's just that you don't know him." Like I do, I wanted to add. "I didn't think you'd ever act so--so ..." I searched for the perfect word, to cut her the way she'd cut me. "Slutty."

  "I'm not a slut," she said in a tiny voice.

  So this was my power over her, my supposed innocence over her supposed sluttiness. It was all such BS. I would've traded my spot for hers in a second.

  Later, Jeremiah asked me if I wanted to play spit. We hadn't played once all summer. It used to be our thing, our tradition. I was grateful to have it back. Even if it was a consolation prize.

  He dealt me my hand, and we began to play, but both of us were just going through the motions. We had other things on our minds. I thought that we had this unspoken agreement not to talk about her, that maybe he didn't even know what had happened, but then he said, "I wish you never brought her."

  "Me too."

  "It's better when it's just us," he said, shuffling his stack.

  "Yeah," I agreed.

  After she left, after that summer, things were the same and they weren't. She and I were still friends, but not best friends, not like we used to be. But we were still friends.

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  She'd known me my whole life. It's hard to throw away history. It was like you were throwing away a part of yourself.

  Steven went right back to ignoring Taylor and obsessing over Claire Cho. We just pretended like none of it had ever happened. But it did.

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  chapter twenty - nine

  I heard him come home. I think the whole house must have--except for Jeremiah, who could sleep through a tidal wave. Conrad made his way up the stairs, tripping and cursing, and then he shut his door and turned on his stereo, loud. It was three in the morning.

  I lay in bed for about three seconds before I leapt up and ran down the hallway to his room. I knocked, twice, but the music was so loud I doubted he could hear anything. I opened the door. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, taking his shoes off. He looked up and saw me standing there. "Didn't your mom teach you to knock?" he asked, getting up and turning down the stereo.

  "I did, but your music was so loud you couldn't hear me. You probably woke up the whole house, Conrad." I

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  stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I hadn't been in his room in a long time. It was the same as I remembered, perfectly neat. Jeremiah's looked like hurricane season, but not Conrad's. In Conrad's room there was a place for everything, and everything was in its place. His pencil drawings, still tacked onto the bulletin board, his model cars still lined up on the dresser. It was comforting to see that at least that was still the same.

  His hair was messed up, like someone had been running their hands through it. Probably Red Sox girl. "Are you going to tell on me, Belly? Are you still a tattletale?"

  I ignored him and walked over to his desk. Hanging right above it there was a framed picture of him in his football uniform, the football tucked under his arm. "Why'd you quit, anyway?"

  "It wasn't fun anymore."

  "I thought you loved it."

  "No, it was my dad who loved it," he said.

  "It seemed like you did too." In the picture he looked tough, but I could tell he was trying not to smile.

  "Why'd you quit dance?"

  I turned around and looked at him. He was unbuttoning his work shirt, a white button-down, and he had on a T-shirt underneath.

  "You remember that?"

  "You used to dance all around the house like a little gnome."

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  I narrowed my eyes at him. "Gnomes don't dance. I was a ballerina, for your information."

  He smirked. "So why'd you quit, then?"

  It had been around the time my parents got divorced. My mom couldn't pick me up and drop me off twice a week all on her own. She had a job. It just didn't seem worth it anymore. I was bored of it by then anyway, and Taylor wasn't doing it anymore either. Also, I hated the way I looked in my leotard. I got boobs before the whole rest of the class, and in our class picture I looked like I could be the teacher. It was embarrassing.

  I didn't answer his question. Instead I said, "I was really good! I could have been dancing in a company by now!" I couldn't have. I wasn't that good, not by any stretch of the imagination.

  "Right," he said mockingly. He looked so smug sitting there on the bed.

  "At least I can dance."

  "Hey, I can dance," he protested.

  I crossed my arms. "Prove it."

  "I don't have to prove it. I taught you some moves, remember? How quickly we forget." Conrad jumped up off the bed and grabbed my hand and twirled me around. "See? We're dancing."

  His arm was slung around my waist, and he laughed before he let me go. "I'm a better dancer than you, Belly," he said, collapsing onto his bed.

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  I stared at him. I didn't get him at all. One minute he was broody and withdrawn, and the next he was laughing and twirling me around the room. "I don't consider that dancing," I said. I backed out of the room. "And can you keep your music down? You already woke up the whole house."

  He smiled. Conrad had a way of looking at me, at you, at anybody, that made everything unravel and want to fall at his feet. He said, "Sure. Good night, Bells." Bells, my nickname from a thousand years ago.

  He made it so hard not to love him. When he was sweet like this, I remembered why I did. Used to love him, I mean.

  I remembered everything.

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  chapter thirty

  AGE II

  The summer house had a stack of CDs that we listened to, and that was pretty much it. We spent the whole summer listening to the same CDs. There was the Police, which Susannah put on in the morning; there was Bob Dylan, which she put on in the afternoon; and there was Billie Holiday, which she put on at dinner. The nights were a free-for-all. It was the funniest thing. Jeremiah would put on his Chronic CD, and my mother would be doing laundry, humming along. Even though she hated gangster rap. And then my mother might put on her Aretha Franklin CD, and Jeremiah would sing all the words, because we all knew them by that time, we'd heard it so much.

  My favorite music was the Motown and the beach

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  music. I would listen to it on Susannah's old Walkman when I tanned. That night I put the Boogie Beach Shag CD on the big stereo in the living room, and Susannah grabbed Jeremiah and started to dance. He'd been playing poker with Steven and Conrad and my mother, who was very, very good at poker.

  At first Jeremiah protested, but then he was dancing too. It was called the shag, and it was a 1960s kind of beach dance. I watched them, Susannah throwing her head back and laughing, and Jeremiah twirling her around, and I wanted to dance too. My feet positively itched to dance. I did dance ballet and modern, after all. I could show off how good I was.

  "Stevie, dance with me," I demanded, poking him with my big toe. I was lying down on the floor, on my stomach, looking up at them.

  "Yeah,
right," he said. Not that he even knew how.

  "Connie, dance with Belly," Susannah urged, her face flushed as Jeremiah twirled her again.

  I didn't dare look at Conrad. I was afraid my love for him and my need for him to say yes would be written on my face like a poem.

  Conrad sighed. He was still big on doing the right thing then. So he gave me his hand and pulled me up. I got to my feet shakily. He didn't let go of my hand. "This is how you shag," he said, shuffling his feet from side to side. "One-two-three, one-two-three, rock step."

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  It took me a few tries to get it. It was harder than it looked, and I was nervous. "Get on the beat," Steven said from the sidelines.

  "Don't look so uptight, Belly. It's a relaxed kind of dance," my mother said from the couch.

  I tried to ignore them and look only at Conrad. "How did you learn this?" I asked him.

  "My mom taught both of us," Conrad said simply. Then he brought me in close and positioned my arms around his so we stepped together, side by side. "This is called the cuddle."

  The cuddle was my favorite part. It was the closest I had ever been to him. "Let's do it again," I said, pretending to be confused.

  He showed me again, putting his arm over mine. "See? You're getting it now."

  He spun me around, and I felt dizzy. With pure, absolute joy.

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  chapter thirty - one

  I spent the whole next day in the ocean with Cam. We packed a picnic. Cam made avocado and sprout sandwiches with Susannah's homemade mayonnaise and whole wheat bread. They were good, too. We stayed in the ocean for what felt like hours at a time. Every time a wave began to crest, one of us would start to laugh, and then we'd get overtaken by the wave and water. My eyes burned from the salty seawater, and my skin felt raw from scraping against the sand so many times, like I'd scrubbed my whole body with my mother's St. Ives Apricot Scrub. It was pretty great.

  After, we stumbled back to our towels. I loved getting cold and wet in the ocean and then running back to the towels and letting the sun bake the sand off. I could do it all day--ocean, sand, ocean, sand.

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  I'd packed strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, and we ate them so quick my teeth hurt. "I love Fruit Roll-Ups," I said, reaching for the last one.

  He snatched it away. "So do I, and you already had three and I only had two," he said, peeling away the plastic sheet. He grinned and dangled it above my mouth.

  "You have three seconds to hand it over," I warned. "I don't care if you had two Fruit Roll-Ups and I had twenty. It's my house."

  Cam laughed and popped the whole thing into his mouth. Chewing loudly, he said, "It's not your house. It's Susannah's house."

  "Shows how much you know. It's all of our house," I said, falling back on my towel. I was suddenly really thirsty. Fruit Roll-Ups will do that. Especially when you have three in about three minutes. Squinting up at him, I said, "Will you go back to our house and get some Kool-Aid? Pretty please?"

  "I don't know anyone who consumes more sugar than you do in one day," Cam said, shaking his head at me sadly. "White sugar is evil."

  "Says the guy who just ate the last Fruit Roll-Up," I countered.

  "Waste not, want not," he said. He stood up and brushed the sand off his shorts. "I'll bring you water, not Kool-Aid."

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  I stuck my tongue out at him and rolled over. "Just be quick about it," I said.

  He wasn't. He was gone forty-five minutes before I headed back to the house, loaded up with our towels and sunscreen and trash, breathing hard and sweating like a camel in the desert. He was in the living room, playing video games with the boys. They were all lying around in their swimming trunks. We pretty much stayed suited up all summer.

  "Thanks for never coming back with my Kool-Aid," I said, tossing my beach bag onto the ground.

  Cam looked up from his game guiltily. "Whoops! My bad. The guys asked me to play, so . . ." He trailed off.

  "Don't apologize," Conrad advised him.

  "Yeah, what are you, her slave? Now she's got you making her Kool-Aid?" Jeremiah said, jamming his thumb into the controller. He turned around and grinned at me to show me he was kidding, but I didn't grin back to show him it was okay.

  Conrad didn't say anything, and I didn't even look at him. I could feel him looking at me, though. I wished he'd stop.

  Why was it that even when I had my own friend I still felt left out of their club? It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that Cam was so grateful to be a part of it all. The day had been so good, too.

  "Where's my mom and Susannah?" I snapped.

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  "They went off somewhere," Jeremiah said vaguely. "Shopping, maybe?"

  My mother hated shopping. Susannah must have dragged her.

  I stalked off to the kitchen for my Kool-Aid. Conrad got up and followed me. I didn't have to turn around to know it was him.

  I went about my business, pouring myself a tall glass of grape Kool-Aid and pretending he wasn't standing there watching me. "Are you just going to ignore me?" he finally said.

  "No," I said. "What do you want?"

  He sighed and came closer. "Why do you have to be like that?" Then he leaned forward, close, too close. "Can I have some?"

  I put the glass on the counter and started to walk away, but he grabbed my wrist. I think I might have gasped. He said, "Come on, Bells."

  His fingers felt cool, the way he always was. Suddenly I felt hot and feverish. I snatched my hand away. "Leave me alone."

  "Why are you mad at me?" He had the nerve to look genuinely confused and also anxious. Because for him, the two things were connected--if he was confused, he was anxious. And he was hardly ever confused, so then he was hardly ever anxious. He'd certainly never been anxious over me. I was inconsequential to him. Always had been.

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  "Do you honestly care?" I could feel my heart thudding hard in my chest. I felt prickly and strange, waiting for his answer.

  "Yes." Conrad looked surprised, like he couldn't believe he cared either.

  The problem was, I didn't entirely know. I guessed it was mostly the way he was making me feel all mixed-up inside. Being nice to me one minute and cold the next. He made me remember things I didn't want to remember. Not now. Things were really going well with Cam, but every time I thought I was sure about him, Conrad would look at me a certain way, or twirl me, or call me Bells, and it all went to crap.

  "Oh, why don't you go smoke a cigarette," I said.

  The muscle in his jaw twitched. "Okay," he said.

  I felt a mixture of guilt and satisfaction that I had finally gotten to him. And then he said, "Why don't you go look at yourself in the mirror some more?"

  It was like he had slapped me. It was mortifying, being caught out and having someone see the bad things about you. Had he caught me looking at myself in the mirror, checking myself out, admiring myself? Did everyone think I was vain and shallow now?

  I closed my lips tight and backed away from him, shaking my head slowly.

  "Belly--," he started. He was sorry. It was written all over his face.

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  I walked into the living room and left him standing there. Cam and Jeremiah stared at me like they knew something was up. Had they heard us? Did it even matter?

  "I get next game," I said. I wondered if this was the way old crushes died, with a whimper, slowly, and then, just like that--gone.

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  Chapter thirty - two

  Cam came over again, and he stayed till late. Around midnight I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk on the beach. So we did, and we held hands, too. The ocean looked silver and bottomless, like it was a million years old. Which I guessed it was. "Truth or dare?" he asked me.

  I wasn't in the mood for real truths. An idea came to me, from out of nowhere. The idea was this: I wanted to go skinny-dipping. With Cam. That was what older kids did at the beach, just like hooking up at the drive-in. If we went skinny-dipping, it would be
like proof. That I had grown up.

  So I said, "Cam, let's play Would You Rather. Would you rather go skinny-dipping right this second, or ..." I was having trouble thinking of an "or."

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  "The first one, the first one," he said, grinning. "Or both, whatever the second one is."

  Suddenly I felt giddy, almost drunk. I ran away from him, toward the water, and threw my sweatshirt into the sand. I had on my bikini underneath my clothes. "Here are the rules," I called out, unbuttoning my shorts. "No nakedness until we're fully submerged! And no peeking!"

  "Wait," he said, running up to me, sand flying everywhere. "Are we really doing this?"

  "Well, yeah. Don't you want to?"

  "Yeah, but what if your mom sees us?" Cam glanced back toward the house.

  "She won't. You can't see anything from the house; it's too dark."

  He glanced at me and then back at the house again. "Maybe later," he said doubtfully.

  I stared at him. Wasn't he the one who was supposed to be convincing me? "Are you serious?" What I really wanted to say was, Are you gay?

  "Yeah. It's not late enough. What if people are still awake?" He picked up my sweatshirt and handed it to me. "Maybe we can come back later."

  I knew he didn't mean it.

  Part of me was mad, and part of me was relieved. It was like craving a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich and then realizing two bites in that you didn't want it after all.

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  I snatched my sweatshirt from him and said, "Don't do me any favors, Cam." Then I walked away as fast as I could, and sand kicked up behind me. I thought he might follow me, but he didn't. I didn't look back to see what he was doing either. He was probably sitting in the sand writing one of his stupid poems by the light of the moon.

 
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