Burn for burn, p.15
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       Burn for Burn, p.15

           Jenny Han
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  Reeve tries to look past Rennie at the screen, and when he can’t, he pauses the game. “Of course.”

  Rennie slides her arm through his and leads him off into Alex’s bedroom. “BRB, Lillia!”

  Alex turns around and sees me. “Hey, Lillia.”

  “Hey, Lindy.” I sit down on the far end of the sectional. Alex’s face is barely red anymore. I guess he finally stopped using that lotion. “Your skin looks a lot better.”

  Alex turns so he’s facing me. “Rennie’s asking Reeve to homecoming, huh?”

  Surprised, I say, “How did you know?”

  “Well, because Ashlin asked Derek today. And I think PJ’s gonna bring some sophomore girl.” I notice that Alex is blushing. It’s coming up from his chest, creeping up his neck. “No one’s asked you yet, right?”

  Oh, no. Oh, no. Rennie’s probably already told Alex to ask me! I quickly get up from the couch and walk over to the window. “God, I don’t understand why we can’t just go in a big group the way we always do. Why change things now? It’s so dumb. I mean, we’ll be hanging out together anyway.”

  Alex comes over near to where I’m standing. Not too close, but close enough. He nods, like I’ve made a good point. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.” But I can tell he’s disappointed.

  Rennie pops out of the bedroom and hops her way over to the glass door I’m leaning against. Her cheeks are flushed, and her smile practically fills up her entire face. “Okay, Lil! Let’s go!” she sings.

  Rennie always gets what she wants. But not this time. Not when it matters the most.



  I’M SITTING IN BED WATCHING A MOVIE ON MY LAPTOP when I hear the knock at my window. For one crazy second I think it could be Alex. Shep, who is curled up on a pile of my laundry, barely even lifts his head. Dumb dog. I hop off my bed and go to open it. It’s not Alex. It’s Lillia. “What the hell?” I say, heaving the window open. “I have a front door.”

  She climbs inside, her cheeks pink. “It’s one in the morning,” she reminds me. “I didn’t want to wake up your dad. But I knew you’d still be awake.” Lillia’s got on a short puffer coat even though it’s barely cold outside. She gasps when she sees Shep. “Shep!”

  Shep jumps up and bounds over to her. She bends down and hugs him and strokes his back and ears. “Shep, I missed you!”

  “His breath probably stinks right now,” I say. “He just had a bone.”

  Lillia ignores me. “Shep, you remember me! I can tell you do.” My dumb dog is drooling all over her, panting and wagging his tail.

  She gives him one more pat and then walks right over to my dresser like she owns the place. “I remember this!” she exclaims, picking up the porcelain doll my mom gave me for my seventh birthday. “Her name is Nelly, right?”

  Yeah, her name is Nelly. So what. I sit back down on my bed, my arms crossed. “What’s up?”

  “Will you please close the window first? It’s cold.”

  I want to tell her to see a damn doctor, because something is seriously wrong with her body temperature. But I need to be nicer, so I just do it.

  “Thanks,” she says, and blows on her fingers. “So, I have an idea for how to get your revenge on Rennie. It’s perfect.”

  I’m having major flashbacks, the way she keeps touching my stuff, picking up candles and sniffing them, winding up my jewelry music box. Lillia used to love poking around Rennie’s and my rooms when she came back for the summer. Like, she wanted to see what parts of our life she’d missed out on when her family left each school year.

  She turns back around, a flash of gold dangling from her hand. “You still have it,” she says, her eyes wide and surprised. It’s that stupid key necklace she gave me the first day of school freshman year.

  I leap up and snatch the necklace out of her hand. “Quit touching my shit,” I snarl.

  “I’m just surprised you kept it,” Lillia says with a toss of her ponytail.

  “Don’t flatter yourself. I just haven’t gotten around to pawning it yet,” I say, tossing it back into the jewelry box and slamming the top shut.

  Under her breath Lillia says, “Since the ninth grade?”

  * * *

  Lillia’s mom called Rennie’s mom and asked for a playdate. A playdate, for God’s sakes. We were eleven years old, not six. Rennie’s mom said yes, and then Rennie begged me to come with her. She wanted us to ride our bikes over, so we could leave in case it was boring, but my mom said no, White Haven was too far away. Lillia’s house was on the other side of the island—only a ten-minute drive, but still. Our friends lived within walking distance; we ran in and out of each other’s houses all day long during the summer. Lillia’s house felt a world away.

  That first day we played out in the pool for the afternoon. Rennie and I practiced swan dives and cannonballs while Lillia splashed around the shallow end and pretended to be a mermaid. Her mom brought her little sister, Nadia, out and she had swimmies on her arms. Her mom said, “I’m going to fix you girls a snack. I’ll be right back. Lillia, you watch your sister.” Not long after she went inside, Nadia floated too close to the deep end, and Lillia started to scream. Nadia got scared and burst into tears, so I quickly swam over and pushed her back to Lillia, who was practically crying too. She was, like, “Thank you so much.”

  That’s when Mrs. Cho came outside with a tray of Brie and crackers and Orangina. I perked right up. My mom never bought Brie. She only bought American cheese for sandwiches and Velveeta for macaroni and cheese.

  As soon as she saw her mom, Lillia jumped out of the pool and ran over to her and put her arms around her waist. “Nadia went over to the deep end, and Kat saved her life!” Then Mrs. Cho kept gushing over what an amazing swimmer I must be, and I felt embarrassed but also kind of proud, even though I didn’t really do anything.

  When we were over at the deep end and Lillia was still sitting next to her mom, Rennie whispered, “Let’s call your dad soon. I think Reeve’s brother is taking the boys out on his boat to go tubing today.”

  In a low voice I said, “We can’t leave now. That would be rude.”

  Later, when Mrs. Cho and Nadia went back inside and it was just the three of us again, Rennie started talking about how she couldn’t wait for school to start. “I hope we both get Miss Harper for science,” she said. “Also PJ told me that his sister told him that Mr. Lopez is the easiest math teacher.”

  I remember feeling awkward, because Lillia was quiet. She didn’t know any of these people. I asked her, “What’s your school like?”

  She said she went to a private all-girls school, they had to wear uniforms, and it was boring. Rennie made a face and said, “I don’t know what I would do if there weren’t boys at school.”

  When the sun went down, Lillia’s mom asked us if we wanted to stay for dinner. She was making a fish called mahimahi with some sort of pineapple salsa. She said we could make s’mores for dessert on the fire pit outside. I was all Hell yes, but before I could say it, Rennie lied and said she had to go home.

  In my dad’s car Rennie told me she wanted to come over to my house for dinner. We wouldn’t be having anything nearly as good as mahimahi and s’mores. My mom was sick, so my dad was in charge of dinner those days. Frozen pizza, hot dogs, or hellfire chili. I could’ve killed Rennie for making me miss out on actual food.

  Later, Rennie was stretched out on my bed, shuffling a deck of Uno cards. Shep was dozing in her lap. He was a puppy back then, and Rennie loved coming over to play with him. Her condo didn’t allow pets. “I mean, why would anyone need three refrigerators? Her family isn’t even that big! Plus, they only live there three months out of the year!”

  “One is for Korean food,” I said from my hammock. Another present from my dad. As if a hammock and a dog could make me forget that my mom was dying. But whatever. It was really comfortable. “And then that other one was just for drinks, remember? Lillia’s mom told us to help ourselves.”

; “Well, I think it’s weird.”

  “She’s rich. Rich people buy all kinds of stupid stuff.”

  “Exactly. Don’t you think she was kind of bragging a lot? Like, okay, we get it. You’re, like, a millionaire.”

  “I don’t think she was bragging,” I said. “You’re the one who wanted to look in her closet.”

  “I guess.” Rennie scratched a bug bite on her leg. Her legs were always covered in them. “But, like, why did we have to take our shoes off at the door?”

  “I think it’s an Asian thing,” I said. “Also, their whole house is white. They probably don’t want people tracking in outside dirt.”

  “But seriously, three refrigerators?”

  “Chill out on the refrigerators, Ren.” I hopped out of my hammock. “Just deal the cards.”

  When Lillia invited us over to her house again a few days later, I made Rennie come with me. “Just give her a chance,” I said. I was hoping we could watch TV on that huge flat-screen in the rec room, and maybe Lillia’s mom would give us more Brie and invite us to dinner again. Also, I liked Lillia. Sure, she was kind of princessy, but it wasn’t her fault she was rich and pretty. She was generous, at least. Rennie could be kind of stingy with her stuff. Not Lillia. She had a makeup case with every nail polish color you could think of, organized like a rainbow. When I picked up a glittery purple one called Black Magic Woman, she told me I could have it. I said “That’s okay,” which I regretted immediately. Especially when Rennie painted her toes neon pink and Lillia said the color never looked good on her and Rennie could have it if she wanted. I figured Rennie would tell her no like I did. But she didn’t. Her eyes lit up and she said thanks, and she stuffed the nail polish into her pocket like she was scared Lillia would change her mind.

  It happened slowly. The shift. From me to Lillia. Most people wouldn’t have noticed it. I don’t even know if Rennie did. But when you know someone as well as I knew her, you can just feel it. When we went to Scoops for ice cream, Rennie used to always split a hot fudge sundae with me, but after Lillia, she started wanting to split the strawberry sundae with her. Or when we rode the bus to the movies, there were seats for two. She’d sit next to Lillia, and I’d be in front of them. Lillia would ask me questions, try to make sure I didn’t feel left out—but it only made me feel worse. I didn’t need her pity. I was the one who brought her in, not the other way around.

  At the end of that first summer, when Lillia left for her real life, I was sure things would go back to normal. And they did. But when Lillia came back the next summer, Rennie stuck to her like glue. The way she used to do to me. It pissed me off, but by this time my mom was really sick, and I needed my best friend, however much I could get of her. When Lillia came to live on Jar Island for good, and Rennie and I had that stupid fight right before school started, that was it. We were over.

  The hilarious thing is, I was the one who set the whole thing in motion. After that first time we went to Lillia’s house when Rennie wasn’t sure about her, I could have gone along with it. But I didn’t. I was the one who said “Give her a chance,” and Rennie listened. Back then I was the only one Rennie would listen to.

  On the first day of freshman year, Lillia left a necklace in my locker. It was from that fancy store in White Haven, the one with a doorbell to get in. She bought one for Rennie, and one for herself. They were supposed to be friendship necklaces. Too bad the friendship was already over.

  I honestly don’t know why I kept it.

  * * *

  “What’s your idea for Rennie?” I sound barely interested, because I doubt her idea will be good. I mean, everything we did to Alex was fine, because Alex is a sensitive guy and he’s easier to mess with. With Rennie I’m going to need to go bigger, badder.

  Lillia claps her hands together like the cheerleader she is. “It’s so perfect. What’s the one thing Rennie always wanted?”

  I shrug. “Boobs?”

  She giggles. “Well, those, too. But that’s not what I had in mind.” She pauses for effect. “She’s always dreamed about being homecoming queen. Remember?”

  Slowly I nod. “Yeah.” Back when we were in middle school, Rennie used to talk about this kind of stuff 24/7. Being crowned homecoming queen just like her mom. Prom queen, too. Rennie wanted it all.

  “Ren’s been on homecoming court every year. She thinks this year’s crown is a lock. Not that she’s fully admitting how bad she wants it. But I’m telling you, she really, really wants it. So all we have to do is make sure it doesn’t happen.” Lillia pokes me in the shoulder playfully. “Say ‘Thank you,’ Katherine. This one’s for you.”

  I laugh. Classic Lillia, wanting credit for every little thing. “We can tell Mary tomorrow at school.”

  Lillia says, “Let’s just go over there now.” She stoops down and pets Shep and whispers something into his ear.


  “Yeah! Why not.” Lillia starts to climb out my window again, and then turns around and says, “Does your dad still belong to that popcorn of the month club?”

  She remembers the weirdest things. First Shep, then Nelly, now my dad’s favorite snack. “Yeah.”

  “What is it this month?” she asks.

  “Salty caramel.”

  Her face lights up. “That was my favorite kind! Can we bring some with us?”

  “You know you can’t eat that way in college, right? Freshman fifteen, beotch.”

  With a sniff Lillia says, “All the Cho women have really fast metabolisms.” Like that’s something to be proud of. “There isn’t one overweight person in my family. On either side.”

  “All right, all right. I’ll see if there’s any left.” Pat smoked up in the garage tonight, and he gets munchies really bad. If we’re out of popcorn, I can grab some Oreos or whatever.

  We’re almost out my bedroom door when I remember something. “Wait,” I say, turning back. I reach under my bed and fish around for what I’m looking for. Alex’s notebook.

  Lillia hesitates, so I push it into her hand. “Think of it as a trophy,” I tell her. “You earned it.”



  I HAVE NO SENSE OF TIME, BUT IT HAS TO BE HOURS NOW that I’ve been in the dark. I’m lying on top of my bed with my eyes wide open, in my pj shorts and a camisole. Although I’m tired, and it feels like years since I had a good night’s rest, I can’t bring myself to fall sleep. It’s like I’ve forgotten how.

  So I think about my mom and dad, why Kat wears all that eye makeup when she has such pretty eyes, what Lillia puts in her hair to make it so shiny, on to Friday’s geometry test, and last what to wear to school tomorrow. I think about everything and anything to keep Reeve out of my head. But it never works. It’s as if he’s in here with me, in this room, haunting me.

  I roll onto my back and stare through the dark at the beams in the ceiling. I should ask Aunt Bette if she knows a special candle or some sage or incense I could burn to get rid of this negative energy. Aunt Bette’s into that New Agey stuff—smudging, tarot cards, crystals. Mom thinks it’s silly, but she still wears the moonstone ring Aunt Bette bought for her fortieth birthday. Moonstone is supposed to bring positivity and healing to your life. I could probably use some of that, too.

  But I know I can’t do it. I can’t ask Aunt Bette to help me, because then we’d have to talk about what happened all those years ago. Neither of us want to do that. Her just as much as me.

  Something pings my bedroom window and interrupts the quiet. I lift my head off the pillow and watch the glass without breathing. It happens again, this time while I’m looking. A pebble bounces off the pane.

  I get up and walk nervously to the window, peeking just past the sheer white curtains. Lillia and Kat wave at me from down on the ground.

  With a big sigh of relief, I step out from my hiding spot, smile, and wave back.

  “Come out and play, Mary!” Lillia calls up.

  And then I hear Aunt Bette’s bedroom door
creak open from down the hall. I quickly hold up one finger to the girls, jump back onto my bed, and pretend to be asleep.

  I open my eyes a teensy bit and watch as Aunt Bette pushes my door open with her bare foot and looks around my room. She’s in her nightgown, and her long thick hair is wild and puffy.

  She tiptoes past my bed and over to the window. Hopefully, Lillia and Kat have ducked out of sight. I’d rather they didn’t meet Aunt Bette like this. I’d rather she had a chance to at least comb her hair and put lipstick on. Plus, it’s a school night. Aunt Bette’s been really cool, but I don’t want to press my luck.

  Aunt Bette stares out my window; her hot breath makes a tiny cloud on the glass. Then she gently pulls my curtains closed and goes back to her room.

  I know I should wait a while for Aunt Bette to fall back asleep, but I don’t want Kat and Lillia to leave. So after a minute or two, I grab a sweater and creep down the stairs, as quiet as a mouse.

  Kat and Lillia are sitting underneath our huge pine tree in the backyard. Both of them have their backs up against the trunk. Kat’s legs are outstretched; Lillia’s hugging her knees to her chest.

  “Hey,” I say. “Sorry that took so long. My aunt . . .”

  Lillia yawns. “Was that her up there? She looks . . . kind of witchy.” Kat clicks her tongue, and Lillia quickly adds, “Sorry.”

  It makes me sad to hear Lillia say that, but I know she’s right. I sink down to the ground. Aunt Bette is my favorite aunt for sure, but she’s had problems with depression for forever, according to my mom. I don’t quite understand why, because Aunt Bette has had the kind of life I’ve read about in books. She’s traveled the world, selling paintings and meeting all sorts of interesting people. She was beautiful once, and she knew how to play every single card game you could think of. But when the dark times would come, she became a whole other person. She could barely get out of bed some days. It’s why she once came to live with us here in the house for a whole summer.

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