Burn for burn, p.5
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       Burn for Burn, p.5

           Jenny Han
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  “I’m from here, but I went to Belle Harbor Montessori, on the mainland.” I used to ride the ferry every day to school and back. Me and him.

  Kat shakes her head and says, “Reeve.”

  My eyes widen. I’m nervous that she figured it out so fast, but I’m also strangely comforted. “How did you know?”

  “Who else could it be?” Kat says, holding to the stall door open for me. “We go way back.”

  I climb down. Lillia moves back over to the sink and wets a paper towel. “I’m not surprised. Reeve’s basically a Neanderthal,” she says, dabbing her front. “He ruined my sweater.”

  Tentatively, I say, “I thought you guys were friends. I saw you together this morning.”

  Lillia sighs. “We’re not friends, but we’re not not friends.”

  Kat rolls her eyes. “Great answer, Lillia.”

  Right away I say, “Please don’t tell him you saw me.” The last thing I want is to have Reeve hear that I’m still crying over him.

  The bell rings, and Lillia pulls a tube of cherry ChapStick out of her shorts pocket and rubs it on her bottom lip. She presses her lips together with a pop. “Don’t sweat it. I’ve already forgotten your name.” She looks at Kat and says, “Gotta run,” and then walks out.

  Kat watches her go, and when the door swings closed, she says to me in a low voice, “Hey. So, Lillia was crying, right?”

  I look at my sandals. That’s private. I shouldn’t even have been in here.

  “Did you hear her say anything? What was she upset about?”

  “No. Nothing.”

  Kat sighs, disappointed. “Where are you supposed to be right now, Mary?”

  “I don’t even know.”

  “Where’s your schedule?”

  I look in my bag, but I can’t find it. “Um, I think I have chemistry now.”

  She pushes her bangs out of her eyes and peers at me. “Wait, aren’t you a senior? Why haven’t you taken chemistry yet?”

  I wet my lips. “I got really sick at the end of seventh grade, so I was held back a year.”

  “That sucks. Well, the science department is over on the east side of the building. You’re going to have to book it over there to make it in time.” She pauses. “Listen, don’t let that jackhole Reeve get to you. Karma’s a bitch. He’ll get his.”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, I wish I could believe it. But Reeve seems fine. I’m the one who’s been hiding in the bathroom all morning.”

  “He’s not worth it,” she says. “None of these people are. Trust me.”

  Gratefully I say, “Thanks, Kat.” She’s the first person to really talk to me today.

  I follow Kat out of the bathroom. She makes a left and heads down the hall. I watch her go, discreetly, in case she might look back at me.

  She doesn’t.



  ALL OF THE GIRLS TRYING OUT FOR THE SQUAD ARE sitting on the football field bleachers in their short shorts and camis. Nadia is in the first row with a couple of her friends. I smile at her, and Nadia gives me a small smile back. I’m relieved she’s not still upset about my back handspring comment.

  Rennie’s standing with Coach Christy in front of the girls, while Ashlin and I sit on the sidelines. We’ve got our uniforms on, like models. Rennie, too. Sleeveless shells with a J sewn on the chest, pleated skirts with bloomers underneath, and the ankle socks with the tiny colored balls on the heels. I have to admit, it feels kind of good to be wearing my uniform again.

  When Coach Christy runs back to the gym office to photocopy permission slips, Rennie springs into action. Surveying the bleachers, she says in a low voice, “Okay, here’s the real deal. If you want to be a Jar Island varsity cheerleader, you have to look and act the part full-time. You’re not just representing yourself; you’re representing me. This is my squad. I have standards.” She pauses for effect. “Fingers crossed, we’re getting new uniforms this season, and they’re gonna be crop tops. That means I don’t want to see one French fry on anyone’s plate at lunch. I’m serious. Also, Dori.” Dori looks up, startled. “You need to retire that jacket. It makes you look like a soccer mom.”

  I gasp, and Ashlin giggles behind her hand.

  The girls whisper to each other nervously. Rennie looks over her shoulder to make sure Coach Christy isn’t on her way back outside, and she snaps, “Did I say I was finished?”

  Everyone hushes up.

  “There can’t be any weak links whatsoever. That means if your friend is slacking, you let her know. Like, just as a for instance, Melanie, you need to commit these three words to memory stat: ‘cleanse,’ ‘tone,’ ‘moisturize.’” Melanie’s eyes fill up with tears, but she quickly nods.

  I honestly can’t believe what I’m hearing. I mean, okay, Melanie has bad skin, but does Rennie need to blow up her spot in front of everyone? I look over at Ashlin, hoping for solidarity, but she shrugs and whispers, “Forget the three steps. Send the girl to a dermatologist.”

  Rennie points a finger at Nadia. “I want everyone to check out Nadia’s legs. That’s the level of tan you need to have. If you don’t, go see Becky at Mystic Beach on Sandtrap Street. She’ll hook you up.”

  My sister flushes with pride and lowers her head humbly.

  “And I’m not just talking to the freshmen.” I see Rennie scan the sophomores and juniors, who are here too. I know exactly who she’s looking for. Teresa Cruz. “Don’t get too comfortable just because you’re an upperclassman. Every girl has to earn her spot here. I will not hesitate to cut any dead weight for the good of the squad.”

  I see Coach Christy come out the metal doors, so I clear my throat and motion for Rennie to wrap it up.

  Finally she smiles. “Last chance, girls. If you don’t think you can hang, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

  No one makes a move.

  * * *

  In the locker room it’s just Rennie and me changing out of our uniforms. Ashlin and Coach Christy have the other girls running around the track.

  I’m pulling my sweater over my head as I say, “So we’re going straight to Alex’s now, right? He was pretty upset today at lunch.”

  “Over what?”

  “Over the fact that we left the party.” At the mention of the party, Rennie’s face goes blank. “I told him we’d come over after practice to take down the decorations and straighten up the pool house.”

  “Will Reeve be there?”

  Sourly I say, “I hope not.” I bend down and take off my sneakers.

  “You know how today at lunch Reeve was going on and on about who his cheerleader should be?” When I don’t reply, she keeps talking. “I think that was his slick way of asking me. I mean, it makes total sense, right? Captain for captain.”

  I pull my hair into a ponytail. “But wasn’t he hooking up with Teresa Cruz a bunch this summer?”

  Rennie laughs dryly. “Um, they hooked up, like, twice. Besides, have you seen her thighs? She can barely cross her legs, much less do splits. You really think Reeve would want her repping his number out there?”

  “I don’t know.” I tighten my ponytail.

  “You don’t know?”

  “I think Teresa’s pretty.” Rennie gives me a look like I’m crazy, but I ignore it. “So you’re coming with me, right?”

  Rennie rolls her eyes. “Lindy has a maid. He doesn’t need us.”

  “You’re not supposed to say ‘maid’—”

  “Please, no lectures on rich people terminology!” she snaps, putting her cami back on.

  My heart is thumping in my chest as I take off my socks and put on my espadrilles. Rennie won’t even look at me as she packs up the rest of her things. “Ren, I know you’re still upset about what happened with Kat this morning—”

  I don’t even get to finish. Rennie levels me with a death stare and says, “I couldn’t care less about that freak.” then she walks out of the locker room, without saying good-bye.

the time I get to the parking lot, her Jeep is long gone. I end up tracking down Ashlin for a ride to Alex’s.

  * * *

  Ash drops me off outside Alex’s house. I let out a big sigh of relief because Mrs. Lind’s car isn’t in the driveway. I was hoping she wouldn’t be home, because what if she’s mad at me too?

  Unbuckling my seat belt, I say, “Thanks for the ride, Ash.”

  “No prob, Lils. I’m just sorry I can’t help you clean up.” She makes a sad face and says, “I promised my mom I would go with her to get her hair cut. Last time they totally made her look like an old lady.”

  “It’s fine,” I say. I haven’t told her about Rennie’s and my fight. That’s between the two of us.

  I hop out of the car, and wave as Ashlin drives off. Instead of going to the front door, I head straight for the backyard. Alex is skimming the top of the pool with a net, trying to fish a red Solo cup out of the water.

  “Hey,” I say.

  He looks up, startled. “Where’s Rennie?”

  Ordinarily I would offer up an excuse for her, but today I just shrug.

  I start gathering up the tiki torches and the beach ball paper lantern lights we strung around the yard. There’s no way I can carry everything back to my house. If Alex wants this stuff out of here, he’s going to have to drive me home. He still seems pretty mad at me, though. “Did you get to try one of my cupcakes?” I ask.

  “Yeah.” Alex is sitting on a lounge chair, messing with his phone.

  “Was it good?”

  “It was all right,” he says.

  “Did you get one with a Swedish Fish inside? I did that in a few of them.”

  He finally makes eye contact. “I ate three, and I think one had a fish.”

  He’s warming up to me again, thank God. I offer him a small smile. “Cool. Um, I’m a little thirsty. Can I have a soda?”

  He jerks his head toward the pool house. “You know where they are.”

  Ouch. Okay. So maybe I will have to walk all this stuff home.

  The pool house is basically Alex’s apartment, complete with a living room, a kitchen, and a huge master bedroom. He has it set up like a bachelor pad, James Bond style. Black leather sectional sofa, big-screen TV mounted on the wall, an actual Coke machine by the bar. And he has a snack pantry that his mom keeps stocked with cookies and chips and anything you could ever want.

  His bedroom door is open, and I see one of our plastic palm trees deflated and handing over the back of his desk chair. His room is usually clean, but today it’s messy, for Alex. The bed’s not made and there are clothes on the floor.

  I go to pick up the palm tree, and I stop. There is a small heap of clothes by his bed. A green tank top is on top of the pile. I bend down and pick it up.

  My sister’s. The one she wore the night of the party, part of her minnow costume. I know because I have the same one, same brand, only one size bigger. There’s a crusty pink stain over the front, strawberry daiquiri. I smell it. Rum.

  I walk back outside holding the tank. Alex’s eyes widen when he sees it. “Why do you have Nadia’s tank top?” I ask him.

  “Oh . . . someone spilled something on her. I gave her one of my shirts to wear home,” he says.

  Suddenly I find it hard to breathe. “Was Nadia drinking?” I told her not to. I forbid her. “She didn’t do anything stupid, did she?”

  “Like what? Like go off with a random guy?” He shakes his head. “No, she didn’t do anything like that.”

  I can feel the blood drain from my face. Is he talking about Nadia . . . or me?

  Alex walks away and starts loading the decorations into the back of his SUV. I pick up as many of the tiki torches as I can carry and follow him. He doesn’t say anything, and neither do I.



  I’M SITTING ON MY BED, STARING DOWN AT AN OLD PHOTO album that I found in the basement. I age as the pages turn. Posing in front of a blanket fort with a flashlight lit under my chin. At the apex of a swing from the tire hung on the backyard tree, my hair almost white from the sun. Me and my dad with big clumps of seaweed on top of our heads. Practicing clarinet for my parents and Aunt Bette in the dining room.

  The book ends with me posing next to the lilac bush for my first day of seventh grade. I’m on my tiptoes, smelling the flowers.

  It’s no wonder Reeve didn’t recognize me this morning. There’s only one way to put it—I was fat.

  * * *

  Everyone was talking about the new scholarship student. The Belle Harbor Montessori on the mainland was teeny tiny. There were just twenty kids in our seventh-grade class, and I was the only one from Jar Island. During lunch a few of the boys were debating how smart you needed to be to get a scholarship, when Reeve walked in.

  Everyone watched as he moved through the food line. My friend Anne leaned over and said, “He’s pretty cute, don’t you think?”

  “He’s not bad,” I whispered back.

  Reeve was easily taller than every other boy in our class. But he wasn’t lanky; he had a bit of muscle to him. . . you could tell he probably played sports at his old school. We didn’t have sports at Montessori. We didn’t even have recess, unless you counted the foliage hikes we took through the woods.

  Our teacher waved him over and showed him where our class was sitting.

  “Hey,” he said, kind of bored-sounding. He plopped into an empty chair. “I’m Reeve.”

  A couple of the boys mumbled “Hey” back, but mostly no one said anything. I think we all picked up on his apathetic attitude. He didn’t really want to be at our school. He probably had lots of friends back wherever he’d come from.

  I felt bad for him. Reeve only picked at his sandwich, not saying anything. It must have been hard coming to a new school. This was the only school I’d ever known. I’d gone to Belle Harbor Montessori since I was in kindergarten.

  When lunch was over, and everyone stood up, I saw Reeve looking around, unsure where to put his tray. I leaned over to grab it for him. I don’t know why. Just to be nice, I guess. But he snatched it away before I could get my hands on it and said really loudly, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough to eat?”

  The boys who’d heard him busted up laughing. I think I might have even laughed too, just because I’d been so caught off guard. Anne made a face. Not one of sympathy either. Just a plain old frown. And not at Reeve. At me.

  Reeve, he laughed the hardest of all. He was the first to leave the table, and everyone just followed him, even though he couldn’t have known where our classroom was. He left his tray on the table.

  I ended up throwing away his lunch with my own.

  * * *

  Before Reeve, I was one of the smart girls, especially in math. I was the shy but friendly one. I was a little socially awkward, sure. The girl with the long blond hair from the island. But after Reeve, I was the fat girl.

  I close the album. I’m not that girl anymore. I hadn’t been her for a long time. But being back on Jar Island, with Reeve, with my old pictures and stuffed animals and things—it makes it feel so fresh.

  I hear Aunt Bette downstairs, quietly doing the dishes.

  Our dinner tonight was awkward, to say the least. This morning I imagined telling Aunt Bette every detail about my epic first day—the look on Reeve’s face when he saw me again, him trying to talk to me, him trying to find out where I’ve been for the last four years. She’d let me have a glass of wine, and we’d toast to the start of a great new year.

  Since none of that happened, there was nothing to tell Aunt Bette. Needless to say, I didn’t feel hungry. It would have been rude to get up from the table, though, so I just sat there quietly while she twirled spaghetti on her fork and read some art journal.

  I feel empty inside. Hollow. I just really need to talk to my mom and dad, hear their voices. They’ll probably try to convince me to come back home, and I might let them.

  The next five minutes I spend pacing around my room with my
cell phone over my head, trying to get enough bars to call them. I can’t get a signal. When we lived here before, cell service was practically nonexistent on Jar Island. There were a few random spots where you could get reception, like near the lighthouses, or sometimes in the Lutheran church parking lot, but for the most part Jar Island was a cell-phone-free zone. I guess that hasn’t changed.

  There’s a telephone downstairs in the kitchen, but I’d rather not talk to my parents in front of Aunt Bette. I might start crying.

  I hear Aunt Bette climb the stairs. I peek out my door and watch her walk to her room.

  I guess I could try talking to her. I used to confide in her about all kinds of things. Whenever she’d visit in the summer, we’d walk down the hill and buy hot chocolates on Main Street. Even in August. She’d tell me about things I know my parents would freak over. The month she spent living in Paris with a married man, the series of paintings she did of herself nude. Aunt Bette has lived about a million and one lifetimes. She could have good advice for me.

  Aunt Bette is already in bed. Her eyes are closed. But I guess she hears me, because they suddenly open. “Mary?”

  I step into the room and crouch by her bed. “Are you asleep?”

  She shakes her head and blinks. “I don’t think so. Am I?”

  Even though I’m on the verge of tears, I laugh. “Am I bothering you?”

  “No! Please!” She sits up. “Are you okay?”

  I take a deep breath and try to get a hold of myself. “It’s strange to be back.”

  “Yes. Of . . . of course.”

  “I don’t know if I belong, after everything that’s happened.”

  In a low voice Aunt Bette says, “This is your home. Where else would you belong?”

  “Nowhere, I guess.”

  “I’ve missed you, Mary.” A faint smile spreads across her face. “I’m glad you’re here.”

  “Me too,” I lie. Then I go back to my room and crawl into bed.

  It takes me forever to fall asleep.

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