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Pretty little things, p.2
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       Pretty Little Things, p.2

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I already told you. You look hot. I mean it. He’s gonna love it.’

  ‘You don’t think I look fat?’

  ‘Please!’

  ‘Stupid?’

  ‘I wish I looked that dumb.’

  Lainey sat up and stared at the computer across the room. ‘If I don’t hear back from him soon, M, I’m gonna freak! This waiting sucks.’

  The bedroom doorknob suddenly began to violently jangle back and forth. ‘Lainey!’

  ‘Get lost, Brad! I mean it,’ Lainey yelled. ‘Get out of my room!’

  ‘You’re not allowed to close the door! Or lock it! Mom says!’

  ‘G’head and tell Mom, you tattle-tale! Lotta good it’s gonna do you, ’cause she’s NOT HERE! And I can’t wait till I tell her about you playing that video game you’re not supposed to play till after you’ve done your homework!’ she added as she fell back down hard on the bed.

  ‘Is that The Brat?’ Molly asked. ‘What’s he doing in your room?’

  ‘He’s not. He’s just outside the door. I can hear him breathing heavy through the crack. I wish I had some bug spray.’ Lainey squeezed her eyes shut. ‘I hate him sometimes, M. I swear it.’ Molly had a little brother, too, but hers was nice. Most of the time.

  ‘What’d he do now?’

  ‘He went through my books again. He drew mustaches on all of my Betty and Veronica comics and ruined them. Totally ruined them. He’s such an asshole.’

  ‘Did you tell your mom?’

  ‘Like that’ll do any good. Please. She probably gave him the comics and the marker ’cause the poor baby was bored.’ She sat up and reached for the bottle of nail polish on the cardboard box that was supposed to be a nightstand. She shook it and started to paint her toes.

  ‘You should tell her,’ Molly sniffed. ‘He shouldn’t be able to go into your stuff.’

  ‘She’s not home. She’s still at work.’

  ‘What about Todd?’

  Todd was her stepdad and an entirely different story. If her mom babied Bradley, Todd definitely played favorites, which made sense, since Bradley was, after all, his kid and she wasn’t and that was life. ‘He’s not home yet, either, thank God. I’m babysitting.’ Lainey looked over at the door with a frown. ‘Not that he listens to me.’

  ‘Babysitting? Oooh. That means you’re in charge. My mom told Sean that corporal punishment is legal in Florida, which means she can use her hairbrush on his ass and you can beat Bradley’s with a belt.’ They both laughed.

  ‘If the prince gets a single bruise on his milky-white butt cheeks, I’ll be grounded till high school. Nice idea, but I’m just gonna IGNORE HIM while he breathes under my FREAKIN’ DOOR like a FREAKIN’ WEIRDO!!!’

  The computer melodically blurped. An incoming IM.

  Lainey looked over at the computer, her heart suddenly racing once again. She knew right away who it was.

  ElCapitan says: r u online?

  ‘Oh my God, M!’ she whispered into the phone. ‘He just IM’d me. What do I do?’

  Molly laughed. ‘Tell him hello!’

  ‘Yeah, but that means he must’ve got the email.’

  ‘No it doesn’t. Maybe he’s IMing you from his BlackBerry.’

  ‘He doesn’t have a BlackBerry,’ Lainey stated defiantly, then added after a second, ‘at least, I don’t think he does.’

  ‘Whatever. You get my point. You don’t know he’s seen the picture.’

  Lainey stood up and paced the room. ‘He wants to know if I’m here.’

  ‘Just say hi, you dork. Do it. Do it now.’

  ‘OK, OK …’ Hitting letters on the computer had never taken so much darn energy before. It felt like someone had poured lead into the tips of her shaking fingers.

  LainBrain says: hi

  Deep breath. Stay calm. ‘OK, M. I did it.’

  The computer blurped again.

  ElCapitan says: just got home. practice ended late. Coach still pissed over last weeks game.

  ‘What? What’d he say?’ Molly whined. ‘Tell me!’

  ‘Nothing. He said he just got home from football practice. Maybe you’re right. Maybe he didn’t get it?’ She paused for a second. ‘Or maybe he got it and he hates it! M!’

  ElCapitan says: Got ur mess

  Lainey held her breath.

  ‘What’d he say? Lainey!’

  ElCapitan says: Nice pic☺

  Lainey let the air out all at once, as if someone had popped her screaming lungs with a pin. ‘He said nice pic, M! You think that’s good?’ Even asking the question, she couldn’t help but grin.

  ‘You’re a moron. I told you you looked hot. You better not let your mom see that picture. She’ll freakin’ flip. Speaking of flipping moms, mine’s downstairs having a breakdown. I gotta go eat. Say hi to Bradley Brat for me.’ She laughed. ‘Not.’

  ‘I’ll call you later.’ Lainey hung up the phone and stared at the words on the screen. She’d never felt this good before in her whole entire life. She wanted to scream. Then, another sentence appeared with a blurp.

  ElCapitan says: even better than I pictured, and I have a great imagination …

  ElCapitan says: want 2 c even more of u

  Lainey felt her cheeks light up as she looked around the bedroom. There was, of course, no one there but her, but she still felt strangely embarrassed. What should she say to that? What would Liza say? Did he mean that the way she thought he meant that?

  The door to the garage opened with a loud creak. ‘Brad? Elaine? Hello? Where is everyone? Why is this video game on?’ The sound of her mom’s irritated voice echoed through the house, along with the click-clacking of her high heels on the ceramic tiles. She heard Bradley run down the hall and into his room. Coward. Lainey mouthed the next words out of her mother’s mouth.

  ‘Elaine!’

  ‘I’m in my room!’

  ‘Get off that computer. Did you even start dinner?’

  And it was back from the ball once again. Back to reality.

  LainBrain says: GTG. P911.

  IM quick-speak for ‘Got to go – a parent is coming.’

  ElCapitan says: who?

  LainBrain says: mom

  ElCapitan says: Damn! And we were just about 2 get on my favorite subject …

  The funny, uncomfortable feeling was back, and she pushed it aside. Why was she always such a baby? She had to get over that.

  ElCapitan says: thought she worked late mondays

  ElCapitan says: or is that fridays?

  LainBrain says: fridays and every other monday. sorry about coach

  ‘Elaine! Did you hear me? Off that friggin’ computer now!’

  LainBrain says: ☺LTL. she’s pissed.

  LTL meant ‘let’s talk later’. Lainey opened up her Social Studies book to make it look like she’d been studying and crumpled a few pieces of notebook paper for effect, just in case her mom headed this way. Now it was time to boil hot dogs and listen to twenty minutes of shit as to why it was irresponsible of her to allow the aspiring psycho in residence to gun down cops and steal cars for two hours on the video game that his own dad had given him for Christmas. ‘Practice for the real world,’ Lainey wanted to say when the interrogation finally got started. ‘Let’s face it, Mom, Brad’s career options are gonna be limited.’ But that remark would probably get her smacked.

  Just as she opened the door, the computer blurped again. She ran back over to the desk and stared at the words on the screen.

  ElCapitan says: FYI. Pinks definitely your color ☺

  2

  ‘I don’t know if all of you have Halloween on the brain, but these test grades were not what I wanted to see,’ Mrs McKenzie said, her voice withered with both age and perpetual disappointment, as she walked down the aisles of the classroom handing out papers. When she got to Lainey’s desk, she paused. Not a good sign. ‘Ms Emerson, I expected more from you,’ she sniped without even attempting to lower her voice. Then she dropped the paper as if it was covered in dog poop a
nd she couldn’t stand to touch it any more. A big red D+ landed face-up on the desk.

  Another D. Damn … Lainey could feel her cheeks flame up. She couldn’t remember any of the As she used to get ever being so large. Or so red. She quickly shoved the test into her book bag, avoiding eye contact with any of the twenty-three gawking, smirking strangers around her.

  ‘Report cards are going out next week, people,’ Mrs McKenzie warned with a shake of her poofy, margarine-colored head as the bell rang and a mass of bodies rushed past her into the hall. ‘I know there are a couple of you who aren’t going to be happy to see the mailman!’

  It was a safe bet that she was one of those people, Lainey thought, feeling the acid churn like cement in her stomach as she slowly made her way through the noisy crowd to the lunchroom. And her mom was sure to birth a cow when she opened that envelope – Algebra probably wasn’t the only class she was getting a D in. Serves her right, Lainey thought, bitterly; she’d never wanted to switch schools anyway. All her friends were still at Ramblewood Middle, while she was completely lost here at stupid Sawgrass with absolutely no one. No one. Zero. Zilch. No one to study with. No one to walk home with. No one to eat lunch with, she thought miserably as she made her way past the tables of cheerleaders and dorks and jocks to an empty seat in the back of the cafeteria. She still didn’t see why they’d had to move, either. The old house was fine and it was, what? A mile away from the ‘new’ one, which was a lot smaller and didn’t even have a pool. But, as usual, no one bothered to ask for her input on anything before turning her life upside down. The only future she’d heard her mom and Todd worry about was Bradley’s. Her and Liza weren’t even a thought. Not that Liza gave a shit. The girl was never home anyway, and seeing as she didn’t have to change high schools and all her friends drove, not getting to see them was never a worry. Plus Liza was almost seventeen – just a couple of years from getting out on her own. Lainey, though, was just plain stuck.

  ‘Hey,’ a voice said softly behind her as she unpacked a flattened peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her book bag. It was bad enough she had to brown-bag it, but her sandwich was downright embarrassing. It looked like a bled-through Band Aid. A girl she vaguely recognized stood over her, lunch tray in hand. ‘You’re in Algebra with McKenzie, right?’ the girl asked.

  Great. The whole stupid school knew she was flunking Algebra. ‘That’s me. Hope I’m not too famous,’ Lainey replied with a short, nervous laugh that sounded a lot like a whoop.

  ‘I got a shitty grade, too,’ the girl replied casually. She looked around the table. ‘You alone?’

  Lainey shrugged. Was it that obvious? God, she felt like such a loser. ‘Yeah,’ she replied, shifting in her seat. ‘Just me.’

  ‘Can I sit? I just switched to this lunch period and don’t know anyone yet.’

  Lainey moved the stack of books she’d placed in front of her to make it look like she was busy doing work. ‘Sure.’

  ‘I’m Carrie,’ the girl said, popping a straw into her juice box. ‘You new?’

  ‘Yeah. I was at Ramblewood, but we moved and now I’m zoned here, I guess.’

  ‘Your name’s Elaine, right?’

  ‘My friends call me Lainey.’

  ‘I’m new, too. My dad got transferred in August. I moved here from Columbus, Ohio.’

  ‘Wow … Ohio. Do you like Florida?’

  Carrie shrugged. ‘I never had a pool before, so it’s cool. My friends back home are, like, so jealous. They all say they’re gonna come visit when it gets cold up north. They wanna go swimming in January. That’ll be fun.’

  Lainey felt a pang. It’s not as easy as it sounds, she wanted to tell the girl. Her own friends lived less than a mile away and she practically never saw them any more. ‘My best friend still goes to Ramblewood,’ she said softly as she nibbled on her sandwich. ‘Actually, all my friends still go to Ramblewood.’

  ‘Ramblewood, is that a good school?’

  Last year Lainey probably would’ve said, ‘It sucks,’ because all schools do. But she finished a sip of disgusting warm milk before replying, ‘It’s a great school. The best.’

  They chatted about bad teachers and too much homework and riding the bus. She wasn’t Molly, but it was someone to talk to. ‘I like your backpack,’ Carrie said as she packed up her lunch, nodding at Lainey’s book bag. ‘I must’ve seen Twilight, like, fifty times. Taylor Lautner is so hot.’

  Lainey smiled. ‘I like Robert Pattinson. Can you tell?’ On the cover flap of her black-and-white shoulder book bag was a picture of Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire played by Robert Pattinson in Lainey’s all-time favorite movie. ‘What if I’m not the hero?’ was silk-screened across the front. Her mom refused to buy fancy backpacks or lunchboxes, because, she said, ‘those celebrities already have enough damn money,’ so Lainey had saved up all her birthday cash and bought it herself. She’d gotten the very last one at Target the day before school started. She’d worried at first that maybe it was too young for middle school, but Melissa had one and Molly wanted one and Liza hadn’t made fun of it when she saw it, which was definitely a good sign.

  ‘I want to see New Moon the day it comes out, like the very first show. That would be so cool. Hey, maybe we can go together!’ Carrie offered.

  ‘Sure,’ Lainey replied with a smile. ‘That’d be fun. November nineteenth. I’m so there.’

  ‘Do you think your mom would let you maybe go to the midnight show?’

  Lainey shrugged. ‘I’m not sure …’

  ‘Mine can be like that, too,’ Carrie said with a roll of her eyes. ‘She treats me like such a baby sometimes. It’s just a freaking movie.’

  ‘I got Twilight on DVD for my birthday. I’ve watched it like a hundred times already. I really love the part when Bella asks Edward how old he is and he says, “Seventeen.” And then she asks him, “How long have you been seventeen?”’

  Carrie nodded. ‘And he just answers, “A while.” And the way he looks at her when he takes her up in the tree.’ She bit her lip and sighed. ‘Those eyes … Then she pointed at the science notebook in Lainey’s hand. ‘Hey! Who’s that?’ Carrie asked suddenly.

  Taped across the cover of the notebook was the picture of Zach from her computer monitor. Lainey tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. ‘Oh, that’s my boyfriend,’ she replied quickly, as the blood 911’d to her cheeks, lighting them up, she was sure, like a Christmas tree. She swallowed the large lump that was now blocking her airway.

  Time stopped. Lainey could hear her heartbeat whooshing in her burning ears.

  ‘Oh,’ Carrie finally said, with a slow, but unsure smile. ‘He’s cute!’

  Thankfully the bell rang before Carrie could fire off another question. Lainey quickly shoved the notebook in her bag, slung it over her shoulder and waved goodbye, disappearing into the stampede headed out of the cafeteria.

  Boyfriend? Jeesh … where did that come from? The word had just totally slipped out of her mouth. She hadn’t planned on saying it. She’d never thought about saying it. She’d never even pretended it was true in the privacy of her own room when no one was looking, like she had on occasion with movie stars. She felt really embarrassed — like she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t — but oddly enough, really happy. Like she’d finally been let in on the biggest secret in the world.

  She had a boyfriend.

  There it was again. After all, when you thought about it, that’s what Zach sort of was, wasn’t he? She bit back the smile as she made her way through the crowd. She suddenly didn’t feel as alone as she had all morning. Or like such a loser. Because she had a boyfriend.

  The more she thought about it, the more comfortable the word sounded in her head. Lainey had never had a boyfriend before. Unlike Molly and Melissa, she’d never been asked. But Zach was more of a boyfriend to her than Peter Edwards had ever been to Molly. All they did when they were ‘going out’ last year was talk in the hall in between classes and a couple of times on the ce
ll phone for, what? A few minutes? True, Molly’d kissed him – but that was only ’cause Peter had jammed his tongue in her mouth as his friends were walking down the hall, just so they could see him making out with her. Molly had almost bit it off, she was so surprised and so completely grossed out. She said it was like getting frenched by Stubbs, her uncle’s bull dog. Lainey had laughed, but she’d felt so jealous of Molly when she’d said that. Not because she liked weird Peter Edwards or wanted to get tongued by him or anything, but because, well, because Molly had. And Lainey was still stuck on the other side of the fence, as usual, looking in. Waiting for her boobs to show up. Waiting for her period. Waiting to have a boyfriend. Waiting to catch up, it seemed, with what everyone else was already doing. But now, today, this past weekend, these past couple of weeks – things were different. Unlike Molly and Peter, Lainey talked to Zach every night. And even though she hadn’t met him in person yet or heard his voice, they’d sent each other pictures. Plus, Lainey knew he liked her like that. Like a girlfriend. If she wasn’t totally sure before, she definitely knew from his IMs yesterday. He wanted to see more of her. He liked pink. He liked her picture. It was better than what he’d imagined. Which meant that he was imagining what she looked like. He was thinking about her. And Molly could never, ever say that about Peter.

  She followed the last of the hall stragglers past Ms Finn, her Language Arts teacher, who stood in the doorway impatiently tapping her orthopedic shoes and checking her watch even though the bell hadn’t rung yet. Ms Finn didn’t tolerate latecomers. The second the bell rang, the door to her class closed and short of either a fire, terrorist attack or medical emergency – and that did not include having to pee – she wouldn’t open it again till the bell rang at the end of the period. ‘LIT PACKET DUE TODAY’ was scrawled across the blackboard.

 
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