What Every Girl (except me) Knows, p.1Nora Raleigh Baskin
Table of Contents
Also by Nora Raleigh Baskin and Untreed Reads Publishing
What Every Girl (except me) Knows
As I become one in a long line of grateful writers...
For my mother
What Every Girl (except me) Knows
By Nora Raleigh Baskin
Copyright 2016 by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Cover Copyright 2016 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 2001.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by Nora Raleigh Baskin and Untreed Reads Publishing
In the Company of Crazies
What Every Girl (except me) Knows
Nora Raleigh Baskin
As I become one in a long line of grateful writers, I give my truest thanks to friend and novelist Elinor Lipman for simply making my dream come true.
Thank you to Maria Modugno of Little, Brown, who from the first minute she spoke to me, did so with generosity and warmth, and whose skill and insight I quickly learned to trust.
To Robin Rue of Writers House, for wise counsel and a kind voice; thank you for both.
To Erin Anderson and Kristin Millay, my young, first readers, who dropped everything and read, whenever I asked them to.
To my dad, Hank Raleigh, and my brother, Stephen Raleigh, with so much love.
And to all my YBFs, who keep me going.
Love and thanks to my husband, Steve, and my boys, Sam and Ben, without whom none of this would mean much at all.
For my mother
I’ve been keeping a journal now for almost a full year. Actually, I have three journals. One is for dreams, one is for important stuff like this, and one is a list. My list journal is called “Things I Need to Know to Be a Woman.”
First I wrote in “woman.” Then I crossed that out and wrote in “girl.” Then I crossed that out and wrote in “woman” again. I still can’t decide.
I’m assuming I’ll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not. I think Amber Whitman already has, because every month she goes to the nurse with a mysterious stomachache. We learned all about that in health, and everyone saw the movie. So Amber’s not fooling anyone.
But being like a girl (or womanly or girlish or feminine, whatever you want to call it) is something you definitely have to learn.
Girls probably don’t even know they’re learning it. It just gets absorbed into them while they are sleeping. But one thing for certain is that it has to come from a mother.
And a mother is one thing I don’t have. Not since I was three years old, too long ago to miss her. Too long ago to even remember her. So I keep a list.
My dad’s girlfriend two years ago came over once to make veal scallopini. She took this skinny meat, dipped it in egg, and then into flour, and then into bread crumbs. Then she cooked it on the stove. I wrote that all down on my list.
Another one of my dad’s girlfriends used a comb to tease up her hair and make it look fuller. She actually lifted her hair on top of her head, held it up in the air, and sort of combed it backward. I saw her in the bathroom when the door fell open a little. She got mad when she looked in the mirror and saw me behind her, watching.
“A little privacy, sweetie, please,” she said.
And she knocked the door shut with her foot, because her hands were too busy with a comb and a big wad of tangled hair. She only came over that once, though, and I already had the information for my list.
But watching Cleo Bloom is better than it’s been with anyone else. Cleo is into this “open” thing. My dad hasn’t dated anyone else but Cleo for almost a year now.
Cleo caught me watching her, and she didn’t even say anything. She was standing in the kitchen rubbing hand cream into her hands. First she squirted a little bit from the bottle onto the backs of her hands. The she massaged it all around, into her fingers, even her fingernails, and then up her arms to her elbows. When she saw me staring she just laughed.
“Old elbows,” she told me. “A woman’s elbows always giver her age away.”
Then she held the bottle out to me.
I shook my head. I had known Cleo for all these months but I had never hung out with her before. I wasn’t used to her yet. Usually she and my dad went out and I stayed home with my brother, Ian. Lately, though, she is around a lot more.
I just checked out my elbows in the full-length mirror inside my closet door. My elbows are different from Cleo’s. Cleo’s are more wrinkly, like there is extra skin puckering out. She isn’t so old, though. I think maybe thirty-three or something. My dad is forty-two.
My elbows still look young, I guess. I’m only twelve.
“She’s coming and she’ll cry.” Lynette leaned over her desk till she was practically dropping out of her seat. She had already said the same crazy thing three times.
Lynette was strange and extremely unpopular, which probably was the reason she was making such an effort to talk to me. Since I, of late, had been nice to her. The truth is, I felt sorry for her ever since this little fourth grader on my bus told me that Lynette had been hit by a truck when she was a baby in her stroller. Nobody was supposed to know that, but this little kid heard it from her cousin or something, and she told everyone. She told me last week, on the way home from school. The sun was already low, trapped behind the Catskill Mountains, leaving us a cold, gray ride home.
“My cousin said the girl was hit by a truck when
“Why, do I look like it?” I said, looking out the window at the river. Our bus followed the same meandering path as the Wallkill River. At points the river ribboned close to the road and was visible. I liked to see the river slipping by, as quiet as the trees standing on its muddy banks; quieter still than the secrets I imagined were carried with it.
“No, you don’t look like you’ve been hit by a truck. I just didn’t know you could be hit by a truck and live. But this girl’s in the same grade as you. I thought you would know her.”
“So who is it?” I asked, finally.
“I shouldn’t tell.” She lifted up her chin. “It wouldn’t be nice. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
There. That was one of those things. Girls are supposed to say nice things. They compliment each other on their outfits and their haircuts. They offer to do things without being asked, like bring homemade cookies to a party or clear the dishes after supper. Even when they’re mean, girls are nice about it.
“Well, telling me someone’s name would be a very nice thing to say,” I said, not thinking it would really work, not caring in the first place.
“Lynette,” the kid blurted out.
I guess she hadn’t had enough “girl” stuff absorbed into her yet.
She had meant Lynette Waters, who was right at the moment desperately trying to talk to me.
“She’s coming and she’ll cry,” Lynette said for the fourth time.
“All right already, who’s coming?” I turned to face Lynette.
“A new girl in sixth grade. I heard it in the office,” Lynette told me.
Lynette and I had had the same homeroom assignment for the last two years. Waters and Weiss. And weren’t we lucky, because the last name of the most popular girl in sixth grade was Whitman. Amber Whitman. Somehow, we all ended up in last-period math class together, too.
“The new girl is going to be in our homeroom,” Lynette said a little too loudly.
“A new girl?” Amber turned around in her seat. Her hair moved with her like a blond waterfall. “What’s her name?”
Lynette thought a moment, as if trying to remember. “I don’t know her name,” Lynette said, worried.
Our math teacher was explaining how to change decimals into fractions when she suddenly stopped and looked up from her book.
“You’re no help, Lynette,” Amber whispered, and she immediately flipped back around in her chair.
“She’s coming and she’ll cry,” Lynette said quietly to me when the teacher was turned and again writing on the board. “And I am thinking who she is.”
I was thinking, too. I could use a new friend. Amber Whitman had her popular friends—the ones who ate lunch every day at the same table headed by none other than Amber herself. They performed gymnastic moves on the playground each day and held secret meetings in the bathroom to rate the other kids in school.
Even Lynette had her two best friends, both of them kind of weird, too, but they constituted a group.
No one liked Rhonda Littleman, the smartest girl in the whole sixth grade, but she happily made up her own group of one, sometimes two if you included boys, because Alex Bassik was so smart that no one else talked to him.
Then there was the group of tough girls who had homemade tattoos and who smoked cigarettes behind the bleachers before school. Patty Parker had her boyfriend’s name poked into her wrist with India ink and a needle. Carl. But it came out looking like Larl because, she said, she messed up on the C.
But I was miserably free. (I had never had a real, real best friend. And I couldn’t count Mimi Russo just because she was in after-school day care with me every day from kindergarten till fourth grade. Anyway, her dad got relocated and she moved two years ago.) I moved around from group to group, friend to friend. So even though I prided myself with not being stuck on any one peg, I wondered—Who will the new girl be?
I was daydreaming like that when the bell rang and someone slapped me on the back.
“Let’s go, Gabby. You’re going to miss the bus.” It was Peter Scalzi.
He headed out to the lockers, and I got up and followed. Peter was kind of short. He had buzzed hair and a funny face, but he was a really good athlete and that put him in with the popular boys, automatically. He had been in my class every year since kindergarten, except third and fifth. He was still in a lot of my classes this year, even though this was the first year we switched around from subject to subject.
One of the dreams that I have recorded in my dream journal over and over is that I miss my bus home. I dream that I am standing at my locker and I can’t get it open. My legs feel like they are twisted in rubber, and I have to struggle to get to the bus line, and when I get there I can’t find which bus is mine. In some dreams, I see my bus but it’s too late. It leaves without me.
Last week, I mistakenly confided in Rhonda Littleman about my dream journal, because she had just done an oral report called “The Mysteries of the Mind.” I told her about my recurring bus nightmare.
She said that something was wrong with me, because most people dreamt about missing their ride to school or to work—it represented anxiety. Dreaming about missing the bus home was pathologic.
Like I said—telling Rhonda was a mistake. What did she know, anyway? I think I hated her.
I grabbed my coat out of my locker, and with my backpack banging against my legs I ran for the bus. I prayed, between huffing and puffing, I wasn’t going to miss it. No one would be home to pick me up if I did. My dad had student critiques at the college Wednesday afternoons.
“Wait!” I knocked on the tall doors. The bus driver looked down three steps at me. I waved up at him, pathetically.
“Almost didn’t make it,” Mr. Worthington told me as he maneuvered the doors to open.
“Almost,” I said, stepping inside.
Then I wished I hadn’t. Debbie Curtis sat in the only available seat not filled with three people. I really was afraid of Debbie Curtis. I had heard that her father was a prison guard at the Wallkill State Penitentiary. Her brothers were both football players at the high school. Size-wise, the family resemblance was unmistakable.
I had no choice. I sat down and right on cue Debbie Curtis hissed, “You look so stupid.”
I saw someone on the Oprah Winfrey Show once who said to respond with “So?” to anything a bully says. But it didn’t seem like that was going to help. I thought it best to remain silent in this situation.
Debbie decided to explain her uninvited commentary. “You look like a boy in that old coat.”
Now, I knew that my coat was not old. It was new, actually. It was a dark-olive, drab, down bubble jacket. My brother had one just like it. But now in addition to looking like I was ready to go two hundred miles behind a dogsled team, it seemed I looked like a boy.
“You’d look like a boy if you were wearing a prom dress,” I said and braced myself, my fingers clutching the edge of the seat.
Debbie Curtis gave me one big shove, and despite my grip I landed in the rubber aisle between the seats. I could see Mr. Worthington’s frowning eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Sit down behind me,” he said. There was always one bench seat directly behind the driver, reserved for troublemakers, and no one could sit there unless ordered to. I think Mr. Worthington knew he was doing me a favor. I gladly moved up and slipped behind his seat. I looked up to thank him, but Mr. Worthington’s eyes were now fixed on the road.
Rhonda Littleman was wrong about one more thing—riding home on the bus did represent anxiety.
“When I got home from school, Cleo was in the kitchen chopping up raw vegetables. I wasn’t so surprised to see real vegetables instead of the frozen ones we usually had, but I was surprised to see Cleo at my house in the middle of the week; surprised to see Cleo at my house when my dad wasn’t
I did quickly take in some thoughts about peeling carrots but not green peppers for my list journal. And why was she washing mushrooms like that with a paper towel? I stood quietly for a moment in the doorway.
“Oh, hi, Gabby,” Cleo said with a big smile. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
I was suddenly caught in that itchy space between being angry that Cleo was here when I wasn’t expecting her and feeling like I was going to cry because I hated my winter coat that made me look like a boy, even and especially to Debbie Curtis.
I knew I didn’t want to cry.
“What are you doing here?” I said, dropping my backpack on the floor. I couldn’t put it on the counter where it usually goes, because Cleo had a bowl of raw chicken soaking there.
“Oh.” Cleo’s smile vanished.
Just then I heard my father’s car pull up in the driveway. Cleo put down her cutting knife and hurried out the back way.
“I guess Larry’s home,” she said—to the air and to the bicycles hanging in the garage, since she was already out the door. Her voice sounded thin and it made me feel bad for what I had said.
At dinner, I sat in self-imposed silence; punishment for being mean to Cleo for no reason. Punishment for looking like a boy. If I wanted something passed to me that I couldn’t reach, I did without it. I did without butter on my bread. I did without chicken on my plate.
“Ian’s been taking lessons for almost six years.” My dad was chatting away “He started when he was only eight.”
My brother didn’t bother to correct that particular piece of information. In reality, Ian had picked out the chords to “This Land Is Your Land” when he was only seven years old on one of my dad’s old girlfriends’ ukulele. My dad left that part out, too.
“He studies with François. You know, that guy over at the college who knew Coltrane?”
My dad usually wasn’t too good at regular talking. He never asked to see our homework or who our friends were. Or why I didn’t have any. But when it came to discussions about “art” he was downright chatty. And when Cleo was around he seemed to talk so much you couldn’t stop him. He kept on talking about John Coltrane, the famous jazz musician, and Cleo said, “Oh, I love John Coltrane. I used to have a roommate who owned lots of his records.”
What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Nora Raleigh Baskin / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes