“Okay. See ya.” He hung up.
I stared at my phone until my vision blurred with tears. Then I lay back on the bed and stared at the blurry lines of beadboard in the ornate dropped ceiling. I was so tired. I just wanted to sleep and forget it all.
But I hadn’t practiced baton yet, except during band period at school. I’d taught fourth graders at the baton studio, but I was just showing them simple stuff like vertical spins. If I wasn’t perfecting my illusions, which I loved to do now that my thighs had shrunk, I didn’t feel like I’d practiced at all.
I snuck down into the dark yard, intending to practice only until midnight. But the more I tried not to think about Max, the angrier I got, and the faster I twirled. I stayed out until one.
* * *
All week at school, I worried about my upcoming date with Carter and Addison’s date with Max. People I vaguely knew continued to stop me in the hall and ask me in a friendly way if I was really dating the quarterback from East. One day during band practice, Delilah even whispered that she’d heard I’d made out with him—was that true? The only possible source of this rumor was Addison. And since Delilah managed to make everything sound like a compliment, I couldn’t tell whether Addison had spread this information to help me or hurt me.
Though I could take a guess. The vote for head majorette–elect was coming up in less than two weeks. If rumors were circulating about me, then Mrs. Baxter would think I wasn’t keeping my nose clean.
On Friday I still hadn’t heard the plan for our date that night. During a lull in band practice, when the director stood way up in the stands and made minute adjustments to the trombones standing in a curlicue on the football field, I slipped my phone from my pocket and checked my messages. Nothing. The idea of Carter calling me made my stomach go south, but I wanted to know whether we still had a date. More importantly, I wanted to know whether I would ever see Max again.
Addison walked over from her place on the thirty-five yard line to my place on the forty and plopped down beside me in the grass. “Ready for tonight? It sounds like a bore to me.”
I was loath to admit she knew something I didn’t, but that had been the case all along with us and these boys. “I haven’t talked to Carter,” I said. “Where are we going?”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “We’re seeing some kung fu movie at the Fox and getting coffee after. We need to hint that Carter should start coming up with these dates, not Max.”
I suppressed a laugh. The Fox was a gorgeous 1920s theater not far from where we lived. When it wasn’t hosting concerts or plays, it showed classic movies. Trust Max to find the most offbeat movie they showed. It sounded like a blast to me.
If Carter planned our date? Wow, it sounded like a chain restaurant and a blockbuster movie to me. What a yawn. Addison would love it.
“So Max called you?” I asked. “That’s great, right?”
She shook her head. “No, I got a text from Carter today.”
“But Max called you earlier in the week, right?”
“Oh. I just figured he would, since he kissed you after the concert,” I said casually, even though my heart was pounding. Max had lied to me Friday night when he said he was on the phone with Addison. He’d been trying to make me jealous. Which must mean he liked me!
After that initial spike of adrenaline, though, I talked myself down off the ledge. He could have been trying to make me jealous, or more likely, he was angry that I’d yelled at him. He’d probably been mad and hadn’t wanted to talk to me when I’d called to apologize.
That was all.
“It was the lamest kiss ever,” Addison was saying. “I get a sexier kiss than that from my grandpa.”
Despite the fact that I’d talked myself out of thinking Max liked me, it made me happy that their kiss had been no big deal. If she hadn’t gotten into it, maybe he hadn’t either.
“But you”—she tapped my cell phone on my knee—“have been getting calls from Carter, right?”
“No.” I tried not to sound relieved about that. “Why?”
“Because it’s totally rude of him to ignore you after the way y’all were swapping slobber last Friday.”
She watched me to see if I reacted. I gave her my majorette grin. The very idea that she was spreading rumors about Carter and me made my stomach hurt. But if I let her see that, she would know what bothered me, and she would do more of it.
Standing up and brushing the grass off her butt, she said, “I’m gonna go talk to Susan,” without even trying to disguise that talking to me bored her. Susan was the head majorette. Addison made the rounds every day, ingratiating herself to all the majorettes so she could get their votes for head-elect. She was wasting a lot of energy if you asked me. There was no way I would be chosen, and Delilah only had a chance if she stopped turning ashen every time the band started the opening number.
Robert plopped down beside me the instant Addison stepped away, as if he’d been hovering, waiting for his opportunity. “Hey, Gemma.” With a giant nod, he gave his dyed-black hair a toss out of his eyes.
I just stared at him for a moment. He had a lot of nerve trying to share my forty yard line without asking. “Hey,” I said warily.
“Want to go out tonight?”
I had waited two whole years to hear those words, and Robert asked nonchalantly, like he was asking to borrow a dollar.
I wasn’t happy about the prospect of another night tolerating Carter and pining for Max, but it sure was nice to be able to tell Robert I had other things to do. “I have plans.”
“With that quarterback?” he asked. “I heard about that. But y’all aren’t serious, are you? How about tomorrow night?”
I hardly dared to ask, because he might make fun of me, but I needed to know. “Robert, are you asking me out on a date?”
He spread his hands. “Duh! What did you think?”
I was quiet. I wanted to shout, What I thought was, you sent me a sympathy card right before majorette tryouts last April. But I didn’t.
Then I remembered Max saying I only wanted relationships that weren’t complicated. If I told Robert how I felt right now, things would get complicated.
And so I told him. “What I thought was, you sent me a sympathy card right before majorette tryouts last April.”
“That was a joke!” he exclaimed. “We always used to send each other cards like that.”
“No, not like that, Robert,” I told him sternly. “Not sympathy cards. Not before an important tryout. You shouldn’t have done that. A good friend wouldn’t do that. Then you sent me a text message that I’d sold out. And then you stopped speaking to me.”
He pointed at me. “You stopped speaking to me. The day after you made majorette, you sicced Delilah Allen on me in history class.”
“I did not sic her on you,” I said, almost laughing at the thought of tiny Delilah scaring the bejesus out of a full-grown guy. “I told her about the card. She must have taken it upon herself to tell you what she thought of how you treated your so-called friend.”
Robert furrowed his brow and shook his head like this did not compute. “You stopped talking to all of us, not just me. You lost weight, you made majorette, and you became a different person.”
He was wrong. I had been very careful not to become a different person. And I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. “You wouldn’t know whether I became a different person or not,” I pointed out, “because you stopped speaking to me.”
He blinked at me in surprise, then tossed his hair out of his eyes again to give himself time to think. He had never seen this Gemma before, Gemma Who Bites Back.
He put his hand on my hand. “I miss you,” he said quietly. “I think up these jokes that nobody would get but you, and I don’t have anyone to tell them to.”
I looked into his big gray eyes. I missed him, too. I missed his jokes. He was funny—very funny. He was a lot like Max, except that Max was even quicker, and a whole lot cuter, and bore no malice.
And Robert was right. Just because Carter and I had been on a date and had planned another did not mean we were dating exclusively. I could go out with Carter tonight and Robert tomorrow. Then the school would really talk about me. I would be That Majorette Who Dates a Lot. I took a breath to tell Robert yes.
But my stomach twisted at the thought of going out with Robert, just as it twisted at the thought of going out with Carter again. What was I doing, exactly? Aiming for quantity, not quality?
My cell phone vibrated with a text message. I started and pulled my hand away from Robert. The text was from Max. With a sidelong glance at Robert, I read it.
7:30 tonight? No more of my theories, promise.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Driving to the theater with Max sounded a lot more fun than a date with Robert and a date with Carter combined. I might not ever have Max, but I could do better than Robert.
I texted Max—See u then—and clicked my phone off. “Robert, you’ve told me before that you just wanted to be friends. I think that’s best for us.” I didn’t give him time for a bitter comeback. I plowed ahead, “But I miss you, too. We could go out as friends. I have a lot to tell you. I went to see the Dolly Paranoids last week.”
“You did?” Surprise and admiration overtook the defensiveness in his voice, at least for a moment.
The band director called through the megaphone, telling us to return to our places and run the drill again. I stood, pocketed my phone, and picked up my batons. I spent the rest of the period lost in twirling my batons and my own swirling thoughts, proud of myself for standing up to Robert and wishing seven thirty would come right now.
I was worried about what I would wear, though. I knew I had no chance with Max, but I still didn’t want him to see me in my MARCHING WILDCATS T-shirt again. Addison had thrown down the gauntlet with her boob-baring blouse last Friday. I wasn’t going down without a fight.
As the debutante ball approached, Addison had more meetings to attend after school. Lately my mom picked me up. I could ask her to take me to my favorite vintage clothing store, which I hadn’t visited since I’d started losing weight. She didn’t understand why I wanted to wear used clothes, but she didn’t want to argue with me about it either. She would sit in the car and wait for me, as usual.
As I made this plan, I felt a pang of loneliness. I wished I had a girlfriend to go shopping with. I longed for last year when Addison had been available to shop with me. But as the majorette line turned left for a high toss and I watched her drop her baton, I realized I didn’t miss her. She would turn up her nose at every top I picked out. I wished for company, but she was not the one that I wanted.
The majorette line faced right for another high toss, which Delilah caught expertly. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew her grin was confident while the stadium was almost empty. We saw each other every school day, but I hadn’t checked in with her lately about our first performance next week and her battle against stage fright. I would have loved to ask her to take me shopping that afternoon. We would get a chance to talk one-on-one. I couldn’t suggest it, though, because Addison would get jealous and act pissed off.
With one more turn to the left, gazing at Addison’s back, I decided I was not going to let her petty jealousies control me. As I’d told her at majorette tryouts, I could have more than one friend. On the way out of band practice, I would ask Delilah to go shopping with me.
My girlfriend life was going to get as complicated as my boyfriend life.
So be it.
“None of that is going to fit you,” Delilah advised me as I pushed through the curtain, into the fitting room, with an armload of clothes.
I had my doubts too. When we’d first arrived, the sales chicks had gawked and squealed over me because I looked so different. They had always set aside cool pieces for me in bigger sizes, but this time they’d warned me these would be too big for me. They’d said the store was full of clothes that would fit me better.
Obediently I’d browsed the regular racks and found the coolest pink bowling shirt with the name GLADYS embroidered in cursive on the pocket—exactly the top I’d been hoping to find. Max would laugh out loud when he saw it. It looked tiny, though. I’d put it back.
But as I reached up to hang the clothes on the hook, I found the bowling shirt, like it was following me. There was also a top I hadn’t seen before: white, one-shouldered, printed with 1960s satellites, and sewn with sequins. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. I loved it. I would never have chosen it for myself because it looked too small. Also, my boobs were too big for a strapless bra to corral—at least, they had been.
“Did you pick out this bowling shirt and this one-shouldered white blouse?” I called over the wall to Delilah in the next fitting room. “Did you mean to put them in your pile?” This didn’t seem likely. Delilah was a flowery type, like the gorgeous trapeze dress I’d found for her. She was not a satellite type or a bowling shirt type.
“Of course I meant them for you,” came her voice through the wall. “They look just like you. Did you try them on? They’re my size, and I think we’re about the same.”
Considering her petite frame, I found this hard to believe. But out of curiosity, I slipped the one-shouldered top over my head. It was silky against my skin. And it fit. It pooled at my neckline, showing just a hint of cleavage. And then, of course, there were the satellites. If any shirt was going to catch Max’s attention, this would be it.
As I examined myself in the mirror and turned a little to let the sequins reflect the light, I felt a wave of déjà vu. I’d been in this dressing room a million times. I’d slipped into shirts and gazed at myself critically in the mirror. I’d gone for loud retro fashions because they told the world I wasn’t afraid to be noticed. I was big, I was comfortable with my body, and I did not care what people thought of me. That wasn’t true, of course—I wasn’t comfortable and I did care—but I didn’t want to admit it.