4. Change
Sara was quiet when we drove away from school. I knew she was
thinking, and hoped that it had nothing to do with me. Of course it
“There’s a way around it, you know.”
I sighed, afraid to encourage this train of thought.
“You don’t have to cut yourself off from everyone to get through high
school,” she continued. “We just have to anticipate the questions and
have answers ready. There are so many guys who would love to ask
you out, but have no idea how to approach you. Em, we can figure this
“Sara, you’re not making any sense. Besides the obvious - I can’t go
“What’s the obvious?”
“Honestly, who do you know who’s interested in me? Be specific.”
“Evan already told you he found you interesting,” she said with a grin.
“Let’s start with him.”
“Let’s not,” I groaned.
“Oh! Did you hear that Haley Spencer asked him to homecoming?” she
“Of course I didn’t. You’re my source of gossip, remember?”
Something in my chest twisted. “Isn’t homecoming a month away and
she’s a senior – what’s that about?”
Sara examined me with narrowed eyes. “Honestly? It’s only three
weeks away. Anyway, I heard he turned her down. I told you the senior
girls were looking at him too. But Emma, he’s into you.”
“Sara, let’s put this into perspective,” I corrected. “I amuse him. He
thinks I’m interesting. He didn’t ask me on a date. He just probably
thinks I’m a freak or something.”
“Wel, you are,” Sara said with a playful smile. “Who else can live with
pure evil while stil maintaining a 4.0, play three varsity sports, be in
what seems like every club and, to top it al off, be scouted by four
coleges. That is pretty freakish.”
Before I could respond, she continued, “Okay, let’s just say we don’t
know his motives. He already knows you’re a private person. It sounds
like you made that perfectly clear. Why can’t you give him what he
wants and just talk to him? He’s either genuinely interested and will
ask you out, and we’l deal with that when it happens. Or he ends up
becoming a friend, which isn’t a bad thing. You have nothing to lose.
Come on, the worst thing to happen is he loses interest, and
everything’s back to the way it was before he moved here.”
She was so compeling. Besides, talking to him could get him to leave
me alone, especialy once he realizes there’s not much to know – which
wil be the best thing that could happen, not the worst.
“Fine, I’l talk to him. So what’s the story? And I don’t want to lie.” I
figured she’d already concocted something during her silence.
“No lying, sort of. You just leave most of it out, so it’s omission,” she
said smugly, confirming my suspicion. “You tel him you were adopted
by your aunt and uncle after your father died and your mother became
il. That’s pretty accurate. You can tel him anything you want about
Leyla and Jack since that won’t affect anything. Explain that your aunt
and uncle are very busy with work and the kids, and that wil hopefuly
be reason enough why they don’t go to your games.
“He’s definitely going to want to know why I’m your only friend and
why you don’t talk to anyone.”
“He’s already asked that,” I admitted. “I didn’t answer him.”
“Wel, tel him you and I became friends when you first moved here.
That’s true.” She hesitated for a moment to think about the second
part of the question. “Say that you’re the first in your family to go to
colege – which is technicaly true - and that you have a lot of pressure
on you to get a scholarship.”
“That’s not bad, but why don’t I have more friends?” I chalenged.
“How about, your aunt and uncle are very overprotective, and have no
idea how to raise a teenager so they tend to be strict. Then you can admit
that because you’re so involved in school activities and sports, and
with the early curfew, you don’t get to go out much. That should work.
“Besides, that’l be like one conversation, and then you can talk about
anything else. Almost al truthfuly – you know, music, sports, colege.
You may have a hard time with pop culture though, but I can bring
you magazines so you can catch up during the rides to school if you
I laughed. “Why is this so important to you?”
“I don’t know,” she paused, considering the answer. “These past two
days, I’ve seen a fire in your eyes that I never have before. Granted, it’s
mostly anger and frustration, but it’s stil emotion. You keep everything
locked up so tight - I’m afraid someday you’re going to explode.
“This guy’s found a way to get to you unlike anyone else. You’re different,
and I like it. I don’t like seeing you upset, but I like seeing you
feeling something. I know you put your guard down a little with me,
but you refuse to show me the hard stuff. You never get angry or
scared, or let me know when you’re hurt. You don’t want me to see you
that way, but I know you have to feel it, especialy with everything
Carol puts you through.
“In the past two days, you’ve been angry, frustrated and humiliated. I
was actualy relieved that it didn’t turn you into dust or a mass murderer.
So if it takes this guy to annoy you to let some of it out, then I want
you to keep talking to him. Sound crazy?”
“It does actualy,” I said. She scowled, not pleased with my honesty.
“But I understand what you’re saying.”
After we puled into her driveway, she shut off the car and turned toward
“What if I like him – that would be horrible. You’re the only one who
knows my secrets and I can’t risk letting anyone else in right now. Not
while I’m stil living with them. It’s too complicated.”
I took a deep breath before continuing, “But I’l try to talk to him.”
This caused a smile to spread on Sara’s face.
“Besides, he’l probably continue to frustrate me, and I’l end up
strangling him. If I murder him, you’re my accomplice for encouraging
“Do you promise to tel me everything?” Sara asked, glowing.
“Of course!” I replied with a grin as I roled my eyes. “If I don’t tel you,
then it’s like it never happened. And besides, who’s going to help me
bury his body when I bludgeon him for patronizing me?”
She laughed and hugged me again. Feeling my body tense, she puled
back. “Sorry.”
I folowed Sara into her enormous house. Her family lived in a newer
home compared to the historic Colonials and Victorians in the center
of town. The development used to be farmland at one point, and was
now broken up into expansive lots to showcase huge homes.
I could never get used to Sara’s set up as we neared the top of the
stairs. Sara was an only child, so she had a lot of room to herself in the
three story house - actualy, she had the entire third floor. The bathroom
was larger than my entire bedroom, with its granite double
sinks, Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. To the right of the landing, it
opened into a game room with white wals leading up to the cathedral
ceilings, accented by a hot pink racing stripe around the perimeter,
and black electric guitars mounted on the wals.
There was a plush white couch with a matching recliner and love seat
in front of a home theatre system that included a giant flatscreen
mounted to the wal on the far side of the room. It was hooked up to
several gaming systems that were set on a console beneath it.
Behind the couch was a reading area with built-in bookshelves that extended
to the ceiling, with a sliding ladder attached to reach the higher
shelves. Oversized pilows lined the floor beneath the bookcases, creating
the perfect place to get lost in the pages. In the corner, opposite of
the library, were air hockey and foosbal tables. Sara touched the
screen of the built in music dock on one of the wals, releasing an Indie
artist declaring what she expected from a guy. The rhythmic guitar
strums filed the entire floor through the inset speakers in the ceiling. I
folowed Sara into her bedroom on the other side of the stairs.
“Are you ready to be pampered?” Sara asked, jumping onto one of her
two queen-sized beds adorned with pink and orange pilows.
“Sure,” I answered, hesitantly walking past the door that opened into
her office with its wals covered with pictures of friends, record covers
and celebrities torn from magazines with a clean glass desktop displaying
Sara’s Mac and printer, furnished with a bright pink chair. The
room was smal, but stil large enough to squeeze in a ful-sized, black
vinyl couch. I sat down on the identical bed next to Sara’s.
“I have the perfect sweater for you to wear with the best pair of jeans,”
she declared, bouncing off the other side of the bed and entering her
walk-in closet.
This room - and I say room, not closet - was as large as my bedroom
with two long wals lined with shelves and bars storing folded and hung
clothes. At the end of the closet were racks of shoes in every color and
style. Visiting Sara was like taking a break from reality – everyone’s
“Sara, you’re five ten – there’s no way I’m going to fit into your jeans,”
I argued.
“You’re not that much shorter than me,” she retorted.
“You have a good three inches on me. Besides, I brought a pair of
She paused, trying to decide if my jeans were acceptable.
“Okay. You can take a shower up here, and I’l use my parents’ bathroom,”
she instructed handing me a scooped neck white shirt, paired
with a light pink cashmere sweater with a square neckline.
“Two shirts?” I inquired.
“Wel, it’s supposed to be cold tonight and you can’t wear a jacket that
wil hide the sweater, so… layers,” she explained simply. I raised my
eyebrows and slowly nodded my head. It was obvious that she was loving
this, and my lack of fashion savvy was not going to keep her from
treating me like a life-sized Barbie dol. I couldn’t imagine what else
she had in store, or maybe I didn’t want to.
“Listen,” she said, trying to put me at ease. “I know you never make a
big deal over clothes or any of that, but it’s because you can’t, not because
you don’t want to. I know they don’t let you shop, so let me do
this for one night, okay?”
Of course she knew that I appreciated the latest trends, as we often
flipped through the fashion magazines together during lunch. But I
was only alowed to go shopping twice a year – at the beginning of the
school year and again in the spring. I had to get the most out of my biannual
clothing stipends and buy items that could easily mix and
match, so it wasn’t obvious when I rotated them every few weeks. This
practicality didn’t alow me to shop in the trendy stores in the mal or
the boutiques in the city like most of my classmates. It meant going to
the discount chains in the plazas. I never let it mean that much to me -
it wasn’t worth it. However, to have access to Sara McKinley’s wardrobe
for one night would be any girl’s dream, so I wasn’t about to refuse
it. I knew she had clothes in that closet that stil had tags on them.
I took the tops, grabbed my tote and headed to the bathroom. Sara ran
out of her room before I closed the door.
“Oh, I have this lotion I bought last week that I think you’d like. I was
going to save it for a Christmas gift, but you should use it tonight,” she
offered, handing me a bottle of lotion with pink flowers drawn on the
“Thanks,” I said, taking the bottle before I closed the door. It was great
to take a long, hot shower without fear of the knock on the door, signaling
the end of my alotted five minutes. It gave me time to think
about the past couple of days and how different today felt. I was actualy
looking forward to the game, despite how awkward it was going
to be. If I could get through the game, then I should be able to get
through the party. I shut off the water with a new conviction – how
long it would last was another story. I flipped the top of the bottle and
took in the soft floral scent. After dressing, I opened the door to find
Sara on the stairs, with a towel wrapped around her head. She wore a
flattering light blue angora sweater. Sara had no problem with tops
that hugged her modelesque body. Sara looked amazing, even with the
towel on her head. Conversely, I tugged and puled at the pink sweater
that felt like a second layer of skin, despite the layer beneath.
“Oh. That sweater looks great. You should wear more clothes that fit
you like that instead of hiding your figure.” I dismissed her with a
shrug. She smiled before asking, “Are you ready for the next step?”
We were interrupted when her mom caled up that the pizza was here.
“We’l eat and then finish getting ready,” Sara decided, and turned to
descend the stairs.
“I heard you scored three goals yesterday,” Anna said from the refrigerator
where she was pouring us glasses of diet soda. “Sara also told
me about the scouts. You must be so excited, Emma.”
“I am,” I replied with a smal smile. I was horrible at carrying on a conversation
with my peers, forget about trying to say something worthwhile
to an adult. The only adults I spoke to on a regular basis were
my teachers, my coach, and my aunt and uncle. I only discussed my
assignments with my teachers; coach was al about soccer - so that was
easy. George hardly said a word, or maybe he couldn’t get a word in
over Carol’s rambling about how difficult it was to be her. Then of
course the interactions I had with Carol were one-sided, usualy reprimands
about how useless and pathetic I was. So I didn’t have a lot of
practice. Anna recognized my conversational ineptitude, so she didn’t
“Congratulations,” she added walking towards the stairs. She paused
to tel Sara, “I’m going upstairs to change for dinner. Your dad and I
are going out to eat with the Richardson’s and we’ve invited the
Mathews to come along since they’re new in town.”
“Okay, mom,” Sara said only half listening. My heart stopped when
she said their name.
“Your parents are going to dinner with Evan’s parents?” I whispered in
Sara shrugged, “My parents have to know everyone in town. You
know, they’re like Weslyn’s unofficial welcoming committee. My father
is the ultimate politician.”
Then she added with a grin, “Do you want me to get some dirt on Evan
and his family for you?”
“Sara!” I exclaimed in shock. “Of course not. I’m realy not that interested
in him. I’m just going to talk to him so he’l leave me alone.”
“Sure,” she said with a knowing smile. I tried to ignore her and took a
bite of the pizza slice.
“What’s next?” I asked, needing to not talk about Evan any more.
“I was hoping you’d let me cut your hair,” she said with a cautious
smile. My hair was al one length, hanging past the middle of my back.
There was no way I could get it cut every eight weeks or whatever was
needed to maintain a style, so I kept it simple and trimmed it myself a
few times a year. I usualy wore it up out of my face in a clip or ponytail
– again, simple.
“What do you want to do?”
“Nothing crazy,” she reassured me. “Just shorten it.”
“Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”
“Realy?! This is going to be so great!” she exclaimed, practicaly jumping
off the stool and dragging me back up the stairs. She opened the
middle drawer of her vanity that displayed every shade of lipstick and
nail polish on the market, and took out a comb and pair of professional
shears. She invited me to sit as she laid a towel on the floor to capture
the clippings, and attaching another around my shoulders. “No
one’s going to recognize you tonight.”
That wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Sara drew the comb through my hair and clipped portions of it up. I
felt the weight begin to fal and decided it was best to keep my eyes
shut and let her concentrate – or to keep me from panicking as more
hair fel to the floor. Sara sung along with the music as she combed,
clipped, and cut. Before I knew it, she plugged in the hair dryer and
ran it over a round brush as she styled my hair.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Sara instructed as she spread eye shadow
along my lids with her cool fingers.
“Sara, please don’t make me look ridiculous,” I pleaded.
“I’m barely putting any on. I promise.” The bristles of a brush streaked
across my cheeks. “What do you think? Em, open your eyes!” she demanded
I slowly opened my eyes to view the transformation. My dark brown
hair gently rested on my shoulders, and layers of bangs softened my
heart shaped face. I found myself smiling.
“I like it,” I admitted. She hadn’t put much make-up on, to my relief -
just a slight shimmer on my lids and hint of pink to my cheeks, which
wouldn’t be needed if I was anywhere near Evan.
“Here,” Sara said handing me a tube of lip gloss and mascara.
“I thought it would be easier if you put these on yourself. I’m going to
get ready in the bathroom, I’l be right back.”
While Sara was drying and styling her hair, I sat on one of the beds
and flipped through the latest women’s magazine with articles on how
to be more aggressive and the fastest way to lose ten pounds. When
she glided back into the room, she radiated with loose curls of shiny
red hair and just enough makeup to show off her blue eyes and pouty
red lips. It deflated me a little.
“What’s wrong?” Sara asked, reacting to my sunken shoulders.
“Are you sure you want me to go with you? I don’t want it to be awkward
for you having me tagging along when I know everyone wil want
to talk to you.”
She scowled and threw a pilow at me. “Shut up. Of course I want you
to go with me. Why should this be any different than any other day? If
people talk to me, and I want to talk to them, I wil. It’s never bothered
you before.”
I looked at the floor, recognizing my nerves were getting the better of
me – and it realy had nothing to do with Sara’s popularity.
“You’re right. Sorry, I’m just getting a little paranoid about going.”
“We’l have fun, I promise.” Sara flashed the whites of her teeth from
between her shiny red lips. She went back into her closet and threw
something out in my direction. “This white scarf goes perfectly with
that sweater, and it wil keep you warm, so you won’t miss not having a
“Thanks.” I grabbed the fuzzy scarf and wrapped it around my neck as
I stood in front of the mirror. Sara was right - I did look different.
“This is going to be the best night,” Sara reassured me when we got into
her car to drive to the school. She was so excited she could barely
contain her energy, which made me smile. I made an effort to let go of
the anxiety that’d been building. I could do this. I could be social.
Okay, let’s not go that far. I would not be completely pathetic – that
sounded better. Who was I kidding?
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