A princess on Another Planet

НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
Дата публикации28.06.2013
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Double Jeopardy
"I don't know how I'm going to get through this year," Maggie says. She takes out a pack of cigarettes, which she stole from her mother, and lights up.

"Uh-huh," I say, distracted. I'm still shocked The Mouse is having sex. What if everyone is having sex?

Crap. I absentmindedly pick up a copy of The Nutmeg. The headline screams: YOGURT SERVED IN CAFETERIA. I roll my eyes and shove it aside. With the exception of the handful of kids who actually work on The Nutmeg, no one reads it. But someone left it on the old picnic table inside the ancient dairy barn that sits just outside school property. The table's been here forever, scratched with the initials of lovers, the years of graduating classes, and general sentiments toward Castlebury High, such as "Castlebury sucks." The teachers never come out here, so it's also the unofficial smoking area.

"At least we get yogurt this year," I say, for no particular reason. What if I never have sex? What if I die in a car accident before I have the chance to do it?

"What's that supposed to mean?" Maggie asks.

Uh-oh. Up next: the dreaded body discussion. Maggie will say she thinks she's fat, and I'll say I think I look like a boy. Maggie will say she wishes she looked like me and I'll say I wish I looked like her. And it won't make a bit of difference, because two minutes later, we'll both be sitting here in our same bodies, except we'll have managed to make ourselves feel bad over something we can't change.

Like not getting into the damn New School.

What if some guy wants to have sex with me and I'm too scared to go through with it?

Sure enough, Maggie says, "Do I look fat? I do look fat, don't I? I feel fat."

"Maggie. You're not fat." Guys have been drooling over Maggie since she was thirteen, a fact that she seems determined to ignore.

I look away. Behind her, in the dark recesses at the far end of the barn, the glowing tip of a cigarette moves up and down. "Someone's in here," I hiss.

"Who?" She spins around as Peter Arnold comes out of the shadows.

Peter is the second-smartest boy in our class and kind of a jerk. He used to be a chubby-faced short kid with pasty skin, but it appears something happened to Peter over the summer. He grew.

And apparently took up smoking.

Peter is good friends with The Mouse, but I don't really know him. When it comes to relationships, we're all like little planets with our own solar system of friends. Unwritten law states that the solar systems rarely intersect--until now.

"Mind if I join you?" he asks.

"Actually, we do. We're having girl talk here." I don't know why I'm like this with boys, especially boys like Peter. Bad habit, I guess. Worse than smoking. But I don't want boring old Peter to ruin our conversation.

"No. We don't mind." Maggie kicks me under the table.

"By the way, I don't think you're fat," Peter says.

I smirk, trying to catch Maggie's eye, but she's not looking at me. She's looking at Peter. So I look at Peter too. His hair is longer and he's shed most of his zits, but there's something else about him.


Jeez. First The Mouse and now Peter. Is everyone going to be different this year?

Maggie and Peter keep ignoring me, so I pick up the paper and pretend to read. This gets Peter's attention.

"What do you think of The Nutmeg?" he asks.

"Drivel," I say.

"Thanks," he says. "I'm the editor."

Nice. Now I've done it again.

"If you're so smart, why don't you try writing for the paper?" Peter asks. "I mean, don't you tell everyone you want to be a writer? What have you ever written?"

Maybe he doesn't mean to sound aggressive, but the question catches me off guard. Does Peter somehow know about the rejection letter from The New School? But that would be impossible. Then I get angry. "What does it matter, what I've written or not?"

"If you say you're a writer, it means you write," Peter says smugly. "Otherwise you should go and be a cheerleader or something."

"And you should stick your head in a barrel of boiling oil."

"Maybe I will." He laughs good-naturedly. Peter must be one of those obnoxious types who's so used to being insulted he's not even offended when he is.

But still, I'm shaken. I grab my swim bag. "I've got practice," I say, as if I can hardly be bothered with this conversation.

"What's the matter with her?" Peter asks as I storm out.

I head down the hill toward the gym, scuffing the heels of my boots in the grass. Why is it always like this? I tell people I want to be a writer, and they roll their eyes. It drives me crazy. Especially since I've been writing since I was six. I have a pretty big imagination, and for a while I wrote stories about a pencil family called "The Number 2's," who were always trying to get away from a bad guy called "The Sharpener." Then I wrote about a little girl who had a mysterious disease that made her look like she was ninety. And this summer, in order to get into that stupid writing program, I wrote a whole book about a boy who turned into a TV, and no one in his family noticed until he used up all the electricity in the house.

If I'd told Peter the truth about what I'd written, he would have laughed. Just like those people at The New School.

"Carrie!" Maggie calls out. She hurries across the playing fields to catch up. "Sorry about Peter. He says he was joking about the writing thing. He has a weird sense of humor."

"No kidding."

"Do you want to go to the mall after swim practice?"

I look across the grounds to the high school and the enormous parking lot beyond. It's all exactly the same as it always was.

"Why not?" I take the letter out of my biology book, crumple it up, and stick it in my pocket.

Who cares about Peter Arnold? Who cares about The New School? Someday I'll be a writer. Someday, but maybe not today.

"I am so effing sick of this place," Lali says, dropping her things onto a bench in the locker room.

"You and me both." I unzip my boots. "First day of swim practice. I hate it."

I pull one of my old Speedos out of my bag and hang it in the locker. I've been swimming since before I could walk. My favorite photo is of me at five months, sitting on a little yellow float in Long Island Sound. I'm wearing a cute white hat and a polka-dot suit, and I'm beaming.

"You'll be fine," Lali says. "I'm the one with the problems."

"Like what?"

"Like Ed," she says with a grimace, referring to her father.

I nod. Sometimes Ed is more like a kid than a dad, even though he's a cop. Actually, he's more than a cop, he's a detective--the only one in town. Lali and I always laugh about it because we can't figure out exactly what he detects, as there's never been a serious crime in Castlebury.

"He stopped by the school," Lali says, stripping off her clothes. "We had a fight."

"What's wrong now?" The Kandesies fight like Mongolians, but they always make up, cracking jokes and doing outrageous things, like waterskiing in their bare feet. For a while, they kind of took me in, and sometimes I'd wish I'd been born a Kandesie instead of a Bradshaw, because then I'd be laughing all the time and listening to rock 'n' roll music and playing family baseball on summer evenings. My father would die if he knew, but there it is.

"Ed won't pay for college." Lali faces me, naked, her hands on her hips.


"He won't pay," she repeats. "He told me today. He never went to college and he's just fine," she says mockingly. "I have two choices. I can go to military school or I can get a job. He doesn't give jack shit about what I want."

"Oh, Lali." I stare at her in shock. How can this be? There are five kids in Lali's family, so money has always been tight. But Lali and I assumed she'd go to college--we'd both go, and then we'd do something big with our lives. In the dark, tucked into a sleeping bag on the floor next to Lali's bunk bed, we'd share our secrets in excited whispers. I was going to be a writer and Lali was going to win the gold medal in freestyle. But now I've been rejected from The New School. And Lali can't even go to college.

"I guess I'm going to be stuck in Castlebury forever," Lali says furiously. "Maybe I can work at Ann Taylor and earn five dollars an hour. Or maybe I could get a job at the supermarket. Or"--she smacks her hand on her forehead--"I could work at the bank. But I think you need a college degree to be a teller."

"It's not going to be like that," I insist. "Something will happen--"


"You'll get a swimming scholarship--"

"Swimming is not a profession."

"You could still go to military school. Your brothers--"

"Are both in military school and they hate it," Lali snaps.

"You can't let Ed ruin your life," I say with bravado. "Find something you want to do and just do it. If you really want something, Ed can't stop you."

"Right," Lali says sarcastically. "Now all I need to do is figure out what that 'something' is." She holds out her suit, sliding her legs through the openings. "I'm not like you, okay? I don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I mean, why should I? I'm only seventeen. All I know is that I don't want someone telling me what I can't do."

She turns and makes a grab for her swim cap, accidentally knocking my clothes to the floor. I bend over to pick them up, and as I do, I see that the letter from The New School has slid out of my pocket, coming to rest next to Lali's foot. "I'll get that," I say, making a grab for it, but she's too fast.

"What's this?" she asks, holding up the crumpled piece of paper.

"Nothing," I say helplessly.

"Nothing?" Her eyes widen as she looks at the return address. "Nothing?" she repeats as she smoothes out the letter.

"Lali, please."

Her eyes move back and forth, scanning the brief missive.

Crap. I knew I should have left the letter at home. I should have torn it up into little pieces and thrown it away. Or burned it, although it's not that easy to burn a letter, no matter how dramatic it sounds in books. Instead, I keep carrying it around, hoping it will act as some kind of perverse incentive to try harder.

Now I'm paralyzed by what must be my own stupidity.

"Lali, don't," I whisper.

"Just a minute," she says, reading the text one more time. She looks up, shakes her head, and presses her lips together in sympathy. "Carrie. I'm sorry."

"So am I." I shrug, trying to make light of it. My insides feel like they're filled with broken glass.

"I mean it." She folds the letter and hands it back to me, busying herself with her swim goggles. "Here I am, complaining about Ed. And you're being rejected by The New School. That's got to suck."

"Sort of."

"Looks like we're both going to be hanging around here for a while," she says, putting her arm around my shoulder. "Even if you do go to Brown, it's only forty-five minutes away. We'll still see each other all the time."

She pulls open the door to the pool, enveloping us in a chemical steam of chlorine and cleaning fluid. I consider asking her not to tell anyone about the rejection. But that will only make it worse. If I act like it's not a big deal, Lali will forget about it.

Sure enough, she flings her towel into the bleachers and runs across the tiles. "Last one in is a rotten egg," she shouts, doing a cannonball into the water.

The Big Love
I return home to bedlam.

A puny kid with a punk haircut is running across the yard, followed by my father, who is followed by my sister Dorrit, who is followed by my other sister Missy. "Don't ever let me catch you on this property again!" my father shouts as the kid, Paulie Martin, manages to jump on his bike and pedal away.

"What the hell?" I ask Missy.

"Poor Dad."

"Poor Dorrit," I say, shifting my books. As if in mockery of my situation, the letter from The New School falls out of my notebook. Enough. I pick it up, march into the garage, and throw it away.

I immediately feel lost without it and fish it out of the trash.

"Did you see that?" my father says proudly. "I just ran that little thug off the property." He points to Dorrit. "You--get back in the house. And don't even think about calling him."

"Paulie's not that bad, Dad. He's only a kid," I say.

"He's a little S-H-I-T," says my father, who prides himself on rarely swearing. "He's a hoodlum. Did you know he was arrested for buying beer?"

"Paulie Martin bought beer?"

"It was in the paper," my father exclaims. "The Castlebury Citizen. And now he's trying to corrupt Dorrit."

Missy and I exchange a look. Knowing Dorrit, the opposite is true.

Dorrit used to be the sweetest little kid. She would go along with anything Missy and I told her to do, including crazy stuff like pretending she and our cat were twins. She was always making things for people--cards and little scrapbooks and crocheted pot holders--and last year, she decided she wanted to be a vet and spent practically all her time after school holding sick animals while they got their shots.

But now she's nearly thirteen, and lately, she's become a real problem child, crying and having temper tantrums and yelling at me and Missy. My father keeps insisting she's in a stage and will grow out of it, but Missy and I aren't so sure. My father is this very big scientist who came up with a formula for some new kind of metal used in the Apollo space rockets, and Missy and I always joke that if people were theories instead of actual human beings, Dad would know everything about us.

But Dorrit isn't a theory. And lately, Missy and I have found little things missing from our rooms--an earring here or a tube of lip gloss there--the kinds of things you might easily lose or misplace on your own. Missy was going to confront her, but then we found most of our things stuffed behind the cushions in the couch. Nevertheless, Missy is still convinced that Dorrit is on the path to becoming a little criminal, while I'm worried about her anger. Missy and I were both brats at thirteen, but neither one of us can remember being so pissed off all the time.

True to form, in a couple of minutes Dorrit appears in the doorway of my room, aching for a fight.

"What was Paulie Martin doing here?" I ask. "You know Dad thinks you're too young to date."

"I'm in eighth grade," Dorrit says stubbornly.

"That's not even high school. You have years to have boyfriends."

"Everyone else has a boyfriend." She picks a flake of polish from her nail. "Why shouldn't I?"

This is why I hope never to become a mother. "Just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn't mean you should too. Remember," I add, imitating my father, "we're Bradshaws. We don't have to be like everyone else."

"Maybe I'm sick of being a stupid old Bradshaw. What is so great about being a Bradshaw anyway? If I want to have a boyfriend, I'll have a boyfriend. You and Missy are just jealous because you don't have boyfriends." She glares at me, runs to her room, and slams the door.

I find my father in the den, sipping a gin and tonic and staring at the TV. "What am I supposed to do?" he asks helplessly. "Ground her? When I was a boy, girls didn't act like this."

"That was thirty years ago, Dad."

"Doesn't matter," he says, pressing on his temples. "Love is a holy cause." Once he goes off on one of these spiels, it's hopeless. "Love is spiritual. It's about self-sacrifice and commitment. And discipline. You cannot have true love without discipline. And respect. When you lose the respect of your spouse, you've lost everything." He pauses. "Does this make any sense to you?"

"Sure, Dad," I say, not wanting to hurt his feelings.

A couple of years ago, after my mother died, my sisters and I tried to encourage my father to find someone else, but he refused to entertain the idea. He wouldn't even go on a date. He said he'd already had the one big love of his life, and anything less would feel like a sham. He felt blessed, he said, to have had that kind of love once in his life, even if it didn't last forever.

You wouldn't think a hard-boiled scientist like my father would be such a romantic, but he is.

It worries me sometimes. Not for my father's sake, but for my own.

I head up to my room, sit down in front of my mother's old Royale typewriter, and slide in a piece of paper. The Big Love, I write, then add a question mark.

Now what?

I open the drawer and take out a story I wrote a few years ago, when I was thirteen. It was a stupid story about a girl who rescues a sick boy by donating her kidney to him. Before he got sick, he never noticed her, even though she was pining away for him, but after she gives him her kidney, he falls madly in love with her.

It's a story I would never show anyone, because it's too sappy, but I've never been able to throw it away. It scares me. It makes me worry that I'm secretly a romantic too, just like my father.

And romantics get burned.

Whoa. Where's the fire?

Jen P was right. You can fall in love with a guy you don't know.

That summer when I was thirteen, Maggie and I used to hang out at Castlebury Falls. There was a rock cliff where the boys would dive into a deep pool, and sometimes Sebastian was there, showing off, while Maggie and I sat on the other side of the river.

"Go on," Maggie would urge. "You're a better diver than those boys." I'd shake my head, my arms wrapped protectively around my knees. I was too shy. The thought of being seen was terrifying.

I didn't mind watching, though. I couldn't take my eyes off Sebastian as he scrambled up the side of the rock, sleek and sure-footed. At the top, there was horseplay between the boys, as they jostled one another and hooted dares, demanding increasing feats of skill. Sebastian was always the bravest, climbing higher than the other boys and launching himself into the water with a fearlessness that told me he had never thought about death.

He was free.

He's the one. The Big Love.

And then I forgot about him.

Until now.

I find the soiled rejection letter from The New School and put it in the drawer with the story about the girl who gave away her kidney. I rest my chin in my hands and stare at the typewriter.

Something good has to happen to me this year. It just does.
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