Authors: S. Walden
“Here’s what I’m thinking: You liked how you expressed yourself in the past, but somewhere along the way, for whatever reason, you suppressed it, and now you don’t know who you are.”
Regan gawked. “Did you study psychology in college?”
“Nope. I had a baby.”
Regan chuckled. “I hope I’m that insightful when I’m a mom.”
“What was the issue with the old Regan?” Mrs. Walters asked.
Regan scowled. “She was too loud.”
“I liked her loud. I liked when she wore those plastic, yellow star earrings,” Mrs. Walters said, pointing to a wall filled with colorful accessories. They hadn’t been touched in three years.
“Mom, you know why I changed,” Regan whispered. “It’s hard enough going through puberty. It’s doubly worse going through it alone.”
“You had your father and me. And Caroline.”
“Not the same thing.”
More silence, thick with private meditations. Mrs. Walters wanted so badly to pick apart her daughter’s brain, but she learned to ask only the right questions at the right time, to give only a bit of advice when she was certain advice was wanted. Even now, she knew she was about to push the boundary, but her words needed to be said.
“I really hate high school for you, Regan. Always have.”
“Was it hard for you?”
Mrs. Walters brightened. An invitation!
“Well, it was no
. I can tell you that,” she replied. “I dealt with the same cliques and social tiers as you do.”
“But you were popular,” Regan pointed out.
“But it was effortless for you.”
“You liked it,” Regan went on.
“I don’t like it.”
“Then why’d you let me do it?” Regan cried.
“Because it’s not my place to decide who you’ll be. You’ve gotta figure that out on your own.”
“God, you’re one of
parents,” Regan muttered.
“And proud of it,” Mrs. Walters replied.
Regan hopped into her walk-in closet and closed the door.
“Just stay right there, okay?” she called.
“Not going anywhere.”
Mrs. Walters waited patiently for her daughter to emerge. She suspected the fishnets would make an appearance, and Regan didn’t disappoint.
“Don’t say anything. Just take it in first, okay?” Regan asked, palms pressed against the door jamb.
Mrs. Walters nodded and narrowed her eyes. She scanned Regan from top to bottom, trying hard to suppress a sudden urge to cry. It seemed silly, but she saw a glimpse of her “loud” daughter—the one from long ago who was expressive, bright, and fun. Confident.
“I like the purple hair extension,” she said finally.
“In fifth grade, that outfit was radical,” Mrs. Walters went on.
“I know, right? Not so radical now,” Regan replied.
“Well, maybe not in other circles. But I suspect if you show up today in that, you’ll turn some heads. Have your friends asking what happened to you overnight,” Mrs. Walters said.
Regan nodded. “They’re, like, Ivy League.”
not Ivy League,” Mrs. Walters said, running her forefinger from the top of Regan’s head to her feet.
Regan chuckled and shook her head.
“And is that why you stopped dressing however you wanted?” Regan’s mom asked.
“You don’t get to make many choices for yourself when you’re running with the popular crowd.”
“Hmm,” Mrs. Walters said. “Makes you wonder if it’s worth it.”
Regan was quiet.
“What’s that thing in your ear?” Mrs. Walters asked.
Regan turned to give her mom a better look.
“Isn’t it awesome? It’s an ear crawler.” She strolled over to her mom, kneeled in front of her, and pulled her ear forward. “See? Goes in like a regular earring and attaches at the top.”
Mrs. Walters fingered the spikey rhinestones that climbed the outer edge of her daughter’s ear.
“Interesting. And you just wear it in the one ear?”
“You think I could rock that?”
Mrs. Walters laughed. “Stand back. Let me see something.”
Regan obeyed, moving her hands to her waist wrapped in a thin silver belt. Yeah, she belted her Jem T, and it did nothing but accentuate her already ample chest. It remained a mystery to Mrs. Walters how her twiggy daughter developed size DD breasts.
“Honey,” Mrs. Walters said tentatively. “Jem’s looking . . . oh, I don’t know. A little bloated, maybe?”
Regan looked down. “Huh?”
“Like maybe thirty pounds overweight.”
“What? Because of my boobs?”
Mrs. Walters nodded.
Regan immediately went on the defensive. “Mom! What do you want me to do about them? It’s not my fault!”
“Baby, I know it’s not your fault. I’m just saying that maybe you don’t need a belt. The belt just emphasizes them.”
“Are you for real right now?” Regan asked. “I totally have to have a belt!”
“But the boys, Regan . . .”
Regan waved her hand dismissively. “The boys don’t even look at me.”
Regan changed tactics. “Mom,” she pleaded sweetly, “it’s nothing without a belt. You know that. It’ll be a half outfit without the belt. You can’t let me go to school in a half outfit. That’s just asking for a bad day.”
Mrs. Walters sighed and nodded reluctantly. She continued her assessment, noting Regan’s completely unacceptable-for-school mini jean skirt. The purple fishnets helped, though. At least there were no bare legs to accentuate her hemline.
“Shoes?” her mother asked.
“I’ve got two options,” Regan said. “I could go casual with flip flops or make a bold statement with pumps.”
“Hmm,” Mrs. Walters replied, aware that pumps would only make the skirt look shorter.
“Honey, isn’t there a dress code at school?”
“How do you mean?”
“Length of things,” Mrs. Walters said, eyebrows raised.
“Uh, you could measure it in millimeters.”
“You’re not gonna let me wear it?”
“Just a second ago you wanted me to make every decision for your life,” Mrs. Walters pointed out.
“How about skinnies and pumps?” her mom offered.
“Do you have a longer skirt?”
Regan stared, confused.
“You realize the position you’re putting me in?”
Regan’s full lips curled into a grin. Oh, she knew all right. And she didn’t feel a tad bit guilty for placing her mother there.
“Regan,” Mrs. Walters said, the exasperation evident in her voice.
“I’m short. And I’ll wear flip flops,” Regan said. “See? Instantly makes anything I wear look longer.”
“Oh, it does, huh?” her mother asked, unconvinced.
“And I’ll still get a call from the office,” Mrs. Walters pointed out.
“Maybe. But, Mom, I mean, isn’t it worth it?”
Regan’s phone buzzed—the five minute warning she set every school day. Five minutes to brush her teeth. Five minutes to find her books. Five minutes to make a quick change if needed.
Don’t make me change, Mom
, she thought, eyes wide and pleading.
Mrs. Walters sighed. “Yeah. It’s worth it.”
Regan squealed and planted a quick kiss on her mother’s cheek. Mrs. Walters watched her rush out of the bedroom and listened as the front door slammed behind her.
She grinned. “Completely worth it.”
He stared. Hard. His brain yelled at him to turn away, but he couldn’t. He started at her feet, moving his eyes up her purple fishnets—cut off around her ankles—to the tiny skirt hugging her hips and ass. He didn’t understand the belt over the pink T-shirt thing, but whatever. He didn’t give a shit about the belt, anyway. The T-shirt was a completely different story, though. He loved that T-shirt—thought he could easily become obsessed with it—the way it stretched over her ample breasts. The most amazing rack he’d ever seen on a girl. Ever.
She pulled her stick-straight hair in a ponytail high atop her head—a few crinkled purple strands spilling out. He didn’t know what that was about, but he liked it. She looked like a punk rock chick, the way she dressed up her chocolate eyes with purple hues. They were so dark that they looked almost black—big, round cave pools. He thought if he got close to them, they wouldn’t reflect his image but show him, instead, the fantasy of what if. What if she let him hold her hand? Kiss her lips?
Pretty eyes. Pretty face. Full lips. Unfair lips, really. No teenage guy could look at those lips and not think the basest thoughts. It was impossible. Typically, he’d feel like a skeeze for ogling her like a piece of meat. After all, Regan usually stood on a pedestal, but today, with that outfit and that weird, badass earring thing curving up and around her ear, he couldn’t help forcing her into the dirtiest part of his mind, down on her knees, and coaxing her to do the most obscene things to him.
“You like that?”
He jerked his head in the direction of the voice.
“You like that, don’t you?” Brandon asked, draping his arm casually over Jeremy’s shoulder, like the two were best buds.
Jeremy tensed but didn’t pull away.
“Even if she does look ridiculous,” Brandon added.
Jeremy grew bold. “I think she looks cool.”
Brandon tightened his grip, threatening a full-on headlock.
“Oh, I know you do,” he growled. “You probably wish you could get a peek at what’s under that shirt.”
Jeremy said nothing.
“It’s a handful, man. A handful,” Brandon chuckled, lifting his palm. He popped the side of Jeremy’s face in fast succession—a mock friendly gesture—then leaned in. “Look all you want, Scarface,” he cooed in Jeremy’s ear, “as long as you don’t touch.”
He sauntered away in no particular hurry. Jeremy watched him sidle up to Regan and slip his slimy arm around her waist. She let him kiss her cheek, but when he tried for her mouth, she resisted. Ouch. Rejected hard.
Jeremy smirked and turned his head.
“What a fucking douchebag,” he snickered.
The episode provided him a measure of satisfaction, but he couldn’t help touching the scar, anyway. As always, even after years of the same insults, they hurt. They hurt less now, but they still hurt.
The humor in watching Brandon get rejected disappeared in an instant. Fantasies of payback took its place. Jeremy traced the line of the scar cradling his left eye—the reason for everything. The reason for his loneliness. The reason for years of bullying. The reason for his resolution. Brandon was Public Enemy No. 1. That asshole deserved a medal for staying in the number one spot all these years. And Jeremy intended to give him one.
He closed his locker and glanced over his shoulder. Regan was still there, chatting with her friend. He willed her to look his way—give him a full view of her face—but she turned her back on him instead and headed down the hall.
I can’t hate her for not liking me, you know? We like who we like. Some of us simply like the wrong ones—the ones who can’t show us love in return. I understand that. I’m not a fucking moron. I get it. But
guy? Seriously? That guy? If she knew all the shit he’s done to me, said to me. But she does! She’s seen it. She can’t pretend he’s not evil.
God, he’s like a caricature of the ‘bad guy.’ I mean, he’s the walking stereotype you see in a B-rated horror movie. No one’s that one-dimensional, are they? God’s gotta be better than that. He’s not wasting his time creating full-on asswipes without a shred of redemptive qualities. Why do that? What’s the point? Does he just like the idea of watching good versus evil play out on earth? His version of really bad reality TV? Is it to make me a better person? Fuck that. I don’t need an asshole beating the shit out of me to build my character. If that’s the case, then God’s an asshole, too, and I don’t need him either.
Regan flew into her room that afternoon and slammed the door. Too many thoughts raced through her mind, and she feared her fingers would lag behind. She grabbed her laptop off the nightstand and flipped it open. A little too fast. The screen remained black. One very inconvenient glitch.
“Oh, no you don’t,” she growled. “I don’t have time for your games today.”
She slapped the computer closed and counted to five. Then she opened it again. Slowly. Still nothing.
“I need a new computer!” she yelled, expecting no one would hear her through the closed door.
“Start saving!” came her mother’s faint reply.
Regan grunted and closed the laptop a second time. She stroked the slippery top, trying to coax the machine to life. Everything about the process was excruciating because she worried she’d forget a thought. And she had to remember all of them because it was the most bizarre, wonderful, confusing day she’d had in years.
She opened the laptop a third time. A picture of last year’s girls’ soccer team flashed onto the screen. Yes! She was front and center. No smile. Looking like a total badass.
She grinned from ear to ear, opened her journal, and began typing.
So. Much. Ish.
I don’t even know where to begin. First, I did it. I did it! I wore what I wanted, and I didn’t care at all what Brandon said. And trust me: he said A LOT. All damn day. But I didn’t care, and it felt sooo good to not care. I felt myself coming alive. How’s that for melodrama? But seriously. There I was: Regan. The real Regan. It was more than just an outfit, you know? It was a statement about me—who I really am. I felt alive and happy and confident. It was just the coolest feeling. It’s like the moment I clipped in that hair extension, all the broken wires in my brain repaired themselves, and I could see myself clearly. All I needed was the right connection.
Another high? Soccer practice. We scrimmaged today, and I’ve never played so well. Why couldn’t the scouts be there this afternoon? Why am I always better when there’s the least amount of pressure? I wish I could be that kid who performs her best under intense pressure. I mean, I don’t normally choke, but we all remember last year . . .
Which leads me to the third high. The inappropriate high. My heart nearly stopped when I saw him today. You know who I’m talking about. Jeremy Stahl. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that he emerged from the darkness of all those oversized, black clothes he wore last year, and I saw him today. Like, really saw him. Like he wasn’t afraid to be seen. I don’t get it. The kid used to skulk around all tucked into himself, and now he’s just out there. I’m talking a normal-sized T-shirt. I don’t think I’ve seen his arms since we started high school. Did they always look like that? And now his scar is pierced, too. He has this metal rod sticking through it. It’s totally badass. He’s this hot, muscly, pierced badass, and I have a boyfriend. So unfair.
I won’t lie. I watched him in secret all day. I made sure he didn’t see. I certainly don’t want him thinking I’m some obsessed psycho. Because, hello, I’m not! But what else am I supposed to do with his lip ring, huh? Yeah, that’s right. Scar piercing AND lip piercing. Can we talk about this silver lip ring for a moment? Hello, where did you come from and why do I wanna lick you so badly? Are you hearing this? I’m so fucking weird. I see this lip ring and my initial instinct is to run up to it and lick it. I wanna lick this guy’s lip ring. I can’t stop typing it—!
Her hands jerked at the sound of her phone. She didn’t want to talk to anyone but her laptop, and glanced at the screen: Casey.
She let it go to voicemail. Casey didn’t leave a message. She called again.
Regan froze on the bed. She thought Casey knew her well enough to suspect that she was right there beside her phone avoiding the call. Maybe if she lay perfectly still, she could trick her.
Voicemail. No message. A third call.
“Gahhhh!!!!” Regan punched the speaker phone button. “What?!” she barked. “I love you, but what?!”
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to write!”
“Write what? We don’t have a writing assignment.”
“Just stuff, Casey.
“Are you back to writing those cheesy poems?”
Regan went hot all over.
Casey sighed. “Regan, I thought we talked about this.”
“I’m not writing poetry!”
“That one about the rainstorm . . .”
“Hush!” Regan giggled.
“And the ticking clock in the middle of that mountain thing . . .”
Regan burst out laughing. Casey followed suit.
“It was a metaphor for being trapped!”
“It was something. That’s for sure,” Casey replied.
Regan guffawed, rolling onto her back and clutching her stomach. She couldn’t catch her breath. Casey laughed just as hard on the other end. Probably crying. Casey cried when she laughed hysterically.
Regan wasn’t sure how long they wasted minutes laughing over her poetry phase, but she was happy she answered the call. That journal entry was getting too intense, and she couldn’t be wholly sure she wouldn’t have gone straight into writing an explicit sex scene starring Jeremy as her gentle, misunderstood, first-time lover. How embarrassing.
“Okay, okay,” Casey breathed. “You good?”
“I . . . I think so,” Regan wheezed.
“Can you talk for a second?”
Regan took a deep breath. “Sure.” She flipped her laptop closed.
“So what did you think about today?” Casey asked.
“I thought it was all right,” Regan replied.
“You think Ms. Griffin is going to be as tough as she let on?” Casey asked.
“I think she’ll be worse, actually,” Regan said. “She’s young. She probably thinks she has something to prove. She’ll make our lives hell.”
“Probably,” Casey replied. “You think she’s pretty?”
“Yeah, me too,” Casey said thoughtfully, then sighed. “She’ll end up sleeping with a student.”
“What? You know it’s true. No one straight out of college goes for a high school teaching position unless she’s trawling for a lover.”
“Lover? Did you just say lover?”
“Lover. Boy toy. Whatever,” Casey clarified.
“Would you ever rat out a teacher who did that?” Regan asked.
“Eh. I don’t really care either way as long as nobody messes with my GPA.”
“I mean, I’ll tell Bitch to her face if I’ve gotta.”
“You’re going to Brown. Relax,” Regan said.
“Don’t jinx it! Jeez. I won’t know ’til December,” Casey barked.
Regan mumbled an apology. The girls fell silent.
“She may try to go after your man,” Casey teased. “You better watch your back. Just sayin’.”
Regan rolled her eyes. “She’s not a sex predator.”
“Yeah, well, time will tell,” Casey replied. “And speaking of time, did you forget it’s senior year?”
“Your outfit today. I thought I was back in seventh grade all over again, and nobody wants to be back in seventh grade.”
Regan bristled. “What’s the big deal?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Regan. You stopped wearing that stuff three years ago, and all of a sudden you show up today looking like a picture right out of our middle school yearbook.”
“That’s not a reply,” Casey said. “If you threw me for a loop, I know you definitely threw Brandon.”
“You don’t see other girls dressing like that at school?” Regan asked, on edge.
“No one who matters.”
Regan’s mouth dropped open.
“Check the arrogance, Casey,” she suggested coolly.
“And you check your fishnets,” Casey shot back.
Silence. Regan rolled onto her back and pulled her knees up. She traced the tiny diamonds of her tights while she simmered. She determined the conversation wouldn’t turn into a fight over clothes because that’s just stupid. And much too typical for teenage girls.
“Lauren tried to talk to me,” Casey said finally, changing topics.
“And were you polite?”
Regan sighed. “You’re the one with Ethan. Not her. Don’t you think it’s time to let it go?”
“She’s a sleazeball,” Casey huffed.
“Can girls be sleazeballs? I thought that was a guy label.”
“Fine. She’s a ho.”
“All right then.”
be her friend again.”
“I’m not saying you have to be her friend. I’m just saying you could be civil,” Regan explained.
Regan grew impatient. “Oh, I don’t know, Casey. Because we’re humans, and we’re trying to live in a society over here.”
“Society’s overrated,” Casey replied.
Regan drew in her breath. “Casey, you’re not a communist just because you contribute to society. Or consider it every now and then. Or try to be, you know, a good person to others.”
“That’s exactly what that shit means,” Casey countered.
“Oh, my God. What has ninth grade history done to you?”
“She tried to steal my boyfriend!!”
“True, but he wasn’t entirely innocent in the situation.”
Shit. Shit shit shit.
Why did she say that?
Filter, Regan. For Christ’s sake! Put your filter on!
“Casey?” she asked tentatively.
“I’m sorry I said that.”
“I know. And you’re right. Which just proves what an amazing person I really am—that I could forgive him the way I did.”
Regan rolled her eyes. The girl was deluded. And typical. So Casey could forgive her boyfriend for cheating on her but not her close friend who participated in the act? This was definitely a girl thing—a double standard of sorts—because secretly all girls hated each other. They could easily forgive boys’ transgressions, but each other’s? Oh, no. No no no. The grudges sealed themselves in cement hearts.
Regan considered her best friend. Casey was cute. She was a stellar student, driven to succeed. She said she was going to be a lawyer, and Regan knew she’d not only make it through law school but graduate top of her class. She had a slew of attractive qualities, yet she was majorly insecure. And willing to overlook her boyfriend’s infidelity just to keep him. Was this the price one paid to stay popular? Was Casey so afraid of going back to dork status that she was willing to compromise her standards? Did she even have any standards? Regan recalled a conversation they had three years ago where they both promised to never let a guy treat them like dirt. Ethan cheated and would have continued to cheat had he not gotten caught.
Regan shook her head. “Sorry. Thinking.”
“How amazing you are,” Regan replied.
Regan glimpsed a photo on her nightstand and smiled. “Hey, remember when we had our moms sew those matching outfits for us? Now
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Casey groaned. “And get rid of that picture already!”
“Are you insane? I will never get rid of it,” she replied, fingering the worn frame, and then added softly, “We were the coolest.”
“No, we weren’t,” Casey countered. “And I’m so glad I’m not that girl anymore.”
Regan shrugged. “I don’t know. I liked her.”
Casey was quiet.
“Remember our club?” Regan asked.
The picture instantly transported her to seventh grade, and suddenly she craved the memories.
“Remember? You had to be a straight A student?”
“You and Chelsea wanted to be president. You actually went to the office to fight it out over your GPAs. We didn’t even have GPAs in middle school.” Regan laughed. “I still don’t understand how you two—”