Authors: Jennifer Weiner
“I am never going to meet the right guy.” Jo hoped she didn’t look the way she felt, which was like she’d been punched. She knew what she was. She’d gone out with enough boys to know that their kisses, their bodies, their stubble and their smells, did not arouse her. She’d also taken
The Well of Loneliness
out of the library and she’d ridden the bus all the way to Birmingham to buy
Odd Girl Out
from a spinning wire rack of pulp titles in a drugstore. The book’s cover depicted a dark-haired, violet-eyed, crimson-lipped woman giving a hungry look to a pretty blond co-ed.
Suddenly they were alone on an island of forbidden bliss
, the cover read, as if there was any doubt about the plot. In the drugstore, Jo had buried the book in a pile of things she didn’t need—mouthwash, a bar of Ivory soap, a box of Tampax. Still, she imagined she felt the woman behind the counter smirking as she rang her up. She’d barely made it home before devouring the tale of innocent Laura, who fell for her beautiful roommate Beth. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears and she’d felt a heavy, insistent throbbing between her legs as she read the author’s description of the girls’ first time:
Laura’s hands descended to their enthralling task again, caressing the flawless hollows, the sweet shoulders. She was lost to reason now.
That was how Jo felt around Lynnette.
Lost to reason.
The novels had been a solace, a confirmation of what she was, and that there were other women like her. She was a lesbian, she loved Lynnette and wanted to find a way to be with her forever . . . only, to Lynnie, Jo was a pleasant diversion, a naughty secret, an experiment, and ultimately a dead end. Bobby Carver was the path forward, the only road that Lynnette could see.
“Don’t be such a dummy.” Lynnette punched Jo lightly on her arm. “Of course you’ll find the right guy. And when you do, we’ll have a double wedding, and we’ll live next door to each other. You can come over and borrow a cup of sugar.”
Jo made herself smile, even though she wanted to cry. Lynnette knew that Jo’s dream was to become a writer and live in New York City, and yet, in Lynnie’s fantasies, Jo was right here in Detroit, wearing an apron and baking. She made herself smile. “And you’ll come to my house?”
“Anytime you want me.” Lynnette flashed her a smile, licked her lips in a way that usually made Jo’s knees go wobbly, and bounced out of the girls’ room on her way to Remedial Math.
Jo went to the Bobecks’ house that night. In Lynnette’s bed, the sex was as enthralling and the cuddling was as sweet as they’d ever been. But when her friend woke up on Saturday morning, pulling out dresses and asking Jo what she should wear for Bobby, Jo’s chest felt so tight that it was hard to breathe.
“Are you okay?” Lynnette asked for the fourth time, after Jo failed to give an opinion about whether Lynnette’s blue-and-white-checked skirt with a pale-blue sweater or her daisy-patterned cotton dress with its circle skirt and boat neck was a better choice.
“I’m fine.” Jo wanted to ask how Lynnette was. Excited? Nervous? Looking forward to sex with Bobby, or dreading it, and just determined to lose her virginity before she collected her diploma? Jo wasn’t sure which answer was worse. “Actually, you know what? My stomach’s killing me.”
“Cramps?” asked Lynnette sympathetically. They spent so much time together that of course Lynnette knew that Jo’s period was on its way.
Nodding, Jo said, “I think I’ll go home and lie down.”
Lynnette kissed her and told her to feel better. Before Jo had even closed the bedroom door, she saw her beloved back at the mirror, holding up dresses against her body, her cheeks flushed, her expression pleased. Jo rode her bike the long way back, pedaling hard, desperate to find a way to outrun her own thoughts. At home, her mother had taken the car to work. Bethie was gone.
She called up Vernita, who was on the tennis team with her, and convinced her to meet her at the high school court. After two hours, Vernita, flushed and exhausted, begged off. “Are you okay?” she asked Jo. “You’re hitting that ball like it did something
bad to you.”
“I’m fine,” Jo said. It was only four in the afternoon, three hours until Bobby would pick up Lynnette and take her dancing at Cliff Bell’s. Back on Alhambra Street, the house was empty, her mother’s car was still gone. Jo took a shower and changed her clothes. On the top shelf of the pantry, she found a dusty bottle of liquor that must have been sitting there since her father’s shiva. She carried the bottle to her bedroom, held her nose, and wincing at the burn, swallowed gulp after gulp of schnapps, until the room started to spin and her limbs felt too heavy to move. She lay back, closing her eyes, and she must have fallen asleep, or passed out. When she opened her eyes again, the early-morning sun was stabbing at her eyes, and her sister was giving her a sympathetic look. “Drink this,” she said, handing Jo a fresh glass of water. “And take these.” Bethie gave her sister two aspirin.
“Mom?” Jo’s voice was raspy. It hurt to talk. It hurt to breathe, to think. Everything hurt.
“You were passed out when I got home. I told her you had the flu. And I hid this.” Bethie reached under Jo’s mattress and pulled out the mostly empty bottle of schnapps. “Want to talk about it?”
Jo’s tongue felt like it had grown an inch-thick coating of moss, her head felt like invisible demons were kicking at her temples with steel-toed boots, and her shoulders and forearms and thighs ached from all the tennis. What would happen if she told her sister that she was in love with Lynnette? Would Bethie recoil? Would she flinch in disgust? Did she already know? “No,” Jo said, because shaking her head would hurt too much. “But thanks. I owe you one.”
Bethie gave her a thoughtful look, and seemed to be on the verge of saying, or asking, something more. But all she said was, “You took care of me with Uncle Mel,” before closing the door with an almost silent click. Jo shut her eyes. It was ten o’clock in the morning. Whatever had happened with Lynnette and Bobby had happened. All that was left, she thought glumly, was to hear about it, to make herself smile, to say
I’m happy if you are
, when what she really wanted to say was
Run away with me, somewhere
that we can be together, forever.
ethie had been in the restroom, her saddle shoes looking, she supposed, like every other pair of saddle shoes underneath a stall, when she’d heard girls whispering about her.
“Have you seen Bethie Kaufman?” asked a voice she thought belonged to Winnie Freed. “She used to be so cute!” Bethie couldn’t tie the responding giggles to anyone she knew as she sat there with a wad of toilet tissue in her hand, her face burning with shame. Tryouts for the school musical, her first high school musical, were the first week in October, and Bethie knew that at her current size, she’d never have a shot at the lead.
It was time to take action. That afternoon, with Sarah’s grudging permission, she had Jo drive her to the drugstore, where she used some of Uncle Mel’s money to purchase twenty-eight cans of Metrecal.
“Let me know what you think of that stuff,” the cashier said when Bethie had paid. Bethie nodded. She’d seen the diet drink advertised in Aunt Shirley’s
Ladies’ Home Journal
and on TV. Bethie could recite that entire ad by heart. “Here come the slim ones,” the announcer intoned, as skiers in skintight bodysuits made their way down the mountain. “Here come the trim ones. Here comes the Metrecal-for-lunch bunch!”
The text on the cans recommended replacing lunch with a can of Metrecal, and eating sensibly for the rest of the day. “Two
Metrecal meals a day, lunch and dinner, and you can lose weight steadily. As for three a day, talk it over with your doctor first. You might disappear.” Disappearance sounded just fine to Bethie, and she had no intention of discussing her plans with Dr. Sachs, who had a pushbroom mustache that matched his salt-and-pepper hair and still handed out lollipops after her checkups. She figured that if she eliminated all solid food, drank three Metrecals a day, and added some exercise, she might be able to shed fifteen pounds in less than a month, which would take her back to what she’d weighed at the start of the summer.
Bethie carried the cans into the kitchen, stacked them in the cupboard, then took her first can, shook it, and poured it over ice.
“How’s it taste?” Jo asked, hooking a package of Wonder bread out of the bread box and pulling a jar of peanut butter out of the pantry.
Bethie took a sip and tried not to wince. Jo held out her hand for the glass. She sniffed it, raised the glass to her mouth, and took a swallow. “Ugh!” she said. “This stuff is putrid!”
Bethie thought it was icky, too, but she wasn’t going to say so.
“It tastes like chalk,” said Jo, peering at the words on the can. “ ‘With the taste and texture of a milkshake,’ my aunt Fanny.”
“I got a few different flavors,” Bethie said, holding her hand out for her glass. “Maybe they’ll be better.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “Why are you doing this, anyhow?”
“Because,” said Bethie, “I need to slim down for the auditions.”
“So why not just stop eating dessert for a while?”
“Because,” said Bethie, with exaggerated patience, “I don’t have a while. Auditions are in three weeks.”
Jo hoisted herself up to sit on the kitchen counter, a move Sarah never permitted. “Who says Nellie Forbush has to be a skinny Minnie? Besides, nobody in the whole school can sing like you can.”
Bethie shook her head and sipped her Metrecal. Jo would never understand how it felt to walk around with her skirts barely fitting and the buttons of her sweaters straining over her bust;
with boys’ eyes skipping over her, like she was part of the furniture or, worse, a teacher. Beauty was power, and Bethie wanted her power back.
You may experience hunger pains for the first few days on the Metrecal plan
, the labels had warned. Bethie quickly learned that
was putting it mildly. Her first morning on the diet was fine. She got up, did a routine of sit-ups, leg raises, and jumping jacks that she’d found in
magazine, showered, drank her shake, and went to school. At lunchtime, she sat in the cafeteria, virtuously sipping her shake, as Denise and Barbara commiserated and Suzanne turned her back to eat her French fries. By the bus ride home she was dizzy, and at home the smell of the minute steaks Jo was preparing made her want to cry. Her stomach growled and her mouth filled with saliva, and so, instead of coming to the table, she stayed in bed, telling her sister that she had a headache. A few hours later, when she smelled cookies baking, she groaned and covered her head with her pillow, certain that Jo was trying to kill her.
She was hungry the next morning, but she pushed through her exercises. At lunch, as she was sipping from another can, this one butterscotch-flavored, Suzanne asked if she’d ever tried the Hollywood diet, which Suzanne’s mother had completed with great success.
“You have half a grapefruit for breakfast, then consommé, I think,” she said, and Bethie had snapped, “I’m doing this one, if that’s quite all right with you.” She’d hoped the butterscotch flavor might be better than the Dutch chocolate, but her hopes had been in vain.
By two o’clock, she was ready to pass out. “Miss Kaufman, are you with us?” asked Mr. Blundell, her math teacher.
“Yes,” said Bethie. Her voice was faint. She’d been thinking about what she’d eat once the auditions were over. Rib roast was expensive, she knew, but maybe she’d buy one with her babysitting money, cut little slits into the fat cap, and stuff slivers of garlic inside, and roast it for hours in a slow oven, until the whole
house smelled good. She’d make twice-baked potatoes, mashing the potato flesh with cheddar cheese and sour cream, and have raspberry trifle for dessert, with vanilla pudding, made from scratch, and heavy cream that she’d whip herself.
Just twenty days
, she told herself . . . and when she weighed herself the next morning, she found that she’d lost three pounds. That achievement gave her the strength to survive another three-shake day. The next morning, she’d had her breakfast shake, but halfway through her first twenty sit-ups on the living-room floor, she’d gotten so dizzy that the room had wavered in front of her and she’d had to lean against the edge of the couch. When she’d opened her eyes again, her sister was staring down at her, holding the empty can of Metrecal in her hand.
“You’re going to make yourself sick,” said Jo.
“It’s none of your business,” said Bethie. “How about you make like a tree and leave.”
“This is stupid,” Jo said. “Are you eating any actual food? Because you’re only supposed to have the shakes for lunch, right?”
“Well, today I felt like having one for breakfast. Now make like a drummer and beat it,” Bethie asked. She got to her feet, collected her lunchtime can of Metrecal, put it in her purse, and went outside to wait for the school bus. Only two more weeks plus two days. She could get through that.
Except when she got home, the Metrecal was missing from the cupboard. “Jo!” she hollered. Of course, her sister wasn’t there. She was probably at field-hockey practice, racing up and down the grass, with her hair all sweaty and her rubber mouth guard stretching her lips into a fierce grin. Jo didn’t have to worry about her figure, and even if she did, she wouldn’t. Jo didn’t worry about anything.
It isn’t fair
, Bethie thought, and, before she could stop herself, she’d hurled the glass she was holding, the one she’d meant for her Metrecal, against the wall, where it shattered into nasty glittering shards that of course she ended up having to pick up. When she’d done that, she went looking for shakes in the bedroom that she and Jo shared, reasoning that her sister wouldn’t
have just dumped them down the drain. It took her a while, but eventually she found them, up in the attic, next to the boxes of baby clothes that their
had knitted, a broken radio, a box of old records, the sled she and Jo had used when they were little, and a box she didn’t open labeled