Skinny(4)

By: Donna Cooner


“Ugly Number One’s looking good.” Rat watches their giggling parade with a focus that makes me remember he’s a sixteen-year-old boy. He’s talking about my oldest stepsister, Lindsey, who strides along in the middle of the line of prancing cheerleaders.

Rat’s real name is Theodore Simon Wilson but only stubborn English teachers call him that now. Most everyone else calls him the nickname bestowed upon him by mean little third-graders who saw the likeness between his long-nosed face and the drawings of the rat in Charlotte’s Web. It stuck long after he grew into his face and tall, lanky body. I once asked him if he’d rather me call him Theodore or Teddy or Ted, but he just blinked at me from behind his glasses and asked, “Why?”

“Your stepmother know about the new belly button piercing?” Rat asks me. Evidently, we both saw the new bling dangling from Lindsey’s stomach.

Lindsey glances toward the car, and her eyes meet mine for a brief second. There is a shock of recognition. I give her a five-fingered wave. I know it will piss her off. She looks away and keeps walking.

“You embarrass her,” Skinny whispers. Like I didn’t know that.

“They don’t know you’re alive,” I mutter. I say it to Rat, but I know it’s true for me, too.

“Somebody’s in a good mood.” Rat is brilliant in a “build your own optical resonator laser in your backyard, start a small grass fire, and get community service” kind of way. He’s not brilliant in the “get a date with a cheerleader” kind of way. We both know it. I didn’t have to say it. I turn to stare out the passenger-side window.

“Where’s Cerissa?” I ask. One of the Fabulous Five, senior cheerleader Cerissa Stevens, is missing.

“She was expelled last week for urinating in the soft drink she served her ex-boyfriend at the basketball game,” Rat says.

“Gimme a P!” I say, shaking fake pom-poms in the air.

At the end of the driveway, Gigi Retodo and two other drama geeks wave a big cardboard sign announcing the upcoming musical. Gigi’s changed into a pioneer-era costume, which looks really bizarre with her blue/pink/purple hair. Standing on tiptoes, she belts out the title song while the two boys run around frantically trying to get kids to take their flyers. Jackson stands at the corner watching Gigi. Just seeing the look on his face, I feel a sharp jab of jealousy kick into my stomach. My throat aches with the desire to have him look at me like that. I would do anything. I blink to clear the longing out of my eyes before Rat sees. Rat glances over at me. I’m not quick enough.

“Did you say something about someone not knowing you’re alive?” Rat’s voice is dry. I ignore him. Rat knows how I feel about Jackson. He was, after all, Jackson’s delivery boy for that note so long ago that read, “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.”

A tall boy that I vaguely recognize from American history class punches Jackson once in the arm, distracting him from Gigi, and they scuffle across the median, laughing and yelling. I’m not close enough to see the crinkles around Jackson’s dark blue-green eyes, but I know they’re there. He used to laugh with me like that. About 150 pounds ago.

“They’re doing Oklahoma for the spring musical,” I say to Rat.

“I saw. Why don’t you try out?”

Rat pushes his glasses up over the slight bump on his nose. He got it when he broke his nose playing kickball at recess in the second grade. I know because I was the one who kicked the ball. That tiny mark under his left eye is from my lightsaber at his fifth birthday party. I also know he has a jagged scar on his left calf from when we were eight and jumped off the pier into Lake Conroe. We were holding hands and he said, “Jump,” and I said, “Wait.” That was also the year Jackson Barnett moved in down the street and, for a short time, two best friends became Three Musketeers.

“Maybe next year,” I say. “They do a musical every spring. Besides Oklahoma’s never really been one of my favorites.”

“Right.”

We both know I won’t be trying out this spring or next spring or any spring after that. It doesn’t matter that I have the best voice in the school. It just matters that there aren’t many parts for a 300-pound girl who just wants to be invisible.

Rat turns left out of the school parking lot. He’s been my personal driver since he got his license six months ago. It means Lindsey doesn’t have to know me anymore, which works for Lindsey. It also means I now have to go wherever Rat goes after school and that includes community service. We pass the Walmart on the right and then McKenzie’s BarBQ on the left. It doesn’t take long to get anywhere in this town.

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