“Admit it, darling. We’ve got wicked gorgeous legs,” Jane says.
It’s a rare and welcome sunny day. My new best friend, Jane, and I are sitting in the alley behind Rexall Drugs with our socks peeled off, trying to tan ourselves on our lunch break. My legs are freckled and milky and dented with elastic marks from my knee-highs. Jane’s legs are in another league completely.
“Look here,” says Jane, wiggling her toes. “Cutex Wicked White. You want to try it?” She reaches into her black leather bag, takes out the nail polish, and shakes it. “Say yes.”
This is Jane’s campaign: helping me to choose something outside my usual box of predictables. And I want to, but still I hesitate. “There’s no time,” I tell her. “My socks will stick.”
“Great God, Mary Margaret, I’m just trying to help!”
Jane loves to imitate my mother. Or rather, she imitates my imitation and exaggerates it. Her eyes twitch. Her hands tremble as if she’s fighting her instinct to strangle me. “Great GOD, Mary Margaret! Pull your dress down! Knees together! Wipe off the lipstick! Spit out the gum! . . .” Actually, the imitation works as a flash reminder that out of my three, possibly four, attainable futures, there’s at least one to be avoided at all costs.
I’m still tying my shoes when Jane pushes me off the curb.
We have seven minutes to make it back to Sacred Heart Academy or there will be hell to pay. Jane turns up the transistor radio. Clouds are swelling in the hot blue sky, and cars are zinging past us on Halsey Street. Donovan is singing “Sunshine Superman”:
Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find. . . .
I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind.
We gallop, tossing our hair and doing the Hitchhike. An old guy in a Ford truck slows down and honks.
“Pervert!” I yell.
“The old ones are always perverts,” says Jane.
Jane’s talking about Avery, her stepfather, who leers at her after too many bourbon and waters. As for Jane’s real father, “He’s gone” is all she says. I don’t know anything else.
We break into a dead sprint until we are panting behind the rusting Cyclone fence at Sacred Heart.
“Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?” says my ex-friend Elizabeth Healy.
“Oh really?” says Jane. “Thanks for the observation.” Jane calls Elizabeth She Who Came Before Me. She also likes to say that Elizabeth is notable for her “complete absence of presence.”
Elizabeth ignores me altogether and is always a complete snot to Jane. I play at being invisible while they swap insults, though I know Elizabeth is just as disgusted with me.
“How was lunch?” asks Elizabeth.
“You would have loved it, Elizabeth,” says Jane. “We had soup. Cream of boring. Your favorite.”
“Ha,” says Elizabeth.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Jane. “Cream of boring would be too spicy for you, wouldn’t it?” Her eyes glaze over. “How about cream of nap, cream of coma, cream of corpse?” She ends in a deep snore.
Elizabeth puts on a phony pout. “Ooh, I’m boring. I want to get knocked up and do time at the House of the Good Shepherd, too!” She stamps her foot. “Boo hoo,” she says, wiping an invisible tear.
“I have never been ‘knocked up’!” Jane calls after her. “Someone should consult her slang dictionary!” And then to me, softly, “I swear, that girl is going to die a virgin.”
I laugh at this, but I’m pretty sure that I’m going to die a virgin.
Jane and I have special permission to go off campus for lunch because her mother lives just around the corner in this deluxe oasis of new homes rimming the golf course. The thing is, as Elizabeth apparently knows, we roam around instead, playing our music and buying Pixy Stix at Rexall. Lately we’ve been smoking Kools behind the seventh hole as Jane talks about how in just a month we’re going to have our explosive, bombshell-sexy, boom-boom, breakout summer of adventure. It’s the kind of talk I never had with Elizabeth. But then, she’s changed, too.
Who knows what happened to the sweet, quiet, skinny Elizabeth of my childhood? She seemed to skip directly from “girl life” to being scared and old-ladyish. When she was a kid, I loved her for her ability to sit in one place and focus her attention. She could get lost for hours making an eggshell mosaic. In sixth grade, during spring break, she completed a giant paint-by-numbers copy of a Thomas Gains-borough lady in a feathered hat. Her father framed it in gold and hung it above the stereo. Elizabeth’s stuff was not for taping to the refrigerator. I was in awe of her.
But then she got breasts. Big ones. She kept her flat-chested personality and started walking around with her arms crossed all the time. Worst of all, her adored big brother got drafted, and Elizabeth got more and more religious. One day last spring, when we were goofing around in her bedroom, I found this elaborate prayer calendar. She had put a hash mark down for every rosary she said, every mass she attended.
“Jeez, Elizabeth,” I said. “It’s not a friggin’ contest.”
She looked at me like I’d slapped her. I felt awful.
“You always make it sound like it’s so bad to care about things,” she said.
And here I thought I cared way too much about everything.
I took a good look at her. Gone was the sweet, quiet self-confidence. She was a worried, lumpy Elizabeth with a prayer calendar. “My Lord,” I said, “what happened to you?”
She never answered. I waited. And waited. I asked her, “Are you still my best friend?” Finally she answered, “No.”
I went home and sank into a dreary, hopeless funk that dragged on through the summer.
I knew other girls—Constance Cready, Debbie Watts, Kathy McCann—but I’ve always been a one-best-friend type of person. Some nights I would lie in the dark, feeling my tears crawling into my hair, convinced that I was actually dying of loneliness.
Then Jane happened to me. Now everything’s picked up speed. Even the hopeless feeling I get in geometry class is bearable with my brand-new Jane beside me.
“Can we switch pencils?” I whisper. Jane never uses an eraser when she does math. She gives me a brand-new pencil without looking up, just burrowing into this math thing in a way I cannot possibly understand. I lean on my hand and stare at her.
“Miss Hallinan and Miss Stephens.” The intercom crackles. “Please see Mother Superior. Miss Hallinan and Miss Stephens. Thank you.”
Sister Immaculata looks up from her desk. So does everyone else in class. I’m blushing just picturing Mother Superior dialing the big black office phone with her pale and papery fingers, my mother saying, “What’s she done now?” I know I’m in for a scorching afternoon.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Bad Tickets by Kathleen O'Dell. Copyright © 2007 by O'Dell. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.