In 1985, just about everyone I knew was afraid of two things: a nuclear attack by the Russians and a gruesome death from the AIDS virus, which allegedly thrived on the mouthpieces of New York City public telephones.
My best friend, Summer, however, didn't worry about catching AIDS from a phone or anything else. She started kissing boys when we were twelve and wrote every one of their names in her diary, which had a purple velvet cover.
I didn't have a diary. I didn't need one because I had only kissed a boy once, in the Catskills during a family vacation between eighth and ninth grades. The Catskills boy was from Connecticut, and he turned on me after I kissed him. He claimed that I opened my mouth too wide and that I was only a four on a scale of one to ten in the looks department.
Don't get any ideas, he said. You Brooklyn girls bore me. And I'm going home in two days, so we'll never see each other again.
That was fine with me. I wanted to pretend that the kiss had never happened. It wasn't what I'd practiced on the back of my hand while imagining handsome faces from General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. None of those guys would have said I was only a four, and they definitely wouldn't have told me to watch where I was going after we bumped into each other at the breakfast buffet.
What are you doing in there? my mother asked later, while I was brushing my teeth in our motel bathroom and hoping there weren't any AIDS germs in my mouth. And I didn't tell Mom what had happened. She'd already warned me that bad things could hide in the most unlikely places.
Summer and I went to different high schools. I attended our local public school in Brooklyn, while she was a student at Hollister Prep, a fancy private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that charged tuition my parents couldn't afford.
Summer's parents could afford it, but that wasn't why she transferred there after only three months at my school. It was because some girls were spreading rumors about her, inventing filthy stories about how she supposedly serviced the entire wrestling team and went down on their coach in his office. Summer Simon swallows--that was what the girls wrote in bright red nail polish on a bathroom wall. Then they Scotch-taped Trojan Ribbed for Her Pleasure packets all over Summer's locker. That made her cry.
I peeled them off while she sobbed into her hands. Forget it, I whispered. They're just jealous because all the guys like you.
This was hard for me to say, because I was jealous myself. But Summer stopped crying and even smiled, and I was sure that I'd done something good. And she did lots of good things, too--like not ditching me after she started at Hollister and became a member of its popular crowd.
Now our sophomore year was over and Summer and I sat on folding chairs in my sister Evelyn's backyard in Queens. Toys were scattered across the grass, and Summer rolled a Nerf ball with her dainty foot.
"Eight whole weeks of vacation ahead of us," she said.
I nodded and looked at my nondainty foot. There was a callus on my heel and a scab on my ankle and I needed a pedicure, but Summer didn't. The sun bounced off her painted toenails and the long blond hair that was strategically highlighted around her pretty face. Her eyes were dark, she always wore flashy clothes, and she smelled of L'Air du Temps. She hadn't been without a boyfriend since junior high. Her latest conquest was a Columbia University sophomore she'd met last September who'd taken her virginity by Halloween. He's nineteen, so it's illegal, she'd told me in a giggly whisper the next day. Nobody can ever know.
I knew. And I was jealous. Since she'd started at Hollister, everything had been so easy for her. She rarely studied, yet her name was a permanent fixture on the honor roll. She was good at math, she was a fashion expert, and she could recite the stats of every player on the Yankees. She lived as the only child in a palatial house in Park Slope. Even her name was perfect: Summer Simon, like a movie actress on a glitzy marquee.
I wondered if her parents had planned it that way, and I wished my parents had planned better. They should have known that guys would be more attracted to girls named Summer Simon than to girls named Ariadne Mitchell. I also wished that my mother was as interested in movies as she was in literature. It wasn't a smart idea to name me after some dusty old book by Chekhov.
But Mom was a reader. She had a master's degree in English and taught sixth-grade language arts at a public school. She thought my best friend was highly overrated. According to Mom, Summer was short, she was a shameless flirt, and she was totally manufactured--all dyed hair and makeup and fake nails. Mom said I had a much better figure than Summer because I was thinner and three inches taller, and Jet-black hair with light blue eyes is very rare. You can thank your father for that.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal. Copyright © 2011 by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal. Excerpted by permission of Ember, 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.