Excerpted from Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler Copyright © 2006 by Jennifer Ziegler. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 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.
I vaguely remember coming home from the restaurant. Mom didn’t have to worry about my driving. I was in such a state of shock that I puttered down the streets like a stoned septuagenarian.
The rest of the day I spent sitting on the floor of my bedroom with the door locked and the CD mix Chuck made for me playing on my stereo, cranked up just enough to cover the sounds of my crying but not enough to bring Mom pounding on my door.
Everything Chuck had ever given me was spread around me in a semicircle. The first note he’d ever passed me (“Pick you up at 8. Dress hot.”); ticket stubs from the first film we ever saw together (a Halloween rerelease of The Blair Witch Project); a couple of dried-up flowers; bells and ribbons from his homecoming mums; a few Shiner Beer bottle caps from the night we shared our first major kiss; and a picture of us taken at Leigh Ann Shaw’s New Year’s Eve party.
I ran my finger over the glossy photograph, staring at it intently. Chuck’s arms were hanging over both of my shoulders, his eyes were half closed, and there was this big openmouthed smile on his face. The purple San Marcos Rattlers sweatshirt he was wearing in the shot was draped over me now, a keepsake from one of the best nights of my life.
I remember that was one of the very few times my mom had let me stay out past midnight, and it was a good thing, too. Chuck had drunk so much trash-can punch he ended up hurling all over Leigh Ann’s rosebushes. I sat beside him the whole time and he kept saying, “I love you, Katie. I really love you,” over and over.
I threw the photo down and used a sleeve of the sweatshirt to wipe my eyes. The seam in the left armpit was ripped open, and there was a big greasy mark across the front, but I didn’t care. It was still one of the most favorite things I owned. Chuck had worn it the night he said he loved me. It was the only time he’d said it, but I’d felt sure he really meant it—as if all that alcohol had crumbled his macho image for a few hours and his true feelings had been exposed. And now this?
I picked up the phone and called Ariel’s cell number. After the third ring Ariel’s breathy voice came over the line. “Hello?”
“Ariel, it’s Katie,” I croaked shakily. “You aren’t going to believe this. But Chuck broke up with me. He’s going out with Trina!”
“Um . . . yeah. We heard.”
We? “Is everyone over there?”
“Yeah. Tracy and Bethany are here.”
“Are you guys having a party?”
There was a pause. “Um, yeah. At my lake house. We kind of figured you wouldn’t want to go, since Chuck’s going to be here and everything.”
“But it’s my last night before I leave. Don’t you guys want to hang out?”
“That’s probably not a good idea. You need some time to get over this and all.”
A cold realization tingled over me, from scalp to toenails. They were squeezing me out. They knew I was down, so they were distancing themselves.
I knew the drill. I was damaged goods. As long as I was the topic du jour, people had to avoid me or risk mucking up their own reputations. They probably knew about Chuck and Trina before I did, and no one wanted to tell me. They just automatically aligned themselves with Trina, who was more popular and powerful, leaving me to rot by myself.
“But . . . it’s my birthday,” I mumbled morosely.
Another pause. “Yeah . . . sorry. Um, maybe we can come by tomorrow morning and see you before you leave?”
A familiar laugh sounded in the background— a high-pitched cackle, like an incredibly chipper tree monkey. “Is that Trina?” I asked, choking on the name.
Another, longer silence. I could almost feel the guilt oozing through the phone line. For a few seconds, I considered screaming at Ariel to put the bitch on the phone and then hurling obscenities at Trina until I passed out from exhaustion. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I knew from experience that it was better to roll belly-up and play dead than to stand up to the so- cial forces of San Marcos. Besides, it just wasn’t in me to square off against Trina and her loud cheerleader mouth.
If only I was more like Mom. She was always taking a stand—always starting petitions against rezoning or convincing the school board not to allow off-campus lunches (yep, that really made me popular). Even Dad was known to write an occasional letter to the editor. But not this McAllister. Arguing with people and practically asking them to hate you seemed like one of those nightmares that could turn your hair white. I mean, why not wear a Please Pelt Me with Spit Wads sign on your back? Or break into song at every given chance? You’d get the same attention.
I couldn’t change things. And going into meltdown mode would only make things worse. I just had to accept it.
“Yeah,” Ariel finally answered, her voice low and resigned. “Trina’s here.”
“Right. Well . . . you guys have fun,” I said. My tongue felt thick with self-pity. It flopped about inside my mouth like a dying fish, slurring my words.
“Okay,” she said. Again I could hear Trina’s smug little screeches in the background.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow morning, right?”
“We’ll really try. Bye, Katie.”
I heard a click, followed by the mournful drone of the dial tone. My hands shook as I replaced my cordless phone on its base.
That’s it, I thought as fresh tears dripped down my cheeks. I’m done. I’m over. I’ve been totally abandoned.
I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. After all, I’d gone along with similar avoidance campaigns in the past. Besides, I’d been putting Chuck before them for the past two years. We weren’t exactly a sisterhood.
And yet it still hurt like hell. I’ve been dumped on my birthday and no one cares! I’d barely made it to seventeen and my social life was ruined forever.
At least I had the college thing in Austin. I wouldn’t have to stick around this summer and see Chuck and Trina making out at the mall or the river parties.
Now if I could just figure out a way to never come back.
From the Trade Paperback edition.