I’M SITTING ON MY BATHROOM COUNTER, TRYING TO remember what the makeup lady at Saks told me about how to do eyeliner on Asian eyes. Only . . . I can’t think straight.
I think she said to wing it just the tiniest bit. I do my right eye first, and it looks okay. I’m finishing up my left eye when my little sister, Nadia, bangs on the door so loudly that I jump.
“Lil! I need to take a shower!” she yells. “Lilli-uhh!”
I pick up my hairbrush and then reach over and unlock the door. Nadia rushes in and turns on the water. She sits on the edge of the tub, in her big soccer T-shirt with her shiny black hair mussed up in the back and watches me brush my hair. “You look pretty,” she says, her voice scratchy with sleep.
Do I? At least the outside is still the same.
I keep brushing. Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, done. I brush my hair twenty-five strokes every morning. I’ve done it that way since I was little.
Today will be like any other day.
“But I thought you weren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day,” Nadia adds.
I look down at my sweater. It’s new—white cashmere, soft and snug. I’m wearing it with my white short shorts. “Nobody follows that rule anymore,” I tell her, hopping down from the counter. “Besides, this is winter white.” I swat at her butt with my hairbrush. “Hurry up and get in the shower.”
“Do I have time to curl my hair before Rennie gets here?” she asks me.
“No,” I say, closing the door behind me. “Five minutes.”
Back in my room I start filling my brown saddlebag with my school things, like I’m on autopilot. My new pen and the leather planner my mom got me as a back-to-school gift. Lollies. Cherry ChapStick. I try to think if I’m forgetting something, but nothing comes to mind, so I grab my white espadrilles and head down the stairs.
My mom is in the kitchen, wearing her robe and drinking an espresso. My dad bought her one of those fancy espresso machines for Christmas, and she makes a point of using it at least once a week, even though she prefers tea, and even though my dad is hardly ever at home to see her use it. He’s a doctor, the kind who does research. For as long as I can remember, he’s been working on some new drug to cure cancer. He spends part of the month working at a lab in Boston, and he gets sent all over the world to present his findings. He was on the cover of some science journal this summer. I forget the name of it.
Gesturing to the plate of muffins, my mom says, “Sit down and eat before you go, Lilli. I got those sugary ones you love.”
“Rennie will be here any minute,” I say. When I see the disappointed look on my mom’s face, I take a muffin and wrap it in a napkin. “I’ll eat it in the car.”
Touching my hair, she says, “I can’t believe you’re a senior in high school. One more year and you’ll be away at college. My pretty girl is grown-up.”
I look away. I guess I am grown-up now.
“At least I still have my baby. Is Nadi getting ready?”
“You have to look out for Nadi now that you’re at the same school. You know how she looks up to you, Lilli.” My mom squeezes my arm, and I swallow hard. I do have to look out for Nadia better. Not like how I did on Saturday night, when I left her at Alex’s party. She was with her friends, but still.
I should have stayed.
Rennie’s horn honks outside, and I stand up. “Nadia!” I yell. “Rennie’s here!”
“Just one more minute!” Nadia shrieks back.
I hug my mom and head for the garage door.
“Take a muffin for Rennie,” she calls out as I close the door behind me. Rennie wouldn’t eat it anyway. She goes off carbs at the start of every cheerleading season. She only lasts about a month before she gives in, though.
In the garage I slip on my espadrilles, and then I walk down the driveway to Rennie’s Jeep.
“Nadia’s right behind me,” I say, climbing inside.
Rennie leans over and hugs me good morning. Hug her back, I tell myself. And I do.
“Your skin looks awesome against the white,” she says, eyeing me up and down. “I wish I could get as tan as you.”
Rennie’s wearing tight jeans and an even tighter lacy scoop neck top, with a nude cami underneath. She’s so tiny, I can see her rib cage. I don’t think she’s wearing a bra. She doesn’t have to. She’s got a gymnast’s body.
“You’re pretty tan too,” I say, clicking my seat belt.
“Bronzer, baby.” She puts on her sunglasses and starts talking a mile a minute. “So here’s what I’m thinking for the next party. It came to me in a dream last night. The theme will be . . . Are you ready for this? The roaring twenties! The girls could wear flapper costumes with, like, a feather headpiece, and long beaded necklaces, and then the boys could wear zoot suits and fedoras. Hot, right?”
“I don’t know,” I say, looking out the window. Rennie’s talking so fast and so much, it’s making my head pound. “The guys might not be into it. Where are they supposed to find that stuff on the island?”
“Hello, it’s called the Internet!” Rennie taps her fingers on the steering wheel. “What’s taking Nadia so long? I want to get there before everybody else does so I can claim my parking spot for the year.” She presses her hand down on the horn—once, then twice.
“Stop,” I say. “You’re going to wake up my neighbors.”
“Oh, please. The closest house is, like, half a mile down the street.”
Our front door flies open, and Nadia comes running down the steps. She looks tiny against our massive white house. It’s different from most of the other houses on the island—modern lines and lots of glass. My mom helped design it. It was originally our summer home, and then we moved to Jar Island for good before my freshman year. I was the one who begged to move here, to be with Rennie and my summer friends.
My mom waves at us from the front door. I wave back.
“So are you yay or nay on the twenties party?” Rennie asks me.
I honestly don’t care, but I know my answer matters to her—which is why I feel like saying nay.
But before I can, Nadia is at the car, her hair sopping wet. She’s got on her new jeans and the black top the three of us bought together when we went shopping back in July. That feels like forever ago.
She climbs into the backseat. I twist around and say, “You should have dried your hair, Nadi. You know you always get colds when you go around with wet hair.”
Breathlessly she says, “I was scared you guys would leave without me.”
“We wouldn’t leave you!” Rennie cries, turning the wheel. “We’re your big sisters. We’ll always look out for you, honey bun.”
Something nasty is on the tip of my tongue, and I swallow hard to keep from saying it. If I say it, we’ll never be the same again. Even worse than now.
We pull around our circular driveway and down the road.
“Cheerleading practice is at four,” Rennie reminds me, bouncing in her seat to the music. “Don’t be late. We need to evaluate the fresh meat. See what we’ve got to work with. Did you remember to bring your mini camcorder so we can tape them?”
I open my bag and look, even though I know it’s not there. “I forgot.”
“Lil! I wanted to evaluate them later tonight in HD.” Rennie lets out a grumbly sigh, like she’s disappointed in me.
I shrug my shoulders. “We’ll deal.” That’s what we’re doing right now, isn’t it? Dealing? But Rennie’s clearly better at it than me.
“Nadi, who’s the prettiest of all your friends?” Rennie asks.
“Patrice,” Nadia says.
Rennie makes a left, and we pass the small rental cottages that populate Canobie Bluffs. I focus on one in particular. There’s a caretaker outside closing it up for the season, now that it’s empty. I think it’s Reeve’s dad. He’s bolting the shutters on the first floor windows. He hasn’t gotten to the master bedroom yet. Those ones are still wide open.
I turn my head away, and out of the corner of my eye, I look at Rennie. Just to see if she has noticed it too. But there’s nothing there—no recognition, no alarm, nothing.
“Nadi, you’re so much prettier than Patrice. FYI, I’m only taking the cream of the crop for the varsity squad,” Rennie says. “Let me know if there’s anyone you want to cheer for, and I’ll hook it up.”
Immediately Nadia says, “Alex. Can I cheer for Alex?”
Rennie gasps. “Ooh! You better ask your sister. He’s her boy toy.”
“Rennie, be quiet.” I say it more snappishly than I intended, and she makes a face to Nadia in her rearview mirror. I take a breath. “Nadia, there’s a whole line of junior and senior girls ahead of you for Alex. We can’t show favoritism like that. I mean, how would it look, us giving a senior starter to a freshman? Besides, you still have to try out. You haven’t made the squad yet.”
At this, Rennie nods. “Lil’s right. I mean, you’re basically in but we have to treat you the same as everybody else. Even though you’re clearly special.” Nadia wriggles in her seat like a puppy. “Oh, and make sure to tell your friends that if they’re even one minute late, they’re going to be sent home. Period. As captain I need to set the tone for this season.”
“Got it,” Nadia says.
“Good girl. You’re going to be our freshman star.”
I feel like I am floating above myself as I say, “She needs to work on her back handspring. It’s weak.”
It gets really quiet.
I flip down my visor to look at Nadia. The corners of her mouth are turned down, her dark eyes hurt.
Why did I say that?
I know how badly she wants to make the squad. We practiced all summer, back handsprings and tumbling and stunts and our routines. I told Nadia that when Rennie graduates, it will be her on the top of that pyramid. I told her she’ll be set at Jar High. Just like her big sis.
But now I’m not so sure I want her to be anything like me or Rennie. Not anymore.