Book 1, The Girlfriends Series
Available On: Amazon
My name’s Rachel and I invent stories. My parents call me a fibber – a liar, to be exact. Lying makes me feel better. To me it’s just pretending. A designer home, trips to Maui and Disney World and, of course, my imaginary boyfriend, Walker Johnson. We met at summer camp. My imaginary summer camp.
“Liar, liar pants on fire,” I hum as I push open the door to the school counselor’s office for my weekly meeting. Her small room has one dirty window. Books and black binders line the shelves in the corner. The smell of sweat fills the room. Four boys from my class have just finished talking with Ms. Paxton. Probably fighting at lunch again. I sigh as I slump into my usual place at the round table.
Ms. Paxton leans forward, clasping her hands together. I try not to stare at them, but I can’t help myself. They’re spotted with freckles and veins that pop up. I never want to have hands like that even when I’m old. But she has a kind face and I like her.
Last week my best friend, Stephanie, and I saw Ms. Paxton jump into a Mercedes convertible after school. A good-looking man was in the driver’s seat. We almost died. Who would have thought Ms. Paxton could be hot?
“Rachel, how’s your week going?”
“Great.” It’s only Tuesday, not many things have gone wrong yet. What does she expect me to say? “Not much to report, Ms. Paxton.”
She leans back in her chair and waits. She knows me. After all, I’ve been coming to her sessions since the beginning of the term. My parents make me. They say I have issues. Some days, like today, my issue is being in this room. Great!!
“Tell me about your weekend.”
“Same old, same old.” I wince when I realize I sound like my dad.
Ms. Paxton’s eyebrows rise. That’s her signal that she needs to hear more.
“Well, I hung out with Steph. We burned some CDs, watched dance shows on TV and ate junk food. I made a ton of popcorn. We added half a pound of melted butter and Parmesan cheese. Then we finished with bowls of chocolate ice cream and some vinegar chips.”
Ms. Paxton’s eyebrows lift another inch.
The last time we talked, I whined about my weight. I’m supposed to be following Weight Watchers, but I can’t seem to stick to the program. Why shouldn’t I reward myself every once in a while?
“I got another great e-mail from Walker.”
“He wants me to join him in Vermont next summer.”
I listen carefully to the tone of her voice. I think she’s still a believer.
“Yep, he visits his relatives in the country. They live in one of those mansions like you see in magazines. Eight bedrooms, lots of bathrooms, a huge pool, and a stable. Of course, everyone in his family rides horses.”
“Of course.” Ms. Paxton slowly nods her head.
“But I’m not so sure I’ll be able to go. My stepmom, Diane, wants me to help out in the store.”
“I see,” responds Ms. Paxton. “Where does Walker go to school?”
“Oh, he goes to a boarding school. But he’s thinking about switching to another one. I forget what it’s called.”
This is so easy. The stories simply tumble out of my mouth. Maybe I should write them down. People get paid to write fiction. I could get rich. Ha! I stare at the ceiling. How did those flies get caught in the light?
“Yes?” Thoughts of my chicken salad sandwich I’d created this morning for lunch disappear.
I look at Ms. Paxton. She’s wearing the dumbest brown shirt and boring blue pants. What a combination! She doesn’t know how to dress. Not like Mrs. Tran who teaches Eighth Grade Biology. Wow! She looks like Steph. You know, tall and thin. And a blonde. I wonder what it must be like to walk around in the world like that, instead of short and fat. And a redhead. A redhead with out-of-control hair. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the classic, stereotypical best friend.
“Yes?” I try to concentrate. I stare at my bitten fingernails. I’ve chewed off all the nails on my left hand, but my right hand looks okay. I guess I do have issues.
I figure she wants to know more about Walker. I launch in. “Right. Well, he wants to be at a school with a better swim team, and his parents agreed so he’s moving after the Christmas holidays.”
Ms. Paxton writes something in her file folder. She’s probably making notes about Walker. I ramble on. I don’t think she knows when I spin her a line. I love talking about Walker. He’s the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. Actually, the only boyfriend. Too bad he lives so far away. I stifle a giggle. Sometimes I crack myself up. I cough loudly to stop from laughing.
“You know, Rachel, it would help me – it would help both of us, if you would tell the truth.” She looks serious. “So, you’re saying Walker lives out-of-town and he’s your boyfriend?”
I squirm in my seat. She doesn’t believe me. I could bring in a picture of Walker. That would convince her. I’ll borrow one from my next door neighbor. Their sons are away at school. I’m sure if I take a photo for a day or two they won’t miss it. Wow. Here I am, thinking about stealing to cover up my lying. I take a deep breath.
“Ms. Paxton, I don’t have his picture with me, but next week, I promise, I’ll bring it in. He’s totally cool. He has thick blond hair and crystal blue eyes and serious abs like that Matthew guy. You know – the actor? Walker could be in the movies.” And so could I.
I check my watch. “I see our time is up. I don’t want to be late for volleyball today. It’s my favorite class.’’ Another lie, where do the lies come from? Yeah, I hate gym class. Too much running and sweating and panting. “Same time next week?”
“Yes,” Ms. Paxton says. “Same time next week.”
As I leave, I glance over my shoulder. Ms. Paxton is adding another note to my file.
After school Steph and I walk home. Her house is close to mine, which is great. I have a piano lesson today and Steph has a tutor for math. She gets good grades but her dad thinks she can do better.
We wander along, taking our time. We know if we start to jog at the next set of mailboxes we won’t be late. Our neighbourhood is kind of boring. But families like it because it’s safe. According to my dad, that’s why we live here. Imagine naming a place Laurel Estates. So far, Steph and I haven’t discovered any infinity pools or tennis courts.
As we walk past Nolan Yates’ house, I wonder if I’ll see him. He’s usually in soccer shorts. He wears them no matter what time of year. You can do that in my part of the world. Good old Portervale, just outside Seattle.
He comes out the front door and strides down the path. Each time I see him, a warm glow flows through my veins. Tanned legs and a tight tee shirt light up my eyes. I want to touch the strands of wavy hair that fall on his forehead. Within seconds he’s beside me. His broad chest presses against my body and he smells like the outdoors. He gathers me in his arms and holds me. His strong hands move gently down my back. He whispers in my ear, “I love you. How come I haven’t seen you before?” Pausing for a minute, he tips up my chin. His bottle-green eyes are full of promise. And his full lips taste my…
Oh my gawd! As he approaches, he flashes Steph a brilliant smile. Of course, I forgot. I don’t exist. He doesn’t see me. I’m a shadow girl. A shadow girl, living my life in the shade of my friend. Yep! That’s me. I’m just the sidekick to the most gorgeous girl in the school. I mean, Steph is stunning. Flawless. And like most beauties she doesn’t even know it.
We keep walking. Steph has her head down. She misses seeing the best male body in Tenth Grade. I shiver as I imagine his mouth on my lips. I try to push Nolan Yates from my brain.
“Anything different with your parents?” I ask.
Steph shakes her head. “I don’t think so. My mom’s really quiet and Dad’s away on a long trip. Last month I saw him twice,” she whispers. She stops to adjust her backpack. “I know my mom’s trying not to cry. I’m afraid that if she starts, she won’t be able to stop.”
“I’m not Oprah but you can’t control what your parents do. Trust me, I’ve figured that one out. They’ll do what they want.”
Steph has no idea. I’ve never told her anything about my mom’s disappearing act when I was three years old.
“I know I’m not in control. But they don’t know what their fighting is doing to me.”
“Maybe they do,” I suggest.
“I’m sick of them saying, ‘We want to do what’s right.’ What would be right is for them to figure out their problems. I know what’s going on, even though they’ve tried to hide their fighting. I don’t understand why parents think we can’t hear them argue. I always hear them. Besides, I go out of my way to listen. It’s the only way I can understand.”
“Gotcha, on that one.” I blow my nose. My allergies are acting up and I try to change the subject. “Guess what, Steph?”
“Once I heard my parents talking about having a baby. It was unreal. My stepmom wasn’t sure. But Dad said he really wanted one. I guess I’m not enough for him. And then I couldn’t hear the rest.”
“Then along came Darcy. He’s eight months old tomorrow. He hasn’t turned disgusting yet like my stepbrother, Tim. But I guess he’ll change into a boy soon enough and have a stinky room and strange friends.”
“Tim’s okay. He’s kind of cool.”
I scrunch up my face. “Arrgh. I can’t believe you said that. Anyway, Steph,” I return to our previous conversation, “why don’t you listen to your iPod? Crank it way up. That way you won’t hear your parents shouting.”
“I guess I could do that. But I’d still know they’re fighting. Oh! I want to give you this sketch I did today in art class.” She digs into her pack. “We had to study a vase of flowers and then draw it from memory. I loved the class today. It was quiet.”
That’s exactly the reason why I didn’t sign up for Art. I want noise and excitement. Steph and I are so different. But that’s why our friendship works. We’ve been best friends since Kindergarten.
“Thanks, you remembered! I love daisies. Do you think you can stay overnight?” And as I ask the question, I already know the answer.
“Not tonight girls, not on a school night,” we chant in the singsong voices our parents use.
“Maybe next weekend you can come to my house,” Steph says. “I’ll have to ask. Mom’s stopped inviting people over. I think she’s afraid they might figure something out.”
“Like what?” I’m not absolutely sure what Steph means. “Are they going to separate?”
“Worse. D. I. V. O. R. C. E.”
Maybe it doesn’t sound so bad to her if she spells it.
“Don’t tell anybody, Rach. Promise?”
Steph bites her lip and tears slide down her face. I touch her shoulder wishing I could take away her pain.
“You’re going to be okay. I’ll put my cell under my pillow. Call me whenever you want. Even in the middle of the night.”
“Thanks.” She swipes at her eyes and we start to run as we pass the mailboxes.
My stepmom thinks I have problems. Well, my life is easy compared to Steph’s. She should be the one talking with Ms. Paxton.