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They’ve always called themselves “The Triple Threat.” Only now that they’ve taken me under their wondrous wings, Alona, Sammie, and Grace have to come up with a new stage name.

“Any ideas?” Alona asks as she gazes at herself in Grace’s full-length cherry wood mirror. We’ve just been shopping. Or more precisely, they’ve just been shopping. Not that the distinction really matters. There has never been any love lost between me and the fashion industry. I couldn’t care less about the latest handbag trend or who wore what on the red carpet. As long as I’m comfortable, that’s what’s important. Which I guess is a good thing, considering comfort is about all I can afford. Still, I don’t mind tagging along while my new friends flex their credit cards. Watching them is like being a fly on the wall in some mutant alien universe: I may not understand their bizarre spending rituals, but it’s still fun—and flattering—to be invited along for the ride. And the orange mocha Frappacinos we always get afterward. To be honest, I’m still getting used to the taste of those. I’d sooner just stop for a round of cherry Slurpees, but 7-Eleven is totally out of their retail orbit. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Alona Spelton, it’s that she bends over backwards for nobody. Not even the newest member of her clique.

“Hey, Lon, you look amazing in that,” I say, eyeing her latest ensemble – a black stretch denim micro-mini and Whoops-is-this-see-through? white blouse that warrants its own R-rating. But then again, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? I wouldn’t know. I still haven’t gotten it.

Alona spins around, smiling graciously. “Aw, thanks Ceej. You don’t think it’s a little…”

“Transparent?” Grace asks.

“Well, of course it is,” Alona says playfully. “That’s why I bought it.”

We all giggle, and suddenly there is a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Grace calls.

“Hi girls,” Grace’s mom says, entering the room. Unlike my own mother, whose middle-aged pouch and “mom jeans” continue to betray her frumpy homemaker status, this more sophisticated spitting image of Grace could easily pass for her older sister. “CG!” she gushes. “It’s so good to see you again.” She tells me this every time she sees me, which could only mean she’s as shocked as I am that The Triple Threat has actually kept me around this long (three whole weeks to be exact).

“Good to see you, too, Mrs. Checkov.”

“Oh, Alona,” she says, “I ran into your mother at the salon and she wants you to give her a buzz.” She turns to leave the room. “By the way, if you’re going to wear a sheer blouse, you’ve gotta choose a nicer bra than that. Gracie and I just did a major spree at Victoria’s Secret, and she ended up with a couple of pieces she’s either going to have to stuff with water balloons or wait a few good years to grow into. And when I say ‘grow,’ don’t think I’ve ruled out giving Dr. 90210 a call!” She pauses to laugh at her own joke before explaining, “But these bras were just too cute to pass up. Why don’t you try one of them on?”

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

Oblivious to the jagged death rays shooting out of her daughter’s eyes, Mrs. Checkov quietly exits the room while Alona reaches into her pink leather handbag to retrieve her cell. In addition to being the only kid at Beaubridge without a string of bling around my neck or wrist, I’m also the only one without a cell phone. Or an iPod. Or a laptop. Or a trust fund. Well, make that me and Glory Finklefuss, the girl my friends were dissing at lunch a few weeks ago for wearing oversized overalls. Glory actually lives four houses down from me in The Heights, but I generally pretend I don’t know her. I mean, one false move and I could be Glory Finklefuss. At my old school, I practically was.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea for a name,” I tell Sammie and Grace while Alona chats with her mother on the phone. “What about The Fabulous Four?”

Booooring,” Grace says, shaking her head. “We need something edgier. Don’t we, Sammie?”

“For sure,” Sammie says, glancing in the mirror. She puts her hand on her stomach, sucking it in as far as it will go, then exhales deeply, deflating like a big rubber Whoopie Cushion.

“Hey, that could be a name,” Grace says. “Four Sure.”

I smile teasingly. “And you thought my suggestion needed work?”

“Uh-uh,” Alona suddenly interjects, folding up her phone. “I’ve got it. The Four Tops.”

As in that crappy oldies band my parents like to dance to at weddings?

“Oh my God, what an awesome idea!” I rave. Hey, come on, I know how to brownnose with the best of ‘em. “How’d you come up with that one?”

“Well…” Alona says, plopping down onto Grace’s white satin comforter with an exaggerated air of intelligence. “Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know we’re the top girls at Beaubridge High, right? The ones everyone wants to be. And now there’s four of us.” She turns to me and beams. “So why not just tell it like it is, loud and proud?”

Holy Frappacino, I am officially one of them! Me, with my freckled “baby face,” lifeless hair, and discount clothes. Of course, I’ll have to change. I mean, in order to stay in, I’ll have to start working overtime. Then again, nobody ever said life at the top was easy.

From JOYRIDE, Chapter Three

I watched as Blanche kissed Emily on the cheek. “How are you, sweetheart?” she asked, using a tone reserved exclusively for my best friend. Sometimes I wondered if she did it just to upset me, but Blanche really wasn’t that malicious. She just truly didn’t like people. That’s where all the hostility came from. Well, maybe not all of it. Looking back now, after all that’s happened, I don’t know that Blanche was ever really angry at all. But even when I thought she was Pennsylvania’s largest homegrown bitch, I never took her for calculating or malicious. Blanche was never cruel. It simply boiled down to what I said before, the fact that Blanche just didn’t much care for people in general. Which is why she wouldn’t have been able to stomach being nice to anyone unless it was for real. That’s how I knew she really did like Emily. But then again, what wasn’t to like? I just couldn’t quite figure out why Emily liked her back.

“I’m okay,” Emily said, tapping her finger lightly on one of my sister’s spikes. It didn’t move. “We were just discussing detention.”

“Did you get a detention?” Blanche asked me, her eyes lighting up as if Sid Vicious had just resurrected in the middle of our kitchen and asked her to dance. I shook my head, embarrassed to admit how boring I was.

“Stella never has detention,” Emily said, smiling at me proudly. “She’s my hero.”

“Yeah, Supernerd,” Blanche said, sliding into the chair next to me and bumping my shoulder as she tried on the role of Playful Big Sister. Although, “big” wasn’t exactly the right terminology, considering that she weighed about fifteen pounds less than me and was two inches shorter. Next to Blanche and Emily, I felt like the marshmallow man.

“I think nerds are sexy,” Emily said, reaching out to grab my hand. Although it was hard to deny that my greatest fan on earth was essentially calling me a nerd, I couldn’t help but laugh anyway. And although joining in more or less meant she was “conforming” to the conformist dork on her right, Blanche couldn’t help but laugh either.

Emily had a way of doing that – of bridging the gap that had been growing between my sister and me ever since she dumped our childhood traditions for solitude and angst. We had once been close, doing all of those things that sisters do when they can still claim camaraderie but are too young to appreciate the meaning of the word. The kinds of things they’re too embarrassed to even let their best friends know they do because they should have outgrown them years before. The kinds of things a girl can only do with someone who shares her bloodline, someone whose experience of the world – in sight, smell, taste, and sound – has been almost identical to hers since birth. Things like acting out scenes from TV sitcoms with our Barbie dolls up until I was eleven and Blanche was thirteen. That was back when our arguments were based solely upon who got to be Blair when it came time to recreate that week’s episode of The Facts of Life. Once Blanche started spiking her hair and becoming a tough girl, it wasn’t so much the fact that she’d ever played with Barbie dolls that confounded me, but that she’d thrown such hissy fits over wanting to be Blair. But by then, I’d denounced girlhood games as babyish, too. Though I do admit, there was a huge part of me that knew – without even having to be prodded – how much I longed to play Barbies with my sister just one more time.

My mom gave all of that stuff to our little cousin not long after my fourteenth birthday, and I cried every morning in the shower for a week. When Emily asked why my eyes were puffy, I actually broke down and told her the truth. She hugged me, but didn’t say a word, although, from then on, the three of us began spending a considerable amount of time together. Apparently, upon hearing that my sister and I had not always been rivals, my best friend saw an opportunity to fix something she never even knew had been broken.

Spending more time with Blanche wasn’t too difficult to manage because she was already so incredibly fond of Emily. And after a while, I started to feel like maybe, just maybe, my older sister was also becoming just a little bit fond of me. It was a different level of interaction than I was used to – we were both teenagers now – and while I knew we’d never be able to recapture our childhood closeness, Blanche was no longer the angry stranger she’d been for close to two years, either, and she seemed to respect me on a whole new plane. She would never think I was cool like Emily, but she had begun to like me again. While for so long, she’d chastised me for being one of the masses, she was beginning to show a certain admiration for the fact that I was a good kid. A good kid who got good grades and had good values. I just wasn’t all that interesting. But this I knew. Blanche and Emily were both artsy types and I wasn’t. And Blanche managed to be this way while blowing me into the shallow end of the academic pool. I still did well, but Blanche excelled, making straight A’s in practically everything without even having to try. I couldn’t complain, though. I may have felt bland in comparison to the company I kept, but at least I had my sister back.

I was no longer jealous of Emily and Blanche’s relationship either. That all changed once the three of us started spending so much time together. Pretty soon, it would just be Blanche and me alone in my room at night, without the glue, and I’d realize that what I’d really been jealous of all that time she’d been doting on Emily was that she hadn’t been doting on me. I’d always thought I’d been afraid of losing my best friend to my much cooler big sister, with whom she seemed to have so much more in common. It wasn’t until we’d been reconnected that I realized that all along, I’d been afraid of losing Blanche. But by the time winter break rolled around during Emily’s and my final year at Willowood, all that insecurity seemed a genuine artifact and I wasn’t afraid of losing anyone.

We’d settled rather comfortably into the Three Musketeers pattern we’d established, a pattern that thrived on the notion that good fortune to one meant good fortune to all. Such was the case when Blanche got her driver’s license. She’d been sixteen for quite a while and would, in fact, be turning seventeen just a little over one week later, but had taken her time getting her license because, to put it frankly, she’d been lazy. I think it was her blossoming friendship with Emily and me, and the knowledge that it would still be another year before either of us could drive anywhere – another year of wandering aimlessly by foot amid our suburban seclusion – that finally gave her the incentive to get her ass behind the wheel. My parents said she could have my mother’s car every Friday night. On the Tuesday before our first Friday night out, I turned fifteen. Blanche turned seventeen that Sunday. Winter break came just twelve days later. Our parents let us take the car to South Street to celebrate our first of ten school-less nights. It started out as the best night of my life.

I was surprised when Blanche didn’t make us listen to the Sex Pistols or the Dead Kennedys on the ride downtown. Instead, she kept the radio tuned to Mix 91.3 FM and actually sang along to songs that will always remind me of that night. Roxette’s “Joyride.” “You’re in Love” by Wilson Phillips. “Unbelievable” by EMF. At one point, I could swear I even spotted her moving her shoulders to C and C Music Factory. It made me wonder if in her private moments, she ever just whipped out her old Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam tapes and went nuts.

We spent our time breezing in and out of stores, stuffing our faces, and freezing our asses off. Despite the cold, I couldn’t have asked for a better night. I look back on that trip to South Street as the swan song of simplicity, of innocence, and of taking things for granted because you’d never once considered that one day, you wouldn’t have the chance.

Emily was going to stay the night at our house and, as usual, we decided to sleep in Blanche’s room because it was bigger. I think we were still on an adrenaline high from South Street and I don’t remember whose idea it was – for all I know, it could have been mine – but we decided to play a game of truth, the type designed to expose each other’s darkest hidden secrets. Of course, I didn’t really think that any of us had any of those, but we decided to play, anyway, for the hell of it. The rule was that you could either come right out and reveal something juicy about yourself or wait to be asked a specific question.

I was put on the spot first and, within the course of five ridiculous minutes, had voluntarily unburdened my soul about weighing 132 pounds (a hefty and daring admission considering Blanche weighed 113 and Emily only 97). I also confessed to pulling on my boobs in the shower in hopes of stimulating some kind of growth spurt that would finally make me an hourglass. I felt like a complete jackass by the time my turn was over.

Emily’s confessions were a little more scandalous. She came right out and confessed to a same-sex crush – on me, though she was speaking past tense.

“Back in seventh grade, long before we ever talked about Mrs. Wilder’s thighs, I just remember looking at you and thinking, ‘There she is.’”

“Miss America?” Blanche teased.

“No,” Emily said, staring at me. “My bella donna.”

“Your bella who?” Blanche asked.

“Donna,” Emily said. “Woman.” She smiled at me. “My beautiful woman.”

“Oh, I get it,” Blanche said. “Like the Stevie Nicks album.”

“Otherwise known as the greatest solo debut in the history of the world,” I said, quoting Emily, who winked at me proudly. I returned the gesture, adding, “And for what it’s worth, moon sister, you can be my bella donna, too.”

“Oh, great,” Blanche said. “Now, I have to go throw up.”

Blanche. She had the tough act down to an art form, though until that night we never had any reason to suspect it was an act. I think we purposely saved her turn for last. Probably because she was older than we were and we actually had a specific question in mind. With hindsight being twenty-twenty, this is the part of the night I always wish I could go back and change.

From LOSING IT, Chapter Twenty

Diana had been there for over an hour and hoped that during her relapse into unhappy thoughts, that godly blond pool player from last week may have shown up. She surveyed the room, but there was no sign of him. Of course, there were other men that she could probably hit on, but why waste her energy microwaving frozen pizza when a fresh, hot, and delicious one was on its way to her door? Whoops, food analogy. As a woman on the road to thinness, Diana wished not to have those anymore. She had to keep in mind that in her new life, nothing was a bowl of cherries, the whole enchilada, as easy as pie, a piece of cake or the icing on it. And men could not be compared to pizza.

She was just about to hit the ladies’ room for a What- if- he- shows- up- and- I- look- like- total- crap- because- I- got- ready- hours- ago? emergency face and hair check when in walked Mr. Let’s Get It On. And at that moment, all surrounding noise ceased to exist as Scott’s Tavern became one with her left ventricle – the whole bar beating to the exaggerated, gong-like sound of her overexcited heart. Or maybe it was his heart – his sexy, do-me, perfect heart – commanding everything and everyone to follow its tune. For in this singular, most precious moment, theirs were the only two hearts in the world. Everyone else was just a robot, everything else just some sort of government-orchestrated illusion. Reality was her and him. And her face had grown hot enough to heat the farthest planet from the sun. But Pluto would have to wait. Diana needed to have a look in the mirror and make her move before the inevitability of last call turned her into a pumpkin. The only problem was that the most important man that had ever lived was by the pool tables now, which meant – deep breath, six pounds, shrinking thigh, don’t panic – he was also right by the ladies’ room.

The walk over there was hellish. Diana felt like she had a hanger in her shirt and a broom up her butt, and she wished she could be more casual, more relaxed, more like...well...him. New outfit, Malibu Pink, confident thoughts. She couldn’t look at him. All she could do was disappear, behind the comforting shield of the bathroom door.

Once inside and safely out of view, Diana gave herself one hell of a pep talk, focusing entirely on positives – why she was a sex goddess, why he’d be lucky to get her, why, no matter what happened, she should be proud of herself for trying and therefore having no regrets about what could have been. She was careful to stay away from self-bashing conditionals: If you don’t do this, you’ll never get a boyfriend, and you’ll always be a disappointment to your mother. If you don’t do this, God will spit on you. If you don’t do this, you will never know what love is and would have been better off in that stupid blimp with those azaleas.

As she neared the end of her emergency self-therapy session, the ladies’ room door swung open, catching her completely off guard and causing her to jump back.

“Don’t act so frightened, honey,” said the intruder. “Doors open all the time.” Diana couldn’t tell if this woman was joking with her or insulting her, so she produced her best ha-ha-ha/fuck you smile, and opened the door to destiny.

Mr. Wonderful was taking his shot. Diana knew nothing about pool, but when she heard the guys commending him afterward, she knew it was time to make her mark.

“Nice shot.” Translation: I want you so bad I can’t breathe. You are the sexiest man I have ever had the honor of potentially humiliating myself for. You are the sun, you are the rain. You are the wind beneath my wings. My endless love, my silver spring, my first, my last, my everything. We are the world.

Why was it taking him so long to answer? Didn’t he know that her entire concept of self was riding on what he said next?

“Yeah, thanks.” Translation: Yeah, thanks.

Diana heard someone snicker. Were they laughing at her? She couldn’t tell; they had all gone back to the game. No one was paying any attention to her at all. Maybe she hadn’t made her mark. Maybe fat girls couldn’t be sexy – not even with lipstick, the perfect outfit, and a fully charged libido that, after a decade-and-a-half hiatus, had finally decided to wake up and chug the beer.