Is it still morning? I really need to pull myself together and out of this bed before Tora sees what state I’m in. How much time do I have before she barges in and lights a fire under my ass?
Get moving! Don’t let her see you like this.
The doorbell rings a cheerful yet grating sound. At least she warned me she's arrived, but there's no time to pull myself out of my current condition.
My bedroom door flings open and relief washes over me as if I’m riding relaxing waves at the beach. The pieces are already mending just by her being in my presence. The urge to hug her is strong.
“I can’t believe you’ve wasted the majority of your break in this dungeon.” Tora raises the wooden blinds. Sunlight envelopes me in an unwanted cocoon. “That’s what I get for being a camp counselor all summer long and leaving you here to wallow in your misery.”
I grab my Aviator sunglasses from amongst the soda cans, Jolly Rancher candy wrappers, and pile of romance novels on my side table and slip them on. “Close that shit. You’re blinding me. “
“No, get up. It’s been almost two months since I’ve seen you. I didn’t come here to watch you sleep your life away.” She rips off my black-and-white striped comforter, revealing my secret. “Everly! It’s four in the afternoon. Why are you still in your PJ’s?”
I roll over, putting my back to those nasty rays streaming through my window. “Because I can be.”
Tora lies next to me and wraps her arms around my waist, comforting me as only she knows how. “It’s been two months, honey. You’ve got to move on. Are you going to spend your senior year being an absolute grump butt?”
I hug her back. “Yes.”
“Yep, lucky you.”
Her laugh warms my heart more than the unwelcome guest she invited in when she raised the blinds.
“I’m sorry I was away most of the summer and not able to help you get over him.” She runs her fingers through my tangled hair, a mess that’s going on its second week unbrushed. I had to set a rat trap in it just yesterday, but the little boogers keep getting away. After snagging on the rat's nest again, she resorts to pulling on the wavy ends. “But I’m here now. We have two weeks before school starts. We’ll spend our days lounging by the pool with virgin daiquiris in hand and force the Davis kids to fan us with palm fronds when we get too--"
I face-palm her lightly. "Palm fronds? We don't live near the beach."
She pushes my hand away then twirls the ends of her straight hair. "Fine. Those big elephant ears in old man Miller's yard. At night, we can sneak up on Topher and his microscope when he’s searching for aliens--"
"Telescope," I interrupt.
"Whatever,” she says, giving me her classic bitch-smirk. “We can dress up in all black and paint our faces green and tell him we've come to collect him. By the time school starts, you’ll be saying ‘Wynn who?’”
Hearing his name spoken aloud for the first time since the beginning of summer causes the empty pit in my stomach to grumble in anger--and maybe hunger. Tears roll down my cheeks. At least I know my tear ducts haven’t turned into the Sahara Desert; I cried so much all summer I thought I was dried out.
Tora rises and tugs my arms, pulling me to a seated position. Her brown eyes take me in. “You’re whiter than a marshmallow, girl. Have you gone outside at all?”
“Everly!” She puts her tanned forearm against mine. “We were the same color two months ago.”
I frown at the blue veins meandering through my translucent skin. If I keep this up, I'll be a shoe-in to play a ghost at the Halloween haunted house.
She walks over to my dresser and rifles through the neat folds until they crumble, sparing only a pair of shorts and a tank top to throw at me. I quickly grab the comforter from the foot of the bed and roll myself up for protection.
“You know you’re going to lose this battle,” she says.
I toss the covers to the ground in defeat. Even on my best days, I’m no match for Tora.
We may both stand tall at five-foot-five, but the ten extra pounds she has is pure muscle thanks to her yoga instructor-mother instilling the importance of bodily care.
Despite living across the street and having been best friends for the last ten years, I’m skinny and weak. I choose to disappear when it’s workout time at Tora’s house. Who wants to get all sweaty then be unable to walk for the next three days because they discovered muscles they didn’t know they had? That was me the one time I got tricked into downward dogging for an hour. Lesson learned: avoid Tora’s house between the hours of six and seven in the morning.
I slip the tank top over my head. “Where are we going?”
“Don’t worry. We won’t go anywhere near the diner.”
I grab my cell phone and check my messages--mostly from our other friends performing their daily make-sure-Everly-is-still-alive check. A sigh of frustration escapes me at the missing name.
Tora grabs my keys and purse from my dresser and opens my bedroom door. “Has he texted you?”
“What did he say?”
“Happy Fourth of July with firework emojis.”
“And your response?”
She pats me on top of my head like she does her yippy Pomeranian, Shadow. “Good girl.”
We walk through the kitchen, and I stop to write my mom a note on our whiteboard. She’ll probably call me in a panic when she gets home, wondering where I’m at. When I’m home every single day of the summer, there’s hardly a need for her to check our message center.
We get in my SUV that hasn’t moved since I desperately needed ice cream on Sunday. It’s a hand-me-down Honda Pilot that my dad called the Kid Mover. When I took over the driver’s seat, I dubbed it as The Mystery Machine, or Em-em for short. Dad gifted Em-em to me for my sixteenth birthday as an apology for moving to Georgia, hoping I would make the three-hour drive south often.
I’ve made the trip three times. Maybe I’m an ungrateful daughter. When he asks me to visit, I usually say I’m nervous about driving that far by myself.
The real reason beneath that excuse is I’m not a fan of his girlfriend. Because she’s only ten years older than me, we listen to the same music and shop at the same stores. We even wore the same shirt to dinner once.
I burned that shirt in my backyard firepit--my favorite shirt. A teal, smocked surplice top that magically made my green eyes shimmer and the natural blonde highlights in my brown hair stand out. Not only was it Wynn’s favorite, but I got compliments from total strangers any time I wore it.
It was a self-esteem building shirt.
I hit the ignition button then quickly turn off the radio still blaring Wynn’s favorite rapper.
Tora grabs my phone and scrolls through my music. I smile when the grungy sound of Black Moon, my favorite band and Tora and Wynn’s least favorite, fills the air. My dad’s girlfriend also has a love for them, but I don’t dare delete their songs from my phone. That’s the one similarity I deal with between the two of us.
“Thanks,” I say, pulling out of the driveway. “Where to?”
“I haven’t had a Frappuccino in two months.”
Perfect. Starbucks is on the other side of town from Wynn’s family’s diner where I’m sure he’s working today, as he does every day. He would never be seen at Starbucks anyway. He’s always complaining about corporate America taking over mom and pop shops.
After gorging myself with two vanilla bean Frappuccinos, we sit in the parking lot of Starbucks watching the afternoon traffic build.
“Thanks for this,” I say. “I didn’t realize how badly I needed to get out. I already feel better.” It’s not really a lie. Instead of feeling dead, I only feel half-dead. It’s like I’ve been living in a cocoon full of crap, and suddenly, the crap is now silk and it’s starting to burst open. I just need to push through.
“Good!” She flips the visor down and fluffs her blonde hair in the mirror. “Let’s go next door. I need to pick up a box of hair dye. My roots are looking bad.”
I grab her arm. “Wait. I haven’t even asked how you’re doing.”
A hint of a smile is quickly masked by a straight face. She looks away and says, “I’m fine.”
Tora broke up with her boyfriend, Brooks, out of the blue only a few days after Wynn broke up with me. They started dating at the same time Wynn and I did two years ago.
And something hides in her “fine.” Tora isn’t one to outwardly say what she’s feeling, but it’s easily read on her face. With a little probing, I can usually get it out of her. Something’s definitely up. Did she meet a hot guy at camp? Is Brooks begging her to get back together?
Before I have a chance to question her, she hops out and skips across the parking lot to the drugstore. I catch up to her in the hair care aisle perusing platinum blonde in a box.
“I think you need a make-over.” She shakes a box featuring a seductive model guaranteeing me luminous and long-lasting extreme blonde color in front of my face.
I grab the box and put it back on the shelf. “Nuh-uh.”
“Oh, come on. It doesn’t have to be blonde. Just add a little zing to your hair. I’ll only do a couple of streaks, not your whole head.” She searches the shelves and tosses a box in her basket. “It’ll wash out before school even starts. We’re doing this.”
I grab the box from her basket and read the label. Teal semi-permanent hair color. Gradually fades away with shampoo. School starts in two weeks. I’ll shampoo my hair twice a day if I have to just so Tora can have her little fun now. She did break up with Brooks so we could live it up our senior year being single and ready to mingle--her words when she brought over a gallon of cookie dough ice cream after ending it with whom she always claimed was the love of her life.
I toss the box back in the basket. “Fine.”
She jumps up and down as if she’s on a mini trampoline. “This color will look great with your new pale skin.”
When we round the aisle to the register, a wave of nausea hits me. Leaning over the checkout with his lips glued to McKay Miller is Wynn. I turn on my heels and head straight to the bathroom as the contents of my Starbucks gorge-fest threaten to make a reappearance.