5 Secret Strengths in Being a Wallflower

When you think of strong female characters, the loud and outspoken girls like Katniss are the ones who spring to mind—not quiet and introverted girls like my Sade. There’s a certain strength in being a wallflower, though. I didn’t know that during my teen years when I was all big eyes and closed lips, soaking in everything around me but being powerless to stop it. Silence is often interpreted as weakness, but it’s also the quiet ones who have the coolest secret strengths.

We See and Hear Everything

People either don’t notice us or don’t interpret our presence as threatening, so they tend to bare all within earshot. Or they’ll walk right up to us and spill their darkest secrets as if we’re old friends. Since we’re introverts, we don’t usually abuse this information, but we know that it might come in handy later.

We’re also the ones who will find your lost earring or notice that you left your coffee pot on before we head out with you. We make great artists, counselors, detectives and, of course, friends.

We Give Great Advice

Because we’ve almost literally seen and heard it all, we’re able to give close to qualified advice on almost everything. Having boyfriend troubles? We know what to do. Don’t know where your fifth period class is? We’ve got that covered too. We know the ins and outs of a wide variety of subjects, including many useless things as well.

We Master Skills Quickly

We’re super observant, so we pick things up fast. Show us once or twice, and we’ll take it from there. We often come up with systems, too, getting it done more efficiently. Introverts have a lot of interests and are really good at many different things.

We are Walking Lyrics Traps

Not only can we remember this morning’s lecture—or at least take detailed notes—but we also have a bad habit of memorizing every single song ever. Including the really bad ones. Especially those.

We often have photographic memories and can tell you the exact shade of our childhood bedroom walls. Or how many streaks were in our favorite Barbie doll’s hair. Ask us to compare dresses from store to store in the mall, and we don’t even need to take a pic with our phones.

We Make People Feel Better

We put people at ease with our presence alone. We’re good listeners and friends feel comfortable talking to us. Even though we often feel like we didn’t do anything to help, just being there is more than enough. It’s also not too draining on us, so it’s a win/win.

Being a wallflower is pretty kick-ass, if you ask me.


Save her friendship, or save her best friend…

Shy girl Sade just wants to get through sophomore year without her moms grounding her or her little brother converting her to his newfound religion. But when her best friend Jackie starts acting weirder than everyone in her family combined, Sade discovers there are just some secrets she can’t keep.

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Kick Ass Girls of YA

We’re celebrating kick-ass girls all month long with a blog hop and other events. Check out the events schedule, then stop by the other blogs in the hop!

End of Year Paperbacks Clearance Sale!

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

And just like that, it’s officially autumn. There are so many things I love about this time of year: hayrides and apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, cozy sweaters over soft leggings… I could go on. It does sting to say goodbye to summer—I am an August baby, after all—but I’ve always seen fall as a new beginning. Maybe it’s because I could never wait ’til the first day of school so that I could start using all my new notebooks and pens.

I’m an office supply junkie. What can I say?

For whatever reason, the change of season triggers a mindset in me to grind down and get busy, in preparation for the new year (and the coming winter). Since I’ll be re-releasing all of my paperbacks in 2017, it’s time to clear out my current inventory. This, of course, totally calls for a clearance sale!

Shipping within the U.S. is free; if you live outside the U.S., please email me to discuss shipping options. You can email me at elizabethbaronebooks@gmail.com.

Diving Into Him (South of Forever, Book 1)
1st Edition, Maietta Ink, 2015
Regular: $14.99, Clearance: $7.99

Only 1 copy left


The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos
1st Edition, Maietta Ink, 2015
Regular: $14.99, Clearance: $7.99

Only 5 copies left


The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos
2nd Edition, Booktrope, 2016
Regular: $11.95, Clearance: $9.99

Only 6 copies left


Sade on the Wall
2nd Edition, Booktrope, 2015
Regular: $11.95, Clearance: $9.99

Only 3 copies left


Please email me at elizabethbaronebooks@gmail.com if you live outside the U.S. and wish to purchase a signed copy!

A Bit of Bad News

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Last night I found out that my publisher Booktrope will be closing its doors on May 31st, 2016. This is incredibly heartbreaking news, as I’d found a home with them and my creative team. So many talented people are being displaced as of May 31st, and it’s a very scary situation to be in for everyone. On May 31st, all of my books that have been published with Booktrope will be out of print; on June 1st, I will get all of the rights back, but that in and of itself presents a bit of a challenge.

As some of you may know, I’d made the decision to submit most of my work to Booktrope in 2015. I have autoimmune arthritis and at this time can’t work outside of the home, so writing became my full-time job. Previously, I was self-published, and though I’m planning to self-publish Sade on the WallThe Nanny with the Skull Tattoos, and the first two books in the South of Forever series (Diving Into Him and Savannah’s Song) again, I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to or when the South of Forever series will continue.

Please bear with me while I figure all of this out. In the coming weeks, I may be quiet in this space and on social media.

In no way am I throwing in the towel, though! I will continue to write and release my books. It just may be at a slower pace than planned.

 

In the meantime, both Diving Into Him and Savannah’s Song are now available! My team had already started the publication process, and they were actually released a couple days ago. Both are on sale for $0.99. The ebook and paperback editions will only be available until May 31st, so if you’d like to purchase them, I’d do so right away.

At this time, I am unable to offer signed copies for purchase. I apologize for the inconvenience!

Buy Diving Into Him

Paperback · Kindle · iBooks · Nook

Buy Savannah’s Song

Paperback · Kindle · iBooks · Nook

Thank you so much to my readers, family, and friends for your support and understanding during this difficult time.

Thank you, also, to my incredible creative team at Booktrope for all of your hard work and extraordinary talent over the last year. This particular chapter may be coming to a close, but I hope that this is not goodbye.

Sade on the Wall: Chapter 3

11793179_10153076754279072_98385358_nJackie didn’t come to school the next day. We had first period art together—we had made sure of that when we picked our classes during the summer—and she wasn’t there. Art is probably the easiest elective, other than study hall. Neither of us wanted to take anything too challenging first thing in the morning. I couldn’t imagine running around the gym that early in the day.

I told our friend Lauren about the party the night before, and she said Jackie probably just had a hangover. I felt lucky. Other than my head throbbing every so often and my parched throat, I felt okay.

“You said she was throwing up last night, right?” Lauren asked, laying out the paper mache supplies on our table.

“She definitely smelled like it,” I said, cutting a square off a white sheet of paper. “She didn’t look good at all.” I added the paper to my mold, then brushed some paste onto it. We were making masks, like those pretty porcelain ones you see hanging up on people’s walls.

“So she’s probably sleeping it off. No big deal. My sister comes home like that all the time,” Lauren said. She liked to tell us about how her older sister was a bartender and got to drink for free all night.

I shrugged. “I know. She just didn’t look too good. Plus I’m grounded and I can’t even tell her we have to cancel girls’ night because my moms took away my phone.”

Lauren flipped her long, brown hair over her shoulder, and turned her dark eyes to her own mask. I always got the feeling she wanted to be invited, but girls’ night was Jackie’s and my thing since forever. Inviting someone new would be weird.

Art went by pretty quickly, and then I had biology. I didn’t really mind bio. We got to do a lot of labs and things, rather than just read out of the book. When I got to bio, there was someone else sitting in Jackie’s seat—someone wearing a green football jersey and blue jeans. A hat that matched the jersey sat on the table in front of him. Mrs. M probably told him to take it off. He kept pushing his hair out of his coffee colored eyes, and I knew right away why he wore the hat, even though they’re against the rules.

I put my books on the table and slid onto the stool next to him. I smiled—just a little one because I didn’t want him to think I was some slutty flirt—and opened my biology notebook.

“I’m not in your seat, am I?” he asked.

I finished writing the date and looked up at him. “Huh? Oh. No.” When our eyes met, I could feel heat spread across my cheeks.

“Okay, good. I just can’t see the board from the back, and didn’t want to sit too far up front.” His warm eyes stared into mine, and my heart beat a little faster in my chest. I suddenly wished I’d bothered to do my hair that morning.

I nodded. “Yeah, I don’t blame you. Which class did you drop?” I didn’t think I’d ever seen him before. Even though Clarington is a small town, the school is huge. It’d be impossible to remember every single person.

“I’m new,” he said. “This was the only sophomore science class open.”

“Oh!” I glanced at his hat. “Where did you transfer from?”

“Okay, everyone,” Mrs. M said. “I’m passing out a list of the supplies you’ll need for the dissection tomorrow, and a handout of the frog’s anatomy. Today I’m going to demonstrate the dissection. It’s probably a good idea for you to take notes on the handout, because tomorrow’s dissections will be graded.”

“Shit,” the boy next to me whispered. “I was taking physics at my old school.”

“Now,” Mrs. M said, “as soon as you get your goggles and gloves, come on up.”

I dug into my bag and pulled out my goggles: black with hot pink glitter and feathers glued onto them. Jackie and I had jazzed up our goggles in middle school with Mama’s box of stuff she uses to mockup stage designs, and they became an inside joke. I put them on and the boy raised an eyebrow at me.

“There are extras in the back of the room,” I said.

He nodded and smirked. “Any extra glitter?” Before I could reply, he got up and went to the back shelf.

I went to the head table, where Mrs. M had a frog laid out, its little green hands and feet pinned to the piece of cardboard. It kind of reminded me of Jesus on the cross. I wrinkled my nose and placed my papers and notebook on a clean area of the table. I felt the boy standing next to me, but stared hard at the frog in front of us.

“First, you’re going to make a butterfly cut,” Mrs. M said. She cut across the chest, just under the frog’s neck, then down from that cut, making a T. I didn’t get why she’d called it a butterfly cut until she pulled back the skin and pinned it to the frog’s sides.

“Ew,” I said, and leaned forward to see the guts.

“Your frog’s organs will not be dyed like these are. This,” she pointed with the tip of a pen, “is the heart.” Some sicko had dyed it bright pink before sending it to the school. The rest of the organs were dyed a barf green and yellow—bright and yet somehow pale colors that made me feel bad for the poor frog. I hoped he’d lived a happy life.

“This is the stomach,” she continued. “You get five bonus points if there’s anything inside of your frog’s stomach.” Everyone started chatting, betting each other they would get the extra points. “This,” Mrs. M rose her voice above the chatter, “is the egg sack.”

“Little bitty babies!” a big kid named Ron said. “Can I touch one?” He made a pinching motion with his fingers. His eyes gleamed.

“Civilized,” the new boy next to me muttered. I smirked, glad that I wasn’t the only one who thought Ron needed some help.

“If your frog is carrying eggs, you will receive ten extra points,” Mrs. M said, ignoring Ron.

“Sweet!” Ron yelled.

The boy next to me snorted.

Mrs. M showed us the rest of the frog’s parts, then glanced at her watch. “You have a few minutes to pack up and ask questions.” She smiled and stripped off her gloves with a snap.

I went back to my table, stripped off my own gloves with the same snap, and took the goggles off.

“So,” the boy said, putting his hat back on. The logo on the hat said Jets. I suddenly wished I’d paid attention to everything Corey and Jackie had told me about football.

“So,” I said.

“If you’re not doing anything after school, I work at Jay’s Comics in the mall.” He pointed to my open backpack. “I saw the Batman comics in your bag.” He blushed. “I get a twenty percent discount,” he said quickly.

“Oh,” I said. “I’d love to, but I’m kind of grounded right now.” I made a mental note to ask Corey for more of his Batman comics.

“Oh,” the boy said.

I scrambled to save the opportunity, but no words came to mind. I swallowed hard, frantically glancing at the clock. If nothing else, I needed to know his name. “So what’s your name?” I asked, keeping my face casual. Inside, though, my heart did flips, fluttering in my chest.

The bell rang, drowning out his answer. Afraid to ask again, I picked up my backpack and slung one strap over my shoulder.

“What do you have next?” he asked, following me into the hall.

“English, with Mr. T,” I replied automatically. My heart slammed against my chest. There had to be another way I could get his name.

He pulled out a creased sheet of paper from his back pocket. “I have French. There weren’t too many classes still open when I transferred,” he said, as if French was the lamest class ever.

I leaned over, scanning his schedule. Before I could find his name in the tiny print, he folded it up and pocketed it. ”French is cool,” I said. “I took it last year, but this year I wanted to take a break and take art instead.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you later or something, then,” the boy said. “I’m down this way.” He waved and then walked in the other direction toward the foreign languages wing. I sighed and went to English, wishing I’d taken French again instead of letting Jackie talk me into art. I was rapidly running out of things to talk to him about. Oh well, I decided with a little flutter in my chest. At least bio will be even more interesting now.

To Be Continued…

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Sade on the Wall: Chapter 2

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Mommy just stood there glaring at us, her smooth brown skin flushed kind of red. Mama’s big, dark eyes were all kinds of disappointed.

“Let’s go. Right now,” Mommy said through gritted teeth. She pushed two kids aside and grabbed my arm.

Mama took Corey by the arm, and they both pulled us through the open front door as everyone stared at us. I felt my cheeks burn as though we spent the past few hours at the beach and not at a party.

“Wait,” I said, and turned back toward the house.

“Let’s go,” my mothers said.

“Jackie’s still inside!” I pointed to the house with my free hand. The sleeve of Jackie’s fairy costume slipped down a little, and I jerked it back up. It was bad enough the people on the porch saw me get in trouble with my moms. They didn’t need to see me hanging out of my costume.

Mommy let go of me and looked right into my eyes, her long hair hanging in her face a little. Her eyes blazed like a bonfire on the beach. They scared me. I’d never seen her so mad, not even when Corey and I were little and he’d tried some wrestling moves on me and accidentally broken one of my ribs.

“Stay right here,” she said, each word punctuated with anger. She marched back into the house before I could say anything else.

“Mama,” Corey said.

“No,” she said. The breeze drafted right up my costume. I shivered. Someone made a huh sound. I turned and Mama smirked at me. “A little cold there, baby doll?”

I looked down at my heels.

“Mama,” Corey whined again.

Mama didn’t say anything at all.

The wind blew harder, and I felt a cold drop of water hit my forehead. “Oh great,” I said. “Did you guys walk over here?”

Mama glanced up at the sky. “Maybe.”

Leaves crunched and cracked angrily. I looked up. Mommy marched Jackie toward us, one of Jackie’s arms slung over her shoulders. Both sleeves of her sailor costume hung down, and I could see the top of her bra. I wondered what she had been doing when Mommy found her.

“Tamara, I’m so sorry!” Jackie said, her words tumbling into one another.

“I don’t want to hear another damn word from any of you,” Mommy said. “Let’s go. Now.” She continued to support Jackie, though, and the rest of us followed.

No one said anything during the car ride to Jackie’s aunt’s house. Corey and I glanced at each other now and then, but mostly I watched Jackie. She sat next to me, leaning on the window. She smelled like she had puked after drinking an entire gallon of orange juice. Once in a while she moaned, but she kept her eyes closed the whole time. When we got to her house, Mommy helped her out of the car and walked her to the front door. She said nothing as Jackie pushed open the door. Mommy walked back to the car, and Jackie disappeared inside.

“Was her aunt home?” Mama asked.

“Don’t know,” Mommy said. “Don’t care.” She buckled her seatbelt and then turned to Corey and me in the back seat. “Listen to me, both of you. You’re grounded. You know the drill. Straight to your rooms unless you’re in school. No TV, no phones.” She held her hand out.

“Mommy!” Corey shook his head. “Come on, I didn’t do anything!”

Now!” she roared, and suddenly I realized what it would be like to have a stern father.

We both handed her our phones. Without it, my bag felt much, much lighter.

“No computer, either, unless it’s for homework. And Corey?” she said.

“Yes, Mommy,” he pouted, and tensed, like he already knew what was coming.

“No video games.” She turned back around.

A few seconds later, I heard sniffling from beside me. I wanted to cry, too. Such a fun night had gone wrong so quickly. It seemed surreal to me.

“Mommy,” I said, afraid to speak in a normal tone, like she might turn into a snake and bite me.

“What?” She whipped around in her seat.

“I was just wondering …how long?”

She snorted. “How long do you think?”

I looked down at my hands. “A week?”

“Ha! The girl’s got a sense of humor,” she said to Mama. “Try three. Two for Corey.”

“Mommy! That’s not—”

“I don’t care,” she said, interrupting me. She turned back around, and I knew the discussion—if you could call a one-sided trial a discussion—was over.

“She doesn’t even care that I just played video games all night,” Corey sniffled.

The ride ended too quickly. We went straight to our rooms. I heard Corey’s door slam as I slowly and carefully closed mine. The fact that my mom was so angry that she couldn’t even speak in complete sentences was enough for me. Corey apparently still had a lot to learn. A few minutes later, I heard Mommy’s feet pounding up the stairs, Corey’s door being yanked open, and her asking Corey if he wanted three weeks, too. I couldn’t hear anything else, but whatever he said seemed to be good enough for her because in another moment I heard his door close softly and Mommy padding back down the stairs.

I pulled off Jackie’s costume and tossed it into my laundry bin. I also put the Disney princess costume that Mama made for me in the bin. Looking at it, barely worn and crumpled on top of all my dirty clothes, I felt tears sliding down my cheeks. I hadn’t once thought that by not wearing it, I might hurt Mama’s feelings. It wasn’t an ugly costume. She had even sewn a matching mesh cape onto it. I probably could have won a costume contest.

I pulled on a T-shirt and pajama pants, and crawled underneath the covers, hoping that when I saw her in the morning, Mama wouldn’t still have that look of disappointment on her face.

* * *

Sometime later, I woke up. The room tilted and reeled. Moaning, I rolled onto my side. I had left my bedroom light on to read some of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, but one of my moms must have turned it off. They had even saved my place among the well-worn pages. Though it was a kid’s book, I read it whenever I needed some extra comfort. Staring at my nightstand through bleary eyes, though, the last thing I wanted to do was read. I couldn’t remember falling asleep, but I could remember the dozens of red cups of beer that I’d knocked back.

I wondered, suddenly, if Jackie was okay. Maybe I watched too much TV, but she hadn’t looked too good when we dropped her off. She could have alcohol poisoning or, even worse, someone could have slipped her something dangerous. I reached for my cell phone on my nightstand to text her, then remembered. Right, I thought. I’m grounded.

I hated the idea of waiting until the morning to find out what happened to her and, if she was okay, what she had been doing when Mommy found her.

To Be Continued…

Come back next Thursday for Chapter 3! You can also sign up for my YA email list and I’ll send you the first 5 chapters. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP.

Sade on the Wall: Chapter 1

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“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” I stage-whispered to my fourteen-year-old brother Corey as we got closer to Reggie Wilson’s porch. The party looked like it had started hours ago. Kids sat on the front porch, drinking out of big plastic red cups and smoking cigarettes. My eyes widened. Our parents—my birth mother, who we called Mommy, and Corey’s birth mother, who we called Mama—thought this would be a good old-fashioned clean Halloween party, mostly because that’s what I thought it would be. The Wilsons were famous for the haunted house they put together for the neighborhood kids every year. Judging by the lack of strobe lights and headstones on the lawn, it looked like Reggie’s parents weren’t even in town.

“Only if you let me try a beer, Sade.” Corey smirked. He moved ahead of my best friend Jackie and me, and went inside. I stopped walking and stared after him. I didn’t think he would say anything to our moms, but you never know with little brothers.

“Don’t worry about him,” Jackie said with a wink.

A couple of people stared at me, pointing. I glanced down and slapped my thigh with the palm of my hand. “Shit,” I said, looking down at the Disney princess costume Mama had sewn for me. The ice blue dress fell to my ankles, the long sleeves and velvet fabric clinging to my body. Although I loved the costume, it just wasn’t sexy enough. I yanked off the dress, revealing the short fairy costume that Jackie let me borrow. The night air felt cool against my legs—about normal for Connecticut in October—but it didn’t matter. We would be mostly inside throughout the party.

“Relax people, nothing to see!” Jackie called to them as she helped me put on the fairy wings. I slipped my feet into her heels, shoved the white flats and glacial blue dress into my bag, and followed her inside.

I felt the eyes of everyone on the porch on me as we walked past, but the screen door closed behind us in seconds, shielding me from their smirks and head shaking.

There must have been a hundred people inside the house. Although Clarington is a small town, I didn’t recognize any of the faces we passed. Music boomed in my ears. People either danced, or stood off to the side drinking out of more big red cups. In the hallway between the living room and kitchen, even more people stood talking.

I followed Jackie into the kitchen, where three long tables were set up with cups all over them. Kids stood at either end of the tables, tossing a ping-pong ball back and forth. I turned to ask Jackie what they were doing and realized she’d gone ahead into the dining room. I hurried after her, my heart pounding, terrified I’d get lost or someone would spill alcohol on me, and Mommy would smell it and ground me forever. I hoped the dining room would be less crowded so Jackie and I could catch our breath and try to find Corey. It was even worse in there. It only took me a few minutes to see why. Kids were lined up with more of those red cups in their hands, waiting to get them filled at this huge metal drum in the corner of the room.

“Sweet, a keg,” Jackie said. Her mouth was really close to my ear. “Isn’t this great?”

“Did you see where Corey went?” I asked, but she didn’t hear me over the music. She grabbed a red plastic cup from a stack on the shelf and held it out to me. I shook my head. She shrugged and got in line. I followed her and tapped her shoulder. “Did you see where Corey went?” I repeated.

Before she could answer, the kids in the dining room started counting. A really tall kid was doing a handstand on top of the keg and had the nozzle in his mouth.

“Twelve! Thirteen! Fourteen! Fifteen!”

“Come on, Harry!” a blonde girl yelled, jumping up and down.

“Twenty! Twenty-one! Twenty-two!”

I wondered how he didn’t fall down, or pass out from holding his breath for so long. I poked Jackie. “What’s he doing?”

She rolled her eyes, and I blushed. “It’s a keg stand. You drink upside down for as long as possible. You get drunk faster that way.”

“Oh. Uh … okay. Are you doing one?” I really wanted to ask her when she started to care so much about getting drunk, or even how fast she got drunk, but I already felt stupid enough.

“Hell no! I have to walk home!” She grinned. “Why, do you want to?”

I shook my head. “No way! Remember when we used to do handstands and get dizzy?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, I guess it can’t be all that fun, then.”

“Thirty-five—oh!” Everyone’s gasps rippled through the crowd. Silence fell over the room.

We looked up. The kid doing the keg stand sat on the floor looking dazed. A couple of people helped him up from the floor, then helped someone else get up onto the keg.

I watched the first guy—Harry—gag with his hands on his knees, hunched over the garbage can. I tapped Jackie again. “I’m gonna go see if I can find Corey,” I said. “I’ll be right back.” I headed back toward where I thought the kitchen was, but without Jackie, the house seemed much bigger.

I tried to remember how to get back to the dining room. I spotted a door that I thought looked familiar and went inside. Music videos flickered on a TV, but I couldn’t hear them over the music. Several people sprawled all over couches, making out and rubbing their hands all over each other. One girl even had her shirt off and her bra unhooked. I rolled my eyes and left the room quickly, heat spreading across my cheeks. I went straight back through the hall and found myself in the kitchen.

“Hey!” Someone touched my arm.

I whirled around, swaying in Jackie’s heels, a little off-balance from stopping so abruptly.

A girl dressed in rainbow colors, her blonde hair dyed to match, nodded to me. “We need an extra player. Danielle’s too drunk. You down?”

I glanced at the long tables and shrugged. “I’m looking for my brother, but maybe later.” I didn’t think there would be a later, but I didn’t want to look lame.

“Aw.” She sighed.

“I just wanna make sure he’s all right.” I smiled like I was a pro at big, crazy drinking parties.

“Oh no, he didn’t drink too much, did he?” She took a sip from a brown glass bottle. I didn’t recognize the name on the label, but I doubted it was soda.

I shook my head and laughed. “Corey? Yeah right. He’s never even had a beer.”

Even though I was a year older than Corey, I’d never had a beer, either. I wasn’t about to tell her that, though. She had a metal ring through her nose, a couple of tattoos, and something told me the dye in her hair wasn’t the temporary stuff Mama allowed us to use.

She laughed. “I’m Olivia.”

“Sade,” I said, pronouncing it extra hard—Sha-day—so she got it.

“Like the singer?”

I cringed. I’ve never even listened to her music, but I don’t plan on starting anytime soon. People always assumed I was named after her. “Like the chick standing in front of you,” I said, my face hot. The words stumbled out of my mouth and I regretted them almost instantly. I swallowed hard, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.

Olivia laughed again, though, her eyes sparkling.

“I’m getting thirsty!” A guy with dark hair and a goatee drummed his knuckles on the table. He looked older—a lot older.

Olivia winked at me. “So, you playing?”

“Let me go get my friend first. Be back in two minutes!” I said, and headed toward the dining room.

“Aw, come on,” the older guy said as I left.

I found the dining room, but Jackie was nowhere to be seen. I went back into the weird little hallway I’d walked through earlier, and stood in front of the door to the make out room. I did not want to go back in there. I headed back to the kitchen and rejoined Olivia. “I have no idea where my friend went. Did you see a little blonde Puerto Rican girl in a sailor costume?”

Olivia shook her head. “Blonde Puerto Rican?” She lifted an eyebrow at me. “Isn’t that, like, an oxymoron?”

I started to explain that nothing about Jackie was ordinary. She was Puerto Rican with blonde hair and blue eyes, and didn’t speak any Spanish. She could dance and usually had a line of boys chasing after her. She knew how to make me laugh and kept my secrets. We had met in kindergarten and became best friends when another girl stole my lunch money and Jackie kicked her until she gave it back. I couldn’t sum up almost ten years of friendship in just a couple of words, though.

“We playing or what?” the older guy demanded.

Olivia rolled her eyes and turned to me. “You’re on my team. You ever play?”

I decided to just go for it. I figured Corey was off having his own fun, and Jackie obviously was, too. There was no reason why I shouldn’t, either. I hesitated, though, because I didn’t know what they were playing. I wondered whether I should try to wing it and make myself look dumb, or admit that I’ve never been to a party and look even dumber. “The rules are so different everywhere,” I said, inspired by a poster board taped to the wall with “House Rules” written in big, black letters.

“Okay,” she said, “obviously, you have to get it in. You can’t bounce it off the table, and clean catches don’t count. If it hits two cups, they,” she jabbed a finger at the older guy and his partner, a short blond guy that at least looked like he was still in high school, “drink one each. If you knock one of their cups over, it doesn’t count. You drink. That’s pretty much it. Got it?”

I nodded. She handed me a ping-pong ball. It felt weightless between my fingers.

“Me first,” she said and, with a flick of her wrist, sent the little ball sailing over the table. It just missed one of the cups. I realized the cups were lined up in a triangle, with the tip pointed toward the opposing team. “Your turn,” Olivia said.

I swallowed hard and stared at a cup in the second row. There is a reason I don’t play sports. Please don’t make me look stupid, I thought as I tossed it over. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Yay!” Olivia squealed, and hugged me. I opened my eyes. The guy with dark hair set the cup to the side and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

The game went by super fast. The next thing I knew, Olivia and I won and were “racking up” again to play against two other guys. Her friend, the still-drunk Danielle, cheered us on from a chair on the side, smoking cigarette after cigarette. She kept offering me one, but I said no each time. The only person I smoke with is Jackie, and even then, it’s only once in a while. Cigarettes are too gross to get hooked on.

I expected beer to taste nasty—since neither Mommy nor Mama ever drank it—but it was kind of fizzy, like soda, but the color of ginger ale, bitter and wet, kind of like the yeast Mama used for baking. I loved drinking the foam the most.

Each time we started a new game, Olivia reached into a box and pulled out two or three cans of beer. The first time, I watched her fill the cups with just over a mouthful, maybe two, but after that, I started filling them. By our third game, I was filling the cups with three or four mouthfuls, and Olivia laughed each time.

“You are gonna get us smashed,” she said, hugging me and leaning on me. “I feel so good right now! How’re you feeling, girl?”

I nodded. I barely noticed the rough words in the rap blaring over the speakers anymore, and the boom of the bass made me want to dance. Everything—even when I missed a cup or knocked one of the guys’ cups over—made me laugh.

As we racked up our fourth game, I heard someone shouting my name. I turned and saw Corey pushing through the crowd watching us play. “Sade!” he yelled.

“What?” I finished filling our cups. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s eleven-thirty!”

“Okay,” I said, and tossed the ball. “So what?” I froze as my younger brother’s words sank in. “Oh shit. Olivia, I have to go!”

“Aw!” She pouted, then turned to her friend. “Danielle, can you play another game?”

I followed Corey, tripping awkwardly in Jackie’s heels. “Slow down,” I whined. “Where have you been?”

“Upstairs, playing Xbox with Reggie and some other guys. Where’s Jackie?” he shouted as we circled the downstairs part of the house a second time.

“I tried looking for her earlier. The last place I saw her was in the kitchen.” I leaned against a wall and yanked the heels off.

“We are in so much trouble,” Corey said.

“I know,” I said, my heart pounding. “I don’t think I feel too good, either.”

“No,” Corey said. “Look.” He pointed.

There, in the front door of the living room, stood our moms.

Read Chapter 2 »