Whitney and I were best friends the instant we saw each other during kindergarten orientation. I was clinging to my mom's leg as we walked in the door. I saw Whitney playing by herself with a ratty doll. I ran over to her and sat down next to her, pulling out a new Barbie and showing it to her. She smiled and we played with the doll all through orientation.
As we grew up, I found her at my house all the time. Her mom was all the time bringing "colleagues" home from work. My mom adopted Whitney and she often stayed the night. We called ourselves sisters in third grade, causing our friends to become our enemies. Apparently, they had already considered us all as sisters. I hadn't.
I'd never fit in. I was the awkward, short, skinny kid in school. Whitney grew up to be tall, slim, and dark haired. I envied her, just like everyone else. But, for some odd reason, we were always friends. I never understood why that was, why she hadn't ditched me. I'd probably never understand Whitney. I don't think anyone did.
I stood in the gym with my hands shoved in my pockets. I kept giving Whitney the glare all the other girls were giving her every once in a while, but she ignored me.
"Cheerleading will be fun, Mads, we can spend time together," she said one day as we were giving ourselves manicures in my room. I snorted.
"Cheerleading? Whit, can you see me at a football game jumping up and down as they scored touchdowns? Can you see me in a skirt?" I asked, applying a coat of neon green to my toes. She shrugged.
"Madison Natalie Smith, I have seen your parents drag you from Wes's games every time he had one. It's time they drag him to your games."
"Cheerleading isn't a game, and so far, as much as I've seen of our team, it's not even a sport. Standing there, yelling chants and an occasional cartwheel is not a sport. It's just an activity that allows girls to knock other girls down."
"Just give it a try, Mad, you never know," she said, blowing on her neon pink nails. I sighed.
And that was how I managed to be sitting in the bleachers of cheerleading tryouts as my enemy Elizabeth Conners did a role call. I envied Whitney again. It was a no brainer that she would make it, she was flexible and a loud mouth. Me? I couldn't do a back bend. There was no way I'd make it.
I watched as Elizabeth went over the routine she wanted us to do. Once. Twice. Three times. Each time, I kept thinking there was no way I could do those back flips, front flips, cart wheels, twists, jumps, and everything else included.
She called us onto the floor and I slid to the back of the group, thinking that if I made a fool of myself, at least only a few would see. I watched as Whitney bounded up to the front, Miss. Flexible. She put on the music and I tried to copy what she had done, but kept tripping over my own feet.
"Madison Smith!" Elizabeth whined. "You're doing it all wrong! Come up here!" Oh crap. The thing I had wanted to avoid had come back. Karma.
I trudged slowly up to the front. Whitney gave me a reassuring smile. I tuned out Elizabeth's complaining. I knew the routine. I just couldn't do it.
"El, if she can't do it, just don't let her on," a senior said. I shot her a look so cold she flinched. Elizabeth looked at me.
"We'll…I don't know," she said, shaking her head as she turned and put on the music.
I replayed Whitney's words in my head. I hated being dragged to all the games and meets my parents made me do. Now, they would do something for me.
"Kick her ass," Whitney said under her breath to me. I smiled and followed the three cheerleaders that were up front's moves, hitting them right and wiping the smirk off the senior's face and Elizabeth's.
I walked home with the blue and white Hawk uniform in my bag. I wasn't going to make a show of it. I didn't know why I had walked to school, though. Well, it'd been nice this morning, but now it was pouring down the rain. Whitney had some drama club meeting after school, so she couldn't give me a ride. I guess I was hiking it.
I shoved my hands into my hoodie pockets and pulled up the hood to save my blonde hair from getting frizzy. I kept my eyes on my feet as I walked, dutifully dodging mud puddles. I spun around as a car drove by, sending a wall of water at me. I shot it a ton of words that were not pretty.
I stood there, like a drowned rat. I groaned and turned before running home. Walking wasn't doing me any good, maybe running would. I splashed through the mud puddles I'd avoided before and up the front walk.
I ducked into the garage and grabbed a towel off the shelf. I pried off my hoodie and stripped off my t shirt and yoga pants before wrapping the towel around me and picking up my bag. All I had to do was dash across the small walk way between the garage and house and I was safe since no one was home.
I stuck my head out the door and ran for it. I dashed into the house, through the kitchen with the screen door slamming shut behind me. I took the stairs two at a time in case Wesley showed up early from work. I dashed into my room and picked up another pair of yoga pants that were on my floor as long as a tank top before running to the bathroom. I was safe.
I stepped out of the bathroom, showered and dry. I walked down the hall, towel drying my hair. I tossed the towel into the hamper and walked downstairs. My brother sat on the couch, flipping through the TV stations. I heard Mom in the kitchen and Dad in his office, working.
"Hey, Madison, come here for a second," Mom called. I rolled my eyes at Wesley.
"She made a new casserole," he said, making a face. "Don't lie and say it's good because it's terrible and if you say it's good, we'll be eating it all year."
"It can't be that bad," I said and walked into the kitchen. Sure enough, Mom was holding a spoon out for me to taste test.
My mom loved inventing new meals and torturing Dad, Wesley, and I with tasting them. They were normally awful, so our chocolate lab, Sparky, usually got a good helping of it when her back was turned. Sometimes the casseroles were good, but more than often, they weren't.
Mom once made a broccoli casserole with tuna and chicken in it. We fed it to Sparky and he hacked the entire meal up. It ended up we had to take him to the vet. Apparently he had food poisoning. No more broccoli, tuna, or chicken had entered our house since.
"Mmmm, Mom," I said, holding my breath as I swallowed. It tasted like it smelled: like dead feet.
"You really think so?" she asked, biting her lip.
"No!" Wesley called, appearing in the doorway. "Mad, you're such a goody two shoe. It's terrible, Mom, she's just trying not to hurt you." I gave him the same look Mom gave him.
"My cooking is not terrible," she said defensively. I practically ran to the fridge for a bottle of water.
"Yeah, it is," he said, leaning against the door frame. I rolled my eyes.
"I am not a goody two shoe," I said just as defensively.
"You are too!" he shot back.
"I am not! Do you even know what a goody two shoe is, Wesley?"
"Yeah, Madison, I know. I'm not stupid."
"Sure about that?"
"Positive. I think my grades are better than yours if I'm not mistaken."
"Because I suck at Algebra!"
"And everything else!"
"HEY!" Mom shouted. "Enough." I glared at Wesley and he glared back. We knocked heads all the time because we were so alike. I looked away first. Wesley turned and walked back into the living room. Mom sighed.
I walked out back and onto the porch. I sunk down onto the swing, listening to the hum of a tractor a few houses over, laughter from a barbecue, and sounds of kids playing. I swung back and fourth lightly, almost falling asleep until there was a squeal from the house.