My closet is a place of secrets.
This is where I change into Her, the girl everybody knows as me. Searching through hanger after hanger of neatly pressed clothes, I find the outfit I’m looking for. A black knee-length pleated skirt, a loose-fitting white top, and two-inch wedge shoes. Looking good at school is a must. Not that I do it for me. It’s more for my dad’s reputation. I have to play the part.
I am stuffed into a borrowed frame. One that fits too tightly. One that couldn’t possibly capture the real me.
“Faith,” my stepmom calls. “Are you joining us for breakfast?”
There is no time. “No,” I reply, my voice carrying downstairs.
I quickly dress for school, catching my reflection in the closet door mirror. Waking sun shines off my hair, highlighting a few strands brighter than the rest. Everybody has a favorite body part. Mine is my hair, which is the fiery-brown of autumn leaves. My best friend, Melissa, swears my eyes are my best asset. Ivy-green, deep-set, haunting. Like they go on forever.
Speaking of Melissa, her horn blares outside. Beep, beep, pause, beep. That’s our code. I race downstairs, passing my dad, stepmom, and little sister on the way out.
“Wait,” Dad says.
I sigh. “Yes, Dad?”
He glances at my outfit, pausing at my shoes. If it were up to Dad, I would wear turtleneck shirts and dress pants with lace-up boots forever. The perfect ensemble, it seems. As it is, I dress conservatively to protect his image. I’m eighteen. You’d think he’d stop cringing every time he saw me in anything that showed the least bit of skin.
“Hug,” he says, waving me over.
I hug him. Place a kiss on my five-year-old sister’s jelly-covered cheek. Then, grab a napkin to wipe the sticky jelly from my lips.
“Bye, Gracie,” I say to her. “See you after school.”
She waves a small hand at me and smiles.
“Take this.” Susan, my stepmom, hands me a bagel even though I already declined breakfast. It’s poppy seed. I’m allergic to poppy seed.
As usual, I don’t put up a fight. My frame feels especially uncomfortable at the moment. It’s always the same thing. I learned early on that it’s easier to go with the flow than to be different. Different is bad. Standing out attracts attention, something I try to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, being the dance captain makes that more difficult.
“Have to go,” I say, shoving the bagel in my bag.
The screen door swings shut behind me.
Melissa waits in my driveway. We live in a modest, yellow-paneled house in Oviedo, Florida. The majority of the people here are middle class. We fit in well.
“What’s up?” Melissa smiles. “Took you long enough.”
“Yeah, well, you try waking up late and still looking as good as I do,” I joke.
Melissa whips her blond hair into a ponytail and puts her red Camaro in reverse, careful not to hit my Jeep on the way out. I have my own car, but since Melissa lives three doors down, we have a deal where we alternate driving to school. She takes the first month; I take the second, and so on. Saves gas.
“You look smokin’,” Melissa says, lighting a cigarette.
I roll my eyes.
She’s always hated the way I dress.
Melissa laughs. “Okay, true, the clothes need to go. But your hair and makeup are flawless. And no matter what you wear, you still look beautiful.”
“Thanks, you too,” I say, eyeing her tight jeans and sequined top. Melissa is effortlessly beautiful with her sun-freckled face and athletic build.
“Prediction,” Melissa begins. This is something we have done since ninth grade: predict three things that will happen during the year. “Tracy Ram will try to overthrow you as dance captain, once again, but you’ll keep your spot, of course, ’cause you rock. You’ll quit dressing like an eighty-year-old and finally wear what you want to wear instead of what society dictates is appropriate for a pastor’s daughter. And you’ll come to your senses and dump Jason Magg for a hot new boy.”
Melissa always predicts that I’ll dump Jason, has done since Jason and I began dating freshman year. It’s not that she doesn’t like him. It’s just that she thinks my life is too bland, like the taste of celery. What’s the point, she figures.
“First of all, I do not dress like the elderly,” I say. “And second, I don’t know what you have against Jason. He treats me nicely. It’s not like he’s a jerk.”
“It’s not like he’s exciting, either,” Melissa says.
She’s right. What I have with Jason is comfortable, nice even, but excitement left a long time ago.
“Prediction,” I say, turning to Melissa. “You will not be able to quit bugging me about dumping Jason, even though last year you swore you would. Despite your doubts, you will pass senior calculus. And you’re going to win homecoming.”
Melissa shakes her head. “No way. Homecoming is all you, girl.”
I groan. “But I don’t want to win.”
Melissa laughs. “Tracy Ram would have a heart attack if she ever heard you say that.”
“Great,” I say. “Let her win homecoming.”
We grin. Melissa and I have been friends since kindergarten. Memories come to me suddenly. I’m in elementary school, and it’s sleepover night at Melissa’s. In my overnight bag, I carry a small stuffed bunny, my steadfast companion since forever. People would laugh if they knew, me carrying around a stuffed baby toy, but Melissa never tells. Fast forward to middle school. The braces on Melissa’s teeth are still so new that the silver catches the light from the fluorescent fixtures when she smiles. The headgear is huge, cumbersome, and no one lets her forget it. But I relentlessly defend my friend. She’s so beautiful, can’t they see? Sometimes I leave flowers stolen from a neighbor’s rose bush at her locker when no one is looking. That way people will know that she is loved. High school. Melissa and me, same as always.
“What do you want to bet?” Melissa asks.
Whoever gets the most predictions right wins.
“Hmm,” I say. “If I win, you have to quit smoking.”
Melissa almost chokes. “Pulling out the big guns, are we? Okay, then. If I win, you have to break up with Jason.”
“Deal,” I say, knowing that she won’t win. She never does.
Melissa purses her lips and gives me the stink eye. She knows I have a better chance.
“Faith, I will find a way to break you out of your mold,” she says.
I laugh, partially because of the determination in my friend’s eyes, but mostly because of the absurdity of her statement. Everybody knows that girls like me never break free.