The Year I Became Isabella AndersJessica Sorensen
THE YEAR I BECAME ISABELLA ANDERS
About the Author
Books by Jessica Sorensen
The Year I Became Isabella Anders
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Copyright (c) 2015 by Jessica Sorensen
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I'VE ALWAYS ROCKED the weirdo gene, and I've mostly been okay with that. But life would be a tiny bit easier if my parents and sister marched to the beat of their own drum, too. Unfortunately, their style is more Leave it to Beaver with an edge. My mom is the epitome of a Stepford housewife on crack. She can bake a cake, clean the house, put together a fundraiser for our school, and make sure my sister and I are doing our homework, all while looking perfect.
To most, my dad is the perfect husband and father. He works in the city and is the vice president of a company. He makes a decent salary, like most people who work in the city do, holds a high status in the community, and gives my mother everything she asks for.
Then there's my older sister, Hannah. Growing up, Hannah was the star prodigy of my parents. From preschool up until first grade, she starred in beauty pageants and won so many tiaras and trophies my parents made a special room for them, which basically meant she has two bedrooms. As she got older, she got into modeling and was even in her own commercial for some robotic gadget that was supposed to tease hair to its 'fullest potential'. My parents were always bragging about her at work functions and community get-togethers.
High school is where Hannah really blossomed, according to everyone. She developed an obsession with makeup and fashion, and her confidence and beauty helped her rise to the top social status tier. She became student body president, head cheerleader, and Queen of Sunnyvale, the title handed to one lucky senior who receives a flashy crown, free dinner at the club for a year, the privilege of riding on the float in the Sunnyvale Sunny Days parade, and a scholarship.
Then there's me, the baggy clothes wearing, manga loving, aspiring comic book artist, zombie enthusiast addition to our family. Being different would be fine--there has to be a weirdo in every family--except mine isn't very accepting of people they can't understand, including their own daughter. A junior in high school, my greatest accomplishment is having my own blog that is just a way for me to get all the clusterfuck of weirdness out of my head.
I once beat the entire neighborhood, including the guys, in a free shot competition. But when I do shit like that, it always earns the same reaction from my mother: "You're such a tomboy. When are you going to act like a girl?"
I clock in a lot of time reading, dye my hair an array of colors--today it's green stripes!--and doodle my own comics starring kickass female characters who aren't afraid to be themselves, my attribute I try to live by. Sometimes it's hard, though, trying to find people who 'get me' or whatever. I live in my own little shell as the outcast. Sometimes I feel like I can barely breathe, like the walls are closing in. My worst fear is that I'll die in that damn shell, probably by asphyxiation.
"Why aren't you breathing?" my mom asks me from across the lengthy dinner table.
I hold my breath another few seconds before releasing a deafening exhale. "I was just wondering how long it'd take to die from lack of air." And if anyone would notice if I dropped dead at the kitchen table.
She stares at me, unimpressed, then shakes her head and looks over at my dad. "I really don't get her sometimes." She cuts into her chicken, sawing into the meat so violently the knife scrapes against the plate. "No, I take that back. I don't understand her at all."
Hannah snorts a laugh as her manicured nails tap buttons on her phone. "No one does. Just ask anyone at school."
"Hey, some people get me," I argue, stabbing my fork into my salad. "I swear they do."
She glances up at me with her brows arched. "Name one person. And the janitor doesn't count."
"I'm not counting the janitor," I say, chewing on a bite of salad. I've never understood why my sister seems to hate me so much, but ever since we were in grade school, she's made it her mission to torment me as much as she can. "Although, Del's pretty cool."
"Oh, my God, you're a freak," she sneers. "And I know you don't have friends, so don't pretend like they exist."
"Just because the people I hang out with aren't cool enough for you, doesn't mean they don't exist." I'm calm. Perfectly cool. A lazy river on a hot summer day. Because if I'm not--if I lose my shit with Hannah--my ass will be sent to my room without dessert. And I love dessert almost as much as I love manga.
Hannah dramatically rolls her eyes. "You're so lame. At least own that you're a loner and spare yourself the embarrassment of pretending you're not a loser."
I bite my tongue to keep from firing off anything that'll get me into trouble and chant a lovely sweet treat song inside my head.
Oreo cake. Cookie dough ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake.
"You know what?" Hannah sets the phone down on the table, and when she smiles at me maliciously, I know she's about to say something that's going to get me into trouble--that even my sweet treat chant won't save me from. "I take that back. Maybe the janitor can count. I mean, you eat all your lunches in the janitor's closet, right?"
"No," I say through gritted teeth. "And you know I don't, since you pretend to ignore me every day during lunch."
Her grin broadens at the sound of my clipped tone, because she knows she's won--that I'm about to lose my cool. She mouths, Loser.
A slow breath eases from my lips, and then I stuff my mouth full of chicken.
Snickers. Chocolate chip cookies. Funnel cake--
"Oh wait!" Hannah exclaims with a laugh. "I do remember you hanging out once or twice with that freak who always wears mismatched shoes. But I think she's into girls . . ." She taps her finger against her lip. "Wait, is she your girlfriend?"
I can't control it any longer. I swallow the chicken and drop the fork. "Leave Lana out of this. She's a nice person, unlike you." I drop my voice and utter the nickname I know she hates, "Super Bitch."
"Mom!" Hannah whines, slamming her palm onto the table and sending the salt and pepper shakers toppling over, along with my mother's wine. "Isa called me a bitch."
and mother stare at the mess on the crisp linen tablecloth then my mother glares at me.
"Isabella, you can go to your room now," she says as she scoots back from the table.
"But I didn't do anything." I try not to sound whiney, because it'll only piss her off more. "Well, not anything that she didn't do."
"And you don't get any dessert," she says, ignoring my protests as she strides to the kitchen door.
"I'm really sorry," I tell her as calmly as I can, "but she did call me a loser."
"You're such a liar." Hannah flips her blonde hair off her shoulder and flashes me a smirk when no one's looking.
My mother looks at my father in that way that says you take care of her then she slams her palm against the door and whisks out of the room.
"Isabella, your mother said to go to your room, so go to your room." He speaks robotically, as if he rehearsed the words. He avoids eye contact with me, staring at his plate. "And no dessert."
He rarely looks at me, and I haven't ever figured out why. I asked him about it once, but he pretended like he didn't hear me and hurried out of the room, leaving me to draw my own conclusions. My very overactive imagination has conjured up quite a few borderline crazy ideas, ranging from him thinking I look like a hideous beast, to him fearing I secretly possess the superpower to change anyone who makes eye contact with me into a human corpse.
Knowing there's no way my father's going to cave on my punishment--since we've been in this same situation at least a hundred times--I stand up. "Okay."
"And apologize to your sister," he adds, still staring at his chicken like it's the most fascinating thing in the world.
Only when I turn my back to Hannah do I mutter, "Sorry." Otherwise, her smirk will drive me bat shit crazy.
As I'm walking out of the room, my mother returns with a towel to clean the mess up, along with a platter of red velvet cupcakes.
"Why are you still here?" she asks me as she sets the platter down at the end of the table. "I told you to go to your room."
With a heavy sigh, I bid farewell to the cupcakes and leave the dining room, trying to convince myself they probably taste like burnt cardboard, even though my mother's won ribbons for her fan-freakin'-tastic cupcakes.
An hour later, I'm sprawled across my bed surrounded by homework, my sketchbook, and a few of my favorite novels. My Chemical Romance is playing from the stereo, and my balcony doors are open, letting a warm May breeze blow inside. I'm still trying to convince myself that my parents don't hate me. That all their anger and bitterness toward me is simply because they don't understand me. That their partialness to my sister has nothing to do with me. But it's hard when my dad won't even look at me, and every time my mother speaks to me, it's either to ground me or to tell me what a disappointment I am.
I lie in bed lost in my thoughts until my belly grumbles. God, I wish I could at least have just a taste of those red velvet cupcakes. But if I'm caught sneaking into the kitchen, my butt will be grounded. It might be worth it, because seriously, my body's about to have a lack-of-sugar conniption fit.
I roll off my bed and do an awesome zombie impression as I crawl across my floor toward my dresser. "Must . . . get . . . sugar . . ."
When I reach the dresser, I hoist myself to my feet and raid the top drawer for some old Halloween candy I stashed there months ago. I find a half eaten bag of jellybeans and a half eaten chocolate bar that doesn't have a wrapper, and I devour both of them.
Turns out the chocolate bar has the gross addition of almonds. I instantly dry heave, realizing why the candy bar was only half eaten to begin with.
"Gross!" I search for a trashcan to spit it out, but I have no clue where mine ended up, so I trip out onto the balcony and spit out the mouthful of candy over the edge.
It takes me about two seconds to realize what a stupid idea this was for three different reasons:
1. My sister is hanging out in the driveway, which is right below my window.
2. The chocolate I just spit out has landed on her head.
3. She's talking to our neighbor, Kyler Meyers.
Kyler Meyers. What can I say about him other than he's gorgeous, popular, the star quarterback, and smart. Like, he takes AP classes and has a 4.0 GPA kind of smart. I'm also in love with him, have been since I was eight years old and he stopped Hannah's ring of minions from picking on me during recess.
"Hey, just leave her alone," he said when he stumbled across us at the playground.
They had me trapped on the top of the slide and were threatening to push me down it. It wouldn't have been a big deal except there was a giant mud puddle at the bottom. Somehow, Hannah had managed to scare all the rest of the kids away, so no one was around to witness what was about to go down. Even the recess monitor was MIA.
Hannah had crossed her arms and raised her brows at Kyler. "Why're you sticking up for her, Kyler? She's a loser." She stepped toward him and batted her eyelashes. "How about you just go back to playing football with your friends and leave us alone."
Kyler glanced at me then around the empty playground. For a moment, I thought he was going to bail, but then he stepped around Hannah and her friends and offered me his hand. "Come on, Isa."
I took his hand and he helped me to my feet. When they'd chased me up here, I'd fallen down and scraped up my knees, but I hardly felt the pain as he held my hand and guided me off the playground.
He only let go of my hand when we were a safe distance away from them. "Are you okay?"
Unable to find my voice, I nodded.
"You should try to stay away from her," he said, looking over his shoulder at Hannah and her crew, who had targeted a new victim.
"Okay." I managed to get one word out and was super proud of that.
He offered me a smile before heading back to the field to play football with his friends, oblivious to how much his good deed meant to me. It was the first time someone had stuck up for me. Ever. And I've been in love with him ever since.
I know my crush won't ever go anywhere, but I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. Deep down, I get that I'm not really in love with Kyler, especially since sometimes he does things that make me hate him. But in love sounds so much less porn star-ish than in lust.
The playground isn't the only time he's done something nice for me, though. There's so much more to my in lust crush than that.
When I was in eighth grade, he gave me a rose on Valentine's Day.
"Hey, Isa, I have something for you," he said as he jogged across the middle school parking lot toward me.
I paused when he said my nickname and gaped at him spastically with half a brownie in my mouth. He was a year older than I was, and I couldn't figure out why he was talking to me. Not only was I Hannah's loser younger sister, but I was in middle school and he was in high school.
"Happy Valentine's Day." He stuck out his hand, and his fingers were wrapped around the stem of a red rose.
I cautiously glanced from the rose to him then gulped the brownie down. "Is this a trick?"
Chuckling, he brushed his brown hair out of his eyes. "Why would I ever want to trick you, Isabella? I have no reason to."
My insides quivered at the sound of my name leaving his lips. The last time he had any social interaction with me was when I was in the third grade and he stopped some of his friends from picking on me, including Hannah.
My gaze darted around the mostly vacant parking lot as I searched for a blonde-haired girl hiding out somewhere, laughing her ass off. "Did my sister put you up to this?"
He swiftly shook his head. "I swear to God it's not a trick. I just wanted to do something nice."
I still didn't take the rose, worried the moment I accepted his gift, my sister would show herself and laugh at me. Knowing her, she'd probably have her Super Bitchy Cheer Pod People with her, who'd be ready to take pictures of my mortification.
"Isa." He dipped his head to make eye contact with me, not because I'm super short--I'm actually above
average height--but he's like one-step-away-from-not-making-the-parking-garage-clearance tall. "I swear to you this is just one neighbor giving another neighbor a gift with no tricks attached."
A neighborly gift? I almost frowned. But it was a completely selfish, Hannah-like reaction, so I sucked it up, took the rose, and even managed a smile. "Thanks."
He smiled, and my heart did an Irish tap dance. "You're welcome." He didn't leave right away, and it seemed like he wanted to say more. "Hey, so I have to ask you for a favor." He paused, hesitant. "And you can totally say no, but . . . I really need to work on my free shot for tryouts next season, and since you won that contest and were pretty badass, I thought you and I could practice together. Maybe you could teach me a few pointers."
Is Kyler seriously asking me to help him improve his basketball skills? I wasn't sure how I felt about that. On one hand, I was excited that I had an opportunity to spend time with him. On the other hand, it made me feel like he saw me as one of the guys.
"Sure," I replied with a small smile.
"Thanks." He looked relieved. "Wanna meet at my house tomorrow morning?"
I nodded and he threw me another smile before he turned around and headed toward the football field, located between the middle school and high school.
I stared down at the rose, wondering what the gesture meant--if it meant anything--and spent the next couple of weekends obsessing about every other gesture he did during our practices. Like when he brought me a doughnut or we spent a couple of hours after practice watching a movie. Part of me wonders if he was just being friendly, while another small part of me hoped it meant more.
He even opened up to me a time or two.
"Sometimes I feel like I have to be good all the time--because that's how everyone expects me to be," he muttered after his dad had come home and spent over a half an hour critiquing Kyler while he made basket after basket.
"I'm sure no one expects you to be that way," I said as we sat on his porch steps, drinking lemonade, our clothes soaked with sweat. "No one can be good all the time."
"Yeah, I know." He scratched his arm, staring at the driveway. "But sometimes it feels like the whole school doesn't see it that way. Like I have to be that guy who takes the team to the championships, who gets good grades, who's happy all the damn time, even when things get shitty. My parents expect that too." His hand fell to his lap and he caught my gaze from out of the corner of his eye. "My dad especially. Sometimes it feels like he's trying to live his dreams through me. Sometimes I wish I could just stop."