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The Year I Became Isabella Anders, Page 2

Jessica Sorensen

  "Stop being that guy?"

  "Stop being the guy who's happy all the time and just be normal."

  "Normal is overrated," I mumbled. "Trust me."

  "Yeah, maybe. But I'll never know, since I've never felt like anything about my life is normal." He sighed tiredly then shook his head. "You probably think I'm a douchebag, sitting here complaining about my perfect life."

  "You're fine. It's okay to complain about life. Everyone gets tired of being who they are at some point." I picked at my fingernails. "And it's okay to change. You know, if you really want to."

  He only nodded with his brows furrowed, like the idea greatly confused him. Then he released a breath and leaned back on his elbows. "Thanks for being such a great listener." Then he leaned over and did something amazing. He kissed me on the corner of my lips. "You're so much different than anyone else I know. I feel like I can be myself when I'm around you."

  His words meant a lot to me, but the kiss damn near caused me to stop breathing. It was more than just magical. It was out-of-this-realm amazing. The problem was once he got better at free shots, we stopped practicing, and our movie/doughnut/heart-to-heart time ended too. Kyler went back to being the perfect popular guy everyone expected him to be. Yeah, he still smiled and waved to me whenever he saw me, and talked to me during school sometimes, but that was about as far as our friendship ever went. He still sometimes sticks up for me, though, when someone is harassing me at school.

  "What the hell was that?" Hannah combs her fingers through her hair then her face pinches in disgust as she stares at the chocolate in her hand. "Oh, my God! Is that bird shit?!"

  "Um," Kyler hesitantly glances up at me, and then his gaze drops to her hand. "It could be," he says, even though he witnessed me spit out the chocolate.

  He glimpses up at me and we exchange a look. I know he won't rat me out. He's not like that. He's still that nice guy, who wins championships and gets good grades--the guy who everyone loves and who I know secretly wishes he didn't have to be. Although, I sometimes wonder if he still wants to be different. Over the years, he's seemed to grow into his position as being the popular guy everyone loves.

  "Isa!" Hannah screeches from the driveway, jerking me away from one of my favorite memories. "Are you listening to me?"

  "I wasn't, but now I am," I say, blinking at her.

  She grunts, stomping her foot again. "Did you just spit something in my hair?"

  Call it payback for that stunt she pulled at the dinner table, but honestly, I don't feel that bad.

  "Sorry, but the candy had almonds in it and I panicked." I shrug. "I really hate almonds."

  "Oh, my God! You're such a freak!" She stomps her feet several more times, throwing one of her infamous Beauty Queen Tantrums.

  I feel sickly satisfied when Kyler covers his mouth with his hand to hide his laughter.

  "I'm going to get you back for this," she threatens, crossing her arms and giving me her notorious death glare. "Just wait. When I get done with you, even the janitor's closet isn't going to be safe."

  "Hey, calm down." Kyler touches her arm. "It's just candy. I'm sure it'll wash out. And Isa didn't mean to. I saw the whole thing. It was an accident."

  I kinda wish I really was a zombie, so I could have a legit excuse to shimmy down the railing and gnaw off her arm he's touching.

  Hannah takes a few breaths with her eyes narrowed on me, and then she spins toward Kyler, plastering on a plastic smile. "Wait for me while I go wash my hair. Then we can leave for the party."

  "Sure. I'll just go shoot some hoops in my driveway or something." He backs down the driveway toward the end of the fence.

  Only when he turns his back to us does Hannah lock her glare back on me. You're dead, she mouths.

  Eventually she'll make due on her threat, probably at school, when I least expect it. God, how I wish UW was farther than a ten minute drive and she had to go live at college. But nope, she's staying here, at least for a while.

  Le sigh. Story of my life.

  I probably should be majorly concerned over what she's going to do to me, but honestly, my reputation at school can't get any worse. So, I focus on something better, something that'll cheer me up.

  My attention wanders to Kyler as he rounds the fence, but my smile plummets when I notice him checking out Hannah. It's his one fault and something I don't get. Yeah, I know she's beautiful, curvy, has long blonde hair, and dresses like a girl, but back in grade school, he seemed disgusted with her. Sometimes he still does, like the time she tripped Jane Tribloton at a pep rally in front of the entire school. Kyler went and helped Jane up, and then I caught him chewing out Hannah in the hallway later on in the day. Those moments remind me of the Kyler I first fell for. But then there's this other side, the one cracked out on guy hormones.

  I frown as Kyler continues to check out Hannah. God, she'd swoon herself to death if she knew he was drooling over her ass like he is. She's been trying to get him to ask her out for the last month, ever since her breakup with The Brad--a nickname he gave himself. While Kyler and Hannah aren't officially a couple, they spend a lot of time together. If they do start dating, I'll have to gouge my eyes out so I don't have to witness them making out. Of course, if he actually starts dating my sister, I just might be able to finally get over this silly little crush I have on him.

  "Isa, are you okay?" Kyler shouts as he bounces a basketball in his driveway while looking in the direction of my balcony.

  I shrug. "Yeah. Sure."

  "She's always so hard on you," he says, jumping to make a shot. As he moves, his grey t-shirt rides up just enough to give me a sneak peek at those superhero abs I know he has hiding under there.

  "Who, my sister?" I ask distractedly as I discreetly check him out.

  Stop staring at him, for the love of God.

  The ball swishes through the net, and he turns back to me, smiling adorably. "Yeah. I mean, I like her and everything, but she's nice to me. With you, she always seems so . . ." He seems to be searching for the right word.

  "Bitchy. Vile. Or how about plotting-my-death-off-the-rocker-Norman-Bates kind of crazy," I offer, resting my arms on the railing.

  "Well, I was going to say intense, but those work too." He's trying really hard not to smile.

  "Can I ask you a question?" I dare ask, despite the inner voice screaming at me to keep my trap shut.

  "Sure." He offers me an easygoing grin.

  "Why do you like her? I mean, she's so mean . . . and you're so . . ." I stop myself from saying nice, because I'm uncertain how he'll react.

  "I don't know. I just . . ." He glances at the door to my house then rubs the back of his neck, looking really uncomfortable. "Isa, I don't really feel comfortable talking to you about this."

  Give me a crown, people, because I just took the title for Most Super Awkward Girl Ever.

  Thankfully, the side door of his two-story house swings open and out walks Kai, Kyler's younger brother, who's a junior in high school like me.

  He's not wearing a shirt--he usually isn't--his boxers are sticking out of his black cargo shorts, and his light blond hair is smashed on one side, as if he just woke up. The whole sleepyhead, rebellious look he's rocking is a recent change, as well as the people he's started hanging out with, the stoner kids--labeled as such for wearing dark clothing, eating a lot of junk food, and their overall don't-give-a-shit attitude. At least, that's what everyone calls them, although I have yet to see any of them smoking pot. If that were the case, then I'd be a pothead, since the description fits me, too.

  "Hey, what's up?" Kai gives a chin nod to Kyler as he closes the door behind him.

  "Not much," Kyler says to his brother as he picks up the basketball. "I'm thinking about heading to a party."

  "Which one?" Kai asks, stuffing a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

  He shrugs, dribbling the ball against the concrete driveway. "I think one of Hannah's friends is having one."

  He chokes on a laugh and spit
s out a mouthful of cereal. "Sounds like tons of fucking fun." Sarcasm drips from his tone.

  "It won't be that bad." Kyler lifts his arms up to shoot another basket.

  "It'll be a bunch of dumbass cheerleaders and jocks," Kai says, setting his bowl down on the porch railing.

  "I don't know what your problem is." Kyler walks backward toward the grass to collect the ball. "You used to be one of those," he makes air quotes, " 'dumbass jocks', too, before you decided you were too good for everyone."

  "That's not what quitting the team was about," Kai replies in a clipped tone. "So stop talking about shit you know nothing about."

  "Then what was it about?" Kyler challenges as he scoops up the ball and tucks it under his arm.

  Kai shrugs, picking up his bowl, looking pissed off. "Who cares?"

  "Whatever, man." Kyler's gaze bores into Kai, like he expects him to cave. "You know everyone thinks you're into drugs now."

  Kai lifts his shoulders and shrugs again. "That's their problem. Not mine."

  "I'm starting to wonder if they're right."

  Kyler sounds more aggravated than I've ever heard him. And trust me, I've eavesdropped on his conversations a lot, so I would know.

  They argue for a few minutes longer, acting completely like night and day. Kyler and Kai may be brothers, but they sure don't act like it. Yeah, Kai is equally as gorgeous, in a dangerous, bad boy, let-me-stun-you-with-my-smoldering-eyes kind of way. Up until about six months ago, he used to be almost as good of a football as Kyler is, and nearly as popular. He even flirted and checked out Hannah sometimes. But then one day he did a complete one-eighty, quit the team, and started spending a lot of time ditching school. I always thought it was odd that Kai was the one who went the route Kyler once wanted--well, in terms of changing. I'm not really sure Kyler ever wanted to become a rebellious bad boy.

  The one thing that remained Kai, though, is he's really intense, to the point where looking him in the eye can actually be terrifying for some. And for some girls, exhilarating. For me, not so much, because unlike a lot of people, I know there's a dorky side to Kai, who thinks he's funny and who reads comics.

  "Believe whatever you want." Kai backs toward the porch, shrugging off Kyler. "Have fun at your lame-ass party."

  Kyler dribbles the bejesus out of the ball. "Whatever. Avoid the problem, like you always do." Another slam of the ball. "Cause more problems between Mom and Dad."

  Kai seems oddly satisfied by the fact his brother is annoyed with him, and a smile touches his face as he spins for the door. Right before he walks inside, though, he looks over his shoulder at me.

  I should probably duck for cover, since I've been caught eavesdropping red-handed. If it had been Kyler, I'd be so mortified that I'd probably bolt back to my room. But with Kai . . . well, he and I sorta have this thing going on, ever since seventh grade. Not a relationship type of thing or anything. It's more like a 'he teases me and annoys the crap out of me' thing. I don't know why he's so persistent about doing it, other than maybe I'm the only person who doesn't get all squirrely every time he looks at them.

  I carry his gaze for a beat or two longer, and the smile on his face grows. I narrow my eyes at him and flip him the middle finger, just because I can. He laughs then winks at me before disappearing inside his house.

  I check out Kyler one last time before I return to my bed to finish my drawing of Zombie Artist Girl, who looks great in a cape and can behead a zombie like a badass mofo.

  But, the second I plant my butt down on the mattress, my bedroom door opens. I prepare myself for an argument with Hannah, figuring it's her coming to chew my ass out for the chocolate incident, but instead, my mom and dad walk in.

  I give them both a puzzled look, because they hardly ever step foot in my room, let alone together.

  My mom scans all the movie, comic, and band posters hanging on my black and violet walls then rolls her eyes at one of my sketches, or what she calls my 'coloring book drawings'.

  "What a waste of time," she mutters, shaking her head.

  I blow out a breath, trying to let her disapproval breeze past me. But that lack of air sensation appears as my lungs tighten and the shell I live in shrinks even more.

  "Did you guys need something?" I close my sketchbook to avoid any more of her insults.

  Her cold eyes land on me. "Turn the music down. We need to talk."

  I look over at my dad, who's staring at the window, his eyes all lost-scared-puppy wide.

  Something's up.

  "Okay." I tear my attention off my dad as I reach over to turn down my stereo. "What's up?"

  She presses a glance at my dad, but his eyes are fastened on the window. "Do you want to tell her? Or should I?" When my father doesn't budge, she huffs, snapping her fingers. "Henry, we agreed to this, so either you can tell her, or I can."

  My dad rubs his hand over his head then looks at me. Or, well, the space around me. "Isabella, your mother thinks--" My mom clears her throat, and my father adds, "Your mother and I were thinking that you should live with your grandmother for the summer."

  "For the entire summer?" I ask, shocked.

  "You'll go in a couple of days when school gets out," my mom says, smoothing invisible wrinkles out of her pencil skirt. "And you can return here to finish up your senior year."

  The way she words it is confusing, like they're kicking me out but allowing me to come back to finish school.

  I'm not sure how I feel about this. "Which grandmother?"

  My dad clears his throat. "Grandma Stephy."

  I relax a bit. If it would've been Grandma Jane, my mom's mom, then it would've been an entirely different story. The woman criticizes me even more than my mom does, so much that I sometimes refer to her as Grandma Jane, Isabella Ego Slayer.

  "Okay, I'll go." And hey, it might be good to get a break, if for nothing else than to get away from Hannah and whatever death-to-Isabella tactics she has planned for the summer.

  "Of course you'll go, since it's not a choice," my mom snaps. "We didn't come in here to ask you to go. We came in here to tell you that you're going to go. That we need a little bit of a break from your sarcasm, your rudeness, and your," she waves her fingers at my worn-out sneakers, holey, a-size-too-big jeans, and my oversized hoodie--my typical outfit, "whatever the hell this disaster is."

  "Honey, easy." My dad glances at me, throwing me off with the brief eye contact. "She's just a kid."

  She points a finger at him. "Don't you easy me. I've had enough of this," her finger moves to me, "enough of her. And quite frankly, enough of you. I need a break from one of you, so it's either you or her, and I'd really prefer her." She spins on her heels for the door. "This was never part of the deal, and I want it fixed." She storms out of the room.

  "What deal?" I ask my dad.

  My dad's gaze bounces back and forth between me and the doorway. "Sorry, Isa. I really am," he mutters before rushing away with his shoulders hunched, cowering like a dog with his tail between his legs. He stops in the doorway for a second to say, "Call your grandmother. She wants to talk to you about taking a trip overseas, if you're up for it. But don't tell you mother; otherwise, she might not let you go do something so . . . fun." Then he hurries out of the room like it's on fire.

  I take a few measured breaths then flop onto my bed and hug Mr. Scribbles, a teddy bear my dad won for me at a carnival when I was about five. It was during the one and only birthday he and I spent together. The day had been absolutely magical, full of spun sugar, bright lights, and the chiming of games. I felt like I was floating on clouds until we got back to the house, and my mom yelled at him for over an hour because he missed one of Hannah's beauty pageants. The only way she let him off the hook was when he promised that he would, "never do such a selfish thing again." That was around the same time he stopped making eye contact with me.

  I set the bear down and roll over on my stomach, battling back the tears as I work on my comic book drawing. It's one of my personal favor
ites, mostly because it stars my alter ego, who's much more ballsy than me. I have a sidekick, too, a woman who I sometimes like to pretend is my mom. She treats me fantastically and always tells me, Great job! every time I kick ass. I actually draw the woman a lot; she's been stuck in my head for as long as I can remember. Sometimes she even makes appearances in my daydreams, where she takes me to movies, out shopping, and sometimes we just spend the entire day riding the Ferris wheel. She never gets angry with me or makes me feel small and insignificant. She even tells me she loves me.

  I wipe a few stray tears from my cheeks and close my sketchbook. I've trained myself pretty well not to get too emotional over the stuff they say to me--especially my mom--but I'm not a super robot immune to such human emotion. I'm a seventeen-year-old girl who knows she's not the best daughter, who, yeah, tests her parents' patience a lot, and probably spends way too much time drawing comics and watching cartoons. But I still want to, just once, hear them say I love you.

  My dad said it a couple of times when I was younger, but it's been a while. And I'm almost sure my mom has at some point, but it's been so long I can't remember. I've started to fear maybe there's something wrong with me that makes me so unlovable.

  "It's not you. It's them," I try to convince myself as I curl into a ball with the teddy bear.

  But as I lie by myself in my room, something I do almost every day, I have to wonder if I'm wrong.

  Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

  MY DAD WAS right. My Grandma Stephy does want me to go overseas with her.

  "Are you sure you don't mind if I go with you?" I ask her the next morning before I head to school.

  "Why the hell would I?" she asks, being her blunt, doesn't-give-a-shit self. "Besides, if you go, then I'll have someone young and fun to hang out with other than those old biddies."

  "Wait? Old biddies? Who are we going with?" I dig through my dresser, looking for a clean t-shirt, but can't find one, so I end up rummaging one out of the hamper.

  "The rest of the Sunnyvale Bay Community."

  "So a bunch of old people?" My mood deflates. But then I remind myself it doesn't really matter who I'll be going with. Anything is better than being home.