Title: TAKING UP SPACE
Category/genre: YA Contemporary
Author: Sandra Budiansky
Chosen by editor Julia A. Weber
Original version here.
Skyler Montgomery wants to be in love. Well, she wants to be in love with someone besides Cole, her best friend's boyfriend. So when she meets RJ, a cute skateboarder, who seems to like her, 'curves' and all, she will do anything to hold onto him. But when his affection turns abusive, she has trouble deciding what kind of love she wants and what she willing to give up to get it.
1Jenna and Cole are fighting.
The three of us are sitting at our usual table outside Christian’s Pizza. Jenna’s pretending to be staring at her phone, and Cole is muttering under his breath. Their slices remain untouched. Mine are already gone.
Here’s to another summer of being their third wheel.
I play with the straw in my cup, the squeaky noise against the plastic breaking the silence at the table. Around us, moms navigate their strollers over the bumpy brick road of the pedestrian Downtown Mall while a little ways down, the skateboarders take up their semi-permanent spot near the movie theater. Their voices and laughter carry over to us.
“Checking out your boyfriend, Skye?” Jenna says, barely looking up from her phone.
I divert my eyes from the skaters.
“What boyfriend?” Cole asks, trying to look past me.
“That one over there, dressed all in black.” Jenna begins to point, but I pull her hand down. “Skye told me she thought he was cute.”
I sink down in my chair. I have to get new friends.
“So what about the party tonight?” I bring the subject back around to the reason they were fighting in the first place. “We’re going. We always go,” Jenna says. She leans over next to me and pulls me near her. “Smile, Skye!” She holds up her phone and takes a selfie of us, and then held it up for me to approve. “Come on, you look cute!”
“I look huge. My head takes up most of the picture and I have like three chins.”
“Let me see.” Jenna shows Cole the phone.
Cole leans in and whispers, “I know what you look like, I’m sitting across from you.”
Yeah, but I don’t like the reminder, no, the proof that I look the way I do: Overweight, red faced and splotchy because my pale skin hates the Virginian sun.
“So what time should I come over tonight?” Jenna asks Cole.
“We can go if you promise no drinking.”
She stares for a beat and before agreeing. “I promise.” She smiles and crosses her heart with her finger. When she leans across the table to kiss him, Cole stands to meet her half way.
“And with that, I have to go,” I say. I pick up Jenna’s phone and check the time. “Jack’s going to be home soon.”
“Ugh, your brother will be fine, he’s like what thirteen?”
“Twelve. But you know how my mom is.”
To say my mom is overprotective would be an understatement. She and Dad are always fighting over custody of us, and she’s on edge that one little mistake will give him fuel to reopen the case. So she keeps pretty close tabs on Jack and me. The fact that she even let me go with Jenna and Cole to celebrate our last finals today is a minor miracle.
“I hope she eases up this summer,” Jenna says. “It sucks that your curfew is so early.”
Ten o’clock. Even Jenna’s strict Japanese parents allow her to stay out until eleven. Though they’d freak out if they ever found out about Cole, or that she talks to boys at all.
“The trolley’s coming, I need to go.”
“I’ll give you a ride,” Cole says, crumbling his own plate.
“I thought we were going to go to the movies.” Jenna pouts at Cole.
Cole turns to her but keeps his eyes on me. “Right, I forgot.”
Jenna sighs and shakes her head, her eyes darkening a bit. “What time are you done with Weight Watch—” She stops when she notices me glaring at her. “That thing tonight?”
Cole rolls his eyes; he knows but is kind enough to pretend he doesn’t.
“I’ll be home by six.” I wave, grabbing my bag and squeezing my way between my chair and the one behind me, and start running toward the trolley. I feel my face warm, annoyed with Jenna. She knows I don’t want to tell Cole or anyone about going to Weight Watchers. It’s embarrassing.
I pick up my pace a bit when I notice the last person boarding the trolley is already getting on. Panting, I race ahead. I really need to get into better shape. Suddenly, something rolls in front of me and my foot trips and I fall forward, catching myself with my hands, but not before my chin hits the ground.
“Oh shit! Are you okay?” I hear the words, but don’t recognize the voice.
I scramble up, wiping my hands on my pants. I shut my eyes tight to push away the tears. When I open them, I notice everyone around me staring.
“Hey, are you all right?” The cute skaterboy I’ve been seeing around appears next to me, grabbing his board, which is apparently what I tripped over.
“Yeah, I think so,” I say, touching my chin. Thankfully, there’s no blood. I see the trolley pull away, and I wish the ground would open and swallow me. Some UVA kids are staring at their phones and laughing. Did they take a picture of me on the ground? I can imagine the tweet - Miss Piggy goes splat at Downtown Mall.
“Sorry! I screwed up that trick and my board got away from me. Oh God, you’re crying. You’re not okay,” Cute Skaterboy says, squatting down next to me.
“No, I’m fine. It’s my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me.” He looks me up and down and then smiles. My heart beats faster, which is stupid because he’s not checking me out, he’s just checking to make sure I’m okay.
“Skye, you all right?” Cole runs over to us.
“She’s fine, no blood,” Skaterboy says.
Cole ignores him. “You sure?”
“Yeah, except I missed my ride.” I point to where the trolley is now turning right at the end of the road.
“Come back and wait with us. Or I can take you home now,” Cole says.
Cute Skaterboy stands to the side awkwardly. I turn to him and repeat I’m fine, and he waves and skates over back to his friends. Well, I guess falling on my face is one way to get him to notice me.
“What about the movies?” I ask. “Jenna will be pissed if you blow her off for me.”
“Right.” We both turn to glance at her still sitting at the table, staring at her phone as usual. “But she gets pissed off if the wind blows and her hair gets messed up.”
“Cole! She’s your girlfriend.”
“I guess. But you’re my best friend and you need help.” He puts his arm around me and pulls me into a side hug.
This is why I can’t get over the guy. He knows. He knows how I feel, everyone freaking knows how I feel and I know there’s no chance. Not anymore. Which is another reason I need new friends.
“I’ll see you later, Cole.” I gently push him away, back toward Jenna. This little trio of ours is so dysfunctional. I watch him go back to Christian’s, where Jenna’s waiting with a scowl on her face. Not thirty seconds later, he’s leaning down to kiss her. My stomach flips. This being in love with my best friend’s guy thing sucks.
“Sorry you missed your ride,” Cute Skaterboy says from behind me. He kicks the end of his board and it flies vertically into his hand.
“Oh, I’m fine.” I’m always fine.
“I was trying to do this trick that my friend Sven made up. He calls it the Locoflip, anyway, the board got away from me.”
“Try again,” I say, surprising myself.
“Sure, yeah, okay, watch.” He drops the board, gets on, skates around a bit and then kicks it up. This time it lands wheels up. He laughs. “Yeah, that sucked.” His pants are ripped in the knee, showing off a large scrap.
“You just need to practice.” As if I know anything about skating. I swing my bag around to my other shoulder.
“Whoa, you’ve got a lot of pins,” he says, noticing my messenger bag. The top flap is completely covered in pins. It’s stuffed with my journal, a few books, phone, wallet, Advil, and whatever else I end up shoving in there. I barely empty it. Jenna’s constantly telling me I don’t need anything but my phone and wallet, “maybe a lipstick” but I feel naked without my stuff.
“Yeah, it’s a little out of control.” It started when I was a kid and my parents took me to Disney. Now, I like ones with not-so-clever sayings like “Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?” and “What is the speed of dark?” Mom and I buy them whenever we go into some tacky souvenir shop. There’s about twenty on my bag but an entire shoe box full at home. I don’t tell any of this to him. He must think I have a terrible sense of humor.
He pulls my bag toward him, drags me a few steps with it.