“Death by bikini.” I looked at Lori, who stood by the door of my bedroom. “You can put that on my grave when I die of embarrassment today.” I dangled last year’s bikini top from my fingers, the material so faded it was practically see-through.
She sighed and shook her head. “You’re just looking for a swimsuit now? We have to leave in ten minutes.”
Early morning sun poured through my bedroom window. It was only the beginning of April, but in Phoenix it already felt like summer. We’d probably get a tan at the band car wash. Well, Lori would get a tan, and I’d get arrested for indecent exposure.
“I didn’t think it was so faded.” I shoved the top back in my dresser drawer.
“You should have come with me to the mall last night,” she said, fingering the neck strap of her new pink bikini.
“I couldn’t. I had to go to Dad’s.” I shuddered. As if I needed reminding of that on top of everything else. I rubbed a hand over my face. Was that a frown line between my eyes? Was I face-scrunching in my sleep? Great. One more thing to stress about—wrinkles in middle school.
“Girls?” Mom’s voice floated up the stairs. “You about ready?”
“In a minute,” I called down. Mr. Van Sant had dropped off Lori so my mom could drive us there together. Now we were going to be late. “I just won’t wear a suit.”
“It’s a car wash. You have to.” Lori dropped her purse and knelt next to me, rifling through my drawer. I didn’t mention that she’d never worn a suit to a carwash before. Or a bikini ever. Up until now, she’d worn a one-piece suit with a T-shirt over—even when it was just the two of us in the backyard swimming. Sometimes, I couldn’t help flashing back to how things were before she’d lost weight. I wondered if Lori was thinking about it, too, since I’d seen her touch her neck strap a few times.
“Here,” she said, pulling out a suit I’d worn for sixth grade swim team. “Wear this.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “It’s hideous.”
“It is not.”
“I cannot meet him wearing that.”
Him was Michael Malone. He’d transferred to Dakota Middle School last week, but he didn’t officially start until Monday. None of us had met him yet, but he’d be at the car wash today. I wasn’t about to face the enemy in a one-piece with a logo that said, A Porpoise with a Purpose.
“Girls?” Mom called, her voice edged with impatience.
“One minute!” I yelled back.
Lori pressed the suit into my hand. “You’ll look great, Tay.”
I groaned, but how could I say no when it was so important to Lori? I wouldn’t want to make a bikini debut on my own, either. I grabbed the rest of my clothes and went into the connecting bathroom. The door on the other side was open—that led to Andrew’s bedroom. I wrinkled my nose at the lingering smell of his new cologne. Emily, his girlfriend, had bought it for his sixteenth birthday and the whole top floor stunk like musk. The smell bugged me, but not as much as Andrew’s open door. I didn’t want a reminder that he’d spent the night at Dad’s. He shouldn’t have. It made the separation feel more…permanent.
And it wasn’t.
I slipped the suit on, sucking in my breath to get the straps over my shoulders. Last year the suit had been small, but this year it felt like shrink-wrap. Good-bye cleavage, not that I had much to begin with. I pulled on my red band tee and blue shorts, same as Lori. “We’re working the money table, so I won’t have to take off my shirt anyway,” I yelled through the open door.
“Would you quit worrying?” she said.
I sighed, as all the things I’d been worrying about wormed their way back into my brain. “I wish I didn’t have to.”
There was a heartbeat of silence from the bedroom, and I knew Lori understood.
Michael Malone. He was a clarinet player—same as me. Apparently he was good. Really good. According to Mr. Wayne, our band director, Michael had been invited to play with a youth symphony in Dallas, Texas. I’d never even heard a youth symphony before. And now here he was, ready to take part in all band activities.
Including auditions for District Honor Band.
I heard the mattress squeak, and a second later Lori stood at the bathroom door. “No dweeb from Texas is going to take your spot.”
I had to smile. Lori played flute, so the new guy wasn’t competition for her. But as my best friend, she’d promised to hate him, too. Just to be nice.
“You’re good, Tay. You’ve been playing amazing this whole year.”
Lori was the amazing one—really, truly talented. But maybe I’d been playing better these past few months. I’d been practicing a ton, and it had to count that I wanted it so much. Some new guy couldn’t just move in and take my place.
Unless he was better than me.
Only three clarinet players from each middle school could make District Honor Band and there were seven of us in the section. Brooke wasn’t auditioning because her family always went back east the last weekend of May when the concert was scheduled. I still had Angie and Aaron ahead of me, and they’d make it for sure. That left only one open spot. The spot I’d been counting on.
I rubbed a hand over my stomach. The words “youth symphony” were swirling like acid in my gut. “I think I’m getting an ulcer over this. I’m not sure what a bleeding ulcer is, but I may have one of those, too.”
“You don’t have an ulcer. Now would you hurry?”
I quickly wound a rubber band through my thick hair, pulling it into a ponytail. If only I had Lori’s hair—it did all the things mine wouldn’t, like lay flat against my head. Her French braid looked way prettier than my boring pony—maybe I could try that later. I studied my face wishing my eyes weren’t so tired and puffy. At least mascara would help. Unscrewing the wand, I swept it up and under, but my lashes were smashed from sleeping. I tried again and a shot of pain ripped through me.
“Ow!” I cried.
“What?” Lori asked.
“I stabbed myself with the mascara wand.” I blinked open my eye. A million veins were now throbbing red across it. “Veins on eyeballs? Whose idea was that?”
“At least it matches your shirt,” Lori offered.
“Perfect. I always like to color-coordinate with my eyeball.”
She grinned, then stood next to me in front of the mirror. Our eyes met in the glass, and she bumped my shoulder with hers. “He’s not going to be better than you. I promise. I won’t let him be.”
I smiled, this time for real. Lori had changed so much in the past few months, but her blue eyes were the same, and today they were so full of certainty I couldn’t help but feel better. If anyone could promise me a spot on District Honor Band, Lori could. She wasn’t just my best friend. She was my duet partner for auditions.
I bumped her shoulder in return. “So let’s go meet the dweeb.”