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In this honest, emotionally captivating short story collection, renowned author and National Book Award finalist Julie Anne Peters offers a stunning portrayal of young women as they navigate the hurdles of relationships and sexual identity. From the young lesbian taking her first steps toward coming out to the two strangers who lock eyes across a crowded train, from the transgender teen longing for a sense of self to the girl whose abusive father has turned her to stone, Peters is the master of creating characters whose own vulnerability resonates with readers and stays with them long after the last page is turned. Grl2grl shows the rawness of teenage emotion as young girls become women and begin to discover the intricacies of love, dating, and sexuality.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Lies My Girlfriend Told Me
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To all the young readers who've shared their stories with me
She sits alone. In Art, senior seminar, lunch, on the train. She always sits alone. If I was alone I'd find something to do. Read or work on homework or doodle, fake it, so if I was alone it'd look like I wanted to be alone.
Not her. She sits—slumps—in her seat on the train and stares out the window, down the aisle. She watches me getting on.
I don't look away. Every day we have this stare down. Ten, twenty seconds. We never talk or say hello. Never, How's it going? What's up? I'm not sure she even knows my name.
I sit with my group, always. Becca says, "Did you hear what happened at Ozzy's party?"
I have to force myself to listen. Or care. I have to concentrate hard on not looking at her.
"Ozzy and Laura hooked up."
People talk about her. Guys mostly. They call her a dyke. Girls call her a guy. She isn't a guy. Or a girl, really. She's "questionable." Gender fluid.
She's not committing one way or the other, let's just say. Who says you have to? Why do we have to? If I want to dress like a guy, so what? I don't, but if I did…
"They're together now."
She wears shapeless clothes—long-sleeved men's shirts and baggy pants. A loose vest over the shirt occasionally. Scuffed leather shoes, like Martens, but not label. She'd never wear labels. She defies labels.
I wonder what she's covering. Or covering up.
My eyes are glued to the back of her head.
She used to have shaggy short hair that looked like someone had taken dull scissors to and hacked off in a rage. This year she'd come back from summer vacation with orangey platinum streaks, clumps all over her head. Angry, but colorful.
The tiny hoop in her left earlobe and three studs up the rim of her ear are the most feminine things about her. Besides her lips. Her lips are wide, puffy, unnaturally large, overly ripe lips. And—get this—she wears red lipstick.
Not cherry red or ruby red. More like brutal, nasty red. Not glossy. Matte. Guys make smooching sounds behind her back. Girls go, Slut.
She's not a slut, or jock, or stoner. People don't know what to label her. You have to be a token, you know, to have a seat on the train.
On a whim, I get up and slide into the seat across and behind her. Becca calls, "Tam," and I wave her off, like maybe I want to sit alone for once? Better view. The lips. God, they're huge. Like a slow-mo close-up, they part and her tongue extends and circles the outlined oval of her mouth, moistening every millimeter of lip skin. Her head slowly turns and her eyes raise to meet mine. She fixes on me, suggesting something lewd with her tongue.
I jerk and—CRASH!—the stack of books on my lap falls to the floor, jolting everyone on the train awake. She looks back over her shoulder, to my group, impassive.
"Where are you going?" Becca asks when I stand up at lunch and lift my tray.
I don't answer. It's crazy. I don't know why I'm doing this. The sight of her sitting alone at the picnic table on the cafeteria patio when it's below zero out. What's that about? No one would think to eat outside today; no one's even gone out to smoke at the wall.
A suction, a force, a magnetic pull draws me to the outside door. She startles a little when I slide in the bench across from her. "Anyone sitting here?" I ask.
She blinks. Doesn't say anything for a long minute. Then, "Yeah. I'm saving it for Mr. Right."
That makes me laugh—almost.
She pushes up to leave and I lunge across the table to grab her arm. "I just want to talk to you."
Her gaze hovers over my hand. It rises slowly to my face. Stare down. I'm not letting go. I've gotten this far. She shifts her eyes over my head. Hold, hold. What's there? The wall. A dead tree.
Freezing is the operative word here. "Could we go inside?" I ask. "It's like fifty below. Your lips are blue."
It's meant to be a joke, but I'm the only one laughing—inside.
Her head swivels to take in the crowded cafeteria.
"I know a place," I say, "where we can be alone."
That gets her attention. I didn't mean it like that. Did I? She eyes me again, up and down. Slowly, with that mocking sensuality, she smiles. I release her arm and hug myself in my thin hoodie. If I'd known I was trekking to the Yukon today, I'd have worn mukluks.
She's smiling at me. Like her face is stuck. Her eyes are surgical probes.
Why? It's a good question. Why now? The train wreck. That's why now. The train wreck in India. I saw it on the news. This passenger train derailed on a bridge and went plunging into the Krishna River. They didn't have the actual footage of the event, only the aftermath. The wreckage.
A train wreck in India has nothing to do with me, but I started having nightmares afterward. I'd see the people on the train riding along all nonchalant, reading their papers or rocking their babies, trusting they were going to be alive an hour later. Then BAM! The moment of disaster. As people realize what's happening, their mouths gape open in a silent scream.
It jolts me awake and my heart pounds. A long time has to pass, lying awake in the dark, for that vision to dissipate. In that blitz of time, the interminable instant before certain death, do people reach out for each other? Do they embrace or hold hands or hang on to each other? Or do they die alone, not knowing the person sitting next to them? Not even knowing their name. I mean, they're going to be spending eternity together. They should say hello.
Always in the vision she's there. We're falling.
Our train clatters over the Carbondale Bridge every day.
I meet her eyes and say, "I just want to talk to you. Is that so random?" I don't say, I want to know you. Who you are. I don't say, I want to get behind your facade, throw back your cover and reveal you. I want to see your lips move, watch them part, understand how they connect to the rest of your person. I want you to know my name.
Between a slight gap in her lips, I see her teeth chatter. Most of all I want to understand this power you have over me, I think. This… surge. Her inner lips are a bruising shade of purple. Mine must be too. We're both shivering.
"Come on. You made your point."
"Which is?" she asks.
Okay, that's it. This isn't worth it. This is so not worth it. Stupid train in India, half a world away. My senior year, with time running out. Forget it, I think. There's no connection. Freeze if you want. I get up and slide out of the bench.
"Just a minute."
My charge for the door slows.
She breaks up the rest of her sandwich and tosses it toward the wall. Four or five sparrows flitter down off the tree, hop over, chitter, vie for choice pickings. Retrieving her backpack from beside her on the bench, she stands and says, "I'm ready."
Oh, she's ready. I'm derailed and she's ready.
I feel a sense of relief, though. A shiver of… excitement.
I only know about the boneyard because the librarian asked a bunch of us to help her cart a set of encyclopedias in there from the media center during spring cleanup last year. She called it the Britannica Boneyard.
"It's unlocked," I say, turning the knob and pushing in the door with my shoulder. What was I going to do if it was locked? I hadn't thought that far ahead. I enter and hold the door open for her. "I hope there's heat in here."
She passes me. She takes her time, her shoulder brushing mine. There's heat all right. Her eyes dart around all the bookcases and cardboard boxes and shelves of construction paper and art supplies, the old lost-and-found bins, the leftover banners and buttons from ancient pep rallies. I let the door go and it slams shut.
She whirls and crouches like a cat.
"I'm not going to attack you," I say. "God."
A grin tugs at her lips. "Who says I won't attack you?"
I exaggerate a sneer. But my stomach jumps.
She drops her backpack with a thud, not scaring me. She doesn't scare me. What scares me is this feeling that there's something enormous here. Explosive. Behind this door, this wall.
Okay. I take a deep breath. After all these years, I'm finally doing it. She's always been different, a loner. Even in middle school. She's ridden my same train since seventh grade. We've exchanged zero words in five years.
That's just wrong.
I've been aware of her on the periphery. Circling in, closer and closer. Who's been circling? Her, or me?
She jams her clunky shoe onto a cardboard box to, like, test the lid. It's solid, full of books or something. She plops down and slumps over. Her spine has a natural curve. Like Rodin's Thinker. Like an arch bridge. There's a rolling step stool and I pull it over in front of her to sit.
"I'm Tamlyn, by the way," I inform her. "Tam."
She raises her eyes and gives me a look.
"What? I didn't know if you knew that."
I go on, "This is where you say, 'I'm Andrea.'"
She betrays her surprise with a blink.
"Or whatever you want to be called."
Her eyes drop and she points to my feet. "What are those?"
"Those shoes. What do you call them? Are they comfortable?" she asks.
I elevate my right foot an inch off the floor. My platform geriatrics catch a flicker of fluorescent light and the buckle shines. "Not really. It's what everyone's wearing. Excellent flotation devices in the event of a water landing."
She doesn't laugh. She never laughs. I wonder what her laugh sounds like.
"You want to try them on?"
She reels back like I've threatened to infect her with AIDS. "The gangrenous toe rot hasn't flared up in months," I tell her.
Is that a smile? Did I amuse her?
My insides are a snarl of worms.
I unbuckle my left shoe and pass it to her. She takes a whiff. Please. I give her the right shoe. She regards them for an extended period of time before reaching down to slip off her clunkers. "They're ugly," she says.
"Like yours are glam."
She's wearing argyle socks. Thick and bulky. As she yanks them up, the heel rises halfway to her calf. Men's socks. Her feet swim in them. Her feet are tiny, I note. Out of proportion with her body. Of course, I can't really tell how big or small her body is in those baggy clothes. I wonder about her body.
My heart pounds.
She steps into the left shoe, then right, and pushes to stand upright. "Whoa." She wobbles. She has to latch on to a shelving unit behind her to steady herself. She shakes her head and sits again.
"Walk around," I tell her. "They're cushy."
"They're obscene." She removes them slowly, almost lovingly, and presents them to me atop her fleshy palms as if on a royal pillow. "I love them."
What is it with you? I want to ask. What are you? Who are you? You're this powerful, enigmatic creature I don't understand.
She props her elbows on the shelf unit and leans back. It's a competition: Which of us will reveal first? And how much?
"It's definitely heated in here," I say, fanning my face. It must be a hundred and fifty degrees. Fans drone overhead. They're not moving any cool air around, though. Just making noise. Can she feel the heat?
"What did you want to talk about?" she says flatly. "Tam." Every time she opens her mouth it's a surprise. Those lips. Plus, she has a high, lilting voice. I always expect it to be low and masculine. But it's… airy.
"Can you believe that guy on our train who rolls around on the skateboard?" I say. "He's, like, cut in half? I mean, he can't help it that he doesn't have legs, but his hair is so gross and filthy it drags on the ground and his fingernails are cracked and they click on the floor. He's missing his thumbs. Did you notice that? God, he creeps me out. Do you even own a coat? I mean, you eat outside every day and I've only ever seen you wear a shirt and vest. On the train too. Did anyone tell you it was winter? The temperature drops. It snows. I guess the socks are warm they look warm."
Shut up, Tam, I think. You're revealing. "I'm sorry," I say, spreading open my hands in a helpless gesture. "It's a sickness."
She laughs. She actually lowers her head and chuckles.
Now I'm wondering, Is she laughing at me?
Then she says, "That guy is my uncle Ralph."
I gasp a little.
She raises her head and her eyes gleam.
Kill her. How do I know when she's joking?
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2009
- Page Count
- 160 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers