She Loves You, She Loves You Not...


By Julie Anne Peters

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A novel about coming out, finding love, and discovering your place in the world from National Book Award finalist Julie Anne Peters. 

Seventeen-year-old Alyssa thought she knew who she was. She had her family and her best friends and, most important, she had Sarah. Sarah, her girlfriend, with whom she dreamed with about the day they could move far away and live out and proud and accepted for themselves, instead of having to hide their relationship.

Alyssa never thought she would have to make that move by herself, but disowned by her father and cut off from everyone she loves, she is forced to move hundreds of miles away to live with Carly, the biological mother she barely knows, in a town where everyone immediately dismisses her as "Carly's girl." As Alyssa struggles to forget her past and come to terms with her future, will she be able to build a new life for herself and believe in love again? Or will she be forced to relive the mistakes that have cost her everything and everyone she cared about?

Told in Peters's thoughtful, compelling prose, Alyssa's story will speak to anyone who has known the joy and pain of first love and the struggle to start over again.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of A Preview of Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

Copyright Page

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What does a stripper keep in her closet? The left side is packed with low-cut tops, short skirts, and dresses. No real skankwear. The clothes don't reek of smoke or booze. Carly has this silk kimono with an embroidered lotus on the back that's very cool. I take out the robe to hold it up to me in the mirror, and then I hear the front door open. Quickly, I stuff the kimono back in the closet and slither out of Carly's room.

"Alyssa. You're up," she says as I casually saunter down the stairs from the loft. Does she think I sleep all day? She sets her workbag on a chair in the dining room and digs into the front pocket for her cell.

"You got a lot of calls," I tell her.

"Here?" She peers over her shoulder at the cordless in the kitchen.

"I didn't answer them," I say. "I only saw a couple of IDs. Someone named Geena?"

"Did I forget to charge my cell again? I keep doing that. Spacey." She knuckles her head.

"And Mitchell."

Carly sighs. "Did the phone keep you up?"

"No. I wasn't asleep." I wish I could sleep, but every time I close my eyes, I think of Sarah.

Carly slips off her high heels and pads across the dining room to listen to her messages, checking to see how many johns have called. I'm just guessing. She fishes through her purse, finds her cell, and plugs it in. "You're welcome to have people call you here," she says. "I can get you a separate number or switch over your cell service so it's free."

"That's okay." I don't want to tell her no one would call me; no one wants to talk to me ever again. Besides, I won't be here that long.

At the wet bar she pours herself a glass of wine. "Why don't you give me your cell number, and I'll give you mine."

"I don't have a cell," I tell her.

She arches her eyebrows as she sips. Swallowing, she says, "Why not?"

I hesitate. "Dad took it away."

She lowers her wineglass. "Why?"

I don't want to tell her.

She shakes her head. "He's such a prick."

I'd like to agree, but Dad was right to take my phone. I have no control over my impulses.

"Have you eaten?" Carly asks. "I don't even know what you like to eat. What do you like?"

"I'm not hungry."

She cocks her head at me like, I know you're lying. With her long fake fingernails, she presses the telephone number pad. I wander over to the French doors, my back to her, watching her reflection in the glass. She removes a hoop earring and sets it on the counter.

"Geena, hi," she says into the phone. "I just got in, so I want to eat and shower before tonight. Go ahead without me. I'll see you at Willy's." She listens and then laughs. "Hey, girl. It's a living."

I take in the view—the bare side of a mountain. If I remember right, Carly called it Caribou Mountain. I feel her eyes on the back of my head, so I twist around and force a weak smile. She pulls the scrunchie from her ponytail and, shaking out her hair, says, "You have my eyes. You should let me give you eyelash extensions."

I stifle a gag.

Her phone rings again, distracting her from me. Her business card says she's a massage therapist and personal trainer. I know it's a cover for how she spends her days. She doesn't even try to hide that she's a stripper by night.

She ignores the caller and turns back around. "You need your brows shaped too." From her bag, she retrieves a leather case. She unzips it, and inside are fake eyelashes and glue and makeup. She pulls a chair out at the dining room table and motions me to sit.

When I don't obey, she juts out a hip and fists it.

I want to say, Don't tell me what to do. You're not my mother. Except—she is.

She pats the back of the chair. "Come on. It'll be fun."

"No, thanks." It comes out kind of snotty. As I pass in front of her, I resist the urge to check out her eyes.

The only time we've spent together before now was an occasional Saturday when she was passing through town on her way to New York or Miami or wherever she was working at the time. She'd drop by out of the blue to take me for the day. It always pissed Dad off. He hates Carly.

And now his hate extends to me.

"I'm going to work out for a while before dinner," she says, stretching her arms over her head, interlocking her fingers. "You could join me. We could talk." She smiles.

Does she think I'm fat? I'm not as tall and thin as she is, although I've probably lost fifteen pounds in the last month, with being sick and the trauma around Sarah.

"Would it be okay if I watched TV?" I ask.

"Of course. You can do whatever you want, Alyssa. Consider this your home." She opens her arms to me, like Come get a hug. I won't go running to her just because she's here now and I need her. A lump rises in my throat, and I don't want to lose it in front of her.

The plasma TV is in the formal living room, so I veer off that way. Carly says, "Not in there."

The sharpness of her voice stops me cold.

"There's a high def in the family room and one downstairs in my exercise room." The trilling of her cell snags her attention again. As she slides it open, she hustles up the stairs to the loft.

I watch TV for, like, ten minutes and get bored. Up in my room, which is actually a guest room, not my room, I plug in my nano earbuds to listen to my music. I must fall asleep, because when I open my eyes, it's dark out. Goose bumps prickle my skin.

She keeps the air-conditioning on Siberia. In stocking feet, I make my way to the panel in the downstairs hallway, the electronics control center, and punch off the fan. There's a note on the dining room table, propped up against a bowl of floating daisies.




She left me her American Express card.

I feel weird spending her money, eating her food. Just… being here.

This grip of loneliness begins in my stomach and crawls up my chest and lungs and throat. I pick a daisy out of the bowl and hold it to my nose, closing my eyes, and the bitter odor reminds me of Sarah and home and… everything.

I pluck a petal. "She loves you." I drop it in the bowl and pluck another. "She loves you not…."

A volcano of hurt erupts inside, and I burst into tears.

Virginia Beach

Last September, first day of junior year

You saw Sarah in the hallway. You didn't know her name then; you'd never seen her before. She glanced right, then left. She turned in a circle. You recognized that first-day panic. You told M'Chelle and Ben to go ahead and you'd catch up. "Um, can I help you?" you asked.

"Yes!" she cried. "I'm so lost. I thought I knew where my next class was, but it's not here. It should be right here." She pointed to a wall where a GO WILDCATS banner was taped. "Is this like a tricked-out school or something, where doors appear and disappear?"

"That would actually be interesting," you said.

She laughed. You took her class schedule and immediately determined the problem. "You want 104B, not C. I don't know why they numbered the rooms exactly the same in every wing. It's confusing."

"I'll say."

You handed back her schedule, and she smiled into your eyes.

At the time you thought she looked young, with her braces and ponytail, her too-new jeans and brand-new layered tops right off the back-to-school rack. You remember how terrified you were the first day of freshman year. You said, "I'm going that way if you want me to show you."

"Would you? God, I'd love you forever."

The gauge on your gaydar jumped a few notches. Down, girl, you chided yourself.

She was cute. Too much to hope she might be a lesbian. Too young for you, anyway.

As you walked down the corridor, she said, "I'm Sarah."

"Alyssa." The late buzzer sounded, and you had to hustle to find her class and then get to yours in the adjoining wing. The next time you saw her was in the gym during club week. You and M'Chelle volunteered to man (make that woman) the Gay/Straight Alliance table. You were supposed to talk to people about what the GSA was, the goals and mission, hand out information and permission slips. Was Ben there? He might've had to man (make that girly man) the Gaming Club table.

"Ooh, I love to recruit," M'Chelle said, checking out the freshmen who were trickling in. She rubbed her hands together. "Fresh meat."

"Stop." You elbowed her.

She slapped a rainbow sticker on your forehead, and you immediately removed it.

Almost everyone made a wide berth around your table. Except her. She headed straight for you.

"Hi, Alyssa," she said.

She remembered your name. "Um, hi." You didn't remember hers.

"Hi," she said to M'Chelle, "I'm Sarah."

Sarah. That was it.

"I was hoping there'd be a GSA here. We had one in my middle school."

"Cool," M'Chelle said. "Where'd you go to school?"


You'd never heard of it. Having a GSA in a middle school was pretty progressive, especially in Virginia.

She took the information sheet M'Chelle handed her. "You don't have to identify as queer—LGBTQ—to join," M'Chelle told her. "That's why it's called Gay/Straight Alliance?" M'Chelle tilted her head to emphasize the inclusiveness.

"Oh, I know." Sarah smiled at M'Chelle and then at you. She had this turquoise shade of blue eyes with flecks of silver. You have a weakness for blue eyes. Alyssa, you admonished yourself. Jailbait.

Still, if she was lesbian.

"It's basically a social group, but this year we're going to do more with diversity issues and tolerance. And we always do Day of Silence." M'Chelle was our newly elected president of GSA, acting all presidential.

Sarah said, "I can't believe we need our parents' permission." She rolled those baby blues at you.

"It's so stupid," M'Chelle said.

To M'Chelle you went, "On three. One, two…" In unison, you chanted, "Forge the sig!"

All three of you laughed. M'Chelle said to her, "Are you interested?"

Her eyes held yours, and you felt that hitch in your lower belly.

"Oh, yeah," Sarah said. "Definitely interested." She flattened the info sheet, with permission slip, to her chest and then wandered off, eyeing you over her shoulder.

M'Chelle about died laughing.

"What?" You blushed. "Quit it."

M'Chelle wheezed. "Fire up the barbie. We got us a smokin'-hot rack of baby back ribs."

I rip the daisy to shreds. If I could only go back and erase every moment, every memory of Sarah's existence. If I could only figure out what went wrong.

Carly's makeup kit is sitting next to a freestanding mirror on the table. I press the button on the base of the mirror and it lights up, illuminating my face. I'm someone I don't know anymore. A reject. A throwaway person. Little girl lost. Sure, Sarah. I should never have helped that little girl lost find her way.


Carly didn't come home last night, or at least I didn't hear her. I don't mean home. Her home. Usually I sleep so hard my stepmom, Tanith, has to shake me awake, or my little brother, Paulie, jumps on me. I can't sleep here. Even when I was a baby, Dad said I'd fall into this deep sleep that he thought I'd never wake up from. I bet now he wishes I hadn't.

Carly's bedroom door is cracked, and I tiptoe down the hall to peek in. The bed's made. I want to go snoop around some more, but she could show up anytime. She doesn't seem to keep regular hours.

This is only my third day in exile, and already I'm bored shitless and thinking too much. What am I going to do for however long I'm banished? "Veg in front of the TV," I answer my own question. "Eat and get fat."

Shrivel up and die.

I need to stay busy, keep my mind off things. People.

Maybe I could get a job. I saw an outlet mall when we passed through Dillon and Silverthorne on the way up here from Denver. Carly was babbling away about all the summer activities in the mountains, the boating and biking and hiking trails, how much fun I'd have in Breckenridge, even though it's miles away from Majestic, where she lives. I was trying not to think about home, about Dad and Tanith and Paulie and Sar—

Stop thinking about her.

What is everyone doing at home? I wonder. What time is it in Virginia Beach? I check the clock. A little after seven AM. That'd be nine o'clock Eastern. I could call.

Dad might still be at home and answer.

Forget that.

I shower and dress in jeans and a white sleeveless button-down. The only shoes I brought besides flip-flops are leather boots. I remember thinking, Colorado. Snow. I'll need boots.

In June? How was I supposed to know it doesn't snow in the mountains in summer?

Carly said I could drive her other SUV, and she handed me the keys to her Mercedes. I was still dazed from the flight and the long drive to Majestic and how fast my life was disintegrating. I just stared at the keys.

A memory slices through the years. Carly bringing me home after we'd spent a day together. Dad and Tanith, the three of us, watching her walk from the porch to the curb, where she'd parked the Corvette convertible.

Dad said, "She looks like a hooker. A high-priced hooker if she can afford that car."

"Paul!" Tanith hitched her head down at me and widened her eyes at Dad.

Dad said to me, "What did you two do all day?"

"We drove to the beach," I told him. "We went shopping."

"Did she tell you what she does for a living?"

I knew what she did. So did Dad. "She's a dancer."

"Oh, right. Like strippers make that kind of money."

I didn't say stripper. I said dancer.

He turned toward the stairs. At his back, I said, "The car's a rental."

I heard Dad mutter, "So's she."

How old was I? Nine, ten? I didn't know what he meant then. I do now. And I know the difference between dancer and stripper.

It scares me to drive anyway, but a Mercedes SUV? She said I could. Still.

Majestic is within walking distance of the house, or at least it seemed close by when we whizzed past. Carly's house is built right into the side of Caribou Mountain—if you can call it a house. It's more like a resort, with an outdoor hot tub and sauna. How does she afford this?

I mean, how much do massage therapists slash personal trainers make?

More than strippers. Not as much as high-priced call girls.

With all my heart I wish for Dad to be wrong. But evidence doesn't lie.

I trudge down the winding access road to the highway. Trucks and semis pass, but I'm too chicken to thumb a ride. Who knows what wackos live in the mountains? About fifteen minutes into the walk, I wish I was brave or stupid enough to hitch. It's so hot out, and I'm soaking wet. I wish I'd packed my sandals. Or Chucks. I didn't bring everything I owned because…

"Because I'm going back," I say out loud. My throat is so dry that my voice cracks. No way I'm staying here. Dad will forgive me and remember how much he loved me before. I know he will. He has to.

"Stop." Stop torturing yourself.

Main Street is two blocks of square brick buildings with hokey-looking storefronts. Carly said it was built as a movie set in the 1990s. There's a souvenir curio shop, a liquor store, and a barn with a stenciled sign: USED BOOK EMPORIUM.

There are no HELP WANTED signs posted anywhere. The sidewalks are raised planks with wooden handrails, and I wonder what movie was shot here. Some dopey Western. As I pass the curio shop, I jump back and almost fall off the sidewalk. The window display is a coiled rattlesnake under glass. Snakes scare the bejeezus out of me. I press my heart to calm the pounding.

Across the street is a video rental store that looks fairly new.

As I open the door to the video rental, a blast of air-conditioning hits me in the face. Relief. No one's here. I walk to the counter, and a tall, skinny kid with mega-zits shuffles out from the back. He has green hair. It reminds me of that summer Paulie started swim team at Dad's club and spent so much time in the pool that his hair turned green from the chlorine. Except this kid's color came from a bottle. "Who are you?" he asks.

"Who are you?" I answer.

"Who wants to know?" he says.

I sigh inwardly. "I'm looking for a job," I tell him. "Do you need any help?"

"Does it look like we need help?"

Brat. Okay, the place is deserted. It's possible they'd get a rush, though, right? "Weekends or something? Anything?"

His zits run down his neck to his shoulders. And he's staring at my chest. Perv. I turn to leave and he says, "You sorta look like someone. Do you know Carly?"

I twist back. "Yeah? Why?" How does he know Carly?

"Arlo's hiring."

The smirk on his face answers my question. Small town. "Who's Arlo?"

The kid goes, "Street before the light, take a right. You can't miss it. The Egg Drop-In."

I missed it the first time through. "Okay, thanks," I say.

"If you ever want to browse in the adult section, let me know." He wiggles his eyebrows.

Gross. Now I wonder if Majestic is populated with peanut-sized perverts.

The Egg Drop-In is a restaurant. More like a greasy spoon, but there are customers, at least. All the tables are full. A guy in a wheelchair is ringing up a sale at the cash register. He catches my eye, and I give him a little wave, like hi. He stares at me so long, I think he sees a ghost. Everyone in the room swivels to look.

Now I feel conspicuous, like I'm standing in the middle of the restaurant naked. Time starts again, and people resume what they were doing. Eating, talking, judging me. I approach the front counter, and Wheelchair says to the customer who just paid, "Thanks, Dutch. See you tomorrow." The customer is dressed like a real cowboy. No kidding. Worn, saggy jeans, a cowboy hat, and boots. Is he an actor? His face doesn't look familiar.

Wheelchair stares at me again. I open my mouth to speak, but he rolls through the swinging café doors to the back.

People are so rude here. I survey the shelves and cases. Bagels and muffins, cheese Danish. An espresso machine and a bottle of pulpy orange juice.

"Order up," Wheelchair calls through the opening between the kitchen and the dining room as he skids two plates across the counter. His eyes rise to meet mine, and he fixes on me again.


I have a sudden urge to flee. Just get out of there. As I pivot, this girl nearly bulldozes over me. She juggles a tray stacked high with dirty plates.

"Sorry," I say.

She doesn't budge.

I glance around. Oh.

She needs me to… I step one way, and she mirrors my move. We both step the other way. I let out a little laugh. She doesn't.

She shoves the tray between us and cuts through. The name on her badge reads FINN. I watch her dump the tray, load up the hot plates along her arm, then serpentine through the tables and chairs.

Dyke! my gaydar screams. She has that self-confident aura. Plus, she's wearing carpenter shorts and leather hiking shoes. Dark curly leg hair. Hel-loooo.

Wheelchair says, "You're Carly's girl." He's sitting in the doorway, propping open the swinging doors with both hands. He has on latex gloves, and he reeks of green peppers and bacon grease.

Am I wearing a scarlet letter?

"What do you want?" he growls.

"Um…" Now I'm all rattled.

"Arlo, can we get some grub?" a guy at the end of the counter hollers. Wheelchair shouts, "Finn!" She twists her head. She has this long, black braid that hits her at the waist. So cool. I've never seen hair that long.

Wheelchair—Arlo, I guess he is—waves toward the customer, and Finn scrambles over there.

The doors close and Arlo disappears. He reappears through the order window at the grill, pouring pancakes from a plastic pitcher. I move closer to the cash register to talk to him. "I heard you had a job opening, and I was thinking about applying."

He doesn't look up from the grill. "Come in here," he says.

To the kitchen? Okay. I push through the swinging doors.

He's sitting on a platform so he can reach the grill. He wheels around. "Did she send you here to twist the knife?"

"What? Who?"

He scans me up and down. Then shakes his head no.

Why not? What does he see that he doesn't like? "I really need a job," I tell him. "I'm a hard worker."

"I'll bet you are."

I catch the innuendo, and heat rises up my neck. "I'm not Carly," I say.

He mutters, "I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

Sure, I think.

He glides down the ramp and past me to a refrigerator. He opens it. He reaches up for something he can't get.

I hurry behind him. "What do you need?"

"You! Outta here!" he barks.

I stumble back, and he hollers, "Finn!"

She whooshes through the swinging doors.

"The damn eggs!" Arlo yells at her. "Don't put 'em up so high."

I try to catch her eye to telepath God, what a jerk, but Finn just retrieves a cardboard tray of eggs from the fridge and rushes past Arlo and me to set them on the counter by the grill. The bell tinkles out front and Finn dashes out, not even glancing my way.

"You better scram," Arlo says.

A guy in overalls appears at the swinging doors. "Could I please get a cup of stinkin' coffee in this turd-infested rat hole sometime this century?"

Arlo grins. He wheels forward so fast, he smashes through the doors, almost taking the guy down. "The rats are working as hard as they can, Bullwhacker. Now sit Your Flatulence down and wait your turn."

Overalls chuckles and tramps off.

Arlo scrutinizes me again. "You ever work one of those machines?" He thumbs at the coffeemaker.

"Um, yeah," I lie. Carly has an espresso machine, which I wouldn't even know how to plug in.

He says, "Take the counter."


Finn flies past me and says, "I got it."

I could've done it.

Arlo asks me, "You have waitressing experience?"

"Tons," I lie again. The only job I've ever had is lifeguarding at Dad's club in the summer. He never let me work during the school year because he wanted me to concentrate on my studies.

I feel Arlo checking me out. What is he looking for? I flex my right bicep.

That earns me a lopsided grin, at least. He rolls backward into the kitchen. Three people at the counter are holding up cups, and before I can even think, Finn's filling them from a pot of brewed coffee. Arlo hollers, "Order up!" as he slides two plates of steaming pancakes onto the counter.

Finn slips behind me. "Excuse me," she says. She has this soft, low voice. As she's picking up the plates, Arlo says to her, "What do you think? Should we hire Carly's girl here?"

Finn whirls and drops the plates. The shattering glass makes everyone jump. Finn is frozen in place, staring at my face, into me so far I feel her eyes ripping through my gut.

She stoops to clean the mess, and I crouch down to help, but she says, "I've got it." Kind of cold. She stands and shakes her head at Arlo.

Arlo exaggerates a smile at me. "The decision is unanimous." He aims the spatula at the exit. "Go home to Mommy Dearest."


All the way back to the house, I alternate between anger and humiliation. What just happened in there? I almost got the job, but then that Finn blew it for me. Fine. She's not my type anyway.

Not that I care. I've sworn off love forever.

Carly owns a laptop, but I haven't seen her use it. She did say whatever I wanted I could use. I take the computer up to my room, open the lid, and press the ON button. Windows boots. I check my Hotmail and find six messages.

None from Sarah.

I don't know why I think she'd write to me. She'd better not. I begin a letter:

Dear Sarah,

You ruined my life. Remember how much I used to love you? Double it, and that's how much I hate you now.

I don't press SEND. I don't even mean it. It just feels good to get that out.

I lie in bed, and the jumble of emotions turns to tears. What did I do wrong? If I could only figure out what happened, the when and where and how of it. I thought I was the perfect girlfriend, that we were perfect together. "What did I do, Sarah?" What?


She came on to you. She started it. "Are you going to homecoming?" she asked.

We were at GSA, getting settled for the meeting, waiting for stragglers.

You told her, "I'm not really into football."

"Not the game. The dance." She bumped your shoulder with hers. She was always touching you, playing with your jewelry, sitting so close that your arms got twisted up. At every GSA meeting, she'd immediately gravitate to wherever you were. If M'Chelle or Ben was there, Sarah would insinuate herself in the middle.

You have to admit you liked the attention, the warmth of human interaction. Your last girlfriend, if you could call her that, lived in Michigan. Your whole relationship played out online. Ben would e-mail or text you: R U HAVING CYBERSEX YET?


  • "The story of friends, family, and lovers will pull readers into the deeper themes of trust, rejection, and intimate secrets revealed."—Booklist
  • "A warm and substantive character study and a welcome addition to stories about LGBTQ teens."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Readers will appreciate Alyssa's honesty as she slowly reveals the details of her desperate break-up with Sarah.... [and] will also respect Peters's choice to give Alyssa new hope."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Compelling, taut, and heartbreaking."—The Bulletin

On Sale
Apr 10, 2012
Page Count
304 pages

Julie Anne Peters

About the Author

Julie Anne Peters is the critically acclaimed author of Define “Normal,” Keeping You a Secret, Pretend You Love Me, Between Mom and Jo, She Loves You, She Loves You Not…, It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It), and Luna, a National Book Award finalist.

Learn more about this author