It's Just a Jump to the Left


By Libba Bray

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When the lights dimmed and the familiar red lips and white teeth glowed on the screen, the audience erupted into cheers, and Leta felt that surge of excitement in her belly, the thrill of sitting in the dark with strangers sharing an experience that made them all seem like friends.

Best friends Agnes and Leta have a Friday night ritual. They spend an hour trying on different lipsticks, experimenting with eyeliner, and torturing their hair before they head off to the Cineplex for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That was always the routine, until Agnes started dating Roger, and left Leta behind. But between Leta’s awkward first kiss; her crush on Tom, the cute guy at the movie theater; and her absentee dad, everything feels so out of control–she could really use her best friend right now. Can Agnes and Leta find their way to a new and better friendship?

In this short story by New York Times bestselling author of The Diviners, Libba Bray revisits a time when we all felt stuck somewhere between childhood and adolescence.


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Table of Contents

A Sneak Peek of The Diviners

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"How did she get ahead of us?" Agnes whispered to Leta.

"I can't believe her. She came earlier than us on purpose," Leta said.

Five people up in the line, Jennifer Pomhultz, in a rabbit-fur jacket and side ponytail, executed a perfect step-ball-change while her older sister and a handful of others applauded.

Leta sneered. "There's the dance move. I knew she'd do it. Like we're supposed to care that she got a callback for Six Flags."

"I don't care. Do you care?" Agnes asked.

"You can't imagine how little I care."

If there was anyone Leta and Agnes hated, it was Jennifer Pomhultz, and for very good reason. For six months, Leta and Agnes had a Friday night routine: At eight o'clock, Leta went to Agnes's house. At nine, they started getting ready—plumping their lips with Bonne Bell Lipsmacker, experimenting with eyeliner, torturing their hair (Leta's was shoulder length, stick-straight, and brown; Agnes's, long and blond and wavy-thick) with curling irons and Aqua Net. By eleven-fifteen, their parents would drop them off at the Cineplex for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Leta and Agnes would take their places in the long line that snaked from the box office around the side of the Cineplex and into the back alley. Waiting in line was as much a ritual as the movie itself, and the girls delighted in singing along to "The Time Warp" and comparing props—toast, bags of rice, newspapers—with the other moviegoers. Rocky Horror was their church, and they were devout. But Jennifer Pomhultz had only been coming for a few weeks—anyone could see she didn't even know the lyrics to the songs—and already she was acting as if she'd been a Rocky devotee for years. She wore a stupid hairdo and too much blusher and a jacket made from bunnies. Maybe that's what ninth graders did, but Leta and Agnes didn't have to approve.

"Look at her! She's trying to be Magenta. Last week, she was Janet."

"You just don't do that. You don't switch characters," Leta agreed. "God, she is such a fake."

"The fakiest of the fake," Agnes said, and she slipped her arm through Leta's in solidarity.

Leta and Agnes had been best friends since third grade when they'd both been hall monitors and discovered a mutual love of horse models. But now, Leta and Agnes were fourteen and in the second half of eighth grade, and that demanded certain concessions. A deal was made, terms agreed upon and sealed with a vow said over the Ouija board: By summer, they would give up TeenBeat magazine and start reading Cosmopolitan, which they had only glimpsed in the drugstore. They would buy at least one pair of cool jeans from the mall. And before the school year was out, Leta and Agnes would each have their first kiss.

Leta hoped hers would be with Tom Van Dyke, who worked behind the concession stand. Tom was a high school junior and beautiful, with shaggy brown hair and heavy-lidded brown eyes, which reminded Leta of Tim Curry, who played Frank-N-Furter. Tom drove a red Camaro and played drums in marching band. Often, when she had been banished to the bench during gym class—Toni Benson deliberately hit her in dodgeball and Coach Perry did nothing about it—Leta consoled herself by imagining she was Tom's girlfriend. In these fantasies, Leta cheered him on during halftime concerts as he marched across the field in measured beats, taking his place as part of a perfect formation—a sunburst, a castle, or the Crocker High School mustang, which was their mascot. Sometimes she closed her eyes and imagined Tom kissing her in the rain over at the Frankenstein Place, and she was as beautiful as Susan Sarandon, who played Janet.

"Is he here? I don't see him," Leta said as she and Agnes pushed past the pimply-faced door guardian who asked for tickets and checked IDs, turning away anyone who wasn't seventeen. Leta and Agnes had been granted a pass from the theater manager who used to go to A.A. meetings with Agnes's mom.

"He's behind the counter, same as always. Get to it," Agnes answered, and Leta felt her heartbeat quicken.

Tom's hair shone in the glow of the popcorn machine. "Can I get you something?" he asked.

"Can I have a Sprite, please?" Leta felt she should say something more, to keep the conversation flowing like she'd read in a TeenBeat article, "Snag Your Crush!" "I really want a Coke but I have an ulcer? And my doctor said I can't drink Coke anymore because it gives me a stomachache?"

Tom jiggled the cup under the stream of pale, foaming soda. "Bummer."

"It's the same with popcorn, bad for my ulcer," Leta continued. "I had to have a barium swallow. They call it a 'delicious strawberry milkshake' but it's like drinking strawberry-flavored chalk. I almost barfed it back up."

"Hey, Tom, I can cover for you if you want time with your girlfriend," the other guy at the counter snickered, and Leta's face went lava-red.

"Shut up, Marco. That'll be a dollar twenty-five," Tom said.

Quickly, Leta dropped her change on the counter. Agnes pushed her toward Theater 2. "Smooth move, Ex-lax. At this rate, you'll never get kissed. Come on. I don't wanna get stuck in the back with the virgins."

Leta and Agnes settled into their seats, third row center. When the lights dimmed and the familiar red lips and white teeth glowed on the screen, the audience erupted into cheers, and Leta felt that surge of excitement in her belly, the thrill of sitting in the dark with strangers sharing an experience that made them all seem like friends. She and Agnes sang along to every lyric. They threw toast and shouted comebacks. But once Columbia was on-screen, Leta was alert, her feet miming the steps below her seat, her hands making small motions on her lap. Only once did she look away, her eye drawn by a flash of gold on the front row. There sat Jennifer Pomhultz wearing her sister's gold-sequined baton twirler's outfit with fringe at the shoulders. So Jennifer hadn't come as Magenta at all but as Columbia, and Leta felt a surge of panic mixed with hatred as Jennifer also imitated Columbia's moves. Leta elbowed Agnes and pointed.

Agnes's mouth hung open in disbelief. "That bitch!"

Someone on their row—a virgin—made the mistake of starting up the battery-powered carving knife way too early. Its electric growl disturbed the mood, and the audience pounced with a chorus of shushing.

After the movie, Leta and Agnes waited out front for Mr. Tatum to come pick them up. It was brisk in the parking lot—the flatlands of Texas could be surprisingly cold in winter. Leta crossed her arms to stay warm and brooded over Jennifer Pomhultz. "I can't believe her. She can have anyone else, but Columbia's mine."

Agnes waved it away. "Don't worry about it. By next week, she'll be Riff Raff."

But Leta did worry. That's why she had an ulcer. Even now, her stomach burned with acid, and she wished she'd brought her Maalox along.

"Hey, aren't you Diana's sister, Agnes?" A guy with dark hair and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt walked up to them, tossing his cigarette in the parking lot on the way. Leta recognized him from her brother's high school yearbook. His name was Roger, and he raced motocross. "I'm Roger. I've seen you around."

"Yeah, I've seen you, too." Agnes said it really cool, but she was smiling in a way Leta had never seen her smile before.


On Sale
May 12, 2015
Page Count
38 pages

Libba Bray

About the Author

Libba Bray is the #1 bestselling author of The Diviners, Lair of Dreams,the Los Angeles Times Book prize finalist Beauty Queens, the 2010 Printz Award-winning Going Bovine, and the acclaimed Gemma Doyle trilogy. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Learn more about this author