Do you ever feel like the glory days are over, but you’re only 15 years old?
I was getting ready for my brother’s big Surge party when I noticed these dark circles under my eyes from watching TV for an entire week since Sweetie Weitz came out of nowhere and beat me for Miss Teen Wampanoag Nation. I thought I had that pageant in the bag. Sweetie’s barely even Wampanoag, like 1/8 at most. But she’s incredibly popular right now because of Kisses for Literacy, this thing where she’ll kiss anyone who donates five dollars. It’s a totally brilliant idea. She gets to be the biggest slut and no one can call her on it because it’s for charity. I wish I’d thought of something like that. She even got to kiss Robby Morris, a fact that is slowly destroying me. And of course Sweetie has this perfect, white, blemish-free skin, whereas I have a pizza face and I can’t even do anything about it because nobody makes cosmetics for red undertones. They think all the red people died in the Trail of Tears or whatever, so why would they need makeup in their graves? Hello, still alive here, need concealer BADLY! Because I’m not bad, and maybe from afar I’m even pretty. But up close I have these zits that just look worse when I try to cover them up, because the makeup doesn’t match my face at all.
Wow. Do you ever listen to your own thoughts, like in a kind of monologue, and you want a brain transplant? Supposedly there are all these smart people out there who think about the meaning of life and philosophical stuff, but I’m stuck with this stupid brain that only thinks about makeup and TV and how much I hate Sweetie Weitz. I have to stop watching TV. I have to get a life. I have to show my face at this party. But I can’t, because I have zero motivation. And my parents are useless as discipline-enforcers. So how can I make myself stop watching TV when I have depression and no motivation and no help from my useless parents?
“Can we have parental controls installed on the TV?” I asked my mom. Like she would even know how to do that. Hello, cry for help, Mom!
She was frowning at a bouquet of hydrangeas. “These are too purple. The florist promised blue.”
“Never mind,” I said quickly. “I’ll get Kyle to do it.”
Kyle was in his room putting the finishing touches on his phosphorescent slime-colored shrine to Surge. Surge is this discontinued citrus soda from the ’90s that Kyle is weirdly obsessed with. He ordered a few decade-old 12-packs from some hoarder on the internet, and then spent three weeks building a shrine to display them on. He wants to bring it out after hors d’oeuvres for this mega grand entrance at the party.
“Hey Kyle,” I said. “If I asked you to hit me every time I watched TV, would you do it?”
He didn’t look up from the shrine. “How hard?”
“Pretty hard. Hard enough to, like, remind me that I have a life.”
“OK,” he said, not looking at me, but staring at the shrine. Then, “Wait, show me how hard.” He finished polishing the glass of the shrine with his shirt, and stood up. “Like, hit me how hard you want me to hit you.”
Was he serious? I mean, it had to be pretty hard because I think my brain is emotionally dependent on TV at this point. My favorite show is the mineral-makeup infomercial. I know the names of all the girls who get free makeovers, that’s how many times I’ve seen that freaking thing. I love when they get the blonde identical twins to go jogging and see whose makeup looks better afterwards.
“In the face?” I asked.
Kyle shrugged, and then flexed his long brown arms. “Wherever. I’m gonna get so insane on Surge at this party, I don’t even care.”
I started to feel nervous, but excited too. I’d never punched anyone before. What if it turned out to be awesome, and I was great at punching, and I became the world’s first teen Wampanoag prizefighter? Not even Sweetie Weitz could take that away from me. I pulled my fist back and I ran at Kyle and hit him in the jaw, sort of his chin, not as hard as I could have. I immediately wanted another shot.
“Oh my god!” Kyle said, staggering backwards. He almost fell into the shrine, but I grabbed his shirt at the last second and caught him. Then, without any warning, he punched me back, really hard, in the teeth.
“OW!” I yelled. “OW!” I was drooling blood. I wanted to cry, it hurt so bad, but I also wanted to be cool, so I just sort of laughed. God. Did he do that on purpose? I wasn’t even watching TV yet. It seemed like Kyle was about to say something, maybe apologize, but just then we heard the garage door open, which meant Dad was home with the champagne and green food coloring to make Surge-colored cocktails for all the adults. Kyle ran downstairs to watch. Without a word to me. I wiped the blood off my chin and sort of loitered around waiting for Kyle to come back up. What was he doing down there? It’s champagne. It’s food coloring. It takes like five seconds. Finally I went downstairs.
Dad was in the kitchen trying to explain what Surge is to the caterers: “You know, Surge. It’s a little green, it’s a little yellow. It makes the children wild.”
I rolled my eyes. “Dad, it’s just soda. It’s not that special. I’m sure they have soda in Mexico.”
Then everyone stared at me like I was the rudest person on the planet.
“Way to be awkward and racist,” Kyle said. He had a big punch mark on his chin from where I’d hit him. Hello, cry for help, Dad! But Dad wasn’t looking at Kyle. He was looking at me, like I was some stranger he’d never seen before.
“Jesus, sorry!” I snapped at everyone. I swear I’m not usually this bratty and weird. I don’t know what my problem is sometimes. Oh wait, yes I do. Sweetie Weitz stealing my crown is my problem.
“Does someone need a hug?” Kyle asked, holding out his arms. And maybe I did need a hug, but my teeth hurt and Dad was being spacey and this whole party was stressing me out. It was supposed to be MY party, to celebrate MY winning Miss Teen Wampanoag Nation. But Mom couldn’t get her deposit back, so she gave the party to Kyle. And of course Kyle turned it into a soda fanboy extravaganza. Everyone’s going to be incredibly hyper, because Surge has approximately one billion grams of sugar and caffeine in it—that’s what makes it Surge.
I ran back upstairs to my room and studied my Mineral Makeup Manual, so hopefully I could manage to look like a normal person for this party instead of a pizza face or someone who just got punched in the teeth. The Mineral Makeup Manual says that if you mix a bit of concealer with your moisturizer, it creates a luminescent yet natural glow. Except here’s a life lesson: actually it creates a big awful-looking glop on your face. WHO WROTE THIS STUPID BOOK????? Book, meet window. It is your destiny. You are going out it. Then I seriously am getting a brain transplant.
The Mineral Makeup Manual went flying across the lawn and landed in a bush near the table of party favors. A limo pulled up just then and half the junior class spilled out, including Sweetie Weitz, even though I did NOT invite her and was actually kind of freaking out when I saw her, like what the hell? At least she wasn’t wearing that stupid tiara. She wore it to school every day last week until finally the PRINCIPAL had to tell her to take it off because it was “distracting.” More like obnoxious and desperate and totally propaganda because everyone KNEW we were voting for homecoming queen that week and how stupid everyone is because they’ll just vote for whoever already has a crown on their head. Brain transplants all around!
Sweetie had barely stepped out of the limo before Robby Morris was pulling out a five-dollar bill and asking to kiss her, and then Wade wanted to kiss her, and then Cole Harris wanted to kiss her, and then there was a line forming. It’s not like I can even blame them. Five dollars is pretty cheap to kiss the newly crowned Miss Teen Wampanoag for literacy. But could you possibly control your charitable urges in my front yard, people?!?!? God. Remember when Sweetie Weitz was just a borderline nobody with a pledge form for Attitude Awareness and only like five people signed it? Those were the days.
I slammed my window shut and went into Kyle’s room so I wouldn’t have to watch every guy in school making out with Sweetie. I sat in the middle of the floor. Kyle’s shrine to Surge was looming there like a total…whatever. I used to have all this stuff going on in my mind, like thinking about how my hair looks best from the left but my complexion looks best from the right, and if I could give the world a gift what it would be. You always get asked that question in beauty pageants. But now I’m a loser, and I don’t even have the regionals for Miss Teen Indian World to look forward to, because Sweetie Weitz is the one going. So now I’m just staring at this shrine to Surge and tasting blood in my mouth and it’s like, what am I supposed to be thinking about? Just whatever’s around? Is that what most people do? I wish I had a shrine to something.
Outside, I could hear people shouting and laughing, and the DJ playing the song Kyle wrote and recorded on his keyboard called “Surge Nation.” I’ve already heard it 10 thousand times. The refrain goes: Give us the Surge we need to be heroes! Give us the Surge we need to fight!
The door swung open in a flash of long, black, gleaming hair. It was my mom. “Kyle, where—oh, it’s you.” Then she sighed. “Honey, please don’t sulk in here all afternoon. It’s your brother’s special day, and I want to get a picture of the whole family.”
I had one second to decide whether to complain about Sweetie Weitz or the fact that we’re having this party in the first place. I knew couldn’t get away with complaining about both. “Who invited Sweetie Weitz?” I demanded, as if I didn’t know. I just wanted to hear her say it.
“Honey, we had to invite her. You know we had to.”
“She’s barely even Wampanoag!” I said. “Don’t they have separate pageants for barely Indian charity sluts?”
“It’s for the community, honey,” Mom said, frowning at me. “It’s for harmony. It’s not about who’s the most Wampanoag.”
“Then why is it called Miss Teen WAMPANOAG?”
Mom ignored this. “How would you feel if you couldn’t be Miss America because of your ethnicity?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“But…my ethnicity is American! Native American!”
“Well didn’t you listen to Sweetie’s speech? How we’re all Wampanoag in our hearts?”
“No we’re NOT!” I yelled, kicking my foot out and nearly hitting the shrine.
“Well. Not with that attitude we certainly aren’t,” Mom said. Then she closed the door and walked away, babbling something about food coloring and the flower arrangements. There’s this big deal because Surge doesn’t match the hydrangeas she picked out back when this was my party, and whether she can get yellow roses at the last minute or some drama.
I swished some blood in my mouth, debating whether to swallow it or spit it on Kyle’s floor. What I’d really have liked was to spit it out the window at Sweetie Weitz, but that would have been be juvenile or whatever. I was getting so mad and trying not to cry. I grabbed the remote and turned on Kyle’s TV and flipped through the infomercial channels looking for the mineral makeup show. I just wanted to see the part where Sandra from Baltimore didn’t think she’d ever know true confidence, but now mineral makeup covers her acne scars. Annoyingly, the only thing on was the juicer infomercial. And the lady was freaking out about juicing while I sat there coaching myself like Mom used to backstage before I was a 15-year-old has-been.
“Brush, brush, bush,” I repeated to myself. My mom told me that models say “brush” right before the picture is taken. It makes their lips purse out and all their features relax into that beautiful, peaceful corpse look that I can never do. I can never be that way; it’s just not in my red red blood. Always red, always striving. It’s like this time we went to the Wampanoag Native Museum because my dad was giving a lecture about Displacement and the Modern Business Man, and the whole time I was looking at the stupid baskets and thinking, We’ve been killed already, why can’t we just die? What was the point of surviving all those smallpox blankets if I can’t even win Miss Teen Wampanoag?
The TV flickered, like “Look at me! Look at me!” but I was staring at Kyle’s shrine to Surge. If I could give the world a gift, it would be a beautiful bottle of ice-cold Surge. I turned the thought around and around in my mind, but couldn’t get it not to sound like a commercial. Then I gave up.
“Surge…help me. I don’t know why I love Dr. Pepper more than you. I guess…I just don’t like citrus soda. But I promise I’ll try to love you the way Kyle does if you help me now. Help me go outside and face Sweetie Weitz and all the boys from school.”
The door swung open again. I found myself bolting upright, though I don’t remember having bowed down.
It was Kyle. He looked at me. He looked at the TV.
He came crashing on top of me in a nanosecond and the breath went right out of my chest. Then I felt a mean, hot pain in my mouth. Kyle had punched me. AGAIN. I sat up, gasping. “Damn it, Kyle!” I said when my breath came back. “I did NOT hit you that hard.”
“But you so wish you did,” he said, grinning. “Here, hit me back if you want.”
I scowled. “You’d like it too much, freak.”
“This was your idea!”
“Whatever.” I felt my lip. New blood was gushing out. On TV, the juicers were smiling and juicing like it truly was the answer. I picked up the remote and turned it off. Blood got on the remote and on the carpet.
“Were you worshipping my Surge?” he asked me, sitting up.
“What? No. Damn it, Kyle, I think you broke my tooth.”
“Well, this will make it up to you. Guess what I have in my pocket.”
“Don’t be perverted,” I said.
“You don’t be perverted, pervert!”
“Don’t you have a party to throw?”
He ignored me and pulled a thick white envelope out of his jeans. “I found this in Sweetie Weitz’s purse.”
I didn’t want to talk about Sweetie. “What were you doing with her purse? Don’t be a stalker, Kyle.”
Kyle scoffed. “Yeah right. I’d never stalk that fake-Wamp charity slut.”
“Whoa,” I said. Kyle hardly ever says mean things about people. “Since when do you hate Sweetie so much?”
“Since you hate her,” he said simply. “Duh.”
And then I had this weird feeling, like the shock of seeing yourself in someone else. It’s like, you spend your whole life complaining that no one understands you. Then someone finally does, but it’s not how you thought it would be. Because you’re not the person you thought you would be. You thought you would be awesome, but instead you’re just a hater. And now your little brother is becoming a hater, too, because you’re a horrible role model. Great.
“Anyway,” Kyle said, “look what I got.” He opened the envelope in his hands. I peered inside. It was full of five-dollar bills. There was a whole wad of them.
“You stole Sweetie’s charity money?”
“Shhh!” He hissed. “Do you want the whole party to hear you?”
“Kyle! This money is for literacy!”
He shrugged. “How is money going to make people read better? You should have it.”
I found myself smiling. But my mouth was filling up with blood again, so I pressed my lips together to keep from drooling.
“I guess I hit you pretty hard,” he said. He held out his hand. “Need to spit?”
“Gross,” I said. Then, without thinking about it, I spit into the envelope. The bloody spit landed right on the money.
Kyle was laughing. “Gross!” he said, with the hugest grin on his face. “That was so cool! I spit on you, dead president man!” Then he spit on the money too.
I looked down at the stolen wad of bloody, spit-covered charity money. I smiled, and then I smiled even bigger, and then I was laughing. Is it weird that we were both laughing hysterically and spitting on money instead of being outside at our own party? I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s who we are. ♦
Maggie Thrash is a YA writer leading a double life in North Carolina. You can visit her at lonercomics.com.