Sample text for Anyone but you : a novel in two voices / by Lara M. Zeises.

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We were sweating out the summer on a concrete stoop, me and Critter and sometimes Jesse, swigging bottles of Coke, or maybe Bud Lights, if Layla’s supply was plentiful enough that she wouldn’t notice a few were missing. The central air-conditioning had broken in late May, during the first of a seemingly never-ending string of heat waves, and we were saving up to get it fixed. By “we” I mean Nurse Layla, my pseudomom, who pulled fourteen-hour shifts at the hospital, sometimes during the day and sometimes at night, because night shifts meant more money, and more money meant we’d sleep in cool rooms before September.

Jesse helped, giving Layla half the cash he earned jockeying Slushees at the Sip-n-Stop down by the Movie King. Me and Critter were supposed to pick up part-time jobs, too, but when Critter failed English (again) and I scored my own F in biology, it was no-go. For one thing, summer school started right after the Fourth of July, and no one would hire us for the few weeks we had off before our Loser Kid classes. For another, Layla wanted us studying 24/7. Getting educated, she insisted, was our real job, and if we didn’t start cracking down, she’d have to start cracking skulls.

I’d thought I’d spend all my time before scholastic prison perfecting my blunt fakies at the Newport Skate Park, but another heat wave rolled into New Castle on our last day at Haley High. It was the kind of thick, wet heat that stuck to your skin like Saran Wrap and made the air wrinkle up by nine a.m. Between the extreme humidity and the hot hot sun, I was barely able to crank out a kickflip on my board before wanting to pass out.

So, we became stoop sitters. Critter, in a pair of baggy jeans that dipped low enough to show off the elastic on his optimistically large boxer briefs, and me, also in long pants of some sort, too shallow to show the neighbors the whiter-than-whiteness of my chunked-out thighs. As soon as school ended, Critter decided it was way too hot for the rumpled, smelly T-shirts he usually wore and started going shirtless, his pale, hairless chicken chest slowly browning to the color of McNuggets. As for me, I stuck with my tank tops, even though the once-loose fabric was starting to cling to my expanding boobage.

To amuse ourselves we played whacked-out hairstylist. Critter had me paint blond streaks into his light brown hair using Q-tips and a bottle of peroxide. Then he gelled the whole mess into bedhead spikes à la his hero, aging pop icon and legendary ladies’ man Rod Stewart (no joke). We soaked my colorless hair in a vat of concentrated Berry Blue Kool-Aid, cut it chin-length, and matted the chunks into my Suburban White Girl take on dreadlocks, a feat made achievable with the aid of some unflavored gelatin we found in the pantry one day when we were raiding it for snacks.

Our days started around noon and lasted well beyond Conan O’Brien. In the mornings we’d take turns showering and breakfasting, and by the time that was all through, it was too hot to be inside and we’d land back on the stoop. If we were feeling particularly adventurous, we’d haul ass down to the Sip-n-Stop and scrounge cigarettes and Slushees off Jesse, who was convinced that we were going to get him fired, and who kicked us out after only a few minutes of air-conditioned ecstasy every single time. So we’d go next door to the Movie King, to see if Shelli was working, because she had this thing for Critter and would give us free rentals. Sometimes, if Shelli’s cousin was working the same shift and could cover, Shelli would let Critter drag her behind the counter and into the back room for an impromptu groping session. He can be such the pig.

And this was pretty much the routine, until stupid me suggested that Critter use his talents to charm one of the pretty lifeguards who worked the pool at this ritzed-out condo complex across town. We’d gotten guest passes there once the summer before, when a property-developer patient of Layla’s thought he could get her to go out with him if he romanced her kids first. But Layla had been like a nun since my dad walked out on us six years ago, leaving her with a broken heart, a defaulted mortgage, severe credit card debt, and a then nine-year-old almost-stepdaughter (me). The property developer tried harder than most–Layla was a total babe, even when she didn’t wear makeup–but ultimately bailed before we could snag more passes.

So. The pool. I’d have called it Olympic-sized but I didn’t know how big an Olympic-sized pool really was. It was big, though. The shallow end alone was bigger than my bedroom. The cool blue water sloped from three to ten feet deep, where it formed the top of a T. There were two separate diving boards, the higher of which was almost twice as tall as Critter, who stood nearly six feet. You weren’t allowed to jump off it unless you’d passed a diving test, and you couldn’t take the diving test until you’d passed the swimming test that gave you access to the deep end. So most of our one and only visit was spent test-taking. But I didn’t mind. I loved the way my body felt in water, freed from the bonds of gravity I was so conscious of when I skated. In the pool, I was like an underwater airplane, my limbs cutting through liquid like propellers.

That was pretty much all I was thinking about when I goaded Critter into seeing if he could make nice with one of the female lifeguards. That and how beautifully cold the water would be on my fry-cooker skin. I thought Critter’s crooked smile could be our all-access pass to chlorinated bliss. I thought it would be fake, like with Shelli. I didn’t think he’d fall in actual love.

I certainly never thought he’d fall in love with someone like her.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Self-perception -- Fiction.
Conduct of life -- Fiction.
Stepfamilies -- Fiction.
Brothers and sisters -- Fiction.
Delaware -- Fiction.