The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing | Chapter One

The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing
Everyone disappoints you eventually; it just comes as a bigger surprise when your favourite people do it. My brother Devin taught me that.

It was my other brother, Morgan, who showed me the power of second-hand stardust. The minute he appeared as a reality TV contestant on one of those claustrophobic shows that lock a group of pretty people into a house together, the popular tier at school started smiling at me and saying hi, as though my chubbiness was suddenly okay.

Don't think I overlooked the difference between ninth and tenth grade. It would be hard for me to miss how invisible my freshman self was first semester, except to my old middle school friends, Marguerite and Izzy. Then Morgan became a TV hit, making such a splash that mere days after his elimination, MuchMusic phoned him up and asked him to be their newest VJ.

At first the attention made me feel like maybe it didn't matter how much I weighed, but it turned out that most of the guys I was interested in still weren't interested back. They'd tell me about their weekends and kid around with me during class, but I can count on two fingers the times I made out with one of them at a party. The first guy pretended it'd never happened and bragged about the hot lifeguard girl he'd hooked up with at the community centre pool (which sounded more like a daydream he'd had while thumbing through Maxim than reality). The second guy apologized to me before math class, explaining that he was so plastered the night it'd happened that he'd fallen asleep over the toilet in between puke attacks.

Marguerite and Izzy told me I'd just chosen the wrong guys, but how could I choose the right guy when no one with a Y chromosome (except old creeps who leered from moving cars) looked at me with lust in their eyes? The truth is that no high school guy ever likes you for yourself. Being thin is prerequisite number one for being sexy. Other prerequisites include having skin that doesn't look like a biblical punishment, laughing at stuff guys say even when they're not as funny as they seem to think they are, and not acting like a complete loser (by doing things like wearing loser clothes, stuttering, or walking around like there's a "kick me" sign tattooed attached to your spine).

I had most of the prerequisites covered. I wasn't very good at approaching people I didn't know, but I could speak to them in a way that assured them I wasn't an absolute geek when they came up to me. Being Morgan LeBlanc's sister awarded me bonus cool points (and I already had clear skin), but unfortunately not even those could magically make me skinny.

One day last spring Izzy and I stayed at school late to talk over a geography assignment with Mrs. McClaren, and Izzy bumped into a guy from the junior basketball team as he was coming out of the gym. Two of his friends were with him, and as they were sauntering off we overheard one of them say, "Man, this year's freshman crop has been sad."

Izzy and I frowned at each other. Then the guy who'd collided with her seconds before added, "Isn't Serena supposed to be a hot girl's name?"

I frowned deeper and looked at my shoes. "They don't even know my name," Izzy said, like that was supposed to make me feel better. "Anyway, everyone knows the junior basketball team sucks."

She was right. The team did suck. Except for hotshot point guard Jacob Westermark, my current (and only) boyfriend, whom I acquired after shedding twenty-nine pounds of chunk. I convinced myself months ago that Jacob's presence in the hallway that day didn't matter because he'd been the innocent by virtue of his silence third guy.

Having such asshole friends should've been enough to reveal the asshole within and warn me that he'd let me down in a big way. It definitely shouldn't have come to this—Aya Yamamoto, sweaty from grinding with Wyatt and Orlando, one of her hands clasped on my knee, and blinking at me like her eyelashes are butterfly's wings as Chaz howls in the background and Jacob urges me to, "Kiss her, Serena. Damn, you two are so hot right now. Give us some girl on girl action."

Aya's clammy hand smoothes over my kneecap. Slinky. Skanky. The same way she'd touch a guy to get his attention. Normally there'd be more people crowded around watching, but Wyatt caught major parental interference for the property damages from his last party and only invited a select few of us over to celebrate his birthday with him. As it is, all the guys in the room are ogling Aya and me like we've already pulled out our boobs and are seconds away from getting it on full-scale. A couple of the girls are watching too, and my heart's beating in a sickening, scary movie kind of way. My legs fuse to the couch fabric and my throat constricts, making it hard to breathe, when what I really want to do is knee Jacob, Wyatt, and Chaz in the balls and then make their noses bleed.

"You know I don't like girls like that," I tell Jacob in a scratchy voice. "It's like asking you to kiss Wyatt."

Jacob grimaces and tosses his head back. "That's not the same. Everyone likes watching girls together. It's hot."

"She'll never do it, bro," Wyatt yells from across the room. His crooked smile bites into his cheekbones. "She's more uptight than the state of Kentucky."

Aya herself says nothing, her hand still on mye knee. We're all so bottomed-out drunk right now that it's not supposed to matter what we do, but it still does, at least to me.

Chaz starts howling again in the background, and the music's giving me what my brother, Devin, would call a superturbo headache—the kind he used to be hit with if he went too long without coffee. "It's just a kiss," Jacob says in the pleading, sexy voice he always uses to get me to do something I'm not sure about. "C'mon, for me. Just this once. Live a little, Serena." He sits forward on the couch so he can get a better look at Aya on my other side. "Look at those lips. Damn. If you don't do it I might have to take a shot myself."

Aya's stinky beer breath is in my face, and let me tell you, there's nothing appealing about it. Her butterfly blinks are growing longer and longer and I'm thinking that she could pass out cold any second now and probably not remember a thing. "What'd I tell you?" Wyatt shouts, pointing at me with a condescending look. "She's a good girl to the core."

My heart's racing worse and I hate how everyone's staring at me like no matter what I do it will be wrong. I can't win. Being fat or thin, being nobody or soaking up hand-me-down limelight, none of it makes any difference because people will only let you down in the end. That's what they do.

I push Aya's hand off my knee, and her unfocused eyes hang on me for a few seconds. Her newly freed hand races up to her mouth as she gags. Then the beer smell's worse, like a preview of its appearance on the couch and the plush beige carpet. I shoot up, edge my way past Jacob and away from the couch, my feet tangling up in each other momentarily along the way. The music's pounding inside my skull so I can't hear Aya puking, but everyone's looking over in her direction, either grossed out or choking up drunken laughs. Izzy and Marguerite would be horrified by the amount of stupidity inside this room right now, but of course they're not around.

Did they downgrade our friendship when I started going out with Jacob, or did I do that myself? Hard to say. Up till now I'ved been paying too much attention to my oh so fabulous boyfriend to really notice what's been going on with anyone else.

I'm not crying, that would just be dumb and dramatic, but my eyes hurt and I'm moving like there's a "kick me" sign permanently engraved on my back. It doesn't matter that it's invisible, I can sense it all the same, and so would everyone else if only they were looking at me.

Nobody follows me out into the hall where I wrestle my wool coat from the closet. Nobody sees me slip out the front door and into a dark November night. I don't really matter to anyone at this party, certainly not Jacob. Between that thought and the cold, I'm dead sober again.

With my short skirt and bare legs I'll be lucky if I don't transform into a human popsicle before I get home. Devin once told me that if I ever have to walk alone at night I should project the air of a girl who would claw a guy's eyes out if he tried anything. It's hard to do that when you're feeling disappointed, but I'm mad too and I concentrate on that as I stalk along the sidewalk, ready to shoot a lethal look at the first creep who dares to pull up next to me.

No one so much as honks at me the whole way home, but I don't doubt a castrating stare would protect me. If Devin said it, it must be true. Morgan might be the one everyone likes—the one who can make losing look like winning and challenges seem like fun—but Devin's the one who usually knows the right thing to say to me. Usually did know the right thing to say to me. Not anymore.

Didn't I say that everyone lets you down? Why should there be any exceptions to the rule?