A Different Blue Page 7

Mr. Wilson turned and picked up a stack of papers. He started passing them out as he talked.

“I want you to think about this. What if what you believe about yourself or about your life is simply a myth that is holding you back?”

Mr. Wilson set a wrinkled sheet of paper on my desk and moved on without comment. It was my personal history. The history I'd thrown toward the garbage can the first day of school. It had been pressed and smoothed, but it bore the signs of having been discarded. It would never be the same. No amount of pressing and smoothing would ever disguise the fact that it had been rescued from the trash.

"Once upon a time . . . there was a little blackbird, pushed from the nest. Unwanted."

I added a word. Discarded. I read it to myself.

"Once upon a time . . . there was a little blackbird, pushed from the nest. Unwanted. Discarded.”

Just like trash. And no amount of pretending I wasn't trash would make me something else. Girls like me deserve their reputations. I cultivated mine. I suppose I could blame my upbringing, but it wasn't in me to make excuses for myself. I like boys and boys like me. Or at least they like the way I look. I guess it would be a lie to say they like me, the me I keep to myself. They don't know that girl. But that's part of the allure. I cultivated my look, too. I had sexy hair, and I always wore my jeans too tight and my shirts snug and my eye makeup thick. And when I was being held or kissed or touched, I felt powerful and I felt wanted. I knew what some people called me. I knew the whispers behind the hands. I knew what the boys said about me. They said I was a slut. Pretending I wasn't would be believing a lie. A myth, like the Greeks with their silly Gods.

Jimmy had called me Bluebird. It was his own little nickname. But I bore no resemblance to a bluebird . . . sweet, bright, happy. I was more like a modern day harpy. A bird-woman. A female monster equipped with crooked, sharp talons. Mess with me, and I would carry you off to the underworld and punish and torment you for infinity. Maybe it wasn't my fault I was the way I was. Cheryl took me in when I was about eleven, and she didn't have much use for a kid. Her lifestyle wasn't conducive to motherhood. She was unaffectionate and absent most of the time, but she was all right. When I was younger she made sure I ate and that I had a bed of my own.

We lived in a two bedroom apartment in a dumpy complex on the outskirts of Boulder City, twenty minutes from the bright lights of Las Vegas. Cheryl was a dealer at the Golden Goblet Hotel Casino in Vegas, and she spent her days sleeping and her nights surrounded by gamblers and cigarette smoke, which suited her just fine. She usually had a boyfriend. The older she got, the more seedy her choice in men became. The older I got, the more interested they became in me. It made for a tense relationship. I knew that as soon as I graduated I would be on my own because the money for my care had stopped at eighteen, and I had turned nineteen in August. It was just a matter of time.

When class was over, I wadded up my paper and threw it back in the trash where it belonged. Mr. Wilson saw me do it, but I didn't care. Both Manny and Graciela were sitting on my tailgate talking to group of Manny's girlfriends when I reached the parking lot. I just sighed. First Manny, now Graciela. I was becoming the chauffeur. They were all laughing and chattering, and my head immediately started to hurt. One of the girls called out to a handful of guys gathered around a vintage yellow Camero.

“Brandon! Who are you taking to Homecoming? I still need a date, ya know!”

The girls around her twittered, and Brandon looked over to see who was propositioning him. Brandon was the younger brother of a guy I hung out with every now and then. Where Mason was brawny and dark, Brandon was lean and blond, but both were too good-looking for modesty. Mason had graduated three years before, and Brandon was a Senior, like I was. I was older than all the guys my age, and though I could acknowledge good looks, I grew bored with them very easily and didn't make it a secret. Which is probably why I would NOT be crowned Homecoming Queen, despite Manny's high hopes and machinations.

“Sorry, Sasha. I asked Brooke last week. We definitely need to hang out sometime, though.” Brandon smiled, and I was reminded how appealing Mason was when he was being sweet. Maybe it was time to give Mason a call. It had been a while.

“That car is seriously hot, Brandon,” Manny called out, his voice raised above those of his friends.

“Uh, thanks, man.” Brandon grimaced, and his friends looked away awkwardly. I winced for Brandon's sake and for Manny's.

“Manny, Gracie, let's go.” I yanked my truck door open, hoping the loafers on my tailgate would scatter when I started it up. I watched through the rearview mirror as all of Manny's friends gave him hugs and made him promise to text. Gracie seemed transfixed by Brandon and his friends, and when everyone dispersed she was still sitting on the tailgate staring. Manny tugged on her, pulling her out of her reverie, and the two of them hopped in beside me. Graciela had a dazed look on her face, but Manny was pouting.

“I don't think Brandon likes me,” he mused, looking at me for feedback.

“Brandon is so hot,” Graciela sighed.

I cursed derisively. Wonderful. Brandon was waaaay to old for Graciela, and I wasn't just talking age. Graciela was small and pretty, but she was immature, both physically and emotionally. And she was spacey in a very “look at all the pretty flowers” kind of way. It was a good thing she had Manny. Otherwise she might just wander around in a pleasant fog. Both Manny and Graciela were unfazed by my language, continuing on as if they hadn't even heard me.

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