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[2 of 5] Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017) Chapters 6-10

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. “Chapters 6-10.” Moxie: A Novel, Square Fish, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017.

CHAPTER SIX

I always push the cart when my mom and I go grocery shopping so my mom can focus on the list—written on paper, of course. It’s been that way since I was in middle school.

“Black beans or refried?” she asks me, examining the canned goods in front of her.

“Refried.”

“Black beans are healthier.”

“Refried.”

My mother shoots me a look, but she gives in.

We almost always go shopping on Thursday nights if she’s not working. My mom can’t handle the craziness of the store on the weekends, and it’s a ritual we have together. But as I push the cart, trying to overcorrect its sticky rear left wheel, I find myself looking at my hands gripping the cart’s handle instead of talking to my mom.

My hands don’t have a single birthmark or freckle on them. My fingernails are naked—painting them always feels like a hassle. I try to imagine stars and hearts scrawled on these hands tomorrow. I try to imagine what it might feel like to walk the halls of East Rockport like that. My heart beats quickly, but I’m not sure if it’s out of excitement or anxiety. I picture everyone looking at me and all my friends asking me questions. I clench my hands into fists and take a deep breath.

“Okay, let’s head to frozen foods,” my mom says. She’s different from Meemaw and Grandpa in a lot of ways—except for a Stouffer’s addiction. I follow her, pushing the cart.

All week I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing. The truth is, since Monday morning everything has been pretty much … exactly the same. The biggest development was probably me giving Lucy my extra copy of Moxie. Claudia never mentioned it again, and Mitchell didn’t even bother making fun of it after that one time in Mr. Davies’s class—at least that I know of. I’ve wanted to mention it at lunch with Sara and Claudia and the other girls, but I’m worried that talking about it too much might make me look suspicious even though me being the creator of Moxie is about as likely as me visiting the International Space Station or inventing the cure for cancer in my chem class. At least that’s what the people who know me would say.

I’m not sure if I expected anything to come of it. Maybe it’s all over now. Maybe making Moxie was just a way to vent.

Sure, Vivian, but why did you include that thing about the hearts and stars if you didn’t want it to go anywhere?

I grimace, trying to ignore the question, but that’s impossible. Because somewhere inside I do want the Moxie zines to go somewhere. I know I do. I’m just not sure I want to commit to being the one to take them there. Wherever there is.

I scowl at the can of refried beans as I keep pushing the cart forward. It would be easier to just think about Seth, but I haven’t even seen him this week except for in Mr. Davies’s class. He walks in at the bell and leaves at the bell, and he never talks. Just takes notes and sits there all mysterious. Yesterday he wore a shirt that said Black Flag on it, and I spent the night listening to their song “Rise Above” on my phone. It made my toes curl and my chest ache, but in a good way.

I shiver through the frozen foods section as my mom tosses in a few boxes of lasagna and Salisbury steak. Finally, we make it through checkout, and I help unload the bags into our Honda. I’m making sure a carton of eggs isn’t placed too precariously in the backseat when I hear a male voice behind me.

“Lisa?”

There’s a pause, and then I hear my mom, her voice all tinkly and light. “Oh! John, hey. How are you?”

I slide out of the car to see my mom facing a guy around her age. He’s wearing green scrubs and a loose-fitting gray hoodie, and his face is covered in a red, scruffy beard. My mother’s face looks all lit up, like this guy is handing her a big Lotto check instead of just saying hi.

“Getting your grocery shopping done?” scruffy redhead dude asks.

“Trying to,” my mom answers, her voice still a little off somehow.

“You’re on tomorrow morning, right?” he asks.

“Yes,” my mother answers, rolling her eyes. This whole interaction seems like it could have taken place in the East Rockport High cafeteria, and my hope that the adult world is nothing like high school crumbles a bit as I lean back against my mom’s car in the HEB parking lot. Why is my mom behaving like a teenager? Who is this weird guy with a red beard?

“By the way, this is my daughter, Viv,” my mother says, nodding her head toward me and smiling. I raise a hand and smile slightly.

“Nice to meet you, Viv,” redhead dude says. “I’m John. Your mom and I work together.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” I answer on autopilot, eyeing him carefully. My mom has never mentioned any guy at work.

“Well, we’d better get going,” my mom says, even though she barely makes a move.

John smiles and nods, and finally after way too long my mother and I get in the car and she starts up the engine, but I notice a big blue-and-white DELOBE bumper sticker on the back of John’s SUV as he pulls out of the lot.

“Gross, he voted for Delobe,” I announce, my voice louder than normal. I know I sound childish, but this John guy weirds me out.

“Oh, Delobe was a moderate, really,” my mom answers, an absentminded grin on her face.

“Mom, he ran for mayor as a Republican,” I say, irritated. “You said you’d never vote for a Republican even if your life depended on it.”

My mom shrugs and pulls our car out of the HEB lot. “It’s Texas, Vivvy. Sometimes a moderate Republican is the best we’re going to get. At least he’s pro marriage equality.”

I can’t believe her dreamy, distracted mood—she’s not even listening to me—so I shut my mouth and lean my head against the cool glass of the passenger window, frowning at my reflection. When I was in middle school, my mom dated this guy named Matt that she met through a friend of hers. It went far enough that Matt would come over to watch movies with my mom and me and go on walks with us around our neighborhood and take my mom out to dinner while I spent the evening at Meemaw and Grandpa’s. Matt liked orange Tic Tacs and had a mutt named Grover that smelled like lavender dog shampoo.

He was nice enough, I guess, but when he was around it always felt like I was waiting for him to leave. I didn’t understand why we needed him. After all, it had been two people for as long as I could remember. Me and Mom had always been just fine.

Then, out of nowhere a few months later, Matt stopped coming over. Mom told me they moved in different directions, and from the way my mom spent several nights on the phone with a friend or two of hers, her face twisted into a scowl and her voice lowered to a whisper, I guessed I shouldn’t ask any questions. After that, Mom never acted like she had any use for any guy in her life except for Grandpa.

And now there’s this Republican-loving John dude with hair the color of a navel orange making my mom do a tinkly laugh, and all I can think is how disappointed I am that my mom could like a guy like that.

At home, my mom and I unpack the groceries, making the same light, easy talk we’ve been making for years.

“Tell me I didn’t forget olive oil.”

“Where should I put the potatoes again?”

“I’m going to dig into this ice cream tonight, damn it.”

After that’s done, my mom collapses onto the couch to watch television and I disappear into a hot shower, letting the streams of steaming hot water drum onto my head. Once I put on my old Runaways T-shirt and sweats, I dig through my collection of pens and markers and Sharpies on my desk. I pluck out one black Sharpie and uncap it, pressing the tip against my index finger a few times to make sure it works. The tiny, scattered black dots look like renegade freckles popping up out of nowhere. My heart beats hard under my rib cage. I imagine myself walking into school tomorrow, the only girl with her hands marked. How fast could I wash them clean so I wouldn’t stick out?

I swallow hard and place the marker on my nightstand like an alarm clock before I slide into bed. I reach for my headphones and start playing Bikini Kill.

* * *

Not one other girl in my first period American history class has anything on her hands. Not Claudia or Sara or anyone. Just me. My marked hands feel like Meemaw’s fine china teacups that she keeps in a glass cabinet and never uses. Like fragile things that don’t belong in a high school and need to be put away, immediately. The heady, dizzy state I was in when I created Moxie disappears, like I’d biked down to U COPY IT in the middle of a dream.

Of course, Claudia notices my hands. She’s my best friend. She notices when I get my bangs trimmed.

“Hey, what’s up?” She nods toward my lap, where I have my hands twisted together desperately to cover up the markings I made this morning as the sun was coming up. “You did that thing from the newsletter?”

Zine, not newsletter, I think to myself, but I just shrug my shoulders.

“I don’t know. I was bored.” It’s a stupid excuse. For the first time ever, I actually want Mrs. Robbins to walk in and start class on time.

“I guess I just don’t get it,” Sara says, joining in. “I mean, I thought that thing made some good points, but how is wearing hearts and stars on our hands supposed to change anything?” She eyes my drawings again and my cheeks burn.

“You’re right, it was stupid,” I say, embarrassed. A lump suddenly fills my throat. If I start crying in front of my friends over this, they’ll know something is up.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” Sara says, her voice soft. “I just meant, like, I think this place is crazy, too, but I don’t think it’s ever going to improve. It was a nice idea or whatever, but … you know.”

Claudia gives me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “It only proves you’re super idealistic, just like I thought,” she says. I try to smile back and swallow away any bad feelings.

Just then, Mrs. Robbins finally walks in, and the first chance I get to be excused to the bathroom, I take it. I make my way down the halls of East Rockport, imagining a time and a place where I’ll be free from the scuffed tiled floors and pep rally banners reading GO PIRATES! and mind-numbing classes that make me feel dumber, not smarter. I just have to hang on until I can get out of here, like my mother. If I only knew where I was going. If only I could be sure I would never come back.

I push open the heavy door just as a flush echoes from one of the bathroom stalls. I squirt some soap into my palms and start scrubbing my hands in warm water, rubbing at the Sharpie hearts and stars with my thumbs.

A stall door opens. I look over my shoulder and see Kiera Daniels make her way to one of the sinks. Kiera and I were friends in fourth and fifth grade, back before that weird time in middle school when the black kids and the white kids and the kids who mostly speak Spanish to each other started sitting at separate tables in the cafeteria. She and I used to trade Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and once we even tried to make our own, with me writing the story and Kiera drawing the pictures. Now she sits at a table with other black girls and I sit at a table with my friends, and sometimes we nod at each other in the hallway.

“Hey,” she says as she makes her way over to one of the sinks.

“Hey,” I say back.

And then I see them. Stars and hearts. Big ones, too. Fat, bubbly Sharpie hearts and stars all the way up her wrists. Her drawings are detailed. I can see she’s even created tiny planets in between the stars. Kiera was always a good artist.

Kiera’s hearts and stars say Look at me. Mine just whisper I’m here. But still, she spots them.

“You read that newsletter?” she asks.

Zine, not newsletter. But whatever.

“Yeah, I did,” I answer. And I find myself turning the water off and reaching for a paper towel to dry my hands.

“Who did it?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. She’s washing her hands carefully, trying not to smudge her hand graffiti.

“No clue,” I answer, bending over to scratch an imaginary itch on my knee, hoping it provides me enough cover to shield my face while I’m lying. I can feel my cheeks starting to warm.

“I liked it,” Kiera says. “It said a lot of smart stuff. Things here are fucked up. I mean, my boyfriend is a football player, but still. They are fucked up.” Kiera drops her voice a few notches. “Did you know they get to eat at Giordano’s for free every Saturday? All you can eat?”

Giordano’s is the tastiest Italian restaurant in all of East Rockport, and it’s my go-to favorite place to order pizza from if Mom says there’s any extra money in our food budget at the end of the week.

“The football players?” I ask, my voice matching Kiera’s in quietness. “Someone has to pay for that food. The bill must come to hundreds of dollars every week.”

“Who knows who pays for it,” Kiera answers. “But I’d be willing to bet it’s Mitchell’s daddy somehow. I do know the girls’ soccer team hasn’t had new uniforms since my mom went to school here. And I’m not exaggerating.”

“Damn.”

“Exactly,” Kiera tells me. She finishes drying her hands carefully and then the two of us stand there. It’s a little awkward. This is probably the most Kiera and I have said to each other since the fifth grade.

“I wonder what the Moxie people will do next,” I say. I don’t know if I’m asking for ideas or just trying to throw Kiera off my trail. Not that Kiera would have any reason to suspect me.

“So you think it’s more than one girl?” Kiera asks. “Whoever made Moxie, I mean.”

“I have no idea, but probably,” I say. There’s another bread crumb leading her in the wrong direction. Just in case. “I mean, it sounded like more than one girl when I read it.”

“Well, whatever they do next, it needs to be something bigger than this,” Kiera continues, holding up one hand. “I mean, this is cool and all, but they need a big F U in the face of Wilson. Something that gets more girls involved, too.”

Kiera’s voice grows louder, more sure of itself, as she talks to me. For one dumb minute I start to think she made Moxie, not me. She’s probably better suited to lead it, anyway, whatever it is. I would rather hide in the back of the classroom than answer a question, and I just tried to wash off my hearts and stars the first chance I got. I bet if I told Kiera the truth she could take Moxie over and do a much better job than me.

But the Riot Grrrls tried hard not to have a leader. They wanted the movement to be one where everyone had an equal voice. That’s just one more reason for me to keep my identity a secret.

“Anyway,” Kiera keeps going, “it was an interesting idea at least.” She makes her way to the door and pushes it open. “Cool talking with you, Viv.”

“Yeah, cool talking with you, too,” I answer. And it was cool talking with her. It was cool seeing at least one other girl who followed Moxie’s instructions. I wish I’d asked Kiera if she knew anyone else who had marked her hands. But just knowing Kiera’s out there makes me feel a tiny bit better. Slightly less alone and weird. I take a deep breath and stare at myself in the mirror.

“Just go back to class,” I say. I repeat it again and again until finally I do, my hands still covered in hearts and stars.

* * *

Maybe running into Kiera was a sign because after American history, I spy a few senior girls who are into all the drama productions and who also sit on the outskirts of pep rallies and football games walking down the hall with their hands marked. And there are two freshman girls whose lockers are near my second period class. And a few more hearts and stars sprinkled here and there on girls I spot in stairwells and corners and in the back courtyard where kids hang out during our ten-minute break during third and fourth. Some of the girls I know by name and some just by sight, but we catch each other’s eyes and nod and smile shyly like we’re in on some secret. Like we’re each other’s golden egg on some strange Easter egg hunt.

The same thing happens when I walk into English class and spot Lucy Hernandez seated in the front row with stars and hearts drawn with blue marker in delicate curls and swirls across the backs of her hands and down her fingers and around her wrists.

“Hey,” I tell her as I make my way down the aisle, other students filing in, “I like your hands.”

Lucy looks up from under her black bangs and a smile spreads over her face. I wonder if I’m the first person to talk to her all day. I kind of think I might be.

“Thanks,” Lucy answers. “I like yours, too.”

“Yours are really pretty,” I say.

Lucy smiles even bigger. “Thanks.”

I smile back, and then there’s that same awkwardness I sensed in the bathroom with Kiera, and I’m not sure what to say next. Even though I think there’s something else I want to say.

Just then Mitchell Wilson and his crew walk in, loud and taking up space and probably warming up their next make-me-a-sandwich joke, and that feeling I got that afternoon in the cafeteria on the day I made the first Moxie comes over me again. The feeling that made me want to clench my fists and dig my fingernails into my skin and scream.

I don’t, of course. Instead, I take a breath and tuck my hair behind my ears, then pull out my English notebook and a ballpoint pen.

“All right, class,” Mr. Davies begins as the bell rings, “let’s go back to the notes on the Enlightenment I provided you with yesterday.” Just as my brain begins to seize up with boredom, the classroom door opens and Seth Acosta walks in.

He heads to his desk, his binder and books clutched in one hand at the side of his lean boy body.

He is dressed in black jeans.

He has on a black T-shirt.

He is wearing black Vans.

And on his hands, drawn with careful precision in black ink, are small hearts and tiny stars.

As he slides into his desk, fireworks explode in my gut and my heart pounds so hard I know I won’t be able to hear a thing Mr. Davies is saying, even if I were bothering to listen.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Claudia earns a best friend medal and a million free chocolate cupcakes for the patience she gives me during the pre-lunch pep rally, when we tuck ourselves up at the top of the bleachers and I start whispering about Seth Acosta’s hands.

“Okay, but why are you whispering?” Claudia shouts. “It’s loud as hell in here, and anyway, he’s nowhere to be found.” The school band is warming up again, playing the same five or six rah-rah songs they play over and over at the football games, and Claudia is right—we can’t see Seth anywhere in the school gym. “No one is going to hear you freaking out over Mister Magic Hands,” Claudia continues. Her eyebrows fly up. “Okay, now I get why you’re so into him. Magic hands.” She cracks up at her own words.

I blush in spite of myself. “God, Claudia.”

“Oh, like it’s not like that with you and him?” she asks, incredulous. “Like it’s totally not about sex? You’re just into him for his mind, right?”

“Enough,” I manage, burying my head between my knees so she’ll stop. The truth is, Seth’s hearts and stars did make him one hundred times hotter to me. All through class as Mr. Davies had droned on, I’d watched Seth’s temporarily tattooed hands taking careful notes, pausing every so often to scratch the back of his neck or quietly tap his fingers on the side of his desk. I’d cringed every time I’d heard Mitchell or one of his friends open his big mouth, worried Seth was going to become the butt of a joke. But nothing like that happened. Seth has done such a good job of sliding himself into the margins of East Rockport by rarely talking or doing anything extremely good or extremely bad that even though he doesn’t look like most of the other students, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one noticing his every move.

“Hey, can I sit here?”

I pop up to see Lucy Hernandez standing a few feet away, balancing herself on a bleacher. Something about her standing up in front of us makes me realize Lucy is a big girl. Tall—even taller than me, which is saying something—with big hips, big eyes, big, full red lips. Even her dark hair is big, falling over her shoulders in curly tsunamis. At first I kind of want her to go away because I just want to talk to Claudia about Seth. Then I feel like a shithead for thinking that.

“Sure, you can sit here,” I say. There’s no need to scoot down to make room. Claudia and I are in the real nosebleed section of the gym, with Sara and Kaitlyn and the other girls we normally hang out with several rows ahead of us.

“Thanks,” Lucy says, sitting down next to me so I’m in the middle.

“Hey, I’m Claudia,” Claudia says, shouting her name over my lap. “You’re Lucy, yeah?”

Lucy nods and smiles and tucks her knees up under her chin.

“So you’re into that newsletter thing like Viv, huh?” Claudia asks, pointing at Lucy’s hands. On the gym floor, the East Rockport cheerleaders are doing their thing, led by Emma Johnson, as usual. The dance music piped in through the speaker system thuds as Emma and the other girls shimmy and shake in their spotless uniforms. Their moves are so precise, so perfect. The cheerleaders have these legendary three-hours-a-day practices all summer long, and I guess it pays off in the end.

“You mean Moxie?” Lucy asks, answering Claudia’s question and holding up her hands. “Yeah, I thought it was cool. It reminded me of this club I was in at my old school in Houston.”

“Is that where you moved here from?” I ask.

Lucy says yes and, in a voice loud enough to be heard over the noise of the pep rally, tells us how her dad lost his job in June, so she and her parents and her little brother moved in with her grandmother in East Rockport. Her dad recently found a job as head of maintenance at Autumn Leaves, the town’s only nursing home, so now they’re here to stay.

“At my old school I was vice president of this club called GRIT,” Lucy tells us. “It stood for Girls Respecting and Inspiring Themselves. It was, like, a feminist club.”

“And people actually went to meetings?” I ask. I try to imagine a club like that at East Rockport and my brain turns cloudy with confusion.

“Yeah, totally,” Lucy says. “We even had a couple of guy members. We did fund-raisers for the local women’s shelter and talked about stuff that we were concerned about. I was hoping there would be a club like that here. So I could meet other feminists, you know?” The way she says the word feminists so casually, so easily, sort of blows my mind. Claudia nods and smiles politely, but her eyebrows jump a bit.

I’ve heard my mom use the word feminist when she talks to old friends on the phone. (“I mean, honestly, Jane, as a feminist that movie just pissed me off.” ) Riot Grrrls were into feminism, obviously, but up until this moment in the gym I didn’t think of them as feminists so much as super cool girls who took no shit.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a club like GRIT here,” Claudia says. “Wait, correction. I know we’ve never had a club like that here.”

Lucy nods, her face wistful. Then she turns to me and asks, “Did you see that guy in our English class who had his hands marked?” I feel my cheeks heat up just a bit, but Claudia keeps her lips sealed, her eyes focused on the pep rally. I know she won’t ever say anything about my crush on Seth in front of Lucy.

“Yeah,” I answer. “I think he’s new, too. Like you. I thought it was kind of cool.”

“It was,” Lucy says. “But I’m surprised he didn’t get his ass kicked.”

“Maybe none of the guys noticed,” I respond. “They were all too busy thinking about this.” I float my hand out in front of my face in the general direction of the pep rally. Principal Wilson is giving his usual come-to-Jesus speech about supporting our boys and blah, blah, blah. The football players start walking out in their team jerseys, and the students in the first few rows roar so loud my ears hurt. I glance around at the other students in the back rows. A girl I don’t know is slumped in a bleacher alone, totally asleep. A few skinny, pimply boys are grouped in a clump, staring blankly down at the gym floor.

“Do you guys actually go to these games?” Lucy asks, her brow furrowed.

“Usually,” shrugs Claudia. “But Viv bailed on me for the last one.”

“I wasn’t feeling good,” I remind her. “But yeah,” I continue, answering Lucy’s question, “there just isn’t much else to do around here. So we go.”

Lucy’s eyebrows furrow deeper as she thinks, I’m sure, of the one movie theater in town and the one twenty-four-hour Sonic Drive-In and the one main drag. None of those things are things that are any fun by yourself.

“Hey, you want to come and hang out at the game with us tonight?” I blurt out, glancing at Claudia out of the side of my eyes, hoping she’s okay with it. But Claudia just smiles and says, “Yeah, you should come. It’s a home game. We won’t even have to drive far or anything.”

Lucy chews on a thumbnail, her eyes still on the activity in front of her. My heart picks up speed a bit until she turns and looks at us and says, “Okay, why not. I’ll go.” Then she stares back at Mitchell Wilson and Jason Garza practically beating on their chests as they urge the crowd to yell louder and louder for them. Lucy’s eyes widen. “God, it’s honestly like Roman gladiators or something out there,” she says, giving the gym floor her best what-the-fuck face. “Like, they’re acting like they’re about to go wrestle tigers or lions or whatever.”

“I know, right?” I answer, smiling. It really is the perfect description.

* * *

On the Friday nights when my mom isn’t working and there’s a home game, she’ll sometimes join Meemaw and Grandpa to watch the East Rockport Pirates play football. I wonder if it’s intensely depressing for her to have to sit in the same bleachers that, when she was a teenage girl, she totally shunned in favor of driving to Houston to go to punk rock shows. But she always says it’s fun for her now, as an adult, to just sit back and observe the spectacle.

“It’s a display of testosterone-fueled hypermasculinity, sure,” she told me once, “but a person can only watch so much on Netflix all by herself on a Friday night before it starts to get really sad.”

But this Friday afternoon as I stand in my bra and jeans digging through my closet to find something to wear to the game, my mom pops her head into my bedroom. The first thing I notice is her cheeks have a little more blush on them than usual and her lipstick looks fresh.

“Hey, you’re going with Claudia tonight, right?” she asks.

“Yeah, she’s picking me up.”

“Okay,” she says, nodding. Then she moves into my room, but her steps are uncertain. My mom and I never hesitate to go into each other’s rooms.

“Look, Vivian, I’m not going to be driving to the game with Meemaw and Grandpa, okay?” she begins, and I notice her smile is stretched sort of thin, the freshly lipsticked corners of her mouth not really turning all the way upward.

“Are they not going?” I ask.

“No, it’s just…” She pauses so long I finally pull a T-shirt on over my head. This seems like the type of conversation in which a person should not be standing around in just a bra and jeans.

“Mom, what is it?”

“Do you remember John, from the HEB?” she starts, her smile still fighting to stay a smile, her lighthearted voice sounding forced. I can feel the sides of my mouth sliding downward, but I’m not forcing it at all.

“That guy who voted for the Republican?” I ask. I attempt to arch an eyebrow. I know I’m being a little pain in the ass.

My mother rolls her eyes. At least her expression is finally authentic. “Yes, Vivvy, that guy.”

“Yeah, I remember him.”

“Well, you know, we work together at the clinic, and it turns out he’s one of the doctors for the football team. You know, he’s on the sidelines during all the games in case of an emergency. He just started doing it.”

Wow, so he votes Republican and he tends to sexist Neanderthals on the side. Sounds like a real winner. To my mom I just say, “Okay?”

“Anyway, he asked me to have a drink with him after the game. Maybe down at the Cozy Corner.” The Cozy Corner is the one bar in East Rockport that my mom goes to on the super rare occasion that she goes out with some of the other nurses from work. She says she likes that they have the Runaways on the jukebox.

“Okay,” I say again because I can’t think of what else to say. I wonder if this Republican John dude likes the Runaways. Highly doubtful.

“I just wanted to let you know I might be a little late getting home, but not too late,” she says, her fake smile back on her face, her voice a half-assed attempt at cheerful.

“So he’s taking you to the game?” I ask.

“Yeah. He’s picking me up. You don’t have to come out of your room or anything. I told him I’ll just come out when I see his car.”

“The car with the DELOBE bumper sticker on it?”

“Yes, Vivvy.” Deep sigh. Half hopeful eyes.

“Okay,” I say. “Well … have fun.”

My mom lingers a few beats too long, and I know she’s debating whether or not she should keep on trying to talk about this. But she just pulls me in for a hug and a kiss on the temple. She smells like the vanilla extract she loves to use as perfume, and all of a sudden I’m sorry for everything.

“Mom,” I say as she heads out of my bedroom.

“Yeah?”

“Have a good time.”

Her eyes light up for real at last.

* * *

The game is actually fun. Claudia picks me up and then we go to Lucy’s neighborhood, where she’s waiting on the porch of a little green-and-white bungalow. When Claudia’s Tercel pulls into the driveway, Lucy bounces up, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt with red piping on the sleeves and collar. At least a dozen red plastic bracelets dance on one wrist. Her hands are still marked, too, like maybe she’s even touched up her hearts and stars a little.

“Hey,” she says. “Thanks for coming to get me.” She slides into the back and immediately pops her head in between the driver and passenger seats. “This is the first time I’ve gone out or, like, done anything since I moved here.” She sounds a little breathless, like maybe she’s kind of nervous.

“It was no big deal to come get you,” says Claudia, and the truth is, it’s easy to be around Lucy. When we meet up with Sara and Kaitlyn and Meg and the other girls we always hang out with, Lucy keeps up with them no problem, her easy, bubbly chatter acting as super hilarious new-girl commentary on the ways of an East Rockport football game.

“Wait, how much money did they spend on that Jumbotron? Aren’t our math textbooks from the ’70s?”

“When does Mitchell Wilson get trotted out on his golden chariot, pulled by white horses?”

“If the Pirates don’t win, do we all have to drink spiked Kool-Aid, or what?”

The other girls and I take time to catch Lucy up on all the town gossip, pointing out the half dozen former Pirates football players in the stands who were going to be big NFL stars until they suffered injuries or got kicked out of college for too many DUIs. Now they’re old men with potbellies that stretch out their orange East Rockport Booster T-shirts, and they watch every move on the field with expressionless faces. During halftime when all of us make our way through the crowd to the Booster Booth to get popcorn, we run into Meemaw and Grandpa, and Lucy smiles and introduces herself and looks them in the eyes and shakes their hands, and I know Meemaw will describe her later as “that lovely Spanish girl who was so darn charming.”

I spy my mom way down at the front of the bleachers, behind the team bench, watching the game but not clapping or shouting or anything. She doesn’t see me. I purposely ignore looking too carefully at the mass of men and boys on the East Rockport sideline. I don’t want to spot John.

The Pirates win, so we don’t have to kill ourselves, and even though I’ve had a lot of fun with Lucy, once Claudia and I drop her off and she waves and thanks us for inviting her, like, five times as she gets out of the car, I’m grateful it’s just me and my best friend since forever.

“Wanna spend the night?” I ask Claudia. I’m not crazy about going home to an empty house, the emptiness forcing me to imagine my mom and Republican John at the Cozy Corner.

“Sure, why not,” Claudia answers, and the fact that she doesn’t have anything with her doesn’t matter, because we spend the night at each other’s houses so often that we keep toothbrushes and extra sets of pajamas there.

Later, after we’ve changed and spent some time catching up with stuff on our phones and eating pretzels dipped in peanut butter and talking about how John is all wrong for my mom, we collapse into my double bed. The glow-in-the-dark star stickers light up for a little while before the room slips into darkness.

“I like Lucy,” I say, staring at the fading stars.

“Yeah,” Claudia agrees, yawning. “She’s cool.”

“I think that game was, like, culture shock.”

Claudia rolls toward me. “Yeah, she hasn’t been indoctrinated since birth.” We both laugh.

In the dark I can’t see if the hearts and stars on my hands have faded. It seems like so long ago that I tried to wash them off in the bathroom sink at school. “You know,” I say, “I think it’s kind of cool that she calls herself a feminist.”

Claudia doesn’t answer right away. For a second I think she’s already fallen asleep.

“Yeah, I guess,” she says, and I can tell she’s being really careful about what words she uses.

“You mean you’re not sure it’s cool?” I ask, choosing my words carefully, too.

“I mean, I just think you don’t have to label it,” Claudia says. “Like the word feminist is a really scary, weird word to people. It makes people think you hate men. I’d rather just say I’m for, you know, equality.”

“But isn’t that what feminism is?” I say. “Equality? I don’t think it means you can’t want to go out with guys. I mean, I’m not trying to be difficult or whatever.” The truth is, I hate disagreements. Especially with Claudia. Which is why we’ve literally never had a single fight in all our years of being friends.

“No, no, I get it,” Claudia says, and I know she wants this conversation to end. “I mean, I think you can call it humanism or equalism or peopleism or whatever.” She yawns again, louder this time. “I just think girls and guys should be treated the same.”

“Me, too,” I say.

“So we agree,” Claudia says.

“Of course,” I say, even though I don’t actually think we do.

Claudia yawns one last time, and, after we wish each other good night, I hear the gentle, even breathing of my best friend, signaling to me that she’s drifted off. All of a sudden, my mind is wide awake even though I thought I was tired. It replays through the day, and I find myself thinking of the hearts and stars on Lucy’s hands. On Kiera’s hands. On Seth’s.

Lying there, staring at the ceiling, listening to Claudia breathe, I realize I’m waiting. Waiting for what, I’m not sure. Maybe for the sound of my mother’s keys in the front door. Or maybe for something important to start for real.

CHAPTER EIGHT

As October stretches on, Lucy Hernandez starts eating lunch with Claudia, me, and our other friends. Sometimes when she gets to the lunch table first, she pats the empty chair next to her and says, “Viv, sit here!” Once I catch Claudia rolling her eyes at this, but she does it so slightly I think I’m the only one who notices. With her sincere, bubbly personality, Lucy fits in pretty easily. And I make sure I sit next to Claudia as often as I sit next to Lucy.

Just as Lucy has joined us at lunch, it seems like Republican John is joining my mom’s life, whether I like it or not. One evening, a few weeks after my mom goes to the Pirates game with him, they have dinner plans, and my mom gives me a heads up that he’s coming over to meet me officially. (“He’s nice, Vivvy, and I think you’ll really like him!” ) My mom’s in her room getting ready when he rings the doorbell, so I have to let him in. He’s dressed in some dumb button-down shirt and khakis. At least his scruffy, red beard is trimmed for the occasion.

“Hey, Viv,” he says, smiling way too big.

“Hey,” I answer back. I smile, too, to be polite. Then I lead him into the kitchen as my mom hollers, “Just a sec!” from down the hallway. Standing there, John examines the refrigerator and the dishwasher like they’re the most interesting appliances he’s ever seen. I lean against the kitchen counter, my face neutral. Maybe the polite thing would be to offer him a glass of water. But I’ve already smiled at him, so I figure I’m okay.

“So how’s school treating you, Viv?” John asks, finally cracking the awkward silence.

“Oh,” I say, pushing out another smile, “you know. The usual.”

“Yeah,” he says, crossing his arms and immediately uncrossing them. “I’ll bet.” What can John know about my school anyway? He grew up in Clayton, not East Rockport, but if he’s the kind of doctor who wants to work with the football team, I’m willing to bet his high school experience was nothing like mine. He was probably president of the Young Conservatives and sat at the jock table.

Just then my mom walks out wearing this gorgeous green dress and strappy sandals. This is no casual dinner.

“Hey!” she says, her eyes bright. John grins back at her, and I wish I could disappear.

“Hey!” he says. Then he slips a paperback out of the pocket of his pants. “Before I forget, I have that Faulkner novel I was telling you about. I mean, if you were serious about wanting to borrow it.” I guess he’s trying to wow her with his intellectual prowess, but my mom just thanks him in that high, tinkly voice and says, “We’ll see if this is the one that gets me to change my mind about his work.”

“I promise, you’ll love it,” John says. Gag. Why is he trying to get my mom to like an author she told him she didn’t like?

After some goodbyes and a quick kiss on the cheek from my mom, I shut the door after them and head back to the den to curl up on the couch. With the house empty, it almost feels like my mom is at work. Almost. But she’s not, and so I feel lonelier than I would if she were busy taking temperatures and checking blood pressures. I watch television but whenever a kissing scene comes on, I change the channel. Finally I give up and go to bed. Later that night when I hear my mom coming back in the house alone, I make sure the lights are off and I’m buried deep under my bedspread even though I’m still awake.

The date with John is still on my mind Monday morning as I make my way into school. The hearts and stars from the first issue of Moxie are long gone from the hands of the few girls who drew them. It was cool that the drawings gave me and Lucy a chance to meet and Kiera and me a moment to talk for the first time in years, but nothing has really changed at East Rockport. Mitchell and his buddies are still gross and the football team still rules all (even though their record is only 3–2). Yesterday while my mom was at work I spent the afternoon digging through her MY MISSPENT YOUTH box, but this time, even when I held the zines and flyers in my hands, they felt like something I couldn’t touch.

They are artifacts from a different time and I’m a girl today, right now, in East Rockport, Texas, and I’d better just accept it.

As I walk toward the main building shrouded in my sour mood, I hear a “hey” very clearly directed at me. A guy “hey,” not a girl “hey.” I look up to see where it came from.

He’s standing in the doorway of the school like some modern sort of James Dean, a phone in his hand instead of a cigarette.

Hearts-and-Stars New Boy Seth Acosta.

“Oh!” I say, jumping a bit. “Hey.” All the other students milling around East Rockport High’s front walkway disappear into the ether. I don’t hear them or see them.

Seth’s eyebrows dart up and hold there for a minute. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Oh, you didn’t scare me. Just rendered me mute. Give me like five years, and it should wear off.

“I’m fine,” I manage.

“That’s good.”

SILENCE. Awkward silence. Please, God, don’t let me be getting those freaky hives on my chest and neck like I sometimes do when I’m nervous. I glance down to check.

My chest looks like a strawberry farm had a bumper crop.

Dang it.

“We’re in the same English class, right?” Seth asks. He shifts his weight a little. He doesn’t seem to notice the hives. Probably he’s just too cool to say anything.

“Yeah, I think we are,” I say, faking uncertainty.

“Do you remember what the homework was for last night?” he asks. He bends over and fumbles through a few binders and notebooks, finally pulling out a slim green assignment book. His actions are so weirdly pedestrian and normal that I find myself relaxing a little bit.

“Uh, he assigned the grammar exercises on page 250 and 251, the stuff on adjective clauses,” I say from memory before I have a chance to worry if my ability to memorize homework makes me look like a total weirdo.

“Yeah, that’s what I had written down,” Seth says, shutting his assignment book and sliding it into his backpack. That’s when I notice a Runaways sticker on the corner of one of his binders, sticking out of his backpack like it’s waving hi.

“You like the Runaways?” I ask. “They’re so cool.”

Seth’s eyebrows pop up again, then he looks down and notices the sticker.

“Oh, yeah. That. My mom put that on there. They’re okay, I guess.”

“So your mom likes them?” I try. I can feel the strawberry field in full bloom. It’s probably super impressive to Seth that I like the same music as his mom.

“Yeah,” Seth says, and he cracks half a smile. “She used to play them for me when I was a kid. Like, constantly.”

Standing there listening to Seth, it’s almost as if I can visualize myself in the future relating this conversation to Claudia, reviewing point-by-point the brilliant ways I kept conversation going.

For instance: 1) My mom is also into the Runaways, and she would also play them for me as a kid or 2) Why did you move here? or 3) So what do you listen to other than your mom’s old music? or 4) Hey, do you want to make out?

Okay, maybe not the last one. But any of the others would have worked.

Instead, this is what I say:

“That’s cool. Well, see you later.”

That’s.

Cool.

Well.

See.

You.

Later.

And I walk away. I just stroll off, like I can’t be fucking bothered. I can’t decide if I’m the biggest idiot ever or if my anxiety levels are so high they decided to do me a favor and just end the conversation before I turned into one giant pink hive.

Either way, my neck and chest and even my cheeks are still burning as I walk into school. It’s been this way for me with guys ever since I was the tall girl in middle school and never got asked to dance by boys at the sock hops, so I’d hide in the bathroom during the slow songs, practicing my excited face in a stall so I wouldn’t look jealous or fake when Claudia told me about dancing with Scott Schnabel.

Heading down the main hallway, I spot Claudia by her locker, and she tucks in next to me as we make our way to first period American history.

“Listen, you will never believe the shirt I just saw Jason Garza wearing,” she says. I’m grateful she doesn’t seem to notice how worked up I am so I don’t have to explain my stupid social faux pas with Seth.

“Does he have on the one about what time a girl’s legs open?” I offer, still a little jittery.

“No,” Claudia says. “This one is worse. There’s a big red arrow on it pointing to his junk, and it says Free Breathalyzer Test Blow Here.”

I scowl. “God, really?”

“Yes,” Claudia says.

“Gross.”

“Yup.”

We slide into American history and take our seats at the back. As the bell rings Mrs. Robbins announces a pop quiz on our reading from last night, and all of us collectively groan, like we’re actors in a bad sitcom about high school.

“If you read the chapters, you have no reason to be worried,” Mrs. Robbins says, playing her part perfectly.

As she starts handing out the papers, there’s a knock on the door, but the knocker doesn’t wait for Mrs. Robbins. The door pops open, revealing Mr. Shelly, one of Mr. Wilson’s assistant principals. Whereas Mr. Wilson actually wields legitimate—if ridiculous—power over the high school, Mr. Shelly is just some second-in-command worker ant. But he walks around with a pathetic amount of swagger like he gets off on ruling a bunch of captive adolescents. Probably because he does.

“Doing a dress code check, Mrs. Robbins,” Mr. Shelly barks, letting his eyes skate over us. Mrs. Robbins sighs and waits, then jumps a bit just like the rest of us when he says, “Lady in the back. Is that you, Jana Sykes? Stand up, dear.” He’s got a piggish little face and beady eyes, and it’s hard to imagine him ever looking any different. Like his mother gave birth to a fiftysomething assistant principal with a hair loss problem and rosacea.

Of course we all turn and look, and Jana Sykes stands up uncertainly, shrugging her shoulders. As it turns out, her shoulders are the problem.

“Jana, those straps on your shirt are pretty thin, aren’t they?”

It’s super likely that Jana is so high right now she doesn’t know what she’s wearing. She peers down and blinks hard once, then twice, at her black top pulled lazily over her boy jeans hanging low on her thin hips.

“Um, they’re … straps?” Jana says. There’s the tiniest ripple of giggling. I’m wondering when Mr. Shelly is going to clue in that the bong rips Jana did in her pickup before school are a larger concern than her outfit, but he doesn’t.

“Jana, come with me. We need to get you changed.”

“They’re about to take a quiz,” Mrs. Robbins says.

“I’ll have her back in a jif,” Mr. Shelly insists, and soon Jana is making her way out of the classroom and Mrs. Robbins is handing out the quiz, which she clearly printed off the Internet, and probably this morning, too. At least it’s easy. But Jana never does come back.

All throughout our morning classes, girls get pulled out by administrators. Sometimes it’s Mr. Shelly who does it and sometimes it’s other assistant principals and counselors. In my second period math class, Jasmine Stewart and Kelly Chen get pulled out for their pants being too tight even though they don’t seem extra tight to me. In fourth period chem, Carly Sanders gets told her shirt is inappropriate. It’s just a T-shirt with a scoop neck, but maybe the fact that Carly’s boobs aren’t the smallest in the school have something to do with it.

I glance down at my boring jeans and plain gray T-shirt. Each time a girl has been called out by an administrator, she’s been forced to stand up like some doll on display as the administrator scans her carefully. When Kelly Chen had to stand in math class, her cheeks pinked up so quickly that I felt myself blushing out of sympathy. I’d rather die than have the whole class’s eyes on me analyzing my clothes and body.

When I walk into English, I see two girls in the back row practically drowning in oversized East Rockport High School gym gear. The bright-orange-and-white shirts drape almost to their knees, and one of them tugs at the collar like it itches. That must be the clothes that girls who break the rules have to change into.

“What the hell is going on?” Lucy asks as I slide into the seat behind her.

“With what?”

“With the Hester Prynnes over there,” she says, nodding her chin toward the back row. “You know, those weird dress code checks.”

“Who knows,” I answer. “The administration gets all excited about the dress code every once in a while.”

“It seems totally arbitrary,” Lucy says, but I don’t get to answer her because the bell rings, and Seth Acosta walks in. I watch as he makes his way to his seat, wondering if he’ll acknowledge our conversation this morning, but he doesn’t. Mitchell Wilson and his crew crowd through the door a few minutes late, but of course Mr. Davies doesn’t say anything to them.

Then a soft, sweet voice rings out from the doorway.

“Mr. Davies, sorry to interrupt, but I got a schedule change into this class?”

The boys in the back hoot a little as Emma Johnson saunters over to Mr. Davies and hands him a pink slip of paper. She slides into her seat like a bird to its nest, delicate and lovely, each movement perfectly coordinated. She ignores the hoots of Mitchell and his friends until the last possible second, when she flips her honey-colored hair over her shoulder and gives them one of those looks Emma Johnson has been giving to boys since we were in the fifth grade. A look that seems irritated and inviting at the same time. I’ve always wondered how she pulls it off.

Emma lives what Meemaw would refer to as a charmed life. Beautiful, popular, good student, richer than most, head cheerleader, and actually fairly nice if you talk to her, which I estimate I’ve done five times in my entire life. Girls like Emma Johnson are supposed to be nasty and snooty, but Emma isn’t like that. Not really. She holds herself like a politician running for office, which makes sense considering she’s class vice president. She’s careful. Mature. Goal-oriented. Once in ninth grade Real Life class—which was this class where we were supposed to learn stuff like how to balance a checkbook, but mostly we just watched public service announcements about the dangers of crystal meth—I spotted Emma working on her résumé. In the ninth grade.

As Emma settles herself in, I glance sideways at Seth Acosta to see if he’s noticed her. I can’t help myself. After all, she’s gorgeous by anyone’s standards.

But Seth is glancing at me.

I raise my eyebrows a little out of shock or terror or delight and then Seth glances back down at his desk.

God, I’m an idiot.

He doesn’t look at me for the rest of the class.

After the bell rings, Lucy and I head down to the cafeteria to meet up with Claudia and the other girls. Lucy is still on a tear about the dress code checks.

“This whole thing is just so gross and sexist,” she says, her angry pace of walking so quick I have to double-time my own steps to keep up despite my long legs. We pause only so we can get our lunches out of our lockers. Then Lucy starts up again. “I mean, it’s totally random. These girls have to stand up and allow themselves to be looked at and endure this … like … public shaming.” She spits out the last word.

“I know, it’s gross,” I answer, waving to Claudia, who is waiting for us near the entrance to the cafeteria.

“So this has happened before?” Lucy asks.

“Yeah, a couple of times last year. Whenever the administration decides we’re falling out of line in terms of our clothes or whatever.”

“But that asshole Jason whatever-his-name-is is allowed to wear insulting T-shirts every day of the week, yeah?”

I don’t have to answer because she already knows what I would say.

When Claudia joins us at the door, she leans in close, her expression muted. “Y’all, Sara is really upset.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Just now in French class,” Claudia explains. “Mr. Klein came in and busted her for her top.”

“But she was in first period with us!” I’m confused. “Why didn’t she get busted then if they were going to bust her?”

“Why bust her at all?” Lucy says, her voice rising.

We take our seats with Kaitlyn and Meg and a few other girls as Claudia explains how horrible it was when Mr. Klein made Sara get up in front of the entire class. “He told her top was inappropriate and she should have known better,” Claudia says. “He really laid into her.”

“It’s because she has biggish boobs,” Meg says under her breath. “Like you can control that.”

Just then we spot Sara coming toward us, dressed in an ugly-as-sin East Rockport gym shirt that’s way too big. Grass and dirt stains as old as the school are embedded into the orange fabric.

“Hey,” Sara says, sitting down. Her voice is soft, almost a whisper. Nobody knows what to say. Sara puts her paper bag lunch on the table, opens it, and pulls out a carton of chocolate milk. Then a shaky exhale slips through her lips and her eyes tear up.

“Sorry,” she says. “I had to change. Mr. Klein was so rude about it. He accused me of wearing an outfit that could distract the boys.” The tears reach the edges of her eyes and one blink is all it takes to make them spill over. Meg, Kaitlyn, Claudia, and I begin a chorus of “I’m sorry”s and Meg reaches over to squeeze Sara’s shoulders. But Lucy just slams her hands down on the cafeteria table so loudly we jump.

“This is bullshit,” she says, and none of us respond. We just stare at Lucy as Sara wipes her eyes with a napkin.

“I mean it,” Lucy continues. “It is. Making girls monitor their behavior and their appearance because boys are supposedly unable to control themselves? That is one of the oldest fucking tricks in the book.” She falls back against her chair as though she’s worn out. The other girls are staring at her, almost a little nervous, but I’m hanging on every word. Lucy’s little speech sounded like it could have come out of one of my mom’s zines. It’s exhilarating.

“At my old school in Houston, the administration never could have gotten away with this shit without a fight,” she continues. “The girls in my GRIT club would have found some way to fight back.”

“I know, Lucy, but this isn’t Houston,” Claudia answers, and there’s something just under the surface of her voice. Annoyance, maybe? Frustration?

“Trust me, I know this place isn’t Houston,” Lucy responds. She puffs up her cheeks and then exhales loudly, angrily. I tense up, anxious that my best friend and my new friend are upset with each other and unsure what I should do about it.

“Hey, look, I just want to forget about it and eat my lunch,” Sara says, opening up her milk carton. “Can we please change the subject?”

“Of course,” Claudia says, and she glances at Lucy with watchful eyes. Lucy doesn’t say anything else after that. She just sits there, her chin in her hands, her eyes scanning the cafeteria and all the East Rockport cliques, resting on the girls who are dressed in bright orange gym shirts like Sara. Girls of every color and from every kind of group are scattered around the cafeteria like hazard signs, impossible to miss. Sara and the other girls start chatting about mostly benign stuff like how hard the math quiz was and would the deejay at the Fall Fling be better than the deejay at the Homecoming dance and so on. By the time the bell rings, Lucy hasn’t taken a bite from her Tupperware container full of leftovers. I glance down at my lunch. I have’t eaten much either.

“You’re not hungry?” I ask her.

“No,” says Lucy. “I lost my appetite. I’ll see y’all later.” And with that, she scoots her chair back loudly, gets up from our table, and heads for the exit, her head down. I resist the urge to follow her. To ask her more about what the GRIT girls of Houston would have done to fight these dress code checks. Lucy doesn’t seem like she’s in the mood to talk much to anyone, not even me.

CHAPTER NINE

The dress code checks go on all week, and I find myself wearing my biggest, baggiest shirts and sloppiest jeans to avoid getting called out in front of everyone. Each time a girl has to stand up in front of the room for inspection, I find myself sinking deeper into my desk. On Wednesday morning, after we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge, Principal Wilson’s pinched twang cuts into second period announcements.

“You may have noticed we’ve put an emphasis on dress code this week, and we hope y’all will adhere to the rules and regulations detailed in the student handbook about modesty and proper dress.” As he speaks, I notice a few girls near me roll their eyes at each other. I glance at my shoes and grin. Principal Wilson keeps talking.

“Please remember that when you get dressed in the morning, you’re coming to a learning environment, and we expect you to be dressed as a student, not a distraction. Ladies, I’m especially asking you to keep tabs on your outfits and remember that modesty is a virtue that never goes out of style. Now here’s Assistant Principal Kessler with the rest of this morning’s announcements.”

Modesty is a virtue that never goes out of style! What a bastard! I can’t help myself. Glancing up to make sure the teacher isn’t paying attention, I lean over to the rolling-eye girls—Marisela Perez and Julia Rivera—and whisper, “Have you ever noticed he never goes after the guys wearing those gross shirts about sex?”

Marisela nods furiously. “I know, right?” She doesn’t whisper. Her voice is loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Ladies,” the teacher drones from his desk, “please listen to the announcements.”

Marisela waits a beat until the teacher checks out again. “And have you noticed,” she says in a softer voice, “that the dress code doesn’t even have anything specific in it about how you should dress? It’s, like, super vague.”

“That’s why they can enforce it however they want,” Julia chimes in.

I never thought of that. I scowl and Marisela scowls and Julia scowls, and even though I’m still mad, this tiny little moment between the three of us buoys me. It keeps me afloat until Mr. Shelly appears at our classroom door and Marisela is hauled out for the length of her shorts.

As Marisela makes it to the door, she pauses, turns, and looks at the rest of us.

“If I never make it back, tell my mother I love her.” Then she holds her wrists in front of her face like she’s expecting Mr. Shelly to slap handcuffs on her.

We all crack up except for Mr. Shelly.

“That’s enough, Miss Perez,” he tells her, ushering her down the hallway.

Marisela’s act of insurrection—however tiny—sets something off inside of me. That little fire that was lit when I made the first issue of Moxie feels like it’s getting stoked again. When I get to English class, it burns even more strongly because Lucy’s hands are covered in fresh stars and hearts, intricately drawn with green ink.

“Hey,” I say, nodding at her drawings. “What gives?”

Lucy lets one fingertip glide over her graffiti. “I don’t know,” she says. “I guess I was feeling pissed about everything with the dress code checks and Sara and this place in general. I thought maybe this would be some sign to whoever created that issue of Moxie that there are some of us that really believe in what they’re saying. I mean, I don’t know if we’ll ever hear from them again, but doing this at least makes me feel better.” She looks at me, her face open and vulnerable. “Do you think that’s dumb?”

I stare at Lucy’s hands. “I don’t think it’s dumb at all,” I tell her. “I totally get it.” The fire inside me is growing by the moment. I feel warm from the inside out.

“Thanks, Viv,” Lucy says, a smile breaking across her face.

“And I think it’s really cool,” I add.

Lucy smiles again. Then her eyes grow big with excitement. “Hey, I was just thinking. Do you want to come over to my house for dinner tonight? We could hang out after. I mean, if you’re up for it.”

It’s the first time Lucy has asked me to hang out just the two of us. My initial thought is Claudia and what she might say. But then I remember that my mom and I are supposed to have dinner at Meemaw and Grandpa’s.

“I wish I could, but we’re going to my grandparents’ for dinner,” I say, halfway grateful for the out, halfway disappointed.

Lucy’s shoulders sink. “Okay, I understand.”

“But I’d love to come over sometime,” I add. Maybe Claudia wouldn’t even have to know.

“Cool,” Lucy says, brightening.

“Cool,” I offer in agreement.

During class I find myself glancing at Lucy’s hands. By the time the bell rings, I’ve filled my notebook with hearts and stars, and my mind is churning with ideas.

* * *

That evening, just before we’re supposed to head over to Meemaw and Grandpa’s, my mom finds me in my bedroom, spread out on my bed doing homework.

“Hey, Vivvy,” she says, her voice soft, “I wanted to let you know that I’m planning on meeting John for a drink at the Cozy Corner later tonight. Is that okay?”

“On a weeknight?” I ask, shoving my math book aside.

My mom tucks some of her long, dark hair behind her ear and offers me a shy grin. “Well, our shifts are really different this weekend, and we won’t be able to hang out. I mean, you know, to go out. So we thought it might be nice to get together this evening.”

“You must really like him, huh?” I ask. “I mean, if you’re seeing him on a weeknight.” My mom’s face falls a little bit. Maybe my words sound more accusatory than I intend them to be.

Or did I mean it?

My mother stands there for a moment, looking at me like she’s trying to figure out a math problem. I know I should say something, reassure her that I’m cool with everything, but I can’t. Even though I know I should be, I’m not cool with everything. I just don’t know what she sees in him.

At last she shrugs and says, “I like him, Viv. He’s a really good person. And a hard worker. He’s one of ten kids, and his parents didn’t help him at all. He put himself through college and med school.” Her tone is blunt—irritated even.

“I never said he wasn’t a good person or a hard worker,” I answer, rolling over onto my back and talking to the ceiling. “I’m glad he’s nice.” A little rock forms in my stomach.

Silence.

Finally my mom says, “We can talk about it more when I get home tonight, if you want to.”

“Okay, but there’s nothing really to talk about,” I say, wishing this conversation wasn’t happening. “It’s really totally fine.”

I hear my mom take a breath. I stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars above me, dull and plastic under my bright bedroom lights. I can tell without looking that my mother is trying to figure out what to say next. Finally, she tells me, “We should make a move.”

“Yeah, we should,” I say, and I slide off the bed and walk toward the front door of our house like everything’s normal and fine even though everything feels strange and off-kilter between me and my mom, and it’s probably my fault but I have no idea how to fix it.

* * *

As we sit down for dinner at Meemaw and Grandpa’s, Meemaw asks Mom how late we can stay, and Mom answers not for too long because she’s going out with John. My grandparents don’t seem too surprised, so I guess my mom has filled them in on John’s existence.

“I hope we can meet this young man at some point,” Meemaw says, carefully setting down a Stouffer’s meat loaf in the middle of the dining room table. She slips off her rooster-decorated oven mitts and we pause for a minute while Grandpa says the blessing.

“Oh, you’ll meet him at some point,” my mother says, passing her plate toward Meemaw. “And Mom, we’re both in our forties. I wouldn’t exactly refer to him or me as young.”

“As long as your knees don’t sound like popping popcorn when you stand up, you’re still young,” Grandpa dictates, and Mom gives me a knowing look and grins. I smile back. Some things between my mom and me—like getting a kick out of Grandpa—are so habitual that it’s impossible to fight. The weirdness between us fades a bit.

“So how’s school, Vivvy?” Meemaw asks, dishing out my serving.

I frown. “They’re going crazy cracking down on the dress code. But only the girls.”

My mom takes a bite of meat loaf and looks confused. “What do you mean ‘only the girls’?”

“Like pulling girls out of class because their pants are too tight or they’re showing too much skin. Then the girls have to wear ugly gym shirts over their clothes for the rest of the day as, like, a punishment.” I hear Lucy’s words from Monday’s lunch in my ears. “It’s ridiculous. Why should girls be responsible for what boys think and do? Like the boys aren’t able to control themselves?”

Grandpa and Meemaw are silent, looking at me with careful eyes. I guess they’re not used to their dutiful Viv getting so upset.

My mother’s brow is furrowed, and she pauses before saying, “I think you’re exactly right, Vivvy. It sounds ridiculous to me. It also sounds like classic East Rockport High.”

I tingle with validation. “It really is,” I mutter. The conversation about John slips further out of my mind.

“Well,” Grandpa says, wiping the corners of his mouth with a napkin, “as the only person sitting here who was once a teenage boy, I can tell you, they only have one thing on their minds.”

Meemaw slaps Grandpa on the shoulder with her napkin in this good-natured way, but my mom sighs loudly and throws down her own napkin in protest.

“Dad, that’s ridiculous,” she starts. “It’s just contributing to the narrative that girls have to monitor their bodies and behaviors, and boys have the license and freedom to act like animals. Don’t you think that’s unfair to girls? Don’t you think that’s shortchanging boys? The whole thing is just toxic.” She finishes her little speech with a huff, and I feel like I’ve caught a glimpse of her looking like the girl in the Polaroid in her MY MISSPENT YOUTH shoe box. The one with the dyed hair and the friend with the piercing and the RIOTS NOT DIETS slogan scribbled down one arm. That girl still exists, I know it. Even if I can’t quite figure out how that girl is the same woman who is hanging out on a weeknight with Republican John.

“Oh, Lisa, let’s not start,” Meemaw says, her hands hovering over the dinner table. “Your dad was just trying to be funny.”

My mom takes a deep breath. I haven’t seen her this frustrated with Meemaw and Grandpa in a long time. It’s quiet for a moment. I wait, wondering how much she’ll push back. Kind of wanting her to do it, too, even if Grandpa doesn’t mean any harm.

“Let’s just drop it and eat,” my mother says, picking up her napkin and putting it back in her lap. She gives me a soft, sympathetic look. “Just keep getting those good grades and staying out of trouble and give me time to save a little more for your college fund, and we’ll get you out of here, Vivvy. I promise.”

“You talk about East Rockport like it’s some terrible place,” Meemaw says, fretting. “Her family is here, after all.”

“You’ll see how much you’ll miss her when she’s gone,” my grandfather tells her. “When you took off for the West Coast, our hearts broke.” This is Grandpa’s version of a peace offering.

“We don’t have the money for her to go that far,” my mother says. “Besides, Viv won’t be running off to follow bands or go too wild. She’s just going to college.”

“Hey,” I say, setting down my fork with a frown. “Who says I can’t go wild?”

At this the entire table starts laughing, including my mother.

“You, Vivvy?” she asks, like I’ve just suggested I swim the English Channel. “Oh, sweetie, you going wild. Unlikely. And for that, I’m grateful.”

I roll my eyes at them and dig in for more meat loaf, dropping out of the conversation. When Meemaw asks me how Claudia is doing, I smile and answer, but inside, in a place no one knows about, in a place I think even I am just getting to know, the fire that reignited when I saw Lucy’s hearts and stars begins to roar. I think about Marisela’s retort this morning when Mr. Shelly came to remove her from class. I think about Sara’s crushed expression when she came to the cafeteria, humiliated. And I think about all the girls of East Rockport, living under the creepy gaze of administrators looking way too hard for something that’s not there.

Later that night, after my mother has dabbed vanilla extract behind her ears, kissed me goodbye, and headed off to the Cozy Corner to meet John, I put Bikini Kill on and turn the volume up so loud that Joan Jett goes and hides in the hallway closet. My heart racing, my cheeks burning, my fingers working against the clock, I collect my supplies: rubber cement, black Sharpies, fresh sheets of white paper.

And the anger that won’t fade away.

Camping out in the middle of my bed, I start working, reminding myself to stop and breathe every once in a while.

Maybe my mother is right. Maybe I’ll leave East Rockport one day.

But first I need to set it on fire.

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CHAPTER TEN

Frank at U COPY IT looks over my work as I slide my copies across the counter. I glance outside to where I’ve parked my ten speed. In East Rockport, you never know who might run into you and when.

“Hey, Moxie girl,” he says, flipping through my finished pages. “Weren’t you in here about a month ago?”

“Maybe,” I say, and I’m surprised at my own sassiness. Frank arches an eyebrow and grins.

“Okay, I saw nothing, then,” he answers, handing me my change before putting Moxie #2 in a paper bag. “But if you see whoever made the first one, tell her these are even better.”

“Really?” I ask, unable to catch myself. Blushing, I take my bag, pocket my money, and try to recover. “Okay, I’ll tell her if I see her.”

On the ride home, my Moxie copies inside my backpack, I come up with a bunch of excuses for why I’m out so late in case my mom is already back from her date with John. Just my luck, I pull up to my house and see John’s car with his stupid DELOBE bumper sticker parked in the driveway, the engine running. The streetlights are bright enough for me to see my mom and John in the front seat. Kissing.

Oh, God. Oh gross.

I head around the house and dump my bike, then scoot in through the back door, praying my mother didn’t notice me. A few moments later, I hear her coming in through the front door.

“Viv, was that you on your bike?”

Damn.

We meet in the kitchen, my backpack still strapped to my shoulders. Her cheeks are all pinked up and, God help me, her chocolate-colored lipstick is smudged. She frowns.

“What were you doing out so late?”

I stand there, mute. Then I remember our dinner conversation from a few hours earlier. How my mom told me she would never have to worry about me going wild.

“I was at Claudia’s studying for a history test and it just, like, went late, I guess.”

My mother eyes me carefully, then puts her purse on the kitchen counter. I can tell she 95 percent believes me. Being a good, not-wild girl has its advantages.

“Okay,” she says. “But it is kind of late, you know.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” I say, walking toward my bedroom with my backpack. I need to busy myself both to hide my terrible lying face and to avoid talking about the John situation. I don’t want to talk about John.

I change into my pajamas and head to our shared bathroom to brush my teeth. My mom wanders into her own bedroom, her eyes on her phone. Still pushing my toothbrush around in my mouth, I step out into the hallway and glimpse her flopping onto her unmade bed, tapping something into her phone with her thumb. Then she smiles faintly.

Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to me either. Even though she said she did before dinner. My tooth brushing slows down, then stops entirely. I watch as my mom’s smile grows bigger and bigger while she stares into her phone. It’s probably a text from John. Maybe he’s replaying their kiss in the GOP Love Bug.

I turn back into the bathroom and spit loudly into the sink, then linger there wondering if the noise will wake my mom out of her post-date stupor. Doesn’t she want to ask me more about my day at school or if I’m still upset about the dress-code thing? Doesn’t she want to bring up John with me like she said she did?

But when I finally leave the bathroom and pause in her doorway to tell her I’m heading to bed, she only looks up and smiles.

“Good night, honey,” she says, turning her gaze back down to her phone.

“Good night, Mom,” I say. I pass on our usual good-night hug, go into my room, and close the door.

* * *

I follow the same plan as I did the first time. Wake up super early and race to school before the sun starts to rise on this finally-cool Texas-in-late-October morning. I slide into the first girls’ bathroom with copies of Moxie in hand. This time feels less dreamlike and more purposeful. I keep seeing Sara’s hurt face at our cafeteria table. I keep imagining the next gross T-shirt Jason Garza will get away with wearing.

And I keep picturing getting caught and probably getting suspended by Principal Wilson. I visualize the entire school knowing Moxie existed because of me. I would go from being an under-the-radar girl to a school weirdo. No, that’s not totally true. I would become a town weirdo, too. Meemaw and Grandpa would be shocked. Claudia would think Lucy has too much influence over me. And my mom would … well, before John my mom would have thought Moxie is cool, but lately I’m not 100 percent sure she would back me. After all, getting into massive trouble at school doesn’t really lead to me getting out of this town and into a good college.

I know Lucy would be cool with it. Which is something. But in the world of East Rockport High, it wouldn’t be much.

I take a deep breath. I grit my teeth. I keep going.

The first floor goes smoothly. Not another soul to be found. But as I venture out of the foreign language wing, my heart thrumming, I make a quick right turn and run right into someone. It’s a hard hit, enough that I shout and drop the rest of the Moxie copies. Honestly, it’s like something out of a bad rom com.

My yelp of surprise still ringing in my ears, I step back and find my eyes resting on Seth Acosta.

“Hey,” he says. And I can’t really decide what should be declared my cause of death—being caught delivering Moxie or running into Seth Acosta in the hallway before the sun is even up. Combine the two, and it’s possible I’m already dead and this is my weird version of the afterlife.

“Let me help you,” Seth says, and he crouches down, his tight black jeans straining around his knobby guy knees, as I stand there, stunned. I watch as he picks up all the copies of my secret teen lady revolution zine.

I can’t move.

Seth’s coal-black eyes scan the front of Moxie, and then he stands up and stares.

“Are you, like, passing these out?”

I swallow. My cheeks are warm. I peer to my left and my right.

“Yes,” I say. What else is there to say?

He flips through a copy, then stares back at me, his face serious. His voice drops down a notch or two.

“Did you … make these?”

I take a breath. The pause has given me away already, I know it. So I stand there, quiet.

“You did, yeah?” he asks very quietly. The way he delivers that yeah—all soft and yummy and reassuring at the same time. I find myself nodding, transfixed.

“Yeah, I did,” I say, my voice a whisper. “But don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Seth stares at me for a moment, then nods slowly, and I stand there, still in shock. It’s not Claudia or Meg or Sara or even a teacher or administrator who finds me out, but this strange boy. I can’t really believe it.

“Hey, maybe you can give me some? I’ll put them in the boys’ bathrooms.”

I guess I’m not so out of it, because I laugh out loud.

“Seriously, the boys here don’t care about this. I promise.” I stare at my shoes. “I mean, except maybe for you.”

Seth hands the stack of Moxies to me. “Yeah, I definitely don’t want to mess with your plans or anything. I mean, maybe you just want this for the girls.”

I hold the zines close to my chest in case someone appears. Then I force myself to speak.

“I guess I do want it for the girls.” I pause. “But even though you’re a guy, you obviously saw the first issue, right?”

Seth pops up one eyebrow. “Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I saw your hands that day,” I answer, aware that I’m actually stringing words and sentences together and not passing out. “You marked them with hearts and stars.”

“I did,” Seth acknowledges. “I found a copy in the hallway. I guess someone dropped it. To be honest, I thought it was pretty kick-ass.”

Pretty kick-ass. Does that mean he thinks I’m pretty kick-ass? My chest feels like exploding. I decide that Seth Acosta deciding I’m kick-ass is even better than him thinking I’m pretty. Definitely better.

“I mean, I can see why you’d want this to be a lady thing,” Seth says, dragging his hand through his hair. “You’re preaching Bibles full of truth.” He glances around, his eyes wide and his voice a whisper, then pronounces, “This school is fucked up.”

I grin, glad to hear the words out loud. “It pretty much is,” I say. “It must be so different from Austin.”

Seth nods, then frowns just a little. “How’d you know I was from Austin?”

“Oh,” I stammer, “my friend Claudia? I think your family rents your place from her parents? She may have mentioned something about it?” Maybe if I make everything sound like a question, I won’t appear to be a total stalker.

Seth just nods again. “My parents moved down here to work on their art or whatever. Like, a change of perspective.” He shrugs and rolls his eyes a little.

“Like, they wanted the perspective of a suffocating small town?” I manage. Seth laughs, and my chest explodes again, only this time I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to rebuild it.

“I guess,” Seth says. “Anyway, we live here now.” He says this definitively. With resignation. But then he grins again, and it’s quiet and awkward for a moment, and I hug Moxie to myself even harder. The last thing I said was witty, and if I say anything else, I might mess this all up. Whatever this is.

“Hey, you should probably get going if you want to pass the rest of these out,” Seth says. “I have to go find my Spanish teacher. It’s why I’m here so early. I need to make up a test.”

I nod, then feel the need to reassure myself.

“Just … I mean … you won’t tell anyone about this, right?”

“I really won’t,” Seth says, nodding hard. “But can I at least have an issue?”

I slide a copy out of my pile and hand it to him. Our thumbs touch as I pass Moxie off. My heart slides out of place for a second.

“Okay, I gotta go,” Seth says.

“Yeah, and I have to hurry,” I answer, and before I know it he’s off down the hallway, and I’m slipping in and out of girls’ bathrooms, dropping off stacks of Moxie, my chest thumping and my mind racing, a Riot Grrrl soundtrack pounding through me as I move.

* * *

My phone buzzes next to me. I roll over onto my stomach, push aside my history homework until it falls off my bed, then glance at the screen.

So you think you’re going to do it? The moxie thing next Tuesday?

It’s Lucy. We only recently started texting. Not as often as me and Claudia text each other, of course, but often enough. Lucy’s texts never start with a hey or a what’s up. She always dives right in, like she doesn’t care about small talk. Sometimes after what feels like a few minutes of texting I glance at the time and find an entire hour has passed as we trade thoughts on everything from messed-up stuff at East Rockport to our families and even to me admitting I think Seth Acosta is cute. It’s easy to spill stuff to Lucy in my texts. Like I’ve known her for a lot longer than just a couple months.

But talking about Moxie makes me anxious because it’s such a big secret. I feel the weight of it with every text I send.

Are you gonna do it? I answer back. I need her to say yes.

Hellz yes, Lucy writes back. I think it’s so brilliant

In the safety of my own bedroom, I allow myself a big grin.

If you will then I will … I just need to find my bathrobe

They have cheap ones at the Walmart in case you can’t

I chew on my thumbnail and count up the number of girls who were taken out of my classes today for dress code violations. Five. Principal Wilson and his friends aren’t letting up. Today I saw a freshman girl in an enormous, shame-on-you dirty jersey crying in one of the second-floor bathrooms, and when I tried to console her, she just shook her head and ran past me out the door.

I’ll find my bathrobe or get one, I text back. I watch Lucy’s text bubble, wondering what her response will be.

I wish I knew who was doing this because I so want to be BFFs

Me too, I text back. I grin to myself before telling Lucy I have to go and finish my homework.

* * *

I set out the zines on a Thursday morning, but the bathrobe stunt is set for the following Tuesday so as not to be overshadowed by the buildup to the Friday night football game. The season is winding down, and I’m glad it looks like we’re not going to make it to playoffs so it will end even sooner. But even without the weekly pep rallies and the pre-game frenzy, I know Mitchell and his friends will reign over East Rockport High well into winter and spring. And senior year, too. Senior year will probably be the worst ever.

I’ve seen Seth in class and a few times in the hallway since he discovered my secret, and we’ve nodded and smiled at each other. Today, Monday, he catches up with me as we’re walking out of English class.

“You ready for tomorrow?” he asks.

“I think so,” I answer.

His breath smells like spearmint gum. I notice the slightest bit of stubble on his chin and wonder if he has to shave his face every day or just once in a while. I picture him shaving in his bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist and his chest bare like an actual man would do, and my legs go all trembly.

“Well, good luck,” he says, and he walks off suddenly, loping down the hallway.

That night my mom is working late, and I skip dinner at Meemaw and Grandpa’s, insisting that I have a lot of homework I want to finish. But what I do instead is spend the evening on my bed, texting with Claudia and Sara and Meg and Kaitlyn trying to figure out if they’re going to do the bathrobe thing tomorrow, too, or if it will just be me and Lucy.

I don’t want to get in trouble, texts Claudia.

Me either, agrees Meg.

But there’s no rule saying we can’t wear bathrobes, Sara chimes in. I remember how upset she was the day she got called out for dress code.

I’m not sure what it will even do, Kaitlyn offers. But at the same time it feels like it might be kind of cool to see what happens

So it’s two against and two in favor. Well, kind of in favor. My vision of every girl at East Rockport High showing up in a bathrobe and full of indignation fades from my mind. I should count myself lucky if a quarter of the girls at school go along with it. My stomach knots up, and I wonder, what would the lead singer for Bikini Kill do? Or a younger version of my mom?

Look, I text, you can always bring your bathrobe and hide it in your locker if you’re scared and then if other girls are doing it you can take it out right? I mean I guess what I’m saying is I’m just tired of this dress code BS so why not try?

There’s a pause and a few text bubbles pop up and then go away. Finally, someone responds but only to me. Claudia.

You do know the girls in their bathrobes are gonna have everyone staring at them tomorrow right? You don’t care about that???

I frown. I’m glad Claudia can’t see me.

Maybe … but if a lot of girls do it then there will be too many girls to stare AT right? Also Lucy is definitely doing it so we won’t be the only ones.

Another pause. This time it’s longer. Then Claudia texts again.

Of course Lucy is doing it … she’s into this stuff.

What stuff?

You know … this kind of making a big deal about stuff stuff …

Yeah I guess … but maybe that’s just because she’s used to doing this sort of thing at her old school in Houston? You know?

My texts with Claudia dissolve into back and forth statements that sound like questions? So we end on a nice note? And don’t rock the boat? At last we sign off and I’m 99 percent sure that Claudia won’t be wearing her bathrobe to school tomorrow.

But then there’s me. After I toss my phone aside, I take out my turquoise terrycloth bathrobe that goes down to my knees and slide it into my backpack. I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on my old Runaways T-shirt, and cue up “Rebel Girl” on repeat. As I’m listening to the song through my headphones for the fifth time, I can make out the sound of my mom coming in the front door over Kathleen Hanna’s throaty yell. I reach up to slide the headphones off my head, but then I stop. Normally if I’m still awake when my mom comes home, I go out to the den to catch up, at least for a little bit.

But tonight I don’t feel like it. I slide my headphones back on and turn up the music, drowning out every last thought.

DMU Timestamp: May 26, 2022 15:49