Dreams for a Price
Oh yeah! We've got the spirit
Oh yeah! That cougar spirit
Say, hey! Get outta our way
Cougars are on the prowl TODAY!
Christy Miller ended the cheer with a long, leggy leap.
The other girls watched her land just slightly off balance.
"Good, but try to keep your arms straighter next time,"
the cheerleading adviser said.
Christy nodded at Mrs. James and tried not to feel self-conscious,
even though so many girls were standing around
"And be sure you stretch out after practice today." Mrs.
James turned her attention to the next girl in line.
Stepping away from the critical stares of the varsity
cheerleaders, Christy took a deep breath and silently
mouthed the cheer. Keeping her arms straight, she began
going through the motions again.
It seemed to Christy that the first few days of practice
hadn't been very hard or very competitive. Now that it was
getting closer to tryouts, fewer girls were showing up every
day. And the ones who did show up were, in Christy's opinion,
all much better at jumps than she'd ever be.
"Give it a rest, Miller!" one of the varsity girls said,
coming in her direction. It was Renee, a junior with short
dark hair and eyes like a raven.
Christy tried to ignore Renee and finished the cheer
with a solid jump.
"Give it up. You're not cheerleader material, and you
know it. Besides, you're only a sophomore."
"Sophomores can try out like anyone else," Christy said
quietly, lifting her damp nutmeg brown hair off the nape of
her neck. She shaded her blue-green eyes from the afternoon
sun and tilted her head. "Tryouts are only two weeks
away, Renee. And I'm not going to drop out."
Christy meant the statement to sound firm and threatening,
but it affected Renee as much as a harmless kitten
batting at a thread.
"You only made it this far because of Rick Doyle."
Renee flung the words at Christy. Two of her friends now
stood beside her. "So don't look so innocent. We know
what's going on between you and Rick."
"Between me and Rick?" Christy couldn't stand the way
the three girls were staring at her. She wasn't sure what
Renee was trying to prove. "Rick and I are just friends."
"Oh, right. Friends. Buddies. That explains why the
most popular guy in school hangs out with a little sophomore
who thinks she's going to be next year's star cheerleader."
Christy felt her heart pounding and her throat swelling.Why is Renee all over me like this?
"Come on, Renee," said one of the other girls, who
walked over toward Christy. "Leave her alone. It's not
Christy's fault Rick turned you down."
Renee spun around. "Who asked for your opinion,
"It's Teri. Only my grandmother calls me Teresa.
'Teresa Angelina Raquel Moreno,'" Teri mimicked in a
high-pitched voice with a heavy Spanish accent. "But you're
not my grandmother, Renee. So you can call me Teri, like
the rest of my friends."
Christy admired Teri's friendly spunk. She obviously
wasn't threatened by Renee. Christy wished she could
appear as confident as Teri. But then Teri was a junior like
Renee, so that had to count for something.
Renee turned to glare at Christy with a hard, pinched
expression. "You're not good enough, Miller. Okay?
You're not good enough to be a cheerleader, and you're
definitely not good enough for Rick Doyle." Renee turned
with a flashy cheerleading swish and marched off the field
with her two friends beside her.
"What was that all about?" Christy asked Teri. Her
hands were shaking. "What did I ever do to her?"
"It's not you." Teri wrapped her long, wavy brown hair
up in a knot and tried to secure it with a scrunchie. "She's
mad at Rick, and she's just taking it out on you. Don't let
her get to you. You're doing great, Christy. By the time tryouts
get here, you'll be ready. Don't worry."
But Christy did worry. She worried all the way home. As
soon as she was in the front door, the first thing she did was
call her closest friend, Katie, to tell her about the incident.
"Oh come on, Christy," Katie said in her bubbly,
self-assured voice. "You know what Renee's problem is. It's
Rick. She likes Rick. Didn't you know that? Everybody
"Katie, almost all the girls at Kelley High like Rick. He
and I are good friends. You know that."
"Sure I do. But Renee doesn't. She thinks he's taking
you to the prom."
"The prom? Why in the world would she think that?
My parents would never let me go to the prom. You know
how strict they are."
"Well, get this," Katie said. "I heard that Renee asked
Rick to the prom, and he turned her down."
"You're kidding! Why?"
"That's what she's so upset about. He didn't give her a
reason, but from what she heard from one of his friends,
Renee thought he was taking you."
"No way! He'd never ask me. He could choose from a
dozen girls, all seniors. Besides, I think a senior guy should
take a senior girl. I mean, it's their last year of high school
"Christy, get a clue! He wants to take you. The problem
is, he thinks you won't go with him since you're not supposed
to date until you're sixteen."
Christy twisted the phone cord around her finger. "But
Katie, I'm the kind of girl Rick teases and calls when he's
bored. I'm not the popular rah-rah type he'd take to the
prom. He's probably waiting to find out who's got the best
chance of winning prom queen. That's who he'll take."
"Wake up, girl! Don't you see what's happening? Rick is
turning you into the rah-rah prom-queen type. You're like
putty in his hands. He's making you into the perfect girlfriend."
"Katie, that has to be the most ridiculous thing you've
"Ridiculous or not, it's the truth."
A frustrating silence hung between them.
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," Katie said, all the
fire doused from her voice. "But if you don't think I'm
right, then just ask yourself to honestly answer one question."
"Yes?" Christy knew that although Katie often went
overboard with her exuberance, she also could be right
"Ask yourself, Would I have tried out for cheerleading if Rick hadn't
talked me into it and gone with me to practice the first day?"
"Yes," Christy answered immediately. "I would've gone
on my own."
"Don't answer me. Answer yourself. Honestly. And if
you're honest, I think you'll see what I'm saying. Rick has
more control in your life than you realize."
For at least twenty minutes after they hung up, Christy
remained sitting on the hallway floor with her back against
one wall and her stocking feet against the other, searching
her heart for an honest answer to Katie's question.
The tricky part was, Christy had always wanted to be a
cheerleader. She had thought about it a lot when tryouts
were announced. But maybe Katie had a point. Deep down,
Christy wasn't sure if she ever would have worked up the
nerve to try out if Rick hadn't coaxed her into going to the
However, Todd had a lot to do with it too. If Katie
wanted to talk about Todd's influence on Christy, well, that
was another story. She would gladly admit that Todd had a
unique way of challenging her and directing her decisions.
He had ever since the day they met on the beach last summer.
She remembered looking up into the screaming
silver-blue eyes of this tall, blond surfer and thinking how
he fit her description of the perfect guy. Then she got to
know him, and Todd became an important part of her life.
He strongly influenced her when it came to things that mattered
in her heart.
Even though Todd lived two hours away, when it came
right down to it, if she had to define their relationship, she
would consider Todd much closer to one day being her
boyfriend than Rick. Christy and Todd saw each other only
a couple times a month, but Todd was in her heart. Forever.
Nothing could ever change that. And what mattered to
Todd mattered deeply to Christy.
She tugged at her socks, cuffing them and uncuffing
them, remembering when she had scrunched in the hallway
last week, the night before the first cheerleading practice,
and talked on the phone with Todd for an hour. Christy
had told him all about how she was thinking of going out
for cheerleading and eagerly waited for his opinion and
But all Todd had said was, "I think if you're going to do
it, you should do it for the Lord."
"You mean I should pray about it?" Christy asked.
"That's part of it. But you need to think about how you
can take some risks on your campus. If you become a cheerleader,
you'll have an audience."
"There will be lots of people who suddenly know who
you are, and they'll watch your life a lot more closely. You
can't just blend in with the crowd anymore. Being a cheerleader
might put you in a good position to let people know
who you really are and what your life is all about."
"I hadn't thought about that."
"Being up front can be good. It kind of forces you to
take a stand for what you believe."
Christy had taken Todd's words to heart, and that night
she had written in her diary:
God, I want to do this cheerleading thing for You. I know Todd's
right. If I become a cheerleader, people will look up to me and
respect me. That will give me a better chance to tell them that I'm a
Christian and maybe to invite them to church with me or something.
I just want whatever is best, and I want to be a good example to
In thinking through the whole situation now, Christy
felt certain that even if Rick hadn't walked her to practice
that first day, she still would have gone. Her heart was set on
doing this, and just as Todd had advised, she would do it for
all the right reasons.
"Christy," her mom called from the kitchen, "are you
off the phone yet? Dinner is ready. You need to come set
"Coming!" Christy left her cheerleading thoughts
huddled in the hallway as she went into the kitchen. Her mom
had made stew, which wasn't her favorite dinner. Mom's stew
generally consisted of whatever leftovers had been in the
refrigerator long enough to be unappealing if eaten by themselves.
They were all dumped into the Crock-Pot in the
morning and left to simmer all day until they became "stew."
Venturing a sniff of the concoction, Christy had to
admit it smelled good. She teased her mom, saying, "Spices
are your friends, aren't they?"
"You know how to put in just the right seasonings to
make even leftovers smell as though you started fresh."
Mom gave Christy a puzzled look.
"Never mind." She realized what she was saying was not
exactly a compliment and would be better left unexplained.
Her mother stepped in to make a familiar point. "We
need to be thankful we have food on the table, Christy. It
may not be fancy, but we've never gone hungry, and we
should be grateful for that."
"I know," Christy said quietly. She pulled the silverware
from the drawer and began setting four places at the kitchen
table. The last thing she wanted to be reminded of tonight
was how tight money had been since her family moved to
California from Wisconsin. Or how all of them needed to
work harder to stay on their budget.
At dinner, Christy's nine-year-old brother, David,
monopolized the conversation. Christy and her mom and
dad all listened patiently as David reenacted, with considerable
exaggeration, his teacher's facial expression when she
found gum on her shoe.
He was kind of funny, for a little brother. But Christy
would never tell him that. It would only encourage his
As soon as David excused himself from the table, Mom
leaned over, and a sweet smile spread over her lips. Christy
knew that look. Her mother was trying to create an encouraging
environment. Christy also knew that her mother was about
to say something Christy probably wouldn't be glad to hear.
"Dad and I have gone over the paper you brought home
from the cheerleading adviser, and we've decided that the
only way for this to work is if you find a way to come up with
half of the money."
"Half!" Christy squawked. "That's more than three
"Well," Dad said slowly in his deep, authoritative voice,
"is this something you want to do? Are you willing to commit
yourself to the practices and the games?"
"Yes." Christy tried hard to hold back the tears that
pressed against the corners of her eyelids.
"Your mother and I think it's a worthwhile goal. It's
also a big commitment. And an expensive one. We feel you
should share a part of that responsibility by participating in
the financial responsibility."
Christy wanted to say, "But you don't understand!
There's more to this than me fulfilling my goal. Can't you
see that? This is something I need to do so I can take a stand
on my campus." But as usual, Christy couldn't make the
really powerful words come out, and all she said was, "How
am I going to come up with that much money?"
"You have to understand, Christy, that this expense
isn't in our budget. But we're willing to find a way for it to
work out for you if you're willing to come up with your half.
You could babysit this summer," Mom suggested.
"Get a position during the weekdays with someone who
has small children. Perhaps you could advertise in the toddler
Sunday school class you've been helping out with the
last few weeks. You could let some of the parents know
"Babysit? This summer?" This wasn't a good time to
mention to her parents that she had been planning to stay
in Newport Beach all summer with Uncle Bob and Aunt
Marti, just like last summer. Christy already had a long list
of plans for things she and Todd would do. She hadn't even
considered the possibility of staying home in Escondido all
summer-especially to babysit.
"You decide how you want to come up with the money,"
Dad said. "If you're serious about cheerleading, we're with
you 100 percent, and we'll find a way to come up with half
the cost. But you've got to put in your share too. It's time
you learned there are no free rides."
"I definitely want to do it. I mean, I want to at least try
out and see what happens," Christy said.
Mom sat back in her chair. "Before you give such a firm
answer, why don't you think about it some more. In the
meantime, do you have much homework tonight?"
"I'll do the dishes, then," her mom said. "You can do
them tomorrow night. You'd better get at your homework."
In the sanctuary of her room, Christy found it impossible
to concentrate on her "tons" of homework. She went
over to her dresser and picked up the San Francisco music
box her aunt had bought her on their trip there last summer.
Winding the brass key on the bottom, Christy set it back
on the dresser and watched the ceramic cable car move up
the little hill as it played "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
Wish I knew where I left my heart. It certainly doesn't seem to be where
it's supposed to be tonight, Christy thought. I feel pulled in so many
She was convinced that becoming a cheerleader ranked
as an important dream at this point in her life. It was a worthy
goal. Weren't adults always telling her to set goals? She
believed being a cheerleader would be something she could
always look back on and say, "I did it! I worked hard, and I
accomplished my goal." Plus, she would be able to take a
stand for what she believed, as Todd had said.
But she never dreamed she would have to come up with
half the money. And babysitting all summer was practically
the last thing Christy wanted to do with her precious free
It seemed there were so many obstacles to her trying out
for cheerleading. The incident with Renee had been discouraging
enough. Now she had the money part of it to
struggle with too. She never guessed it would be so hard.
Do I want to be a cheerleader badly enough to really work for it? With
a determined twist of the knob, Christy wound up the music
box once more. Effortlessly, the little cable car took its free
ride to the top of the glassy hill.
A Lightning Bolt
"Over the years many people have given their opinions
on friendship. I would like this class to work off the handout
I've given you and write a three-page essay. Begin with
the phrase, 'A true friend is.' You may use the rest of the
class time to work on it. Any questions?"
Sixteen-year-old Christy Miller glanced across her
English class and noticed that her friend Katie had her
"Is it okay if we use some of the quotes from the list?"
Katie's red hair swished as she tilted her head.
"Of course you may. Now, no talking. This is project
Christy adjusted her long legs under the desk and studied
the handout. The page was full of quotes from people
like Constantine and Aristotle. She smiled when she read
what Charles Dickens had to say about friends:
"Friendship? Yes, please."
Taking out a fresh sheet of paper, she wrote at the top of
the page, A true friend is .
Only one word came to mind: Todd.
That was not the word she was looking for. Christy
pushed the thought aside and scolded herself. Come on, you
have lots of friends. What are you doing thinking of Todd? He's not even part
of your life anymore. Think, think, think. What is a true friend?
She began to write. A true friend is someone who sticks up for you
Todd, her mind said again.
. and they always look for the best in you. A true friend likes you even
when you don't like yourself very much. Then, without meaning to,
she wrote, My true friend is Todd Spencer.
There. She finally admitted it to herself. By writing it
down, it was as if she admitted to the world that Todd was
her true friend. How did Todd say it almost a year ago when
he placed the engraved "Forever" ID bracelet on her wrist? Here's my friendship; I promise it to you. It's yours forever.
Christy thought of how Todd had backed up that statement
about two months ago. It was morning on a deserted
beach. The night before, without really wanting to, Christy
had agreed to start going out with Rick Doyle. There she
was, in the early morning California fog, trying to explain it
Christy tried to give back the bracelet, but Todd
wouldn't take it.
"No matter what happens," he said, "we're going to be
Then he announced that he was going to Hawaii to try
out for the world-tour surfing team. She hadn't heard from
Christy drew a tiny heart in the corner of her paper and
let memories of Todd fill her mind. Each memory
prompted a little doodle. Soon the margins danced with
sketches of a tandem bike, a picnic basket with seagulls circling
over it, a bouquet of carnations, an old Volkswagen
bus, and down the entire right side of her page, a waterfall
crowned with a bridge across the top.
The shrill bell jolted her back to her Friday morning
English class. Snapping her notebook shut, Christy grabbed
her books and waited at the door for Katie.
"Did you get yours done?" Katie asked, her green eyes
sparkling as though she had a secret.
"Not really." Christy pushed back her nutmeg-brown
hair. The new shampoo she had used on it last night made it
too silky, and it kept falling in her face today, driving her
crazy. "Did you?"
"Almost," Katie said as they walked down the noisy hallway.
"Who did you write about?"
"Well, I didn't come up with anything final yet. I guess
I'm going to have to work on it this weekend."
"I wrote about the person I consider to be my truest
friend in the whole world." Katie's eyes kept twinkling. "I
want you to read it, but not until I'm finished."
A horrible feeling hit Christy. Katie's acting like she wrote
about me! Like I'm her best friend. Katie has been a true friend to me, and I've
taken her for granted.
By lunchtime, Christy had formed a plan. She wanted
to do something that would let Katie know how much she
appreciated her. They met at their usual spot outdoors.
Kelley High was an older school, and their cafeteria was
small and tended to be dominated by the freshmen. Most of
the upperclassmen went off campus for lunch. Christy and
Katie had gotten into the routine of bringing sack lunches
and meeting on the grass under one of the large shade trees.
Being able to eat outside most of the year was one of the
things Christy liked best about living in Southern
"Katie, I'm going to ask you something, and I want you
to give me a straight answer," Christy said once they'd sat
down, away from the noisy crowds at the picnic tables.
"I want to know what you'd like to do together sometime.
Just you and me."
"What do you mean?" Katie asked.
"What is something you'd like to do? Would you like to
go shopping or what? Name it."
"You're sounding like something's wrong, Christy. We
do stuff together all the time. Why do we need to make special
plans to do something together?"
Christy took a deep breath and stuffed the remainder of
her sandwich back in her lunch bag. She hadn't figured it
would be this complicated. "Can I be honest with you?"
"No, I want you to lie to me." Katie pushed Christy on
the shoulder. "I'm only kidding! What are you being so
serious about? You're scaring me."
"Katie, you have been such a good friend to me. I feel
like I haven't been as good a friend back to you. You're the
most gracious friend I've ever had."
"Yeah, you know. Like last year when my aunt and uncle
took me to Palm Springs. You didn't get to come because of
the football game. You were so gracious about it-"
"But-" Katie started to interrupt.
Christy kept going, not letting Katie have a chance to
disagree with her. "Then this summer when I went to Maui.
You know I wanted to take you, but I had to take Paula with
me because she was visiting that week. It was all set up by my
aunt, and I didn't have any say about who went with me."
"I know, Christy. You don't have to explain."
"That's what I mean! You're always so supportive. You
were gracious about Palm Springs and Maui. You were even
gracious when Paula was a snip to you-"
"Christy," Katie finally cut in, "you're making it sound
as though I was being heroic. I wasn't. It killed me that I
didn't get to go with you those times."
"But you didn't act like it. That's what I'm trying to say.
You've always been supportive of me. Always."
"Well, almost always," Katie said. "If you will recall, I
wasn't exactly supportive when you were dating Rick."
"Yes, you were. You just had a strong opinion about
"I still have that opinion. I didn't need to say all those
things to you about him though," Katie said thoughtfully.
"You handled the situation fine without my nasty comments."
"No," Christy disagreed, "I needed you to say whatever
you wanted to say. I needed to hear your opinion. And, as
I've said before and will probably say a thousand times, you
were right. Going out with Rick was a huge mistake."
"And as I've told you a thousand times, going out with
Rick was not the problem. Going steady with him was . well,
if you want my opinion, it was about the stupidest thing
you've done in your entire life."
Christy laughed as Katie's honesty brushed over her.
"Okay, well, I guess some things I have to learn the hard
way. You know, it still hurts when I think about him."
"Why? Because he was such a jerk, and he treated you
"No, Rick didn't treat me badly; you know that."
"Oh, right. He only stole the bracelet Todd gave you,
hocked it to a jeweler, and is now making you buy it back
with every paycheck until Thanksgiving. Silly me!" Katie
slapped her forehead for emphasis. "I guess that's the way
every girl hopes her boyfriend will treat her. I just haven't
reached a level of maturity to be able to understand such
deep, caring, emotionally enriching relationships."
"Okay, okay!" Christy threw her hands up in surrender.
"You're right! Okay? Rick was sort of a ."
". grade-A, first-class, total jerk," Katie filled in for her.
"I guess you could put it that way," Christy gave in. "But
he wasn't like that all the time. There's a tender side to him
too. I'm not saying I want to go out with him again. It's just
that I don't feel like my relationship with Rick is resolved."
"You told him to get lost. What more needs to be
"I can't explain it. I'm not sure I really know. I want
him to understand why I broke up with him. One of these
days I'd like to sit down with him and talk everything out."
Katie ventured slowly, "You mean the way you talked
things over with Todd that morning on the beach? I mean,
can you honestly say you now feel your relationship with
Todd is over and resolved?"
Christy shook her head, feeling her hair tumble over
her shoulders as she lowered her eyes. Uninvited tears
brimmed behind her lower lids. "No," she said softly. "It's
not over with Todd. I think about him all the time."
"So?" Katie perked up. "Why don't you write him?
Send him a card. One of those cartoon ones. You told me
your uncle gave you Todd's address last week. What are you
"I don't know." Christy blinked back a tear. "A lightning
bolt from heaven, I guess."
"Then here," Katie said, playfully bopping Christy on
the head with a foil-wrapped Ding Dong. "Consider this
your lightning bolt from heaven, and this is your message:
'Goeth thereforeth and writeth to Toddeth.'"
Christy laughed, her clear blue-green eyes making contact
with Katie's. "Since you put it that way, okay, I will. I
shalt goeth and buyeth a card todayeth."
Katie smiled her approval, "You know, an occasional
bonk on the head with a Ding Dong seems to do you some
good. Remind me to do that about every fifty thousand
Not until Christy was sitting in her Spanish class after
lunch did she realize that Katie had never answered her
original question. Christy still didn't know what Katie
would like the two of them to do together.
About the only time they had spent together during the
summer was at church. Then school started, and Christy's
job kept her busy every weekend.
When Christy started going out with Rick, Katie had
talked about having the annual back-to-school slumber
party at her house. Only Christy hadn't been able to find a
free weekend for the party since she worked every Friday
night and then had gone out with Rick on Saturdays after
work. With Rick out of the picture, Christy thought maybe
she could help Katie plan a slumber party with a bunch of
girls like they'd had last year.
Christy drove right from school to the mall, where her
job at the pet store started at four. Her boss, Jon, greeted
her with a big smile.
"Guess what?" Jon said.
His long hair was pulled back in its usual ponytail, and
he had on his typical jeans and T-shirt. Christy didn't
notice anything different about Jon. It must be something
about the shop.
She glanced around but didn't see anything that had
changed. "I don't know. I give up. What?"
"I sold Walter this morning." Jon beamed.
Even the mention of Walter gave Christy the willies. She
would never forget the night when the fifteen-foot python
escaped from his cage and slithered out into the mall.
"You seem pretty happy about selling him. Beverly told
me you'd had him forever. I didn't think you'd ever sell him."
"I did have him forever. Not because I was fond of
Walter, but because nobody wanted to buy him. This morning
some guy from Fallbrook came in and paid full price.
Walter has a new home, and I couldn't be happier for him."
Jon picked up a clipboard from under the counter and
said, "I've been meaning to ask you. Are you still happy with
your hours, or do you want to change them so you can
spend more time with your boyfriend?"
Christy felt her cheeks turn red. "Oh no," she said
quickly. "My hours are fine. I don't need to change them.
Jon looked Christy in the eyes with the same scrutiny a
doctor uses when checking a patient's throat. Then, as if he
had found what he was looking for, he looked back at his
clipboard. "I'm sorry."
Christy felt a little confused by his examination. "You're
sorry that I don't want to change my hours? I can change
them or trade with somebody else if you need me to."
"No, your hours are fine with me. As a matter of fact,
they're great. I'm sorry you broke up with . what was his
"Rick." The moment Christy said his name, she felt as
though she had bitten into a wild, tangy raspberry.
"His name is Rick," she added, hoping to purge herself
of the raspberry sensation. "We broke up about a week ago.
But it's fine, really. We're just friends."
Jon looked her in the eyes again. Then he flashed her a
big grin, snapped the clip on top of the clipboard, stuck his
pen behind his ear, and turned toward the back of the shop.
"Well, I guess there comes a time when you have to say
good-bye," he commented. "It's not always easy, but you've
got to let the ol' snake go. Let somebody else have him for a
Christy was about to jump in and defend Rick when Jon
turned back to face her and said, "You know I'm talking
about Walter, of course. That ol' snake, I mean."
"Right." Christy smiled back. "Walter. Of course. I
She slipped her backpack under the counter and took
her position behind the register.
Guys. Who needs them? Not me.
Christy began to straighten the countertop, ready to
concentrate on work.
I'll show Jon and Katie and everyone else that I don't need a guy in my life.
Taking a deep breath, she mumbled, "Now, if I can only
convince myself, I'll be fine."
Off to a Bad Start
"I hate you! I hate you!" Christy Miller shouted at
her reflection in the closet-door mirror. With a wild grrrr
she wadded up her beach towel and heaved it at the mirror,
watching it wobble and distort her lanky proportions.
"Christy darling?" came a shrill voice from the hallway.
"Are you back from the beach so soon?"
"Yes, Aunt Marti." Christy grabbed a brush and pretended
to be untangling her long, nutmeg-brown hair.
Her aunt, a slim, stylish woman in her forties, opened
the guest room door and looked around. "What was all the
commotion? Who were you talking to?"
"Nobody. Just myself," Christy answered calmly, trying
to suppress the volcano of fiery emotions boiling within
"Why aren't you out on the beach, dear? It's a gorgeous
day, and here you sit in your room, talking to yourself."
Aunt Marti dramatically pointed her acrylic fingernail
toward the door. "You should be out there enjoying yourself!"
Christy bit her quivering lip and didn't answer.
"This is California. Live a little! We didn't fly you all the
way from Wisconsin so you could spend the summer hiding
in your room. Get out there and make some friends."
Suddenly the internal volcano erupted with great force,
spewing words with the hot tears. "I tried, all right?" Christy
choked. "I tried to get in with some of the beach kids, but
they're all a bunch of snobs! I can't stand them! They're rude
and mean, and they laughed at me." Christy covered her face
with her hands; the tears oozed through her fingers.
"I had no idea!" Her aunt switched tones and ushered
Christy to the edge of the bed. "There, there. Tell me what's
bothering you, dear."
It took Christy a few minutes to compose herself before
she said calmly, "I don't fit in with the people here. They
think I'm a nerd."
"Well, are you?" her aunt challenged.
"Am I what?"
Christy didn't answer. She stared across the room at her
reflection in the mirror.
"Well?" her aunt prodded.
"Look at me, Aunt Martha!" Christy jumped up from
the bed and stood in front of her. "I'm as white as a frosty
cone-sort of shaped like one too! If that doesn't make me a
nerd in Newport Beach, I don't know what does!"
"Really, Christy. A frosty cone?"
"Well, look at me." Christy stretched out her arms to
provide a full view of her 5-foot-5-inch, 110-pound frame.
Her one-piece bathing suit covered her Olive Oyl torso like
a bright green Ace bandage.
"Tell me I don't look like a frosty cone."
"You don't look like a frosty cone."
"You're just saying that." Christy plopped on the floor
and folded her arms across her stomach.
"Oh, come now, Christy. You might be a bit of a late
bloomer, but really, you're a very sweet girl, and you've got
a lot of potential."
"Yeah, right. Tell that to the surfers out there. The one
who said, 'Hey! It's a walking green bean.'"
Her aunt looked confused. "What's that supposed to
Christy let the tears drip and sniffed loudly. "Don't you
"I see that you got upset over a little remark about a
green bean. That doesn't make sense at all."
"They meant me, Aunt Marti! No other girl on the
beach had on a bathing suit like this ugly one! I'm the walking
Christy covered her face with her hands and cried until
the tears ran down her arms. It was the kind of crying that
comes from the pit of the stomach and brings a headache
with it. The kind that makes a person snort and gasp, and
no matter how idiotic you feel or how hard you try, you
"Do calm yourself, will you, dear? It's not as bad as all
that. We can certainly buy you a new bathing suit easily enough.
And just think. They called you a bean, not a frosty cone. See?
They're saying you're thin. That's almost a compliment."
Christy gasped in short spasms, trying to relax.
Her aunt took the opportunity to make her point.
"This is exactly the reason I told your mother I wanted you
to spend the summer with us. You deserve more than your
parents can give you right now, and goodness knows your
mother and I didn't have much when we were growing up."
Christy wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
"Here. Use this, will you please?" Marti handed her a
tissue. "As I was saying, my goal this summer is to treat you
to some of the finer things in life and to teach you,
Christina Juliet Miller, how to become your own person."
Christy blinked and tried to suppress a wild belch that
bubbled up as a result of so much sobbing. Too late. The
muffled urp leaked out.
"You're certainly not going to make this easy for me, are
"I'm sorry." Christy felt an uncontrollable urge to
laugh. "Are you sure you're ready to transform a belching
green bean frosty cone into 'her own person'? Could be
kind of dangerous!" Christy broke into laughter.
Aunt Marti shook her head and didn't join in. "We'll
start tomorrow, Christina. I'll call and make an appointment
for you to have your colors done at nine, and then
we'll start shopping for your new wardrobe."
Christy instantly sobered. "I didn't bring much money
"Don't be silly! This is my treat. A few outfits are certainly
not going to break me. And one other thing: We really
should have your hair cut. Something short and stylish. My
hairdresser, Maurice, does marvelous work. By the time
we're done with you you'll look and feel like a new person."
She said it with such finesse, Christy almost believed
her. A new wardrobe? A new hairstyle? And what did her
aunt mean by "having her colors done"?
"Why don't you shower and dress, dear? Your uncle
doesn't know it yet, but he's going to take you to an early
dinner and a movie tonight." Aunt Marti swished out the
Christy approached the mirror with a new perspective.
Twisting her long, nutmeg-brown hair on top of her head,
she posed this way and that way, trying to imagine how she
would look with short hair. She couldn't quite picture the
She wished Paula were there. Paula, her best friend back
home, always gave her advice when it came to major decisions
like this. But then, what did Paula know? She was the
one who helped her pick out the dumb green bean bathing
Christy scrunched up her nose and stuck her face close
to the mirror, examining her skin for new blemishes. No
new and ugly bumps today. But her cheeks were flushed,
and her nose was bright red from crying. Even her eyes
showed the effects of her crying spree; they were puffy and
"I have such stupid eyes," she muttered. "They're not
blue, and they're not green. They're just sort of nothing-like
the rest of me."
"Knock, knock," Uncle Bob called out from Christy's
She immediately released her hair and turned away
from the mirror, embarrassed that he had caught her in the
midst of such scrutiny.
"Looks like we've got a date tonight for the movies."
His merry eyes looked at her from beneath his baseball cap.
He must have just come back from golfing, judging by the
perspiration stains on his polo shirt. "Anything special you
want to see?"
"Okay. I'll take a look in the paper to see what's playing.
Your aunt's not much of a movie fan, so I hope you don't
mind that it's just you and me."
"No. That's fine."
"We'll leave in about an hour, okay?"
"By the way," he lifted his baseball cap and wiped his
forehead, "I haven't told you yet, but I'm glad you came to
stay with us this summer." Then he added, "You are my
favorite niece, you know."
"I also happen to be your only niece!"
"Minor detail, my child, minor detail," he quipped,
politely closing the door.
With a sigh, Christy flopped onto the bed. She didn't
feel like showering, and it wouldn't take her that long to
change. With an hour to kill, she decided to write to Paula.
Christy liked to write-especially when she had a lot on
her mind. She would get everything out on paper, and then
when she reread it, it would be like looking at her own
thoughts in a mirror. Usually things came out clearer on
paper than when she tried to say them.
Finding the pad of stationery Paula had given her when
she left Wisconsin, Christy set to work. Paula insisted that
she write the first letter to her on this stationery.
Hi! How's everything back on the farm? The plane trip out
here was fun for the first hour, but then it got boring. I didn't see any
movie stars at the airport, but I still have your notepad, so I can get
some autographs in case I see anybody famous.
Remember when you called last Thursday and I told you I
couldn't talk? It was because my parents were giving me a big lecture
about my trip out here. They made me promise I wouldn't do
anything this summer I would regret later. Can you believe that?
The funny part is, the only thing I regret is that I ever came here.
I hate this place! There's nothing to do, and everybody is so stuck up.
It's so boring. At night, all I do is sit around and watch TV.
At least one good thing is going to happen. Tomorrow my aunt
is going to take me shopping, and guess what? I'm probably going to
get my hair cut! Can you believe it? I'm kind of scared, but I think
she's trying to give me a new image or something.
Well, I've got to go. I'll tell you how the big makeover turns
out. Just think, you might not recognize me when I step off the plane
next September. You'd better write to me.