By me. It’s my new book yay!
She’s just a girl. Standing in front of four rom-coms. Praying for death.
Sophie Sweet is a game programmer who adores three things: writing code; Doritos Surprise, the one thing she can cook; and her ride-or-die BFF Jodie Edwards. And only those three. To Sophie, people are a lousy bunch of jackasses who lie and leave when you need them most, so why bother? That goes double for “love,” a ridiculous fairy tale sold to women to keep them subjugated and cooking things besides Doritos Surprise, which is madness.
Sophie and Jodie have a tradition of getting their fortunes read at the carnival, but this year there’s a new surprise in town — Tiffani the Psychic. The bubbly psychic can see through Sophie’s tough-girl veneer to her squishy, hurt center. Tiffani tells Sophie she’ll prove that everlasting passion exists for everyone! Sophie tells Tiffani to screw off.
Big mistake. Huge.
Oh, yes — romance, and Tiffani, are coming for Sophie Sweet, whether she likes it or not. And she will Not. Like. It. Tiffani is an unstoppable force, and Sophie, an immovable object who cusses a lot. But Tiffani will prove to Sophie that love can heal her wounds. And it’s right in front of her oblivious face.
And here’s the beginning of the book! I hope you’ll love Sophie, Jodie, and Tiffani as much as I do! If you’re into~
- Grumpy heroines
- Ridiculous psychics
- BFFs ready to hide the body…if necessary
- Friends-to-lovers romances
- Loving rom-coms
- Hating rom-coms
- Weird magic
- Drag queens
- Disgusting casseroles
Check it out!
I stumbled off the Zipper Shaker Widow Maker ride and reached to steady myself on Jodie. Which did not work whatsoever, so I landed on my butt with the grace of a drunken llama. “Suck it, ride,” I groaned as the world spun around me. “Sophie Sweet makes the widows around here.”
Jodie Edwards, my best friend on this whole godforsaken planet, doubled over with laughter and not vomit. Advantage: Jodie. “You sure about that, Barfy? You literally went green on the last bend. It looked so cute on you, though.” She crouched to pinch my cheeks, which earned her a swat.
“Screw off, Buffy.”
“Barfy and Buffy ride again! At least you didn’t vomit on my socks like when we were sixteen.”
“It is an honor to be yakked upon by the great Barfy.” I tried to say it with a flourish, but burped instead. Like a lady. “And I had that ride right where I wanted it.”
“You sure? You’re even pastier than usual.”
“Hey, that’s ‘Mayonnaise American,’ thank you very much.”
Clutching my belly, in a super tough and not-at-all pathetic way, I managed to stand. I forced air in, past the vinegar French fries, around the chili dog, straight through the fried pickle — all of which stayed down, ha! My eyeballs almost focused in the same direction, and one of them managed to goggle Jodie, fresh as a daisy after being shaken like a go-go dancer’s ass. How did she do that? “What’s next? If you say the Spinner Winner Chicken Dinner, I will stab you.”
We grinned at one another. Every Halloween, we adventured to the Gator Riviera, Florida, Autumn Carnival, a tiny affair where you risked your life — and lunch — for grubby fun. We grew up in this one-stoplight berg, later moving to Miami, but could not resist returning north to our hometown festival and its many stomach-churning traditions.
“Let’s get you some water,” Jodie said.
She took me by the hand and lead me toward salvation. Or death. Either way, I trusted her.
“Huh. I thought you were gonna argue and try to eat something else disgusting.” Jodie leaned me against the concession stand like a pair of skis. “One water, please.”
“And a cheddar corn-dog muffin.” I added.
The concession lady nodded. “Got it.”
“No!” argued Jodie.
“Yes,” I counter-argued her argument. “Cheddar corn-dog muffins are good for a sick stomach, right?” Deep breaths, Sophie. Barfing is for losers.
“Uh-huh,” replied the concession lady. “Better put butter on it. To settle everything.”
I managed to crack a smile. “Scientific. I like that.”
Jodie pulled her own face, which she did often with me. I chose to take it as a compliment. “Fine,” she said. “But at least sit while you eat your gastrointestinal bomb. I don’t understand how you do it.”
“Internal organs made of barbed wire.”
“Scientific. I like that.”
We sat at a picnic table. Jodie made me drink water before eating any of my food-medicine. She looked around and took a huge inhale of air. “This place always smells the same. Gasoline. BO. Scrub pine. Hey, Barfy — remember the year we snuck out to come here because your dad had grounded you?”
“And I got into a war of words with that horrible man with the seven bratty kids.”
Jodie lit up with a gorgeous grin. She could illuminate the whole town with that wattage. Some poor fella nearby stumbled for staring at her, the stunning Black goddess powering the carnival all by herself. Her deep brown skin shone like…like a sapphire in the night time? Ugh, I was bad at words and crap, but wow. My poor, abused stomach unwound a bit.
She laughed. “The big one tripped you, then the other ones ground gum into your hair because you wouldn’t let all seven of them cut in line… Wait, what were we in line for?”
“Fried butter!” Oh, yeah. I could giggle about it now. At the time, however, I would have happily committed seven little acts of murder. Also while giggling, let’s be real. The evil queen in Snow White was a woefully misunderstood heroine. “You gave me an awesome pixie cut — mostly even and everything.” She’d performed her act of mercy-barbering in the middle of the night so my dad wouldn’t realize we’d gone out. Heh — I like to tell myself I’d been cool about the whole thing, but when Jodie had cut off my pretty black curls, I nearly cried. Cried. Like some kind of person. It was one of the few times Dad yelled instead of just shaking his head and ignoring me because a daughter of his “shouldn’t look like an ugly boy.”
I shuddered at the memory, my mouth forming a tight line. I cleared my throat. “You did a perfect job on my hair, Buffy.”
“Of course, I’m amazing. The expression on your dad’s face the next morning…” Jodie opened her eyes so wide, they damn near shot across the table. “That man was not equipped to handle you or your perfect pixie.”
I chuckled through a tight throat. “He didn’t want to handle me. Still doesn’t.” Ugh, after that cut, he’d demanded I wear a bunch of makeup, and dresses, to emphasize his idea of what a “daughter” should look like. Even now, swiping on mascara felt like trying in vain to please a crappy dad who ignored me 99% of the time.
The muffin sat in my mouth like a rock. My heart sorta went…black-hole-ey whenever I thought of him or my mother. Like it was being sucked into an invisible void from which no light escaped. I forced down the muffin. My parents had been ill-suited for each other. Ill-suited for me. They’d wanted to birth the sparkling, ideal child, whoever the hell that is. Not sure she exists, but she sure ain’t me.
A gentle hand turned my chin. “What’s that face?” Jodie tilted her head and did the cute thing she did — she pushed her bottom lip under the top. “Your stomach acting up still?”
“No, the butter medicine is perfect. I just — ” I squeezed my eyes shut — “do you think if I’d’ve been the perfect kid, that — ”
“You stop right there!” Jodie shot off her bench, came around, and bumped my hip to scoot me over. “First, you are the perfect kid. Adult. Whatever. Secondly, nobody’s perfect!”
I blinked. “What?”
“Sophie, your mom would not have been happy if you’d have gotten straight A’s and made hats for the poor and…and…fed soup to indigent cats.”
I blinked. “What?”
Jodie waved her hands. “I don’t know what perfect people do. Point is, she was unhappy with your father. He was miserable with her. Instead of coming to their senses and getting divorced like normal folk, she pulled a disappearing act, and he took it out on you with his silence and disapproval. Classic transference. Probably. I read that on the internet.”
Whoa. My brain spun anew with the force of these truths. Usually, I worked hard not to remember any of this stuff because it made the black hole beckon, cold and hollow. I tipped my head back to stare at the stars, yet they formed a gray mass. Time to shove the painful stuff way, way down. Ugly feelings were why I’d left home at 17 for good. Out of sight, out of existence, right?
But Dr. Jodie was on a roll. “…and your mom! Not even a phone call on your birthday. You didn’t deserve their emotional abuse! Sure, you’re a little wild and mouthy and made of barbed wire, but those are wonderful things.”
I shot her a sideways look. That’s not what those kids said when they’d stomped Hubba Bubba into my bangs.
Jodie squeezed my shoulders. “You’re generous with the people you like — ”
“You,” I said.
“Yes, and I appreciate that.” Jodie’s brown eyes burrowed underneath my armor. “There is no more loyal friend than you, Sophie. You don’t deserve to be depressed about the fact that your parents are assholes. I said what I said. Assholes. Now — eat your disgusting buttered hot dog bread.”
I did as Jodie ordered, and her reassuring grin made the dark, feathery edges of the black hole recede. About the only place I’d ever behaved was at Jodie’s house. Her parents housed me when I couldn’t cope with my unbearable home life anymore; they were so supportive of Jodie that I got abundant cast-off affection. It was nice. A smile burst out of me; I took a bite to cover it. Okay, more than nice. Jodie’s family had given me my first and only glimpse of parental love and stuff. I could breathe with Jodie.
“Thank you, Dr. Jodie,” I said through muffin. Huh. What useful advice had I ever given Jodie? Ah! I taught her how to punch without breaking her thumb. Not that she ever had to punch. Not around me, anyway. “I’m sorry I’m not good at this — the advice…feelings, uh — ”
I grunted and shrugged.
“No, you are not. But later, you’ll win me a dirty stuffed animal prize, and we’ll call it even.”
“I’ll probably steal one.”
I laughed and finished my snack. Mmmm… Butter. I licked my lip, reaching for a glob with my tongue.
“You missed.” Jodie snapped a photo.
“New phone background, thank you.” She chuckled like an adorable supervillain. “Feeling better?”
I nodded. My hand shot out to grab hers on the rough wooden table as I met her gaze. “Thanks.”
Her eyebrows rose. “For what?”
A million warm and fuzzy emotions I refused to name because I was too cool for them crowded into my chest. They didn’t seem tight, like a panic attack, more like being tucked into soft blankets with a purring cat. Or beach sunshine on your face. How did people express this kind of stuff without sounding like a soap opera? Jodie was my world. My bosom friend, as Anne of Green Gables would say, not that I got sappy like that. It’s just…she was the best person I’d ever known.
I tucked my hair behind my ears and changed the subject to something less terrifying. “Thanks for the cheddar corn-dog muffin.”
I put my thumb to my nose and wiggled my fingers at her in our sacred gesture of friendship. Maybe not-so-secret, because a little girl nearby cracked up and joined in. Jodie returned the compliment, and we grinned like dorks. In this circle, when your best friend wiggled her digits in your face, she meant, “I love you.” And I did.
Jodie snorted. “I’m not saying ‘you’re welcome’ for buying you the muffin. You’ll probably barf it on me after the next ride.”
“You’re welcome. What will our next adventure be, boss?”
“Gwendolyn the Fantabulous!” she announced, most fantabulously. “I am so painfully single I keep cruising straight girls at South Beach drag shows. I need her reassurance I won’t die alone.”
“You’ll never die alone — Barfy will stick to Buffy like a crusty barnacle. Forever.”
“That’s hot.” Jodie hauled me to my feet.
We started toward “the psychic’s” tent. The only thing that old bat Gwendolyn could promise was that you’d be parted from your money in exchange for fake fortune-telling, but I readily agreed. Gwendolyn — an old Russian white lady who could’ve been 50 or 150 — was hilarious, and always shared her vodka, offered in a skull-shaped shot glass.
“Should I tell her that I never did run away to become the world’s first stripping astronaut?” I asked.
Jodie gasped, clutching her bosom like an Austen heroine. “Don’t be so cruel! I’ve concocted a whole story about how my career as a spy for the Kremlin is proceeding apace. See?” She fished in her pocket, then lifted something over her head.
I busted out laughing. “Wow. That is one amazing eye patch.”
She posed from side to side, the red sequins of the patch glinting with intrigue. “I am Kremlin spy-ski!”
“How did you lose your eye, comrade?” My turn to snap a photo of this dork.
In an epically atrocious Russian accent, she said, “Baking accident. I try to put file in Matryoshka doll cake for to break partner out of gulag.”
“Oh!” I applauded her performance. “Because Gwendolyn predicted that you’d be a baker who made dirty cakes in the shape of male body parts.”
“Da.” Jodie screwed up her face. “Swing and a miss with that one. I’m a boob cake girl.”
“You can cake my boobs any day.”
“That’s very reassuring.”
I took a deep breath, the nip in the air settling my swirling brains with each inhale. The blinking carnival lights flashed rainbows across our path, and everything was right with the world. Me and Jodie — that’s all I really needed. Plus game code. I sat on my butt for hours commanding computers and building worlds of violent fun. In a game, I was god.
Ooh, maybe I should add a skeevy carnival to my game! Imagine the battles my heroine could fight in a scary, decrepit setting like this — perhaps with an eccentric psychic as her nemesis.
I flung an arm around Jodie. “Why do so many of our conversations eventually turn to tits?”
“What else is there to discuss?”
“Buffy — asking the important questions.”
We arrived at the psychic’s tent, a purple and pink eye-assault painted with shooting stars, fading crystal balls, and mystical shapes borrowed from miscellaneous religions. The “open” sign had been flipped our way, so I tossed back the flap and went straight in. “Gwendolyn!” I called. “Show me my sexy future, baby! But if you say ‘ballerina,’ I will riot.”
Jodie collided with me in the tent. “Whoops, sorry, eye patch.”
Gwendolyn was not in the front part. It smelled different. I blinked to adjust to the darkness and took a sniff. What was that?
“Chanel Number Five?” Jodie guessed. She lifted her eye patch. “Look, Gwendolyn got a decorator.”
A pink velvet couch sat where Gwendolyn used to keep her dusty collection of stuffed Victorian birds. And her table, with its entirely non-magical crystal ball, was gone, replaced by a kidney-bean shaped one. A goofy orange armchair sat across from the sofa. Strings of lights bobbed and weaved from the tent supports, flashing yellow and pink in a candy-coated seizure.
“You’re here!” piped a voice from behind us.
We jumped as one to see —
“Who the hell are you?” I asked. “Where’s Gwendolyn?”
The human cupcake tossed her long, black hair and laughed, her face breaking into a gorgeous smile. Definitely not Gwendolyn — this lady was young, tall, and East Asian. Kinda had Gwendolyn’s curves, though, and stood full-figured in every right way. Gorgeous. “She retired to Cleveland. Horrifying, right? Ha ha!” She wobbled forward on the tallest hot pink heels I’d ever winced at. “I’m Tiffani the Psychic. And my angels tell me you super-duper need my help.”
“Nope.” I turned to leave, as I was entirely allergic to silly sorority sisters.
Jodie grabbed my arm. “Stop! I want a reading.” She tore off her eye patch, and then ran her hands along her fade, the way she did in front of all pretty ladies. “Hi, Tiffani. I’m tragically single, and I want to know if I’ll meet anyone decent.” Jodie winked at me, for Tiffani the Psychic’s first test was — what sort of date would she recommend to the enthusiastically lesbian Jodie?
“Yes! Come. Sit. Both of you.” Tiffani smoothed her ridiculous scarlet caftan, bedecked with glittery gold stars, and perched on the orange chair. “The veil has lifted, and I can see everything.”
Jodie wanted this, so I sighed and let my BFF lead me to the offensively pink couch. Gotta take one for the lady who’d let you barf on her — that’s a life lesson right there. The one and only time I’d dared to vomit in front of my mother, when I was six, she’d smacked me upside the head. Ugh, the perfumed room made my nose burn.
“Kombucha?” Tiffani offered a jar of brown sludge, at which Jodie readily nodded.
I blinked. Tiffani batted her giant eyelashes. I grimaced.
Tiffani poured some brown stuff for Jodie, and then put on a serious face. “Here, hold on to me — ”
“Jodie.” They held hands, and Tiffani closed her eyes. “Mmmmmm,” said Tiffani, mystically. “You’re such a sweet person! Awww, I love that. My angels tell me you enjoy girl bands from the eighties — that’s sooo cute.”
Jodie wore a Go-Go’s t-shirt.
“Oh, yes,” Tiffani squeaked. “I see romance in your future. Super romantic romance.” She paused and said with wide eyes. “True love.”
With a gasp, Jodie leaned forward. “Who?”
I slumped, crossed my arms, and let out a snort. Silly Mcbubblegum would now crash and burn.
Tiffani’s shining dark eyes bored into me. “She’s someone unlikely.” She cocked her head. “Did I get that right? She?” Smugly, she flicked her gaze to a grinning Jodie. “My angels tell me everything! Especially Happizzez, I just looooove her. She’s the one who filled me in about Lizzo becoming a huge star who wears a lot of corsets. But Jodie, neither you nor your ladylove have realized that true, everlasting passion is floating in the ether, ready for you to reach out and grope it!”
Jodie waggled her eyebrows, and then elbowed me. “Really? What’s her name? Hair color?” She leaned forward. “Bra size?”
“Every conversation,” I murmured.
“Priorities,” replied Jodie. “And please describe Lizzo’s future corsets.”
The psychic smirked. “Revealing her identity would be too easy! Also…” Tiffani pressed her manicured fingers to her temples. “My angels say…you’re going on several trips. One — you’re at a wedding with a beautiful woman. She’s wearing white. You’re wearing white, awww. I see a lot of fashion in my visions because clothes maketh the woman looketh cute. Oh! Another journey will be to a historical village. In Plopshire, England. With horses, butter churns, mud, and whatnot.” She shrugged. “Old timey things, ha ha! It’ll be sooo great, though. Plopshire will change your life.”
“Really? I’ll churn butter?” Jodie pursed her lips to one side. “Do I have to?”
“Romance cannot happen without butter!”
It was the first thing Tiffani said that made sense.
“Plopshire.” I barked out a laugh. “Plop. Shire. Your angels have a lofty sense of humor.”
Jodie threw me a look. “Unlike you?”
Tiffani blinked wide eyes. “Now for your friend!”
With a jerk, I avoided the psychic’s grasping hand. “I am not spending my hard earned money so Glinda the Sparkle Witch can talk a bunch of woo woo at me.” Ugh, why did this Tiffani irk me this much? Gwendolyn babbled nothing but bunk, too. Yet Tiffani invoked “angels” — that sort of thing would get her far in Gator Riviera, where churches darn near outnumbered people. I leaned back and crossed my arms. “Ya know, Tiff, if you just wanted to lie to people, you should join Congress.”
“I probably wiiiillll.” Tiffani said it with yawning vowels and a wide smile. “I’d run on a platform of love for everyone. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
Was this chick for real? Perhaps I’d died from vomit overdose after the last ride. My eyebrows rose to the heavens. “So that’s it? Jodie will get true love and some mud in Poopshire, that’ll be ten bucks?”
“Twenty.” Tiffani shrugged one fancy shoulder. “Jodie, I guarantee you love, within the month, or your money back.”
Jodie whooped and clapped.
“But!” Tiffany took a long, dramatic pull of her tea. “This one. The rabid one — ” she flicked a long finger toward me — “must let me do a reading.”
I smiled. “Finally, you got a prediction right.”
“My reading?” Jodie asked.
That earned me another elbow. “Do it for me,” Jodie said. “She’ll do it. Hold hands like a nice girl, Sophie.”
I growled like the monster I was; Tiffani grabbed at me anyway. Do it for Jodie. After all, Jodie was a ride-or-die friend. Always loyal, always reliable, always forcing down my Doritos Surprise, which was the only thing I cooked.
The secret recipe, passed down from my brain when I got drunk and watched Cutlery Corner, contained Doritos, cheese, ground beef, spaghetti, and Nerds candy. It was fantastic. To sophisticated palates, anyway.
Unlike Tiffani the Psychic. What a load of Diet Cool Whip this woman was. Her performance was Oscar-worthy. Tiffani hyperventilated, swayed like an inflatable air guy at a discount tire shop, and squeaked sort-of sayings, like, “A stitch in time saves wine.” Finally, she stared at a candle until her eyes crossed.
I shot daggers at Jodie, who proceeded to laugh at me shamelessly. The hussy took another picture! Just when I began to giggle at the ridiculousness, the lights went out.
“Oh, damn,” murmured Jodie.
In the dark, Tiffani said, “I see…for you…the color pink! A pink dress! Aw, I looove pink.”
“Hell,” I muttered while gnawing on my lip. “I’m in hell.”
Tiffani’s voice dipped to ominous levels when she said, “This isn’t even close to your personal hell.” The backlit outline of Tiffani cupped her ear to listen to…nothing. “Your hell is inside your own head — what with your soul-shattering self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy as a byproduct of your abusive childhood.”
“Excuse me?” I went hot everywhere at once, losing my words to the inferno. I couldn’t seem to spit out anything else. Like “I hate you” or “pink is ugly, you horrible ball of cotton candy.”
So Tiffani kept right on blabbering. “I see that you’re a Scorpio.”
Jodie whispered, “Yes, she is.”
Ugh! I hip-checked Jodie to get her to stop helping Tiffani. What on earth was the woman talking about? Feelings of inadequacy? I did my best to never have feelings in the first place! Which proved the orange armchair psychologist wrong. This room stifled me. I itched everywhere, but on the inside.
The psychic spared a minute to quote more nonsense (“All that glitters is mandatory!”), then, she announced, “I see…the letter R. And a C!”
I pulled the leather jacket off my throat to catch a damn breath. “How about the letters F, U — ”
“Sophie Sweet!” Tiffani boomed. “The angels have peered into your soul, and we know!” She slammed the table. Jodie and I clutched one another. “That you do not believe in love. Which is a real shame, because love is eeeeeverything!” She pointed at me. Dramatically! “For instance, whatever happened to Earl?”
Jodie gasped. Like, full-on, hand-to-her-heaving-bosom gasped. “She knows about Earl!” she squeaked. Leaning forward, my bestie growled, “I never liked Earl.”
“And I dumped Earl,” I informed Tiiiiiifani. Who knew his name for some reason. Fuck, my heart thumped in my earballs. Why had I dumped Earl? Oh, yeah, he’d wanted to love me and live with me, couldn’t have that. He’d been a much better guy than Regina had been a girlfriend, and yet I’d clung to Regina like cheap plastic wrap. I shook off a shiver. “He wasn’t my forever person, if that person even exists.”
“Oh, they do.”
With the smirkiest smirk I could smirk, I said, “Because there are so many amazing couples who last fifty years. Yup! Sure.”
“That attitude? That’s why you’re miserable and lonely and pathetic, ha ha!”
I shot to my feet. “Hey!” I stumbled over the kidney table and flailed until I flopped backward to the couch again. “I am not miserable, or pathetic, you glitter-bombed, fake-ass grifter!” How freaking dare she? “Turn the lights back on! See, Jodie, this is why I carry a switchblade — ”
“How did you know Sophie’s last name?” Jodie asked. “Scorpio?” Her tone soured. “And Earl.”
A finger snap sounded, along with a “Ha ha!” The twinkle lights resumed their bopping journey across the tent. Jodie gasped.
Tiffani perched there, her smile stiffened with so much dippy superiority it brought me to an absolute boil. Beads of sweat erupted at my hairline, and I — I —
Oh, come on! As if I’d allow some ridiculous stranger to come at me, insult me, degrade me, and call my shitty childhood shitty. Then giggle at it.
“Nice trick, Hermione Houdini.” With a sneer, I shot to my feet again. “Quick — what’s my cat’s name? Or maybe you could pull a rabbit out of your Liberace hand-me-down.”
Tiffani clutched her pearls. Literally. “This caftan is Dior! Now you’re deflecting your overwhelming isolation into attacks on me. That’ll be twenty dollars.”
“Are you delusional? Do you actually believe you can read my mind? Oh, I’m frowning at the most absurd person I’ve ever met, therefore I’m psychologically damaged. You must give the same reading to everyone who stumbles into the tunnel of love, eventually.”
“No, I do not. But Happizzez enjoyed that joke.” Tiffani rose like a debutante and slid her curtain of hair off her shoulder. “The more you retreat into yourself, you cantankerous turtle, the worse your life will get. How many lonely nights shall you suffer? How many disgusting corn chip casseroles will you burp over? Please open your heart to love. I mean…it’s love! What’s not to love? That’s an actual saying, ha ha!”
Jodie had the friggin’ gall to laugh, so I sailed past her on the way to the door.
“Sophie!” Tiffani turned me by the elbow. “By hook or by book, romance is coming for you. And my angels will make sure you don’t run away from it. Ordinarily, I’d just let you die alone, but I like your friend.”
“Aw, thanks!” Jodie positively tittered.
I threw back my head and cackled, sure now I was being trolled. “OooOOooooh! Psychic Barbie is gonna force me to Tinder! I’ll make sure to leave a window open for your kidnap squad of angelic romance commandos. Jodie, remind me to wax tonight.” I sauntered out of the tent, away from the stifling stench of perfume and bullshit.
The cold air slapped my sweat dry and lifted the fog from my brain. I stopped there, eyes pressed closed, willing the red in my vision to dissipate before I —
“You owe me twenty bucks.” Jodie joined me, her tone nicer than her expression.
“You paid her?” I flapped my arms and starting walking. “You paid her to say that my childhood made me sad.”
“Your childhood did make you sad.”
I missed a step. “Childhood screws everyone up!” Gross, why were we dwelling on this stuff tonight? My face went all weird and numb from the sheer volume of garbage emotions trying to shoot out the top of my head. I balled my fists. “You realize Tiffani basically read a horoscope, toggled the lights, and fed you rot tea, right?”
“Says the lady who makes Doritos Surprise.”
“You love Doritos Surprise.” I dragged Jodie toward the beer stand.
“Because you said you’d never talk to me again if I didn’t eat it. By the way — corn chip casserole?” Jodie began jumping along. “Come on! How could she know that repulsive detail about you?”
“Oh, poor, sweet, gullible Jodie. This is why so many of your girlfriends keep your clothes after you break up.”
That made Jodie turn around mid-skip. “You’re buying the beers, jerk.”
I waved my arms. “WoooOOOooOOO! The angels tell me a drink that starts with B is in your future!”
Yup, she flipped me off. I deserved it.
Later that night, after apology beers, we retreated to my place for another annual tradition, the post-carnival sleepover.
Jodie turned off the bathroom light switch as she joined me in my adjoining bedroom. She was wearing her hair natural nowadays, shorter on top with a cute fade on the sides and a semi-circle hard part. After using a spray bottle to wet her hair, she used a head massager to work coconut oil into her scalp. Mmmm, the smell was so nice. So Jodie.
She said, “That lady Tiffani gave me the chills. Happy chills, if that makes sense.”
“Because she was gorgeous.” I ran to get a necessary component to our sleepovers — one of the silk pillowcases I’d bought especially for her. “You’ll believe anything a hot lady has to say.”
I fluffed her new-and-improved pillow, and then pressed play on Bride Wars.
Not for the first time, I shook my head at the fact that I actually deigned to watch rom-coms. For Jodie. Only for her. No matter how unpleasant. No matter how Kate Hudson. She loved that crap so much, who the hell knew why. It’s not like the sexist heroes made of plastic were appealing to her.
But the ladies were beautiful, no doubt, no doubt.
I grabbed a fistful of Nerds to go with my gallon of boxed cabernet, the only way to get through a war of brides.
She leaned over to her bedside table and grabbed her hair bonnet. “Excuse me, I don’t believe anything a hot lady has to say. I’ll believe most things a hot lady has to say. I believe you, don’t I?” All finished with her crowning glory, she snatched the box of candy away from me.
“Aw, shucks.” My black cat, Satan, jumped on the bed to join in the group cuddle. He plopped on my belly and proceeded with his hoarse purr. They say cats help with stress relief; I probably would have burned down something by now if not for him. Hail Satan! I even had a huge shoulder tattoo of this little goober — Satan, growling at my enemies. And I’d given him saber-teeth, which I know he appreciates.
I dragged him up to lay on my chest face-to-face to me. “Who’s my sweetie evil kitty? You’re my sweetie evil kitty! Yes, you are.” I put my forehead to his, and his motor-boat noises hit full throttle. “My snuggly baby kittykins, I love you so much, yes, I do. Yes, I do!”
Jodie near fell off the bed giggling. “I’m gonna send Tiffani the Psychic a video of you and your one true love, Satan.”
I had to laugh. “Has anything been more true in this world?” Ugh, I shook my head. “At least Gwendolyn never pretended to be real. That’s what pisses me off the most about Tiffani. Who probably spells her name with an ‘I.’” Hmmm. “Two ‘I’s.”
“The sign of true malevolence,” Jodie agreed through the crunching of Nerds. “Hey, where are your nail clippers?”
I waggled my eyebrows at her. “Got a hot date?”
I was rewarded with a cartoonish wink. “Why do you think I’m here?”
Well, then. I gave the lady her nail clippers. There aren’t too many people I’d let clip in bed, but this was my Jodie.
My Jodie, my friend who would not let things go. “Sophie…she knew about Doritos Surprise. And that you’re a Scorpio. And your last name! And Earl.”
“That’s because…um…the horrible woman found a way to see my driver’s license.” I got a weird yawning in my belly. Probably Satan’s kneading. Or the ulcer shoved down my throat tonight. I drained my wine to drown the ugly feelings. And the good feelings. Feelings in general could suck it.
Jodie crunch-crunch-crunched her candy. “How would she have seen your license?”
“When she turned out the lights with her remote control or whatever.”
“Because it’s so easy to pick pockets and read licenses in the pitch black.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but nothing came out. How the hell had Tiffani done that? Maybe more wine would tell me. “Whatever. Good luck with her grift, I guess.”
Jodie scooted closer and put her head on my shoulder. I leaned into her warmth, her safety; this was the first time in hours my muscles melted. The coconutty smell of her hair loosened my shoulders. All that childhood talk had left me unmoored, and I squeezed my eyes shut against the crashing memories.
“I think Tiffani’s right,” Jodie said. “You’re going to meet the person of your dreams. Maybe at work, amongst the game nerds. You two will scream at one another about Silent Hill vs. Resident Evil, and then make mad love in the broom closet!”
“Is that your psychic vision, oh mysterious Buffy the Clairvoyant? Because I would never suffer a date who talks smack about Silent Hill.”
“Obviously.” Satan abandoned me to head-butt Jodie, who obliged him with cuddles. “That’ll be fifty bucks.”
I did not pay up, but I was exceedingly free with the candy and wine and cat, like a true best friend.
I attempted an act of sleep, yet my brain kept cycling to the “psychic.” How dare she babble about my childhood? As if she knew me? And what about her obsession with loooOOooove. Of course love is the only thing a woman should be interested in, right? Ick. Jodie and I were both professional women — me, a coder, and Jodie, a high school physics teacher. We didn’t need romance, we had brains and ambition and each other.
Besides, dating was a disastrous occupation — a torture chamber full of small-talk land mines and slobbery first kisses. I shuddered and clutched the blanket tighter, because “opening up to people” was the freaking worst. Just the idea made me want to hurl more than the Widow Maker ride.
Why would anyone choose to spew emotion and weakness far and wide? After all, no matter how much you cry and scream and beg, Mom leaves anyway to get away from the slow death of female domesticity. I pressed my hand to my chest against a wave of winey heartburn. As soon as my father transferred all the “woman” stuff in the house to eight-year-old me — cooking and cleaning and scrubbing and lying to bill collectors — I suddenly didn’t blame Mom for leaving anymore. Too often, dudes didn’t want a real human being, but a bang maid, ick.
And when you date ladies…they were more confusing, as they seemed to need a level of emotional sharing I could not bring myself to give. I leaned a little more toward women in terms of crushes and lusting and more lusting, but when I got the “what are we?” question, apparently running away was a bad response. Not an unclear one, however. How on earth could I know what “we” were? I didn’t know what I was!
Maybe I needed someone who didn’t identify with either binary… But no doubt I’d find a way to disappoint them, too.
Contemplating emoshuns made my head hurt even more than Jodie’s snoring. I turned over and punched the pillow into submission. Love was trust, and trust, a trap door ready to drop you at any moment.
I stretched and shrugged the whole bizarre night off. I’d never have to look at the sentient Pepto bottle ever again. Tiffani and her angels could go to hell. Heh — I would meet her there, preferably with a pitchfork.