Don’t even get me started on the time Dad thought I was old enough to watch The Shining.

Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.

Ever since then, when they had a horror movie night, I made sure to go to Shay’s house. I would’ve been fine with it, too, if it hadn’t been that night of all nights.

“Can’t you guys just wait a few days?” I asked.

“We would, but seeing how it’s our anniversary…” Mom’s words trailed off, obviously thinking that would be enough to convince me.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

“Oh, man, that’s today?” I asked. “Didn’t that just happen last year?”

Dad smirked. “It’s insane—you can remember book release dates, but not your own parents’ anniversary.”

“You would understand if you ever read these books, Dad.”

“It’s on my to-do list,” he joked. He’d been saying that since the first Harry Potter book had come out. I wasn’t holding my breath.

“I’m just saying, Ellie, it would be great for your father and me to have the house to ourselves tonight. Plus, you know how hard it is for us to find alone time to…well, you know,” Mom commented.

“Have sex,” Dad said, making it clear as day. “Honestly, you’re welcome to stay here, but you do know how thin these walls are. So, if you want to go from hearing horror movie characters’ scream to hearing your mother’s screams, by all means, stay.”

“For the love of… I just wish you’d stop talking now.”

My parents’ favorite pastime was making me as uncomfortable as possible. They were ridiculously good at it, too. They always got such pleasure from my pain.

Dad couldn’t stop himself from teasing me more. “If you want, you can just get earplugs while we are—”

I leaped up from my bed and shouted. “Okay! Okay! You win. I’m going to the party with Shay.”

They smiled, pleased.

“Though I do think it’s rude that you use sex talk to make me uncomfortable enough to get your way.”

“Oh honey.” Mom smiled and rested her head on Dad’s shoulder as he tightened his arms around her. They were so grossly in love. “The best part of parenthood is making your teenager uncomfortable. Remember that.”

“I’ll keep it in my back pocket. I’ll be back by ten, so wrap it up by then.”

“Okay, but make your curfew midnight for tonight! You’re young! Now go, be free! Be wild!” Dad shouted. “And keep an eye on Shay, will you?”

“Will do.”

“Oh, and do you want some condoms?” Mom asked, making me cringe. She loved every second of it.

“No, Mother Dearest. I’m good.”

“Are you good?” Shay asked, looking into her handheld mirror and applying her tenth coat of lip gloss as we stood on the front porch of some random kid’s house. My cousin Shay was beautiful. She was the kind of beautiful that didn’t seem fair for a high schooler, and she’d been that way her whole life. My aunt Camila was a gorgeous Hispanic woman, and Shay took after her more than she did my uncle Kurt, which was a blessing, since Kurt was an asshole. The less connection Shay had with her father, the better, really.

But man, had she gotten her mother’s looks. I was sure the day Shay had been born, she’d rolled out on a red carpet with paparazzi asking her what she was wearing, and I could just see her replying, “Onesie by JC Penney.”

Her hair was Snow White–black, and her eyes were deep chocolate with lashes every girl dreamed of. She had curves in places where I had flat tires, but the best thing about Shay was that she didn’t rely on her beauty. She was one of the most down-to-earth and funniest people you’d ever meet. Plus, she was all about girl power thanks to her piece-of-crap father.

We didn’t really talk about Kurt a lot since Shay’s parents had gone their separate ways, and I thought it was best that way. Whenever Shay used to mention her father, she’d just call him the shitty shithead who shit on her and her mother’s lives.

Dad still called Kurt his brother, though he wasn’t proud to do it. It was just like how Mufasa still claimed Scar, even though Mufasa knew his brother was an evil prick.

Though, maybe things would’ve been different if Mufasa had blacklisted Scar.

Hakuna matata, I suppose.

Shay didn’t call herself a man-hater, but she did tag herself as a woman-lover.

I liked that about her, because way too many girls our age despised one another in order to get guys to like them. What a waste of energy. It truly felt as if high school had made them completely forget all of their Spice Girls training from elementary school.

Shay stood tall in her high heels, and boy, could she wear high heels.

My calves hurt at the thought of even trying them on.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied, looking down at my yellow cardigan with dragonflies Mom made me. Beneath it was an old-school Metallica T-shirt that I stole from my dad because it hadn’t fit over his gut since 1988. My favorite ripped blue jeans and yellow Chucks completed the outfit.

My cocoa-colored hair was brushed back in a ponytail, and the closest thing to makeup on my face were lingering microscopic remnants of the bar soap I’d used to wash it that morning. At least my braces were nice and shiny.

I should’ve worn a push-up bra. Not that it would’ve helped any. Push-up bras only really worked if there was something to actually push up.

My handwoven crossbody bag—also made by my mom—was tossed over my shoulder, and I was already counting down the hours until the party would be over.

“It’s pretty much just guys from the basketball team and their friends,” Shay commented, as if that would make a difference in my mind about the party I was about to hate.

“That’s fine.”

“There’s some nice people, though,” she said. “They aren’t all assholes.”

“That sounds promising.”

“Okay, let’s rock this,” Shay said, opening the front door and walking into a house filled with people I wished I didn’t have to see. Seeing my fellow classmates outside of school felt like a cruel form of punishment. I’d seen them enough during the school year, and the last thing I wanted was to be packed in like sardines with them.

My idea of a party was more like watching reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway in pajamas with my parents while eating a stupid amount of popcorn and greasy cheeseburgers. Mom would have a vegan burger, obviously. She’d watched a documentary on the treatment of animals years back and it had changed her for life.

Dad had watched it too, but he still ate his steak medium-rare.

“I’ll find you a Coke,” Shay said.

“Are you drinking?”

She shook her head. “Not since what happened with Landon. I’d rather be sober than drunkenly make out with him again.”

“That’s really smart, but if you did end up drunk, I’d make sure you didn’t kiss the jerk.”

“That’s why you’re my favorite cousin.”

“I’m your only cousin. See if you can find some ice for the Coke, will you? I’ll be in—”

“A corner.” She smirked. “I bet you five bucks I’ll find you in a corner with a book in your hands.”

“It’s like you’ve known me my whole life or something.”

She laughed and hurried away, though, not with ease. Every time Shay walked into a room, everyone clamored for her attention—and she was nice enough to give it to all of them.

I would’ve just kept walking.

It would be a while before I got my drink, but I was lucky enough to score myself a nice nook right under the staircase—a very Harry Potter-ish spot to read.

I tossed on my headphones, not because I was listening to anything, but because people tended to leave you alone if you had headphones on. It was a great introvert hack: look busy to avoid human interaction. Doubling up on two activities was even better.

A book alone isn’t always enough to get people to ignore you, but a book and headphones? Well, you might as well be a ghost.

It was so hard being an introvert in an extrovert world, one where the social norms involved house parties, school clubs, spirit week, and getting together with people didn’t care to see just to say you were “living life to the fullest.”

Society was the worst for introverts, but I was sure a changing of the tides was on the way. I couldn’t wait until the day the media pushed the idea that staying home was the new cool thing to do and socializing with people you hated was a thing of the past. All of us introverts would rejoice!

Quietly…alone…with a good cup of coffee, a solid read, and our faithful cats.

I made myself comfortable on the floor with my legs crossed like a pretzel and rested my back against the wall. The more tucked away I was in my tight corner, the less people would notice me. Carry on, muggles. I’m not even here. I am just a part of the wall.

Reaching into my bag, I pulled out my novel and fell back into the world of magic. It took me a few minutes to tune out the noise surrounding me, but J.K. Rowling made it easy for me to become fully invested in every single word she wrote.

Surprisingly, the party wasn’t that wild. Some people were drinking, but more seemed to be into the music choices and poor dancing. Two people a few feet away from me talked about basketball stats and workouts.

I thought more people would be tongue-locked. Though, I guess I’d gotten most of my preconceptions of school parties from television shows and over-the-top rom-coms.

It actually didn’t seem so out of the ordinary for a girl to be reading. Oddly enough, I kind of fit in.

It wasn’t until I heard two guys trying to whisper as they talked about Shay that I looked up from my book. Because they weren’t just talking about Shay—they were talking about me, too.


That wasn’t the norm. All throughout my years in school, I had been able to keep my head down and be left alone for the most part. I was almost certain no one even knew who I was, other than me being the random, oddly dressed girl Shay ate lunch with every day.