“Oh, get up.” Trying to hide my smile, I tear a handful of grass out of the ground and throw it at his head.

He sees the smile that got away and looks satisfied. Then he shakes the grass out of his hair the way my dog Meeks does after a bath. “Where is Celia, anyway?” Mark asks oh-so-casually, falling back onto the ground.

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Mark has had a crush on Celia since we were little kids. He’s never said so, but he doesn’t have to. He knows I know.

“She’s at the mall with Margaret Tolliver, and then they’re having a sleepover at Margaret’s house.” Margaret Tolliver is Celia’s best friend, and sometimes they let me come along. Today was not one of those times.

“Oh,” he says. It hurts to hear so much disappointment in that one little word and I know he still likes her. Celia’s sixteen, and we’re twelve, so you’d think Mark would know he doesn’t have a prayer. And I guess he does know, but he still hopes. Next to the high school guys that like Celia, Mark looks like a little kid. I guess he knows that too. But he still follows Celia around the same way old Meeks does when he’s hoping for scraps.

We don’t say anything for a minute; we just watch the sun disappear. Then Mark stands up. “I guess I’d better go home,” he says. “You wanna come over for dinner? I think Mom’s making spaghetti tonight.”

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Mrs. Findley’s spaghetti is the Best Ever, capital B, capital E. She makes the sauce from scratch and everything—roasted tomatoes, fresh basil from her garden, sweet Italian sausage. Her secret ingredient is honey; it adds a sweetness to the sauce. Mrs. Findley’s spaghetti is my favorite. I know this is Mark’s way of making it up to me, and I want to say yes, but instead I say, “Nah, Mama’s probably already fixed somethin’ special for me.”

This is a bald-faced lie, and we both know it. Mama hates to cook, and the only time she ever really bothers is when my daddy is at home. Daddy is in Atlanta on business for another week, so the best I can hope for is a peanut butter sandwich. And that’s only if Celia bought bread today.

But I sure as heck won’t admit any of that to Mark. I’ll probably be dining on Extra Crunchy Jif tonight, but at least I won’t have shamed my mama. Not that she would even be ashamed, but I know for a fact that she doesn’t like the neighborhood knowing our family business. Mama’s big on pride. She’s always telling me that a woman without pride is no woman at all. I know that I’m not a woman in the places that really count, but I can at least get the pride part right.

Mark shrugs, and says, “Are you gonna go to Sherilyn’s pool party next Saturday?”

“Yup.” Our friend Sherilyn Tallini has a pool party at the end of every summer, right before school starts. It used to be typical kid stuff—hot dogs and Sharks and Minnows and neighborhood moms wearing one-pieces with terry cloth cover-ups and matching terry cloth slippers. All except for Sherylin’s mom, who only wears string bikinis with maybe a sarong. All the other mothers smile and pretend to like Mrs. Tallini, but really they think she is “attractive in a used up, tanning bed kind of way.” I know because I heard Mairi Stevenson’s mom say it at the Fourth of July parade last year.

Mrs. Tallini does have a tanning bed but, as I’ve heard my daddy say, she is “still one good-lookin’ woman.” If my mother heard him say this, she would skin him good, but fortunately for us all, Mama does not attend neighborhood functions.

I know what the other mothers think of Mama. They think she is stuck-up and pretentious. They think she thinks she is better than they are. And it’s true; she does. My mother, Grace, is very tall and very beautiful in an intimidating sort of way, the kind of way that says she knows it but doesn’t give a hoot. Mama’s hair is the color of wheat, the kind that gleams red and gold in the sunlight, and her eyes are dark green. My daddy calls her Grace Kelly, which Mama turns her nose up at because according to her, it’s far too conventional, but I know she secretly enjoys it. She says that Daddy is no prince, and if she’s gonna be compared to anyone, it had better be Lauren Bacall.

Daddy thinks that Mama is everything a woman should be: beautiful, clever, charming. Beauty has a way of making the bad things tolerable. When Mama tilts her green eyes at you, it’s hard to remember why you were mad in the first place. That’s her special gift.

My mother is unlike every other mother in our neighborhood—she went to college up North, and she had the nerve to come back “all citified, puttin’ on airs like she’s Princess Diana.” (If you’re wondering how I know all this, it’s because adults think that kids can’t play and listen at the same time.) Mama grew up with a lot of the other mothers in our town, and you can just bet they were smug when she had to come back home.

Mama reads Foucault, not Danielle Steel, and she makes martinis, not green bean casserole. In the kitchen, there are poetry books where the cookbooks should be, and she doesn’t have a dish towel with mallard ducks on it or a ceramic magnet that says “Home Sweet Home” on our refrigerator. Mama is always telling Celia and me that we are worth twelve of this town, and that she’ll disinherit us if we don’t leave as soon as we graduate high school. Mama is halfheartedly invited to neighborhood parties like the Tallini’s, but she never fails to graciously decline and the other mothers never fail to be relieved.

Last year was the first year Sherilyn’s pool party was different. None of the other mothers were there, and Mrs. Tallini only came outside to serve lunch. I ate two pieces of fried chicken as opposed to my standard four, because none of the other girls were eating anything. We didn’t play Sharks and Minnows, and all the other girls wore two-piece bathing suits and lay on deck chairs while the boys tried to splash them. I was the only one who wore the same one-piece bathing suit I had worn the year before. I told the other girls it was because I think bikinis are offensive and degrading to women, so I guess that means I’m stuck wearing my one-piece again this year.

“You wanna walk over to Sherilyn’s together?” Mark asks.

“Yeah, okay,” I say.

“Okay, then, see you later.” He pauses. “And, Annemarie, sorry about what I said before. I didn’t mean it.”

He meant it. Some girls are pretty, and it’s like they were destined for it. They were meant to be pretty, and as for the rest of us, well, we get to exist on the outer edges of life. It’s like moths. They’re the same as butterflies, aren’t they? They’re just gray. They can’t help being gray, they just are. But butterflies, they’re a million different colors, yellow and emerald and cerulean blue. They’re pretty. Who’d dare kill a butterfly? I don’t know of a single soul who’d lift a finger against a butterfly. But most anybody would swat at a moth like it was nothing, and all because it isn’t pretty. Doesn’t seem fair, not at all.

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