A/N: Thank you for all the reviews!
At the Torres household, breakfast was always the last order of business before Omar Torres left for work and Audra helped Gracie and Drew haul their backpacks, sports equipments, and (some years) musical instruments into the car for school. By seven thirty, Gracie was seated at the table, halfway through a bowl of cheerios.
In an unusual display of unpunctuality, Audra came rushing through the doorway into the kitchen, looking out of breath. "Gracie, where's your brother?"
Shrugging, Gracie looked around the room, assuming he couldn't be too far behind. "Haven't seen him."
Audra dropped the watch she was attempting to buckle. "Of course not." With a sigh, she stormed up the stairs and pounded on his door. "Drew Torres! It is seven thirty, your brother is almost finished with breakfast. Let's get going!"
If Audra were any other parent, Gracie might have laughed at the sound of her brother getting yelled at. Knowing her mother, Gracie felt a bit too much apprehension at how rushed she seemed this morning. Mrs. Torres was rarely off schedule unless something particularly stressful was going on. Stressful in their family was essentially a synonym for Sandra, their grandmother.
Not wanting to agitate her mother any further, Gracie quickly finished the remainder of her cereal and rinsed out the bowl in the sink. Despite the frequent lectures about putting empty bowls in the dishwasher, not the sink, counter, or table, the dishwasher was full when Gracie opened it. Though it wasn't usually her job, she put the soap in and set it to run.
"Thank you, Gracie," Audra said exhaustedly, glaring at Drew who looked like he threw on his clothes without showering. "After school, you come straight home and take a shower, understand?"
"Yes ma'am," Drew mumbled, his mouth still full of cereal.
Audra rolled her eyes. "Chew your food, Drew."
"What's going on tonight?" Gracie asked, if only to give Audra the chance to vent about what was essentially obvious.
"Your grandmother announced that she wants to pop in for a visit," Audra said. "Now why she couldn't call me two weeks ago to see if we were available, I do not know."
Gracie smiled. "Don't worry, Mom. I'm good with Grandma."
It was true. Gracie's presence had always had a calming effect on their grandmother. Any time she was spending praising her beautiful, intelligent, talented, fascinating granddaughter was time she couldn't spend nagging or criticizing Audra. It was one thing Gracie could do to keep the peace.
"She wants to take you shopping," Audra warned her daughter, as they headed into the garage.
Drew snorted. "You better wear the glitter belt buckle so she knows you like it," he teased.
"Drew, enough," Audra sighed. "I know you haven't gotten into shopping yet, but please just try to have fun."
"I know the drill," Gracie said lamely.
She wondered at what age girls were "supposed" to become interested in shopping. They hadn't covered it in health class. Around age ten, girls may notice breast development and the growth of body hair. By twelve, many girls start menstruating, though girls may start anywhere between the ages of nine and sixteen. When a girl turns thirteen, expect a compulsive urge to buy things with glitter on them to emerge.
The image was amusing enough for Gracie to force a smile.
"What's so bad about shopping with your grandmother?" Megan asked at lunch. "Is she one of those fundie Christian grandmas who wants you to wear dresses and pink bows all the time?"
"Not really," Gracie said. "More like, she's the kind of high strung that makes my mom look chill. She and my mom get on each other's nerves a lot."
Megan smiled. "Oh, I get it. So dressing up her little Gracie is the only thing keeping her and your mom distracted from how much they want to kill each other."
"Well I wouldn't usually put it like that, but yeah kind of," Gracie said.
"So what's the problem?" Megan asked. "You get some free stuff."
Today, Megan was wearing a lime green plaid dress with a thick black belt, short leggings, fishnets, and combat boots. "Nothing wearable," Gracie said. "I thought you'd understand."
"Boring shopping trips with my grandma are how I get the basics taken care of. Just let your grandma get you some basic things like jeans and black t-shirts. What you do with them afterwards is up to you," Megan said. "Last year, my grandma bought me these ugly ass glitter jeans. There was no way I was going to wear those, so I made a really cute purse out of them. I should bring it sometime."
Gracie tried to imagine Audra's look of horror if she turned the clothes their grandmother bought her into nice new wallets. "That would never fly at my house," Gracie said.
Megan shrugged. "Then if worse comes to worse, wear the stuff she wants you to wear out the door, then stuff your real clothes in your backpack. It works for the really slutty girls."
"People do that?" Gracie asked.
Megan glanced over Gracie's shoulder at a seventh grader wearing a pound of black eyeliner and a mini-skirt that barely covered what it needed to. "You think her parents just let her walk out of the house like that?"
"Please tell me that's not my brother's girlfriend," Gracie sighed.
"Nah," Megan said. "I heard he's more into brunettes this week. Not that I hear things about Drew. Anyway, even if you don't wear it, you should totally bring the hideous things your grandma buys to school tomorrow so we can laugh about it."
Gracie smiled. "Deal."
Audra arrived to pick them up at three o'clock sharp, even though with hallway congestion a student was lucky to get out the door by three twenty. "Your grandma's at the house already," Audra sighed. "Drew, I'm going to tell her you had gym today and they didn't give you time to shower."
"Cool," Drew said, flashing a charming smile. "No problemo."
"Drop the attitude because as soon as Grandma's gone, you and I are going to have a talk about this hygiene issue," she said. "I know you're a teenager, but you don't see Gracie crawling out of bed ten minutes before school and then walking out the door without brushing her teeth."
"Yeah, well, Gracie's a girl," Drew said.
The word hit Gracie like an accusation. "What does that have to do with showering?" Gracie asked.
"Well, girls are cleaner," Drew said simply. "Guys are gross."
"Your father is a guy," Audra said. "And I don't have to remind him to brush his teeth."
They pulled into the driveway, and Grandma rushed out the door to throw her arms around Gracie. "Drew had gym class today," Audra explained. "He's going upstairs to shower."
"Don't they let them shower after gym class?" Sandra asked. "Gracie, did you have gym today?"
"No," Gracie lied.
"I just can't imagine that a school would let the students get so dirty and not even clean off afterwards," Sandra said. "Gracie never seems to have a problem with that."
"Yes well..." Audra began.
"The gym teacher for the guy's gym class sometimes runs class kind of long," Gracie said. "Lots of times, they don't really get out until it's too late to shower."
Sandra looked at Audra in disbelief. "And you haven't complained yet? If that were your brother, I would have been up at the school immediately!"
"We're getting it taken care of," Audra said.
"So how are you, Gracie?" Sandra asked.
"I'm good," Gracie said. "Met some new friends recently."
"Oh, that's wonderful," Sandra said. "See," she said to Audra. "I told you the other kids would warm up to our little Gracie once they got the chance."
Audra smiled curtly. "Care to step inside?"
Idle conversation continued until Drew came down the stairs with wet hair and a wrinkled shirt. "So," he said brightly. "Where are we headed?"
"Young man, I ironed this for you last night," Audra said in disbelief. "What did you do?"
"I folded it up and put it in the drawer," Drew said defensively.
"So then what happened?"
Realizing he didn't have a good excuse, Drew said, "I'm sorry. I'll go change."
When Drew was ready, they got into Audra's van to take a drive. "Why do I have to come along?" Drew asked. "This shopping trip is girl stuff."
"Gracie can go with Grandma," Audra said. "You and I are going to look for some pants that don't have giant holes in them."
Drew sighed and Gracie barely suppressed a giggle. "Have fun shopping," she said.
"Do you have a favorite store?" Sandra asked. "I never really know where to go anymore," she laughed. "I used to know what size you were, but you're just growing up so fast."
Too fast, Gracie thought. "Anywhere's cool."
"We could try a department store," Sandra offered, the hint of a frown on her face.
"Yeah," Gracie said, trying to sound enthusiastic. "I'll bet they'll have some good sales."
Sandra laughed, and Gracie wondered if she said the wrong thing. "Gracie, your grandfather is a genius at the stock market. We retired well off. You can pick out anything you want. Just don't even worry about sale racks. Only the best for my granddaughter."
"Anything I want?" Gracie asked. Her eyes skimmed a leather jacket in the junior's section. A moment later, someone picked it up. A guy.
Great, Gracie thought.
Sandra kept walking, and the color scheme changed from dark blues and browns and greens to lighter pastels. Shirts went from loose and comfy to tight and form fitting. They were now in the girl's section. "Oh, this is lovely," Sandra picked up a ruffled white shirt off the rack. "What do you think of pheasant blouses, Gracie?"
Gracie examined the garment. "I don't know."
"Yeah, you're right," Sandra said. "I didn't really care for the hippie look the first time around."
Gracie giggled. "Were you ever a hippie, Grandma?"
"Oh heavens no," Sandra said. "This is cute," she said, picking up another garment. "Do you like cardigans or sweaters?"
"Uh...both are good," Gracie said, wondering what the difference was.
"I love cardigans," Sandra said, pulling a red one off the rack. "They make such cute ones these days. It's a shame I can't pull it off, but I'll bet you'd look good in this."
Gracie examined the red cardigan. She imagined it on Megan, over a simple black t-shirt. It would be very flattering on someone else's curves. "I don't really think red's my color," Gracie said.
"Hmm, perhaps not," Sandra said. "They have it in green. You always liked green, Gracie."
She was caught. "I'll try it on."
"What were you smiling about?" Sandra asked, continually picking garment after garment off the racks. "Is there someone special in your life?"
I don't know, Grandma, I haven't really reached that magical age where boys become suddenly fascinating. But there sure is this girl. "Maybe," Gracie said. "I don't know."
"What's his name?" Sandra asked. "You can tell me. I'm not going to tell him."
Gracie thought about a tall, muscular friend of Drew's who everyone was always going on about. Even though he was only fourteen, his years of basketball training made him considerably buff for his age. "Well, there's Jason but I don't really know if that's a crush or more of a friend thing."
"Jason?" Sandra asked with interest. "I remember your mother mentioning him. Is he that friend of Drew's? He is handsome."
It was true, Gracie thought. Any guy would be jealous of those biceps. "Why don't you try some of these on?" Sandra said.
The sales lady disappointed Sandra by mentioning that only six items could be brought in at a time. Sandra had about twenty in her hands, and had handed seven more to Gracie. "I'll hold onto these while you're in there," Sandra said, taking a seat in the husband chair with the piles of girly clothes.
Gracie walked into the dressing room and took off her sweatshirt. She wondered if she would ever get used to seeing that damn sports bra, or at least a pair of breasts, every time she took off her shirt. Quickly, she changed into one of the blouses her grandmother picked out. Through it, she could see the faintest outline of her breasts.
I make an ugly girl, Gracie thought to herself. Every shirt she tried just made it worse. "Gracie," Sandra said. "How's it going?"
"I don't know," Gracie said honestly.
"Well let me see," Sandra said.
Gracie reluctantly came out in a t-shirt with the green cardigan over it. "What do you think?"
"I love it!" Sandra said. "It's adorable. I'm definitely getting you this. It would look so nice on picture day."
Great, Gracie thought. This is one I want to remember forever.
At the end of the shopping trip, Gracie thanked Sandra for the new clothes. At the pit of her stomach, she felt sick for accepting them. She didn't know what it was about them that made her so uncomfortable. They were comfortable enough, and they fit okay. They just didn't feel right. On her way to bed, Gracie hesitated in front of the couch where Audra was sitting.
"Something bothering you, sweetie?" Audra asked.
"Am I...pretty?" Gracie asked.
"Sweetie, you're beautiful," Audra said. "Is this about a boy?"
"What?" Gracie asked. "No. No, Mom, I was just asking."
Audra smiled suspiciously. "Your grandmother likes to gossip," Audra said. "She told me about Jason."
"It's not really like..."
"I know it's probably pretty rough liking your brother's friend," Audra said.
Gracie nodded. "Well considering they barely even talk to me now that I'm in middle school with them."
"It's tough," Audra said. "Remember how you felt when Drew liked one of your friends?"
Losing her former best friend to Drew wasn't something Gracie could easily forget. "Oh...wow...yikes. I should probably back off then," she said, trying to sound disappointed with the idea.
"I'm not telling you what to do," Audra smiled. "I just want you to be happy. I don't want to see you get hurt."
In an alternate universe, Gracie might've been grateful. Instead, all she could feel was angry and a bit confused. "Could you maybe not tell Drew about this?" she asked.
"Oh of course not," Audra said. "It'll just be our little secret."
So I don't like boys yet, Gracie thought, heading up the stairs. So what? Lots of girls don't like boys yet. Lots of boys don't like girls yet. I'm twelve years old.
In Gracie's group of friends, or rather her old group of friends, she had been the late bloomer since about fourth grade. Absently, she reached for the sixth grade yearbook on her shelf. Lizzie Tolbert's picture appeared right before hers. Gracie thought back to kindergarten, on the first day, when a stupid boy threw mud on the new dress Lizzie's mother bought her for school. Gracie took Lizzie into the school building and tried to wash the mess with soap and water.
"Who was it?" Gracie asked.
"It was some first grader," Lizzie said, between muffled tears. "He had brown hair and was wearing a jersey."
Gracie frowned. "Drew?"
She held onto this information until school was over. Feeling vengeful, she packed a nasty mud clod in her hands and hurled it at the back of Drew's new jersey. The sight of Drew covered in mud made Lizzie smile. When Audra pulled up to the school, however, she was not smiling.
"Gracie Torres!" she shouted. "Why would you do a thing like that?"
The lecture from her mother was worth it. Lizzie and Gracie became best friends, for about seven years. At the start of sixth grade, Lizzie fell for Drew. When Gracie found out, she spent about an hour crying in the bathroom.
"Why are you so jealous?" Lizzie asked. "It's not like I stole him from you or something. He's your brother."
Gracie nodded. "I know."
"You're weird," Lizzie concluded.
It didn't sound like a big fight, looking back, but in sixth grade being "weird" was literally enough to end a friendship. Just like that, everything had ended. Drew and Lizzie broke up near the end of last year. Lizzie had all summer to consider calling Gracie and mending the friendship, but it never happened.
Tired of waiting, Gracie picked up the phone. She was going to call Lizzie, and Lizzie was going to answer. They needed to talk.