I ve always rocked the weirdo gene, and I’ve mostly been okay with that. But life would be a tiny bit easier if my parents and sister marched to the beat of their own drums, too. Unfortunately, their style is more Leave it to Beaver with an edge. My mom is the epitome of a Stepford housewife on crack. She can bake a cake, clean the house, put together a fundraiser for our school, and make sure my sister and I are doing our homework, all while looking perfect. To most, my dad is the perfect husband and father. He works in the city as the vice president of a company. He makes a decent salary—like most people who work in the city —holds a high status in the community, and gives my mother everything she asks for. Then there’s my older sister, Hannah. Growing up, Hannah was our parents’ star prodigy. From preschool up until first grade, she starred in beauty pageants and won so many tiaras and trophies my parents made a special room for them, which basically means she has two bedrooms. As she grew older, she got into modeling and was even in her own commercial for some robotic gadget that was supposed to tease hair to its “fullest potential.” My parents were always bragging about her at work functions and community get-togethers. High school is where Hannah really blossomed, according to everyone. She developed an obsession with makeup and fashion, and her confidence and beauty helped her rise to the top social status tier.
She became student body president, head cheerleader, and Queen of Sunnyvale—the title handed to one lucky senior who receives a flashy crown, free dinner at the country club for a year, the privilege of riding on the float in the Sunnyvale Sunny Days parade, and a scholarship. Then there’s me, the baggy clothes wearing, manga loving, aspiring comic book artist, zombie enthusiast. Being different would be fine—there should be a weirdo in every family—except my family isn’t very accepting of people who they can’t understand, including their own daughter. My greatest accomplishment is having my own blog, which is just a way for me to get all the clusterfuck of weirdness out of my head, like my fascination with supernatural forces, whether or not they exist, and if I might be some sort of otherworldly creature. Okay, I really don’t believe I am. I’m just so different from everyone else so it’s the best explanation I could come up with. I mean, sure, I do a lot of normal stuff, too. Like I once beat the entire neighborhood, including the guys, in a free throw competition. When I do shit like that, though, it always earns the same reaction from my mother: “You’re such a tomboy. You never act like a girl.
” I clock in a lot of time reading, dye my hair an array of colors—today, it has green stripes!—and doodle my own comics that star kickass female characters who aren’t afraid to be themselves, an attribute I try to live by. It’s hard trying to find people who “get me” or whatever. I live in my own little shell as the outcast. Sometimes, I feel like I can barely breathe, like the walls are closing in and I’m about to explode into flames. My worst fear is that I’ll die in that damn shell, probably by asphyxiation or combustion. “Why aren’t you breathing?” my mom asks me from across the lengthy dinner table. I hold my breath another few seconds before releasing a deafening exhale. “I was just wondering how long it’d take to die from lack of air.” And if anyone would notice if I dropped dead at the kitchen table. She stares at me, unimpressed, then shakes her head and looks over at my dad.
“I really don’t get her sometimes.” She cuts into her chicken, sawing into the meat so violently the knife scrapes against the plate. “No, I take that back. I don’t understand her at all.” Hannah snorts a laugh as she taps her manicured nails on her phone’s buttons. “No one does. Just ask anyone.” “Hey, some people get me,” I argue, stabbing my fork into my salad. “I swear they do.” Hannah glances up at me with her brows arched.
“Name one person. And the janitor doesn’t count.” “I’m not counting the janitor,” I reply, chewing on a bite of salad. I’ve never understood why my sister seems to hate me so much. Ever since we were in grade school, she’s made it her mission to torment me as much as she can. “Although, Del’s pretty cool.” “Oh, my God, you’re a freak,” she sneers. “And I know you don’t have friends, so don’t pretend like they exist.” “Just because the people I hang out with aren’t cool enough for you, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” I’m calm.
Perfectly cool. A lazy river on a hot summer day. Because, if I’m not, I’ll lose my shit with Hannah, and I refuse to give her the satisfaction of pissing me off. Hannah dramatically rolls her eyes. “You’re so lame. At least own that you’re a loner and spare yourself the embarrassment of pretending you’re not a loser.” I bite my tongue and chant a lovely, sweet treat song inside my head, anything to keep my mind off her cruel words. Oreo cake. Cookie dough ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake.
“You know what?” Hannah says as she sets her phone down on the table. When she smiles at me maliciously, I know she’s about to say something that’s going to piss me off. “I take that back. Maybe the janitor can count. I mean, you ate all your lunches in the janitor’s closet this past year, right?” “No,” I say through gritted teeth. “And how would you know? You haven’t been in high school for over a year now.” “So? Just because I’m in college, doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally chat with some of the girls on the cheerleading squad. And from what I always hear, you’re just as big of a loser as ever.” Her grin broadens because she knows she’s won; that I’m about to lose my cool. She mouths, “Loser.
” A slow breath eases from my lips, and then I stuff my mouth full of chicken. Snickers. Chocolate chip cookies. Funnel cake— “Oh, wait!” Hannah exclaims with a laugh. “I did hear that you hung out once or twice with some freak who always wears mismatched shoes. I think she’s into girls …” She taps her finger against her lip. “Wait, is she your girlfriend?” I can’t control it any longer. I swallow the chicken and drop the fork. “Leave Lana out of this. She’s a nice person, unlike you.
” I drop my voice and utter, “Bitch.” “Mom!” Hannah whines, slamming her palm onto the table and sending the salt and pepper shakers toppling over, along with my mother’s wine. “Isa called me a bitch.” My father and mother stare at the mess on the crisp linen tablecloth. Then my mother glares at me. “Isabella, you can go to your room,” she says as she scoots back from the table. “But I didn’t do anything.” I try not to sound whiney since it’ll only piss her off more. “Well, not anything that she didn’t do. Besides, I’m eighteen and just graduated.
Sending me to my room seems—” “And you don’t get any dessert,” she cuts me off as she strides toward the kitchen door. “I’m sorry,” I tell her as calmly as I can, “but she called me a loser.” When no one’s looking, Hannah flips her blonde hair off her shoulder and flashes me a smirk. “You’re such a liar.” My mother looks at my father in that way that says you take care of her then slams her palm against the door and whisks herself out of the room. “Isabella, your mother said to go to your room, so go to your room. And I don’t give a shit if you’re eighteen. As long as you live under my roof, you will follow my rules.” He speaks robotically, as if he rehearsed the words, while avoiding eye contact, staring down at his plate. “And no dessert.
” He rarely looks at me, and I haven’t ever figured out why. I asked him about it once, but he pretended like he didn’t hear me and hurried out of the room, leaving me to draw my own conclusions. My very overactive imagination has conjured up quite a few borderline crazy ideas, ranging from him thinking I look like a hideous beast to him to fearing I secretly possess the superpower to change anyone who makes eye contact with me into a human corpse. I dig my fingernails into my palms. “This is really unfair.” “And apologize to your sister,” he adds, staring at his chicken like it’s the most fascinating thing in the world. My hands tremble and, for the craziest moment, I swear my skin burns with heat and the veins beneath begin to char. But by the time I blink, my flesh and veins feel normal once again. What the hell? I look at my dad, who still isn’t looking at me, and then at Hannah, who doesn’t seem startled at all. Okay, maybe it was all in my head.
I do have a somewhat overactive imagination. Still, I’m a little shaken as I rise to my feet and mutter, “Sorry.” As I’m walking out of the room, my mother returns with a towel to clean up the mess, along with a platter of red velvet cupcakes. “Why are you still here?” she asks me as she sets the platter down at the end of the table. “I told you to go to your room.” With a heavy sigh, I bid farewell to the cupcakes and leave the dining room, my gaze dropping to my arms. “Totally and perfectly normal,” I mutter to myself. “Huh? Maybe Hannah is right. Maybe I am crazy.”