Pickles, Tiaras, and Cookies
Lately Dad has taken to having breakfast with me. So the next day before school starts, we sit down
bright and early and chow down on Cheerios. Eating with Dad isn't so bad, except he tends to slap his gums
together, which is hard to endure at this hour when everything, even breathing, sounds painfully loud.
"I've been thinking that maybe it's time we try something new," he says, after a while. When I look
up, his eyebrows are drawn together, and his expression is serious. It's too early to talk, so I just stare
at him, waiting. "Leslie and I would like to try and have a sleepover," he says.
"A what?" It's a bad time to speak, because my mouth is full. I spew Cheerios everywhere, which my
dad immediately begins to wipe up with his napkin. From the corner of the family room, Mogley howls, like
the idea of Leslie and Marisol shacking up in our house is too painful for even him to bear. "Well?" I prod.
Since Mogley is incapable of speaking English, this unfortunate conversation is pretty much left to me.
"I'm sorry." He drops the napkin into the garbage can behind him. "I didn't mean to catch you by
surprise. I thought it seemed like an obvious next step. We've been dating for more than nine months now,
and we'd like to take things to the next level-"
"So," I snap, "am I allowed to have guys sleep over now? I mean, if you can have coed slumber
parties, why can't I?"
"Do you have a guy you'd like to sleep over here?" My dad asks, suspiciously.
"No..." Of course not. But that isn't really the point, is it? The point is there will be a GIRL in HIS room,
SLEEPING in HIS bed.
"I thought you loved Leslie? I don't understand why you're being so dramatic about this whole thing.
We all spend a lot of time together anyway. This is just the next step."
"Dra-ma-tic!" I sputter. "You're talking about the two of you running around here half naked, playing
hide-the-pickle. How can I not be dramatic about that?"
My dad laughs. "Did you really just say hide-the-pickle?"
"This isn't funny!" I take my cereal bowl to the sink and empty its contents into the garbage disposal,
flick the switch, and listen to the motor buzzing for a few seconds before I turn it off. When I face him again,
he's trying to hide his grin.
"Hide-the-pickle has to be the most creative euphemism for sex I've ever heard."
"Dad, it's a common expression, and you're not listening!" This is serious business, and he knows
it. This is the first step towards Leslie and Marisol moving into our home. Permanently.
My dad also rises, but, unlike me, he calmly places his dish in the sink. "Honey, I know this is a big step
for all of us, but it's the right step. You've got to trust me on this." He sets his hand down on my shoulder
and looks at me, his eyes filled with reassurance. But his words don't stop the the full impact of our
conversation from finally hitting me: My dad is going to ask Leslie to marry him. As in, she'll be my
stepmom. As in, Marisol will be my stepsister. As in, just when I thought everything was finally settled, it's
changing all over again. I grip the side of the dishwasher, pretty sure I'm about to eat tile.
"Susie?" My father's voice is light years away. "Susie? Hey, are you okay?" He steadies me with his
hands. "Hey, look at me." Slowly, I lift my eyes to his. "Are you okay?" he asks again.
"You're going to do it, aren't you?" I whisper. I can just see him on bended knee in front of Leslie,
wearing some cheesy tux, and offering up one super-fat diamond. And she would cry, her hands fluttering
in front of her chest before she screams, Yes! Yes! Yes!
"Hey. Let's sit." He guides me towards our family room sofa. We sit, knees touching. He holds my
hands in his. "Now listen, I don't know what the future holds, but I'm not ready to propose yet. I promise
you that. Maybe down the road, but not now. I'm in no rush and neither is Leslie. We just want to take
things to the next level, which is to have a sleepover. We just want to see what it'd be like to stay in each
other's homes. We thought since Marisol was okay with the idea that you might be okay with it too." He
gently squeezes my hand, but I don't squeeze back, because I'm thinking about what he just said, about
Marisol knowing about this arrangement, about her knowing and not mentiong it to me.
"Wait. When did Leslie talk to Marisol?" I ask, wondering how long she has kept this secret. A day
might be forgivable. Two days was pushing it. Three days, tops...
"I don't know. Last week."
But a week? A week was a choice. A choice on her part to keep it to herself. A choice to not trust me
with information. Again. "And she's fine with it?" I ask casually, even though inside I'm fuming.
"Great," I mutter. Clearly, I am both betrayed and outnumbered.
"So, can we just try it out? Can we just see if it'll work?" he asks.
"Yeah. Fine." I pull my hands away. The room's still spinning, but I guess he doesn't notice, because
when he stands, his balance seems just fine.
"You better hurry, or you're going to be late for school." He heads towards his study, which is just off
the family room, but stops when he reaches the door. "You're sure you're okay with this?"
"Yeah." I give him a big, fake smile. "Fine.
"Good. We'll give it a shot this weekend? Okay?"
I nod. It takes everything I've got to hold on to my smile until the door to his study shuts, and I am left,
By noon, it's clear that my day will only get progressively worse. On the way back from lunch, there's one
of those freakish Florida rain storms, where the sky splits open and a million raindrops tumble down in less
than five minutes. Marisol and I get completely soaked. My hair turns into one giant frizz ball.
Inside the school, the hallways are crammed with ginormous backpacks and everyone's zooming by
like the water fountains have secretly been spiked with speed. One guy, whose pants hang precariously off
the crack of his ass, hits me so hard with his bag that I spin around and drop all my books onto the muddy
By the time I make it to fifth period Anatomy, I'm way past crabby, and the smirk on Tamara's
face, paired with the malicious laughter she shares with her best friend, Abby, does little to improve my
mood. But neither does realizing I have a wad of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
"Hey," Tamara says, her fake smile blooming, as I slide into my desk across the aisle from hers.
"Hey," I reply, keeping my own lips compressed into a very straight, thin line. Sometimes, it's these
small acts of rebellion that make me feel better about my non-confrontational personality.
The classroom door opens and a substitute walks in, dragging behind her a large cart with a TV and
DVD player stacked on top of it. A movie. The class collectively cheers and the noise level immediately rises.
The sub struggles through attendance, starts the movie, and settles down at the teacher's desk for forty-
five minutes of Sudoku and text messaging. Nobody pays attention to the scientific documentary playing
on the TV. Everyone is chatting, and I take the opportunity to put my head on my desk and close my eyes.
I just want this class--in fact, this day--to be over. I don't want to talk to anyone. But that's
apparently a lot to ask, because about ten minutes into the movie, Tamara sings my name. Her voice is full
of sugar, but I know from experience that it's substitution sugar, the kind of crap that will give you cancer
if you ingest too much of it. Warily, I turn my head. "What now?" I ask. I'm not quite confrontational, but
also not quite polite.
She blasts me with her teeth again and tucks a perfect strand of golden hair behind her ear. She taps
her French-manicured fingernails on top of a blue envelope, and says, "I thought you might want to see
these." Then, she sets the envelope on the edge of my desk. "I printed them yesterday. They're from
Obviously, I'd rather walk over hot coals than see Tamara Cruz's homecoming pictures, but that
doesn't stop me from peeling back the envelope's flap and sliding the thirty or so snapshots onto my desk.
It's masochistic, yes, but I've just got to know the full extent of her night with Danny. So, I look at them,
and for the most part, it's like driving past a car wreck. Every picture of the two of them smiling into the
camera turns my stomach but also, perversely, fuels my desire to see more. I flip past pictures of them at
her house, his house, in the limo, and on the dance floor. I keep flipping, my fingers moving faster and
faster, until I get to a photo that makes me stop. And then I just stare, because this photo is so much worse
than all the others, and it doesn't even include Danny. It's just Tamara, on a queen-sized bed, wearing a
short, red t-shirt with her homecoming princess tiara on top of her head.
I'm going to throw up.
"Are you okay?" Tamara scoots closer to me.
The smell of her blueberry body lotion makes me gag. I lift my hand to my mouth and try to stifle the
noise of it. It takes a few seconds, but I compose myself. Then, I say, "Um, I think I ate something bad for
lunch." I give her back the photos, taking extra care to keep my hands from shaking. I hope she'll just
shove them back into their envelope and move away, but, of course, she doesn't. She stares down at that
last photo, her face feigning dismay, and says, "Oh my God. I totally forgot to take that one out. My mom
would die if she saw that one. She has no idea Danny and I got our own room. But you know, we needed the
privacy for..." --her voice dips low, and she leans even closer to me, like she's about to share a huge secret--
My composure slips away. The bile rises in my throat.
"Hey, you okay?" Tamara clamps her hand over mine, pinning it to my desk. "I'm being completely
insensitive. You and Danny used to be together." She sighs, sympathetically. "It's probably so hard for you
to see us so happy together." She squeezes my hand, nearly crushing the bones in my fingers with her
But I'm not about to give her the satisfaction of witnessing my breakdown, so after taking a heaving
breath, I repeat, "I must have had something bad for lunch. That's it."
"Oh, yeah, totes," Tamara says, with another squeeze. "You should ask the sub for a pass. 'Kay? You
don't look at all well." As she says this, a grin spreads across her face. She doesn't even try to hide it. Of
A minute later, I'm in the girl's restroom, heading straight for the handicap stall. The plan is to either
cry or unleash a muffled scream. I haven't quite decided, and leaving both options open right now is the
only thing keeping me sane. When I reach the stall, however, I hear the distinctive hiccupping and nose
blowing that accompanies serious crying. Looks like someone is having a tougher day than me. I'm just
about to leave in search of another hiding spot, when the stall door flings open, and oddly enough, Dalia Diaz
She's a mess, but she's also Dalia, which means that despite the streaks of mascara running down
her cheeks, her disheveled hair, and cherry-colored nose, she's still beautiful.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"The sink's not working in there," she mutters, wandering toward an outside sink. She turns on the
water and lets it run for a few seconds. Then, she lethargically begins to wipe away the streaks of mascara
from her face with a dampened paper towel. When she's done, she drops the towel into the waste basket
and sinks to the floor. "I look like crap," she says.
I crouch down beside her, not really sure what to say. I want to help her, but how? Half the time I can
barely help myself. Finally, I decide that maybe I should offer to get someone for her. But who would that
be? Danny is the obvious choice, but his classroom is on the other side of the building. So, who else?
Ugh. No... Tamara. After all, she has been dating Danny for a while now, which means she's had plenty
of time to cozy up with Dalia. They're probably even good friends. And if that's the case, as much as it pains
me to admit it, Tamara might be some help here. It's hard but I force the words out of my mouth: "Do you
want me to get a friend? Tamara's in my class right now. I can get her."
She grunts. "Tamara? God no. What made you think we're friends?"
This response makes my spirits rise. Clearly, she is not Tamara's biggest fan, which I take as a small
victory for me. "Um, well, you want to tell me what's wrong?"
She shakes her head no, but then adds, "You're so nice, Susie. You're genuinely nice. Tamara's not
nice." She looks down at the floor, her fists balled up at her sides.
I wonder if her dislike for Tamara is more like hate. Maybe I'm terrible for taking advantage of this
opening, but I can't help but ask, "I thought you liked Tamara?"
Dalia laughs. "Nobody likes Tamara. That girl's an insane liar. And that smile of hers drives me crazy.
You know she gets her teeth whitened every year, right? Can you imagine? She's so fake."
I sit down beside Dalia, waves of vindication washing over me. "I thought I was the only one who
noticed," I say. "Not the teeth thing, but her being fake."
"We all notice. I can't stand her. I can't wait for Danny to dump her."
"Wow," I say, still trying to make sense of it all. I had no idea...
Dalia clears her throat."But, hey, thanks for not running out on me. I bet I looked really scary when I
opened that door."
I laugh, because nothing could be further from the truth. Even crying, she looked more like Jessica
Alba than anything else. "Trust me, you can never look scary."
"Thanks." Dalia sniffles, and I can see the tears are about to return.
"Want to tell me what's wrong? Maybe I can help?"
Dalia sighs. "It's Felix. He just broke up with me over the phone." She opens her right hand to reveal
a cell phone cradled in her palm. Dalia and Felix had been together for two years. He graduated last year,
and goes to U.M., where he plays baseball.
"He met someone else," Dalia says, and the tears begin to flow again.
"Who? Why?" I'm floored. Dalia's smart and pretty and an amazing dancer. She's absolutely everything
a girl might hope to be. Why would anyone break up with her?
"I don't know who it is," she says. "He denies it, but I know him. Lately, he's been hard to reach, and
he's blamed it on practice, but there's always been practice and that never stopped him from returning my
calls or texts. And..." She takes a deep breath. "He wanted the cookies, but I wasn't ready to..." She trails
"Bake them?" I finish, not quite sure what baking or desserts has to do with any of this.
Dalia laughs. "You're so innocent, Susie. I like that about you." And then with emphasis, she repeats,
"Cookies." Like the stress on the word will clarify her meaning, which I finally get after a few hardcore
moments of thinking.
"OH! He wanted to play hide-the-pickle!" I say, without thinking.
"What? Oh, man." She cracks up now. "I didn't think anyone could make me laugh today, but you..."
"What?" I say, partially embarrassed, partially amused. "It's a common expression!"
She turns to me, the laughter coming even harder. "Thanks, Susie. Seriously. Thank you." She
leans over and gives me a tight hug. Her laughter is contagious, and soon I join in. Because it's kind of
ridiculous when you think about it: All this forward and backward motion in life. The who's dating who, and
who's hiding who's pickle nonsense that may or may not involve baking. Sometimes, at the end of the day,
you just have to enjoy the smaller moments when you can honestly connect with someone else, so you don't
feel so alone.
And just like that, my day isn't so bad anymore. It's kind of okay. For now.