by Lisa Burstein
Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she’s somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands—earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx—Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating “rehabilitation techniques” now filling up her summer. Even worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing—like she is nothing.
Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.
Praise for Pretty Amy:
“If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong or didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life, then Pretty Amy is a must-read for you.”
- Girl’s Life Magazine
“Lisa Burstein has one of the most refreshingly real YA voices I’ve read in years. If you’re looking for a helluva trip that begins with an imploding prom night, cruises through the murky waters of the wrong side of the law, bad boys, tough love, and toxic friendship, and ends up with all the right surprises, please get your hands on a copy of Pretty Amy–STAT!”
- E. Kristin Anderson, Co-editor of Dear Teen Me, Authors Write Letters to their Teen Selves
“A candid story that serves as a cautionary reminder against the power of peer pressure without reading like an “I told you so” lecture from an adult. Teens will be drawn in and relate to Amy’s innermost thoughts. A satisfying read.”
- School Library Journal
© 2012 Lisa Burstein
Unfortunately, I am only myself. I am only Amy Fleishman.
I am one of the legions of middle-class white girls who search malls for jeans that make them look thinner, who search drugstores for makeup to wear as a second skin, who are as sexy and exotic as blueberry muffins.
I am a walking, talking True Life episode. Your high-school guidance counselor’s wet dream, and one of the only girls I know to get arrested on prom night.
When my mother dropped me off at Lila’s, rather than running like hell the way I usually did, I sat next to her in our minivan and waited for a speech. The speech mothers give to their only daughters on nights when those daughters are all dressed up and the mothers look all wistful and teary.
I assumed she was building up to it, was working through exactly what she was going to say so it would be perfect. I knew from TV that she must have practiced in the mirror, but maybe, faced with having to say all those things to me, she’d frozen up. I could understand that.
When I saw Lila peek out to see who was sitting in her driveway, and then felt my phone vibrate with a text that I knew must say, WTF R U DOIN?, I figured I had waited long enough.
“So this is it…,” I said. My mother stared at Lila’s small, birdshit-gray house and bit at what was left of her nails. After I’d started hanging out with Lila and Cassie, my mother gnawed at her nails the way a baby sucked her thumb. “…my senior prom,” I continued.
Maybe she was overwhelmed. Her little girl was all grown up. Her ugly duckling had finally become a swan.
“I don’t want to ruin this for you, so I’m choosing to hold my tongue.”
My mother loved using old-time folksy sayings. Hold your horses. The early bird catches the worm. The penis with two holes puts out the fire faster.
All right, fine, I made up that last one.
She had been holding her tongue for a while now. When yelling at me about my “degenerate” friends hadn’t helped, she went for the semisilent treatment.
Stupid me for trying to get her to talk.
“There’s something very wrong with this, Amy,” she said.
She meant that Lila’s boyfriend, Brian, had arranged a date for me. My mother had never met this boy. I had never met this boy. It may have seemed wrong to her, but I was used to Lila bringing the boys. And, it was still my senior prom. It was still my night, and she couldn’t even have a special, sappy moment with me.
“I want to tell you to have a good time, to enjoy every moment, to be safe, but I know you won’t listen anyway. I know you’ll do what you want to do.”
She was talking to herself again.
My mother’s favorite hobbies were talking to herself and bitching. Though I suppose those were hobbies for most mothers, my mother honed them like skills. If bitching were karate, my mother would be a black belt.
I looked down at my dress. It was strapless and light blue to bring out my eyes, which weren’t blue, but raccoon gray, and picked up whatever color I put next to them. The bodice was tight and shiny, like what a superhero might wear, and the skirt flared out and fell just below my knees. When my mother had seen it hanging on the bathroom door earlier tonight, she’d said it looked trampy, which made me even happier that she hadn’t been there when I picked it out.
She also hadn’t been there when I got my shoes and clutch purse dyed to match. Sure, she had given me money, but she hadn’t been there. Not like I would have asked her to be there, but she hadn’t offered, either.
“Thanks for the memories,” I said, opening the door.
Her only job tonight was to tell me I was beautiful, that I was her beautiful baby girl all grown up, but she couldn’t even do that.
“I can’t help the way I feel,” she said, like some self-help-book junkie. Well, not like one—she was one. For Chanukah last year she had gotten me an itchy sweater and Chicken Soup for the Daughter’s Soul. The inscription had read, FYI.
I found Lila sitting at her vanity, playing with her hair. She was wearing a lilac dress and smelled of lilac perfume, like some flower-variety Strawberry Shortcake doll. Her vanity was really just an extra chair from the kitchen and a small desk with a mirror propped up on it, but nonetheless the effect was the same.
Lila saw me walk in but stayed seated. This was what she did; she liked to force you to watch her for a moment, to drink her in. And since I knew this, I hung in the doorway and waited while she put on mascara.
As lame is it sounds, Lila was the kind of person who danced through life on her tiptoes, a ballerina with woodland animals holding up the train of her dress. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I was one of those woodland animals.
“What were you doing out there?” she asked without turning around. This was another game she liked to play—she was busy and you were interrupting her.
“The usual. Ruining my life and ruining my mother’s in the process.”
She swept a blush brush over her cheeks. She hadn’t dipped it in anything, so I wasn’t sure if this was also part of her act or if it was some beauty secret I was unaware of.
“What do you think?” she asked, standing with her hands on the skirt of her dress, then twirling around slowly so I could see her from every possible angle.
“You look great.”
Lila asked how she looked, in one way or another, at least every twenty minutes. Sometimes I was supposed to say You look great. Sometimes I was supposed to say You don’t look fat, or I love your jeans, your hair, your shirt, you smell soooo good.
It was okay. I knew it was my payment for hanging out with her.
Besides, I can’t really say anything about needing constant reassurance. Just because I don’t get it from Lila doesn’t mean I don’t need it. I’d taught my parrot, AJ, to say Pretty Amy, among other things. And when I’d asked him how I looked that night, he’d obliged as usual.
“You really mean it?” Lila asked.
“I love your dress,” I said, just like I was supposed to. I guess when it came to Lila I was just like AJ, repeating meaningless phrases.
“You need more eye shadow.” She pushed me down into her seat. Once she got going it was hard to stop her, and before I knew it, she had redone my whole face.
Rather than the soft, natural effect I’d had when I arrived, after Lila was done I looked like I was ready to go up onstage. Not the way people onstage look when they’re actually onstage, but the way they look when you see them close up before or afterward.
“Much better,” she said, stepping back to appraise her work. I knew how I wanted to respond, but instead, I responded how I usually did when it came to something I didn’t agree with. I said nothing.
I wondered if she had done this on purpose, like some bride/bridesmaid thing. Lila did act like a bride at a wedding that never ended. She always had to be the most beautiful, the most interesting, and in this case, the least likely to be mistaken for a blind prostitute.
Cassie threw open the bedroom door and entered the room looking like the photo on a slutty Halloween Devil costume, all fire-engine red and skin and cleavage.
“Wow,” we both said. Well, really I said it, but I could see Lila’s mouth open to make a word and stop in a perfect O. I’d never seen Cassie in anything other than an oversize flannel shirt and cargo pants. She usually dressed like a lumberjack—it might have been part of the reason Lila put up with her.
That night, it was obvious that Cassie was far too attractive to be as crabby as she was. Maybe that was why she always tried so hard to hide it.
She lit a cigarette. “I know, I know,” she said, exhaling, “I look like the lead singer of a Vegas lounge act. My brother already told me.”
“Not at all,” Lila said, looking to me like a combination of shocked and jealous.
I nodded in agreement. I was shocked and jealous. At Brian’s house later, two boys would have two girls to choose from. The way Cassie looked that night, she would be chosen first. I would be the one who was left, as usual, but that is the arithmetic that equals love in high school.
“Turn around,” Lila said, walking toward her and reaching for her dress.
“Fuck off,” Cassie said, pushing her away. “You can see my ass on the way out.”
Cassie pointed at me with the tip of her cigarette. “What the hell did you do to her face?”
“How do you know I did it?” Lila asked.
“Because Amy thinks light blue is daring.”
I hated to hear it, even though she was right.
“Don’t listen to her,” Lila said, holding my face between her hands and squeezing like a proud grandmother. “She wouldn’t know beauty if it crawled up her butt and pitched a tent.”
“Well, I know what it looks like when something crawls out,” Cassie said.
“Maybe it’s a little too much,” I said, looking over at Lila with eyes that begged for tissues, water, turpentine.
“It is too much,” Cassie said.
Lila stood there with her hands on her hips, her nails painted shiny silver, waiting for me to disagree. With Cassie on my side, there was no way.
“Fine,” Lila said, throwing me a box of those blessed tissues.
“At least now when we show up at Brian’s, he won’t try to be her pimp,” Cassie said, putting out her cigarette and walking downstairs.
Cassie started her rusted gold Civic, took off her red heels, and threw them over her shoulder. One of them barely missed my face.
“Hey, be careful.” I was sitting in the back, as usual. I picked up the shoes from where they had landed and placed them next to each other on the seat, so it looked like there had been someone standing there who had suddenly vanished.
“What do you want from me? I can’t drive in those things,” she said, lighting another cigarette.
Cassie, Lila, and I smoked a lot. We were proficient at leaning against things—walls and cars and fences—and we liked to lean against them and smoke. Like we’d seen James Dean doing in posters for movies we didn’t know the names of. When we couldn’t lean against things and smoke, we just smoked.
Lila lit her own cigarette and threw one to me in the back. “You can’t drive, period,” she said to Cassie, pulling the rearview mirror toward her so she could put on more lipstick.
Cassie glared at her and moved the mirror back.
“I’ll tell you if there’s anything coming up behind you,” Lila said.
“If I believed you could actually take your eyes off yourself for two seconds, I’d feel a little safer.”
“Then Amy can do it,” Lila said.
I just smiled. There was no way I was going to ride turned around with my knees on the seat, clutching the back window like some panting dog. Well, at least not while I was wearing a dress.
“Isn’t this great?” Lila said, watching her reflection in the window. “The three of us together for the most memorable night of our lives.” It was as if she wanted to see herself saying it, and then compare it with the way other girls had said it on nights like this.
I knew exactly what she meant, though. There was some kind of magic that resulted from being dressed up and young and headed for a night you were supposed to remember forever. I was about to try to put that incredible feeling into words when Cassie said, “This song sucks. Shut the fuck up and put in a new CD.”
Not quite what I would have said, but this was Cassie we were talking about.
“There’s no way I’m getting my hands dirty searching around the floor for your CD case. Why don’t you have an iPod like the rest of the world?” Lila asked.
“Why don’t you have a car?” Cassie retorted.
“Amy,” Lila demanded. And, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with saying no twice, I rooted around on the floor, using only the very tips of my finger and thumb to pick up what I found. I didn’t find a CD case. I found a lot of sticky change, a glass pipe, and about twenty empty packs of cigarettes.
Cassie turned around. “It’s not there. My fucking brother.” That was the way Cassie referred to the members of her family. They were all her fucking something. Actually, that’s the way Cassie referred to everybody.
“Who cares?” Lila said, rolling down her window. She was not about to let Cassie ruin any part of this night for her.
The car screeched as we turned off Lila’s street, Macadamia Drive, a name that made it seem exotic somehow, but really it was just one of the streets named after nuts on the other side of Main.
Lila pulled her cigarette out of her mouth and checked to make sure there was a ring of lipstick around the filter. Things like that made her happy.
“Don’t worry,” Cassie said, “they can see your lips from space.”
We sat in Brian’s driveway arguing. Well, Lila and Cassie were arguing about whether we should walk to the door together or Lila should go on her own.
“I’m not sitting in the car like someone’s mother,” Cassie said, turning to me and gesturing for her shoes.
“But they don’t know you yet,” Lila said. “It’s probably better if I go alone and bring them out.”
“I don’t care either way,” I said, but the truth was, I kind of liked the idea of waiting in the car. There was no point in giving my date the opportunity to back out by letting him have a look at me first.
“Good, then let’s go.” Cassie slammed the door behind her and clomped up the walk.
She rang the doorbell and we waited. Waited for Brian to swing open the door and smile at us like a game-show host, telling us we looked stunning and introducing Cassie and me to our bachelors for the evening.
But the door stayed closed.
“I’ll do it,” Lila said, pushing her way through, her reasoning for Brian’s absence apparently the fact that Cassie didn’t know how to ring a doorbell. “They’re probably in the basement doing bong hits.” She rang the bell over and over so it made the impatient sound of a car alarm.
“Where are they?” Cassie asked.
“They have to be here,” Lila said, as much to herself as to us.
“Maybe we’re on Punk’d or something,” I said.
“That show is only for famous people, stupid,” Cassie said.
“Well, maybe we’re on a new show that we don’t know about yet,” I tried.
Cassie smirked. “Did you tell them the right night?”
Brian did attend a rival high school. It was possible he had been misinformed of the date of our prom. Even though I knew it was a crock, I attempted to hold onto this like a drowning person grabbing for an outstretched hand, because I was drowning.
Lila ignored Cassie and stuck her face to the sidelight window. She banged on the door like she was locked on the inside of it.
“There’s obviously no one home,” Cassie said, in a tone that suggested she was talking as much about Lila’s behavior as she was about Brian’s empty house.
I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had been punched in the throat. This was supposed to be the night where my date would realize that he couldn’t live without me, that he would love me forever. But that date didn’t exist.
“I’m going to look around back,” Lila said, walking away in what appeared to be an attempt to shut Cassie up; this rarely worked.
“She’s so fucking clueless,” Cassie said, plopping down on the grass. She pulled out a handful of blades and burned them with her lighter. “Maybe he’ll come home if I burn his house down.”
I nodded. Not that I wanted her to burn his house down, but a small grass fire might attract some attention.
“This is so typical,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “I didn’t even want to go. Fucking Lila.”
“We don’t know they’re not coming,” I said. I wasn’t ready to let myself believe that this was going to be my memory of prom night for the rest of my life.
“Well, maybe we don’t,” she said, taking a long drag, “but I do.”
I stared at my nails. I had painted them in the same light blue as my dress. I thought about how the nail polish was still sitting on my nightstand, how when I got home I would scrub my nails raw and throw it away.
We looked up, startled by a crash that came from the back of the house.
Cassie shook her head. “You should never climb a trellis in heels.”
“You think Lila’s breaking in?”
She grabbed another handful of grass and lit it up. “You know what would be classic?” she asked, smiling like she was trying to keep a bird from flying out from behind her teeth. “She finds him in there with some other girl.” She watched me for a moment, gauging my reaction. “Don’t tell me that wouldn’t make you happy.”
It would have, so I didn’t.
Lila came around the side of the house. “No one’s there,” she said, as if that were news. “I did find this, though.” She threw a gallon Ziploc bag of pot on the ground in front of us.
“Holy shit,” Cassie said. “This is better than a stupid dance any day.” She held it up.
I knew Brian was a dealer, but I guess I didn’t know what that really meant. This was what that really meant.
“I’ve been stood up for my prom, in case you haven’t noticed,” Lila said.
“You’re the one who took it,” Cassie said, opening the bag and smelling it.
“Not for us; to piss off Brian. How can this be happening to me?”
“It’s happening to all of us.” I wasn’t about to let Lila take all the pain for herself, even though this was probably the first time she had ever experienced what I had felt so many times before—the pinprick pop and subsequent deflation of rejection.
“But he was my boyfriend,” Lila said.
I had to give her that. At least I hadn’t had sex with the boy who was dumping me. Though it did concern me that my date was rejecting me even with the knowledge that I might have.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Lila asked in a voice that seemed like someone yelling to the heavens after hitting her last straw.
“I have an idea,” Cassie said, shaking the bag.
I didn’t care what we did as long as it didn’t involve going home to my mother.
“How pathetic. My best prospects for dates are you two,” Lila said, a tear running down the side of her face, shiny and fat like a worm. “I can’t believe Brian would do this to me.” Lila looked like a wilted flower in the center of the lawn.
“Shut the fuck up about Brian; it’s over,” Cassie said. “Let’s go party.”
“I’m too upset,” Lila said, not moving.
I shrugged. Cassie could try, but I doubted we were going anywhere without Lila.
Cassie harrumphed and walked over to the front stoop. She pulled her dress up and her underpants down.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lila asked.
“Leaving him a present,” Cassie said as she peed all over the evening edition of the Collinsville News. “Now we can go have some fun.”