Thirteen Plus One (The Winnie Years #5)


by Lauren Myracle

Say Out Loud What I Want Out of Life

THE THING ABOUT BIRTHDAYS, at least fourteenth birthdays, is that they’re more ... well ... complex than every single birthday that came before. Or maybe the only reason I thought that was because I just this very day turned fourteen. Me me me me me me! Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen, fourteen!!!!

In the cozy warmth of my bed, I pointed my toes and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d my arms above my head. Then in one great whoosh, I let my limbs flop down. The mattress jounced beneath me, and I exhaled happily and reflected on my life. Fourteen years and counting, baby. That was a lot of birthdays!

The earliest ones, I didn’t remember. There’d been cake and me looking adorable with icing in my hair, all the normal stuff. On my third birthday, according to family mythology, I’d tilted my chair so far back that it toppled over—with me in it. Dad said my skull hit the floor with a thwack. He also said that my older sister, Sandra, had burst into tears because she was so worried about me. Aw, so sweet (and a teeny bit funny).

Other birthday highlights: • the extremely beautiful fairy cake Mom made me when I turned four;

• the toolbox Dad gave me when I turned seven, because that was what I’d wanted;

• the (okay, embarrassing, but still a very good memory) American Girl tea party I’d had when I turned nine. My friends and I wore fancy dresses, and so did our dolls, and Mom served cucumber sandwiches, which nobody ate.

Then I reached the land of double digits. That was huge—though scary, too—and on my tenth birthday, I left a secret note of encouragement to myself in the hollow interior of a way-high piece of molding in our way-old house. I also left a candy bar. Then one weekend Dad threw himself into a short-lived let’s-spiff this-place-up frenzy, and he ripped the molding down. Bye-bye candy bar, bye-bye note of encouragement. Sad!

On my eleventh birthday, I had a slumber party, and I remember being so excited I couldn’t sit still. I bounced on the sofa, desperate for my friends to arrive, and chanted get here get here get here in my head.

That was the birthday Amanda gave me my cat, Sweetie-Pie, who was then just a kitten, with paws too big for her fuzzy little body. She had the scratchiest, teensiest mew. I named her Sweetie-Pie to be twinsies with Amanda’s cat, Sweet Pea, because Amanda and I—back then—were the bestest of best friends. Sweetie-Pie still has a scratchy mew, but Amanda and I are no longer best friends. For that matter, we’re hardly friends at all.

How did that happen? I mean, I know how it happened. I was there for all the cracks and fissures and seemingly unimportant differences that piled up and turned into no-more-Amanda. But still—how did it happen? Why did it happen?

This was an example of the complexity of turning fourteen: looking back at your life and just ... wondering.

The year I turned twelve, Mom and Dad took me to Benihana for a fancy birthday dinner. I was allowed to invite one friend, and I invited Dinah, who had become my new Amanda. Except, not really. Not because Dinah wasn’t as good as Amanda, because she was ... even though that’s a stupid and horrible way to put it, “as good as.”

Dinah was wonderful, steady and loyal and true. (And she still is.) She maybe wasn’t as exciting as Amanda, but that wasn’t Dinah’s fault.

At any rate, it hardly mattered, since that fall we started seventh grade—and Cinnamon entered the picture. Cinnamon filled the “exciting” role and more. I met her in PE and realized in the locker room that she wore a thong. Omigosh, I was in shock.

For my thirteenth birthday, Mom let me, Dinah, and Cinnamon get makeovers at the Bobbi Brown makeup counter at Lenox Mall. I still have the Rockstar glitter dust I picked out.

That was a fun night, yet for some reason looking back on it now made me feel melancholy. Well, melancholy-ish. Ishly melancholy, not fully melancholy.

I turned my head and looked at my clock. It was seven-thirty, which meant I should be rolling out of bed and getting ready for school. Instead, I let my head loll back, because I wasn’t done thinking yet. Because while all my birthdays mattered, they weren’t here anymore. They were in the past. Turning fourteen was happening right now, and brought me one step closer to growing up, and my feelings toward that were all over the place.

For the most part, I was excited. Growing up meant more privileges, more freedom, one day possibly even a car, mwahaha. Possibly even a convertible, although that would have to wait till I was in my twenties and living on my own, since no way would Mom and Dad ever let me drive around without a roof over my head.

At the same time, there were aspects of growing up that made my stomach clench. Like, I worried about becoming boring and serious (to be said in a very serious voice). I worried about the steady march of month after month after month ... until one day I’d be dead and in a coffin. Bang bang bang would go the nails, and gee, wasn’t that a lovely birthday sentiment?

But death was a long, long, long time away. At least, I hoped. There was something closer on the horizon that worried me far more ... and its name was high school.

Today was March eleventh, and the school year ended on May twenty-eighth, which meant I had a little over two months left of junior high. Then would come summer, and then, bam. A new school year would start, and I, Winnie Perry, would be a freshman in high school.

It was mind-blowing. Like, seriously mind-blowing, so when I heard my brother and sister singing in the hall outside my room, I was glad for the distraction.

“Do you like Pop-Tarts?” Sandra belted out from the hall.

“Yes, I like Pop-Tarts!” Ty caroled back.

“Do you like OJ?”

“Yes, I like OJ!”

My bedroom door flew open, and I smiled to see that the singing brigade was led by neither Sandra nor Ty, but by my brand-new baby sister, Maggie, who was too little to even crawl.

“Doo dootie doot, can’t wait to have breakfast!” Sandra and Ty bellowed, while teensy baby Maggie showed off her dance moves, dangling from Sandra’s hands like a wellintentioned bag of flour.

“Did y’all make me breakfast in bed?” I said. “You guys!”

“Ooo, that would have been nice of us,” Sandra said, drawing Maggie close and hitching her into a comfy position. “But alas ... no.”

“I brought you this, though,” Ty said. He plopped onto the bed beside me and held out half a stick of gum.

“Hey, thanks.”

“And now I’m going to bury my head under your shoulder pit.” He smushed his warm seven-year-old body against me, attempting to worm his head up under my arm.

“Armpit, not shoulder pit,” I said, giggling. “And quit it.”

“Then come downstairs and have your delicious Pop-Tart.”

“Okay,” I said. “Put it in the toaster for me?”

“Sure,” Ty said. He kissed my cheek, then hopped up and headed for the door. Sandra moved to follow him.

“Sandra, wait,” I called. I kicked off my covers. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

She turned back. “What’s up?”

“Well, there’s something embarrassing I want to tell you. It’s stupid, but I need to get it off my chest. And you’re my big sister, soooo ...”

Sandra glanced at her watch.

“I’m worried about high school,” I blurted.

She looked at me like I was crazy. “What? Why?”

I looked at her like she was crazy. “Well, because it’s high school.”

“But you haven’t even graduated from junior high. It’s only March.”

“Yes, but what comes after March? April. And what comes after April? May. And what comes after—”

“I know my months, Winnie. I’ve known them since I was four.”

I stood and took baby Mags from her, being careful of her wobbly head. I pulled her close and whispered, “I would help you, baby Maggie. If you were going through times of trouble.”

“Oh, good God,” Sandra said.

Maggie made the pluh sound she was so good at. She was soft and cuddly.

“You want to know what your problem is, Winnie?” Sandra said. “You need to shift your paradigm.”

“Huh?”

“Your paradigm. The way you look at the world.” She leaned against the door frame. “How do you look at the world, Winnie?”

“Um, with my eyeballs?”

Sandra almost smiled, but managed to suppress it. “Winnie, if high school is scaring you—”

“I never said it was scaring me,” I interrupted.

“Then stop obsessing about it. Live in the now, little sis.”

“Live in the now,” I repeated.

“Yeah. Quit focusing on March and then April and then May, on and on until infinity. Quit thinking so linearly. Do you know what ‘linearly’ means?”

I gave her a look.

She gave me a similar look in return, as if to imply that in that case, she didn’t see the problem. “So start asking yourself, ‘What can I do now? What can I change about my life situation now?’ ”

“You’ve been reading your self-help books again, haven’t you?” I said. With college right around the corner, Sandra had started reading books with titles like What Color Is Your Parachute? and Who Moved My Cheese? “Next are you going to ask me what color my cheese is?”

“Hey, you’re the one who asked for advice.” She reclaimed baby Maggie. “Get dressed and come downstairs, birthday girl.”

I flopped back onto my bed. “Aw, man. Can’t my ‘life situation’ be staying in bed? For, like, a really long time?”

“Nope. You have to move forward, even if you don’t want to, because guess what? The only thing worse than growing up—”

I cradled my head in my hands. “Ugh. Is not growing up. Omigosh, I can’t believe you just said that.”

“I didn’t. You did.” She pushed her hand through her blond hair. “What I was going to say is that the only thing worse than growing up is never learning how.”

She regarded me archly. I struggled to come up with a response, but came up dry.

Baby Maggie hiccuped, and it came with drool, which dribbled onto Sandra’s shirt.

“My sentiments exactly,” I said, laughing. I lifted baby Maggie’s little wrist and gave her a high five.

I arrived at school to find my locker decorated with streamers, balloons and, inexplicably, mini-marshmallows, the pastel-colored ones that supposedly have fruit flavors.

Cinnamon and Dinah jumped out from behind a classroom door. “Surprise!” they cried. “Happy birthday!”

I beamed and hugged them and told them they were the best friends ever. Then I plucked off a pale green marshmallow and held it up. “Care to explain?”

“Ah, yes, the marshmallows,” Cinnamon said. “Marshmallows make your boobs grow, didn’t you know?”

“Oh, please. They do not.” I processed her remark further. “Hey. What are you saying?”

“You want to keep Lars around, right?”

“Lars doesn’t like me for my boobs. Don’t be gross.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” Dinah said, and because she was Dinah, she meant her remark to be comforting.

But because Cinnamon was Cinnamon, she laughed. As in, Of course Lars doesn’t like you for your boobs, since you don’t have any.

Plus, Cinnamon was in a bitter phase. Lars’s best friend, Bryce, had broken up with her less than a month ago (on Facebook—ag), and she was so not over it, it wasn’t funny.

I placed my hands on her shoulders. “Okay, several things to discuss. A: Lars likes me for me, not for my body.”

She snorted.

“B: While Lars has the highest respect for my hilariousness, wit, and moral fiber—”

She snorted again, and I dug my fingers into the tender space between her shoulder blades.