Everyone's seen my mother naked.
Well, mostly naked. Remember that ad that ran during the Super Bowl, the one where a guy calls and orders a pizza and opens the door to see a naked lady with an open pizza box ("The pizza that's so hot it can't be contained!") covering the bits you still aren't allowed to see on network television?
That was her. Candy Madison, once one of Jackson James' girlfriends, and star of the short-lived sitcom Cowboy Dad. Now she's reduced to the (very rare) acting job or ad, but she was relatively famous (or infamous) for a few days after the football game with a pre-game show that lasts longer than the actual game.
You might think the ad caused me nothing but grief at school, but aside from a few snide comments from the sparkly girls (you know the type; unnaturally white teeth, shining hair, personalities of rabid dogs) and some of the jock jerks (who, of course, were watching the game, and like both pizza and naked women--not a stretch to figure they'd be interested), nobody else said anything to me.
But then, nobody really talks to me. That's good, though. I've worked long and hard to be invisible at Slaterville High, an anonymous student in the almost 2,000 that attend, and I want it to stay that way. (The school website actually boasts that we're larger than some colleges. I guess overcrowding is a good thing now.)
However, the ad has caused me nothing but grief at home. When it aired, traffic to Mom's site, candymadison.net, tripled, and she worked to keep it coming back, giving free "chats" (where she sits around in lingerie and answers questions about her so-called career and Jackson), and pushing her self-published autobiography, "Candy Madison: Taking It All Off." We actually sold ten of the twenty-five cases of the thing still stacked in our garage.
And the press coverage? Mom loved it. The ad only ran once, because some senator's kid saw it and…you know where I'm going, right?
Of course you do, and naturally, the ad became extremely popular online. Celeb Weekly magazine did five questions with her, and Mom pushed her website and book and then talked about how she was always looking for "interesting, quirky character roles."
The week it ran, Mom bought ten copies of the magazine at the grocery store and wandered around the house grinning and flapping the interview at me. The phone rang almost hourly; her brand-new agent calling with offers (mostly for work involving less clothing, which Mom turned down) and an invitation to appear on a talk show.
Not a classy talk show, mind you, but still, it was a talk show. She said yes until she found out the show was about "Moms Who Get Naked: Live! Nude! Moms!" and backed out. Not because she objected to being called a Mom. Or because she knew--because I'd told her so--that I'd die if she did it.
It was the "nude" thing.
"I've never done any nude work!" she'd said to her agent. "I'm an artist, an actress--all right, yes, the ad. But I was wearing a pizza box! I want to be taken seriously. What about getting me on the talk show with the woman who says "Wow!" all the time and gives her audience members free cars? I could talk to her."
The "Wow!" lady wasn't interested, Mom's new agent stopped calling, and today, when we go to the supermarket, Celeb Weekly doesn't have her picture in it.
"I don't understand," she says. "I got so much email from my fans after that interview, and they all said they'd write to the magazine and ask for more. Do you think I wasn't memorable enough?"
I look at her, dressed in a tight, bright pink t-shirt withcandymadison.net in sequins along the front, and a white skirt that barely skims the top of her thighs. Her shoes have heels that could probably be used to pierce things.
"You're very memorable, Mom. Did you get the bread?"
"I don't eat bread." Is she pouting? It's hard to tell. She's had a lot of chemicals injected into her face.
"I know, but I do," I say and take the Celeb Weekly she thrusts at me.
"Sorry," she says. "I'm just in a bad mood. They could have at least run one picture!"
"I know, but they..." I say, and trail off because there's Mom, in the back of the magazine under "Fashion Disasters!" The picture of her they're running was taken at the premiere of a play she did way (way) off Broadway a week ago. The play ran for exactly one night. She played a nun (now you see why the play lasted one night) and wore a dress with what she called "strategic cut-outs" to a party afterward.
The caption under the picture reads, "Note to Candy Madison: Sometimes pizza boxes ARE more flattering!"
"What?" Mom says, trying to look at the magazine again. "Did I miss something? Is there a picture of me? Or, wait--is Jackson in there?"
"Um...Jackson," I tell her, and she looks at me, then pulls the magazine out of my hands and sees at the picture.
And then she starts jumping up and down. Never mind that everyone in the grocery store is watching her even more than they usually do, most with resigned, "oh, why must she live HERE" expressions on their faces, and a few "Oh, I hope she jumps higher because that skirt is covering less and less" grins.
"I'll go get the bread," I say, and get away. She'll be done jumping when I get back, because she'll have seen the caption. At least this means we won't have to buy ten copies of the magazine. I would rather have food then look at pictures of celebrities. (Call me crazy, but I just think it's a better choice.)
I am glad it was a picture of Mom (though I wish it was a better one) because I would so rather look at her than Jackson James, founder of jacksonjamesonline.com, the home of JJ's Girls, and current star of JJ: Dreamworld. He's 72, acts like he's 22, and once upon a time Mom had a child with him. Check out any on-line encyclopedia (or gossip site) if you don't believe me. The photo you see--and it's always the same photo--is of me and Jackson. It was taken when I was a baby, but still. It's out there.
When I get back, Mom has seen what they said about her, but still wants a copy of the magazine.
"I don't think that many people look at the captions, do you?" she says as we're heading out into the parking lot, stroking the glossy cover of Celeb Weekly. "I can't believe I'm in here again." Her smile is so beautiful, so glowing. So happy.
Mom almost never looks happy. Not really.
"I bet plenty of people will see the picture," I say, which isn't a lie. I'm sure plenty of people will. But I bet they'll read what's under it too. She doesn't need to hear that, though. Not now. I put the last of the groceries in her car and say, "I'll see you after work, okay?"
She nods, and when she hugs me, I tug her shirt down.
When you're a seventeen-year old girl living in a town famous for nothing but its proximity to the interstate and enormous collection of strip malls and subdivisions, there aren't a lot of high-powered job opportunities.
There are, however, many--many--jobs in the fast food industry, and one of them is mine. I work for BurgerTown USA (a division of PhenRen Co., which makes fertilizer--tell me that doesn't make you think twice about your BurgerTown Big Bite) as a drive-thru order specialist.
In other words, people tell me what they want to eat, I type in the appropriate code/key, and then read them their automated total. The catch is, I don't actually do it at the restaurant.
When you go to a BurgerTown in New York or California or Massachusetts or Wyoming or Georgia (really, anywhere except Hawaii and Alaska), your drive-thru order comes to a call center like mine, and I'm the one who takes your request for extra-large fries.
Well, me or one of my moronic co-workers (this doesn't include Josh).
BurgerTown has these call centers because of "cost-efficiency," which basically means they want on-site BurgerTown employees--the ones stuck in the actual restaurants-- to have more time available to wipe off tables. Or mop floors. Or clean bathrooms. Management is very proud of the fact that they no longer need to hire outside cleaning crews.
Needless to say, on-site BurgerTown employees don't like us call-center employees much. Mom once mentioned I worked for BurgerTown when she was cheating on her diet of the moment by eating fries, but reported that, "The girl who took my order made a face when I said you worked in the call center."
"Did your food taste funny?" I asked.
"Funny how?" Mom said. "Hey, have you seen my red, white, and blue thong?"
"Never mind," I said, but if I ever go to BurgerTown--which I won't, because I'm so sick of asking people if they want fries or pies or Big Bite combos that the thought of eating there makes me not hungry, which usually takes some serious effort--I wouldn't say I worked at the drive-thru center. Ever.
Well, you see, saying something like that is a sure-fire way to get the BurgerTown special--the spit meal.
We even have a secret code for it at the center. When someone's a real ass, the kind of person who says, "Now, what kind of meat do you use in your hamburgers? Will my tomato be fresh? Oh, and I want two pieces of lettuce, not one. And make it fast, 'cause I'm in a hurry!" we put in their order and then hit **.
It's just one of those things you find out after you've worked at BurgerTown for a while (all right, a day) and everyone does it.
Well, not everyone.
Josh, my co-worker and soul mate (though he doesn't know it yet) says that eating at BurgerTown is punishment enough.
"All that meat and grease and saturated fat destroys your body," he says, and I totally agree with him, really, but sometimes after I've dealt with a total jerkass who thinks ordering $4 worth of food means I owe them ingredient reading or whatever--well, sometimes they still get the special.
Finn gives them too, which really does mean I should stop because Finn is so--well, he's your average seventeen-year old Slaterville male, and they can be described in one word. Bleagh. Unlike Josh, Finn's interests don't include making plans to help others, and as far as I can tell, his favorite thing to do is be annoying, especially to me. I'm pretty good at ignoring him.
"Anyone seen Polly today?" he asks. "Josh? Hannah?"
Josh and I shake our heads and Finn grins at me. "She must be on break."
I laugh. (Okay, I'm mostly pretty good at ignoring Finn.)
Josh doesn't laugh and I sigh, wishing I could be serious like him. But the Polly thing is funny. She's always "on break" because even though she supposedly works here, she's actually only been here a couple of times. I can understand why she doesn't come in, though. She's 22, her claim to fame is that she was once homecoming queen, and now she works (well, "works") here. Some life.
She gets away with never being here because her father, Greg, is our boss, and I think he's afraid to call her out on how she doesn't work because it would mean discussing Polly's favorite activity, which is hanging out with her 47-year-old married boyfriend, whose wife just happens to be Greg's wife's younger sister.
It's like a soap opera, only more boring because Polly is about as smart as a sponge and Greg spends his workday sitting in his closet of an office smoking pot.
Adults are so classy.
"That'll be $10.22," Josh says, and smiles at me as he checks to make sure the order went through. I guess he doesn't think I'm awful for laughing about Polly. Good.
I know I've already mentioned this, but Josh really is my soul mate. He's smart and kind and best of all, isn't a complete dog like every other guy in the whole world.
Josh cares about things. He writes poetry (I've seen him working on it in Government), and is always going to coffee shops for political/social discussions.
He even reads--he's always carrying around huge novels with tiny print and the kind of covers you only see on books you have to read for school. But he reads them because he cares about his mind. I love that.
He's also pretty cute.
Okay, he's gorgeous. Hard-not-to-stare-at gorgeous. He's got black hair and deep brown eyes and the most beautiful smile. Plus he's tall--but not too tall--and thin (but not scrawny), and he's just. so. out. of. my. league.
Josh doesn't date girls like me. He dates tall, skinny, dark-haired girls who care about political causes and social injustice and wear short, gauzy dresses that I could never get away with wearing. Ever. Plus they always have cool names like Arugula or Micah.
Hannah is not a cool name. Hannah is an ordinary name.
I actually wish Hannah was my only name.
But it isn't. My mother, in all her "wisdom"--and because she was facing a paternity suit--named me Hannah Jackson James. Before I moved to Slaterville, I never thought about my name. It hadn't mattered before. Not at school, and definitely not to Mom or Jose, who was my stepfather. I even...well, I even sort of liked it.
I didn't like it when we moved here. Jackson was more popular back then; his website and his castle and his collection of girlfriends weren't quite the joke they are now, but in Slaterville, which prides itself on being a sunny, welcoming community (there are actually signs when you get off the interstate)--well, let's just say some people didn't want Jackson James' former girlfriend or his kid around.
Mom didn't care--she was dealing with other stuff then--but me? I cared. Teachers raised eyebrows. Kids in my new seventh grade classes said--well, they said a lot of things. Mostly about Jackson, which didn't bother me because, by then, I hated him.
But some of the stuff was about Mom, and that did bother me.
It went away after a while. Not until I'd had a miserable time in seventh and eighth grade, not until I'd decided to become invisible girl, but it did go away. And now, if someone does say something, I can handle it.
The thing is, though, I would love a normal mom. A mom with a job that doesn't involve sitting around in her underwear reminiscing about how one time, she and Jackson went to a club and had sex on the dance floor, or how she got the pizza ad. (The director had a picture of her from Cowboy Dad as his computer's desktop wallpaper when he was a kid.)
But I don't have a normal mom. And when we first moved to Slaterville, all Mom had was a broken heart and me, and after a while she did what she thought she had to. What she knew. And that involved a web cam, underwear, and charging $24.95 a month to join "The Candy Club."
I used to wish we'd move back to New York, back to Queens, but now I'm glad we didn't. Jackson goes to Manhattan a lot more than he used to, seeking excitement and/or plotlines for his television show, and I don't want to be anywhere near him.
"Hannah, you've got an order," Finn says, and nudges me with his big horse feet.
"I know," I say, even though I'd missed the beep that signals them, and start my spiel. "Welcome to BurgerTown, home of the Better Burger! What can I get you today?"
When I'm done, Finn nudges my foot again.
"What are you thinking about?"
"You, of course."
"Really?" He grins at me.
"Oh yeah. I'm thinking about you and your big-ass feet stomping all over mine. It's awesome."
"Oh. Well, you, um...you know what they say about big feet," he says, and then blushes. It's the one thing he does that's almost endearing. Almost.
"Yes. No brain," I say, and he blushes more.
"I'm going to get a soda," he mumbles. "Want one?"
"Nah," I say, even though I do, and watch him get up. Finn is barely an inch taller than I am, and on my first day, Greg said we should sit next to each other since our hair and heights almost matched.
That should give you an idea of his "management style," and explain why Polly is able to get away with…well, everything.
Finn and I do have similar hair, I guess. We're both blond, but Finn's hair is dark blond, and mine is lighter, the shade Jackson's used to be. (Actually, it still is, but he's 72, so you know he dyes it.)
We also both have blue eyes, although mine are dark blue, just like Jackson's again, and Finn's are light blue. They're actually not bad looking--Teagan even says Finn is hot, but what does she know? She doesn't have to work with him.
"You know," Finn says, leaning over my terminal, "one day you're going to ask me out. We're meant to be together. It's fate. Like peanut butter and jelly."
"Like peanut butter and jelly? For real? Finn, when's the last time you ate?"
"I am kind of hungry," he says, blushing again. "But I'm telling you, you and me--"
"Meant to be stuck sitting next to each other. Believe me, I know that. Now go get your soda and eat something. And never mention anything involving fate and sandwiches again."
"Deal," Finn says, and ambles off to the vending machines. We have a "break room," complete with a moldering sofa and matching chair, but nobody ever goes in there because you have to punch in your employee code to open the door--and to close it again-- and however long you stay gets taken out of your pay. We're all supposed to go in there if we work eight-hour shifts, but when you're getting paid crap, you don't take breaks. Or at least, not unpaid ones.
"Order at Finn's station," Josh says and I drift for a second, letting his voice wash over me. He even sounds good. His voice is soft, and he has this way of making everything sound so meaningful. I could listen to him talk all day.
"Hannah, I'm sort of busy here," he says, and gestures at his own terminal, and I realize he means someone needs to get the order.
"Sorry," I say, and slide into Finn's chair. Slipping on his headset, I say those magic words. "Welcome to BurgerTown, home of the Better Burger. What can I get you today?"
I switch Finn's orders over to my terminal while I'm punching in the order for three chicken sandwiches that the guy I'm talking to wants, and give him his total as I'm sliding back into my own seat, my headset settling into place as the customer drives off to pick up his BurgerTown Tasty Chicken Sandwiches.
"Lull," Josh says, and I nod, tossing Finn's headset back onto his seat. I would put a knot in the cord, but the last time I did that, Finn smushed his chair right up next to mine and started making static noises every time I took an order, and all my customers thought they weren't being heard.
It was actually sort of funny, but then Josh pointed out that he'd ended up having to take most of the orders. "Some of us don't mind working," he'd said, glancing at Finn, "but it's not fair to not do anything."
"Unless you're Polly," Finn said. "Then it's fair. Which means there's a flaw in your argument. Plus someone has to do something to keep us all from dying of boredom."
Josh had just shaken his head sort of sadly, which I'd loved. I wish I could deal with Finn like that, but I lack Josh's ability to shrug off Finn's general annoyingness.
"I love this time of day," Josh says--talking to me, he's talking to me!--and I try to think of the right thing to say.
"I love you" sounds a little intense for the conversation.
"Can we make out?" sounds like something Jackson would say, and even if I am thinking it, I never want to sound like Jackson. Ever.
"Me too," is what I come up with.
"I can't believe I have to meet Micah after this," Josh says. "I'm tired, and I've got a ton of homework to do."
"Me too. Not meeting Micah, I mean. But the homework thing," I babble, and Josh smiles at me.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. It's almost enough to make me forget about Micah and how she's waiting for him.
Almost. Micah is Josh's girlfriend, and she's dark-haired and intense and plays the guitar and has political/social stickers plastered all over her car and can get away with wearing tiny floaty patchwork dresses. You know, the kind of thing you can only pull off if you have a long, lean, effortlessly ethereal look.
I don't have that look. I look like I could be a stripper, or would if I wore my hair down and didn't always make sure my shirts were big enough to hide the fact that I sprouted breasts in ninth grade. (Until then, I was like a board.)
Mom says I should be proud of my body and not hide it because when I'm her age, I'll have to actually work to keep it, meaning I won't be able to eat whatever I want and will get wrinkles like normal people do.
Mom didn't hide her body when she was my age, and she ended up with Jackson.
You can probably guess what I think of her "advice."
"Oh hey, catch," Josh says, and tosses me a small box. He grins at me. "I remember you said the vending machine was out of these the other day, and so I figured..."
"Animal crackers," I say, hoping I don't sound giddy, but really, this means something, right? It has to.
"What are you so happy about?" Finn asks, coming back in and flopping down into his chair. "Hey, thanks for taking my orders."
"Josh got me animal crackers," I say, and smile at Josh. "Thank you so much."
"It's nothing," Josh says. "I just saw them and thought of you."
"So Hannah reminds you of a zoo animal?" Finn asks.
Josh just shakes his head--so perfect!
I, however, am not, and kick Finn.
"What? It was just a question."
I wonder what would have happened if Finn hadn't come back when Josh gave me the cookies, or better yet, if he'd gotten crushed by one of the vending machines and I never had to see him again. I also eat all the animal crackers and try to figure out a way to save the box without looking like I'm trying to save it.
I know, it's stupid, but I just want something to remember about Josh giving me a gift.
I can't think of a way to keep the box that isn't totally obvious, but I do save a piece of it, tucking it into my bag. I glance over at Josh as I do, to see if he's watching, but he's busy at his terminal, working.
He doesn't look at me for the rest of our shift.
Maybe the animal crackers don't mean anything. Maybe he's just being nice. Why does he have to be so amazing? Why can't he like me? Besides the me not being his type thing, that is. And him being too smart to ever be interested in Jackson James' and Candy Madison's daughter. Why couldn't Mom be a social activist? And why couldn't Jackson be...well, how come I have to be related to him?
If Jose had been my dad, life would have been so much better.
"Goodnight," Josh says as we all head out into the parking lot at exactly 10:01, when our shift ends, and I think he smiles at me.
"Bye, and thanks again," I call out, and watch as he gets in his car.
"Careful, you're drooling," Finn says. "Is your crapbucket going to start, or do I need to hang around and jump the battery again?"
"My truck is not a crap..." I say, and trail off. It is a crapbucket, but it was cheap, and all I could afford. "It's running fine, and I'm not drooling."
"How come you like Josh so much anyway? All he does is sit around drinking overpriced coffee and bitching about how awful things are."
"He cares about the world."
"If he cared about the world, he'd donate the ten thousand dollars he must spend on coffee every year to charity. That would be doing something."
"And what are you doing to help people? Oh, right. Nothing."
"Hey, I don't run around claiming I'm going to change the world or--"
"Can I finish?"
"I don't know. Can you?"
Finn laughs. "I was going to say, if I want to do something, I just do it. I don't have to announce it to everyone."
"Except during football season. Oh, wait, I forgot. You don't play."
"Hey, I can't control the fact that people are scared of my natural talent. Besides, I figure it's easier to let everyone else do the work."
I roll my eyes at him. "Bye, Finn."
"You're sure your truck's going to start?"
"One time it didn't, ONE, and you have to bring it up all the time," I say, and unlock my door. It opens with a creaking groan, and Finn says, "Sounding good, as always," before he ambles over to his own car, which is new(ish) and also has a paint job that is all one color.
"You better start, damn you," I whisper to the truck as I slide the key into the ignition, and thankfully, it does. I head out of the parking lot, Finn behind me, and turn right, heading toward the mall, getting away from work and Finn.
I can't wait to see Teagan. She'll know if what happened means something.
Excerpted from SOMETHING, MAYBE © Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Scott. Reprinted with permission by Simon Pulse. All rights reserved.
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Simon Pulse
- ISBN-10: 1416953566
- ISBN-13: 9781416953562