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Dress Codes for Small Towns
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0062398539 (ISBN13: 9780062398536)
As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.
But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.
Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.
Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.
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That’s the way things come clear. All of a sudden.
And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along.
—MADELEINE L’ENGLE, The Arm of the Starfish
NINE YEARS EARLIER
Three-hundred-year-old oaks were good for two things: hiding from playground fights and kingdom-watching. Billie McCaffrey climbed skyward and settled into a sprawling fork to observe her classmates. Over by the four square concrete slab, Janie Lee Miller sat cross-legged with her nose in a library copy of A Wrinkle in Time. Across the field, Woods Carrington was campaigning for a kickball game. Just below, two third-grade boys, Mash and Fifty, fought over a fourth-grade girl in blue bows and light-pink sunglasses. Other boys swung from the monkey bars while a herd of girls huddled, giggling and happy, around the adults. Their teacher, the center of the girls’ commotion, was dressed in a plain denim jumper and wore a bouquet of smiles. She produced from an ugly black handbag her newly awarded Corn Dolly. “Ooooh,” said the little girls. “Ahhhh,” said other teachers, who asked if they could hold the doll. They treated that decorated corn husk like Billie’s daddy treated a Bible.
Billie oooohed and ahhhhed like everyone else, her voice barely above a whisper. No one even glanced up.
Before the end of that school year, Billie had learned from her daddy that if she wanted friends, she couldn’t stay in tree forks. So she stopped climbing up, up and away, and befriended every boy in her grade by either brute force or voodoo charm. Woods, Billie’s new best friend, claimed it was her kickball skills. By God, that girl could kick a ball farther into Mr. Vilmer’s cornfield than anyone in the class. Even the most competitive boys loved her for it. The girls were a different story. They didn’t quite know what to do with her. And Billie didn’t know what to do with them.
Late summer brought water-gun fights, fishing at the quarry, and biking to and from the dam to skip rocks along the mirrored surface of Kentucky Lake. All this good fortune sparked a happy question from Woods.
“Hey, B, will you come to mine and Janie Lee’s wedding tomorrow?”
Billie chomped on an apple they’d smuggled from Tawny Jacobs’s orchard. Juice ringed her lips. “Do I have to wear a dress?”
“Nah,” Woods said. “You’re my best man.”
After passing the last bite to Woods and wiping her mouth with her shirtsleeve, she considered his request. Seemed fair. Seemed important. “Sounds good to me,” she said, even though it sounded worse than awful.
“Promise?” He looked concerned that she might go back to her tree-climbing, avoiding-everyone ways.
She made the mistake of spit shaking. That night she asked her dad, “Will I go to hell if I break a promise?” He’d assured her that hell did not work that way. But she didn’t know which way hell worked yet, so she tore up all the notes she’d written asking Woods not to marry Janie Lee.
The next day, Woods Carrington stood behind one of those sprawling playground oaks and wed Janie Lee Miller with a grape Ring Pop and a peck on the lips.
Billie wore her cleanest jeans and stood by Woods’s side.
She looked up to her old perch and thought this friend thing was very hard.
HEXAGONS ARE TRIANGLES
First say to yourself what you would be;
and then do what you have to do.
I’m waffling on my tombstone inscription today. Elizabeth McCaffrey, born 1999—d. ? R.I.P.: She found trouble. Or. Elizabeth McCaffrey, born 1999—d. ? IN LOVING MEMORY: Trouble found her.
“This is a bad idea,” Janie Lee tells me. Which is her way of saying we’re going to get caught.
“We will not be contained by a grubby youth room and pointless rules,” I reply.
Janie Lee peers down the hallway. There’s no sign of my dad, but her expression indicates she’s voting for retreat. The dingy carpet beneath her feet is patterned with repeating arrows that all point the way back to our assigned sleeping room.
I tickle-poke her in the ribs. She giggles and leans into the tickle instead of away. “I’ll protect you,” I tell her.
That’s enough prompting for her to skitter down the hall with me—two handsome thieves on a wayward mission.
We stand in front of a door labeled Youth Suite 201. It’s 3:12 a.m. Janie Lee is wearing a sweet pink sweatshirt, flannel pants, and UGGs, which always make me ugh. I am wearing a camo T-shirt, jeans I stole from Mash last weekend, and combat boots that I found at a local army surplus. Clothes I can sleep in. And, well, clothes I can live in.
Elizabeth McCaffrey, born 1999—d. ? IN LOVING MEMORY: She died in her boots.
I perform the prearranged triple knock.
Davey props open the door, and behind him the rest of our boys offer various greetings. He’s the newest of the gang and we’re all still learning him. There’s an awkward pause while we work out whether we’re supposed to fist-bump or shoulder-punch or hug. I up-nod, and that seems to be acceptable enough for him to duplicate.