Tall , thin and blonde

It was like overnight amy had become a completely different person. All of a sudden we were in high school and my buddy , my pal , was one of those girls who worry about what they eat and what they wear and who they're friends with. The problem was...I was still me.

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1. undressing in public

Look at them!" I said to Amy. I gestured to a table at the other side of the cafe. A bunch of girls from our school were sitting together, drinking diet soda and shrieking. They all looked like Miss Perfect Teenager. You know the type. Size six and pretty, with a lot of make up and too many teeth. We'd only been in high school for a few weeks, but I already recognised three of them. Two were cheerleaders. The other was Rosie Henley, one of the most popular girls in the entire school. Rosie Henley was tall, thin and blonde. She was so beautiful that it was hard to believe that she had ugly feet and hair on her toes like everybody else does. "They're so shallow and immature," I went on. "I bet all they ever talk about is boys and clothes."

This was the sort of statement that usually grabbed Amys attention. Amy and I had always agreed on shallow, immature girls who never talked about anything but boys and clothes. Neither of us was ever going to be like that. Not even if we became stunningly gorgeous overnight. Not even if the cutest boy in the world asked us out. Not even if anyone asked us. But this time Amy didn't even look up.

"I don't know if I'm going to have a burger today or not," Amy was saying. She scrunched up her nose, the way she does when she's thinking. "I don't really feel that hungry. Maybe I'll just have a salad plate."

"A salad plate??" I repeated. I looked over at her. Amy and I had been best friends since we were seven. In those seven years, the only time I remembered Amy saying she wasn't really hungry was just before she threw up at my tenth birthday party. "I don't think I want cake after all," she'd said$ And then she'd clamped her hand over her mouth , jumped from the table , ran into the kitchen and puked into the dogs bowl. Everyone but the dog and my mother had found it pretty funny.

Oh good grief, I thought. Amys going to be sick. I looked over at Rosie Henleys table. Right here in the middle of the Red Bay Mall. In front of girls who never even burp, never mind throw up. I moved my bag out of her way. "What's the matter?" I asked her nervously. "Don't you feel well?"

"I feel fine," said Amy, her eyes on her menu. "I'm just not very hungry, that's all."

"But we always get cheeseburgers," I protested. "Its our tradition."

All summer long, Amy and I had come to the mall every Saturday after swimming. We always had lunch at the Schooner Cafe, which was out in the open, in the centre of the main plaza, and had a fountain that looked like an old whaling schooner. We always sat at a corner table, because if you sat too close to the fountain you got wet. We always ordered the Whale of a Special - cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, coleslaw and large sodas. After lunch, we'd walk around and check out the stores.

Amy made a face. "Oh, for Gods sake, Jen." She sighed. "Its not like its written in stone, is it? Amy Ford and Jenny Kaliski have to have a cheeseburger every Saturday or they'll turn into toads. I can have whatever I want."

"Well, of course you can," I said. I mean, what else could I say? Its not like I'm unreasonable or anything. It was just Amy and I were so close that I guess I took it for granted that we always wanted the same things. And, besides, we'd had such a great summer hanging out together that I didn't want it to end. That was not only our first year in high school, it was the first year since third grade that we weren't in the same class. Amy was in Mrs Goulds homeroom and I was in Mr Strebs. Which is like saying that Amy was in Florida and I was in Maine. We didn't even have the same lunch period.

I smiled at Amy. "What do I care what you have?" I asked. I sounded very reasonable. "Have two salad plates if you want. Have three! Have cottage cheese and tuna!"

While I was being reasonable, the waitress had come up beside us. She was very blonde and pretty, and only a couple of years older than we were. Amy turned to her with a smile. "I'll have the cottage cheese and a large diet coke," she announced.

I couldn't believe my ears. Amy never drank diet soda. She and I had always agreed that ordering soda without sugar was like ordering a banana split and only getting a banana. It was what girls who were immature and shallow and only interested in boys and clothes drank! I had this sudden urge to throw my menu at her, but instead I politely handed it back to the waitress. "I'll have the Whale of a Special," I announced loudly. "With a root beer and a side order of fries."

The waitress looked at me as though I'd asked for a side order of grasshoppers. "You know it aleady comes with fries?"

"Yeah," I said. "I know it already comes with fries."

Amy turned to the waitress. For a second, I almost thought she was giving the waitress a look. A "the androids not with me" look. "You got that I want a diet soda, right?" asked Amy.

When the waitress left, I started teasing Amy. "Diet soda?" I joked. "You used to hate diet soda. You're not becoming shallow and immature, are you?"

Amy took a sip of her water. "There's nothing immature about caring about your appearance," she informed me coolly. "We're not children any more, you know. We have to watch ourselves."

Watch ourselves do what? I felt like saying. We'd never watched ourselves before, we'd always just been. But instead I changed the subject to geometry. Geometry was something I knew we agreed on. We talked about how much we hated geometry until our food came.

I was covering everything on my plate with ketchup when someone close by shrieked, "Amy!"

I looked up.

Amy tore herself away from the carrot curl she was trying to get on her fork and looked up too. She turned.

Rosie Henley and her friends were passing by our table on their way out of the cafe. They were carrying about a million shopping bags. Two of them - the two I didn't recognise - were smiling and waving at Amy like they were her long-lost sisters or something.

To my surprise, Amy smiled and waved back. I stared at her while ketchup plopped onto my food.

"Amy!"

"Kim! Amber!"

"Hi!"

"Hi!"

"What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?"

"We're shopping!"

"We're shopping, too!"

"See you in homeroom Monday!"

"See you Monday!"

Amy turned back to our table and her lunch. She looked happy.

I looked down at my burger. It had so much ketchup on it that it looked like a pizza. Pizza without cheese. "I didn't know you knew those girls," I said casually, scrapping some of ketchup to the side of my plate.

Amy bit into a stick of celery. "Well, now you do," she said.

Since I really didn't know what to say to that, I concentrated on eating my Whale of a Special. But I kept glancing over at Amy, nibbling her Rabbit Deluxe and sipping her diet Coke, and I started to think. Something was wrong. I don't know why I hadn't noticed before, but now I was thinking about it I realized that Amy hadn't been herself for at least a week. For instance, we always walked home together after school, and we always talked on the phone at least once a night. But Tuesday and Thursday I'd walked home alone, and Friday she hadn't been in when I'd called and she'd never phoned back. And as for today.

..Not only had Amy ordered a different meal and not told me about the new friends she'd made in homeroom, but she'd acted odd at swimming as well. Amy and I had joined the Red Bay Swimming Club the summer before. It was a serious training and competition club, and it was hard to get in and harder to stay. Amy and I were the only girls who hadn't dropped out after a month or two, and Amy was the club star. This morning, however, she'd done a couple of laps and then left the pool. "I just don't feel like swimming today," she'd said when I asked her why.

Thinking was making me lose my apetite. I pushed my half-eaten fries away.

Amy gazed at me over a forkful of cottage cheese. "Don't tell me you're full," she said in this sarcastic voice.

"I guess my eyes are bigger than my stomach," I answered.

She kind of smirked. "But they won't be for long if you keep eating like that."

After lunch, Amy and I strolled through the mall, like we always did. I began to feel a little better. Amy told me a funny story about some kid falling asleep in her French class while we checked out the music store and in the card shop we both bought this neat writing paper in neon colours. Maybe I'd been imagining that Amy was acting odd. Everything seemed normal again.

We stepped off the escalator onto the second level of the mall. I pointed to the right. "How about going into Lost in Space?" I asked. Lost in Space was where I bought the glow-in-the-dark galaxy I had on the ceiling of my room and my giant map of the sky. Ever since I was a little kid I'd been crazy about that sort of thing. Amy changed her mind from month to month about what she would do when she grew up, but I knew I was going to be an astrophysicist. It was all I'd ever wanted to be.

Amy shrugged. "I don't really feel like it today," she said.

I came to a stop. Amy kept going. The woman getting off the escalator behind us walked right into me. After I'd apologised, and the woman had apologised, and her little boy had pulled his lollipop off my jeans, I hurried to catch up with my best friend.

"What's with you today?" I demanded. "Have aliens taken over your body or something? You don't seem to feel like anything you usually feel like."

She marched straight ahead. "Oh, give me a break, will you, Jen? I'm not a robot, you know. I don't have to do the same things over and over. Maybe I feel like doing something different today."

"Oh yeah?" I said. "Like what?"

She glanced over at me. "Like going to Miss America."

"Miss America?" I'd been right. Aliens had taken over Amys body. Miss America was the trendiest store in the mall. We never went into Miss America. Girls who cared about nothing but boys and clothes and diet soda went to Miss America.

Amy nodded. "I want to get something for the dance next Saturday."

"The dance?"

She looked amazed. "Don't tell me you're not going!" cried Amy. As though either of us had ever been to a dance in her life. "Its the first big social event of the school year!"

"Me?" I stared into her eyes, half expecting them to light up and turn orange the way the eyes of people do whose bodies have been taken over by aliens. "Me, go to a dance?' Amy and I didn't go to dances. Dances were for girls who painted their toenails and wore perfume.

"Yes, you!" said Amy. She took hold of my arm and started steering me towards Miss America. "Jen," she said urgently, "we have to go. We're in high school now. We have to get into the swing of things or we'll never fit in."

Swing of things? Fit in? Was that a Michael Jackson CD playing in the background or the theme song from The Twilight Zone? "I don't know about this," I said as Amy pulled me through the doors of Miss America. It definitely sounded like Michael Jackson, but I looked around just in case gold-coloured aliens were standing in the shadows. "We never had to fit in before."

"That's because we were children before," said Amy. "Now we're young women. This could be the best time of our lives, Jen. You don't want to miss it, do you?"

Amy had once talked me into rubbing poison ivy all over myself because she'd said I was wrong and it was only milkweed. She'd once talked me into running away with her, and we'd spent an entire day in her grandmothers garage. She'd once talked me into painting my face with what turned out to be indelible inks. And she'd been the one who'd said my father wouldn't care if we borrowed his bird-watching binoculars when we went to camp. That was the thing about Amy, she could always convince me in the end.

"Well, no," I said as she led me through sportswear to dresses. "I guess I don't."

The alien who had taken over the body of my best friend, Amy Ford, seemed to know her way around Miss America the way the real Amy knew her way around Jean Junction, where we usually bought our clothes. Jean Junction was a store. You know, it had racks of shirts and jeans, and on the walls it had signs: BOYS. GIRLS. LEVIS. WRANGLERS. LEE. SALE. The walls were white. It had fluorescent lighting.

Miss America was more like a disco. Not only did it have music, it didn't have fluorescent lighting. Instead, it had a few forty-watt bulbs pointed skyward, a lot of flickering coloured lights and hundreds of mirrors. Things dangled from the ceiling on wires. Everything was loud and shiny and packed together. It made me feel sort of dizzy. Or like I might break something. Or rip it by accident. Or touch it and get dirty. I began to wonder if maybe I should miss the best years of my life after all.

The alien who had taken over Amys body wasn't as easygoing as the old Amy, either. She was very critical. She'd pull a dress from a rack, hold it up to herself in front of a mirror, move this way, move that way, squint, shake her head and put it back. "Too long," she'd say. "Too dark." "Too loose." She liked bright colours and short skirts. She liked lycra, lace and satin. She thought I should pin up my hair with a giant silver clip.

"Have you gone nuts?" I screeched.

She pulled my hair and stuck the clip on top. "It adds sparkle.'

'Sparkle? Amy, I look like a Christmas ornament." An elf. An elf with tinsel on her head.

She shrugged. "OK, suit yourself." She tossed the clip aside and pulled something pink from a hanger and stuffed it into my hand. "But at least try this on."

I looked down at the thing in my hand. Its could have been a dead flamingo. "Amy," I said, "I don't wear pink. I like green."

Amy rolled her eyes. "No ones wearing green anymore. And, besides, pinks your colour."

That was news to me. I hadn't worn pink since I was two years old and my hair had finally started to grow so people could tell I was a girl. I shook the thing in my hand. "What is it?" I asked.

She pointed to a mannequin who was sitting on a model motor cycle that was hanging from the ceiling. "Its that dress."

It was a small dead flamingo.

"But, Amy," I said. "Amy, I don't wear dresses." Especially not ones with less than a yard of material in them.

"Oh, for Petes sakes, Jen. You can't go to the dance in your old jeans and a T-shirt. You have to wear a dress."

"But, Amy," I said. "I'm not - I don't go to dances."

The girl at the door to the dressing room handed Amy a ticket that said 3 and me a ticket that said 1.

"Everybody goes to dances in high school," said Amy. "Unless they're weird."

Weird? Amy and I had always prided ourselves on being unique. In seventh grade she never wore laces in her sneakers and I always wore mismatched socks. In eighth, she had her hair spiked and I had three holes pierced in my right ear. Amys hair had grown out and I'd gone back to wearing just one pair of earrings like everyone else. In ninth grade, apparently, we worried about being weird.

"This is our big chance to be popular," Amy went on, as though we'd been waiting for this chance for years. "It doesn't matter what happened before. It all starts now. You don't want to miss the boat, do you?"

I was going to ask her to explain exactly what she meant by "weird", but I couldn't. I couldn't because, all of a sudden, I was paralysed. Every cell in my body had turned to cement. Except the cells in my heart. The cells in my heart had turned to flowing molten lava.

My heart was going nuts.

I looked around. We were in a large bright room. It didn't have walls , it had mirrors. Mirrors in every direction. Giant spotlights shone down on us from overhead. Not only that, but this large bright room was filled with dozens of smiling and laughing Miss Perfect Teenagers. Most of them were in their underwear.

Amy went over to a mirror and put her dresses on a hook.

I managed to speak. "Amy," I whispered. "Amy, where are we?" She laughed, "We're in the dressing room, of course."

My blood began to flow again. I turned my head. "But its open!" The dressing room in Jean Junction was divided into little cubicles, each with its own mirror and its own door. The doors all had locks.

Amy was kicking off her shoes. "Of course its open.'

I didn't wear pink, I didn't wear dresses, I didn't go to dances - and there was one other thing I didn't do. I didn't undress in public. Not ever. Except in gym, but I had figured out a way to get my gymsuit on under my regular clothes. It wasn't easy, but it worked. "Amy," I whispered, "Amy, I can't...I'm not...I-"

Amy reached out and yanked me next to her. She took the dead flamingo from my hands and put it on a hook. "Stop being such a baby," she ordered. "Nobodys looking at you. Just try on the dress."

I stared into the mirror. I could see half a dozen pretty teenage girls behind me stepping in and out of clothes. It was like being in an underwear ad. Not one of them looked embarrassed or self-conscious. Why should they? Not all of these pretty teenage girls were blonde, but it wasn't as if you'd really notice. They were all tall and slender. They all had small breasts and flat stomachs and tiny bottoms. Their small breasts and tiny bottoms were in grown-up looking bras and panties in vibrant colours and attractive patterns.

But standing right in front of them in the reflection was a short, pudgy brunette. Her breasts were not small, her bottom was not tiny, and her stomach was not flat. She wasn't ugly, maybe, but she wasn't pretty either. Not like the other girls were. She was also not laughing and smiling like the other girls, who were happy to show off how perfect they were. She was rigid with terror.

Amy had taken off her shirt and was stepping out of her jeans. "Go on, Jen," she urged. "Try on the dress. I bet you'll look terrific."

I held up the flamingo. It was so skimpy that it must have starved to death. There was no way I was going to be able to pull it on over my jeans. "I don't think its really me," I mumbled.

"Jen," said Amy, "just get undressed, OK? Stop acting like such a child. Its no big deal."

I glanced over at her. When had she gotten that shiny blue bra and bikini? What happened to her hips? Why hadn't I ever realised before that Amys hair wasn't really brown? It was dirty blonde. Much to my surprise, Amy looked just like all the other teenage girls in the room. Perfect. When has she stopped being just regular, like me?

I decided that what I could do was take off my T-shirt, pull the dress over my head and then pull it down at the same time I was pulling my jeans off. Maybe if I was really fast, no one would notice that my mother still bought me white cotton bras - the kind that old ladies wear. Or that my underpants weren't bikinis. Only to be really fast, I'd need four hands: two to take off my T-shirt and hang it up, and two to pull the dress over my head at the same time.

Amy was shimmying into a slinky royal blue mini skirt. "Gosh," she grinned, stopping mid-shimmy to stare at my bra. "I didn't know they still made those things."

In the mirror, I could see the Miss Perfect Teenager behind me, a redhead in lacy purple underwear, smile. I dropped my T-shirt and started to tug on the dress.

"Uh, Jen," said Amy, her voice so loud she was practically shouting. "Jen, aren't you going to take off your jeans first? You don't want to stretch the dress, you know."

More than one Miss Perfect Teenager began to giggle.

"Oh, right," I mumbled. "Sure." I stopped yanking on the dress and started hopping out of my jeans. At least I hadn't put on my Garfield underpants this morning, I could be grateful for that. I caught sight of myself just before I banged into the mirror; my face was the same colour as the dress and my thighs were wobbling.

At last, I stood before the mirror in the outfit Amy said I was going to look terrific in. The mannequin had looked a lot different in that dress. The mannequin had looked sexy. I looked like a hot dog. A cocktail frank.

Amy was shaking her head. "I guess you were right." She sighed. "It isn't really you, is it?"

Someone in the corner laughed.
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