Count the Ways
Okay, so. Her name is Sadie Wilkins and she’s the most interesting girl at school, is what I told my mother when she asked who my new little friend was and why she’d invited me to her birthday sleepover.
I stood there clutching the invitation with clammy fingers — Sadie’s loopy perfect cursive across the pink notecard, a glittery capital S centered at the top — and Mom said Sadie Wilkins sounds like Sadie Hawkins, and she said that back in my grandma’s day a Sadie Hawkins was a dance to which the girls had to invite the boys, and I guess Mom still thinks that’s a pretty wild and revolutionary idea, or should be.
Mom asked what made Sadie Wilkins the most interesting girl at school, so I decided to count the ways for her.
Started with how Sadie’s the fastest girl on the cross country team this year, the girl I always finish second to, how we love being the two fastest because the eighth grade girls get so annoyed every time we seventh-graders beat them.
How Sadie’s basically fluent in Spanish.
How she figured out pre-algebra in like a week.
How she’s always reading some book the rest of us won’t read until high school.
That’s when Mom told me to tone it down, no need to oversell, asked for Sadie’s mother’s phone number, said she had to make sure Mrs. Wilkins would handle a middle school sleepover carefully, which meant Mom needed to find out if Sadie’s mom was godly enough for her liking, because that’s been a thing ever since the weird period when Dad wasn’t around so much and then Mom got saved and Dad came back and Mom got him and me saved, too.
I guess Mrs. Wilkins passed muster somehow because there I was, six p.m. on the dot waiting in front of Sadie Wilkins’ red lacquered front door with my backpack and my tight-rolled sleeping bag, my pillow with a crisp clean case on it, ringing the bell, waiting, Sadie flinging the door wide, the rush of vanilla-scented air always always around her, Sadie asking what she could carry, saying gimme that sleeping bag girl, come on upstairs, Sara and Jillian are in my room, they just got here like five minutes ago.
Mom thought I was overselling what makes Sadie so great, but I didn’t even get to say how she rolls her Rs so well in Spanish class that when she speaks a practice sentence about a dog or a car or running, it sounds like she’s purring, and suddenly the way her eyes angle up at the outside corners makes so much sense.
Didn’t tell Mom about how I’m happy to finish second to Sadie in every cross country meet because I know she’ll cross the finish line first and fifteen seconds later I’ll sprint over and she’s waiting for me on the other side smiling with her hand up in the air so I can high five her while I go by — sharp slap palm to palm like an electric shock.
Up the stairs and into Sadie’s room, Sara and Jillian draped across the bed taking selfies, Sara and Jillian chirping at me when I walked in, me chirping right back, Sadie tossing my sleeping bag in a corner and saying alright ladies let’s get this party started.
Nearly every horizontal surface in Sadie’s room held piles of books, so I said that’s even more books than I expected, and Sadie said her big brother’s a senior in high school and he hands them over when he’s done, so I looked closer at the nearest stack — David Copperfield, The Good Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, Dubliners, Of Mice and Men — and Sadie said check this out and pulled The Grapes of Wrath away from the rest and flipped pages to show me her brother’s notes jotted in the margins, little penciled declarations like symbolism and metaphor and simile and, alongside sentences about trees or mountains or the sky or the weather, he’d written oh damn, and Sadie pointed out where she’d taken notes under his notes, sometimes like yes! or damn indeed, but my favorite was the one where she wrote hey dumbass that’s not a metaphor that’s a simile, and I got the feeling that a big chunk of their brother-sisterness was held in that scribbly jargoned chit-chat, so I asked if she liked having a big brother. Sadie smiled and said yeah, said he’s not so bad, said he’s always teaching her useful stuff, like how if you add two big spoonfuls of margarine to boxed mac and cheese the powder mixes in smooth and creamy, and how if you bust a brick of ramen noodles into tiny pieces by mashing down with the heel of your hand before opening the bag and if you put more water in the bowl than normal and microwave it for three minutes with the power level set to seven, your ramen comes out mushy and nice.
Sadie had written bring a swimsuit for the hot tub! on our invitations, and right then was the time she wanted to get in, so I pulled my one-piece from my backpack, but Sadie said oh no no no, you can borrow a bikini, and she dug through an entire dresser drawer full of them, grabbed a hot pink one and said, you’ll look so cute in this.
I blurted out that my mother won’t let me wear a bikini yet.
Sadie said aw you poor thing, said my mom doesn’t give a shit, said at least you can live it up for one night.
And then we were down on the back deck all dropping our towels to climb into the bleachy bubbling water, me with my body down in Sadie’s bikini.
Sadie said whoa look at this sexy mama.
I reached one hand to cover my stomach, the other to cover the breasts I’ve been hiding inside too-tight sports bras for a year, breasts that spilled a bit around the tiny fabric triangles.
Sadie smiled and said oh I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but ya look good girl.
I uncovered and she kept looking until I’d finished sinking slow into the water.
Later, pizza and cake and presents — mine a tiny silver running shoe charm on a delicate necklace chain, which she pressed to her chest and said oh I love it so so much, which prompted me to say I have one just like it, and she said twinsies, then Sadie’s mom came in and cleared the wrapping paper and the cake plates and told us in a voice like a sigh to have a nice evening and let her know if we needed anything, that she’d just be in her room.
Once her mom sidled down the hall and closed the door, Sadie asked if we girls wanted to sneak down to the basement where her brother and his friends hung out just to see what they were up to, which we all gladly did, faces hot and stomachs all tight with anticipation because it felt like spying or like going to the zoo to glimpse some strange beast from half a world away, exciting even if that animal is just sitting around breathing, but the beasts we sought were boys, ones who’d just picked their colleges, ones with beautiful girlfriends, boys like trees, six feet tall or more.
Sara and Jillian and I crept quiet down carpeted stairs behind Sadie, musty basement smell rising around us, then we all stopped and crouched and peeked through the railing, but what we saw was just four lanky boys flopped and flung on ratty couches, barefoot, slack-jawed, gripping video game controllers and staring at a big TV screen divided into quadrants, sound of gunfire, occasional bursts of profanity, and I lost interest quicker than the others.
So I watched Sadie instead.
Sadie Wilkins with a crush on her brother’s best friend, the tall pretty friend with dark hair and blue eyes, the boy whose hands she watched as he mashed buttons fast.
I watched her watching him.
The way her eyes darted from his hands to the screen.
The way her face sculpted itself into smiles and grimaces and the O-shape of surprise, each expression shifting fast — flit flit flit — but always that bright-eyed fascination.
I wondered why I couldn’t look away from her, thought maybe I wished I were as smart as Sadie, as easy with a laugh, or maybe I wished I had a doll face like hers, little upturned nose, or maybe I just wanted to learn how to shape my own skinny face into such sparkling expressions.
Right then, Sadie turned and looked at me, kept looking for at least three heartbeats.
And then she reached and squeezed my hand, shrugged, turned her dark eyes back toward her brother’s best friend.
Here is a thing I do ever since Sadie’s sleepover: I close my eyes at church on Sundays and sometimes I don’t even hear the preacher because I’m too busy counting the ways, thinking sorry sorry sorry, please forgive me, I don’t even know what for, but please forgive me anyway, please. Mom and Dad rapt and nodding, Mom’s right hand hovering an inch above her thigh just in case she needs to aim her overwhelming faith skyward, and beside her I’m in a panic but a quiet one, not understanding any of it, not a single bit of it.
Annie Frazier grew up in North Carolina, lives in Florida, and earned an MFA in fiction from Kentucky’s Spalding University. She’s the current Social Media Editor for Pithead Chapel Literary Journal, an author’s assistant, and a horse farm manager. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Longleaf Review, CHEAP POP, Still: The Journal, and more, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Visit Annie online at www.anniefrazier.com or say hey on Twitter @anniefrazzr.