“What type is that?” I asked her. Her big blue eyes widened.
“Well, I mean, I just think ... she was going to Yale and all. She like, totally, flaked out, right?”
“Come on, Caitlin,” Rina said, locking her fingers around my wrist. What I was feeling was new for me, a bubbling up of anger, mixed with so many images from the last two weeks: my mother weeping; my father running his hand over his head, closing his eyes; Cass's name doodled on the back of that envelope; her inscription to me in blue ink: See you there. Rina yanked me by the arm, hard, and began to pull me away. “Good luck,” Chelsea yelled after us, and I tried to turn back but Rina held me tight. Someone was blowing a whistle: Tryouts were starting.
“Caitlin,” Rina said in a low voice. “I like a good fight as well as the next person, but ”
“Did you hear what she was saying?”
“She's a bitch,” Rina said flatly, plopping down on the bleachers and crossing her legs. Two heavyset girls sitting farther down looked over, their eyes traveling up and down Rina from her face to her toes. She ignored them. “We knew that already, right? But starting something now would blow our chances at cheerleading, and we don't want to do that, do we?“ ”Yes,“ I said. She sighed, reaching up to fluff her curls. ”Do this for me, okay? I promise you'll thank me later. Trust me.“ I looked at her. Those two little words had gotten me into more trouble than I cared to remember. ”Okay, fine,“ she said quickly. ”Do what Cass would do, then.“ ”And what's that?“ I said. She shook her head. ”You don't know?“ From the middle of the gym floor, Chelsea Robbins began clapping her hands. ”Okay, ladies, it's time to get started! We're going to show you a basic routine to learn for first cuts. Let's go!“ Rina turned and smiled at me. ”Kick their butts,“ she said, standing up. ”That's what Cass would do.“ At least two hundred girls were milling around the gym floor, stretching and talking. I was sure they all wanted this more than I did. But still. ”Kick their butts,“ I repeated, as if it would be that simple, watching as Chelsea Robbins cartwheeled down the gym, showing off her bounce and pep. ”Okay.
“When I brought my cheerleading uniform home three days later, I saw Boo coming but didn't move fast enough. She intercepted me on the front porch, leaving from a visit to my mother. ”Hel-?lo!“ she said cheerfully. ”I have been working on your mother for the last hour to join this pottery class with me. You know, something to get her out of the house. But she's so stubborn.“ The uniform was folded over my arm, and I tried to shift it behind me. ”That's great,” I said.
“Well, she's not firm on it yet,” she said, craning her neck as I slipped the uniform around my back. “What's that?”
“I don't think ...” I said, but it was too late; she had it now, pulling it around me to hold up in front of her.
“Oh,” she gasped, one hand moving to cover her mouth. I felt my face burn, ashamed, as deep red as the raised JHS on the sweater. As far as Boo was concerned, I might as well have joined the Klan. “Oh, goodness.”
“I know what you're going to say,” I began. “But”
“No, no,” she said quickly, handing it back to me. “That's great. Good for you.”
“It was Rina's idea,” I said, feeling so lame I could hardly stand it. Boo, a professor of women's studies, had fundamental problems with pageants, the beauty industry and, of course, cheerleading. I knew this. “It's okay,” she said to me calmly, smiling now. “Whatever makes you happy.”
“It's not making me happy,” I explained hastily. “It just kind of happened.” And it had. One minute I'd been hating every second, the next so fired up no one could stop me. I'd had my requisite one year of gymnastics; I could do handsprings and cartwheels. But in the process of showing themand channeling Cass to kick their buttsI'd gotten picked for the squad. The rest was just a blur of the squad hugging me and pom-?poms rustling in my face. Rina had made it too, mostly because half the judges were football players. “I understand,” Boo said, pulling back and holding me at arm's length. “These things sometimes do that. They just” and she looked at my uniform again, brushing her hand over the sweater“happen.” And then, before I could say anything, she squeezed my arm and went down the stairs, her clogs thunking across the walk and into the grass. When I went into my room, I held the uniform up against me, trying to picture myself cartwheeling across the football field. It was hard. There was a knock at the door. “Caitlin?” my mother called out. “Are you in there?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Come on in.”
She opened the door and stuck her head in. She'd put on fresh lipstick and a squirt of Joy perfume, which I could smell, just as she did every day before my father was due home. She looked nice, but her face had that hollow look it had taken on since Cass left, like she was just a shell of her former self, functioning and talking but hardly alive. “How was school?”
“Fine.” I turned around, still holding up the uniform against me. “I made the cheerleading squad.”
“Really?” Her face brightened and she stepped into my room, clasping her hands in front of her. “Oh, Caitlin, that's great! Why didn't you tell me you were going out for the team?”
“It just kind of happened,” I said. She walked right past where I was sitting to the chair where my uniform was, picking it up and holding it in front, of her. “Well, look at that!” she said excitedly. “It's just gorgeous. Now, you can't just leave this here, it needs to be hung up. And this sweater looks like a good dry cleaning couldn't hurt it.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.” I hadn't seen her so excited about anything since Cass left. “Now, did they tell you what kind of shoes you need? And what's the practice schedule like?” She walked to my closet and hung up the uniform, smoothing the skirt with her hand as she did so. “I can't believe they only give you one; we'll have to really keep it clean if you have a lot of games.” I could see her mind already working over this problem as she examined the fabric of the skirt, turning it in her hand. “There's a meeting tomorrow,” I said. I was starting to feel a little strange about this, now. “I think they tell me everything then. All we got today was a game schedule,” I added, pulling it out of my pocket. She was standing in front of me immediately, hand out, ready to take it. She unfolded the paper, then scanned it quickly. “My,” she said, “you are going to be busy. But we'll work around it. We always have before, right?”