A first kiss, Jules had thought, was supposed to magnetize you to the other person; the magnet and the metal were meant to fuse and melt on contact into a sizzling brew of silver and red. But this kiss had done nothing like that. Jules would have liked to tell Ash all about it now. She recognized that that is how friendships begin: one person reveals a moment of strangeness, and the other person decides just to listen and not exploit it. Their friendship did begin that night; they talked in this oblique way about themselves, and then Ash began struggling to scratch a mosquito bite on her shoulder blade, but she could hardly reach it, and she asked Jules if she could put some calamine lotion on it for her. Ash yanked down the collar of her nightgown in back, and Jules dotted on some of the bright pink fluid, which had the most recognizable odor imaginable, appetizing and overbearing at the same time.
"Why do you think calamine lotion smells like that?" Jules asked. "Is it the real smell, or did some chemists just come up with this random smell for it in the laboratory, and now everyone thinks it's what it actually has to smell like?"
"Huh," said Ash. "No idea."
"Maybe it's like pineapple Lifesavers," Jules said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, they don't taste like actual pineapple at all. But we've gotten so used to it that we've come to think that that's the real taste, you know? And actual pineapple has basically fallen by the wayside. Except maybe in Hawaii." She paused and said, "I would give anything to try poi. Ever since I learned the word in fourth grade. You eat it with your hands."
Ash just looked at her, and began to smile. "Those are kind of weird observations, Jules," she said. "But in a good way. You're funny," she added in a thoughtful voice, yawning. "Everyone thought so tonight." But it seemed as if funny was a distinct relief to Ash Wolf. Funny was the thing, other than calamine lotion, that she needed from Jules. Ash's family and her world were high- test, and here was this funny girl who was amusing and soothing and touching, really, in her awkwardness and her willingness. Nearby, the other girls in the teepee were having their own involved conversation, but Jules barely heard anything they said. They were just background noise, and the central drama was here between herself and Ash Wolf. "You definitely make me crack up," said Ash, "but promise you won't make me crack up." Jules didn't know what she meant, and then she did: Ash had awkwardly tried to make a joke, a pun. "You knowdon't ever make me go insane," Ash explained, and Jules politely smiled and promised she wouldn't.
Distantly Jules thought of the girls she'd been friends with at home their mildness, their loyalty. She saw all of them marching to their lockers at school, their corduroy jeans swishing, their hair fastened with barrettes or rubber bands or let loose in wild perms. All of them together, unnoticed, invisible. It was as though she was saying good- bye to those other girls now, here in the teepee with Ash Wolf sitting on her bed.
But the newly forming friendship was paused briefly by the presence of Cathy Kiplinger, who moved into the center of the teepee, taking off her own big, complicated bra and unharnessing her duo of woman-sized breasts, distracting Jules with the thought that these spheres inside this conical building were the equivalent of a square peg in a round hole. Jules wished Cathy weren't here at all, and that Jane Zell wasn't here either, or somber- faced Nancy Mangiari, who sometimes played the cello as if she were performing at the funeral of a child.
If it were just Jules and Ash, she would have told her everything. But the other girls were circling, and now Cathy Kiplinger, dressed only in a long pink T-shirt, was passing around a huckleberry crumble purchased at the bakery in town that afternoon, and a warped fork from the dining hall. Someonecould it have been silent Nancy? Or maybe Cathy?said, "God, it tastes like sex!" and everyone laughed, including Jules, who wondered if sex, when it was really good, actually offered the pleasures of a huckleberry crumbleall goo and give.
Excerpted from The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Copyright © 2013 by Meg Wolitzer. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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