How To Be Straight

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I shuffled on the beautiful porch, taking in the gargoyles that seemed to stare at me wherever I moved.

Watching me.

Keeping me in check.

The door opened and Shay’s mother greeted me with a grin. “Oh! Jamelle, dear! How are you?”

“I’m well, and, Jamie, if you would, how are you?”

“Oh! Ever the polite one. I’ll try to remember that… Jamie, Jamie, Shay’s upstairs. No no. Leave your stuff. The maids will take care of it,” she protested when I took my royal purple duffle bag in one hand, stepping into the house and kicking off my sneakers.

“Oh,” I answered. “I really don’t mind carrying it up.”

“No no! I won’t think of it. Leave it there, love. It will be up in a few minutes. I’ll bring up some snacks as well.”

She winked at me. I smiled, nodded, thanked her, and headed upstairs. The beautiful spiral staircase always made me think of figure skaters, the swooping, dancing birds engraved onto the railing reminding me of the graceful dance of the ice performers.

I hurried up it, my socks slipping on the polished wood, and knocked on Shay’s door, where a distracted voice answered, “Come in.”

The bedroom never failed to take my breath away. The big oak door was something else all together, but the purple plush rug, grey comforter, and dark blue paint fit together perfectly like something from a magazine.

In the center of the room was a spiral staircase leading up to the loft, which had ten foot tall ceilings even there. The loft was where Shay was now; she lay sprawled on the deep red carpet, studying. If there was anything she wasn’t, it was a slacker.

“Hey.” She shut the book on her finger, holding her place.

“Hey. I brought the makeup supplies you asked for but, um, your mom wouldn’t let me bring them up.”

She rolled over onto her back, grabbing a bookmark and pushing it into the book, then standing. “Oh!” she cried, mocking her mother with a high pitched voice, “No no! God forbid you would strain an arm carrying up a five pound bag filled with nothing but clothes and makeup.”

I laughed. “Instead, we must have the frail old lady that is our paid help take it because otherwise her talent will go to waste,” I continued, picking up where she left off with uncanny precision.

There was a knock on the door then, and we sat up, straightening our faces. “Come in,” we said in unison.

It was the maid, carrying my things, and Shay’s mom, who I should really be calling Mrs. Miller. “Hi girls.”

“Where should I put your things, Miss?” asked the maid.

“Oh, anywhere is fine, thank you.” I said, looking her straight in the eye. To be honest, Shay’s family’s maids made me more than a bit uncomfortable. In my house, yes, of course we had hired help, but we didn’t drag their dignity and ours through the mud like this. In fact, other than when they carried out the meals, I rarely saw them. They cleaned and cooked. But they weren’t servants. Here it was different.

Mrs. Miller smiled, “Ah, Jamie. Ever the polite one. What would you girls like for dinner?”

“Oh, anything is fine. Thanks.” I said, mentally scolding myself for thanking her. She didn’t like it. Yes, I know. Who the hell doesn’t like being thanked? Especially when they actually need to be, because you are staying in their home and eating their food.

“Pizza,” said Shay simply, placing the textbook back on the shelf. “And some popcorn for now.”

I winced. She never treated me like that. No one at our school ever got that cold shoulder from her. The maids didn’t even get that treatment. They were always thanked, except when her mother was around. It was just her parents who got such simple answers. Never a word more than absolutely necessary. It made me sort of sad. I gave Mrs. Miller a compassionate smile. She didn’t even seem to notice how her daughter treated her. “Is that all?” she asked. Kind of like a maid, I realized suddenly.

“I’m good if Jamie is.”

“Popcorn sounds fine, thank you,” I said with a sweet smile. I was used to smiling for the rich. I did it all the time.

“Any toppings?” asked the maid, taking over.

“Nutritional yeast?” I asked automatically at the same time that Shay requested butter.

“Two bowls it is, then,” said Mrs. Miller. She and the maid left at the same time.

Once they had left, Shay turned to me. “Okay. Halloween. As per the rules, we are only allowed to start working on our costumes one week in advance, which is today. Vicki and Charlotte won last year, but this year we can totally pull it off. Any ideas?” Every year, Shay and I compete against Victoria and Charlotte for the best costumes. Each team picks a theme, decides on costumes, and executes the entire thing. Elements of the costume can be bought, but the bulk of it must be hand made or assembled.

“I had a few ideas.” I had known why Shay was calling this meeting and had prepared a list of possible themes. I pulled it out of my pocket. “Okay. Number one. Other holidays. Maybe, Santa and the Easter Bunny?” I glanced up at her for approval, and was struck by her blue eyes, focused on me. I hesitated for a second before continuing. “Uh, Dr. Seuss. Cat in the hat, red fish and blue fish, etc.” Again, I looked up at her. She had migrated onto the bean bag and had flung her legs to the side. “A continuation of last year’s pair theme. Shoes, peas in a pod, or something more original.” I continued through the list, mentioning everything from articles of clothing to vikings. But in between, when I glanced down at her, something about her stance made me fidget, until I sat down on the plush carpet, and made it my mission to not look at her. When I finished, I glanced up at her with questioning eyes. “So?”

“So?” She wasn’t mocking me. She was just lost in her head.

“What did you think?”

“Oh. I-”

There was a knock on the door. “Miss? The popcorn is ready.”

“Bring it in, please.” Shay’s distraction disappeared at the knock, replaced with practiced politeness. When the door opened, she took them from the maids hands and balanced them flat on her palms. “Thank you.”

“And a ten out of ten goes to Shay Miller, for perfect balance on her floor routine!” I exclaimed in my best announcer voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, she has a good chance of taking home a medal today!”

The maid smiled politely and left the room silently. Shay chuckled, putting both bowls between us. “I liked the Dr. Seuss idea.” She popped some nutritional yeast popcorn into her mouth. I rolled my eyes, as she had asked for the butter. “And grandma and grandpa, but it would have to be really good or we’d never win.”

I nodded, taking some of the popcorn intended for her. “I think they have some sort of wax thing that they use in movies and stuff to make wrinkles. If we could handle that, it could really set us apart. Or we could try to look like creepy dolls.”

“I like the realistic look.”

“Realistic it is, then.”

“Okay. Do you want to be grandma or grandpa?”

“What do you want to be?” I asked. The concept was already coming together already.

“I’ll be grandma. Are you okay with grandpa?”

“Yeah. That’s fine.” I knew that her asking meant nothing, if she wanted grandma, she would get grandma.

She got up, sliding down the banister of the spiral staircase with practiced grace. She collapsed perfectly into a fuzzy, black rolling chair, using her feet to propel herself to her desk and turning on the monitor. Realistic fake wrinkles, she typed into the search engine, purchasing two sets without thoughts or bothering to ask permission. Why would she? She had her own credit card. This world was completely different from mine, but it was the one I was in for the night. I pulled up another chair and settled in for a day of planning.

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