About a month later, on Mother's Day, Mom got a call that she'd need to fly out to LA for a screen test with other potential contestants. Two weeks later, she was packing a bag to move out to LA and we were packing our bags to stay with Dad and Sheri for the next two months.
Each Wednesday night we would sit in front of the TV and watch this woman who was once our mother fight with other contestants, puke on camera, and shed a definitely unhealthy amount of weight in a few short months. She started praising the woman who barked orders at her, pushed her until she passed out, and caused her emotional damage she couldn't see happening to her. There is a reason people on these shows aren't allowed to call their family members while they're filming. Everyone would convince them to run from that place as fast as they could.
Now Mom inhabited a new, smaller body, after rigorous exercise and plastic surgery to remove some excess skin. I knew she was the same woman, could recognize her voice and her eyes, but everything else about her had changed. She had a one-track mind to count calories, follow to-do lists, and repeat the mantras that had been ingrained in her on Shake the Weight
. She fixated not only on every little thing that crossed her lips but mine as well.
I snuck back up the stairs as Mom did arm circles to "Applause." The weather was sweltering. The Morenos always managed to host their family day on the stickiest day of the year. Thankfully, Mr. Moreno usually brought a sprinkler so that we could all cool down when it became unbearable.
The yellow-and-blue polka-dotted swimsuit sat snugly on my hips, and I instantly regretted opting out of swimsuit shopping this year. I figured I'd managed to squeeze into the same one for three years, what could possibly change in one more? Oh, right, everything. I flung on a T-shirt from Adventure World and slipped into my favorite flip-flops, on the verge of ripping in two. You can't beat a really nice pair of broken-in flip-flops.
When I came back downstairs, Mom and Fiyero had left for their run. I grabbed the keys to my new, inherited car. Ashley always had the touch with Norma (a very normal car name for a Nissan), but I absolutely despised driving. Thankfully Sandcastle Park was only a few-minutes drive away. If I could make it there with only a few bumps along the way, I would consider it a successful trip.
Sandcastle Park came into my view after a particularly violent curb check. I parked a block away and could still hear Mrs. Moreno greeting everyone as they showed up. She had the biggest heart, and the loudest voice to match. I once said that if I had to take one person with me on a deserted island, I'd take Mrs. Moreno because she could calm me down, cook some bomb food, and use her loud voice to track down civilization from miles away.
"Savannah! Savannah, over here, Savannah!" she called to me from across the street. I waved sheepishly as all of Grace's extended family turned to look at me.
"Hey, Mrs. M," I yelled back.
From the corner of my eye, I saw my best friend running my way. She wrapped me up in a hug, knocking the wind from me, in typical Grace fashion. When she pulled away, she held me by the shoulders and looked me up and down.
"How are you doing? Don't lie," she added, holding up an accusatory finger.
I sighed. "I've been better. But we're not here to have a pity party. We're here to have a fun day!"
"I signed us up for a three-legged race," she said, cringing as she waited for my response.
"You what?" I asked, knowing full well what I heard. Knowing full well that Grace knew that I refused to participate in this event every year since third grade, when I watched Andrew Adams break his leg while he was in a three-legged race with Cody Grant.
"You can't let the ghost of Andrew's broken-leg past haunt you forever. It's the only event I've never won. Come on, this is our year
. I'll even get Mateo in on a conversation with you if that sweetens the deal," she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
"I feel really uncomfortable with you bribing me romantically with your family members," I said.
"Ugh, you wouldn't have cared if I didn't mention the three-legged race! What else do you want? I'll do anything," she said. When competitive Grace came out, you didn't want to get in her way. She wasn't above bribery if it meant she had the opportunity to win something.
"Do my laundry for the next month?" I offered.
"You know how much I despise laundry," she said.
"Take it or leave it, Moreno," I said.
She held out her hand for a binding handshake. "Deal."
After we shook, Grace took me on the grand tour of the attractions at this year's Moreno Family Field Day. First was a game of corn hole; next to it was a Slip 'N Slide and a rope for tug-of-war. One of the newer additions was a life-size chess board for a round of wizard's chess, spearheaded by Grace's little brother, Leo. For once in my life, I was grateful for Dad forcing Ashley and me to learn to play and go to chess club all those years ago. I was going to rock this wizard chess like it was nobody's business.
This excerpt ends on page 18 of the hardcover edition.