Read an excerpt of SOME GIRLS DO by Jennifer Dugan
Stacking your romance TBR for the rest of this year? Make sure to add Some Girls Do to the top of your list! This YA contemporary queer romance from the author of Hot Dog Girl, follows an openly gay track star who falls for a closeted, bisexual teen beauty queen with a penchant for fixing up old cars.
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We’re lying on a giant fuzzy rug on her bedroom floor, face-to-face with our books and laptops—well, her laptop; I don’t actually have one—spread out between us, along with some papers and the rest of our packet, which is just about finished.
I have another pageant in a little while, one of those crappy mall ones where you just get dressed up and stand in a line. We’re supposed to look hot and hope maybe there’s a modeling contract in it for some of us—but there never is. Mom says it’s good “for experience.” If I could roll my eyes any harder, I would.
When Morgan heard I had one today, she offered to come to my house to study instead. She thought it would be easier than me carting all my stuff here, but I said no. She might live in a little apartment, but it’s a nice little apartment. Quiet and meticulously clean. And my place is rarely the former and never the latter. Especially not with both Chuck and my mom around.
“Okay, so I think we have everything we need to write our essays,” Morgan says, filling in the last answer. “Which means we officially need to figure out what we want to do for the presentation.”
I sigh. “Not looking forward to that part.”
“Seriously?” She bites the eraser on her pencil with an incredulous look.
“Wait, did you think I actually liked class presentations?” I crinkle my forehead. “Nobody likes them.”
“Well, not normal people, but I thought . . . I mean, you’re not . . .”
“I’m not what?” The implication that I’m not normal instantly raises my hackles.
“Not like everybody else,” she says.
“How?” I ask, my heart nose-diving into the dirt. Everybody else around here knows I’m trash; I guess it was just a matter of time before Morgan figured it out too.
“Oh, come on.” She sits up and kind of waves her hands in front of me like I should know what that means. “You’re . . . You do pageants and stuff. I saw you onstage; you’re a born entertainer! It was . . . You were amazing.”
I look away, blush creeping up my neck, my ears, my cheeks, and down to my toes from the sound of her voice. Because “amazing” is not a word used to describe me, and she keeps throwing it around like it’s no big deal.
“Thanks,” I mumble, sitting up quick. It suddenly feels a little warm in here, like we’re a little too close, with her soft eyes and her smile just a few inches away from mine. I scramble backward until I hit her nightstand, grabbing my notebook after and trying to make it seem deliberate.
She lets out a little laugh as she pulls out a fresh sheet of paper. “So, I think for the presentation—” The alarm on my phone cuts her off.
“I have to get ready. Sorry.” I can’t tell if she’s disappointed or relieved when I jump up and grab my bag. I can’t tell which one I am either.
“Can I watch you?” Morgan asks, padding after me toward the bathroom, and her question sounds so innocent but feels so heavy.
“Sure,” I say, like my heart isn’t pounding in my ears at the thought. She perches on the edge of the tub, watching me intently as I pull out my arsenal: my contouring tools, eye shadows, setting sprays, primers, blushes, lipsticks, lip liners, lip glosses, and everything else it takes to transform me from regular Ruby to Pageant RubyTM.
“Wow,” Morgan says, reading the back of a bottle of setting spray. “This looks intense.”
“Yeah, I guess it takes a lot to make a girl like me look presentable.” I mean it as a joke, but it clearly doesn’t land.
“No.” She frowns and sets the bottle of setting spray down. Her response hangs in the air, and I’m not sure how to respond.
Instead, I set to work laying the foundation and contouring myself until my cheekbones look sharp and my nose looks perfect, and then I fill in my eyebrows, change the color of my eyelids, and glue on fake eyelashes to boot.
Halfway through, I work up the nerve to ask Morgan why she likes to run so much. My question is met with a long silence.
“I sort of fell into it after my grandma died when I was eleven,” she says finally.
My brush stills. “That seems like a weird way to get into running.”
“We were very close.” Morgan shrugs. “She lived on the edge of this amazing preserve. She used to swear there were wolves, but I never saw one. We used to make little fairy houses together and then wander through the deer trails, hiding them. I was convinced the preserve was magical.”
“Cute,” I say, tilting my head back and forth in the mirror to make sure I’m blended well from every angle.
“It was, until my grandma died.”
“Right.” I forgot where we were going with this.
“After the funeral, I ran back to the preserve. Dylan chased me as far as he could until the woods ‘swallowed me up.’ His words, but that’s what it felt like. He never came with Gram and me on our walks, so he didn’t know the trails like I did. I was happy to get lost in there. I could pretend Gram was just around the corner or beyond the next fork. But of course, she wasn’t. I ran until I couldn’t anymore. And then I walked out exhausted, with my funeral clothes all muddy and sweaty. Dyl was lying in the grass waiting. He wasn’t mad or anything. He just said, ‘Come on, Usain, let’s get home.’ And that’s when I realized I was fast.”
“You definitely are that,” I say. Our eyes meet in the mirror, and she smiles like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and I smile back. Like it’s fine. Like I’m allowed too. I look away, messing with all my bottles and containers. “Do you still run in the woods?”
“For cross-country, yeah. Otherwise I stick to roads, unless I’m upset. Getting lost in the trees still calms me down, I guess.”
My eyes linger on hers for a second too long. On some level, I know I’m only here to do schoolwork, and that I’m doing my makeup the same way I’ve done it ten thousand times around ten thousand other girls—but I can’t shake the feeling that this is different somehow.
I lean closer to the mirror and put the tiniest dab of highlighter over the lipstick on my bottom lip, making it look extra plump and kissable. I’m playing it up; I am, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how she looked at the library, no matter how hard I try. I flick my eyes to hers, and her mouth pops open with a little huff, telegraphing her feelings loud and clear. She’s always, always so loud, even when she doesn’t mean to be. Especially when she doesn’t mean to be.
I revel in her expression, just a little bit, before shoving my highlighter back into my kit.
What am I doing?
This is just a group project, I remind myself. For school. That’s all it can be. She can pretend it doesn’t matter that she’s a girl who likes girls. She can act like it’s fine and normal. But that’s not how everyone sees it. Not how my mom sees it. Not how the judges see it. And yet looking at Morgan Matthews right now, and the way she just licked her lips, I almost want to—
“What are you thinking about?” she asks, and I desperately try to shove every thought of kissing her out of my head.
“Just . . .” I try to shake off the confusion that’s spinning spiderwebs in my head. What if I’ve been the fly and not the spider all along?
“Just . . . ?”
I look down, pretending to take an inventory of the mess I’ve made of her bathroom. And I haven’t even done my hair yet. “Just that I forgot the clips I use while curling my hair. You don’t happen to have any, do you?”
“I have, like, bobby pins, if that helps. But I don’t really have hair anymore, you know?” She angles her head and points to her pink pixie cut, which only serves to make her neck look extra delicate and touchable.
I’m so screwed.
I scrunch up my eyes and exhale, cutting off that line of thought. “No, like the big clips,” I say, when I’m finally back in the driver’s seat of my brain. “The ones they use at hair salons and stuff to section off your hair.”
“People actually own those?” Morgan asks, looking a little bit scandalized. “I thought that was strictly a salon thing. I don’t even know if Dyl has them at his shop. You’re saying this is, like, a common household good?”
“Maybe not common common, but yeah, people own them. A lot of people.” I laugh. “It makes it a hundred times easier to curl your hair when some of it’s out of the way.”
“If you just need it out of the way, then I could hold it, right? I’m happy to be your living, breathing hair clip.”
“Sure,” I say, even though everything inside me is screaming that this is a bad idea. I plug in my curler, waiting for it to heat up, and cordon off part of my hair. She steps up close, so close I can smell the spring-fresh dryer sheets on her clothes.
“Let me.” She sweeps the hair up from my neck, and I shiver from her touch—I can’t help it. In the mirror, I watch her fingers card through my hair, her eyes fixed on the little scar on my shoulder that I got from tripping at a pageant when I was six and hadn’t fully realized how slippery new tap shoes were yet.
Morgan looks up, and I look away, picking up my curling iron. It takes us a minute to get the rhythm right, but by the end, she’s anticipating my next curl before I am.
“Wow,” she breathes, when I’m finally done. And I think I want to live here, in the space of that “wow,” in that one little syllable she’s managed to stuff so full off adoration and joy.
But my phone’s seriously now, you have to go alarm screeches, bursting the little bubble we’ve made. I excuse myself and grab my dress off the hanger in her room. She follows me out, sitting on her bed while I disappear behind closed doors. I shimmy into my body shaper before taping and twisting myself into as much of an approximation of this industry’s “ideal female form” as possible.
“Morgan,” I call, pulling the bathroom door open. “Can you?” I gesture to my back, where the zipper is still undone, as if closing my dress isn’t something I’ve been able to do blindfolded and upside down since I was five.
I’m playing with fire here, and her hands are like gasoline.
I turn around when she comes closer, holding my breath as she slowly pulls the zipper up, one agonizing second at a time. A zing ripples down my spine, setting the baby hairs on my neck on edge as I imagine what would happen if I asked her to pull it the other way instead.
A heavy breath brushes against my neck as she finishes, and I lean back, just a little, into her touch.
“People keep telling me to stay away from you,” she says softly, and some of the warm, fuzzy feeling in my head clears.
“Right,” I say, putting space between us.
She tugs my hand gently, turning me until we’re face-to-face. “Do you think I should? Because I really don’t want to.”
I don’t want her to either, but what right do I have to say that?
I pull my hand back slowly, not sure how to answer. “I’m going to be late.”