Perfect Chemistry

By: Simone Elkeles

CHAPTER 1 Brittany

Everyone knows I'm perfect. My life is perfect. My clothes are perfect. Even my family is perfect. And although it's a complete lie, I've worked my butt off to keep up the appearance that I have it al . The truth, if it were to come out, would destroy my entire picture-perfect image.

Standing in front of my bathroom mirror while music blares from my speakers, I wipe away the third crooked line I've drawn beneath my eye. My hands are shaking, damn it.

Starting senior year of high school and seeing my boyfriend after a summer apart shouldn't be so nerve-racking, but I've gotten off to a disastrous start. First, my curling iron sent up smoke signals and died. Then the button on my favorite shirt popped off. Now, my eyeliner decides it has a mind of its own. If I had any choice in the matter, I'd stay in my comfy bed and eat warm chocolate chip cookies al day.

"Brit, come down," I faintly hear my mom yel ing from the foyer.

My first instinct is to ignore her, but that never gets me anything but arguments, headaches, and more yel ing.

"I'l be there in a sec," I cal down, hoping I can get this eyeliner to go on straight and be done with it.

Final y getting it right, I toss the eyeliner tube on the counter, double and triple check myself in the mirror, turn off my stereo, and hurry down the hal way.

My mom is standing at the bottom of our grand staircase, scanning my outfit. I straighten. I know, I know. I'm eighteen and shouldn't care what my mom thinks. But you haven't lived in the El is house. My mom has anxiety. Not the kind easily control ed with little blue pil s. And when my mom is stressed, everyone living with her suffers. I think that's why my dad goes to work before she gets up in the morning, so he doesn't have to deal with, wel , her.

"Hate the pants, love the belt," Mom says, pointing her index finger at each item. "And that noise you cal music was giving me a headache. Thank goodness it's off."

"Good morning to you, too, Mother," I say before walking down the stairs and giving her a peck on the cheek. The smel of my mom's strong perfume stings my nostrils the closer I get. She already looks like a mil ion bucks in her Ralph Lauren Blue Label tennis dress. No one can point a finger and criticize her outfit, that's for sure.

"I bought your favorite muffin for the first day of school," Mom

"I bought your favorite muffin for the first day of school," Mom says, pul ing out a bag from behind her back.

"No, thanks," I say, looking around for my sister. "Where's Shel ey?"

"In the kitchen."

"Is her new caretaker here yet?"

"Her name is Baghda, and no. She's coming in an hour."

"Did you tel her wool irritates Shel ey's skin? And that she pul s hair?" She's always let it be known in her nonverbal cues she gets irritated by the feeling of wool on her skin.

Pul ing hair is her new thing, and it has caused a few disasters. Disasters in my house are about as pretty as a car wreck, so avoiding them is crucial.

"Yes. And yes. I gave your sister an earful this morning, Brittany. If she keeps acting up, we'l find ourselves out of another caretaker."

I walk into the kitchen, not wanting to hear my mother go on and on about her theories of why Shel ey lashes out. Shel ey is sitting at the table in her wheelchair, busily eating her special y blended food because, even at the age of twenty, my sister doesn't have the ability to chew and swal ow like people without her physical limitations. As usual, the food has found its way onto her chin, lips, and cheeks.

"Hey, Shel -bel ," I say, leaning over her and wiping her face with a napkin. "It's the first day of school. Wish me luck."

Shel ey holds jerky arms out and gives me a lopsided smile.

I love that smile.

"You want to give me a hug?" I ask her, knowing she does.

The doctors always tel us the more interaction Shel ey gets, the better off she'l be.

Shel ey nods. I fold myself in her arms, careful to keep her hands away from my hair. When I straighten, my mom gasps. It sounds to me like a referee's whistle, halting my life. "Brit, you can't go to school like that."

"Like what?"

She shakes her head and sighs in frustration. "Look at your shirt."

Glancing down, I see a large wet spot on the front of my white Calvin Klein shirt. Oops. Shel ey's drool. One look at my sister's drawn face tel s me what she can't easily put into words. Shelley is sorry. Shelley didn't mean to mess up my outfit.