Katie Ganshert is a wife, mother, writer, 5th grade teacher, and dog lover living in the heart of the Midwest. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner with Wordserve Literary and just signed her very first two-book contract with Waterbrook Multnomah. Both titles are contemporary romance, the first of which is scheduled to hit shelves in 2012. She is an active member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association, enjoys blogging, and reads voraciously. You can find her on the web at http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/.
Self-awareness hits Callie James like food poisoning. One minute she’s a girl with too-big sneakers and untied shoelaces. The next, she’ staring at eight reflections of her eleven-year-old self in the dressing room of JCPenney.
I’m not beautiful.
The thought sours her stomach. Callie looks over her shoulder at the sales associate, a kid with acne who swivels his head to check out Mom. How can a girl like Callie come out of a woman like that? All legs and natural blond hair that waves and shines, even without the sun. People look at her mom. Everywhere they go, they look. Most times, the men look twice. People don’t look at Callie—they look away from her. Or sometimes through her.
And why wouldn’t they?
She turns back to her reflection and tugs on a strand of limp, stringy hair—neither blonde nor brown, but that ugly shade in between—and tucks it behind her Dumbo ears. Freckles pockmark every inch of her face, like God thought if He added enough, maybe nobody would notice her pencil-thin lips and extra-bulgy forehead. Her gaze lingers on her teeth. At least if they were crooked, the dentist could fix them. But as far as she knows, not even the best dentist can make them shrink.
Mom sets her hand on Callie’s shoulder—her touch feathery and warm. “What do you think?”
Callie looks in the mirror. The sales associate might as well be drooling. Mom flips her hair over her shoulder and smiles. Not at the boy. She doesn’t notice him at all. But at Callie. Because she always smiles at Callie. The kind of smile that lights up her face, like maybe a light bulb hides behind her eyes. The canary yellow top that Callie liked so much hanging on the rack makes her freckles look extra orange, and the skin underneath extra pasty.
“I don’t really like it,” Callie says.
Mom comes behind her, both hands on her shoulders now, and studies her in the mirror. Callie feels . . . self-aware. And sick of looking at herself.
“Are you sure? You really seemed to like it earlier.”
Callie scratches at her belly button. “Maybe we should go home.”
“But I thought you wanted some new clothes for school.”
Her first day as a sixth grader. Junior High. A place where boys like the girls and girls like the boys and nobody likes her. Not ugly Callie James. Her stomach goes from sour to puckered—all twisty and scrunched like it sucked-on a lemon.
Mom feels her forehead. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I just don’t like shopping.” It doesn’t matter what she wears. Nothing will make her look like Mom. Nothing will make her look any less like Callie.
A line creases between Mom’s eyebrows. She steps over to the bench, sits on the edge of the cushion, and takes Callie’s hand. “What’s wrong, Callie-bug?”
Another mother-daughter duo steps in front of the mirror. The girl has thick, dark hair, olive skin, and wide eyes the color of midnight. She models the same top as Callie, only in light blue. She looks like a Spanish princess.
The kid with the acne clears his throat, his cheeks painted bright pink. “Can I get you something in a different size?” His voice cracks over the last word.
“No, we’re fine, thank you.” Mom smiles at him—but the light bulb doesn’t turn on—and she turns back to Callie, who wants to wiggle her hand away and leave, but she can’t because Mom’s staring at her with her forehead all scrunched together and her head cocked to one side. “You couldn’t wait to go shopping this morning, and now you look like somebody hit you with the sad stick.”
“More like the ugly stick,” Callie mumbles.
If Mom hears her, she doesn’t gasp. Or argue. Or tell Callie’s she’s crazy. She just stares—her forehead still scrunched, her head no longer cocked. Without letting go of Callie’s hand, without asking Callie to change into her old shirt, she stands and leads her out of the junior department. The sales boy holds up a finger, like he’s about to protest, but no words come out of his mouth. Mom marches her down the large square tiles. Past maternity. Past shoes. Past purses and perfume and men’s ties. She pulls her into the ladies room—empty and quiet—and makes her stand in front of a small mirror. Eight Callie’s no longer stare back at her. Just one. And she’s no prettier than the others. Callie looks down at her untied sneakers.
“Callie Anne James.” Mom says her name in a way that only Mom can. She puts her hands on either side of Callie’s cheeks and tilts her head up. Callie’s only choice is to look at her reflection or shut her eyes, and she’s pretty sure Mom will pry those open if she does.
“You are not ugly,” Mom says.
Callie’s throat gets tight. Mom says those four words with such assurance, such conviction, that a little piece of her heart flutters with hope. But then she sees her horse teeth again and the hope pinches.
Silly, Callie. Mom is just being Mom.
Mom smoothes her palm over Callie’s hair. “This hair—your hair—is perfect.”
Callie looks away. Her hair is not perfect. It’s limp and thin.
Mom tucks the strands behind her ears and runs her fingers over Callie’s ears. “Your ears, Callie, are perfect.”
“They stick out.”
Mom turns Callie around and hunches down so they are eye level. “But they are perfect.” She takes Callie’s chin in her hands and fans her thumbs across Callie’s forehead. “Your eyes are perfect. These lips that I kissed every morning when you were a baby. Oh, Callie, they are perfect.” Mom’s looking at her. Beautiful, beautiful Mom. And the light bulb behind her face is bright. So bright that Callie’s throat tightens even more.
“And these freckles. I love every single one. They are all perfect.”
The pinching is bigger now. So big it squeezes her entire heart.
“God made your hair, Callie. He put such care into the color of your skin, the shade of your eyes. He lovingly placed each one of your freckles. He formed you in my womb, baby girl.” Mom cups her hand over Callie’s chest, where the hope is growing so big that it squishes her lungs. “He made your heart beat. And He gave you to me.”
Callie blinks, and a tear rolls down her cheek.
Mom reaches up and catches it with her knuckle.
“God is perfect, and He made you. You are His masterpiece, Callie Anne James. Which means you are perfect too.”