MAMMOTH went through a lot of revisions early on; to keep the story rolling, I had to let go of a lot of info on Natalie’s background and her relationship with Aunt Judy. Below is a flashback to the end of Natalie’s eighth-grade year, part of Chapter 3 from my original 2014 draft. If you’ve ever wanted to know a little more about Judy, or how Natalie’s “be awesome” transformation began, this deleted scene is for you. (Remember, this is from an early draft that hadn’t seen much editing.)
Trigger warning: Brief mention of Natalie’s mother putting her on a diet.
Mom didn’t exactly get along with her tattooed, pierced baby sister. We didn’t see Aunt Judy very often – usually just at Christmas, when she invariably showed up looking fantastically rockabilly. The year I was in eighth grade, she wore dark denim capris fitted perfectly to her curves, black peep-toe pumps, a black blouse embroidered with tiny cherries, and a bright red flower in her wavy hair. The year before it was a sleeveless red blouse that tied at the nape of her neck paired with a black pencil skirt, her hair swept up in victory rolls. Carved bone spirals hung from her stretched earlobes, and she showed off an old-school heart tattoo she’d gotten on her wrist a few weeks earlier.
Mom took in these ensembles with a subtly raised eyebrow, but I was fascinated. How did Aunt Judy do it? How did she know what went with what?
We weren’t close, but I knew she designed clothing for her own indie fashion label. If I truly wanted to learn about style, she seemed like the obvious place to start.
A week after getting my braces off, I found Aunt Judy’s email address in Mom’s address book. Then, sitting on my bed with my legs crossed and my laptop in front of me, I signed into my email account and wrote a message.
Dear Aunt Judy,
Hi, this is your niece Nat, Diane and Rich’s daughter. I know you don’t know me very well, but I’m trying to change my look a little before I start high school in August and I don’t know where to start. Mom keeps buying me jeans with pleats in them and I’m starting to think maybe that’s not such a good idea. I always like your clothes when I see you at Christmas. Could you maybe help me?
She replied a few hours later, while I was practicing (and failing miserably) with liquid eyeliner.
You goose. You don’t need to introduce yourself like you’re some stranger. Of course I’ll help you. I’d love to. How about I pick you up this evening? We can get coffee and talk.
P.S. Tell your mom NO MORE PLEATED PANTS EVER. For christ’s sake. I think that might border on child abuse.
At a little before eight that evening, Aunt Judy pulled up in her red Mustang. I let Mom know I was going – she gave me a weird look but didn’t say anything – and hurried outside before I could rethink anything.
Ignoring the clenching blip of insecurity in my gut, I hopped into the passenger seat. “Your car is nice,” I said, touching the spotless dashboard.
“She’s a 1966, fully restored,” Aunt Judy said with a red-lipped grin. “Listen to this.” When she touched the center of the steering wheel, instead of beeping, the car whinnied like a horse. “Part of a special optional accessory pack. I’m working on getting the rest. Eventually my baby will have a polished wood steering wheel and door handles shaped like pistol grips.”
“Wow.” I wasn’t entirely sure what she was talking about, but the sparkle in her voice made it sound impressive.
“So,” she went on, pulling out of the driveway much faster than Mom or Dad ever did, “you drink coffee?”
“Yes?” I said, uncertain because I didn’t actually drink coffee at all.
She picked up on my tone. “You can always get tea or cocoa or something instead.”
“So are we going to Starbucks?” I asked, trying to sound smooth and older than fourteen. “There’s one at the mall.”
“Hell no. I know a much better place.”
We headed downtown. The setting sun lasered through the windshield, bright and blinding as a flame. Aunt Judy wore a pair of cat’s-eye sunglasses with dark lenses. Trying not to stare too openly, I studied what I could see of the rest of her ensemble. Her hair – dark still, but now with streaks of red throughout – was anchored in place by a black headscarf with a white skull print. Multiple piercings laced the cartilage of her right ear; the bottom lobe piercing was stretched at least a centimeter wide and fitted with a glass plug. She wore a white sleeveless collared blouse that buttoned down the front and tied off at the bottom, and black capris that hugged her legs perfectly. Her outfit left several tattoos visible – a cartoonish sleeve of hearts and fish encircling her upper arm, a skull surrounded by flames on her calf, a tiny star behind her ear. I felt wide and slouchy in comparison in my tapered jeans and plain blue t-shirt.
“So . . . It’s good to see you,” Aunt Judy said after a moment.
“Yeah, you too.” I burrowed for anything else to say and came up blank.
“How’s the fam?”
“They’re good. Ryan’s starting Florida Coastal in the fall. Dylan’s going to soccer camp next week.”
“Awesome. And your mom?”
Mom was still a few months away from losing her job. “She’s fine. She wants us to go on a diet again this summer.”
Aunt Judy glanced at me over the top of her sunglasses, cocking one severely arched brow. “Do you want to go on a diet?”
I wanted to say I’d been on a diet ever since Fred Parkmore christened me Fat Nat, and it hadn’t done me any good so far. “I don’t know. I guess. Maybe?” No.
Downtown, she pulled into a slanted curbside parking spot in front of a grungy bar.
“So where’s the coffee shop?” I peered down the street. I didn’t come downtown often; Dad didn’t like the parking, and Mom said it was the most dangerous section of Lakewood.
“This is it, babe.” She flashed me another brilliant red grin and perched her sunglasses on top of her head.
I looked at the building in front of us again. “Aunt Judy? That’s a bar.”
“Combination bar and coffee house. This, my darling and mysterious niece, is Metro, one of my very favorite hangouts.”
“I’m fourteen,” I reminded her.
“Fourteen-year-olds are allowed in coffee shops.”
“But not always in bars.”
“So we won’t sit at the bar,” she said, chuckling. “Come on.”
Metro was a long, thin venue with a bar stretching most of the way along the left wall and a number of booths to the right. The front windows were half-covered in beat-up blinds that no longer looked functional. It was dim inside, and hazy from cigarette smoke. Neon beer signs glowed over the bar, casting a strange splash of color and shadow over the patrons seated there. Most of the stools were taken, and most of the booths held customers lost in the illumination of laptops and e-readers. More people milled around between, greeting each other, hugging, socializing.
Aunt Judy led me through the herd to an open booth. “Over here. You can hold a table while I get us something to drink. What’ll it be? Hot chocolate?”
“It’s summer.” Hot chocolate was something Mom reserved for winter.
“No law against cocoa in the summer, babe. Okay, how about a smoothie? My favorite’s mango.”
I nodded and squeezed into the booth.
She went to the bar, saying hi to three or four people along the way. One guy kissed her on the cheek and looked at her pleadingly; she just laughed and shook her head at him.
“Who was that?” I asked when she came back with our drinks – steaming black coffee for her, a large plastic cup filled with what looked like pale orange milkshake for me. It had a generous dollop of whipped cream on top that I wanted to lick off.
“Who?” She glanced over at the crowd.
“The guy who kissed you.” My cheeks warmed, but I doubted my blush was visible in the dim light. I cooled off with a sip of smoothie – creamy-silky like ice cream, but bright and sweet with mango flavor.
“Oh, him? That’s just Larry. We went out once or twice a long time ago. He’s always asking me out again, and there’s no way. But I don’t like to be mean, so I’m trying to let him down easy. I tell him to ask me again next week. Sooner or later he’ll figure it out.”
“How long have you been doing that?”
“Oh . . .” She paused for a moment, counting in her head. “Eight months? Nine? He’s more determined than I thought.”
I thought of how the boys at school dared each other to ask me out; the memory slumped my shoulders.
“So, babe, talk to me.” Aunt Judy blew on her steaming coffee. “You want wardrobe help?”
“Yeah.” Sitting across from her stylishness made me embarrassed for myself.
“You’re going to have to give me a little more than that to go on.” She crooked her finger as if she could physically draw the truth out of me.
I put down the smoothie and gestured toward myself. “I don’t want to be this anymore.”
“You don’t want to be what?”
“Well, Nat, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re always going to be yourself, no matter how hard you try to change that.”
The sharp simplicity of her words speared me in the gut. I stared at her and bit my lip.
“The trick,” she went on, “is figuring out exactly who that self is. I think that’s where you’re trying to go with this.”
I perked up and sipped my smoothie again, waiting for more of her insight.
“And I’m guessing this,” she said, gesturing toward me, “is not who you really are. At all. This is your mother. Am I right?”
“Yes!” I said, loud enough for a scruffy guy in a beanie cap to glance over from the next booth down.
“What do you want to be?” Aunt Judy asked.
“When I grow up?” I wasn’t sure what paleontology could possibly have to do with this.
“No, sillypants. Right now.”
“I want to be like you.” The words spilled out before I could catch and corral them. My face flushed again.
She just smiled. “But would that be you? Your true self can’t be a copy of anyone else. It has to be you. See what I’m saying?”
I didn’t see at all. I opened my mouth, but this time no words tumbled out.
“Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a little inspiration here and there,” she said. “You have to try things out. See how they feel. I can totally see you rocking something a little retro. Not necessarily my style. Something softer. Something to accentuate your curves.”
My face grew even hotter. My curves?
“Yeah,” she went on, narrowing her eyes as she studied me. “Shirtwaist dresses. You’d look fabulous in those. Cute heels – nothing too high at first, not until you get used to them. Headbands and scarves. I can see you working this in all kinds of ways.”
“Really? Could you help me with all that?”
She nodded. “Of course. And then your mom will kill me.”
“She’s never liked any of this,” she said, tugging at the collar of her shirt. “She thinks I dress like a clown. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“My dear sister doesn’t understand fashion. Passion. Style. That’s yet another wonderful reason for me to help you find yours.”
“My style? I don’t have one.”
“Oh, honey. You do. We just have to unearth it. It’s buried under a pile of pleated jeans.”
Unearth? Now she was speaking my language. “Teach me, o wise one,” I said, giggling a little.
“Aha! See?” Delighted, she pointed at me. “I just spotted a little attitude shining through. You let your sense of humor peek out. More of that, girl! More!”
But my mind went blank again. I had no idea what she wanted.
“We’ll work on it,” she chuckled. “In the meantime, how late can I keep you out?”
“I don’t know.”
She raised a brow. “Well, what’s your curfew?”
“I don’t have one.” I’d never needed one.
“You really are sheltered, aren’t you?”
“Text your mom and ask,” she said, gulping the last of her coffee. “What I have in mind will take at least an hour. More like two, probably, and there’s the drive back and forth, too. But it’s summer and you don’t have to get up early tomorrow, right? So it shouldn’t be a problem.”
I was already typing in the message. “Where are we going?” I asked after hitting send.
“My workroom,” she said with a wicked grin. “I want to sketch up a few things for you.”