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Busted Bubblegum

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Meet Natalie Ashman, the world's most boring teenager. Her life is more than she signed up for. When Natalie is stressed, she chews on bubblegum or forces herself to purge. Natalie will soon learn there's more to life than hurting herself and others. When Natalie reunited with her childhood crush, Collin Abernathy, her world gets turned around as she begins to see the world through his eyes. With her friends and family supporting her will Natalie be able to overcome her anorexia or will it consume her like it did before? Will Natalie learn to trust herself? Or will she continue to struggle with her inner voice?

Chapter 1 Shoplifting

"Natalie, are you sleeping again? Get up, lazybones!"

What the hell is Selah doing outside my bedroom? How embarrassing...

"No, Selah... I'm awake," I say.

Hi, I'm Natalie... The world's most boring fifteen-year-old. While other fifteen-year-olds know who they are. I'm over here, playing it safe. Well, most of the time.

I'm the most boring in my social group. I can't play sports very well. I was blessed with my mother's two left feet. When I get nervous or scared, I chew gum. I've been chewing gum a lot lately. My dentist hates me for it.

"Stop chewing gum, Natalie. You're going to ruin your jaw," I can hear my dentist say.

To that, I say, whatever. I've been clenching my jaw a lot, thank you very much. My friends all know that when I pull out a piece of gum, it's time to ask me what my problem is.

I have a boyfriend named Chad Jefferson. We've been best friends since as far back as I can remember. My older sister, Samantha, thinks he's bad news. Maybe he is... maybe he isn't. Or maybe I'm the bad news.

I have a nasty habit of shoplifting. I can't help it. I did it once and didn't get caught. It only got easier to lift candy, shoes, and jewelry. No one relates to me except Selah.

Selah Moore, my best friend, with her perfect grades, flawless black hair, and olive skin. She was born in Venice, Italy. Her mom's Italian, and her dad's American. It must be nice to look like that.

Everyone adores her. She doesn't notice. Perhaps none of us can see ourselves. Maybe I'm not as flawed as I think I am. Maybe I'm okay. Is there more to life than being okay? Not sure...

"Nat, get your lazy self out of bed, now," Selah barks.

"Selah, I'm perfectly happy sulking..."

The truth is, I'm quite sure Chad dumped me in a text message. Not sure I can tell her that.

"No, you are not. You are no fun like this. It's going to be summer soon. Do you know if you can come to Italy with me? My parents need to know soon," Selah says.

"Ummm, I believe yes. I have my passport. I see no reason why I can't go. I'm excited to go to Venice and sit in one of those fancy boats and make out with a European hottie," I say.

"What about Chad?"

I decide to hand her the phone.

CHAD: Nat, we need to talk... soon.

"He's going to dump me. And I don't blame him. I'm boring..." I trail off.

"Would you stop? No, you are not," Selah declares.

"Selah, I'm on a bowling team. Oh yeah, loads of fun," I talk back.

"Screw you, Nat. You also snowboard, play piano, paint, sing, and horseback ride," Selah reminds me.

"We both know I'm not athletic. I would hardly call my snowboarding skills legendary. And I horseback ride at my aunt's because I give lessons. It's a part-time job," I say.

"Whatever, Nat. You're talented, and you don't even see it. And don't be so modest about snowboarding. You got 5th place last season."

"Selah, I didn't win," I hiss.

"You were a freshman. The others were upperclassmen. Good grief. If you're boring, then I'm a slice of toast. Now stop sulking, and let's go shopping," she says, pulling me off my ugly pink mattress.

I've had this bed cover since the 6th grade. It's a reminder that I will never be cool enough to grow up. I look at myself in the mirror and stick my tongue out.

"What are you twelve?" Selah asks.

"I don't like what I see. I'm fat," I say.

Selah and I play this game, where she will tell me why I am not fat. And I won't believe her.

I look in the mirror and see a balloon—a pear-shaped version of my sister. My sister, Sammy, could be a model. She's my half-sister. Her dad is Korean, and she looks more like him than our mom.

Her dad and our mom were married for a decade before he decided he liked his second family better. They got divorced. And shortly afterward, mom met my dad, Jacob Gonzalez. My dad is Chilean. I look more like my mom.

My mom, Maryanne, or Mary for short, is a white woman. She always had a thing for dating other ethnic groups. I think it has something to do with her upbringing.

She's a military kid. She lived everywhere and grew up with no white friends. I don't have the same last name as my dad. I have my mom's last name, Ashman. That's my story, the story of Natalie Ashman. The most boring fifteen-year-old this world has ever birthed.

"Natalie, oh my gosh, you're not fat. Stop saying that," she says, flipping me off and rolling her eyes into the back of her head.

I don't argue. We don't agree, and I shut my trap. I'm over it, all. She will never see me the way I do. I know she listens to me, which is more than my wayward family.

My dad is my favorite parent. He comes to all my events, singing, bowling, snowboarding, whatever. My mom always goes to Sammy's events. They always divide and conquer. And since Jacob isn't Sammy's biological father, choosing me and my events made the most sense. Everybody wins. I've always had one parent at every event, and it's been nice.

Sammy and my dad are close. She even calls him dad. She hasn't seen her biological dad since she was 3, and she is 18 now. She doesn't even want to look for him. And she doesn't want to meet the other family he created behind her and mom's back.

My dad took Sammy and me to all the father-daughter dances. He danced with both of us. Sammy always loved that about him. That he considered her his own. We aren't perfect, but we're family.

"Natalie, let's go for the last time. The mall is waiting," Selah says.

"Selah, can't we shop online today? I'm not feeling it."

"No, we are going to actual stores. We are trying on real clothes, and you are going to like it," Selah says.

I get in her dad's car. She has her license, and I don't. I'm almost 16, but I don't even care about driving. The idea of someone's life in my hands freaks me out. I'm waiting until I'm 30. We have arrived at our useless dead mall.

She drags me to every store—sixteen clothing items to make me look like a pumpkin, oh goodie. I must pretend that I'm having fun for Selah. Selah needs a friend right now.

Selah takes selfie after selfie. I'm in every picture. Her Instagram account has millions of photos of our shopping spree. I pull out a piece of gum and bite hard.

"Nat, don't chew gum now. How can this stress you out?" Selah asks.

"I don't feel pretty in anything," I bark. When did I become this unlikeable girl?

"Oh, my goodness, Nat. You are gorgeous. Just try something on. And look at all the comments on our photos. See, you're killing it," Selah brags.

I look at her phone and see comments ranging from "hot" to "model girl." I don't believe any of them. They don't see what I see. And I know I see me, more than they do.

I look over at the sunglass display. The colors invite me in, tempting me with their various shades. The five-finger discount tempts me. I pull off the price tag and slip my favorite cheetah style shades into my purse.

I've shoplifted from this store too many times, and no one ever notices. I grab a pink pair of shades for Selah when she isn't looking. She doesn't know I shoplift. Chad taught me how, and here I am, still doing it on my own time.

Shoplifting is bad, and I know that. But I don't want to pay for things. I'm not rich, but why can't I have nice things too?

"Are you going to pay for that?" The cashier asks me.

"Pay for what?" I ask.

"The sunglasses? I know you slipped them into your purse," the cashier says, raising an eyebrow.

I hand them to her, both pairs.

"Shoplifting is a crime, you know," the cashier says, breaking the silence that has passed between us.

"What's shoplifting?" I ask, playing dense.

"Kids these uneducated. Shoplifting is stealing, theft, robbery. I'm sure you have heard of those. Taking what isn't yours. So, unless you are buying these, then they aren't yours. If I ever catch you stealing again, I will have to report you," the cashier warns.

I hand her a twenty and tell her to keep the change. I wish I felt guilty or uncomfortable, but I don't. I want to punch this chick for telling me off.

"Thanks for being honest, kid. Have a good day," the cashier says.

"What was that about?" Selah asks, chasing after me.

"Nothing, just telling me not to shoplift," I say.

Sh*t, I didn't want Selah to know.

"Shoplift? You did what now," Selah barks.

"It's not a big deal."

"Yes, it is. You can go to jail. I'm quite sure," Selah yells.

"Actually, it is a big deal. Miss, I need you to come with me," a cop says, interrupting our conversation.

"Why?" I ask.

"Don't play smart with me, young lady. I just want to talk," the cop says.

I follow him and sit down in the food court.

"Miss, how old are you?" The cop asks.

"I'm fifteen," I say.

"And what is your name?" He asks, taking notes.

"Natalie Ashman," I say.

"Natalie Ashman, tell you what I am going to do. I am going to let you off with a warning. If I hear about your shoplifting ever again, you will be banished from the mall. Are we clear? And if you ever find yourself in trouble, feel free to contact me. I am officer Drake Barnes," he finishes.

"Thanks, officer," I say, not knowing what else to say.

He hands me his business card. Maybe I really should hold onto this in case I ever get into trouble.

"Officer, are you going to tell my parents?" I ask.

"Not today, Miss Ashman. Not today. You have been warned," Officer Barnes says as he walks away.

Selah walks up to me.

"That was so cool and badass. You just got off the hook from a cop. That's one for the history books," Selah says.

"Please don't put this on Instagram. I don't need my family knowing."

"Oh, right. I won't hit the post button then," Selah says.

Why does her whole life have to be online? I love social media, but Selah takes it to a new level. She is trying to be a famous model. She hopes her Instagram will be a portfolio for her future modeling career.

I'm glad I got off the hook with a warning. I can't afford to get into trouble. But d*mn, am I stressed out. I take out a new piece of gum and chew the hell out of it. Chomp...chomp...chomp. I feel stress. I spit out the gum.

"Selah, have any e-cigs? I'm stressed," I say.

We head to her car. She hands me an e-cigarette. I light it and feel it hit my lungs. I only smoke once in a blue moon. It calms my nerves even more than chewing gum. And today, I almost got caught shoplifting. Well, Mr. Vape, I deserve you right now.

Chapter 2 Better Days

I stop vaping and pull out a piece of mint gum. I'm nervous my mom will find out. Chomp... chomp...chomp. I can hear my teeth grinding in my ears.

"Selah, please don't tell anyone about my shoplifting today," I say before we part ways.

"Yeah, no worries. I deleted your cop lecture photos anyway-all but one. I had to keep one for the hell of it," Selah smirks.

"Delete ALL of them. I don't want anyone to know about my issue. Especially Sammy. Like I need a sister lecture," I roll my eyes.

"Nat, just tell me why you do it. Why do you shoplift?" Selah asks.

"Well, one, it's easy. I haven't been caught yet. And number two, I'm not telling you about number two," I say.

The truth is I've been shoplifting more than the things I want. I've been lifting canned goods, bread, and milk. I drop them off at Chad's house. His dad just lost his job. And money is tight. S


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