Excerpt from Just Like Me, Only Better

Excerpt from Just Like Me, Only Better

Chapter One

I remember the exact moment when Haley Rush’s fame reached its tipping point. I was in the produce department of Ralph’s supermarket, desperately trying to concentrate on school lunches and the price of bananas, when all I could think about was my husband, Hank Czaplicki, who days earlier had announced — well, mentioned, really — that he had found the love of his life, and she wasn’t me. An image of Hank kissing Darcy DaCosta, a.k.a. “North Orange County’s #1 Realtor!*” flashed through my brain just a skinny prepubescent girl with blue braces and a high ponytail appeared at my side and blurted, “Can I have your autograph?”

Speechless, I stared at her, tears making my vision the slightest bit blurry, and shook my head with confusion.

“Kitty and the Katz is my favorite show!” she squeaked.

I blinked furiously, as if trying to hit the reset button in my brain, when, suddenly, I understood. There was that girl — what was her name? The one everyone said looked like me. The one who could sing. She’d been in a sitcom as a teenager, and now she had her own show on one of those kids’ cable networks. Bailey? Kayla? Something like that.

“I’m not who you think I am,” I told the girl with the blue braces, my voice tight from the force of withheld tears.

Her shiny smile faded, just a little bit.

“I’m not her,” I said, more forcefully this time.

Her smile dropped, her cheeks flushed pink, and her eyes clouded with disappointment. “Sorry,” she mumbled, skulking away to rejoin her mother by the bagged salads.

A few minutes later, I stood at the checkout line, clutching my cart for support, wondering what I had forgotten to buy. I’d gotten milk for Ben, bananas for Ben, Lunchables for Ben. If not for Ben, I would have crawled into bed and stayed there forever. My five-year-old son was the only thing standing between me and a complete breakdown.

When the woman at the checkout line looked at me funny, I thought that tears had smudged my mascara. But no: I hadn’t bothered with makeup since the day Hank walked out.

The checkout clerk pointed to the magazine display to my left. There was that actress on the cover of a glossy weekly — Haley Rush, that was her name. She was on a beach somewhere, wearing a ridiculously small white bikini, her skinny arms wrapped around the glimmering body of a sculpted young man. Above the picture, three-inch tall block letters read, “Haley & Brady: HOT!”

Below that, Haley’s self-satisfied face gazed at me from the cover of a fashion magazine. A third magazine cover showed her and the pretty boyfriend with the caption, “Haley Rush: all grown up and head-over-heels in love.”

I looked back at the checkout woman and shrugged.

“That Brady Ellis is pretty cute,” she said.

I nodded and tried, unsuccessfully, to smile.

“So … that’s not you?” she asked.

I looked back at the magazine covers and sighed. “Only in my dreams.”

*in December 1996

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