At a thrift store in Georgetown, Carmen buys a pair of blue jeans. Soft and worn in all the right places, they have had a happy life. They are here because life changes, sometimes painfully, but generally for the best. That is the “Way of the Pants.” Carmen pays $3.49 for them and does not even try them on; she simply feels the need to purchase something, and there they are. When she gets home, she puts the pants in the back of her closet and forgets about them until the afternoon before the four girls are preparing to separate for the summer.
These four girls have been together since before birth. Their mothers took an aerobics class designed especially for pregnant women. The girls were born within seventeen days of each other, and the entire group spent some time together for several years. Although the mothers did not maintain their relationships, the girls are “everything to one another,” especially during the summer. Bridget is a natural athlete, Lena is the beautiful one, Tibby is the nonconformist, and Carmen is the angry one. They love each other, and the pants are symbolic of their determination to remain friends no matter what happens to them or around them. This is the story of how the Traveling Pants came to be.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Carmen is packing as Tibby, Lena, and Bridget watch. She is leaving in the morning for South Carolina, and they are all sad at their impending separation. Three of them will be leaving soon; only Tibby will stay behind to spend her summer alone in her drudgery, working for minimum wage at Wallman’s drug store in Bethesda. Tibby suggests Carmen can make her feel better by giving her the pants she got at the secondhand store. They have never looked too appealing to Carmen, but now that someone else is showing some interest they look a little better. Tibby slips them on and the other girls are stunned: she is a slender, shapely girl, which she generally hides under her oversized, shapeless clothes. The jeans fit her perfectly. When the gorgeous Lena tries them on, they hug her figure in a totally different but equally stunning way. Next is Bridget. The jeans fit her perfectly, too, even though she is much taller than the other girls are. They are Carmen’s jeans, and she goes next but has some trepidation that her rear end and thighs, inherited from the Puerto Rican side of her family, will not suit the jeans. Perhaps they will not even fit. Instead, the girls are speechless at the sight. They all agree that these are magic pants.
To celebrate their discovery of the magic Pants as well as their last night together before their first summer apart, the girls break into Gilda’s aerobics studio (which they started doing once a year for the past three years), the place where their mothers met while pregnant with them. They spread junk food on a blanket, put on bad pop music, light candles, and settle on the floor around the jeans in the center of the blanket.
They make a pact that the magic Pants now belong to each of them equally and will be the thing that keeps them together when they are apart. As they write the pact of the Sisterhood (which Tibby films for posterity), they fuss a bit over the rules. They settle on ten rules ranging from “sincere to silly”: The Pants must never be washed, double-cuffed, or worn with a tucked-in shirt. The girls can take the Pants off in a boy’s presence, but no boy is allowed to touch them. No nose-picking or feeling as if they are fat is allowed while wearing the Pants, and their time in the Pants must be documented before sending them on to the next sister. On the left leg, each girl must write the most exciting place they have been in the Pants; on the right leg, each girl must document the most important thing that happened to them while wearing the Pants. Pants equal love: love the Pants, the Sisterhood, and yourself. The girls determine the Pants should be passed on whenever the temporary holder feels the time is right, but it should generally take no longer than a week. Lena will take them with her to Greece first, which is an adventurous beginning for such a Sisterhood. Tibby will get them next (to alleviate her depression at being stuck at home), followed by Carmen and Bridget; then they will reverse the order.
Tibby’s summer is off to a very discouraging start as she rides her bike to work wearing her polyester work smock. She is mortified when Tucker, the hottest boy in her class, recognizes her. She decides to record her summer in what she calls a “suckumentary,” documenting the awfulness of her job and her life. On her first day of work she creates an elaborate antiperspirant display and gets in trouble for walking out of the store with a partial roll of tape (used to make the display) in her smock and losing her employee discount.
Bridget, on the other hand, is attending a soccer camp in stunningly beautiful Baja California and spends her first night sleeping on the beach with a few potential new friends. The next day the girls are separated into six teams for the duration of the camp, and Bridget is stunned at the sight of one of the coaches. Eric is beautiful and a college soccer player; she suspects he is probably not immune to her gorgeous, long, blond hair. Unfortunately, there is a nonfraternization rule at the camp.
Carmen is excited and anxious about spending the entire summer with her father. He usually comes to visit her at Christmas, so she is a bit apprehensive about living in his bachelor apartment. When her father meets her at the airport, Carmen immediately feels that all is well. They talk as they always do; he calls her “sweetheart” and “bun,” and she knows it is going to be a wonderful summer. Then she sees he has traded his Saab for a station wagon and has moved into a suburban Victorian house—with his blond fiancée and her two blond teenage children. He did not tell her these things because he wanted to tell her in person, and Carmen is stunned and hurt. “I’m a guest in the guest room of a family that will never be mine.”
Lena and her younger sister Effie arrive at their grandparents’ home on a small, volcanic island in Greece called Caldera. She is not immediately comfortable with her grandparents but she adores the beauty of her surroundings. Her grandparents owned a restaurant for years and are hosting a dinner for neighbors and friends to welcome their granddaughters to their home. Lena puts on the Pants with some trepidation, for she knows this is the beginning of their journey. As she arrives downstairs, Effie is cooking and grandmother is beaming. Lena knows Effie is the sociable one, the one everyone likes; Lena is wary because of people in her life who only like her because she is beautiful. She usually tries to hide her beauty behind a plain and ordinary wardrobe and is not particularly good at casual conversation. Grandmother announces that she has invited a “nice” boy to dinner that night, and she is anxious that Lena make a good impression on Kostos. As promised, Kostos is a nice young man. He will be going to university in London in the fall and is an extraordinary soccer player—and incredibly handsome. Lena deflects Kostos to pay attention to Effie and finds a quiet place outside to eat. Kostos finds her and asks if she wants to take a walk. She says no, for she has had experiences with boys attracted only to her beauty and wants no more of it. He walks slowly down the street to his home, and she is sad that he asked her out; she might have liked him otherwise.
Wallman’s is killing Tibby slowly and painfully. As she is restocking items in personal hygiene, Tibby hears a crash and a thunk; when she turns around she sees that a girl, probably ten years old, has fallen into the deodorant display and hit her head on the linoleum floor. After telling a coworker to dial 911, Tibby goes back to the girl and waits for the EMTs to arrive, checking the girl’s wallet so she can contact her parents. Tibby asks to ride along in the ambulance, thinking she would like someone to hold her hand if it were her. When she arrives back at Wallman’s, Tibby is in trouble; she missed too much of her shift and will not get paid for her time away. She sees the girl’s wallet (her name is Bailey) and rides to her house to return it to her. Bailey’s mother answers the door and sends Tibby up to see her daughter. The girl is actually twelve and has an attitude; when Tibby goes back downstairs, the mother tells her that Bailey has leukemia. This changes Tibby’s antagonism to sadness, and she soon leaves Bailey’s house. The image of the fallen girl continues to haunt her, and the next day Bailey shows up at Wallman’s to give Tibby another opportunity not to be such a jerk, she says. They arrive at some kind of sarcastic truce and go for ice cream. Tibby shares her ideas for the movie she is planning to make, and Bailey makes fun of the rather artificial Tucker, on whom Tibby obviously has a crush. Despite the age difference, the two have much in common.
When Carmen joins the family for her first meal in her father’s new home, she feels out of place. The table is elaborately set and they hold hands to say grace, which feels very different from the burger and game of pool her father usually shares with her on their first night together. Krista is about the same age as Carmen and tries to start a conversation; Carmen responds either in monosyllables or in anger. The older son, Paul, says nothing. Soon she has to leave the table and asks to call her mother. Her mother asks whether Carmen is mad at her father or at the strangers. Carmen knows she should be happy for her dad, but she cannot bring herself to like them—and “she hated herself for hating them.” After several days of pouting, Carmen agrees to attend a party with the two teens; her dad is hopeful she will have fun, but she does not. Her only moment of fun is making Paul’s girlfriend momentarily jealous.
Bridget asks one of her campmates to trade teams with her so she can have Eric as her coach, but that is not allowed. He leads a group run every day, and today Bridget hurries to join the pack. It is a strenuous run even for a strong natural runner, but Bridget is determined. She introduces herself to Eric. Early in their conversation, Bridget tells him her mother died four years ago. She has never been comfortable speaking of it, but it seems right to tell it now. Bridget sprints ahead of the pack and Eric keeps up with her. They fall into the sand in exhaustion, but soon Bridget invites him to swim and enters the water. Eric follows, and their flirtation begins. One night Bridget suggests the girls go to the nearby Hotel Hacienda. Though it is against camp rules, three of them decide to go. It is an evening of hot, sweaty salsa dancing, and Bridget eventually dances with Eric. When she gets a bit too close, he tells her they cannot do this.
Lena eats breakfast in silence with her grandfather because they do not share a common language, then she heads to town to do some painting. She puts on the Pants and gathers her supplies; just as she is leaving, Kostos arrives at the door to deliver some fresh pastries from his grandmother. Her grandmother starts matchmaking again, inviting Lena and Kostos to sit down to eat one of the treats. They each make an excuse but leave the house together. Lena asks Kostos which way he is heading, and she promptly tells him she is going the opposite direction. He seems hurt by her obvious attempt to brush him off. In the next days, Kostos walks by the house five or six times, obviously hoping to see Lena. Lena only has one more day with the Pants before she has to send them off to Tibby, and she has decided to be adventurous so she will not disappoint the Sisterhood or the Pants. She goes to a deserted spot to paint and is mesmerized by the beauty of the olive grove around her. It is stiflingly hot, and she hesitantly strips off her clothes and cools off in the refreshing water of the pond, a move totally unlike her. Lena is embarrassed even though there is no one in sight, but the water feels heavenly. She is perfectly content—until she hears a rustling and scrambles out of the water and toward her pile of discarded clothing. As she does, Kostos comes out of the brush and simply stares at her nakedness. She screams at him as she tries to cover herself, and finally he walks away muttering in Greek. In her rush to get dressed, Lena is quite disheveled when she arrives back at her grandmother’s. When asked what happened, Lena sputters furiously that Kostos is not a nice boy! Unfortunately, this statement is misconstrued and soon Lena’s grandfather is storming down the street, demanding to see Kostos. Both grandfathers are acting protective, and when Lena’s grandfather is not allowed access to Kostos he hits Kostos’s grandfather. Kostos steps between them to prevent any further fighting.
Carmen’s relationship with her father is strained because of her jealousy and anger toward her father’s new family, and she wishes she did not feel this way. Bit by bit, her anger dissipates as she sees the members of this new family as individuals rather than as the collective enemy, though she is tired of the incessant wedding talk that is consuming her father and soon-to-be stepmother. Her dad has to cancel a tennis date with her to address a wedding crisis. Paul offers to play with her even though he is a soccer player with no aptitude for tennis. She beats him soundly. That night Carmen is drawn to Krista’s geometry homework sitting on the table and soon discovers she has completed every problem. Paul notices, but the next morning when accused of doing it, he does not implicate his future stepsister. When it is time to try on her bridesmaid dress for a fitting, Carmen is mortified first because of how it looks and then because it does not fit. The seamstress is rude, adding humiliation to Carmen’s own disdain of her curvaceous figure. She walks out of the room, hurling insults behind her. Paul meets her in the hallway and says she antagonizes people; Carmen does not believe him.
It is Bridget’s first soccer scrimmage at camp, and she is determined to impress Eric. The goal of this scrimmage, according to Bridget’s coach, is to practice passing; when Bridget plays like a one-person team, she is yanked from the game and chastised for being a selfish player. When she goes with Eric on a run later in the day, it is clear he does not approve of her showboating. When she admits she was trying to impress him, Eric tells her again they cannot become involved because of the rules of the camp. Bridget says it is a rule she does not care about, but Eric is adamant that he wants to keep his job. That does not stop Bridget, who is recklessly single-minded when she wants something. That night she wants Eric, and she goes to his cabin. He wakes when he sees her and they go outside. While he is clearly attracted to her, he asks her to promise not to do this again. She...