Authors: Lisi Harrison
“I’ve been calling you guys.” Claire tried to sound concerned instead of lonely and desperate.
“You and every other worldwide wastoid who saw us on YouTube,” Amandy hissed, keeping her back to Claire.
The image of Todd getting bludgeoned by a laptop popped into Claire’s mind. “I had
to do with that!” she insisted. “Pinky swear!”
Claire held out her baby finger, but SAS looked at it like it had just mined her left nostril.
Sari curled her lip. “We don’t
Claire took back her pinky but refused to give up. “I worked extra hours to make enough money to get your dresses dry cleaned.” She popped open her white Isaac Mizrahi for Target clutch and pulled out three ten-dollar bills.
“We got new ones,” Sarah said flatly. “The manager of Dress Barn saw the YouTube video and felt sorry for us. She gave them to us for free so long as we mention the store if we win the pageant.”
“Or decide to post another video on YouTube,” Sari added with an “as if” eye-roll.
“That’s great.” Claire smiled more than she had to. “Still. You should take the money anyway and—”
“Claire Lyons? What are
doing over here?” asked a squat, jolly woman in a tone usually reserved for toddlers. Her black hair was blow-dried into a perfect bob, with the edges curled toward her rounded jaw. She was holding a copy of
Dial L for Loser
on DVD, consulting the photo of Claire to make sure it was really her.
“Yeah.”Amandy smirked. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the back?”
Sarah and Sari giggled into their costume jewelry–ringed fingers.
“No, dear.” The woman hooked her plump fingers around Claire’s thin arm. “You’re not entitled to register at all.”
SAS smirked, and flashes of blue, pink, and orange glitter reflected off their smug faces.
Claire’s cheeks burned. She could feel everyone staring at her. Did the whole town know what she and Todd had done? Was she being disqualified before she even signed up? Was Dr. Phil waiting for her outside?
“My name is Lorna Crowley Brown. I’m the pageant coordinator. And we would like you to be our local celebrity judge.” She smiled, and Claire noticed a smudge of peach lipstick streaked across her front tooth. “We sent a formal request to your estate in Westchester. We assumed you had other engagements when you didn’t respond. I have calls out to some up-and-coming twins from Clearwater, but we’d much rather have
hissed Amandy. “Her movie was a flop.”
This was getting dirty.
“It closed after two weeks,” Sari added.
“And was nicknamed
Dial S for Snoozer
,” Sarah snickered.
Some of the girls in line giggled.
“You’re making that up!” Claire stomped her foot.
“Well, it’s been the number one rental over at Blockbuster on Golden Avenue for five weeks in a row,” Lorna put in.
A few of the contestants began clapping their support. Claire smiled her thanks.
?” Amandy tried to silence the crowd. “Our YouTube video is way more popular!”
“Please say you’ll do it.” Lorna steepled her palms together in prayer, ignoring Amandy. “We would be
Claire faced the giant glitter check and bit her lower lip. It tasted like key lime pie–flavored gloss and confusion.
“Oh, and we offer a stipend,” Lorna said with an encouraging eyebrow wiggle.
“A what?” Claire mumbled, just in case everyone else knew what that meant.
“A payment,” Lorna mumbled back. She leaned toward Claire and lowered her voice. “Five hundred dollars.”
“Really?” Claire’s teeth started to chatter with excitement. It might not buy her a Westchester wardrobe, but five hundred dollars was certainly enough for a pair of jeans and
from the seventh floor of Barneys.
Claire turned to look at the hundreds of bright smiles urging her to accept this honor . . . three of which suddenly belonged to SAS.
Saturday, August 8 2:59 P.M.
From the curb, the Lyonses’ house seemed peaceful, like it was enjoying a few moments to itself. Todd was blowing up baby pools for the neighbor’s kiddie swim party. Judi and Jay were out running a “quick errand,” which was code for, “We’re at Dipper Dan’s picking up a peanut butter ice cream cake to celebrate the big news,” a sweet but somewhat tired family tradition.
Claire had been out riding her bike around the neighborhood to try to burn off her sadness as if it were a big slice of fattening cream pie and she was Massie. But “Lucky,” the old Britney Spears hit, had been on a constant loop in her head since Lorna had asked her to be a judge. And that made her feel worse.
She’s so lucky. She’s a star. But she cry cry cries in her lonely heart. . . .
The song was about a famous actress who had everything a girl could ever want—except true companionship.
Granted, Claire was several Oscars away from “Lucky” status, but she could completely relate to the star’s feeling of isolation. Being appointed a Miss Kiss judge was one of the biggest honors of her life, and she had no friends to celebrate with. She couldn’t even brag to the Pretty Committee. To them, local pageants were about as glamorous as a McDonald’s Playland. Unfortunately, this had struck her only
she agreed to be interviewed by the local news and four radio stations, one of which was FM. Hopefully the Blocks’ satellite dish was down.
Claire coasted up the smooth black tar driveway and side-jumped off her pink and black bike. Despite an earlier triple-pit swipe of Secret Vanilla Chai, her dress was starting to smell like melting plastic.
For one billionth of a second she considered calling Cam with the news. Then, remembering how pointless that would be, she opted for Layne. She would send a link to the pageant’s site with a message that said—
SAS jumped out from behind the blooming yellow rosebush by the front door.
“Ahhhhhh!” Claire slapped her hand against her heart, which was now pounding like someone trapped in a meat locker. “What are you guys doing here?” Her eyebrows shifted, shuffling through different emotions like a slot machine. Would they settle on surprise? Shock? Scorn? Finally, after seeing her smiling friends with errant leaves on their shoulders and thorny twigs stuck in their hair (Sarah!), Claire’s expression landed on Pure Delight.
“Omigosh! We heard you on Kiss FM. It was so amazing and weird and awesome to hear your voice coming out the radio, which got me to wondering just exactly how that works, I mean I know there’s this whole thing with waves and satellites but what does that really mean?” Sari reached into the inside square pocket of her pink cutoff sweat shorts and pinched out a few shelled BBQ sunflower seeds. “You want?”
“Sure.” Claire smiled at Sari’s signature word-vomit and opened her palm. Four warm seeds and a dusting of reddish brown seasoning landed softly inside, just like a peace offering should. She slapped them into her mouth. “Yummy.”
“Here.” Sarah held out her half-empty can of Dr. Thunder—the Dr Pepper rip-off that tasted almost exactly the same.
The lip of the can glistened with mint-flavored lip gloss, but Claire pretended not to mind one bit.
“Gummy?” Amandy shoved a crumpled white paper bag under Claire’s chin.
“B’s?” Claire asked, peering inside.
“They’re lips,” Amandy clarified. “Special edition in honor of the pageant. Every girl who qualified got a bag.”
Claire helped herself to three.
“We already finished ours and ehmigosh, they were
good.” Sari licked her thin lips.
?” Claire gushed with genuine enthusiasm. “You made it?”
“Yup!” Sarah busted out a spastic reverse shoulder-roll finger snap. “All of us!”
“While you were doing your interview for Disney radio, your best friends made it!”
So SACS were best friends again?
It was obvious times twenty that SAS was sucking up to her because she was a judge. But it didn’t matter. She’d thought she had lost them forever. This was her way back in.
“Listen, you guys,” Claire said, putting her key in the lock. Her Coach-logo key chain (thanks, Massie!) knocked against the door. “I’m so sorry. I promise I won’t act EW ever—”
“Lyons estate?” called the fuzzy UPS delivery guy with a snicker.
SACS turned around to find him pant-wheeling another giant wardrobe box up the driveway.
Claire felt her entire body redden.
“Looks like”—he consulted his black clipboard—“Maysee Flock is moving in.”
Six eyeballs seared the left side of Claire’s cheek.
“It’s Mah-sseeee Block. And she’s
moving in,” she corrected, for SAS’s sake. And hers. Then she scribble-signed her name beside the
, just like she had earlier on the official Miss Kiss welcome letter from the three pageant judges. Her fat, swirling script had looked funny between the sharp points of Vonda Tillman’s signature (editor of the
Kissimmee Daily News
) and the wormy line of Mayor Reggie Hammond’s. “Would you mind taking them upstairs? The room with the Hello Kitty stickers on the door.”
“Butler’s day off?” he cracked.
Claire smiled innocently at her friends, pretending she didn’t hear him.
all about?” Sari asked, lifting her pointy chin to the thin man in brown shorts wrestling with a box a head taller than he was.
“Um, it’s a surprise.” Claire rocked back on the heels of her gold Michael Kors sandals, or
-me-downs, as Massie called them. Then she shook her head. Would she ever be able to rid the alpha from her mind? Or would all thoughts lead back to her? It was like that old song she’d sung in kinder-garten about the cat that kept coming back even though everyone thought he was a goner.
But how could she possibly focus on anything else when boxes of designer clothes were being overnighted to her doorstep? Was it Massie’s way of telling Claire how much she missed her? Or letting her know she won’t tolerate EW-fits in the eighth grade?
More than anything Claire wanted ten minutes to text the alpha and get some answers. But that would have to wait. Right now she had a bedroom filled with designer clothes and her three oldest friends standing by.
And both needed some serious attention.
Saturday, August 8 3:36 P.M.
“On the count of three, everyone push it to the bed.” Claire pressed her palms against the wardrobe box, right next to the big purple letters that said,
HANDLE W/CARE OR U WILL B SUED
“Ready? One . . . two . . . threeeeee.”
SAS added their hands to the box and the girls grunt-shoved the six-foot package across the white shag rug. It reminded Claire of last winter in Westchester when her dad had struggled for almost an hour to dislodge their Ford Taurus from a snowbank in the Bagel Paradise parking lot. She and Todd had stood outside in the cold, rubbing their hands together and cheering him on. Their words had come out in gray puffs, like they were smoke-breathing dragons.
The sudden memory surprised Claire. Now that she was tanned, barefoot, and swaddled in humidity, icy images like those should have been stored away until fall. But once again the scent of Chanel No. 19 was seeping through the corrugated crate and, like invisible ropes, dragging her back up the coast. It reminded Claire that leaving was entirely different than getting away.
She shook her head, focusing on the task at hand. When the box was in position, the girls climbed up on Claire’s grass green bedspread and started attacking the seams.
“Use your nails!” Sari urged Sarah as she pounded the thick layers of clear packing tape.
“No way! I just painted them.” Sarah wiggled her short, opalescent fingertips. They shimmered pink or pearly white, depending on their angle.
“I’ve got it.” Claire plucked a pushpin from her daisy-covered headboard. The backward-facing photo of Cam seesawed to the floor. She stepped on it as she walked back over to SAS.
Now you know how I feel.
Using the pin, she poked at the packing tape until it tore into thin ribbons. SAS hungrily tore into the box of clothes.
“These are amazing!”
“Look at this blue thang!”
Claire smiled while her friends dug through stacks of silk and margarine-soft cotton, trying to convince herself that she didn’t mind the invasion one bit. But a tiny part of her would have preferred to be alone when the package arrived. Not because she didn’t want to share, but because it would have been nice if she’d had the chance to take the more expensive pieces out. To protect them, of course.
“Why did she do this?” Amandy asked, her fists practically choking Chloé, Marc, and Calvin.
“Did you have to pay for them? Because if you did, I bet it’s going to cost a lot. Not a lot like a-few-weeks’allowance a lot. More like quit-school-and-work-full-time-for-your-brother a lot,” Sari said, her upper body half in the box like a rat inside a boa constrictor.
“Do you get to keep them?” Sarah swayed back and forth with an electric blue pair of jeans. She accidentally knocked her hip on the corner of Claire’s desk. “Owie!”
Normally everyone would have cracked up, even Sarah. But clothes were being tossed around the room like confetti. There was no time for distractions.
Claire watched the silk storm and wondered how to respond to their questions. The truth was that she wanted answers even more than they did. All she knew for sure was that since the box’s arrival almost ten minutes ago, SAS hadn’t once mentioned iced tea bombs, Westchester, or the Pretty Committee. The clothes were bringing friends and families together in ways that Santa only dreamed of.
“Massie sent this stuff for
of us,” Claire fibbed. “You know, for Miss Kiss. She thinks its awesome you got in and she wanted to say congratulations.”
“Beats flowers,” Sarah said, gathering clothes off the floor.