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BOOK: siobhan vivian - not that kind of girl
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"Believe me, I definitely plan on exploiting that I'm friends with a senior! All the other freshman girls are going to die of jealousy." I knew that wouldn't actually be true, but hearing Spencer say it made me feel pretty good as I hustled across the hallway to avoid being trampled by our entire football team. Connor Hughes, all tall and lean with his wavy brown hair grazing the collar of his white button-up, led the charge of boys down the hall. He held a playbook in his hands and the rest of his teammates orbited him, peering inside. Autumn closed my notebook and handed it back to me. "I don't know where you get your courage, Natalie. I couldn't say anything like that to a stranger." I lifted my eyebrows. "That was no stranger." I told Autumn the story, and she glanced across the hallway. "So wait. Were you too busy catching up with Spencer that you forgot to tell her about her underwear?" I turned and saw Spencer bent over again, her butt back on display for everyone. The eyes of the passing football players flitted to the left, as if Spencer's ass gave off a high-pitched noise at a frequency that only boys could detect. One of the guys, Mike Domski, snatched the binder out from Connor's hands and flapped it furiously toward Spencer's rear end, trying to make a strong enough breeze so her skirt would flutter up even higher. The rest of the team fell all over each other in a fit of laughter. A sour feeling rippled across my stomach. Spencer spun around and pressed up against her locker, a look of pretend embarrassment, feigned modesty, painted on her face. The same one I'd fallen for a moment ago. "Looks like Spencer's grown up to be quite a lady," Autumn said. She meant it as a joke, I think. Except neither of us laughed. CHAPTER TWO I left extra, extra early the next morning, and picked up two egg sandwiches and two Oranginas from the bagel shop on Main Street. It was the first official day of student council elections, and I wanted to get my posters hung up before anyone else, claim the best wall real estate. When I got to Autumn's house, I beeped my car horn along with the song snippet played in between NPR news stories. Across the street, an old lady in a flowered nightgown stared me down from behind her screen door. I mouthed an embarrassed apology. Autumn finally appeared, darting across her lawn in bare feet. Her black flats were perched on top of the books clutched in her hands, a pair of wrinkled cream-colored knee socks slung over her shoulder. My campaign posters were tucked under her arm. "Careful you don't bend them!" I called. I could tell Autumn hadn't bothered to shower that morning, preferring instead to sleep an extra twenty minutes. I had always been an early riser, but Autumn loved to sleep, so I'd make sure to always have a book underneath my pillow whenever we had sleepovers. Lately, I only read SAT prep guides, but that's how I devoured the entire Goosebumps series during middle school--next to my snoring best friend. Autumn crouched down to the open passenger window and tipped her books forward, causing her shoes to fall onto the seat. She brightened when she saw the white paper bag. "Ooh! Breakfast!" "Your reward for getting up early to help me." "I don't need a reward," she said, throwing her books in the backseat and then gently laying my posters on top. "After all, I'm your unofficial campaign manager." "I wish you'd be my official vice president," I said under my breath. Autumn sighed as she dropped into the passenger seat and clicked her seat belt into the latch with way more force than necessary. "Natalie. You have to let this go." I'd posed the idea countless times during the summer and as recently as this weekend, when we'd stayed up until three in the morning painting campaign posters. I'd painted one poster with both of our names on it, but Autumn just complained that I'd wasted a perfectly good piece of oak tag. "Good ideas are hard to let go," I said. She took a big bite of sandwich and got some ketchup on her face. I handed her a napkin. "Look," she said, in between chews. "It means a lot to me that you think I could actually do something like this. But it's not like I need to be vice president to help with all your projects. I'll still be at every student council meeting, just like I've been the last three years." "It's not about you showing up to meetings. It's about you living up to your full potential, Autumn. You always say that you're more of a behind- the-scenes person. But that's not true. It's just a convenient excuse not to be noticed. College admissions counselors don't just want to know that you've participated in extracurricular activities. They want to see leadership skills. That you can take charge of something." Autumn opened her Orangina and chugged down about five huge gulps. A tiny part of me thought she might be considering it. Then she changed the subject, asking, "What were some of those funny slogans we came up with? I was trying to remember them this morning." I couldn't force my best friend to run for student council. I knew she had to want it for herself. But that didn't make it any less frustrating. For the rest of the ride to school, we tried to remember the corny slogans that made us laugh so hard this weekend. Like Vote For Natalie-- She'll Do Things Nattily! Except without being sugar-drunk on Dr Pepper and cookie dough, they weren't really funny at all. Ours was the first car in the student parking lot. Ross Academy looked beautiful, the sun rising behind the fieldstone walls, sparking off the dew on the thick lawn. I was so taken with the beauty of our school that it wasn't until I'd gotten halfway up the path when I noticed that every single window had been covered over with white paper. "That's weird," I said. "Looks like Kevin Stroop's seriously stepping up his game," Autumn said. "I guess." Kevin Stroop was last year's treasurer and, as far as I knew, the only person running against me for president. I'd been counting on an easy campaign, mainly because I was last year's vice president, but also because Kevin had made a stupid accounting error that had nearly left us bankrupt. We'd had to enforce a strict one-slice-per-person rule at the end-of-the-year pizza party, which no one had been happy about. I pulled open the main door and hundreds of pieces of paper fluttered with the fall breeze I'd invited in. They weren't just taped to the windows. Our entire school had been wallpapered--the bathroom doors, bulletin boards, every locker, and the trophy case. An empty plastic tape dispenser crunched beneath my loafer as I stepped forward. Several dozen others were discarded on the floor, down the length of the hallway. I knew Kevin didn't have the chops to pull off a stunt this big. I pulled a single sheet from the spout of a water fountain. It was a piece of photocopied notebook paper, with a bunch of flaming footballs drawn on it, and a cartoon version of Mike Domski, smoking a cigar and flanked by two busty bikini girls. Unfortunately, this drawing was no sick fantasy. Mike Domski actually got girls to like him. Sure, he was a football player, and, yeah, he hung out with the popular kids. But the guy was a total scumbag, preying on girls too stupid to know better. There seemed to be a sad learning curve on that sort of thing.

Underneath his drawing, he'd actually written Domski 4 Prez. And he hadn't even bothered to rip the page out properly--the bottom left corner was missing and he had proudly photocopied the jagged paper fringe. "Mike Domski," I said aloud. "You're kidding." Autumn grabbed the flyer and made a face. "Ew. Why's Mike Domski running for student council?" I actually had to think about it. "Maybe to help his college applications? Or just to be an ass." That was really all the reason someone like Mike would need. "I'm going to take so much satisfaction in watching you annihilate him." Autumn searched a nearby wall. "What are we going to do with all your posters? He's left no room to hang them up. This can't be legal! Do you want me to try and find Ms. Bee?" "Don't worry," I said. And then I taped my biggest poster right over a bunch of Mike Domski's stupid cartoon grins.

By lunch, Mike's posters had begun to disappear. I wondered if Ms. Bee had gotten word that he'd charmed the school secretary for use of her copier and deemed them against election rules. But no. Kids had been ripping them down on purpose. I watched a line of guys in the cafeteria ask Mike to autograph them, because they'd be "worth something" someday. Which basically made me want to puke. Over the rest of the week, I did my best to ignore Mike Domski. It wasn't hard. He wasn't in any AP classes, and we certainly didn't have any friends in common. Still, even from afar, watching him ham up his whole candidacy drove me crazy. The way he'd strut around making ridiculous decrees in old English that started with henceforth and ended with evermore, and demanded that people address him as Prez. But I stayed calm and collected, even when Mike took direct aim at me. It really didn't bother me all that much. Probably because I was one of a rare few at Ross Academy to see guys like Mike for who they really were--power-drunk meatheads who'd do anything to get a laugh. High school was the best Mike Domski's life would ever get. You could see his entire depressing future written on his dopey face. He'd get into some mediocre college, fall in love with a pregnant stripper, lose all his money to a get-rich-quick internet scheme. I might have even felt bad for Mike Domski, if he hadn't been acting like such a jerk. But Autumn hated watching Mike make fun of me, and no matter how stupid his insults were, it ate away at her. Like this one time in the cafeteria, when Mike stood underneath one of the banners we'd painted together, flashing two thumbs-up and screaming something about me having wicked bubble letter skills. Autumn's cheeks blushed the most awful shade of purpley red, the same as the undercooked steak on her tray. She kept her eyes locked on that steak, pushing a gristly piece back and forth with a plastic fork that was about to snap in her death grip. And then, without warning, she shot straight up, bumping our table so hard my soda splashed on my lab worksheet. "Leave her alone," she said, overenunciating each word in as stern a voice as someone as sweet as Autumn could muster. I looked up at her with a half-smile, shocked that she'd had the guts to say anything. She was shaking, the tiniest quivers. My heart broke, knowing what a good friend I had in Autumn. If that was hard for anyone to do, it was hardest for her. Mike reacted like Autumn had suddenly appeared out of thin air, with phony surprise and awe. He strutted over to our table, sniffing the air like a bloodhound tracking a scent, and stopped right in front of her. "Hey, Fish Sticks! I didn't smell you there!" Those words sucked the air out of the entire cafeteria. I couldn't move. I couldn't look at Autumn. I just listened through the silence for her next to me, praying that she remembered to breathe. I had always wondered when the rest of the school would figure out that joke wasn't funny anymore. Or maybe it was something closer to hope. Hope that, with each passing year, people would forget. But in that moment, I finally understood that would never happen. Someone would say it at our twentieth reunion, and Autumn would have to explain it to her husband. Fish Sticks would get a cheap laugh, somewhere, for the rest of our lives. It was too easy. Too mean. And I found it piercingly unfair that someone like Mike Domski would never comprehend how much those two words destroyed my beautiful best friend. Anger rose up inside me like lava. I reached for the closest object and hurled it at Mike. That turned out to be my slice of pizza, and it hit him square in the chest, leaving a triangle stain of oil and sauce and hot pepper flakes behind on his shirt before it fell with a splat on his brown suede shoes. "Oops," I said in my most unsorry voice. A bunch of people gasped, and I even got a few laughs. Mike curled his lip. "Damn. You know what? I threw out the student council handbook Ms. Bee gave me. But I'm sure I saw a whole section about election rules and the kinds of stunts that could disqualify a candidate. Tell you what, Natalie--I'll double-check if she has an extra copy and let you know." I rolled my eyes as Mike stalked off. But really, inside, I panicked. Had I ruined everything, just to defend Autumn's honor? Had I handed the entire election over, the thing I'd been dreaming about and working toward for the last three years, to Mike Domski? Tears welled up in Autumn's eyes. "Come on," I said, stuffing our things into my book bag. I didn't want her to humiliate herself even more. "Let's go to the library." "I'm so sorry, Natalie," she whispered. "I hope I didn't get you in trouble. I'll die if you get disqualified!" Autumn moved too slow, so I grabbed her hand and pulled her along. "You didn't have to defend me like that," I muttered. If she could have just ignored Mike like I did, this wouldn't have happened. She shook her head. "That's what best friends do for each other," she said with resolve. Autumn wiped her eyes with one hand, and with the other, she squeezed mine tight, the way I'd always squeezed hers. CHAPTER THREE I am not an every cloud has a silver lining type of person, but one undeniably good thing did come out of the original Fish Sticks debacle: It saved my friendship with Autumn. Autumn and I had met forever ago at the pool. We were six, and our moms had signed us both up for swimming lessons. Autumn had gone to Ross Academy since kindergarten, but I went to public school, so I'd never seen her before. I noticed her right away. Her blond hair was light like the underside of a lemon peel, and it hung all the way to her waist. I liked the way it floated through the water, and watched with utter fascination as it turned green from the chlorine over the course of our lessons. But that's not why I really noticed her. It was because Autumn was the most spastic swimmer in the pool. She'd splash more than anyone else and always looked somewhat distressed. When the lifeguard made us partners, I groaned, because each lesson ended with a kickboard race and the winners got to pick a Jolly Rancher out of a big glass bowl in the pool office. I pretty much knew Autumn and I would never have a chance. We didn't, either. We never won a single Jolly Rancher. Even though I was probably the fastest kickboarder in the pool, I could never go fast enough to compensate for her.

I would've been mad...but Autumn was so nice. Once, I'd shared my towel when she'd forgotten hers, and she said thank you about a million times. And she was surprisingly silly, too. She taught me how to make a particular kind of fist, that when you squeezed, it would shoot a stream of water. Except those things didn't exactly make us friends, just girls who swam together. My parents both had extremely demanding jobs--Mom at her architecture firm, and Dad at his ophthalmology practice. Either one would show up at exactly five minutes to three, and I'd get put in the car, even before I'd had a chance to properly dry off. Autumn, on the other hand, would make plans to play with one girl or another as soon as she was out of the pool, like swim class was a warm-up for the fun she was about to have. It wasn't until the very last lesson, when the lifeguard let kids jump off the highest diving platform, that Autumn and I bonded for real. Autumn froze with terror, but I forced her up the ladder with me. Mainly because none of the other girls in class would do it, probably because they all wore two-pieces and a jump that big could easily make you lose your top. They hung near the shallow end and laughed as the boys leaped off and did ninja kicks or screamed like Tarzan. I wasn't scared, but it did feel like we were climbing forever. At the top, I laced our wrinkly fingers together and counted to three before jumping. Well, I jumped. Autumn sort of got pulled along with me, screaming the whole way down and getting water up her nose once we plunged in. She doggy-paddled out of the pool, coughing hard. I followed her, feeling terrible, and decided that I would sit out with her for the rest of the lesson. Instead, Autumn raced to the ladder. She kept jumping. On her own. Each time, she'd spring a little higher, a bit farther out. I loved watching her test herself. Autumn had real courage, buried deep down inside her. All she'd needed was a push from me. We announced ourselves as best friends when our moms arrived to pick us up that day. Autumn and I were definitely an odd couple. She would show up at my house in a skirt and sandals, even though I'd tell her I wanted to try to get the boys down the block to invite us to play Manhunt. She'd say I was the worst fingernail painter in history, and that she'd do a better job with her left hand than I'd do with my right. I wasn't a tomboy. Sure, I'd wear my cousin Noah's hand-me-downs, but sometimes I'd pick out a sundress, even if we weren't going to church or out to dinner. I had a collection of stuffed bears that lived in a nylon hammock strung over my bed and I cried like a baby the time Christopher Clark threw a garden snake he'd found behind his garage at me. But before Autumn, I really never had any friends who were girls. None lived on my street. Autumn was like fizzy water, light and bubbly. I always knew it, but when I transferred to Ross Academy for junior high, it really became clear. For the first time, I saw how effortlessly Autumn made friends, much more easily than I did. So many people would say hi to her in the halls. I remember feeling lucky that I had gotten in early. Lucky, and a little nervous. She'd get invited to sleepovers. She'd have girls wanting to sit next to her at lunch. Even though Autumn stuck by me, I could still feel her drifting away. Not intentionally, of course. But I think saying no to invitations and trying to score me pity invites had started to get a little old for both of us. Autumn explained I could be a know-it-all sometimes, only she said it in a much more polite and gentle way. I didn't deny it. My parents were both intellectual types, and that sort of thing permeated everything we did as a family. We had our kitchen radio always tuned in to NPR. We did brainteasers over dinner. We shared the Sunday paper. And family vacations were to science centers or fossil expeditions or historical monuments. Maybe it made me weird, but it definitely made me smarter than most people I knew. But smart didn't necessarily cut it in junior high. I had invited Autumn to come with my family to a laser show at the planetarium. Her face fell, and she explained that she'd accepted an invitation from Marci Cooperstein's family to visit their lake house for a week. I played it cool, but inside I steamed. Marci had been trying to edge in on my friendship with Autumn for months. Autumn had held Marci off, but I guess the promise of Jet Skis and barbeques and bunk beds were too much for her to resist. It was seven days of pure misery for me. I made my mom take me to the library about four different times, because all I did was sit in my room and read. By that time, the other kids on the block weren't friends, only boys to feel awkward around. I had no one else. When Autumn did come back, tanner than I'd ever seen her, she slept over four nights straight and gave me a friendship bracelet she'd made especially for me, courtesy of Marci's bead kit. She had used the nicest beads, too--lavender glass spheres alternating with iridescent stones shaped like tiny grains of rice. Every time Marci saw that bracelet, she seethed. I wore it until the string broke, and then I picked up all the beads I could find. I still have a few in my jewelry box. I guess that kind of competition should have prepared me for Chad, but it didn't. Guys were not a part of our equation. We didn't even talk about them. That probably sounds weird, but our friendship had this strange, timeless innocence about it. And though I knew I could compete with the Marci Coopersteins of the world, I was no match for Chad. Chad swept Autumn completely off her feet. Once I was at her house practicing a dialogue for our French project when Chad called and invited Autumn to meet him and some friends down near Liberty River. Autumn assumed I wouldn't want to go, but I told her I would. It made me happy, how excited she was to have me go with her. Excited, until she gently urged me to change into one of her sweaters and to try some of her berry lip gloss. I had a weird feeling when Autumn took my hand and we veered off the sidewalk into a thin patch of woods. We followed a worn stretch of dirt, littered with trash and a few cigarette butts. I was pretty disoriented even though I could hear the river, but Autumn walked like she was both Lewis and Clark. After a few twists and turns, we came upon a big boulder, perched over the silvery water. A bunch of guys sat on it, drinking beers and blowing smoke into the night sky. We were the only girls there. Looking back, I definitely overreacted. But older boys and beers and dark, dark woods were so far out of my realm of experience. After about ten minutes, I pretended to feel sick. Autumn knew I was faking, and let me walk home by myself. She only invited Marci Cooperstein after that. I thought I'd lost her. Then the Fish Sticks incident happened, and I was the one person who stood by her. To everyone else at school, she was tainted. The boys were grossed out by her, and even some girls were snooty and snotty and suddenly too good for her. Marci actually laughed a few times at the jokes other people made. Right in front of Autumn. I told Marci that she was pathetic. And then I happily picked up the slack. I walked in front of Autumn, or struck up a loud conversation about absolutely nothing, casting the best friend force field to distract her from the sniffers and the stinky faces. I think some people were afraid of me. I became known as the nerdy girl with the scary intensity who'd do anything to protect Fish Sticks. A couple of weeks later, Marci apologized to Autumn in a note she'd written during chorus. Autumn showed it to me. It was full of grammatical errors. Your right to be mad at me, Marci wrote. Idiot. I thought Autumn would write Marci back, but she crumpled up the note and flushed it down the toilet. I'd never been more proud of her. With my help, Autumn turned her negative into a positive. Together we channeled our energy into school-work. Autumn was never a great student, and that first semester of freshman year, she'd nearly failed out from the stress of everything that had happened. But I helped her come around. We'd take our lunch in the library and study or do homework together. I even got her involved with student council. Autumn still didn't do well enough to make it into AP classes, but she made regular honor roll, and so long as she didn't royally screw up her SATs, she'd have her pick of colleges. After Chad Rivington, Autumn never had another boyfriend. It saved her from a lot of needless heartbreak. And me, well, the whole thing just let me be a good best friend. Which was all I'd wanted to do in the first place. CHAPTER FOUR On Monday, I found one of my posters taped to the wall above my locker. The Friday before, it had hung near the main office, and my original pieces of masking tape were still stuck to the corners. The poster had a picture of me on it, holding a jacket in each hand during last year's winter coat drive. It read, Vote for Natalie, A Leader with Experience. Mike (obviously) had taken a marker and done some doodling at my expense. He had given me a moustache, drawn two enormous penises (one for each of my hands) and a bunch of question marks hovering over my head. He'd crossed out leader and written VIRGIN on top of it. And squeezed the word NO in before experience. The hallway was empty, but it wouldn't be for long. The classrooms were still locked from the weekend, so I couldn't grab a chair. After jumping up a few times in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to reach the poster, I headed straight for Ms. Bee's office, walking so fast that my kneesocks slid down my calves. I had expected Mike Domski to retaliate for Friday's pizza incident, of course. I knew he'd want to embarrass me like I'd embarrassed him. But his attack was worse than any grease stain. It was degrading. Ms. Bee sat at her desk, blowing through the cloud blossoming from the ceramic cup cradled in her hands. Even though she was in her early sixties, Ms. Bee was tan and fit and beautiful, in a loose black linen dress, a tangle of turquoise and red glass beads, and leather slides the color of honey. Her thick white hair curled off her forehead like the crest of an ocean wave and pooled at her shoulders. She had a stack of papers and folders before her. It took a few seconds, and a small fake cough, for her to notice me lingering outside. Ms. Bee looked up and said, "Natalie. Good. I wanted to talk with you today. Come in. And close the door behind you." I was too angry to sit, so I stood just inside her office with the doorknob pressing into my back. "Mike Domski defaced one of my posters." My voice quivered, and I sounded like a little baby. I hated that Mike could get under my skin so bad. "Are you sure it was him?" "Yes." I glanced at the clock above her head. If we didn't act fast, students would soon be arriving, looking at that poster, laughing at me. "You saw him do it?" "No." My face burned. "But I know it was Mike. And he wrote terrible things about me." I thought about telling her exactly what terrible things, only I was too mortified. "I see." Ms. Bee set her cup down. "Is it true you threw a slice of pizza at Mr. Domski last Friday?" My chin hit my chest. "Yes, I did." Each semester, I'd drive my guidance counselor crazy, shifting requirements around so I could take every single history class Ms. Bee taught, even her electives like Vietnam and the '60s, which were way harder than electives like ceramics, but incredibly interesting. She supplemented her lectures with personal photos, memorabilia, even reading from her own diary. I had always wanted to impress her. And now, thanks to Mike Domski, I'd done the opposite. She took off her glasses, an angular pair of black frames, and slid them into a silk pouch. "Despite the fact that you're upset, I must admit that I'm glad to hear about this poster issue. I was worried that I might have to discipline you, but since Mr. Domski has also chosen to take a less- than-dignified route in this campaign, these infractions can cancel each other out." She leaned back until her wooden chair creaked. "Can I give you a little friendly advice, one girl to another?" I nodded. "Boys like Mr. Domski are intimidated by powerful women, Natalie. The only way he can think to belittle you is for simply being a female. But you must remain as strong and poised as you have been the last three years of high school. You must not let him beat you in this election." A burst of energy flew through me. Ms. Bee was right. Mike could only resort to low blows because I out-matched him in every legitimate way. Ms. Bee pulled open a desk drawer and rooted around. "I wish I could say that you won't meet a million more Mike Domskis in the course of your lifetime, but I'm afraid that simply isn't true." She handed me a glossy pamphlet. "There's a leadership conference for young women in Boston during our spring break. It's going to address exactly these sorts of challenges. The woman who runs it was my roommate during my master's program, and I might be able to work out some kind of discount for you. Or at least the opportunity to network directly with some incredibly inspiring women at the very top of their fields. If you haven't already packed your bikinis for Cancun"--she grinned--"I think it could be a formative experience for you." "Thank you," I said. But really, those two words didn't even come close. I walked back to my locker with my head held high. The hallway was starting to get thick with students, the height of the morning rush. I found an empty trash can I could flip over and climb on, to be tall enough to rip the poster down. But I didn't need to. Someone had beaten me to it. CHAPTER FIVE On election day, I sat between Mike and Kevin in the front of the library. Kevin was a couple of inches away, but Mike was so painfully close that the arms of our chairs were touching. His left leg bounced up and down in a khaki blur, and the floorboards creaked sharp sounds that stabbed straight into my forehead. He did it on purpose, of course. Anything to rattle me. My pleated skirt crinkled up underneath my thighs, itching me like crazy, but I wouldn't move. Not an inch. I didn't want to risk touching Mike by accident. I didn't even want our uniforms to touch. What seemed like the entire school had gathered to hear the results. Connor Hughes sat in the front row, his tie loose around his neck, turning when someone behind him started chanting, "Dom-ski Dom-ski Dom-ski." A bunch of other voices joined in the chorus. The whole room got loud, and I suddenly had trouble swallowing the syrupy dissolve from my peppermint Life Saver. In a perfect world, this would be no contest. The most qualified candidate would win. But Mike Domski had a lot more friends than I did. A lot more. I quickly tried to prepare myself, in case things didn't go my

BOOK: siobhan vivian - not that kind of girl
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