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Authors: Trudi Trueit

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BOOK: Stealing Popular
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With one swipe of my left forearm I erased the words on the beauty board. It was so easy. What had I expected—a snapping alligator to attack? Yeah, maybe. Grabbing the dry-erase pen dangling from a pink, coiled cord, I wrote the silliest thing I could think of on Dijon's board. I made sure to add lots of goofy
's and

Dijon would be the first to see it in the morning and quickly erase it (or, more likely, order Venice to do it for her). That was okay. Somebody—I mean, Nobody—needed to send a message to Her Fabulousness that we weren't afraid of her anymore. Except I hadn't signed my name, which, I suppose, sent a message that I

Why was it that even as one part of me stood up to her, another part of me always found a way to turn back into mist?


I placed the pink envelope flat on the center of the desk with her name facing up. On top of the envelope I balanced a trio of mango lollipops, with an orange ribbon tied around their sticks. It was a peace offering. A friendship offering. Adair loved lollipops. Mango was her favorite.

Hopping into my seat across the aisle from Adair's, I got out my leadership notebook and started skimming my notes. It was Friday—our last chance to give our project presentation. We could
screw it up. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that Renata's desk was empty. My stomach did a pretzel twist, but there was still five minutes until the first bell. Plenty of time.

Venice and Truffle came into class wearing their tiaras. Dijon wasn't with them. She wasn't at her desk,
either. Both girls took their seats, got out their phones, and began texting.

Opening my sketchbook, I pretended to make last-minute changes to the mural design when what I was really doing was keeping an eye on the door for Adair and Renata. A few seconds after the first bell rang, Adair appeared. When she saw the tepee of lollipops, she slowly scanned the room before cautiously sliding into her seat. Adair moved the lollipops to one side, like they were tiny bombs. She opened the envelope and gently slid out the card. On the front of the card was a photo of a cuddly, white kitten, surrounded by baskets brimming with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. When you opened the card, it said: “I sure am berry sorry.”

Sappy, I knew, but they didn't exactly have an I'm an Idiot section at Hallmark.

Beneath the printed words, I'd written:

Dear Adair,

I'm sorry I thought you told Dijon about our mural. You are one of my best friends, and I
never, ever, ever, EVER want that to change. Hope you like the lollipops!


Hot Coco

(Your favorite drink, remember?)

PS I've got a new tongue-twister for you. Try saying this one three times fast: Liezel licks lime lollipops!

When Adair lifted her eyes from the card, I was the first thing she saw. And those few seconds when I didn't know which way it was going to go, if her gaze would turn to stone or melt into forgiveness, was complete agony.

When, at last, her eyes crinkled, I was free to breathe.

“I'm sorry too,” she said softly, turning the bunch of lollipops over in her hand. “Thanks, Coco.”

Something lightly ricocheted off my spine. On the floor, by my foot, a Junior Mint was spinning to a stop.

“Guess who?” Adair tipped her head toward the back of the room.

When I turned, Breck was deeply studying something on the ceiling. He was also holding a Junior Mints box. Not exactly the brightest criminal in the eighth grade. Unless, of course, he wanted to get caught . . .

I was starting to sound like Adair.

The tardy bell rang.

“Coco!” Adair's voice was laced with panic. “Where's Renata?”

My head snapped around. Renata's seat was still empty. I felt the life drain from me. After our talk in the practice room, after her makeover at Fawn's house, after everything we had done to boost her self-esteem, it wasn't enough.

I laid my cheek against the cool, smooth desktop.

From my angle I had a clear view of Venice. She'd put her phone away. Now she was staring into a round mirror propped against her notebook, brushing black mascara onto her lashes. “Looks like you're one team member short, Cuckoo,” said Venice. “That's going to drop your grade for—”

My head still on my desk, I waited for her to finish. But Venice was a statue, her hand frozen in midstroke. I realized then the whole classroom had gone quiet. Very quiet. Horror-movie quiet.

Someone was touching my left shoulder. Adair, probably.

Lifting my head, I saw why the room had gone deathly still. Shock will do that to you—paralyze you. And things at Big Mess didn't get any more shocking than this.

Raccoon eyes bulging, Venice gasped. “Is that—?”

“Renata Piñata?” finished Truffle.

Wearing Fawn's pale-green peasant top with bell sleeves, a short mossy-green suede skirt with matching tights, and dark-brown leather boots, Renata Zickelfoos glided down our row. Shiny, reddish-brown hair fell to her shoulders, held back by a dainty mother-of-pearl barrette. Her forehead was softened by a fringe of wispy bangs.
bangs. I sat up to my full height. Renata's face glowed—quite a feat given she was walking beneath the row of fluorescent lights that always flickered.

“She looks beautiful,” said Adair.

“She looks like the forest,” I said.

Already the seaweed hair, enormous sleeves, and wool scarf were fading from my head. The only physical remnant of the old Renata was her red plastic glasses. I was glad she'd kept them. Not that she'd had much choice. The girl still had to see. But I hoped she wasn't
in too much of a rush to replace them with new frames. The two red rectangles were a reminder that all we'd really done was a bit of hocus-pocus. It was Renata who was changing—from the inside out.

When Renata saw me, her glistening pink lips turned up and a tiny dimple appeared on each side of her mouth. Honey eyes filled with pride looked into mine. As Renata passed my desk, I felt a breeze. It felt cool and fresh and wonderful.

Parker Silberhagen let out a whistle from the back of the class, and the spell was broken. Almost everyone, except the Somebodies, rushed Renata, to talk to her and touch her and be sure she was, in fact, real. It was too bad Dijon wasn't here. But Venice was holding out her phone and snapping pictures like mad, so I figured it was only a matter of seconds before Her Fabulousness got the news flash.

When Mr. Tanori called us up for our presentation, Renata did not hesitate. In fact, although she sat behind us, she was the first one out of our group to make it to the front of the room. I could hear her humming as she whizzed past my desk.

“What is she doing?” whispered Adair.


Adair looked bewildered.

“How are you feeling?” I asked Renata as she prepared to face the class.

“Like I can really do this,” she said, wiggling her hands and feet. “Who should be my friendly face in the audience?

“Breck,” I said, without thinking.

Renata gave me a satisfied nod, the kind of nod you give when you know something the other person doesn't think you know and maybe doesn't want to acknowledge knowing herself. You know? In short, there was far too much knowing in that nod.

Renata spun on her heel, and before I could even send one positive thought in her direction, she started talking. “Hi, everyone. Sorry about what happened the other day. I got a little nervous, but I'm okay now. So I'm just going to be honest and tell you that we had the same idea as another group. We want to paint the ugly wall in the cafeteria too.”

Venice let out an injured puppy squeal.

“But that really shouldn't surprise anyone,” Renata continued, with a brief glance in Venice's direction, “because it's not exactly a school secret that we need to paint the wall. I sit by it at lunch, and practically every
day someone walks by and says how gross it is—the wall, I mean, not my lunch. How many of you have said that to your friends?”

I flung my hand into the air. So did Adair. Pretty soon, the whole class, except for Venice and Truffle, had their hands up, which was crazy because they'd claimed painting the wall was

“Thanks,” said Renata, motioning for everyone to put down their hands. “There
one thing that makes our idea different from the other group. It's Coco's design. See for yourself.” Stepping out of the way, she smiled at me. I gave her a thumbs-up. She had done her part perfectly. And she hadn't lisped. Not even once.

As I opened my sketchbook, I touched the little silk pouch dangling from the zipper. If my mother's talisman held any luck at all, I needed it now. I turned the book toward the class, held it high, and explained the inspiration behind my design and how I'd done it.

“Coco, please walk up and down the aisles so everyone can get a good view of your drawing,” Mr. Tanori instructed.

Yes! I felt a tingle go through me. He hadn't let Dijon walk around the room with her alien dog picture. While I circled the room, Adair started her portion of the talk.
“We figure it will take about a month to paint the mural if we work before and after school, maybe less, if some of Mrs. Wyndham's art students help us. We've arranged it so they'll be able to earn extra credit. . . .”

When I paused at Truffle's desk, she barely glanced at my sketch before turning back to doodling flowers in her own notebook. Venice held out her cell phone and snapped a photo of my design. To send to her queen, no doubt.

Edging toward Breck's desk, I felt the hair on my arms stand up. I told myself it was only static electricity. When I stopped at his desk, my heart was thumping uncontrollably against my rib cage. I didn't have a silly excuse for that.

Dipping my head, I held out my sketchbook.

“I owe you a big apology.”

“Me?” I let out a squirrely giggle. Idiot. How old was I, nine? “You mean, for the Junior Mints?”

“No.” He picked at his thumbnail. “For, uh . . . telling Dijon about your idea.”

stole our idea?”

“I heard Renata say we ought to paint the orange wall in the cafeteria and . . . I don't know. . . . When I joined Dijon's group, everyone was throwing out ideas
in the brainstorm session, and Mr. Tanori was standing right behind us, and I couldn't think of anything else to say . . . so I . . . I just blurted out . . .”

“The wall.”

“I didn't think she'd choose it. I mean, it's not like Dijon ever listens to anybody else anyway. Who knew this would be the one time?” He grimaced. “Sorry.”

I appreciated his confession. Breck could have kept his mouth shut, and I would never have known he was our idea thief. Of course, now I felt even worse about blaming Adair. “It's okay,” I said to him.

Breck spent a lot of time inspecting my design. I spent a lot of time fidgeting while he inspected my design. Finally, he said, “This is really good.”

“Thanks. We still won't beat your group.”

He made his eyebrows dance. “You never know.”

“Come on, let the rest of us see it,” said Parker, leaning out from behind Breck.

I had to move on.

When we finished our presentation, we got some decent applause from the class. I was not fooled. This would not have happened, I knew, if Her Fabulousness had been in class.

“Thank you, Renata, Coco, and Adair,” said Mr. Tanori. “I'll give you your written evaluations next week.” He was smiling, so I was pretty certain we'd done well. “Class, you've now heard all of the PTA project ideas. It's time to vote.”


“Now?” squealed Venice.

Mr. Tanori picked up some strips of paper off his desk. “Take one ballot and pass the rest back. Use a pen to mark your ballot. Vote for one idea only, please. If you vote for more than one, your ballot will not count. Parker, what are you holding?”

BOOK: Stealing Popular
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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