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Authors: Trudi Trueit

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BOOK: Stealing Popular
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My aunt was at my side. “Ah, a friend from school?”

Now, how was I supposed to answer that?

“Uh . . . this is Dijon Randle. Dijon, this is my aunt, Iona Sherwood.”

“Nice to meet you.” Dijon seemed sincere. Almost shy. I didn't like this at all. What was she trying to pull?

“My pleasure. You should try the mac and cheese. It's heaven.” Aunt Iona offered Dijon the sample she had brought for me. It figured.

Dijon looked longingly at the noodles swimming in thick, golden sauce topped with a crunchy parmesan crust.

“Dijon!” Mrs. Randle was stalking toward us. “You're supposed to stay close. I told you this place is a zoo—Oh.” She noticed us.

“Mom, this is Coco Sherwood,” said Dijon, so softly it was practically inaudible. “And her aunt.”

“Hello,” clipped Mrs. Randle, limply shaking the hand my aunt put out. She looked around in that way you do when you hope something better will come along to rescue you—and soon. “Wait a minute, did you say Coco?”

Dijon winced. It was quick, but it was there.

Mrs. Randle peered down at her daughter. “Is this the one?”

Dijon tipped her chin down.

Mrs. Randle stroked one of her big earrings. “You must be so proud of your daughter.”

“Yes, I am.” Iona did not correct her.

“How many children get their artwork displayed on such a grand scale?”

“Oh, you mean about the PTA improvement project.” Aunt Iona put her arm around my waist. “Isn't that something? The girls worked awfully hard on their proposal. . . .” Mrs. Randle's face was getting redder, but my aunt didn't notice. She kept on talking. “And we couldn't be more excited about the mural.”

“It's not yet official,” I hurried to say, “but Mr. Tanori said the PTA is sure to approve it at the board meeting.”

“Did he?” Mrs. Randle tapped a long, turquoise fingernail against her rosy chin.

Suddenly the corner of the toilet paper wall collapsed. I may have been the cause. My aunt and I rushed to pick up about a dozen twenty-roll packs and restack them. Mrs. Randle and Dijon made no move to help us. Instead, Mrs. Randle took control of the cart from her daughter and began to move away. “Nice to have met you, Kiki.”

“Coco,” corrected Dijon.

Mrs. Randle gave an impatient flick of the wrist, and her bracelets clinked. We watched the two of
them stroll away. Neither of them looked back.

A fog of doom settled over me. Even staying the night with my aunt and playing with her Westie terrier, Gatsby, which
always
cheered me up, couldn't seem to get it to lift. I got into bed around ten o'clock, and instead of going right to sleep, decided to sketch Gatsby, who was asleep beside me. Before turning out the light, I slid my mother's portrait from its pocket in the back of my book. “Our idea won,” I told her, “so why am I so jumpy? I can't help feeling like something is going to mess it up. Am I just being paranoid?”

This was so frustrating. I was talking to a piece of paper. Again. Always.

I threw the covers off my legs, found my phone, and started to text my mom. Only a few words in, I stopped. It would take her weeks, maybe months, to reply. I couldn't wait that long. I needed to hear her voice. Now. I didn't know what time it was in Taiwan, and I didn't care. I found her name in my contact list and pressed the button before I could change my mind. Her phone rang three times. Shoot! I was going to voice mail.

After the fourth ring, nothing happened. No more rings. No voice mail. Then, something strange.

“Hello?”

“Mom?” My throat closed. “Is that you?”

“Coco?”

“Yes, yes!” I couldn't believe it. It was her. It was really her!

The last time we had spoken was a few days after my dad and I moved to Oak Harbor last spring. I had called to give her our new address. We had talked for exactly two minutes and fifty-two seconds before she said she had to go. I had timed it.

“How are you, honey?” she asked. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything's great.”

“I can barely hear you. Did you get your package?”

“Yes, thanks. I put the charm on my sketchbook and—”

“Good,” she jumped in. She said something else, but static garbled it.

“Mom, I . . . uh . . . miss you.”

She was cutting in and out. “What?”


I miss
you
. I've been wanting to talk to you.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“See, there's this project at school. The class voted,
and my art design won, but now I'm freaked that this really popular girl named Dijon is going to ruin it for me. She's mad that her design didn't win, and I just know that she's going to do something to sabotage me before the PTA can approve—”

“Coco, I can't hear. . . . I'm about to get on a boat. Can I call you back?”

Did she say a boat?

“Uh, yeah . . . sure. When?”

“Well, let's see . . . about fifteen hours ahead . . . tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? Is that your tomorrow or my tomorrow?”

“What? I'm sorry . . . hear you. I'll call you . . . I can. Hugs, baby.”

She was gone.

I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at my phone. My mother wasn't going to call me back. Not tomorrow her time. Or my time. Or any time. Some gripping experience, like zip-lining across a giant canyon or cooking octopus with a world-class chef, would come up, and she would “forget.” In a week or so, she might send me a text. And in about six months I would get something
nice in the mail. The text would be short and unapologetic. The something nice would be unique and completely wrong for me.

What was I thinking? I shouldn't have called her. Why had I expected that this time would be different? Someday I would tell her how much it hurt when she “forgot” me. Someday I would tell her a mother isn't supposed to leave her daughter behind, even to be a famous travel writer. But she'd have to stay on the phone longer than three minutes for me to say all that, wouldn't she?

Suddenly I was dead tired.

“You want anything to drink before bed?” My aunt stood in the doorway.

“No.” I tossed my phone on the nightstand.

“I've been thinking about what you said today.”

“What did I say?” And more important, why was she thinking about it?

“About the socks. You said they weren't supposed to go with anything.” She came toward me. “I was thinking I could probably use a little more fun in my life. How about we go buy some wild socks this week?”

I knew what was going on. Aunt Iona was a family counselor. And an expert eavesdropper. She had overheard
my conversation with my mother and was doing what therapists call overcompensating. That was okay with me. I could use someone who cared enough to interfere in my life about now.

I smiled. “I'm available all week, except Monday.”

“It's a date,” she said, dropping a kiss on my forehead. “Good night, Amazing Artist.”

“Good night, Even More Amazing Aunt.” I crawled into bed.

She switched off the light, started to leave, then turned back. “Oh, and about that mustard girl?”

I giggled under the covers. “Dijon.”

“Yeah. I wouldn't worry about her. I saw the look on her face today. That girl is scared of you.”

I started to say, “I don't think so,” but when I lifted my head, Iona was gone.

It was kind of her to say that, but my aunt didn't know Dijon the way I did. Her Fabulousness wasn't frightened of anybody, least of all me. I pulled the blanket up under my chin and stared at the ceiling. Still, we
had
won the contest in leadership class, and that might have threatened her. A little. To be on the safe side, I vowed to stay out of the way of Her Fabulousness and the Royal Court until
after
the PTA meeting. It was
two days away, and only one of those days was a school day, so how hard could it be?

My plan would have worked perfectly, too, had it not been for one tiny hitch.

On Monday morning I got on my bus with my new PE T-shirt in my backpack. I wasn't about to give Coach Notting another opportunity to “simile” me. I could already hear her shouting in my head. “You know, Sherwood, forgetting things is like upchucking clam chowder. You only want to do it once.”

Ugh.

Three stops later Liezel got on the bus.

“I'll bet you can't guess what happened to me this weekend,” she squealed, sliding in beside me. “Not in a million, trillion years.”

I bet I could. But I didn't. I let her tell me.

“Madysen Prestwick called. She's the head of the dance committee. They want to hire Avalanche to play at the fall dance!”

“Congrats!”

“I was so excited, I don't think I slept at all last night. You are coming, right?”

“To the dance? I don't know . . .” I rarely went to
school dances. There's an awful lot of “much-ness” at a dance. Too much pressure to dance with someone that was not above your status level but also not below your status level. Too much pretending to be funnier or smarter or happier than you were. Too much warm punch and cheese in a can.

“Please, Coco, you have to come. You
have
to.”

I gave in pretty easily. I really
did
want to see her band play live.

“Did you do your math homework?” Liezel asked as we got off the bus.

“Uh-huh.”

“Did you figure out that last story problem on integers?”

I fell into step beside her on the sidewalk. “You mean the one about the distance between the top of Mt. Rainier and the bottom of Death Valley?”

On a typical morning at Big Mess it wasn't unusual to see other girls chatting with their friends, talking on their phones, and wexting (you know, walking and texting at the same time). When Liezel and I strolled up the main walkway, the sun was in our faces, and we were discussing our math homework, so I wasn't paying
much attention to the other kids moving around us. But by the time we'd reached the shadow of the building, I could tell something wasn't right.

I stopped in the middle of the walkway and turned in a slow, tight circle. In the frosty morning air my breath formed little clouds in front of me. As I realized what was going on, the clouds came faster and faster.

Had I done this?

“We didn't have to do the bonus questions at the end of the chapter, did we?” asked Liezel, still not seeing what I was seeing.

Évian and Venice were coming toward us. Venice was chewing a thick wad of gum.
Snap. Snap. Snap.

“Oh no!”

I
had
done this.

Liezel moaned. “I knew I should have done the bonus questions.”

Venice blew a blue bubble at me, then popped it.

Bang!

“What are you staring at, Cuckoo?” she asked.

I said the first thing that came to my mind. I said, “Fish.”

Venice tipped her head in wonder, but it was the only thought going through my head. Their lips glowing
bright yellow, Venice and Évian reminded me of a pair of tropical tang fish!

“Coco?” Liezel was nudging me. “What in the world
is
that?”

“That,” I answered weakly, “is Firefly lip gloss.”

Twenty

I felt dizzy. And cold. And hot. And did I say dizzy?

“I never meant for
this
to happen,” I said to myself, rushing past Venice and Évian. “She was the only one who was supposed to see the board.”

“Who?” asked Liezel.

“Dijon.” I flung open the door.

“Oh my God!” Liezel was on my heels. “You touched the sacred beauty board while I was acting as our lookout, didn't you?”

“How was I supposed to know she was going to be absent?”

“This is brilliant!” Liezel laughed. “Just look at everybody.”

That's what I was trying
not
to do. I flung my hoodie over my head and raced down the hallway.

“Hi,” said seventh grader Brie Alvarez, her lips shining like a couple of glow sticks at midnight.

“Hi,” we said.

“Unreal,” said Liezel, her head swiveling. “They're all wearing some ridiculous lip gloss because a popular girl told them to.”

“They
thought
a popular girl told them to,” I corrected.

Apparently, no one, not even a Somebody, had dared to question Dijon's board. Instead, with Her Fabulousness gone on Friday, they'd done as they'd always done: They had obeyed. Over the weekend, hundreds of middle-school girls had raced to the mall to purchase—and were now proudly wearing—the worst lip gloss in the history of girlkind. When they found out the truth, they were going to be shattered! Nobodies were fragile creatures. You couldn't always see the cracks—they might be hidden under a bulky coat or behind a tenor saxophone case—but they were there. One little tap in the wrong spot, and a person could fracture into a million pieces. And all because I thought it would be funny to get back at Dijon. How could I have been so thoughtless?

“I won't tell,” said Liezel as we turned the corner to B wing. “Nobody ever has to know you did it, if that's what you're worried about. Besides, no one with an
ounce of common sense takes that whole beauty board stuff—”

Fawn was standing in front of our locker. She was not alone. Adair was there too, looking like she ought to be swimming in the tropical tank at the aquarium with Venice and Évian.

“Seriously,” finished Liezel.

Fawn gestured to Adair as we approached. “Look, our very own garden solar gnome.”

“Clever,” said Adair. She held the tube of lip gloss out to Liezel. “Want to try some?”

“No, thanks,” said Liezel, putting her books in our locker. “It's a little bright for me.”

BOOK: Stealing Popular
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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