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Authors: Trudi Trueit

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BOOK: Stealing Popular
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“Or skateboarding inside again,” offered Fawn.

“Or sword fighting with Todd's drumsticks again,” said Liezel.

We could go on all day. With those two spit wads the possibilities were endless.

A few seconds later there was another scream. This one had a slightly higher pitch and much more energy behind it.

“Eeeeeeeeek!”

That
had definitely come from the hallway. This time, Her Fabulousness and the Royal Court quickly packed up and headed out the door—but not too quickly. It wasn't good form for a Somebody to appear too eager to go anywhere.

I looked for Mr. Quigley, our lunchroom monitor. He was on the far side of the cafeteria showing his cat photos to a couple of captive sixth graders. He didn't seem concerned about the shrieks coming from the hall.

“Auuuggggh!”


What
is going on out there?” squealed Adair at the exact moment Évian went by, hurrying to catch up to Dijon.

Évian turned our way and said dryly, “Cheer results.”

A hard jolt went through my body. It felt like lightning, but it was probably Adair, yanking off my right arm. “They posted early!”

Color draining from her face, Fawn was frozen to her seat. I had to clap my hands in front of her face to bring her back to reality. “Come on, Fawn, we're going with Adair to check the cheer results.”

“O-okay.”

I wished she would stop looking so guilty. We had nothing to feel guilty about. Right?

As the four of us made our way across the cafeteria, Adair, who was still firmly glued to my arm, kept repeating, “I can't look, I can't look, I can't look.”

“If you don't look, you'll never know,” said Liezel.

“Okay, I'll look.”

She would, however, have to wait. A traffic jam, several girls deep, blocked the ASB bulletin board. Some of the girls were scanning for their names. Some were scanning for the name of someone they knew. Most, eventually, dropped their arms or heads and silently fell away. When the last of the bodies moved aside, I put my fingers on Adair's spine and pushed her forward.

Fawn, Liezel, and I huddled together. I tried to stay calm, but the beans from my soup kept doing tumbling passes in my stomach. Also, the loop of “what ifs” had started in again from the beginning. What if, in my rush to finish, I'd made an error? What if Mrs. Rivkin didn't follow my instructions? What if she suspected something was up? What if Coach Notting, Miss Furdy, or Mrs. Ignazio had gone to the office after we'd left?

I wasn't going to get away with this, was I?

Nobodies never got away with anything, especially when it involved pulling one over on the Somebodies. Something like what I had done had probably never before been attempted in middle-school history. I wiped my sweaty palms on the front of my jeans. What had I been thinking? No way, no how was this ever going to work.

Adair was charging at us. “I made it!” She leaped into our arms. Her voice was muffled in my shoulder. “You were there with me every step of the way, Coco.”

She had
no
idea.

I smiled at Fawn, not to hide my worries but for real. Wiping her forehead with an exaggerated motion, she smiled back.

We had actually
done
it! A couple of Nobodies had changed the course of Big Mess history. Adair was so excited, she couldn't stop squealing and hopping and hugging. I, however, was completely exhausted. Manipulating the world takes a lot out of a person.

“I don't believe it.” Willow Christopher turned from the bulletin board. She looked at us, her expressionless face a chalky pink. “I never thought . . . My mom said I shouldn't try out. She said I'd get my heart broken. My sister said I wasn't the right size. . . . I mean, you hope
but never in a million, trillion years do you think it's possible and then . . . and then . . .”

“You make it,” I whispered.

A tear rolled down her left cheek. “You make it.” Trembling hands came to her mouth. “Oh my God, Coco, I made it. I MADE IT!” Willow threw her arms around me and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until I was certain three or four vital organs were going to burst. She released me so quickly, I stumbled backward into Liezel. “Has anyone told Cadence?” asked Willow. “She's going to flip when she finds out—seriously flip!”

“Cadence? Uh . . . you mean, Cadence is on the squad too?” Fawn moved in to read the post for herself. Her head swiveled to me. “Cadence and Willow
both
made cheer. How about that, Coco?”

“How about that?” I said meekly. Now she knew my secret. I had changed a few more scores than we had agreed on. I couldn't help myself.

Arms outstretched, Willow sailed away. She moved seamlessly through clusters of kids standing in the hall, twirling once to the right, then once to the left, before continuing on her way. It was anything but a middle-school dance. It was the kind of dance you did when
you were six years old, and you didn't notice or care if people were watching.

Liezel sighed. “That's a girl in the clouds.”

From now on, I knew Willow's life was going to be different. Not because she was a cheerleader—well, partly because she was a cheerleader, but mostly because she was free. She wasn't a Nobody anymore. She was just Willow. Purely Willow.

And I, Coco Simone Sherwood, had helped her to claim that independence.

I felt warm. Electric. Alive.

Willow was at the end of the hall, turning the corner. Still dancing. Still floating above us. Five fluttering fingertips were the last of her to disappear.

Nine

After opening our mailbox, I pulled out a couple of bills and a pile of junk mail. A yellow slip of paper fell to the ground.

Ooooh, a package!

I stuck my mailbox key into another large box at the bottom of the row, swung the door wide, and took out a short, square box. The package was addressed to me. I recognized the handwriting: It was my mother's. I took the box inside our apartment and set it on the end of the granite countertop. The upper right-hand corner was stamped with the word “Kyoto.” There was no return address.

My mom always sent me cool stuff from wherever she was, and usually I tore right into it. So why not today? What was I waiting for?

I wasn't sure.

I went to my room. Dash was sleeping—a caramelcolored
fluff ball barely visible under his burrow of shavings. After I filled his feeder with hamster pellets and gave him fresh water, he stirred a bit, then went back to sleep.

Restless, I went back out into the kitchen. Yep. The box was still there.

Taking my sketchbook out of my backpack, I headed outside to sit on our balcony. I had nothing against balconies, though I longed for a front porch. We had one. Once. Before Mom. It had a white, wooden love swing that hung from the rafters by two chains. I used to spend my summers on that porch, playing tea party with my dolls and watching people stroll past with their dogs. “Don't go off the porch, Coco,” my mom would call out the kitchen window if I ventured too close to the steps. It was hard to obey her, especially when a golden Lab puppy stopped to sniff our bushes or I heard the ice-cream truck blaring “The Farmer in the Dell” slightly off-key. I knew, even then, there was so much waiting for me beyond those stairs. I guess that's why I missed them. A front porch lets you open your arms to what's coming toward you. A balcony is only good for watching what is going away.

I took a seat on one of the green plastic chairs on our third-floor balcony. In no hurry, I began to sketch an extreme close-up of the black-and-white bark that papered the birch trees next to the railing.

All afternoon I hadn't been able to stop thinking about Willow and Adair. I had known they were going to be thrilled to make cheer, of course, but I'd never dreamed they'd be so completely . . . What was the word I was looking for?

“Ecstatic”? “Radiant”? “Transformed”?

Transformed.

That was it. In an instant, it seemed, everything about them had changed, from their faces to their attitudes to their movements. And all it had taken was a single victory. Just one. As I began drawing a garden spider weaving her web in the eaves, I wondered, wouldn't it be something if every Nobody at Big Mess could feel the way Adair and Willow felt? Even for a little while? Even for a minute? It would be more than something. It would be everything.

I let my hand draw whatever it wanted. I did not stop it, even when I knew what it was up to. Those were my rules of art. Never interfere. After about an hour my page was filled with several images—the rippling black-and-white
birch bark, a mottled brown spider hanging from fragile threads, and a pinched face hidden behind rectangular glasses and flying saucer hair.

Renata.

I laughed out loud. If anyone needed transformation, it was Renata. But helping that particular Nobody was going to take a lot more than a calculator and an eraser. I wasn't sure I was ready for a challenge like Renata. Not now. Maybe not ever.

I looked at my watch. My dad was late.

Closing my sketchbook, I went inside and stared at the package for a few more minutes.

For goodness' sake, it's not going to bite or blow up. Just open it.

I got a paring knife and cut into the thick tape on the seam, pulling apart the top flaps. Digging through a layer of bubble wrap, I took out a white shirt box and slipped off the top. There was a note.

Dear Coco,

I hope you like the kimono. Don't you just love the color? The little silk pouch isn't a purse. It's a charm. The Japanese call them “omamori.” In Japan, parents and grandparents often
give their children omamori on the first day of school to bring good luck or protection. They may tuck a piece of paper with prayers or good wishes inside the bag, but NO PEEKING! You are not supposed to open the pouch, or the luck will disappear. Kids attach omamori to their cell phones or backpacks. I see them everywhere here! So here's a little luck to get your new school year off to a great start. Hope it's going well. I'm off to my next assignment in Taiwan and will call soon.

Love,

Mom

P.S. Okay, I'll give you a hint. It's filled with love!

The rectangular pouch was only about three inches long and less than two inches wide. It was made of white silk and embroidered with tiny, pink cherry blossoms. At the top was a decorative bow and a drawstring made of white cord. It was cute. A little weird. But cute.

Beneath the
omamori
was a shiny, bluish-gray square
of fabric. Gently, I lifted the kimono from its box. Silky folds parted to reveal a flock of hand-painted white cranes. Long, graceful necks fully outstretched and wingtips barely touching, the silver-trimmed birds soared across a steely sky. I had never owned anything this intricate or beautiful. It took me a while to get up the nerve to try it on, and when I finally did, it was much too big. The hem fell to my lower shins, and the wide bell sleeves came down several inches past my fingertips. I had to wrap one side of the kimono nearly all the way around my waist to get the V to close in front. How much did my mother think I weighed? Dragging the long, matching sash behind me, I headed for the bathroom mirror. I wasn't sure how to tie the sash. Fawn would know.

Holding the neck in place, I touched a creamy crane gliding over the curve of my left shoulder. The blue-gray color was pretty, but it wasn't right for me. It made my hair look dull and my skin pasty.

I let go of the neck. The filmy fabric slipped to the floor. I hung the kimono on the only padded hanger in my closet. It looked strange floating next to my faded tees and ordinary hoodies. Like it did not belong here. Like it deserved better. I knew I would keep my mom's
kimono forever. I also knew I would never put it on again.

Bringing the little silk
omamori
into my room, I laid it on one side of my pillow. Then I lay down beside it and did something I hardly ever did After Mom.

I cried.

Ten

“You did what?” Fawn nearly spit her sample of pomegranate-cranberry-lemonade on my shirt.

“I nominated Renata for fall court.”

“Renata.” She stared blankly at me. “Zickelfoos.”

I drained my juice sample in one gulp and tried not to make a sour face. “Yep.”

“Coco, have you lost your mind?” Fawn tossed her miniature white paper cup into the trash and rushed after my aunt.

Aunt Iona was about ten feet ahead of us, navigating her cart through the maze of other carts at the Costco warehouse. My dad worked on Saturdays. Aunt Iona didn't cook (she had a phobia of appliances catching fire), so she'd pick me up at the apartment and the two of us would go to Costco for lunch. We'd stroll around the warehouse snacking on store d'oeuvres—you know, the food samples the employees in the white coats and shower
caps handed out. Whenever they could, Fawn and Adair came too. Adair couldn't make it today. She was attending her first cheerleading practice, thank you very much.

I caught up to Fawn. “Are you mad at me?”

“No.”

She
was
mad. I could tell by her smooshed-in face.

“I thought you'd think it was a great idea, especially after how well things worked out for Adair, Willow, and Cadence.”

“Yeah, what about that? You were only supposed to fix the score for Adair.
Adair.

“You weren't in the gym during tryouts. You didn't see how great Willow and Cadence were. I couldn't leave them behind. They'd earned spots too.”

“I'm sure they did great, but—”

“Girls!” My aunt was signaling to her right. “Peanut brittle!”

“Somebody is bound to figure it out,” hissed Fawn, dodging a little boy. “And when they do . . .” She stopped to reach for a shard of peanut brittle. “Thank you,” she said to the sample lady.

BOOK: Stealing Popular
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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