Read Stealing Popular Online

Authors: Trudi Trueit

Stealing Popular (8 page)

BOOK: Stealing Popular
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I was right behind her. “Thank you.”

Two dark eyebrows hit the edge of a white shower cap. “Nobody ever says ‘thank you.'”

“I wasn't stupid,” I said in Fawn's right ear. “I made sure Dijon, Venice, Truffle, Évian, Lisbon, Stocklifter, and Geneva made the team. Of course, a few Somebodies had to go to make room. I figured Dover, Monaco, and Perrier were at the bottom of Dijon's food chain.”

“Don't you see?” Fawn rapidly crunched the hard candy between her teeth. “You've raised their suspicions. If only one Nobody got through, Coach Notting and Miss Furdy would assume it was because of Mrs. Ignazio. But three Nobodies? That just doesn't happen. They're probably going over their judging sheets this minute.”

“They aren't,” I said, sucking on a shard of peanut brittle.

“They'll discover the scores were changed, and that'll be the end of us.”

“They won't.”

“It's doggie booties hell for us, for sure.”

“Trust me.” I touched her arm and enunciated very clearly. “They. Won't.”

She frowned.

“Hey, look, soft tacos.” I darted through the expressway of carts to get to the other side of the aisle.

Fawn caught my arm. “Coco?”

“What?”

She glared at me. “Why won't they figure it out?”

I could see she wasn't going to let this go. “Because they can't. See, the original sheets, uh . . . well, they sort of . . . Are you sure you want to know?”

“What?”

“Got shredded.”

Fawn put two fingers to her lips. “You didn't.”

“Me, personally? No.”

“Then how?”

“I made a slight change to Coach Notting's instructions to Mrs. Rivkin.”

I reached for a toothpick stuck through the middle of a little puffy tortilla triangle. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome,” said the lady.

“What did you do?” asked Fawn.

“I told her to shred the judging sheets once she was done tallying the scores.”

Fawn let out a tiny cry.

Trailing my aunt's cart, Fawn and I finished our spicy beef soft tacos. We ate lobster puffs, chocolate muffins, candied pistachios, garlic noodles, and shrimp-and-pepper kabobs without saying a word to each other. Throwing away her mini kabob stick, Fawn finally spoke.
“There's no way Renata is going to beat Dijon for fall queen. You do know that, right?”

“I know. She could win one of the two princess crowns, though. Nobody really wants to vote for Venice.” I mimicked the way Venice smacked her gum.
Snap. Snap. Snap.

“What? You mean, you're not planning to hack into Mrs. Rivkin's computer and change the voting results?”

I gave her a sly smirk to tease her before I said, “No. Of course not. Look, I just want to give Renata a tiny taste of the cake Her Fabulousness and the Royal Court get to eat every day. Is that so awful?”

Fawn nibbled on a caramel-dipped apple slice. “I suppose not. But how?”

“I figured all we have to do is change her look a little.”

“A little?”

“Okay, a lot. You could give her a fashion makeover and Adair could do something with her hair. I could help her with her speech—”

“It would take a miracle.”

“Come on, Fawn, this is our chance to make our own footprints.”

“Huh?”

“We could change Renata's life.”

“Or destroy it. What if she loses and ends up hating us?”

“How could she hate us?” I teased. “We're very lovable girls.”

“She has, like, a one percent chance of winning a princess crown.”

“It's still a chance.”

“You are relentless, you know that?”

“My aunt says it's one of my most annoying qualities. So will you do it?”

Fawn shook her head. “I guess so.”

I threw an arm across her shoulders. “You're the best friend in the universe.”

“I still think you've lost your mind.”

“You could be right.” I picked up the next sample and offered it to her. “Egg roll?”

“No, thanks.” Fawn put a hand to her stomach. “Do they give out Pepto-Bismol or Tums samples anywhere?”

“I don't think so.”

“They should. Right at the door as you go out. Or maybe as you come in.” She grimaced. “Or both.”

The edges of Fawn's face were starting to turn greenish yellow. I guess a pomegranate-cranberry-lemonade, spicy beef taco, lobster puff, chocolate muffin, candied
pistachios, garlic noodles, shrimp-and-pepper kabob, egg roll lunch isn't for everybody.

“Does that mean you don't want to circle one more time?” I asked, popping the mini egg roll in my mouth.

Fawn burped. I took that as a no.

Eleven

13-22-44.

13-22-44.

I'd been chanting it in my head since I fell asleep last night. My dad was dropping me off at school very early—like “the rooster is still in REM sleep” early. I told him I was meeting Adair and Renata in the library to practice our presentation for leadership class. That much was true. Today each team was going to present its school improvement project idea. However, I didn't tell my dad that
before
I met up with my teammates, I had something else to do. It was the real reason I had to get to school at such a wicked hour.

I was on a top-secret mission.

13-22-44.

13-22-44.

Turning into the school driveway, my dad surveyed the nearly empty parking lot. He pulled up to the curb.
“It's awfully early. Are you sure the library is even open?”

“Uh-huh. Mrs. Dawkins is usually one of the first people here.”

“Good luck today.”

“Thanks.” I ran my hand over my mom's
omamori
. I'd tied the little bag to the outside zipper of my sketchbook. “I'll need plenty of it to beat Dijon.”

“All you can do is your best. And you've done that. Your design is terrific.”

“Thanks.” I looked through the windshield at the rising sun playing hide-and-seek between the fir trees. “I wish that was enough.”

“Sometimes we have to accept that things are out of our hands.”

“Aren't things only out of your hands if you put them down? Or never pick them up?”

He chuckled. “Good point, Coco Simone.”

We both knew he used my middle name so he could say her name out loud. I didn't mind. I liked hearing it too.

“Say, I was thinking this Sunday we might go house hunting.”

I bounced in my seat. “You mean . . .?”

“It looks like we'll be staying for a while.”

Yes! I could finally have a bedroom, one that I could paint any way I wanted. Most landlords (including the military) don't let you paint an apartment any color that isn't beige or beige related. But if we got our own place, I could paint angels or fairies or animals or anything on my walls.
My
walls. This was the best news ever!

My dad was sniffing the air. “Do you smell something funky?” He wrinkled his nose. “Did you bring home your gym clothes to wash?”

“Gotta fly, Dad.” I yanked on the door handle. “Must be time for a new freshener in here. See ya.” I leaped from the car with my sketchbook under my arm. Ripping open the back door, I grabbed my backpack off the backseat.

“Bye, Coco. Let me know how it—”

I'm sure he said “goes,” but I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Whew! That was close! If my dad only knew what was in my backpack. . . .

Miss Grace, our head janitor, was coming out of the building as I was going in. I held the door open for
her so she could roll out her big garbage can on three wheels. “Thank you, Coco. Make it a great day.”

“That's the idea,” I said.

13-22-44.

13-22-44.

The magic numbers to open Dijon's door.

I kept repeating it as I sprinted through the empty hallways of Big Mess. I didn't dare bring Fawn's locker card with me to school, where it could be seen by a Somebody. Until a few days ago I had completely forgotten about it. The red card had been in my backpack pocket since that first day of school when Fawn had dropped it on her way out of the gym. All this time it had been there, patiently waiting for me to find it again. I suppose I should have thrown it away, but it would have been wrong to let such valuable, top-secret information go to waste, right?

My mission was simple: Get Fawn's locker back from Dijon. Fawn deserved to have her assigned locker back. Besides, three people in one locker was one person too many. Between Fawn's flute, Liezel's music, my art sketchbook, our coats, backpacks, notebooks, books, and lunches, you had to throw your whole body
against the door to get the dumb thing to latch.

I headed to B wing to make a quick stop at my locker so I could drop off my coat and get my leadership notebook. Rounding the final corner, a humming noise made me pull up short. It sounded like a girl. . . .

Was that singing?

I knew it wasn't Miss Grace. I had already passed her going the opposite way. So who could it be at—I glanced at my watch—6:18 a.m.?

Hugging the wall, I peered around the corner.

Our locker was open. Liezel was in the middle of the hallway, playing air guitar to a song on her iPod. Two earbud wires swung in time to her strumming. She wasn't singing loudly, but her voice was on key, light, and angelic.

The only time you don't fight is when you sleep.

The only time I don't cry is when you weep.

You pretend to care,

Tell me you'll always be there.

And then you turn and go away. And then you go.

Just go.

Had she written it? It was probably on the CD she'd let me borrow. I should have listened to it. Feeling a
sting of regret, I vowed to listen to it tonight.

I wonder what Her Fabulousness and the Royal Court would say if they could hear Liezel sing? I'd love to be a bug on Venice's pointy, black hat for that little discussion. No one—not even a Somebody—looks good in green.

My breath caught in my throat. The singing had stopped. I flattened my back against the wall. Our locker door slammed.

Go the other way! Please go the other way.

I strained for footsteps. I stayed glued to the wall, forcing myself to silently count to thirty. Liezel did not walk past. Slowly, I inched my face along the wall until I could just barely see around the corner. There was no sign of her, or anybody else. I raced to my locker, opened it, and exchanged my coat for my leadership notebook. I shut the door, bumping my shoulder against it as hard as I could, then I was off again, charging down the hall and taking the stairs two at a time. In sync with my chant, my backpack bounced against my spine.

13-22-44.

13-22-44.

At the top of the stairwell I glanced right. Then left. No one. My mission was going perfectly. So far.

I scurried to locker 229. The corner locker was easy to find, thanks to Dijon's heart-shaped beauty board Velcroed to the side. Stacking my stuff on the floor, I cracked my knuckles in preparation for the most difficult part of the operation. I spun the dial to the right to clear it, then lined up 13 with the red mark. My brain was whizzing at top speed. My fingers were icicles. My wrist was shaking so much, I had to hold my left hand under my elbow to steady it. I spun the knob left, passing 22 once, then stopping on it the second time around. Finally, I turned the dial to the right, to 44. This was it! I placed the metal handle between my thumb and index finger. And lifted. The door didn't open.

I jiggled the handle. Nothing. I jiggled harder. It wouldn't budge.

Had I gone too fast? Did I have the right combination? What if I'd memorized the wrong numbers? Or the right numbers in the wrong order?

A monster wave of fear rolled through me.

What should I do?

Try again?

Give up?

Every second I debated it increased my chances of getting caught.

You can do this. You have to do this.

For Fawn. For all the Nobodies.

I shook out my arms to get some feeling back in my fingertips. I twirled the dial five times to the right to be absolutely sure I cleared it, then inched the 13 up to the red vertical mark.

Keep going. Calm. Calm. Calm.

I turned the knob to the left, passing 22 once, then ever so carefully sneaking up on it on the second time around.

One more. You're almost there.

I nudged the knob twenty-two clicks to the right. This was it—44. I rubbed my fingertips together.

Coco Sherwood, if you ever had any magic in you. . . .

“Abracadabra,” I whispered, reaching for the handle.


What
do you think you're doing?”

Twelve

I whipped around. “Évian!”

Tipping her head, she wriggled her fingers at me.

“So what
am
I doing? What am
I
doing?” With one foot I scooted my backpack behind me. “Well, I . . . um . . . actually, I was just, uh . . .”

“Yes?”

“I was about to . . . Well, I mean . . . I was thinking of . . .”

“Uh-huh?”

By her mocking grin, it was clear she was loving my misery.

I couldn't turn to mist now. I was going to have to tell her the truth and beg for mercy. The odds of me getting any weren't good. The Royal Court never cut anybody an inch of slack. I had a vision of myself hanging upside down from the flag pole out front below the big St. Bernard pennant.

I dropped my arms in surrender. “Okay, Évian, here's the thing. See, I was going to—”

BOOK: Stealing Popular
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Levi by Bailey Bradford
Prisoner of the Vatican by David I. Kertzer
Blackvine Manor Mystery by Wendy Meadows
Star Trek: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack
Midnight in St. Petersburg by Vanora Bennett
Too Soon For Love by Kimberly Gardner
Parallel Life by Ruth Hamilton
Tempt Me With Kisses by Margaret Moore
The Noh Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley