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Authors: Trudi Trueit

Stealing Popular (9 page)

BOOK: Stealing Popular
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“Coco!”

We heard the squeal of rubber sliding across waxed linoleum. A flash of brown turned the corner and barreled toward us.

My jaw fell. “Liezel?”

“Sorry it took so long.” She huffed, holding out a pen to me.

Hesitantly, I took it. “Oh, uh . . . thanks.”

Liezel turned to Évian. “Do you need a pen too?”

Évian's forehead crinkled with suspicion. “Why?”

“To write down Dijon's favorite blush color,” said Liezel, moving toward the beauty board. “Coco's pen ran out of ink, and I didn't have one, so I ran down to our locker to get another one and . . . uh . . . here we are. Flamingo Pink. Number Nine.” Liezel elbowed me. Hard.

I sprang into action, flipping through my leadership notebook to find a blank page. I began to copy Dijon's beauty board.

“We have to write it down before she puts up a new message,” said Liezel. “Do you know what it's going to be?”

“No,” said Évian cautiously. “She doesn't tell me.”

“Really? That's too bad.”

Évian shifted from one foot to the other, then back again. I heard her ankle pop. Without another word to us, she turned and walked away. She took her time about it, though.

I kept writing, sneaking a glance or two at Évian out of the corner of my eye. Évian James was a bit of a mystery. I had never heard her say the ugly things that came so easily to Dijon, Venice, and Truffle. But she didn't stick up for people either. Silence was no excuse. The way I saw it, she was one of
them
until she proved she wasn't. I didn't put the pen down until we heard the exit door clang shut. “Thanks, Liezel. Do you think she'll tell?”

“I'll bet you a slice of pepperoni she already has.”

I kicked my backpack. “Shoot!”

“Coco, what's going on?”

I liked Liezel, but I wasn't convinced I could trust her. Not yet.

“I did save you, you know,” pressed Liezel. “The least you could do is tell me why.”

“You really want to know? Because once I tell you, you're involved up to your eyeballs—”

“I can handle it.”

“Okay,” I said, dragging my backpack toward us by the left strap. “Stand back.”

Liezel chuckled. “Is it going to explode or something?”

“Technically, no.” I unzipped an outside pocket and, with two fingers, lifted out a limp, charcoal-black, L-shaped blob.

“Pee ewww!” Waving a hand in front of her face, Liezel took a full step back. “What is it?”

Tears sprang to my eyes. “It used to be my dad's old, white crew sock. It's been marinating in the condo compost bin all week.” Suspended in the air, the sock was shedding bits of dirt, leaves, and a fettuccini noodle (or earthworm—hard to tell).

Liezel held her nose. “
That
is gross.”

“I call it Operation Locker Rescue. I was going to put this in the locker to smell it up, so Dijon and her friends would move out—”

“And Fawn could move back in,” Liezel finished, her voice nasal. “If I were you, Coco, I wouldn't put it in her locker—”

“Because Évian will tell Dijon.”

“No.”

“Because it's a horrible thing to do to somebody, even if she is a complete pain.”

“No, I—”

“You're right. Of course you're right. I don't know what I was thinking. I was just trying—”

“Coco!”

“What?”

“I meant you should put it
under
her locker. See that space at the bottom? She'll smell it, all right, but she won't know where it's coming from. It'll drive her bananas.”

“Ohhhh. Good plan. Have you done this before?”

Liezel snickered, but she didn't say no.

“Like this?” Squatting, I stuffed the sock into the small slit between the bottom of the locker and the floor. I used the pen to push it as far back as I could.

“Perfect,” said Liezel.

I stood up. The odor was wafting up through the little vents in the front of the locker. With each second that passed, the stench was becoming more powerful.

“I can't wait to see what you've got in mind for the next phase,” said my locker partner.

“Next phase?” I shuddered. “You think I'll need one?”

“You might. Maybe even a Phase Three. After all, we are talking about Dijon and her friends here. They're not going to go quietly.”

I stroked my chin. “I'll have to think about it. I'll need something even stinkier than socks for Phase Two, but what could be worse than—”

I was interrupted by the slam of a locker in F wing.

“We need to get out of here,” whispered Liezel.

I put a hand on her arm. “Fawn doesn't know anything about this.”

“Got it. We have to split up. Where are you headed?”

“Library.”

“Right. You go that way. I'll go this way.” Liezel bounded toward the stairs. Before she made the turn, she called out, “Smell you later.”

I laughed, picking up my backpack. I should have followed Liezel's advice and taken off in the other direction, but I didn't. I couldn't. Not yet.

I had to find out one thing. Despite the risk, I had to do it.

I glanced right, then left, to be absolutely sure I was alone. Oh so gently, I placed my thumb and index finger on the handle of locker 229. And lifted.

Poof!

The door opened.

Thirteen

Renata was behind Adair.

I was behind Renata.

The three of us were mere steps from Mr. Tanori's classroom.

Adair glanced back. “Let me hear it, girls,” she cried, holding up a fist. “Pumped and ready?”

“Pumped and ready,” I echoed.

“Maybe we could practice one more time,” said Renata before a giant sneeze erupted from her ruddy face. “Rachoo!”

“Bless you,” said Adair, leaning over to shoot me a worried look.

We'd decided Renata should do the biggest chunk of the presentation. Well, Adair and I had decided. Renata didn't want to do it. I knew she was afraid she'd lisp. But the project was her idea, and it seemed only right she be the one to talk about it. Once Renata was
done discussing how painting a mural over the ugly, orange wall in the cafeteria would boost school spirit and make a difference in our pathetic world, Adair would share the details, like how long it would take to paint it (around a month, we figured) and how much it would cost to buy primer, paint, and supplies (about a thousand dollars). We'd even gotten Mrs. Wyndham, the art teacher, to agree to give art students extra credit for helping to paint the mural.

Lastly, I would reveal my design. Ta-da! My drawing was a collage of twenty-two faces (one face for each year the school had existed) intertwined with swirling grapevines and leaves. I was going through a Celtic art phase. The prickly vines represented our school, Briar Green, and the faces, of course, were meant to symbolize students. I'd incorporated our school colors into the pencil sketch, using muted shades of green and silvery-blue to create a serene yet spooky mood. Many of the faces were easy to spot among the winding tendrils, but others were almost impossible to find. None was recognizable, of course. Still, if you looked hard enough, you could find Liezel's brooding eyes, Fawn's bent silhouette, Adair's giggle dimples, and Dijon's scorning mouth. I didn't know why I'd put Dijon in the mural. I
guess everything you experience can inspire you, even the bad stuff. Especially the bad stuff.

I didn't have any illusions about the outcome of all my hard work. Everybody knew Dijon's idea—however outrageous, impractical, or costly—was going to win by a landslide. That's how things were done in the kingdom of Big Mess. Yet, I couldn't seem to stop the war of hope within me. My brain shouted, “Forget it, forget, forget it!” even as my heart beat, “Imagine it, imagine it, imagine it.”

Dijon stalked into class with Truffle and Venice in her boot prints.

“I'm telling you I didn't put anything in it,” said Truffle.

“There has to be some reason why it smells like something died in there,” said Dijon.

I muffled a snort.

“It wasn't me,” insisted Truffle. “Maybe Venice—”

“Don't even go there,” said Venice, gnashing her gum. “You probably stepped in dog doo again.”

“I did not.” Truffle quickly checked the soles of her shoes.

Venice sighed. “If anyone can find poop, Truff, it's you.”

“Yeah? What about you?”

“Me?”

“You and your random farts of blindness.”

A small giggle may have escaped my lips.

Venice's head did an owl-like spin. “Shut up, Cuckoo. Nobody's talking to you.” She was really wailing on her gum.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

Supreme! Operation Locker Rescue was working better than I'd ever anticipated. This squabbling among the Royal Court was a juicy bonus.

Venice turned back to Truffle. “Get your stuff out of our locker by noon today.”

“You can't throw me out. It's Dijon's locker. Only Dijon can throw me out.”

Dijon slipped a twisted cord of red licorice out of her mouth and said coolly, “Get out.”

“But, Dij—”

“And, Venice, get that locker cleaned out by this afternoon.”

Venice said, “Yes, my queen.” Or something to that effect.

I could hardly wait to text Liezel.

As Mr. Tanori took roll, Renata played her invisible
piano with more determination than ever. Fingers were flying back and forth across her desk. I wondered what she was playing. Was it anything I knew? Was it hard?

“Are you sure she can do this?” Adair hissed across the aisle.

“If she has a problem, we'll help her.”

“If she has a problem,
we
have a problem. We'll get the D too.”

“Nobody's getting a D,” I said with a lot more confidence than I felt.

Mr. Tanori asked which group wanted to go first. Dijon flicked her finger against Venice's shoulder blade. Venice's hand went up. But it wasn't fast enough. Our teacher had already picked Cord Nagel. Cord was a Sortabody hotshot basketball player, so, of course, Cord's group wanted to buy new basketballs and hoops for the gym.

Yawnfest.

I was awakened by lackluster applause.

“Which group would like to be next?” asked Mr. Tanori.

Determined not to be overlooked, or maybe because she didn't want to endure any more of Dijon's flicking fingernails, Venice flew out of her chair.

“Good enthusiasm,” said Mr. Tanori. “Dijon, Venice, Truffle, and Breck. You're up.”

We were about to see the main attraction, so, naturally, the applause got louder. Some of the guys whistled. With a quick curtsy Dijon pranced to take a spot in the front of the room. Venice, Truffle, and Breck stood off to the side. Venice held a rolled-up poster. She kept snapping the rubber band around it.
Zing! Zing!
Dijon gave her a dirty look. She stopped.

Dijon put a hand on her slim hip. She was wearing a tangerine-colored T-shirt that read
DON'T HATE ME BECAUSE I'M CUTE. HATE ME BECAUSE I'M RICHER THAN YOU.
“Is everybody ready? Todd, shut up.” Dijon let out a giggle. “Okay, my fabulous idea is to paint a mural over the pukey orange wall in the cafeteria.”

For the next several minutes the only thing I could process was sound.

Whap!
Adair's hands hitting her cheeks.

Wonk!
Renata's forehead hitting her desk.

Wang!
My sketchbook hitting the floor.

When, finally, all of my senses returned, Venice and Truffle were unrolling the poster. It was an acrylic painting of a St. Bernard. At least, I think it was a dog. The animal was drawn completely out of proportion. A
malnourished body supported an enormous head with a pair of Chihuahua-sized ears. It looked like some kind of freakish creature Dr. Frankenstein might piece together so his monster could have a pet. Below the creepy dog were our school shield and a banner that read
BRIAR GREEN ST. BENERD PRIDE!
Yes, “Bernard” was misspelled. Dijon had signed the lower right-hand corner of the poster. Her name was twice the size of the banner. No one else's name was on the poster.

“Isn't it fabulous?” Dijon beckoned to the class, signaling the time had come for her subjects to give her plenty of praise.

Ew.

“Oh, yeah!” Parker let out a whistle.

“Awesome idea,” said Todd.

“Wicked design, Dijon.”

As she left, Dijon blew kisses to the class.

Double ew.

Adair leaned across the aisle. “What do we do?”

“Let another group go first. When it's our turn, we'll pretend it's no big deal that we both had the same idea.”

“That could be a problem.” Adair was glancing toward the back.

Behind us, one row over, Renata was pulling up the cowled collar of her pink-and-white sweater over her head. She looked like a candy-cane-striped turtle.

I waved. “Renata, it's okay.”

“Yes, Coco,” said Mr. Tanori, motioning to me. “Have your group come on up.”

“Oh no, Mr. Tanori, I wasn't—”

“Next we have Coco, Adair, and Renata,” said our teacher, stepping aside.

Pulling a pretend noose around her neck, Adair stuck her tongue out. We were both thinking the same thing. We might as well get it over with as quickly as possible. Holding my sketchbook to my chest, I followed Adair to the front. When we turned around, Renata wasn't with us. She was still at her desk, still hiding out in her Christmas-themed turtle shell. She had slumped down her seat. Way down. The ends of her oversize sleeves flopped back and forth—two flags in surrender.

“Miss Zickelfoos?” Mr. Tanori called. “Join your team, please.”

Renata melted out of her chair. By the time she reached us, most of her head had emerged from her sweater. However, the thick collar still clung to her chin.

BOOK: Stealing Popular
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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