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Authors: Cecil Castellucci

The Queen of Cool

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Weekday morning routine:

Take shower.

Assemble perfect outfit.

Apply makeup.

Pull hair into bun. Secure with glitter pencils.

Accept twenty-dollar bill from Dad.

Pick up latte and creamy chocolate brioche from café.

Drive to school the long way.

Listen to sad music way too loud.

Nab choice parking spot under tree.

When I enter the school courtyard, Perla waves me over with her mascara wand, then continues to apply her makeup. She needs no mirror. She knows her own face by heart.

“Morning, Libby,” she says, concentrating on her eyelashes, not looking at me. “Cute outfit.”

“It should be cute,” I say. “I worked hard to come up with it.”

I may not be as devastatingly gorgeous as Perla, but I know how to emphasize my assets.

I plop my bag on the ground and sit in the middle of my friends:

Kenji, frantically copying some homework before the bell rings.

Perla, now blotting her lips on the corner of the weekly school handout.

Sid, his nose in a book, his ears plugged up with headphones, his head bouncing slightly in and out of his green hooded sweatshirt.

Mike Dutko, head leaning against the trunk of the tree, half asleep, mouth open.

“Brainstorm,” I say.

Everyone stops what they are doing to look at me.

“You must create your own fun,” I say as I pull the glitter pencils out of my hair and tape them onto my shirt.

Sid removes his headphones and pulls his hood back to make the announcement.

“Pencil Day!”

Perla laughs. Kenji digs into his bag and starts looking for pencils.

Halfway through the day, everyone has covered themselves with pens or pencils.

Halfway through the day, the tape no longer has the strength to keep the pencils in their place, and they start to drop off my shirt. They are jumping ship. The pencils are bailing.

They might just have the right idea.

I think: Fuck it.

Out of school. Out of mind.

I cut and go home.

“Ugh, that little freak freaks me out,” Perla says during Nutrition.

I look over to where she’s pointing. It’s at Tiny Carpentieri. She’s over by the vending machine getting an apple.

I don’t like the look of Tiny either. She’s too, I dunno,
desperate.

When the bell rings, she passes by us. She kicks her right leg out a little bit when she walks.

“She waddles like a duck,” Perla says.

“She’s not a
duck.
She’s a
dwarf.

I’m not even being funny. Or mean. I’m just being truthful. Tiny is a dwarf.

“Weird Walk Day,” Perla announces, and walks to class shaking her ass the whole way.

I take quick little steps, which make me fall behind. Perla laughs and tells me to hurry up.

By the end of the day, everyone in school is doing a weird walk.

By the end of the day, the teachers are asking everyone to stop it.

By the end of the day, I am over it. It was so second period.

“What do you think the point of life is?” I ask.

We are sitting in my rec room. I’m swigging a beer. Mike Dutko is passing around a joint.

No one says a word, until Sid pipes up.

“Life is everything and nothing. Wonderful and terrible. The beginning and the end.”

Perla laughs.

“You are such a
dork,
” Perla says. It’s her favorite insult this week. Last week it was
moron.

“Yeah, man, school just started, and already you’re reading way too many books,” Mike Dutko says.

Of course, they’re trying to get a rise out of Sid. Everyone does. Sid is such an easy target.

But Sid does not engage. He folds his hands in front of him and presses his full lips into a thin line.

“Life is a pain in my ass,” Perla says, raising up her beer in a toast. “Give me oblivion!”

Mike Dutko laughs and pulls Perla close to him. In a minute he will go to the bathroom and ask Perla to help him with something.

And then she will give him a hand job.

I will be stuck sitting in my rec room alone with Sid, and he and I will attempt small talk. Out of embarrassment, we will not look at each other because we will know what is really going on in the bathroom.

Sid will talk to me about his band, Swisher.

Or he will talk about some obscure book he is reading.

Or he will mention a philosophical thing that no one has ever heard about.

He will try to fill up the air with words so that we can’t hear the noises coming from the bathroom.

It’s the same old routine.

Mike Dutko makes his move, but before Perla follows him, Kenji finally arrives, followed by a bunch of other kids from school. He is carrying a case of beer.

“I’ve brought reinforcements!” Kenji says. “Let’s get this party started!”

Kenji wedges himself between Sid and me. He puts his arm around my waist.

Sid looks relieved by the sudden invasion.

I know I am.

Of course, Pajama Day is my idea.

I am wearing Gama-Go pajamas and toting around Mr. Puffy, my teddy bear from when I was a kid.

Perla is wearing a fancy lace nightgown.

Sid is wearing crisply ironed, blue-striped vintage pajamas.

Mike Dutko forgot about the whole plan.

Kenji is wearing a robe.

“I sleep naked,” he explains.

A week later, Perla snorts and points at a bunch of total geeks who show up to school wearing pajamas. I notice Tiny Carpentieri is wearing a Disneyland Sleeping Beauty T-shirt, only on her it reaches all the way to the floor.

“Copycats,” Perla says, snapping her gum and adjusting her bra under her flamingo pink baby-tee that has the words
Spoiled Brat
printed in rhinestones across her boobs.

Her every move results in a disco effect, creating a bunch of mini-rainbows on the wall of lockers next to us. I’m mesmerized, but Perla’s already moved on to the next topic: boys and how they all love her.

“God, they all stare at me,” she says. “I guess it’s good practice for when I’m famous, when my dad gives me my own reality show,
The Totally True Adventures of a Beautiful Girl.

“Is that what it’s going to be called?” I ask.

“I don’t know — I’m trying it out,” she says.

It is true; she is beautiful.

Everybody stares at Perla. Even babies. Even old women. Everybody. And I know what they think — I can see it in their faces: “My God, what a lovely girl.”

I zone out again and watch the rhinestone rainbows shimmer in time with her body while she counts on both hands, twice, all the boys she swears get a boner whenever she walks by.

“. . . and Mr. Stephens. He’s always, like, adjusting himself around me.”

Perla finishes her list and stops moving. The rainbows disappear, along with my moment of inner peace.

I snap shut the lock on my locker.

From somewhere behind me, I overhear someone say what a cool idea coming to school in your pajamas is.

Usually I would turn around and demand credit where credit is due. But who has the energy to care?

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