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The invisible charmer had a girlfriend. She was spirited and smelled like lilacs. She loved listening to live bands and reporting “the latest” to gossip-starved students. She held hands with him. She tittered at his jokes. Things were getting serious.
It was time for Billy to wear clothes.
“Prepare to go from zero to hero,” Frankie said, holding open the door to Abercrombie & Fitch.
“There’s an itch in Fitch, and we’re gonna scratch it,” Billy added, grinning with anticipation as he stepped into the air-conditioned store. The holiday season had just ended, and thus everything was on sale. High prices were no longer an excuse for nudity. He was ready to zip up, button up, and show up.
“Look,” said Frankie, pointing at their reflection in the wood-framed mirror. A green girl with white-streaked black hair, plaid tights, and a denim minidress was standing beside a floating pair of sunglasses and tattered Timberlands. The duo burst out laughing.
In a romantic comedy, this would be a pivotal scene. While watching it, the audience would decide that Billy should be with Frankie instead of the lilac-scented girl. The moviegoers would have seen how they laughed on the train from Salem to Portland. Heard strangers refer to them as a perfect couple. Marveled at how uninhibited they were with each other. And everyone in that audience would long for the person seated beside him or her to be just as dynamic.
But this wasn’t a movie. It was real life. And for once, Billy Phaedin’s story was more magical than Hollywood.
They sifted through the racks, blissfully unaware of other shoppers and their puzzled glances. Afloat in a bubble of inside jokes and laughter, they hardly noticed a mother pulling her tween daughter closer to her hip.
“Welcome,” said a California blond in a ruffled black dress and a bright blue hoodie. She turned to peek at her coworker by the cash register, as if executing a dare. “Can I help you find your size?” And then a little louder, “And your body?”
The girl at the register smacked the counter in disbelief and cracked up. Billy clenched his fists. Frankie had warned him about this. It had taken weeks of shopping in Salem before the salespeople began treating her like a normie. Now she was a VIP. But Voltage Important Person status wasn’t granted after a single spree. It took time and trust. And they were in Portland now, breaking into a new market. So Billy bit his lip and let Frankie do the talking.
“We’d love the help,” she said, twisting her hair into a knot. How do girls do that? Billy wondered. Her bolts gleamed unapologetically. “My friend needs a wardrobe.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” asked the girl with a know-it-all squint.
“Salem,” Frankie said.
“Thought so. I heard about you guys,” she said, eyeing Frankie’s bolts. She reached for them. “Are those—?”
Frankie swatted the girl’s hand. “Don’t touch. They’re live.”
The blond blushed. “Sorry.”
“No prob.” Frankie smiled. “You hook Billy up with some mint clothes, and I’ll send you a pair of stick-ons from my father’s lab. I do it for all my mall friends back home.”
“Epic. Well, I’m Autumn. And if you guys want to have a seat in our dressing lounge, I’ll start pulling some looks.”
Frankie led the way and Billy followed. Not the way he used to, galumphing like a sad puppy because she was crushing on Brett Redding instead of him. On this day he was more like a proud pony, trotting joyfully because he was the exception to the Hollywood rule. He could have a megawatt-hot best friend and no longer have to fight the urge to kiss her. She could even have a cool normie boyfriend he didn’t want to choke. He was that stable.
Ever since he met Spectra—two months earlier at Clawdeen’s Sassy Sixteen party—the only thing Billy had felt for Frankie and Brett was happiness. He no longer felt invisible. Spectra and her playful sense of humor, girlie giggle, and just-because kisses brought color and definition to his world in a way that spray tans never could.
They settled into the brown leather couch outside the fitting rooms and helped themselves to the complimentary A&F water.
“Spectra’s been begging me to get visible,” Billy said, dropping his sunglasses into Frankie’s purse. “She’s gonna freak.”
Frankie took a small sip and then screwed the top back onto her bottle. “She’ll probably tell everyone you were just given a full wardrobe as the new spokesmodel for the store.”
Billy sighed. Here we go again. “Spec may cut corners when it comes to fact-checking, but she’s not a liar.”
There was a time when Billy would have hoped Frankie was speaking out of jealousy. But he knew better. Frankie might be green on the outside, but inside she was pure gold—except when it came to Spectra’s “stories.” Those made her see red.
“I’m not saying she’s a liar,” Frankie insisted. “More like a—”
Billy stiffened. “A what?”
Frankie paused to consider her words. “A verbal free spirit.”
“Maybe because she is a spirit,” he tried.
“I’m talking about her rumors,” Frankie insisted. “Half the time it’s like she’s just making stuff up.” And then she added, “I’m sorry,” as she always did. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I won’t,” Billy assured her. “Spectra may fill in the blanks sometimes, but she’s not mean.”
“She could spread a fake rumor about you or—”
A Bieber-haired boy stepped out of the fitting room holding a striped V-neck. He paused to watch Frankie, who appeared to be talking to herself.
“What are you looking at?” Billy asked in his deepest voice. “Never seen a green ventriloquist before?”
“Uh…” The boy scanned the lounge as if looking for hidden cameras. When he didn’t find any, he stiffened—and then grinned. He took a step closer and lifted his palm. “Right awn.”
Billy thrust his own palm forward and smacked the guy like a long-lost brother. The unexpected force launched Bieber Boy straight into a clothing rack. Hangers swayed wildly above his limp body.
Frankie raced toward him. “Omigod, are you okay? It was an accident. Usually people run away. We’re not used to—”
“I’m cool,” he grunted, and then wobbled to his feet with the grace of a colossal pregnant woman. “Can I take your picture?”
He didn’t seem to mind that one of his subjects was invisible. There was something about the way Frankie’s arm seemed to hover in midair that thrilled him into a dozen thank-yous.
“Things are really different now,” Billy said once they were alone again. The RADs’ growing acceptance was starting to spread beyond Salem.
Frankie twirled a loose wrist seam around her finger. “It’s hard to believe Clawdeen’s party turned everything around.”
“Losing your head at the school dance kind of got the ball rolling, don’tcha think?”
Frankie giggled at the memory. “We’re not freaks anymore.”
“I know. It sucks.” Billy sighed.
Frankie shot him a look.
He smiled. “I have to find new material.”
“It’s about time.”
“Where’s my model?” asked Autumn, her arms stacked with stylishly wrinkled plaids and denims.
Billy wiggled his boot. “Here.”
“Epic. I’ll just put this stuff in a room and—”
“S’okay,” Billy said, grabbing half the stack and placing it beside him on the couch. “I can change out here. It’s not like anyone can see anything, right?”
Frankie jumped to her feet and clapped. “Fashion show!”
For the next hour, Billy allowed himself to be dressed and undressed by two gorgeous girls who wanted nothing more than to make him as cute as visibly possible. He was out in public owning his RADness, mere hours away from a night of lilac-scented hugs.
And the invisible boy lived happily ever after….
“Just promise me you won’t change,” Frankie said as they rode the train home, cocooned in a nest of black-and-white bags.
“I promise,” he said, but it was too late. He already had.
Frankie triple-checked the date on her iPhone to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. It still read June 1. Yellow sparks sprayed from her fingertips, raining down around the crowded bleachers in the school gym. They settled by her black-and-white-striped Mary Janes and then winked out like fireflies. After this day, there would be twenty-three days of school left! Twenty-four days until the first day of summer vacation! Twenty-four days until twenty-four-seven VOLTAGE!
Amid the mounting sounds of chattering students jockeying for seats, the normie boy beside her placed a warm hand on her shoulder. You okay? his denim-blue eyes seemed to ask.
Frankie smile-nodded and then returned to the screen. After six months of PDA (public displays of anxiety), Brett Redding still noticed her every flicker. If she sparked during a test, he’d lift his gaze and wink reassuringly. If she sparked when a teacher called on her, he’d place a hand on her back. When she sparked during a scary movie, however, he’d laugh. But Merston High’s other students? They had stopped marveling at her quirks months earlier. The shock of seeing Frankenstein’s granddaughter snap, crackle, and pop was soooo last November.
Unable to sit still, Frankie bounced her mint-green knee. Zap! Another spark singed a small hole in the polyurethane coating on the bench. She wrinkled her nose and tried to wave away the smell of burning plastic before anyone noticed.
“What’s with the light show?” he asked, scanning the gym for a possible cause.
“I’m fine,” Frankie assured him as she thumbed her keypad. “I just thought of something else for my summer to-do-or-die list, and I got excited.”
“It’s just called a to-do list.” Brett grinned. “You know that, right?”
“Not mine.” She quickly typed: EXPERIMENT: TAN LEGS ONLY, SO IT LOOKS LIKE I’M WEARING DARK GREEN TIGHTS. “To-dos are a snooze. Everything on my list is to die for,” Frankie insisted, defending her sixteen ideas. Because, really, they were more than just ideas. They were warm-weather adventures. At least, they were to her. Most of her friends had already tasted the salty Pacific Ocean or spent an entire day barefoot; caught a real firefly in a jar or tried a three-day solar-energy cleanse. But not Frankie. She may have been implanted with fifteen years’ worth of knowledge, but this was going to be her first summer of real life. And she was going to seize the season with every stitch in her body. She just had to make it through this last weekly diversity-training assembly without shorting out, and she’d be one hour closer.
Blue squeezed in beside Frankie on the bench. Once settled, she wound her blond curls up in a knot and secured them with an aqua lacquered chopstick. Fanning the back of her neck, the Aussie sea creature sighed. “Man, I can’t wait to don the ol’ bathers and soak my scales in the fuzzy.”
“What time is your pedicure?” Frankie wondered, thinking she’d benefit from a little piggy polish herself.
“Nay, Sheila,” Blue said with her usual dolphin-y cackle. “That was Australian for ‘I need a swim.’ I’m as chapped as a mozzy in the Woop Woop.” Sunbeams shone through the gym’s skylight and onto her dry scales, casting iridescent crescent-shaped glimmers on the wall behind them.
“A swim sounds voltage!” Frankie beamed. “Let’s get a big group together. I’ll have Daddy turn down the turbines in our backyard, and we can jump in the falls.”
Blue clapped her pink-mesh-gloved hands for joy.
“What’s this I hear about a pool party?” Clawdeen asked, making her way up the steps. She plopped her red leather cross-body bag on the bench beside Blue and then pulled an orange chunk of foam from her right ear. The canine’s ears were too sensitive for assembly noise. But social plans and gossip? She never tuned those out. “Where and when?” she asked, removing the left earplug.
“My house after school,” Frankie announced.
“Works for me,” Clawdeen said, fluffing the auburn tuft around her neck and then jamming the plugs back in place. Even though the moon wasn’t close to full, Clawdeen’s arms and neck were covered in luxurious fur. She was in perpetual Hollywood glam mode since she had cut back on the waxing and upped the grooming. Normies in every grade were now adorning their collars and sleeves with synthetic pelts in a multitude of textures and colors. Yet none could compete with the shine and fullness of Clawdeen’s. She DIYed herself a crystal brooch that said FUR REAL and wore it daily, just in case they tried.
Cleo squeezed in beside Clawdeen. Bodies parted Red Sea–style to let her through. She finger-combed her bangs and then surveyed the crowd. Her purple jersey minidress wrapped her caramel-colored curves like a birthday present; the gold linen strips around her wrists were the bows.
“Is skinny-dipping allowed at this pool party?” Billy asked from somewhere nearby.
“What was the point of all our shopping trips if you’re not going to wear your new clothes?” Frankie asked her invisible best friend.
“It’s hot out,” he said.
“Well, I hope your invisibooty isn’t on these benches,” Cleo said, sitting. The smell of amber and superiority surrounded her like a protective bubble. “My outfit hasn’t been Scotchgarded yet.”
“How about beeotch-guarded?” Billy snipped.
Everyone giggled except Cleo’s boyfriend, Deuce. He knew better than to laugh at anything that cast his royal girlfriend in an unflattering light. Instead, he began to squirm like the snakes under his beanie, and turned to greet his b-ball buddy Davis Dreyson in the row behind them. Deuce’s signature mirrored Ray-Bans reflected his friend’s easy smile.
“Why are we even here?” asked Blue. “We’re as diverse as a two-headed dingo.” She wrapped her arms around Irish Emmy—her new normie friend from the swim team—and then kissed her sloppily on the cheek. “See?”
“Aww, dry up, ya bird.” Irish Emmy giggled, wiping the slobber off her pale face. Her flat-ironed red hair undulated like sea grass.
Blue was right. They didn’t need lectures and tolerance exercises anymore. The diversity-training assemblies had done a mint job of teaching normies and RADs how to coexist peacefully. There hadn’t been a single issue in months. In fact, RAD (Regular Attribute Dodgers) were trending up this semester. Way up.
Frankie’s seams had inspired the latest henna tattoo craze: shoulder and wrist stitches. Cleo admirers wrapped their arms in linen. Deuce’s signature hat-and-sunglasses look had spread through the basketball team faster than athlete’s foot. Faux-fur tributes to Clawdeen rolled down the halls like tumbleweed. And Blue’s sleeves were advertised in the latest spring colors. Freak was finally chic. So why not call it a day? An early dismissal for a job well done? After their swim, they could rent a paddleboat and drift along the Willamette River. Breathe the grass-scented air. Sample each flavor of gelato—
“Everyone up!” shouted a frizzy-haired fortysomething as she walk-bounced toward the center of the basketball court. As if working the runway at O’Hare Airport, she waved the students to stand.
Mrs. Foose—the school’s “integration expert,” as Principal Weeks called her—had been hired to teach tolerance to the students at Merston High. “Maybe she can teach us how to tolerate her wardrobe,” Cleo had remarked at the first assembly. And as much as Frankie hated to judge, she could see Cleo’s point. Foose’s uniform—an oversize slogan tee (today’s said LOVE THY GAYBOR), high-waisted Levi’s, and teeter-tottering purple-and-silver EasyTone Reeboks—was hard to condone.
“It’s our last assembly of the year, so sing it like you mean it.” Mrs. Foose pressed a button on her old-school boom box and stiffly lifted her left hand to her chest. A rather robust rendition of Merston High’s new anthem echoed through the gym. Frankie—always eager to make the best of a boring situation—stood in the bleachers and sang at the top of her lung space.
“Come one, come all, don’t hesitate!
At Merston High we tol-er-ate!
Class is cool; let’s go study.
High school rocks when a RAD’s your buddy!”
Frankie sang this line extra loud, and everyone applauded and jumped up on the bleachers. Mrs. Foose flashed a thumbs-up, reveling in the surge of teen spirit. Frankie flashed a thumbs-up back. Cleo rolled her topaz-colored eyes, probably wishing she could cut off Frankie’s thumb and jam it up her—
“Buuuut… normies are quite special too,
So mix and mingle—it’s not taboo!
Learn from each other, never smother.
Merston High: It’s like no other!”
Frankie led the school in a round of enthusiastic bleacher stomping while Mrs. Foose wiped tears of pride from her eyes.
“Don’t hate!” the teacher called, fist-pumping.
“Tol-er-ate!” the students responded.
Applause rang out as Mrs. Foose turned off the boom box and adjusted the microphone on her headset. “Seats, everyone!”
Feedback pierced their restless murmurs. Clawdeen covered her ears.
“Sorry about that, Wolfs!” Mrs. Foose said, assuming her serious stance—hands clasped behind her back, knees locked. “Today marks the final lecture in the Merston High Dive into Diversity program.”
She waved them silent, her triceps flapping like sails on the open sea. “When we first met, Merston was divided. RADs”—Mrs. Foose punctuated this with enthusiastic air quotes—“lived in fear and secrecy. Normies”—she air-quoted again—“were dominant.”
“Woo-hoo!” a male voice called.
Mrs. Foose clapped sharply and held up her index finger. The student body was one now. “Thanks to your hard work,” she continued, “we’ve had an incredible semester here at Merston. Our swim team, led by Lagoona Blue, went to the state finals for the first time in twenty years.”
“Rake!” Irish Emmy fist-bumped Blue.
Frankie patted Blue on the back. Everyone cheered. Blue grinned and wound a stray curl around her forefinger. A bleached blond with eyeliner gills on her neck reached back for a high five.
Mrs. Foose continued. “Coed track made it to the national meet in April thanks to the Wolf family.” Clawdeen and her brothers raised both arms above their heads. “And both our basketball and football teams are undefeated.” Deuce and Clawd stood and bowed. “This has been an unprecedented season for Merston High athletics thanks to our RADs and their extraordinary skills.”
Applause echoed off the cinder-block walls.
“I look out at you and see appreciation and acceptance,” Mrs. Foose went on. “Today I see tomorrow. And it looks like a rainbow, friends. One big, bold rainbow. And if you help me spread this colorful light, soon the whole world will be lit by our love. And you will always know that it started right here. With you. At Merston High!”
Frankie jumped up on the bleachers and stomp-cheered. Once again, everyone followed. Everyone but Cleo. Instead of cheering, she stayed seated on the shaking bench, struggling to apply her gold-flecked lip gloss.
True, she was never one for grand overtures. Normally, Cleo was catlike, expressing her approval with subtle gestures: a measured smile here, an eyelash bat there. But lately—ever since the combined total of Frankie’s Facebook and Twitter friends exceeded Cleo’s (on May 22, 7:04 PM, 607 versus 598)—she’d been more aloof. Vengeful, even. Frankie had considered cutting back on her tweets and posts. Maybe that way she would lose a few online friends and even the score. Anything to deflect Cleo’s snooty comments and unsettling eye rolls—they were the number one side effect of jealousy, her mother had explained. But Brett and Billy had joined forces to talk Frankie out of it. Why make your virtual friends suffer just because Cleo’s status is slipping? You’re all-around nicer. No wonder they like you more. What, no one else is allowed to be popular? She should be kissing your bolts, not the other way around. So Frankie tried to bolster Cleo’s royal ego with flattery that usually fell flat.
“Hey, Cleo,” Frankie called. “If we’re in an earthquake, will you do my makeup?”
“Yeah, that’ll be the first thing on my mind,” she snarled.
Frankie’s heart space tightened. It was useless. Everything she did got Cleo’s linens in a bunch.
“Ignore her,” whispered Spectra, Billy’s invisible girlfriend. “Fact: Her twin sister, Nefra, is moving to Alexandria for the summer. Cleo is heartbroken. They, like, sleep in the same sarcophagus and everything. She’s just taking it out on you.”
“Good to know,” Frankie said politely, repressing the urge to roll her eyes. Everyone knew Nefra lived in Cairo and was three years older than Cleo. Can’t Spectra get anything right?
“Hold your chatter!” Mrs. Foose shouted, silencing the students with another sharp clap. “Our work isn’t done yet. We’re riding the pendulum too far in the other direction. Normies have been benched during games. They’re hiding their natural beauty behind RAD-influenced makeup and accessories—”
“What’s wrong with that?” Cleo muttered.
Clawdeen giggled into her palm.
“We need to strike a balance,” said Mrs. Foose. “Every color needs to shine before we call ourselves a rainbow.”
“Can I get some nachos with that cheese?” whispered Brett. Frankie smile-nudged him, catching a whiff of the wax-scented balm that kept his black hair so perfectly spiked.
“For our final exercise before school lets out for the summer…”
Everyone moaned. Principal Weeks stepped forward and raised his hands for silence. The gym slowly quieted. He nodded for Mrs. Foose to continue.
“I’d like for us to focus on balance. And to do that, each grade must form a Balance Board. It will be equally composed of RADs and normies. For the remainder of this year and into next, team members will be charged with addressing the needs of their fellow students. Social events, facility upgrades, even new classes and sports. Anything and everything that will bring balance to our rainbow.”
Surprisingly, several students—especially those in the first few rows—applauded. Mrs. Foose and Principal Weeks exchanged a proud glance.
Yes! The day had finally ended. It was time to swim! The bleachers began to creak as students gathered their bags.
“If you’re interested in having a say in the future of your school, drop your name into the box by the gym doors,” Mrs. Foose shouted. “I’ll pick the names randomly, to keep it fair, and Principal Weeks will announce the board members tomorrow.”
Brett hooked his backpack over his shoulder as he joined the surge of people pressing toward the double doors. “Are you gonna do it?” he asked, reaching for Frankie’s hand. Her bolts buzzed with joy. Would she ever get tired of his chipped black nail polish and skull ring?
“Do what?” she asked.
“The Balance Board. Are you going to put your name in?”
Frankie giggled, appreciating his sense of humor almost as much as his willingness to accessorize. “It should be spelled like Balance B-O-R-E-D.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “You’re always trying to get involved, so why not?”
“That was before,” Frankie insisted, suddenly irritated. How many times did she have to remind him she was done with politics? She had fought and failed too many times. Besides, the fight was over. The RADs had won. It was time to partay! “If it’s not fun, I’m done,” she said. “I’m not wasting this weather sitting in after-school meetings.”
“Looks like you’re alone on that one,” Brett said.
The sign-up box was surrounded by at least half the student body. All of the name cards had been used. A normie boy in a blue baseball hat wrote his info on a gum wrapper. Jackson Jekyll scribbled his on a yellow Post-it. Even Cleo was searching for something to write on.
“It’s nice to see her getting involved,” Frankie said, nodding toward Cleo. Maybe now she’ll be too busy to glare at me.
“She’s probably stuffing the ballot box so she can win,” Billy said.
“What do you have against her?” Frankie asked. “She hasn’t been mean to you.”
“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Billy said with a hint of sarcasm. Frankie smiled. He was obviously making fun of her warnings about Spectra. But it was too sunny outside to care.
“Good luck,” she said, smiling at Cleo as they walked out.
Cleo smirked. “Yeah, you too.” Then she giggled.
Frankie considered telling Cleo she wasn’t going to enter. But why bother? The sooner she got out of there, the faster she’d be hosting a pool party for her friends—which happened to be number seven on her to-do-or-die list. So she simply extended the invitation to Cleo and then bolted for the exit. One day closer to freedom!
In the parking lot, winks of yellow sunlight glinted off the cars. Lala shaded her sensitive eyes as newly licensed drivers screeched into the first heat wave of summer. She shivered. Why couldn’t the weather warm her the way Clawd Wolf did?
The Chic Freaks—Lala’s proud nickname for Cleo, Frankie, Clawdeen, Blue, and herself—charged across the gum-spotted asphalt, not the least bit tempted by the end-of-day gossip or senior flirt sessions. Instead, their sunglass-covered eyes were fixed on Lala’s Escalade. And she was running out of ways to stall them.
“Quit walking like a bludger!” Blue called over her shoulder. “My scales are crisping.”
“My bolts are burning.” (Frankie.)
“My fur is singeing.” (Clawdeen.)
“Tan lines!” Cleo said, shielding her exposed shoulders under Clawdeen’s thick auburn hair. “I need to get strapless before I turn all tic-tac-toe-y.”
Lala slowed even more. “Do you need parasols?” she asked, twirling the pink stem of the one in her hand. “I have a bunch in my locker. How ’bout I run back and—”
“Just put some go-go juice in your boots, will ya?” Clawdeen barked, doubling back to yank Lala forward. “Frankie’s pool. Remember?”
Of course she remembered. They’d told her the instant they found her in the corner spooning with her space heater during the assembly. She wasn’t stupid; she was in love. And leaving school without a kiss from Clawd felt like losing a purse and not being allowed to look for it. But try explaining that to his I-still-can’t-believe-you-think-he’s-cute sister.
Blue peeled back her sleeve and checked her pink G-Shock watch. “It hasn’t rained in two hundred eleven hours. This town is as dry as the outback,” she said. “If I get on the Balance Board, I’m gonna put pool lanes in the halls and swim to my classes.”
Frankie whipped off her studded sunglasses. “You signed up for that?”
Cleo snickered, as if remembering a joke.
“So did I.” Clawdeen lifted her auburn curls off her fur-lined neck and fanned. “If I get on, I’m hiring a groomer.”
“I’m going to cover the walls with mirrors,” Cleo announced.
“What do mirrors have to do with being a mummy?” Frankie asked.
“Nothing,” Cleo replied with a smirk. “I just like looking at myself.”
The Chic Freaks cracked up as they teetered in their platforms toward the Escalade. A mint-green Vespa zipped by, and Frankie blew a kiss in its direction.
“Want that!” she shouted over the buzzing motor. And then she turned to Lala. “Looks like we’re the only ones who didn’t sign up for that board thingy.”
Cleo giggled again.
“I signed up,” Lala said, aware of how odd that remark must sound coming from her. She was hardly one to shy away from activism, but animal rescue and preservation had always been her thing, and that cause kept her busy outside of school. “Plenty of people are looking out for us, but who’s looking out for them?” she liked to say when someone asked her to volunteer for something school-related. No one even bothered to ask anymore.
“I thought rescue-animal makeovers were your latest obsession,” Clawdeen said.
“Yeah, what happened to beastiesB4besties?” Cleo teased, recalling Lala’s old e-mail address.
“I did this for a beast,” she explained. “Well, more like a bat.”
“The old fella?” Blue asked, scratching her arms. Fine iridescent dust fell to the hot pavement.
Lala nodded, knowing Blue was referring to the big D, Lala’s dad. “He thinks my leadership skills are suffering because I don’t participate in school activities.”
“Why does a pet aesthetician need leadership skills?” Frankie asked.
Lala lowered the pink ruffled parasol in front of her face. “He claims I won’t get into a good college unless I prove my devotion to Merston.”
“Got it!” Blue said, raising her finger. “How ’bout we find you a lovable little bluey and name him Merston?”
They burst out laughing again.
“What?” Clawdeen called, glancing back at the school. Across the grassy lawn, out of earshot for non-canines, Clawd was saying something to her.
“What?” she asked again, this time in annoyance. Then, with a sigh, “Fine, but hurry up.”
He fist-bumped his buddies and shuffled toward the parking lot with the enthusiasm of someone going to the principal’s office. No waves, no smiles, no eye contact. No acknowledgment whatsoever that he even knew Lala. Clawd put the cool in school, at least when the boys were around. Still, her insides began to rev. Clawd always managed to kick up her cardio.
“What did he say?” Lala asked.
“Ask him,” Clawdeen huffed. “He’s coming to see you, not me.”
“He said that?” Lala asked. “In front of the guys?”
“ ’Course not,” Clawdeen answered. “He said he had to get his football stuff from the car. But we know what that really means.”
Lala tossed her VEGAN PRINCESS key chain through the air to Clawdeen, who caught it like a bouquet. “Don’t even think of turning on the AC,” she shouted as the other girls ran for the Escalade.
Finally alone and leaning against the hood of Clawd’s blue car, she grinned. One kiss, coming right up!
“Whaddaya think of my new heater?” Lala asked, patting the sun-warmed hood as he strolled toward her.
Clawd crinkled his thick brows as if offended. “Something wrong with the old one?”
“You’re my furnace,” she said, ditching the car hood for the warmth of his chest.
As usual, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching before he leaned in.
“Am I that embarrassing?” Lala asked, pulling away from his rough football jersey. She lifted her dark eyes to meet his. More yellow than Clawdeen’s, they were like two burning embers.
“ ’Course not,” he said, running a hand over his green mohawk.
“Then why can’t you treat me in public the way you do when we’re alone?” she asked. “Melody Carver’s into the Jekyll-and-Hyde thing, not me. It’s time you let those guys know you care about more than throwing the chicken skin.”
“Footballs are pigskin, not chicken skin.”
“Could have fooled me, chicken,” she teased. “Anyway, why are they made of skin at all? Aren’t there any synthetic options?”
He lifted his hand and pressed it against her lips. “Stop. I have practice in three minutes. Do you want to talk about footballs?”
Lala poked him with her left fang. “No.”
“Good. ’Cause I have something for you” he said, reaching into his backpack.
“What is it? You didn’t need to get me anything….”
He pulled out a rectangle wrapped in aluminum foil.
Lala stepped back. “I’m not trying any more of your gross Top Chef experiments! That salty pudding thing was—”
He cut her off. “Just open it.”
She pulled off the foil and uncovered a framed photo of Clawd in a navy wingback chair by a roaring fire. He was leaning intently over a chessboard, hands on his knees. A white queen hovered six inches above the board.
“That was nine months ago. At the Hideout Inn. Remember?” he asked bashfully.
“That was my winning move.” Lala did a victorious booty roll. “I beat you like an egg.”
“It was kind of like our first date,” Clawd said, ignoring the dig. He had a hard enough time losing to a football team. “I know you don’t show up in pictures, but I thought you might like it anyway. You can look at it during the full moon, when I’m not around.”
Chirping birds flapped around the maples behind them. Lala rested her head against his chest, listening to the rapid beat of his heart. “It’s fang-tastic.”
He craned his neck as if working out a kink and mumbled, “You make me rabid happy.”
Lala hugged the photo and then him. He grinned and lifted her chin just as the sounds of Rihanna began pumping from her Escalade. She kissed him anyway. Warm at last.
“Let’s go!” Clawdeen shouted, her head poking out the passenger side window.
“Heel!” Lala called.
Clawd popped open his trunk and traded out his backpack for a black Adidas gym bag. “It’s okay. I’ve got practice anyway.”
Lala smile-nodded. He quickly kissed her good-bye and then sprinted to the field.
“Who’s ready to get ‘On the Floor’?” Lala called as she hopped into the driver’s seat and cranked J-Lo inside the SUV.
“Wooooo-hoooo!” they shouted from the open windows.
“Clawd’s been so much cooler since you guys started hanging out,” said Clawdeen.
Lala beamed. “How?”
Her friend smiled. “He’s never around.”
Laughter exploded from the backseat. In spite of the gusting air-conditioning, warmth enveloped Lala like a cashmere throw.
Just as she turned the Escalade onto Radcliffe Way, Lala’s iPhone chimed its weekly reminder.
“Hold on tight!” she called, and then stomped on the gas pedal. Clawdeen slammed into Cleo’s seat. Blue fell into the center console, and Frankie’s green legs flew up, flashing the girls a glimpse of her striped boyshorts.
Lala screeched to a stop under the canopy of wide-leafed maples in front of her house and hopped out to hurry toward the Victorian mansion, not needing to explain her abrupt exit. It was Wednesday at three forty-five, and her phone had sounded the alert. Her friends knew exactly where she was going.
The hallway—velvet-covered walls and black marble floors lit by dim puddles of light—left visitors temporarily blind. But Lala’s eyes adjusted instantly as the smell of burning firewood welcomed her home.
A familiar pata-pat-pat-pata-pat-pat sound, like a mouse scurrying in tap shoes, grew louder. And then, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”
“Count Fabulous!” Lala cooed, making a perch of her arm. The fist-sized bat relaxed his wings and glided to a stop on her stack of bracelets. He was still wearing the pink bow she’d tied behind his ears earlier that day. But he’d managed to flap off most of the gold wing dust. Typical male.
“I know you’re hungry, but Daddy’s waiting,” Lala told her pet.
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” he screeched, flapping back up the stairs toward their bedroom. Nine years old and he was still terrified of Mr. D.
Lala tossed her fuchsia microfiber tote onto a black-and-gold velvet bench and then hurried down the hallway that was lined with generations of vampire portraits modernized by high-gloss lacquer frames. The corridor looked more like the celebrity-studded walls of Sardi’s restaurant in New York than a tribute to an ancient bloodline. But there was nothing ancient about Mr. D. He liked his home the way Lala liked her hair: sleek, dark, and luxurious.
She followed the sound of her uncle’s raspy voice to the parlor—which was an homage to Armani’s decadent home-furnishing line. Instead of historical relics or valuable works of art, a sixty-four-inch flat screen was mounted to crinkled-for-effect gold wallpaper.
Standing before it was Uncle Vlad, a small man with tousled gray hair and round tortoiseshell glasses. With his arms crossed over his double-breasted blue cardigan, he looked like a fed-up gnome.
“I know you called to speak to Lala,” Uncle Vlad said. “But first you and I need to talk color scheme. The fang shui in here is totally off. We need a dash of happy.” He gestured to the glass hearth around the fireplace, the black daybed, the black shag rug, the black lacquer console with pleated doors. “I feel like I’m trapped inside a violin case.”
“We’ve been over this,” Mr. D’s deep voice bellowed from the screen. “I refuse to believe bright colors and the location of furniture can solve problems. If you want good things, you have to go out into the world and get them. Now, where’s my daughter?”
Lala zipped into the frame. “Here, Daddy.”
Uncle Vlad stepped aside, dabbing his slick forehead with a pale pink kerchief. A slow eye roll let Lala know that stalling for her was stressing him out big-time.
She bit her bottom lip. Sorry!
Uncle Vlad stuffed his small hands in the pockets of his plaid pants and hurried toward the pantry to eat his emotions.
“Hey, Dad,” Lala said, sitting stiffly on the edge of the daybed.
On-screen, the deeply tanned man with slicked-back hair nodded once. He was wearing a sharply creased silver-gray suit and sat behind a polished wood desk with a row of round windows behind him. Glimpses of bright blue sky and turquoise sea bobbed in and out of view. His black eyes were stern as he examined his daughter’s outfit.
Lala crossed her pink-stockinged legs and leaned forward, doing what she could to conceal the frilly black miniskirt he had once said would get her the kind of attention she wanted but not the kind she needed. Lala pulled a wool throw over her tight black blazer. Even with the fire roaring and the central heat kicked up to Bahamas, she began to shiver. Blood and warmth: Her father had a knack for sucking them both.
“So.” Mr. D’s voice was clipped and hurried. “Any news?”
Lala looked up. For the first time, she did have something to report.
“Um, look what I got,” she said, holding up the picture of Clawd.
Excerpted from Monster High 4: Back and Deader Than Ever by Harrison, Lisi Copyright © 2012 by Harrison, Lisi. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 10, 2011
Posted December 25, 2011
I am very big monster high fan but i have not read monster high back and deader than ever! I am dying to read this book and am going task my parents to buy it for me! Would not have had this nook if my parents had not gotten it for me for chrisrmas! I thought i would ask them ifit could blike an add on to thenook even though they already got me a monster high cover case for it. So have very happy day anif youmonster high fan i recomend this book. Please excuse spelling mistakes im typing fast!!!
34 out of 40 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2011
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Posted October 26, 2011
I just can't wait until this comes out! I've read the other books too. I wonder if it'll be as good as the others by Lisi Harrison. I guess I'll just have to wait and see!
11 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 10, 2012
Posted February 21, 2012
I cant wait to get this book!I an gonna ask my parents to get it for me as a gift! If it werent for my parents, i probably would not have my NOOK!I have read book 1 & 3 and i want to read 2 & 4! I LOVED the books i read and i am a BIG fan of monster high and so is my sister!we both have dolls and i even have some doubles!:)
8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2011
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Posted May 13, 2012
Aclaimed author, Lisi Harrison has done it again! Bring the ghouls to school Harrison continued the story of the RAD's at Merston High. Her unique characters and always twisting plot is sure to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on edge and your finger tips spark with excitement! This book is nothing short of excilerating and drop dead hilarious. Fallowing the lives of Melody, Jackson,Lala,Cleo and all of the monsters that make this series great you will find a suprise jumping out to bite you on every page, fast paced, fun ,and apmed with chioces sure to make you gasp, Monster High is definitaly back... and deader then ever! Ha. ( that means its voltage) Here the freak is chic and RAD' s rule the school! Dont be the normie, ad Monster High to your do- or- die list this summer for a megawott read. NORMAL OUT, FREAKY IS THE NEW FABULOUS!
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2012
How the heck is this under teens: horror and suspense???!!!
My sisters who are 7 and 9 play with the dolls, i thought this was for little kids?!
5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2012
Its cheaper to buy the ebooi set of the first 3 then this one (24.98) than to get them all seperate (37.96) big difference huh i hope that yall now that..... ; )
5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.