Better Than Ruby Slippers
I've wished for lots of things in my fourteen years . . . a boyfriend, world peace, cleavage. But none of my wishes have come true.
I'm standing by my locker, zipping up my black puffy coat, when I notice the sneakers.
They're the green suede designer ones I admired at Bloomie's last week. My mom said I couldn't have them because they cost more than our TV.
And they're on my feet.
"But how" I mumble, blinking in confusion. Where are the beaten-up black boots I always have on? "I mean, when . . .?"
Did I accidentally swap shoes with someone after gym? Am I a thief?
Impossible. The only time I ever took anything that wasn't mine was when I inadvertently wore Jewel's retainer. Gross, yes. But criminal? No.
My heart starts beating erratically. This is so weird. How did these shoes get on my feet?
Wait a millisecond. Maybe my mom bought them to surprise me? Not that she normally does stuff like that, but I have been on my best behavior lately (after being grounded for something completely ridiculous, don't even ask) and she's big on rewarding good deeds.
I guess I must have laced them up this morning without even noticing. Lame. But I went to bed really late last night, and I'm always zoned out when I'm tired.
That still doesn't explain why I didn't notice I was wearing them until now though. I glance back down. The shoes are a luminous green. Sparkling, even. They're practically screaming at me to notice them.
Whatever. New shoes! The ideal accessory for my awesome after-school plans. I smile like someone who just got her braces off.
"Can I borrow your phone?" I ask Tammy. She's busy rummaging through her satchel. The least I can do is thank my mommaybe she'll cave on a cell phone for me next.
"Cool shoes," Tammy says, glancing down. "When did you change?"
"I . . . didn't. I've, uh, been wearing them all day." Haven't I? Now I'm totally unsure again.
Tammy gives me a thumbs-up sign with her right hand and passes the phone with her left. She uses finger signals to indicate her thoughts. She learned to scuba dive with her family last year in Aruba and now frequently communicates by underwater mime. Thumbs-up means "Let's get out of the water," which means she wants to hightail it out of here.
My mother answers on the first ring.
"Mom, thanks for the sneakers. They're perfect! Sorry I didn't notice them this morning."
Pause. Then muffled static.
"You still there?" I ask, tapping my heels together. Who knew green suede could look so glam? "I can't hear you."
There's furious whispering in the background, and then a loud "Shhh!"
"You need to come home," my mom tells me.
"What? Why?" I ask. My stomach free-falls.
Another pause. More furious whispering. "I have something to talk to you about," my mom says. Her voice sounds uneven. "Something extremely important."
"But I have extremely important after-school plans!" My destiny is waiting for me at Stromboli Pizzeria! This is a complete and utter disaster. "And when I called you an hour ago you said I could go!"
"Things have changed," my mother says, her clipped words ruining my life. "I want you back at the apartment."
My down-filled coat starts to feel like a furnace. "Can't we talk about whatever is so earth-shattering later?"
My mother heaves one of her why-must-I-carry-the-weight-of-the-world-on-my-thin-shoulders sighs. "Rachel, enough."
"Fine." I sigh right back. I have a sigh of my own, and it's just as martyrish. In a small triumph, I press the pink End button before she can say good-bye.
"I can't come," I tell Tammy, handing her the phone. My cheeks feel all blotchy. Why couldn't I have just thanked my mom when I got home?
Tammy adjusts her light brown ponytail and makes a fist in front of her chest, her "low on air" sign, meaning she feels bad for me. Tammy is an excellent sympathizer, as well as smart and reliable. She's always there when I need someone to talk to, and more important, when I unintentionally sport poppy bagel seeds between my teeth, she immediately and covertly lets me know by tapping her lips. She's a great friend. It's just thatokay, I hate to play favoritesI like Jewel more. But the way Jewel has been treating me, I might as well be walking around with an I-just-got-dumped sash across my nonexistent chest.
Over the past four months, since she strutted her stuff for the JFK fashion show tryouts and got in, Juliana Sanchez (Jewel for short, Bee-Bee for shorter/longer) has morphed from my sidekick and best friend into a card-carrying member of the inner circle. Yes, she made the A-list. Except for a few minutes in math class, I hardly ever get to talk to her anymore. I miss her.
Going to Stromboli's would have been a step toward reclaiming our Bee-Bee status. (Sorry for the cheddary Best Buds acronym, but Jewel and I have been using it forever.) The entire cool crowd will be there. I was lucky even to have been asked. Mick Lloyd invited Jeffrey Stars, who invited Aaron Jacobs, who invited Tammy, who invited me. And you don't go if you don't get an invite. You can't. You wouldn't know what pizza place/coffee shop/parentless apartment the A-list selected, so you wouldn't know where to show up. If only they would just choose the same place every time, like they did on Friends. Monica never showed up at a new coffee spot, The Not-So-Central Perk, wondering where everyone was.
Down the hall I see Raf Kosravi at his locker, pulling out his coat. A strand of his midnight black hair falls into his matching dark eyes, and he brushes it away with the back of his hand.
Heart. Beating. Erratically. Not. Because. Of. Shoes.
Sigh. Because of my mother, I will potentially be missing out on precious flirting time with Raf, the boy I'm in love with.
I am also in love with Mick Lloyd. Yes, I know it seems strange to love two boys at the same time, but since I've never spoken more than two words to either of them ("Happy Holidays!" to Raf and "Excuse me" to Mick), I'm not concerned about my divided heart. Mick Lloyd is the cute, blond, all-American type that's cast on every dating show. Big smile, dimple in each cheek, great hair. Raf is more mysterious-slash-sexy. He's not too tall, only around five foot six (which is still much, much taller than me at five foot oneI'd better still be growing), and has a lean, fit body like a champion tennis player or an Olympic swimmer (not that I've ever watched professional tennis or swimming). Raf is also in the fashion show with Jewel.
Ah, the fashion show. It's really a dance show with a catwalk and designer outfits. Or so I hear. Since I'm only a freshman, and the show is in April, I've never seen it. And since a former JFK student who's now an It Guy Hollywood director launched the idea ten years ago to raise money for the prom, it's always been a cool thing for guys to do. Like football or baseball. There is an overlap of boys who play football with those who are in the show. Unfortunately for the school trophy case, the quarterback is a better dancer than he is an athlete.
Mick isn't in the show, but he does play on the JV baseball team, the only sports team at our school that doesn't always lose. Andimpressive residence alert!he lives in a massive brownstone. Since his mom and dad are frequently out of town, he throws a lot of wild parties (not that I've ever been). Raf and Mick are both very, very A-list. But that isn't the reason I like them.
Raf buttons up his coat and slaps one of his friends on the back.
I am such a liar. Of course that's why I like them. I don't even know them, so why else would I like them? They're hot and coolas in sexy and popularand if either of them were interested in me, I would actually have a real kiss to brag about. (I claim my first was with a Texan named Stu who I met on a cruise. This is a total lie. Although there was a boy named Stu from Texas, he was seven.) Plus, I would instantly be promoted from the B-list (B+ on an excellent hair day) to the A-list.
I really want to be A-list. Yes, I know I'm being colossally pathetic, and I've seen enough movies to know that popular people always get their comeuppance. And being A-list in high school doesn't guarantee you'll be cool in college. But . . . like blondes, the A-list always seems to have more fun.
I ask you: Is it so wrong to want to be happy? Is it so wrong to want to be liked? Is it wrong to want my life to be like a soda ad, with lots of laughing, jumping, and high-fiving?