Read an Excerpt
How to Rock Braces and Glasses
By Haston, Meg
Poppy Copyright © 2011 Haston, Meg
All right reserved.
LIGHTS, CAMERA… ADVICE!
Thursday, 7:42 A.M.
Real journalists are born with a sixth sense. It’s our most reliable source, an inner voice that tips us off when there’s more to a story than meets the eye. My sixth sense has never been wrong, which is probably why I’m the first broadcast journalist in the history of the Marquette Middle School TV station to have her own weekly segment. Most people think my success has something to do with my hard-hitting interview style, which once reduced a corrupt student body V.P. to on-air tears. Live.
But I’m pretty sure it’s my sixth sense.
Take this morning before homeroom, when my best friend, Molly Knight, sailed into the Channel M news studio between my vocal warm-ups and wardrobe check. Her petite frame was bundled in a quilted ivory puffy coat and she’d accessorized with a white mohair scarf and earmuffs. It looked like that purebred from the fancy cat food commercial had her in a headlock.
Instantly, a familiar shiver shimmied from my right pinky toe to my left earlobe. Enter sixth sense. Molly’s icy blue eyes were shining with breaking news.
“I’m Kacey Simon, and this is Simon Says.” I cleared my throat and leveled my eyes at one of the four cameras arced around my mahogany anchor desk. Not even secretive best friends interrupted my preshow mojo. “I’m Kacey Simon. I’m—”
“Please. Like everybody at Marquette doesn’t know Kacey Simon.” At the back of the studio, the double doors whooshed to a close. Molly leaned dramatically against the silver patch of wall next to my framed headshot and blew a few long platinum flyaways out of her eyes. The sixth grader holding a boom mic over my head whipped around to check her out. Typical.
“Ninety seconds to air, people!” Carlos, my sassy bitesized student producer, was the only guy in the studio who wasn’t drooling over my best friend. He hustled across the crowded set, cradling his rundown clipboard like it was the Olympic torch and he was about to take the gold in the speed-sashay finals. “Can I get wardrobe on set, please?”
“So what’s up, Mols?” I spun my cushy desk chair around a few rotations, the Chicago skyline backdrop melting into glittery swirls of silver and gray. Three rotations and my long auburn waves whispered effortlessly tousled. Any more than six and they’d have screamed ROLLER COASTER–SEXY! BUT SEMI-UNPROFESSIONAL! “Why aren’t you in homeroom?” I came to a stop and eyed the red digital countdown clock on the back wall. Almost show time.
“No reason.” With a coy smile, Molly strolled past the four camera guys and into my spotlight, the fake diamond snowflakes in her ears practically blinding me. I rubbed my brand-new violet-tinted contacts into place. She had until my segment was over to notice them. And to spill her secret.
“Eighty seconds!” Carlos plopped into the director’s chair behind the row of cameras, then adjusted his wireless headset.
“And I still need wardrobe!” I yelled. The black patterned tights beneath my lavender mesh mini were starting to itch, but I didn’t care. You know what they say: no pain, no network TV gig.
“Coming, Kacey!” Liv Parrillo, the third member of my foursome, who moonlighted as my stylist for the show, shouted off set.
“Sooo…” Molly rasped, leaning over my desk with a grin. Her voice always sounded like she’d just rolled out of bed with a mild case of laryngitis. Middle school guys thought it was even hotter than her long blonde mane. Only I knew the hair didn’t count, since it was fake. She’d spent six months’ allowance on extensions after she’d burned off her real hair with this Japanese straightening treatment she found on Craigslist.
“Sooo…” I widened my eyes and triple-blinked. Still nothing. “What’s up?”
“Just stopped by to watch the b-cast, obv.” Molly’s high cheekbones and the tip of her button nose were flushed, meaning she was either lying or humiliated.
Sixth sense said… lying.
“Whatever you say.” I shuffled the script on my desk three times, then set it aside. Scripts were like understudies. I never actually planned on using mine, but it was nice to know it was there. “Now move.” I gave her scarf a playful yank. “You and your dead cat are in my light.”
She shrank away from the desk and pouted, pretending to be hurt. “But Tatyana says I look like a total pro.”
Tatyana was Molly’s Russian ice-skating instructor. Every year, Molly picked a new extracurricular, and every year, she got really excited about the outfits and then quit when she realized she wasn’t Olympics-bound. Last semester it was gymnastics, which meant tight ponytails and glitter hairspray. In sixth, it was horseback riding, which meant multiple pairs of riding boots. “I’d tell you that you looked like a pro if you paid me fifty bucks an hour, too.”
“Please.” She straightened up and strode past the slack-jawed camera guys, taking a seat next to Carlos. When she crossed her legs, a pair of cream lace-up boots made their debut. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Because real friends don’t lie.” I made a mental note to snag the boots for next Thursday’s broadcast. Say what you wanted about Molly’s extracurricular outfits; at least she had the guts to take a fashion risk. It was the thing that had drawn me to her last year, at the start of middle school. Marquette forced all incoming sixth graders to attend a weekend camping trip-slash-orientation before the start of the semester, which sounded lame but turned out to be the perfect place to scout a few new BFFs for my transition into middle school. And you had to love a girl who showed up to a team-building hike in a camouflage tank dress, matching olive-green eyeliner, and hiking boots with a slight wedge heel. I’d told her she looked like Appalachian Barbie. And she’d stuck by my side ever since.
The double doors in the back parted again, bringing me back to the bustling studio.
“HEYYY, PEOPLE!” Abra Laing, the fast-talking, gumchomping sixth-grade anchor of the Marquette minute, which aired after my segment, made a beeline for the green screen to the left of my anchor desk. Abra got the job because she shouted EVERY WORD AT THE CAMERA LIKE IT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT NEWS IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, EVER. Also, she was the only talker fast enough to fit the morning announcements into a sixty-second spot.
“Thirty seconds to air!” Carlos announced while Abra tore off her coat and tossed it behind the screen. “WARDROBE?”
“Chill, man. I’m right here.” Liv hurried into the spotlight, twisting her inky, shoulder-length curls into a messy knot at the nape of her neck. She was wearing a fitted white tank top and her shriveled Italian grandpa’s slouchy charcoal overcoat, which she’d belted at the waist with a vintage tuxedo cummerbund. Only Liv would think to accentuate her curves with old man hand-me-downs. And only Liv could make it work.
“Girl, you’re gonna love this piece.” Liv produced the sticker-covered flute case she used for her start-up accessories line, LīVthreads, and lowered it onto my desk. “I used one of my dad’s old shirts and a tutu.” She popped the silver latches on the case and rummaged through a musty-smelling heap of glinting costume jewelry, fabric swatches, and feathered headbands. A few seconds later, she held up a flower pin made of plaid flannel and frayed purple tulle that matched my skirt exactly.
“Liv! Love it.” I inspected the perfectly jagged edges of the petals. “You’ll sell out before lunch.” I never went on the air without one of Liv’s custom designs. They were my good luck charm. And judging from LīVthreads’s sales this year, Simon Says was hers.
“Hope so.” Liv’s wide jade eyes shone with gratitude as she leaned forward to pin the flower to my black silk top. She smelled like rose oil and her grandpa’s pipe tobacco.
My right eye twitched involuntarily.
“Contacts!” Liv lunged across the desk. “Violet?” She cupped my face in her warm hands. “This shade is gonna POP on camera.” Her olive skin glistened under the studio lights. Secretly, I’d always been jealous of Liv’s year-round Italian tan. My skin only had two shades: translucent and, when I wasn’t careful in the summertime, lobster.
“And it matches the pin! AND it brings out your red highlights!” Liv continued.
“I KNOW!” I shrieked. Ducking to the side, I rolled my eyes at Molly. At least some people noticed the important details in life.
Mols pretended to be too busy dusting the snow off her boots to notice.
“Ten seconds!” Carlos wiggled his tiny designer-denimed tush in his chair. “Do your thing, Miss Simon.”
Liv lifted a peace sign, then hopped off the stage and took a seat next to Molly. “Hey, Michelin man. Love your tires.”
“You wish you could pull it off.” Molly’s nose flushed again. Humiliated.
The studio lights brightened over me, and my pulse slowed instantly. You’d think doing a live broadcast in front of the whole school every Thursday morning would make me nervous. But you’d be wrong. I never felt more relaxed than I did on air.
The studio was instantly still, silent except for the low buzzing of the lights and my voice as I hummed the new intro I’d written for the show. In a matter of seconds, I would enlighten an entire school and help someone desperate for guidance. Helping people was my calling. I wondered if Mother Teresa found hers before eighth.
“In three, two—” Carlos popped his collar, then signaled me with a single index finger.
I raised my eyes to camera two, ignoring the sudden burning sensation beneath my violet lenses. “Morning, Marquette. And welcome to this week’s edition of Simon Says. I’m Kacey Simon.”
Over to the clock to check for time. The red digits blurred, and I blinked until the lines were sharp again. Three seconds in. Focus.
“Today’s letter comes to us from Psycho-Stalked in Social Studies.” I paused and smiled the trademark Simon Smile I inherited from my journalist mom: wide, confident, and just a teensy bit secretive.
“Stalked writes: ‘Dear Kacey, love your show. You’re the best.’ ” I did have three Marquette M-my Awards that seemed to agree. “I’m hoping you can help. So this same guy has been sitting next to me in social studies since sixth grade, and I’m in eighth now. He’s a total geek, and he won’t stop asking me if I need a study buddy. I’ve tried everything: glaring, Facebook defriending, even going over to his house to get help in U.S. history, and then telling him I’d date one of our founding fathers before him. But he’s not getting the point. What do I do?”
I looked directly into the camera. “Dear Stalked, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I just got new contacts. Which means I’m seeing sharper than ever now. Which means I can see exactly what’s going on here.”
Molly leaned forward, her mouth slightly open. Liv cocked her head. The dimples in her cheeks deepened in anticipation.
“To defriend your stalker on Facebook means you had to friend him in the first place. Mixed message. Going over there to do homework before you break his heart? Mixed message. And if your, and I quote, ‘glare’ looks anything like this?” I shot the camera my best flirty smirk, which Molly taught me at her last sleepover. “Mixed. message.” I clasped my hands on the desk and stared Stalked down. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re totally into being psycho-stalked. Simon Says: Accept the date before he finds a new study buddy.”
One of the camera guys (I think it was Camera Guy Three) burst out laughing. Mols and Liv air high-fived.
Nailed it. I pursed my lips in a knowing smile. “This has been Kacey Simon, reminding you that when you do what Simon Says, you win. AccessoriesdesignedbyLivParrillo, preorderatwwwdotfacebookdotcomslashLīvthreads.”
Liv raised her right hand in a peace sign.
“Now to Abra Laing with the Marquette Minute. Abra?” I swiveled a quarter turn to my left, averting my eyes from the pouffy pink scrunchies holding Abra’s pigtails captive.
“TH-THANKS, KACEY!” Abra stuttered. She’d been super awkward around me ever since I told her that with a voice like hers, she had an excellent future in used car commercials. She hadn’t even thanked me for clarifying her career path. “I’M ABRA LAING, AND THIS IS MARQUETTE! IN A MINUTE!”
I pushed back my swivel chair and reached for my Channel 5 messenger bag under the desk. By the time I resurfaced, Mols and Liv were already sitting cross-legged on the desk.
“Awesome b-cast,” Molly whispered hurriedly, braiding, unbraiding, and rebraiding her “hair.” “Um, so I’ve got news.”
“Called it.” Casually, I slung the messenger bag over my shoulder and stood up. If Molly’s news was actually newsworthy, I’d have already broadcast it. Right?
“My parents caved last night.” For the record, Molly still hadn’t noticed my contacts. “My birthday party’s gonna be girl-boy!”
“What?” I gasped. “But the party’s in two days!”
Liv wrinkled her nose. “But what about The Drake?” Molly’s mom worked in public relations for The Drake Hotel downtown, and she’d arranged for us to have a spa day on Saturday, followed by a sleepover in the penthouse suite. We’d been planning our spa treatments and minibar raid for months. “What about my organic seaweed wrap?”
“Boys don’t do seaweed wraps,” Molly hissed. Her eyes flitted to mine. “Right?”
I pretended not to hear. “Why didn’t you text last night?” I demanded.
Molly bit her bottom lip, trying to hide her smile. Did she think I couldn’t tell she was psyched to beat me to a girl-boy party? Please. I was a journalist.
“A REMINDER THAT THE SPRING MUSICAL! GUYS AND DOLLS! STARRING KACEY SIMON AS SARAH BROWN! AND QUINN WILDER AS SKY MASTERSON! GOES UP IN TWO WEEKS!” Abra yelled.
Molly’s smile wavered at the mention of the show. Understandable, since she was my understudy. And Quinn Wilder, resident seventh-grade hottie, was my onstage smooch partner. Not even a boy-girl party could beat Quinn and his winterfresh lip-locks.
“So Kace. I need your help, like, ASAP,” Molly admitted, her voice dropping even lower. “I need new party ideas. Ideas boys will like.”
In the back, the clock flipped to 7:55 A.M. “Homeroom, girls,” I said crisply.
“But what are we gonna do?” Molly whined.
“Home. Room.” Not that I didn’t know how to throw a party. But how was I supposed to know what boys liked, when the only boy in my house had moved out four years ago? Molly had a dad. Couldn’t she ask him? “We’ll figure it out at rehearsal.”
“But you’re in every scene!” Molly whined. “We won’t have time!”
I swallowed a sigh. Sometimes I wished Molly would just write in to Simon Says. That way I could just give her the straight story. She deserved the truth, just like everybody else.
I’m having problems. No, it’s not that I can’t even see purple contacts when they’re staring me in the face. My problem is my best friend. It’s just that I’m always coming in second. For example, she got the lead role in the spring musical, and I have to be her understudy. To make matters worse, I’m incapable of making a move without asking her advice. Just once, I want to be first at something, like throwing a boy-girl birthday party. But deep down, I know I can’t do it without her.
Will I ever get to be in the spotlight on my own, or am I doomed to a life in the wings?
Second Best in Seventh
Dear Second Best,
Thanks for your letter. It must be really hard to admit you’re jealous. (Who wouldn’t be? Your BFF sounds amazing.) Here’s the thing: In life, there’s the star of the show, and then there’s the supporting cast. It sounds like you fall into the supporting cast category. But don’t be sad, Second Best. Simon Says: Supporting characters are still kind of important. Think about it. Without a supporting cast, who would vamp while the lead’s changing costumes?
Kacey Simon (The Lead. On air, and in life.)
TRUE LOVE IS BLIND (OR GETTING THAT WAY)
Thursday, 2:42 P.M.
By the time the final bell rang that afternoon, I was still floating on a post-show high. Maybe it was the high fives I’d gotten in homeroom after the broadcast, or the rumor that Psycho-Stalked spent study hall Facebook flirting with her stalker. The success was almost enough to make me forget that Molly had killed my dream of a penthouse sleepover. And the fact that my new contacts were launching a deadly assault on my eyeballs.
As I hurried to my locker, the seventh-grade hall (also known as Hemingway Hall) was starting to fill. Marquette was made up of four long hallways connected in the shape of a square. Sixth, seventh, and eighth had their own halls (Joliet, Addams, and Hemingway), plus a fourth for the cafeteria, auditorium, television studio, and administrative offices (Silverstein). Each hall was named after a famous, dead Chicagoan. And every few years, the students had to repaint their hallway to commemorate their dead Midwestern celeb. Something about team building. This summer, the girls and I had painted all the seventh-grade lockers silver, then stamped them with quotes from Hemingway novels.
By the time I reached my locker, Molly and Liv were already waiting for me.
“You’ll never guess what I just did in study hall,” Liv announced proudly.
“Sold out of those flower pin things?”
“Yeah. Thanks, by the way. But that’s not what I’m talking about.” Liv scratched at a quote about fishing from The Old Man and the Sea on the locker next to mine. It peeled instantly under her thumbnail.
“Ummm… I give up.” I twirled the dial on my padlock, the spinning digits blurring out of focus. I rubbed my eyes until the numbers were clear again, then tugged at the padlock and flung open the rickety metal door.
“So you know how the skirt on your Guys and Dolls costume used to go below your knees?” Liv’s voice was muffled. Beneath the door, Molly’s boots shuffled impatiently.
“Yeah.” I tossed my backpack onto a pile of textbooks and checked my reflection in the mirror. The violet color around my pupils looked cooler than ever, but the whites of my eyes looked… pink.
“Well, your friendly neighborhood costume designer got a little creative.”
I slammed the door and we were nose to nose. “You didn’t.”
“Mid-thigh is way more flattering.” Liv batted her dark lashes. “Quinn’s gonna love it.”
“LIV!” I lifted my hand for a high five.
Molly jumped in and slapped my palm. “Wanna know what I did during study hall? Tried to come up with a hot boy-girl party idea.” She yanked up the sleeves of her thin white cardigan and planted her hands on her hips. The puffy coat had disappeared after the broadcast. Good girl.
“I told you, go with Paris.” Vanessa Beckett, the fourth in our group, strode toward us. In her fitted bomber, skinny jeans, and super-short pixie cut, she actually looked kind of French. I would have mentioned it, had the subject of the pixie not been, how do you say, le sore subject?
When Nessa got to my locker, she pocketed the stack of neon flashcards she was always carrying around for one test or another, then air-kissed me on both cheeks. The air kiss had been the routine ever since she got back from Paris last week, where her shrink mom had attended an international psychiatry conference, and Nessa had tested the language barrier with a scissor-happy French hairstylist.
“Cute boys and pastries!” I pressed my winter-ravaged lips together and air-kissed her back. Molly read my mind and slapped a worn tube of strawberry Burt’s Bees into my grip.
“Sounds like a party, n’est-ce pas?” Nessa flicked a clump of dark bangs away from her eyes. “Ugh. I can’t wait for my hair to grow out.”
I didn’t know why she was so self-conscious about the cut. With her exotic, almond-shaped eyes, mocha skin, and wide, even smile, she could have rocked a bald cap.
“I told you, the pixie looks amazing.” I slathered a waxy layer of Burt’s over my pout. It was the closest I was allowed to get to lip gloss before high school. “Fact: Yes, long hair softened your jaw line a little.”
Nessa’s delicate fingers flew to her jaw.
“And fact: Hair this short draws attention to your ears. But fact: Going this short takes serious confidence. I don’t know another girl at this school who would do that.”
“Pardon?” Nessa’s eyes narrowed. “Who said anything about my ears?”
“Can we please get back on topic?” Molly piped up. “My party?”
“Later. Time for rehearsal.” I spun on the heels of my worn glitter Converse sneakers and snaked through the crowded hallway. The kids obstructing our path seemed to step aside as I led the girls down the hall.
“Two days,” Molly reminded me over hallway chatter and the ding of neglected cell phones. “The party’s in Two. Days.”
“Got it,” I sighed.
At the corner of Hemingway and Silverstein, I glanced through the door that led to The Square, the heated courtyard in the center of Marquette’s four halls. Colorful drawings, quotes, and a four-square court were chalked onto the slate tiles. The stone bench in the center, where the girls and I ate lunch, was the one unchalked piece of real estate. People knew better.
We rounded the corner onto Silverstein. The first set of double doors was just steps away. Which meant that Quinn Wilder was just steps away.
My heart vibrated in my chest at the thought of Quinn, possibly coating his lips with Burt’s at this very second in anticipation of my arrival. Every girl in the entire school had a crush on Quinn Wilder, but I hadn’t really noticed him until earlier this month, when we’d both auditioned for Guys and Dolls.
Correction: when he’d heard I was a shoo-in for the role of Sarah Brown, the good-girl romantic lead, and then he just happened to show up to audition for the role of Sky Masterson, the smooth-talking gambler who wins Sarah’s trust. And her heart.
Coincidence? Pas du tout. Especially since being in the musical meant Quinn had to give up his position as captain of the guys’ basketball team this season. Now that was true lo—
“Kacey!” Out of nowhere, a suitcase-wheeling band geek in full uniform came barreling toward me, blocking my path to Quinn. “Kacey Simon?” She came to a stop just inches from my face.
“That’s what they call me.” The girls and I took a collective step back, and I cringed. There was so much metal in this girl’s mouth, I could practically check my reflection in her incisors.
“Oh… mygod. It’s you.” Out of breath, Band Geek pawed through the front pocket of her suitcase and ripped out a pen and a smudged piece of paper that smelled like expired Cheez Whiz. “I’m… your biggest… fan. Will you sign my journalism syllabus?”
“Seriously?” Nessa rolled her eyes and reached into the inside pocket of her bomber jacket, producing a small yellow notepad and pen. As student director of Guys and Dolls, she used the pad to note when actors screwed up. Lately, she’d started noting when anyone outside of our group screwed up, in life. Without taking her eyes off Band Geek, she flipped to a fresh page and scribbled a quick note.
“No problem.” I bit my lip to keep from laughing and pressed the crinkled paper against my thigh. “Simon Says: Try smiling with your mouth closed. It will totally accentuate your pouty lips, instead of your metal mouth.” I thrust the syllabus back into her hands. “There you go.”
Band Geek’s lips trembled as she stretched them over her teeth. They didn’t quite touch.
“Better.” I nodded encouragingly. “It’ll take practice.”
“Mmmm mmmmmmmmm.” She nodded, her cracked lips turning white with effort. Then she turned and scurried down the hall.
“Nice work, sister.” Liv squeezed my shoulder. “Another soul saved.”
“What can I say?” I led the girls to the auditorium doors and whipped them open. “I’m a giver.” Marquette’s auditorium was built to look like an old-time theater, with creaky plush seats and gold-plated numbers on the armrests. A gold-flecked carpet lined the center aisle from the doors to the orchestra pit. Heavy velvet curtains with thick tassels hung from the high ceilings. And a trio of spotlights cast the stage in a golden glow. Center stage. It was where I was meant to be, at least when I was off the air.
Straight ahead, the cast of Guys and Dolls was standing in a circle onstage, holding hands and doing vocal exercises over the sound of the band warming up in the orchestra pit.
“Just finishing warm-ups, girls,” called Sean, first-year U.S. government teacher by day/drama advisor by afternoon. He’d insisted we call him Sean since day one, because he thought it made him look cool. Which was probably the same reason he wore designer jeans to rehearsal. Ew.
“Sooo sorry we’re late, Sean.” I hustled down the aisle, and my crew followed. “Crazed fans, you know?” We hurried up the steps to the stage. I took a spot directly across from Quinn, so I could watch him toss his sandy blond bangs out of his eyes like he was just getting out of the swimming pool. Molly, Liv, and Nessa took the spots to my right, bumping Jilly “It’s Jillian ever since I got accepted to Northwestern’s theater camp” Lindstrom out of the way.
“One more exercise before we get started,” Sean said. “I’d like you all to close your eyes.”
While Sean and Jilly pretended to be trees blowing carelessly in the wind, Quinn refereed a heated thumb war between his two basketball buddies, Jake Fields and Aaron Peterman. I squinted, trying to zoom in on Quinn’s lanky, athletic frame. But I couldn’t get a clear picture. His bangs blurred against his face, making his head look like a khaki blob floating over a gray henley and jeans.
“You okay?” Molly’s hot breath on my ear made me jump.
Yeah, I mouthed.
“ ’Cause your eyes look kind of red.”
“Probably just the lighting,” I hissed.
“You sure? Because you can’t miss my boy-girl party.”
“Okay.” Sean clapped his hands together and opened his eyes. “Good work. Now let’s get started. Liv, take the sixth graders backstage and get them fitted for their dancing dice costumes.”
“Right on.” Liv exited stage left, followed by a herd of extras.
“Where’s my student director?” Sean hopped offstage and took his seat third row center.
“Here!” Nessa waved her notebook authoritatively. Student director was the perfect role for her. She got to boss people around and beef up her transcript at the same time.
“As long as we have the band, why don’t we rehearse a few musical numbers?” Sean suggested. Now that he was far away, I could see the individual strands in his over-gelled goatee. But Quinn, who had meandered closer to me, looked like a reflection in a hazy funhouse mirror.
What was going on?
“Or, we could practice the ‘wedding scene.’ ” Nessa put air quotes around the words wedding scene, since everybody knew that was code for Kacey and Quinn’s Onstage Smoochfest. “I’m feeling like that scene could use some work.”
I was feeling like Nessa was a genius. I mentally crossed my fingers.
But Sean ignored the suggestion. “We’ll start with ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before.’ Let me have Kacey and Quinn downstage center, please! The rest of you, don’t go far.”
“So… hey.” The hovering blob in front of me smelled like winterfresh gum.
I rubbed my eyes. Hard. But this time when I opened, the view was still a yummy-smelling gray and blond Monet.
“Hey,” I murmured back, smiling like I could absolutely see him.
“You going to Sugar Daddy after rehearsal?” Then came a whiff of almond extract that must have meant a hair toss.
I shivered as the scent washed over me. “Yeah.” It was obviously just a way for Quinn to keep talking to me, since we always went to Sugar Daddy after rehearsal. And things were heating up between us. Two weeks ago, I custom-ordered a butterscotch cupcake with dark chocolate frosting and mini-marshmallows. And last week? He ordered the same cupcake. It was only a matter of time before we split one. Which was basically the same as kissing.
“So,” I said, searching for his aqua eyes through the haze. “Are you going to Molly’s party Saturday?”
“Yeah.” And then he said: “Cool contacts.”
Liked! My contacts!
My legs shook. It wasn’t nerves. It felt more like… love shivers. Combined with fate. Combined with the teensiest bit of fear that I might be going blind.
The band launched into the intro. I let Quinn grab my hands and lead me around the stage as he sang his solo, a ballad about how his “character” had never felt this way about “any other girl.” The strength in Quinn’s voice, and the way he squeezed my hands super tight, showed me he meant it. Nobody was that good an actor.
When he finished, I opened my mouth to belt out my opening line. “I’ve neeeeeever been in looove befooooooore—”
“Hold it!” Sean bellowed, silencing the band. And me.
“CUT!” Nessa yelled unnecessarily.
I squinted into the spotlight and dropped Quinn’s hands. “What?”
“Kacey, is everything all right?” Sean’s forehead collapsed into four distinct waves. “Do we need to go over your blocking again?”
“No.” My eyeballs were starting to feel like they had rug burn.
“Because you were looking over Quinn’s shoulder instead of looking lovingly into his eyes,” Nessa clarified. “Like the script says.”
“I think something’s wrong with her eyes,” Molly volunteered from the second row. “Maybe I should take her pl—”
I whipped downstage left. “Nothing’s wrong with my eyes, thankyouverymuch.” I crossed my arms over my chest to keep from clawing out my contacts.
“Maybe we should take a break,” Sean suggested.
“No!” I screeched. “No break.” While the rest of us were just trying to get through rehearsal, Molly was vying for her big break. And I knew her well enough to know how the scene played out in her head. MOLLY
Kacey, what’s wrong? You look terrible. SEAN
Maybe you should sit this one out, Kacey. Maybe Molly should sub in for the rest of rehearsal. MOLLY
(looking shocked) Gasp! I never thought of that! Okay! I mean, if Kacey doesn’t care. KACEY
Wait! No! (Faints in horror and has to be carried offstage by the tech crew.)
Molly sprints to the stage and rehearses song with Quinn.
Enter BROADWAY TALENT SCOUT. BROADWAY TALENT SCOUT
You’re amazing! Ever thought of a career on the stage? MOLLY
(looking shocked) Gasp! I never thought of that! Okay! I mean, if Kacey doesn’t care.
Molly goes on to win record number of Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Middle-Schooler.
Over. My. Dead (and blind). Body.
“Let’s just take five, everybody,” Sean said. “I think we could all use a break.”
“Later, Simon.” Quinn’s Altoid essence faded into the wings.
I lowered myself to the stage in a huff. I needed a butterscotch cupcake with chocolate frosting and mini-marshmallows delivered downstage center. Stat.
After a few seconds, the smell of strawberry Burt’s Bees drifted by.
“Kace? Want us to take you to the bathroom?” Molly’s fake hair grazed my shoulder.
She sounded sincere, at least. And since I needed a fresh coat of Burt’s before Quinn and I stage-kissed…
“Okay.” I nodded. I felt the pressure of Nessa’s grip on my left forearm, then Molly’s on my right. I jumped to standing.
“Your solo sounded really good,” Molly offered as we shuffled down the aisle.
“Dead on,” Nessa agreed.
“Totally. Wicked pipes,” offered the boy blob blocking the double doors.
I stopped in my tracks. So did Molly and Nessa.
“Huh?” The most I could make out was a paintbrush stroke of electric blue at the top of Mystery Boy’s head, a white T-shirt, and jeans that…
I scanned again, for confirmation.
…tapered at the ankle.
“I said, wicked pipes,” the kid repeated. “You have a really good voice.”
“Oh. I know.” Newsflash: skinny jeans? Unacceptable boy attire.
“Mind if I hang out and listen?” Pretty gutsy for a boy in girl jeans. Who was this kid? I knew everyone at Marquette worth knowing, and I’d never seen him before.
“Actually? This is a closed rehearsal,” I informed him.
“Cool jeans,” Molly cooed, flicking her high pony flirtatiously.
I swallowed. Was she going blind, too?
Skinny Jeans raked one hand through the blue streak in his hair. “I just heard the music and thought you guys sounded pretty good, so—”
“So buy a ticket,” I snapped.
“Three dollars in advance, five at the door,” Molly rasped, her voice sounding ten times more hoarse than normal. “We’re selling them at Sugar Daddy later.”
Skinny Jeans didn’t seem to hear her. “Fine. I see how it is.” His laugh was slow, relaxed. “Break a leg.” He turned and pushed through the doors.
“She will, with these new contacts,” Molly said. Her voice dropped to a whisper once the doors swished shut. “Who was that?”
She was obviously asking me, since I was the first to know everything around Marquette. The student body made it official last year when I got voted Most Likely to Know All Your Secrets, and Then Televise Them. Molly got voted Shiniest Hair. Too bad she burned it all off.
“New kid from Seattle. I heard he’s in a band,” Nessa put in.
“I’m so into bands,” Molly breathed.
I fell into a seat in the back row, my head suddenly swimming. Which was worse: Nessa knowing about Skinny Jeans from Seattle before I did, or Molly publicly falling for a boy in tapered pants? “Wait. How did I not know about this kid?”
“Maybs you don’t know everything around heeere,” Molly sing-songed.
I raised my left eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“I’m def inviting him to my party.” Molly tugged her ponytail holder from her hair and did a shampoo-commercial hair toss, sending a gust of wind my way.
“You might want to rethink a date with blue hair,” I offered with a tight smile. “That streak would wash you out. Oh, and P.S.? A little blush would do wonders for your skin tone right now.”
Molly inhaled sharply. Nessa coughed.
“Break’s over, folks!” Sean announced onstage. “Let’s get back to it.”
I grabbed Molly’s wrist before she could take off down the aisle. “I’m just saying. You deserve somebody way cooler. Somebody with normal hair.”
But instead of thanking me, she pulled away and stormed toward the stage.
My jaw dropped. I wanted to remind her that I’d just saved her from public humiliation. That I could have stood by and watched while she crushed on a blue-haired auditorium lurker. But instead, I’d taken the high road and told her the truth. Because friends don’t let friends date punk.
FEEL THE BURN
Friday, 7:02 A.M.
Moving out of the room I used to share with my little sister, Ella, and having the third floor to myself was necessary for several reasons. For one thing, no self-respecting seventh grader should have to wake up to the sight of Cookie Monster underpants.
Secondly, the attic was practically custom-designed for me. Mom used to produce her own news segments up here, so there was a flatscreen on the wall across from my bed, right above my pink Lucite desk. The floating aluminum shelves that used to hold Mom’s demo DVDs now showcased my legendary sneaker collection. We even converted the sound booth in the corner to a photo booth with a teal velvet curtain. One wall and the floor were painted in light green chalkboard paint. Liv had sketched her entire fall line over my bed. The rest of the walls were covered in bulletin board material.
But the most perfect thing about having the third floor to myself? Mom and Ella might not hear my tortured moans as my contacts seared violet-colored craters into my corneas.
“Kacey?” Mom’s bare feet sounded on the polished wood stairs.
I flopped on my unmade bed and buried my face in the cool satin pillowcase, wishing my pink-and-black-plaid duvet would swallow me whole.
“Your breakfast is getting—” The footsteps stopped in the doorway. “Kacey? Are you sick?”
The mattress dipped as my mom sat on the edge of the bed. She placed the back of her hand on my forehead. It had to be her left hand, since it was ringless. On her right she wore two thin silver bands: one with my name and birthday engraved on the inside, and one with Ella’s.
“Just resting my eyes,” I lied into my pillow. I couldn’t admit defeat now, since Mom hadn’t wanted me to get the contacts in the first place. I’d have to wait until it seemed like my idea. Then I could calmly, casually inform her that I WAS GOING TO GO BLIND IF I DIDN’T REMOVE THESE FIRE-SOAKED EYE COASTERS OF DEATH RIGHT. NOW.
A clattering sound erupted from the kitchen two floors below, followed by a loud crash.
“Moooooooooooooooom!” Ella screeched. “’Scuuuuuuuuuuze meeeeee!”
I snorted into my pillow. Ever since Ella figured out that if she said “please,” “excuse me,” and “thank you,” she didn’t get into trouble, she’d used them as get-out-of-jail-free cards. Interchangeably.
“What am I going to do with you girls?” The bed creaked as Mom stood. “You coming?”
“In a sec.” I rolled onto my side and stared at the wall. Tacked next to Molly’s birthday wish list was an 8-by-11 black-and-white candid of the girls and me huddled around a campfire, the first night of the orientation weekend before the start of sixth grade. We were wearing Marquette hoodies and holding s’mores skewers with flaming marshmallows on the ends. We’d been assigned to the same scavenger hunt team. When we won, Liv had said that was The Universe’s way of telling us we were meant to be best friends. Nessa didn’t believe in The Universe, but told us we were way smarter and cooler than her elementary school friends, which was enough of a sign for her.
I slipped out of bed and unpinned the photo, running my fingers over its slightly curled edges. I gasped when I saw the picture underneath.
It was an old shot of me and Dad, the last picture we’d taken together before he moved to L.A. We were on the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier; my eyes were screwed shut and I was gripping a giant fluff of pink cotton candy. He’d bought it for me right before he told me he was leaving. The smell of cotton candy still made my stomach turn.
I stabbed the pin back into the board, obscuring Dad’s face. Then I gathered my hair into a tousled chignon, secured it with one of Liv’s antique brooch clips, and ducked in front of the full-length mirror on the back of my closet door.
I squinted at my reflection, then backed up a few steps so I could actually see. I may have been going blind, but that didn’t mean everybody else was. I wore ripped skinny jeans, a fitted black cap-sleeve top, and a silk emerald slip dress that used to hit at the knee and belong to Liv’s oldest sister. Until Liv ran it through the dryer. Now it fell to mid-thigh. And belonged to me.
“KACEY!” Mom shouted.
“Coming!” I tightened the laces on my black Converse and hurried downstairs.
“Hey, you.” Standing behind the island in the center of the kitchen, Mom was spooning something out of takeout Chinese containers. Salty traces of egg drop soup and Tater Tots hovered over the threshold.
“Dinner for breakfast!” I grinned, the pain in my eyes instantly dulling.
Last year when I mentioned that Nessa’s family sometimes had breakfast for dinner as a treat, Mom decided that we could do the Simon family version: dinner for breakfast, since Mom’s job as Channel 5’s solo evening anchor meant she wasn’t usually around for dinner.
Humming my part of the duet with Quinn, I dumped my Channel 5 messenger bag on the floor by the stainless steel dishwasher and sat down at the table in the breakfast nook. I ran my fingers over the fuzzy etchings in the dark wood. I’d carved everybody’s name at their place when I was a kid, in case anybody forgot where to sit.
Across from me, a pair of glittery white fairy wings peeked out above the table, rising and falling in slow rhythm.
I turned around in my seat and rolled my burning eyes at Mom. “WHERE’S ELLA, MOM?”
Loud breathing sounded from the window seat. The fairy wings shook with silent laughter, snowing silver glitter over the Tater Tots on Ella’s plastic Disney princesses plate.
“Don’t know, baby.” Mom’s auburn curls danced around her shoulders as she hurried around the counter and deposited a plate of Chinese takeout next to the fruit bowl in front of me. “Guess we’d better start looking.”
“READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!” Ella yelled, jumping up on the window seat and laughing hysterically. Her red corkscrew curls bounced around her flushed cheeks.
Excerpted from How to Rock Braces and Glasses by Haston, Meg Copyright © 2011 by Haston, Meg. Excerpted by permission.
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