The Princess and the Pauperby Kate Brian
Carina, a real European princess, is dying to hook up with the sexy American rock star she met online. Too bad about all those bodyguards watching her every move. Then Carina spots her down-and-out near-twin, Julia. For a fast ten grand, Julia grabs the gown and the crown, and the girls swap identities for a day.
Before long Princess Carina is… See more details below
Carina, a real European princess, is dying to hook up with the sexy American rock star she met online. Too bad about all those bodyguards watching her every move. Then Carina spots her down-and-out near-twin, Julia. For a fast ten grand, Julia grabs the gown and the crown, and the girls swap identities for a day.
Before long Princess Carina is trapped on a skeevy bus full of roadies, and Pauper Julia is jetting off to...some small foreign country?
Only a storybook ending can get these two posers back to where they belong.
- Simon Pulse
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.30(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 14 Years
Read an Excerpt
Night skies in L.A. seem to stretch out forever, sending their warmth out to the entire world, rolling above the ocean and reaching the countries on the opposite shore. I imagined the air I was breathing right then drifting into Vineland, a country I knew so much about but had never seen.
I could barely believe I was really standing here on this balcony, looking up at the familiar night sky the only familiar thing around me.
My jeans were gone (with a floor-length black silk dress in their place), my hair was dyed (from ferret brown to shades of glossy gold), and my black plastic watch had been replaced by strands of glittering rubies. I could just imagine my mom's reaction if she saw them. "My God, Julia. Look at you," she'd say. "One of those bracelets is worth more than I make in five years."
Of course, I wasn't Julia that day I was someone else.
And it wasn't even about the dress, the hair, or the bracelet.
I glanced quickly at Markus Ingvaldsson, son of Vineland's minister of cultural affairs. He stood next to me on the balcony and looked out toward the Pacific. His hair was messy from the wind and flopped in his face, and the arms of his tuxedo were a tiny bit too short. I looked down at his hands, beautiful hands with long, slim fingers. On his middle finger he wore the signet ring that had been handed down through the generations. Handed down through the generations.
The closest I'd ever come to owning something with that much history was when I'd bought a pair of used Roller Blades at a garage sale.
Markus caught my gaze and started to smile, revealing the adorable small dimple on his left cheek.
That was it I was turning to mush inside all over again. And it was all wrong. Foreign dignitaries' sons were supposed to be stuffy and boring and pretentious. They weren't supposed to have strong arms, and they weren't supposed to have dimples! Because...well, because...
Because I wasn't supposed to fall for anyone.
According to Mom, not to mention YM and all the shows on the WB, falling for a guy is exactly what sixteen-year-old girls are supposed to do. But when you're trying to maintain your grade point average while figuring out a way to make sure you and your mother don't get evicted, you don't really have a lot of extra time to spend stressing about the new hottie who works at the Circle K. So I had reached my age, sixteen, without ever having had a boyfriend, a serious crush, or even a guy to go to the movies with. And that was just how I'd wanted it.
How I still wanted it...right?
Markus's smile widened, the dimple got deeper, and I blinked, then took a step back from him and returned my gaze to the view over the balcony.
I could see the lights of the Palisades and almost make out the dark waves of the Pacific Ocean. I'd waded out in that ocean many times. I'd jogged along the bike path that ran along the beach. I'd lain in the sand and tried to get an even tan, never quite getting it right.
Inside the French doors that led to the ballroom, people were dancing in Armani tuxedos and rich jewel-toned silk gowns to music played by a string quartet. The air smelled like a mix of fresh flowers and expensive perfume. Everyone was perfectly relaxed, perfectly calm. Everyone except for me. How could I be calm? I was in big trouble.
Just a little while ago Markus and I had waltzed together inside that room. The other dancers had cleared the floor to watch us, admiring the graceful way we moved together. And even that was a lie. In my regular life I wasn't graceful at all. I was always running into lockers, tripping over curbs, and spilling coffee down the front of my shirts. But not tonight.
Suddenly I shivered, even though the breeze against my face was warm and soft.
"Are you cold?" Markus asked, moving closer to me.
"No," I said, in a voice I'd practiced in front of my mirror, my cat staring at me in confusion as I struggled to get the slight tinge of an accent just right. "I'm fine."
Markus stepped closer anyway and laid his hand over mine where it rested on the railing. His hand felt huge. I could barely breathe I felt like fifty genetically altered butterflies were flying around inside my stomach.
Don't mess this up, I told myself, fighting to stay in control and get my heart rate back down. "It's it's beautiful out here," I managed to choke out, my voice shaking slightly.
"Yes," Markus agreed. "It is."
And then I did it, the stupidest thing I'd ever done in my life: I looked into his eyes.
I knew it was a cliché, I knew it with every fiber of my being, but Markus's deep blue eyes were more amazing than the sky, the Pacific Ocean, and every other beautiful thing and person I'd seen tonight all rolled up into one.
My knees actually felt weak.
Markus met my gaze and smiled again, then reached his hand up to touch the side of my face. "And you," he said softly. "You're pretty beautiful yourself."
Okay. I was going to vomit on him and pass out. But then, that probably wouldn't have been too princessy of me.
Of course, princesses probably aren't supposed to blush, either. Unfortunately, I had a feeling that at that moment there wasn't an inch of my skin from my scalp down to my toes that wasn't bright red. Was this night the best night of my life or the worst?
"Markus " I started to say, then stopped myself.
"Nothing." I bit my lip.
"Do you want to go back in?"
"No," I blurted. Oh God. I'd said that way too quickly. Was it okay for a princess to sound so overeager?
"Let's just stay out here for a couple more minutes," I added in what I hoped was a more casual tone.
He moved his hand across my face and brushed a few loose strands of hair behind my ear. I gripped the railing tighter.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked. Then his mouth straightened into a line and his brow furrowed. "I know what this is about," he said, sounding more serious than he had all night.
My breath caught. "You you do?" I squeaked.
He nodded. "It's because I was talking to that other woman earlier, isn't it?"
I stared at him, wide-eyed, torn between a blast of relief that he was still clueless and total confusion about what he was talking about. What woman?
"I assure you, Fröken Vandelkoff means nothing to me," Markus continued.
Fröken who? I gave a slight nod, trying to look as solemn about the whole thing as he did.
And then it was back Markus's perfect, crooked grin. "Besides, she's what, sixty-five? And also, I think she might be a distant cousin."
I couldn't help it I started to giggle. I didn't care if princesses giggled or not; there was no way to stop.
Markus laughed, too, and then before I knew it, his arms were around me and he was pulling me toward him.
"You're so...different tonight," he told me, his mouth so close I could feel his breath on my face.
"Mmm," I agreed, not trusting myself to say anything more. "This whole night has been completely unreal," I murmured into his chest.
"And is that so bad?" Markus asked gently.
Before I could answer, he leaned down and kissed me. The kind of kiss that ends all kisses. The kind in the movies. (The good movies, not the cheesy ones with Freddie Prinz, Jr.) The kind of kiss that makes you forget about strange hair and old shoes and eviction notices and everything else that doesn't mean anything.
Finally the kiss ended, and we stood staring at each other.
Oh, Markus, I thought. If you only knew who I was or what I've done to you, you would never kiss me again.
Copyright © 2003 by 17th Street Productions, an Alloy Company
So it's all set! I am coming to America in just one week! How great is that? I'll finally get to meet you and hear you play in person. I'm so excited, I almost can't believe it! :-)
girl i so wish you would tell me your real name....my band is reel excited about the festivel....its' definitely going to rawk....and it's so cool too meet a girl from another country!!! so does this mean your parents agreed to let you come to the concert???
Don't you worry. My friend Ingrid is going to America with me and she is very smart and she will find a way to get us there. So just count on us showing up! Can't wait to
The door swung open, and I looked up quickly from my laptop. Ugh. One of the main problems princesses have (besides tiara hair, which is worse than pillow hair, believe me) is queens. That is, mothers. Mine stood in the doorway, looking very tired in a lavender satin gown.
I don't mean a gown like a ball gown. Princesses and queens don't wear those except for, well, balls, or ceremonies, or really important dinners. I mean gown as in nightgown. Yes, that's right. Royal people wear nightgowns and pajamas just like regular people. And sometimes we wake up in the morning with drool crusted around our mouths (of course, we have servants who make sure we never go out in public like that).
My mother stood in the doorway. Her face was free of drool, but she had big dark circles under her eyes. For the past few months she'd been nursing my grandmother, who had diabetes and was apparently really sick. Lately my mother was exhausted pretty much all the time.
"What are you doing?" she asked, leaning against the door frame.
"Nothing." I minimized the e-mail window on my screen, then shut the laptop and put it down on my mahogany night table.
My mother frowned, then came in and sat down on my bed. California, my cat, meowed angrily and leapt onto the floor. California was a Pekinese and hideously spoiled. Like me, he had the best grooming a country of two million people could offer. Unlike me, he actually enjoyed it.
"Your father has been delayed. As you know, he was supposed to return home from England tonight." My mother sighed, patted her ash blond bob, and looked around the room like she didn't know what else to say.
"Delayed, wow," I said, rolling my eyes. "How totally shocking."
There was an awkward pause.
"Well, if you're bored, we could send someone out to Video International," she finally said. "I don't know if I could stay awake for a whole movie. But maybe if we got something short..."
It used to be that when my father was away, my mother and I would spend the night hanging out together. We'd get the cook to make us chocolate milk shakes and we'd watch American TV shows on the satellite dish or get one of the staff to rent us an American film. We only did this when my father was out of town. He thought American movies "taught bad values." I thought America looked fabulous it was obviously so different than Vineland, full of models and astronauts and gangsters and people trying to kidnap the president. A few months ago my mother and I would have been all set up in front of the projection screen, watching one of those movies together. But not anymore.
"Whatever. I don't feel like a movie," I said. "I was going to go to bed early anyway." I faked a yawn.
"All right, dear. Whatever you say." She couldn't hide the relief in her eyes, and I felt a small, familiar twinge inside.
It seemed like every day my mother and I grew farther apart. She'd been busy taking care of her mother, and I'd been busy writing e-mails. And feeling sorry for myself, which my mother completely did not understand. She'd married my father when she was my age, sixteen, and missed out on having any of the exciting adventures teenagers are supposed to have. But she didn't seem to mind. She thought the occasional Josh Hartnett movie should be enough excitement for any princess, and whenever I complained about being bored with my life, it was like she took it personally.
So after a while I started keeping my thoughts a secret. My thoughts...and my relationship with Ribbit.
It was actually kind of cool I was just like Buffy back when she had to hide her whole secret slayer life and the Angel thing from her mom (only I wasn't killing demons or anything).
My mother cleared her throat. "Carina, your father really would have loved to be here with us tonight. I hope you know that."
"Yeah. Just like he would have loved to have been here for pretty much my entire life."
"Carina, it wasn't his fault. There was a storm coming in England, and it was unsafe for the jet to take off. He's staying at the queen's tonight, and he's been asked to attend the queen's jubilee, so he won't be back until tomorrow night."
"I wanted to go to the queen's jubilee! Skull Boiler is playing there!"
"Is that the one with the devil-worshiping lead singer?"
"Mother," I said, rolling my eyes. "Please. Everyone has pentagram tattoos these days. You're being ridiculous." A few months earlier my friend Ingrid had smuggled me some goth CDs in classical music cases. They were so intense I couldn't believe it. Imagine the freedom to be so loud and dark and say whatever you wanted.
The Goth Princess of Vineland. I liked the way that sounded.
I picked my biology textbook up off the floor and flipped through the pages, pretending to read something about the makeup of a cell while my mother stared off into the distance. I hoped she would go away soon so I could get back to my e-mail.
But for once, she wasn't in a hurry to leave.
"So, the Ingvaldssons are going to be at that embassy ball they'll be holding in the States while you're there," she said. She tried to force a smile. It looked totally fake. "Markus will be there."
Unbelievable. I was going all the way to America and I still couldn't get away from Markus.
My parents and Markus's parents were good friends. Markus's father was the count of Vasta and minister of something-or-other in our government. And Markus and I had played together when we were, like, four. He'd really liked the wooden blocks, while I was more partial to the glitter glue.
Markus wasn't a bad guy or anything, but our parents had been trying to throw us together for years. Markus was exactly the kind of guy every mother wishes for for her daughter. He was respectful and well mannered and always laughed appreciatively whenever anyone made a bad joke. He was the kind of guy middle-aged women always describe as "a real catch."
In other words, he was completely and totally boring.
Especially when you compared him to Ribbit Ribbit was so exciting and sexy and real. He sang songs with loud meaningful lyrics. And didn't worry so much about following the rules all the time.
"I don't want to talk to Markus," I said.
"Dear, he just wants to get to know you better."
I hated it when my mother called me "dear." It just reminded me all over again how straight she was, how straight and stuffy my whole life was. I shook my head and started chewing on my nails.
"Please stop biting your nails," my mother said. "It's an unbecoming habit."
That was another thing. I was so sick of always having to be "becoming." I wanted to wear ripped jeans with safety pins in them. I wanted to snort when I laughed. I wanted to slouch.
I stopped chewing. "I want to meet new people when I'm in the United States. There will be plenty of time to get together with Markus after I get back from L.A.," I said. I felt so cool, calling it L.A. instead of Los Angeles, just like they did on TV. I tried to keep my voice level. If my mother knew how much I was looking forward to this trip, she'd get suspicious and make me stay home. She never wanted me to have any fun.
"Dear, are you sure you're ready to do this goodwill tour on your own? Maybe I should go with you after all." She reached out and tried to stroke my hair, but I ducked out of the way.
If Mother came, there was no way I'd ever be able to bend the rules and meet Ribbit.
"I'll be fine," I said quickly. "And you can't leave Grandmama when she's so sick. Don't worry, Mother. You know I always do exactly what I'm supposed to do." Even when what I'm supposed to do is incredibly boring, I added silently. "Besides" I rolled my eyes "Killjoy will be around."
"Carina, don't be cruel. Frúken Killroy has served the royal family with great dedication for many, many years. She cares deeply for you."
Fröken Killroy was the palace "handler." She was just like a prison guard, but she got to wear better clothes. I had a lot of nightmares about her, where I was a parrot in a cage and she shoved food pellets through the wire. One time I got to bite her finger.
"Mother, you know Ingrid and I will be with our delegation at all times. I don't know why Fröken Killroy even needs to be there."
My mother sighed. "Dear, Los Angeles is a big, frightening city."
"Frightening?" I snorted. "Frightening how?"
"Well..." She thought a minute, and California stared at her, like he was waiting for tales of ferocious dogs dropping out of the palm trees. "I hear there are gangs in Los Angeles that make signs with their hands" my mother folded two fingers down and waved her hand around to demonstrate "and I also hear that the cars go too fast and that there are crazy Roller Bladers on the beach. And I know all that smog is terribly unhealthy. Take shallow breaths."
"That all sounds fabulous," I blurted. My mother's eyes widened, and I wished I'd kept my mouth shut.
"You're only sixteen, dear. Try not to grow up all at once."
"I just feel..." I trailed off.
"Feel what?" she prodded, her voice softening.
I sighed. "Never mind. Whatever. Just forget it." California crawled onto my lap and I threw him off the bed. He sent me a killer glare from the floor. I glanced up and my mother was giving me the same look.
"Carina, I don't know what's happened to you lately. I really don't." My mother sighed, too, and stood up. "You haven't even asked about your grandmother."
"I was just about to," I said quickly. The truth was, I had barely seen my grandmother these past few months, and I hadn't visited her yet in the hospital. There had just been too much on my mind. "How is she?" I asked.
"Not very well, I'm afraid. She could use a visit from you."
"I'll see her as soon as I get back from my American tour," I promised.
She raised her eyebrows. "Keep that promise. And not just because it's your duty as princess to set an example of proper behavior. Someday you'll be in her place, and you'll want your grandchildren to visit you, too." With that she left the room.
I narrowed my eyes at the door. Lately pretty much all of my conversations with my mother left me feeling the same way incredibly annoyed but at the same time a tiny bit guilty. Did she always have to remind me of my duties as a princess? Did everything have to come back to that?
I fell back on the bed, reached over to the windowsill, and found my Walkman. I put the headphones on and clicked a button, and Ribbit's voice filled my ears.
Girl, you're the only one who understands
I like peeling Elmer's glue off my hands
You girl are so hot
When I touch you I need an oven mitt
I need to drink a quart of your spit
You're as sizzling as the sun without an umbrella
I'm the pizza crust
You're the mozzarella....
I smiled in spite of myself. Okay, so maybe the spit part was gross, but so what? He was an artist; artists were supposed to be more passionate than other people. And in only a matter of days, everything I'd hoped for would come true. Freedom and sand and surf and palm trees and Toadmuffin. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep if I thought too much about it, and in 1764 a law had been passed in Vineland that banned princesses from getting less than eight hours of sleep a night. Okay, not really, but Killjoy always clucked her tongue when I dozed off during my lessons, and if my father saw me looking tired, he'd yell at me about my eating habits and protein and calisthenics. Calisthenics? Who even said that?
I took off the headphones and pressed the silver button next to my bed, which was connected to a buzzer in the servants' quarters. A few seconds later my maid, Asha, appeared at my door.
"Princess," she said.
"Asha, I'm going to need my white silk pajamas from my wardrobe. And tell the kitchen to send up a mug of hot chocolate."
"Yes, Your Highness." She handed me my pajamas and trotted down the hall toward the kitchen.
"And tell him to use a combination of dark and milk chocolate," I called after her. "It's too bitter otherwise."
I got into my pajamas, and then I changed my mind about the hot chocolate, so I hung my Princess Sleeping sign outside the door. Ingrid had given it to me as a joke, but it came in awfully handy sometimes.
As soon as I turned out the lights, my cell phone rang. I groped around in the dark until I found it.
"Who is this?" I joked.
"It's Ingrid. Your best friend."
"Hmmm, doesn't ring a bell."
"I'm the one whose bad attitude is covered up by her insincere respect for all authority. You know, the only person who provides light and joy in your otherwise cold, sad existence."
"Ah, yes. I know you. So what's up?"
"Well, for one thing, right now I am cowering in the dark just beyond the back wall of your property. I looked over the wall a few minutes ago, and the guards are sneaking cigarettes somewhere. The coast is clear."
"Ingrid, it's late," I said. I wanted to lie in bed and think about Ribbit.
"Ingrid, it's late," Ingrid said, in a perfect imitation of me. She groaned. "When did you turn a hundred and five, Carina? Get out here."
I started to respond, but then I realized she'd already hung up. I went to the window, opened it, climbed through, and maneuvered my way down the trellis. It was covered with a kind of wisteria that bloomed, strangely, in the month of September rather than in the early spring. Every now and again my toes would catch one of the lavender blooms and tear it loose from the vine. By the time I hit the ground, there was a little carpet of them nestling on the soft green grass.
I crept barefoot across the palace grounds toward the great stone wall, careful to look for signs of the guards. Once, the year before, they had caught me sneaking out and had taken me back to the house to be confronted by my parents. My father had been home that night big shock and had just enough time to tell my mother she needed to control her daughter before a helicopter landed on the back lawn and flew him off to France. I had been grounded for two weeks, which was bad enough, but had also been denied e-mail, which was a torture not even the old kings of savage countries could have dreamed up.
When I reached the back wall, I moved the branches of a bush aside and found a toehold in the granite wall. I reached up and found some fingerholds, too, guiding myself over and dropping down on the other side.
The moon was full overhead, and a breeze that smelled of lavender blew across my face. Ingrid, who liked lavender cologne, was lurking nearby. Ingrid was pretty, in her own way. She had short blond hair and very wide eyes and full lips. But she was really skinny, and she had big clumsy feet. Her mother was that way, too, and her grandmother. And how can you fight a bloodline? Believe me, I had tried.
Ingrid wasn't royalty, but her family and mine went way back, friends since the eighteenth century. Like me, Ingrid was an only child. Like me, she thought her parents were kind of lame. Like me, she was sick of her boring, overprotected life. Like me, she thought Markus was duller than biology. We had a lot in common.
"Ingrid!" I called in the darkness.
I felt a pair of hands cover my eyes. "Guess who?" Ingrid whispered in my ear.
Ingrid's hands fell away from my face and she started walking ahead of me into the forest, motioning for me to follow her.
I liked walking around barefoot at night. It made me feel free. The moon was full and bright overhead, and our feet barely made a sound as we brushed through ferns and banks of silky grass. We were headed to a little clearing in the woods that had two flat rocks right next to each other. We called the place the Sanctuary, and that was where we went when we snuck out in the middle of the night which, these days at least, was something we did pretty often. Out there it was possible to believe we could get up and walk back to normal houses in normal parts of Vineland, where a girl didn't have to know how to hold a fork, or curtsy, or move with grace, or go on hospital tours. (Don't get me wrong it's not like I don't feel sorry for sick people. But I hate the smell of hospitals, and the flashbulbs going off in my face, and nurses coming up to shake my hand. And I hate having to read incredibly boring books to patients who always seem to be coughing on me.)
We reached the rocks and sat down. Ingrid was wearing a cream-colored tunic shirt and raw silk pants that I'd never seen before. Unlike me, Ingrid loved all those dainty haute couture clothes I had to wear. "That's the thing about you, Carina," she always said. "You don't appreciate all the perks of royalty. I should have been a princess instead of you." She didn't mean it in a harsh way. She was just being honest.
Ingrid pulled a pack of imported Silk Cut cigarettes out of her pants pocket and lit one with a gold Zippo. She took a long drag, and the light from the end gave her face an eerie glow. She handed the cigarette to me. I inhaled and immediately began to cough. And cough. And cough.
I knew the benefits of cigarette smoking rebellion against authority, making your parents angry, and masking the odor of the rose-scented cologne a princess is supposed to wear. The problem was, I hated smoking. But I found that kind of embarrassing, so I did it anyway.
Ingrid clapped me on the back. "You all right?"
She took the cigarette back. "Oh, I forgot how delicate princesses are," she said, laughing. "So." She paused to take another long drag. "Did you hear from that Toad guy yet?"
"His name's Ribbit," I said. "And his band is called Toadmuffin. Toadmuffin."
"Yeah, right," said Ingrid. "I looked at their web site. 'The Circus Will Weep When I Kill All the Clowns.' Brilliant, really."
"That doesn't mean kill for real, you know," I said. "It means metaphorically. Like 'My Girl Is a Rainbow Wearing Tight Shirts.'"
"Ooh, metaphorically," Ingrid said, laughing. "I see."
"Ribbit and I were e-mailing each other earlier tonight," I said.
"No way!" said Ingrid. Even though Ingrid could be a little bit mean at times, she sounded genuinely happy, which I thought was really sweet. She thought I could do much better than Markus.
She took one more puff on her cigarette, ground it out on the edge of the rock, and threw it on the ground. "So what did he say?"
"Oh, you know, just that he was excited to meet me and all that."
"Did you tell him who you are yet?"
"Sure, Ingrid. 'Look for me, princess of Vineland. The girl who makes Rapunzel look free.' No, of course I didn't! He still thinks I'm a normal girl, and that's what I'm going to be when I meet him."
"Suuure. A normal girl...pulling up in a chauffeured Mercedes-Benz, accompanied by a scary-looking old woman who will make sure you two stand three feet apart at all times."
"It's not going to be like that. I'm going to find a way to get rid of Killjoy and the chauffeur, too. And you're going to help me."
"I don't know," Ingrid said. "I'm still in trouble for that rope ladder and fake passport I gave you for Christmas. Somehow your parents took it the wrong way."
I laughed. "Come on, Ingrid," I said in my best whiny voice. "If anyone can figure out how to help me get away from Killjoy, it's you. It'll be like that movie Escape from Alcatraz. I rented it one time with my mother. All these prisoners escaped from jail by making their own raft and sailing away. It's a true story."
"Escape is possible."
"Well, if Killjoy had been the prison warden, those three guys would be sitting in cells right now. And they would know how to curtsy. "
"Ingrid, I'm serious."
"All right, all right. I'll think of something. It's worth it just to get you away from Markus the Boring."
"His family is going to be at the embassy ball in L.A.," I said.
"Hopefully I won't get stuck talking to him all night like I did last time."
"Seriously. He's so dull he makes me want to vomit." Ingrid rolled her eyes. "So, what's the first thing you're going to say when you finally meet Ribbit face-to-face?"
"I'm going to say, 'Hi, I'm the girl you've been e-mailing.'"
"What name are you going to use?"
"I don't know. I'll make one up." I had gotten Ribbit's e-mail address through our head of cybersecurity. I hadn't exactly bribed him, but I had made some calls and ensured that his daughter was admitted to the most exclusive girls' school in all of Vineland. There are times when being a princess has its benefits.
The breeze was cool against our skin. The stars overhead shone bright. Ingrid and I squinted up at them. I wanted one of the stars to suck me out of my kingdom and then set me down again in L.A.
"It's going to be so incredible," I whispered. "Palm trees, sand in our toes, iced tea that tastes like raspberries, surfers, movie stars, dancing all night. Supposedly there's some beach where everyone walks around completely naked."
"Naked?" Ingrid said nervously, sounding totally un-Ingrid. "Maybe I'll get Killjoy to dig me a big hole and I'll bury myself with just my neck sticking out. I'll pick up guys that way. Then I'll dig myself out after they've already fallen in love with me."
"Look, the point is, L.A. is completely unlike anyplace we've ever been before, and I don't want to waste it at a bunch of boring receptions, eating salmon croquettes and listening to someone blab on and on about what an honor it is to stand next to me. You have to help me, Ingrid. We need to come up with a serious plan."
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking."
I looked up at the stars again as Ingrid lit another cigarette. "Seven days from tonight and we'll be there," I said. "In seven days we'll be in an entirely different world. In beautiful, glamorous L.A...."
Copyright © 2003 by 17th Street Productions, an Alloy Company
In beautiful, glamorous L.A. it was seven o'clock in the morning and I, Julia Johnson, woke up to the sound of dripping water. It came from the leaky faucet in the bathroom sink. The super of our building, Dominic, had promised to fix it, along with the stove, the oven, the pipes that ran through the walls in the living room, the knocking heater, and the refrigerator that oozed brown water. Dominic evidently looked at our kitchen the way missionaries look at Hollywood Boulevard or aid workers look at Calcutta. There was so much to do, it was too overwhelming to even start the job.
Dominic had also promised to fix my bathroom door. Mom had her bedroom on the other side, and we shared the bathroom. But my door had begun to rot, and Dominic made this problem even worse by halfway fixing it. He took down the door and never got around to replacing it, so the dripping water bothered me much more now that I couldn't shut the door. Mom hung up one of my old Barbie sheets across the doorway in the meantime. I used to sleep under those sheets when I was five years old. Dozens of princess Barbies danced on the borders. Identical Barbies in identical pink dresses, their faces plastered with big smiles, their eyes looking completely vacant. Now they kind of reminded me of some of the girls at my school.
I rolled out of bed and rubbed my eyes as I stumbled into the bathroom. The water was dripping steadily drip, drip, drip. I turned on the hot water which meant warm water on a good day and washed my face.
It wasn't a bad face, I thought as I looked in the mirror. It was a good face in bad circumstances. Okay, so maybe I didn't look as "L.A." as some of the other girls at Rosewood, but they had three-hundred-dollar highlights and MAC lip glosses working in their favor. I had Bonne Belle Lip Smackers and haircuts courtesy of my mom and her kitchen scissors. It wasn't like I was jealous or anything. In fact, I kind of felt sorry for those girls they had to spend all that extra time getting ready in the morning, whereas I was free to spend my time...listening to the water drip in the sink.
I felt something soft brush my ankle and looked down to see Desperate. Desperate was the name I gave my cat when I discovered her as a kitten, shivering on a side street that ran between Pacific Avenue and the Venice canals. Desperate had been just a placeholder name until I could think of something else, but as I got to know her, I saw that Desperate fit her name, the same way I fit mine. Desperate had grown up healthy, but she had really uncontrollable fur that stuck out all over the place. Bad fur days, they call it. Desperate was a good friend. She clawed on the furniture and chewed up the hats Mom made, but she always looked sorry and would make up for it by clawing on the sheet across the bathroom door until she made fringe out of the Barbies that ran across the bottom.
"Meow," said Desperate, which could have meant anything from "I want food," to "There is a mouse in the kitchen that just a few minutes ago was alive and well. I cannot control these violent tendencies. I must be stopped."
"Did you get another mouse?" I asked Desperate.
"Meow," she replied. A confession? We would soon see.
On the way to the kitchen I passed by Mom's bedroom. The door was halfway open, so I peeked inside. She was fast asleep, her pink-and-white waitress uniform hung across a wing-back chair. According to restaurant regulation she had to wear three-inch heels and a high ponytail along with the frilly uniform, like a cartoon waitress come to life. She waited tables at the End Zone, a sports bar on Ocean Avenue. It was the regular hangout for a bunch of San Diego Chargers fans, and every time a game came on, the fans would crowd the bar and watch it on one of the giant screens, whooping and screaming when the Chargers won, falling silent and forgetting to tip if they lost. Needless to say, my mom was not particularly fond of the Chargers or football teams in general. They reminded her of drunken men and stale beer and overcooked chicken wings. Of a life spent toiling away at some menial job, when it should have been spent running her own hat empire.
Back when she was in her midtwenties, my mom had a brief but very successful hat-making career. She was studying fashion design at UCLA when a boutique owner saw a hat she'd made and asked my mom to make a bunch more. Eventually Mom dropped out of school to pursue fame and fortune as a famous headwear designer. Everything should have been perfect, but then she met a doctoral student in behavioral psychology who got her pregnant and abandoned her. I'd never met him, but I looked him up on the computers at school. Apparently he lived in Beverly Hills now and had a flourishing practice in adolescent and teen psychotherapy. Sometimes I liked to imagine what he'd say if I made an appointment and showed up in his office wanting to discuss my "abandonment issues."
Anyway, Mom had to go to work to support me, and her hat creations kind of fell by the wayside. She kept it up as much as she could, making hats from random scraps she got out of the remnants bin at Material Girl and selling them on commission out of a little shop on Abbot Kinney. Every so often I'd spot someone on the street wearing one of Mom's designs, which was always sort of cool. I'd tried to tell her to jack up the price; that's what really makes designers take off. Look at Kate Spade, I told her. But Mom just wouldn't do it. Maybe she was afraid that no one would buy the hats at all then, and what little extra money they made would just disappear.
Don't get me wrong we weren't completely miserable, and we certainly didn't spend our time sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. Okay, so we didn't have a ton of extra cash to throw around, but I never went hungry or anything like that. And besides, we had a lot of fun together, Mom and I.
The morning sunlight came in and lit up Mom's face. Despite the fact that she joked about being my "silly-looking old mother," I thought she was beautiful. She had glossy brown hair and smooth, clear skin. The men at the sports bar hit on her all the time, and some of them were kind of gross about it when they'd had a few too many Amstel Lights. One night Mom came home with buffalo wing sauce in the shape of a handprint on the back of her dress. I asked her about it and she said, "Some drunk guy tried to grab me, so I shoved my knee right in his fifty-yard line. He spent the next ten minutes having a time-out." And then she'd laughed her warm, coppery laugh, and I'd laughed, too, and before we knew it, we were clutching our stomachs and the tears were running down our faces.
I guess you could say Mom's pretty much my best friend my best friend who just happens to be a lot older and kind of looks like me.
Most mornings she woke up in time to have breakfast with me, but at the moment she looked so peaceful I didn't want to wake her. I went to the kitchen and made breakfast while Desperate watched me like a hawk, even though her food bowl was full. Desperate always wanted what other people had, which made L.A. the perfect place for her.
When I finished eating breakfast, I packed lunch and headed out. I cringed when I noticed that yet another letter was taped to our door. At least I'd seen it before my mom. It was almost becoming a reflex ripping off the note and sticking it in my pocket.
I found my slightly rusty blue ten-speed chained to the stairway of our apartment complex, put my backpack in the basket, and started down our street, which ran through the heart of Venice, a funky little area in the southwestern part of Los Angeles. Venice used to be full of artists and gangs but more and more young professionals were moving in, fixing up the places and driving up property values and rent. Our street wasn't as nice as the ones that ran through the canals, or even the area around the vintage shops on Abbot Kinney. But on the other hand, it wasn't as bad as the Oakwood area, where someone was always holding someone up at gunpoint.
Most of the girls who attended school at Rosewood were from Beverly Hills, Malibu, or Bel Aire, and they had parents who gave them BMWs and Mercedeses to drive to school. I didn't even have a Pinto. And since the bus service would have cost a lot of money (Rosewood was a private school it was expensive just to breathe there), I was forced to ride my bike, enduring whistles and catcalls every morning as I rode down Washington Boulevard. But that was okay with me. As a result of my enforced transportation, I would have a better-developed character and sleeker legs than my classmates.
Every so often when I was in a bad mood, I'd feel a tiny bit sorry for myself, but then I'd snap back to reality and put all my energies into making straight A's so that someday I'd get into a good college on scholarship, the same way I'd earned my full ride at Rosewood. Then I'd be the one laughing from the dorm room of Brown or Duke while those other girls...well, married doctors and lived in bigger houses in Beverly Hills. But still, they would have bad character development and by then their legs would probably be really fat.
When I arrived at school, a few of the girls were hanging out on the marble staircase that led up to the big double doors of Rosewood Academy. The weather had cooled a little strange for September and three of them were wearing cream turtleneck sweaters. I wondered if they'd planned it the night before.
While I chained my bicycle to the iron rails of the staircase, I overheard one of the girls, Bridget Walsh, squealing about something.
"Wait, really? I can't believe it. Seriously?"
Bridget Walsh's father was a big Hollywood producer. He'd put Bridget in a Disney movie when she was six years old, and she'd been wanting to act ever since. She always seemed to be practicing for an audition, but she never got any parts. Maybe today she was trying out to be Perky, the little-known eighth Dwarf.
"This is just so totally exciting," Mary Robbins agreed. "Definitely the new M.F." Mary was really into calling things "the new M.F." M.F. stood for Most Fabulous. Previously the title of "new M.F." had been bestowed upon her favorite strappy sandals, the new season of The Real World, and Crest Whitestrips.
"This really is amazing," Sally Phillips said, nodding. "I can't believe royalty is coming to Rosewood." Usually their conversations didn't interest me that much, but this actually sounded kind of cool.
"Royalty like Michael Jackson, the King of Pop?" I asked, smirking. Bridget looked at me blankly, blinked, and shook her head. Most of the girls at school didn't really get my sense of humor.
"Huh? Nooo. Like, real royalty." She held up a copy of the newspaper and waved it in front of me. "As in Princess Carina from Vineland."
"Oh," I said.
"This is totally going to bring such good publicity to our school," Darcy Carroll said, flipping her hair.
"Totally," said Stacy Lomax. "Definitely good publicity."
"Why is she coming here?" I asked. "I mean, to what do we owe this great honor?" I added, holding back a grin.
"I heard her grandmother went to Rosewood in the forties," said Bridget, "and so it's kind of a PR event. You know, royal granddaughter returns after sixty years."
"I wonder if that means they're going to donate something fabulous to the school," Mary said. "They are completely loaded, like Bill Gates loaded."
"Cool," said Darcy. "Maybe they'll get Anna Sui to design the new school uniform or get a spa put in the locker rooms."
I scowled, remembering my own need for a serious donation. Turning away from the group, I opened up my backpack and took out the letter I had found taped to the door. While the other girls continued to giggle and squeal and overuse the word totally, I scanned the message.
As you know, I have raised the price of your rent by $200, well within my rights as a landlord, as this is not a rent-controlled property. Due to the unfortunate passing away of my mother, I am now the sole owner of the apartment complex. As a result, I have changed her very lax rules on late payments. You have not yet paid your August rent in full, and it's already mid-September.
This is your third notice. Please remit payment to the building superintendent, Dominc Rocco, immediately. Failure to act in a timely manner will result in more serious measures.
I folded the letter back up, my pulse racing. This was the worst one yet. More serious measures what did that mean? I shoved the letter into my backpack. We'd have the money soon, if the Chargers could just get themselves together and win a couple of games. I didn't want my mom to freak out in the meantime. What was the point, when there was nothing we could do?
"Princess Carina has the best clothes!" Mary sighed. "I wonder if she has a personal stylist or if she picks them out herself."
"You know, you kind of look like her, Julia," Sally said, chewing on a silver-lacquered thumbnail.
I raised my eyebrows. "Right," I said. "I think maybe you put in the wrong prescription contacts today."
The others all looked at me closer, glancing back and forth between me and the picture in the newspaper. "That's so weird," Bridget said. "Julia, you actually do look like her. I mean, if you plucked your eyebrows and did something with your hair..."
I shook my head, letting out a laugh. Me and the princess of Vineland, long lost twins. That was a good one. If only plucking some eyebrows and getting a haircut could turn me into a princess. I had a feeling Princess Carina didn't have to hide scary landlord letters from her queen mother.
"I hear the princess gets her highlights from some special stylist who flies in from Milan," Mary said. "Apparently he uses some revolutionary technique that only two other people in the world know how to do. I really want to see her up close and ask her about it."
"I don't think you're going to get a chance," Bridget said. "There's just going to be an assembly where she makes a few statements about what Rosewood meant to her grandmother, and then they're going to do a quick tour, and then she's out of here."
Gwendolyn Jones came bouncing up. She was the head reporter for the Rosewood Weekly, and her specialty was breaking news that everyone knew about already. None of the students ever gave her quotes, so she relied on the teachers, who liked her because she always raised her hand and vehemently agreed with anything they said.
She stuck a paper in my hands, and then she was off.
I glanced down at the headline: PRINCESS COMES TO ROSEWOOD! GET A HOME EC TEACHER'S PERSPECTIVE IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!
I let the paper drop and went inside. It looked like I was the only person at Rosewood who couldn't care less about the princess of Vineland coming to our school, probably because I was also the only one there who had more important things to worry about. Things Princess Carina couldn't help with, no matter how well plucked her eyebrows were.
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