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The Clique #14: A Tale of Two Pretties
By Harrison, Lisi
PoppyCopyright © 2011 Harrison, Lisi
All right reserved.
WESTCHESTER, NY CAM FISHER’S DRIVEWAY
Friday, December 24th 6:22 P.M.
The frigid night air smelled like fireplaces, pine, and anticipation.
“Just one more second,” Cam called from inside his garage.
Claire stomped her candy cane–inspired red-and-white Keds against the asphalt driveway to stay warm. But her chattering teeth had nothing to do with the winter weather and everything to do with excitement.
“And keep your eyes closed!”
She shut them so hard her lids shar-pei’ed, showing Cam that he was a go-the-extra-mile kind of guy and (if she was being Christmas Eve honest) because she was a wee bit nervous. He’d given her gifts before: gummies, burned CDs, framed photos… but never anything that required closed eyes and a garage.
Suddenly, the door lifted with a creaky groan. “Okay. Open!”
Either Rudolph’s nose had hanged itself or Cam had replaced the regular garage light with a red bulb. At first the dim glow made it hard to see, but once her eyes adjusted, Claire giggled nervously. “What is this?”
“What does it look like?” Cam asked from behind a microphone, an electric guitar strapped across his green henley. He looked like Justin Bieber minus the cotton swab hairdo.
Harris, his older brother, sat at a rickety drum set behind him, while Massie’s ex, Derrington, stood off to the left, with a bass. But the biggest shock was Layne Abeley, who wore a plaid fedora, a long black blazer, black baggy slacks, a white skinny tie, and a saxophone.
“Introducing Garage Band,” Cam said.
Claire applauded. The musicians bowed.
“FYI,” Layne said into her microphone, “I’m not only the backup vocalist, I’m also the wind section.”
“Ha!” Derrington smiled. “She said wind section. Prrrrrrerpt.”
Harris laughed at the fart impression.
“Ready?” Cam called. “Introducing, Gummy Claire.” Garage Band lifted their instruments. “Five, six, seven, eight.”
Harris began drumming a four count, Derrington plucked his bass, and Layne clamped down on the reed mouthpiece and blew. They sounded a like a rock version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Cam leaned toward the mic and Claire’s insides squinched. What if he was bad? What if he was good? What if she blushed? Was she supposed to dance? Sway? Clap? Cry? Throw her bra onstage? Because she didn’t have a bra, just a tank top, and she wasn’t about to take it off and—
Her crush began to sing.
This Christmas I know for sure,
I’ve got a fever and you’re the cure.
This isn’t Florida, it’s the cold W-C,
But I’ll keep you warm my little gummy…
Was this really happening?Claire felt so awkward and special at the same time she didn’t know where to look. Cam’s blue eye? His green one? Or Layne’s wind-filled cheeks? She dug deep into the pocket of her blue puffy coat and pulled out a sour reindeer, the limited-edition seasonal special at Sweetsations Candy Shoppe.
Gummy, Gummy, Gummy Claire,
Everything sucks when you’re not there,
You inspired me to write this ditty,
And even won over the Pretty Committee…
Cam said he wanted to exchange Christmas gifts, but she hadn’t expected this Jo Bros–like serenade. A jolt of affection—or was it the limited-edition sugar rush?—made Claire’s crush levels soar higher than a reindeer in a rocket.
I stand before you with my guitar,
Cause I’m not old enough to drive a car,
When I am, ride shotgun with me,
Off into a sunset of sweet candy.
Gummy, Gummy, Gummy Claire,
Everything sucks when you’re not there.
The song ended with a soulful wail from Layne, and the Garage Band bowed.
Claire let go of the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and then broke into wild applause. Forget the Gondola Wheel at Rye Playland: The Fisher garage, with its shelves stocked with tools, bike helmets, and old video games, its cracked cement floor, oil stain patches, and single red bulb, was officially the most romantic place on Earth.
“Merry Christmas,” Cam said sheepishly.
“Merry Christmas.” She smiled, wishing everyone would stop staring, wondering what she should do next. Because she had zero-minus-a-thousand ideas. “That was awesome, you guys,” was all she could manage under such extreme pressure.
“I still think Sax Appeal is a better name,” Layne harrumphed, laying her instrument in its foamy case.
“I like Who Cracked Wind,” Derrington joked, wiggling and fanning his booty.
When everyone stopped laughing, Harris tossed his drumstick in the air. “Okay, it’s Wii time.”
“You got Call of Duty: Black Ops?” Layne asked.
“Pearl Harbor Trilogy—1941: Red Sun Rising?”
“Yup,” Harris said.
“Shadow of the Ninja?”
He glanced at Derrington in a where-did-you-find-this-girl sort of way and then nodded yes.
“Layne likes,” she said, loosening her tie. “Let’s do this.”
Harris led them into the house, leaving Claire and Cam alone. They had been alone zillions of times but never post-serenade. Suddenly neither one of them knew where to look. So they giggled.
“Wanna sit?” Cam finally asked. He gestured to a worn blue trunk in the far corner by the lawnmower.
Claire lifted the measly present she got Cam and joined him. Why didn’t she think bigger? He had filled her heart; she’d filled an elf-covered gift bag.
“I really loved that,” she said, kissing him on his Drakkar Noir–scented cheek.
“It was fun,” he said modestly. Exhaling a puff of breath into the cold garage he asked, “Do you want to open your gift?”
“You mean there’s another one?!” Claire asked, the needle on her Guilt-O-Meter exploding to bits.
Cam reached behind the trunk and presented her with the same elf gift bag.
She showed him hers and they laughed like their old selves again. “Wanna open them at the same time?”
He nodded. “On three,” he said. “One, two…”
“Three!” Claire called, digging in.
Cam did the same. “Uh-oh.”
“I know,” Claire began. “It’s not even close to what you got me. I wish I—”
He was smiling mischievously. “Just open your present.”
Claire pushed aside the tissue and gasped. He had given her an old-fashioned candy dispenser filled with red and green M&Ms. Only instead of M&M, the candies read C&C, for Claire and Cam. Her gift to him was nearly identical. Only she had a picture of them printed on the candies—the one Massie had taken over Thanksgiving weekend.
After a thank-you lip-kiss, they both cracked up again.
Fluffy flakes began falling outside the garage. The quiet street was snow-globe beautiful. Claire’s teeth began chattering. If the moment had been any more romantic they would have taken down the tree and called it Valentine’s Day.
“There’s one more thing in the bag,” he said.
“Cam!” Claire’s cheeks burned with single-gift guilt.
“Don’t worry; it’s something for both of us.” He twirled a loose thread from his shirt around his finger, then yanked.
Claire pulled a glossy card from the tissue. “ ‘Photography lessons for two’?”
He nodded. “Every Friday for the next ten weeks.”
“Cam! It must have cost—”
He lifted his palm to silence her. “It was free. My dad got it for my mom’s birthday but she has Current Events Club on Fridays so…”
“This is the best!” Claire didn’t know what she loved more: the chance to learn about shadows and light and aperture and transparency or the guaranteed date she’d have with Cam every Friday night! Her insides began soaring all over again and then, as if hit by a missile—Missile Block!—they came crashing down.
“What?” asked Cam, picking up the trouble signal. And then, realizing, he said, “Oh. Oops.”
Oops? Oops was “I dialed the wrong number.” Not a call to arms, which is exactly what would happen if Claire ditched out on Friday night sleepovers with the Pretty Committee. She was finally an accepted member of the group. Turning her back on that would mean war, under the best of circumstances. But now? When Massie was reeling from the news of her father’s recent financial crisis? When Claire was the only one who knew? Bailing would be a kamikaze mission. But Friday night photography with Cam…
The self-help podcast she and Massie had listened to the night before—“Putting the U in Nutshell”—came to mind. After a multiple-choice quiz, Claire had been deemed a “sympathy-stresser”: someone who takes on other people’s problems as her own. Massie was a “resist-rejoice”: change was unimaginable, but once she tried it on, it fit like couture.
In a nutshell, Claire needed to learn to put her own needs before the needs of others (class with Cam ) and have faith that Massie—after an apocalyptic freak-out—would eventually respect Claire’s pursuit of photographic excellence and might even welcome her back when the ten-week course was through.
Or she could play the bad-sushi card every Friday night until April, and hope no one called her bluff. Which, considering the options, was, without a doubt, the smarter choice.
Excerpted from The Clique #14: A Tale of Two Pretties by Harrison, Lisi Copyright © 2011 by Harrison, Lisi. Excerpted by permission.
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