Read an Excerpt
“Hey, Charlie, you’ve got to come outside right now and check this out,” my older brother, Ryan, yelled, pounding on my bedroom door. “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve even seen!”
I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, deeply engrossed in applying a second coat of fluorescent lime-green polish to my nails.
“What could be weirder than you?” I hollered back, suspecting that this was just another one of Ryan’s practical jokes.
I held out my hand to examine the effect. Perfect. The green was so bright that I practically needed sunglasses to look at it. Usually, I prefer a more neutral shade, like light pink or pale silver. When I’m feeling bad, though, I go for bolder colors. My twin sister, Sammie, says she can tell my mood from my nails—the brighter the color, the worse my mood. So my choice of the smoking-hot fluorescent lime-green polish should tell you something about how miserable a mood I was in.
“Okay, fine,” Ryan said. “Stay in there. I guess you don’t want to see how totally insane Lauren is acting.”
I jumped off my bed, practically tripped over my own feet, and flung open the door.
“Did you say Lauren?” I asked, waving both my hands urgently in the air so the polish would dry faster.
“Yeah. She’s out on the tennis court, acting like a chicken. Clucking and everything.”
“Wait. You don’t mean Lauren Wadsworth, do you?”
Lauren was definitely not the kind of person who would go around clucking like a chicken for no reason.
“Yeah. Lauren Wadsworth. As in your ex–best friend. Remember her?”
I didn’t appreciate his sarcasm. Of course I remembered her. It had been three weeks since Lauren and I had stopped talking, but I thought about her every day and wished we were still friends. My grandma GoGo says it’s really hard to lose a best friend. No matter what your problems were or what you fought about or how much you believe you were right and she was wrong. Because the sad fact is that one day you have a best friend and the next day you don’t. Trust me, that can put a person in a really miserable mood, one that even the brightest green nail polish can’t fix.
“Are you positive it’s Lauren?” I asked Ryan.
“I guess there’s always the possibility that it’s a mutant clone of her.”
Very funny. Score another sarcastic comment for Ryan.
He had to be wrong. I knew it couldn’t be Lauren. Sammie, and her Truth Tellers friends Alicia and Sara, might think it was hilarious to walk around clucking like a chicken or growling like a tiger. But they’re drama kids—and they’re always coming up with weird stuff to do. Lauren is a whole other kind of person. She’s cool and popular and beautiful. The total opposite of weird. She wouldn’t go clucking around unless she had lost her mind or something.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Come see for yourself, Charles. She’s right in the middle of the tennis court.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I’m warning you, Ry. If this is one of your lame practical jokes, I’m never speaking to you again.”
“Is that a threat or a promise?” he answered, cracking himself up.
I slipped into my flip-flops, gave one last wave of my hands, and ran out of my room. Following Ryan, I zoomed out of the house onto the deck and headed to the tennis courts, which are between the house and the beach. By the way, don’t get the idea that we’re rich enough to live on the beach with our own private tennis court or anything. We live in the caretaker’s cottage at the Sporty Forty Beach Club in Santa Monica, California, where my dad is the tennis teacher while my Mom is away at cooking school. The forty families who belong to the club, like the Wadsworths, now they’re rich. We, on the other hand, are totally not.
As I raced past the kitchen, I caught sight of GoGo and some girl out of the corner of my eye.
“What’s the rush?” GoGo called out to me through the open window. “Come meet Bethany.”
“I will later, GoGo,” I answered without losing a step.
When I neared the tennis courts, I suddenly realized that I needed a plan. I couldn’t just barge out there and ask Lauren what was up with the chicken thing. She probably wouldn’t answer me. After all, we still weren’t speaking.
What had happened between us was no little fight—it was major. I had told the police that Sean and Jared, two of her best friends, had started a bonfire at the beach that almost burned the neighbor’s house down. They got in big-time trouble. I felt I had to tell the truth, but Lauren didn’t think so. She said that the kids in the SF2s—her group, which until a couple weeks ago used to be my group, too—were loyal to each other, no matter what. They didn’t rat each other out. Since then, she hasn’t spoken to me, and neither have most of the other SF2s, except for Lily March and, thankfully, Spencer Ballard, the cutest boy in the entire seventh grade.
I decided to crouch down behind a bush. Craning my neck, I peeked through the chain-link fence that surrounds the two tennis courts. I couldn’t see the whole court, just Lauren standing by the net, dressed in her usual great-fitting jeans and a yellow tank top that matched the gold highlights in her hair. She looked totally normal.
“See? What’d I tell you?” Ryan whispered as he crouched down next to me. “She’s crazy, isn’t she?”
“She’s not doing anything even remotely crazy,” I whispered back. “You’re the crazy one.”
But before he could say anything, Lauren put her hands on her hips, bent her arms at the elbow and started moving them back and forth like a chicken flapping its wings. Then she took off strutting around the court, poking her head in and out, the way a chicken does when it walks.
“Hey, Lauren, I don’t hear you clucking,” a girl’s voice called from the open kitchen window.
“Bethany, do I have to?” Lauren whined. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“We all did it!” the girl named Bethany shouted back. “You can, too.”
“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” Lauren said, sounding like a really angry chicken.
Bethany howled with laughter. “Keep going, Lauren. I’ll let you stop when I’m finished talking to the cook here.”
What cook? I thought. Then I realized that Bethany was the girl in the kitchen who was talking to GoGo. It happens that GoGo is a great cook—her guacamole is to die for—but she does not work at the club as a cook. She helps plan the parties and events, which is an entirely other thing.
“Who does she think she is, calling GoGo the cook?” I whispered to Ryan.
“Obviously one of the rich kids who belong here,” he said. “They think everyone works for them.”
“That girl isn’t a member. I’ve never seen her here before.”
“Me neither,” he said, trying to peer into the kitchen. “But my eyes are happy they’re seeing her now.”
He made one of those boy hoots, the sound guys make when they see someone way too pretty for them to even talk to. The sound attracted Lauren’s attention, and she strutted over to the fence where we were crouched.
“Who’s there?” she asked, pointing her face in our direction.
I crouched lower but Ryan stood up.
“Ryan!” I heard Lauren giggle. She has a huge crush on my brother and likes to think that he has a huge crush back. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough to see you do this,” Ryan said. Then he immediately went into his imitation of Lauren imitating a chicken.
“Oh no!” she said. “Please forget you ever saw that. It’s definitely not my best look.”
“I didn’t mind it,” Ryan answered. “I like chickens. I usually like them fried with mashed potatoes on the side, but apparently, that’s not your style.”
“I can explain this whole thing,” Lauren said.
“I hear you talking, Lauren,” Bethany interrupted from the kitchen. “That’s against the rules. Only clucking until I say you can stop.”
Lauren dropped her voice to a low whisper. “I’m trying out for a club,” she explained, just loud enough so Ryan could hear. Of course, I could hear, too, but she couldn’t see me.
“And this club,” Ryan said. “Is it just for people who impersonate chickens, or do you guys allow other poultry in, too? I do a mean duck quack.”
“No, silly,” Lauren said in the flirtiest tone of voice you’ve ever heard. “The club is called The Waves. My cousin Bethany is president.”
“The Waves? Oh yeah. That spirit club at the high school—the one with all the hot girls who come to the football games and cheer?”
“Yup, that’s it. And Bethany might let me start a Junior Waves at Beachside. But first I have to be initiated, which includes acting like a chicken until she says I can stop.”
“Ahh . . . initiation by clucking,” Ryan said. “That’s girl logic for you.”
Lauren laughed. She has this high giggle that makes you want to laugh right along with her. I remember the first night I slept over at her house and we tried on her mom’s gold jewelry and took pictures of ourselves trying to look very sophisticated. I laughed so much my stomach hurt.
I shifted my position behind the bush, suddenly aware that my leg was falling asleep. As I moved my foot, I thought I felt something crawling on it. Looking down, I saw the biggest spider you have ever seen walking up my ankle. It wasn’t a sweet little spider like Charlotte, but a huge brownish thing with a shiny body and long purple-tinted legs. And those legs were crawling past my ankle and up to my knee.
Have I mentioned that I hate spiders? Well, I do.
I couldn’t control myself. I jumped up and started screaming like I was being attacked by a zombie. I pulled off my sweatshirt and wildly swatted at my leg with the sleeve. I could hear myself yelling in this really panicky way, but I couldn’t stop myself until I finally knocked the spider off my leg and it dropped to the ground. It was only then that I realized Lauren was staring at me with a nasty look on her face.
“Hi, Lauren,” I muttered.
“Why were you spying on me?” she accused.
“I wasn’t spying.”
“Oh really? Then what do you call it? And just so you know, my conversation with Ryan doesn’t concern you, so I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave.”
“Whoa there,” Ryan said. “Charlie lives here. Where’s she supposed to go?”
“Anywhere, as long as it’s away from me,” Lauren told him.
Just then, I heard the kitchen screen door slam, and turned around to see a girl who I assumed was Bethany bouncing over to the tennis courts. Okay, she wasn’t actually bouncing, but her hair sure was. She had the thickest, shiniest, bounciest hair I’d ever seen—like Lauren’s, only black instead of blonde. Those Wadsworths must have invented the gene for great hair. GoGo followed behind her, leaning on her fancy cane, the one with the carved pink flamingoes for a handle. GoGo’s been staying with us ever since she broke her leg in a car accident, and even though she’s up and around now, she still needs a little help walking.
“Well, how nice to see you girls talking,” she said, sounding all cheery.
“The conversation is officially over,” Lauren snapped.
GoGo could feel the hostility in the air. You’d have to be some kind of alien not to. Lauren was looking at me like she wished I would drop through a hole in the ground and disappear. Good ole GoGo, though, she tried to come up with some chatty things to say. She actually believes that if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice back to you.
“Well, Bethany and I certainly got a lot accomplished,” she said. “We planned the whole theme and menu for her sweet sixteen party. Wait until you girls hear about it.”
“I’m totally stoked,” Bethany said.
“The theme is very clever,” GoGo said. “It’s going to be ‘Hats Off to Bethany.’ ”
“Let me guess,” Ryan said. “Are all the guests going to wear hats?”
“How’d you know?” Bethany asked.
“Ryan is really smart,” Lauren said.
Let me just point out here, unlike Sammie and I, who get good grades, Ryan is a straight-C student. The only person who would say he is “really smart” is someone who has a total crush on him.
“The hats are only the beginning,” Bethany gushed on. “We’re going to give everyone a crazy-fun hat and then at exactly the time I was born, 10:51 p.m., everyone’s going to take off her hat and throw it in the air. Lily March is helping me design them. She’s really talented, even though she’s just a middle-schooler.”
“Lily is an amazing clothes designer,” I piped up. “She has her own special look.”
“So,” Bethany said, looking me up and down, as if it finally occurred to her that she wasn’t the only person there. “Who are you, exactly?”
“Bethany, meet my granddaughter Charlie,” GoGo said. “I assumed you two girls knew each other.”
“Oh, so you’re one of the twins,” Bethany said to me. “Are you the one who used to be Lauren’s friend? Or is that your sister?”
“No, that would be me,” I said.
Bethany rolled her eyes, looked at her watch and sighed. “They’re late,” she announced.
“Who? Your royal coach and driver?” Ryan joked.
Lauren giggled, but Bethany clearly was not amused. “No. My parents. They have to go over my party details with the staff.”
“I guess that means me,” GoGo said, with a little edge in her voice. “If you kids will excuse me, the staff has to review the benefits of sliders versus mini pizzas.” Then looking at me, she added, “I’m sure you girls have a lot to discuss as well.”
I knew GoGo didn’t have to leave that minute, but I figured she thought that if we kids were left alone, we would start a fun conversation and before you know it, Lauren and I would be talking again. GoGo always says that anger doesn’t last, but friendship does.
Well, she was wrong this time.
“Come on, Bethany,” Lauren said, the minute GoGo was gone. “We have better things to do than hang out with her. Ryan, you can come with us.”
“Not so fast, Lauren,” Bethany said. “I don’t believe I’ve given you permission to stop clucking and strutting.”
“You said I could stop when you got here,” Lauren said.
“I said you could stop when I told you could stop. And I haven’t yet.”
“Bethany, please,” Lauren begged.
“No whimpering, little cousin,” Bethany said. “If you want to be in The Waves, you have to do what the president says. You’ll understand that when you’re president of the Junior Waves. You’ll want everyone to follow what you say, too.”
Lauren looked really annoyed but didn’t say anything. Ryan, Mr. Sensitive, filled the silence with a series of duck quacks. Lauren forced a little laugh, but Bethany was not amused. I couldn’t blame her for that. Giving Ryana grow up,you dork look, Bethany gathered her hair into a ponytail. I noticed that she was wearing this soft gray-lavender nail polish, and suddenly, I felt like a total idiot for having neon-green nails. It’s like my nails were screaming, “Charlie Diamond is a total dork, too!”
“Okay,” Bethany said to Lauren. “I’m going to give you a break this time. No more chicken, but only if you go into the kitchen and get me a cold bottle of peach iced tea and bring it to our table.”
“There are only two tables on the whole deck,” Ryan pointed out. “You guys get one all to yourselves?”
“Do you have a problem with that?” Bethany answered, without even looking at him.
“No,” Ryan said. “For all I care, you can sit wherever you want. I’m going for a run on the beach anyway.”
“I’ll take you as far as the kitchen,” Lauren said, hooking her arm in his. The two of them trotted off together, leaving me there staring at Bethany.
Now that Lauren was gone, I thought maybe she’d be nicer to me.
“So I’ll bet it’s really cool to be in The Waves,” I began in my nicest tone of voice.
“Of course it is,” she snapped. Then she turned and headed toward “her” table.
I followed. I shouldn’t have, I know. I should have just gone back to my room. I shouldn’t have cared whether she liked me or not, but I think I was secretly hoping that she would find me so sweet and fun that she would tell Lauren how wrong she was to end our friendship.
“Charlie is such a great girl,” I imagined her saying. “Anyone would want to be her friend.”
I caught up to her, my brain racing to try to think of something cool to say.
“I hear you guys have your own Wave T-shirts and do special cheers at all the football games,” I said, forcing a grin. “That must be a total blast.”
“It is,” she answered. “Too bad you’ll never know.”
That was it. End of conversation. We had reached her table, and Bethany sat down on one of the red-and-white striped beach chairs, reached into her purse and pulled out her sunglasses. She put them on, then turned her face up to the sky, basking in the warm rays of the early afternoon sun. I just stood there watching her ignore me, feeling even more miserable than I had before.
Trust me, friends. Being left out hurts.
“Well, this is an interesting twosome,” Lauren said, skipping out of the kitchen and handing Bethany her iced tea.
Bethany pushed her sunglasses up to the top of her head, and turned to stare at me.
“Are you still here?” she asked. “Don’t you have something better to do than to stand there looking all pathetic?”
I wanted my feet to move, to take me back to my room, away from the embarrassment of the moment. But it was like I was glued to the spot.
“Honestly, Lauren,” Bethany went on, as she unscrewed the bottle top and took a delicate swig of the frosty drink. “I can’t imagine how on earth you two were friends.”
“Oh, that was forever ago,” Lauren answered.
“Three weeks,” I said quietly. “It was three weeks ago yesterday.”
Lauren sat down on the chair next to Bethany and threw her long tan legs up on the table.
“Whatever,” she said. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not a human calendar like you.”
She and Bethany both laughed, and I felt about the size of an ant. Any normal person would have just left, but not me. I started talking a mile a minute, which I do when I get nervous. I either freeze up completely and can’t think of a thing to say, or I talk nonstop. There’s nothing in between.
“Honestly, Lauren, you can’t even imagine how bad I feel about everything that happened,” I rambled. “I didn’t like telling on Sean and Jared. I know you guys think I wanted to get them in trouble, but that’s just not true. They’re my friends, too.”
“Were,” she said tartly.
“But if I hadn’t told the truth,” I jabbered on, “Alicia’s cousin Oscar would have been blamed for what Sean and Jared did. And then he would have been sent back to El Salvador and never would have gotten the operation he needed on his leg. I couldn’t live with myself if that had happened.”
“Oh, really?” Lauren said, whirling around to face me. “Well now look at what you’ve done to Sean and Jared.”
She pointed toward the beach where the far end of the deck meets the sand. Sean and Jared were both on their hands and knees, applying varnish to the redwood planks. They were wearing their baseball caps and Oakleys, so you couldn’t see much of their faces, but you didn’t have to. You could tell from their body language that they were not happy, to say the least.
“Thanks to you, they have to spend every weekend of the next two months doing all sorts of grungy chores around here,” she said. “Weeding the garden and folding the towels and refinishing the deck. It’s so embarrassing.”
“They’re helping Candido and Esperanza,” I told her. “I don’t see what’s so embarrassing about that.”
Candido is the groundskeeper at the club, and his wife, Esperanza, cleans and helps in the kitchen. Their daughter Alicia goes to Beachside with us and has become one of Sammie’s best friends.
Lauren put her hands on her hips and spoke to me in the tone of voice you would use to explain kickball rules to a first-grader.
“Candido works here,” she declared. “He is not a member. He will never be a member. Sean and Jared, on the other hand, are members. Their parents and grandparents have been in the Sporty Forty since before they were born. They shouldn’t be doing the kind of work Candido does. It’s just not right.”
“And I suppose it’s right to set a house on fire?” an angry voice said from behind me. “Because that’s what your so-called friends did.”
I whipped around to see Alicia standing there. She had obviously overheard what Lauren said, and I couldn’t blame her for being mad. It was very insulting to her family. My sister, Sammie, was standing right next to her.
“At least Candido and Esperanza do honest work and don’t hurt anyone,” Sammie chimed in. Then, glancing over at Sean and Jared, she added, “Can you say the same thing about those jerks over there?”
Sammie is not at all intimidated by the SF2 girls or by the rich members of the club. She says what she wants, no matter what anyone thinks. That’s why she and those Truth Teller friends of hers get along so well. They call it speaking from the heart. I love my sister, but sometimes I wish her heart would not have so much to say.
Bethany focused her eyes on Sammie. “I take it you’re the other sister,” she said. “The pudgy one with the sassy mouth.”
“You mean the one who tells it like it is,” Alicia said.
“And proud of it,” Sammie added.
I closed my eyes and made a wish.
Please, Sammie. Don’t go into your Truth Teller speech. Not here. Not now. In fact, not ever.
She probably would have, but I was saved by the arrival of Dennis and Carol Ann Wadsworth.
“Oh look,” Bethany said as the white picket gate from the parking lot opened up. “Finally. Hi, Mom! Hi, Daddy! Over here.”
Bethany’s mom and dad waved and made their way across the deck over to us.
Mrs. Wadsworth was what GoGo likes to call “a handsome woman,” meaning she wasn’t pretty in a frilly kind of way but in a sleek “I-only-wear-black” kind of way. She was dressed in black pants and a black silk top that matched her shiny black hair. Not exactly what you’d call a beach look. Her husband, on the other hand, had on the ultimate in beach wear—he was decked out in powder-blue shorts with flip-flops to match, and a pink polo shirt, collar popped, naturally. He had a nice smile, though, so I forgave him for the collar look.
“Hi, girls,” Mrs. Wadsworth said when she reached us. She seemed unaware of the tension in the air. Holding out her hand to me, she said, “I’m Carol Ann Wadsworth. I don’t believe we’ve met. You must be new to the club.”
“Oh no—” I began, but was cut off by Mr. Wadsworth.
“How about that, Carol Ann,” he said. “We go to Spain for the summer and come back to a whole new membership.”
“I’m Charlie Diamond,” I persisted, “and this is my twin sister, Sammie. We’re not actually members.”
I wanted to set the record straight before this got any more embarrassing.
“Diamond? Oh, yes . . .” Mrs. Wadsworth said with a nod. “The children of the new tennis pro. Well, it’s nice to meet you, anyway.”
As she shook my hand, I felt her diamond rings crunching up against my fingers.
“Oh, and hello Alicia,” she said. “Or now that we’ve summered in Spain, perhaps I should say, buenos días, señorita.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Wadsworth.” I could tell Alicia was annoyed. “I’ve lived in America since I was three. I speak English.”
“Oh I know, darling, but don’t you find it such fun to speak Spanish?”
I could see that Alicia’s mouth was twitching slightly, like she had words right behind her lips that were bursting to come out. I knew that at any second, she could snap and point out that her family didn’t speak Spanish for fun but because it’s the language that people who come from El Salvador actually speak. Mrs. Wadsworth didn’t seem aware that there was any problem with Alicia. She just smiled and threw one of her tan arms around Lauren.
“So, my darling niece, Bethany said she was going to give you a little initiation assignment today,” she said. “How’d it go?”
“Mom, it was so hilarious,” Bethany answered for Lauren. “Lauren had to walk and cluck like a chicken until I said she could stop.”