Debut author Jenny McLachlan weaves a warm and hilarious story of friendship and dance starring the refreshing and plucky Bea Hogg in Flirty Dancing, the first book in the Ladybirds series!
Bea Hogg is shy, but she has a fiery core that she doesn't let many see. When the national dance competition Starwars comes to her school looking for talent, she wants to sign up. It's just her luck that her best friend Kat ditches her and agrees to enter with school super-witch Pearl Harris (and Bea's former best friend).
Bea is determined to fight back! But when the school hottie, Ollie Matthews, who also happens to be Pearl's boyfriend, decides to enter the competition with Bea to jive dance, she will have more than a fight on her hands.
About the Author
Jenny McLachlan lives in England with her husband and daughters, and has taught English at the high school and college level. She is currently a curriculum leader at a high school and an Advanced Skills Teacher who works with children and teachers in schools throughout England. Flirty Dancing is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Jenny McLachlan
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2014 Jenny McLachlan
All rights reserved.
TEN YEARS, FOUR STARTER-BRAS & ONE BIG FIGHT LATER ...
A small naked person is licking me. I don't panic—this happens a lot. The naked person starts kissing my face. I smell peanut butter and banana and ... hang on ... the person is not entirely naked. It's wearing wellies. Wellies? This is new. And totally unacceptable.
I grope for my phone ... 5:34 a.m.
"Bea!" Emma cries. "Happy birthday!"
"Go away. It is not my birthday." I try to push her out of my bed, but she resists and we start to scuffle. Mistake. For a three- year-old, my sister's a mean wrestler. I briefly consider being grown- up, but before I know it we're having a real fight.
"I got you a present!" comes her muffled voice from somewhere around my feet.
"Present later?" I could probably sleep with her down there. It's not so bad, quite cozy and—
"PRESENT NOW!" she screams.
She's clearly in one of her extra-special moods so I say what I always say when I want to get rid of her. "Did you hear that, Emma?"
"I heard Dad's voice ... He's home! Dad's home!" (He isn't. He's in Mexico.)
"Daddy!" She shoots out of my bed and down the stairs, leaving me to roll over and snuggle my face into something warm and mushy. A forgotten bit of banana, perhaps?
I sniff it. It's not banana.
* * *
After taming my wild hair with straighteners, I do a quick zit check and put on my uniform. Then I eat toast and watch cartoons with Emma. I have to keep one hand free to stop her from drawing on my face. Personally, I don't believe a fairy on my cheek will make me "look pretty."
She comes to the door to see me off to school. Head-butting me in the stomach, she shouts, "Love you, frog-nose!" Birds fly off our neighbor's roof.
"Love you, botty-breath," I say, pushing her firmly back into the house before walking down the path. Now is the time the shyness sweeps over me and I leave Real Bea at home and take Shy Bea to school.
Already, as I walk to the bus stop, Shy Bea is making me hunch my shoulders and stare at the floor. The farther I get from my house, with Emma's broken slide lying on the patch of shabby lawn and our red front door, the less I feel like me.
"Though she be but little, she is fierce!" I whisper under my breath as I approach the juniors who hang out on the wall outside the store. I sit in my usual spot away from the others and get out my phone. One of the boys throws an M&M at me. It bounces off my head and lands on my lap. He laughs and watches to see what I will do. I stare at it. It's blue.
Though she be but little, she is fierce, I think.
Eat the M&M, Bea! Go on, EAT IT!
I brush it to the floor. Not my fiercest moment.
* * *
I've pretty much made myself invisible by the time the bus arrives, and when I sit next to Kat she doesn't even look up. She's staring into the tiny mirror she always carries somewhere on her person. At first, I think she's just checking out the perfectness of her blond, blond hair, but then she grabs my arm and pulls me closer, hissing, "Look behind us!"
I peer back through the bus. "What?"
"It's him: Ollie 'The Hug' Matthews. Oh, God. Don't look! Look! No. Don't look. OK. Look now. Soooo hot!" I sneak a sideways glance at her. Just as I suspected, her mouth is half open and her eyes are all big and puppy-like. She's doing her "Sexy Lady Face." She looks like Emma when she's doing "a big one" on the potty.
"Don't look at me," she says, "look at him."
And so I look. For once, I can see what she's getting at. Ollie Matthews has got these kind, brown eyes, sort of tousled hair and shoulders that look a bit like man shoulders and his hands are ...
"Bean, are you listening?" Kat snaps her mirror shut. "I think I need to be more realistic and forget about juniors and focus on sophomores. Also, well, maybe he'sthe one? There was 'The Hug,' after all."
"What? He said that was an accident."
Kat snorts. "It didn't feel like an 'accident'!"
"He thought you were his sister. You've got the same coat ... that one with the birds on it."
"He. Is. So. So. Hot. Don't you think?" says Kat, ignoring my little slice of REALITY.
The Hug is listening to his iPod and looking out of the window in a, you know, hot type of way, with his eyes, which are open (sexily), looking at trees ... hot trees covered in sexy green leaves. "Yeah, Kat," I say. "Ollie seems—"
"Say it!" Kat is gleeful. "Go on, say it. Say Ollie Matthews is HOT." I shut my mouth. "Say it say it say it!"
"OK. I can see, from your point of view, that he could be described as ... hot."
"Yes! He totally is." She grabs my arm. "Now tell me everything you know!"
I have a great memory. "Sophomore," I say.
"I know that."
"Was in Bugsy Malone last year."
"Who was he?"
"That's good, isn't it?"
"More," she demands hungrily.
"Captain of the rugby team."
"Sang that song at Celebration Evening with his band."
"'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?'" I sing under my breath.
I look back at The Hug. "He rolls his sleeves up, you know, all the time, and his arms are ..." I trail off. I refuse to use that word again.
Kat looks at me with slightly narrowed eyes. "I need your math book," she says. "I've forgotten to do my homework." She sits back, a smile on her face.
Kat always "forgets" to do her homework, and I always show her mine. I guess it's one of our BFF things. I scrabble around in my bag, but instead of my math book I pull out something hard, hairy and plastic.
"What is that?" Kat sounds disgusted.
Whoa! I'm clasping a naked Barbie doll by the head. I say naked, but her "ninny"—as Emma insists on calling that area—has been carefully colored in with blue felt-tip and embellished with glitter and, I look closer, are those tea leaves? "It's Ralph!" I say, laughing.
"Ralph?" Definitely no laugh.
"Emma's doll. She said she had a present for me and I guess this is it. Ralph's named after our neighbors' German shepherd."
"I don't care who your weirdo little sister named it after. Get rid of it!"
"Look." I show her the collaged area. Kat shrinks away. "So funny. She's supposed to look like Mum ... not that Mum's got a glittery—" But at that moment, the bus shoots around a corner and Ralph flies out of my hand and rolls down the aisle.
"Bea, you loser, get it!"
I start rummaging around people's feet and bags.
"Bean!" comes a voice from the back of the bus. "Have you lost your Barbie?"
I look up. Oh no. This is so, so bad. Pearl Harris has Ralph. She's reclining on the backseat—surveying her empire—her endless, smooth brown legs draped over a boy's lap. Ralph is dangling between two blue nails that are now flecked with glitter and tea leaves.
I walk towards her. To think I once swapped underwear with this girl. (Disney ones, Ariel ... back in the days of the Ladybirds.)
"Jelly Bean, why did you bring your doll to school?" The back row collapses in unison at Pearl's amazing sense of humor. It was Pearl who first gave me the affectionate nickname "Bean" and then, many years later, turned it into a cruel nickname by shrieking, "She's wobbling like a JELLY BEAN!" in PE. So annoying. Jelly beans don't wobble. They're actually quite firm.
"Hello? Is this your little girlfriend?" She gives Ralph a big kiss and then leans forward and tries to smooch the doll into my mouth. I push it away, swaying as the bus picks up speed. "Oh my God," says Pearl, looking closer at Emma's "art." "You've pimped its panties!"
I resist the temptation to try to snatch the doll back, and next Pearl shoves Ralph's feet towards my nostrils. Her gang cackles and then stares in silence, waiting for the show to continue. I don't say or do anything. I just stand there, praying she'll get bored. "So, d'you want it back?"
"It's my sister's," I say.
There's this tiny moment where I see Pearl think, You have a sister? Since when? But then she snaps back with, "Yeah, right." And, "Ha-ha-ha," go her gang. "She's got beautiful hair," she adds, stroking the doll's thick, matted hair. "It's just like yours, Bean."
Suddenly, she leans across the seat in front of her—Ollie's seat—and holds the doll out of the window. Ollie turns around to see what's going on and slowly pulls out one of his earphones. Pearl pushes Ralph out even farther, a big smile on her stupid face.
Now I have to say something: Emma loves Ralph more than she loves me. "Give it back, Pearl," I say trying to grab the doll. "It's my sister's favorite!"
But she just pushes it out even farther, "Ahh. Is dis your favorwit Barbie dat you cuddle in bed?"
Slowly—he does everything slowly—Ollie reaches up, takes the doll from Pearl and throws it in my direction. Of course, I don't catch it and have to scrabble about on the floor of the bus.
When I stand up, Ollie is sharing his earphones with Pearl. Their faces are so close together it's hard to tell where Ollie's ear ends and Pearl's lips begin. Luckily, I'm forgotten.
"That was beyond embarrassing," says Kat as I slump back in my seat, cheeks flaming. "You are an embarrassment, Bean."
"I know. Sorry." I shove Ralph back in my bag and we sit in silence until we get to school.
* * *
By the time we go into assembly, I'm 99 percent forgiven and Kat even links arms with me. Mrs. Pollard, our head teacher, launches straight into trash cans. The woman is trash can obsessed. "Not only is it unhygienic to put the seventh graders in them," she says, "it is also very mean."
She hovers over her laptop tutting and humphing and tapping until a photo of a trash can appears on the projector with a red cross over it. In the middle of the cross is a tiny face representing an Ashton Park pupil. Her mouth relaxes into a smile. "So, remember, freshmen," she says. "Trash cans are Out of Bounds. Any other announcements?"
"Just one," calls Miss Hewitt, our dance teacher, jogging to the front. "Right, freshmen, I've got some big news ..." She pauses dramatically. "You could all be on TV!" There are murmurs of interest. "I've been sent information about a new TV talent show called Starwars. Think Britain's Got Talent for teens. There's going to be a series for singers, one for actors, one for comedians, you get the idea. Anyway, the good news is that the first one's for, wait for it ... dancers! Yay!"
While Miss Hewitt does a celebratory moonwalk, there are a few groans, mainly from the boys, but loads more whoops, even a small one from me, and I am not a whooper. The girls in our year are dance crazy, and in the safety of my bedroom (door shut, curtains closed, phones handed in at the door), I love dancing.
"What d'you win?" comes a voice from the back.
Mrs. P draws in a breath, but Miss Hewitt gets there first. "Over the summer, the winners get professional training at stage school. Then they perform in a West End musical. Oh, and it will all be on TV, of course." Whispers ripple around the hall. "If you're going to make it to the TV stage, you need to go to an audition and Brighton's hosting one next Thursday. Anyone can audition. You can dance on your own or as a group, in any style, to any type of music. Let me know if you need more details."
Now everyone starts talking at once. "Calm down, calm down!" shouts Mrs. P, her voice rising the more she's ignored. I keep quiet, obviously.
"Hey, Bea," whispers Kat. "Let's do it! I'll ask Pearl if we can be with her. She's an amazing dancer!" There is so much wrong with this idea that I don't know where to start, but before I can say anything—like, "Hello? We haven't been friends since we were seven"—Kat leans forward and speaks to Pearl.
Pearl shakes her head, then turns to look at me. I stare straight ahead, but I can still feel her startling blue eyes studying me, taking everything in. I blush and Pearl smiles before turning back, her black hair remaining perfectly piled, her perfume floating across me like a spell. Mrs. P yells a decisive "QUIET!" and the hall falls silent.
Kat says under her breath, "Don't worry, Bean. I can sort it out at lunchtime. We're having our first practice in the gym!"
"Beatrice Hogg, stand up!" Mrs. P points a finger in my direction and two hundred pairs of eyes follow that finger. I get to my feet, my granola trampolining about in my stomach. "You will join me at lunchtime to pick up trash for the trash cans ..." She pauses and tries to control her anger. She fails. "And you can remain standing for the rest of assembly."
No. No. NO!
And so I have to stand, head hanging, while the captain of the volleyball team gives a detailed match report including a slow-mo replay of the winning shot, followed by Mr. Higgs guiding us through the "18 Steps to Safe Internet Use."
He takes a lot of questions. The first is from Carl Fisher: "Sir, if I'm online chatting with a hot girl, how do I know it's not you?"
Mr. Higgs's misguided response: "It could be me, Carl!"
* * *
A soccer ball flies past my head.
"Kick it back," yells a boy. I pretend not to hear him—and the insult that follows—and plod forward, picking up half a panini with the single washing-up glove Mrs. P has given me. I spot Kat coming towards me across the field. We meet at the cage: PE humiliation zone/illicit smoking area.
"Sorry about this, Bea."
"Yeah, well, I'm almost finished now." I wave my bulging bin bag around.
"No, I don't mean what happened in assembly," she says, looking into the cage rather than at me. "It's just that the other girls all think four is better than five, and Pearl doesn't think that you're that into dancing and stuff."
"What d'you mean?"
"You know ... the dance competition. Pearl thinks it should just be her, me, Holly and Lauren."
"Not into dancing? We're always dancing! We've spent half our lives making up dances in our bedrooms." My eyes feel suspiciously like they might cry. I curl up my toes in my shoes. (A stop-crying trick Mum taught me—it's pretty good.)
"Also, Bea, you're sort of the wrong shape ... a bit shorter and, well, less skinny."
"What's that got to do with it?" I say, gripping the trash bag.
"Pearl thinks the judges will be wanting a certain look," says Kat, biting her lip and fiddling with her phone. "You're all curvy and stuff and you've got all that hair. Look, Bea, can't you just—" She breaks off and sniffs. Is she about to cry? Is she pretending to cry to get out of this? "It's really hard for me, you know?" Our eyes meet and she takes this as a good sign and smiles ... bravely. "Maybe you could enter with Betty? You used to hang out together loads."
That is the understatement of the decade. We used to hang out together always: me, Kat, Betty and Pearl. We were a gang. We were the Ladybirds! We were inseparable, but as we got older we drifted apart, and by the time we came to secondary school ... it just wasn't the same anymore.
Kat is still my best friend, but every now and then she does something reallymean, something that hurts. I want to rub the tuna panini in her face ... but I also need her to be my best friend. So I just do a little smile, and say, "Don't worry about it. I didn't want to do it anyway."
"Cool, thanks, Bea," she says, her shoulders relaxing. "I knew you wouldn't be bothered. Pearl said you'd freak. As if. You're awesome, know?"
Pathetically, a small part of me glows at these words. "OK," I say. "I'd better take this to Mrs. P."
"Speak to you later?" She looks sort of embarrassed.
"Yeah ... definitely." And I hobble across the field, screwing up my toes as tight as they'll go.
* * *
After school, I wait for Kat by our lockers. Soon, it feels spookily empty and teachers start giving me sympathetic looks. Time to leave.
Five minutes later I get a text: sorry b cant get bus :'(hv dance practice!! luv Kat xxxx. Those are guilty-sounding kisses.
Excerpted from Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan. Copyright © 2014 Jenny McLachlan. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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