"Can I please go now?" I'm staring at my mom, willing her to stop talking and acknowledge me. But she just pushes her long wavy hair off her face, glances at me briefly, then turns back to her customer, continuing their discussion on the benefits of a totally gluten-free diet.
I roll my eyes and tap my foot against the bamboo floor. I'm sick of gluten haters. Totally over soy lovers. And don't even get me started on yoga, people who meditate, or anything certified organic. Untying my hemp apron with the words new day organics embroidered in bold green letters along the front, I wad it into a ball, and glance nervously at the clock. I'm down to just fifteen minutes until I need to be at Sloane's.
"Mom?" I whine, a little louder this time.
And when she finally looks at me, she has this big smile planted firmly across her face. But I know it's for the customer, not me. I mean, I can see her eyes. And believe me, they tell a whole different story. She gazes at her watch, and then back at me, and then her makeup-free brown eyes travel all the way over to the ball of nubby beige cloth clutched tightly in my hand. And just as her head begins a kind of slow-mo, downward descent, indicating she's just about to perform the much-anticipated "okay" nod, the little bell on the front door rings, and the spell is broken.
"Go see what they need, and then you can go," she says, smiling as she gets back to her customer and the great gluten debate.
I roll my eyes, shake my head, and don't even try to contain the sigh that escapes my lips as I unfold my apron, slip it back over my head, and get behind the counter, where I'm confronted with the three most glamorous, most important members of Ocean High School's sophomore class.
"Oh, hey," I say, smiling nervously and glancing in their general direction, since I'm so not worthy of looking directly at them. But they don't say anything. And I mean, why would they? It's not like they ever notice me at school. "Can I get you something?" I ask, watching as they squint through their identical, shiny black Dior sunglasses at the smoothie menu hanging on the wall behind me.
"I'll have the Purple Berry Haze with a shot of soy protein," says Jaci, whose shiny blond hair, big blue eyes, golden tan, petite frame, perfect face, and Marc Jacobs intensive wardrobe serve as valuable collateral, ensuring her VIP admission to every cool party and every hot guy.
"Exact same," say Holly and Claire. Which makes me wonder if they read the menu, or just waited for Jaci to order, so then they'd know what they want.
I push up the sleeves of my black New Day Organics T-shirt, and start tossing generous chunks of raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries into the blender, trying to ignore the fact that all three of them are now totally staring at me.
"Why do you look so familiar?" asks Jaci, learning on the counter and narrowing her eyes as she looks me over.
I scoop some nonfat, organic, vanilla-flavored yogurt out of the big plastic tub and add it to the mix. Then I mumble something about having been in the same history class last year.
But she just continues to squint, as though she doesn't quite believe it. Then suddenly she shakes her head and goes, "Omigod! You're that girl that sat in the way back!"
Okay, just so we're clear, I think we can all agree that there are two types of kids who make it a point to sit in the way back.
1. The total stoner-losers who never do their homework and almost always vanish into alternative-school oblivion before the semester is even over.
2. The sober-but-shy losers like me who live for extra-credit assignments and whose only friend in the whole school (okay, world), doesn't share any of the same classes, so they're forced to sit alone.
I gaze at her for a moment, amazed at how she actually recognized me, and then I glance briefly at Holly and Claire. "Um, yeah," I say. "That was me."
"But something's different," Jaci says, leaning in even closer now, so that she can get a better look. "Have you lost like, a ton of weight?"
I dump some protein powder on top, reach for the lid, and shrug. All the while trying not to cringe under her close scrutiny. Okay, so maybe I used to be a little heavier, maybe I used to wear a size nine (sometimes seven), and now it's more like a five (sometimes three). But it's only because I grew an inch and a half and lost a few pounds of baby fat in the process. I mean, to hear her talk, you'd think I'd just pulled a Nicole Richie or something.
"Seriously. You guys remember, right?" she says, turning to consult with her clones, who just continue to stand there, giving me a blank look. "Well, anyway, you look good." She smiles. "Ten more and you'll look even better!"
I just stand there, frozen. I mean, excuse me? Was that not the world's most insulting compliment? "Oh, well, it's not like I'm really making an effort," I finally say, securing the lid and glancing at her briefly.
"Well, you probably don't even have to. You know, working here and all." She smiles, her eyes traveling over me, judging every extra inch.
But I just shrug and flip the switch, watching as the berries swirl into the yogurt, changing color and texture, and thinking how even though I may like to watch it from an artistic angle, it's not like I'd actually ever touch the stuff.
I prefer an all junk-food diet. See, with no boyfriend (yet), and a best friend (Sloane), who's also a geeky goody-good like me, prepackaged food is about the only form of rebellion I have--the only way to really freak out my mom. And believe me, it works. She totally bugs when she sees me eating candy bars and Pop-Tarts. And sometimes it seems like her sole purpose in life is to lecture me on how I'm supposedly "poisoning my body with man-made toxins" and "hampering my immune system with transfatty acids." Personally, I think she could use a little downtime with a Ding Dong and a Dr Pepper. I mean, isn't it enough to own an organic café? Does she really have to buy into all the hype, too?
But try telling her that. This is a woman who named both her kids after the two most depressing times of the year. That's right, my name is Winter Snow Simmons, big sister to Autumn Rain Simmons. For real. I would never lie about that. And if you haven't already guessed by now, my mom's a hippie. But not the mud-covered, acid-tripping, Woodstock concertgoing kind. I mean, Woodstock was like, before she was even born. She's more like a modern hippie. You know, the kind who hates pesticides, loves yoga, and refuses to dye her hair, wear makeup, or listen to any music that wasn't originally recorded on vinyl. Oh, yeah, and she prefers riding an old, beat-up bicycle to driving a car, which believe me, is even more embarrassing than it sounds.
And my dad? Well, he's pretty much the exact opposite. But it wasn't always that way. I mean, back when Autumn and I were kids they used to drag us to Grateful Dead shows, where my mom would set up shop in the parking lot, selling her secret recipe organic muffins right out of the back of our old orange-and-white VW van. We even have some old photos of us with our faces all painted, while dancing around in oversized tie-dyed T-shirts.
But then my dad's garage band scored a Billboard Top Ten hit, and he really "let the success go to his head." Or at least that's how my mom describes it. I was pretty young, so it's not like I can really recall.
Anyway, I guess that's what eventually drove them apart. My dad started to enjoy the decade he was living in, while my mom stayed rooted in one she was too young to remember.
If that sounds like I'm kind of judging her, well, I guess I am. I mean, don't get me wrong, she's a pretty cool, easygoing mom. But sometimes I wish she'd just highlight her hair, slap on some makeup, and drive a big, "irresponsible, gas-hogging SUV" like all the other moms.
And oh, yeah, she named all of the desserts in our bakery-café after songs from the sixties and seventies. You know like "Bad Moon Rising Banana Loaf," "Piece of My Heart Tart," and "Proud Mary Pie." But not one is named after my dad's greatest hit. But then again, that wasn't even recorded until the nineties.
And as for my dad and his rock godness? Well, that was all pretty short-lived. Their second album totally flopped, and now he lives in New York City, where he owns an art gallery in SoHo.
But before you get the wrong idea and think that having a one-hit-wonder dad, and an organic bakery-café-owning mom makes me popular--think again. The only people at school who actually know my name are Sloane and my English teacher. Everyone else either ignores me or checks the seating chart.
But soon, all that will change.
When the smoothies are finally all blended and ready, I lift the glass container and carefully pour it into three (recycled) plastic cups. And as I look up I come face-to-face with Cash Davis--the single most gorgeous guy to ever walk the face of the earth.
Or at least the sidewalks of Laguna Beach.
But definitely the halls of Ocean High.
I take a deep breath and try to ignore the fact that my hands have gone all shaky, and my upper lip is now sporting major sweat beads, while my stomach is throbbing with this weird, nervous ping. And all of this is occurring because I've never actually been this close to him before. Not that I haven't dreamed of it, like a gazillion times. But up until now, our relationship has pretty much consisted of Sloane and me silently worshiping his golden hair, piercing blue eyes, six-foot, totally ripped, muscle-bound frame, and amazing denim-clad butt, while he remains completely oblivious of our very existence.
I glance quickly at Jaci to see if she's going to actually say something to Cash, but the way she and Holly and Claire are twirling their hair and nudging one another, it's pretty obvious that cool as they are, even they have no idea how to talk to him. Because even though those three were like the big shit in the freshman class, and are destined to reign again this year when we're sophomores, Cash Davis is in a league of his own. I mean, he's hot, he's a senior, he's a varsity football star, and he drives a Hummer. Need I say more?
I blow a strand of mousy brown hair out of my eyes and grab three plastic, domed lids to cover the smoothies, gently pushing down and trying to get a secure seal when Cash goes, "What's the Marrakech Expresso? Is that a coffee shake?"
And I get so flustered when I hear his voice actually addressing me, that my already sweaty palms slip against the slick plastic lid, slamming it into the counter and sending all three smoothies soaring to the floor, one after another, like Acapulco cliff divers. And when it's finally over, the floor, the counter, and I are completely covered in a thick, viscous coating of Purple Berry Haze.
I stand there for a moment, watching as Jaci, Holly, and Claire break out in total hysterics, laughing like crazy, falling all over one another, and pointing at me.
While Cash just stands there, taking in the mess, shaking his head, and going, "Oh, man, that is sick!"
And me? I turn around and make a run for the back room.
Bursting through the door, I toss my apron toward the laundry hamper, watching as it slides off the top and falls to the floor.
"You missed," Autumn says, barely looking up from her drawing. "Not to mention that it's not even four yet, and no way am I covering for you." She continues to shade in the area around Joaquin Phoenix's deep, dark, mysterious eyes, which I must admit she's captured perfectly.
"Don't mess with me, Autumn," I say, grabbing a towel and dabbing furiously at my clothing, trying to rid it of Purple Berry slime.
"I mean it. I'm not going out there 'til the big hand is on the twelve," she says, her cute little elfin face hidden by her long, murky blond hair that acts like a screen between us.
"Whatever," I say, grabbing my bag and heading for the back door, since I can't exactly use the front. I mean, I'm like a fugitive now, running from my own humiliation.
"I'm serious! Hey, Winter? Where you going?" Autumn yells, charcoal poised in midair, large brown eyes narrowed and focused on me.
And even though it's not nice, and even though she probably doesn't deserve it, I need to lash out at someone, and she just happens to be the only one here. "None of your freaking business!" I yell, and then I slam the door behind me and hurry down the narrow alleyway, holding my breath as I pass the smelly, green Dumpsters, while hoping to avoid the creepy, skinny guy of indeterminate age who seems to be on a permanent cigarette break from his job at the corner liquor store.
But why I thought I'd be so lucky is beyond me.
"Hey," he says, taking a really deep drag and squinting at me. "Couple more weeks and those dolphin-art-buying assholes will be all cleared out. Can't wait to get my town back." He flicks the newly formed ash onto the ground, not even caring that some of it has drifted right back at him, clinging to the front of his black T-shirt and jeans.
Oh, jeez, this again. Ranting about seashell-art-loving tourists is one of his favorite pastimes. I just mumble something noncommittal and hurry past. I mean, no way am I stopping to talk with this guy. It's like he's always out here, wearing the same all-black outfit, which means he either has a closetful of black, thinks he's Johnny Cash, or (more likely) he only does his laundry like, once every six weeks. Not to mention that he totally gives me the creeps. I mean, you'd think his boss would do something about the fact that he spends more time smoking in the alley than working behind the counter. And why he thinks I'd be interested in standing right alongside him, bashing tourists, and making fun of their lame art-buying habits is beyond me.
"You can thank MTV for this mess! They're not content with destroying the music world, now they're going after my world! Don't fall prey to that corporate-branding crap!" he yells at my retreating back.
But I just ignore him, cross the street, and board the Laguna Beach shuttle bus. Grabbing an empty seat near the back, and praying (not for the first time) that Mr. Back Alley Smoker is not gonna be my new daddy. Because believe me, I've heard my mom say some very similar things.
Heading down Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. PCH), I gaze at all the little shops, restaurants, and galleries, remembering how great (not to mention, convenient) it was when Sloane lived right across the street. We spent so much of our childhood running back and forth to each other's houses, getting this toy from Sloane's or that CD from mine, that our moms used to joke about building a bridge.
But now our moms don't even talk, much less joke. Which I have to admit, still feels kind of weird. I mean, they used to be best friends, sitting on the porch on hot summer nights sipping beer and complaining about our absentee dads while Sloane and I rehearsed one of the intricately plotted plays or music videos that I wrote, produced, and directed and that she starred in. I mean, years of tap and ballet had made her a natural performer, while I, a little more cerebral and far less coordinated, felt way more comfortable behind the scenes. Though sometimes I did take the stage during the musical numbers, since I like to write songs and sing.
But after the sixth-grade "Lady Marmalade" talent show fiasco (I mean, who knew that many of the parents spoke French?), we gave up the stage. And a couple of years later our mothers gave up their friendship.
At first it was awkward, watching them go from beer-swigging gripe sessions to not even speaking, but then Sloane's mom got pregnant and married (yes, in that order), and in a matter of weeks, they moved to a swanky gated community in south Laguna, an older gay couple moved into their old space, and I became a regular on the Laguna Beach shuttle bus, making the daily commute from my neighborhood to hers.
When I get to Sloane's, I find her mom in the driveway, struggling to get a screaming, pink-clad baby Blair into her car seat.
"Sloane's in her room," she says, barely glancing at me.
I stand there cringing as I listen to Blair shriek at the top of her lungs. "Um, do you need help?" I ask, even though I have no idea how I could possibly assist, other than risking bodily harm by grabbing hold of those tiny, furiously kicking limbs and pinning the baby down. But when she doesn't answer, I just head straight into the house and upstairs to Sloane's room.
"Perfect timing," Sloane says, removing her earplugs and tossing her iPod onto her big, wood, canopy bed. "They're on their way to Mommy and Me. Did you notice the matching outfits?" She rolls her eyes.
"I didn't know Juicy made clothes for one-year-olds," I say, plopping onto her furry zebra print butterfly chair, which is one of the few things she was allowed to transfer from her old life to her new one.
"They don't. My mom had it made special just for Blair. I swear, that kid was born to be homecoming queen." She laughs.
"And speaking of." I look at her, smiling with anticipation.
I trail her into her bathroom, which is practically bigger than the bedroom Autumn and I are forced to share, and make myself comfortable on the edge of her oversized Jacuzzi tub.
"Okay, so this is what I got," she says, reaching into a cupboard and pulling out two bulging plastic bags that seem like they just might possibly contain the entire hair and beauty section of the Monarch Beach CVS Drugstore. "I chose Frosty Latte for you, since I figured with your medium to light brown hair color you can probably go about two shades lighter and still look natural, and then I bought Macadamia Fizz for me." She tosses me the box with a picture of a smiling woman on the front, her thick, coffee-colored hair rippling in the wind as her eyes focus directly on mine, daring me to try it.
"Are we supposed to drink this or pour it on our hair?" I laugh, staring at the color swatches on the back and trying to imagine myself with a frosty latte head.
"And check this out, I went crazy with the lip glosses and eye pencils. I figured with your brown hair and eyes, and me being blond and blue-eyed, it should be pretty easy to divvy it all up, right?"
She pours a pile of makeup onto the rug, and we kneel down around it, sorting through it, popping off tops, and coloring on the back of our hands. And when I gaze up at her, I can't help but feel this overwhelming surge of gratitude that she's actually gone and done this for me, because it's not like she has to dabble in drugstore makeup anymore. I mean, even though she may have grown up kind of poor, now, since her mom's remarriage, she's actually pretty rich. Which is kind of like having an all-access, backstage pass to the aisles of Sephora and all the best hair salons. And even though, technically, I'm not poor, I'm not exactly wealthy, either. Not to mention how my mom would never agree to pay for stuff like this. And all the money I saved from slaving in the café all summer? Well, that's already been spent on some image-altering, life-changing school clothes.
"Sloane, thanks," I say, smiling shyly, as part of me considers telling her about the humiliating smoothie incident I'd just barely survived, while the other part, the smarter, more careful part, doesn't allow it.
I mean, we've been planning this makeover and social coup since the last day of ninth grade, so there's no way I can tell her how just one day before the first day of school and our well-planned debut, I may have already blown it.
But she just shrugs. "Please, it's way more fun this way. Besides, we're in this together, right?"
I look at her and smile. "Who goes first?" I ask, opening the box and retrieving a pair of rubber gloves, knowing that no matter what happens with our plan, whether we succeed or fail, we'll always be friends.
Copyright © 2007 by Alyson Noël. All rights reserved.