Read an Excerpt
Best Friends In Life and Lola Bay
This was our most awesome summer.
Every day, Leeza and I packed peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches and hung out at the Richfield pool. Some older girls, like Melanie Fisher and her imitators, teased us because we didn’t have two-piece bathing suits, but we didn’t care.
Like the day Melanie said to me, “Iris, that suit and your wet hair make you look like a third grader. I thought you’d want to know.” And Leeza grabbed my arm and said so Melanie could hear, “Ignore her, Iris. At least we swim at the swimming pool.”
We just didn’t let them spoil our fun.
Leeza and I grew up across the street from each other and were total buddies from day one. We played in her sandbox together, hid from her little brothers and sisters in her basement, went to camp and Scouts, and played softball. I liked Scouts and beading bracelets. She liked playing softball and canoeing. Me not so much.
But we both loved the pool. My mom dropped us off, and her mom picked us up, and if we were really lucky, her mom would take us to the bead store or to a movie.
One hot June afternoon, Leeza’s mom took us to see the movie Don’t You Dare. That’s when we first saw Lola Bay acting. We’d heard her on KDQB while we were at the pool, and we loved her songs, but since she’d won a Grammy, she was popping up everywhere.
Lola Bay played the part of a girl from a farm who ran away to the city and had to find ways to stay safe. It wasn’t easy. She strummed guitar and sang on street corners so people would put dollars in a can by her feet. It was scary. If she hadn’t met a really honest social worker lady at a shelter, it could have gone way bad.
We fell in love with her and started watching her online. In her videos she wore a V-neck black T-shirt and super-baggy jeans and had lots of bracelets and rings. Her long hair was pulled up in a messy knot. She wrapped her arms around a big fat acoustic guitar. She sang like Dua Lipa. And she wrote her own songs too, like Billie Eilish. And she growled at the best parts of the song, a little like Lizzo.
Everything else stopped mattering. Lola Bay became our favorite singer—our summer obsession. We sang her songs over and over. We planned to start a fan club when school started, and decorated membership cards.
“And I’m gone,” I growled.
“Livin’ so strong,” Leeza growled.
We squealed and held hands and jumped up and down.
“This is so rah,” Leeza said. Rah was her personal multipurpose word. It meant hurrah, hi ya, big whoop, or that sucks, depending.
“We could be her backup singers,” I said. “She’s only seventeen, not that much older than us. By the time we’re out of high school, she’ll still be kind of young.”
We downloaded all her songs and played them over and over. We practiced the moves on the videos.
“We have to learn all the words to all the songs,” said Leeza.
“Play that one again,” I said. “Did you hear how she came in with the backup singers during part of the harmony?”
We begged our mothers for black T-shirts.
“It has to have a V-neck, Mom!” I cried when she came up to my room saying she’d bought a regular T-shirt.
“I couldn’t find a black V-neck T-shirt in your size,” she said.
“Arrrrrrgh! No, Mom! I need a V-neck!”
“I said they didn’t have them.” She put the bag down and turned to leave.
“Close my door so Ian and Echo don’t come in!” Ian and Echo were my two-and-a-half-year-old twin brother and sister—total tornadoes on toddler feet.
She shook her head and shut the door behind her, saying, “You’re welcome.”
The bag sat on my desk daring me to open it. A regular T-shirt was just wrong.
Finally, I took it out. The shirt wasn’t the worst. I put it on and yanked at the round neck to pull it into a V. A small paper bag with polka-dotted tissue was poking out of the T-shirt bag. When I dumped it out on the bed, four beaded bracelets and a ring with a happy face fell out. They were cool. Very Lola Bay–like.
I sighed. I opened my bedroom door and yelled down the stairs, “THANK YOU FOR THE BRACELETS AND THE RING. I LOVE YOU, MOM.” I was not going to thank her for the T-shirt.
I put on my best ripped jeans, the T-shirt, and the jewelry, and checked myself out in the mirror. I tucked part of the shirt into my waistband the way Lola Bay did.
My hair was too short to pile in a knot on the top of my head, but I grabbed a scrunchie out of the drawer and pulled it up into a stubby brown ponytail.
I struck a pose and made pouty lips.
I rummaged for some lip gloss and did it again with more attitude.
I ran downstairs yelling, “I’m going to Leeza’s.”
In ten seconds, I was across the street. There was no knocking at Leeza’s house. I dashed in, took the stairs two at a time, and burst into her room. I tripped over a little kid’s toy truck. She was standing in front of her dresser looking in the mirror. She saw my reflection and screamed, “OMG, you look soooo Lola.”
“Yes. You look just like her.” Then she turned to me. “What do you think?”
I wanted to cry. She had on a black V-neck tee. Her long hair was piled up just like Lola’s. She looked beautiful. “You look so perfect,” I said.
She held out her bare arm and shrugged. “No bracelets or rings yet, but so what? Right?”
“Right. So what.” Then I took off two of my bracelets and gave them to her. “We can trade off on the ring, okay? But I’ll get it first because it’s mine and everything. Okay?”
She stared at the neck of my shirt. I pulled at it with my fingers.
“We can trade T-shirts too. Okay?”
I hugged her tight, and we stood side by side, looking in her mirror.
“Pose,” I said.
“Poutier,” she said.
I re-glossed my lips and handed the tube over to her.
She glossed and we posed to Lola Bay’s song “Taboo.” It was about how being yourself and wanting what you want is okay even if other people say it’s wrong. I felt okay about wanting the black V-neck tee, even though my mom said, “You look so nice in bright colors.”
Then the summer ended. It wasn’t as if Leeza and I hadn’t been obsessing about going to middle school, but I think we’d been hiding our nervousness in Lola Bay. The day before the first day, we had to face it.
We were working on our scrapbook when I had to worry out loud. “It’s a super-huge school. What if we get lost?”
“We’ll be fine,” said Leeza. “We have each other.”
That was great, but I was still nervous. “There’ll be so many new kids we don’t know. It’s, like, four elementary schools’ worth of sixth graders all dumped together.”
“Salima, and Callie, and Bethany, and Paige will be there.”
I gripped Leeza’s arm. “I hope they’ll want to join the Lola Bay Fan Club.”
“That would be so great.” She shrieked, “We can have epic lip sync contests!”
I jumped up. “We can all listen to the music, and dance, and dress up like her, and do each other’s hair. And show them our poses and the scrapbooks, and invite them to make bracelets, and watch movies, and do all the cool stuff we do.”
“But it’ll be more official,” said Leeza, waving a glue stick. “We’ll have the membership cards, and maybe we can get a discount on the fan merch page!”
“I didn’t think of that before! Wow, we could get discounts on Lola Bay PopSockets!” I spun around. “But what about Melanie and her mean friends?”
“They won’t bother us. It’s not like at the pool, where they picked on us because they were the queens of the pool. In school we’ll just be weenie sixth graders to them. They’re seventh graders. They’ll be busy with seventh-grade stuff.”
I wasn’t as confident as Leeza. “Maybe the eighth graders will pick on them,” I offered hopefully.
For a minute we both imagined how cool it would be to see eighth graders pick on mean Melanie and her crew. We both sighed big sighs at the same time.
“We’ll be fine,” said Leeza.
“Absolutely,” I agreed even though I wasn’t completely convinced. But I had to admit that Melanie might have other things to worry about too.
Then we got lost in deciding what we were going to wear and finishing the Lola Bay Fan Club binder so it would be a work of art. Lola Bay music played the whole time.
I looked at Leeza during a solemn moment in the song “Celebrity.” That song was about stepping up and taking the stage. It made me feel powerful. “Can I be president the first year, and then the next year you can be president?”
Leeza made a pouty face, then laughed. “Sure!”
We took turns being onstage on her bed. We planned how the lip sync contests would work and what the prizes would be. When it was time for me to go home, we held hands and promised each other we would be brave in middle school.
The next morning, we met at the bus stop. My backpack was loaded down with the fat Lola Bay binder. Hers was stuffed with the club notice, our gorgeous handmade membership cards, and clippings. Once we were in our seat on the bus, I said, “Here we go.”
She leaned against me. “We’ll be fine. Rah?”
This made me laugh. “Rah. We rule.”
I clutched my backpack and hummed the Lola Bay song “Livin’ So Strong” to myself, and it made me feel mighty.
The Lola Bay Fan Club
I don’t know why I was so freaked out about the size of the middle school. Our fifth-grade class had toured it in May. Our eighth grader guide, Cinder, had shown us where we’d have homeroom and taken us to the cafeteria, the science lab, the art room, and everything. She’d even told us that in the science lab you could sign up to be a Plant Parent, and the story was that if you kept your plant alive all three years of middle school, you would be a millionaire when you grew up. Leeza thought she could keep a plant alive for three years. I wasn’t that confident, but I was pretty sure there were lots of other ways to be a millionaire that didn’t involve babysitting a pot of ivy.
Things started to go bad right after we got to our homeroom. Leeza and I were assigned different advisers, and then we were given different schedules. Our lockers weren’t even in the same hallway! Waaaaa! And I’d been assuming we would have that for sure. I wouldn’t see Leeza again until lunch. Waaaa! Waaaa!
When the bell rang, Leeza and I squeezed hands. Then we were off to a new world of changing classrooms and finding our lockers. I plowed through a sea of kids. Some I knew, lots I didn’t. I kept my eyes and my mind on my schedule and getting to the right rooms. I didn’t fully panic until noon, when I looked in the lunchroom. It pulsed with kids carrying trays, yelling to friends, slurping fruity water. The smell almost flipped my stomach. It wasn’t totally disgusting, but it didn’t smell like any food I could identify. A boy yelled that the Sloppy Joes were horsemeat . . . Yuck.
I stood by the door and searched the chaos for Leeza. I convinced myself that even though my stomach was growling, if I couldn’t find her, I would skip eating.
Luck! I saw Callie, Salima, Bethany, and Paige. I could at least sit with them. I threaded through the mass of kids until I reached their table. They were taking their last bites.
“Hi, Iris!” they all said at once.
I hadn’t seen them since homeroom. They flooded me with questions.
“Where’s your locker?”
“Did you get Mr. Stadler for science? Isn’t he nice?”
“Are you signing up for any clubs?”
“I can’t believe we don’t have any classes together!”
I didn’t have a chance to answer any of the questions before Leeza showed up at the table with the biggest smile on her face. “Hi, everybody! Isn’t this fun?!”
She got a chorus of yeses with the exception of Salima, who seemed to share my feelings about how much fun this really wasn’t. I was with Salima. I wasn’t so sure yet.
Salima spoke up. “There’s going to be lots more homework.”
Leeza squeezed in next to me and put her tray down. “Aren’t you eating?”
I wanted to scream, I was waiting for you! I looked at the lines to the hot food and the cold food and imagined going through them alone. “No, I’m not hungry.”
Leeza’s eyebrows nearly flew off her face with surprise. “No way.” She put a napkin in front of me and started sharing her food. “Here, half of a grilled cheese. Some grapes. Eat.”
I was still a little mad, but hungry. I took a bite of the grilled cheese. Then another bite.
“Okay, who’s going for a club?” Leeza asked the table.
“I’m going to French Club,” said Paige.
“I’m going to Greenies,” said Bethany.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Environmental,” she replied.
“We’re going to Chess Club,” said Callie and Salima.
I looked at Leeza and she winked. Then we both launched into telling them about the Lola Bay Fan Club and the cute membership cards, and the lip sync contests, and how much fun it was going to be.
“So, sign up. It meets Thursday,” I said. “There will be a room number posted on the club list.”
“Sure, that sounds fun,” said Callie. “We’ll come, won’t we?” She looked at the other three in her little gang for agreement.
The other three looked at each other and nodded.
“Yeah, we’ll come and see,” said Paige.
“Sure. It sounds cool. I like Lola Bay,” said Bethany.
At 2:54 on Thursday, Leeza and I hurried to room 211. I was wearing my horrible regular black tee, but I had on half of my bracelets and the ring. We had our sign-up sheet, cool membership cards, and the binder thick with printouts, clippings, and pictures.
When we peeked into the room, we paused and looked at each other.
I almost backed up and ran. Leeza grabbed my wrist.
Melanie Fisher and the Imitators were at the front of the room, sitting on the tables. They all wore black V-necks, wrists full of bracelets, and knuckles full of rings.
Callie, Salima, Bethany, and Paige were in the back corner. Callie and Salima sat at a table, and Bethany and Paige leaned against the ledge in front of the window. It was the Spanish room, and the ledge was crowded with maracas, a Guatemalan basket, stacks of comic books in Spanish, and a piñata in the shape of a pencil.
There was one other girl in the room. She sat at a table in the center. Personally, if I was by myself in a room like this, I would not plop myself in the very middle. I would totally sit on the side with my back to the wall.
She looked older than us—a seventh grader? Or maybe even an eighth grader. I’d never seen such brilliantly blue eyes, and the way she leaned back in her chair with her legs crossed said,I know who I am. Her black-and-white print dress and dark red suede ankle boots made a perfect combination. Who wore a dress to school? Was that a middle school thing? I looked down at my jeans and black round-neck tee and groaned. I looked so fifth grade.
I couldn’t stop staring. Her dark hair was chin length and wavy like my grandma’s cocker spaniel’s ears. And she had the shortest, straightest bangs I’d ever seen, except maybe on a manga character.
With one arm draped over her backpack, she traced along the zipper with her French-manicured fingertip.
Suddenly she smiled with one side of her mouth, glanced over at Melanie, then looked back to us and rolled her eyes.
Before Leeza and I could get our things unpacked, Melanie Fisher stood up and snapped her fingers. All of her minions turned their heads to her. “Okay, all, let’s go around and everyone say their name and something they like about Lola Bay.”
My face flushed. What was happening? A cloud of helplessness descended over me. Did clubs have to be run by the oldest kids? Could a seventh grader just take over? I looked to Leeza, and her eyes were shooting fire at Melanie Fisher.
The girl with the cocker spaniel waves called out, “Hold on. I object.”
All heads swiveled to stare at her.
Melanie wrinkled her nose. “Oh, great. Day-na. Aren’t you picture perfect. What?”
“Who put you in charge, Mel-a-nie?”
Melanie snickered as if this were hilarious. “Well, Dana. Why don’t you start? If you like Lola Bay so much. Say what you like about her.”
I held my breath. I’d never seen anyone at the pool actually pick a fight with Melanie Fisher. All eyes in the room focused on this Dana girl.
She twisted the end of her hair with her perfect fingers. “The sign-up sheet has the names Iris Underwood and Leeza Todd as club founders. You are not Iris Underwood or Leeza Todd.”
The Imitators sucked air in one collective gasp, then turned to Melanie. We all did.
Melanie Fisher hoisted up a thick turquoise binder with Lola Bay’s picture and panned it in front of the group. Lola Bay’s face smiled out at us. “For the benefit of you newbie sixth graders, I am Melanie Fisher. I’m a seventh grader. I am the one who wrote to the Official Lola Bay Fan Club in Los Angeles, California, and I am the one who was sent the official chapter registration materials, andI have the official membership roster and membership cards. Since the Lola Bay organization has entrusted me with the registration materials, I guess that makes me in charge, andI won’t sign a card for anyone I don’t think deserves to be an official fan.”
So much anger welled up inside me, I thought it would blow out my eardrums. My hand hurt from squeezing a pen.
I heard a weak voice in the room say, “I object too.”
I realized it was mine. I’d never objected to anything in public before, but there I was, objecting to Melanie Fisher, because Leeza and I were the ones who’d put up the notice, andwe were the ones who planned to run the fan club. At the same time, I was kicking myself that I hadn’t written for all the official stuff.
“So do I,” said Leeza. “I object too.”
I looked to the back corner. Salima, Bethany, and Paige were frozen. Callie’s face was behind a Spanish comic book.
The flock of Imitator heads all turned to Melanie for her response.
“You see,” she started, “this is exactly why I had to come and put a stop to this unofficial meeting. We can’t have people pretending to represent the official organization. So, if you sixth graders, and you, Dana Dean, and you girls in the corner want to be in the Official Lola Bay Fan Club . . .” She shrugged one shoulder like it didn’t matter to her. “You’ll have to follow me. Shall we adjourn to my house, girls?”
With that, Melanie and her gang of official followers got up. Chairs scraped the floor. They whispered among themselves. They snickered. I caught a whiff of their group fragrance as they waltzed out. I glanced at the clock. It was 3:04. Leeza’s and my Lola Bay Fan Club had imploded in ten minutes—ten painful, slow-motion minutes.
The Dana girl sat forward and waved her hand. “Honestly. This is no biggie.”
I wanted to wail, What do you mean, no biggie? It’s all blown up, but before I could, she twirled her hair again.
“I’m Dana Dean. I’m in seventh—just like Melanie Fish Face and her gang, and I can tell you, they are losers.”
The rest of us in the room spit-laughed when she said Melanie Fish Face.
Dana pulled a thick envelope out of her backpack. It was stuffed with clippings and photocopies that she spread out on the table. Leeza and I had many of the same pictures and printouts in our binder.
Salima, Callie, Bethany, and Paige drifted over to look, but soon said they were leaving to check out other clubs. I wasn’t too surprised. You’d have to really, really love Lola Bay to stay after the whole official-unofficial meltdown.
For an hour, the three of us compared our Lola Bay treasures.
“She was only five feet, one inch tall in seventh grade,” said Dana.
“Look at this.” Leeza pulled out a magazine clipping. “Her hair is actually dark brown.”
Manicured fingertips waved a magazine page. “Did you know she sang solos in her high school choir?”
I squealed and pulled out the same picture. “We have that too!”
“She was the third-youngest person to win a Grammy,” said Dana.
“And she’s sold twenty-five million records since the Grammy,” Leeza added.
Then, like it was a secret, Dana tipped her forehead with her straight bangs toward us and whispered, “Can you believe she applied for American Idol when she was fourteen and was turned down? How wrong were they! Her influences are Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Sia.”
“I don’t know about Sia,” I admitted.
Leeza shrugged like she didn’t know Sia either.
“Sia is really cool. She sang ‘Unstoppable.’”
“Oh.” I didn’t know that song. I thought I knew what Dana had meant when she’d said influences, but I wasn’t sure. “What’s an influence?”
Dana paused to think for a few seconds. Then she said, “So in the song ‘Out of My Way,’ Lola Bay sings, ‘You can’t make me do your thing.’”
Leeza and I nodded.
“It’s about knowing who you are, what you want to be, what you can do, in spite of what other people think or expect of you. She probably listened to the Sia song ‘Unstoppable,’ which is about that, and liked it, and that’s where she got the idea.”
I was floored. I’d never thought about the words of the songs that way. “Oh my gosh, you are so smart! Thanks for telling us that.”
“I get that,” Leeza said.
“Sure. My dad is a musician and an artist. They have influences.” She looked over the table, and her eyes landed on the membership cards.
The handmade cards that Leeza and I had worked so hard on embarrassed me now with their Sharpie doodles. I said, “You can have one if you want. They’re not official. I suppose we’ll just throw them away.”
Dana’s eyes flashed. “Seriously? Who cares about that? If being official means putting up with self-appointed queen bee Melanie Fish Face, I’d rather be unofficial.” She sat up straight like she’d surprised herself. “Hey, let’s be unofficial.”
I laughed. I was stunned she wanted to be unofficial with us. “Really?”
“Sure. Lola Bay would hate Melanie Fish Face. I think the real Lola Bay—not her publicity, computer, plastic people—would rather be unofficial with us if she had the chance.”
“You do?” Leeza asked.
“Absolutely.” Dana picked up one of the cards that Leeza had made. One with silver stars.
Her hands were so pretty. I’d never really noticed hands before—anybody’s hands, really. She had long slender fingers. She noticed me looking at them as she wrote her name. “I’m going to be a hand model when I grow up.”
“You are?” asked Leeza.
“Cool,” I said. Of course! That seemed like an obvious thing for her to do. She was so smart and confident. Still, I couldn’t understand why a seventh grader would want to hang out with us. “You know we’re only in sixth grade.”
“I was once too,” she said. “I don’t really have friends in my grade, or at school, really. I’m very picky about who my friends are. But I adore Lola Bay. She’s worth fanning over. I don’t care if you’re in sixth grade or high school if we really have that in common.”
“Well, maybe that high school thing is an exaggeration. I’m not sure a high school kid would hang with us.”
We all laughed.
“Sure. That would be cool. We could eat lunch together,” I offered.
“Whoa. Uh, that might be too much.”
“Okay. Right,” I said.
“But I could come over to your house after school sometime, and we could listen to her music and watch her videos. You have a computer, don’t you?”
“Oh yeah. I have a laptop.”
“In your room?”
She nodded like she was impressed, and gave me a thumbs-up.
“When do you want to come over?” I asked.
“Soon,” she said.
“That will be so much fun,” said Leeza.
So much for Melanie Fish Face and the Imitators. Dana and Leeza and I would be better off unofficial. We’d have lots of fun listening to Lola Bay music and talking about influences.
We got up to leave and Dana said, “Here.” She pulled a black wad out of her backpack and handed it to me. “I think you need this.”
I unrolled it. It was a V-neck. My eyes bugged. “Wow, thanks. That’s really nice. Are you sure?”
“Yes. I have, like, four more. I brought it to talk about whether we should have them printed with a local club emblem.”
I almost teared up. This totally cool seventh-grade girl wanted to be unofficial with us, and she gave me a black V-neck tee, and she told us about influences, and she had the best idea ever to print a local club emblem on shirts. Melanie Fish Face seriously didn’t matter.
“So do you want to come over tomorrow?” I asked. I still couldn’t believe it.
“Sure,” said Dana.
“Okay!” Leeza said. “That’s great. Do you want to ride the bus home with us?”
Dana smiled her half smile. “Uh, no. Just give me the address.”
I wrote it down. As we left the room, I felt an overwhelming gush of happiness. I turned to Leeza and said, “That was so much fun.”
Leeza laughed and threw her arm around my neck. “I can’t say I’d call itall fun, but middle school isn’t so bad, is it?”
“Do you want to do manicures when we get home?” I asked her.
“Oh yeah. Do you think we can do French like Dana?”
“I can do yours and you can do mine.” I looked at my nails. They were stubby short. “I have to stop biting my nails so they’ll grow.”
Leeza laughed. “At least so I can put a skinny white line there.”
We may not have had all the official stuff, but we had a cool new friend who seriously liked Lola Bay, was really smart, and didn’t mind hanging out with sixth graders. I started to think this might actually be a good year. And my nails were going to look better.