A princess on Another Planet


НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
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Дата публикации28.06.2013
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^ CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Bait and Switch
"Walt!" I say, catching up to him in the hall. He stops and wipes a lock of hair off his forehead. Walt's hair has gotten a little longer than usual, and he's sweating slightly.

"Where were you on Saturday night? We were all expecting you at Lali's party."

"Couldn't make it," he says.

"Why? What else did you have to do in this town?" I try to make it sound like a joke, but Walt doesn't take it as one.

"Believe it or not, I actually have other friends."

"You do?"

"There is life outside of Castlebury High."

"Come on," I say, nudging him. "I was kidding. We miss you."

"Yeah, I miss you guys too," he says, shifting his books from one arm to another. "I had to take an extra shift at the Hamburger Shack. Which means I have to spend all my free time studying."

"That's a drag." We've reached the teachers' lounge, where I pause before going in. "Walt, is everything okay? Really?"

"Sure," he says. "Why would you even ask?"

"Don't know."

"See ya," he says. And as he walks away, I realize he's lying--about the extra shift at the Hamburger Shack, anyway. I took Missy and Dorrit there two nights last week, and Walt wasn't working either time.

Must find out what's up with Walt, I think, making a mental note as I ease open the door to the lounge.

Inside are Ms. Smidgens, The Nutmeg advisor, along with Ms. Pizchiek, who teaches homemaking and typing. They're both smoking and talking about how they might get their colors done at the G. Fox department store in Hartford. "Susie says it changed her life," Ms. Pizchiek says. "All her life she was wearing blues, and it turned out she should have been wearing orange."

"Orange is for pumpkins," Ms. Smidgens says, which makes me kind of like her a little because I agree. "This whole color analysis craze is a crock. It's only another way to part unsuspecting fools and their money." And is probably useless if your skin is gray from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.

"Oh, but it's fun," Ms. Pizchiek counters, with no dampening of enthusiasm. "We get a group of gals together on a Saturday morning and then have lunch afterward--" She suddenly looks up and sees me standing in the doorway. "Yes?" she asks curtly. The teachers' lounge is strictly off-limits for students.

"I need to talk to Ms. Smidgens."

Ms. Smidgens must be really bored with Ms. Pizchiek, because instead of turning me away, she says, "Carrie Bradshaw, right? Well, come in. And close the door behind you."

I smile as I attempt to hold my breath. Even though I smoke sometimes, being in a closed environment with two women who are puffing away like chimneys makes me want to wave my hand in front of my face. But that would be rude, so I try breathing through my mouth instead.

"I was wondering--" I begin.

"I get it. You want to work on the newspaper," Ms. Smidgens says. "Happens every year. Sometime after the first quarter some senior comes to me and suddenly wants in on The Nutmeg. I take it you need to build up your extracurricular activities, right?"

"No," I say, hoping the smoke won't make me sick.

"Then why?" Smidgens asks.

"I think I could bring some fresh perspective to the paper."

This is obviously the wrong thing to say, because she says, "Oh, really?" like she's heard it a million times before.

"I think I'm a pretty good writer," I say cautiously, refusing to give up.

Ms. Smidgens is not impressed. "Everyone wants to write. We need people to do layout." Now she's really trying to get rid of me, but I don't go. I just stand there, holding my breath with my eyes bugging out of my head. My face must scare her a little, because she relents. "I suppose if you did layout, we could let you try writing something. The editorial committee meets three times a week--Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at four. If you miss more than one meeting a week, you're out."

"Okay," I mumble, nodding vigorously.

"So we'll see you this afternoon at four."

I give her a little wave and skittle out of there.

"I bet Peter's going to dump Maggie," Lali says, removing her clothes. She stretches, naked, before sliding into her Speedo. I've always admired Lali's lack of modesty when it comes to her body. I've never been able to let go of my insecurity about being naked, and I have to contort my arms and legs to maintain a level of dignity when getting changed.

"No way." I tuck my butt as I remove my underwear. "He's in love with her."

"He's in lust with her," Lali corrects. "Sebastian told me Peter was asking him all about the other women he's been with. Specifically, Donna LaDonna. Does that sound like a guy who's madly in love to you?"

Hearing the name Donna LaDonna still makes me cringe. It's been weeks since she launched her smear campaign, and while it's been reduced to dirty looks in the hall, I suspect it's merely bubbling under the surface, ready to erupt at any moment. Perhaps it's part of Donna's plan to seduce Peter and wreak havoc.

"Sebastian told you?" I frown. "That's funny. He didn't tell me. If Peter told Sebastian he was interested in Donna, Sebastian would have definitely mentioned it."

"Maybe he doesn't tell you everything," Lali says casually.

What's that supposed to mean? I wonder, giving her a look. But she seems to be completely unaware of any breach of friendship etiquette, bending over and shaking out her arms.

"Do you think we should tell Maggie?"

"I'm not going to tell her," Lali says.

"He hasn't done anything, has he? So maybe it was just talk. Besides, Peter's always boasting about how he's friends with Donna."

"Didn't Sebastian date her?" Lali asks.

Another strange comment. Lali knows he did. It's like she's using every excuse to bring up Sebastian's name.

Sure enough, the next thing she says is, "By the way, Aztec Two-Step is playing at the Shaboo Inn in a few weeks. I thought maybe you, me, and Sebastian could go together. I mean, we could go, just the two of us, but since you always seem to be with Sebastian, I thought you'd probably want him to come too. Plus, he's a really good dancer."

At one time, I would have loved the idea of going to see our favorite band with Sebastian, but it suddenly makes me uncomfortable. On the other hand, how can I refuse without making it sound like something's wrong? "Sounds fun," I say.

"It'll be a blast," Lali agrees quickly.

"I'll ask him this afternoon." I twist my hair and wedge it under my swim cap.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Lali says, as if it's no big deal. "I'll ask him when I see him." She strides out of the locker room.

I have a disturbing vision of Lali dancing with Sebastian at her party.

I take my place on the block next to her. "You don't have to worry about telling Sebastian. He's picking me up at four. I'll ask him then."

She looks over at me and shrugs. "Whatever."

As my feet leave the block, I remember I have the newspaper meeting at four. My body stiffens, and I hit the water like a board. I'm momentarily stunned by the impact, but then habit takes over and I start swimming.

Crap. I forgot to tell Sebastian about the meeting. What if I'm gone by the time he turns up? Then Lali will get her clutches on him for sure.

I'm so distracted by the thought that I totally screw up my swan dive, which is the easiest dive in my repertoire.

"What's wrong with you, Bradshaw?" Coach Nipsie demands. "You'd better get your shit together by the meet on Friday."

"I will," I say, wiping my face with a towel.

"You're spending too much time with your boyfriend," he scolds. "It's throwing off your concentration."

I look over at Lali, who is observing this exchange. For a second, I catch a tiny smile on her face, and then it's gone.

"I thought we were going to the Fox Run Mall," Sebastian says. He looks away, irritated.

"I'm sorry." I reach out to touch his arm but he takes a step back.

"Don't. You're all wet."

"I just got out of the pool."

"I can see that," he says, frowning.

"I'll only go for an hour."

"Why do you want to work for that lousy newspaper anyway?"

How can I explain? I'm trying to have a future? Sebastian won't understand. He's trying to do everything he can not to have one.

"Come on," I say pleadingly.

"I don't want to go to the Fox Run Mall alone."

Lali strolls by, twisting her towel and snapping it into the air. "I'll go with you," she volunteers.

"Great," he says. He smiles at me. "We'll meet you later, okay?"

"Sure." It all seems innocent enough. So why does his use of the word "we" make me shudder?

I consider ditching the newspaper meeting and going after him.

I even start to follow him out the door, but when I get outside, I pause. Am I going to be like this all my life? Committing to something that seems important and then tossing it aside for a guy? Weak. Very weak, Bradley, I hear The Mouse scolding me in my head.

I go to the newspaper meeting.

Due to my indecision, I'm a little late. The staff is already seated around a large art table, with the exception of Ms. Smidgens, who is by the window, covertly smoking a cigarette. Since she's not absorbed in the conversation, she's the first to see me come in.

"Carrie Bradshaw," she says. "You decided to grace us with your presence after all."

Peter looks up and we lock eyes. Bastard, I think, remembering what Lali just told me about Peter and Donna LaDonna. If Peter gives me any trouble about joining the Nutmeg staff, I'll remind him about what he said to Sebastian.

"Does everyone here know Carrie? Carrie Bradshaw?" he asks. "She's a senior. And I guess she's...uh...decided to join the newspaper."

The rest of the kids look at me blankly.

Besides Peter, I recognize three seniors. The other four kids are juniors and sophomores, plus one girl who looks so young, she must be a freshman. All in all, a not terribly promising group.

"Let's get back to our discussion," Peter says as I take a seat at the end of the table. "Upcoming article suggestions?"

The young girl, who has black hair and bad skin, and is one of those I'm-going-to-be-successful-if-it-kills-me types, raises her hand. "I think we should do a story about the cafeteria food. Where it comes from, and why it's so bad."

"We already covered that," Peter says wearily. "We do that story in nearly every issue. Doesn't make any difference."

"Oh, but it does," says a nerdly kid with the requisite safety glasses. "Two years ago the school agreed to allow healthy vending machines in the cafeteria. So at least we can get sunflower seeds."

Aha. So that's the reason we have a group of students who are constantly nibbling sunflower seeds like a colony of gerbils.

"How about gym?" says a girl whose hair is pulled back into a tight braid. "Why don't we lobby for a workout video instead of basketball?"

"I don't think many guys want to do aerobics in gym," Peter says drily.

"Isn't it stupid to write about things that people can do at home anyway?" points out the nerdly kid. "It would be like forcing everyone to take laundry."

"And it is all about choice, right?" says the freshman. "Which reminds me. I think we should do the story about the cheerleader discrimination suit."

"Oh, that." Peter sighs. "Carrie, what do you think?"

"Didn't someone try to pass the cheerleader antidiscrimination act last year and it failed?"

"We won't give up," insists the freshman girl. "The cheerleading team discriminates against ugly people. It's unconstitutional."

"Is it?" Peter asks.

"I think there should be a law against ugly girls in general," the nerdly kid says, and begins panting loudly in what appears to pass for a laugh.

Peter gives him a dirty look and turns to the freshman. "Gayle, I thought we discussed this. You can't use the school newspaper to further the causes of your family. We all know your sister wants to be a cheerleader and that Donna LaDonna has rejected her twice. If she wasn't your sister, you might have something. But she is. So it makes it look like the newspaper is trying to force the cheerleading squad to take her. It goes against every journalistic convention--"

"How?" I ask, suddenly interested. Especially as it sounds like Peter is trying to protect Donna LaDonna. "Isn't the whole point of journalism to make people aware of the wrongdoings in the world? And wrongdoings do begin at home. They begin right here at Castlebury High."

"She's right!" exclaims the nerdly guy, thumping his fist on the table.

"Okay, Carrie," Peter says, annoyed. "You take the story."

"Oh no. Can't do that," Ms. Smidgens says, stepping in. "I know Carrie's a senior, but as a new member of the paper, she has to do layout."

I shrug pleasantly, as if I don't mind at all.

A few minutes later, Gayle and I are relegated to a corner of the room to move around sections of type on a large piece of lined paper. The job is unbearably tedious, and I look over at Gayle, who is frowning, either in concentration or anger. She's at the apex of the worst stage of being a teenage girl, meaning she has blemishes, greasy hair, and a face that hasn't yet caught up to her nose.

"Typical, isn't it?" I say. "They always make the girls do the most unimportant job."

"If they don't make me a reporter next year, I'm going to start a petition," she says fiercely.

"Hmmmm. I've always thought there were two ways of getting what you wanted in life. Forcing people to give it to you, or making them want to give it to you. Seems the latter is usually the better choice. I bet if you talked to Ms. Smidgens, she'd help you out. She seems pretty reasonable."

"She's not so bad. It's Peter."

"That so?"

"He refuses to give me a chance."

Suspecting, perhaps, that we're talking about him, Peter strolls over. "Carrie, you don't have to do this."

"Oh, I don't mind," I say airily. "I love arts and crafts."

"You do?" Gayle asks when Peter walks away.

"Are you kidding? My worst nightmare was those relief maps. And I failed sewing when I was in the Girl Scouts."

Little Gayle giggles. "Me too. I mean, I want to be Barbara Walters when I grow up, even if everyone does make fun of her. I wonder if she ever had to do this?"

"Probably. And probably a lot of other worse things as well."

"You think?" Gayle asks, encouraged.

"I know," I say, just for the hell of it. We work in silence for another minute, and then I ask, "What's this thing with your sister and Donna LaDonna?"

She looks at me suspiciously. "Do you know my sister?"

"Sure." It's a bit of a lie. I don't really know her, but I'm aware of who she is. Gayle's sister has to be a senior named Ramona who looks just like Gayle, albeit a slightly less pimply and more refined version. I never paid that much attention to her because she moved here during our freshman year and immediately made other friends.

"She's a really good gymnast," Gayle says. "I mean, she was, back in New Jersey. When she was thirteen, she was the all-around state champion."

I'm surprised. "Why isn't she on the gymnastics team, then?"

"She grew. She got hips. And boobs. Something happened with her center of gravity."

"I see."

"But she's still really good at doing splits and cartwheels and all the things cheerleaders do. She tried out for the cheerleading squad and was sure she'd make it because she's so much better than the other girls, like Donna LaDonna, who can't even do a full split. But she wasn't even picked for Junior Varsity. She tried out again, last year, and afterward, Donna LaDonna went up to her and told her right to her face that she wasn't going to make it because she wasn't pretty enough."

"She came right out and said it?" I gasp, astonished.

Gayle nods. "She said, and I quote, 'You're not pretty enough to make the squad, so don't waste your time and ours.'"

"Wow. What did your sister do?"

"She told the principal."

I nod, thinking maybe this is typical Ramona behavior, always tattling to an adult, and that's why they didn't want her on the team. But still. "What did the principal say?"

"He said he couldn't get involved in 'girl stuff.' And my sister said it was discrimination, pure and simple. Discrimination against girls who don't have straight hair and tiny noses and perfect boobs. And he laughed."

"He's a bastard. Everyone knows that."

"But it doesn't make it right. So my sister has been trying to get this discrimination suit going."

"And you're going to write about it."

"I would, except Peter won't let me do it. And Donna LaDonna won't talk to me. I mean, I'm a freshman. And then she put the word out that if anyone talks about it at all, they'll have to deal with her."

"Really?"

"And who wants to go up against Donna LaDonna? Let's face it." Gayle sighs. "She runs the school."

"Or thinks she does, anyway."

At that moment, Peter returns. "I'm going to meet Maggie at the Fox Run Mall. You want to come?"

"Sure," I say, gathering my things. "I'm meeting Sebastian there anyway."

"Bye, Carrie," Gayle says. "It was nice to meet you. And don't worry. I won't try to talk to you if I see you in the hall."

"Don't be silly, Gayle. You come up and talk to me anytime you like."

"Gayle probably told you all about Donna LaDonna and her sister, Ramona," Peter says as we cross the parking lot to a rusty yellow station wagon.

"Mmmhmmm," I murmur.

"It's all a bunch of BS. No one is interested in that boring girl talk."

"Is that how you think of it? As boring girl talk?"

"Yeah. Isn't that what it is?"

I open the passenger door, knock a bunch of papers to the floor, and get in. "Funny. I always thought you were more evolved when it came to women."

"What do you mean?" Peter pumps the gas and turns the key. It takes a few tries to get the engine going.

"I never figured you for a guy who can't stand the sound of women's voices. You know, those guys who tell their girlfriends to shut up when they're trying to tell them something."

"Who told you I was that kind of guy? Maggie? I'm not that kind of guy, I promise you."

"Why won't you let Gayle do her story, then? Or is this really about Donna LaDonna?"

"It has nothing to do with her," he says, clumsily changing gears.

"How well do you know her? Honestly?"

"Why?"

I shrug. "I heard you were talking about her at Lali's party."

"So?"

"So Maggie is a really good friend of mine. And she's a great girl. I don't want to see her get hurt."

"Who says she's going to get hurt?"

"She'd better not get hurt. That's all."

We drive a little farther, and then Peter says, "You don't have to do it."

"What?"

"Be nice to Gayle. She's a pain in the ass. Once you talk to her, you can't get rid of her."

"She seems okay to me." I give him a dirty look, remembering how he wouldn't even take Maggie to the clinic to get the birth control pills.

And apparently, he's feeling guilty. "If you want to write a story for the paper, you can," he says. "I guess I sort of owe you anyway."

"For going with Maggie to the clinic? I guess you do."

"Isn't it better for girls to do those things together anyway?"

"I don't know," I say, with a dark edge to my voice. "What if Maggie had been pregnant?"

"That's what I'm trying to avoid. I should get points for being a good boyfriend and making her take the pill," he says, as if he deserves a pat on the back.

Why is it always about the guy? "I think Maggie is smart enough to know she should be on the pill."

"Hey. I didn't mean to imply--"

"Forget about it," I say, annoyed. I have a sudden image of that girl at the clinic, crying and crying because she'd just had an abortion. The guy who got her pregnant wasn't with her, either. I should tell Peter about her, but I don't know where to begin.

"Anyway, it was really decent of you," he concedes. "Maggie told me you were great."

"And this surprises you?"

"I don't know, Carrie," he stammers. "I mean--I always thought you were kind of...silly."

"Silly?"

"I mean, you're always making jokes. I could never understand what you were doing in our AP classes."

"Why? Because I'm funny? A girl can't be funny and smart?"

"I wasn't saying you're not smart--"

"Or is it because I'm not going to Harvard? Maggie keeps telling me you're a great guy. But I don't see it. Or maybe you've only become a major asshole in the last three days."

"Whoa. Take it easy. You don't have to get so mad. Why do girls always take things so personally?" he asks.

I sit there with my arms crossed, saying nothing. Peter starts to get uncomfortable, shifting his butt around on the driver's seat. "So, um, really," he says. "You should write a piece for the newspaper. Maybe a profile of a teacher or something. That's always good."

I put my feet up on his dashboard. "I'll think about it," I say.

I'm still stewing when we pull into the parking lot of the Fox Run Mall. I'm so mad, I'm not sure I can even be friends with Maggie while she's dating this jerk.

I get out of the car and kind of slam the door, which is pretty rude, but I can't help it. "I'll meet you guys inside, okay?"

"Okay," he says, looking nervous. "We'll be at Mrs. Fields."

I nod and then I walk around the parking lot and fish through my bag until I find a cigarette, which I light up. And just as I'm smoking and starting to feel normal again, the yellow Corvette peels into the parking lot and squeals into a space about ten feet away. It's Sebastian. And Lali.

They're laughing and giggling as they get out of the car.

My stomach drops. Where have they been for the past hour and a half?

"Hey, babe," Sebastian says, giving me a quick peck on the lips. "We were hungry, so we went to the Hamburger Shack."

"Did you see Walt?"

"Uh-huh," Lali says. Sebastian links his arm through mine, then holds out his other arm for Lali. Thus entwined, the three of us go into the mall.

My only consolation is that I know Sebastian isn't lying about the Hamburger Shack. When he kissed me, his breath smelled of onions and peppers, mixed with the sharp scent of cigarettes.
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