A princess on Another Planet


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

Cliques Are Made to Be Broken
"What do you think?" I ask The Mouse, tapping my pen on the table.

"Attacking Donna LaDonna in your first piece for The Nutmeg? Risky, Bradley. Especially as you haven't gotten her side yet."

"Not for lack of trying," I counter, which isn't exactly true. I did follow her around for a bit, but I didn't really try to confront her. What I actually did was drive by her house three times. The LaDonnas live on the top of a hill in a big new house, which is also strikingly ugly. It has two columns, one wall made of brick, one wall made of stucco, and the others of wood, as if the person designing the house couldn't decide what they wanted and chose everything instead. Sort of the way Donna LaDonna is about boys, I figure.

On two occasions, the house was deserted, but the third time, I saw Tommy Brewster coming out, followed by Donna. Just before Tommy got into his car, he made a lunge for her, like he was trying to kiss her, but she pushed him away with her index finger and laughed. While Tommy was still in the driveway, fuming, another car pulled up--a blue Mercedes--and a tall, really good-looking guy got out, walked right past Tommy, and put his arm around Donna's waist. Then they went inside without a backward glance.

When it comes to guys, Donna clearly leads a very interesting life.

"Why not start with something less controversial than Donna LaDonna?" The Mouse asks now. "Get people used to the idea that you're writing for the paper."

"But if I don't write about Donna, I have nothing to write about," I complain. I put my feet up on the table and tip my chair back. "The great thing about Donna is that everyone is scared of her. I mean, what else about high school inspires such universal distress?"

"Cliques."

"Cliques? We're not even in a clique."

"In the sense that we've been hanging out with pretty much the same people for the last ten years, maybe we are."

"I always thought of us as the anti-clique."

"An anti-clique is a clique, isn't it?" asks The Mouse.

"Maybe there's a story here," I muse, leaning all the way back in my chair. When I'm nearly perpendicular, the legs slide out and I fall over, knocking down several books in the process. I land with the chair on top of my head, and when I peek around the seat, little Gayle is bending over me.

Someone has got to tell this girl about Clearasil.

"Carrie?" she gasps. "Are you all right?" She glances around wildly as she picks several books up off the floor. "You'd better get up before the librarian finds you. If she does, she'll kick you out."

The Mouse bursts out laughing.

"I don't get it," Gayle says, her arms wrapped around a pile of books. Her eyes fill with tears.

"Sweetie," I say. "We're not making fun of you. It's just that we're seniors. We don't care if the librarian kicks us out."

"If she tried, we'd probably give her the finger," The Mouse adds. We look at each other and snicker.

"Oh. Well." Gayle nervously pinches her lip. I pull out the chair next to me. "Have a seat."

"Really?"

"This is Roberta Castells," I say as Gayle cautiously sits. "Also known as 'Mighty Mouse.' Or 'The Mouse' for short."

"Hello," Gayle says shyly. "I know all about you. You're a legend. They say you're the smartest girl in school. I wish I could do something like that. Be the smartest. I know I'm never going to be the prettiest."

The two Jens come into the library, sniffing around like bloodhounds. They spot us and take a seat two tables away.

"See those girls?" I indicate the Jens with my head. "Do you think they're pretty?"

"The two Jens? They're beautiful."

"Now," I say. "They're beautiful now. But in two years--"

"They're going to look really, really old. They're going to look like they're forty," The Mouse says.

Little Gayle covers her mouth. "Why? What happened to them?"

"They're going to peak in high school," I explain.

"What?"

"That's right," The Mouse agrees, nodding. "And after high school, it's all downhill. Babies. Cheating husbands. Dead-end jobs. You don't want to peak in high school. If you do, the rest of your life is a disaster."

"I never thought of it that way." And she looks over at the two Jens like they're freaky aliens from another planet.

"Speaking of which," I ask, "what do you hate most about high school?"

"Um, the food?"

"Not good enough. Cafeteria stories are boring. And you can't say Donna LaDonna, either."

"I guess I'd have to say cliques."

"Cliques." I nod and raise an eyebrow at The Mouse. "Why?"

"Because they make you insecure. Like you always know if you're not in a clique because those people don't talk to you. And sometimes if you are in a clique, it's like being in Lord of the Flies. You always wonder if you're the one who's going to get killed." She puts her hand over her mouth again. "Did I say too much?"

"No, no. Keep talking." I turn over my notebook, open it to a blank page, and start scribbling.

"So this story I'm doing for The Nutmeg is coming out really well," I say, taking a batch of chocolate chip cookies from the oven.

Sebastian turns another page of Time magazine. "What's it about again?"

I've already told him at least a dozen times. "Cliques. I've interviewed about ten people so far, and I've gotten some really interesting stories."

"Hmm," Sebastian says, clearly not interested. I press on, nonetheless. "Walt said that while cliques provide protection, they can also stunt your growth as a person. What do you think?"

"What I think," Sebastian says, not looking up from his magazine, "is that Walt has issues."

"What kind of issues?"

"Do you really care?" He looks at me over the rim of his Ray-Ban-style reading glasses. Whenever Sebastian wears his reading glasses, my heart melts. He has a flaw. He doesn't have perfect vision. It's just so darn cute.

"Of course I do."

"Then trust me and leave it alone," he says, and goes back to his magazine.

I remove the warm cookies from the pan and gently place them on a plate. I put the plate in front of Sebastian and sit down across from him. He absentmindedly takes a cookie and bites into it.

"What are you reading?" I ask.

"More about the recession," he says, flipping the page. "No point in looking for a job now, that's for sure. Hell, there's probably no point in going to college. We're all going to be stuck living in our parents' basements for the rest of our lives."

I suddenly grab his wrist. "What do you know about Walt?"

"I saw him." He shrugs.

"Where?"

"At a place you don't know and don't want to know about."

What is he talking about? "What kind of place?"

He removes his glasses. "Forget it. I'm bored. Let's go to the Fox Run Mall."

"I'm not bored. I want to hear more about Walt."

"And I don't want to talk about it," he says, rising to his feet.

Hmph. I pick up a cookie and shove half of it into my mouth. "I can't go to the mall. I want to work on my piece." When he looks confused, I add, "For The Nutmeg."

He shrugs. "Suit yourself. But I'm not going to sit here while you're writing."

"But I want it to be good."

"Fine," he says. "I'll see you later."

"Wait!" I grab my coat and run after him.

He puts his arm around my waist, and we do a funny walk we invented one night at The Emerald, and we walk like that all the way out to the car.

But when we pull out of the driveway, I look back at my house and feel enveloped in a fog of guilt. I shouldn't be doing this. I ought to be working on my piece. How can I become a writer if I don't have discipline?

But Lali has a new job at the mall, working at The Gap, and if left to his own devices, Sebastian is sure to stop by to see her, and the two of them will be alone again, without me. I feel lousy thinking I can't trust Lali with Sebastian, but lately, the two of them have become increasingly buddy-buddy. Every time I see them joking or high-fiving each other, I have a bad premonition. It's like the sound of a clock ticking, except the ticks get further and further apart, until there's no ticking at all--only silence.

Cynthia Viande stands on the stage in front of assembly and holds up a copy of The Nutmeg. "And this week, we have a story from Carrie Bradshaw about cliques."

There's a tepid round of applause, and then everyone gets up.

"You got your piece in, Bradley. Good job," The Mouse says, hurrying over.

"Can't wait to read it," a few kids murmur, rolling their eyes as they pass by.

"Glad that's over, huh?" Sebastian interrupts, giving The Mouse a wink.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"The Nutmeg," he says to The Mouse. "Was she bugging you with these endless ace reporter questions?"

The Mouse looks surprised. "No."

I flush with embarrassment.

"Anyway, it's done," Sebastian says, and smiles.

The Mouse gives me a curious look, but I shrug it off as if to say "Guys--what can you do?"

"Well, I thought it was great," The Mouse says.

"Here she comes," Maggie cries out. "Here comes our star."

"Oh, come on, Magwitch. It was only a stupid story in The Nutmeg." But still, I'm pleased. I slide in next to her at the picnic table in the barn. The ground is frozen and there's a damp chill in the air that will last, on and off now, for months. I'm sporting a knit cap with a long tail that ends in a pom-pom. Maggie, who deals with winter by pretending it doesn't exist and refusing to wear a hat or gloves, except when she's skiing, is rubbing her hands together in between taking drags off a cigarette that she and Peter are passing back and forth. Lali is wearing men's construction boots, which seem to be all the rage.

"Give me a drag of that cigarette," Lali says to Maggie, which is strange, because Lali rarely smokes.

"The piece was good," Peter says grudgingly.

"Everything Carrie does is good," Lali says. Smoke curls out of her nostrils. "Isn't that right? Carrie always has to succeed."

Is she being intentionally hostile? Or just Lali-ish? I can't tell. She's staring at me boldly, as if daring me to find out.

"I don't always succeed," I counter. I slip one of Maggie's mother's cigarettes from the pack. Apparently Maggie's mom has given up on quitting. "In fact, I usually fail," I say, trying to make a joke of it. I light up and take a drag, holding the smoke in my mouth and then exhaling several perfect smoke rings. "But every now and then I get lucky."

"Come on," Lali says, with an edgy skepticism. "You're writing for The Nutmeg, you've got about four diving trophies, and you stole Sebastian away from Donna LaDonna. Sounds to me like you get everything you want."

For a moment, there's a painful silence. "I don't know about that," The Mouse says. "Do any of us ever get what we really want?"

"You do," Maggie says. "You and Peter."

"And Lali. And you, Maggie," I insist. "Besides, I didn't exactly steal Sebastian from Donna LaDonna. He said he wasn't seeing her. And even if he were--well, it's not exactly like she's a friend of mine. It's not like I owe her or anything."

"Try telling her that," Lali mutters as she grinds the cigarette butt under her boot.

"Who cares about Donna LaDonna?" Maggie says loudly. She looks at Peter. "I am so sick of her. I don't want to hear anyone mention her name ever again."

"Agreed," Peter says reluctantly.

"Well," I say.

Peter glances away as he lights a cigarette, then turns to me. "So you know Smidgens expects you to write another story for the newspaper now."

"That's fine."

"What are you going to write about?" Lali asks. She takes another cigarette from the pack, looks at it, and puts it behind her ear.

"I guess I'll have to think of something," I say, wondering once again why she's being so strange.
^ CHAPTER NINETEEN

Ch-ch-ch-changes
"Maggie, this isn't right," I hiss. School has just ended, and The Mouse, Maggie, and I are hiding in Maggie's Cadillac.

"Okay. What about Lali?" The Mouse asks, changing the subject. "Didn't you think she was weird this morning up at the barn?"

"She's jealous," Maggie says.

"That's what I think," The Mouse agrees.

"She's a very jealous person," Maggie adds.

"No, she isn't," I protest. "Lali's confident, that's all. People take it the wrong way."

"I don't know, Bradley," The Mouse says. "I'd be careful if I were you."

"Okay, guys. There he is. Everyone duck!" Maggie commands as we hit the floor.

"This is so wrong," I mutter.

"You're the one who wants to be the writer," Maggie says. "You should want to find out."

"I do, but not like this. Why can't we just ask him?"

"Because he won't tell us," Maggie replies.

"Mouse? What do you think?"

"I don't care," The Mouse says from the backseat. "I'm only along for the ride." She sticks her head up and looks out the rear window. "He's in the car! He's leaving the parking lot! Hurry, or we'll lose him."

So much for The Mouse's lack of involvement, I think.

Maggie bolts up, puts the car into gear, and steps on the gas. She drives the wrong way out of the parking lot, and when we reach a dead end she continues right over the grass.

"Jesus Christ!" The Mouse exclaims, clutching onto the front seat as Maggie makes a sharp turn to the left. In seconds, we're two cars behind Walt's orange hatchback.

"Not too obvious, Mags," I remark drily.

"Oh, Walt will never notice," she says obliquely. "Walt never notices anything when he's driving."

Poor Walt. Why did I ever agree to Maggie's harebrained scheme to follow him? For the same reason I took her to get the birth control pills. I can't say no to anyone. Not to Maggie, not to Sebastian, and not to Lali, either.

Lali got those damn tickets for Aztec Two-Step, and now we're all set to go the weekend after Christmas vacation.

But that's still weeks away. And besides, I have to admit I'm dying to know where Walt is sneaking off to after school.

"I'll bet he has a new girlfriend," Maggie says. "And I'll bet she's older. Like Mrs. Robinson. She's probably somebody's mother. That's why he's being so sneaky."

"Maybe he really is studying."

Maggie gives me a look. "Come on. You know how smart Walt is. He's never had to study. Even when he says he's studying, he's always doing something else. Like reading about eighteenth-century chamber pots."

"Walt is into antiques?" The Mouse asks, surprised.

"He knows everything about them," Maggie says proudly. "We used to have this plan: We were going to move to Vermont. Walt was going to have an antique store and I was going to raise sheep and spin the fleece into wool and knit sweaters."

"How...quaint," The Mouse says, catching my eye.

"I was going to grow vegetables, too," Maggie adds. "And have a farm stand in the summer. We were going to become vegetarians."

And look at what happened to that scheme, I think, as we pass through town in pursuit of Walt.

He drives past the Fox Run Mall and continues down Main Street. At one of the two lights in town, his car makes a left and heads toward the river.

"I knew it," Maggie says, gripping the steering wheel. "He has a secret assignation."

"In the woods?" The Mouse scoffs. "There's nothing down there but trees and empty fields."

"Maybe he killed someone accidentally. And he's buried the body and now he's going back to make sure it hasn't risen to the surface." I light up a cigarette and sit back, wondering how far this can possibly go.

The road leads straight to the river, but instead of continuing on the dirt track, Walt makes another sharp turn under the highway. "He's heading for East Milton," Maggie shouts, stating the obvious.

"What's in East Milton?" The Mouse asks.

"A doctor's office."

"Carrie!" Maggie exclaims.

"Maybe he has a job as a male nurse," I say innocently.

"Carrie, will you please shut up?" Maggie snaps. "This is serious."

"He could be a male nurse. It's going to be a very chic profession in the next ten years."

"All the doctors will be women, and all the nurses will be men," The Mouse says.

"I would not want a male nurse." Maggie shudders. "I would not want any man I did not know touching my body."

"What about a one-night stand?" I ask, razzing her. "I mean, what if you went out and you met a guy and you thought you were madly in love with him and you had sex with him like three hours later?"

"I'm crazy about Peter, okay?"

"Anyway, it might not count," says The Mouse. "If you knew him for three hours, you'd kind of know him, wouldn't you?"

"It would have to be like the zipless fuck in Fear of Flying."

"Please, do not say 'fuck.' I hate that word. It's 'making love,'" Maggie says.

"What's the difference between 'making love' and 'fucking' anyway? I mean, really?" I ask.

"Fucking is just intercourse. Making love is intercourse plus all the other stuff," The Mouse says.

"I can't believe you haven't had sex with Sebastian yet," Maggie declares.

"Well..."

Maggie turns around to look at The Mouse in disbelief, which causes her to nearly drive off the road. When we recover, Maggie says, "You're still a virgin," as if it's some kind of crime.

"I don't like to think of myself as a 'virgin.' I prefer to think of myself as 'sexually incomplete.' You know. Like I haven't finished the course yet."

"But why?" Maggie asks. "It's not even a big deal. You think it's a big deal until you do it. And then you think, 'God, why did I wait so long?'"

"Come on, Maggie. Everyone has their own timetable. Maybe Carrie isn't ready," The Mouse says.

"All I can say is that if you don't do it with Sebastian soon, somebody else will," Maggie intones ominously.

"If that happens, it means Sebastian wasn't the right guy for her," The Mouse insists.

"Besides, I think they already have," I quip. "Done it with Sebastian in the past, anyway. And, hey, I've only been seeing the guy for two months."

"I was only seeing Peter for two days when we did it," Maggie says. "Of course, our circumstances were special. Peter had been in love with me for years."

"Maggie. About Peter--" The Mouse begins.

I want to caution her that now is probably not the time to bring up the truth about Peter, but it's too late.

"I think 'high school' and 'college' are two separate categories for him. When he goes to Harvard, he's going to leave Castlebury behind. He has to. Otherwise, he won't succeed."

"Why not?" Maggie challenges.

"Mags," I say, giving The Mouse a look. "Mouse isn't talking about you, per se. She only means that he's going to have to study a lot, and he might not have as much time for a relationship. Right, Mouse?"

"Sure. All of our lives are going to be different. We're all going to have to change."

"I, for one, am not going to change," Maggie says, resolute. "No matter what happens, I'm always going to be me. I think that's the way people should behave. Decently."

I agree. "No matter what happens, we should all swear that we'll always be ourselves at all times."

"Do we have a choice?" The Mouse asks drily.

"Where are we?" I ask, looking around.

"Good question," The Mouse mutters. We're on a rutted asphalt road that appears to be in the middle of nowhere.

On either side are rocky fields, dotted with a few rundown houses. We pass an auto repair shop and a yellow house with a sign that reads SUNSHINE DOLL REPAIR, DOLLS LARGE AND SMALL. Ahead of us, Walt suddenly swerves into a small driveway next to a long, white, industrial-looking building.

The building has a large metal door and small, blacked-out windows; it looks deserted.

"What is this place?" Maggie asks, as we slowly drive past.

The Mouse sits back and folds her arms. "It doesn't look good, that's for sure."

We go a little further, until Maggie finds a place to turn around. "A place you don't want to know about," I say aloud, echoing Sebastian's warning.

"What?" Maggie asks.

"Nothing," I say quickly, as The Mouse and I exchange a look. The Mouse taps Maggie on the shoulder. "I think we should go home. You're not going to like this."

"Like what?" Maggie says. "It's a building. And it's our duty as friends to find out what Walt is up to."

"Or not." The Mouse shrugs.

Maggie ignores her, following the driveway around to the back where we find a lot hidden from the street. It contains several cars, including Walt's.

A secret back entrance is flanked by neon signs that say things like VIDEOS, TOYS, and--as if that isn't enough-- LIVE SEX.

"I don't get it." Maggie glares at the hot purple and blue signs.

"It's a porn place."

"Maggie, you really don't want to be here," The Mouse warns again.

"Why not?" Maggie asks. "Do you think I can't handle it?"

"No, I don't."

"I can't handle it," I say in sympathy. "And it's not even my ex-boyfriend in there."

"I don't care." Maggie parks the car next to a Dumpster, grabs a pack of cigarettes, and gets out. "If you guys want to come, fine. Otherwise you can stay in the car."

Now there's a change. I lean across the seat and call to her from the window. "Mags, you don't know what's in there."

"I'm going to find out."

"You're going to confront Walt? What's he going to think when he finds out you've spied on him?"

Maggie walks away. The Mouse and I look at each other, get out of the car, and follow her.

"Come on, Magwitch. It's bad form, following someone around like this. Especially if he's trying to keep it a secret. Let's go."

"No!"

"Okay," I say, backing off. I point to the Dumpster. "We'll hide behind there. We'll wait a few minutes and if nothing happens, we'll go home."

Maggie takes another look at the entrance. Her eyes narrow. "Fine."

We skittle behind the Dumpster. It's freezing now, and I wrap my arms around my chest, jumping up and down to keep warm.

"Will you stop that?" Maggie hisses. "Someone's coming." I dive into a bush next to the Dumpster, scramble around for a bit, and sit back on my heels.

A souped-up Mustang screeches into the lot. Black Sabbath blares from the car as the door opens and the driver gets out. He's a large muscular guy, and when he glances around surreptitiously, I recognize Randy Sandler, who was two years ahead of us and the quarterback on the football team.

"Ohmigod. Randy Sandler just went in."

"Randy Sandler?" The Mouse asks. She and Maggie crawl over to join me.

"This is my fault," Maggie says. "If I hadn't stopped seeing Walt, he wouldn't need to come here for sex. He must be suffering from a terrible case of blue balls."

"Blue balls is a myth," I whisper loudly. "It's one of those lies men tell women to get them to have sex."

"I don't believe it. Poor Walt," Maggie groans.

"Shhhh," The Mouse commands as the door swings open.

Randy Sandler appears again, but this time he's not alone. Walt comes out behind him, blinking in the light. He and Randy exchange a few words and laugh, then they both get into Randy's car. The engine roars to life, but before they pull away, Randy leans over and kisses Walt on the mouth. After a minute or so, they separate; then Walt pulls down the vanity mirror and smoothes his hair.

For a moment, there's silence, save for the thumping of the muffler. Then the car pulls away as we squat, motionless, listening to the sound of the engine until it fades into a low peep.

"Well." Maggie stands up and brushes herself off. "That's that, I guess."

"Hey," The Mouse says gently. "You know what? It's all for the best. You're with Peter, and now Walt is with Randy."

"It's like A Midsummer Night's Dream," I add hopefully, "where everyone ends up with the person they're supposed to be with."

"Uh-huh," Maggie says blankly as she heads for the car.

"And you have to admit, Randy Sandler is pretty good-looking. He was one of the best-looking guys on the football team."

"Yeah," I say. "Think about how many girls would be jealous if they knew that Randy was--"

"Gay?" Maggie suddenly screams. "That Randy and Walt are gay? And they're lying to everyone about it?" She yanks open the car door. "It's great. Just great. Thinking for two years that some guy is in love with you and then finding out that he doesn't even like girls? And all the time you were with him he's been thinking about"--she pauses, takes a breath, and shrieks--"some other guy!"

"Maggie, take it easy," The Mouse says.

"I will not take it easy. Why should I?" Maggie starts the engine, then shuts it off and buries her face in her hands. "We were going to move to Vermont. We were going to have an antique store. And a farm stand. And I believed him. And all that time he was lying."

"I'm sure he wasn't," The Mouse says. "He probably had no idea. Then when you guys broke up--"

"He loved you, Mags. He really loved you. Everyone knows that," I say.

"And now everyone is going to know how stupid I was. Do you have any idea how utterly dumb I feel right now? I mean, could I be any dumber?"

"Maggie." I shake her arm a little. "How were you supposed to know? I mean, a person's sexuality is...kind of their own business, right?"

"Not when they hurt other people."

"Walt would never hurt you on purpose," I say, trying to reason with her. "And besides, Mag. This is about Walt. It's not really about you."

Oops. There's an expression of fury I've never seen on Maggie's face before. "Oh yeah?" she snarls. "Then why don't you trying being me for a change?" And she bursts into tears.
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