A princess on Another Planet


НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
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^ CHAPTER ELEVEN

Competition
"I hear Donna LaDonna is seeing Sebastian Kydd," Lali says, adjusting her goggles.

What? I dip my toe into the water as I tug on the straps of my Speedo, trying to compose myself. "Really," I say casually. "How'd you hear that?"

"She told the two Jens and they're telling everyone."

"Maybe she's making it up," I say, stretching my legs.

"Why would she do that?"

I get up on the block next to her and shrug.

"On your mark. Get set. Go!" Coach Nipsie says.

As we're both airborne, I suddenly shout, "I went on a date with Sebastian Kydd."

I catch a glimpse of her shocked expression as she belly flops into the pool.

The water's cold, barely seventy-five degrees. I swim one lap, turn, and when I see Lali coming up behind me, start pounding the water.

Lali's a better swimmer than I am, but I'm the better diver. For almost eight years now, we've been competing with each other and against each other. We've gotten up at four a.m., swallowed weird concoctions of raw eggs to make us stronger, spent weeks at swimming camp, given each other wedgies, made up funny victory dances, and painted our faces with the school colors. We've been screamed at by coaches, berated by mothers, and made little kids cry. We're considered a bad combination, but so far, no one's been able to separate us.

We swim an exhausting eight-lap medley. Lali passes me on the sixth lap, and when I hit the wall, she's standing above me, dripping water into my lane. "Nice way to freak out the competition," she says as we high-five.

"Except it's true," I say, grabbing my towel and rubbing my head.

"What?"

"Last night. He came to my house. We went to a museum. Then we went to his house and made out."

"Uh-huh." She flexes her foot and pulls it up to her thigh.

"And he spent a summer living in Rome. And"--I look around to make sure no one is listening--"he bites his nails."

"Right, Bradley."

"Lali," I whisper. "I'm serious."

She stops stretching her leg and looks at me. For a second, I think she's angry. Then she grins and blurts out, "Come on, Carrie. Why would Sebastian Kydd go out with you?"

For a moment, we're both stunned into one of those terrible awkward moments when a friend has gone too far and you wonder if ugly words will be exchanged. You'll say something nasty and defensive. She'll say something hurtful and cruel. You wonder if you'll ever speak again.

But maybe she didn't mean it. So you give her another chance. "Why wouldn't he?" I ask, trying to make light of it.

"It's only because of Donna LaDonna," she says, backtracking. "I mean, if he's seeing her...you wouldn't think he'd start seeing someone else, too."

"Maybe he isn't seeing her," I say, my throat tight. I'd been looking forward to telling Lali everything about the date, turning over each little thing he said and did, but now I can't.

What if he is seeing Donna LaDonna? I'll look like a complete and utter fool.

"Bradshaw!" Coach Nipsie shouts. "What the hell is wrong with you today? You're up on the planks."

"Sorry," I say to Lali, as if somehow it's all my fault. I grab my towel and head to the diving boards.

"And I need you to nail the half gainer with a full twist for the meet on Thursday," Coach Nipsie calls out.

Great.

I climb the rungs to the board and pause, trying to visualize my dive. But all I can see is Donna LaDonna and Sebastian together that night at The Emerald. Maybe Lali is right. Why would he bother chasing me if he's still seeing Donna LaDonna? On the other hand, maybe he isn't seeing her and Lali's just trying to mess me up. But why would she do that?

"Bradshaw!" Coach Nipsie warns. "I don't have all day."

Right. I take four steps, come down hard on my left foot, and pop straight up. As soon as I'm in the air, I know the dive is going to be a disaster. My arms and legs flail to the side as I land on the back of my head.

"Come on, Bradshaw. You're not even trying," Coach Nipsie reprimands.

Usually, I'm pretty tough, but tears well up in my eyes. I can't tell if it's from the pain in my head or the humiliation to my ego, but either way, they both hurt. I glance toward Lali, hoping for sympathy, but she isn't paying attention. She's seated in the bleachers, and next to her, about a foot away, is Sebastian.

Why does he keep popping up unexpectedly? I'm not prepared for this.

I get back on the board. I don't dare look at him, but I can feel him watching. My second attempt is a little better, and when I get out of the water, Lali and Sebastian have started talking. Lali looks up at me and raises her fist. "Go, Bradley!"

"Thanks." I wave. Sebastian catches my eye and winks.

My third dive is actually pretty good, but Lali and Sebastian are too engaged in their animated conversation to notice.

"Hey," I say, squeezing water out of my hair as I stride over.

"Oh, hi," Lali says, as if she's seeing me for the first time that day. Now that Sebastian is here, I figure she must be feeling pretty cheesy about what she said.

"Did it hurt?" Sebastian asks as I sit down next to him. He pats the top of my head and says sweetly, "Your noggin. It looked like it took some damage there."

I glance at Lali, whose eyes are the size of eggs. "Nah." I shrug. "Happens all the time. It's nothing."

"We were just talking about the night we painted the barn," Lali says.

"That was hysterical," I say, in an attempt to behave as if all of this is normal, as if I'm not even surprised to find Sebastian waiting for me.

"You want a ride home?" he asks.

"Sure." He follows me to the locker room door, and for some reason, I'm relieved. I suddenly realize I don't want to leave him alone with Lali.

I want him all to myself. He's too new to share.

And then I feel like a crap heel. Lali is my best friend.

I slip out to the parking lot through the gym instead of the pool, my hair still wet, my jeans clinging uncomfortably to my thighs. I'm halfway across the asphalt when a beige Toyota pulls up beside me and stops. The window rolls down and Jen S sticks her head out. "Hey, Carrie," she says, all casual. "Where are you going?"

"Nowhere."

Jen P leans across her. "Want to go to the Hamburger Shack?"

I give them a deliberately skeptical look. They've never asked me to go to the Hamburger Shack before--hell, they've never asked me to go anywhere. Do they really think I'm that dumb?

"Can't," I say vaguely.

"Why not?"

"I have to go home."

"You have time for a hamburger," Jen S says. It might be my imagination, but I detect a slight threat in her tone.

Sebastian honks his horn.

I jump. Jen S and Jen P exchange another look. "Get in," Jen P urges.

"Really, guys. Thanks. Some other time."

Jen S glares at me. And this time there is no mistaking the hostility in her voice. "Suit yourself," she says as she rolls up the window. And then they just sit there, watching as I walk up to Sebastian's car and get in.

"Hi," he says, leaning over to kiss me.

I pull away. "Better not. We're being watched." I point out the beige Toyota. "The two Jens."

"Who cares?" he says, and kisses me again. I go along with it but break away after a few seconds. "The Jens," I say pointedly. "They're best friends with Donna LaDonna."

"And?"

"Well, obviously they're going to tell her. About you and me," I say cautiously, not wanting to be presumptuous.

He frowns, turns the key in the ignition, and slams the stick into second gear. The car leaps forward with a screech. I peek out the back window. The Toyota has pulled right up behind. I slump down in the seat. "I can't believe this," I mutter. "They're following us."

"Oh, for Christ's sake," he says, looking into the rearview mirror. "Maybe it's time someone taught them a lesson."

The engine roars like a wild animal as he puts the car into fourth gear. We take a sharp turn onto the highway and hit seventy-five. I turn around to check the progress of the Toyota. "I think we're losing them."

"Why would they do this? What is wrong with these girls?"

"Boredom. They don't have anything better to do."

"Well, they'd better find someone else to tail."

"Or what? You're going to beat them up?" I giggle.

"Something like that." He rubs my leg and smiles. We take a sharp turn off the highway and onto Main Street. As we approach my house, he slows down.

"Not here." I panic. "They'll see your car in the driveway."

"Where then?"

I consider for a moment. "The library."

No one will think to look for us there, except maybe The Mouse, who knows that the Castlebury Public Library is my favorite secret place. It's housed in a white brick mansion, built in the early 1900s, when Castlebury was a booming mill town and had millionaires who wanted to show off their wealth by building grand mansions on the Connecticut River. But hardly anyone has the money to keep them up now, so they've all been turned into public properties or nursing homes.

Sebastian whips into the driveway and parks behind the building. I hop out and peek around the side. The beige Toyota is slowly making its way down Main Street, past the library. Inside the car, the two Jens are swiveling their heads around like swizzle sticks, trying to find us.

I bend over, laughing. Every time I try to straighten up, I look at Sebastian and burst out into hysterics. I stumble around the parking lot and fall to the ground, holding my stomach.

"Carrie?" he says. "Is it really that funny?"

"Yes," I cry. And I collapse into another wave of laughter while Sebastian looks at me, gives up, and lights a cigarette.

"Here," he says, handing it to me.

I get up, holding on to him for support. "It is funny, isn't it?"

"It's hilarious."

"How come you're not laughing?"

"I am. But I like watching you laugh more."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It makes me happy." He puts his arm around me and we go inside.

I lead him up to the fourth floor. Hardly anyone comes up here because all the books are on engineering and botany and obscure scientific research that most people don't want to bother trekking up four flights to read. In the middle of the room is an old chintz-covered couch.

We're at least half an hour into an intense make-out session when we're startled by a loud angry voice.

"Hello, Sebastian. I was wondering where you'd run off to."

Sebastian is on top of me. I look over his shoulder and see Donna LaDonna looming over us, like an angry Valkyrie. Her arms are crossed, emphasizing her formidable chest. If breasts could kill, I'd be dead.

"You're disgusting," she sneers at Sebastian before she focuses her attention on me. "And you, Carrie Bradshaw. You're even worse."

"I don't get it," I say in a small voice.

Sebastian looks guilty. "Carrie, I'm sorry. I had no idea she would react that way."

How could he have "no idea"? I wonder, my anger growing. It's going to be all over the school tomorrow. And I'm the one who's going to look like either a fool or a bitch.

Sebastian has one hand on the wheel, tapping the fake wood inlay with a ragged nail, as if he's as perplexed by this as I am. I'm probably supposed to yell at him, but he looks so cute and innocent, I can't quite muster the energy.

I look at him hard, folding my arms. "Are you seeing her?"

"It's complicated."

"How?"

"It's not that simple."

"It's like being a little bit pregnant. You either are or you're not."

"I'm not, but she thinks I am."

And whose fault is that? "Can't you tell her you're not seeing her?"

"It's not so easy. She needs me."

Now I really have had enough. How can any self-respecting girl respond to this nonsense? Am I supposed to say, "No, please, I need you too"? And what's up with this old-fashioned "neediness" stuff, anyway?

He pulls into my driveway and parks the car. "Carrie--"

"I should probably go." There's a bit of an edge to my voice. But what else am I supposed to do? What if he does like Donna LaDonna better and he's only using me to make her jealous?

I get out of the car and slam the door.

I race up the walk. I'm nearly at the door when I hear the quick, satisfying tread of his footsteps behind me.

He grabs my arm. "Don't go," he says. I allow him to turn me around, put his hands in my hair. "Don't go," he whispers. He tilts my face up to his. "Maybe I need you."
^ CHAPTER TWELVE

You Can't Always Get What You Want
"Maggie, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," she says coldly.

"Are you angry at me?" I gasp.

She stops, turns, and glares. And there it is: The international girl face for "I'm mad at you, and you should know why, but I'm not going to explain it."

"What did I do?"

"It's what you didn't do."

"Okay, what didn't I do?"

"You tell me," she says, and starts walking.

I run through a variety of scenarios but can't come up with a clue.

"Mags." I chase after her down the hall. "I'm sorry I didn't do something. But I honestly don't know what that something is."

"Sebastian," she snaps.

"Huh?"

"You and Sebastian. I come to school this morning and everyone knows all about it. Everyone except me. And I'm supposed to be one of your best friends."

We're nearly at the door to assembly, where I will have to walk in knowing that I'm going to have to face the hostility of Donna LaDonna's friends, as well as a small army of kids who aren't her friends, but want to be.

"Maggie," I plead. "It just happened. I didn't exactly have time to call you. I was planning to tell you first thing this morning."

"Lali knew," she says, not buying my explanation.

"Lali was there. We were at the pool when he came by to pick me up."

"So?"

"Come on, Magwitch. I don't need you mad at me as well."

"We'll see." She pulls open the door to the auditorium. "We'll talk about it later."

"Okay." I sigh as she heads off. I skittle along the back wall and hurry down the aisle to my assigned seat, trying to attract as little attention as possible. When I finally reach my row, I stop, startled by the realization that something is terribly wrong. I check the letter "B" to make sure I haven't made a mistake.

I haven't. But my seat is now occupied by Donna LaDonna.

I look around for Sebastian, but he's not there. Coward. I have no choice. I'm going to have to brazen it out.

"Excuse me," I say, making my way past Susie Beck, who has worn purple every day of her life for the last two years; Ralph Bomenski, a frail, white-skinned boy whose father owns a gas station and makes Ralphie work there in all kinds of weather; and Ellen Brack, who is six feet tall and is giving off the impression that she'd prefer to disappear--a sentiment I understand completely.

Donna LaDonna is oblivious to my progress. Her hair is like a giant dandelion seed, obstructing her view. She's talking with great animation to Tommy Brewster. It's the longest conversation I've ever witnessed between them. Nonetheless, it makes sense, as Tommy is part of her clique. Her voice is so loud you can practically hear her from three rows away.

"Some people don't know their place," she says. "It's all about pecking order. Do you know what happens to chickens that don't stay in their place?"

"No," Tommy says dumbly. He's noticed me, but quickly returns his eyes to their proper spot--on Donna LaDonna's face.

"They get pecked to death. By the other chickens," Donna says ominously.

Okay. Enough. I can't stand here forever. Poor Ellen Brack's knees are up to her ears. There simply isn't enough room for both of us.

"Excuse me," I say politely.

No response. Donna LaDonna continues her tirade. "And on top of that, she's trying to steal another girl's boyfriend."

Really? Donna LaDonna has stolen just about every one of her friends' boyfriends at one time or another, simply to remind them that she can.

"Notice I said trying. Because the most pathetic thing about it is that she hasn't succeeded. He called me last night and told me what a"--Donna suddenly leans forward and whispers in Tommy's ear so I can't make out the word--"she is."

Tommy laughs uproariously.

Sebastian called her?

No way. I can't let her get to me.

"Excuse me," I say again. But this time it's much louder and with much more authority. If she doesn't turn around, she's going to look like a complete idiot.

She turns. Her eyes slide over me like slow-burning acid. "Carrie," she says. "Since you seem to be a person who likes to change the rules, I thought we'd change our seats today."

Clever, I think. Unfortunately, not allowed.

"Why don't we switch seats another day?" I suggest.

"Oooooh," she says mockingly. "Are you afraid of getting in trouble? A Goody Two-shoes like you? Don't want to ruin your precious record, do you?"

Tommy throws back his head as if this, too, is hilariously funny. Jeez. He would laugh at a stick if someone told him to.

"All right," I say. "If you won't move, I guess I'll have to sit on top of you."

Childish, yes. But effective.

"You wouldn't dare."

"Oh really?" And I lift my handbag as if I'm about to place it on her head.

"I'm sorry, Tommy," she says, getting to her feet. "But some people are simply too juvenile to bother with." She brushes past me on her way out, deliberately stepping on my foot. I pretend not to notice. But even when she's gone, there's no relief. My heart is thumping like an entire brass band. My hands are shaking.

Did Sebastian really call her?

And where is Sebastian anyway?

I manage to get through assembly by berating myself for my behavior. What was I thinking? Why did I piss off the most powerful girl in the school over a guy? Because I got the opportunity, that's why. And I took it. I couldn't help myself. Which makes me a not-very-logical and perhaps not-very-nice person as well. I'm really going to get into trouble for this one. And I probably deserve it.

What if everyone is mad at me for the rest of the year?

If they are, I'll write a book about them. I'll send it into the summer writing program at The New School, and this time I'll get in. Then I'll move to New York and make new friends and show them all.

But right as we're shuffling out of assembly, Lali finds me. "I'm proud of you," she says. "I can't believe you stood up to Donna LaDonna."

"Eh, it was nothing." I shrug.

"I was watching the whole time. I was afraid you were going to start crying or something. But you didn't."

I'm not exactly a crybaby. Never have been. But still.

The Mouse joins us. "I was thinking.... Maybe you and me and Danny and Sebastian could go on a double date when Danny comes up to visit."

"Sure," I say, wishing she hadn't said this in front of Lali. With Maggie mad at me, the last thing I need is for Lali to feel left out as well. "Maybe we can all go out. In a group," I say pointedly, adding, for Lali's sake, "Since when did we start needing boyfriends to have fun?"

"You're right," The Mouse says, catching my drift. "You know what they say: A woman needs a man about as much as a fish needs a bicycle."

We all nod in agreement. A fish may not need a bicycle, but it sure as hell needs friends.

"Ow!" Someone pokes me in the back. I turn, expecting to see one of Donna LaDonna's lieutenants. Instead, it's Sebastian, holding a pencil and laughing.

"How are you?" he asks.

"Fine," I say, heavy on the sarcasm. "Donna LaDonna was sitting in my seat when I got to assembly."

"Uh-huh," he says noncommittally.

"I didn't see you in assembly."

"That's because I wasn't there."

"Where were you?" I can't believe I just said that. When did I turn into his mother?

"Does it matter?" he asks.

"There was a scene. With Donna LaDonna."

"Nice."

"It was ugly. Now she really hates me."

"You know my motto," he says, playfully tapping me on the nose with his pencil. "Avoid female trouble at all costs. What are you doing this afternoon? Skip swim practice and let's go somewhere."

"What about Donna LaDonna?" It's the closest I can come to asking if he called her.

"What about her? You want her to come too?"

I glare at him.

"Then forget about her. She's not important," he says as we take our seats in calculus.

He's right, I think, opening my book to the chapter on rogue integers. Donna LaDonna is not important. Calculus is, along with rogue integers. You never know when a rogue integer is going to show up and ruin your entire equation. Perhaps that's how Donna LaDonna feels about me. I am a rogue integer and I must be stopped.

"Carrie?"

"Yes, Mr. Douglas?"

"Could you come up here and finish this equation?"

"Sure." I pick up a piece of chalk and stare at the numbers on the blackboard. Who could ever imagine that calculus would be easier than dating?

"So the long knives are out," Walt says, referring to the assembly incident with a certain degree of satisfaction. He lights a cigarette and tilts back his head, blowing smoke into the rafters of the dairy barn.

"I knew he liked you," The Mouse says triumphantly.

"Mags?" I ask.

Maggie shrugs and looks away. She's still not talking to me.

She grinds her cigarette under her shoe, picks up her books, and walks off.

"What's eating her?" The Mouse asks.

"She's mad at me because I didn't tell her about Sebastian."

"That's stupid," The Mouse says. She looks at Walt. "Are you sure she's not mad at you?"

"I've done absolutely nothing. I am blame-free," Walt insists.

Walt has taken the breakup awfully well. It's been two days since Walt and Maggie had their "talk," and their relationship seems to be nearly the same as it was before, save for the fact that Maggie is now officially dating Peter.

"Maybe Maggie's mad at you because you're not more upset," I add.

"She said she thought we made better friends than lovers. I agreed," Walt says. "You don't get to make a decision and then be angry about it when the other person agrees with you."

"No," says The Mouse. "Because that would require a certain degree of logic. It's not a criticism," she says quickly, catching the warning expression on my face. "But it's true. Maggie isn't the most logical person."

"But she is the nicest." I'm thinking I'd better go after her, when Sebastian appears.

"Let's get out of here," he says. "I just got accosted by Tommy Brewster who kept asking me something about chickens."

"You guys are too cute," Walt says, shaking his head. "Just like Bonnie and Clyde."

"What should we do?" Sebastian asks.

"I don't know. What do you want to do?" Now that we're in Sebastian's car, I suddenly feel insecure. We've seen each other three days in a row. What does it mean? Are we dating?

"We could go to my house."

"Or maybe we should do something." If we go to his house, all we'll do is make out. I don't want to be the girl who only has sex with him. I want more. I want to be his girlfriend.

But how the hell do I do that?

"Okay," he says, resting his hand on my leg and sliding it up my thigh, "Where do you want to go?"

"Don't know," I say glumly.

"The movies?"

"Yeah." I perk up.

"There's a great Clint Eastwood retrospective at the Chesterfield Theatre."

"Perfect." I'm not sure I know exactly who Clint Eastwood is, but having agreed, I don't know how to admit it. "What's the movie about?"

He looks at me and grins. "Come on," he says, as if he can't believe I would ask such a question. "And it's not amovie. It's movies--plural. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Outlaw Josey Wales."

"Fantastic," I say, with what I hope is enough enthusiasm to cover up my ignorance. Hey, it's not my fault. I don't have any brothers, so I'm completely ignorant about guy culture. I sit back in the seat and smile, determined to approach this date as an anthropological adventure.

"This is great," Sebastian says, nodding his head as he becomes more and more excited about his plan. "Really great. And you know what?"

"What?"

"You're great. I've been dying to check out this retrospective forever and I can't think of any other girl who would go with me."

"Oh," I say, pleased.

"Normally girls don't like Clint Eastwood. But you're different, you know?" He takes his eyes off the road for a second and looks at me. His expression is so earnest, I can almost picture my heart melting into a little pool of sticky sweet syrup. "I mean, it's kind of like you're more than a girl." He hesitates, searching for the perfect description. "It's like--you're a guy in a girl's body."

"What?"

"Take it easy. I didn't say you looked like a guy. I meant you think like a guy. You know. You're kind of practical but tough. And you're not afraid to have adventures."

"Listen, buster. Just because someone is a girl doesn't mean she can't be tough and practical and have adventures. That's the way most girls are--until they get around guys. Then guys make them act all stupid."

"You know what they say--all guys are assholes and all women are crazy."

I take off my shoe and hit him.

Four hours later, we stumble out of the theater. My lips are raw from kissing, and I feel slightly woozy. My hair is matted and I'm sure I've got mascara smudged all over my face. As we step out from the darkness into the light, Sebastian grabs me, kisses me again, and pushes back my hair.

"So what'd you think?"

"Pretty good. I love the part where Clint Eastwood shoots Eli Wallach down from the noose."

"Yeah," he says, putting his arm around me. "That's my favorite part too."

I pat my hair, trying to make myself look slightly respectable and not like I've been making out with a guy in a movie theater for half the day. "How do I look?"

Sebastian steps back and grins appraisingly. "You look just like Tuco."

I swat his butt. Tuco is the name of the Eli Wallach character, aka "the Ugly."

"I think that's what I'm going to call you from now on," he says, laughing. "Tuco. Little Tuco. What do you think?"

"I'm gonna kill you," I say, and chase him all the way across the parking lot to the car.
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