To my daughter Katherine, who is finally old enough to read one of my books!

Название To my daughter Katherine, who is finally old enough to read one of my books!
Дата публикации28.06.2013
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Alex Flinn

Author's Note
 To my daughter Katherine, who is finally old enough to read one of my books!
Trying something new is hard. I'd like to thank the following people for their help, and also for reassuring me that it wasn't just a crazy idea: Joyce Sweeney (and various members of her Friday group), Marjetta Geerling, George Nicholson, Phoebe Yeh, Catherine Onder, Savina Kim, and Antonia Markiet.
Special thanks to my daughter Meredith for listening to numerous versions of Beauty and the Beast, often without pictures.
Mr. Anderson:Welcome to the first meeting of the Unexpected Changes chat group.
Mr. Anderson:Anyone here? Or should I say, anyone going to admit being here?
BeastNYC joined the chat.
Mr. Anderson:Hello, BeastNYC.
Mr. Anderson:Hello? I see you there, BeastNYC. Want to introduce yourself?
BeastNYC:Don't want to talk 1st… anyone else here?
Mr. Anderson:Yes, we seem to have a lot of lurkers who joined the chat before you.
BeastNYC:Let them talk 1st then.
Mr. Anderson:Anyone else want to give a shout-out to BeastNYC?
SilentMaid:Hello, BeastNYC. Should we call you Beast?
BeastNYC:Whatever. Doesn't matter.
Mr. Anderson:Thanks for speaking up, Silent— pardon the pun. What sort of creature are you?
SilentMaid:A mermaid. Just a little one.
Mr. Anderson:You were transformed into a mermaid?
SilentMaid:Actually, I'm currently a mermaid, but I'm *considering* a transformation. I thought this group might help me make my decision.
Mr. Anderson:That's what we're going to talk about tonight—the experience of transformation, how you became what you are.
Froggie:wer u trnsfrmd, Andy?
Mr. Anderson:Well, no. But I've set this up to help you all.
BeastNYC: You're a girl, SilentMaid? I mean, a female, er, fish. A mer*maid*
Froggie:Hw cn u hlp us wen u dnt know wat is like
SilentMaid:Beast, yes, I am. I'm thinking of becoming a human girl.
Mr. Anderson:Froggie, I've studied your type of case. Extensively. I've written a thesis on The Effects of Transformation on True Love, based upon the works of Grimm, LePrince de Beaumont, Aksakov, Quiller-Couch, and Walt Disney…
BeastNYC:Location, Silent?
SilentMaid:I'm sure you're very qualified, Andy. It was nice of you to set this up :)
Mr. Anderson:Thanks, Silent.
SilentMaid:Beast, I'm inDenmark . Actually, the Atlantic Ocean, nearDenmark .
Froggie:Frgve me asking bt is hard typin w webbed fet.
SilentMaid:Denmark. It's inEurope .
Froggie:I mean FEET.
Mr. Anderson:Understood, Froggie. I think it will be good for you guys—and girl too—to get together and chat.
Grizzlyguy joined the chat.
Grizzlyguy:I want to talk about these 2 girls I saw.
BeastNYC:I know whereDenmark is. Since the curse, I've had lots of time to study, cuz I have no life.
Mr. Anderson:Good observation, BeastNYC. We'll also discuss the lifestyle changes brought about by transformation.
BeastNYC:Cold there, Silent!
SilentMaid:Yes, it is. But it's warm under the water.
Grizzlyguy:I want to talk about these 2 girls!
BeastNYC:U single, Silent?
Grizzlyguy:These 2 girls—1 is RoseRed & she's really hotttt!!!
SilentMaid:Sort of single, Beast. I think I know where this is going…
Froggie:hardest prt 4 me is eatin flys
Grizzlyguy:The other one is Snow White
SilentMaid:I'm single, but there's this one particular guy … a sailor
Grizzlyguy:Not "that* Snow White. A different one— RoseRed's sis. Quiet. She's nice 2.
Froggie:dont Ik flys
BeastNYC:Thing is, Silent, I'm looking to meet a girl, a girl who could love me.
SilentMaid:Flattering, Beast, but I'm in love w/another. There was a boy on a sailboat. I saved him from drowning.
Mr. Anderson:Can we not *all* talk at once?
BeastNYC:But we don't have anyone 2 talk 2 usually.
Froggie:Lnly being a frg whenur not rlly 1.
Mr. Anderson:Understood. Still, we need to take turns so the threads aren't too confusing. This is the first session, so I thought we'd discuss how we got the way we are—how we were transformed.
Froggie:Thts ez—pissed off a witch.
SilentMaid:Considering a deal with a witch, here. Sea Witch, actually. My voice for human legs. That's why I'm Silent.
BeastNYC:U type great, Silent.
SilentMaid:Thanks, Beast. I have fingers, not claws.
Mr. Anderson:Beast, why don't you tell us about your transformation?
BeastNYC:I don't feel like it.
Mr. Anderson:You're among friends, Beast.
Grizzlyguy:Yeah, go ahead so I can talk about the 2 girls.
BeastNYC:You know *2* girls, Prince??? Where are *you* located???
Mr. Anderson:This isn't a dating service, Beast.
BeastNYC:Yeah, well I could use one. It's hard meeting girls when you look like Chewbacca! And I need to meet 1 to end my curse.
Mr. Anderson:You need a support network too. That's why I set this up.
SilentMaid:Please, talk to us, Beast. You're among friends.
BeastNYC:All right, all right. The first thing you need to know about me is, I'm a beast.
Froggie:henc the SN.
Mr. Anderson:No flames, Froggie.
BeastNYC:Yeah, right. But there was a time when I would have said about a fat girl, "She's a beast." I'm not a beast like that. I'm an animal. Fur, claws, you name it. Everything about me is an animal, except the inside. On the inside, I'm human still.
Grizzlyguy:Ditto here.
BeastNYC:It's really hard for me because before I was a beast, I was…well, beautiful. Cool, popular, rich. Like, my friends at school, they'd elected me their prince.
Grizzlyguy:Elected? Prince?
Froggie:princ not elcted Bst…i ws a princ once
BeastNYC:It's a long story.
Froggie:i ws a princ
Mr. Anderson:We have nothing but time, Beast. Talk to us.
BeastNYC: OK. It all started because of a witch.
Froggie:thts hw they all strt

^ PART 1 A Prince and a Witch
I could feel everyone looking at me, but I was used to it. One thing my dad taught me early and often was to act like nothing moved me. When you're special, like we were, people were bound to notice.
It was the last month before the end of ninth grade. The substitute teacher was giving out ballots for spring dance court, something I'd normally have thought was lame.
"Hey, Kyle, your name's on this." My friend Trey Parker flicked my arm.
"No duh." When I turned Treys way, the girl next to him—Anna, or maybe Hannah—looked down. Huh. She'd been staring at me.
I examined the ballot. Not only was my name, Kyle Kingsbury, there for ninth-grade prince, but I was the sure winner. No one could compete with my looks and my dad's cash.
The sub was a new one who might still have been under the mistaken impression that because Tuttle was the type of school that had a salad bar in the cafeteria and offered courses in Mandarin Chinese—i.e., a school where the serious money people in New York sent their kids—we weren't going to bust on him like public school dregs. Big mistake. It wasn't like anything the sub said was going to be on an exam, so we were trying to figure out how to make reading the ballot and scratching in our choices take the entire fifty-minute period. At least most of us were. The rest were texting each other. I watched the ones who were filling out their ballots glancing over at me. I smiled. Someone else might have looked down, trying to act all shy and modest, like they were ashamed of having their name there—but it doesn't make sense to deny the obvious.
"My name's there too." Trey flicked my arm again.
"Hey, watch it!" I rubbed my arm.
"Watch it yourself. You've got this stupid grin on your face like you already won, and now you're giving the paparazzi a chance to snap your picture."
"And that's wrong?" I grinned wider, to bug him, and gave a little wave like people in parades. Someone's camera phone snapped at just that moment, like an exclamation point.
"You shouldn't be allowed to live," Trey said.
"Why, thank you." I thought about voting for Trey, just to be nice. Trey was good for comic relief, but not too gifted in the looks department. His family was nobody special either—his dad was a doctor or something. They might post the vote totals in the school newspaper, and it'd be pretty embarrassing for Trey if he came in last or even didn't get any votes at all.
On the other hand, it would be cool if I got two or three times the votes of the next-closest person. And besides, Trey worshipped me. A real friend would want me to win big. That's another thing my dad always said: "Don't be a sucker, Kyle, and do things out of friendship or love. Because what you always end up finding out is the only one who really loves you is you."
I was seven or eight when he first said that, and I asked, "What about you, Dad?"
"You love…"Me. "Us. Your family."
He gave me a long look before saying, "That's different, Kyle."
I never asked him again if he loved me. I knew he'd told the truth the first time.
I folded my ballot over, to keep Trey from seeing I'd voted for myself. Of course, I knew he voted for himself too, but that was different.
That's when a voice came from the back of the room.
"This is disgusting!"
We all turned.
"Maybe someone left a booger under her desk," Trey whispered.
"Was it you?" I said.
"I don't do that anymore."
"Disgusting," the voice repeated. I stopped talking to Trey and looked at where the voice was coming from, this Goth freak sitting in back. She was a fat chick, dressed in the kind of flowing black clothes you usually only see on witches or terrorists (we don't have uniforms at Tuttle; it would piss off the parents not to be able to buy Dolce & Gabbana), and her hair was green. Obviously a cry for help. Weird thing was, I'd never noticed her before. Most people here I'd known my whole life.
The sub was too stupid to ignore her. "What's disgusting, Miss…Miss…"
"Hilferty," she said. "Kendra Hilferty."
"Kendra, is there something wrong with your desk?"
"There is something wrong with this world." She stood like she was making a speech. "Something very wrong when it's the twenty-first century and this type of elitist travesty is still being perpetuated." She held up her ballot. People giggled.
"It's a ninth-grade dance ballot," Trey volunteered. "To choose the royalty."
"Exactly," the girl said. "Who are these people? Why should they be treated as royalty? Based upon … what? The people on this ballot were chosen on one basis and one basis only—physical beauty."
"Sounds like a good basis to me," I said to Trey, not too softly. I stood. "That's BS. Everyone voted, and this is who they chose. It's a democratic process."
Around me there were some thumbs-ups, some Yeah, mans, particularly from Anna or Hannah. But I noticed that a lot of people, mostly the ugly people, were silent.
The girl took a few steps toward me. "They're sheep, following the herd. They vote for the so-called popular people because it's simple. Surface beauty, blond hair, blue eyes"— she was looking at me—"is always easy to recognize. But if someone is braver, stronger, smarter, that's harder to see."
She pissed me off, so I jumped on her. "If someone's so smart, they'd figure out how to get better-looking. You could lose weight, get plastic surgery, even get your face scraped and your teeth bleached." I emphasized the you in the sentence, so she'd know I meant her and not just some general sort of you. "My dad's a network news guy. He says people shouldn't have to look at ugly people."
"Is that what you think?" She raised a dark eyebrow. "That we should all transform ourselves to be as you want us to be, Kyle Kingsbury?"
I started at my name. I was sure I'd never seen her before. But of course she knew me. Everyone did. Probably had some pathetic crush on me.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah. That's what I think. That's what I know."
She walked toward me. Her eyes were light green and her nose was long and hooked down. "Then you'd better hope you never get ugly, Kyle. You are ugly now, on the inside, where it matters most, and if you ever lost your good looks, I bet you wouldn't be smart or strong enough to get them back. Kyle Kingsbury, you are beastly."
Beastly. The word was from another time and place. It made me think of fairy tales, and I felt this weird tingling, like the hairs on my arms had caught fire from her eyes. I brushed it off.
"That Goth chick in English was weird," I said to Trey when we were dressing out for PE.
"Yeah, she really freaked you out," he agreed.
"After ten years looking at your ugly face, nothing freaks me out."
"Oh, okay, so that's not why you've been beastin about it ever since we left English?"
"Have not." But it was true. When the girl said that thing about how I'd better not ever get ugly, when she looked at me that last time, it was like she knew stuff about me, things like how I used to cry when my mom ditched 'cause I didn't think I'd ever see her again (which wasn't far from what happened). But that was stupid. She knew nothing.
"Whatever you say," Trey said.
"It was scary, all right," I agreed. "Scary that people like that even exist."
"And go to this supposedly exclusive school and ruin it for the rest of us."
"Yeah. Someone ought to do something about her."
I really did believe that. I'd been trying to act like it wasn't a big deal, being elected prince and all, but it kind of was. It should have been a good day for me, but that witch had to ruin it.
That was how I was thinking of her: a witch. Ordinarily, I'd have used a different word, a word that rhymed with witch. But something about the girl, the way she'd looked at me with those freaky eyes, a color green I'd never seen before, made me think witch. Witch totally described her.
Later, in the gym, I saw the witch again. We were running the indoor track, but she wasn't. She hadn't dressed out but was still wearing the black flowing clothes from before. She sat on a bench below the skylight. Above her, the sky was dark. It was going to rain.
"Someone ought to teach her a lesson." I thought of her words: You are ugly now, on the inside, where it matters most… you are beastly. What utter crap. "She's no different than anyone else. If she could hang with our crowd, she would. Anyone would."
And in a second, I knew what I was going to do.
I sped up my pace. We had to do five laps around the track, and usually I did it at a leisurely pace, because once you finished, Coach made you start something else. It was BS that I even had to take PE when I was on two school teams. But I knew Coach thought so too, so I could usually get out of it. If you gave Coach the right respectful look— the type of look that made him remember the kind of checks your dad wrote for athletic association fundraisers to make up for not showing up—you got away with stuff.
Even going slow, I finished half a lap ahead of the next-closest person and started across the track to the bench where the witch was sitting, looking at something in her lap.
"Kingsbury!" Coach yelled. "If you're through, you can get out the basketballs."
I said, "All right, Coach." I started to walk away, like I was going to do it, then winced. "Oh, I've got a cramp I need to work out. Can I go stretch? Wouldn't want to get an injury."
Insert respectful look here.
"Aw, go ahead." Coach laughed. "You're miles ahead of the others anyway."
Worked. "You rock, Coach!"
He laughed.
I limped until his back was turned, then strolled over to the bench where the witch girl was sitting. I started to stretch.
"You're really good at playing the adults, aren't you?" she said.
"I'm excellent at it." I smiled at her. "Hey." I saw the object in her lap. It was a mirror, one of those old-fashioned ones with a handle, like in Snow White. When she saw me looking at it, she quick slipped it into her backpack.
"What's the mirror for?" I asked, thinking it was weird for an ugly chick to be carrying around a big mirror. Weird for anyone, really.
She ignored the question. "How's your leg?"
"What?" I stopped in mid-stretch. "Oh, it's fine, actually. Fine. I really just came over to talk to you."
She raised an eyebrow. "To what do I owe this honor?"
"I wouldn't say it was an honor. I was just… thinking."
"That must have been quite an experience for you."
"I was thinking about what you said in class. And I decided you're right."
"Really?" She blinked a few times, like a rat coming out of its dark hole.
"Yeah, really. We do judge people by looks around here. Someone like me…face it, I'm a lot better than average-looking, and I have an easier time than…"
I shrug. "I wasn't going to get that specific. My dad, he's on the news, so I know how it is. In his business, you lose your looks, you lose your job."
"Does that seem right to you?"
"I never had to think about that, you know? I mean, you can't help what you're born with."
"Interesting," she said.
I smiled at her, the way I did at girls I liked, and moved closer, even though I almost hurled doing it. "You're pretty interesting yourself."
"By interesting, you mean weird?"
"You can be weird in a good way, can't you?"
"Fair enough." She looked at her watch, like there was somewhere she had to be, like we weren't all trapped like rats in PE. "So was that what you came over to tell me?"
"No, actually. I was thinking about what you said, and I thought maybe I ought to … expand my horizons a little." That was a Dad phrase. He was always saying I should expand my horizons, which usually meant doing more work. "You know, meet other kinds of people."
"Ugly people?"
"Interesting people. People I haven't met before."
"Like me?"
"Exactly. So I was wondering if, um, if you'd go with me to the dance next week. I think we'd have a good time."
She stared at me, and the green parts of her eyes seemed to flash and looked like they might boil over the sides of her skinny nose. Impossible. Then she smiled. It was a weird kind of smile, a secretive one.
"Yes. Yes, I want to go with you."
Of course she did.
I wasn't home two minutes when Sloane Hagen, a typical toned, BlackBerry-wired, Evian-swigging, fake blonde, belly-pierced daughter of a CEO and my real date for the dance, called my cell. I hit Ignore. She rang again. And again. Finally, I caved.
"Some Goth chick is telling everyone she's your date for the dance!" she shrieked.
Play it cool. You expected this.
"Does it sound likely that I'd ask some misfit to the dance?"
"Then why's she telling everyone you did?"
"I can't control what every unbalanced freak says about me."
"So you didn't ask her?"
"Are you trippin'? Why would I ask some skank when I'm already going with the hottest girl in school?" I put on my special "just for Sloane" voice. "We're the perfect couple, babe."
She giggled. "That's what I thought. I'll just tell everyone she's messed up."
"No, don't."
"Why not?" She was suspicious again.
"Well, it's kind of funny, isn't it? Some loser telling everyone she's going to the biggest dance of the year with your date?"
"I guess so."
"So picture it. She tells everyone I'm her date. Maybe she even believes it and gets a fancy dress. Then I show up at the dance with you. It's classic."
"I love you, Kyle." Sloane giggled. "You're so evil."
"Evil genius, you mean." I laughed a wild laugh like a villain in a cartoon. "So what do you think?"
"When you're right, you're right. It's classic."
"Exactly. So you just have to do one thing to make it happen—keep your mouth shut."
"Sure. But Kyle?"
"You'd better not try anything like that on me. I wouldn't be dumb enough to fall for it."
I wasn't so sure about that, but said, "Never, Sloane," obedient as aLabrador .
"And Kyle?"
"Yeah, what?"
"My dress is black and it has very little material."
"Hmm. Sounds nice."
"It is. So I'd like an orchid to go with it. A purple one."
"Sure," I said, thinking that was the great thing about Sloane. With most people I knew, actually. If they could get what they wanted from you, they'd give you what you wanted back.
After I got off the phone, I looked in the school directory for that Kendra girl. I didn't really trust Sloane when she said she wouldn't tell Kendra anything, so I figured I should call Kendra for some damage control.
But when I looked in the directory under H, there was no Kendra Hilferty. So I went through every single name in the book, A to Z, and then back again, and still didn't find any Kendra. I tried to remember if she'd been there at the beginning of the year but gave up. A girl like her wouldn't be on my radar.
Around nine, I was watching the Yankees kick butt when I heard Dad's key in the lock. That was weird. Most nights, Dad was out until I went to bed. I could have watched in my room, but the plasma screen was in the living room. Plus I sort of wanted to tell Dad about the dance court thing. Not that it was a big deal, but it was the kind of thing he might at least notice.
"Hey, guess what?" I said.
"What? I'm sorry, Aaron. I didn't hear you. Someone was trying to talk to me." He waved his hand to me to keep quiet and gave me a "Shut up!" look. He was using the Bluetooth. I always thought people looked totally stupid doing that, like they were talking to themselves. He went into the kitchen and kept talking. I thought about turning up the sound, but I knew he'd freak. He said it sounded low class, having the TV on when he was on a call. Problem was, he was always on a call.
Finally, he got off. I heard him rifling through the Sub-Zero (which was what he always called the refrigerator), looking for the dinner stuff the maid left. Then I heard the microwave open and shut. I knew he'd come out then, because he now had exactly three minutes to kill by talking to me.
Sure enough. "How was school today?"
It was fun. Trey and I ran all the wires well need to detonate the bombs tomorrow. We just have to figure out how to get hold of some submachine guns without you finding out. Shouldn't be hard considering you're never around. I stole your credit card yesterday. Didn't think you'd mind. Or notice.
"Great. They put up the finalists for spring dance court, and I'm one of them. People say I'll probably win."
"That's great, Kyle." He looked down at his cell phone.
I wondered, if I'd said the other thing, would he still have said, "That's great, Kyle."
I tried the one thing that usually got a response from him. "Heard from Mom lately?" Mom left when I was eleven because "there has to be something else out there." She ended up marrying a plastic surgeon and moving toMiami , so she could soak up the rays all she wants and never worry about getting old. Or calling me.
"What? Oh, she's probably drying out somewhere." He looked toward the kitchen, like he was urging the microwave to hurry up. "They canned Jessica Silver today." Jessica was his co-anchor, so the conversation was squarely back to his favorite subject: himself.
"Why?" I said.
"The official word is that it was a slipup in reporting the Kramer incident."
I had no clue what the Kramer incident was.
Dad was still going. "…but between you and me, if she'd lost the last twenty pounds after she had the baby— or, better yet, not had the baby in the first place—she'd still have a job."
Which made me think of what Kendra said. But so what? People wanted to look at someone hot instead of someone fugly. It was human nature. Was that wrong?
"She's totally stupid," I agreed. Dad was looking toward the kitchen again, so I said, "Yankees are kicking butt."
That was when the microwave beeped.
"What?" Dad said. He focused on the TV for maybe a tenth of a second. "Oh, I've got a lot of work to do, Kyle."
Then he took his plate into the bedroom and closed the door.
Okay, maybe Sloane didn't tell Kendra she was my date for the dance. But she definitely told everyone else. When I got to school, two girls who apparently dreamed I was going to ask them blew me off, and Trey was at my side as soon as I walked in the door.
"Sloane Hagen." He held up his hand to high-five. "Nice job."
"Nice enough."
"Nice enough," he imitates. "She's, like, the hottest girl in school."
"Why would I settle for less than the best?"
I figured for sure Kendra knew too, so I was surprised when she came up to me in the hall between classes. "Hey." She linked her arm through mine.
"Hey." I tried not to pull my arm away or see who might be looking at me with this defective attached to me. "Tried to call you last night."
For the first time, she looked flustered. "I'm not in the directory. I'm … um, new this year. Transfer student."
"Figured it was something like that." She was still hanging on me. Some friends of mine walked by, and it was just automatic that I tried to squirm from her grip.
"Ouch!" One of her nails scraped me.
"So, we still on for the dance?"
"Sure. Why wouldn't we be?" She gazed at me.
I was just about to lay it on her, the part about how we needed to meet at the dance because my dad couldn't drive on account of the six o'clock news, when she said, "I think we should just meet there."
"Really? Most girls want, like, a royal escort."
"Nah. It's weird, but my mom might not be totally thrilled about me going to a dance with a boy."
As opposed to what? A werewolf?
This was too good to be true. "Okay. I'll buy your ticket and see you there."
"See you there." She started to walk away.
I did too, then remembered what Sloane had said, about the corsage. I figured I should ask her, to make it seem real. "Kendra, what color dress are you wearing? My dad says I'm supposed to get a corsage."
"Oh, I haven't decided what I'm wearing yet. Something black—it's my signature color. But a single white rose goes with everything, doesn't it, and it symbolizes purity."
She was so incredibly ugly that I imagined for a second what it would be like if I actually was planning on taking her to the dance, leaning toward her, looking at her mossy teeth and hooked nose, and those weird green eyes, and pinning on the corsage while all my friends stood and laughed at me. For a second I wondered if she really was a witch. Impossible. There was no such thing as witches.
"You got it," I said. "So I'll see you at the dance?"
"It will be a night to remember."
The day of the dance, I got into the tuxedo Magda, the new maid, rented for me with Dad's credit card. One great thing about having a dad who's never around is they buy you stuff because it's easier than arguing. Trey's parents, for example, were total cheapskates—like they told him he had to choose between an Xbox and a Wii. Worried about "spoiling" him or something. My dad bought me both. Then I talked to Trey on my cell phone (from Dad) while waiting for the limo (sponsored by … Dad) to arrive. I checked the Sub-Zero for the corsage Magda was supposed to pick up from the florist. Sloane had told me about fifteen or sixteen more times that her dress was "black, very hot" and that I wouldn't be sorry if I got her an orchid corsage. So, of course, that's what I told Magda to buy.
"You ever think that school dances are a form of legalized prostitution?" I said to Trey on the phone.
He laughed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I—by which I really mean my dad—drop five hundred or so on a tuxedo, a limo, tickets, and a corsage, and in return I get some. What does that sound like to you?"
Trey laughed. "Classic."
I looked in the refrigerator for the corsage. "Where the—"
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I gotta go."
I plumbed the depths of the Sub-Zero, but there was no orchid corsage. The only flower in there was a single white rose.
"Magda!" I yelled. "Where the hell's the orchid corsage you were supposed to get? What's up with the rose?" I was pretty sure roses were way cheaper than orchids. "Magda!"
No answer.
I Finally found her in the laundry room, slopping detergent on the collar of one of Dad's shirts. Pretty cushy job if you asked me. Dad worked 24/7 and didn't mess the place up. I was mostly at school or, if not, I stayed as far away from home as possible. So basically, she got a salary and free use of our apartment, and all she had to do was laundry and vacuuming and watch soap operas and fan her butt all day.
That and run a few simple errands, which she obviously couldn't even do right.
"What's this?" I said, shoving the plastic corsage box under her nose. Actually, that wasn't exactly what I said. I added a few swear words that she probably didn't even understand.
She stepped back from my hand. All the necklaces around her neck made a jingling sound. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Beautiful? It's a rose. I said an orchid. Or-chid. Are you so stupid you don't know what an orchid is?"
She didn't even react to stupid, which just showed how stupid she was. She'd only been there a few weeks, but she was even dumber than the last housekeeper, who got canned for putting her cheap red Wal-Mart T-shirt in with our laundry. Magda didn't stop folding laundry, but stared at the rose, like she was high on something.
"I know what an orchid is, Mr. Kyle. A proud, vain flower. But can you not see the beauty of this rose?"
I looked at it. It was pure white and almost seemed to be growing before my eyes. I glanced away. When I looked back, all I could see was Sloane's face when I showed up with the wrong kind of corsage. I'd get no love from her tonight, and it was all because of Magda. Stupid rose, stupid Magda.
"Roses are cheap," I said.
"A beautiful thing is precious, no matter the price. Those who do not know how to see the precious things in life will never be happy. I wish you to be happy, Mr. Kyle."
Yeah, and the best things in life are free, right? But what would you expect from someone who makes a living washing other people's Jockey shorts?
"I think it's ugly," I said.
She put down the laundry she was holding and, quick as can be, snatched the rose away. "Give it to me, then."
"Are you on crack?" I knocked the box from her hand. It bounced to the floor. "That's probably how you planned it, huh? Get the wrong thing so I don't want it, and I'll give it to you. I don't think so."
She looked at the rose lying on the floor. "I pity you, Mr. Kyle."
"You pity me?" I laughed. "How can you pity me? You're the maid."
She didn't answer, just reached for another of Dad's shirts, like she got off doing laundry.
I laughed again. "You should be scared of me. You should be pissing in your pants. If I tell my dad you wasted his money like that, he'll fire you. He'll probably have you deported. You should be so frightened of me."
She kept folding laundry. She probably didn't even understand English enough to get what I was saying. I gave up. I didn't want to take the rose corsage because that would be admitting I was going to give it to Sloane. But what choice did I have? I picked it up from where it had bounced in the corner. The plastic box was broken, and the corsage was on the floor, a petal knocked off. Cheap junk. I stuck the loose petal into my pants pocket and put the rest of the corsage back in the box best I could. I started to walk away.
That's when Magda said—in perfect English, by the way—"I am not frightened of you, Kyle. I am frightened for you."
I had planned on picking Sloane up in the limo, giving her the corsage, and then reaping the benefits of all that advance planning by at least making out with her in the limo. After all, my dad had spent big, and it was supposed to be the most important night of my life. Being a prince had to be good for something.
That's not how it went down.
First off, Sloane practically burst a vein when she saw the corsage. Or she would've, if there was any room for any bursting in that tight dress she had on.
"What are you, blind?" she demanded, her already toned arm muscles sticking out more from clenching her fists. "I said my dress was black. This totally clashes."
"It's white."
"It's off-white. Duh."
I didn't see how off-white could clash. But hotness had its privileges.
"Look," I said. "The stupid maid screwed up. It's not my fault."
"The maid? You didn't even care enough to go buy it yourself?"
"Who buys things themselves? I'll get you flowers another time." I held out the corsage box. "It's pretty."
"Pretty cheap." She knocked it from my hand. "It's not what I asked for."
I stared at the corsage box on the floor. I wanted to just leave. But at that moment, Sloane's mom showed up with all the latest technology necessary to take both still and action photos of Sloane on my left side, Sloane on my right side, Sloane slightly in front of me. The camera was recording and Ms. Hagen, who was single and who probably wouldn't have minded an intro to my dad, was cooing, "Here's the future prince and princess." So I did what the son of Rob Kingsbury would do. I kicked the cheapo corsage aside and smiled nice for the camera, saying all the right things about how beautiful Sloane looked, how great the dance would be, blah, blah, blah.
And then, for some reason, I picked the corsage off the floor. Another petal had fallen, and I put it in my pocket with the first one. I took the box with me.
The dance was at the Plaza. When we got there, I handed my tickets to the girl who was checking them. She looked at the corsage.
"Pretty flower," she said.
I looked at her to see if she was kidding. She wasn't. She was probably in my classes, a sort of mousy-looking girl with a red braid and freckles. She didn't look like she belonged at the Plaza. She must have been a scholarship student because they made them do all the grunt work like taking tickets. Obviously, no one had asked her to the dance, or ever bought her flowers, not even a cheap, broken rose. I glanced at Sloane, who was having a joyous reunion with fifty close friends she hadn't seen since yesterday, since all the girls blew off school the day of the dance to get pedicures and spa treatments. Sloane had spent most of the ride griping about the corsage—not exactly what I'd planned—and she'd still refused to wear it.
"Hey, you want it?" I said to the girl.
"That's not nice," she said.
"What?" I tried to remember if I'd ever picked on her. Nah. She wasn't ugly enough to tease, just a total zero, not worth my time.
"Goofing on me, pretending you're going to give it to me, then taking it back."
"I wasn't pretending. You can have it." It was so weird that she even cared about a stupid rose. "It's not the right color for my girlfriend's dress or something, so she won't wear it. It's just going to die, so you might as well take it." I held it out to her.
"Well, since you put it that way…" She smiled, taking it from me. I tried not to notice her crooked teeth. Why didn't she just get braces? "Thanks. It's beautiful."
"Hey, enjoy it."
I walked away sort of smiling. Why had I done that? I for sure wasn't in the habit of doing favors for uglies. I wondered if all poor people got that excited over stupid little things like that. I couldn't remember the last time I was excited about anything. Anyway, it was fun, knowing Sloane would eventually stop whining and want the rose, and I'd be able to say I didn't have it.
I looked around for Kendra. I'd almost forgotten about Kendra, but my timing was, as usual, perfect because there she was, slinking into the front entrance. She wore a black and purple dress that looked like a costume for Harry Potter Goes to the Prom and she was looking for me.
"Hey, where's your ticket?" one of the ticket-taking drones said to her.
"Oh … I don't have … I was looking for someone."
I saw a flash of pity on the ticket taker's face, like she knew exactly what was going down, loser to loser. But she
said, "Sorry. I can't let you in without a ticket."
"I'm waiting for my date."
Another pitying look. "Okay," the volunteer said. "Just stand back a little."
I went to Sloane. I pointed at where Kendra was loserishly standing. "Showtime." That was when Kendra spotted me.
Sloane knew just what to do. Even though she was pissed at me, she was the type who'd never miss the opportunity to cause another girl permanent emotional damage. She grabbed me and planted a big kiss on my lips. "I love you, Kyle."
Sweet. I kissed her again, not repeating what she'd said.
When we finished, Kendra was staring at us. I walked over to her.
"What are you looking at, Ugly?"
I expected her to cry then. It was fun to kick the nerds, make them cry, then kick them some more. I'd been looking forward to this night for a while. It almost made up for the corsage crap.
But instead she said, "You really did it."
"Did what?" I said.
"Look at her." Sloane giggled. "She's all dressed up in that ugly dress. It makes her look even fatter."
"Yeah, where'd you find that?" I said. "A trash heap?"
"It was my grandmother's," Kendra said.
"Around here people buy new dresses for a dance." I laughed.
"So you're actually doing this, then?" she said. "You really did invite me to a dance even though you had another date, just to make me look stupid?"
I laughed again. "You actually thought someone like me would take someone like you to a dance?"
"No, I didn't. But I hoped you wouldn't make my decision so easy, Kyle."
"What decision?" Behind me, Sloane was cackling, chanting, "Loser," and soon other people started in until finally the whole room was buzzing with the word so I could barely think straight.
I looked at the girl, Kendra. She wasn't crying. She didn't look embarrassed either. She had this intense look in her eyes, like this chick in this old Stephen King movie I once saw, Carrie, where this girl developed telekinetic powers and took her enemies out. And I almost expected Kendra to start doing that—killing people just by looking at them.
But instead she said in a voice only I could hear, "You'll see."
And she walked out.
Fast-forward through the evening. Picture a typical dance, lame music, chaperones trying to keep us from actually mating on the dance floor. All sort of a pre-party for the real party to follow. But I kept hearing Kendra's words, ringing in my ears: You'll see. Sloane got friendly, and once we got crowned prince and princess, she got even friendlier. With some girls, popularity and the power that goes with it are some kind of aphrodisiac. Sloane was like that. We stood on stage, getting crowned. Sloane leaned toward me.
"My mom's out tonight." She took my hand and put it on her butt.
I removed it. "Great."
You'll see.
She continued, pressing closer, her breath hot in my ear. "She went to an opera—three and a half hours. I called the Met to find out. And she usually gets dinner after. She won't be home until almost one … I mean if you wanted to come over awhile." Her hand slipped down my stomach, edging closer to the Danger Zone. Unbelievable. She was groping me in front of the whole school?
I moved away. "I only have the limo until midnight." Brett Davis, who'd been prince last year, came toward me with my crown. I bowed my head to humbly accept it.
"Use it wisely," Brett said.
"Cheap," Sloane said. "I'm not worth taking a cab? That's what you're saying?"
What did "You'll see" mean? And Sloane and Brett were too close, cutting off my air. Things and people were coming at me from all sides. I couldn't think straight.
"Kyle Kingsbury, answer me."
"Will you just get away from me?" I exploded.
It seemed like everyone and everything in the room stopped when I said that.
"You bastard," Sloane said.
"I have to go home," I said. "Do you want to stay or take the limo?"
You'll see.
"You think you're leaving? Leaving me?" Sloane whispered, loud enough for anyone in a ten-mile radius to hear. "If you leave here, it will be the last thing you'll ever do. So smile, and dance with me. I'm not going to let you ruin my night, Kyle."
So that's what I did. I smiled and danced with her. And afterward, I took her back to her house and drank Absolut vodka, stolen from her parents' bar ("Absolut Royalty!" Sloane toasted), and did everything else she expected and I'd been expecting too, and tried to forget the voice in my head, the voice saying, "You'll see," over and over. And finally, at eleven forty-five, I made my escape.
When I got home, the light was on in my bedroom. Weird. Probably Magda had been cleaning in there and forgot it.
But when I opened the door, the witch was sitting on my bed.
"What are you doing here?" I said it loud enough to hide the fact that my voice was shaking, and sweat was dripping out of every pore, and my blood was pounding like I'd been running the track. And yet I couldn't say I was surprised to see her. I'd been expecting her since the dance. I just didn't know when or how.
She stared at me. I noticed her eyes again, the same bottle color as her hair, and I had this weird thought: What if it was natural, the hair as well as the eyes? What if they'd grown that way?
Crazy. "Why are you in my house?" I repeated. She smiled. I noticed for the first time that she held a mirror, the same one she'd had the first day on the benches. She peered into it as she chanted, "Retribution. Poetic justice. Just deserts. Comeuppance."
I stared. In the moment she spoke, she didn't look as ugly as I remembered her. It was those eyes, those glowing green eyes. Her skin glowed too.
"What do you mean, 'Comeuppance'?"
"It's an SAT word, Kyle. You should learn it. You will learn it. It means well-deserved punishment."
Punishment. Over the years, lots of people—housekeepers, my teachers—had threatened me with punishments. They never stuck. Usually, I could charm my way out of them. Or my dad could pay someone off. But what if she was some kind of crazy psycho?
"Look," I said. "About tonight. I'm sorry. I didn't think you were really going to show up. I knew you didn't really like me, so I didn't think you'd get your feelings hurt." I needed to be nice. She was obviously crazy. What if she had a gun under those big clothes?
"I didn't."
"Didn't what?"
"Like you. Or get my feelings hurt."
"Oh." I gave her the look I usually used on teachers, the "I'm a good kid" look. When I did, I noticed something weird. Her nose, which I'd thought was long and witchlike before, wasn't. Must have been the shadows. "Good. So we're all squared?"
"I didn't get my feelings hurt because I knew you'd blow me off, Kyle, knew you were cruel and ruthless and that, given the opportunity, you would hurt someone…just to show you could."
I met her eyes. Her eyelashes looked different. Longer. I shook my head. "That's not why."
"Then why?" Her lips were blood-red.
"What's going on here?"
"I told you. Comeuppance. You will know what it is like not to be beautiful, to be as ugly on the outside as on the inside. If you learn your lesson well, you may be able to undo my spell. If not, you will live with your punishment forever."
As she spoke, her cheeks reddened. She shed her cloak to reveal that she was a hot—though green-haired—babe. But something was weird—how could she transform like that? I was getting freaked out. But I couldn't back off. I couldn't be afraid of her. So I tried again. Where charm didn't work, bringing my dad in usually did.
I said, "You know my dad's got a lot of money— connections too."
Everyone wants something, Kyle,
"So I know it must be hard being a scholarship student at a school like Tuttle, but my dad can sort of grease the wheels, get you what you want. Money. College recs, even a shot on the evening news if I asked him. What, did you have on a disguise before? You're actually pretty hot, you know. You'd be good on TV."
"Do you really think so?"
"Sure … I…" I stopped. She was laughing.
"I don't go to Tuttle," she said. "I don't go to school at all or live here or anywhere. I am old as the ages and young as the dawn. Otherworldly beings cannot be bribed."
Oh. "So you're saying you're a … a … witch."
Her hair flowing around her face seemed now green, now purple, now black, like a strobe light. I realized I was holding my breath, waiting for her answer.
"Right." I said, understanding. She was truly crazy.
"Kyle Kingsbury, what you did was ugly. And it wasn't the first time. All your life you've gotten special treatment because of your beauty, and all your life you've used that beauty to be cruel to those less fortunate."
"That's not true."
"Second grade, you told Terry Fisher that the reason her head was lopsided was because her mother had slammed it in the car door. She cried for an hour."
"That was kid stuff."
"Maybe. But in sixth grade you had a party at Gameworks and invited the whole class—except two kids, Lara Ritter and David Sweeney. You told them they were too ugly to be allowed in." She looked at me. "Do you think that's funny?"
Yeah. Kind of. But I said, "That's still a long time ago. I had problems then. That was the year my mom left." Kendra seemed inches taller now.
"Last year, Wimberly Sawyer had a crush on you. You asked for her number, then had all your friends torment her with obscene phone calls until her parents got the number changed. Do you know how embarrassing that was for her? Think about it."
For one second I imagined it, what it would be like being Wimberly, telling my dad that everyone at school hated me. And for one second I couldn't bear to think of it. Wimberly hadn't just changed her number. At the end of the year, she'd left Tuttle too.
"You're right," I said. "I was an asshole. I won't do it again."
I almost believed it. She was right. I should be nicer. I didn't know why I was mean and cruel sometimes. Sometimes I'd told myself I'd be nicer to people. But always, in an hour or so, I forgot it, because it felt good to be on top of them all. Maybe a psychologist, one of those guys on TV, would say I did it to feel important, because my parents didn't pay attention to me or something. But that wasn't it, not really. It was just, like, sometimes I couldn't help it.
In the living room, the grandfather clock started to strike midnight.
"You're right," the witch said, spreading her now ripped arms. "You won't do it again. In some countries, when a man steals, they cut off his hand. If a man rapes, he is castrated. In this way the tools of crime are removed from those who commit them." The clock was still striking. Nine. Ten. The room was glowing and almost spinning.
"Are you crazy?" I looked at her hands, to see if she had a knife, if she was going to try and cut something off me. I thought I must be really drunk because this couldn't be happening. She couldn't be doing magic. That's it. It had to be a drunken hallucination.
The clock finished striking. Kendra touched my shoulder, turning me away from her so I faced the mirror over my bureau. "Kyle Kingsbury, behold."
I turned and gaped at the sight that met my eyes.
"What have you done to me?" When I said it, my voice was different. It came out a roar.
She waved her hand with a shower of sparks.
"I have transformed you to your truer self."
I was a beast.
Mr. Anderson:I'm glad so many of you have come back this week. Today, we'll be talking about your family's and friends' reactions to your transformation.
BeastNYC:<- Not talking this time bc spilled guts last time
Mr. Anderson:Why are you so angry, Beast?
BeastNYC:Wouldn't you be angry if you were me?
Mr. Anderson:I'd be trying to think of a way out of my situation.
BeastNYC:no way out.
Mr. Anderson:There's always a way out. No spell is cast without a reason.
BeastNYC:You're taking the WITCH'S side???
Mr. Anderson:I didn't say that.
BeastNYC:Besides, how can you be so sure there's a way out?
Mr. Anderson:I just am.
BeastNYC:How do you know there aren't lots of fish and birds and spiders out there who got transformed and *never* came back?
SilentMaid:I'm sure there are no fish. I'd know about it.
BeastNYC:Do you have some kind of magic powers that let you know that? Because if so, use your powers to put me back the way I was.
Mr. Anderson:Beast…
SilentMaid:Can I say something?
BeastNYC:Please, Silent. Maybe he'll leave me alone.
SilentMaid:It's just, I'd like to talk about the planned topic instead of listening to Beast's rants. I'm considering a transformation, and I'm most concerned about my family's reactions.
Mr. Anderson:Interesting. Why is that, Silent?
SilentMaid:Should be obvious. I'd be doing this voluntarily, unlike the others, and even in the best-case scenario, I'd be rejecting not only my family, but my species.
Mr. Anderson:Tell us more, Silent.
SilentMaid:Well, I love this guy, the one I saved, and I could become human and meet him if I sacrifice my voice. If he falls in love with me = happily ever after. But if he doesn't…well, there's some risk involved.
BeastNYC:How do you know it's true love?
Grizzlyguy:There's always some risk involved when dealing with persons of the witch persuasion.
SilentMaid:It's love on my side, Beast.
Grizzlyguy:<- doesn't think Silent should risk it.
BeastNYC:<- doesn't believe in love.
Froggie:Cn I say smthing & cn you wat 4 me be i typ slo
SilentMaid:Sure, Froggie. We'll wait.
Froggie:It ws hrd 4 me be my famy nvr saw me as a frg. I couldnt talk 2 thm. Thy think i disapprd but i didnt. my sis saw me the 1st day and said eek, a warty frog! She thru me outsid in the muk. Thru me!! it hrts 2 not be able 2 tell them wat hapend.
SilentMaid:That's terrible, Frog. I'm so sorry. {{{{{Froggie}}}}}
BeastNYC:URbetter off not talking 2 thm, Froggie.
Grizzlyguy:U don't know what its like, Beast. You can speak.
SilentMaid:You be nice, Beast. Be a little human.
Mr. Anderson:No yelling, Beast.
Froggie:u thnk so bc u dont no wot its lik not 2 be abl to talk 2 yr fam NE more
BeastNYC:No, Frog. I think so be I know what it's like to be able to talk to your family and have them not want you around, be ashamed of you.
SilentMaid:Wow, Beast, sounds awful.
Grizzlyguy:Yeah, sorry. Tell us about it.
BeastNYC:I don't want to talk about it!
SilentMaid:Talk to us, Beast.
Mr. Anderson:You brought it up. I think you do want to talk about it.
Mr. Anderson:Shouting, Beast. If you do it again, I'll have to ask you to leave.
BeastNYC:Sorry. Caps lock got stuck. Hard typing w/ claws.
BeastNYC:Hey, Grizz, how does a bear have Internet access anyway? Or a frog?
Mr. Anderson:Please don't change the subject, Beast.
Froggie:i sneak in2 the castl 2 use the computr
Grizzlyguy:I took my laptop w me. There's Wi-Fi all over the place now, even in the woods.
Mr. Anderson:I want to hear about your family, Beast.
BeastNYC:Just my father. I only have a father. Had a father.
Mr. Anderson:Sorry. Go on.
BeastNYC:I don't want to talk about my father. Let's change the subject.
SilentMaid: I bet it hurts too much to talk. {{{{{Beast}}}}}
BeastNYC:I didn't say that.
SilentMaid:No, you didn't. You didn't have to.
BeastNYC:Fine. OK fine. It hurts 2 much so i don't want 2 talk about it. Boohoohoo. Everyone happy? Can we talk about someone else now?

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