Read The it girl Online

Authors: Katy Birchall

The it girl

Advertising Download Read Online

THANKSFOR DOWNLOADING THIS EBOOK!

We have SO many more books for kids in the in-beTWEEN age that we'd love to share with you! Sign up for ourIN THE MIDDLE booksnewsletter and you'll receive news about other great books, exclusive excerpts, games, author interviews, and more!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP

or visit us online to sign up ateBookNews.SimonandSchuster.com/middle

For Mum, Dad, Robert, and Charles

1.

I SET JOSIE GRAHAM ONfire.

And, okay, yes it was bad, but it was an accident and notentirelymy fault. Everyone thinks I did it on purpose. They think Mrs. Ginnwell is a hero.

If you ask me, Mrs. Ginnwell made the whole thing worse. A little bit of water would have sorted everything out just fine. It was only the ends of her hair, and a fire extinguisher was a very dramatic plan of action. I mean, Josie was already having a pretty bad day considering I'd just set her on fire and everything, and the next thing she knew she was covered head to toe in that white foamy stuff that always looks like it might be fun to play in but probably isn't. (I think Josie looked more in shock—and a little bit itchy—than like she was having fun.)

I was kind of in shock myself. I'd never set fire to anyone before so the whole incident came as a bit of a surprise. The closest I'vebeen to any kind of arson was when I was little and I put my dad's wallet on the fire log to see what would happen. I mean, who leaves their wallet lying around in the same room as a toddler? Not my father anymore that's for sure. But I still think he looks at me a little bit suspiciously on cold nights.

Oh, and therewasthat time I almost burned down Dad's study. But those two times are IT.

And you know what? This is partly Josie Graham's fault too. Because really, she should not have been (a) leaning on her hand so close to a Bunsen burner and (b) wearing so much hairspray to school.

I'm just jealous because I don't have the time, let alone the skills, for hairspray. Once Dad has eventually wrestled the duvet cover away from me, I have about ten minutes tops to get ready.

My dad would never buy me hairspray anyway. He's so old-fashioned, especially when it comes to his twelve-year-old daughter. I remember one time in a drugstore I asked him if he would buy me eyeliner. He burst out laughing and made me go fetch some Theraflu. I think this is VERY hypocritical as some of the women my dad has dated have worn a LOT of dark eyeliner. How would he feel if, when he introducedthem, I laughed in their face and gave them a mug of hot lemon acetaminophen instead?

Hmm . . . I might consider this for the really annoying ones that get brought home.

A wobbling Mrs. Ginnwell definitely wasn't laughing as she marched me into Ms. Duke's office mumbling something incoherent about fire in the classroom and pyromaniac tendencies.

“Sorry, Mrs. Ginnwell, I didn't quite understand that. What did you say?” Ms. Duke asked, rising from her desk with a look of concern.

Ms. Duke really suits her office. Which sounds strange when I say it out loud, but it just goes with her overall vibe. She's new to the school too. We were both new in September, although obviously she's a bit more senior being principal and everything. I just started seventh grade. Everything considered, I think she has managed to set the better impression out of the two of us so far. This is not great seeing as she gives out detentions and makes people pick up trash from behind the bike rack.

So even though she's only been in that office for a semester and I'm not entirely sure what it looked like before she arrived, it matches her. For example, it's all very neat. Ms. Duke is veryformal and smartly dressed. She looks more like those businesswomen who are always on their hands-free cell phones in train stations barking things like, “That's just not good enough, Jeffrey,” than a principal at a co-ed school.

I like the way she can pull off a pantsuit though. I think if ever I was going to work in an office I would like to wear a pantsuit and look authoritative like Ms. Duke does. And her dark hair is always so neatly pinned and her makeup never smudged. She is very intimidating.

Even more so when you've just set your classmate's hair on fire.

“Chemistry class . . . Anna . . . Anna set . . . hair . . . Josie Graham on fire!” Mrs. Ginnwell finally spluttered.

Mrs. Ginnwell is neither authoritative nor intimidating. She kind of reminds me of a parrot. But not a cool one that would chill with a pirate. An overzealous one that swoops around your head, squawking and whacking you unexpectedly in the face with its wings.

“Is Josie all right?” Ms. Duke asked in alarm.

Mrs. Ginnwell nodded, her curled strawberry-blond hair frizzing around her sweaty forehead. “Fine. Although her hair is quite singed and covered in foam.”

“I see,” Ms. Duke replied, and I swear I saw her smirk fora second. If she did, it was gone in an instant when she caught my eye. “And no one else was hurt in this incident?”

“No.” Mrs. Ginnwell shook her head.

“Well in that case, Anna, you can have a seat and, Jenny, why don't you pop into the teachers' lounge and ask someone to cover your lesson for a bit while you get a cup of coffee.”

Mrs. Ginnwell nodded and slowly released her grip on me. She gave me a very pointed look, as if when let loose I would pull out a flamethrower from my locker and burn the school to the ground. Which is a completely ridiculous thought for her to entertain because last semester I did an excellent essay on penguins. No one who puts that much effort and emotional maturity into a seventh-grade essay about penguins would be spending their free time plotting to destroy their school.

I sat down slowly into the leather chair opposite Ms. Duke, who was settling into her chair behind the desk. The heavy wooden door closed loudly as Mrs. Ginnwell escaped, still glaring at me, and there was a moment of silence as Ms. Duke straightened the forms she had been filling in before we interrupted her afternoon.

“So, why don't you explain to me exactly what happened?”

I took a deep breath and told her how we had been in our chemistry class and Josie and I had been partnered together,which, by the way, neither of us were too happy about. I didn't tell Ms. Duke that part though.

I assumed she would know that it had been an unhappy arrangement. Josie is one of the most popular girls in our grade. She's best friends with Queen Bee, Sophie Parker, and they're always hanging out with the popular boys like Brendan Dakers and James Tyndale. Josie spends her weekends partying and comes to school wearing a full face of makeup and her hair sprayed perfectly into place.

I spend my weekends reading comics, watchingCSIwith my dad, and complaining about my life to my yellow Labrador, called Dog, who is the only creature on this planet who listens to me. And I can only get him to listen if I'm holding a bit of bacon.

So I skipped out the part of the story where Josie looked miserably at Brendan, who she was clearly hoping to be partnered with, and then came to sit next to me with a big sigh and no greeting. She didn't even look at me when I went, “Howdy, partner,” in a courageous attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

I really don't know why that was the greeting I went with.

She couldn't be bothered to do the experiment, so I just got on with it. Now, technically, Mrs. Ginnwell had not explained the Bunsen burner part of the experiment yet as everyone wasputting on their lab coats and goggles. But some people were taking their time, and Josie, leaning on her hand, kept glancing at Brendan, laughing at whatever he was saying to her and flicking her hair dramatically.

I guess this is where it kind of becomes my fault. I should have waited until we were told to start up the Bunsen burners, but I went ahead and turned ours on.

There are a few very important things to remember here:

1. I did not realize it was on the highest flame setting.

2. I did not realize that, just as I turned it on, Josie would flick her hairspray-laden locks in the direction that she did.

3. I did not realize that her hair was quite so flammable.

4. I did not realize that she would run around screaming rather than stay still so that throwing water at her became increasingly difficult, and my aim isn't that good anyway so I actually ended up just soaking myself.

5. I did not expect Mrs. Ginnwell to use so much foam that Josie resembled a poodle.

6. It should also be remembered that I have never been in any real trouble at school before this incident.

7. Apart from that time when I was six and Ben Metton ate my Doritos, so I locked him in the supply closet.

8. The whole fire incident is in fact very upsetting for me too as I didn't mean to do it, I feel awful, and now no one will want to stay friends with me, just like at my last school.

At this point I started crying.

Ms. Duke, who had been staring at me in shock, passed me a tissue. “Well, it sounds to me like it was an accident—” she began.

“Of course it was an accident!” I wailed, interrupting her. “I would never do that on purpose!”

There was a knock on the door, and I turned in my seat to see the school nurse slowly pop her head in. Ms. Duke beckoned her in, and she came forward happily. “I wanted to let you know, Ms. Duke, and you, Anna, that Josie is perfectly fine. Her hair is singed at the end and she'll have to have a haircut, but apart from that she is right as rain.”

“She must hate me,” I said glumly, staring at the damp, crumpled tissue in my hand.

“I'm sure she doesn't. She'll get over it,” the nurse said jovially. “Her hair was so long and straggly anyway, a cut will probably improve things.”

“Um,thankyou, Tricia,” Ms. Duke said pointedly. The nurse gave a cheerful shrug and left.

“There you go, that's something,” Ms. Duke announced. “It was clearly an accident but one that could have had nasty consequences. We've been lucky, Anna.”

I nodded gravely.

“I hope that from now on you won't begin any kind of experiment without instruction.”

“I'm never going to do another experiment again.”

“I hope you will. Chemistry is a fascinating subject, and I imagine you've learned an important lesson with regards to safety.” She looked at me sternly. “Right, well, while we've established this wasn't intentional, I'm going to have to give you detention lasting the remainder of this semester so that you can reflect on the importance of caution. It starts tomorrow. And since it is the end of the day in about ten minutes, you can return to your classroom, gather your things, and go home.”

“I'd rather not go back, to be honest.”

“You don't need anything?”

“It's just my pencil case and books. People have probably thrown them in the trash by now.”

“I'm sure that's not true.” Ms. Duke gave a thin smile. “They all know it was an accident and no harm done. By tomorrow they'll have forgotten the whole thing.”

It's worrying how clueless adults are sometimes.

2.

WHEN MY DAD GETS CONCERNED,his eyebrows become very distracting.

I mean, he wasreally concernedabout the situation. He made me sit down and everything. Dad and I rarely have conversations where we sit each other down. We both become very awkward.

The only other times that he's had to “sit me down to talk” about something were when I signed him up on a dating website because I didn't like his girlfriend at the time and he got all these suspicious e-mails that made her cry, and when I threw a pie at his head because he gave my Marvel comic book encyclopedia to a used bookshop and I happened to be holding a pie when he told me.


Page 2

Dog later ate the pie, which had been cleaned up and put on a plate, because neither Dad nor I were keeping an eye on him during our “sitting down and talking” moment. This justmade the whole situation worse because (a) Dad had apparently been looking forward to eating that pie and (b) Dog decided to rub his pie victory in Dad's face by vomiting it back up over Dad's sneakers.

I don't know why Dad was so angry. The only reason he owns sneakers is so that he can leave them by the door in the hope that women might think he works out.

Anyway, both those times that he “sat me down” his eyebrows were uncontrollable, and I knew, as soon as he asked me to sit to discuss the fire incident and his eyebrows immediately sprung into irrepressible motion, that he was having one of those moments when he wonders whether there is actually something genuinely wrong with me.

Like I don't question that every single day.

And honestly, I really was trying to concentrate on what he was saying, but his eyebrows were jumping around all over the place. It really is fascinating how they have such agility.

Sadly, he has not passed this impressive talent down to me.

“Are you even listening?”

“Of course!” I lied, unlocking my facial muscles from their state of concentration on this intricate eyebrow dance. I patted Dog absentmindedly as he lay next to me, clearly hoping for a treat after this act of loyalty in the face of a Dad Inquisition.

Dad's eyebrows furrowed. “Anastasia,” he prompted, leaning forward and clasping his hands together in what I guessed was an attempt at giving an air of understanding.

“Nicholas.” Two of us could play the I'm So Serious I'm Going to Use Your Full Name game.

Dad took a deep breath.

“I appreciate that changing schools is an upheaval, especially for a pre-teenager. I'm not mad at you—I know it was an accident. But if there's anything you want to, I don't know,discuss?”

“Like what?”

“I don't know. Pre-teenage things?”

Oh lord. I bet he wantedfeelings. This was ambitious. I wasn't going to talk about that with mydad. It was embarrassing enough telling my two new and only friends, Jess and Danny, about each of the latest ways I had managed to humiliate myself and, by association, them too. I'd be lucky if I managed to hold on to those two for much longer the way things were going. Either way, there definitely wasn't any sharing happening with my dad.

“What pre-teenage things?”

“I don't know!” His eyebrows leaped frenziedly toward the ceiling. “Learning to be responsible?”

“Don't bother. I wouldn't listen anyway.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Are you taking this seriously?”

“Yes I am taking this seriously. I set someone's hair on fire; it was dangerous and embarrassing. I will not be touching a Bunsen burner ever again without supervision. The whole school is going to hate me. I'm going to be a bigger loser than I was before. I hate my life.”

“Well that's what I mean,” he said gently. Seriously, I do one tiny thing like set someone on fire, and suddenly my dad feels the need to subject me to weird parental counseling. “It's just . . . at the last school . . . you weren't . . .” He trailed off.

“Ms. Popular?”

“That's not what I was going to say,” Dad said, slumping back into the armchair where he usually sits on a Sunday afternoon with his Irish whiskey. “You weren't . . . settled. I just want to make sure that you're more confident with this new place.”

I had to start a new school when we moved to London last year after Dad became a lot more in demand as a freelance journalist, and he needed to be where everything was happening. Weirdly, this happened after he wrote a really boring book about tanks used in the war or something that actually sold quite well. The book is dedicated to me, but I've never read it,which really bugs him. If you ask me, I should be the insulted one—yeah, Dad, it's every girl's dream to have a book about TANKS dedicated to them.

Incredibly, somehow the serious tank book led to serious articles on famous people—and they all seem to live in London or come here a lot. But it means he is at home a lot more than he used to be, which is good, although he does sometimes go to a celebrity party or whatever. Celebrities like Dad now because he writes big glossy features about them in trendy magazines rather than reporting on their sweat patches in a tiny column of a tabloid.

I think he felt pretty guilty about making me move, but I didn't mind. I didn't really have any friends at my old school, and even though I was a bit nervous about Dog settling down in London at first, he quickly made friends with a Pomeranian called Hamish down the road.

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate your concern. But really? You can stop worrying.”

He sighed, it being clear that I wasn't going to divulge any of the pre-teenage angst he was looking for. “Fine. Well, be more careful in future chemistry classes?”

“If they let me enter a science lab again in my lifetime, yes I'll be more careful. No Bunsen burners.”

“I'm not going to ground you. It's not like you ever really go out anyway.”

“Great, good chat, Dad, thanks.”

He gave a last concerned eyebrow rise and then finally pulled himself up from his chair and left the room. I relaxed, and traitorous Dog immediately followed him just in case he was going in the direction of the kitchen.

Sadly for Dog, Dad went to his bedroom to get ready for his big date. Recently Dad has been seeing someone new who he still hasn't introduced me to. Not that I'm insulted.

Usually he's never with them long enough for me to meet them. I just pick up the phone every now and then and hear a different woman go, “Oh hi, sweetheart, is Nick there please?” and he makes a wild “say I'm not at home” gesture in the background as I explain that he's actually gone to Slovenia to find himself. I like to mix it up and throw in some pretty inspired reasons for his disappearance, such as he's modeling his new line of swimming trunks in Beirut, or he's in Peru training to be a spiritual guide.

This can be risky, however, because if Dad overhears, he throws things at me.

He's been seeing this girlfriend for a few months now though. He's really been quite disgusting about the whole thing.Combing his hair, wearing aftershave, and dancing—dancing—as he goes around the house. Honestly, I had to call Mom and tell her how embarrassed I was.

She was in India at the time so it was a bit crackly, but I think I managed to convey my disgust. Mom is a travel journalist, which means she's away a lot, but I don't mind. Sometimes she takes me with her to these amazing places, and then when she's in England and hasn't seen me in a while, she comes to stay with us too.

Mom and Dad were never married—or even together for very long. They met when they were both junior reporters, and in Dad's words “Rebecca was totally in love” with him, and in Mom's words she was “either very drunk, honey, or suffering from some kind of tropical disease that causes hallucinations.” Either way, I was the outcome, and luckily they're really good friends, which makes things a lot easier.

When I was younger, I kept hoping they would get back together, like inThe Parent Trapor whatever, but now I see that it's actually a lot better this way. Mom says they could never be together because Dad is too opinionated and the way he sneezes creeps her out. Dad says they could never be together because Mom never does the dishes and once mocked John Wayne's hat. I think it's actually because they'rebest friends, but hey, you've got to let adults believe what they want to believe.

“It sounds like he's in love, darling.” Mom laughed down the phone as I explained Dad's recent antics. “Be nice to him.” I'm not sure what other advice she gave me because as she spoke there was a lot of background noise at her end, and I think I could hear someone trying to sell cabbages for twenty rupees a pound. India seems like a very noisy place.

As Dad rummaged around in his bedroom, he decided to start lecturing me from upstairs. “I don't want any problems this evening. You're to stay home and behave,” he instructed.

I found this comment unjustified considering I am very well behaved the majority of the time. I am hardly a troublemaker and I don't get invited to any parties, so I don't really know what he was getting so anxious about.

The most recent time that I guess I wasn't the model of good behavior was when he had a housewarming party for our new place in London and all these people invaded, sauntering in with their wafts of expensive perfume and bottles of Chardonnay. I had to take their coats and walk around for the evening with trays of nibbles, listening to them tell Dad how adorable I was as they ignored me and picked up mini bruschettas from the tray.

Anyway there was this actor there who I overheard saying that he couldn't understand why Nick had thatdogover there that looked like he would slobber all over the place and probably, by the look of the boy, wasn't even a good pedigree. I accidentally let Dog chew his hat.

Dad didn't make me sit down that time and have a talk about respecting my elders or anything, but he talked to me for about five billion hours the next day on the difference between fighter aircrafts and bomber aircrafts in the war.

I'm not sure if that was intended to be a punishment, but it sure felt like one.

“I'm just going to sit and watch movies with Dog. Have a little trust, Father.”

“Not vampire movies?” He snorted with laughter at his own “joke.”

This is not only unfunny but also grossly unfair considering he was the one who last week recommended the stupid people-slaying child-vampire movie to his twelve-year-old daughter, alone in the house with only a Labrador for company.

It's not as if Dog could protect me. He's afraid of spoons for crying out loud. Whenever we get out the big wooden salad spoon, he goes around in circles manically and barks his headoff in fear. What would he do if a vampire strolled into the building? I'd had to disturb Dad on his date and make him come home and check to make sure there were no vampires around.

“When do I get to meet this girlfriend of yours?” I asked, ignoring the vampire movie comment and trying to change the subject.

“Soon enough,” he said breezily, coming back into the room. “She's dying to meet you.”

“I bet.”

Dad did a last mirror-check in the hall. “Not bad for an old man, eh? I reckon I could pass for early thirties.”

“Don't get ahead of yourself, Gramps. Anyone who talks about Eric Clapton with as much passion as you do could never be a day under forty.”

“That's enough from you.” He stood over me. “Are you going to be all right? No fires, yes?”

“No fires. No vampires.”

“Call me if you need me.” He gave my hair a ruffle, and then he shot me a long, hard look as though he was trying to read my face.

“Anna . . .” He hesitated. “You do . . . you dolikeit here in London, don't you?”

“Yes?”

“And you . . . well . . . never mind. Have a nice evening. Bye, Dog.”

As the door closed, I got a very distinct feeling that my father wasn't telling me something.

3.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Are you a pyromaniac?!

So I tried looking for you after school but someone said you'd gone home early. And I've been trying to call and you're not picking up your home phone or cell phone, which I assume means you and Dog are watching something?

What happened today?? Is it true that you set the science room on fire??

Write back asap.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Are you a pyromaniac?!

Dad's out on a date so Dog and I are passing the time by YouTube-ing scenes fromThe Lion King. The reason I can't pick up the phone is because I attempted to lift Dog up as though he was Simba on Pride Rock during that “Circle of Life” song. Anyway, I couldn't do it and he fell back onto me, landing on my arm, which now really hurts and I think I twisted my ankle so I'm staying put on the sofa.

I think he's put on a few pounds.

No, I didn't set the science room on fire. I set Josie Graham's hair on fire.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: ARE YOU INSANE?!

Why would you set fire to Ms. Deputy Queen Bee's hair? You do realize that her mom once met Kate Moss? The school is really going to hate you, you know.

Is this because no one has asked you to the dance yet? Like some kind of protest thingagainst all the girls who have been asked? It's not until the end of semester—you've still got ages for someone to ask you.

J x

PSWhy would you even think it was a good idea to try to lift a fully grown Labrador? Stop trying to act out movies, you weirdo.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: ARE YOU INSANE?!

No, I am not insane. I just need to check that hairspray-laden girls aren't anywhere near Bunsen burners when I turn them on in the future.

The school definitely hates me. Josie looked like she was going to strangle me or something. I feared for my life. It was like that time I peed myself a little bit when the really scary IT teacher at my last school yelled at me for taking paper out of the printer.

Do you think she'll tell Sophie? Do you think Sophie will hate me?


Page 3

That would really be bad news because theother day I could have sworn that Sophie laughed at one of my jokes she overheard me telling Danny in the hall. I thought that maybe she might not think I was such a loser after all.

And, excuse me, but I don't evencarethat no one's asked me to the dance. I don't need a date. Last time I went to a dance I didn't have a date and I was totally fine. I just danced with a balloon. It made everyone laugh but in a “she's really funny” way not in a “laughing at me” way.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Um . . . I'm sorry . . . what?

That e-mail was disturbing on so many levels.

You peed yourself? Dude, how old were you when this happened?

What do you mean you danced with a balloon?

You're making me nervous with all these weird stories from your past.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Um . . . I'm sorry . . . what?

It was two years ago. But only a little pee. It wasn't like I wet myself. She just came out of nowhere and it scared me.

Dancing with a balloon is a reasonable and funny thing to do. It's what Oscar Wilde would have done. It's a scathing comment on our society of dependent and irrational figures who consider themselves incomplete without a significant other.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: It is confirmed, you actually are insane

Maybe don't ever tell anyone else about that pee story.

Ditto the balloon one.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Quick question

Do you still want to be friends with me now that I've set Josie Graham's hair on fire? I completely understand if you don't.

Same for Danny. If I were you guys I wouldn't want to be friends with me.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Quick question

Are you kidding? If we didn't have you as a friend, who would we laugh at?

We need you, if only for entertainment value.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Quick question

Who did you laugh at before I came into your lives?

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Quick question

The weirdo who used to live next door to Danny and sang songs from musicals while wearing a chicken suit.

I think the chicken suit was something to do with his job. Can't be sure.

Anyway, when he moved last summer, Danny and I were bummed. But then you totally filled that gap when you arrived in September.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Now I'm really depressed

Wait. I replaced a guy in a chicken suit who sang songs from Broadway shows?

THAT's WHO I REPLACED IN YOUR LIFE?

I should have setmyselfon fire today.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Now I'm really depressed

You know, if you really wanted to fill the gap left by the chicken-suit man, you could sing songs from musicals in lunch breaks.

My personal favorite isFamebecause I'm fun and amazing. Danny's isMy Fair Ladybecause he's basically an old man and apparently it's based on some play that no one cares about.

Just a tip if you really want to win us over.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: HA

My stage career started and ended when I was forced to be a shepherd in a nativity play. I walked onto the stage, saw everyone staring, burst into tears, and ran straight back off. Into a tree.

Why, I have to ask, was there even a tree involved in the production? Last time I checked,there were no trees in stables in Bethlehem. Our drama teacher was clearly an idiot.

Also I can't sing. Not one note. Sorry to be a disappointment in comparison to chicken-suit man. So as much as I want to stay your friend for the rest of time, I can guarantee you—never going to happen.

I am, however, naturally gifted at setting people on fire.

Maybe my career lies in some kind of flame-inspired capacity. Ooh! Maybe I'll be really good at welding metal with blowtorches or something! THEN I COULD MAKE A SUIT JUST LIKE IRON MAN!

That would be so cool. I need to speak to our technology department. I'm guessing they'll have access to blowtorches? They need to take advantage of my skill set now while I'm young and malleable.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: HA

What's Iron Man? Is it one of those Marvin comic book characters that you're obsessed with? Like that stretchy person?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: HA

Okay, firstly it's Marvel, not Marvin.

Secondly, please do not refer to Mr. Fantastic as “that stretchy person.”

And lastly, yes, Iron Man is a comic book character. Tony Stark develops an iron suit with repulsor beams and flight ability so he can take on bad guys.

Everyone would want to be my friend if I had one of those!

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: HA

Now, you see, it's times like this when Igenuinely worry that you're being serious.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Trust me

I am being serious.

I've just sent Dog on a mission to find Dad's tool kit. He might have something in there I can experiment with.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: You've lost it

You can't send dogs on missions. They can't understand what you're saying. They're DOGS.

Judging by today I think it might actually be best if you avoid any tools that produce flames.

What are you up to tonight, anyway? Let me guess . . . you've finished your homework already (geek) and you're going to watchsome film that was made before we were born (nerd).

Am I correct?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: You're right

Pretty much. Dog came back with a lampshade instead of a tool kit. No idea where that came from. Anyway we are now watching this movie Dad is always going on about by that famous guy called Hitchcock. Bit of a slow start but Dad's recommendations are usually good. This one's meant to be a classic.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: IMPORTANT

What film have you put on, Anna? I mean it—this is important!

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: IMPORTANT

Chill out—it's calledPsycho. Gotta go, it's starting.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: ABORT MISSION. MAYDAY. ABORT MISSION!

Anna—you do not want to watch that movie! I know what you're like with scary movies! It's a horror film!!! TURN IT OFF NOW.

You've turned it off, right?

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: (no subject)

Anna? ANNA? Did you get my last e-mail???

That's it. I'm coming over. Don't build any forts this time.

J x

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“Hi, Dad! Yeah, it's me. I know you're out and about, but I thought I'd call and say hi! And also tell you that I've decided to watch thatPsychomovie you're always talking about. You know, the one by that director Hitchcock you're always giving long and boring speeches about. It was in the DVD player already, and Dog has settled right down so I know he approves. I hope this is entertaining. Enjoy your evening. Okay, bye.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“DAD! Dad, it's me. Dad, something awful has happened! Dad, she got stabbed. IN THE SHOWER. I can't BELIEVE that you let me watch something like that, that you actually ENCOURAGED me to watch that film. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? I hope you know what this means. I WILL NEVER SHOWER AGAIN.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“Hey, Dad, so I was thinking. Maybe you could come home soon? Just quickly, you wouldn't have to miss anything. You could just come home, check the house for murderers, and then go back on out. Think about it. Okay, bye. OH MY GOD. THE DOORBELL JUST RANG. DAD, DAD, YOU HAVE TO COME HOME.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“Um, Mr. Huntley? Uh yeah, hi, this is Jess. You know, Anna's friend from school. Just to let you know that you can ignore all those messages she left you. I came over and found her in the closet, hiding behind the vacuum, holding your golf club. She's a bit better now though, so you don't need to worry. Lucky I know where your spare key is, hey? Anyway, hope you enjoy your evening. Uh yeah, bye.”

4.

JESS WAS WAITING BY MYlocker when I came into school the next day.

“Morning, sunshine. How are you feeling?”

“Um,” I replied, trying to ignore the glares of everyone passing us. “Not brilliant.”

“I thought you might say that, which is why I bought you some of these.” She reached into her bag and pulled out some gummy bears.

“Thanks, but I'm not sure even gummy bears can help this time.”

“Look, don't worry about these guys,” she said, gesturing to a group of sixth graders who giggled as they walked past. It looked like the whole school knew. “It will all blow over.”

“I don't think it will somehow. I'm destined to be the girl who set Josie Graham on fire for the rest of my school career.”

“Don't be silly. It was an accident; everyone knows that.” Jess shrugged.

“Really?”

“Of course. Danny said he overheard Brendan Dakers saying it was an accident.”

“What?” I said in utter shock. “Brendan Dakers said that? Are you sure?”

“Yes. Try not to swoon too much. It'll probably work in your favor, considering for some unknown reason people in this school tend to hang on his every word.” She rolled her eyes. “Apparently he also said it was hilarious to watch.”

“Something tells me that Josie won't have found it so funny.” The first bell rang, and I sighed. “I wish I didn't have to go to class.”

“Just laugh about it—no one was hurt.” Jess gave me a friendly nudge. “It's like I said last night.”

“Speaking of which, Dad wanted me to thank you again for coming over and rescuing me. Who knows how long I would have been in that closet for.”

“No worries. Right, I better go, otherwise I'm going to be late, and I've already been given a warning about my tardiness.” Jess swung her bag over her shoulder.

“Jess, you can't leave me. Sophie Parker is in this class.She's going to kill me. You don't get away with setting fire to her best friend lightly.”

“How could she kill you? She doesn't have any weapons.”

“I'm not sure that would stop her.”

“I think her sister had a black belt. She used to go to school here. She might have taught Sophie how to karate-chop you.”

“A lot of saliva is building up in my mouth right now.”

“Calm down. Sophie is not going to kill you. And if she was, then she would definitely wait until after school so as not to make it look suspicious.”

“Great. Thanks for that.”

“I hope she doesn't kill you.”

“You're a good friend.”

Jess gave me a cheerful wave and walked off into the direction of her class.

I stood there wishing I could be more like Jess. She's beautiful, super cool and confident, and never seems to worry about anything. She has long, blond dip-dyed hair and always paints her nails loads of different colors. She's good at every sport she plays and captain of the volleyball team, which made Sophie Parker really mad.


Page 4

Sophie expected to be captain since she is pretty much in charge of everything else that goes on, being the most populargirl in our grade. Apparently her sister was the most popular girl in this school when she was here and was captain of all the sports teams. When Sophie wasn't appointed captain of the volleyball team, her parents were very upset about it and came in to speak to our PE teacher, while Sophie cried behind them.

Dad has never had this sort of problem with me. I peaked in physical education when I was eight and was forced to join a soccer activity at school. I was distracted by a pigeon, the ball came my way, deflected off my butt, and bounced into the goal. My sporting career has gone downhill ever since.

Anyway, Sophie dragging in her parents didn't faze our PE teacher, who stuck to her guns and told them Jess was captain, fair and square. Upsetting the most popular girl in our grade didn't exactly do much for Jess's popularity, but Jess got over that pretty quickly.

Our friendship was actually born that day, right after Sophie and her parents stormed out of the gym having not got their way. Jess was waiting for her best friend, Danny, and I was waiting for Dad to come to get me to pick up Mom from the airport (who came to stay for a week to see the new house and ask me unending questions about my first week at the new school).

We were standing in silence a few feet apart, and I noticed she looked pretty down. I guess because Sophie and her sidekick, Josie, had made it clear what they thought about Jess being made captain. I offered her a cookie, but she just shook her head in a “stop bugging me” way. I nodded, and we stood in silence again.

“You had a bad day?” I asked after a few minutes.

“Yeah.” She sighed, folding her arms. “Pretty bad.”

I was thoughtful for a moment. “Want me to do a tap dance for you?”

She blinked at me. “What?”

“To cheer you up. Here.” I put my bag down and launched into what was not really a tap dance, because I've never done tap dancing and I wasn't wearing tap shoes. But it always made my dad laugh when I attempted it in our living room, so I thought it might go down well.

Jess watched me, baffled. And when Danny came along to walk home with her, I stopped. She didn't say anything but threw me a big smile over her shoulder as they left. The next day when I arrived at school, preparing for yet another terrifying morning of being the new girl no one was interested in, they both came over to me and asked if I needed showing around the place.

Ever since then Jess and Danny have really taken care of me at school. They showed me the ropes, like where to stand in assembly so you don't get spat on by over-enthusiastic teachers during announcements, and how to get the lunch ladies to give you second helpings.

Jess even picks me to be on her team in PE despite knowing I'm completely useless. I did tell her last semester that she didn't have to do that, and I wouldn't be insulted as I know I'm one of the worst.

“Whatever, Anna,” she'd replied breezily. “It's not a pity thing. I like having you on my team. It's more of a challenge to win that way. And you know I love a challenge. Plus you provide excellent comic relief.”

She can say what she likes—I know she picks me because she doesn't want me to be last.

Yep, it definitely would have been good right now to be Jess, but I wasn't. I was me. It stank. I walked into class apprehensively, noticed that the room hushed, and went to sit down in my chair. Immediately a shadow fell over my desk, and I blinked up to see Sophie Parker staring down at me with her arms folded, her light gray eyes narrowing at me, and her glossy highlighted hair falling neatly around her shoulders.

“Hannah, isn't it?” she said.

“Um. Anna.”

“Right. Jess Delby's best friend.”

Uh-oh.

“So I heard about what happened yesterday, obviously. What you tried to do tomybest friend. What is wrong with you? You could have really hurt her.”

“Don't exaggerate, Sophie. Josie had her hair singed and that was it,” a voice piped up from the corner.

Sophie spun around to see who had dared defy her, and Connor Lawrence, leaning back in his chair looking very pleased with himself, stared right back at her mischievously through his dark bangs.

Great. I groaned inwardly. Of all the people to come to my defense, it had to be someone like Connor Lawrence. He has fewer friends than me. And I only have two. (Three if you count Dog, but Jess and Danny say that I can't, which personally I find unreasonable.)

“Um, who evenareyou?”

My heart sank as Connor ignored Sophie entirely and went on. “If Josie had any brains, she would have just turned on the faucet right next to where she was sitting and shoved her big head under it.”

There was a nervous titter around the classroom, and Ifelt the tension rising rapidly as Sophie inhaled sharply at the insult to her sidekick. I sat awkwardly, wishing that Connor would just leave it alone.

“Ugh. Don't even bother speaking to me. No one asked you your opinion, weirdo!” Sophie spat angrily before turning toward me again. “Did you set fires at your last school? Is that why you don't have any friends?”

“No, no, of course not. It was—”

“Sit down, Sophie. It was an accident.”

I turned in shock because this time it wasn't just anyone speaking up. Too cool to even look up from his phone while speaking, it was Brendan Dakers.Brendan Dakers. The most popular and best-looking boy in my class, possibly in the entire school. And captain of the soccer and rugby teams. He is also really smart and always gets the best grades. Basically, he's the perfect male specimen. Every time I look at him, my feet go tingly.

I've never really spoken to him. He's way too popular. Of course, Sophie Parker and Josie Graham are always hanging around him. In fact Sophie and Brendan are sort of an unofficial couple. They aren't actually together, but they should be. Everyone knows it's going to happen one day. Probably at the dance.

They're both really beautiful. If they ever reproduced (ew), their children would be another level of human—superhuman. Jess disagrees with me on this and says that if they ever had children, they might get Brendan's looks and Sophie's personality, which would make them vampires.

I'm not sure of the logic in this, but I'm not sure that Jess's brain works in a logical way.

I don't know how either Jess or Sophie manage to remain collected in his presence. If Brendan Dakers ever spoke to me, I would be so ecstatic I would probably die. Which would be an excellent way to go.

Sadly, the chances of Brendan speaking to me are nil for the following reasons:

1. When I first saw him I choked on my own spit.

2. When he once walked past our volleyball lesson and waved to Sophie, I had a moment of complete deliriousness and thought he was waving at me. When I waved back, he looked puzzled. Probably because we had never spoken before, and I don't think he even knew I was in his grade at that point. I'm not even sure he realizes that now.

3. When I mistakenly waved back at Brendan Dakers in volleyball, Josie Graham said really loudly to Sophie, “That issomortifying for her!” and they both burst out laughing. He witnessed this.

4. I set his friend Josie on fire.

Reflecting on this list has made me wonder how I even have two friends.

“Brendan, Josie's hair went up in flames,” Sophie snapped.

“Relax,” Brendan said, looking up from his phone briefly. “It was funny.”

And with that, he went back to playing on his phone. The room silently watched Sophie's reaction. Her cheeks flushed with anger, and she gave me one last dramatic huff before pulling her shoulders back and stalking to her desk.

Someone snorted from the back of the classroom. It sounded like Connor. To my great relief Sophie didn't appear to have heard and flung herself into her chair, pulling out her fluffy purple pencil case just as Mr. Avery strolled in with his coffee and asked us to turn to page fifty-six.

I was so caught up in replaying Brendan Dakers stickingup for me—sort of—over and over in my head that I didn't even hear the bell ring. It was only when I noticed people actually walking out of the classroom that I realized it was time for the next class and started to pack up my things in a hurry.

Brendan finding Josie being set on fire funny still didn't mean that Sophie had decided to let it go with me. As I got up, I accidentally nudged Sophie, who had been walking toward the door.

“Urgh!” she exhaled in exasperation, probably at the idea of me touching her, and looked at me in disgust as I hurriedly got out of her way.

Then she shook her head, swished back her perfect hair, and practically skipped toward Brendan, who, unlike me, clearlyhadbeen forgiven for the classroom standoff and was waiting for her by the door.

I finished packing up my stuff and began to make my way out too.

“Chin up, Ms. Huntley,” Mr. Avery said cheerily as he took time out from wiping the board to look at me with sympathy. “You'll make friends here eventually. Sometimes it takes a while to find your feet. I remember having no friendswhatsoever for a good few semesters at my middle school.”

“Oh, well”—I stopped by the door—“thanks but I do havesomefriends here.”

“Do you?” he said, looking surprised. “Splendid!”

Then he got back to wiping the board.

Sometimes I really wish I was a hermit. Not only do they not have to deal with people in general, but they're also usually very wise. I can only aspire to that state of being.

5.

THE SCHOOL DANCE STRESSES MEout. and it's NOT because I won't have a date.

It is actually because school dances highlight the dictation of a dominating society on a youthful generation to locate a suitable partner of similar social standing with whom to spend the evening, not based on intellectual or personality compatibility, but on visual attraction alone. School dances are a staple of the dominant ideology in which we live, serving only the interest of a certain elite platform of students to exert their superiority and their peer influence, thus maintaining the existing state of the school's social context.

OKAY, FINE, it's because I'll never find a date.

Ever since the semester started, everyone has been talking about this Beatus dance, which takes place at the end of the spring semester. It's for grades six to eight and apparently is kind of like a smaller version of the prom.

“What on earth is the Betty dance?” I'd asked Jess one afternoon when I overheard for the third time that day someone in the bathroom talking about who was going to be elected for the committee.

“It's the Beatus dance, you mongoose.” Jess laughed.

“It means ‘blessed' or ‘fortunate' in Medieval Latin, Anna,” Danny explained gently, giving Jess a shove. This was typical Danny behavior, always on hand to remind Jess when to be a little more patient.

I once told him that I thought he was probably one of the nicest people I had ever met. “And your hair complements that.” I smiled.

“Huh?” He automatically ran a hand through his thick blond curls that really are spectacular.

“I think when it comes to you, Danny,” I'd said matter-of-factly, “your hair reflects your kindness and comforting nature.”

That didn't actually go down too well. It turns out boys don't really strive to be kind and comforting. Danny, Jess had informed me after he'd left grumpily, gets tired of always being “the nice one” who girls want to be friends with.

The very next day after the curls comment I made sure to say, immediately as he walked in, “Danny! You look veryrugged today. I think it's the way you're carrying your backpack on one shoulder.” I ignored the muffled snigger of Jess next to me and continued with the confidence boost. “Seriously, something very manly going on there.”

He looked surprised—but I've noticed he's carried his backpack on one shoulder ever since.

“It used to be called the spring dance for lower grades,” Danny had continued.

Meanwhile Jess smiled at me and muttered, “Betty dance. Honestly!” under her breath.

“Our last principal picked the name because, as she continually reminded us, the lower grades were very lucky to have a dance at all when most schools just have a senior dance.”

“She had to give it a Latin name to try to make it sound boring and educational.” Jess grinned.

“Sounds fun to me.”

“Not really.” Jess shrugged. “It's really just an excuse for people like Sophie Parker to show off.”

“Oh come on.” Danny laughed. “You had a good time last year.”

“The highlight was when you fell over on the dance floor.”

“I did not fall over,” Danny protested, going bright red. “I was doing the worm.”

“Do you go with a . . . date?” I asked timidly, pretending not to really care.

“Most people do. Danny and I just went together.” Jess sighed. “Although I pretended I didn't know him when he fell over.”

“I told you, I was doing the worm!”

“It didn't look like the worm. It looked like you fell over and had hurt your hip or something.”

I had worried about the dance all during Christmas vacation. If Jess and Danny were going to go together again, who would I go with? They weren't going to want a tagalong.

Now that I've set a girl on fire, I don't think my chances of getting a date are much improved.

I did consider putting a bow tie on Dog and going down the comedy route, but then I decided that I should play it safe, and if I was going to bring anyone they should probably be human.

Sophie Parker and Josie Graham are representing our grade on the Beatus committee of course. This means that they have to give up some of their lunch breaks to stand behind a table and sell raffle tickets to try to raise money for the dance budget. The prize is a two-week internship over spring break with Brendan's mom, who is a photographer.


Page 5

“Your dad should have offered an internship,” Jess commented, as we watched Sophie and Josie giggle with some other pretty girls in our grade who were buying plenty of tickets each. “Everyone would have bought tickets then, not just the school's princess contingent.”

I snorted. “Sadly you exaggerate. I hardly think anyone at this school is interested in tanks.”

“Whatever—he interviews celebrities all the time.”

“I guess.” I shrugged. “Most of the time he just sits at home yelling about writer's block and standing still with his forehead against the wall. He says it helps him think. He can stand there for about half an hour. Once I stood with him with my forehead against the wall to see what happened. I got no inspiration whatsoever. We both just stood there in silence with our heads touching the wall until I finally got hungry and left him to it. Not sure an intern would be a good idea.”

“They're so embarrassing.” Jess shook her head as Josie took out a pocket mirror and admired herself. “I bet Sophie has already bought half the tickets. The idea of getting in there with Brendan's family will be the only thing she cares about. She couldn't care less about the internship.”

“Why don't you buy a raffle ticket? You're pretty good at photography.”

Jess burst out laughing. “Yeah, on my camera phone. Not sure that counts.”

“Go on, it's only a dollar a ticket, and if you win, I bet you'd get to go on some cool fashion shoots too. You'd be great!”

I wasn't lying. Jessisgood at photography; she has a framed photo on her wall at home that she won a competition with when she was younger. Plus she is artistic too; her mom has shown me some of her paintings.

I made sure that when Jess came over to my house for the first time, Dad hid my pottery attempts that he usually displays on the mantel. Not proudly, he always likes to tease me, but because they are excellent conversation starters. I don't protest this. My Christmas robin is quite literally a blob of clay with a red circle in the middle.

“Anna.” Jess sighed. “They won't be looking for someone like me, will they? I'm sure Brendan's mom will be much happier with someone like Sophie who can hang on to her every word and look the part.”

“You look the perfect part,” I said sharply. “Come on; if you don't get one, then I'll buy one for you.”

She finally gave in to my pestering, and we made our way over to the table. Sophie saw us approaching and nudged Josie in the ribs, who looked up and immediately scowled.“What do you want?” she spat, folding her arms.

“I'm so sorry about chemistry, Josie,” I squeaked, feeling genuinely bad. “If there's anything I can do—”

“Personally,” Jess interrupted chirpily, “I think your hair looks much better that length, Josie.”

“That hardly makes things okay,” Sophie replied angrily, tilting her head.

“Yes.” Josie pouted, taking her cue as ever from Queen Sophie. “There's nothing you can do about it now.”

“Great, glad that's all sorted,” Jess said firmly. “Now, I'd like to buy a raffle ticket please.”

Sophie's mouth dropped open. “You.Youwould like to buy a raffle ticket.”

“Yes, one please.”

“But”—Josie sniggered, looking her up and down—“you clearly don't care about . . . the way things look.”

Jess's cheeks started to go red.

“I'm not really sure it's your thing, Jess,” Sophie said with a tone of mock regret and then shrugged. “I wouldn't bother buying a ticket. It'sprofessionalphotography.”

Jess looked at the ground, embarrassed, and I'm really not quite sure what came over me, but suddenly words were coming out of my mouth.

“Ten tickets please.”

They all stared at me in shock. “Yeah, ten.” I repeated in a squeakier tone than I would have liked. I reached into my purse and held out the money.

Sophie snorted and Josie followed suit, but there was now a small line beginning to form behind me. Josie looked at Sophie for instruction. Sophie pursed her lips and gave a curt nod. Josie snatched the money and shoved the tickets across the table.

I walked away triumphantly, my heart slamming against my chest.

“Well, what do you know.” Jess grinned as I passed her the tickets. She gave me a small grateful nudge. “Thanks.”

•  •  •

Sitting in French later that afternoon, I couldn't stop thinking about the Beatus dance. What would happen if they didn't let me in because I didn't have a date? Even worse, what would happen if they did let me in, but then everyone was dancing in pairs and I was the ONLY one not dancing?! What would happen if everyone started pointing and laughing at me because I was so pathetic?! WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I GENUINELY DID HAVE TO BRING DOG AS MY DATE?!

This called for emergency note passing with Jess.

Hey—can I ask you a question?

Anna, you're passing notes in French? Are you crazy?! She'll catch us! Ms. Brockley is very smart—she does archery in her spare time.

It's important.

Okay, go on then, ask away.

Would you date me?

What?

If you were a boy, would you date me?

This is uncomfortable.

No it's not. I need to know.

Well I don't know. Probably not.

WHAT? WHY NOT?

Because of your obsession with your dog. He's cute and everything but you're out of control.

Do I talk about Dog a lot?

Yes. But maybe not so much around boys so they might not know about the obsession, which is a good thing. You could keep it under wraps until you marry the guy and then, BOOM. Let out the truth about your weirdness.

Oh. Okay.

Why does it bother you so much that you don't have a date? It's just a dance. Who cares?

It is not just a dance. Everyone is talking about it. And it's only the beginning of the semester so it will get worse leading up to it.

I don't have a date.

You have Danny. And anyway you CHOOSE not to have a date. I bet every boy in our grade would doanything to be your date to the Beatus dance.

You have Danny too. We'll go as a trio.

What about the slow dances?

What ABOUT the slow dances?

We can't dance as a trio!

Why not?

BECAUSE. That would look weird. How would you even do that?

We could all hold hands in a circle and sway.

Like some kind of cult? I don't think that would go over very well.

We could chant too.

I can tell you're making fun of me now. I don't know whether you'venoticed but I am actually being serious.

Why do you get so worked up about stupid things like this? It's a DANCE. Only people like Sophie get worked up about stupid things like this.

People like Sophie never get worked up about things like this. They don't need to. She doesn't need to ever worry about having a date. I bet she's going with Brendan Dakers.

Word on the street is that he hasn't asked her. Anyway, forget about Queen Sophie. Why don't you take Dog as your date?

Ha! Jess, you really do have the most bizarre brain! As if that would even occur to me as an idea!

You considered it, didn't you?

What?! You're ridiculous. Of course I did not consider taking Dog as my date to the Beatus dance.

You thought about putting a bow tie on him, didn't you?

This conversation is neither here nor there. Stop passing me notes please. Ms. Brockley is coming this way and I already have detention for a whole semester.

I think there are lots of people out there who would date you.

Really? You do?

Lesson number one about making friends and finding a date for the dance: play it cool. Seriously.

Got it. Should I write this down??

I was mocking you.

Oh. You should be clearer about things like that.

I'm going to go away now.

Okay! We can chat after class.

You have detention, dummy. E-mail me when you're home. Oh and, Anna?

Yes?

The only reason you wouldn't be able to find a date to the dance is because no one in this school is good enough.

Are you mocking me again?

No.

How can I tell?

By asking me. I just told you I wasn't mocking you.

That was a very nice thing for you to say! Like seriously nice. Like a true best friend thing to say! You never say nice things!

Don't be embarrassing.

I'm keeping that note forever.

Don't do that.

I'm going to stick it in my diary. I don't have a diary but I'm going to buy one ESPECIALLY so I can stick that note in it. And draw hearts around it.

Stop this.

And then one day I'll blow it up into a poster and frame it.

I would not put any of this past you. Leave me alone now. I'm not passing any more notes.

Fare thee well, Jess! You are a true and wonderful friend who believes in me. I will spread your kindness far and wide. You have brought hope and love to a troubled soul. Bless you and your people.

I strongly dislike you.

6.

ANNA HUNTLEY's LIFE GOALS

Compiled with personal commentary in day one of detention

Spring term 2015

1. Be a better person.

I will try to be nicer to people, like Dad, even when he's being really annoying. And I will start doing nice things like talk to strangers on the street or something. I can ask them about their day and their ambitions in life. Although I will try to do this without coming across like a crazy person, like that woman on the bus who yells hello at everyone who gets on and actually just scares people. But I'm sure she's just being nice.

2. Go to Africa and hand out rice.

I've been lucky in life to have a wonderful family (even if they are annoying a lot of the time) and wonderful friends (even though there are only two of them). Therefore, it is only right that I should give something back to the world. I'm sure they always need people to go to Africa and do good things like hand out rice. Note to self: search for charities online that organize trips to do good things like hand out rice.

“What are you writing?”

I frowned. I could tell that Connor Lawrence had been trying to see what I was writing ever since I got out my pen. He had strolled in late to detention—who is this carefree?!—and sat down next to me without bothering to take his headphones off.

“Nice of you to join us, Connor,” Mr. Kenton had sniffed, not looking particularly bothered about it.

“Nothing,” I whispered back, trying to cover my notepad.

“Looks like a list.”

“It's not a list.”

“I can see it's a list.”

“Fine. It's a list.”

“What is the list of?”

“Are you always this nosy?” I asked, trying not to sound too defensive, but at the same time wanting him to leave me alone. This, after all, was the person who'd escalated Sophie's annoyance at me about sending Josie into a full-on tantrum for the whole class to witness.

“I'm interested,” he replied, smugly.

“It's nothing important.”

“What does it say at the top?”

“It says you're going to get us in trouble.”

“Funny.” We both looked up at Mr. Kenton. His head was hanging down, and his eyes were closed. A faint snore came from his direction.

Connor grinned. “I think we're safe.”

I gave him an “end of discussion” look and went back to my list.

3. Find a date for the Beatus dance—the ideal would be Brendan Dakers but clearly, at this point, anyone would be an achievement.

There will be more chance of this happening if I achieve point 1. Brendan Dakers isn't going to be interested in someone who is not kind and thoughtful.Also he will probably be impressed by someone with cool skills (see point 5 below to nail this one) and by someone who is not a disaster and talks about interesting things (for example, their recent trip to Africa to hand out rice to those in need).

4. Meet comic book world GOD, Stan Lee, and inspire a great comic strip about a girl keeping London safe from the threat of evil.

Should this ever happen I will be content for the rest of my days and never complain about one single thing AGAIN. I promise not to say anything embarrassing to the man who created some of the best characters in the world. Note to self: Does asking him to make me into a comic book superhero count as embarrassing? Confer with Jess.

5. Learn how to do hip-hop dancing.

A necessary skill in life. Bound to impress pretty much everyone anywhere. Handy to pull out in an awkward or sad situation to make things better. Your friend just got dumped? Pull out the running man! Lost your homework the day it's due? Wait asecond, let me pull out the running man! Hate your life? So does everyone! Pull out the running man!

6. Save someone's life.

Preferably on land and not in the sea because I hate seaweed and jellyfish.

“Wait, you know who Stan Lee is?”

I whipped my head up. “Hey!”

“What? It's not like you're covering it very well.” Connor shrugged. “Go on, let me have a look.”

“I didn't want you to see,” I complained. “How would you like it if I just leaned over and looked at your work?”

“Feel free.” He slid his notepad along the desk to the edge. “You might actually appreciate it.”

I glanced at the open page and then pulled it closer to gaze down in awe. The notepad was littered with animation sketches. “You drew these? They're good.”

“Thanks. I'm thinking of doing my own graphic novel some day. I approve of point four. Personally I've always thought Batman the best creation of all time.” He pulled his notebook away from my gaze.

“Please, Batman? He's amazing, but Marvel has SO manycooler heroes. Look at Spider-Man, for example.”


Page 6

He raised an eyebrow. “I'm not going to take that seriously from someone who has learning to hip-hop dance higher on their list than saving someone's life.”

“Who said these were in order of importance?” Before he spotted point 3, I put a protective arm round my notebook and changed the subject. “Who would your superhero be?”

“Sorry?”

“In your comic?”

“I'm waiting for inspiration.” He grinned. “But me probably.”

“How original.”

“I'd have to come up with a superpower.” He looked thoughtful. “What would yours be?”

“It would be cool to control things with my mind, like Jean Grey in X-Men,” I replied. “Before she was taken over by the Phoenix Force and became evil, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Connor agreed.

“Also,” I added, noticing him straighten up to try and peer over my arm that was hiding what I'd written, “controlling things with my mind would mean I could make you STOP LOOKING AT MY LIST!”

Mr. Kenton grunted and shifted in his seat. I narrowed my eyes at Connor and continued.

7. Get over fear of pigeons.

Ugh, the flapping. Plus it is becoming increasingly difficult to live in London with this phobia.

8. Invent something useful for mankind.

So that I can be thought of as charitable and helpful at the same time. Like the clever person who invented that spray balsamic vinegar so that it doesn't spill all over your plate and ruin your salad.

“What about a pigeon-deflecting helmet?”

“Excuse me?”

Connor was leaning back in his chair with a pen in his mouth. “That covers points seven and eight.”

“No, it doesn't. Putting on a deflecting helmet wouldn't cure my fear of pigeons. It would just keep them away from me.” I sighed. “Don't assume I didn't already think about that one.”

9. Have name engraved on a trophy.

Unlikely to be for a sporting event so may have to think outside the box for this one. Do they give out trophies to people who hand out rice in Africa? (Note to self: research this.)

10. Train Dog to high five.

It took him ten months to learn that his name was Dog. This is probably the most ambitious life goal on this list.

When detention finally ended, I stowed my list away safely into my bag and filed out of the classroom with everyone else toward the main school doors, ready for freedom.

“Hey! Spidey!” Connor was suddenly at my side. “Did you finish your list? When does the world get to witness the hip-hop dancing? I'm gripped with anticipation.”

I snorted. “Uh. Never? Forget the list; it is PERSONAL.”

“All right, all right.” He grinned as he opened the exit door for me, and I marched past him. “Don't get your Spidey senses in a twist.”

“Okay,” I grumbled at him, stomping down the steps. “Just because I admire the superior skills of Spider-Man does not mean that—”

“That you know anything about comics? Don't sweat it.”

“Hey!” I held out my arm to stop him in his tracks as we walked out of the gates. “Do not insult my comic knowledge. I could take you on in a Marvel or DC face-off any time.”

“If you say so.” He smiled broadly.

“Good,” I said huffily, and continued through the gates on to the road. “See you tomorrow then.”

“Hey, Anna. Just so you know, about point three on that personal list I definitely didn't see, I reckon you should have higher standards when it comes to the ideal person to take you on a date.”

My mouth dropped open.

“But as I say”—he swung his bag over his shoulder with a mischievous grin—“I definitely didn't see anything. See you tomorrow, Spidey.”

He strolled off down the road and left me standing on my own, my mouth still hanging open.

Note to self: stop writing lists.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Come on

Are you home yet? I'm bored.

How was detention? I can't believe you did something as selfish as set someone on fire. Now you have detention so I have no one to distract me from this French vocab.

Danny is so annoying. He purposefully doesn'treply to my e-mails so that I'm forced to do my homework.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Come on

Hey, I'm home!

Get this—Dad took Dog to the vet today for his annual checkup. Do you know what this so-called vet had to say? That Dog was “healthy.”

Can you believe that?! I am tempted to march right up to that vet and give him a piece of my mind!

Have you had dinner, by the way?

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Come on

I'm confused. Isn't being healthy a good thing for a dog?

I did have dinner, yes. You are full of interesting questions. We had spaghetti.

Do what you will with this information.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Poor Dog

It is fine for a dog to be healthy, Jess, but it is not fine for a stranger to call Dog “healthy.” Do you get it now?

I was actually going to ask if you wanted to come over here for dinner so you could jump in and save me if Dad tried to lecture me about the importance of bumblebees or something.

So there.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Poor Dog

No, I do not get it now. Nobody would get it now.You're not making any sense.

Very kind of you, want me to come over anyway? I could distract your dad with questions about military arms.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Poor Dog

He was clearly referring to Dog's size.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: You're crazy

Again. That is a GOOD thing. That he is HEALTHY.

Am I coming over?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: You're crazy

Hang on. Better not come over yet.

Dad wants me to log off. He wants to “have a talk” about something “very important.” He's been acting so weird the past few days.

Anyway I'll be back on in about half an hour and will let you know.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Leave me why don't you

Hope everything is okay. Let me know?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: You there?

Hey, Anna—just wondering what your dad had to say? It's been a couple of hours so checking everything is okay.

Plus, I'm really bored. Why is there so much vocab in the French language? Surely we don't need to know this much if we ever goover there, right? We'd only need to know “croissant” and “non” to get by, I'm pretty sure of it.

So why am I learning the French translation of “antler”?

When am I going to be in France talking about antlers? Our school is so strange.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: (no subject)

Me again! It's been a while now—what's going on? Is everything all right with your dad?

I'm worried.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: (no subject)

I haven't heard from you all night.

Something's happened, hasn't it?

WHAT IN THE WORLD HAS HAPPENED?

7.

MY DAD HAS COMPLETELY LOSThis mind.

I knew something was wrong earlier this evening because he was acting all shifty. I couldn't think of anything that might be bugging him, so I asked him whether Mrs. Trott had got into our trash can again.

Mrs. Trott is our next-door neighbor who, when we first moved in, clearly had a bit of a thing for Dad. Unfortunately, she has quite a mean scary face, and Dad didn't reciprocate Mrs. Trott's amorous advances. After this, she has become very intently focused on our recycling in what appears to me to be an admirable attempt at crossing Dad's path more regularly.

One day I came home to find Dad a nervous wreck. It turned out that in a fit of passion over Dad's refusal to comply with her previous instruction, she had got into our trash can.So when Dad took the trash out of the house and opened the lid to the outside can, there was Mrs. Trott's scary face staring right up at him.

According to witnesses, Dad had “screamed at an impressive pitch” and then fallen backward over his pile of trash bags. Mrs. Trott, I was told, calmly climbed out of the can and simply said, “Recycle, you fool,” then threw a last lingering look over her shoulder.

Dad has recycled meticulously since.

“No, Mrs. Trott wasn't in our trash can. Why?” Dad replied, looking up in a panic. “I've been so careful!”

“Calm down, Dad,” I said in my most reassuring voice. “Mrs. Trott has been extremely pleased with your recycling recently.” He looked visibly calmer. “But why are you acting so weird? You're creeping me out.”

Then he said, all defensive, “I'm not acting weird,” and started tidying the phone table. I watched him for a minute and then got bored, shrugged, and left him to be abnormal on his own.

So when he came into the living room and made me turn off my laptop, I was kind of relieved because I could finally find out what had been going on.

He sat down next to me and took a deep breath. “I have asked my . . . um . . . girlfriend to come over to meet you this evening. I hope that's all right?”

“Oh right! Uh, yeah, of course that's fine.”

“There is something I just want to explain to you first.”

He gave me a funny look.

“This girlfriend is . . . unique.” He stopped and clamped his hands together in front of him, leaning forward. “She is special.”

“Okay, Dad, I get it. This one's different. Don't worry, I'll be on my best behavior. I promise I won't tell her that story about when you angered that ostrich.”

“That's very kind of you, but that's actually not what I meant.”

“Okay,” I said, rolling my eyes. Now I got it. “It's because she's really young, isn't it? If that is the case, you definitely don't need to worry. You have really good hair for your age. Unless she's early twenties or something, in which case I'm sorry, but you both need to re-evaluate your lives.”

“No, look, she's my age, she's fine. It's just . . .” He took a deep breath. “Anna, my girlfriend is Helena Montaine.”

I blinked at him.

“Helena Montaine,” I repeated slowly.

“As in . . . the actress,” he confirmed, looking at me intently.

“As in the really famous actress.”

“Yes.”

“As in the really famous two-time Oscar-winning actress.”

“Yes.”

“You're dating Helena Montaine, the actress?”

“Yes.”

“Helena Montaine, the famous actress, is dating my dad?”

“Yes.”

“Is this a weird joke?”

“No.”

“You're not in cahoots with Jess?”

“No. I am being serious.”

“Because this is the sort of thing she would do.”

“No, I'm not in cahoots with Jessica.”

“You're dating Helena Montaine, the actress who's always in the newspapers.”

“Yes.”

“The famous one.”

“Yes.”

I sat in silence. I wasn't sure how to process this information. I mean, it's not like Dad hasn't dated famous people before.He dated a fairly high-profile politician for a bit and even once went on a few dates with a model he'd interviewed.

Not that any of them had ever taken any notice of me of course. I'm the least glamorous being they probably ever had contact with, apart from Dog maybe. But even he can look like a big shot after a good groom.

Helena Montaine isbigthough. As in famous. Really famous. She is always on the front covers of all those glossy magazines that my dad won't let me read because they “encourage things like more eyeliner requests.” (Seriously, he needs to get out more.)

She's even advertised skin products on television. You know the ones, where she's running along a beach in a white floaty dress and touching her face because it's so soft and wrinkle-free.

“Are you all right, Anna?” My dad looked extremely worried and even reached out for my hand.

“Um,” I said, trying to get past the images of Helena stroking her face and saying “so silky, so you” flashing through my mind.

“Look, it's important that you know how normal she is. I was nervous when I first interviewed her because I assumedshe would be a diva. But she's extremely approachable and down to earth.”

“Right,” I said numbly.

“You have to think of it as just meeting your dad's girlfriend rather than meeting Helena Montaine. I promise, once you've met her, you'll forget all that famous nonsense right away. She has a way of putting you perfectly at ease.”


Page 7

“You interviewed her. That's how you met?”

“Yes. I had to interview her a couple of times because she had such a hectic schedule. We couldn't do the interview all in one go. But every time I saw her after that first interview it was like we were old friends. We clicked right away. After I wrote the piece, I asked her if she'd like to go for a drink some time, and well . . .” He paused and gave a shrug. “It all started from there.”

“And now you're her . . . boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“She knows about the tanks book?”

“Yes.”

“And she still wants to date you? Helena Montaine, the famous actress, is dating my dad, the author of a tanks book.”

“I have done more with my life than just write a book about tanks. Not that that's the point here.”

“I'm about to meet Helena Montaine.”

“Yes. It's difficult to digest, but she'll be here any minute, and you can see how wonderful she is. I also invited Marianne—you know Helena has a daughter?—as I've met her a few times now. She's very nice, Anna, a really lovely girl. We thought it would be good for you guys to get to know each other. Marianne is only seventeen, so there's not much of an age difference between you. I know you'll get along wonderfully. She's a little high maintenance but it's mostly for show—I think.”

Dad may have all his hair, but he seems to have lost several of his brain cells along the way. Marianne Montaine and me get along? IS HE NUTS?! She is a movie star's daughter who doesn't have an actual job but is so beautiful and glamorous that she gets invited to every red carpet event anyway. Whereas I can reciteLord of the Ringspassages and spend weekends re-enacting the climbing of Mount Doom scene with my Labrador.

She has a Wikipedia page for goodness' sake! I once got left off the school registery at the start of the new year. MY OWN SCHOOL DIDN'T REMEMBER ME.

The doorbell rang. I looked at Dad. Dad looked at me. My eye twitched.

“Anna . . . ,” he warned. I feigned innocence.

Then without a moment's warning I leaped to my feet. Dad was clearly prepared and jumped up at the same time.

The race was on.

I ran full speed toward the stairs with Dad in hot pursuit. As I went to jump two steps at a time, he propelled himself forward and gripped my right ankle. I fell flat on the stairs, desperately trying to drag myself up while shaking my right leg manically in the hope of loosening his iron grip.

“Anastasia Huntley! Stop . . . this . . . now!” Dad said through gritted teeth.

“You . . . stop . . . this . . . now!” I retorted, trying to reach for the banister to get some kind of grip. I flung my leg from side to side, but he held tight, determined to reign victorious in our grapple.

Gradually he managed to slide me down the stairs until, with a last yank on my ankle, I slumped to the floor, my chin bumping each step as I went. Dad sat next to me, leaning against the wall and out of breath.

The doorbell rang again. He got to his feet, turned to me as I rolled over onto my back, said, “Right, I'll go let them in,” gave me a thumbs-up, and went to open the door.

I was still lying awkwardly on the stairs in a contortedstarfish position when Helena and Marianne Montaine breezed through the door and Dad gave them both a warm welcome. They looked a little surprised as I stood up awkwardly from the stairs and brushed myself down.

“Um,” Dad began, glancing at me. “This is my daughter, Anna.”

“Hello.” I nodded and then curtseyed.

I CURTSEYED.

Dad closed his eyes in exasperation. Marianne Montaine looked at her mother in utter bafflement. Helena Montaine glanced at Dad and then took a step forward and curtseyed too. “Lovely to meet you, Anna.”

“Let's all go into the living room, shall we?” Dad laughedverynervously and ushered us in.

It was completely surreal. I found myself standing stiffly in my living room with Helena and Marianne Montaine. And I'll tell you something: all it takes is a Hollywood film star and an It Girl standing in front of you to become exceedingly aware of how unacceptable it is to go into society every day looking like yourself.

Helena was exactly as a film star should be. Tall and elegant, she was dressed in a white pantsuit with a chunky gold necklace and matching earrings. Those face products must beworking, because her skin was glowing as she looked down at me with a bright smile.

Marianne has the same delicate features as her mother, the big blue eyes and slightly pronounced mouth. Her brown hair was impossibly glossy and, wearing a short blue minidress with a leather jacket and sunglasses perched on the top of her head, biker boots, and sporting plenty of black eyeliner, she looked every inch the rock star's daughter.

Which, incidentally, she is, as Helena's first husband, and the father of her only child, was one fifth of a rock band in the seventies. There was no mistaking the brief up-and-down glance she gave me as she took in my appearance.

I wanted to die. There was no way I was ever going to forgive my dad for this one. He could at least have given me a moment to attempt to make my hair look presentable before their arrival.

Although maybe he thought that since I hadn't managed to make my hair ever look acceptable in the past twelve years, ten more minutes probably wasn't going to help.

“It's so lovely to have you both here, Helena and Marianne,” Dad announced, clapping his hands together.

“It's lovely to be here.” Helena smiled her impeccably white-toothed smile at him, and he stared dopily at her.

Gross.

Helena nudged her daughter subtly. “Thank you for having us,” Marianne added quietly, looking at Dad. Dad then looked at me.

I'm not sure what he was expecting. I assume he hoped I might follow suit and take my turn graciously to announce how “lovely” it was to have them. To his disappointment, my brain was still not fully functioning.

“My chin is not normally this red,” I began.

The three of them stared at me.

“Yeah,” I continued when no one replied. “I had an incident on the stairs.”

I thought about launching into an explanation, but I decided I had nothing else to add so I just nodded slowly. Dad opened his mouth as though to comment but thought better and closed it again.

“Well, I'm so glad that we've all been introduced,” Helena said brightly, taking a step back to put her arm around my dad.

Weird. Weird. Weird. A movie star just put her arm around my DAD.

Helena giggled, and I saw Marianne narrow her eyes at her in suspicion.

“I think it's time to tell them, Nick,” Helena said enthusiastically, gazing up at my father, fluttering her eyelashes.

“Yes,” he said deeply, taking her hand in his.

He took her hand. My DAD took the HAND of HELENA MONTAINE, a woman who happens to have a STAR on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And she wasn't pulling it away. It was like it was a NORMAL THING TO DO.

On vacation in Portugal once my dad wore swimming trunks that had elephants sipping cocktails on them. And now he was holding Helena Montaine's hand.

NOTHING MADE SENSE ANYMORE.

He cleared his throat. “Marianne and Anna, we have something we'd like to tell you.”

Marianne gave a fleeting nervous look in my direction.

Grinning like a mischievous teenager, my dad looked down at Helena, who turned to us excitedly with tears in her eyes.

“We wanted you both to know.” She beamed. “We're getting married!”

8.

“YOU LOOKAWFUL!”

Jess and Danny peered down at me where I was sitting in the corner of the hockey field.

“So what happened?! Why are we here? You hate sports!” Jess plonked herself down next to me.

“First of all, are you okay?” Danny asked, giving Jess an admonishing look. It's very difficult to hide your feelings from Danny, especially when he looks at you in such an earnest manner, which was what he was doing. Maybe it's something to do with those angelic curls, but whatever it is, it makes Danny seem very trustworthy.

“I'm fine.” I sighed dramatically, picking at the grass.

Jess tutted impatiently, and I scowled at her for ruining the moment.

“We're here because every normal person—except for you, Jess—hates field hockey and would never hang out here voluntarily, and I don'twant anyone else to overhear.”

“Anna, what could be so bad? Did you step on a snail again?” She folded her arms.

“That snail came out of nowhere! And we promised to never speak of that day again.”

“Well then, what's the problem?”

I took a deep breath and told them.

“Helena Montaine?! That's insane!” Jess gasped.

I nodded.

“Marianne Montaine was in your house?” Danny gaped.

“Yes.”

“Wow.” He looked dazed.

“Wipe the saliva off your chin there, Danny,” Jess mocked before turning back to me and shaking her head in disbelief. “What did you do when they announced their engagement?”

•  •  •

Marianne and I had stood there in stunned silence. Helena and Dad glanced excitedly from one of us to the other, waiting for a positive reaction, but I had been unable to speak.

Marianne had eventually just blurted out, “Not again!”

“Now, Marianne,” Helena said, raising her hand. “I know this is a shock, but that's unfair.”

“Um, not really,” Marianne snorted, looking at hermom in disbelief. “How long have you known each other?”

“I can understand it's a lot to take in,” Helena said hurriedly. “But we really do love each other.”

“I have only said two words to Anna, if that—let alone to her dad!” Marianne looked exasperated. “Can't you be normal and let me get to know someone before you marry them? This is just like Rodney all over again.”

Rodney Jenson, the man I assumed Marianne was referring to, was the second husband of Helena and a director. They had met while filming and married after dating for a year. It had ended after three months when he'd had an affair with the lead in his next film.

Or so the papers claimed anyway.

“It is not like that time,” Helena said, suddenly very serious.

“Why are you always rushing into things?” Marianne demanded.

“I'm not always rushing into things,” Helena said in a strained voice. “Neither Nick nor myself are spring chickens, darling. I've never felt this way before and, well, it just seems right.”

Marianne let out a loud “Ha!” and swept her glossy hair over her shoulder in dismay. Dad and Helena both turned anxiously to me. I was trying to think of something appropriateto say or do other than running around the room waving my arms about and shouting, “WHAT THE . . . ? I'M SO CONFUSED! I JUST WANT TO HIDE UNDER MY BLANKETS FOR A MOMENT WHILE I WORK OUT WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON. I HATE EVERYONE.”

Since that probably wasn't an option, and Marianne had already done the “beautifully glossy but ticked off” response, I decided to go down the sensible and mature route.

Despite the shock announcement, my burning chin was still a reminder of my earlier comment, and I wanted to give some impression of being a normal human being.

“Let's just all sit down and discuss this like grown-ups,” I said eventually in a way I imagined someone sensible and mature might do, and took a step backward toward the sofa.

Unfortunately, I misjudged where the sofa was and instead backed into a side table. I stumbled and grabbed on to a lamp to regain my balance, but my foot got caught. As I fell backward, the lamp came down with me, causing a deafening crash.

•  •  •

“Let me get this straight,” Danny interrupted at this point in the painful recollection. “You fell over. Onto your back. Flat out. In front of Helena and Marianne Montaine.”

I nodded gravely.

“Then what happened?” Jess breathed, enraptured by the whole affair.

“It got worse,” I sighed.

•  •  •

Helena and Dad rushed over to help me up. They both made a fuss, sitting me down in the big armchair and asking if my arm hurt. Marianne excused herself to get some fresh air outside. Just before she stalked out through the door, she gave me a look that I could only translate as disbelief. Disbelief, I imagine, that she and I would soon become members of the same family.

She stepped out of the front door while Dad went to make some tea and Helena sat on the sofa quietly next to me.

All I could do was stare at her in shock. Eventually she actually had to say, “Anna, are you all right? You're making me feel slightly uncomfortable.”

I didn't want to say that I was all right, because I wasn't, but I also didn't want to make the famous actress sitting on my sofa feel uncomfortable. So I decided that instead of staring at her I would stare at the lamp that I had fallen over with. We sat in silence.

After an ice age, Dad came in with the tray of tea. Marianne also came back in and joined in with the silencethat was encapsulating the room. Her hair was slightly more disheveled on her return, as though she had been running her hands through it a lot, and she looked irritated, glowering at her mother as she sat down. Helena must be used to it because she didn't flinch under her daughter's icy glare.

Unfortunately, Marianne hadn't shut our front door properly, so Dog must have managed to get out. Oblivious to Dog's adventure, Dad decided to attempt to make things a little better. He failed. “I think we'll all be very happy together.”

Marianne and I stared at him.

“I'm really looking forward to us all getting to know each other.” He beamed slightly manically.

Marianne and I continued to stare at him. My eyes were starting to hurt from all the staring.


Page 8

Dad tried again. “I think it's going to be great!” he squeaked.

Helena nodded enthusiastically, looking at Marianne. “Of course it will!”

“It's madness,” Marianne hissed at her.

This prompted a long silence once again. I was building up the courage to say something along the lines of congratulations just to lighten the atmosphere when Dog thought this would be an excellent opportunity to return from his solo venture and show off the fruits of his exploits.

Dog trotted into the living room carrying a live pigeon. Its wings flapped about his snout as he proudly presented it to Marianne.

When she looked up to see a Labrador with a pigeon in its mouth, Marianne screamed at the top of her lungs. Helena yelped and flung herself back against the sofa. Dad, in his infinite wisdom, leaped to his feet and commanded Dog to drop his offering.

Dog, for the first time in his life, actually did as he was told and dropped the gift. The pigeon immediately took flight, feathers spraying everywhere, and directed itself toward Marianne's head. She continued to scream and went to escape its line of flight, flinging herself off the sofa and onto the floor.

Helena lay flat on the sofa as the pigeon hysterically flew around the room, completely disorientated, attempting to escape the loud noise and commotion while Dad ran around, trying to chase it out of the door. In fact he was no help whatsoever and most likely made everything worse as the pigeon was now being chased by a madman flailing his arms wildly about the place. The pigeon went to the bathroom mid-flight, our sofas taking the brunt of the splatter. Marianne screamed in horror as her leather jacket became victim to a large dollop of white bird poo.

Dog further added to the commotion by joining Dad in running around the living room, barking the pigeon down. The excitement then got to be too much for Dog, and he began chasing his tail instead, still barking elatedly.

I dived behind the sofa at first, then crawled hastily toward the door, rolling clumsily into the hallway before shutting myself in the closet. It was just like a scene fromDie Hard,except instead of Bruce Willis there was me, and instead of bullets there was pigeon poop.

Helena's voice rose above the shouts of my father before suddenly it went quiet. I pressed my ear to the door. The pigeon must have changed its position. There was movement in the hallway, around the vicinity of my closet.

WHAT IF THE PIGEON WAS OUTSIDE THE CLOSET?

I strained my ears for the sound of coos. Instead there was a rap on the door and an urgent voice said, “Anna?”

It was Helena. I concluded she was looking for help.

“Here, take this as a weapon!” I yelled dramatically, opening the door slightly and hurling the nozzle of a vacuum out into the hallway, slamming the door shut again.

“The pigeon is gone.”

I clambered out. Dad shut Dog in the kitchen, and Helenatook a deep breath and announced that it might be best for her to go home.

Marianne was nowhere to be seen, but our front door was wide open, so I assumed she had stormed out soon after the pigeon had escaped.

Helena whispered something to my dad, said good-bye to me with a soft smile, and left.

•  •  •

“That is”—Danny searched for something positive to comment when I had finished relating the events to them—“quite an evening.”

“And then did you talk to your dad when the others had left?” Jess asked, her eyes wide with disbelief.

“No, I went straight to bed. I told him I didn't want to speak to him.”

“Did you talk to him this morning?” Danny asked, pushing the hair out of his eyes.

“No. Think I'm still in shock.”

“Wow,” Jess exhaled. “I wasn't expecting this.”

“Me neither.”

“Does this mean you're going to be famous? Like Marianne is?” Jess asked, her forehead creasing.

“No!” I exclaimed, my throat tightening.

“But you might get some attention,” Danny reasoned, giving my knee an awkward pat. “We'll look after you though.”

“Course.” Jess nodded. “Maybe the best way to think of it is just, your dad is getting married. To someone who happens to act. And she's quite well known for acting. And her daughter is well known for going to parties. And they get photographed a lot.” Jess looked like she'd confused herself with what she was saying and fell silent.

We sat there for a minute or so without speaking until the bell rang. Danny stood up and reached his hand out to help me up. “You know what I think?” he asked as he pulled me onto my feet. “I think this could be really cool.”

“Huh?”

“Honestly, Anna, I don't think this is as bad as it seems. You've said before that you would have liked a sibling.”

“Duh,” I snorted. “But not a FAMOUS one who wears leather jackets. I always pictured myself with a sister who knows all the lines to all the same films so we could act out the best parts, and then one day we would create our own comic strip about two sisters who save London from destruction. You know, someone to eat Nutella out of the jar with while watching movies.” I shrugged. “Normal sibling stuff.”

Jess and Danny glanced at each other.

“You know what I mean,” I sighed. “This is disastrous. Marianne and I could not be worse opposites. She probably hasn't even seenLord of the Rings, let alone rehearsed the Mount Doom bit.”

“Well, before you decide that this is the worst thing ever, let's just wait and see what happens. When are you seeing them next?” Danny asked.

“We're having dinner at Helena's this evening.” I swallowed nervously. “That should be fun.”

“Don't worry about a thing,” Jess said, trying to sound jovial but failing badly. “I'm sure everything will be fine.”

I don't know why everyone continues to lie to me in this fashion.

9.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Hello darling!

I know we spoke on the phone earlier today, which was lovely, but I just wanted to check that you're all right? You sounded a bit strained.

Are you still worried about setting that silly girl on fire? You're such a worrier. You get that from your father you know.

I never worried so much at your age. I remember when I was twelve I joined an interpretive dance crew. That's the sort of thing that would be perfect for you!

Love Mom xxxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Mom

Everything is fine. Really.

Interpretive dance? I'll pass, thank you. I'm already a big enough loser as it is. Interpretive dance would be a social death sentence.

Also you should know that I mentioned this to Dad and he said you've never joined an interpretive dance crew in your life. He says that you probably mean the time you toured Britain as a Morris dancer.

I hope that both of you know how much trauma is being embedded into my teenage years and thanks to my parents I'll no doubt end up in therapy until I'm in my late eighties.

So thanks for that.

Love, me xxx

I did think about adding a “PS Just so you know, Dad is engaged to Helena Montaine. Yeah, that really famous actress. Funny, isn't it!” in my e-mail, but then I thought I'dlet Dad deal with that one. I'm sure Mom will be happy for him and everything, but putting her only daughter in that position without even warning Mom he is dating a public figure?

Yeah, Dad can face her wrath.

I had more pressing matters anyway. Here's a question I never thought I'd ask myself: What do I wear to go to dinner at a movie star's house?

“Anna,” my dad was yelling across the landing, “we're going to be late! Just pick anything. Wear something casual. You want me to come help?”

I shut my door. Loudly.

After a lot of deliberating, I finally settled on black jeans and a pretty blouse that Mom had once bought for me in France in a bid to make me look more stylish. I looked at myself in the mirror and sighed. Why couldn't I look more like Marianne? Seriously, how come she always looks so good? Her hair is so thick and soft.

As I stared grumpily at my appearance, I could hear Dad getting frustrated outside my door, pacing around the landing and muttering to Dog about female time management.

“Lovely,” Dad said hurriedly, hardly looking when I emerged. “Into the car. Now. It's rude to keep people waiting.”

I ignored him in the car all the way there just to make sure he knows that I'm not going to make this whole process easy for him. Even if Danny was right and everything might turn out okayandMarianne could be the sister I've never had, there are more normal parent ways of introducing such a thing into your life, and I'm not going to let Dad get away with it just yet.

We turned into a gravel driveway, and a beautiful house loomed before us. I suddenly felt VERY nervous. Helena flung open the door and stood in the frame with her arms open and a huge smile on her face. “Welcome!” she cried as we shut the car doors and made our way over to her. “Anna, I'm so happy you're here.”

She was wearing a very floaty orange dress with billowing sleeves so that when she stretched her arms out it looked kind of like she had wings. Like a bat or something. But a nice orange one.

She pulled me into a tight hug before embracing my dad with a big kiss on the lips. BLEUGH.

Why do adults think this is acceptable in front of their children?

Helena ushered us into the marble hall. It was huge and spacious, completely modern and exactly the sort of place you'd expect a movie star to live. Around the walls were framedposters of classic films, none of which featured Helena and several of which were signed by the stars or directors. There were two large potted plants on either side of the staircase that looked like mini palm trees, and the staircase itself had glass steps and white banisters.

It was the exact house I would envision for an actress like Helena Montaine. I gulped.

As Helena was fussing around, offering us drinks, Marianne came out from one of the side doors. She was wearing high-waisted jeans with a checkered shirt tucked in so her waist looked tiny and, even though she was in her house, she was still wearing big black heels and all these bracelets.

Oh God. Who looks like that when they're slobbing around their house?! Apparently It Girls do.

This was not a good start to the evening. I could never maintain a look like that around Dog. His hairs go everywhere, and he once ate a bracelet Mom brought me from Tanzania when I left it by accident on the coffee table.

“Hello,” she said with a curt nod at both of us.

“Hi there, Marianne,” my dad sang, trying too hard again.

“Hello,” I replied, giving an awkward wave.

To be honest, there was no need for the awkward wave. I'm not sure why I made such a bizarre gesture. It certainly didn'tlighten the atmosphere. Though it was better than “Howdy, partner,” I guess.

Helena insisted on giving us a tour of the house after instructing a very reluctant-looking Marianne to prepare the drinks. She showed us the five bedrooms—two used, two spare, and one for when Helena was feeling “pensive” and wanted a different space. She let me poke around the huge en-suite bathrooms and the walk-in closets, admiring Marianne's extensive handbag and sunglasses collections.

“What's in there?” I asked, pointing at a door on the downstairs floor, once we had seen the kitchen, study, and living room.

“Oh, that's the screening room.” Helena smiled.

“You have a screening room?” I asked, amazed.

“Duh.” She grinned and pointed at herself. “Movie star.”

“Annalovesfilms; don't you, Anna?” my dad said over-enthusiastically, clearly hoping this would change everything. “You can come over here and watch them on the big screen. Wouldn't that begreat?”

I ignored him.

After the tour and some small talk about how school was going for me, and Dad's new yawn idea for a book he was working on, Helena invited us into the dining room for dinner. “I hope you're hungry,”she said, excitedly leading us in.

Boy, had she made an effort. I've never seen so much sushi. The table was covered in large dishes and plates of fish and every kind of sushi you could think of: different combinations of maki and temaki rolls, edamame, spring rolls, teriyaki. We were about to consume the entire cast ofThe Little Mermaid.

Then I noticed the place settings. There were no knives and forks, just chopsticks. Let me tell you something about those of us in life who have very little coordination: chopsticks are EVIL.

“This is amazing, Helena,” my dad said, beaming at her as he took his place. He looked at me expectantly.

“Yes,” I said, trying to disguise my fear. “Amazing.”

I tried to ignore what sounded suspiciously like a snort from where Marianne was sitting. Helena shot a glare across the table at her daughter.

These are the reasons why one should never eat sushi at a film star's house:

1. Chopsticks are HARD WORK. I felt exhausted about five minutes in from the trauma that came with each mouthful as I attempted to pick things up, dropped them, stabbed them, madea mess, and then ended up using my fingers while spraying rice all over their shiny floor.

2. Every time you do drop a piece of sushi, while trying to carefully carry it to your plate from the platter using the dreaded chopsticks, your father will no doubt laugh too loudly and too nervously at you. If there are any It Girls that happen to be in the room, for example, Marianne Montaine, they will not laugh along with your deranged father but instead look at you gravely, as though they are slightly repulsed at you becoming one of their family but are too polite to show it.


Page 9

3. You end up giving up attempting to eat because it is causing so much drama and thus return home starving and are reduced to eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon.

“Why don't you two go upstairs and bond?” Helena suggested, clearly sympathetic to my disastrous sushi plight.

Marianne's face dropped, and I snorted wasabi sauce so hard I thought my head was going to explode.

“That's all right,” Marianne said in a slight panic.

Normally I might be insulted by this but, still speechlessfrom my wasabi brain-fire, I knew where Marianne was coming from. There had been no point in the evening that Marianne had been outwardly rude or uncivil. She had replied politely to my dad's eager attempts at conversation starters and had looked at me with genuine interest when Dad mentioned I had a school dance coming up.

Not that she had been particularly impressed with my response of, “Yeah, I don't have a date though. Might have to dance with a balloon again. Ha ha ha.” In fact, she hadn't said anything at all.

It was just clear that Marianne Montaine and I had very little in common. The only thing that we shared was outrage toward our irresponsible single parents.

“I think that's a great idea.” Dad nodded, looking at me. I knew he was trying to appeal to my forgiving side. I glared back at him.

“We can just . . . bond here,” I suggested, giving Marianne a helping hand with the situation.

“I know!” Helena exclaimed, ignoring me completely. “Why don't you show Anna your shoe collection? Marianne has the most wonderful shoe collection!”

“Do I?” Marianne said in a strained voice.

“Anna would love that!” my dad announced.

“Would I?”

“Off you go, while Nick and I clear the table.” Helena rose from her seat and picked up her dish.

Marianne, without looking at me, stood up slowly and made her way out of the dining room. I reluctantly followed, two pairs of eyes following me, our parents happily witnessing their plan come into action.

I stood awkwardly by Marianne's bed as she stepped into her walk-in closet. I told myself to try to keep an open mind about what kind of future stepsister relationship we might have.

“These are my pride and joy I guess,” Marianne claimed, holding out a pair of black stilettos with the highest heel I have ever seen.

My open mind closed again. How could she walk in them and not trip? Some of us have trouble avoiding that embarrassment in flat shoes.

“They're . . . wonderful,” I said. Silence reigned. “Um, do you . . . do you always wear heels on your feet?”

“Yes. Most of the time. And definitely on my feet.” Marianne looked desperate and then went back to studying her shoe collection a little too intensely. I looked around the room for inspiration.

“Pretty cool that your mom's an actress,” I began. “You must have seen loads of movies growing up.”

“Not really.” She shrugged, looking relieved that I had said something that another normal human being might come out with. “I didn't enjoy movies that much.”

I blinked at her. She was reaching up for a handbag on her top shelf. “Wait a second.” I couldn't help myself. “You don't enjoy watching movies?”

“Sometimes, I guess.”

“I mean, your mom is in some classics,” I said, still in shock by this discovery.

“Yes, I guess so.” She nodded. “It's just not my thing.”

“How come?”

“Well, my dad wasn't around. My mom was always away filming. If I stayed in and watched a film, I felt pretty lonely. And who wants that?”

“Um, yeah.No one.” I looked at the floor.

“Going out and talking to people, going to events and parties, made me feel less . . . ,” Marianne said animatedly, warming up to what she clearly thought might be our first normal conversation and oblivious to the fact she'd just demoted me back to the ranks of complete loser. “Well, you know.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, not knowing anything about celebrity parties at all. “Itotallyknow.”

She looked at me in disbelief.

“Well, I know about the lonely bit anyway. Being an only child as well.”

Marianne nodded. We sat in silence for a moment, both lost in thought.

“Well,” I said eventually, relieved we'd found the tiniest sliver of common ground. “That was a nice moment.”

“Um, right. So, this all seems a bit rushed. Your dad and my mom.”

“Yes. I know. At least you don't have to get around the whole celebrity aspect. The whole you and Helena being these big famous stars. I mean it sounds weird, but I'm used to seeing you in magazines and reading about you in the papers. And now here you are in person and we're about to be . . . family.”

Marianne grimaced slightly at the term “family” and then slumped back onto her bed. “I just hope it all works out.” She let out a long, dramatic sigh.

I picked up a framed photo of Marianne with a group of beautiful girls, on a night out, hands on their hips, all posing perfectly for the photographer. I thought about the framedphotograph on my desk of Dog wearing a cowboy hat. I put the photo down, a sinking feeling in my stomach. How could this possibly work out?

“So do I. Honestly though, I'm not sure any of it has really hit me yet.” I picked nervously at the side of the table.

“Don't worry,” Marianne replied calmly, staring at the ceiling. “It will.”

And it did. Sooner than I was expecting.

10.

IT WAS DOG WHO GAVEme away.

We had been safely holed up in the closet, tucked behind the vacuum. I had been consoling myself for the last fifteen minutes, after the stormy events of the morning. Dad had been making an idiot of himself trying to reason with me through the door of my bedroom—completely unaware that I wasn't actually in it.

Serves him right. Thanks to him, I am a goner. Yes, thanks, Dad, for destroying my hope for a normal life.

If it wasn't for him and his frankly thoughtless engagement to a famous actress, then my Saturday morning would have been extremely pleasant. I would have gotten up, put on my bathrobe, greeted my previously faithful yellow Labrador, eaten bacon, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying my life.

Instead I got up, put on my bathrobe, greeted my traitorousyellow Labrador, and went into the kitchen to find Dad standing in the corner, arms folded, hair disheveled, and looking like he'd just found Dog eating hisWest Wingbox set.

“Whoa, Dad, too many whiskies last night?” I chuckled, grabbing the kitchen tongs and placing the bacon on my plate, careful not to wave it too near Dog's snout, which was cunningly resting on the side of the table. Dog was looking the other way though, trying to play innocent. He couldn't fool me.

Dad shook his head and cautiously pushed the newspaper on the table across to me.

On the front page was a picture of Helena at a recent premiere, and above it the headline read “Helena's engagement: third time lucky.” It started with a nice introduction on her new engagement to “renowned journalist Nick Huntley,” gave details about how they met and that, according to their source, the pair's current focus was “bringing the two families together.”

But it didn't stop there. Oh no. The writer then went on to share a nice paragraph about Marianne and “Nick's preteen daughter, Anastasia,” who were both “thrilled” about the engagement.

Thrilled? THRILLED? Whowasthis person?

I looked up at Dad. By the look on his face there was more. I read on with a very odd feeling in my tummy.

There was a smaller piece a few pages in, accompanied by a photo of ME strolling unaware down the road in my blouse and jeans with Dog trotting beside me yesterday evening after the dinner at Helena's. WITH SOY SAUCE SPILLED ALL DOWN ME.

Seriously. A little box in the corner of the article completely dedicated to me. The headline was “Britain's new It Girl?”

BY NANCY ROSE—THE DAILY POST

Now that Helena Montaine is getting hitched again, all eyes will be on Anastasia Huntley, Helena's almost-stepdaughter. While Marianne Montaine is no stranger to the spotlight, her new sister seems to opt for a more laid-back approach, choosing a simple—and casually “distressed”—outfit to take her dog for a walk in London.

“Anastasia is new to fame and will most likely be shy,” says our resident therapist. “One can only hope she will be a calming influence on Marianne. She must not get caught up in the fame game and lose sight of her goals.”

Marianne Montaine is well known on the party sceneand has often been accused of setting a bad example for young girls. “Anastasia isn't like that,” a source close to the family explains. “She's not into fashion, partying, or social events. But as she's so young, her father marrying someone so high profile has come as a shock to her. She is, however, taking it in stride.”

Could Ms. Huntley be a new kind of It Girl? We'll have to wait and see. . . .

An It Girl?ME?!I HAD SOY SAUCE ON MY TOP! And it was in a NATIONAL NEWSPAPER.

This was unimaginably awful. I guess I knew deep down that at some point it would be in the papers and it would be really embarrassing. But I didn't realize any focus would be onme. I thought my embarrassingly-in-love-for-his-very-old-age dad and Helena would get all the attention. I could never show my face at school again—I imagined how hard Sophie and Josie would be laughing right now at the thought that the biggest loser at school had been talked about in the papers in this way.

Why did it have to be sushi with soy sauce? WHY? Could have gone with a simple easy-to-eat dish like chicken, but no, it just HAD to be sushi with SOY SAUCE.

I will never eat soy sauce again. It is the worst of all the sauces.

“Dad, there's only one thing we can do. And I think you know what that is.” I pushed the paper away and bit my thumbnail as he watched me carefully. “I'm thinking Italy. It's sunny there and there's a lot of cheese. That's all we need if we're talking basics.”

“Anna.” He sighed, looking exasperated, which if you ask me was very unfair of him. If anyone should have been looking exasperated, it should have been me. “What are you talking about?”

“Dad, we have to leave the country. And don't suggest Sweden. I know how you feel about those cinnamon buns, but we have to be logical here and Sweden can be very expensive.”

“Anna, stop.” Dad held up his hand. “We're not leaving the country. I know it's a lot to take in, but we're going to have to face it. They were going to find out at some point, and maybe it's better that it's out in the open. No more secrets.”

“You expect me to stay in London? Are you CRAZY?”

He looked bewildered. “Why am I crazy to expect you to stay in London?”

“Dad, I'm not sure whether you're thinking straight right now. I know you had that limoncello at Helena's last night after coffee; I'm not sure if that's gone to your head. Butsurely you can appreciate that you have completely ruined my life.”

“I think you're being a little dramatic now, Anastasia.”

“And that's another thing. My full name, Dad, they used Anastasia! People at school are really going to go to town on that one.”

“You have a lovely full name.” He sighed. “I think you're overreacting slightly.”

I glowered at him. “Dad! This is all your fault. Everyone in the world will read this and know that I am a massive loser who can't dress herself! This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and it's all because of you!”

I turned on my heel and walked straight out of there.

Then I walked back in to grab the bacon.

But THEN I walked out again, Dog in tow, and slammed the door, ignoring my dad's calls for me to come back to talk about it.

Talk about it! Ha! No way. I knew he would expect me to go shut myself away in the bedroom so I shrewdly shut myself away in the closet, taking Dog with me of course. It was a little annoying when Dog kept shoving his butt in my face as he got restless and decided to move around a bit, buteventually I managed to quiet him with half of my bacon and a tummy rub.

So I sat in the closet with my trusty sidekick, listening to Dad talk to no one through my bedroom door, and reflected on what this would mean.

I didn't even really know what being an It Girl meant. I just knew that Marianne was one. School was going to be one big nightmare. I could never leave the house again. Ever.

Either that or I could undergo some major plastic surgery.

Just as I was considering what facial features I could adapt, Dog greedily decided that he was bored of all the attention I was giving him, and he scrambled up, barged out of the closet, and went on the hunt for more bacon.

“Anna?” Dad said, as he heard Dog loudly bang the closet door open.

I felt so stressed and confused, especially now that Dog had deserted me and Dad was coming down the stairs hopefully feeling a little foolish, that I decided the best thing to do would be to get in the fetal position.

“Anna, what on earth are you doing on the floor? Are you in the fetal position again?”

“The fetal position is strangely calming. And you can't just stroll on in here, Dad! You have to knock.”

“This is a closet. Not your bedroom. Why should I have to knock on my own closet doors?”

“Honestly, Dad.” I sighed. “I shouldn't have to teach you these things. Go away.”

“We have to talk,” he insisted, leaning on the door.

“No we don't.”

“Yes we do.”

“Fine. I'm staying in here forever.”

“Oh really?”

“Go away!”

“You're staying in the closet forever.”

“You, of all people, shouldn't mock other people's life choices.”


Page 10

“Anna. You're lying down in the fetal position in a closet.”

“I'm sorry, what exactly is your point here? YOU are marrying a ridiculously famous actress and RUINING my life.”

“I am sorry about all this, Anna, really I am. They'll ignore you after a while. It's just the first flush of the news, and if you keep your head down and be boring, they'll leave you alone.”

“Right, okay, thanks for the advice, Dad. You can go now.”

He gave a big sigh, ran his hand through his hair, and then looked at me in silence for about a minute before obviously coming to the conclusion that his efforts would be fruitless.He threw his hands up in the air, and started to shut the door again.

“Oh, and Dad,” I said just before it was closed, “you better start looking for other schools in the area because there is no way I'm going back to mine after this. I think we should consider homeschooling.”

“Anna, you are not getting out of school over this.”

“You don't understand!” I cried, sitting up. “Dad, I'm not a popular student, okay? I'm a geek, a loser, whatever you want to call me. Bottom of the food chain. That article said that I'm an It Girl. Seriously, anIt Girl.I am the LEAST It Girl–type person in my school. I never get invited to parties or do anything cool. Do you know how much people are going to mock me for this? They're probably all together now, laughing their heads off and drawing moustaches on my picture!”

“You're being ridiculous. Besides, I think you could be an It Girl if you wanted to. You could make the It Girl concept all about getting good grades and not going to cool parties but staying in to watch classic movies with your father.”

Even my own father mocks me to my face. Why am I even on this planet?

“Dad,” I said, taking a deep breath, standing up, and stalking past him toward the stairs. “I have decided to vacatethe closet and will be hiding in my room. I ask you respectfully not to disturb me. I will either be writing what will most likely become a globally celebrated piece on the chilling and disturbing teenage years that you have subjected me to, or I will be brainstorming funding ideas so that I can escape to Bora Bora and spend the rest of my days tending to injured turtles or something else along those lines. Good day.”

He muttered something under his breath as I ran up the stairs and jumped under my covers.

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Anna? It's your mom. I've been on the phone with your dad all morning, and he says you won't come and speak to him. Look, I know it seems awful now, but really, it's going to be okay, darling. Of course I'm going to kill your father on your behalf when I see him. There was once a series of pictures of me in the papers when I was accused of dating an elderly politician. It was, unfortunately, not true, but I got a flurry of freelance jobs from it. You see? It could be a blessing in disguise. Call me when you feel ready, always here for you. Lots of love, darling, bye.”

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Anna, it's Jess. I've been trying to reach you all day. Look, it's not that bad, honest. They didn't even seem to notice—that much—that you'd spilled your dinner down yourself. Again. Come over, will you? Or let us come to you? Danny's got a brand new experiment that he wants to try out. Something to do with balloons and mayonnaise. Either way, it sounds entertaining. It will take your mind off things maybe. Call me!”

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Hey, Anna, Danny here. Hope you're all right. Anyway, I'm no good at voice mails. Never know what to say. Ha. Okay. Bye.”

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Jess again. Okay, guilty—I tried to get Danny to call you to see if his calming tones might help lure you out of your solitude. Turns out he's useless at leaving messages. Seriously, save that one so we can tease him about it later in hislife. Look, I know you're probably lying on your bed thinking about weird things like moving to Bora Bora or something random like that, but it might make you feel better to have some normal time with your friends. Here if you need us.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“Dad, it's me. I don't want to speak to you right now or come out of my room, so if you could just leave my lunch outside my door, that would be great. Thanks.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“Oh also, if you've made that pasta with that mascarpone sauce again, which, judging by the smell coming from the kitchen, you have, can you make sure you don't put any olives in mine? If you've already put them in, can you pick them out? And be thorough? Last time you left one in there and I ate it by accident and it was gross. Thanks, bye.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“You should know that I heard your reaction when you just listened to your voice mails, and I don't appreciate your tone of voice, even if you were talking to yourself. Stop knocking on my door; you'll break it—I've moved my dresser in front of it. And I think I pulled a muscle doing that, which is all your fault, because if you let me have a lock on my door I wouldn't have to go to such drastic measures. If you wish to communicate, you can leave me a voice mail as I do not wish to speak to you directly through any medium. That's why I keep hanging up whenever you pick up the phone. I would appreciate it if you let it go to voice mail for the time being.

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Anastasia Huntley, if you leave one more voice mail message on my phone, I will start getting extremely annoyed. I realize you're upset, but let's try to be mature about this. I'll leave you alone to have your space, and then you can cometalk to me when you're ready. You're going to have to come out some time, and you're certainly going to have to come out when you go to school. I hope you're not going to be childish about that.”

Hi, you have reached Nick Huntley's phone. Please leave your name, number, and any message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

*BEEP*

“I no longer wish to discuss this any further. Just leave the pasta and go. And, excuse me, I am not childish. I realize that I will, unfortunately, have to return to the lion pit that is school. Have some faith in your daughter. What do you expect me to do, purposefully injure myself or something so I can get out of going to school? Honestly, Dad, I'm not a baby.”

11.

OKAY, SO I PURPOSEFULLY TRIEDto injure myself to get out of school. This is actually a lot more difficult than you would think. Plus I have a very low pain threshold.

It made sense that if I was mortally wounded I wouldn't have to go in on Monday and thus could avoid the torment of my peers awaiting me. On Sunday I tried rolling off the bed a few times in the hope of breaking an arm, but first of all, it hurt too much, and secondly, I guess the recurring thud of me falling to the floor made Dad concerned, as he came and banged on the door with his fist to find out what was going on.

“Nothing, Dad,” I'd said innocently, after I had moved the dresser and opened the door to peek out at him. “But now that you're here, I actually wanted to ask you something. Where do we keep the hammer?”

This was anobviousjoke, but he went crazy after that and then insisted on sitting in my room with his laptop working forthe rest of the day so he could “keep an eye” on me. I tried to get rid of him by putting on some loud R & B and dancing around him in the hope he would give up and return to his study. Instead he typed away furiously and then suddenly yanked my speakers' plug out and threw the cable out of the window.

Dog didn't even get his walk on Sunday. He was so distressed by the missed opportunity to chase squirrels, his mortal nemeses, that he tried to climb into the washing machine in protest. Luckily, Dad pulled him out when he only had his head and front legs in there.

There had been a few photographers lurking outside our front door on Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday morning there were only a couple left. Helena's place, on the other hand, was apparently swarming with photographers. She too had decided the best thing to do was to lay low.

Marianne, however, had refused to let the public revelation of her mother's sudden engagement keep her from her social life. On Sunday there were several photos of her heading to a nightclub in central London posted online. In all of the pictures she was smiling broadly, looking very relaxed, and occasionally even giving a wave to the photographers. How does she do this? How can anyone seem so cool in this circumstance? And how can she look so good in a fedora?

After seeing the pictures I sneaked into my dad's room and tried on one of his fedoras, just to see if I should be donning something like that on Monday when I had to face the press. I did not look cool like Marianne. I looked like I was an extra inBugsy Malone. I put the fedora back.

So the more determined members of the paparazzi still waiting outside our door weren't given anything particularly exciting on Monday morning, just boring me in my regulation school uniform and Dad with his arm protectively around my shoulders. I tried to block out their cries of “Anna! How do you feel about your dad's impending wedding?” and “Anna, are you going to be able to cope with your newfound celebrity?”

When we got to the front of the school building on Monday morning, Dad gave me this bizarre war-film-type “inspirational” talk about character building and how Huntleys always show strength in the face of adversity blah blah blah. I wasn't really listening. Instead I was staring at the school thinking of ways to get out of actually going in there. Dad was on to me though. He stayed by the car the whole time until I was in the building to make sure I didn't run in the opposite direction as soon as he'd turned the corner. Which of course had been plan B, after wounding myself.

Under his hawk-eye gaze, I slowly went up the school steps, my head down. I discovered that if I bent my head enough, my hair fell over my face. That way, people might not notice it was me; you know, I could be any old student.

This trick didn't quite go as planned as it was very difficult to see anything in front of me. As I went into the building, I tried to move as quickly as possible, roughly guessing the right direction to my locker. At first it worked perfectly—no one was looking in my direction as I made my way past the huddles.

But then I walked into a pillar.

My books went flying everywhere, and I landed unceremoniously on my butt. Everyone turned to look at the commotion, and immediately there was whispering, pointing, and, I believe, some snorts of laughter. I lay on the ground with my eyes shut, wishing I could sink into a black hole.

Eventually I sensed someone standing over me.Please be Jess or Danny, please be Jess or Danny, I pleaded in my head, my eyes still shut tight.

“You okay?”

It wasn't Jess or Danny. Please don't let it be who I thought it was.

I blinked up into Brendan Dakers's deep brown eyes. “Heythere, Anna, you okay?” He stretched out his hand to help me up. I closed my eyes again.

“Anna?”

I opened one eye just to check and then shut it quickly. Yep, it was definitely Brendan Dakers. “Is everyone staring?”

“Um . . .” He hesitated. “Yes.”

“Ah.”

“It wasn't that bad.”

“You're lying.” I opened my eyes.

“No, really.” He grinned. “I do that all the time. That pillar is a safety hazard.”

“Can you tell people to stop staring? They'll listen to you.”

Brendan smiled. “Come on, let me help you up.”

I took his hand in a daze, and he pulled me to my feet. I was about to get out of his way and move on with my head down once more when he started talking to me again.

“Were you heading to your locker?”

“Um, yes. It's over there. You know, with all the . . . other lockers.”

Seriously, WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY BRAIN?

“Right, cool. I'm walking that way too.” He smiled and gestured for me to walk alongside him. This was my chance to say something funny and clever. Instead I walkedbeside Brendan Dakers with my mouth open. And everyone watching.

“Geez, people at this school are so unsubtle.” He sighed, shaking his head at a particularly loud-whispering huddle of girls. They immediately went bright red and dispersed. “Ignore all of them,” he warned.

As we reached my locker, he gave a salute. “See you later, Anna.”

I stood in shock for at least two minutes, watching him walk away down the hall, before realizing that if I didn't stop staring I'd look like a bit of a stalker.

Brendan Dakers had spoken to me. ME! He had even beenniceto me. The whole way through class that morning I sat dazed, reflecting on the morning's events. I decided that the reason for Brendan Dakers noticing and talking to me could be any of the following:

1. He mistook me for someone cool and popular. By the time he realized that I was actually one of the big nerds that he's not supposed to socialize with, it was too late and he had to see the conversation through to the end (unlikely because he found me on my butt).


Page 11

2. He ate some bad shrimp or something and was sick and disorientated.

3. He took pity on the fact that I fell on my butt.

4. He likes Marianne—who does not fall on her butt—and wants me to introduce him to her.

5. He's just a nice person?

6. He believes that I actually am an It Girl.

Points 3 and 4 seemed the most likely. I asked Jess and Danny their opinion at lunch as we sat at our table, desperately trying to ignore the pointed looks of everyone around us. “Maybe he was just being human.” Danny shrugged, moving his vegetables around his plate. “People like Brendan Dakers do have the ability to be nice.”

“But then why does he hang out with Sophie Parker and Josie Graham?” Jess asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously at their table.

“He did stick up for me that time in class when Sophie was yelling at me about setting Josie on fire,” I added.

“He said it was funny,” Jess pointed out. “Not exactly backing you up. I don't know; it seems a bit odd to me that the day he decides to talk to you happens to be two days after your celebrity status appears in the papers.”

“Or it just happens to be the day I walk into a pillar right in front of him. If it had been anyone else, he still would have helped them up, right?”

“Maybe.” Jess shrugged. “It's not like Brendan Dakers has ever been horrible. He just chooses to spend his time with people who are. Maybe he thought you were someone else at first?”

“Yeah, I thought that.” I nodded.

“I think you're both thinking about it way too much,” Danny said, looking at us in exasperation. “Does it even matter?”

“Um . . . yes?” Jess and I chorused.

“It's not every day the most popular and best-looking boy in school talks to me, Danny.” I sighed. “Normally I would be very happy right now. Sadly, my dad has ruined my life, so occurrences like Brendan Dakers talking to me are kind of overshadowed by the likelihood that everyone is going to be wetting their pants laughing at the fact that the papers suggested I might be the next newsworthy socialite. I bet Sophie and Josie are on their way to humiliate me right now.”

“Um, first of all, Anna,” Jess jumped in. “Just let Ms. Queen Bee and her evil minion try it. They'll have me to answer to.”

“Yeah, me too!” Danny chimed in. “What?!” he asked, outraged at Jess's look of disbelieving pity.

I gave him what I hoped was a sympathetic and supportive smile.

“Andsecondly,” Jess carried on, “it's not that bad. Being an It Girl could be very cool.Couldn't it, Danny?”

“Please don't call me an It Girl,” I groaned, resting my forehead on my arms in front of me.

“It's, um, very cool,” Danny mumbled through his lunch, looking at Jess perplexed. “Yeah, think of all the great things about it.”

“Like what?” I muffled, not raising my head.

“Uh . . . ,” Danny began, looking at the ceiling for inspiration.

“First, you're probably going to get lots of free stuff,” Jess interrupted, poking Danny. “Celebrities always get free stuff. Clothes, shoes, accessories.”

“You can say important stuff to the press!” Danny said desperately, scowling at Jess and rubbing his ribs. “You could speak out for those in need and bring attention to important charities.”

“Like going to Africa and handing out rice?” I asked, lifting my head.

“Um. Sure?” Danny gave me an odd look. “I'm sure there's a charity out there that . . . goes to Africa and hands out rice.”

“Danny,” Jess said, sighing, “focus on the important things here. What about all the events she's going to get invited to. Premieres, black-tie galas, shop openings, fashion shows. That's the best thing about being a celebrity.”

“Oh no,” I whined, returning my head to my arms. “I'm going to have to learn how to walk like a normal person.”

“Yes,” I heard Danny say solemnly. “Yes, you are.”

“Oh my God!” Jess suddenly gasped, reaching forward and shaking my arm so that I was forced to look up at her. “If you get tickets to On the Rox, you have to invite me. Marianne is definitely having a thing with the lead singer. I saw it online a couple of weeks ago.”

“On the who?”

“On the Rox! They're my favorite band. Being Marianne's sister, you're bound to get free tickets.”

“Stepsister,” I corrected.

“Anna, who cares? Please, promise me you'll take me if you get tickets to see On the Rox. I would be the happiest person in the world.”

“Promise.” I smiled as she punched the air in victory. “I've never even heard of them, though.”

“Of course you haven't! But you'll love them.” Jess nodded vigorously with a huge grin. “Ask Marianne; she'll tell you all about them.It's so cool that she can date rock stars. You might start dating rock stars!”

I snorted. “Don't think so somehow.”

“Well, if you keep snorting like that you certainly won't.” Jess raised her eyebrows at me. “I bet you're going to meet some pretty amazing people. We're going to have to work on your conversation skills. You'll have to learn not to talk about Dog and Marvin comics so much in the presence of celebrities.”

“Marvel. Not Marvin. Seriously, who is this Marvin person?”

Before Jess could answer, we were interrupted by two people suddenly standing by our table. I looked up to see Sophie and Josie smiling down at me. I immediately sat up straight. This was it. I braced myself for the onslaught of ridicule.

“Hey, Anna, sorry to disturb your lunch,” Sophie began.

Jess was scowling so hard, I thought the waves of “go away” coming off her might knock Sophie and Josie off their far-too-high-for-school heels.

“I just wanted to say that we saw about your dad in the papers. That's really cool.”

“It is?” I replied warily.

“Yeah, really cool. Anyway, my uncle remarried a few years ago, so I know what it's like to be in your position.”

“Not quite the same thing,” Jess muttered, picking up her fork and stabbing at a tomato.

Sophie ignored her. “If you ever wanted to talk about anything. Maybe fashion tips or . . . hairstyles.” She eyed my head coolly. I was well aware that having been leaning on my folded arms for the majority of our lunch break I probably had a watch mark right in the middle of my forehead or something.

“Sophie has talked a lot with Brendan's mom about stuff like this,” Josie said authoritatively. “So feel free to ask us any questions.”

“How generous.” Jess smiled sweetly up at them, like a viper would right before gobbling up a mouse.

“Um, yeah, thanks,” I said, trying to elbow Jess.

“And listen, Anna.” Josie took a deep breath. “The fire thing. It's forgotten. I know it was an accident. And you've clearly been under a lot of stress. It can't be easy being around people like Helena and Marianne when you're obviously not really . . . well, not that interested in their sort of things.”

“Uh, right. Yeah. Thanks.”

“Well, we'll catch up later,” Sophie said, clearly blown away by how articulate and charismatic I was being now thatI was in the papers. And looking satisfied, they both waltzed out of the cafeteria.

“Wow.” Danny shook his head and pulled his focus back to the vegetables.

“They are so weird.” Jess laughed.

“Everyone is acting very strangely today. Maybe they all ate shrimp.”

“Why are you talking about shrimp? You know I hate shrimp. Queen Bee and her sidekick are obviously interested in the new celebrity in their grade,” Jess argued. “Maybe Sophie figures being nice to you can't hurt her chances of getting more attention.”

“You think? I thought they were just being nice.”

“I don't think so.” Jess frowned. “What do you think, Danny?”

Danny finished off his water and slammed his glass down. “Girls are weird.” He then began munching his vegetables.

“Thanks for that golden nugget, Daniel.” Jess sighed. “You're as genius with advice as you are with voice mails.”

“Honestly, Anna.” Danny looked at me seriously. “I think you're going to have to prepare yourself for a lot of change.”

Jess nodded slowly in agreement. I glanced around at the other students looking curiously at me. I gulped. I had a feeling Danny was, as always, right. There was a lot of change coming my way.

And I didn't have the first clue what to do about it.

12.

TEN REASONS WHY BEING INthe papers is not very fun:

1. Suddenly people look at you A LOT. This means that you have to try to not be yourself.

2. Because you are concentrating very hard on not being yourself, you do awkward things like walk into pillars and forget the entire English language when someone popular speaks to you.

3. You spend break times hiding in the prop closet of the drama department. This drawn-out solitary confinement leads to you slightly losing it and having a genuine conversation with a human-size sheaf of corn, last used in the school's production ofJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

4. People expect you not to do stupid things. You do stupid things regardless. They laugh at you.

5. There are photographers outside your school waiting for you to do stupid things.

6. In detention people won't stop asking you about the reason you're in the papers, making the detention teacher Mr. Kenton get very angry at no one being quiet.

7. The detention teacher ends up spilling his coffee over his white shirt midway through shouting, giving you an evil glare as though it is all your fault.

8. At the end of detention someone actually asks for your autograph so that they can sell it on eBay.

9. When you say no, they call you a “grouch.”

10. You will most likely lose the only two friends you have due to the odd things you start to do that will freak them out, like having conversations with a sheaf of corn prop. You will therefore be left with very little dignity and a yellow Labrador that will betray you for bacon.

I never thought I'd be grateful for detention, but it was nice to put off going home back to my dysfunctional family life for another hour. Sure, it was very annoying when people like Joe Winton in the grade above kept asking for Marianne Montaine's number—yeah, Joe, because a famous It Girl is going to want to date a thirteen-year-old who is currently in detention for disrupting assembly by pulling down a fellow student's pants—and I could have done without all the questions about why, now that I'm a celebrity, no one has “fixed” my hair yet.

But once everyone shut up, it was nice to get some work done. Not that Connor let me get away with it completely that first detention after it had been in the papers.

“It's funny,” he'd said, leaning back in his chair, chewing a pen. “I don't remember seeing ‘Become Britain's new It Girl' on your list of ambitions. . . .”

“It wasn't on the top of my list, no.” I sighed, slumping into my chair next to him.

“Hey,Anastasia.”

I knew that would come back to haunt me.

Max was a friend of Connor's who made frequent detention appearances too. “Yes,Maximillian?”

“If you ever need anyone to come with you to any of thosecelebrity parties where there are going to be supermodels and famous actresses looking for a fella to show them a good time, then I'm your man.” He winked at me.

“Wow, Max, thanks. That's a pretty irresistible offer.”

Connor snorted.

“Well, that's what the ladies tell me.” Max grinned.

“His mom,” Connor interjected under his breath. And for the first time since the newspaper article, I laughed out loud.

“That's what I was looking for, Spidey. Nice to see you smile today.” He slid his sketchbook across to me. “Now, on to more important things. What do you think of this new character I've been working on? I'm not sure if he looks too obvious. You think I should tone down the muscles?”

It was my Mr. Kenton–supervised hour sanctuary of normalness. And it soon became my favorite part of the whole day.

•  •  •

Outside of detention everything was going wrong. Not only was school a catalog of embarrassing un–It Girl displays from me, Dad was paranoid about me leaving the house without him in case I got pounced on by rogue members of the press. It was getting out of hand. I was starting to feel like Frodo inLord of the Ringswhen Sam wouldn't leave him alone. Except instead of being on a mission to return a ring, I wason a mission to keep my two remaining friends who in school saw me being ritually laughed at and outside of school didn't see me at all. And instead of an optimistic hobbit, who handily happened to be an excellent chef, following me around, I had a grumpy old man who insisted on saying things like “what is the world coming to” every five seconds and kept putting olives in pasta sauce.

Something had to be done.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, school had finished early—there was no detention that day, as Mr. Kenton had been struck down by the flu and no one could cover for him at such late notice. The sun was out, Dog was restless and, despite not having my usual refuge of detention, I was in a relatively good mood.

Jess and Danny were both busy, so I went home and decided to take advantage of the cloudless sky and take Dog for a walk. I picked up Dog's tennis ball and leash, and immediately Dad was standing in the doorway looking suspicious.

How come parents always know when you're thinking of doing something you shouldn't?

“Are we going on a walk?” he asked nonchalantly.

“Dog and I are going on a walk,” I said firmly. “Once he stops running around the house.”


Page 12

Dog, having seen his mangled old tennis ball in my hand, had instantly sped off to do some laps of his territory in joy.

“I'm coming with you.”

“No, Dad, you're not. You're smothering me.” I sighed. “I don't want to have to start hiding your tea just to have some alone time.”

Dad gave me a funny look.

“I wouldn't underestimate me,” I stated matter-of-factly, shoving a set of keys in my pocket.

“What about the paparazzi? You know they might be out there.”

“There are none out there. I checked through the window. I think they've gotten bored of the same photos of me going to school and coming back from school. Even the most imaginative journalists can't do much with those.”

“I don't like you going on your own,” Dad huffed.

“I won't be long. I'll just go to the park. I'll take my phone. Dog will be with me. I can always set him on some press members. I'll tell him they're squirrels in disguise.”

Dad let out a long, tired sigh. “Fine. But I want you to take something with you just in case.” He ran upstairs.

“Like what?” I called up after him. “I hope you're not expecting me to carry around your old baseball bat that'sautographed by that dude no one has heard of ?”

While Dad was rummaging around upstairs, I managed to tackle Dog midway through one of his circuits. I got the leash around him and then instructed him to sit. He decided instead to headbutt the telephone table. I left him to it.

Dad came trundling down the stairs holding what looked like a mini hollow wooden log. “Here,” he said, holding it out to me. “It's a duck call from my hunting days. Just in case.”

“Just in case ofwhat?” I asked in utter amazement, looking at my father who had clearly lost his mind. “A duck has an emergency and needs to gather its far-flown family?”

“Don't joke, Anna. Put that in your pocket, and it could come in handy to whack someone in the head with. Self-defense.”

“Dad. I mean this with kindness. I think you need to sit down and consider your state of mental health. You can't expect me to use a duck call as an assault weapon. I'm going to go now.” I put the duck call in my pocket just to make him happy and then led Dog out of the house—or, rather, Dog enthusiastically pulled me out of the house—looking back to see my dad peering through the curtains.

Honestly, with a dad like mine, how can anyone expect me to be normal?

I hadn't been at the park long when I heard someone call my name. I turned around expecting to see one of the paparazzi who clearly hadn't got the “I'm boring” memo, but instead saw Brendan Dakers making his way toward me, wearing soccer gear and looking perfect as usual.

“Hey,” he said, jogging up to me and pushing the hair out of his eyes. “I thought it was you standing there.”

“Oh. Yeah. It's me. Standing here. Just with my dog.”

GOOD ONE, ANNA. Please, God, let me become better at talking to boys before I hit old age, otherwise I'm going to be on my own for eternity.

“Yeah, I can see.” He smiled at Dog. “How's things? Haven't had a chance to talk to you at school.”

“Everything's okay. My dad is being weird, but that's about it.”

“Yeah, my dad was weird when he remarried.” Brendan rolled his eyes. “Kept trying to act half his age. It was bad.”

“Yeah.”

The conversation came to a bit of a standstill as I struggled for something interesting to say, and I imagine Brendan struggled to work out a way of getting out of talking to me for much longer.

“Your dog know any good tricks?” Brendan eventuallyasked, looking at Dog, who was sitting perfectly still, staring at the ball in my hand. Just as he had been doing the whole time we'd been talking.

“Pretty much just fetch. You want to throw it for him?” I asked.

Brendan looked at the mangled, slobbery tennis ball I was holding out to him and didn't look all that enthused, but he took it anyway. Then, with much more power than I could ever hope to achieve, he hurled it into the stretch of trees and bushes nearby. Dog zoomed off in pursuit, diving headfirst into the overgrowth.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Impressive throw.”

“Maybe it was a bit far. Will he make his way back?” Brendan asked, looking concerned.

“Who, Dog? Please. He has incredible navigation. And fetch is pretty much his only talent. He'll be back before you know it,” I assured him confidently.

Five minutes later, we were still standing quietly awaiting the return of Dog. I was getting a little anxious but didn't want to show it. Brendan was fidgeting next to me. I don't know why I couldn't think of anything to say. Normally with Jess and Danny the conversation flows freely. But with them I don't have to try to say something impressive. I was very aware that Brendan was regretting being polite and coming to talk to me in the first place, which didn't put me more at ease.

“He'll be back soon,” I said for maybe the tenth time. We continued to stand there in silence. I put my hand in my pocket and felt the duck call.

“This could work!” I said, pulling it out.

“What on earth is that?”

“You blow into it, and it makes a duck sound. A quack. You use it to make ducks come to you.”

I decided to give him a demonstration, making a couple of loud quacks until Brendan held up his hand. I stopped.

“Why do you even have that on you?”

“Uh, as a self-defense weapon.”

Brendan stared at me.

“Basically . . .”

But just as I was going to launch into a gabbled explanation about my crazy father and the duck call, we heard a rustle from the area where Dog had disappeared. Brendan looked at me hopefully. Dog victoriously emerged from the bushes and headed in our direction. I would have rejoiced, but it was difficult to once I realized what my Labrador was holding.

Dog was carrying a picnic basket.

Brendan and I looked at each other. “I don't think that's what I threw,” Brendan said, confused.

Before I could answer, a man also emerged from the trees,his face bright red with anger and in pursuit of Dog, who was ignoring this stranger's calls for him to stop. Instead, Dog neatly dropped the basket at my feet.

“Your dog has ruined my picnic!” the man cried in outrage.

“I'm so sorry!” I began to bend down to pick up the basket and return it to him. I couldn't even look in Brendan's direction. This was mortifying.

But Dog was not going to give up that easily. Not when he had gone to so much effort to get his prize. Upset at the lack of enthusiasm for his presentation and, no doubt, taking it upon himself to punish me, Dog lifted up his back leg and proceeded to pee down the side of the basket.

I covered my mouth in horror, Brendan took a step back, and the owner of the picnic basket stopped in his tracks as we all watched Dog finish his business and look extremely pleased with himself.

Why me?

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Not that bad

I'm sure Brendan found it funny?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Not that bad

No.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Not that bad

Well, then he must have no sense of humor. It sounds hilarious.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Ha ha

Hilarious is not how I would describe the incident. It's definitely not how Dad would describe it either. Turns out the basket was from Fortnum & Mason. You can imagine that it's not a very cheap bill to have to pay.

Brendan is going to tell everyone, isn't he, and then they're all going to make fun of me.Even more than usual. What happens if the newspapers find out about this?? The basket man could sell his story!

I'm doomed.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Ha ha

You don't need to worry, you're an It Girl these days, remember? People won't be making fun of you.

Although Dog may have ruined your chances of Brendan Dakers realizing you're his one true love.

The newspapers won't care about a dog peeing on a basket. They'll be too busy reporting on real stuff like war zones and which celebrity baby dresses better.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Ha ha

I hope you're right.Otherwise you and Danny will have to face up to being friends with the biggest embarrassment of all time.

I haven't even told you the part about the quacking.

Maybe I could try to talk to Brendan? And ask him not to tell anyone? Then I wouldn't have to worry about the newspapers or people like Sophie and Josie finding out!

I've got to speak to Brendan before school. I could try to win him over. I could offer him the chance to meet Marianne in exchange? Then he might consider keeping the whole thing to himself. Plus he might like me more if he gets to meet Marianne, right?

I'm sure Marianne wouldn't mind. The other day she gave Dog a pat on the head. Definitely a good sign I think.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Calm down

Huh?

Look, I don't think Brendan telling people would be that much of a problem. Who cares what Sophie, Josie, or anyone at school thinks?

Secondly, you don't have to worry about me and Danny, Anna. We're not going to be fazed by something like your dog peeing on a basket.

What do you mean by “the part about the quacking”?

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Calm down

Um . . . nothing. Forget I said anything.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Calm down

What do you mean by the part about QUACKING?!

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: NOTHING

It's not very interesting.

Just, you know. I may have made quacking sounds using a duck call in front of Brendan.

That's all.

Love, me xxx

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: (no subject)

There are no words.

J x

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: (no subject)

I hate my life.

Love, me xxx

13.

I COULDN'T BE SURE IFBrendan had told anyone about the basket day. I kept waiting for someone at school to make a snide comment about it, and I was absolutely certain it was going to appear at some point in the tabloids. I could just imagine it:

“IT GIRL'S DISORDERLY DOG PEES ON PICNIC”

But a few days later and there hadn't been a word of it in the papers. Perhaps the basket man hadn't realized who I was. Or perhaps the bigger basket plus large bottle of champagne sent to him from my father had done the trick. Either way, it looked like I was safe from national shame.

I was more worried about school. Earlier this year they would have been like, “Anastasia who? Isn't that a dead Russian princess? I don't think she goes to school here. Oh! The girl who set someone on fire . . . right.” But now, thanks to Dad's impending marriage to the most famous actress in thewhole world, the humiliation would be tenfold. I would have to be homeschooled. I would spend most of my days crying, remembering the two precious friends I used to have. And no one would be there to comfort me. Apart from Dog. Who really, if we think about it, would be the reason I no longer had any friends in the first place.

And so, I waited for someone to make fun of me at school, for the whispering and laughing to begin, or for everyone to completely ignore me.

But it didn't happen.

What did happen was very strange. No one said anything at all about it the entire week. Not even Brendan. Everyone was completely normal. I mean, he said hi to me when we passed in the hall, but not once did he ask me to stay at least five feet away from him or anything.

“What did you expect?” Jess laughed as I related how confused I was. “For Brendan to tell everyone that your dog peed on a basket in front of him and for no one to want to be friends with you anymore?”

Well. Yeah.

“It's not a big deal.” Jess shrugged, digging in her bag. “It's not like you set someone on fire. HA.”

Even more strange was Sophie cornering me by the waterfountain at the end of the week. I wasn't particularly happy about this because I find water fountains very stressful, especially if the arc of water isn't pronounced enough. Sometimes it's a dribble, and you have to shove your head right down and purse your lips out weirdly like a fish. That was exactly what I was doing when the most popular girl in the grade decided to speak to me.

I was so surprised when I raised my head to see her standing right there that I dribbled a little water on myself. She witnessed this and paused as though thinking carefully about whether or not talking to me was worth it.


Page 13

“Hey, Anna,” she said brightly once I'd wiped myself down. “Why don't you sit with us at lunch today?”

I looked around me just in case there was another Anna in the line behind me. I didn't want another “awkward wave on the volleyball court” situation. “Me?”

“Yes.” She laughed. “Would be nice to catch up.”

I thought this was an odd thing to say considering Sophie and I have never really talked before, so “catching up” would mean catching up on our entire lives starting with the day of birth.

“Brendan told us that he saw you last week in the park with your dog,” she continued. I immediately tensed, ready foran onslaught of mockery. “You have a Labrador right? I love dogs. I'd like to meet him. Brendan said he was cute.”

I looked at her in confusion. “Oh. Yeah, well, he's great. You can definitely meet him.”

“Nice. Well, see you at lunch then.” She flicked her hair, twirled around, and sauntered back down the hall, her short skirt swishing from side to side in time to the clips of her shoes.

I couldn't work it out for a while, but then it hit me midway through French. Not only had Brendan been kind enough not to tell them what had gone down at the park, the mere fact that he had mentioned hanging out with me had prompted Sophie Parker to want to hang out with me.

This was a cause for note-passing with Jess.

Guess what?

I hate this game.

What game?

The Guess What game.

How can you hate the Guess What game?

Because it's annoying. Just tell me what you want to say.

It's technically not a game. It's more of a lead-up to a revelation.

But why not just lead with the revelation?

You're taking the fun out of guessing.

FINE. Start again.

Guess what?

I don't know, Anna. What?

Sophie Parker wants us to sit with her at lunch!

She what? That's so weird! Did she talk to you?

By the water fountain.

You must have hated that. Did you dribble? Youalways dribble afterward. You need to remember to close your mouth on that last sip.

I did not dribble.

I can tell you're lying. But tell me more about what happened.

She said that Brendan told her about hanging out with me at the park and he thought Dog was cute. And she said we should sit with them at lunch.

Wow, that's odd. Do you think we HAVE to sit with them?

It would be a bit rude not to. She purposefully found me to ask us to sit with them at lunch. Don't you think we should?

I think it's weird to formally ask someone at school to sit with them at lunch. Like she's royalty or something and she's granting permission.

She is sort of school royalty, wouldn't you say?

No, I would not say Sophie Parker is school royalty. Although she probably likes to think she is. I guess we can sit with them though—there are SOME nice people in that group. And I guess as it's Friday we can throw caution to the wind.

YAY!

What have I told you about playing it cool?

Sorry. Yeah, sure, whatever, we'll sit with them, whatever. That's cool, yeah.

You'll get there one day. Keep practicing.

Everyone in the cafeteria was looking at us at lunch break. It's something I suppose people like Brendan get used to, being so popular and good-looking. I put my tray nervously down next to Sophie's, and Jess and Danny put theirs opposite. James Tyndale was in the middle of a story when we joined them. Brendan gave me a smile as I sat down, making me blush, and then he returned his attention to James.

“That was the funny thing though. It wasn't like I had everbeen there before. Completely coincidental that—”

“Anna, what's Marianne Montaine like?” Josie loudly interrupted right in the middle of his sentence.

Everyone at our table turned to look at me.

“Uh, yeah, she's nice. I haven't seen her lots, but she seems cool.” I tried to keep it vague, hoping no one would probe into the details of mine and Marianne's lack of similarities.

“Do you think you'll get to go on film sets with Helena?” Sophie asked eagerly.

“I don't know, maybe. I hope so. It'd definitely be cool to see what happens behind the scenes.”

“Yeah, that would be cool,” Brendan agreed, playing with a ball in his hand. “You must get to go to some exclusive events.”

“Are you going to go to all her premieres?” Josie gasped excitedly. “I am so jealous. You'll probably meet loads of famous people. You HAVE to date someone from a boy band.”

“Why does she have to date someone from a boy band?” Brendan asked, rolling his eyes.

“Because,” Josie said, with an air of authority, “that's what It Girls do.”

“I'm not an It Girl,” I said quickly. “I don't know why thepapers keep saying that. It's only because of Marianne. I haven't done anything differently.”

“Except for have lots of dinners with a hugely famous actress who is about to become your stepmother.” Jess smiled.

“Yeah.” I grinned back. “Apart from that.”

“I don't think you should date someone from a boy band,” Brendan stated, looking at me.

There was a pause, and then Sophie laughed stiffly. “What does it have to do with you, Brendan? You can't tell her what to do.”

“That's just not you, Anna,” he said, looking at me intently before turning back to the boys at the other end of the table. “James, finish that story you were telling us earlier. I wanted to hear the end.”

Danny raised his eyebrows at me as I sat there with my mouth open, ignoring the heat rising to my cheeks. What had just happened? I decided I wasn't going to think too much about Brendan's comment. Nope, not at all.

•  •  •

Obviously this was impossible, and I thought about it every second of the rest of the day.

Even in detention I was distracted. “You thinking about your new friends there, Spidey?” Connor said suddenly, wakingme from my daydream about Brendan Dakers taking me to a premiere.

“What?”

“That's the first time I've said something controversial about Spider-Man and you haven't reacted. I was wondering if your expanding social circle had something to do with your short attention span today. What was the conversation like at lunch? I've always wanted to know what that group talks about.”

“I didn't see you in the cafeteria. Where were you sitting?”

“I'm not surprised you didn't see me. You seemed pretty focused on your own table.”

“They're nice.” I shrugged, sensing that Connor was waiting for an opportunity to make fun of something. “You should have come and sat with us.”

Connor went “HA!” and I scowled at him. He did have a point though—it was a stupid thing to suggest. The student population had already been thrown by the fact that Jess, Danny, andIhad been sitting with Brendan and Queen Bee. If Connor had sat down with us, the school would have been thrown into a frenzy.

“I would be wary of that crowd if I were you,” he said irritatingly, turning a page in his sketchbook. “Brendan, Sophie,and those guys who think they're too good for everyone else. They're not all that.”

“Thank you for your opinion,” I replied curtly.

“I'm just saying, Anna, you're smart. They won't get that.”

I looked up. He didn't call me Anna very much these days.

“I'll have you know that Brendan said something along those lines to me this exact day.”

“Did he really?” Connor chuckled. “Well, I hope he means it.”

How rude.I frowned at him and returned to highlighting my chemistry notes. I don't know why his comments bugged me so much. Connor Lawrence is hardly an expert on these sorts of things. And it's not like he's even talked to those guys before, so he doesn't know what they are like.

Still, I felt angry at him. The fact that I was actually starting to make new friends at school could only be a good thing. For the first time maybe ever, I was being noticed by people who were popular and fun, and it felt good. I wasn't going to let people like Connor Lawrence, who have no idea what they are talking about, ruin it for me.

Hello! It's Anna here. Leave a message. Okay, bye!

*BEEP*

“Hi, Anna. It's Sophie, from school. I know you probably have a lot going on this weekend, but if you're free, you should come join us at the park on Saturday. Everyone will be there. Would be nice to hang out more. And you can bring your dog maybe. Have a nice evening! Bye!”

14.

MARIANNE LOOKED AT ME WITHan expression of confusion. “What did you just say?”

I sighed and put my glass of seltzer down. “How do you make a boy like you?” I repeated slowly. Marianne blinked at me, and Helena chuckled. My dad leaned back in his chair with his eyebrows raised—but I resolutely ignored him. I don't know why they all looked so surprised. It is a perfectly valid question to ask a glamorous celebrity icon.

We were at Helena's favorite glitzy London restaurant. I wasn't that enthusiastic about the idea of another dinner with them; that's all we seemed to have done so far: dinners. I was starting to run out of conversation with Marianne. There are only so many times that you can comment on your meal. I couldn't think of any more adjectives these days. “Wow, this is delicious!” “Mine is scrumptious!” “Isyours as mouthwatering as mine?” “This is fantastic.” “These ingredients are just so fresh!”

I suggested to Dad that we all do an activity together like Laser Quest or something. You can really get to know a person through Laser Quest. But Dad just chewed on the pen he was holding and went, “It's still early, Anna. I'm not sure we're ready for Laser Quest.”

So there we were having another expensive and slightly awkward dinner. It wasn't all bad though—my steak and French fries were awesome. Dog would have been beside himself with jealousy. A bit like I suspect Marianne actually was as she sat and nursed a salad. Not wanting her to be distracted by my superior food choices, I tried again, reaching for a French fry and dipping it in some ketchup. “Seriously, I need to know. I'm twelve and I don't have a clue. Plus I'm not asking Dad.”

“Hey, why not?” Dad protested. “I'd be a great help. You've just never asked.”

“Oh really? Go on then—how do you get boys to like you?” I asked, humoring him.

“Cook them a steak,” he announced proudly, pointing at my dish.

“Cook them a steak?” I sighed. “Dad, you expect me tostroll on into school and offer the most popular boy in class a steak? He already thinks I'm a loser. I don't want to look completely crazy.”

“He's the most popular boy in class?” Marianne asked quietly, her interest sparked.

“Yeah.” I picked up my steak knife. “I know. He's never going to notice me. But I wondered if you might have any tips. You and Helena seem like the best people to ask.”

“Well”—Helena smiled and placed a hand on her heart—“I am flattered, I have to say. Anna, I have several tips when it comes to winning the heart of the object of your affections. Would you like me to run through them?”

“I would very much.” I nodded, digging into my perfectly cooked steak.

Marianne let out a long sigh. “Here we go,” she said under her breath as her mom launched into a monologue on the art of male attracting. I wasn't sure, but I think Marianne might have caught my eye and given me a very slight, barely there glimpse of a smile.

It counts.

HELENA MONTAINE'S TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE A BOY LIKE YOU

1. First, one must look fabulous. Boys do not like girls who fall out of bed and decide that will do. That will most certainly NOT do.

2. Hair—must be always washed. The non-washed-hair look is for try-hards, and they are always a bore.

3. Nails—chipped? Absolutely not. Boys will not want to kiss a girl who can't stay on top of her hand maintenance. A quick coat of color, topcoat, and voila! The boy is yours.

4. Clothes—an expression of your personality, so wear what you wish. However, holes, scuffs, or rips, unless they are purposefully ripped by a designer, are unacceptable. Throw the item away.

5. Now that you're looking fabulous, it's time to focus on what you say—draw them in with your wit and charm.

6. If you don't have wit and charm, draw them in with your eyes. Eye contact is vital. Don't scare them of course.

7. Compliment them ALL THE TIME. I like to accentuate how masculine they are. Forexample, insist on him opening the stuck window or the tough jar lid and then, when he is victorious, look at him in awe and tell him how strong he is.

8. Act like you are good at everything without being boastful—in fact you are incredibly modest about being good at everything. If possible, get your friends to comment on your array of talents while you blush and say, “She's exaggerating.” But we all know she's not.

9. Laugh—keep it dainty and feminine. A hearty laugh is for farmers.

10. Anecdotes—humor is essential, but never be the butt of a joke.

11. Until there is a ring involved, you should not eat indelicate food in front of him such as a burrito or hamburger. Remember, you are an elegant female, superior to him in every way.

“What happens if you've set someone on fire and your dog has peed on a picnic basket in front of him?” I asked when Helena was finished. “Hypothetically.”

“If he really likes you, things like that won't matter,” Dad said encouragingly. “Who is this boy you like?”

“Gross, Dad. I'm not talking about this with you.”

Dad looked offended. “Why not?”

“Because you're my dad. And that's weird.”

“Marianne, you must have some advice for Anna? You've constantly got boys after you.” Helena smiled at her daughter, who was picking cautiously at her salad.

Advertising Download Read Online
Other books
amber's first clue by gillian shields
goalkeeper in charge by matt christopher
with these eyes by horst steiner
isvik by innes, hammond;
an unexpected return by jessica e. subject
wild hunt by bilinda sheehan
across the counter by mary burchell
hurt go happy by ginny rorby
andrea kane by last duke