Sunday, August 18, 2013

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter twenty: a new match)

Chapter Twenty
A New Match
   The next day, my entire art class ignored me. I was shunned just like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. Well, maybe not just like her but you know what I mean. I didn’t have to actually wear a scarlet letter but I might as well have had ‘mean girl’ tattooed on my forehead.
    When everyone was in their groups, working, I took time out to apologize to my teacher.
    At first Ms Dash didn’t smile. Then professionalism took over as I spoke.
   “I just wanted to say how sorry I am that I was so impolite to you during the field trip – I didn’t mean to be, I was just trying to show off in front of that boy…” I whispered as I handed my project preview sketches in.
    Ms Dash didn’t respond for a moment or stop what she was doing – sorting  brushes – and I thought perhaps she never would as I stood there feeling small.
    Then she looked over at me and frowned.
    “I know you didn’t mean it, Honey. Teachers are not supposed to have favorite students but if we did, I’d have to say you have always been one of my nicest and best natured students. I’ve known you since you were in preschool. I know you didn’t mean it but it was hurtful. I’m sorry it happened but I’m a grown up and I’m over it.”         Then, Ms Dash leant toward my ear in a whisper as she handed me my previous assignment, “Besides, I always knew you liked that boy.”
    I glanced at the front page of my essay as she spoke.
    I got an A minus. I didn’t think Ms Dash would let her personal opinion affect her professional one. To be honest, I was surprised to earn more than a B plus because I hadn’t worked as hard on that project as I should have.
    “Flynn Elton?” I shrugged incredulously, “Oh, he’s just a friend… maybe an ex-friend.”
    “I was talking about Ethan Knightly,” she whispered.
    “Oh, he’s just my neighbor…”
    “Are you sure?” Ms Dash asked with a smile on her face. Just because she was older didn’t make her wiser. Or did it?
    After class, which was a very stimulating mix of painting and collage, I told Ms Dash how fashionable she was looking today, loud enough so that everyone else could hear. Then I gifted her the two tickets I’d brought her, to travel in style to the local cinema (I’d arranged for Mr Henry to meet her there), in an envelope on her desk.
  Then, of course, it was time for me to talk to Hilary about the Winter Dance I was helping to organize.
   By then, Flynn had started hanging out every day with a new group – one filled with ex-princesses and other daughters of other fathers who owned half of Bel Air, and I felt very bad for Hilary.
    We’d arranged to go swimming at my place one afternoon towards the end of the semester, when it happened. Hilary surprised me first. I’d decided to broach the subject of my matchmaking enterprises with her early. I’d thought of a way to get Rafe Martin interested in her again and wanted her permission to try to help. I really thought I needed to be open and honest with my friend, after last time.  
   Hilary had grown in confidence and style ever since Rafe had shown interest. It was a pity, I thought, that girls needed guys to make them feel stronger within themselves.
    It wasn’t always like this, I thought, but often it was. I never intended to be needy for male approval but I wondered if my matchmaking projects were encouraging the romantic delusions of other girls. Maybe Ethan had a point.
    Once Rafe backed off and especially after Flynn dumped her, Hilary went back into her shell. It was mostly my fault. I’d wanted to help.
     While I contemplated what to do next, I wasn’t expecting the change that came over Hilary while she was away at band camp. Or her surprise announcement.   
   Hilary was dressed to the nines when she arrived at my house one afternoon, a week after I’d been socially ostracized. My friend even dropped her entourage at the door. I noticed two princesses who normally hung out with me were hanging out more and more exclusively with Hilary to the exclusion of me. This was so wrong. My influence had been usurped. The influencee had become the influencer. Was I on some of my nana’s Xanax or did I hear Hilary give style tips to an unfortunate freshman in the school hallway yesterday?
    This sight of Hilary draped in make-up and designer clothes made me wonder silently. What had I created?
     A fashion victim? A rival? A monster?
    Hilary sashayed into my living room in thigh high boots, a too-short designer dress and way more make-up than even I’d ever encouraged her to wear. In short, she was dressed like a rich girl who hung out on street corners. It was all so attention seeking, all to be… noticed. All to be… like me?
   Even her jacket looked familiar. Because it was mine! Did that mean I looked like a harlot when I wore it? Or was I just being too judgmental?
   Maybe. I heard a designer on one of those TV fashion shows say that girls who wear mini-skirts look cheap. He was way more judgmental than me.
   I considered this predicament. I’d be happy to take the credit for turning my friend fashionable and popular just as long as she didn’t self-sabotage by looking like a tramp (or become as popular as me). This was something she was in no current danger of, in light of recent events. She’d already usurped me by popular vote. Apparently she’d formed a band of her own during camp.
   I’d noticed (that morning) my phone and social networking sites were practically friend free. What had I done? What had Hilary done? Surely it wasn’t just the incident with Ms Dash?
  “Oh, I told everyone how you helped me.”
  “I just told them how you helped me tap into my inner power and resourcefulness.”    I knew this would be misinterpreted by others as me being ‘unhelpful’. What had I done? I looked at Hilary, my friend, my foe.
   I’d helped create a girl in my own image.
    Hilary hardly looked up as she fended off myriad texts and calls while I made us snacks to take out to the pool. We needed to talk. What had happened to my newest almost-bestie? My partial creation? Hilary was not only social and popular, Hilary looked like me. Hilary sounded like me. Hilary was mean.
    “So, whaddup Princess Honey?” Hilary asked sarcastically.
    “What do you mean?”
    “Well, since you failed to destroy my social life I thought you might be busily sabotaging the social lives of others…”
    “No, that’s not what I meant…”
   “And, I mean, c’mon, taking a shot at Ms Dash? Really? I’ve told our entire group – I don’t think your former friends are very impressed with your little matchmaking guide. But, I made a copy on disc and I’m keeping it for future reference…” Hilary waved the disc in my face just as I reached for it.
   “Oh the rest of the group has already seen it. Don’t worry, we’ve agreed not to show it to the boys – out of loyalty.”
   The color drained out of my face.
   “Just kidding,” she said, handing me the disc. I would never do that to you. But now you know how it feels to be manipulated. I’m just glad it helped me discover my true love… because ultimately, if you love someone, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does….”
   “Of course not,” I offered. “I’m so happy for you and...”
    Hilary smiled.
   “I knew you would be, Honey. I just know, deep down, you really are a nice girl  even though some of the Princesses have expressed their doubts.”
   They could talk.
   Hilary talked about the Princesses as if they were her friends when we both knew they were mine. Perhaps her new love Rafe Martin would keep her on an even keel.
    We removed our ballet flats and dangled our feet in the pool.   
   “I’m so glad you guys are together now,” I offered, as Hillary finished off my open box of caramels. “How did it happen?”
   “Well, it hasn’t happened yet. But, I’m sure it’s going to. I knew the first time I saw him…”
   “Really?  I know, I never should have suggested Flynn. You guys were perfect for each other.”
   “Too true. Flynn so wasn’t worth it but I’m finding him to be a much better friend than a potential boyfriend… He even suggested my perfect match.”
   Oh so a guy’s suggestion was better than a girl’s? Typical. Flynn was now friends with Hilly? Even after he’d stopped speaking to me? Was he on glue? Hello.
   “…And then, after that first meeting, well, he really saved me from public embarrassment – something I am eternally grateful for.”
   “I know, Rafe was so sociable at the picnic…”
   “Rafe? The picnic? I’m not talking about Rafe Martin and the Ms Dash picnic. I’m talking about Ethan Knightly and the Dance Fangdango.”
    Ethan Knightly?
   This was too much; way too much. My face went red and it was all I could do to stop myself pinching her, stomping on her feet, pulling her hair and pushing her into the water fully clothed.
    Hilary had set her sights on Ethan Knightly?
    I knew then, I’d truly created my nemesis.
    I had to get her out of the house as fast as possible and go and see Phoebe, who, being older and wiser and in possession of one Knightly already, would surely know what to do.
     I controlled myself until after Hilary left, then I rushed next door.

     Phoebe was playing music to the baby with ear phones on her belly.
     I started telling her everything from the start about Hilary, Flynn and even Ethan. Suddenly I burst into floods of tears. She listened before she spoke.
  “So, you were most upset when all your friends blanked you or when Hilary told you about her interest in Ethan?” Phoebe asked.
   “Well… Ethan! I know, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”
   “I suppose so…”
   “I mean, since most of the time I get so annoyed with Ethan and we do argue a lot…”
   “Oh, I’ve noticed… but… ”
    “Well,” Phoebe said, putting her pen down (she’d been filling out forms for one of her teenage clients but realized this conversation needed my full attention), “it’s just that I don’t think you’ll be arguing together much longer…”
   “What do you mean?”
   “Ethan’s going to boarding school at Hallowed Halls after summer for senior year.”
   “What? Ethan is going away?”
   “Not very far. It’ll be good for him, he wants to go to Harvard, you know.”
   “I know.”
   “His dad thinks he has too many distractions in the city.”
    It occurred to me now, how much I’d miss Ethan.
    I’d miss him climbing through my window, jumping into my pool, eating my food, watching my flat screen and diverting the attention of my so-called friends. I’d miss him laughing at me as I planned new matches. I’d miss his smile, his sunglasses, the fact that he always let me beat him when we swam the length of the pool. I’d miss him for so many reasons but most of all – this one:
    Ethan was the best friend I’d ever had. He was the only person around me (apart from Phoebe) who I hadn’t scared off with my bossiness, my busy body-ness, my chatter, my opinions, my unintentionally mean girl ways. He was the only boy who cared enough to offer me advice. He was not only my best friend, he was now my only friend. That’s if he was still talking to me.
    I was so annoyed with Hilary – not for stealing my social contacts or my so- called image – not for getting her own back or telling me where to go - but for trying to steal Ethan! How could she? Didn’t she know Ethan was special? Ethan was off limits, because, it finally occurred to me that night as I was doing our profiles:

Honey Jane Woodhouse
Age: mid-teens ( a girl should always add some mystery to her age)
Height: 166cm – more in heels.
Weight: normal
Previous dates: mostly rejected before advancement
Hobbies: matchmaking, swimming, socializing
Goals: to remain happy and look after my father when he needs me
Sign: Leo
Compatibility: needs a strong Sagittarian

Ethan Knightly
Age: sixteen
Height: 178cm (and growing!)
Weight: nicely muscular
Previous dates: various, has a lot to learn about women.
Hobbies: computer games, getting straight A’s, soccer etc.
Goals: to go to a good college.
Sign: Sagittarius
Compatibility: needs a Leo

    Although I’d been misguided, misdirected, maybe even misinformed in the past; this time I was right.
    Ethan and I were a perfect match.
    Together, we’d be not only popular (although I’d learned the hard way that popularity might not be the most worthy pursuit) - but right.