Sunday, August 18, 2013

POPULAR (chapter four: breakfast, lunch and diner)

Chapter Four
Breakfast, Lunch & Diner

    First of all you should know that the Belly Up Diner is where we – Ethan and I - go for breakfast at least once a week.
    I usually have my babysitting money by then and Ethan has his money from working at the local country club parking cars. Ethan always insists on paying, though, which is surprisingly gentlemanly of him. I love that old-fashioned stuff where boys pay. Ethan has had to withstand a ton of family pressure to help out in his dad’s legal firm instead of finding his own way. In fact, his Dad nearly went ballistic when Ethan got a job on weekends at the country club but Ethan doesn’t like to be beholden to anyone. He intends to focus on international conflict resolution at college and has a plan to ease global poverty. Ethan thinks he’s way smarter than me, though, which is probably his biggest vice. I hate it when men underestimate women, don’t you? The good part about Ethan’s superiority complex is that Ethan is teaching me to have a good work ethic. For example, before we started hanging out together, I only worked one day a week at the animal shelter but now I work two. 
    He doesn’t know that, in return, I’m teaching him about how to be popular, how not to be such a hopeless geek and care so little about fashion. Ethan just laughs and thinks I’m trying to be funny when I adjust his collars. He doesn’t think he cares about fashion fads. So wrong, Ethan, but I guess he’ll learn what the ladies like after he’s learned the error of his ways.
    “So Honey,” he said, “What are we having?”
    “The usual,” I replied. The usual was pancakes dripping with maple syrup.
    We sat in our favorite window seat, overlooking the park.
    I love Sunrise. It’s the next suburb along from Bel Air and a little town in its own right. Parts of it aren’t as gated as Bel Air but the sun always seems to be shining here and tons of my friends live near this very street. Sunrise High is just a few streets away from The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies. My sister, Maya, went there but she’s tres clever and a total snob. Well, I think she is – a snob about cleverness.
    “I mean, I’d never describe myself as academic, but I’m an A student when I apply myself,” I explained to Ethan that morning.
    “What in? The history of fashion?” he asked jokingly.
    We’ve been coming here since I was nine and Ethan was ten. Back then, his  grown up cousin Mark (who was a high school senior) would take us here after school with his sister.
    As we wait for our food (I ordered a side of strawberries, Ethan ordered his with  caramelized bananas) I start to go over my schedule for the day.
   I warn Ethan as I go through my blog whilst he checks his subject notes and the news headlines – he’s very serious like that – that I intend to meet my friends at the front gate before school.
   “If you haven’t brought some kind of hot jacket to cover up the decidedly uncool band on your t-shirt, I might have to pretend I don’t know you,” I said.
    Ethan just smiled and rolled his nice, blue eyes. He’s so used to just getting by on his looks and charm. I’m not sure how he thinks that’s going to cut it at Sunrise.
    Ethan insisted on paying because ‘I always feed him,’ which is true, of course.
    I adjust my new over-the-knee new boots before we leave. Everyone thinks they’re so retro 90s but what everyone doesn’t know is that I’m bringing them back. They are in this season, now, not last. I cheerily adjust my blog on my tablet to mention this as I wait for Ethan to text either Gigi or Ariel.   
   “So, how’s your fashion blog going, Em?” For a moment I think Ethan’s really interested in my answer but then he adds, “I think blogging is far less counterproductive than matchmaking. I’m sure you could do less damage with bad fashion choices than bad people ones…”  
    “My fashion blog is pending an update and dating tips,” I told Ethan.
    “Oh,” he replied, sounding very bored.
    “Yes, I’ve decided to include fashion picks for the month of October.” As if to prove this I took a snap of a customer – asked if she’d be okay with me posting it – she said, “sure” and hey presto – a new post.
     Ethan opens the door as we leave. I could be all, I can open my own door, but I would never be as rude as that. Besides, I’m training Ethan up. I like it when he opens a heavy door. Most men have thirty percent more upper body strength than most women. So, hello, it’s not anti-feminist. It’s polite. It’s why you should always let them carry grocery bags if they offer. And just because most boys are physically stronger than girls, doesn’t mean they are smarter.
   Ethan glances over my shoulder as he checks my seat belt.
   After a ten minute drive, he pulls into the student car park in his totally hot new car and makes such a spectacle of himself just by getting out that I have to quickly head over to my friends who are waiting at the gate to meet me. I turn back, thinking I should at least try to be polite even if Ethan is taking over my turf.
    The first person I saw was Veronica, side braiding a little piece of her red hair. Veronica is very new wave conscious. Then Jess is waving excitedly in our direction.  Most of my friends are daughters of former Princesses but some, like me, are first generation recruits.
    “Isn’t she one of your little clique members?” Ethan asked.
    “Maybe. We’re not just a clique – we help people.”
    “Who’s she?” he asked, pointing at Hilary.
     I shrugged.
 At that exact moment the ‘new girl’ who looked to be about my age, alighted from her Dad’s car. He had some kind of dog washing business stenciled on the doors of his car.  
    “Looks like you might have a new project since you ‘fixed’ Veronica.”
     Veronica was madly waving at us now. Her skirt was one of my hand me downs (I’d only worn it once) but it looked amazing on her. I only wish she hadn’t gone so ‘fashion forward’ as getting a nose job over the summer. First of all, plaster is not hot for the first day of semester and second of all, the Princesses would never condone teen plastic surgery purely for cosmetic purposes. I’d hate to think I encouraged her to do that just because I agreed that her nose was huge (well, she asked, didn’t she?) How would anyone respect me as unofficial leader of my group if I didn’t tell the truth?
     I was thinking this exact thing before Ethan rudely interrupted my train of thought. Already he’d done something seriously uncool by stopping to admire Rafe Martin’s sky planet mobile in the admin office window. Rafe is all about computer games and the universe.
     On the opposite side of the road, the new girl had just dropped all of her belongings on the ground. The driver of the car she arrived in, sped off. She appeared to be lost as she gathered her things and searched the school map.  
    Ethan made his move to help her. He even rushed across the road to the other side.  
    I have to admit, I was tempted to ignore the whole situation. But, in this instance, Ethan led the way. He may have even inspired me to take my matchmaking plans to another level. If new girl was a hot teen mess and couldn’t even read a map let alone  herself in a more becoming way, maybe my team could help.
    It was like a light turned on inside me.
    I wandered over and said “hi,” as Ethan pointed her in the direction of administration. I noticed she was wearing a colorful array of scrunchies in her hair. Very early Nineties: not cool.
     “I’m Honey Woodhouse,” I said. “This is my neighbor, Ethan Knightly.”
     “Hi,” she smiled sweetly. “I’m Hilary Jones.”
     “I know,” I said confidently. I’d seen her profile picture.
      Hilary had a great smile. I smiled back as she and Ethan walked up the hill towards the admin block.
     Just then, new boy Flynn Elton drove into the car park and pulled up near me with a loud screech. He was driving some sort of ‘restored’ red Mustang. A few girls actually cheered. Flynn is hot but those girls are doing him no favors by making him feel like a rock star.   
      As Ethan and Hilary became dots in the distance, I contemplated my mission.
     It was one thing to have helped Phoebe find happiness but Phoebe was one of the most accomplished, intelligent, amazing women I knew. Let’s face it, if I could even be half so wonderful when I’m as ancient as her, I would be doing brilliantly.
     No, Ethan was right. Phoebe marrying Mark was inevitable; hardly the result of any great accomplishment on my part.  Finding a true love for a girl who might otherwise be overlooked would be far more difficult. What I needed was a real challenge. What I needed was to make someone like Hilary Jones… popular.