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.

POPULAR (chapter five: Hilary)

Chapter Five
Before we focus on Hilary Jones, you should probably know all about my best friends, Wednesday, Tyler and Veronica.
    Wednesday’s an actress and spends a lot of semester on set. Tyler and Veronica are my other besties and Veronica and I hang with a group called The Princesses. We’ve been friends since middle school. Recently, Tyler started working as a secret shopper and everything else has gone out the window. He’s obsessed. It’s all, “forget about friends and the good works of others” and just fashion, fashion, fashion. Tyler is also heavily into music and dance and Veronica is more into singing and acting. Tyler is so busy at lunch, usually, that Veronica and I sit with our group, The Princesses. Veronica was not surprised to note how popular Ethan had become by midday of his first day.
     Ethan was the center of attention as I chose my sandwich. He’d already put himself down for track and soccer and was instantly surrounded by other juniors eager to friend him.
     He was kind of making a joke of me trying to ignore him as I adjusted my knee socks. Before I made my appearance in the cafeteria he pulled a face at me just as Gigi started rubbing his arm in the lunch queue. Some girls are so transparent.
     Ethan gave me a wink as I smiled politely. Of course, I was being ridiculous by even pretending to be jealous. Let’s face it, Ethan was already a hit with the nerdy set. I’d never really doubted it. I have to admit (although I’d never tell him) Ethan, of all the boys of my generation, has some serious form. What I mean is, he has obvious ‘on paper’ potential.
      Just as I finished my sandwich, Hilary appeared. I was thinking about how we’d decorate the auditorium for the autumn dance (otherwise known as Dance Fangdango) when Hilary announced her entrance by again dropping her entire tote and contents on the floor of the cafeteria. Some students stopped what they were doing and sniggered.
      I took note of her obvious potential for social oblivion just as Ethan walked in with Ariel (adjusting her glasses, nose in Anna Karenina) and Gigi. Gigi was dressed for cheer try outs. 
      He pulled a face when he reached my table, whispering, “all alone Em? You are welcome to join us.”
     Gigi smiled. I made a note of her in my blog. I didn’t like the way she was possessively pawing Ethan but it was up to Ethan to see the error of his ways. After all, he invaded my turf, not the other way around.
    At that exact moment Flynn Elton  entered the room. Flynn is the son of one of Daddy’s former work colleagues. His family recently moved back to Bel Air from New York City and we hung out at the pool over summer, while my own pool was getting refurbished. Flynn’s all “Hi,” so smoldering.
    I’m inviting him to my pool party this Saturday. In fact just about everyone from my junior class (as well as Ethan, Ariel and Gigi) is going to be there. That’s what I was thinking about when Ethan whispered, “You need a new project,” as he left the cafeteria.
    Hilary was standing very close to me by then. She just spilt the entire contents of her purse and her drink, after she paid for her lunch. Again, nobody had offered to help her. Thrice in one day was too much.
    That’s where I came in.
    Hilary was covered in hot chocolate and last season’s jeans. It was like she had ‘help me’ tattooed on her forehead. Strangers smirked. In the absence of other Princesses, I decided it was up to me to show some social kindness. Excitement welled in my stomach as I stood up. A lot of kids said ‘hey’ as I walked past them. Ethan had joked once that I should never neglect my, ‘social station’.
    “And what is my station, Ethan? You are always so good at reminding me.”
    “You are a teenage girl Honey. You don’t have all the answers. You need to get over yourself and start acting real.”
     I’m sure he wanted me to say that during our days spent lounging by the infinity pool, during summer vacay, reading magazines and tending Sugarplum’s needs, in between going to and from my doggy shelter, I had developed a crush on him.  
     In his dreams.
      But let’s not talk about Ethan for the moment, since I’m in a roomful of semi friendly strangers (strangers are just friends we’ve not yet met - a wise quotation by someone very smart) and I’m just about to make one of them my friend.
     For a long time now, let’s face it, my group has had a lot of say in what’s popular, who’s hot and frankly, who is not. Because it is a terrible thing to show meanness to others (and cyber bullying is the worst) I have to help Hilary. I need to show her the social ropes and make her part of my A team.
    As the newbie adjusted her scrunchie (So very 1989) I walked up to her again.
    “Hi,” I said. “Would you like to come and sit with me?”
    I offered her my hand to help her off the floor after we’d picked up the rest of her stuff.
    Lead by example, it’s what I tell all the puppies at the shelter when I’m trying to encourage them to be on their best behavior so someone will adopt them out quickly. New owners always adopt the ones that strut their stuff and run to them. Unfortunately they don’t speak English but this girl does.
    Hilly looked a little less lost as she smiled at me, “I dropped my lunch.”
    “Obviously. Never mind.”  
    I pulled her up off the floor as she brushed her knees. Someone had already stomped on her purse and candy had fallen out. Peeps shrugged and returned to their conversations.  
   ‘Forget the candy,’ I told Hilary, ‘Throw it in the trash. It rots your teeth even though it’s delicious. I try to have at least two candy-free days a week and guess what? One of those days is today. You can share my lunch.’
    I unpacked my sushi, there was more than enough for two.
    Hilary nodded, speechless. I love it when people take my advice.
    Over lunch, I explained everything I knew about how school worked, socially. I even invited her to sit with us.  
    “There’s just one thing,” I said as the bell rang out for class.
    “What?” She looked exhausted from having to take on board so much new information but I was sure she’d be glad of it in the morning, when she’d had time to process.
     “I think we need to do a makeover.”
     “Hipsters were over a decade ago,” Ty interrupted as he raced back into the cafeteria to collect his notes. Just in case you wondered, Ty’s an honorary member of our group, although he’d never admit it.
      By now my two best friends had arrived back at our table with what was left of their lunch. Tyler and Veronica encouraged Hilary to take the leap.             
     Tyler smiled as if a makeover was a serious necessity (he wants to be a fashion designer) and Veronica just said, “it needs to happen… and soon. Honey has the best room for a makeover. She has an entire guest room that was converted into her personal dressing room… with stage lights around the mirrors.”
     “Oh, wow,” Hilary said.
     “It’s true,” I nodded.
     Veronica smiled enthusiastically.
     “Meet us after school,” Veronica added.
     Hilary smiled in agreement.
     And if I’m not just a little bit naïve or very much mistaken, did that look in her eyes spell wonderment?
     Or fear.

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter six: makeover)

Chapter Six 
Before school finished that day, I checked in on my art teacher, Ms Dash. I’ve been trying to get her and the physics teacher, Mr Henry, together for ages.
     Ms Dash is at least thirty and spends all her days hanging out with her great-aunt (highly admirable) but let’s face it, my teacher is not getting any younger and her life is going nowhere fast. Teaching reprehensible eighth graders might not be the best game plan for meeting a man or making a match.
     When I rounded the corner of the hall, Ms Dash was speaking to Miss Drusilla. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure Miss Drusilla isn’t same-sex attracted. I mean, I have seen her hunched over and speaking intimately with the female coach of the girls’ softball team, but I would never openly speculate about a teacher’s private life. That would be impolite. 
    Anyway, Miss Drusilla has always been mildly hostile to my suggestions of help but last semester, I offered Ms Dash  sustained advice in terms of clothing, deportment and what to say on first dates. She didn’t seem very thankful. In fact, I’d have to say the whole experience (for me) was quite an ordeal.
     I was happy to see her and Mr Henry sitting together at a café recently, but I can’t say he’s been down on one knee over summer. There is no sparkler in evidence – fact. 
     By early afternoon, I’d barely seen Ethan, until I nearly collided with his most recent acquisition.
     Gigi was carrying her pompoms, which reminds me that Veronica and I intend to become cheerleaders this semester. We’ve been waiting for the right moment since elementary school and now it has finally arrived. I don’t mean to sound shallow, but cheering is a great social experience and our school’s team is almost exactly like the one in that classic film, Bring It On.    
    I’d arranged to meet Veronica and Hilary at the gate after tryouts when who should rock up but Ethan with his arm around his new flame, Gigi. She hovered near the gate, talking to a friend.
    “Is it safe for us to admit we know each other yet, Honey?” He asked.
    I nodded cautiously, “I don’t know. I don’t know if you have sufficient rep for me to make out your form.”
    “Mmm.” He looked slightly curious as I paused then he dangled his keys and clicked open the door for me.
    “Are you serious, Ethan? I’m not travelling in the back seat while you drive your new floosy around like she’s the queen of the world or something.”
    At that moment Gigi blew Ethan a little kiss as she waved goodbye.
    “Or something? Gigi isn’t coming. She has her study group.”
   “You mean she can read?”
   “Honey, she’s an honors student. She’s applying to every major pre-law program at college. I’m just lucky she agreed to even go on a date with me. Saturday night.”
   “Are you serious? What about Ariel?”
   “Ariel and I are just friends. Don’t look so sad, Honey. You are always telling me I have to be more social. I think I’m going to like it at this school. Okay, c’mon let’s go.”
    Veronica walked towards me in the distance.
    “Uh, it’s okay, I’ve got a lift.”
    “Your new friend?”
    “Sure. Hilary and I had study hall together.”
    “Hilary? The new girl? The one I noticed you monopolizing in the lunch room?”
    “Excuse me! I saved her from further public humiliation.”
    “And I’m sure she’s very grateful but…”
    At this moment Hilary, Veronica and Tyler arrived. Hilary blushed and smiled at Ethan who smiled back and both Tyler and Veronica said, “hi.”
    “I see you are very busy now, Ethan. We have to go,” I said quickly.
     As we drove off, I turned the music up loud. Hilary asked, “Who’s the hot guy?” and Veronica laughed.
    Tyler explained, “It’s Honey’s brother and cousin-in-law Ethan.”
    “In other words, we are related by marriage - not blood relations. Ethan’s older  brother is married to my sister. Really, we’re just neighbors.”
  “Oh,” she said, with a confused look on her face.
   “I can’t believe he’s decided to complete senior year at our school,” Veronica said excitedly. He’s – “
    “He’s what?”
    “He’s so good looking…”  Hilary said, sounding more than just a little awestruck.
    “Ethan is already way popular with the ladies,” Veronica added.
    As if I didn’t already know that, I thought. I mean, I taught him everything he knows. There had been lessons in man-etiquette, man-deportment, clothes combinations, how to ask a girl out. Honestly, I’d spent at least half a week coaching him, while he just lazed around by my Dad’s pool laughing at me, drinking soda and reading his stupid comics.
     I tried to drum into him the importance of first date etiquette, pre-date tooth brushing, flossing, ironed clothing etc. while he bored himself stupid gaming in front of our new flat screen and pretty much pretended to ignore every word I said.  Of course, he’d been soaking it all in. He’d never have been such a hit with the ladies if he hadn’t listened to my advice.
     “We’re here,” Veronica announced as we drove into my lush drive way.
      “I can’t wait to fix this,” Tyler added, framing his hands around Hilary’s ponytail.      “… Then we can work on our geography project.”
     Hilary looked skeptical.
     “C’mon,” I assured her, “This is going to be fun.”

POPULAR (chapter seven: eco-systems)

Chapter Seven
     We were extremely happy with Hilary’s makeover. Even Hilary was happy with it and she was skeptical at first.
     I wrote, “a huge transformation…” in my journal and described the wispy highlights Ty added and the new clothes (my cast offs but they were totally designer) we found our new friend.
     That evening, I realized we’d forgotten to prepare our first group project of the year. It was supposed to be a group presentation titled: Why We Need to Save the Environment Now. Our geography teacher, Ms Marks, was all on about global warming, so that’s what we wrote about. We messaged each other ideas on sub-topics from our different locations. By ten pm we had it underway. It had been a long and fruitful day.
     While Tyler, Veronica and Hilary were putting together a mosaic of images of the way planet earth has changed this millennia (like, whole parts of Antarctica have eroded!), I imagined what Ms Marks could do to fix her dull image. Her hair was a mess and her cardigan actually had lunch stains near the buttons. She never smiled. I could have told her sometimes you need to fix the outside to fix the inside.
    Earlier that day, during our class discussion, peeps started to challenge her theories on global warming and Ms Marks suggested they do their research more thoroughly. I thought about school being part of the eco-system and part of the world. Every time we used plastic in the lunch room and threw it away helped to create the potential for more damage. Tiny things created a ripple down effect.
    I put my hand up, “Ms Marks, do you really think we should discuss politics in school?”
    “Well, Honey, as long as we have a balanced discussion…it’s important to try to understand the world we live in.”
    “I agree, it might help if we stopped using plastic – as much as possible – at Sunrise.”
    “That’s true…”
     When I kept asking questions and making suggestions, in the nicest possible way, she was all exasperated. Honestly, I don’t know what she expected. For the first time I was actually interested in her lesson. My teacher seemed to find my enthusiasm irritating.
    “Honey Woodhouse, how would you like to take the class?”
    I was dumbstruck - of course I didn’t want to do that. I mean, I told Ms Marks that  teaching was not my job.
   “Exactly”, Ms Marks agreed. I’m not sure my geography teacher and I got off to the best start. I think she was making fun of my ignorance about the topic and that’s not her job, either.
    And then she was all, “okay everyone, so sit down in your seat, put your thinking cap on, do some research and tomorrow tell us about global warming and why it’s an important topic. Oh, and I’d like your informed opinion, Honey.”
   “Sure, whatever,” I replied reluctantly under my breath.  
   I was so glad Hilary smiled at me, then. She must have known how I felt being made to look small and not very smart in the eyes of my peers.
   That night, I googled ‘global warming’ and read all about it. It’s way wrong and slowly destroying planet earth. I hate the fact that when we throw plastic bags and other things away they end up in the eco-system and sometimes marine life (like, hundred year old turtles) eat them and the plastic blows up in their poor stomachs leaving them in excruciating agony and our human carelessness actually kills these amazing creatures. This was my epiphany.
    I continued working on our project until it was midnight, researching and writing up every aspect of our argument. Always have an opinion, that’s what my daddy taught me. I wasn’t all just make-up and hair style advice.

      In geography class, the next day, our group walked out front, stood tall and proud and with a loud voice I began:
     “Global warming is here, it’s happening and it’s one of the most important topics our generation and future generations are going to face. How we treat our planet and precious species today is going to shape our world tomorrow…” some peeps (particularly Flynn Elton), clapped.
    “First of all, a little bit of history… You need to know how much plane earth is deteriorating…” I showed them before and after photos of Antarctica.
     I wasn’t all doom and gloom of course. Hilary, Ty and Jessica finished our talk with a host of things people could do to become environmentally conscious, if they weren’t doing them already. Like, always take your own containers to school and use cloth bags instead of plastic. 
     A few boys groaned when I finished speaking, but most of the class sat still and listened and by the end, our group got clapped by the entire class. I was way proud to have turned my ignorance into knowledge.
    We sat down after our group talk. It’s always good to do your research but then leave your audience wanting more. I could see my geography teacher’s expression change. It’s also good to surpass people’s biased opinions of you. I was proud my group aced the research for this topic. I would totally call myself environmentally friendly now.
     After school, I told Ethan about my class and he just groaned, “I explained all of this stuff to you years ago, but you never listened.”
    “Well, this time, I did my own research.”
    Little did he know, I had a list of many more excellent facts about our school environment  to report on. I finished off Ms Marks’ profile that night but put it on hold. Some people need to want to be helped and I had a feeling Ms Marks knew her own mind and made her own choices. She could wait and maybe by the time she was ready to change she wouldn’t need my help. Then, there was a whole list of other people; so many forms to fill out, questions to be answered.
    I fell asleep with pages of my paper spread across my pillows.

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter eight: global warming)

Chapter Eight
Global Warming
    School is like a microcosm of our eco-system. Like fish, peeps need to be tended. Every face in the hallway the next morning was a potential match and it occurred to me, that if everyone in the world had the right match, there wouldn’t be any wrong ones. Well, not as many. So really, I was doing work for the environment.
     During library class, I continued working on my list of potential male matches, starting, of course, with Ethan (he just didn’t know it). Then, of course, there was Rafe Martin, Mr Henry and Flynn.
    Mr Henry seemed to be making an effort at first with Ms Dash but all of that seemed to stop this semester. I haven’t seen them together in days.
    I typed into my laptop next to their matching photos; success pending.     
    I moved on to Flynn whose popularity yet obvious loneliness had captured my imagination from the beginning. From our days spent at Sunrise pool I wrote:
    Flynn Elton is maximus cutest and wildly popular but beset by scandal.  
    Rumor has it he is the illegitimate son of the headmaster Mr Elton.
    It was a good thing I wasn’t writing on the web. I’d never put my private files out there – I’m like a legal firm.
     Of course, Mr Elton denies any association but I’ve heard from one of my mom’s friends on the social committee that that’s just not true. In fact, Flynn’s mother is my father’s legal advisor and since Flynn transferred from some private school in Upstate New York, the whispers have just grown louder. 
    School had only been ‘back in session’ (as I like to say) for a month when I sat in my bedroom one Saturday afternoon as the sun set across the hills from Beverly Hills. I’d promised to meet Ethan (who was all about training for the swim team – the Knightly men are good swimmers) in the pool at my place. My dad was home early and wanted to have a barbeque. Ethan had, of course, invited his new girlfriend Gigi (they’re officially dating) as well as Ariel. I’d invited my group plus Flynn, Ty and Hills.
   It was twilight, and I’d worn my favorite post-summer outfit; jeans and strappy platform sandals. I put my swimsuit on underneath – my favorite one that is 1980s retro.    
    I grabbed my laptop (to make minor adjustments if needed) and went downstairs to join my guests. Veronica, Tyler and Hilary had already arrived. Hilary looked amazing since we made her over and I told her so after Tyler and I air kissed.  
   “Honey are you having ketchup with your food?” Daddy asked.
   “Of course, I’m eating healthy this week,” I replied.
   Ethan laughed then behaved like his usual childish self, pretending to be a whale in the pool as Hilary and Tyler dived in with him.  They floated around and splashed me as I sat on the side finishing my blog post. I kept busy whilst others socialized. I had some serious work to do in the form of writing up my recent post on my matchmaker blog. All peeps remained anonymous. No rest for the wicked as they say. I wore my prop glasses – the ones with the fake glass that make me appear far more academic than I really am.
    Honestly? It’s for Ethan’s own good. He needs someone who is truly a thinker, not just a pretender like Gigi. I think he’ll realize what an airhead his new girlfriend is soon, even if she does purport to take physics.
   As I dressed the salad, Wednesday arrived. She looked gorgeous as usual and everyone already knew her from school so they didn’t treat her like a television star, which she loves. Wednesday isn’t filming this afternoon. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I said, giving her a huge hug.
   “Me too,” she said. Wednesday is way smart, her show even has its own fan club. Wednesday was almost waylaid by earlier family tragedy but remains resoundingly optimistic about most things. Wednesday is also a sophomore now and totally fashionable. I’m not saying she’s amazingly popular, though, she just has her group of loyal friends. I’ve noticed some people don’t really like talented, pretty girls but to those girls, I say – do not hide your light. If you do, you’ll regret it.
   Honestly? I’m rich and decorative but I’m not talented in any obvious area, like Wednesday. It’s what stops people openly hating me. Plus, I don’t get amazing grades (also, like Wednesday) so they don’t think I’m that clever (even though I’m clearly smart in matters of the heart!) Anyway, you can’t be responsible for the way others think. Girls need to get over their petty jealousies. A lotta boys are out there joining the boys club and helping each other while the only thing some girls seem to be able to do is bring down other girls. It’s not cool.
    Wednesday joined the game in the pool.
    As people splashed, I moved my laptop and noted I’d successfully made a match for my shopkeeper Mr Styles when I introduced him to his now fiancée, only two months ago! Now, peeps say you should spend more than a few weeks with someone before making that kind of commitment but I think when it’s right, it’s right. I snapped my web page shut and swan died into the pool. It’s impolite not to act social once all the guests have arrived and Daddy was just about to remind me.    
     If you were to look into my world that day, you’d witness a perfect teen-friendly family pool party. You’d never predict the ructions about to affect my eco-system the following week.  You’d never guess that by the end of the month I’d be on my way to becoming a social zero.

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter nine: artisans)

Chapter Nine
    It all started in art class.
    Here’s what happened: 
    First of all, when Flynn entered the room I whispered to Hilary, “total cuteness.” Hilly agreed. Veronica and Tyler all nudged me and I was way happy that the only seat empty was the one beside Hilly.
   Ms Dash is always busy, in a hurry to make sure everyone is present or absent, not misbehaving, has an idea about what colleges or more importantly, what Art Colleges they’d be interested in attending). She really is the best-natured teacher at Sunrise, by far. (It’s not her fault that her boyfriend dumped her for the local realtor. That was horrible of him. Grown men can be so evil when they are only driven by selfish desires).
    Anyway, I’m choosing my paint brush and wondering if I should recommend highlights to Ms Dash, when I realize it’s time to update Flynn’s file. So far he’s just been included in my daily wrap up.
    I have Ethan to thank for my official matchmaking system.
    Of course, when he was web designing, he didn’t really think he was designing a matchmaking system, even though he’s very clever. He sorted out this technology and a web page for me to input all my information into (thinking I was just playing ‘a game’) but I changed some of the titles and used the system to generate what I term, ‘perfect matches’. You just put the  information of a person into the system along with the corresponding person’s information and whoala!
     I really think we could patent it but I’m not ready to go public. Sometimes my system generates other names that match and sometimes I just get a set of characteristics of a person’s perfect partner. Then I match up my two new B&Bs or D&Ds (that stands for Bachelor & Bachelorette or Desperate & Dateless).
   For example, Hilary (who is currently a D&D but is probably moving up to Bachelorette status) would probably not be an immediate match with… oh, let’s just call out Ethan as a random example.
    B&Bs are peeps who are often prepared to wait. D&Ds tend to be more than a little desperate. For example a B&B would definitely be new boy, Flynn Elton. A D&D would be peeps in need of… dating advice and clues – Ms Dash, for example.
   Right now, I’m drafting Flynn’s information into my laptop under my desk although Ms Dash thinks I’m working on our commercial art project. Ms Dash is so not into computers but I explained to her last year that she needed to incorporate new technology into art classes. I encouraged her to develop her foundation program. I’m so glad she took my advice because from the freshman art projects on display, everyone is benefitting.
   Of course, I’m a bit dismayed that my advice to teachers is often misinterpreted. I’m also dismayed students mess up in art class – they don’t take it seriously, especially the guys. Every hottie in school takes this class because they have access to a computer and most of them are addicted to research of a, let’s just say, more adult nature.
    I totally think some kids need to be saved from themselves.
    Take Flynn, for instance. He definitely takes risks where school rules are concerned. There is even talk he has a sideline business having his homework delivered to him, but I refuse to believe it. It’s so obvious Flynn is way too intellectual to need a homework service. Maybe he’s just busy; too busy to finish his homework. Either way, he has no idea how semi-perfect he and Hilly would be together. Even their star signs mesh well.  
    Once we chose our afternoon projects and Flynn chose to sit between me and Hilary, I realized he wanted to be closer to her. Sometimes the only difference between the dated and the dateless is mere proximity.
    “Yum,” I mouthed to Hilary as Flynn sat down. It would be totally uncool to let new boy see how many fans he has already though.
    Flynn is very sure of himself. This is obvious from the way he slouches and smiles, first at me, next at Hilary.
    I go into my laptop and tick that box: Image redesign.
    Ms Dash suddenly stops blabbing on and looks at me.
   “Honey Woodhouse, please explain the morning’s project.”
    Unshaken, I quickly flicked to my schedule which gave me the exact plans for the day.
    A few peeps yawned as I started, but that’s okay, I’m undeterred:   
    “This morning, Ms Dash, we are working on the portrait section of our syllabus: the medium to be used is either computer animation, old fashioned painting, or sketching or photography – your choice. But remember, your initial choice is important as it informs all aspects of the final product.”
   I heard that very annoying red haired boy. Rafe Martin, say under his breath, “Is that this week’s dating advice, Honey?” His little partner-in-crime friend, Trip, who’s a total wastrel, laughed. They hang out together in totally unco-ordinated clothes and geek on about computer science. Really? I know ‘the geeks shall inherit the earth’ but couldn’t they just be a little less resistant to those with better fashion sense before they do?
    I continued when I was rudely interrupted again, “As I was saying, the class may work in pairs or larger groups depending on numbers.”
   “Thank you, Honey. I’m glad you were paying attention,” Ms Dash said.
    Whatevvs. I sat down. That’s so like Ms Dash to cut me off before I’m finished but I wouldn’t want to keep on dishing out unwanted advice. That would just make me, dare I say it, dare I even type it – unpopular.

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter ten: pop girls and princesses)

Chapter Ten
Pop Girls & Princesses     
    Tyler and Jessica had already started their portraits. Hilary, Flynn and I were yet to begin. Our friends were doing some photo collage project with alienation themes, and needed the morning light to catch their first images of each other. They’d gone to the library to fix their sepia portraits in quiet contemplation. I later found out Jessica kissed Ty then – so it’s starting to happen. Everyone’s in love. I’m so excited. Ty and Jess are about to become our first couple. I hope it doesn’t change the group dynamic. My records have shown for months that their combined skills and star signs make them a nearly perfect match.  
    Just as I was thinking about this, Flynn was smiling his devastating smile straight at Hilary. I could tell he was taken with Hilary’s new look. I’d convinced her to curl her hair with tongs and wear the shoes I’d suggested.   
     Flynn pulled off his sunglasses (after Ms Dash asked him to) and smiled winningly.
  Meanwhile, I’d just finished aggregating Hilary and Flynn’s matchmaker resume:
Hilary (New girl) Jones
  Age: fifteen
  Height: petite
  Weight: average
  Hair color: brown
  Looks: recently made over (cute image overall)
  From: mid-west
  Likes: art class, smiling, a few awesome bands that I am familiar with
  Hobbies: music, art, hanging with The Princesses

  Flynn (New boy) Elton
   Age: turning sixteen
  Height: way tall
  Weight: lean and muscular
  Hair color: brown
  Looks: like a Levis model
  From: Upstate New York – ejected from some boarding school – badge of honor?
  Likes: art class, smiling,  a few awesome bands that I am familiar with, clearly Hilary
  Hobbies: (so far), looking cool, being hot
  On a scale A Plus being the highest: I’d give him an A as there is always room for improvement.
  Perfect Match: once I have more scientific data, let you know. At the moment, it’s definitely Hilary – I mean, they look so sweet with their heads together peering at examples of awesome 1930’s photography.
   Prospects of a successful match: High

   Look at them, I mean, just look at them. They are like Darcy and Elizabeth or Bella and Edward or Chuck and Blair or…the girl with the red hair and the boy from Gossip Girl in Easy A. This is what I love about Ms Dash’s art class. The creative environment allows us to do more than just work towards finals. Ms Dash totally trusts us to work independently. For example, there are peeps working in corners, halls, cupboards, darkrooms, and even outside.
   Our group has opted for outside at Flynn’s suggestion. We’ve decided on a retro, Edwardian theme. Flynn says calling the portrait ‘Then and Now’ would be, “sort of cool.” I think it’s an inspired title, don’t you?
   “Guys, I need to make a phone call while you set up,” was all he said. Then, he was absent for at least ten minutes. It was apparent Flynn was part of an even cooler, extended school posse – something Ethan would never understand.  I mean, who is he kidding? Popularity is important. Ethan is proof of that, and so much more.
   As Flynn walked off, I wondered if the rumors were true. Did Flynn pay for his homework?

 Was that all he paid for? No way. Drugs are not cool, ever. Then I remembered, he’d told me 

he wanted to help out at the animal shelter but he never showed up. That wasn’t cool either, but 

it didn’t mean he was a wastrel. It just meant he was busy, something came up. After all, 

nobody’s perfect.