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Authors: Wendy Mass

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BOOK: Every Soul a Star
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She nods slowly, but then says, “And big eyes are good? Why?”

This girl is hopeless. “They just are,” I tell her. “Who would want small eyes?”

“Not me?” Melanie asks.

“Exactly. Now let’s go.”

My best friend Claire and I are going to a free lecture at the community center called “Breaking into Modeling.” My parents would never let me go, so I haven’t told them about it. They think I’m taking Melanie to the library, which I am, but only because it happens to be inside the community center. Melanie has been checking out books lately about kids whose families move. She even requests them from other libraries. She actually believes that my parents will eventually get the big grant that they’ve been waiting for, and then we’ll have to move so they can do their research. Our parents have been warning us about it for three years now, and there’s no sign of any grant. I panicked for a few weeks, but now it’s like that old story about the boy who cried wolf. I think Melanie uses it as an excuse not to have to work on being popular right here and now. Plus, I think they’ve given up on that one and have some other project in mind. I may be the dumbest in the family, but I know peo-ple’s patterns of behavior. The excited whispers when they think we’re asleep, the late-night phone calls, the computers and printers going at all hours. It always leads up to some big new project. When you have parents who are scientists, you get used to them being in their own worlds. It’s no big deal. I have more important things to worry about. Besides my job this summer, I have lots of plans. There are pictures of models to clip from magazines for my Wish Book, boys to follow around in the mall, and sleepovers with Claire and the rest of the A-Clique.

It’s one of those perfect summer days, with no humidity to swell up my hair. I take a deep, happy breath of the clean air as we head into town. A good hair day is worth its weight in gold. When we’ve gone a few blocks, Melanie says, “I had one of them again last night, didn’t I?”

She’s talking about night terrors. They’re like nightmares, except she’s not dreaming at the time. It’s like some weird screaming state that you can’t wake her out of. Then she doesn’t remember much in the morning. Mom and Dad have done a lot of research on it but haven’t found a cure. The doctors say people usually outgrow it. It’s weird that a kid who is so relentlessly happy all the time screams in her sleep.

“Yeah, around midnight. I found you in the corner of the living room and brought you back to bed.”

“Thanks.”

I’d been finding Melanie in corners of our house since she was four. This is why whenever Claire and I have sleepovers, they’re always at her house. Claire has been my best friend since that time in second grade when her nanny forgot to pick her up after dance class and I found her crying into her tutu. But we both know that if one of us is going to make it as a model, it will be me. Claire isn’t very tall, and she has a crooked nose, which she’s going to get fixed as her sweet sixteen present. She always forgets to use conditioner, and really, that’s the most important part of washing your hair. She’s the most popular girl in our grade though, because she’s super rich and her mom used to be in horror movies before she met Claire’s dad and became respectable.

We meet up with Claire at the corner of Main and Tanglewood, a few blocks from the building. Melanie doesn’t bother to ask why Claire’s joining us. She’s a
go with the flow
kind of girl, which is yet another reason why I know we can’t be related by blood. I like to have everything completely planned out. That way I always know what to wear.

“Total ten today,” Claire says, falling in step with us.

I’m wearing the white tank dress that shows off my tan. “Thanks,” I tell her, “you too!” Really though, she’s more like an eight.

Once inside I tell Melanie I’ll meet her in the lobby in an hour. She skips off without a backward glance. It is majorly embarrassing having a sister who skips in public. Claire and I hurry into the large room where the meeting is about to start. The air is heavy with per-fume. Perfume is the one beauty product I just don’t understand. It was invented back when people couldn’t take baths so they could cover up their smell. But now all you have to do is use a shampoo that smells good. I make a mental note to tell that to all my customers at the store this summer. A woman at the door hands us index cards and tells us to fill out our name, age, and home phone number.

The small room is packed and we have to squeeze into the back row. I immediately recognize the B-Clique from school sitting right in front of the podium. Figures they’d be here. They’re pretty enough, but if they were so great, they’d be in the A-Clique. There are even some people in the audience who are at least thirty. Don’t they know their modeling days are long behind them? A woman who looks like she just stepped out of the pages of
Vogue
gets up and says, “Modeling is fifty percent looks, fifty percent attitude, and one hundred percent awesome!” We all clap. She continues, “It’s also a lot of hard work. You can’t go out with your friends every night and dance till dawn, then try to rely on makeup to cover those puffy eyes. You can only drink coffee or soda through a straw. People don’t hire models with brown teeth.”

Two heavyset women next to me start grumbling. “I’m not drinking my coffee outuva straw!” The other nods, and they get up noisily and bang through the back door. Like they would have had a chance anyway.

A lot of the
Vogue
-lady’s speech is about signing with a reputable modeling agency, and other things my parents won’t even consider until after high school. I’ve told them repeatedly that most supermodels start by fourteen or fifteen, but being the brainiacs that they are, they refuse to discuss anything that would ruin my education. But she also tells us how we’re supposed to walk (one foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe, like walking on a high beam), how to hold ourselves (eyes looking forward, neck long, back straight), and what to think about while our pictures are being taken (exude a “cool sense of peace and confidence”). The last thing she says is, “Now look around this room. The odds are that only one of you will make it.”

I could SWEAR she winked at me when she said that!

“Keep in mind,” she continues, “there are other perfectly wonderful careers out there where you can make a ton of money, see the world, and have fabulous friends.” She smiles broadly as she says this, but it’s pretty clear she doesn’t believe it. Neither do I.

We walk out of the room slowly, heel to toe, heads high, smiles bright, all cool peacefulness and confidence. “This is harder than it looks,” Claire says out of the corner of her mouth. I would nod, but our heads are supposed to be stationary at all times. As we enter the lobby I almost collide with a man awkwardly holding up a big blueprint with one hand. “It’s not going to work,” he yells into a cell phone. The blueprint flaps angrily and interrupts my cool peacefulness.

To my horror, I catch sight of Melanie doing cartwheels across the far end of the lobby. That girl will be the death of my social life. I untangle myself, ignore the guy’s rude grunt, and lead her out of the community center by the elbow. Claire hurries after us, used to Melanie’s weird behavior by now. “You can’t do cartwheels in public,” I whisper loudly. “Don’t you want to have friends?”

“I have plenty of friends,” she says, smiling that easy grin of hers.

I sigh. “Don’t you want to have friends whose idea of a good time isn’t solving quadratic equations and then having Scrabble tournaments?”

Melanie opens her mouth to respond, but right then our parents pull up in their embarrassing beat-up brown van. They use it to haul their equipment, even though I have begged them to get a car I wouldn’t be mortified to be seen climbing in or out of.

“Hop in, girls,” Dad says cheerily, leaning his head out the window as the engine idles loudly. That van does everything loudly.

Melanie runs toward the car, but Claire and I take a step back. The B-Clique girls who were at the seminar might be watching, and even though I’m pretty sure my position in the A-Clique is secure, people have been demoted for much less. Emily Flanders got booted all the way from A to C because she wore white pants after Labor Day.

I look from side to side. The coast seems clear, but I’m not taking any chances. “I’ll see you at home later,” I call from the safety of the sidewalk.

Mom leans across Dad and says, “Get in the car, Bree. We need to talk.”

“I can’t,” I tell them. “Claire and I have plans. Important plans.” We had been planning on going back to her house and practicing our new walk. Her house is, like, mansion-huge, perfect for walking down pretend runways.

Claire takes a step away from me. “It’s okay, Bree. I’ll text you later.”

Before I can protest further, Claire takes off down the block, putting as much distance as possible between her and the van, which is now spewing out black exhaust. Can’t blame her, I suppose. I’d do the same thing if it were me.

With one last backward glance, I hurry into the van and shut the door quickly behind me. In order to fit on the seat I have to push aside one of the many cardboard boxes filled with copies of Mom and Dad’s book,
Dark Matters,
which they store in the van for when they do speaking engagements. I glance in the back to see why the boxes aren’t in their usual spot and discover the back is filled with folding tables and poster boards.

“What are those for?” Melanie asks, following my gaze. It always surprises me that she is interested in what my parents do. They and I have an unspoken agreement: I don’t pry into their lives, they don’t pry into mine. Works out just fine.

My parents share a glance as Dad pulls up to a red light. Then Mom says, “That’s what we need to talk to you girls about.” Another glance. I swear my dad’s eyes are twinkling. I’m starting to get nervous. Mom continues, “We’re having a garage sale. In two days.”

I relax into the seat. My parents get excited about the strangest things. “What’s the big deal?” I ask. “We’ve had garage sales before.”

“This one is going to be a little bigger,” Dad says after a pause. Before I can ask what he means, he pulls the van into the park near our house and turns off the engine. It bangs and sputters before quieting. I cringe.

“Are we going on the merry-go-round?” Melanie asks, bouncing up and down in her seat like a little kid. I roll my eyes.

“Let’s go sit in the gazebo,” Mom suggests, only it’s more like a command. I can always count on her not to make us sit on the grass. She’s very squeamish about bugs. I don’t like them either, but for me it’s about the dirt. I’ve very anti-dirt. Especially in white.

Melanie jumps out of the car and I reluctantly follow. How did my first day of summer vacation turn into Family Day? Mom has a thick blanket tucked under her arm, which she spreads out on the floor of the gazebo. She gestures for us to sit.

Mom takes a deep breath and says, “Your father and I have some big news.”

“I knew it!” Melanie yells, and pops up. “We’re moving! It’s finally happening.”

I hear the words coming out of her mouth, but they honestly don’t register. A really cute guy with the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen has started jogging on the path around the gazebo. He’d be a total ten if his shorts weren’t quite so short. They’re so last summer.

Dad puts his arm around Melanie’s shoulder and squeezes. “Yes! And the best part is, we’re going to be staying at a campground. Managing the place, in fact, for the next three years while we’re doing our research nearby. You’ll love it there. You’ll learn tons of things you could never learn here in the suburbs. It’s going to be wonderful.”

Something about a campground trickles into my brain. “Huh?” I ask, turning my head back to the group. “Did I miss something? Are we going on vacation? Because my job starts next week and I —”

Melanie plops down next to me. “Bree! Didn’t you hear? We’re moving! To a campground! Isn’t it great? You used to love camping when we were little, remember? You won that nature trophy in camp and —”

If I wasn’t already on the ground I swear I would seriously faint. I yell so loudly my voice echoes in my head. “We’re WHAT???”

JACK

2

“Are you gonna stay in there all night?” Mike calls up to me from the bottom of the tree. I wish I actually
could
stay up here all night. Mom never lets me sleep in the treehouse. She thinks I’ll sleepwalk right out into the air.

I pretend I don’t hear him over the loud chirping of the crickets. I focus on my book. I have two pages left of a Ray Bradbury short story. It’s about this girl who lives in a world where the sun almost never shines. She hasn’t seen it in five years. Then these bullies lock her in a closet when the sun is about to come out. I have to find out if they let her out in time to see it.

“Jack!” Mike calls up again. “I can see you up there!”

For the zillionth time I bemoan the lack of privacy. SD2 (Stepdad number two) left before we built a door to the treehouse, so there’s just an open hole where anyone can look in. I know my way around a toolbox, but I can’t build things from scratch. SD3 was more of a deep thinker. He couldn’t tell a hammer from a nail, but I can thank him for teaching me how to wake up in my dreams without waking up for real. He called it
lucid dreaming.
It’s because of him that I can fly. He taught me how to tell the difference between the real world and when you’re dreaming. And when you learn to recognize the difference, you can control your dreams. You can do all sorts of things, but I like to fly. When I’m flying, I don’t weigh anything at all.

So far there’s been no SD4. I wonder what he’ll be like, if there is one.

“Just ten more minutes!” I call down. “Hold your horses.”

I turn back to the book. The girl misses the sun. I can’t believe it. I feel so angry and sad for her. I wish I could write stories like that, where you feel something after you finish reading them. I’m no good at writing though, but I’m really good at drawing spaceships and little green men. Not that I let anyone see them. If Mom knew I could draw she’d sign me up for art classes to “build my confidence” or “raise my self-esteem” or one of the other phrases I’ve overheard the guidance counselors say to her over the years.

BOOK: Every Soul a Star
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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