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Authors: Meg Cabot

Ready or Not

BOOK: Ready or Not
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MEG CABOT
Ready
OR
Not

AN ALL-AMERICAN GIRL NOVEL

To Laura Langlie,
a great agent and an even better friend

Contents

1
    Which might explain why I finally got the guts to…

2
    Okay, I've seen them before. Naked guys, I mean.

3
    The thing is, I have an ace in the hole (whatever…

4
    “Wait, so, what did it look like?” Catherine wanted…

5
    When I got home from work that night, it was…

6
    Except that I didn't get to. Spend Saturday night…

7
    “They were just all so…dirty.” That is what Catherine…

8
    My parents were uncharacteristically cool about…

9
    So I called him.

10
  David got to the studio before I did. When I…

11
   “I'm so excited,” Kris kept saying.

12
   “It's those damned art lessons,” the president said.

13
   Theresa had to drive us to school the next day…

14
   “Would you like more sweet potatoes, Sam?” the…

15
   When I let myself into the house the next day…

“never doubt that a small group
of committed people can change the world;
indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

—Margaret Mead, anthropologist

“after
you make a fool of yourself a few
hundred times, you learn what works.”

—Gwen Stefani

Okay
, here are the top ten reasons it sucks to be me,
Samantha Madison:

  10.   In spite of the fact that last year I saved the life of the president of the United States, got a medal for heroism, and had a movie made about me, I continue to be one of the least popular people in my entire school, which is supposed to be a progressive and highly rated institution, but which seems to me to be entirely populated, with the exception of myself and my best friend Catherine, by Abercrombie-and-Fitch-wearing, zero-tolerance-for-anyonewho-might-actually-have-a-different-opinion-than-theirown (or, actually,
any
opinion at all), blithely-school-song-chanting, reality-TV-show-watching neofascists.

    9.   My older sister—the one who apparently got all the good DNA, like the genes for strawberry-blond, silky-smooth hair, as opposed to copper-red, Brillo pad–textured hair—is the
most
popular girl at Adams Prep (and can, in fact, often be found
leading
the blithe school song chanters there), causing me to be asked on an almost daily basis by students, teachers, and even my own parents, as they observe me being tossed about the social strata, a lone depressive in a sea of endless pep: “Why can't you be more like your sister Lucy?”

    8.   Even though I was appointed teen ambassador to the United Nations due to my alleged bravery in saving the president, I rarely get out of school to perform my duties. Nor, incidentally, am I paid for them.

    7.   Because of this, I have been forced to get an actual wage-earning job in addition to my apparently strictly volunteer work as teen ambassador to pay my ever-mounting bill at Sullivan's Art Supplies, where I have to buy my own Strathmore drawing pads and lead pencils, since my parents have decided I need to learn the value of a dollar and acquire a “work ethic.”

And unlike my sister Lucy, who was also required to get a job in order to keep her in paint—the facial, not the art variety—I did not find employment in a cushy lingerie store at the mall that gives me a thirty percent discount and pays me ten bucks an hour to sit behind a desk and read magazines until a customer deigns to ask me a question about crotchless panties.

No, instead I got a crappy practically-minimum-wage-paying job at Potomac Video rewinding horrible Brittany Murphy movies and then putting them back on the shelves for more people to rent and be sucked into Brittany Murphy's sick, twisted, Look-At-How-Much-Weight-I've-Lost-Since-I-Did-
Clueless
-and-Ashton-Broke-Up-with-Mefor-Dried-Up-Demi-and-I-Became-a-Bigger-Star-Than-Him, psycho, scrunchy-faced world.

And okay, at least I get to hang out with cool high school dropouts, like my new multipierced friend, Dauntra.

But still.

    6.   Between school, art lessons, my duties as teen ambassador, and my job, I have only one night a week to see my boyfriend in anything remotely resembling a social context.

    5.   As my boyfriend is as busy as I am, plus is also filling out college applications for next year,
and
happens to be the president's son (and is therefore frequently called upon to attend state functions the one night I can do stuff with him), I either have to do the boring state function stuff with him, which doesn't leave a whole lot of time for romance, or sit at home watching
National Geographic Explorer
with my twelve-year-old sister, Rebecca, every Saturday night.

    4.   I am the only nearly-seventeen-year-old girl on the planet who has seen every episode of
National Geographic Explorer
. And despite the fact that my mother is an environmental lawyer, I don't actually care that much about the melting polar ice caps. I'd much rather make out with my boyfriend.

    3.   Regardless of the fact that I once saved the life of the president of the United States, I still have not met my idol, Gwen Stefani (although she did send me a jean jacket from her clothing line, L.A.M.B., when she heard I consider myself her number-one fan. However, the first day I wore said jacket to Adams Prep, I received many scathing remarks from my fellow students about it, such as, “Punk much?” and “Which way to the mosh pit?” revealing that fashion forwardness is still not a valued character trait in my peer group).

    2.   Everyone who is the least bit acquainted with me
knows
all this, and yet
still
persists in gushing to me about how fab my life is, and how I ought to be grateful for all the great things I have, like that boyfriend I never get to see and those parents who send me to such a great school where everyone hates my guts. Oh, and my close personal relationship with the president, who sometimes can't remember my name, in spite of the fact that I broke my arm in two places saving his life.

And the number-one reason it sucks to be me, Samantha Madison:

    1.   Unless something drastically changes, it doesn't look like things are going to get better anytime soon.

Which might explain why I finally got the guts to do it.

Make a change, I mean. And a pretty big one, too. For the better.

Who cares if my sister Lucy doesn't necessarily agree?

Actually, she didn't say she didn't like it. Not that I would have cared if she had. I didn't do it for her. I did it for myself.

Which is how I replied to her. Lucy, I mean. When she said what she did about it, which was: “Mom's going to kill you.”

“I didn't do it for Mom,” I said. “I did it for me. No one else.”

I don't even know what she was doing home. Lucy, I mean. Shouldn't she have been at cheerleading practice? Or a game? Or shopping at the mall with her friends, which is how she spends the vast majority of her time, when she isn't
working
at the mall—which amounts to almost the same thing, since all her friends hang out in Bare Essentials (the lingerie store where she gets paid to do nothing), while she's there anyway, helping her squeal over the latest J-Lo gossip in
Us Weekly
and fold G-strings?

“Yeah, but you don't have to look at yourself,” Lucy said from her desk. I could tell she was IMing her boyfriend, Jack. Lucy has to IM him every morning before school, and then again before bed, and sometimes, like now, even in between, or he gets upset. Jack is away at college at the Rhode Island School of Design and has proved, since he left, to be increasingly insecure about Lucy's affections for him. He needs near-constant reassurances that she still cares about him and isn't off making out with some dude she met at Sunglass Hut, or whatever.

Which is kind of surprising, because before he left for college, Jack never struck me as the needy type. I guess college can change people.

This isn't a very encouraging thought, considering that
my
boyfriend, who is Lucy's age, will be going off to college next year. At least Jack drives down to see Lucy every weekend, which is nice, instead of hanging with his college friends. I hope David will do this as well.

Although I'm beginning to wonder if Jack actually even has any. College friends, I mean.

“I have to look at myself in the mirror all the time,” is what I said to Lucy's remark about how I don't have to look at myself. “Besides, no one asked you.”

And I turned to continue down the hallway, which is where I'd been headed when Lucy had stopped me, having spied me attempting to slink past her open bedroom door.

“Fine,” Lucy called after me, as I attempted to slink away again. “But just so you know, you don't look like her.”

Of course I had to come back to her doorway and go, “Like who?” Because I genuinely had no idea what she was talking about. Although you would think by this time, I would have known better than to ask. I mean, it was
Lucy
I was talking to.

“You know,” she said, after taking a sip of her diet Coke. “Your hero. What's her name. Gwen Stefani. She has blond hair, right? Not black.”

Oh my God. I couldn't believe Lucy was trying to tell me—
me
, Gwen Stefani's number-one fan—what color hair she has.

“I am aware of that,” I said, and started to leave again.

But Lucy's next remark brought me right back to her doorway.

“Now you look like that other chick. What's her name?”

“Karen O?” I asked, hopefully. Don't even
ask
me why I thought Lucy might be about to say something nice, like that I looked like the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I think I had inhaled too much ammonium hydroxide from the hair dye, or something.

“Nuh-uh,” Lucy said. Then she snapped her fingers. “Got it. Ashlee Simpson.”

I sucked in my breath. There are way worse things than looking like Ashlee Simpson—who actually looks fine—but it's the idea that people might think I was trying to
copy
her that so utterly repulsed me that I could feel the Doritos I'd scarfed after school rising in my throat. I couldn't actually think of anything worse at that particular moment. In fact, at that particular moment, it was lucky for Lucy there was nothing sharp sitting around nearby, or I swear, I think I might have stabbed her.

“I do
not
look like Ashlee Simpson,” I managed to croak.

Lucy just shrugged and turned back to her computer screen, as usual showing no remorse whatsoever for her actions.

“Whatever,” she said. “I'm sure David's dad is going to be thrilled. Don't you have to go on VH1 or something next week to promote his stupid Return to Family thingie?”

“MTV,” I said, feeling even worse, because now I was remembering that I still hadn't read any of the stuff Mr. Green, the White House press secretary, had given to me in preparation for that particular event. I mean, come on. Between homework and drawing lessons and work, how much time do I even have for teen ambassador stuff? That would be zero.

Besides, a girl has to have her priorities. And mine was dyeing my hair.

So that I looked like an Ashlee Simpson wannabe, apparently.

“And you know perfectly well it's MTV,” I snapped at Lucy, because I was still smarting over the Ashlee thing. Also because I was mad at myself for not having started studying up on the stuff I was supposed to say. But better to take it out on Lucy than myself. “And that it's a town hall meeting, and the president will be there. At Adams Prep. Like you weren't planning on going to it and using the opportunity to test out those new pink jeans you got from Betsey Johnson.”

Lucy looked all innocent. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“You are so full of it!” I couldn't believe she had the nerve to sit there and pretend like that. Like anyone at school could talk about anything else. That MTV was coming to Adams Prep, I mean. No one could care less that the
president
was coming. It was the hot new VJ, Random Alvarez (Seriously. That's his name. Random), who was hosting the stupid thing, that Lucy and her friends were all excited about.

Not just Lucy and her friends, either. Kris Parks (who happens to have a particular personal dislike for me, though she tries to hide it, seeing as how I'm a national heroine and all. But I can tell it's still there, just brewing under the surface of her
Hi, Sam, how are you
's), panicked recently that her transcript isn't crammed with enough extracurriculars (considering she's
only
a varsity cheerleader, a National Merit Scholar, and president of our class), founded this new club, Right Way, that is supposed to be this big call to action for teens to take back their right to say no to drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Although to tell you the truth, I didn't actually know this right had ever been threatened. I mean, as far as I knew, no one has actually ever gotten
mad
at people who say no thanks to a beer or whatever. Except maybe a girl's boyfriend, when she wouldn't, you know, Do It with him.

I had, however, noticed that whenever word got around that a girl had, you know, Gone All the Way with her boyfriend, Kris Parks in particular, and her fellow Right Way-ers in general, were always the first to call that girl a slut, generally to her face.

Anyway, because of Right Way, Kris is one of the people who is going to be on the student panel during the president's town hall meeting at Adams Prep. All she'd been able to talk about since finding this out was how this is her big chance to impress all the Ivy League universities who are going to be beating down her door, begging her to attend them. Also how she is going to get to meet Random Alvarez, and how she is going to give him her cell number, and how they are going to start dating.

Like Random would look at Kris twice, since I heard he's dating Paris Hilton. Although “dating” might be the wrong word for it. But whatever.

“Anyway,” I said to Lucy, “for your information, that happens to be
why
I did it. Dyed my hair, I mean. I need a new look for the town meeting. Something less … girl-who-saved-the-president. You know?”

“Well, you certainly accomplished that,” was all Lucy said. Then she added, “And Mom's still going to kill you,” before she went back to IMing Jack, since he'd sent her two messages that she'd ignored during the time I'd walked back into the room. You could bet he wasn't too happy about her not paying attention to him. Like he thought maybe she was paying attention to her
other
boyfriend (the imaginary one, from Sunglass Hut) instead of him for a minute.

At least, that's how it sounded from the angry pinging.

I told myself I don't care what Lucy thinks. What does she know about fashion, anyway? Oh, sure, she reads
Vogue
every month from front to back.

But I'm not going for the kind of look you could find in
Vogue
. Unlike Lucy, I am not a fashion conformist. I am striving for my own personal sense of style, not one dictated to me by any magazine.

Or Ashlee Simpson.

Still, when I went downstairs to get my jacket before heading downtown, I have to say, I'd expected a better reaction to my new look than the one I received from Theresa, our housekeeper.

“Santa María, what have you done to your head?” she wanted to know.

I put a hand up to my hair, sort of defensively. “You don't like it?”

Theresa just shook her head and called once more upon Jesus' mom. Though I don't know what
she
was supposed to do about it.

My younger sister, Rebecca, looked up from her homework—she goes to a different school than Lucy and I do. In fact, Rebecca goes to a school for gifted kids, Horizon, the same school my boyfriend, David, goes to, where they don't have cheerleaders
or
pep rallies or even grades and everyone has to wear a uniform so no one makes fun of other people's fashion sense. I wish I could go there instead of Adams Prep. Only you practically have to be a genius to go to Horizon. And while I am what my guidance counselor, Mrs. Flynn, likes to call “above average,” I'm no genius.

“I think you look good,” was Rebecca's verdict on my hair.

“Really?” I wanted to kiss her.

Until she added, “Yeah. Like Joan of Arc. Not that anyone really knows what Joan of Arc looked like, since there is only one known portrait of her, and that was one doodled into the margin of the court record of the trial where she was condemned to death for witchcraft. But you look sort of like it. The doodle, I mean.”

While this was better than being told I looked like Ashlee Simpson, it's not very comforting to be told you look like a doodle, either. Even a doodle of Joan of Arc.

“Your parents are going to kill me,” Theresa said.

This was worse than being told I looked like a doodle.

“They'll get over it,” I said. Sort of more hopefully than I felt.

“Is it permanent?” Theresa wanted to know.

“Semi,” I said.

“Santa María,” Theresa said, again. Then, noticing I had my jacket on, she was all, “Where do you think you're going?”

“Art lessons,” I said.

“I thought you had those on Mondays and Wednesdays this year. Today's Thursday.” You can't pull anything over on Theresa. Believe me. I've tried.

“I do,” I said. “Normally. This is a new class. For adults only.” Susan Boone owns the art studio where my boyfriend and I take drawing lessons. Sometimes it's the only time I get to see him since we're both so busy, and go to different schools, and all.

Not that this is why I go to them. Drawing lessons, I mean. I go to learn to become a master at my craft, not to make out with my boyfriend.

Although we do usually get in a few kisses in the stairwell after class.

“Susan said she thought David and I were ready,” I said.

“Ready for what?” Theresa wanted to know.

“A more advanced class,” I said. “A special one.”

“What kind of special class?”

“Life drawing,” I explained. I'm used to getting the third degree from Theresa. She's been working for our family for a million years and is sort of like our second mom. Well, really, she's more like our
first
mom, since we hardly ever see our real mom, on account of her busy environmental law career. Theresa has a bunch of other kids, all of whom are grown, and even some grandkids, so she's pretty much seen it all.

Except life drawing, apparently, since she went, all suspiciously, “What's that?”

“You know,” I said, more confidently than I felt, since I wasn't entirely sure what it was myself. “As opposed to still lifes, piles of fruit and stuff. Instead of objects, we'll be drawing living things…people.”

I have to admit, I was kind of excited at the prospect of finally getting to draw something—
anything
—other than cow horns or grapes. Probably only geeks get excited about this kind of thing but, hey, whatever. So I'm a geek. With my new hair, at least I'm a goth geek.

Susan had made a big deal out of it, too. The fact that she was letting David and me come to a life drawing class, I mean. We would, she said, be the youngest people there, seeing as how it was an adult class. “But I think you're both mature enough to handle it,” is what Susan had said.

Being almost seventeen, and all, I should certainly
hope
I was mature enough to handle it. I mean, what did she think I was going to do, anyway? Throw spitwads at the model?

“I didn't know I'd have to drive you downtown.” Theresa looked annoyed. “I have to take Rebecca to her karate lesson—”

“Qigong,” Rebecca corrected her.

“Whatever,” Theresa said. “The art studio's all the way downtown, the opposite direction—”

“Relax,” I said. “I'm taking the Metro.”

Theresa looked shocked. “But you can't. You remember what happened last time.”

Yeah. Nice of her to remind me. Last time I'd tried to ride the Metro, I'd run smack into a family reunion—literally all of these people wearing these bright yellow T-shirts that said
Caution: Johnson Family Vacation In Progress
, who'd recognized me, then swarmed all over me, asking if I was the girl who'd saved the president, and demanding that I sign each of their T-shirts. They'd caused such a commotion—the Johnson family was pretty extended—that the transit police had had to come over and peel them off me. Then they'd politely asked me not to ride the rails anymore.

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