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Authors: Chantel Guertin

Rule of Thirds, The

BOOK: Rule of Thirds, The
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For CMS

Love MCG

And in memory of my mom

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
16 DAYS UNTIL VANTAGE POINT

“Can you Photoshop this?” Dace asks. She strides into the school’s photocopy room and tosses a paper at me. “Algebra test.”

I finish adjusting the aperture on my camera and then glance at the paper. “You got a D.”

“Thanks for the newsflash. Pippa Greene, ace reporter. You really earn your keep here on the school paper,” she says, hopping up onto the table in front of me and crossing her legs under her, yoga-style.

Photocopiers line the walls around the room leaving a rectangle of space in the room’s middle where a couple of tables are pushed together. In our budget-stretched school, the photocopier room happens to be the headquarters of the school newspaper, where I’m the photo editor, and of the photo club, where I’m president. The flatscreens of five iMacs form a line on one side of the tables. The other side is just open space, where we can lay out the proofs of the paper, or plug in our laptops.

(Not that I have one.)

(Although I’m planning on rectifying that with the prize money from a certain photography competition.)

(More on that later.)

“Are you in photo club? Are you on the
Hall Pass
masthead?” Jeffrey Manson grumbles from behind the computer directly behind Dace. “Oh no? You’re not? Then why are you in here?”

“How’d you get a D?” I ask Dace, then snap a pic of her as she sweeps her long blonde hair up into a topknot, then secures it with an elastic that’s hidden under a stash of colorful rubber bracelets on her wrist. She’s wearing her usual: leggings (black today), loose T-shirt (gray) and black motorcycle boots.

She shrugs. “Dunno. I’m not into algebra. And I’m busy with go-sees. Vivs can’t find out about this,” Dace says. “If I get below a B on anything, I have to skip a go-see or turn down a job. Which is so ridiculous, don’t even get me started, because hello, what’s going to get me further in life, modeling or knowing how to dissect a frog?”

She has
really
not been paying attention in algebra.

“What exactly do you want me to do with this?”

“Change the D to an A?” she says hopefully.

I give her a look.

“Like, scan it and do it in Photoshop?” Dace suggests.

“No problem, but your mom will be able to tell it’s a printout, not a pen mark. She’s ace at that stuff.”

“So I email her the file and tell her the school’s saving paper.”

“Are you serious? Just do what you usually do.” Which is fake her mom’s signature. “Or—here’s a crazy idea, Dace, why don’t you tell her the truth? She’s going to find out eventually.”

I hand the test back to her as the paper’s assistant editor walks into the room. “Plus, I don’t have time—I’ve got an editorial meeting for
Hall Pass
in
10
minutes, then my volunteer assessment with the Glumster at
4
.”

“Oh god, don’t even remind me. I have my first shift in half an hour. Helping bratty little kids? And on a Friday afternoon? Kill me now.”

Everyone at Spalding High has to complete
120
volunteer hours to graduate, starting in our junior year. Dace’s placement is at the after-school homework club at the library. It doesn’t sound all that bad to me. There are worse placements. Much worse.

“I bet you’ll be great, Dace. You’re really fun, and funny—the kids will love you.”

“I just hope you get placed with me,” Dace says. I sigh. I’m sort of dreading having to add another thing to my life. It’s not that I don’t want to help other people, but things are going to be insane until after Vantage Point. The photography competition I mentioned.
The
photography competition—less than three weeks away, and whether I win or lose will alter the course of my life.

No biggie or anything.

Dace’s iPhone buzzes and she looks down at the text. “Shut the front door.” Dace is going
30
days without swearing. Or trying to—it’s only day
3
.

I try to peer over the top of her phone to see. “What’s up?”

“Elise wants to book me for a car show in
Cheektowaga.
This is insane. I don’t do car shows. Thank god for that D—my mom’s wrath could save me . . .”

“Why is Elise even booking you for a car show?” The whole reason Dace changed agents was so she could get higher profile, more glam gigs. No more mall shows, no more department store catalogs.

“Don’t do the car show,” a voice says from the door. I look past Dace as she swivels around. The guy in the door looks like he should be standing in the entrance to Abercrombie—minus that cologne that totally reeks when you walk past the store. His sandy blond hair is cut so that it’s purposely messy, and his blue eyes are piercing. Swoon.

“Who asked you?” Dace says. She pulls her hair out of the topknot.

“I’m no expert,” Abercrombie says, “but you look like you’re way too good for Cheektowaga.”

Dace looks him up and down. “I like you already. But who
are
you?”

“Another person who’s not supposed to be in here,” Jeffrey grumbles.

“Ben Baxter,” says the newcomer. Even better. I’ve always wished I had a double-consonant name. Like Pippa Price. Pippa Prince. Actually, nevermind. Those sound like stripper names. “Just moved here from Buffalo—very close to Cheektowaga. And I can confidently tell you you’re too good for that town.” He turns to me. “And you must be Pippa Greene.”

“Uh . . .” The heat in my cheeks is enough to make me sweat. Huh—it’s not bad enough that he sees me blush, I have to start
sweating
too?

“Mrs. Edmonson said you’re in charge of the photography club? Nice digs.” He looks around at the photocopiers, takes off his cross-body bag and lays it on the table. It sits there amid the paper reams and the toner cartridges. The pebbling in the leather looks expensive. Who has a leather bag in high school?

“Budget cuts,” I explain. “The usual. And hey, if photography doesn’t work out for us, at least we’ll know how to photocopy.”

“We all have bright careers ahead of us,” Jeffrey finishes. “As secretaries.”

Ben ignores us. “Well, anyway, I know it’s three weeks into the term—but I just heard about the big photography competition and apparently I’ve got to actually be in photo club to enter? Mrs. Edmonson says you’re pretty hard-ass about who gets in, that there are only five members? So . . . what are my chances of coercing you to take a very talented senior as your sixth?” He winks at me.

Dace mouths
Oh my god
and makes a face. I can feel her willing me to let him in.

“You can join if you want,” I say.

“Sweet. So tell me about this competition. What’ve I got to do to win the five grand?”

“You’re not going to,” Dace says. “Pippa’s going to win, and when she’s at the superstar Tisch camp in NYC I’m going to go with her for moral support.” She grins. What Dace really means is she’ll crash in my dorm room so she can go shopping. Not that it won’t be fun to have her there. “You should see her stuff,” Dace continues. “She’s going to be a fashion photographer and we’ll travel the world together. She’ll shoot all my
Vogue
covers.”

“Fashion, huh?” Ben says to me, and I nod without hesitation because I know Dace is watching. It’s been our plan for years—Dace the model, me the photographer, tag-team tandem. Except I have a new theme for my competition portfolio, one I’ve been working on for months. Dace doesn’t know. I guess she’ll find out soon enough.

“Mrs. Edmonson said you were good,” Ben says.

“Good?” Dace says. “Pippa won the freshman/sophomore division last year. She
started
the photo club. And she’s the best photographer in it.”

“Thanks a lot,” Jeffrey pipes up from beside me. I thought he’d totally tuned us out.

“She’s biased,” I say. And Jeffrey Manson’s my stiffest competition at Spalding for sure. Even though he only got an honorable mention last year, he was in the junior/senior division—and the only students who beat him were seniors. So there’s a really good chance he’ll place this year. He’s going with the same theme as last year: “Found.” His photos are technically flawless, but I can’t help being skeptical about just how many lonely shoes or gloves or socks there are lying around this (pretty small) town. I think he might be helping his cause.

“Why don’t I judge for myself?” Ben picks up my camera, turning it over in his well-manicured hands. Seriously, not a cuticle out of place, and here I am biting my nails. I tuck my hands under my legs and look at Dace. She mouths the word
hot
and I try not to laugh.

He snaps a picture of me, then holds the camera back to see. “Gorgeous,” he says, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about the photo or me, but Dace calls him on it.

“Smooth one, Ben Baxter,” she says as she jumps off the table, then shoves her algebra test into her bag. “Wish me luck in jail. I mean, the
library
.”

Meanwhile Ben’s snapped another picture of me. He hands my camera back, and I look at the pic. At least my long brown hair—which is usually annoyingly wavy—is still straight from my flat-iron session this morning. “You’re really photogenic,” he says, and I feel myself blushing (again). “And you’ve got good taste. I’ve got the same camera.”

“Really?” I say, then cringe at how ridiculous I sound. It’s a Canon Rebel. It’s like the Heinz of ketchup. Everyone has this camera. It’s not like it’s my retro Nikon—the one Dad gave me. Which is actually in my bag, but I don’t mention it. I don’t like letting anyone get their hands on it.

Lisa Rui, who’s the paper’s editor-in-chief, rushes into the room. She’s wearing her uniform: white button-down shirt, buttoned-up cardigan, her shiny black hair pulled back in a take-me-seriously low ponytail and a pencil tucked behind her ear. She’s been wearing variations on the same outfit ever since she became editor-in-chief.

“All right, let’s get started,” she says, out of breath, her brow furrowed. She’s always stressed out, as though she’s running the
New York Times
, not the student paper. Three sophomore girls rush in behind her and grab seats around the table.


Hall Pass
meeting,” I explain to Ben.

“No problem. So . . . when does photo club meet?”

“Tuesdays at lunch. We pick a theme every week and show our photos the next. This week is gray. If you want to show anything.”

He looks concerned.

“Totally no pressure, though. And you can just show pics you’ve already taken. Doesn’t have to be new stuff.”

He puts a hand on my shoulder and my pulse quickens. “OK—sounds good. See you then.” He swings his bag over his shoulder and then he’s gone.

Lisa starts the meeting by telling us this year we
have
to make sure everyone makes it into the paper at least once. That Mrs. Edmonson is adamant.

“Just put them in the Streeters,” Ed, the deputy editor, says. The Streeters column is my thing—every two weeks I feature four students on the back page of the paper. I take a pic and ask them some timely question. Like who they think is going to win the football game on Friday, or what they ate for lunch in the caf. You know,
hard news.

“Pippa, are we clear?” Lisa asks.

“Yep. No problem.”

Perfect excuse to take Ben Baxter’s picture.

• • •

My cellphone blasts “Who Let the Dogs Out?” as I’m walking out Spalding High School’s front doors. The bright afternoon sun basically spotlights my embarrassment. Has anyone heard? I scrabble around in my bag to find my phone and silence it as quickly as possible. My mom got a job as a vet assistant at Furry Friendz and comes home smelling like dog breath. Hence the special ringtone—but the joke’s on me because my mom doesn’t ever hear it ring. Because she’s calling me. And I end up looking like The Girl Who’s into Super-Lame Songs, Circa
2000
. I find my phone just at the part where the singer goes, “Who? Who? Who?” Or is it: “Woof! Woof! Woof!” I’ve heard the refrain about a billion times and I still can’t tell. There’s a brief moment where I consider not answering it. I do not want to have The Conversation About the Worst Volunteer Assessment Meeting in the History of Volunteer Assessment Meetings. But Mom pays for my phone, and she has a rule about it.

MOM’S PHONE RULES

  1. Answer when she calls.

“How did it go?” Mom asks, a little too eagerly.

“Not good.”

“Not well,” she corrects me.

“Same diff.”
Ack! Of course it isn’t the same!
Did I say “not good” in my assessment? Is that the reason I got the absolute worst placement ever?

“I’ll pick you up and you can tell me all about it.”

“Don’t bother,” I say miserably, holding the phone away from my face to check the time:
4
:
45
. “The stupid volunteer orientation is in
15
minutes.” As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. For one thing, if I hadn’t told her, there’d still be a chance I could ditch the orientation and buy myself some time to convince the Glumster to give me a different placement. Because I do not want to tell Mom where my placement is. And she’s going to ask. And Mom has a rule about lying.

MOM’S RULES ABOUT LYING

  1. Don’t.

“Oh, I’ll drive you. I’m passing right by,” she says, quite literally I realize, when a moment later, a horn honks and I see my mother’s beat-up brown Honda Accord pull up beside me on Elm. I can’t say I’m disappointed—my red wedges are killing me. No one ever said wearing cute shoes was a cakewalk.

I lean through the open window, being careful not to get my white blazer dirty. Mom’s wearing her green scrubs, which means she’s either on her way to—or home from—the clinic. “Can I drive?” I ask hopefully.

“Not a chance,” Mom says, her pale skin crinkling at the corner of her eyes as she smiles.

“Big surprise.” I open the passenger-side door and get in. I have my learner’s permit and my mom used to be great about practicing with me, but ever since—well, anyway, in the last couple of months she’s pulled back on letting me get behind the wheel. Says it’s too dangerous. Seriously, the DMV should make some sort of rule that parents
have
to let their kids drive once they get their learner’s.

BOOK: Rule of Thirds, The
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