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Authors: Laura Langston

Tags: #JUV031000, #JUV013070, #JUV039150

Stepping Out (2 page)

BOOK: Stepping Out
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Ms. Vastag studies me for a minute. Then she sighs. “That is not the kind of thing I like to see my students joking about. Meet me in my office in five.”

Oh
crap.

She stomps out the door.

I stand on my toes, take aim and pitch my soiled paper towel directly into the garbage can.

Slam dunk.

I should be thinking about Ms. Vastag and the mess I’ve made. But I’m not.
Nobody thinks you’re funny.
My mind hums with the insult.
Totally lame.
I feel myself slip-sliding into that black pit of self-hate that started in elementary school. Refusing to go there, I quickly yank my thoughts back. Totally lame? Yeah, okay, maybe. But today—this very minute—twenty thousand people think I’m funny. I grin. Brooke is wrong.

Slam dunk two.

Two

“I
can’t believe Vastag insisted on getting a mushroom-identifying book from the bio lab to confirm that your mushroom really was a cremini,” Carly says twenty minutes later as I eat a burger and fries in the cafeteria. “And then lectured you for another five minutes about how inappropriate it is to joke about taking drugs.”

I know. She was so harsh it was like I
was
carrying a magic mushroom in my pocket instead of a dried-out cooking one.

“She should know never to take you seriously,” Carly adds.

A burst of laughter interrupts her rant. We’re sitting near the front of the cafeteria, just a few tables away from the order counter and one table over from a group of noisy jocks.
I’m not surprised Carly picked the table. She’s crushing on one of the basketball players. If I’d gotten here first, I would have headed for a quieter spot in the corner.

“Forget that! Didn’t you hear what I said about my latest video? It’s already gotten 20,069 views, and it’s only been up two and a half hours.” I swirl a fry through my pool of ketchup. “I bet I hit 30,000 by the end of the day. It’s unreal!”

Carly spoons some peach yogurt out of her cup and says something, but I can’t make out her words. I frown and shake my head. When she leans across the table, her dark hair dangles into her yogurt. “When are you going to start monetizing?” she shouts into my ear.

Monetizing. Letting Google upload ads to my videos so I can start making money. “Not quite yet,” I shout back, lifting the hair out of her lunch. I love comedy. I do. To me, it’s not just light entertainment or a way to kill time. To me, laughter is as important as breath. It takes the sting out of life’s crap. It eases the pain of nasty comments and dirty looks. It helps me get through agonizing moments in gym class and awkward pauses at parties. Yes, I want a career in it.
I
will
have a career in it. But I’m only fifteen. I have a few more years until my best-before date expires.

“You need to be more aggressive,” Carly says.

Aggressive
is Carly’s middle name. My middle name is
Naptime
. “I’ll get to it.” It’s not an easy moneymaker, especially with YouTube constantly changing the earning rules. One way or another, though, to make any money you need lots of subscribers. I should have ten thousand by next September. I’ve told Carly I’ll start looking at the business stuff then.

Entire careers have been made in YouTube comedy. Tyler Oakley and Jenna Marbles started there, and they’re huge stars now. Mega rich too. And money is good. It’ll show my parents that a career in comedy isn’t a waste of time. Plus it’ll help me avoid Dumpster diving for food when I move away from home.

The jocks get up to leave. The noise level around us drops to a semi-normal state. As I push my half-finished plate of fries over to Carly, my cell phone signals a text. I wipe the grease from my fingers and dig it out of my pants pocket.

Where R U?

Hunter. My heart goes squidgy. He’s texted me with the same question three times in the last five minutes, but it’s been so loud I haven’t heard my phone. “It’s Hunter,” I tell Carly. But she’s staring at the basketball player and doesn’t respond.

Eating in the caf,
I text back.
Front and center by the food line.

B right there.

“He’s coming over.”

Carly turns back to me. “What?” There’s a distant, dreamy look in her blue eyes. “Who?”

“Hunter.”

“Ooooh.” She gives me a knowing smile.

Heat hits the back of my neck. “Shut up and eat a fry.”

“Have you told him?”

I sip my chocolate milk and don’t say anything. Carly has this crazy idea that I should tell Hunter exactly how I feel. Which is totally ridiculous. Guys don’t tell girls how they feel. Well, okay, technically they do, but only in the
you make me want to explode
kind of way, and that’s more about biology than any heart-to-heart thing.

“I take it that’s a no,” she says.

“Have you told basketball guy how you feel?” I ask.

“I barely know him.” She reaches for a fry. “We don’t share history the way you and Hunter do.”

It’s true. I’ve known Hunter MacRae since grade two. Back then, he was the one who kindly explained that the other kids weren’t laughing at the fact that my skirt was accidentally stuck in my underpants after I went to the bathroom, they were laughing because my purple-and-orange Halloween underpants were really funny.
I
was really funny, he told me. And people really, really liked funny girls.

A part of me fell in love with comedy that day. The other part fell hard for Hunter MacRae. It was all good until a year or so ago. We lived on the same street; we walked to school together. I supported him through his parents’ divorce. He supported me through the pain of being bossed around by Brooke. But things changed at the start of grade ten. My friendly feelings toward him became much, much friendlier. The girl equivalent of
you make me want to explode
. Hunter does not, I guarantee, feel the same way about me.

“You need to get over yourself and tell him,” Carly says.

“We’re friends. I’m not going to take a chance and spoil that.” It’s a conversation Carly and I have had so often in the last few months, I can practically recite the lines in my sleep. “Besides, Hunter doesn’t like redheads. He likes brunettes.” In fact, last year I was pretty sure Hunter and Carly were going to hook up. I’ll bet Hunter would go for it. But Carly likes the athletic types, and Hunter’s only declared sport to date is potato-chip eating. (His record is fourteen bags of Salt & Pepper chips in one twenty-four-hour period.)

“It’s not about the hair, Paige.” She dabs her lips with a napkin.

That’s easy for her to say. Carly has long dark Kate Middleton hair. Mine is the female equivalent of Prince Harry’s: red and frizzy, especially in the rain. And in Seattle, it’s either raining or about to rain.

“It’s not about your limp either.”

I almost choke on a fry. I can’t believe she’s said it. I glance around to see if anybody’s heard her, but nobody’s paying attention. “I never said it was,” I finally manage.

She levels me with a look. “No, but you’ve thought it.”

Carly knows me almost as well as Hunter does. We’ve been friends since elementary school too. “Don’t look for a job working the psychic hotline,” I tell her. “Your mind-reading skills suck.” We both know I am lying.

When we were younger, I had a name for my gimpy leg. I called it Fred (as long as Brooke wasn’t around to make fun). We talked about Fred sometimes like he was a poor, needy relative that I had to endure. I can’t remember when that whole thing stopped, but it petered out—or maybe I should say it Fredded out—somewhere in middle school, when the whole pairing-off thing started up. I became painfully aware that guys didn’t date girls like me. They hung out with them, they accepted homework answers from them, and on good days they laughed with them. That was enough.

I catch sight of a familiar face. Hunter. My heart squidges in triple time. At least, it used to be enough. But now, as I watch him walk toward us, I’m not so sure. “Don’t you dare say anything,” I hiss to Carly.

She picks up her juice box. “You know I won’t.”

And I do know, because Carly has never betrayed me. I can trust her.

“Hey!” he says when he reaches us.

“Hey,” I say back. Hunter’s face is a little on the longish side, and his brows could use some manscaping, but he has the best voice in the world. Smooth and deep and hot, like espresso loaded with sugar. I swear he could make a ton of money with that voice. His jeans brush against my leg as he slides into the seat beside me. Heat races into my cheeks. Plus, he has an amazing body. And perfectly straight, überwhite teeth (this counts—yes, I am my mother’s daughter).

“I saw your latest video.” He helps himself to a fry. “Great job!”

Hunter has been my biggest fan since grade two. That, at least, hasn’t changed. “Thanks.” I push the other half of my burger toward him. He picks it up. Three bites later, it’s gone. He wipes his fingers and pulls a piece of paper from his jeans.

“Look.” He lays it on the table and smooths it with the palm of his hand.

I glimpse a picture of some teens and bright-blue lettering above them.
The International Te—

Carly snatches the paper up before I can finish reading. “Are these the details?” she asks him.

“Yeah.”

“Cool.” She starts to read.

“What details?” I ask.

Carly looks at Hunter. Hunter looks at me, though not exactly at me—more at my nose. And then he clears his throat.

My spine tingles. Hunter only clears his throat when he’s nervous. Or mad.

“What?” I ask a second time.

“It’s the International Teens in Comedy Festival,” he says. “It’s happening in Portland a few weeks from now.”

Everybody knows about the International Teens in Comedy Festival. At least, anybody interested in comedy. It’s huge.

“And you’re going,” Hunter says.

I laugh. “Sure I am.” You don’t just
go
to the
ITCF
. First you have to be nominated. Then you have to go through a rigorous deal to get on the shortlist. Only the best go to the finals. “Come on, guys, that’s the Super Bowl of comedy. Get serious.”

“I
am
serious,” Hunter says.

My left eye starts to twitch.

Carly pushes the paper across the table toward me. “We submitted three of your YouTube vlogs as part of the nomination process,” she says. “You’ve aced the first round of eliminations. You’ve been shortlisted.”

Three

C
arly has to be kidding. My eye twitch spreads to my cheek. Isn’t this the first sign of a stroke? My two best friends are trying to kill me. “No way,” I manage.

“Yes, way.” Hunter smiles. “They have your email. They’ll be sending you the official letter soon.”

Blood thumps in my ears. This is crazy. Insane. Like some kind of wacky dream. Or nightmare. I’m not sure which.
“I
got
shortlisted
for the
ITCF
?”

“I
know
! Isn’t it unreal?” Carly’s voice is one decibel below a screech. “You’ve been working so hard and doing all these amazing videos, and you’re finally getting the recognition you deserve.”

I
have
been working hard. Doing the vlogs. Networking with other YouTubers. Comedy is what I want to do with my life. Making people laugh comes as easily to me as breathing. Although right now the breathing part is a problem, since I feel like I have an elephant on my chest. Me,
shortlisted.

I crash back to earth. “I can’t go to Portland.”

“What?” Carly frowns. “Why? You’re banned from the city? Allergic to the air down there? What’s the deal?”

“That’s stand-up,” I tell them. “You know I don’t do that.” I love the
idea
of stand-up. I do. It’s a thrill hearing somebody laugh at something I say, especially if I’m in drama class or hanging out with friends. It’s my kind of high. Most people drink when they’re at parties. I make people laugh. It’s a total win-win: no hangover for me and lots of laughs for everybody else. But being in drama class or at a party with people who’ve known me since… well…the purple-and-orange panty days is way different than being onstage in front of a bunch of strangers.

Strangers who may not find me funny at all.

“They have a new category this year,” Carly says. “For online comedy.” She taps the paper in front of me. “Look.”

I start to read.
The International Teens in Comedy Festival is pleased to announce a new category this year—video comedy. We’re looking for the mega stars of the future in this growing area of performance art. To qualify, interested participants must submit three videos for consideration by February 28.

I look up. “I can’t believe you gave them my contact information. And submitted three of my vlogs without even telling me.”

Carly grins like she’s won the lottery. “Would you have submitted them?”

“No.”

“My point exactly.”

“Keep reading,” Hunter says.

I look back down.
Those who make the shortlist must travel to Portland for the final elimination rounds. At that time, they must be prepared to submit two previously unseen comedy videos, and they must compete with other shortlisted video contestants and do a series of stand-up routines in front of a live audience.

I suck in a breath. A live audience? Walking across a stage? No way. “I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can,” Carly says. “We’ve talked about this, Paige. You can’t hide in your room forever. If you’re going to have the comedy career you want, you need to demonstrate range. You need to be way more versatile.”

As far as Carly’s concerned, I should charge after everything I want in life. A career in comedy. Hunter. Straight hair. “I’m working on it,” I tell her. “Look at all the vlogs I’ve done. On everything from how to kiss a guy with facial hair to dating a toaster. And it’s not like I just sit there and talk into the camera either. I
do
stuff. How about that one where I demonstrated fifty uses for popcorn? And don’t forget my driving video.”

Until today, that was my most popular video ever. I did it from my car, on ways to fake out your driving instructor. I got five hundred subscribers in two days with that one. Two weeks later I also got a nasty letter from an uptight guy at the Washington State Department of Licensing, but I didn’t care because (a) I’d gotten my license the week before and (b) you haven’t arrived until you start getting hate mail.

BOOK: Stepping Out
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