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Authors: Laura Langston

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BOOK: Stepping Out
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Six

P
aige Notes Wednesday: The problem with having a limp isn’t so much that I limp; it’s the fact that perfect strangers take it upon
themselves to point this out to me. Like, after fifteen years I am somehow surprised by this? They also yell when they talk. Like I am deaf. HEY, YOU ARE LIMPING—DID YOU KNOW THAT? No, I didn’t. And now that you’ve pointed it out and permanently damaged my eardrum, where’s my hearing aid and crutch? Tell me that, oh wise one.

I know Mr. Roskinski is trying to help, but he’s increased my stress level by about 200 percent. Doing stand-up is like auditioning in front of a bunch of strangers. But next week in drama,
I’ll be doing it in front of friends. In some ways, that’s worse.

Over the next couple of days, I study comedians I admire: Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and Margaret Cho. And in my spare time, I go to the
ITCF
website and check out the other nominees.

It’s a big-time dumb move. I’m so shocked at how good they are, I don’t have the guts to comment on a single one of their videos. So when Carly reminds me after school on Wednesday that I need something to wear onstage, I agree to go shopping with her. I’m desperate for a distraction. Anything to forget who I’m up against. But three hours of following Carly through a pile of stores is not a feel-good experience.

“Don’t get discouraged,” Carly says as we leave Aéropostale and walk into the mall. At least the clerk looked me in the eye when I asked for a size four in the top I liked. Half the time they treat me like I’m blind too. “We’ll find you something.”

Considering the fact that we’ve covered most of the stores at Bellevue Square Mall, I doubt it. “Maybe I’ll check out the thrift store where I found those cool pants last year.”

Carly wrinkles her nose. She doesn’t share my taste for second-hand funk. “Not the thrift store.”

“I’ll buy online then.” We turn the corner at Aveda. Buying online is easy, and the clerks never stare. But my order probably wouldn’t arrive in time. Especially not by Monday, when I’m testing my routines in drama class. “And don’t tell me you’re jealous, because I know that already.”

She rolls her eyes. “Rub it in, why don’t you.”

Carly hates that I’m a perfect size four and tall. I can’t help my Swedish genes any more than she can help her pasta-loving Italian ones. Too bad Brooke inherited the Swedish hair and I got Mom’s red frizz.

“Let’s go in here.” She stops in front of Loft.

“What? I’m a lawyer now?”

She ignores the question and heads for the elevators. “You’re grumpy. You never should have gone online and looked at those other vloggers. It totally messed you up.”

Technically I’ve been messed up since last Friday when she and Hunter dropped this bombshell of an opportunity on my head. Of course I’d check out the other nominees in my category.

“Athletes don’t spend their time before the Super Bowl worrying about everybody else,” Carly says. “They work on their own game. That’s why we need to get you in game shape.” She stops in front of J. Crew. “How about here? We missed it.”

I shake my head. Getting me in game shape is enough to bend even my good leg out of shape. “I’m done,” I say. “Let’s go to Jamba Juice. I’ll buy you an Orange Carrot Twist.”

“I’m not thirsty. At least let’s go to Sephora and deal with your hair.”

We stop in front of the elevator.
Deal with your hair
is such an encouraging phrase. “Do we have to?”

She eyes the top of my head with obvious distaste. “No. Go onstage with that snarly red tumbleweed on the top of your head. I’m sure you’ll get a few laughs from it.”

I sigh and push the Down button.

Thursday morning, as I sit down to work in a library stall at school, I’m still traumatized by the
whole Sephora experience. But considering the raw material I got, it was probably worth it.

Walking into that store was like walking into the middle of
Vogue
magazine. The women all glittered. The prices were off-the-chart stupid. And the stench of perfume made it hard to think. Or maybe it was the music affecting my brain. I couldn’t hear much over it—although I definitely heard the glitter girl trying to sell me approximately $989 worth of products.

I pretty much lost all capacity to think after that.

It takes me most of the hour to jot down some notes and work it into a rough routine. I’m writing up my last few lines when a shadow looms across my cubby.

I look up. It’s Ms. Vastag, wearing her infamous purple Birkenstocks and holding an armload of papers. “Why aren’t you in gym class, Larsson?”

“I’ve been excused for a few days to practise for the competition.”

Ms. Vastag’s eyes narrow. “Exercise is important.” She points to her ample stomach, barely covered by a tight red-and-blue-checked shirt. “Look what happens when you don’t get it.”

“I know, and I feel terrible about missing the class, but I need the time.”

Ms. Vastag glances around and then leans close. “You don’t fool me for a minute. You hate gym.” She glances at my leg. “You’re always looking for an excuse to sit it out because of your disability.”

Ms. Vastag doesn’t dance around my limp like so many people do. And she doesn’t make allowances for it either. She treats me with the same offhand annoyance she treats everybody else with. I like that about her.

She’s not finished. “You can’t run from reality.”

“I can’t run, period.”

The ghost of a smile flashes at the corners of her mouth. “Maybe not a marathon, but you can manage. And here’s the thing. Everybody has something. A deformed foot, a brother in jail, bad gas. Whatever. Life’s a poker hand. We all have to deal. But the bigger person learns not to be defined by the hand they hold. Speaking of holding…” She thrusts a piece of paper at me. “The
Seattle Times
wants you to call.”

My heart skips a beat as I look down at the small slip of paper.
Dylan Shaw, Seattle Times
Entertainment
is written in thick black ink. The name is followed by a phone number. “Me?”

That hint of a smile is back. “I assume so. Unless there’s another Paige Larsson around here.” She turns to go. “You can call him after school. You’ve got work to do. And that’s no laughing matter.”

When God handed out patience, I was clearly napping, because I have none.

A reporter from the
Seattle Times
wants to talk to
me
. I can’t wait until after school. But I can’t skip math either, so I wait until class is over, and when the bell rings I hurry down the hall to the band wing. After a couple of jocks finish at their lockers, I punch out the number Ms. Vastag gave me.

“Dylan Shaw.”

His voice is brisk. I hear someone talking behind him. Maybe he’s busy. Maybe I should I have waited until after school?

“Hi. This is Paige Larsson.” I sound like a mouse running laps. I take a deep breath. “I’m returning
your call.” Oh God, now I sound like an uptight secretary.

“Right. Hi. Thanks for calling. And congratulations on being shortlisted for the International Teens in Comedy Festival.”

“Thanks.” I figured on some publicity, but I didn’t figure on it before the event.

“My boss wants me to do a feature on it for the weekend paper.”

My breath stalls. A feature! In the weekend paper! Brooke loves the fashion and entertainment section. She loves, loves, loves it. And this week I’ll be in it. Maybe now she’ll take my comedy seriously. My knees start to tremble. I lean against a locker for support. The gray steel is cold through my thin T-shirt.

“Since you and another teen from Washington State are going to the competition, I thought I’d get quotes from each of you.”

“Sure.” It’s like I’m channelling Carly, or maybe I’m just remembering what she said to me last Friday, but I manage to answer all his questions without sounding like a mouse or a secretary or anything else embarrassing. It helps that Dylan is easy to talk to and that he quotes the
guy from Spokane who made the shortlist in the straight stand-up category.

“Your YouTube vlogs are great, by the way.”

“Thanks.” I wonder if he really checked them out or if he’s just saying that.

“I’d like to pull a visual from the one you did on dating a toaster to run with the article. Would you be okay with that?”

He
has
watched them. I had Carly film me while I took my toaster out for pizza and to the movies. Me and toaster boy even went for a romantic walk in the park at the end of the night. And before I started editing, I searched through my royalty-free music file for something really romantic to mix in. It was so good that even I laughed when I played it back. “Sure.”

“Judging by how funny they are,” he adds, “I’d say you have a great chance of winning.”

Seven

S
aturday morning, I wake up to the sound of a crow being slaughtered.

Heart pounding, I bolt out from under my covers and stare around my room. Was I was dreaming? Then I hear it again—the silly Ricky Gervais bird ringtone I downloaded last month.

It’s my phone. I forgot to set it to
Silent
when I went to bed last night. Grabbing it from the nightstand, I slide back under the covers and peer through sleep-crusted eyes at the screen.

Three text messages and one missed call. All from Hunter.

For him, I’ll wake up to the sound of slaughtered crows any day of the week. I bunch my pillow up under my head and hit
Redial
.

“What is wrong with you?” I ask when he answers. “It’s not even seven thirty yet.” So what if I’m happy to hear from him? I can’t let him know that.

“I take it you’re still in bed?”

I flush. There’s something incredibly intimate about his voice whispering in my ear while I’m lying half naked under the covers. Even if I am wearing a ripped
Friends
T-shirt that has a big ketchup stain across Jennifer Aniston’s face. “Of course I’m still in bed.”

“So you haven’t seen the
Seattle Times
?”

“Since I haven’t quite mastered the whole reading-in-my-sleep thing yet, that would be a no.”

“There’s a huge picture of you on the front of today’s entertainment section,” he says. “Come downstairs and answer your front door. I bought three extra copies.”

And the doorbell rings.

Okay, so my picture isn’t
that
huge. And I’m not the only one on the front of the entertainment
section either. The guy from Spokane, Jacob Muller, is beside me. But Dylan Shaw has repeated his pronouncement that he expects me to win. He has compared me to Amy Poehler.
In his first paragraph.
Hunter thinks I should be ecstatic. Instead I’m numb. I’m nowhere close to Poehler. She’s, like, up in the stratosphere. I’m somewhere down in middle earth, trying to crawl my way out.

Hunter looks up from his phone. “The number of your subscribers just went up again.” He’s sprawled on the couch in the
TV
room, and I’m in Dad’s ratty old easy chair across from him, a copy of the paper spread out at my feet. On the coffee table between us are the two Americanos Hunter brought over, along with an almost empty bag of All Dressed potato chips and a couple of raspberry muffins. “You’ve got over seventy-five hundred.”

BOOK: Stepping Out
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