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Authors: Laura Langston

Tags: #JUV031000, #JUV013070, #JUV039150

Stepping Out (6 page)

BOOK: Stepping Out
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Whoa! That’s two thousand more than I had last night when I went to bed. All because of an article in the
Seattle Times
. My phone buzzes.
Your subscribers are going up BY THE MINUTE
, Carly texts.
You are already famous
.

What I am is shocked. This whole morning feels unreal. “I can’t believe this.”

Hunter digs out the last few chips. “Believe it.” His dark hair is sticking up on one side of his head, like he hasn’t combed it properly or hasn’t showered yet this morning. Or like he was in a hurry to drive over and see me. My tummy does a tiny flip-flop.

Don’t be stupid.
As I fold the newspaper sections into one neat pile, I hear voices coming from the kitchen. Mom and Dad? Mom and Brooke? I can’t tell. At least Mom was up when Hunter rang the bell, which gave me a few minutes to throw myself together.
Throw
being the operative word. When I came downstairs in my jeans and sweater, Hunter calmly pointed out that I had a bright-red streak of something on my chin. It was blush. That’s what I get for trying to multitask before breakfast.

C U tomorrow
, Carly adds.
11:30. DON’T forget
.

How could I? The salon—Fringe Benefits—has called
and
emailed to remind me of my hair appointment.

Hunter tosses his phone aside, grabs the empty potato-chip bag and crumples it up. “Why don’t we go out?” he suggests. “Grab something to eat? My treat.”

Hunter is always asking me to go places. I never used to mind. But last year, when my feelings went through that change, it started to feel awkward. I want to go
out
out with him, not just hang out.

“If you’re hungry, have one of the muffins.”

“I’d rather drive over to Big June’s for her stuffed French toast. Come with me. You love her cinnamon buns.”

Of course I do. What’s not to love? They’re the size of a dinner plate and loaded with enough sugar to send you into a diabetic coma. That’s the other problem. Not diabetic comas (I always order a side of scrambled eggs, and I’m pretty sure the protein cancels out the sugar), but the fact that everybody loves them. Big June’s is a popular place. I don’t want to walk in there with Hunter and see someone from school. “I can’t. I have a ton to do before Monday.” I rattle off my list: haircut, clothes, the second video I need for the contest. “Plus, I have to get my routine ready for the practice run in drama.”

He stands up, slides his phone away and shoves his feet into his runners. “Yeah, I heard about that.” Instead of heading for the front door,
he turns toward the kitchen. I’m confused until I spot the empty chip bag in his hand. He’s going to throw it away before he leaves. Hunter hates litter as much as I hate germs. What a team we’d make. For sure we’d live in a clutter-free, sterile environment. How romantic is that?

“Roskinski’s telling everybody,” he adds.

I roll my eyes as we walk down the hall. “Great.”

His chuckle is low and soft. So sexy. My heart races a little. “I figured you’d be impressed,” he says.

The voices in the kitchen grow louder as we get closer. My shoulder blades tighten. It’s not Mom talking. It’s Brooke and Twin One. Or maybe Twin Two. Whatever. The twin part doesn’t matter. The Brooke part does. To give her fair warning that we’re coming, I clear my throat and say in a too-loud voice, “The garbage is in here.”

Hunter looks at me as if I’ve suddenly turned into an owl. “I know where your garbage is.”

The voices stop when we reach the doorway. Brooke and Twin One are sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. They look over and smile. The paper is open between them. I see a large coffee stain on the picture of my face. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

“Hey, Brooke,” Hunter says as he heads for the trash can.

“Hey, yourself,” Brooke drawls. There’s enough syrup in her voice to send anybody into a diabetic coma. “You’re looking hot.”

Hunter always looks hot. And whenever Brooke sees him, she points it out. If I didn’t know better, I’d say my sister has a thing for him. Except she likes college guys with tricked-out cars. Her current target drives a silver Audi.

“Thanks.” His shoulders flex as he pitches his empty bag into the garbage. He really is rocking that tight black T-shirt.

“Pour yourself some java and grab a chair,” Brooke says. She doesn’t even look at me. No surprise.

“Thanks, but I’m heading out.” He gestures to the paper. “Great article, right?”

“Yeah.” Brooke smirks. She looks at Twin One. “We were just discussing that and the whole contest thing.”

Twin One grows very still. Her face fills with color. I’m suddenly on alert, waiting for the bomb to drop. Hunter, oblivious to the undercurrents, walks back toward me.

“It’s good that the
ITCF
is making space for people with disabilities this year,” Brooke says.

I turn cold. At least she’s being politically correct. She hasn’t called me a freak once yet this morning. Twin One inspects her nails and won’t meet my gaze.

Brooke slides a quick sideways glance at me before giving Hunter a brilliant smile. “It’s great for their image. It’s probably part of their mandate that they have to include them or something.”

Them
.
Nice one, Brooke
.

“You know. Make a few spaces for the ‘disabled.’ ” She puts air quotes around the word
disabled
.

Hunter clears his throat. His eyes harden. “That’s not very—”

“Smart,” I interrupt. I am furious. Embarrassing me in front of Hunter is a new low. “You’d think they’d have special categories for people like me. Para-comedy or something.”

Twin One snickers. When Brooke shoots her a warning look, she picks up her coffee and hides behind her cup.

“You should get on that, Brookie.” Brooke hates it when I call her that. I take Hunter’s arm and
tug him out of the kitchen. “Write them a letter.
Include your title too.
MRO
of Larsson Enterprises.”

Hunter bursts out laughing. Twin One snorts coffee out of her nose. My sister looks confused. She obviously missed the
Paige Notes
vlog I did two Wednesdays ago, where I ranted about telemarketers and called them
MRO
s, which is short for major rectal opening. Too bad for her.

“Did you just call your sister an asshole?” Hunter asks as we head down the hall.

“No way. I wouldn’t stoop so low.” I dredge up a wide smile, even though inside I am dying. That black pit of self-hate is back, and it takes everything I have not to get sucked in. “Major rectal opening is the official, scientific term.” I open the door with an exaggerated flourish. “And I’m all about being scientific.”

I watch him walk down the steps. He’s still laughing when he gets to his car.

It’s a small victory. But a good one.

Eight

F
irst Paige Monday: The word for the week is
porcelain
. Porcelain is big in my house. My mom’s a dentist, and my dad’s a
plumber. They’re all about the teeth and the toilets. If my sister and I brush and flush, they’re happy. Conversation at dinner is a little problematic though. I can never figure out what opening they’re talking about. The mouth or the toilet. Talk about potty mouth.

Dad’s van hits a pothole when he slows for the school zone. On the sidewalk, students in groups of twos and threes straggle down the block to school. Since Hunter has a doctor’s appointment, Dad’s driving me this morning.

“Good luck with your dry run in drama today.” Dad leans over and pats my knee.

I lick my suddenly dry lips. A knee tap is big-time encouragement coming from Dad. “Thanks.”

He turns into the drop-off zone. I see a couple of Brooke’s friends up ahead, including Twin Two. Oh crap. At least Brooke isn’t there. She’s pretty much avoided me since Saturday morning. Maybe I should call her a major rectal opening more often.

I fling open the passenger door. “This is good.”

“Whoa. Hold up.” He slams on the brakes. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

“Yeah. If I wrecked my good foot that would be disastrous.” Almost as bad as being driven to school by a parent. “Thanks, Dad.” I grab my bag and jump out before any of Brooke’s friends see me.

I’m halfway to my locker when Carly calls out, “Paige, wait!”

I stop in front of the basketball team’s trophy cabinet and watch her hurry down the hall, her dark hair streaming out behind her and a wide smile on her face.

Her smile fades when she stops in front of me. “What are you wearing?” She stares at the flowing
peach top I picked up at the thrift store yesterday after I got my hair cut. I also found a cool vest and scored a pair of nearly new 7 For All Mankind black jeans. “I thought you were wearing something red for this afternoon’s performance.”

Carly believes in color therapy. She thinks red will energize me and draw positive attention. To get her own positive attention, she relies on tight, low-cut sweaters in every color going. Today’s is royal blue. “I changed my mind.”

She frowns. “Not smart. Peach stimulates the appetite.”

“That’s good.” We start to walk. “I’ll leave them hungry for more.”

Nothing can spoil my mood. Yesterday’s haircut turned out okay (my hair looks almost normal for the first time in, like, forever). My routines are feeling solid, and the subscription numbers on my YouTube channel are up. Way up.

“I almost reached nine thousand subscribers this morning,” I tell Carly. It’s low by Jenna Marbles standards, but great considering I’ve only been doing this for nine months.

She grins. “I saw. I’ll bet you’ll hit that magic ten thousand before we leave for Portland at the
end of the week. Maybe then you’ll start making some money.”

I stop in front of my locker. My hands are clammy. It takes me a couple of tries to spin my combination. “Maybe.” I don’t know why I’m resisting turning this into a business. Maybe because until now, vlogging has been fun. And chasing money makes it more serious somehow.

She turns to go. “See you at lunch.”

“Don’t count on it. Roskinski wants to see me in the drama room.”

“I’ll be in the caf. Come find me when you’re done.”

But I don’t. By the time Mr. Roskinski finishes explaining how the afternoon will work, there’s only twenty minutes left until the first bell. He disappears to the staff room, and I eat my cheese sandwich sitting on the risers, staring at the stage. I’ll be performing twice in last block to four different classes. Thank goodness Brooke’s class isn’t one of them.

The stage curtains are half open. Mr. Roskinski has turned on a single spotlight. Most of the other lights in the room are off, throwing the stage into sharp relief. I don’t let myself think
about Portland, the
ITCF
or what’s at stake with the contest. Instead, I visualize myself walking out from behind that shabby gold curtain, delivering my lines and hearing the laughter.

That’s all I focus on: the laughter.

When the bell goes, I spend first block in the library, reviewing my notes. I’ve memorized both routines, but in light of what Mr. Roskinski said about having backup material, I’ve also got a few bits I can pull out in case I need them. By the time last block rolls around and I head back to the classroom, I’m stoked. I’m ready.

Or I think I am. But as I stand backstage listening to seventy students coming into the room, I realize I should have brought my antiperspirant to school. I look like I have two peaches blooming under my armpits.

When Mr. Roskinski calls my name, my heart skips a beat. I clutch the wireless mic in my slippery palms and leave the wings. I don’t look at him, though I know he’s standing off to the side, recording every second of my performance.

“Walk much?” I ask as I limp to the front of the stage. I hear a few nervous giggles. But when I add, “Not really,” the laughing starts.

That gives me the confidence I need to start on my bit about my trip to Sephora, which doesn’t get the number of laughs I expect. Different jokes work with different groups—comedy rule number two. And there are way more guys than girls in this group. My panic starts to rise. I glance at Mr. Roskinski, who gestures to his pocket. Our signal for
pull out something else
.

“I am so over body odor,” I say, segueing into a piece I wrote on a whim last night. “I mean, what was God thinking? Why couldn’t she have designed our sweat to smell like bacon? Or banana cupcakes?” The laughs start again, and though my pacing isn’t great, the laughs keep coming for the rest of the routine. Afterward, as those two classes leave and the next two classes file in, Mr. Roskinski talks to me backstage.

“Don’t be afraid to slow down a little and leave time for the audience to laugh,” he says. “And glance around the group more too.”

That’ll be tough. I’ve been focusing on one or two friendly faces. Since Hunter and Carly and a few of my other friends are in this next group, I figured I’d focus on them.

I also figured I’d be less nervous this time too. Wrong. I’m practically hyperventilating as I wait for Mr. Roskinski to introduce me. Maybe because Hunter and Carly and some of my friends
are
in this group. When he calls my name, I momentarily blank out. But when he gestures with his hand, I snap back and start to move.

“Walking is great exercise,” I say when I reach the middle of the stage. “Unless you’re me.” A couple of nervous titters. “Maybe that’s why my parents named me Paige and named my sister Brooke.” The laughter starts to build. It’s an easy shot because people in this group know Brooke. They can relate. “I mean, how fast can a page move, you know what I’m saying?” More laughter. “Brooks are like small rivers, so they don’t have that problem. They’re always on the move. Even if they are a little shallow.”

Everybody laughs.

Okay, maybe it’s a low blow, but it’s the only joke I’ll make today about Brooke, and it gives me the confidence I need. Forcing myself to gaze at the entire group, I slow down and let the laughter dictate when to deliver the next line. My Sephora
material goes over way better with this crowd, and my rant about self-checkout counters at the supermarket makes them laugh too. I end with my funny bit about sleeping on the job while I was in utero and “being born wrong.” Before I know it, I have four peaches blooming under my armpits, and my second practice run is over.

BOOK: Stepping Out
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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