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Authors: Juli Alexander

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BOOK: The Karma Beat
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With a growing sense of panic, I scrolled down to find the original post. From me, last night. At about the time I’d taken my shower.

Apparently, three hundred of the people I most respected had received an email from me saying: Dude, I’ve got to stop farting in here. My room stinks!

My heart skipped a beat. Dear God, no! Classic Sean. My blood boiled in anger.

My little brother was so dead!

“Mom!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Mom!!!!”

For some reason, my mother doesn’t jump when I call her. Something about she’s not my servant. So anyway, I headed downstairs to find her. “I’m going to kill him!”

Mom and Dad must have been watching television in the family room because they were almost to the hall when I made it down the stairs.

“We’re still discussing the issue with Ian—” my mom said.

“Not Ian. Sean!”

My parents shared one of those, what-have-they-done-now looks.

“He sent an email to the RokrGirlz loop from my account. The loop has three hundred members. And they all think I emailed them that my room stinks because I fart so much in it.”

Mom groaned.

The corners of Dad’s lips quirked slightly before he caught himself.

“This isn’t funny, Dad!”

“You’re right, dear,” my dad said in his calming mediation voice. He’d ditched his suit for jeans and a t-shirt.

“He is so going to pay for this,” I informed them with a furious glare.

My mother shook her head. “Now, Jen. We’ll take care of the situation.”

“Good. Take care of explaining to the doctor in the emergency room why he got a pounding.”

“Jennifer. You know we don’t condone violence.” Dad wasn’t smiling now.

Sean apparently couldn’t ignore his curiosity anymore. He appeared at the top of the stairs with a self-satisfied smirk.

I started to go after him, but Mom grabbed my arm. “We’ll take care of this.”

Sean disappeared down the hall. Probably locked in his room.

“You’d better punish him forever. He should be grounded until he’s twenty. Or at least until he grows some facial hair.”

“That would be a long time,” my mother joked.

“Go email your friends about what happened,” my dad suggested. “I’m sure they’ll understand. Half of them probably have little brothers.”

“Not all parents are that cruel,” I snapped.

Dad gave me a warning look.

“We’ll talk to you after we handle Sean,” Mom said.

“I want retribution,” I said.

“We’ll see.” My dad patted my back as they went around me and up the stairs.

Thirty minutes later, I was still sitting cross-legged on my bed, staring at my laptop, and trying to figure out a way to explain what had happened without sounding like a total loser freak. I mean if I had sent the email because of some kind of breakdown or drug problem, I would totally claim my little brother had done it. Who wouldn’t?

Was anybody going to believe me?

I could really use Alex’s help about now. She was my closest friend. We ran with three other girls, but they all had boyfriends who took up all their time. Alex worked harder than I did at staying friends with all of them. I wasn’t going to share any of this with Kelsey, Briana, or Maggie.

Here goes nothing. I typed “Guys, I’m so sorry. My little brother is such a freak. I forgot to log off last night and he sent that repulsive email just to embarrass me.”

I hit send, not entirely satisfied with my explanation.

Then I waited for some replies.

Saxygirl said: OMG. That’s too funny! So glad I don’t have a brother.

GraceonBass emailed: Ha ha! Can’t wait to hear what you do to get him back.

I relaxed finally. They believed me. Good.

Mom knocked on my door and pushed it open. “Got a minute?”

“Please say you decided to follow that eye for an eye thing and let me embarrass him in front of his friends.” I was thinking of messing with a pair of his tidy whities before his friends came over to make it look like he’d pooped his pants. They’d tell the whole school, and he deserved it.

“Not exactly. Your father and I grounded him from internet, TV, and video games for a month.” She sat in the jade green desk chair with a tired sigh.

Excellent. He’d be miserable. “That will just give him more time to get into trouble,” I pointed out.

“Yeah. We thought of that. That’s why he’s doing ten book reports.”

Sean liked to read. “That isn’t so bad.”

Mom smiled and a wicked glint reached her eyes. “Your father decided he should read some girl books. Esperanza Rising. Little Women. Nothing with a boy protagonist.”

My lips broke into an evil grin. My brother hated reading girl books.

“All in the interest of a well-rounded education,” Mom said with a wink.

Yeah, right.

Dad poked his head in. “Is the wounded party satisfied?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I hear Princess Diaries is a good read.”

My dad winced. “We’ll see. We want to punish him, not break him.”

I wisely refrained from commenting.

After my parents left, I moved my laptop to my desk and cracked open my American government book. I had to write a couple pages of essays. As I wrote about the reasons for the separation of powers, I couldn’t help thinking that there was no separation in the genie world.

The U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. was an acronym for Unity, Nature, Integrity, Virtue, Ethics, Reason, Society, and Education. The Directorate of the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. was like a think tank of brilliant philosophers throughout time. They swore an oath of loyalty and were not allowed to pursue any self-interests. Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, and five other honored thinkers from history were given new lives and immortality in return for serving on the Directorate. They were to serve the interests of people, humans and genies alike. They monitored genie activity to make sure we didn’t abuse our powers.

They also provided the karma points for deserving people. When a person had accrued enough points, I or someone like me, appeared to grant them three wishes. I didn’t think it was such a bad use of genie magic. Each of the Directors had a department of genies who worked with them. There were also a large number of non-genie descendants of the people who had negotiated the Treaty of the Bermuda Triangle. The treaty had freed us and started the alliance that had become the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E.

Since the Directorate was all powerful, there was plenty of room for abuse of power. That’s why the eight were so carefully chosen from various times, religions, and countries. Assuming none of them would be dishonest.

I thought about Leo. If he was right about his dad being framed, someone, somewhere, had been corrupted. I’d love to ask my mother about his father, but I wouldn’t have an excuse for asking. The U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. was tightlipped about its activities.

When I finally finished the essays, I logged back onto the Internet to check on the RokrGirlz situation.

Baitbreath, who I’d already noticed was more than a little strange, asked if Sean played any instruments. She thought Sean would be a great addition to their band, Brattitude.

“He can burp the ABC’s,” I typed. “But that’s about it.”

As I closed my laptop, I told myself that even Baitbreath didn’t want a brat with no talent.

I pulled the wireless adaptor out of the USB port. I’d stash it in the bathroom drawer while I showered. Sean couldn’t access the internet on my laptop without it. I wasn’t taking any more chances when it came to that little monster.



Chapter Three



I got out of bed earlier than usual so I could catch my mother alone. She always drank two cups of coffee and read over some reports before she left in the morning.

I threw on some jeans and my favorite blue hoodie. After my usual routine in the bathroom—face, hair, teeth, blush, lip gloss—I was ready to try to get some information out of my mother. I really was curious who had access to those reports, and it was a question Mom might expect me to ask.

I wasn’t just doing it because Leo wanted me to. I was not that kind of girl. You know, the kind who drops everything for a guy. Of course, I’d never imagined a guy like Leo existed. An über hot male genie.

Mom sat at her place at the kitchen table. She pushed aside her report and looked at me over the top of her reading glasses. “Hi, honey. You’re ready early.”

“Morning, Mom.” I couldn’t think up a good reason for being up early, so I chose distraction. “That your second cup?” I asked, motioning to the coffee.

“Yes,” Mom said with a smile. “I’m afraid it’s going to be a three-cup morning. I have meetings all day.”

“U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. or cell phone?” I asked. Mom worked for the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E., but she was also a vice president in the cover corporation, a cell phone company.

“Both.” Mom sighed. “The Directorate wants to change my position at Genie Communications so that I’m just a VP with an office and no real duties. Then I could focus on the work for the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. But I don’t want to. I enjoy the cell business, and besides, I like having a job I can fess up to. I don’t want my friends to think that I’m paid to do nothing.”

The U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. had decided to start a cell phone company as a cover in the early nineties. Unfortunately, the company had been a huge success. They’d intended to have primarily genie clients. The flat monthly rate for unlimited local calls had caught on. Everyone I knew had a Genie phone. Now they were the most successful cell phone company in the Southeast. Mom basically worked two demanding jobs.

We had free cell service and lots of goodies. My friends loved the free merchandise Mom brought home. Pink pens, pink lava lamps, and lots of mirrors shaped like genie bottles. Their logo was a genie rising from a pink, bejeweled bottle with the words, “Who needs three wishes when you have unlimited local minutes?”

“What are the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. meetings about?” I asked casually as I poured some cereal.

“Jen, you know I can’t tell you that.” She continued to flip through the large binder, so I figured she wasn’t onto me yet.

“Mom, I was wondering. How many people know everything I do? I mean if I go to grant three wishes, you know about it, but who else? Does everybody who works with you have that information?”

Mom looked up from her work. “I’m not sure what you’re worried about. I can tell you that your assigned monitor, the Directorate, and their senior staff can access the information.”

That was a lot more people than I realized, and it wouldn’t make Leo’s search very easy.

She tucked a strand of her fiery red hair behind her ear. “You’re not reading 1984 in school are you? I know your father rants and raves, but the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. really isn’t that kind of big brother.”

“Um, yeah, I know.” I took a big bite of my cereal. I didn’t even know who my monitor was, much less Leo’s father’s. I knew who was on the Directorate, but I didn’t know where they were or what they looked like. The senior staffers probably numbered more than fifty, but I could maybe find their names.

“How are you liking the Genie5000?” Mom asked.

My new cell phone was the latest and greatest, a phone engineered solely for Genie Communications. “I love it. I like the new purple.” I’d passed my old one on to Alex.

“I prefer the nostalgic pink myself.”

They’d chosen pink twenty years ago because they thought it would limit their customer base. I guess their market share proved them wrong.

They’d gotten tired of seeing men walking around with the pink phones. In Atlanta, the Genie phone was a sure-tell sign of how cheap a man was. Most of the realtors and businessmen in town had used the phone despite the color. A few had done some scary things with magic markers. Then a competitor capitalized on the situation by selling skins in a variety of colors. Suddenly men were back to carrying silver or black, and Genie Communications decided to give in and manufacture additional colors. They still pushed the pink though. I’d grown up with pink phones.

“Tell Alex I can get her a skin for the phone if she gets tired of the pink,” Mom said as I finished off my cereal.

“I’ll try,” I mumbled, but Mom didn’t notice. I hadn’t found time to mention my problem with my best friend. If Alex didn’t forgive me by dinner, I’d ask my mother for advice.


Thirty minutes later, Ian pulled the Toyota into a space in the Bearden High lot between a Mercedes and an Audi convertible. Our school was situated squarely in Dunwoody, an upper middle class suburb of Atlanta. Even the apartment dwellers among us had parents who could pay well over fifteen hundred dollars a month on rent.

When you lived in a school district like this, there was no need for private school. BHS provided every possible academic and extracurricular opportunity.

Ian pulled the parking brake and grabbed his backpack. “Nice talking to you,” he said.

I had refused to speak to him all morning. I suspected he preferred it that way, but it was a matter of principle, and I refused to relent. My brothers were the bane of my existence. I slammed the car door as my parting shot.

If I were an only child, my life would have been perfect. Maybe I’d have Alex’s confidence. Of course, no one ever outed Alex for passing gas.

Since Alex and I shared a locker, I was pretty sure I could run her down this morning. She still hadn’t called me. I wasn’t so sure she was going to forgive me. Last night’s basketball game had been the last of the season. Unless they made the district playoffs, and from what I’d heard, the chances were slim.

When I got to our locker, I realized she’d already come and gone. This was really bad. The last time she’d been that mad at me was in seventh grade when her parents were getting a divorce. I’d tried to cheer her up by saying at least they’d both be buying her good presents from now on. She said my comment about them buying her affections was selfish and unfeeling. She was right, of course.

The fact that she’d gotten there early just to avoid me wasn’t good. Now, I knew I was in serious trouble.

After trig, I headed back to my locker as fast as I could. I had to shove a couple of people out of my way to make it, but my hardcore hall tactics paid off. Alex, dressed in one of her funky chick outfits, with pink and black polka dotted top, black jeans, and black chucks, still had her head in the locker searching for a book.

BOOK: The Karma Beat
3.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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