Authors: Lindsey Leavitt
Tags: #Fiction - Middle Grade
Copyright © 2011 by Lindsey Leavitt
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Also by Lindsey Leavitt
Princess for Hire
To Mom and Dad
ot Cross Buns” has to be one of the stupidest songs in the history of music. You want some buns. They’re a penny. Please buy them and shut up about it, so we don’t have to go over the same three notes
I shuddered to think how the next song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” was going to sound. Small children would cry.
“Okay.” My best friend, Kylee Malik, tried to paste on an encouraging smile, but the corners of her mouth didn’t fully commit. “You know that song Michael Jackson used to sing? ‘ABC’? If you can sing that in your head, you’ll remember the notes for ‘Hot Cross Buns.’”
“Wait, why would I use
song to remember this song?” I gripped the neck of my rented violin. “The notes I remember; I just don’t know how to
“Can I be an honest friend, then?” She scooted my music stand to the side. As the band director’s special assistant, Kylee was supposed to be using the high school music room for her own rehearsals, but she’d snuck me in as favor.
“Maybe you should, you know, quit.” Her eyes widened. “Not that you don’t have, er, talent! Just not with this. What if we rehearsed for the play tryouts on Monday instead?”
“I still don’t know if I want to audition. It’s Shakespeare. And a
play. My chances are one in twenty thousand.”
“I may not be a math whiz, but I’m pretty sure they’re better than that. This isn’t some fine-arts school in New York. It’s Sproutville. Idaho. There’ll be fifty, sixty, people trying out. Tops. And it’s technically a junior high
high school play, so you have as much of a chance as a senior.”
“Whatever.” The school district was only letting the junior high students try out because they cut our theater program. Sorry, “merged” us with the high school. Seniors were still going to have, well,
over eighth graders.
“And you’re good, Desi. Honest.”
I played with the hem of my self-designed noteworthy T-shirt, hoping Kylee couldn’t tell how much I wished that she was right. I’d wanted to be an actress since I’d seen my first Audrey Hepburn movie when I was nine. I couldn’t count how many nights I’d stayed up, reciting classic movie lines to my bedroom mirror. Probably close to the number of times I’d read through the fall play, Shakespeare’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
. But that familiar longing wasn’t as important as my immediate musical need. “I can work on lines tonight. Right now, I want to become Beethoven.”
probably never going to happen, especially with the violin. Maybe we haven’t found your instrument yet. There’s the…the xylophone.”
“My sister, Gracie, plays the xylophone. She’s two. Am I that bad?”
Kylee frowned. “No, I mean, well…
is such a
“Kylee, you’re being the honest friend, remember?”
“It sounded like a barrel of cats playing tubas. In B-flat.”
“What is B-flat?”
Kylee covered her mouth, but she couldn’t escape the snort that came out.
“You’re laughing?” I pointed my bow at her. “My musical dreams have come to an end and you’re
“Musical dreams?” Kylee kept giggling. “You just decided you wanted to learn an instrument last month.”
“Maybe it was a
“If you care that much, we’ll keep working on it. But you’re going to lose an eye waving that bow around.”
“Fine. We’ll give Mr. Violin a break. But I’m blaming all failure on you, teach.”
I tucked the violin into its case—my favorite part of practicing. So the musical dream was bogus, but I did have
dreams, and if I wanted to return to my magical job with the royal substitution agency, Façade, I had some training to do.
Last summer, an agent named Meredith Pouffinski popped—and I mean
(she travels by bubble)—into my bathroom and told me that Façade detected my MP—magic potential—when I made a wish on some magical fish. The MP could transform me into the exact look-alike of any princess in need of a vacation. All I had to do was sign a contract and apply the ancient Egyptian formula Royal Rouge.
Of course I took the job—who wouldn’t want to travel the world, meet royals, and make loads of money doing it? But I found that princesses often “vacationed” during crazy times, leaving me to deal with everything from Amazon tribal festivals to heinous diet plans. And although it complicated my job more, I really made an effort to positively impact the princesses’s lives while impersonating them. My goal to impact went too far when I kissed Prince Karl because I knew my client, Elsa, was too shy to do it herself. This choice nearly lost me my amazing job, but in the end, the Court of Royal Appeals (the big honchos of Façade) endorsed my advancement to Level Two—a privilege I
to prove I deserved.
A few days after returning from my subbing adventures, a package arrived for me in Idaho. I was elated to find my princess-sub manual inside—a handheld touch-screen computer thingy that had everything about royals I ever wanted to know. Except now that I’d moved up to Level Two, there was a message saying I had to go through something called Betterment of Elite Sub Training.
Betterment of Elite Sub Training (BEST…these people loved their acronyms) was simply a list of things I needed to
before I could sub for my first—still unrevealed—Level Two princess. Each job included a new list, and my first one included…
So I’d spent the summer looking through art slides, reading
A Tale of Two Cities,
attempting to play the violin, watching online videos of people prancing around in period costumes, and delivering my favorite speeches from old movies to Gracie’s stuffed-animal collection (okay, so the public speaking still needed work). It was mid-September now, a couple of weeks into school. I was doing fine, but I had no clue when I would be
. I wouldn’t know it was time until Meredith dropped in with her bubble. I could return to my dream job any day.
I buckled the case shut and surveyed the music room. There really was a xylophone in there. Was the xylophone a classical instrument? Was the BEST musical point going to be the one task that kept me from returning to Façade?
“Hey, Kylee, what if I did play the xylophone? Or the flute! Flutes are fancy. And, um, woodwinds, right? And can I learn about B-flat and allegro and forte and all that music stuff?”
“Okay, I’ll teach you the flute if you tell me why you’re suddenly interested in music
.” Kylee shook her finger. “And don’t tell me it’s a hidden dream. A few weeks ago, all you wanted to do was watch old movies, and now it’s like you’re training to be a debutante.”
Debutante. Yikes…not too far away from princesses, actually. And welcome to Desi’s Daily Balancing Act, which involves me conversing with my new best friend without telling her my biggest secret. Not only would she not believe me, but I’d signed a contract promising not to share any information about the Façade Agency.
“Fine. I’ll reveal my deep dark secret.” I grabbed a mallet and dinged a xylophone key, hoping I came off as breezy. “
you teach me the flute.”
“We only have five minutes before my practice session ends. I think another group booked the room.”
“Five minutes. Deal. And I’ll buy us some Slurpees after.”
Kylee found a school-owned flute in the music closest and held up the mouthpiece. “So the hard part is getting your mouth right. Purse your lips together like you’re blowing on soup.”
I made a blowing-on-soup face, not an easy task with braces.
“Good, now, before I attach the rest of the flute, you need to get your blow down.” She shoved the cold metal mouthpiece under my lips.
“Whoa. Slow down with the blow down.”
“Ha-ha. Here. Remember, soup blow.”
I held the instrument up to my mouth, picturing a nice clam chowder. But when I blew, it sounded more like a windy raspberry.
Kylee cringed. “So, that would be your…starting point.”
I blew out again, more in exasperation than in an attempt to create music. The raspberry sound only got wetter.
I glared at the mouthpiece. So, this instrument thing? Kind of a stupid idea. Seriously, what was I thinking? It takes people YEARS to learn an instrument. And I had to get back to work soon! Maybe if I listened to Mozart, 24-7, it would seep into my fingers. Yes, the osmosis approach. And the BEST list said “highly encouraged,” not “completely necessary.” Besides, I’d subbed for a musical princess during my Level One days, and I made it out of that okay. So what if her instrument had been destroyed in the process?
Kylee was right. Instruments weren’t my thing. I would brainstorm another plan tonight. Time for Slurpees.
I screwed on the other two parts of the flute and blew hard. “Okay, I’m done. But, wait. Look!” I pretended like I knew how to play notes, jiggling the pinky key with force. “I’m a natural! Call me the Pied Piper.”
Kylee laughed, covering her ears while I started a little jig. I was getting into it, twirling around, my fingers flying across the keys. The violin was ear heaven compared to my flute sounds. I almost didn’t hear someone whistling. Whistling? I looked at Kylee, but her face was frozen in horror.
Standing in the doorway was my former best friend, Celeste Juniper, and behind her stood about twenty other kids.
Tall, mature kids. High school theater kids.
Celeste’s eyes glinted in triumph. “Sorry to interrupt…well, I think that was a solo. Or maybe an audition for
. You have the screeching sound
“We booked this room for our thespian meeting.” A short guy in a cardigan started to move chairs. “Hope that’s cool.”
The flute was still perched in the air, like an antenna signaling my lameness. I told my elbow to lower, but elbow did not listen. Everyone else filed in, pushing chairs into a circle that was now forming around me. Kylee finally grabbed my arm and pulled me to a corner of the room. “No problem.
We were just working on a comedic scene for Desi’s audition. She’s auditioning for the play.”
The rest of the thespians, thankfully, ignored us and began their vocal warm-ups. No such luck with Celeste. “So you’re auditioning?” she asked. “How many plays have you tried out for?”
“Four,” I answered softly.
“And how many have you been cast in?” Celeste asked.
“Zero,” I said, my voice even softer. Wait. I wasn’t going to let Celeste make me feel invisible. She’d been awful to me for the last two years because my lawyer dad sent her guilty dad to jail. TWO YEARS AGO. “Zero plays, but things are different now.”
“Yeah. And the fifth time is the charm,” Kylee added.
Old Desi would have vaporized right then. But old Desi washed away over the summer, and now I could be the person I always wanted to be. Besides, I’d already embarrassed myself with the Flute Boogie. Auditions couldn’t be any worse. “I
trying out. I’ll see you there. And good luck.”
“It’s bad luck to say ‘good luck’ to an actress.”
“I know. That’s why I said it.” I took Kylee’s hand so we could make a dramatic exit, but she was firmly rooted to the spot. Celeste smirked and walked back to the warm-up circle.
“We were supposed to make an exit just then,” I said.
“Look,” Kylee said in a fierce whisper. “Over there. Reed Pearson.”
Sure enough, Kylee’s new crush was in the circle, repeating lines with a partner. His voice, or maybe it was his New Zealand accent, rang louder than the others. When he caught us staring, he waved.
“I can’t go over there,” Kylee said. “I haven’t even practiced.”
“Practiced talking to him.” She shot a desperate glance at the door. “I mean, he’s so cute and older than us—”
“Only one year older—”
“I’m going to go. Call me tonight.” Her nails cut into my skin. “And I want details.”
Reed strode across the room as Kylee zipped out. “Did I scare her away?” he asked.
“No. Well, yes.” I shook my head. “She has a deep fear of thespians.”
He laughed. “We aren’t contagious.”
I was about to make a joke about thespianitis, but then I felt bad that I was the one laughing with him, and not Kylee. So I didn’t say anything. The silence went stale, and Reed cleared his throat. “So, I’m Reed. We met over the summer when—”
You saved my life by administering CPR after I almost drowned in a dunk tank, which involved our mouths touching, which is why I am having a very difficult time forming sentences right now. “I remember.” Another endless beat of empty air, then, “So are you trying out for the play?”
“No, I came for your concert earlier.”
I felt my face flame. “Yeah…that. Interpretive dance.”
“Well, whatever it was, I thought it was original.”
“You’ll be at auditions, right?” he asked.
“Uh…I think so.”
Reed’s friend called him over. I was about to say something more, something about Kylee, but he was already moving away. He held up his elbow, his fingers tapping an invisible instrument. “Bye, flute girl.”
I got out of there, glancing around the hallway for Meredith, in case by some bizarre miracle my violin and/or flute playing had been enough to complete my BEST. My bravado with Celeste was already dying, and now that I’d committed to auditions, I wanted out of Sproutville fast.
Like, magical bubble–speed