Famous for a Week

Chapter 3: The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Segue

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Monday rolls in like a thunderstorm. I can feel the palak paneer sloshing around my stomach and begin to think that maybe it wasn't such a good idea for me to devour an entire plate of Indian food all by myself, even if it was prepared by Martha Stewart herself.

"Are you all right, Jess?" Rick Hong asks.

My stomach grumbles warningly.

As I watch, the minute hand on the clock slips to the five. My hand tightens around the red pencil I am using to color in a map of Europe. We are color-coding the military alliances before World War I. Red is for the Triple Alliance. Blue is for the Triple Entente. "I'm fine," I say, shading Austria-Hungary red.

Lizzie still hasn't called to apologize, so I guess she's still mad at me, and I really cannot deal with a headache on topof a stomachache. And that stupid contest deadline is today, so Lizzie will undoubtedly be more awful to me than she was last Friday —

The point of the pencil snaps off.

Without a word, Rick hands me his. "Thanks."

An oblique glance at his map shows that he's already finished. We aren't exactly friends but he's probably the only reason I'm passing World History with a C because he pretends not to notice when I copy off his homework. Or his maps.

"You're welcome," he says at last, startling me enough that Austria-Hungary's border with Germany suddenly becomes disputed.

I raise my hand. "Um, Mr. Hartman? Do you have any extra maps?"

"No. I only made enough for my two classes. If you made a mistake just use white-out."

I wonder what Austria-Hungary would have done if England had told them to "just use white-out" after Germany went all Nazi on their ass.

Rick shakes his head. "White-out just makes things worse because you have an ugly smudge instead of a small mistake."

"You are so right," I say glumly, staring down at my botched map. You'd never guess I was a good artist from this piece of work. Not in a million years.

At the end of class, I end up turning the map in anyway to Mr. Hartman, whose eyes immediately zero in on the scribble. "Thank you, Jessica."

Rick follows me out into the hall, which confuses me for a minute. Then I remember the pencil that he lent me in class and my face flushes bright red. "I'm sorry," I say, reaching into my messenger bag, "I didn't mean to steal your pencil. I'm not a criminal, or anything. I just forgot."

His eyes focus on the pencil disjointedly, like he's never seen one before. "No, that's okay. Actually, I was wondering if you wanted to go over the highlights of World War Two together before the test next week?"

"Highlights?" I repeat. "Together?"

"It would really help me," he offers, "I always do better on tests when I study with someone else."

"Actually, I think I'd rather go over World War One," I say quickly, "I already did the outline for World War Two, remember?" And then I realize that reminding the smartest boy in class about my flakiness might not be such a good idea — especially when he wants to study with me.

Why DOES he want to study with me anyway? He's the smartest boy in class. Won't I taint his intelligence or something?

But Rick is nodding. "So did I, but it never hurts to go over the chapters a second time."

And why did he make an outline? Mr. Hartman didn't punish him, since Rick is a good student and good students never get punished, and nobody in their right mind would do an outline willingly.

All I say is, "Sounds good."

Internally, though, I am panicking. Because I have realized why he is asking me to study with him. For some reason, Rick is under the (mistaken) impression that I am also smart. Or else he is not in his right mind, which may be causing delusions of grandeur by proxy on my behalf.

"So, Saturday, then?" Rick continues, running a hand through his dark hair. "In the library?"

"I like the library."

I cannot believe I just said that.

"Great." He starts walking away, leaving me standing there.

And I STILL have his pencil.

"Rick!" I shout after him. "What about your pencil?"

"Keep it!"

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Mrs. Rehnquist is monologuing about Socratic dialog. She has been doing this for half an hour.

Socrates must be rolling in his grave.

I spend the time drawing. I also spend a lot of time thinking about what Rick said. You know, about trying to hide a mistake but only making it worse? Of course, he was talking about white-out at the time but I think it kind of applies to my situation, too.

Even though Lizzie was incredibly selfish, I was also incredibly rude, and that probably didn't help.

Lizzie tries to push her way to the front of the line when she sees me coming towards her after class, but I'm too quick. "Hey," I say, kind of angrily.

Lizzie doesn't say anything, but she kind of has an eyebrow raised. As if she's pretending she doesn't care what I have to say but, at the same time, she's kind of angry, too. But since she isn't actually cursing me out, I figure she probably isn't as angry as I imagined her to be.

Finally, unable to help herself, she asks, "What do you want?"

I push a paper into her hands. Maybe a little harder than I need to, since she stumbles a little and Mrs. Rehnquist gives the two of us a dirty look. Lizzie looks at it and her eyes go wide with disbelief. Before she can speak I say, "It's what you wanted, isn't it? Go ahead. Take it. You have my blessings."

And then I turn around, and start walking away. I think I hear her say "Jess!" but it could have been my imagination. Or, it could be that I want an excuse to look back and see the expression on her face. But I don't. Look back, I mean.

I just keep walking

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"All you all right, Jess?"

I look up from my thermos of minestrone soup into the worried face of my friend, Leonora Bianchessi. I eat lunch with her whenever Lizzie is being unreasonable, which happens to be a lot. Not that I'm Leonora's fair-weather friend, or anything. I'm not. It's just that we have our own social circles and don't really get to hang out that much, except in less-than-fortunate circumstances like these.

Her father is a foreign diplomat. She moved here from Firenze, Italy when she was about seven and couldn't speak English very well. Plus, there was the whole kissing thing. This meant endless teasing until she was about thirteen and people caught on to how wealthy and cultured her family was. Then she suddenly became really popular. Go figure. I guess it really made her realize who her friends are.

But, friendship aside, how can I tell Leonora that I feel like kicking myself for giving in, or that I'm here because I'm too much of a coward to face Lizzie? The tough-girl act certainly shocked her but it didn't exactly solve anything because she got what she wanted and I'm still just as upset.

I don't want to burden her with my problems. Plus, we're sitting with a couple other girls and they are listening. Closely.

"I'm fine," I tell her, dipping a cracker into the soup.

"You were glaring at your soup."

"I just don't like minestrone."

Which is a lie, and Leonora knows it. "Well, I think you should eat with us more often, Jess."

"Maybe I will," is all I say.

She smiles. "Good."

"Leonora," one of the girls pipes up, "have you decided on your dress for the dance?"

"Not yet," Leonora says, "I'm still looking. I want it to be perfect."

"Where is it being held this year, Amy?" another girl asks. I think her name is Jen.

They are, of course, talking about The Dance. As sophomores, we're too young for prom and homecoming is mostly for the freshmen, anyway. There's one dance we look forward to, though, and that's the end of the year dance in May.

"The Hotel Royal. They have an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a huge garden with a hedge maze – it's absolutely beautiful. Are you going, Jess?" Amy adds politely.

"I, um, I'm not sure," I say. "Maybe if somebody asks me."

"Oh, I totally understand," Jen sympathizes. "I would rather die than go stag to a dance."

Amy shoots her a look. "I have lots of guy friends. We could definitely set you up, Jess."

"No, that's all right — "

"I bet you will be the bell of the ball," Leonora says, "Because you will look as shiny as a bell, yes?"

"It's belle, Lea." Amy corrects her gently. "With an E. Like a beautiful woman?"

"Sounds like something out of Cinderella," Jen says, "Except Jess could be her own clock."

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"Jess, phone for you!"

I give a tortured sigh, setting aside my dog-eared copy of Cyrano de Bergerac, and walk down the stairs. Mom is standing in the doorway of the kitchen, holding the phone at her side and eying me, like, Don't be a drama queen.

"Who is it?" I mouth.

Mom shrugs. "One of your friends." She doesn't bother whispering. Subtlety is not one of my mom's strong points. I roll my eyes and take the phone. "Hello?"

"Look, I'm sorry. Now will you please stop ignoring me?"

Lizzie.

I'm not sure if this is an apology call or a gloating call. Knowing her, it could be both at once.

"Fine," I say, sounding more irritated than I want to, "I'm talking. What's up?"

"Nothing much. I'm in trouble. I skipped out on detention, and the old hag called my parents when I didn't show up. Speaking of which, April and I didn't see you at lunch today. Where were you?"

"I was with some friends." I pause. "How was the contest?"

"We didn't enter."

"You didn't?"

"April wanted to leave," Lizzie says. Somewhat meanly, I think.

"Oh. So what did you do with the drawing?" I ask, trying to sound casual.

Lizzie kind of hesitates and I know that she's done something with it — maybe thrown it away, or kept it, or even submitted it, for all I know — but there's no way she's going to tell me. "Forget it," I mutter.

"We did go," Lizzie pipes up. "We were hoping to see Jake there."

"Considering that we're a speck on the map, I don't see why he'd bother glorifying us with his," I sniff, "Magnificent presence."

"We figured that out pretty fast," Lizzie says dryly. "There were a lot of girls there, though, and you should have seen the judge. She was this incredibly slutty woman, with red nail polish," she adds, as if this settles the matter. "She was wearing a Cartier bracelet, too."

I honestly don't think Lizzie would be able to tell a Cartier bracelet from a Claire's bracelet if her life depended on it.

"It must have cost at least five hundred dollars," she continues.

Is she kidding? Please, please tell me that she's kidding.

"Isn't that a lot?"

She's not kidding.

"Wow," I say, "Pretty ritzy."

Lizzie doesn't seem to catch my sarcasm because she says, "Anyway, Jess, the point is I'm really sorry. Really sorry. I know how much your art means to you. I shouldn't have put that kind of pressure on you."

In spite of myself, I am touched. "Really?"

"Really." But Lizzie, being Lizzie, has to add, "So do you want to go to Fusion tomorrow?"

Strangling her at this point would be unchivalrous. "What time?"

"Whenever." Now that Lizzie knows — or at least, thinks she knows — I'm not mad anymore, she's starting to become her old self again. "You can even bring that friend. You know, the one who plays sousaphone. What's her name? Laura?"

"Leonora." I correct her, starting to get annoyed again. "It's Italian."

Maybe she realizes that she's pushing the bounds because her voice suddenly becomes groveling again. "Yeah, her. She seems nice. Bring her. And . . ." she hesitates, ". . . I'll buy you a bubble tea."

I know it's a bribe, and it's not even a particularly subtle one, but my mouth instantly waters. Bubble teas have the same consistency as a frappuccino, except that they come in exotic flavors like chai, litchi, and, my personal favorite, taro. At the bottom are black "bubbles" of tapioca, which is how the drink got its name — and it happens to be my favorite beverage in the whole world.

You don't turn down a bubble tea. Especially not a free one.

Even if it is a bribe.

"I'll try to make it," I tell her. And, after an excessive goodbye, I finally manage to get her off the phone twenty minutes later.

"Who was it, Jess?" Mom asks, as I put the phone back in its cradle. "What did they want?"

Honestly. She's so nosy. Brittany and Robert manage to hide from her, so that just leaves me for the pickings. It's always about school, boys, and friends. In that order.

"Nobody. Just Lizzie, Mom. She wanted me to go to Fusion with her."

"Well, I hope you told her that you were grounded."

Uh-oh.

"Jess," she says warningly.

"I, um, might have forgotten but — " I hastily tack-on, sensing a total melt-down " — it's been two weeks already and I'm really, really sorry. Haven't I been punished enough?"

I see a line form between her eyebrows. "Which one's Lizzie again?"

"The loud one," I remind her. "Remember? From Girl Scouts?"

She can never remember any of my friends, either. Because I just have so many she can hardly keep track of them all. Not that it really bothers me. If she doesn't remember who's who, she can't pass judgment. In Lizzie's case, this is probably a good thing.

"She ate a whole package of Girl Scout cookies by herself and got sick," I add helpfully.

Her eyes narrow. "Is she the one who threw up in that shopping cart outside Safeway?"

"Well, that was a long time ago — a long, long time ago — and we've all grown up since then."

Some of us more than others.

"Besides, we've just been fighting and if I back out now, she'll think I'm still mad at her."

"Oh, to be young again," Mom says dryly, looking unimpressed. "What about that D in World History?"

"This guy's been helping me out. I think it's a C now. Oh, um, speaking of which, I kind of promised that I'd meet him at the library this Saturday?"

"Jessica."

I cringe.

Mom sighs. "On the other hand, your grades have gotten marginally better this quarter. If this . . . Rick . . . is the culprit, I see no reason why you can't study with him."

"And the tea?" I venture timidly.

"You're still on probation, Jess."

"I know."

"That means I expect you home by five. No going over to your friends' houses. Go there and come right back. I don't care if the President of the United States himself tries to detain you, you are going to be in this house by five on the dot. Are we agreed?"

I nod.

"Don't make me regret this."

What could go wrong? Seriously?

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Author's Note: Cartier jewelry generally costs $1,500 and up depending on what you're buying. Some of the special edition pieces can run as much as $10,000! Hence the (ahem) humor.

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