Queen B by Laura Peyton Roberts

 

I’m in Big, Big Trouble

Whoever said “the show must go on” probably had a decent show. Or else he wasn’t in charge of it. He definitely wasn’t the second act. If his curtain had been about to go up on a disaster as big as this one, he would have had to rethink that whole motto. We’re about to flop so hard, they’ll hear the impact in New York. Geologists will measure us on their Richter scales. I’ll be the laughingstock of the school--again--but nobody cares about that.

Why did Mrs. Conway put me in charge of this nightmare? I can guess why she had to bail, but what did I do to deserve this grief? I mean, what did I do to her? She could at least have shown up for moral support.

Maybe she’s out in the audience now, but I don’t dare peek through this curtain again. Mom, Dad, and Grandma Smythe are in the record crowd packing our school auditorium, and the last thing I want to risk right now is accidental eye contact. It must be killing them to sit there next to each other, and since I begged them not to come tonight I can only assume they’re doing it to punish me. It’s been a war zone at my house lately, with Mom barely speaking to Grandma and not speaking to Dad at all. Unfortunately, Dad’s speaking to me every chance he gets, like it’s my fault Grandma’s here making his life miserable.

Okay, that is kind of my fault, but it was an accident. How many times do I have to say it?

I hope Mom at least gives up on saving that empty seat for Trevor. There’s no chance he’ll sit there. He’d avoid the indignity of being seen with parents even if he weren’t in the middle of a major hissy fit about cheap polyester, stuck-up high school girls, and the general unfairness of life. Which reminds me: I really ought to go see if he finished fixing that cape.

It’s just that I’m kind of paralyzed here in the wings.

Fear will do that to a person.

I would love to run crying to Kevin right now. Assuming he wasn’t so mad at me. Boyfriends are supposed to be there for you in a crisis, right? Assuming he’s still my boyfriend. I could definitely use some support right now, and I’m not going to get it from Hayley. If she stalks by here one more time with that self-righteous look on her face . . .

All right, so I should have told her! Excuse me for not wanting to brag about the most boneheaded thing I’ve ever done. Is it my fault Quentin has a big mouth?

Well, maybe a little.

But still.

Oh, no! Principal Ito is dimming the lights.

The show’s about to begin.

 

In My Own Defense . . .

The first thing you ought to know is, I never set out to direct Hilltop High School’s first annual “Student Talent Showcase to Benefit Cancer Research.” I’m not crazy--usually--and what normal person signs up for something like that? Besides me, I mean, because I swear I’m completely sane. At least, I was before all this started.

Forget about everything else for a minute--whose mental health wouldn’t be touch-and-go after six solid weeks of up-close-and-personal time with Fourteen-Karat Carter? Oops--pretend I just said Sterling Carter. Ever since I vowed to stop hating the girl, I’ve been trying to break myself of calling her Fourteen-Karat, but that’s no easy deal, believe me. The not-hating-her part, I mean. She’s been obnoxious since the day we met, but ever since the winter formal, where she beat me out for Snow Queen and I stole Kevin Matthews from her, she’s been a truly epic pain in the butt. It’s a full-time job just trying not to stoop to her level.

Because let’s face it: I’m mostly nice, but I’m no saint. And even an angel would lose her wings if she had to spend any quality time with Sterling. The girl is heinous--sneaky, snarky, and a world-class soc. She’s also a truly bad singer.

Someone ought to at least clue her in on the singing.

Someone other than me, I mean. Because even if I have gone crazy, I’m definitely not suicidal. Where’s Simon Cowell when you need him?

“Stuh-ling . . .” he’d say, in that smug British accent. “I don’t want to be rude, but in what universe could that be called singing? It’s going to take a lobotomy to get those sounds out of my head.”

A few seconds from now, when Sterling opens our talent show with her rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” every member of the audience will probably get in line right behind him. She’ll make a total fool of herself--which I’d obviously enjoy a lot more if I wasn’t in charge of the show. People will think I tricked her into singing because I’m jealous that she got Snow Queen and I only got second place.

1) I only wish I were that clever, and

2) I was thrilled with second place.

Considering everything that happened leading up to that dance, I’m lucky Principal Ito even let me in the building. Besides, I’m used to coming in second. It’s a special talent of mine.

Taking second place is my gift--or my curse, depending on what mood I’m in. Lately I’ve dedicated myself to seeing the bright side of every talent, but when you consider all the other possible talents in the world--and the fact that some people get to be amazing singers and actors and painters--it’s hard not to feel ripped off by being the queen of second place. I have to keep reminding myself that while some gifts may seem more glamorous, under the right circumstances every talent is beautiful. I honestly believe that.

At least, I believe it most of the time.

Anyway, talent is kind of an obsession of mine--which I just this second realized is probably the reason Mrs. Conway put me in charge of this show. If I survive my impending heart attack, I’ll have to be way more careful what I say to adults from now on--especially the ones who pay attention.

Emily Conway might just be the sharpest teacher at school, and her tongue can be even sharper. It turns out she has good reasons for her mood swings, but if she ever found out that I know anything about her personal life, I might have to explain how I learned it, and believe me, that wouldn’t be pretty.

Privacy’s like a religion to her.

Which, personally, I don’t get. How are people supposed to help you if you won’t even tell them what’s going on? I mean, they might help you, if you trick them into believing that a student talent show benefiting cancer research is an altruistic act of charity.

Then again, they might not. Hayley’s my best friend and I’m still not completely certain she’s going to perform tonight. If I could tell her why I care about this show, she’d cooperate like crazy. But I promised to keep Conway’s secret. Even though doing that makes no sense to me. I guess Mrs. Conway doesn’t like life to get too personal, but that’s how life is.

Everything’s personal. You just can’t take it that way.

I mean, if I took things personally, the fact that Kevin and I have been together for over two months and he still hasn’t said “I love you” might make me feel kind of bad. In fact, if I took that omission personally, I might start wondering what’s wrong with me, and why he bothers to hang out with me, and if he even cares. Then I’d probably start wondering if anyone will ever love me or if I’m destined to spend my entire life as a bridesmaid and never a bride, because, you know, that would really tie in with the second-place thing. And--taking all of this personally--I could start getting paranoid about some random girl and acting a tiny bit crazy, which might eventually lead to the type of stupidity that only I am capable of.

Oh, wait.

That’s pretty much what happened.

 

I’m Doing It Again, Aren’t I?

Jumping all over the place when I ought to be telling you things in order. On the other hand, if you insist on showing up in the middle of my messes, how do you expect me to remember what I’ve already told you and what you’ve missed? I’m under some major stress here.

Don’t get me wrong--I’m totally glad to see you again. But it’s not like I don’t have other friends to talk to if you’re going to keep disappearing. I have an absurdly hot boyfriend, don’t forget, not to mention Hayley. Plus there’s Fitz and Quentin--and, unfortunately, Ros Pierce, but let’s not go there yet. If I got really desperate, I could talk to my parents, or even my annoying younger brother, Trevor. But I like talking to you, because then I can talk about all those people and you don’t tell them what I say.

So I guess I’d better back up and start at the beginning. Right?

Seriously, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you could check in more often, it would really help me out.

 

Once Upon a Time . . .

I’m just kidding. No need to go back that far. Christmas vacation should be far enough. Or maybe a teensy bit further, just to fill you in.

Let’s see . . . You remember the Snow Ball, right? Well, after Kevin and I got together at our school’s winter formal, the guy of my dreams and I enjoyed two whole weeks of uninterrupted bliss. Well, mostly uninterrupted. Because as seriously as I’d love to report that Sterling Carter evaporated like a bad smell after the dance, she was alive and well and back at school on Monday. Not only back, but she’d rebounded from Kevin’s dumping like a Super Ball on speed. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing her and Tate the Great making out.

You must remember Bryce Tate. That immensely muscular, semipopular, football-playing loser who showed up drunk at our formal? He passed out in the landscaping and Ros Pierce lost her date. That was when my date, Quentin, and I agreed to go our separate ways, so that he could pursue his true crush, Ros. And even though I’d never actually believed that Quentin and I might finally become more than friends--okay, I thought maybe--the timing was still a bummer. I was bummed right up until the second I found myself with Kevin, the guy I’d been in love-at-first-sight with since October.

Of course, that left Kevin’s original date, Sterling, on her own . . .

Do you see where this is going?

It’s completely unacceptable for a soc like Sterling to be solo at a formal--that’s kind of the antonym of social--so by the end of the night she had Tate the Great sobered up and acting like her thrilled new boyfriend. I say acting because of what happened later, but we’re doing this in order now, right? And after the formal those two were totally lovey-dovey.

Lovey-dovey barely scratches the surface of how I felt about Kevin. I normally don’t have much luck in the romance department. In fact, being the queen of second place means I usually end up with the friend part of girl+friend. But this time--at last--I’d come in first.

I can’t even explain how amazing first felt.

Love at first sight.

First love.

Desperate crushes don’t count anymore once you experience the real thing.

 

Luv Story

School let out for winter vacation and two more weeks slipped by like a dream. Every day was filled with all those romantic boyfriend things I’d always wanted to do and never could before: ice skating with Kevin, exchanging silly gifts, making out under the Christmas tree while our faces turned holiday colors beneath the twinkling lights. . . .

Bliss.

The only teeny, tiny fly in my ointment was the way Kevin signed his New Year’s card:

Dear Cassie,
Happy New Year! It’s so amazing knowing you.
You are a very special girl.

Luv, Kevin.

Granted, he’d followed that up with a stroke-of-midnight kiss that’s making me blush just thinking about it. But still . . . luv? That’s how I signed my Christmas card to Quentin. Everyone knows luv is a safety net, a way of saying you care about someone without actually saying you love them.

“You’re stressing over two stupid letters,” Hayley told me, watching the Rose Parade from a pillow on the floor in our den.

“Technically three, if you want to count the u.”

“And, of course, you do.” She rolled over to give me an impatient look, her face framed by dozens of dark brown ringlets. “Why can’t you just relax and enjoy having a boyfriend for once? I’m starting to think you’ve got something against being happy in the moment.”

She might be onto something. The problem with being happy in the moment is, moments never last. Things change whether you want them to or not, which makes it only smart to keep looking ahead. That’s how people avoid getting hit by cars.

“He’s obviously crazy about you,” Hayley said. “And you’ve only been together for, what? Three weeks?”

“Three and a half,” I corrected.

“Have you told him that you love him?”

“He’s the guy. He should say it first.”

Hayley sighed and returned her attention to the TV, where a giant, petal-covered dinosaur was trying to make that killer turn onto Colorado Boulevard. “Give the boy a break.”

I figured she was right. She usually is. And by the time Sunday night rolled around, I was so caught up in deciding what to wear for the first day of the new semester, and how I’d force my hair to cooperate, and whether the glitter eye shadow I’d bought for New Year’s Eve was too flashy for school that I pretty much forgot about luv.

Pretty much.

After all, this new year was my year to shine. For the first time in my life, I had an actual shot at being someone at school. I’ve always been more of a Queen B than a Queen Bee--you know, B as in not A. Second tier. (Fine, if you have to get technical, sometimes even lower.) But this year, out of nowhere, I had a chance to be a real Queen Bee.

Not that I intended to be snobby, or cliquish, or any of the other rude things sometimes stapled to that label. I certainly didn’t want to be a soc.

I just wanted people to love me.

(With the o and the e, not the u.)

 

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