About the Author
Katy Birchall is the author of The It Girl series. She also works at Country Life magazine as their Deputy Features Editor. Katy won the 24/7 Theatre Festival Award in 2011 for Most Promising New Comedy Writer with her very serious play about a ninja monkey at a dinner party. Her pet Labradors are the loves of her life, she is mildly obsessed with Jane Austen, and one day she hopes to wake up as an elf in The Lord of the Rings. She grew up in Essex and currently lives in Brixton.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The It Girl 1.
I SET JOSIE GRAHAM ON fire.
And, okay, yes it was bad, but it was an accident and not entirely my fault. Everyone thinks I did it on purpose. They think Mrs. Ginnwell is a hero.
If you ask me, Mrs. Ginnwell made the whole thing worse. A little bit of water would have sorted everything out just fine. It was only the ends of her hair, and a fire extinguisher was a very dramatic plan of action. I mean, Josie was already having a pretty bad day considering I’d just set her on fire and everything, and the next thing she knew she was covered head to toe in that white foamy stuff that always looks like it might be fun to play in but probably isn’t. (I think Josie looked more in shock—and a little bit itchy—than like she was having fun.)
I was kind of in shock myself. I’d never set fire to anyone before so the whole incident came as a bit of a surprise. The closest I’ve been to any kind of arson was when I was little and I put my dad’s wallet on the fire log to see what would happen. I mean, who leaves their wallet lying around in the same room as a toddler? Not my father anymore that’s for sure. But I still think he looks at me a little bit suspiciously on cold nights.
Oh, and there was that time I almost burned down Dad’s study. But those two times are IT.
And you know what? This is partly Josie Graham’s fault too. Because really, she should not have been (a) leaning on her hand so close to a Bunsen burner and (b) wearing so much hairspray to school.
I’m just jealous because I don’t have the time, let alone the skills, for hairspray. Once Dad has eventually wrestled the duvet cover away from me, I have about ten minutes tops to get ready.
My dad would never buy me hairspray anyway. He’s so old-fashioned, especially when it comes to his twelve-year-old daughter. I remember one time in a drugstore I asked him if he would buy me eyeliner. He burst out laughing and made me go fetch some Theraflu. I think this is VERY hypocritical as some of the women my dad has dated have worn a LOT of dark eyeliner. How would he feel if, when he introduced them, I laughed in their face and gave them a mug of hot lemon acetaminophen instead?
Hmm . . . I might consider this for the really annoying ones that get brought home.
A wobbling Mrs. Ginnwell definitely wasn’t laughing as she marched me into Ms. Duke’s office mumbling something incoherent about fire in the classroom and pyromaniac tendencies.
“Sorry, Mrs. Ginnwell, I didn’t quite understand that. What did you say?” Ms. Duke asked, rising from her desk with a look of concern.
Ms. Duke really suits her office. Which sounds strange when I say it out loud, but it just goes with her overall vibe. She’s new to the school too. We were both new in September, although obviously she’s a bit more senior being principal and everything. I just started seventh grade. Everything considered, I think she has managed to set the better impression out of the two of us so far. This is not great seeing as she gives out detentions and makes people pick up trash from behind the bike rack.
So even though she’s only been in that office for a semester and I’m not entirely sure what it looked like before she arrived, it matches her. For example, it’s all very neat. Ms. Duke is very formal and smartly dressed. She looks more like those businesswomen who are always on their hands-free cell phones in train stations barking things like, “That’s just not good enough, Jeffrey,” than a principal at a co-ed school.
I like the way she can pull off a pantsuit though. I think if ever I was going to work in an office I would like to wear a pantsuit and look authoritative like Ms. Duke does. And her dark hair is always so neatly pinned and her makeup never smudged. She is very intimidating.
Even more so when you’ve just set your classmate’s hair on fire.
“Chemistry class . . . Anna . . . Anna set . . . hair . . . Josie Graham on fire!” Mrs. Ginnwell finally spluttered.
Mrs. Ginnwell is neither authoritative nor intimidating. She kind of reminds me of a parrot. But not a cool one that would chill with a pirate. An overzealous one that swoops around your head, squawking and whacking you unexpectedly in the face with its wings.
“Is Josie all right?” Ms. Duke asked in alarm.
Mrs. Ginnwell nodded, her curled strawberry-blond hair frizzing around her sweaty forehead. “Fine. Although her hair is quite singed and covered in foam.”
“I see,” Ms. Duke replied, and I swear I saw her smirk for a second. If she did, it was gone in an instant when she caught my eye. “And no one else was hurt in this incident?”
“No.” Mrs. Ginnwell shook her head.
“Well in that case, Anna, you can have a seat and, Jenny, why don’t you pop into the teachers’ lounge and ask someone to cover your lesson for a bit while you get a cup of coffee.”
Mrs. Ginnwell nodded and slowly released her grip on me. She gave me a very pointed look, as if when let loose I would pull out a flamethrower from my locker and burn the school to the ground. Which is a completely ridiculous thought for her to entertain because last semester I did an excellent essay on penguins. No one who puts that much effort and emotional maturity into a seventh-grade essay about penguins would be spending their free time plotting to destroy their school.
I sat down slowly into the leather chair opposite Ms. Duke, who was settling into her chair behind the desk. The heavy wooden door closed loudly as Mrs. Ginnwell escaped, still glaring at me, and there was a moment of silence as Ms. Duke straightened the forms she had been filling in before we interrupted her afternoon.
“So, why don’t you explain to me exactly what happened?”
I took a deep breath and told her how we had been in our chemistry class and Josie and I had been partnered together, which, by the way, neither of us were too happy about. I didn’t tell Ms. Duke that part though.
I assumed she would know that it had been an unhappy arrangement. Josie is one of the most popular girls in our grade. She’s best friends with Queen Bee, Sophie Parker, and they’re always hanging out with the popular boys like Brendan Dakers and James Tyndale. Josie spends her weekends partying and comes to school wearing a full face of makeup and her hair sprayed perfectly into place.
I spend my weekends reading comics, watching CSI with my dad, and complaining about my life to my yellow Labrador, called Dog, who is the only creature on this planet who listens to me. And I can only get him to listen if I’m holding a bit of bacon.
So I skipped out the part of the story where Josie looked miserably at Brendan, who she was clearly hoping to be partnered with, and then came to sit next to me with a big sigh and no greeting. She didn’t even look at me when I went, “Howdy, partner,” in a courageous attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
I really don’t know why that was the greeting I went with.
She couldn’t be bothered to do the experiment, so I just got on with it. Now, technically, Mrs. Ginnwell had not explained the Bunsen burner part of the experiment yet as everyone was putting on their lab coats and goggles. But some people were taking their time, and Josie, leaning on her hand, kept glancing at Brendan, laughing at whatever he was saying to her and flicking her hair dramatically.
I guess this is where it kind of becomes my fault. I should have waited until we were told to start up the Bunsen burners, but I went ahead and turned ours on.
There are a few very important things to remember here:
1. I did not realize it was on the highest flame setting.
2. I did not realize that, just as I turned it on, Josie would flick her hairspray-laden locks in the direction that she did.
3. I did not realize that her hair was quite so flammable.
4. I did not realize that she would run around screaming rather than stay still so that throwing water at her became increasingly difficult, and my aim isn’t that good anyway so I actually ended up just soaking myself.
5. I did not expect Mrs. Ginnwell to use so much foam that Josie resembled a poodle.
6. It should also be remembered that I have never been in any real trouble at school before this incident.
7. Apart from that time when I was six and Ben Metton ate my Doritos, so I locked him in the supply closet.
8. The whole fire incident is in fact very upsetting for me too as I didn’t mean to do it, I feel awful, and now no one will want to stay friends with me, just like at my last school.
At this point I started crying.
Ms. Duke, who had been staring at me in shock, passed me a tissue. “Well, it sounds to me like it was an accident—” she began.
“Of course it was an accident!” I wailed, interrupting her. “I would never do that on purpose!”
There was a knock on the door, and I turned in my seat to see the school nurse slowly pop her head in. Ms. Duke beckoned her in, and she came forward happily. “I wanted to let you know, Ms. Duke, and you, Anna, that Josie is perfectly fine. Her hair is singed at the end and she’ll have to have a haircut, but apart from that she is right as rain.”
“She must hate me,” I said glumly, staring at the damp, crumpled tissue in my hand.
“I’m sure she doesn’t. She’ll get over it,” the nurse said jovially. “Her hair was so long and straggly anyway, a cut will probably improve things.”
“Um, thank you, Tricia,” Ms. Duke said pointedly. The nurse gave a cheerful shrug and left.
“There you go, that’s something,” Ms. Duke announced. “It was clearly an accident but one that could have had nasty consequences. We’ve been lucky, Anna.”
I nodded gravely.
“I hope that from now on you won’t begin any kind of experiment without instruction.”
“I’m never going to do another experiment again.”
“I hope you will. Chemistry is a fascinating subject, and I imagine you’ve learned an important lesson with regards to safety.” She looked at me sternly. “Right, well, while we’ve established this wasn’t intentional, I’m going to have to give you detention lasting the remainder of this semester so that you can reflect on the importance of caution. It starts tomorrow. And since it is the end of the day in about ten minutes, you can return to your classroom, gather your things, and go home.”
“I’d rather not go back, to be honest.”
“You don’t need anything?”
“It’s just my pencil case and books. People have probably thrown them in the trash by now.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.” Ms. Duke gave a thin smile. “They all know it was an accident and no harm done. By tomorrow they’ll have forgotten the whole thing.”
It’s worrying how clueless adults are sometimes.
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