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Synopsis: Marina is mean. Sachi is nice. Marina is Barney’s. Sachi is Burlington Coat Factory. It’s bad enough they’re forced to coexist in their middle-school’s high-profile video elective—but now they’re being forced to work together on the big semester project. Marina’s objective? Out her wannabe BFF as a fashion victim to the entire middle school. Sachi’s objective? Prove that she’s not just the smiley class pencil-lender and broaden her classmates’ cultural horizons. Work together in harmony? Yeah, that would be a "no." How can Sachi film something meaningful, and Marina, something fabulous, if they’re yoked to each other?
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Nice and Mean MARINA’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK, ENTRY #1 * Most Suspicious Behavior: Rachel Winter
A tinfoil shirt, a popularity poll. What exactly is Rachel up to? * Worst Mother: Bianca Glass, a.k.a. Mom
Those pants? That attitude? This mother’s truly in a category by herself.
When I realized I was about to flip through the Seventeen
Back-to-School Fashions for the third time that afternoon, I slammed the magazine shut and hurled it across the room. It flew through the air and landed against the garbage can with a big loud smack.
Where were my friends? Play practice ended at five. Even adding time for Rachel to do an extra shimmy, Elizabeth and Addie to straighten chairs, and the three of them to snag snacks, they should’ve gotten here twenty minutes ago. And I should’ve been snacking with them, not sitting alone on my bed like someone who forgot to order a life.
I got up to grab my magazine, since my ninja throwing-moves had bent the cover. I couldn’t believe how the play had turned into such a time suck. Elizabeth was the only one with a real part—did all of them really need to spend three afternoons a week in that sweaty drama basement? I had no desire to join the Grease
cult—they’d already started quoting the songs so often that I’d had to tell them, “Hold the cheese, this is not Burger King.” But if I’d known that my only company would be the blast of the AC and the thump of my iTunes, I wouldn’t have blown off the audition so hard. How was I supposed to know that the lines in the play weren’t the same as in the movie, or that they’d make us sing alone in front of everybody? Why hadn’t anybody told me these things? Ding-dong
Took them long enough. I threw my magazine on the bed and ran down the hall to open the door.
“Marina, darling!” Rachel struck a pose in the doorway.
“Um . . . hey.” I couldn’t decide which was weirder—the drama-queen voice or her new getup. Today’s silver shirt had already been a strange choice for a Wednesday, but now she had piled her long black curls on top of her head like she was about to walk a runway.
“Hey, Marina.” Elizabeth gave me a hug, and I breathed in her sweet, flowery smell, which has been the same since second grade. When we first started having sleepovers, I used every soap and shampoo in her bathroom, trying to find that exact scent, but I never could.
We’d barely let go before Addie cried, “Reener!”—then strangled me and bonked me with her grocery bag. Four bottles of Diet Dr Pepper and one package of Mint Milanos straight to the shoulder blade.
“Ow!” I rubbed my back. “Hey, careful with the Pepper.”
Rachel slipped into the apartment, laughing. “Nice one, Addie,” she said.
Hunh? She and Addie were usually BFFs.
“Sorry!” Addie cried. She’s half-Chinese, with freckles on her wide cheeks, and when they puff out, she reminds me of a sad puppy. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said as she stepped past me. “Seriously.” It’s too easy to make Addie feel bad. Even Rachel, her best friend, wanted to vote her Biggest Plebe in our online poll—“plebe” after the word for commoner—in social studies last year.
“Sorry we’re late,” Elizabeth said, following Addie inside. “People kept fooling around while we were learning the dance, so Ms. Mancini kept us after five.”
“Oh.” I led them into the kitchen, the only place my mother would let us drink soda. “Were you late? I didn’t notice.”
“Well,” said Rachel, “we were actually late for two reasons.” She giggled.
As I hopped up onto the counter, the cold granite sent a shiver up my spine. I held out a hand and said, “Pepper me, Addie.”
Her brown eyes gleaming, Addie handed one bottle to me, one to Rachel on the opposite counter, and one to Elizabeth at the breakfast table. “So?” Addie said to Rachel, once we had tapped down the fizz. “Are you going to tell her, or should we?”
Rachel grinned and squeezed her eyes shut, then blurted out, “I’m in love!”
Elizabeth and Addie cracked up.
“Again?” I untwisted my soda cap. Last year, Rachel had fallen in love about once a month.
“With . . . ,” Elizabeth prompted.
Rachel and Addie answered together, “Julian Navarro!”
I choked on my soda. I
was the one who had pointed out his hotness after summer vacay. Julian was mine.
“We’re dance partners,” Rachel explained, leaning so far forward, she looked like she was going to fall off the counter. “He kept messing up the hand jive, so I stayed after and helped him a little.” She giggled. “He kept teasing me, like, ‘Oh, prima ballerina thinks she’s got moves,’ but he totally liked it, I could tell.” She drummed her feet on the cabinet below her. “He is so hot! Eee!”
“You guys looked like you were really into it.” Elizabeth took a sip of Pepper.
“You’re, like, meant
to be together,” Addie agreed.
I forced down a burp. Why was Rachel suddenly going after Julian? He was popular but also a homeboy, not like the artsy guys she usually went for. The clothes, the Addie slamming . . . what was going on with Rachel?
She’d come back different from camp, that was for sure—wanting to drag me to the boutiques listed in magazines, and suddenly obsessed with popularity. It had been her idea to poll our class for the “mosts”—Most Popular, Most Beautiful, Nicest Boy, Nicest Girl. I could tell she’d been upset when I’d won Most Popular, but please—did she not know how these things worked? I’d gone to elementary school with most of the kids at Jacobs, and she was still getting to know them.
Plus, she just wasn’t Most Popular material. The other day in math, when she’d cracked up over some weird thing, all the boys had looked at me like, You’re
her friend? She was fun—we’d spent all of last year trying to get revenge on Señora Blanca together—but fun did not equal popularity. Then again, if she could turn Addie into her own personal plebe, make Julian pay attention to her, and convince Elizabeth and Addie that she and Julian had potential . . .
I gulped my soda. The bubbles scraped against my throat.
Elizabeth already has a boyfriend this year—she’s got that sort of nice-and-shy thing going on that the boys all love—but I hadn’t gone out with anyone since last spring, and I would die if Rachel beat me to a boyfriend in seventh grade. Not that she could ever pull that off, of course. I totally had things that Rachel didn’t. Like, I don’t know, taste, or—
“Rachel, what are you doing?” I asked. She had hopped off the counter and started doing this weird dance, slapping her thighs and punching her own fists. Elizabeth and Addie were cheering her on.
“It’s how he dances
!” Rachel laughed. “Don’t you remember the hand jive? From the movie?”
“Ah. Right.” I twisted the Pepper cap as tight as it would go. I needed to put a stop to this Julian business before it turned into something big.
“That would be so funny if the two of you went out,” I said, sliding the Mint Milanos toward me as Rachel bopped away. “Do you think he likes tall girls this year?”
Rachel stopped mid-clap and looked down at her flats. “Maybe,” she said, sliding into the chair next to Elizabeth. “I mean, whatever. We’re just dancing partners.”
I slit open the bag with my fingernail. I hadn’t meant to make her all deflated, but she needed to find the map to the real world. For one thing, Julian was short. Julian’s girlfriends had all been short. I
was kind of short. And Rachel standing next to a guy made you think she was going to knock him over. I always thought that was one of the reasons the guys had steered clear of her last year, and hopefully, Julian would care about that too.
I pulled out the first cookie and bit. The mint tingled against the cherry from the soda, and I thought, See. Marina knows what’s good.
“So, Marina.” Elizabeth’s voice broke into my thoughts. “You find out about Video soon, right?”
“Hunh? Oh, yeah.” It was nice of her to ask—she had
tied for Nicest Girl, after all—but I didn’t care about Video the way they cared about the play. I mean, I could already make all the videos I wanted with my equipment at home. I had just acted like Video was woo because everyone had been squealing about getting into the play until my ears practically bled, and I’d needed something to come out of my mouth that wasn’t barf.
“Ooh,” said Rachel, “Video. With Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” She wiggled her eyebrows, and I couldn’t help laughing. Rachel’s always had a crush on Mr. Phillips.
“I hope you get in,” Elizabeth said. “That video you made for Angelica’s birthday was so cute.”
“Yeah,” Addie agreed.
“Thanks,” I said, and took a sip of Pepper. The video for my little sister had
come out well. Even my dad had said so, during one of the three weeks a year he wasn’t in Taiwan, or Thailand, or wherever it was that he always traveled for business.
“I remember when you were working on your video!” Rachel laughed. “We came to sleep over, and you were all like”—she hunched her shoulders and pretended to be staring at a computer screen—“ ‘Don’t bother me, guys, just a sec, just a sec.’ Scary!” She laughed.
“Oh, like you didn’t look weird when you were practicing for the dance?” I asked. “Hey,” she said, “at least I wasn’t talking to myself.”
“What do you think you’ll make your video about?” Elizabeth asked, gesturing with her chin for me to throw her the cookies.
Thank God for Elizabeth. I tossed her the Milanos bag and said, “Oh, it’s a surprise.”
Addie bounced in her chair. “Come on, tell us.”
I raised my eyebrows mysteriously, my mind whirring like a D drive. I couldn’t sit there empty-handed, not in front of the Grease
gang. It would be fun to base my video on some kind of show. Designer Threads
? Too complicated; no way did I want people sewing clothes. Modelicious
? A cool idea, but you’d have to make a ton of episodes to show who had the most model potential. It could
be fun to do something about our group, though. And if I could use it to make sure that Rachel would not be victorious in the next battle for Most Popular—
Wait a minute. Victorious . . .
“Okay, guys.” I sighed. “I’ll put you out of your misery. Here’s my idea.”
They leaned closer.
I smiled. “Victim/Victorious.”
“Oh, nice!” Addie called.
“Sweet,” Elizabeth agreed.
“Starring Jacobs kids as fashion victims?” Rachel asked.
“I approve.” She took a quick sip, then struck a pose. “And I will be your Most Victorious, I assume?”
I almost burst out laughing, because her silver shirt made her look more like the biggest victim. But I grabbed my soda and forced on a serious expression as I guzzled and said, “Mmm-hmm
“Uh, guys?” Elizabeth looked up from sliding apart her cookie. “Wouldn’t that be kind of like the poll? I mean, do you really want to get in trouble again?”
Just then, I heard the sound of the key in the front door. Speaking of trouble. My least favorite voice in the world called, “Hello? Girls?”
“I’m in the kitchen,” I yelled back. I don’t know why she always calls “Girls.” Did she honestly forget that my little sister lived at ballet and piano? Or did she want to make me feel bad that I was the only one home? Hey, I could dance if I wanted to. I’d just rather have a life.
The door swung open and I cringed. Why did my mom have to wear the orange pants on a day that my friends were over? They made her butt look like a pumpkin.
“Marina.” My mother was frowning. “Your friends are here.”
Behind my mother’s back, Rachel mouthed the word Duh
“Yeah?” I asked my mom. Nice to be polite to my friends! I always worried that Elizabeth left my house wanting to report my mom for cruelty to children. And sure enough, over my mother’s shoulder, Elizabeth was glancing at me as if to say, Should we go?
I shook my head. If my mom was in a bad mood, I didn’t want to be alone with her.
My mom set her shopping bags on the floor—bags I hoped were not full of pumpkin clothes. “I need to talk to you,” she said.
“Can it wait until later?” I asked. Oh, great, she was mad at me
! And Rachel—ugh—Rachel was widening her eyes at Addie like, Ooh! Smackdown!
“I’d rather deal with this now,” said my mom, peeling off her leather jacket, “before your father comes home.”
“We have lots of time before that
,” I said, thinking, If he even comes home before bedtime
“That’s okay.” Elizabeth stood up and buttoned her sweater. “I need to get going, anyway.”
Rachel hopped off the counter. “Me too,” and Addie put in, “Me too.”
I walked my friends to the elevator—so mad, I could barely see in front of me.
“Bye, Reener,” said Elizabeth, giving me a squeeze. “Call me later, okay?”
“Thanks.” I stood with my friends until the elevator came, then tried to sneak back into the apartment without my mom noticing me. No luck—she was right by the hall table going through the mail.
Except now she was totally obsessed with the bill in front of her, running a shiny, dark red nail down the list of charges and frowning so hard that lines appeared between her eyes. I started down the hall to my room, but she held up her hand as if to tell me to wait, so I rolled my eyes and leaned against the front door. She needed to make up her mind: yell at Marina or call MasterCard. And let me play on the Internet while she decided. What was the problem, anyway? I had gotten in trouble for the poll, but I’d finished my detention last week.
“I can’t deal with these people,” my mother muttered, tossing the bill aside. Then her gaze landed on me. “So, Marina,” she said. “I got a call today about your vocabulary quiz.”
“What?” I asked. “What about it?” Had I failed a quiz already? I had studied!
“Ms. Avery said you had the same answers as Rachel,” my mother told me. “Is that true?”
“What?” I asked. “Oh my gosh, it’s not like there are answers. You were supposed to write sentences that showed you knew the meaning of the words. Yeah, Rachel and I came up with the sentences together, but we each remembered them on our own. Rachel’s not even in my class. Why does Ms. Avery even care, as long as the sentences are right? She just doesn’t like me.”
“Calm down, Marina.” My mother closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “You don’t need to go into hysterics about every little thing.”
“I’m not going into hysterics,” I told her. “I’m just saying, we didn’t cheat.”
“Nobody’s accusing you of cheating,” my mother said. “She just said you had the same sentences and wanted to figure out how that happened.”
“Well, tell her what I told you,” I said. “We studied.”
My mom ripped into another envelope. “She’ll probably want to hear it from you.”
“What?” I had already spent more than enough quality time with my Head of House. “Can’t you call her? She called you.”
“Marina . . .” My mother tugged the letter out of its envelope. “I don’t have time to go through ten rounds of phone tag with the teachers at your school. You see her every day. Just talk to her.”
“Fine.” I pushed myself off the door. “But if I end up in detention again because she doesn’t believe me, you’re going to have to talk to her, anyway.”
“You know, Marina.” My mother sighed. “I come home from a long day—” Of ...
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