It's not easy going to Silicon Valley's most elite private school as a poor girl. In fact, I might even say it stinks, but then I remember I'm in the home stretch. Only three more months of high school, and then I will take my fabulous self to Pepperdine University. That's right, the Pepperdine in Malibu, California. No more being a dating pariah, no more being known for setting my best friend's house on fire (it was totally an accident, but we tried to be popular and we did end up being known, but not in a good way). Finally and most importantly, no more homemade clothes by stylist-for-the-Denny's-hostess: my mother. It's the end of an era --- not one I'm particularly fond of, especially working like a dog for my player-but-oh-so-gorgeous boss, Gil. Note my distinct lack of tears.
Pepperdine offered me a partial scholarship, and that's an offer even my frugal parents can't pass up. I mean, the business school . . . and me. Just a few more equations to make it all work out financially, but I'm not worried. I've done more with less to work with --- my prom date, for example. If there's anything that proves my math skills, it's the ability to overcome statistics.
For the last seven months, I've been immersed in --- one could say obsessed with --- getting a prom date. My parents, who find it acceptable to dress me like I'm four and put on a rap/play about abstinence for my entire school --- those parents do not find it acceptable for their daughter to date. So it's been an uphill battle.
In the end, I got to go to prom, but only because it was my punishment after our party gone bad. Claire (my BFF) and I had to work the Breathalyzers to make certain everyone was sober. Not exactly the night I was dreaming of, but it did end with me doing the tango with Argentine hottie Max Diaz. So it wasn't a total loss.
It was, however, a lot of effort for one measly dance, so I intend to work smarter now. Prioritize. Three months left, and I do not intend to be remembered as the girl who checked everyone's breath on prom night. By grad night, everyone at St. James Academy will be asking themselves, "How did we miss her all these years?"
"I'm here," I announce to the steps. Like the rest of the school, the stairs take no notice of me.
The campus of St. James Academy is as stark as ever with its bright, blinding concrete and aqua-blue painted trim. With that color, I think they're trying to give the impression that this place is fun, like Disneyland. But it's not.
Claire brings about the only color and drama to St. James's otherwise barren existence. She sees it as her ministry. Today she sports a purple stripe in her dark bangs and is wearing a matching ruffle scarf flopped carelessly around her neck. If I had to label her, I would say Claire is the Katy Perry of our school. Without the revealing clothes. Without the scary-skinny husband. One never knows which era Claire will represent or what colorful adaptation she'll bring with her on any given day. It's like she can reinvent herself at will. I'm still waiting to invent myself once.
Claire is standing with our two other best friends, Sarika and Angie, whose shyness usually seems to serve as a spotlight for Claire, but she's not her normal self.
Stepping up to Claire, I yank at the scarf to get her full attention. "Hey, what's the matter? You look sort of green. That's not a new makeup, is it?"
"I . . . I have a brother," she says with no emotion.
I tug at the scarf again like it's a horse's bit. "You're not practicing for a soap opera, are you? This is not an audition gone bad, right? Are you supposed to have amnesia? How am I supposed to play this?"
Claire shakes her head. Claire is, by nature, an actress. I can never tell if she's rehearsing lines or if she's embroiled in real drama --- as her life is much more turbulent than my own. Not more pathetic, just more turbulent.
Claire's expression is hard, which tells me this is no joke, and I allow the information to sink in. "A brother?" I asked. "Your mom's pregnant?"
She shakes her head. "A half brother. Older than me. Not younger. Apparently, my dad went on a cruise before he married my mom, and do I really need to say more? My flesh is crawling as it is."
"Eww! 'Nough said." I'd been hoping to be supportive, but my gag reflex took over. I must recover and search for ways to make it sound better than it is. "I mean, that could be good, right? Doesn't everyone want a big brother to look out for them?"
Claire raises one corner of her lip. "It's so common. Trashy. Like the middle-aged man who runs off with his secretary. A cruise?"
"I'd like to go on a cruise," I say brightly. "Well, not one of those that people get sick on, but a cruise would be fun. I hear the buffets are great."
Claire lifts a single brow. "Daisy, my father acted like he was in a bad teenage movie. How do I face him now? It's bad enough he's a lawyer."
"Well, at least it's not splashed across YouTube, right? It was a long time ago. We all make mistakes."
"No, it's worse than YouTube. It's a reality show on MTV." She drops her face in her hands. "I don't know who my father is anymore."
I love my best friend, but to say she's a drama queen is to say Twilight is a romance. It doesn't quite go far enough, you know?
"We don't have MTV, so I wouldn't know," I remind her, as my mother doesn't allow "that kind of television" into our home. She says it's to protect me, but Claire's mother thinks it's because my mom saw Poltergeist as a teenager and believes evil comes into the house through the television. (Claire's mother has that kind of reasoning for a lot of things --- for example, seeing Jaws makes the beach a nondestination. Personally, I think she ought to change her viewing habits, or at least keep her theories to herself, but whatever.) Anyway, the cruise story is new to me, not as common as Claire might think.
"Look, maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe your brother will be really nice. You always said you wanted a sibling. How's your mom doing with all this?"
Claire rolls her eyes in a way only she can, with nearly cartoonish-bulging eyes. "Enough with the optimism, okay? My parents almost got a divorce this year. They're staying together for the money and supposedly me, but it's a shaky foundation, and now we have this long-lost kid? No doubt he's here to get my inheritance."
"At least you have an inheritance. What am I going to get, macramé supplies?" I ask her.
"Could you be supportive here? Didn't I stand by you when your parents wouldn't let you go to prom?"
I sigh. "Not really, no. You made fun of me and told me I had to stand up for myself."
"That's how I supported you!" Claire says with a frustrated exhale.
Angie and Sarika are standing beside us quietly, as they normally do, trying to stay out of the fray. Maybe we have too much drama, but their lives seem simpler. They have to go to school and get good grades, and their parents seem to go about their lives without the daily dose of entitlement.
"Real friends tell you the hard things that you don't want to hear. Would you rather I just sucked it up and played it mute?" Claire asks.
"Sometimes, yes," I say. "Sarika, Angie, wouldn't you sometimes wish that Claire played it quietly?"
Sarika has tears in her eyes. "Daisy, she's hurting. I'm so sorry, Claire. We'll pray for you and your family."
We all look at her, annoyed that the simple idea never came into our own fluffy heads. Sarika is from India. Her parents are Indian missionaries, and she seems about sixty years older than us in maturity. She's one of those girls your parents love you to hang out with because she's a good influence. And Sarika is a good influence, but sometimes that only serves to remind us of our own failures.
"Do you want me to pray right now?" Sarika asks.
"Praying is good. Maybe later, okay, Sarika? I have an idea that I want to discuss with you girls," Claire says. "Well, it's more than an idea."
Uh-oh. "This can't be good," I say. The last time Claire had an idea, we burned her parents' house down.
"I have to take care of myself, right?"
"Not really," Angie tells her.
"Look, I made this ring." Claire holds up her hand, which is manipulated into a Spock, live-long-and-prosper way. She's wearing a silver ring fashioned around two fingers, her pinky and ring finger. As far as Claire goes, it doesn't seem like that big of a fashion stretch, so we're all a little confused.
Angie's the first to speak. She has stellar taste. Granted, her parents don't allow her to use it much, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. "It's not very practical."
"Angie, you don't get it. This is my way out."
"Your way out of what?" I ask her. "Your mansion at the top of the hill? What exactly are you looking to escape?"
She brings the ring to my nose. It reads Class of 2011. "Control."
"It's a class ring?" I look up, trying to mask my confusion and strike a balance between optimistic and realistic.
Claire rolls her eyes again, annoyed with my slow mental processing. "It's a modern take on an old thing. People love that sentimental junk. No one buys class rings anymore, but if they were cool . . ."
"Yeah, if they were cool."
"Like this is." Claire lowers her brow, as if to will me to think her way.
"I just don't know how you're going to finish your senior year with a ring that removes some of the benefits of opposable thumbs."
"It doesn't do that. It's nowhere near your thumbs!" she snaps, missing my point entirely. "You're so negative."
"You just accused me of being too optimistic."
"You don't have to wear it on your writing hand. Wear it on your left hand." She hands me a ring. "It makes a total statement."
"Me? I'm not sure I want to make that statement."
"Yes, you. How can I market the tring if my best friend isn't wearing one? Don't you think that will be weird?"
"Not as weird as --- " I stop myself. "The tring?"
"Twin as in two fingers, and ring. Get it?"
"There's only three months left of school, so how many of those do you expect to sell --- I mean, market?"
"I've already sold two hundred of them on the internet to graduates across the country."
My mouth drops. I don't know why this brings me down. Naturally, I want to be supportive, but I slave every day of my life in a check-printing joint that seems to take pride in typos, and Claire, living her charmed life, sells two hundred of a completely impractical item without even trying. I know we're not supposed to compare and all, but what am I supposed to take home from that lesson? Other than I will always have to work harder than everyone else.
Angie's dad has set her up with her own stock-trading account, and she's probably made more this morning than I'll make all summer. I confess, I want a Chinese father who knows stock and pushes me for excellence. And then there's Sarika. With her parents in the ministry, you'd think she might understand my plight, but no, her dad also owns some high-tech business and employs more people than I probably know on Facebook. Even though Sarika is as Americanized as me, her parents brought with them the Indian culture of buying gold for Sarika for her wedding, which they've done since she was a baby. Sarika is probably worth more than King Tut by now. I don't really mind being poorer than everyone else, I just mind how easy it is for everyone around me to be rich.
"Who did you sell them to?" I ask.
"Like I said, just people around the country. I started a blog on setting fashion and not being a victim of it."
I won't mention the irony here. "How'd you make them?"
"I had them made. It was cheaper to get them done in China, but I decided that was wrong. Do you know human rights --- "
I hold up my palm. "Spare me the political speech. What does any of this have to do with your new brother?"
"Listen, if he comes looking for money, mine is protected from him. He may be able to go after my dad and mom's, but mine is home free, and my dad always said --- "
"Did your dad make sure this is really his son?"
"You know how he did legal work for that company that's doing the home DNA testing?"
"It's a sad world when we need home DNA kits. How about if you just know who the baby daddy is, is that too much to ask?"
"It's his," she says shortly.
I slide my fingers into the contraption Claire's calling jewelry. I have to admit, it's better than a line of nose rings. But at least my mother wouldn't allow me to wear that, and I'd have an excuse. Only last month Claire was sporting a spider on her nostril, so I suppose as far as fads, this is a good compromise.
"So you know how Lance Armstrong has his yellow bracelets that say ‘Live Strong'?" Claire asks.
"These are made from recycled cans. One-tenth of the profit goes to the arbor foundation to plant trees. Trees. Tring. Perfect combination. I'm trying to find a supplier to do them in glass. You know how when glass washes up on the beach and it's all roughed up by the sand and waves? That would make a cool ring."
I'm sputtering. "How much are you charging for these?"
"Ten dollars with shipping. Only two dollars here at school --- a bargain, wouldn't you say? They cost me eighty-eight cents to manufacture, though it would be cheaper if I did it in China, like I said, and I give away a dollar. So I make eight dollars and twelve cents on each ring."
"You sold two hundred of these? Claire, that's --- that's sixteen hundred dollars. You made sixteen hundred dollars selling these?" I hold up my hand, which feels like it's stuck in one of those straw Chinese finger traps.
"Well, of course, there's my time and the marketing costs. I'm going to have a fund-raiser at the club this weekend, and I'm designing a webpage and tying it into the local arbor foundation. I have to pay taxes if I make over a certain amount, but my dad says I can just give more to the charity to keep my profits in line with not paying."
"I'm depressed." Just a few months ago, when Claire and I set her house on fire, her parents were about to split up and couldn't afford to. So it's like she's rewarded for being a complete screwup. "I bet your new brother turns out to be Robert Pattinson, because that is just the kind of life you lead."
"So I need you to take over handling the sales and mailing while I do the play. I told you they changed it from Our Town to West Side Story, right? I love West Side Story, it's so tragic! Unrequited love, emotion, dance skills. It's everything you want in an audition tape, and it will be perfect for my YouTube audition tapes."
"Let me guess, Zac Efron is starring in it opposite you?"
Her face crinkles up. "No, that's your fantasy, not mine." She pauses for a minute, like she's afraid to say something. Have I explained that Claire is afraid of nothing? "Didn't Max tell you?" she asks.
"Max, my boyfriend Max?"
"Well, I don't know if I'd call him your boyfriend." And of course, no one would call him that, but my best friend should call him my boyfriend if that's what I want him to be. What's a dream if I can't share it and pretend it's real with my best friend?
Claire goes on. "You went to prom together --- after he got kicked out of school." She shrugs. "Not exactly boyfriend material, but supposedly his father got him back in --- that's what he said on Facebook. So who knows, we'll have to see what he thinks, I guess."
"You talked to him on Facebook?" There's no way to hide my jealousy. It's out there, all green and ugly, for everyone to see. Angie and Sarika have the common sense to look away and leave me with some sense of dignity. Not Claire.
"Max is starring opposite me in the play. He joined the drama team when he got back in. I'm sure he meant to tell you. He needed to make up extra credits between public high school and St. James's requirements. From before this year, you know?"
"Max acts? I guess that makes sense . . . I mean, he dances, right?" I mumble this last part.
"He's Latin." She shrugs.
"All Latin people can act?" I ask her, trying to point out the ridiculousness of her statement, but the real issue here is that Claire totally doesn't get it. She is breaking the girl code. Max is mine, and even if I were done with him, and I'm not, you're not supposed to date your best friend's ex. It's against the girl code. I'm sure that applies to acting across from him in the school play without friend approval. Absolutely sure of it.
"I think," Angie offers, "maybe what Daisy is trying to say is that . . . you know . . . Max is sort of hers, so it seems weird that you know more about him than her. That makes her feel bad."
"Thank you, Angie. Yes, that's what I mean," I say.
"No kidding," Sarika says.
"Especially when he never called her after the dance," Angie continues.
"He needed more credits, so he tried out for the drama club at the last minute," Claire says. "There's only three months of school left, so what else is he supposed to do? Mr. Carroll let him in without hesitation because he was planning for West Side Story and he thought Max would be perfect in the role. I can't believe he didn't tell you."
This is not good. Not only because I had no idea that my crush is starring in our high school musical opposite my best friend, but because now I suppose I know I've been dumped, and he didn't even have the decency to text me with the information. Worse yet, I'm going to be wearing Trekkie hand gear while I figure it all out.
I play it cool, though. I don't want any Claire lectures about how I'm creating drama where there is none.
"I haven't really talked to Max." And I'm not even going to let my mind wander to all the far-off paranoid places it could go. I've grown. If Max doesn't want me, I'm mature enough to face facts. Right after I find out why the heck not.
"I thought he might have texted you over the weekend. It's a really big deal. He beat out so many guys for the part. You're not uncomfortable with it, are you? With me kissing him onstage? It's only acting."
"Isn't that what Brad Pitt said when kissing Angelina Jolie in that movie?" Angie asks.
"Y-you're going to kiss him?" I slip off the two-finger trash-as- jewelry ring and hand it to her. "I'm probably not going to have time to do this with finals coming up. My boss is trying to ramp up production for checks too. You know, all the bank closures have businesses wanting new checks." My boss, Gil, requires entirely too much of me, but he gave me a BlackBerry and I can work odd hours, so I'm basically his slave.
Claire pushes the ring back at me. "You have to at least wear it. Advertising, Daisy. Duh. Don't you want to save the earth and settle my future? Or do you want to be a common consumer?"
I guess I don't want to save the earth that much. Not if I have to wear aluminum cans. "As someone who has worn homemade clothes for most of my academic life, the answer to that question is yes, I want to be a common consumer. At least before I start wearing trash."
"Recyclables are not trash."
"Old tires would work too. Maybe give you the use of your fingers back."
"I checked into that," Claire says. "Too much petroleum process involved to make it healthy for manufacture and wear. The look of the year in jewelry is recycled materials, but we want to be smart about it."
"Of course we do," I say, as if I were serious about wearing old tires.
"So when do you meet your new family member?" Sarika asks Claire.
"Does it really matter?" Claire asks.
We all stare at her. "It does," Sarika says. "Your family is going to look different now."
"Sure they will," Claire says. "They will all be wearing the trendy item of the season: the tring!"
More blank stares. "That's your method? You're going to ignore the facts?" Angie asks her.
"Works for me," Claire says. "Besides, I have to be thinking about my future. This play is important. It's the last one of the season and I need top billing to get into the program at ACT. They don't accept just average people in their summer internship program, and I didn't get in this year. So I have to settle for next year."
Everyone's famous for something. Claire's like a shapeshifter. She easily slips in and out of personas to become all things to all people. And it works for her. She can fit in at her parents' country club (not that she tries) or at school, but she simply doesn't want to be bothered and she finds something new to try. Hence the tring. She is who she is, and she makes no excuses. I guess I admire that about her, even if I do want to wring her neck sometimes.
Me? I'm uncomfortable in my own skin. I'm good at math, which at this school isn't all that unique. It's sort of expected. You're in Silicon Valley, you inherited the math brain. Big
deal. It doesn't exactly make you special.
This calls for another journal. Because clearly I'm doing something wrong. Though Claire would call it anal, journaling helps me focus on things that don't come naturally to me, like social skills and fashion. All the things that are supposed to be important to a teenage girl. I thought I wanted a date to prom, but that wasn't quite the whole deal. I wanted to be remembered as more than invisible Daisy Crispin, the girl no one remembered in four years of high school. Now that I'm known for hosting the party that involved a police visit and an arson inquiry, I have to work harder than ever
to get an image.
I tick off things in my head:
I survived a private high school in homemade clothes. Without cable television (i.e., something to connect about).
I am a survivor, and I find it perfectly acceptable to want to rework my image from failed party planner to the girl who overcame . . . the last one left on the island . . . the poor girl who made it work.
I'm socially acceptable now. Not awkward any longer. I danced a hot tango at the prom. I will not be told it was all in my imagination and accept that Claire will dance off into the sunset with my tango partner. Do they change partners on Dancing with the Stars? They do not. I will not be remembered as a failure. And if Claire has her way, kissing my crush onstage (i.e., publicly) and having me sell recycled garbage, is there any way to salvage my reputation at this point?
"Huh?" Apparently, Claire's been talking at me.
"Are you coming over for dinner tomorrow night to meet my brother or not?"
"You're meeting your brother? I thought you just said --- don't you want to meet him by yourself first?" Why doesn't Claire just take my firstborn? What more does she want from me?
Claire gives me an upturned lip. "No. I don't want to meet him at all. What could we possibly have in common?"
"Right. So if I don't like him, where does that leave me? With bad DNA? What if he's a loser with no job? Is that my fate?"
I'm still on my last thought. "You don't think Max was anything special to me? I mean, I get that he's not my boyfriend, but does that matter if I liked him?" I ask her.
"You'll get over Max. You got over Chase."
"After having a crush on him since kindergarten. And only because he turned out to be a complete dog at your party that night. I'm nothing if not loyal."
"Maybe too loyal," Claire says. "Did you ever think of that?"
"I'm thinking that right now," I tell her, but she doesn't get my point. It's lost on her that she's asking me to meet her illegitimate brother, wanting me to sell bad jewelry, and kissing my crush, but I'm supposed to be loyal to her.
"What do you want from me? Do you want me to drop out of the play so you feel better about a relationship that doesn't really exist anywhere outside your own head?" Claire asks.
Sarika and Angie gasp.
"I think if you asked most people who were there that night, or at the party, they would tell you that Max clearly had a thing for me. It was more than a dance. Don't you think, Angie? Sarika?"
"Daisy." Sarika pats my arm. "We've got three months left in high school. Then it's on to college, what we've been preparing for all along. So what does it matter if some boy you will never see again remembers a dance?"
"Only three months to go!" Angie interjects. "We'll look back on this and laugh, Daisy. You're going to Pepperdine University and you'll come home rich with all that finance knowledge. Max is moving back to Argentina and he'll be nothing but a memory. Maybe a Facebook friend, right?"
Angie's only trying to help, and I know most likely she's totally right, but there's this romantic in me that's not willing to concede defeat just yet. "I thought Max and I had something special. You know, a connection."
"Have you been reading vampire novels again?" Sarika asks.
"I haven't!" I say honestly. "My mom doesn't allow those."
"This is not your lifelong soul mate." Claire shakes her plastic box of trings. "I don't get why you're making such a big deal about this. Do you want to marry out of high school like your parents did?"
"No, but --- "
"Or worse yet, end up the secret child of a lawyer on the verge of a divorce? Like a bad Latin soap opera?" Claire presses.
"I just --- I guess I just wish I knew why he wasn't interested. Maybe if he told me? You know, closure. Was I a bad dancer? Was my breath bad? What happened between prom and today?"
"Who cares?" Claire's tone tells me she certainly doesn't. "We have trings to sell. Do you know what this could do for your academic career at Pepperdine?"
Make me a laughingstock?
Sarika speaks up again in her quiet tone. "Max is such a nice guy, Daisy. I'm sure he doesn't want to hurt you. Maybe he didn't know what to say after the dance. It was awkward, since you weren't really allowed to go. He might be in love with you and doesn't want to hurt you when he leaves the country."
"Or he could just be over it," Claire adds. "Besides, he's going to be the perfect Tony in West Side Story. Between that and his classes, he doesn't have time for a girlfriend. You should be happy for him, Daisy. If you really liked him, you'd want what's best for him."
"Tony was from Puerto Rico. Max is from Argentina."
"That's why they call it acting, Daisy."
"Is that supposed to comfort me?" I ask.
"Will it really bother you to have me kiss Max in a play? Where we're both acting?"
"In my country, that would not happen," Sarika says. "There is no kissing in Bollywood movies. Only dancing and smiling."
"Can we get back to me here?" Claire interrupts.
Sarika and Angie back away, as they normally do when Claire and I are going to do battle. It's not for the weak of heart, and our friends can't handle the stress we create. They turn and jog off to their respective classes, leaving Claire and me locked in ineffective communication. She will never change my mind. I will never change hers, but the fun lies in trying.
"I only got a partial scholarship, you know," I tell her. My parents have promised things before and backed out when the finances got dicey. Until I am sitting on my dorm bunk, I am not counting my college credits. Explaining this to my friends, whose parents have been saving their college tuition since their birth, is not worth my trouble. "Besides, I don't think my mom would like me spending schooltime selling trings."
"Angie and Sarika just left," Claire says. "Did you see that? They didn't take any trings. Sometimes, I swear, those two live in their own world."
"You can't expect your friends to do all your work. This is your business, right?"
"You're not getting out of this, Daisy. You're totally selling my trings. Or I won't ever lend you any makeup when you have a big zit."
"That is blackmail."
"Which I'm not above. Have we met?"
"You are so lucky we go way back and that I'm loyal, because right now . . . What are you doing this for anyway? You don't need the money, and aren't you busy enough with the play coming up? Why do you always add so much to your plate that you're overwhelmed? Do you need the extra drama? Because I don't. I have two acting parents for that."
"I'm trying to show my dad my business sense, in case this so-called brother of mine is trying to be executor of the will."
"Your parents are in their early forties, so I don't think you need to worry about that just yet. Besides, what did money ever do for your parents?"
"It's not the money. It's the principle."
"The principle of kissing your best friend's crush isn't all that nice."
"It's for the stage, I told you! You should be flattered I'd be willing to kiss him. Even for the stage."
"No," Claire says, "I see that, but you know Max isn't into me and I'm not into him, if you're honest. Don't blame me for Max's silence. The business just gives me something to do, all right? The trings take my mind off of everything that's bad, so will you help me or not?"
I exhale. "You know I will."
Claire smiles and visibly relaxes a little. "So are you coming to dinner or not? Don't make me do this alone, Daisy."
"I'll come." I groan. "But I might be late depending on how long Gil keeps me at work."
"Ooh, have Gil drop you off at my house. In his Porsche. Maybe I can say hello," she purrs.
"That's just what you need, my dirt-ball boss in your life. I'll bring my dad's Pontiac and you'll like it."
"Your dirt-ball boss is hot, though."
"No one knows that more than him. But if the current chaos is causing me to sell trings for you, I am not ready for that kind of escape."
The first bell rings and Claire looks behind her, gauging by the number of kids in the hallway how much time she actually has before the second bell. "What's this about Pepperdine? I thought you were all set."
"My mother says she knows that's my first choice, but she acted hastily, which I take to mean it's not a given at this point. But it is in my mind. I'm just preparing in case I have to make alternative arrangements. Apparently, it's more expensive than Stanford, and that little factoid left them with ample fears about finishing all four years, especially with my dad's health. She even copied an article about how expensive educations weren't great investments right now in this economy."
"So what does that mean?" Claire asks.
"Heck if I know. It's my parents. When I can make sense of them, shoot me."
My dad never subscribed to the Silicon Valley workaholics' pledge. He's a self-employed actor who wears my mother's homemade costumes and performs chastity talks at schools (unfortunately, mine being one of them) and gives wedding proposals dressed like ducks and other fowl.
My mom runs a successful business making high-end aprons and oven mitts for wealthy women who never touch a stove. But without good health insurance, my parents are never far from worry.
"What about your scholarship? And the money your grandparents put aside for you?" Claire asks, and these are perfectly relevant questions in a normal family.
"They can afford it, but you know my mom. She worries about that rainy day like we live in typhoon country." I scratch the back of my head. "So I want to be on my best behavior, and selling trings during schooltime doesn't line up with my priorities." I say this with complete authority. If I were Claire, I wouldn't question this very straightforward approach. But of course, I'm not Claire.
"Your mom always thinks the sky is falling. She'll see how serious you are about business when you start selling trings. She's just holding it over your head like she always does. Like when we'd want to go to the club swimming on Saturday. Remember? She'd say all week that unless you finished all your homework or helped in her garden, you couldn't go. Then she'd always let you go."
"After I finished my homework and the gardening."
"Right, but what I'm saying is your mom doesn't know how to function without something to hold over your head, and right now it's college. You got financial aid! And the scholarship! Plus all that money you've been socking away with your after-school job. You just have to have faith!"
"Faith and a few hundred thou. Like I said, my parents haven't said anything about it, but I have to be prepared."
"So I'm helping you prepare and you're throwing it back in my face. Sell the trings for me and I'll give you half the profits. Then you'll get a job when you're down there and you just do what you've been doing. One day at a time."
"Somehow I have trouble comparing my educational future to an alcoholic's mantra."
I look down at the rings. I'm sorry, but if they're fashionable, it's another sign that I am socially inept, because I think they're hideous, and I will feel worse about selling them at school than overpriced wrapping paper that no one wants. "I really don't think --- "
"Look, if you don't like them, it's good practice," Claire says. "Marketing is all about trust in your product. Trust in the product, Daisy. You don't have to trust in it for you, but for other people, it gives them an affordable way to commemorate their high school years without the high price of a class ring."
"What if I can't do that?"
I spy Max across the school courtyard, and my insides light with adrenaline. "Max, hey!" I shout and wave my hand. "Over here! Max!"
Claire pulls my hand down. "Could you try and not act completely desperate?"
"He's my boyf --- " I stop when she gives me that "chill" look. "We're friends at the very least."
Max takes my breath away. As he walks across campus in his cool plaid shorts and stretched T-shirt, I can almost smell the masculine scent he sports. He bears a striking resemblance to Enrique Iglesias, without that blonde tennis chick hanging off him --- Enrique, not Max. I can't hang all over him.
My dad had kittens over the tango at prom. I mean, he likes Max and all, he just worried that maybe I'd seen too much iCarly. Whatever that's supposed to mean.
Max notices me standing beside Claire, his eyes grow wide for a split second, and he ducks into the halls of St. James Academy.
"Didn't he see me?"
"The entire quad saw you." Claire hands me a plastic box with a handle. "The order forms are inside and we can add anything they like to the ring for an extra fee. Maybe they want to remember their boyfriend or a best friend, or even their clubs."
"I don't understand," I say. "I didn't smother him or call him my boyfriend. What happened?"
"He's a guy. Don't read anything into it."
My best friend thinks I'm her multilevel marketing chain, and I have no money for college. So unless something changes, this is not only my present, this is my future.
"So dinner's at seven tomorrow," Claire says. "I'm setting a sales goal of twenty trings for you today. No need to start too high. We'll ease you into it. Don't be late for dinner, my parents will freak out enough as it is. I won't be at lunch, I have a meeting with my manufacturer. He's coming here. Isn't that cool? I may even get business credits for this."
Why can't my life be normal? Why can't I be normal? Last week I had a boyfriend and a future at Pepperdine. Today I have tacky costume jewelry, a date with dysfunction for tomorrow night's dinner, and yet another guy's rejection to add to my sorry history.
"I've got to get to class. You have your assignment." Claire skips off and makes me wish I possessed one-tenth of her confidence.
I take out my new journal, which was meant to be a Chemistry notebook, but emergencies call for drastic actions.
Social Ineptitude Journal; or, Daisy's Search for Significance
Random fact: 12 percent of teens have a boyfriend/girlfriend. So I am TOTALLY normal. Totally. It just feels like 88 percent of the high school world has a boyfriend/girlfriend when you don't.