The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things

BOOK: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
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For my daughter, Andrea.

Every word of this book is for you.



I know what they call me. The goth girls started it, all ripped black fishnets and heavy kohl, with chipped black nail polish and metric tons of attitude, like any of that makes them cooler than anyone else. It so doesn’t, but high school is full of people who think what they wear matters more than who they are. But I should talk. Before I came to stay with Aunt Gabby, I was worse than those girls. But she’s taught me a lot in the years I’ve been living with her, mostly how to stop being angry about things I can’t control.

Like my mom. My dad. And especially the nickname.

It echoes as I walk past the burners, which is what I call the pot and pill heads, who cluster near the emergency exit. They disable the alarms after each inspection, so they can slip in and out for a smoke. A bleary-eyed guy who’s failing to rock a soul patch says, “What up, Princess?” and holds up two fingers in what’s supposed to be a victory sign … or maybe peace, I dunno.

I ignore him, though it’s not easy. There’s always a part of me that wants to make people sorry when they piss me off, but I’ve swallowed her whole, wrapped the shadow me in plastic, and I’m waiting for her to stop breathing. I walk on, brightening my smile through sheer determination. I’ve heard if you pretend long enough—or maybe wish hard enough—faking normal becomes real. I’m counting on that. Until then, I’ll carry on.

Everybody at JFK has a thing. For the drama dorks, it’s huddling up in the auditorium, singing or running lines every chance they get. They all have big Broadway dreams, fattened by watching
. Since we’re also in a podunk Midwestern town, they figure the show speaks directly to them. I don’t mind the concept, but it’s ironic that they get twenty-five-year-olds to play high school students. Which explains why all the performers have such poise and polish. I’d like it more if they looked real, if they occasionally had zits or bad hair.

The burners take pride in not doing
. Most of them have a 1.2 GPA, barely attend class, and are heavily into recreational drugs. The preps are all about grades, sports, and pretending to be awesome in front of adults. Ironically, they also drink the most; a few of them do it binge style and suffer from blackouts on a regular basis.

I fit in with the crunchy granola do-gooders. I’m involved in eco-related clubs, partly because it looks good on your college application, and I don’t intend to stay in a crappy Midwestern town. When I graduate, I’m getting out of here, where everything feels small. Maybe that sounds like I don’t appreciate Aunt Gabby, which is the opposite of true, but I can love her without thinking this is the best place ever.

“Is she ever gonna stop with that?” one of the goth girls asks.

“Whatever. Let Princess Post-it do her thing,” says a dude with a safety pin in his ear.

I wish they’d listen to him; it’s not like I’m hurting anyone. Basically, my thing is this—and it started freshman year—I had a pack of pink Post-it notes with me on the first day of school because I was so scared I’d forget something important. Before I started at the junior high here, it had been years since I attended a normal school, and I felt pretty sure that junior high wasn’t the same as high school. So yeah, reminders. Inside my locker. On my notebooks. Everywhere.

There’s this girl, Becky, who has great hair, bouncy and red, but she’s … big. Not like me, with a small chest and a big butt, but all over large. So that day, first day of freshman gym, they didn’t have shorts or a tee that would fit her. So she’s sitting in the bleachers in her school clothes, red-faced, shiny-eyed, fighting tears while she hears people saying stuff like “orca” and “lard-ass” as we run laps. I can tell by watching her that she’s about to cry, which will just make her humiliation complete. But the bell rings before she breaks, and we go back to the locker room. The other girls treat her like she’s invisible, and I see her register that
is how high school is going to be; her place in the social strata is already cemented from one bad day. And I couldn’t change that. So I don’t know why I did it—just an inexplicable impulse—but later that afternoon, I wrote
You have amazing hair
on a pink Post-it and stuck it on her locker, where everyone could see it.

I waited for her to read it, and after she did, Becky looked around to see if somebody was punking her. So I made eye contact to be sure she knew I meant it, smiled, and gave her a thumbs-up. Maybe it was stupid; maybe it didn’t help at all, but from the way she lit up, I feel like it did. She gave me two thumbs back, and we went our separate ways.

However, I liked the feeling. I enjoyed cheering her up. High school is hell and I’m trundling around passing out ice water. Maybe it doesn’t end the torment but if the nice balances out some of the crap, then I feel like it was worth my while. So that’s how Post-its became my thing. Hence the nickname.

I do this daily, scope for somebody having an awful day, and look for a bright side. Sometimes it’s lame, but at least I’m trying. Aunt Gabby says if you put positivity out into the world, it will come back to you tenfold. I don’t know if that’s true, but I want it to be. I’m trying so hard to build up good karma, like when you can’t see how furiously a duck is paddling beneath the placid surface of a pond.

Aunt Gabby is actually my half aunt because she was my dad’s half sister. Apparently she and Dad weren’t raised together; they have the same father, and he was the kind of guy who thought it was awesome to impregnate multiple women and then wander off. I don’t remember my grandma. She passed on when my dad was young … and
died when I was seven. That doesn’t bode well for my potential lifespan, I suppose. But bad ends run in my blood, not genetic disorders or congenital health problems. So whatever goes wrong, at least it’ll be quick.

“Sage!” My best friend, Ryan, wanders out of Mrs. David’s classroom, falling into step. “You going to Green World tonight?”

That’s our eco-awareness group. Supposedly, we’ll come up with ways to save the planet, brainstorm green technologies, and sponsor community cleanup projects. So far, one month into the school year, we’ve only managed to order pizza and screw around.

“Yeah. I hope we actually
something soon.”

“Ditto that. I signed up to pad my college apps, but this failure to launch is becoming problematic.”

“You sound like you already work for NASA,” I say.

“I try.”

Ryan is over six feet tall with black hair that refuses to lie down, regardless of how it’s cut or combed, and he’s a total string bean. He wears hipster glasses to disguise how much of ginormous dork he is, but so far, this strategy has fooled no one. Not that it matters to me how he looks.

He was the first friend I made when I moved here three years ago. That day, I forgot my lunch; I was a huge mess, and I sat down in the corner of the cafeteria at a broken table, or at least, it was half broken, because it almost collapsed when I leaned my elbows on it. Everyone else at the school knew not to sit there, but after I plunked down, I was too nervous to move. To this day, I have no idea why Ryan came over. I had terminal new-kid disease, which can be mad contagious, but I guess Ryan was vaccinated—or lonely. That day, he gave me half a peanut butter sandwich and the courage not to drown myself in the girls’ toilet. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

“Seen anyone who needs a pick-me-up?” I’ve got my Post-it pad in hand, purple glitter pen at the ready.

It’s super girlie, I know, and faintly ridiculous, but I was into that two years ago, and since that’s what I did the first time with Becky, who has since lost weight and joined the volleyball team, I’m still doing it. I don’t claim I’m the reason she got motivated to change her life, but I believe in the power of ritual. So if I have any positive mojo to give to people who need it, maybe it comes from my pink Post-its or the purple glitter pen. Also, this is how people know the message comes legit from the Princess herself.

Occasionally, there

Ryan groans. “Are you seriously doing that again this year?”

“I’m doing it until I graduate. There are plenty of people who go around being dicks. Not enough go around being nice.”

“That much is true.” He hugs me around the shoulders, then dashes into history class.

This period, I have Mr. Mackiewicz for math. The Mackiewicz math class is the ninth circle of hell, and I’m currently failing. Everyone thinks I’m super smart, but I can’t get geometry. This was a huge revelation, as prior to this year, I skated through the rest of my classes. I made dioramas and participated in discussions; I did extra credit and gave my all in group projects. I’m a good test taker, too. I don’t get nervous or anything, have no trouble memorizing stuff.

But geometry? It’s a foreign language. So the first test of the year is still in my bag. I haven’t been brave enough to show Aunt Gabby yet, but that big circled F haunts me. If I close my eyes, I can see it, along with the smear of red sauce and the grease stain at the edge of the paper. I suspect Mr. Mackiewicz was eating pizza when he graded my exam. Somehow that makes it worse. He’s cramming cheese and dough into his face while decreeing my epic failure? So uncool.

I trudge to the back of the class, wishing somebody would write something nice on a Post-it and stick it on
locker for a change. The classroom hasn’t been updated in forty years, I bet. The globe probably still has Persia and Constantinople and other places that were dissolved prior to 1900. The math trivia cards that have been posted around the room are yellowed at the edges, starting to fray. Mr. Mackiewicz’s desk is crooked.

The jocks have a bet going—every day, they nudge it back an inch, and they’re running a pool to see how long it takes for Mackiewicz to notice that it’s majorly askew. So far that’s half a foot. It doesn’t speak well of the cleaning crew that it stays that way, even less of Mackiewicz that he hasn’t spotted a problem. But the guy’s fairly myopic: thick bifocals, a white monk fringe, and a wispy mustache. If that doesn’t sound enticing enough, he’s also all about baggy cardigans, plaid, and corduroys.

BOOK: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
8.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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