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Table of Contents
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The following journal entries are 100% real and 100% unedited. I should know. Many of them are mine.
Don't blame Ms. Silver. She meant what she said about wanting us to have a private place to record our feelings; to take a break from screens and reconnect with the written word. She really did lock them up in the teachers' lounge, as promised. If you need to blame someone, blame me.
My picture is on page eighteen of Noble High's 2012–2013 Phoenix yearbook. I am one of the PHOENIX FIVE. You nominated me. You thought I was one of the most outstanding students in our freshman class. You were wrong.
Still, I accepted my award. I acted special. But I couldn't help wondering what it would be like if it was for real, if I was actually outstanding. What do outstanding people think about? What do they eat for breakfast? Do they worry? Is life easier when you're born with exceptional talent, brains, looks, drive, athleticism, or money? I needed to know. So I broke into the safe and stole all five of our journals.
I'm not exposing them because I'm jealous or I want revenge. I am doing this because I'm tired and I know you are too. The success bar is too high, and pretending has become the only way to reach it. Instagrams are filtered, Facebook profiles are embellished, photos are shopped, reality TV is scripted, body parts get upgraded like software, and even professional athletes are cheating. The things we believe in aren't real. Everyone is a pretender.
The proof is in these pages.
It's time to rise from the ashes of deceit and accept our true selves. To rearrange the letters in Phoenix and become X-Phonies instead. Then, and only then, will we truly know what it feels like to be outstanding.
Welcome to sophomore year,
( for short. It's cooler.)
INTERIOR. NOBLE HIGH—ALMOST LUNCHTIME.
A classroom stretches out before us. SHERIDAN SPENCER, an alluring freshman, sits center row, center seat. Poised, she click-starts her pen and writes.
Morning One as a Noble High freshman did not involve a lot of handholding. Like, none, in fact. Which was fine. It's just not what I'm used to.
One might assume I do well in new situations because I channel celebrities for confidence. Like, right now for example, I am pretending to be Blake Lively. But if I'm being totally honest, which I am, first days are hard no matter how famous you act.
When I (as Blake) arrive someplace new I'm greeted right away. I'm given a tour of the set and offered a Dr Pepper on ice, no straw. My trailer is decorated to my exact specifications; boho-chic and stocked with Original, Tropical, and Sour Skittles. But this morning? Notsomuch. The only rainbow I tasted came from the Lucky Charms burp I tried to suppress at the Pick and Flick. (That's what everyone calls the pickup/drop-off curb.)
It happened as I watched the taillights on my dad's BMW M5 disappear into the morning fog. I was standing with my very best friend, Audri Dunsing. She always rides with me because we live in the same gated community and… well, more on her later. The point is, we were just standing at the Pick and Flick because we didn't know where to go yet. I guess we could have followed everyone else, but we were kind of stunned because our middle school was tiny and this place is huge. Anyway, it's raining and I'm trying to open my zebra umbrella. Backpacks are bashing into us and it's total chaos. O'course, that's when Audri gets a whiff of my burp and decides to shout:
Ewwwwww, Sheridan! Digestive tract issues much?
I managed to apply more Russian Red lipstick, which helped me hold on to a bit of Blake. But not enough. I was seriously mortified. So I go: Sick! What is that smell? while fanning the air all innocent. Then I fan-smacked some older Blair Waldorf–type in the neck.
Sorry, it was an accident. (Me.)
You're the accident! (Her.)
Remember those old cartoons where the coyote runs off a cliff and freezes in the air? It isn't until he looks down and realizes he's in trouble that he falls. Well, that's kind of what happened to me when Blair and her friends started laughing. I realized I wasn't really Blake Lively and my confidence took a dive—whistle sound effects and all. Which turned me back into me: Sheridan Spencer, future screen star, including but not limited to TV, film, computer, and tablet. Current blooper.
Anyway, I pull Audri off the main path and onto the grass lawn—which is huge, by the way. As big as Spencer BMW (my dad's dealership), which has, like, hundreds of sedans and SUVs, and I go: Thanks a lot, Audri!
O'course she starts speed-blinking and I know exactly where this is going. Yes, I have a stronger stage presence than Audri. (I've played leads in Wizard of Oz, Wicked, Annie, Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, High School Musical, The Little Mermaid, Grease, and six holiday tributes to the birth of Jesus.) But when it comes to fake crying? She's the best. Our old drama coach called her Meryl Weep.
Why did you call me out on that burp? (Me. Not letting it go.)
Sniffle, sniffle. I'm sorry. (Meryl.)
She took off her signature blue-framed glasses, jammed them in the pocket of her Lucky Brand denim jacket, and wiped her wet cheeks. I rolled my eyes.
Watch those tears, little freshman! (Some random blond guy.)
He had choppy layers and blue eyes like Niall Horan from One Direction. But zero of Niall's charm. I'm guessing from his rounded shoulders that he underdelivered on stage presence too. Anyway, after the tears comment he said: I drove a convertible. If you make it rain I'm going to stuff you in my trunk. Then he jingled his car keys in Audri's face the way my mom used to do with the twins.
What was that for? (Me, after he left.)
Audri shrugged and put her glasses back on.
Whatever Zero Direction meant about the rain, he was right. It's been pouring for hours. The good news is there have been no further embarrassments. The horrible news is that Audri and I don't have a single class together. Not even lunch. And so far no one has made any effort to meet me. Maybe tomorrow I'll channel a more approachable blonde like Reese Witherspoon.
Ms. Silver just gave us the ten-minute warning. So far she's my favorite teacher. All we've done is write in these journals. She wants us to fill these pages by the end of the year. She swears she won't read them. To prove it she gave us these leather cases with locks on them. She said she'd flip through the journals at the end of the year to make sure they're full but that's it. All she cares about is getting us away from computers. I'm going to record everything and eventually adapt these musings into a one-woman show. I can't wait to tell Audri so she can do it too.
OMG! So the guy beside me is writing with unbridled passion. Hold on. I have to peek.
OMG! OMG! I side-eyed him at the exact same time he was side-eyeing me. A simultaneous side-eye. How romantic comedy is that? I smiled my eyes into narrow crinkles (like Blake's). I must look fetching in my Russian Red lipstick because he got all nervous and looked away. He appears to be drawing hearts!
Are alleged hearts for me? Is he even cute? I want to peek again but—
To Be Continued…
Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Andrew Duffy. Everyone calls me Duffy. Duffy. Duffy. Duffy. Duffyyyyyyyyyyy.
Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um.
Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um.
Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um. Um.
How am I supposed to write 250 pages about feelings in one year? Do we even have 250 feelings?
I'd ask Ms. Silver but she said no questions. Just write. Don't worry about spelling or grammar or structure. Just write. She said some other stuff about pressure and being a freshman, but I yawned, and when I yawn I go deaf for a second. So I missed that part. Then she gave out these cases with locks so our thoughts stay private. But the logo on my case is the same as the one on those boxes my sisters jam in the trash. A half-open flower or something.
Uh, Ms. Silver, I don't see how carrying a purse full of feelings is gonna help me deal with being a freshman. It might get me killed, though.
Some skinny dude by the window is drumming on his journal with a pencil. It's kinda annoying and kinda bold cuz it's a major diss to the teacher. She keeps looking up from her laptop but he's not stopping. I bet he's gonna be this year's Class-ick. Last year it was Benji Stryker. He stole Hud's DS and offered to sell it back to him for double the price. And Hud actually—
Ms. Silver just busted the drummer. He's wearing this old Rolling Stones concert shirt and she called him Mick. Mostly everyone laughed. I didn't. It would have been cooler if she called him Charlie Watts, cuz Charlie's the drummer in the Stones. The guy does have a Mick thing going on, though, even though the real Mick's hair is brown and the Class-ick 's is auburn. (I know that means reddish-brown because my sister Mandy is always stinking up the bathroom with her "auburn" hair color kits.) But their cuts are similar. You know, long and choppy. And he's got that frog face girls would like if he was famous. Anyway, he stopped pencil drumming, so that's good.
I want to look behind me and see what Coops is doing so I will. I will look behind me and see what Coops is doing. One, two, three…
I just saw Coops's scalp. Either he has lice or dandruff because there were these white specks in his hair. His head is down like he's taking a test. What is he writing about? Our other buddy Hudson is in a different class. Which is fine, I guess. We'll all be on the basketball team together. I can't wait for tryouts. Playing Varsity is going to be so cool.
Now what? Now what?
Those What I Did Over Summer Vacation essays were cool because I got to write the same thing every year.
1. Listen to my older sisters fight.
2. Basketball camp.
3. Shoot hoops with Coops and Hud after camp so I don't have to listen to my older sisters fight.
4. Go on a boys-only fly-fishing trip with my dad so we don't have to listen to my older sisters fight.
My essay was in paragraph form, but I decided to write it this way because numbering takes up more space.
Duffy. Duffy has the ball. Duffy is on fire. Duffy is unstoppable. Duffy shoots the winning basket!
Some girl in a yellow dress saw me making those o's. Then she smiled. She has red lipstick on her tooth. I turned away really fast like I had some big feeling that needed to be written down. And now I'm just writing and writing to look busy. I hope someone tells her about her tooth. It looks like blood but I know it's not, because my Bubbie Libby gets that all the time.
Bubbie is what Jewish people call their grandmothers. We're not Jewish. But Bubbie Libby is. She converted when my grandfather died because she thinks Jewish men are good listeners, and she wants to die knowing what it feels like to have a real conversation. So she lives with us and waits for the Chosen One. Whatever that's about.
Maybe I'll email Amelia tonight. She got a scholarship to an all girls college in New York. She's into poetry and women's rights and talking about girl things that me and my dad do NOT want to hear about. She's smart with journals and has tons of them locked in a safe. Like anyone would ever want to read this stuff.
Feelings? Get real. I stopped having feelings on February 13, 2012—the day my parents got tossed in jail.
I've been emancipated since I was fourteen.
I'm fifteen now.
I live alone.
I take care of myself.
I don't have time for feelings.
My name is Jagger.
I don't even have time for a last name.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
My name is Lily, I turn fifteen next month, and I am eating for three. Wait, I think it's four if you kount me, and ready for this: Mom and Dad are klueless kuz I still look way-skinny. Thank you, Karess.
Not only is Karess a personal trainer slash DJ, he is the father of my triplets. He's into spelling C words with K's so now I am too.
Back to my skinnyness.
Karess recommended protein bars and energy drinks to keep the baby weight off, and ready for this: Five months pregnant and I've already lost 11 pounds. Kan you believe?
Once I "show" we'll Greyhound it to L.A. and open a gym called Kut. It will kost a million dollars to join so we kan get rich in one day. Karess wants to name the kids Karb, Kalorie, and Kardio. Luv it. Luv him. Luv the kreativity.
School is for unpregnant losers. Like what's the point of this journal assignment if I'm going to open a gym? Also my hand is shaking kuz I've had seven energy drinks on an empty stomach. Well, empty of food, not triplets. Point is it's hard to write.
Klass is over! Next stop, kemistree.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
I left my journal on the kitchen table for six whole hours. Mom made two attempts to bust the lock, first at 4:27 PM and again at 7:19 PM, but she couldn't guess my combo (A.D.'s b-day). Even if she did, and then managed to hide the clues, I'd know. That fake entry about Karess would shock her blind. She'd circle the living room like a mad cow, slamming into bookcases, knocking over newspaper stacks, tripping on lamp cords. Believe me, I'd know.
Thanks to this sturdy locking mechanism, I can be free. Free to discover the real Lily Bader-Huffman. Not the A+ student, with the male best friend, who has been homeschooled for eight years. The one who is forming beneath her. Growing like a shadow. Faceless and distorted; elongating and reaching; determined to make her secret dream come true. Determined to be normal and popular and kissed by—
The English assignment given by Ms. Silver on September 4, 2012, @ 1:47 PM is as follows: Each student must record his or her innermost thoughts and feelings during freshman year at Noble High. The goal is to have a safe place to connect with ourselves. The challenge will be finding our voices and the courage to embrace them. These journals will not be graded or read. Ms. Silver will inspect them at the end of the year to make sure we filled all 250 pages. That is it. We will also have to write an essay about self-discovery and what we learned. But we are not supposed to focus on that now.
At 1:49 PM I inquired as to whether we would benefit by filling additional journals. To which she responded, "Not in the form of grades." To which I asked, "Will our GPAs benefit?" To which she replied, "No. Your soul will." To which I thought, Forget it, then.
Thusly, my strategy moving forward is to pen one journal's worth of "innermost thoughts and feelings" while focusing primarily on reward-based endeavors. I will, however, transcribe all feelings and thoughts associated with said endeavors here. Since that's the whole point of this exercise.1
I will commence with a brief character profile.
My name is Vanessa Charlot2 Riley. I am fourteen. My hair is light brown and as curly as an old-fashioned telephone cord.3 I have green eyes and caramel-colored skin. My mother hails from Haiti, my father Queens. I'm told I look like a much, much, much younger Vanessa Williams.4 Better than Venus Williams. Ha.
As columnist Gina Simmons from the Noble High Times put it, "Exotic and striking, even Vanessa's features overachieve." My middle school principal signed my yearbook with, "Beauty and Brains, you are proof that girls can have both."
I prefer using quotes to characterize myself for three reasons:
- 1) Quotes prove opinions.
- 2) No one likes a gloater.
- 3) I must be liked.
My favorite hobby is winning.5 The endorphins feed my heart and carbonate my blood. It's a euphoric rush, but it ends as soon as I get my prize. The only way to get it back is to win again. I compare it to the ever-stale Bazooka bubble gum—tough work for a moment of sweetness. But, oh, how sweet that moment is. Hence, the reason I'm always chasing that next piece.
Well, it's half the reason.
Veritas6? It goes deeper than endorphins and carbonated blood. I'm just not sure how to explain it, since "it" is more of a feeling than an actual thing.
Actually, it's fragments of a feeling. Fleeting fragments like scattered dandelion fluff. Fuzzy bits drift by but I've never tried to grab them or piece them into thoughts. Maybe because thinking them in full would make them real. And I don't want them to be real because they have to do with my parents.7
But Ms. Silver asked for innermost so I'm going to connect the fuzzy bits and tell you what I try not to think about. Ready?
It's my parents. How much they fight. And why that affects my grades and wardrobe.
This morning began with a screaming match about my older brother, A.J.8 Then it became about Dad and how he'd rather dissect computers than listen to stories about Mom's evil boss at the hotel. Which transitioned into the things Mom flushes down the toilet. Nothing says "Good luck on your first day of high school" like an argument about clogged pipes.
I'm never involved in these squabbles but I am allergic to conflict, so I suffer. Veritas? Fighting sounds make me itchy. I have red marks all over my arms and legs to prove it. Like I was jumped by the Real Housewives of New Jersey on Acrylic Day.
Peers assume I'm modest because I wear long sleeves to keep from scratching. Modesty on a girl with features that "overachieve" does make her more likable, so it's not all bad. But it's not all good, either. Obvious frump factor aside, running track in sweats leads to heatstroke. In 98 percent humidity, hallucinations. But it's worth it. First place means my parents will stay together another day. So I cover up and run like a nose in flu season.
You see, every time I get an A, or win something, or am elected, crowned, honored, published, or profiled, we celebrate at Benihana.9 A.J. and I can order anything we want. Wear whatever we want. We're even allowed to get double desserts. The only thing we can't do at Beni's is fight. It's our family rule. And it sticks like chewed Bazooka.
In summation: Overachieving = Benihana = Peace = No divorce.
If you focus on success, you'll have stress. But if you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.
One more thing.
A FemFresh case with a lock is not gonna happen.
I'd rather hide my journal in dirty boxer shorts.
Safer that way.
Less embarrassing too.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Blake rode over before school this morning to give me a dozen yellow roses.
"Yellow signifies new beginnings," he said, one foot still on his skateboard.
I flicked his cheek, which was always tanned, even in December. "I know what yellow means."
He smiled. "I owe you, big-time. If there's ever anything you need—"
We stood there for a minute. Him with his wet black hair and me with a glob of syrup on my denim skirt, remembering the day we decided to go for it. I know he was thinking about it too because Blake has been my best friend for eight years and we know everything about each other.
The public school thing came up for the first time in June. We were coming back from Six Flags when his mom said she had to go back to work in the fall. Translation? After eight years of homeschooling, Blake would have to go to Noble.
The news gave him a crazy asthma attack. Which always makes me cry. And when I cry, Mom cries. Then Mrs. Marcus started because she felt responsible. She said she had no choice because they needed the money. Still, Blake kept right on wheezing.
Like me, Blake loved being a Homie (our slang for homeschoolers) and did not want to be a Pub boy (slang for public schooler). He loved thumbing his nose at the mainstream. And loved that our moms taught us together. He couldn't stand Pub drama and was afraid he'd get mixed up in it. But I knew the truth. Blake was afraid people would pick on him because he's gay.
I reminded him that New Jersey is a blue state and, anyway, Noble kids are too intelligent for ignorant behavior, but he kept quoting statistics from a survey that said being gay was the number two reason kids get bullied.
"What's number one?" I asked.
"Then I have more to worry about than you," I said.
"Moot," Blake snipped. "You're not being sent to Pub. I am."
So I asked my parents if I could go to Pub too.
They said no.
I appealed with a seven-page essay on the benefits of diversifying my education. I set up a tour of the school. Blake pulled the stats on what percentage of Noble grads went to Ivy League colleges. It was 47 percent. They caved.
On one condition: I have to maintain my A+ average. If not, I'm back home.
Blake and I laughed at that one. Not succeed at Pub? With my education? Failing would be harder.
- On Sale
- May 13, 2014
- Page Count
- 304 pages