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How to Rock Best Friends and Frenemies
By Meg Haston
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Table of Contents
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CUE THE NEW TRACK
Monday, 6:58 A.M.
I have a unique talent for remembering the soundtrack to every significant life moment in my twelve and a half years, including epiphanies, crises, and unbeatable hair days.
The morning of my very first Simon Says television broadcast for Marquette Middle School's Channel M last September, I blasted Beyoncé's "Diva" on my iPod for the entire El ride to school. Four years ago, when my dad told me he was moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and that it was "best for everyone involved," creepy carnival music whistled from the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier.
And as I waited for my best friend, Molly Knight, at Sugar Daddy this morning, the clink of ceramic mugs and the sleepy chug, chug, ding! of the old-fashioned cash register blended together in familiar harmony. Outside, my city was starting to rouse, and pinkish light shone on bleary-eyed passersby. For the rest of Chicago, it was just another Monday morning.
The rest of Chicago had no idea how easy they had it.
I sat on one of the cracked turquoise leather couches at the back of the bakery and willed my knees to stop bouncing. But I was too riled up to sit still. Two weeks ago, after a humiliating tumble at Molly's thirteenth birthday party, I'd gone from
KACEY SIMON, SEVENTH-GRADE JOURNALIST, ADVICE GURU, and MOST POPULAR GIRL BASICALLY EVER
KACEY SIMON, LISPING, BRACES-AND-GLASSES-WEARING, FRIENDLESS REJECT.
Luckily, my literal fall from grace was yesterday's headline, and now I was back on top, thanks to some major soul-searching and a genius plan I'd executed with my friend Paige Greene. And after I'd saved my best guy friend (and Molly's boyfriend), Zander Jarvis, during the Rock Chicago showcase last Friday night, Zander had even asked me to rejoin Gravity as lead singer.
Friends? Check. Popularity? Check. Band? Check.
Unquenchable crush on my best friend's boyfriend?
The scratchy clang of the bell over the door startled me, sending a wave of scalding liquid over the edge of my cup.
"Oww." I licked my thumb and pressed it into the widening heart-shaped stain on the knee of my new bottle-green jeggings.
"Watch it. I'm def borrowing those." Molly clacked across the faded wood floor in towering platform booties. "If it's okay."
"Of course." I jumped up to hug her. "Whenever you want." I didn't let go right away. Maybe I was holding on too long. But I was so relieved to be friends again, there wasn't enough room in my brain to care.
Mols wriggled away, a mischievous grin playing over her rosy lips. "So?" A few wisps of platinum hair slipped from beneath a cropped hoodie.
"So, sit." I slapped the seat next to me.
"First you have to guess what's different about me."
"Ummm…" I reviewed her from head to toe. I'd seen the hoodie before, and the black leather skinnies were a definite rerun. I'd watched her buy the yellow RUCKUS tee at the showcase Friday night. It was a consolation prize for being the girlfriend of the dude who bombed onstage, she'd told me when we got back to my house.
"Did your shirt have that stain on it when you bought it?" The old Kacey would have informed Mols that wearing a (dirty) rival band's T-shirt to school made her a subpar rock 'n' roll girlfriend. The new, slightly-less-honest-but-more-aware-of-people's-feelings Kacey ran her tongue over her braces to give her mouth something else to do.
"Not a stain." Molly perched on the edge of the sofa. Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she leaned close enough for me to catch a whiff of gingerbread body butter. "It's the signature of the lead guy in Ruckus. He's in ninth, and his name is Phoenix. Which is so weird, because you know how my grandparents live close to Phoenix and it's, like, my fave place ever?"
"You said staying in the desert for spring break was like being trapped in a huge litter box." I squinted through a fresh set of contacts at the chicken scratch above her left boob. Why were we talking about some strange kid in ninth when Molly had the coolest, most talented guy in seventh by her side?
"You're not guessing." Impatiently, Mols wound a lock of hair around her index finger and yanked.
"Your hair iiiissss…" I bit the inside of my cheek. When I was Channel M's star reporter, I never worried about saying the wrong thing. I missed being a reporter. Or maybe I just missed having a reason to give people the straight story without having to feel bad about it. "… blonder?"
"Wrong!" She smacked an imaginary game-show buzzer on the coffee table, then whipped off her hoodie, revealing an angled, shoulder-length bob.
"You cut it all off!" I squealed. "Ohmygod, it looks so much healthier without those stringy exten—" I gulped. "You look so good!"
"Really? You think so?"
I grinned. "For real! What made you do it?"
"I'm starting fresh," Molly proclaimed.
I adjusted the feathered head wrap holding my long auburn waves in place. The piece was fashioned from a costume mask our friend Liv Parillo's grandmother had worn to a masquerade ball a zillion years ago. It was the latest item in LivItUp, Liv's brand-new line of upscale repurposed accessories. "Starting fresh from what?"
"Well…" Molly scanned each of the vintage-school-desks-turned-tables in the tiny bakery. The tip of her nose and her cheeks were tinged with pink, and not from the early-morning chill.
"What? Tell me!" I scooted close enough for our knees to touch.
"I broke up with Z last night."
The words took my breath away. I felt like I was back in the dunking booth at last year's Channel M fund-raiser, the split second after I hit the icy water.
Okay, so it was my producer, Carlos, who'd actually agreed to the dunking booth. But I imagined that it probably felt exactly like this.
Molly blinked. "Hello? Earth to Kacey!"
"Ohmygod!" I coughed, my mind spinning with questions. Why would anyone ever dump Zander? Was he okay? What did this mean for us? Was there an "us"? Since Molly had asked me to quit Gravity in the first place, I'd been beyond nervous to tell her that I'd rejoined the band before I knew about the split. Did this make my news better, or worse?
"What did he—why did you—are you okay?" I asked.
"Aww, Kace. You're the best. I'm fine." She squeezed my arm reassuringly. "It's like I texted Z last night. We just don't have that much in common, you know?"
I nodded. That much was definitely true.
"Plus, I'm Molly Knight. I can't be the girl who dated that loser who sucked onstage."
"Did you tell him that?"
"I would have, but then this hilarious commercial came on and I forgot. Anyway, you're gonna love Phoenix. We have so much in common!"
"Like what?" I wanted to focus 100 percent on Molly, but a voice in the back of my head kept ordering me to confess that I'd rejoined Gravity. Now that she'd broken up with Zander, she wouldn't care. Right?
"We're both super mature, and we both love how he's in ninth."
"He sounds great. Really. I'm happy for you." Tell her.
"I knew you would be. Only there's something I kind of need advice on." Molly tugged at the leather choker around her neck.
"About your new boy? Shoot," I said graciously. Boys were the one and only area where Molly's expertise outshone mine. This had to be killing her.
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Phoenix likes girls who have a thing. You know, like designing is Liv's thing, and being smart is Nessa's thing. And journalism is your thing."
Used to be my thing.
"But since I quit skating lessons, I don't have a thing anymore." Molly lowered her head. "Do you think I should go back to gymnastics? I'm kind of over tight ponytails and glitter hair spray."
"So's the rest of the world. But not to worry." I borrowed the soothing, low tone that sounded so reassuring when Dr. Phil, our school shrink, used it. "You're good at a ton of other things."
"Like what?" Her white-blond lashes fluttered skeptically.
"Like…" I reached for my hot chocolate and took a long sip, thinking hard. "Like you always put together amazing outfits. And out of all the girls I know, you're the best at talking to boys. You don't get nervous or anything."
"Most of all, you're an amazing friend. I was just thinking how glad I am that we're friends again."
"Me, too," she said quickly. "Things weren't the same when we weren't talking. And"—she pulled a brown throw pillow into her lap and squeezed it—"I'm really sorry about how mean I was to you."
"Same." I wanted to hug her again. "Okay. So we've got outfits, boy-talking, and friendship. What else do you like?"
"Parties, for sure. I had a killer time at my b-day party. Everybody did." A horrified look flashed across her face. "Until you bit it, obv."
"Obv." My teeth ached at the memory. "Okay. Parties!" I settled back into the couch cushions and thought for a few seconds. "What if you were a party planner, or something? You could plan special events at Marquette! Like fund-raisers and dances and stuff."
Molly's head snapped toward me. Her delicate features locked into a deadly serious expression. "Yes. Party planner. Yes."
"Actually, I heard the student council was looking for someone to head the Party Planning Committee for the spring dance. I bet I could get Paige to approve your app by the end of the day!"
Molly's nose scrunched in disapproval. "Paige Greene has to approve me?" She and Paige, my old fifth-grade BFF, got along almost as well as my six-year-old sister, Ella, and I had during her I know you are, but what am I? phase.
"Well, she is seventh-grade class president. But it's just a formality," I assured her.
She pretended to weigh her option. Singular.
"Okay, I'll do it!" Mols reached over and hugged me.
"Yay! I really think this is a great idea," I said into her shoulder. You know what else is a great idea? Telling your best friend the truth! Say it! "I. Rejoined. Gravity." My mouth tasted dry and stale, like I'd been sucking on mothballs.
"Me, too. Thanks, Ka—" Suddenly, Molly jerked away. "Wait. You never said if you thought it was a good idea to break up with Zander." Her eyebrows shot up in panic.
"I—uh—" I hadn't had time to process. For that, I'd need at least a couple of hours alone in my room. And a good, soul-searching-themed playlist. I channeled Dr. Phil again. "Do you think it was a good idea to break up with Zander?"
Molly's cornflower-blue eyes flitted anxiously across my face. "I dunno. I guess. I mean, we really didn't have much in common. Plus, I heard he was into some other girl while we were dating."
My blood ran cold. "What? Who?"
"Ridic, right?" Molly half coughed, half laughed. "Z was totally into me when we were dating. I was the one who broke up with him, remember?" A tiny vein in her forehead throbbed.
"Yeah. I remember." I crossed my arms over my black dolman-sleeve top, suddenly aware of a draft in the bakery. "So, did you hear who it was?"
"Please. If I knew who it was, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I'd be out kicking her a—"
"OHMYGOD. I just had the most amazing idea." I cut her off before she could give me the gory play-by-play. "What if I rejoined Gravity, and then I could get the inside scoop on whether he was into someone else while you guys were together?" I reached for my hot chocolate mug again, afraid to steal a glance at her expression.
"You mean, like, you'd be a spy? Just for me?"
"Mmmm." I chugged the rest of my hot chocolate with complete disregard for the third-degree throat burns I was inflicting on myself. And the lie I was inflicting on her. But if I'd learned anything in the past few weeks, it was that sometimes the truth wasn't the best option.
"Yes! Do it! That's totally brilliant."
"Mmmmm." I kept my mug between us. "Okay. Great. I'll talk to Zander after school."
Molly fell back into the sofa, a dreamy look on her face. "Perf." Then she sat up again. "But wait. You can't just find out whether he was into some girl before. You have to find out if he's into anyone now. He can't date anybody for at least a year after me. It's the rule. Girl Code."
Girl Code? "But aren't you and Phoenix—"
"That's different. I was the one who did the breaking up. I'm allowed to date."
"Oh." I squeezed my mug so hard I was sure tiny hairline cracks were forming in the painted ceramic lip. "Okay." The rule was insane. But the look on her face told me she couldn't have been more serious.
"So that's it, then. You'll get the dirt and report back to me. And if any girl even thinks about liking him—"
I bent over and reached for my messenger bag with numb, trembling fingers.
"—that girl will be in major trouble. She has no idea what I can do when I'm pissed," Molly finished.
"Got it," I said weakly.
But Molly was wrong. That girl had a pretty good idea of what Molly Knight was capable of. And that girl wasn't looking for that kind of trouble.
CAUGHT BETWEEN A ROCK STAR
AND A HARD PLACE
Monday, 3:27 P.M.
"I'm telling you. It's my hidden talent," Zander insisted that afternoon after school. "Bet you five bucks." His steely gray eyes ignited at the prospect of a challenge, and the royal-blue streak in his long bangs flashed under the spotlights above us.
"I don't knowwww," I teased, shedding my black suede trench. I took a seat across from him, a steaming latte already at my place. We'd decided to meet at the café next to Vinyl Destination, the coolest record store in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. Actually, I'd decided on the café. Zander had suggested Sugar Daddy, but the possibility of running into Molly and the girls during my first "spy session" with Zander made my hair crimp eighties-music-video-style. Fortunately, my chosen hangout was dark and empty, except for the skinny dude slouched behind the dark wooden coffee bar. "I'd have to see it to believe it."
"Any song. Any voice or accent." Zander angled his chair so his back was to the empty stage—the same stage where he'd lost his mojo at the showcase Friday night.
"Without laughing." He popped the collar on the plaid button-down he wore over a faded HARD ROCK LIFE T-shirt, homage to his old band in Seattle.
"You're on. Five bucks." I yanked up my sleeves and planted my elbows on the round black table between us. "Um, 'Go Your Own Way.' As… Kermit the Frog."
He winced. The Fleetwood Mac tune was the same song he'd bombed with Friday night. "Nice song choice."
"You gotta try it again sometime, right? This way, it'll be the song you sang when you lost five bucks. Not the song you sang when—"
"Okay, okay. Don't remind me!" He disappeared beneath the table and popped up a few seconds later, holding a familiar acoustic guitar. "You could at least give me a hard one."
He'd tried to give me that guitar a week ago, when we were sitting around the Millennium Park skating rink. My insides had been colder than the wintry air as I'd told him I had to quit Gravity to reclaim my lead in Marquette's production of Guys and Dolls. It had been a seriously inconvenient time to figure out that I had feelings for him. And an even worse time for him to flip out, take back his guitar, and refuse to speak to me for a few days.
The sound of Zander's fingers plucking the strings drew me back to the present. "Loving you… isn't the right thing to do." His Kermit was so dead-on, it was freaky. And I know a good Kermit when I hear one. Ella was Miss Piggy for Halloween two years ago. In preparation for the role, she'd forced me to watch every Muppet movie ever made.
I giggled, settling back into my chair and lifting my latte in a toast. The steam beneath the white plastic lid tickled my nose and sent a warm, tingly feeling through my body. "Just don't laugh! Don't do it!"
Zander's jaw pulsed as he tried to keep it together. This was too easy.
I glanced around the café to be sure we were still alone.
"If I could," I chimed in with my best Miss Piggy. "Maybe I'd give you my woooorld."
Zander's face cracked into a grin.
"You lose!" I smacked the table triumphantly. "Five bucks, Jarvis. Cough it up."
"That wasn't a laugh! I'm not laughing," he protested, biting his lip so hard his forehead crinkled in pain. "And you cheated!"
"Hey." I lifted my hands in surrender. "All's fair in lo—" I swallowed the rest of the word before it escaped. Everything wasn't fair in love and war. At least not according to Molly. Girl Code, I repeated to myself silently. Girl Code. Girl Code.
"You okay?" Zander pressed his palm over the strings, silencing his guitar. His cheeks looked suddenly rosy under the fluorescent lights.
"Yeah. Yeah. Sure," I said, too quickly. "I mean, uh—I actually wanted to ask you the same thing."
"I'm good." He toyed with the leather cuff bracelet on his wrist. "How come?"
"Because of the breakup?" Either Zander was playing cool to mask his devastation, or he honestly didn't care. For the record, I was a staunch supporter of Option B.
"Oh. That. No, I'm fine." He pushed back his chair and stretched out his legs. Instead of his usual skinny jeans, he was wearing a pair of regular jeans, the wash so dark they had to be new. "It's… whatever. It's probably a good thing." His blue bangs flopped over his eyes.
"Yeah. A good thing." I drummed my fingers on the table. A good thing. Good because he and Molly were polar opposites? Good because he was into somebody else, somebody who just happened to be sitting across from him this VERY SECOND?
I had no idea why girls were always getting such a bad rap. Boys were way more confusing.
"So I've got a surprise for you," he said. "Two, actually."
"Yeah?" My throat was suddenly dry. I took another sip of my latté.
"Well, the first one's not really a surprise. I just wanted to give you this. Again." He lifted the guitar in his lap, nodding for me to take it.
"Zander. Are you sure?" Tentatively, I took it, tracing the circular opening in the instrument's glossy blond body. "But you learned how to play on this thing. Don't you want to keep it?"
"Guitars are meant to played," he insisted. "It's a thank-you for Friday night. And a welcome-back-to-Gravity present."
The guitar smelled like Zander—freshly polished wood, leather, and pure perfection. "Thanks." I squeezed the fret board tight.
"I can teach you to play," he offered. "Maybe you could play for Gravity, even."
I snorted. "In like a decade."
"You gotta start somewhere." Zander cracked his knuckles and interlaced his fingers behind his head. "Bring it to rehearsal tomorrow. I'll teach you a couple of chords."
" 'Kay." Waves of excitement and nerves reverberated through me in a rhythm all their own. I hadn't seen the other members of Gravity—Nelson Lund, Kevin Cho, and The Beat—since Friday night. And I still had no idea how they felt about me rejoining the band.
I looked up. Zander was smiling.
"It's gonna be awesome," he assured me. "We're all pumped that you're back."
How did he read my mind like that? I let my eyes lock with his for a quarter beat, until a tiny voice in the back of my head whispered: Girl Code. Reluctantly, I refocused on the guitar.
"Good. Well, I gotta go." He jumped up. "I'm supposed to watch my sister while our parents go to this art thing tonight."
"Okay," I said, hoping the disappointment in my voice wasn't obvious. "See you tomorrow?"
"Deal," Zander said in his Kermit voice. He lifted his palm for a high five, and I clasped it with mine. His palm was soft, electric. GirlCodeGirlCodeGirlCode. "Later." He headed for the door.
"Oh! Wait! What about my second surprise?" I called.
He turned around, flashing a coy smile. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise. You'll find out tomorrow at rehearsal. You're gonna love it." He waved and disappeared through the doorway.
"Yeah," I murmured, cradling the guitar in my lap. Its shiny surface reflected my flushed cheeks and green eyes. As a general rule, I was not a fan of surprises. Surprises were the off-air equivalent of breaking news. Like my dad telling me he was leaving for good. Or like Ella admitting that she'd mixed Mom's facial hair removal cream in my shampoo after I'd already lathered, rinsed, and repeated.
But this was different. This was Zander. And if he was excited about it, then it was going to rock.
CURSE THE CODE
Monday, 9:02 P.M.
That night, Mom, Ella, and I sat around the kitchen table in our breakfast nook. A stack of my textbooks, plus Ella's weekly folder and a list of spelling words, was piled in front of Dad's old chair. After four years, you'd think we would have gotten rid of his place mat. But I never liked the way the table looked with three mats—lopsided, like it could topple over at any second.
"Great broadcast, Mom," I said over a mouthful of room-temperature Greek takeout. Ella and I always watched the five- and six-o'clock Channel 5 newscasts when we could. Even though Mom had been the solo evening anchor for over a year, seeing her on air never got old. Lately, though, it had made me a little… something. Not jealous, exactly. More like nostalgic for the Simon Says days.
"You think so?" Mom pulled her shoulder-length strawberry hair away from her face and secured it with one of Ella's purple glitter claws.
"Totally. I liked the piece on the school board scandal."
"Me, too." Ella yawned into her stuffed grape leaves. Her dark red curls were still damp and matted from the bath, and she smelled like baby shampoo and hotel lotion. "And the commercials."
"Thanks, girls." The tiny smile lines around Mom's jewel-green eyes deepened under the extra layers of foundation she wore for work. "And thanks for taking care of dinner, baby." She reached over to squeeze my arm and left her hand there.
"Ha! Baby." Ella snorted. She lunged for the pink curly-straw peeking out of her cup. I steadied the cup as she slurped her chocolate milk.
"No problem," I said. "I signed her folder and we finished her spelling words. Oh, and I have a permission slip for you to sign. It's for our Marine Bio field trip to Shedd Aquarium on Monday."
"You got it." Mom nodded. "Now run upstairs and brush your teeth," she told Ella. "I'll be up in a second."
"But—" Ella looked back and forth between Mom and me, like she was considering making a scene. In the end, another big yawn won out.
"Night, Ell Bell." I leaned over to give her a squeeze.
"Don't let the bedbugs bite!" She planted a breathy chocolate kiss on my jaw, and I lifted her off the chair and lowered her to the floor. A few seconds later I heard the slow thud of her galoshes on the stairs.
"Really, Kace." Mom sighed. "I'm sorry you had to take care of everything tonight. We lost one of our best producers last week, and the station's new owner wants to—"
"Mom." I cut her off. "Really. I don't mind." It was the truth. Sure, Ella could be a major pain. Like last week, when she used my brand-new crackle nail polish to "decorate" her math homework. But for the most part, hanging out with her didn't kill me.
"I know you don't. It's just…" Mom's voice trailed off. "So tell me about your day."
"It was good." I smashed a giant piece of feta on my plate with a plastic fork, eyeing the teal digits on the microwave clock. After school I'd texted Paige to come over tonight so we could quote, strategize, end quote, about the home stretch of her presidential campaign. I'd thrown in a P.S. about Zander and Molly's breakup, like it was totally an afterthought.
"Just good?" The lilt in her voice told me Mom's reporter instincts were kicking in. I'd have to do better than "good" if I wanted to leave the table before midnight. "Something on your mind?"
"I—" There was a sharp knock from the other side of the kitchen.
"Ella Simon, those teeth better be sparkling," Mom warned.
"It's just me." Paige appeared in the doorway and flashed a toothy smile. "But I did floss this morning."
"You pass inspection, Paige." Mom laughed. "Come on in."
"Doesn't she look amazing, Mom?" I said brightly, grateful for the interruption. Paige's short dark bob gleamed beneath the kitchen lights, and she actually looked kind of stylish in the black cigarette pants and black silk tee I'd let her borrow. Beneath her slanted bangs, her glasses added a nice, executive branch–chic touch. I congratulated myself on Paige's mini makeover.
"Always." Mom nodded. I could feel her gaze on me.
"So what's up, Paige?" I widened my eyes meaningfully. You have top secret campaign business that can't wait. We have to go up to my room. Right. Now.
But my telepathic vibes sailed straight over Paige's head.
"Uh, you texted me." She took Ella's seat and slid a stuffed green three-ring binder on the table. "Only ten days till the election, Sterling," she told Mom, plucking half a stuffed grape leaf from Ella's plate and popping it in her mouth. "Just thought you should know. As an informed member of the media and all."
Mom tapped her temple with her index finger. "I consider myself briefed," she said. "Now if you'll excuse me, all that quiet upstairs is disconcerting." She pushed back her chair and headed for the stairwell. "You girls can work till ten. And Kacey, make sure you watch Paige get home safely."
"She lives next door," I muttered, rolling my eyes.
- "Mostly reformed mean girl Kacey Simon returns in this preteen drama with a heart...Accessible, funny and ultimately safe: Kacey may make mistakes, but readers can trust that all will turn out right in the end."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A quick and quirky read."—VOYA
- "All of the characters are well developed and fun to follow in this fast-paced romantic comedy."—School Library Journal
- "Sitcom-ready feel-good fun."—The Bulletin
Praise for How to Rock Braces and Glasses:
"Embrace the brace! How to Rock Braces and Glasses should be renamed How to Rock Your First Novel. Hilarious and heartfelt. I ah-dored it."
—Lisi Harrison, Author of the #1 bestselling Clique series (and former 4year braces-wearer and current glasses rocker)
- On Sale
- Dec 24, 2013
- Page Count
- 352 pages