Famous for a Week

Chapter 2: Poster Child for the Disaffected Youth

"There are five very important rules for the subjunctive," Señora Vasquez says, waving her bejeweled arms around for emphasis. She is really old and a lot of the boys call her Seniora behind her back. "You use the subjunctive with doubt, desire, and hope – "

"Sounds like I should use the subjunctive with my girlfriend tonight," one of them cracks.

" – but it is important to remember that the subjunctive is not a tense, but a mood – "

"Yeah man. Set the mood for your date," his friend says, egging him on.

A vein on her forehead twitches. "You need to have a change of subject preceded by a "que" that connects the first sentence to the second subject." She shoots a look at Thomas and James, who are still snickering and nudging each other, and says, "Tomas. Dime un ejemplo del subjunctivo."

"Es necesario que mi novia traiga un condón por sexo."

"Thomas!" she shouts, reverting back to English in her shock and dismay. "That is completely inappropriate!"

Even James looks a little daunted by his friend's sheer audacity. Thomas suddenly looks scared.

"You aren't, uh, going to tell the principal, are you?"

I see a little gleam in her eyes. "Es dudoso con tal de que tú limpies la clase."

I can see Thomas rapidly translating in his head. "Aw man."

"Por dos semanas," she adds.

Thomas just hangs his head.

I am impressed, in spite of myself. A six foot four football player just got served by a little old lady.

"Por el resto de ustedes la tarea es páginas ciento noventa y seis a ciento diecinueve. Estudian el subjuntivo para el exámen este viernes."

Ten pages? What the hell? I already have to do that outline and now this?

Luckily, the final bell rings, and I quickly extricate myself from language block A. My friends are waiting for me outside the school gate, looking as drained as I feel. "Thanks a lot, you guys. Mr. Hartman decided I need to outline the whole chapter on World War Two," I say, as we start walking. "Do you know how long that is? Plus, I've got ten pages of homework from Seniora."

"Why ten pages?" April asks, "That's a lot, even for her."

"Some idiot boys were making sexual remarks using the subjunctive."

"So what? You're not the only one who got punished," Lizzie counters, "Ms. Rosenthal gave me detention for a week."

I can't say I feel particularly sorry for her. I would honestly rather stay at school than do an outline. My brain just isn't capable of understanding all those icky facts in a textbook, let alone summing them up in an organized format. And April didn't even get detention or extra work.

"Whatever," I say, shrugging my shoulders, "All I know is that there is no way I can afford to be late again."

Lizzie's eyes narrow on the word "again" because the truth is we're late a lot, and it's usually her fault, but she decides not to pursue the subject. Maybe it's because we've purchased enough trouble for one day, or maybe it's because the weather's so nice.

All the clouds from the morning have evaporated, leaving the sun to shine unadulterated. Birds are chirping somewhere, hidden by trees and long grass that grow unhindered on the other side of the fence. It's actually sort of peaceful when you're not running late –

Except for the fact that is a large crowd assembled around the front of the civic center, all of them talking excitedly. This most likely suggests that a) there is a fight or b) someone is handing out freebies. While I suppose it's possible that Planned Parenthood could be giving out condoms again, I don't think it's very likely — not unless we got that subsidy that the parents are clamoring for.

So it must be a fight, then.

That's when I see it. A huge, glossy poster depicting a sweeping house with hints of the ocean in the background. Underneath, in eye-popping print it exclaims: HEY GIRLS – WANT TO SPEND A WEEK IN A SEASIDE MANSION WITH THE MAN OF YOUR DREAMS?

I edge closer, pressing against the people around me so I can read further.

JUST SEND IN A PIECE OF ART AND A 100-WORD OR LESS EXPLANATION THAT SAYS WHY YOU DRINK ÜBER-FIZZ. ALL PARTICIPANTS MUST BE BETWEEN THE AGES OF 14-18. FIRST PLACE WINNERS WILL HAVE THEIR ARTWORK FEATURED IN THE OFFICIAL ADVERTISEMENTS FOR ÜBER-FIZZ SODA AND SPEND A WEEK WITH RISING STAR JAKE MCLAUGHLIN.

Oh. My. God. As if he needs more publicity than he already has. I mean, seriously, how much more of a sell-out could he possibly be? Why doesn't he start a line of Happy Meal toys why he's at it?

"An entire week . . . with him?"

"And in a mansion, too," April adds, only slightly out of breath, eyes misted. Either she is hopelessly infatuated or seconds away from having a massive asthma attack.

I wait.

Hopelessly infatuated.

I roll my eyes. "I bet he's incredibly stuck-up in person. And spoiled."

"It's a contest," April says, reading off the poster. "An art contest . . ." She trails off abruptly.

"Art? What? That's not fair, I can't draw!" Lizzie glares at the poster defiantly, hitching her purse up higher on her shoulder, as if the poster is purposely trying to thwart her. I don't say anything. She really can't draw. "But you can."

There is a pudgy finger in my face. I knock her arm aside. "Back off, Lizzie."

"But you can draw," Lizzie says, shrugging out of the crowd. Then, in a slightly quieter voice, so as not to attract the attention of the crowd, she adds, "You draw really well, Jess. You could help us."

I stop walking. "You want me to cheat for you?"

"Shhh!" she looks around quickly, before saying, "It's not cheating. I mean, it's not like you're even going to enter."

She has a point. I'm the last person who'd want to enter a contest like this and, even if I did, the odds are totally stacked against me. I know I'm a good artist, maybe even a great one, but there are people out there better than me — and I'm sure some of them are of the eligible age, between 14 and 18.

But still, it's my art. I don't think they realize that I don't just whip these things out like a magic copy machine. And, assuming that maybe they do have a shot at winning, the thought of someone else getting credit for my art makes me feel sick inside. It's like stealing.

"So will you?" she asks, pushing her way into my conscious thoughts. "You could help me — and April, too," Lizzie adds.

"I don't know."

"It's just that we, like, really can't draw. We don't even have a chance. Which really doesn't seem fair considering you can draw and don't even want to enter."

"I said don't know. Let me think about it."

"The deadline's in three days," Lizzie whines, "You don't have time to think!"

"We'll discuss this later then. I have to get home – I'm late enough as is. I have a lot of homework, I'm under house arrest, and I nearly got a cut today in World History."

"But the contest – " April starts.

"The contest is the last thing on my mind."

"Fine. Wait all you want." Lizzie purses her lips, then turns to April. "Well, we better go then. We don't want to impose on her overburdened mind, do we, April?"

"Um — " April looks from Lizzie to me, her eyes pleading don't bring me into this.

"April! Let's go." And she turns neatly on her heel, showing me her back. April mouths, 'I'm sorry', before trotting after Lizzie like an obedient little terrier, and the two of them walk home. Without me.

"Hi, Jess, it's your mother. I'm out running errands. Michael stopped by. I told him you were sick."

Beep!

"Oh, yeah, Jess. Real mature bringing your mother into this – what are we? Middle schoolers? Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you the other day and – "

Beep!

" – you must be in a coma. Can you seriously not hear the phone ringing, because if you can, this is just childish – "

Beep!

" – Okay, you know what? I'm deleting you off my friends list – "

Beep!

" – There. You've been deleted, Jess. De-LEE-ted. We're done here. Finito. Fin – "

Beep!

" – Jess? Please, please pick up. I miss you – "

Beep!

" – P.S. Could you please add me back?"

Beep!

"You have no new messages."

I wake up in a black mood the next morning even though it's casual Friday, which I am ordinarily very excited about because it means I don't have to wear my uniform. But my favorite jeans are too tight, there is a zit lurking underneath my left nostril, and Lizzie still has not apologized.

I want to wear something that conveys my mood. Something that says, "I am angry at the world but I do not have to wear a Slipknot shirt to prove it." After sifting through my closet, I eventually decide on khakis, a plain black t-shirt, and a wristband I have stolen from my geek sister.

"Moo gee," Robert says, mouth full of breakfast cereal.

"Don't talk with your mouth full." I slam the fridge closed. "It's disgusting."

He opens his mouth wide to display its contents.

"Very mature." I yank the toast from the toaster, cram one in my mouth and the other in my sweatshirt pocket, as I make my way back upstairs to retrieve my bag. I gather the papers scattered all over my desk and stuff them into a single black binder – there is no way I am going to be tardy today.

I also want to catch up with my friends, because I know they leave early and I'm hoping to straighten this out before school starts. But April and Lizzie aren't waiting for me outside, which means that we're probably fighting and I don't want to fight.

Oh, I know that if I give her a drawing to submit then she'll probably stop huffing and we can go back to being friends again. Except I don't want to give in that easily – I don't want her to take advantage of me and know that she can. So I guess we are fighting, only I don't want to.

Even Brittany, who is socially unaware, appears to notice something's wrong. We always walk together – Lizzie and April and I – and Brittany constantly teases me about it, calling us the Gleesome Threesome and the Three Stooges and other things like that. Today all she says is, "Need a ride?"

Which just goes to show how serious this must be, because Brittany never lets me ride in her car.

So I say, "Sure," and toss my bag in the backseat.

"Where's April Showers and Lizard?" she asks, checking the mirror as she pulls out of the driveway.

"I don't know."

Brittany makes a "hmm" sound but her mouth forms a line, kind of like Mom does when she gets annoyed. But she doesn't press me, which is what Mom would do.

"What are we listening to, anyway?" I ask, "It sounds like a bunch of guitars having an orgy."

"They're called Drakulya," she said, tossing me the CD case. "It's a Romanian doom metal band."

My sister is literally the only girl I know who can actually tell the difference between death and doom metal. Like this is such an achievement – they both sound like angry belching to me.

I get out of her old VW and walk up to B-20 and try the handle, but I'm so early that the door to my classroom is locked. Instead, I sit outside, pull out my textbook, and start outlining in peace.

I end up finishing the outline just as the bell for class rings. Mr. Hartman accepts it, even though it was totally obvious that I was finishing it while he was reading off the morning's announcements. So maybe he isn't all that bad, even though fifty pages is a lot. Even for World War Two.

I am hoping that this would be a good omen but I know from the moment Lizzie turned her nose up at me in homeroom that that was not the case. Homerooms are arranged alphabetically, you see, and since Lizzie's name is "Peterson" and mine is "Parks" we're in the same class. Usually this means I have someone to talk to, but right now it's like fanning the flames of fury.

Lizzie doesn't try to meet my eyes at all, which is a pretty amazing feat considering that she sits right across from me. When she does catch my probing gaze, it's always by accident, and she sends me a glare that really hurts, because I can tell she's thinking, you are a complete bitch. I hate you.

This is so unfair. Even if I do make the stupid drawings, the odds of her winning are, like, one in a hundred million. But I have the feeling that Lizzie probably isn't going to want to hear that, because she really thinks that she can win. To her, this is a matter of life or death.

And you know what really sucks? Deep-down, I know I'm probably being a teensy bit unreasonable because it is only just a drawing. Lizzie is my friend and I don't want to lose her over something as stupid as a piece of paper.

But I can't help thinking that if she was a good friend, she wouldn't be escalating the situation like this. The contest means a lot to her, obviously, but I should mean more, right? We're supposed to be friends.

I try and focus on what Mrs. Rehnquist is saying, instead — something about interpersonal v. intrapersonal mindsets — but I don't even think she knows what she's talking about, so how on earth can Ibe expected to? I pull out a sheet of paper and some of my copic markers and start drawing.

It's easy to talk about putting other people first until you actually need to do it. That's when it gets hard.

Author's note: I love the "Seniora." She's got attitude, doesn't she? And no, before you ask, Drakulya isn't a real band. (I'm reading The Historian right now, by Elizabeth Kostova, so I'm kind of in vamp mode) but there are a lot of bands that do really sound like that.

As before, I don't own any bands, products, or logos that you recognize . . . yet.

Anonymous reviewers:

Grey Stork: Don't worry, I intend to pace the story. And I love your idea for the song titles being the chapter titles – I'll definitely try it, though I'm not sure how well that will work out. And if you think Jake is bad NOW, just wait until we actually get to meet him in PERSON!

Mole-san: Jess is very artsy. She's also a total music snob, in case you haven't already noticed. ;)