Authors: Rachael Wing
“We gathered, dear,” Margo cut in dryly. I could see a test forming in her eyes. “That is a rather large lifestyle change; why did you leave?”
“Oh, my mom got offered a job here, in the city, and Daddy works here a lot anyway, so it was pretty convenient,” Emily smiled, thinly.
I felt another pang of sorrow for Emily, because she'd left a lot behind. It must be awful to move away from everything â¦ then I looked down at her tanned legs and all of a sudden I didn't feel quite so sympathetic.
Margo didn't miss a beat and continued to talk in her brisk, emotionless manner. “Hardly convenient for you, dearest; you must be terribly lonely. Where are you living now?”
Margo blinked. She wasn't really expecting that. Whittle Lane is not quite Millionaire's Row but it's the next rung down on the ladder. This girl had some serious cash. And cash is a very good friend of Margo Stone. “It's quite pretty, really,” Emily continued, now almost aware of the test she was taking. “Not as big as my home back in the States, but how often would I use an outdoor swimming pool or tennis court out here in your unpredictable weather?!”
After two years of seeing Margo intimidate and assess people, and having had her do it to me, I know when she's impressed. The slight eyebrow raise told me everything, and judging by the tiny exhale beside me, Wes thought so too. Margo clicked her tongue once more.
“Quite right, darling. Holly and dearest Wes will help you to settle in.” Her eyes flicked to us for the first time. Wes smiled. “Welcome to Cathen.”
Emily grinned at Margo, which is quite a brave thing to do, but it showed off all of her pearly whites to a T. Finn muttered something to Margo, who then nodded.
“Yes, quite right,” she said to her boyfriend, then turned to Emily. “As you are so new in town, you simply must come to The Venue to hear a band play on Friday evening.”
She smiled a wide, shark-like smile that was filled with a mirth that couldn't quite reach her eyes, so her face remained cold.
I know that smile.
It's the smile of a plan hatching, a plan that will lead to mischief and mishap: the smile of a puppeteer ready to make her puppets dance.
Margo had just invited Emily to The Faeries' gig on Friday night. It's sold out, but Margo never needs a ticket in there; Remi lets her in on the sly, as he's fancied her since, like, year nine. And it's not like he's going to refuse Blondey Long-Legs here, so she'll get in. Emily looked at me for reassurance and I nodded, so Emily smiled and nodded.
“Yeah, sure, why not!”
“Oh, what fun!” Margo exclaimed, her face now a perfect mask of simple innocence. “And you should stop by the house next week! Why, you simply
come and meet Mummy!”
My stomach turned.
Meeting Mrs Stone?
We got off the bus and I smiled at the driver, who scowled back. Bus drivers can be mean. Very mean when you ask for a child return because you are actually under the child age limit, but the bus driver flat-out refuses to believe that you aren't older. This one had begrudgingly given me the child ticket, though, so he deserved the smile because I only had the right change for a child ticket anyway. Margo strode ahead of us with Finn a beat behind her, floating like a ghost. I could hear her drawl of complaint from ten metres; the chauffeur was stuck in traffic an hour away, so Margo had to get the bus back, like some “godforsaken plebeian”. If I hadn't seen Margo cry once, I would have bet every penny in my bank account (that's six hundred and thirty four pennies, if you were wondering) that she was dead inside. Fair enough, she cried because her gold Gucci watch broke whilst we were all playing tennis, and she hit the ball with a bit too much fury â the ball went forward, the watch flew back â but it's still tears which show she must be a little bit human in there somewhere. Somewhere deep, deep down.
Because it wasn't my turn to pick up Lizzy, my little sister, we'd decided to go to Wes's. He and I ambled along to his house, keeping our distance from Margo's tirade, and he chatted on about the newest Wonder of the World â you guessed it, Emily Drew! â while all I could think about was if my hair had gone all fuzzy at the back, and why I'd worn the home-made denim skirt that I had fashioned out of an old pair of jeans last year. This morning I'd thought it looked good in the mirror, but now I felt a bit stupid. You just don't wear jeans to Wes's house. At least my legs are all toned from tennis season. Tennis is about the only sport I can do. I have to do some kind of exercise so all the ice cream doesn't come back to haunt my hips, so tennis is pretty convenient. However good my legs look, though, you just don't wear a denim skirt to the Stone household â coming to Wes's house is either the best thing in the world, or the worst: it depends on whether Mrs Stone is home.
We walked up the sweeping path that leads to Wes's three-storey mansion â I like to call it “The Palace”, but only to my mum; if I said it to Wes he'd get a little bit huffy, like he always does when I mention the fact that he's got more money than Bill Gates. Well, maybe not that much, but pretty damn close. The path is so wide that two cars could fit down it, side by side, and it's covered with those little white pebbles that make everything look â¦ glossy. So, accompanied by the perfect crunching sound of the pebbles beneath our feet, the smell of freshly mown grass, the midsummer sun gracefully warming our skin, we arrived in front of the old brick house and walked up to the large black door with a white frame (notice that Wes's house is so perfect that it makes me burst into sensory description?! That's how awesome it is).
Margo had left the door open, so we wandered through into the magnificent entrance hall (you guessed it, complete with chandelier â I'm not making this stuff up!) to hear a tinkling laugh like silver bells, and the click click click of couture metal heels against a marble floor, to see a tall, dark-haired, beautiful woman glide into the room, her expression a mirror image of her daughter's. Their faces matched to a T, even down to the dark, almost black, brown of their eyes. Wes's eyes are like that, all dark and mysterious, but also deep: deep, warm eyes that feel like they look right inside your head and know exactly what you're thinking. But the carbon copies Mummy and Daughter have threaten to pierce you so much sooner than invite you in.
So when Mrs Stone flicked her eyes over the pair of us, Margo bouncing in her wake with a flow of constant glossy chatter, like one of those tiny ridiculous dogs that rich poseur heiresses own as accessories, I definitely felt their icy black chill creep up from my sandal-clad toes all the way up my bare legs to my stupid denim skirt and high-street halter top. But I like the way I look, I don't care â it's only when I step over that marble threshold into a house that could solve third-world debt if it was sold and all the proceeds donated that I wish I were just like the heroine in my comics: equipped with the power of invisibility.
Wes turned to shut the door and Mrs Stone's clear ringing tones cut through Margo's stream of conversation.
“Why do you have to wear those terrible tatty jeans that drag so, darling?” A sharp intake of breath came from Wes as he clicked the grand door shut. He's a very cool and calm guy in everyday life, but the one thing that gets to him is his mother. He turned on his heel, clicking his tongue softly; the telltale sign for when Wes is trying to control his frustration. “I got you some delicious casual trousers from Ralph Lauren today; Juanita put them in your wardrobe.”
As he started to walk over to where I was stood practically cowering in Mrs Stone's presence, his once-white Converse (which are now exclusively decorated with cartoons of Lameboy, H'y Girl and the members of The Faeries in cartoon form) squeaked on the polished floor. I could hear the sentence before she even said it.
“And what on earth are those on your feet? They look like a small child has scribbled all over themâ¦” I could feel my face burn a little, and I looked down at my feet. My flip-flop-clad feet. My bare legs. My homemade denim skirt. Dammit.
“They're my shoes and I like them, Mother,” Wes said through a forced smile, and he arrived by my side and I could feel the tension rise. “Just like how I like my jeans. And how I like the other things I wear, and the things I do.”
I knew what was coming this time, too. It happens every time I come here and see his mother. Mrs Stone had been ignoring me just as steadily as Wes had been ignoring her mocking tones and I had been studying my shoes. She thinks that I am a bit useless, to be honest. There's no point in beating about the bush; it's true. My family lacks the cash that Mrs Stone seems to deem best above all other attributes in the world, like kindness or helpfulness, and Wes was about to address it. He was just waiting for one more remark from his mother, about how she doesn't think he presents himself like a Stone, or how he never does well enough or doesn't do his family name justice, and then he would throw me in her face. I sometimes think I'm his little bit of rebellion, his unconventional friend and a weapon against his mum, but I know I'm not really. He just gets angry because his mum is narrow minded and he's not, so he wants her to notice and accept me because “I'm a person too” or something. But I hate it when he does it, it's so awkward, so I just thought I'd interrupt beforehand.
“Wes,” I murmured, still inspecting my self-done pedi. “Could we just go upstairs? Like, now?”
Wes looked away from his mother, then to my quiet, pleading expression, and then back to his mother in a moment of heightened unease.
,” he said pointedly, finally breaking the silence, “are going upstairs. If you need anything, just shout.”
Wes strode to the sweeping marble (what a surprise!) staircase accompanied by the squeaks of his shoes, and I moved a few paces to follow, moving fast past Mrs Stone and not looking up.
Slap-clunk. Slap â
What was that â
Pick up a foot.
Put down a foot.
At that moment I vowed never to wear flip-flops again.
I ran over to the staircase as Wes strode and between the two of us we made quite the crescendo. Way to make a dignified exitâ¦ Not.
Mrs Stone sighed, and raised her eyebrows just a fraction.
“So when will you dispose of those shoes then, darling?” she said, as if she hadn't heard his previous statements.
Wes took a deep breath and looked back at the Armani-covered witch.
“I'll chuck them when you start to admit that I don't want to be Abercrombie and/or Fitch,
when you start to acknowledge the friends that I've chosen. I'm not sure which will happen first, but to be honest, I'm not holding my breath.”
I looked up at Mrs Stone, half expecting her face to turn to ice, her eyes to fire, and for harpy wings to sprout out of the back of her multi-thousand-pound suit jacket; but she just stood there with the lazy smile still in place, fixing her son with a level gaze.
“Show me when you try on the clothes,” she ordered, once again as if she hadn't heard him. She continued on her way across the entrance hall over to the large oak study, her sophisticated heels making the delicate click-click-click once more, and Margo tottering in her wake with her “cat-got-the-cream” smile. In mid-stride, Mrs Stone finished her sentence. “And darling? When you walk,
pick up your feet.”
“So it's time for The Plan!” I exclaimed, after I had calmed Wes down with some ice cream from our emergency stash in the upstairs kitchen â otherwise known as the Spanish kitchen, by Margo and Finn, because it's Juanita's own personal kitchen that she can use for herself. It's small, but has a big fridge-freezer, which comes in handy for our secret stashes. In this house, ice cream is seen as evil (as it has more than two calories, so is obviously the work of demons) and so there isn't any in the family kitchen or larder. Juanita is more than aware of the rules, so when she goes shopping, we slip her a bit of cash and she gets us some in, and hides it in her kitchen in return for us lending her 90s boy/girl band CDs to improve her English. She's quite fond of singing “Spice Up Your Life” in the middle of making a curry, which always makes us smile. There is also a large tub of Ozzie's best chocolate ice cream (he calls it “SuperChocolate!”) but that is for code one, dire, red-alert, ground-shaking disasters, like if Lizzy got taken to hospital, or if a Faeries gig got cancelled, or if we lost an iPod.
I'd managed to coax him into sitting on his bed with a spoon and tub whilst I had rummaged around his (rubbish tip of a) room for his iPod, plugged it into his (beast of a) docking station, and put on “Two Years” by The Faeries. It's about a boy who is stuck at home with his drunkard dad and a mum who couldn't care less, and how he can't wait to move out in two years' time â sample lyric:
I'll shout and scream myself hoarse/Just so you can hear/The point you always seem to miss/Only two more years of this/Our harmonious family bliss
OK, so his dad isn't a drunk, he's actually a really nice guy; a lot like Wes but with silvery hair, a posh accent and not a lot of spare time, because he's a surgeon at some big private hospital in London and spends most of his time there. But his mum really couldn't care less, so, for our economy-class Wes stuck in a business-class society where not one person listens to a word he says, the song's pretty fitting.
Soon enough, those sweet chord slides had soothed his mind, and I turned his thoughts on to other things. We had come round to the Palace to discuss a Matter of Great Importance.
“The gig!” I exclaimed, suddenly business-like. “That is going to be our first mode of attack.”
I pulled out my folder from my bag and took out a clean sheet of paper from it, wrote “Plan BARBIE” in the middle, drew a circle around it and looked expectantly at Wes.
“Crikey, you are prepared, aren't you?” he said a little worriedly, and read the sheet. He raised his eyebrows. “Why âPlan Barbie'?”
I tutted with impatience and rolled my eyes. “Keep up, Wezzer, it's code for âSuper-intricate and amazing plan to get Wes the new all-American girl hottie called Emily Drew to be his super-cool girlfriend for ever and ever'. Duh!”
He laughed. “I don't want her âfor ever and ever', but yeah, I get the gist, you geek. So Friday, we have a plan?”
“Well, I have a plan that I'm giving to you. All you have to do is follow it and she'll come running, but it is important that you do not deviate from The Plan. Do you understand?”
Wes nodded solemnly. “Yes, ma'am. Completely. Tell me The Plan.”
“Right. Margo has already unknowingly put into place Step One and Two of The Plan.”
Wes looked a little surprised. “She did? When was that?”
“Today, when she asked Emily to the gig on Friday. That was Step Two. Step One was to make her part of our group.” As I explained, I wrote it all down on the piece of paper like a giant spider-diagram I was told about in maths revision sessions. I've never used one before because I tend not to revise for trivial subjects such as maths, but it was actually pretty fun â I used colours and pictures for each Step in The Plan. I was really getting into it. “You see, if we make her a part of our group, then she will see us more often. If we see her more often, it is more opportunity for her to see you and how fantastic, amazing, funny and gorgeous you areâ”
“You think I'm gorgeous?” Wes asked, eyes twinkling behind his glasses.