Blame it on that grade school ballet recital, when I tripped and pulled the curtain down, only to reveal my father kissing my dance instructor. At Smith High, I'm doing a pretty good job of being the awkward freshman people only notice when they need help with homework. Until I send a burly football player flying with my massive backpack, and make a disastrous--not to mention unwelcome--attempt at CPR. Just when I think it's time for home schooling, the whole fiasco explodes on Youtube. And then the strangest thing happens. Suddenly, I'm the latest sensation, sucked into a whirlwind of rock stars, paparazzi, and free designer clothes. I even catch the eye of the most popular guy at school. That's when life gets really interesting. . ..
"Fans of Meg Cabot will find Marni's voice equally charming and endearing."--Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author
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By Marni Bates
K TEEN BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Marni Bates
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Chapter OneYou probably think you know me ... and I understand why. You've probably read about me on AOL or heard Conan O'Brien or Jon Stewart reference me for the punch line of some joke. It's okay if you haven't. In fact, I prefer it that way. But let's be honest: the whole world knows about Mackenzie Wellesley and her social awkwardness. Except maybe some people in Burma and Sudan ... but you get my point.
The thing is, despite all that's been said about me (and there has been a lot), only a handful of people actually understand how I was able to go from a boring high school student to a pop culture reference in the space of a week. That's why I am even bothering to explain. Don't worry: this won't be one of those stupid celebrity autobiographies where I describe my sordid past and complain a lot—my past isn't all that sordid, and that's just lame.
Let me start by saying that I've never hungered for the spotlight. My younger brother, Dylan, was always the one who craved The Big Moment. You know: catch the football in overtime with a few seconds left on the clock to score the winning touchdown. The very idea of a stadium full of people watching me makes me want to hurl. That's probably due to my elementary school ballet recital. I remember every detail perfectly. My mom was in the audience cradling a baby Dylan in her lap as I leaped across the stage. I was craning my neck, searching for my dad in the crowd, and worried that he wouldn't show up. That's when I glanced into the wings and spotted him right behind the curtains ... making out with my dance instructor.
We have the recital on tape. You can tell when my world imploded by the way my brown eyes expanded and my shoulder-length brown hair whipped my face as I looked from my dad to my happily waving mom. But it gets worse—so much worse. I was frozen while all the other little girls twirled and flounced around me. I stumbled out of formation and—blinded by the stage lights—I tripped on the sound system cable and went flying right into the curtains, which promptly fell down and revealed my dad sucking face. That's when I decided it was better to be invisible than to fall on your face in a ridiculous pink tutu.
Freud would probably say that's why I suffer from a fear of crowds and attention. And in this specific case I think Freud might have a point. I've been paranoid ever since that damn recital—and the divorce. I avoid the spotlight. I guess you could say that I strive for anonymity. But I'm fine with my geekdom—totally cool with the fact that I never get invited to parties. I fill a certain niche at my school, the local nerd, and it's a role that I've gone to a lot of effort to create for myself. And while, yes, a normal day for me means three AP classes, it really isn't so bad. Definitely stressful, but I like it—especially because it'll look great to financial aid committees who decide on college scholarships.
So, yeah, I'm happy with my life. I've got friends, a job, and an awesome GPA to propel me into a solid university ... or at least I did, until I became famous.
Chapter Two"Hey, Kenzie. You'll never guess what happened!" My best friend, Jane Smith, has been saying that to me almost every morning on the school bus for the past eleven years. Yes, she has the unfortunate distinction of having the most boring name of all time. She is also the only person who can call me anything besides Mackenzie. You have to make some concessions for friends who have stood by you since elementary school. But not even Jane is allowed to call me Mack. That's one nickname I've placed off limits.
"Okay, what happened, Jane," I responded, rolling my eyes.
Jane grinned and tucked a strand of her dark auburn hair behind an ear. "So I was sitting in the library."
"I'm shocked." Jane made Hermione Granger look like a slacker in the studying department. If she didn't have her head in a book at the school library, then she was shelving them at Fiction Addiction Used Bookstore.
"Funny. So I was in the library finishing my AP Calc homework when Josh asked if I'd seen Battlestar Galactica." She sighed. I kid you not, sighed. "That means he's into me, right?"
I rolled my eyes again and tried to ignore that my best friend was practically swooning over a boy who wanted to live inside the World of Warcraft. After all, she can't help being a hopeless romantic ... just like I can't help being a cynic.
"Then we had this long discussion about the greatest sci-fi television shows of all time."
"And this means ..."
"That he's definitely into you." I know all my lines as a supportive best friend. Although I must not have said them with the required amount of enthusiasm, since Jane then rolled her eyes.
"I can't wait for Corey to get back from his Speech and Debate tournament."
Corey's been our mutual best friend since sixth grade. So when he told us he was gay, we just went to more sports events to scope out guys. And since Jane and I both have study schedules instead of social lives, I guess it made sense for her to want Corey's opinion.
I just laughed as we pulled up to Smith High School. No, it wasn't named after Jane—it was both an unfortunate coincidence and an incredibly boring name. Then again, boring is the best adjective for Forest Grove, Oregon, a suburb outside of Portland and my hometown. The school was actually named after Alvin and Abigail Smith, who wanted to be missionaries until they found out that European diseases had killed off the native population. Nothing like having "the Missionaries" as a school mascot, especially since they represent the destruction of an entire culture. I kept that to myself, though. I've noticed that saying stuff like that out loud generally doesn't go over real well in Forest Grove.
Anyway, Jane and I strolled over to our lockers, careful to avoid the courtyard area between the academic buildings where the Notables reigned. See, my school is divided into two main social classes: the Notables (who exist in a sphere of coolness) and the Invisibles (like, well ... you get the picture). Jane and I weren't stupid enough to linger on Notable turf. When you're a member of the geek squad, you learn to make yourself scarce and to travel in herds. So I was pretending I hadn't heard Jane moan about the cancellation of Joss Whedon's show Firefly five hundred times before when the most notable of the Notable girls, Chelsea Halloway, effortlessly tossed her long, dirty blond hair and made eye contact.
At Smith High School, one look from Chelsea is the only forewarning of impending doom. Chelsea has a knack for subtly and skillfully turning girls into social lepers. Still, when you have a connection to someone like Logan Beckett (the most notable Notable guy at school), you're usually free from the nastiest bouts of dweeb hazing. So as his history tutor I was fairly safe. Chelsea usually ignored me. This sudden eye contact was unprecedented.
"Um," Jane said uncomfortably, "I think Chelsea is looking at you."
So it wasn't just me.
"What should I do?" I hissed.
"I don't know.... Talk to her, I guess."
We traded nervous looks.
"You'll walk over with me, right?" I whispered. Then I laughed desperately as if she had just said something terribly funny.
"Um ... you'll be fine, Kenzie. I'll be waiting just a few feet away by the lockers. Breathe ... find your inner vampire slayer or something."
"Thanks, way to be helpful," I told her sarcastically. We were getting closer and closer to Chelsea. It was time to forge ahead and talk to her ... or to flee. For some reason my mind flashed to the phrase "innocent until proven guilty," and I thought, Wouldn't it be great if I could be "cool until proven geeky." Then I remembered that:
1. High school doesn't work that way.
2. I'd already proven myself to be a geek a billion times before.
3. Even with the tutoring, my social standing couldn't get much worse.
All I could think was, oh, crap, when Jane ditched me only a few feet away from Chelsea. I couldn't blame her for not wanting to get involved. There's only so much you can ask of a friend, even a best friend.
I jerked my head in a neurotic sort of nod at Chelsea and was about to say something classy (like "hi") when my mouth inexplicably went into overload.
"So." My voice came out an octave higher than normal. "How's it going? What's new with you guys? Any exciting plans for the weekend?"
The Notables stared at me in disgust.
"Right," Chelsea said smoothly. "Looking forward to the weekend. Listen, I need help on an essay. I'll stop by Logan's house with it on Saturday ... if you don't have any other plans, of course."
I hate how some girls can keep their words totally civil while they're slicing away at someone's self-esteem. She was really saying, "You're such a loser, I'm positive you've got nothing else planned. So I'm ordering you to be at my beck and call. Bye-e!"
She was right too. I had no social life—just homework.
"That sounds great!" I said enthusiastically. Then I realized only losers get excited at the prospect of doing someone else's homework. "I mean, it'll be ... convenient at his house. Kill two birds with one stone." I winced—lame cliché. "As long as Logan's cool with it."
Okay, I was lying. It wouldn't be freaking convenient to have her around when Logan needed to concentrate on the American Revolution. She'd probably distract him with her hair tosses and her cleavage ... and I'm not just saying that because I have boob envy and a complete lack of curves.
Chelsea turned to face someone with her lips puckered into a pout. I looked and felt my stomach drop. Of course Logan Beckett would be right there silently watching his history tutor get flustered over a simple request. Because that's how my life works.
"Your house around two?" Chelsea all but purred. "How's that for you?"
Logan eyed Chelsea as though he could see right through the seductive little come-ons with one look. Which was weird since I knew they had dated back in middle school. Everyone had been really surprised when the Notable royalty broke up in seventh grade. Of course, that decision made a lot more sense when Chelsea's new boyfriend—a high school sophomore—took her to homecoming.
There had been rumors since Chelsea's boyfriend had left for college that she and Logan would reunite. Corey and Jane had even bet on the outcome.
So I was standing there like an idiot while Logan's mouth curved into a half smirk. I should've been relieved he was too preoccupied with Chelsea's flirting to pay attention to me, but it was more than a little insulting. I'd been pulled away from my friend, removed from my comfort zone, and coerced into a free tutoring session (yes, it was coercion. Chelsea and I both knew the rumors she could spread if I didn't agree), only to be studiously ignored.
That sort of inconsideration is why I viewed Logan Beckett only as a tool for social safety and a regular paycheck. Not that it mattered. Guys like Logan don't notice girls like me—and if they do it's a fleeting interest that lasts only until they spot someone with longer legs or deeper cleavage. Depressing, but true. On the other hand, I didn't have to try to decipher his lopsided grins. I'd have felt sorry for Chelsea if she didn't have the personality of a barracuda with none of its niceties.
Logan Beckett, on the other hand, had it all: classic good looks, money, social standing, and the captaincy of the high school hockey team. But you'll have to forgive me for not being impressed. Being born rich with killer genetics isn't exactly a personal accomplishment. And the only thing that the hockey stuff proves is that he can hit a puck. Insert eye-roll here. Not that I've mentioned any of this to Logan. Freud would probably say I'm repressed.
But in this case it pays, quite literally, to be repressed. I needed the tutoring job. At the rate we were going, his doctor parents were financing my college laptop and textbooks. So I was determined not to mess it up.
"That'll work," Logan said with that half smile still in place.
Chelsea turned her eyes up at him prettily. The move made her eyelashes look even longer, a trick I'd never master. "You don't mind the interruption?"
I thought I caught a small grin of amusement from Logan, as if Chelsea had unwittingly stumbled upon something very entertaining.
"I think I can bear it."
"Okay, then." I felt like I was getting lamer by the second. "I'll tutor Logan on Saturday, from noon till ... three?" Chelsea nodded regally, so I backed away, nearly tripping as I made my hasty exit. "Great! I'll write it down in my planner. See you guys then."
That's when I saw Patrick listening in. I could practically hear my system switching into overdrive. Logan might not do much for me, but I've been secretly in love with Patrick Bradford for years—ever since the day in middle school when he shyly asked to borrow twelve dollars to pay a library fine. I didn't even care that he'd never paid me back—not when he looked at me with those melty chocolate eyes.
Seeing Patrick so close, I panicked. As I turned abruptly, my backpack smacked hard into a burley member of the high school football team. Alex Thompson was invested in the appearance of manliness—an appearance that was greatly diminished when a gawky girl of five feet seven and a half inches knocked him down. For the record, it was the weight from all my AP textbooks that propelled him off the cement steps that separated the Notables from the Invisibles. But I sincerely doubt he was thinking about his tough-guy reputation when I sent him flying and he landed with a sickening crunch.
I completely freaked out.
I scrambled, stumbled, and nearly fell on top of him. I didn't see any blood, but he was pale and still. All I could think was, Oh, my god! I have to DO something! I didn't realize the words were coming out of my mouth.
I threw a leg over, straddling him, and started doing timed chest compressions. I couldn't remember if that was exclusively for heart attacks, but I kept hammering away. I alternated between shouting for the nurse and yelling, "Does ANYONE know if I'm doing this right? AM I KILLING HIM RIGHT NOW? Can SOMEONE make sure I'M NOT KILLING HIM RIGHT NOW?!"
I was fully hysterical when two strong hands grabbed my shoulders and forcibly removed me from Alex. The world had gone fuzzy around the edges, like a camera out of focus, and I had trouble breathing. I barely noticed when someone shoved my head between my knees, like some weak, quivering heroine from a sappy romance novel who might faint at any moment. Normally, this kind of assistance would irritate the hell out of me. I'm quite self-sufficient, thank-you-very-much. But this wasn't exactly the most normal of situations.
Alex Thompson wasn't moving. He didn't appear to be breathing. I killed him, I thought numbly. I killed him with my awkwardness! My organs felt like they'd just been pulverized in a masher as I hoped for some small sign of life.
So I was shocked when he pulled himself up to a sitting position. I guess it's rather difficult to move when approximately one hundred and forty pounds of female launches herself onto you and starts pounding your chest. I might not look like much, but I'm deceptively strong. Something Alex Thompson discovered the hard way ... and did not exactly appreciate.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he exploded when he got his breath back. "Jesus, you're insane!"
I was so relieved to hear him speak that his words bounced right off me.
"I am so sorry. I am so incredibly sorry. Really. Are you all right? I'm sorry. It was an accident. I didn't see you until I knocked you over ... in front of everyone. Which really was a poor choice of locations. Not that there is a right place to knock somebody over." I shut up when it became painfully clear I wasn't about to say anything smart. "Do you need any help? Or should I just go? I should probably leave, right?"
Alex just ignored me, stood, and turned to Logan, who must have been the mystery hands that had terminated my first attempt at CPR.
"How'd you get stuck with a spaz like that for a tutor, man?"
Which made me wish he hadn't recovered, but before I could say anything my eyes connected with Jane's. She was standing right by the lockers, a hand clutched over her mouth, and I knew exactly what she muttered, because it's the same thing she says every time I make a fool of myself.
Excerpted from AWKWARD by Marni Bates Copyright © 2012 by Marni Bates. Excerpted by permission of K TEEN BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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