Fairest of Them All
New! Love fashion? Want to learn how to design and make your own clothes? Come to Couture Club with Ms. Amara—Thursday after school 3–5 p.m.
BEING IN MIDDLE SCHOOL IS hard when all you’ve wanted to do is be a fashion designer for as long as you can remember. It’s even harder when that’s your life’s goal but you’ve been banned from even looking at a needle. Seriously, if you think you’ve got helicopter parents, try having a mom who fell asleep for a century at the age of fifteen because she pricked her finger on a spindle, despite the fact that her dad, the king, had supposedly ordered every one in the land destroyed. Takes some doing, huh?
You’d think the takeaway would be that no matter how much you try to protect your kids from everything, you
can’t, even if you’re the most powerful person in the land.
But apparently my parents (you know Mom as Sleeping Beauty, because of her looks and, well, obvious reasons) didn’t get the moral of their own story. Instead, they’re overprotective freaks who live in constant fear of me encountering anything sharp because it might send me into a lengthy nap.
It puts a serious damper on my life, let me tell you.
“Aria, your life is totally made!” my best friend, Sophie, exclaims, thrusting a bright-yellow handout in my face so enthusiastically that she almost gives me a paper cut on my nose.
“Careful!” I say. “So what exactly is this life-making miracle?”
“You know the new teacher, Ms. Amara?” Sophie says, handing me the paper and sitting down with her lunch. “She’s starting a couture club.”
I can’t believe my ears. But when I look at the handout, it’s there in black and yellow:
There’s a sketch of a needle and thread, a sewing machine, and a mannequin wearing a supercool dress.
“This is a dream come true!” I exclaim.
“Tell me about it,” Sophie says. “I thought of you the minute I saw the poster on the notice board. You should go sign up today.”
“I will,” I say, imagining all the amazing outfits I’m going to design and make.
Then I look at the handout again and reality hits.
“Uh, actually . . . no. I won’t,” I say with a sigh, turning the flyer facedown so I don’t have to look at it. I slide it back across the cafeteria table, mourning my crushed dreams.
Sophie stares at me like I’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic. “Why not? This club was made for you!”
“I know,” I say. “But look”—I turn over the handout and point to the pictures of the sewing machine and the needle—“SHARP OBJECT ALERT. My parents would totally freak.”
“But Couture Club is in school,” Sophie says. “It’s supervised. And educational.”
“I know. But that won’t matter to Mom and Dad. They’re crazy.”
“We live in New York City,” Sophie points out, like I somehow forgot the place I was born and raised. “Not Fairy Tale Land.”
“You assume my parents are rational people.”
“They seem rational enough to me,” Sophie says.
“They are when it comes to most things,” I admit. “But me being near objects that might prick my finger and put me to sleep is not one of them.”
“You’re lucky you aren’t diabetic, like Luca,” Sophie mutters. Luca’s her little brother. He has to prick his finger before every meal to check his blood sugar, the poor kid.
“I know. Mom’s head would literally explode just thinking about it. And I mean literally.”
“Ewww. I’m eating, Aria. Can you not?” Sophie complains. Apparently she doesn’t appreciate a side of gore with her tuna melt.
“There’s got to be a way to figure this out,” she continues. “Couture Club is so perfect for you.”
“If you can think of a way, tell me, please!” I say. “But there’s no way my parents will let me do it. Remember when I wanted to make clothes for Wisteria?”
Wisteria was the American Girl doll my grandparents bought me. The one that was supposed to be my mini me. I didn’t like the dress my grandparents bought me to match hers. It was so last century. I knew I could make her an outfit to match my clothes, the ones I actually liked. I worked on sketches for weeks and saved my allowance for the material I’d need. But when I finally had enough money and asked Mom if she would take me to the
fabric store, she said no, her face suddenly paling as she gripped the kitchen counter for support.
“Why not?” I asked her, barely able to speak through the lump of anger and frustration swelling in my throat. “It’s not fair. I’ve been saving up my allowance.”
It seemed like an eternity before she answered, but it wasn’t, because I could hear the pendulum of the antique wall clock hanging above the kitchen table going ticktock, ticktock. . . .
It was actually nine seconds, because I’d counted.
“It’s too . . . risky,” Mom finally said.
“Why?” I asked, although even at that age I was pretty sure I knew.
“You remember what happened to me, Aria,” Mom said.
“How could I forget? There are, like, gazillions of books and movies, not to mention that ginormous castle at the amusement park.”
“Dad and I don’t want anything like that to happen to you.”
“But, Mom, that was a long time ago!” I pointed out. “Things are different now.”
She reached out to touch my cheek, but I jerked my face away because I was so mad.
“The world may have changed, but evil remains the
same,” she said. “It just hides under a different face.”
“Don’t you think evil has better things to do than hang out at a fabric store?” I shouted, before stomping off to my room and sulking for the rest of the afternoon. That was the day I vowed that I’m going to be a fashion designer, no matter how much it freaks out my parents.
To try and educate myself, I’ve watched every episode of Teen Couture that’s ever aired—but always when my parents are out.
Sophie doesn’t remember the Wisteria incident, so I have to remind her. Telling the story makes me mad all over again, and it leaves my friend frowning.
“This is going to take some serious plotting,” she says. But then she smiles. “But you know me—I love figuring out a good plot.”
I start clearing my lunch from the table. “Fine. Put that plot-tastic brain of yours to work, because I need to do this,” I tell her.
“I’m on it,” Sophie says, taking all her garbage to throw away. “I’ll have this figured out by the end of the day. Trust me.”
I don’t even have to wait till the end of the day. Sophie’s got a plan figured out by sixth-period social studies.
she says triumphantly the minute she sees me.
“What about it?”
“You tell your parents you’re joining the Chess Club. They can’t object to that. Even the pointiest chess piece couldn’t prick your finger and send you into la-la land.”
Life hack: Be sure to pick a bestie who is both smart and good at scheming.
“Did I ever tell you what a genius you are?” I say.
“Possibly,” Sophie says. “But feel free to repeat it. It can’t be said enough.”
“Don’t get too carried away,” I say. “But I have to admit, it is a brilliant plan. How can Mom and Dad object to me wanting to play a game that involves kings, queens, and knights? It’s so up their alley.”
“There you go!” Sophie exclaims. “Problem solved.”
Mr. Falcone starts class, so we can’t talk anymore, but by the time class is over, I’ve designed two fab outfits in the margin of my notebook.
Couture Club, here I come!
Mom brings home leftovers for dinner from a fancy luncheon her company catered at the Pierre. My mother runs one of New York City’s most exclusive party planning businesses, Enchanted Soirées—tagline: No one slumbers at our exciting, elegant parties!
She decided on party planning as a vocation because it was my grandpa Thibault’s failure at it that caused her century-long sleep.
When Mom was born, my grandparents threw this big shindig to celebrate, inviting anyone who was anyone. There were thirteen wisewomen in the kingdom, but Grandma and Grandpa had only twelve gold plates. Instead of doing the smart thing, namely going down to the Once Upon a Time equivalent of Bed Bath & Beyond and picking up an extra place setting, Gramps decided to leave one of the wisewomen off the guest list. We all know how well that went down. Pro tip: Don’t ever mess with a wisewoman with FOMO.
My mother decided her life’s mission is to make sure no other boneheaded head of household makes a similar mistake just to save a few bucks.
At any rate, it means we get really good leftovers from all these posh parties, which is good because Mom works so hard she’s usually too tired to cook. Meanwhile Dad handles the entertainment side of things. His specialty is creating spectacle. I guess once you’ve watched the thicket of thorns that killed lesser princes melt away before your shining sword, thrilling a few hundred
people at bar mitzvahs and weddings is no biggie.
Apparently the ladies who lunched at the Pierre were very impressed with the string quartet Dad had rustled up. According to Mom, they were even more impressed with Dad.
“You should have seen them, Aria,” she tells me as she passes the pine-nut-and-lemon orzo. “When Dad arrived all princed-up in uniform and started kissing hands, I thought I was going to have to call 911.”
Dad laughs. “You better watch your back, Rose. That nice old dear with the fancy hat and the oxygen tank pinched my behind when you weren’t looking.”
“Ewwww. Dad!” I groan. “I’m eating dinner!”
My parents exchange a glance and start laughing, like making me nauseous is the most amusing thing ever. And they’re supposed to be the mature ones.
I need to change the subject. Fast.
“So I’m thinking of joining the Chess Club,” I announce casually. “I need another extracurricular.”
Just as I thought, Dad is all over it. Parents are so predictable. “That’s a great idea!” he exclaims. “A princess of royal blood needs to learn strategic thinking, inductive reasoning, and most of all, how to control her knights and pawns.”
“Yeah. Right. That’s exactly what I had in mind,” I lie.
Mom, however, is gazing at me with a furrowed brow marking her face, which is otherwise unlined thanks to some expensive face cream she gets from her favorite website, CharmingLifestyles.com.
“You’ve always been bored silly by chess, Aria,” she says. “Why the sudden interest?”
She knows me well enough to be suspicious. It’s annoying, but in a way, I kind of respect her for it.
“Because I want to do well in school so I can be successful, and my math teacher said chess helps your brain work better.”
Dad looks like he’s about to explode with pride.
“What do you think of our girl, Rose?” he says, beaming. “She’s the brightest leaf on the family tree, this one.”
“Yes, she’s definitely bright,” Mom says. “But this still seems . . . odd.”
“Well, I think it’s great,” Dad says. “I can’t wait to challenge you to a chess match, Aria.”
Yikes. Talk about a snag in our cunning plan. I never thought about the fact that Dad might actually want to play chess with me. This means I’m going to really have to learn how to play chess, something I have absolutely zero interest in doing. Ugh.
“Yay! Can’t wait,” I
say, summoning as much false enthusiasm as I can. “It’ll be so much fun.”
But not nearly as much fun as what I’m really going to be doing instead of chess—designing and making my own clothes at Couture Club.