Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies
I’M SWAYING BY MYSELF AT Bobby McKittrick’s summer kickoff party—surrounded by couples whose Dance Floor Make-Outs are so intense, so ravenous, I’m kind of worried someone’s going to drop down dead due to suffocation—when I get what might be the most important phone call of my life.
Of course, I don’t realize the magnitude of this moment when I see the unfamiliar number flash on my phone. I don’t even recognize the area code. To be honest, I’m just excited to answer a real call instead of a fake one, the kind I usually pretend to get during awkward party lulls. So I don’t think twice when I answer it on the dance floor, loudly shouting “Hello?” over an even louder “Keg stand! Keg stand!” chant crescendoing from the corner of Bobby’s backyard. (As a graduation treat, Bobby’s older brother is giving the departing seniors a tutorial in college-party etiquette, which apparently involves kegs and then dangling people by their feet above said kegs as they chug beer upside down.)
My hello is answered by an indecipherable garble.
“Sorry, I can’t hear you!” I shout again.
(“Keg stand! KEG STAND!”)
“Wait, wait, stop! Just hold on one sec!”
I try not to spill my one-third beer, two-thirds foam–filled red party cup as I maneuver around the blindly gyrating Dance Floor Make-Outers to a less populated part of the yard and sit on the outdoor swingy-bench next to a passed-out dude whose face is decorated with a drawn-on, very accurate portrayal of male anatomy. Real classy, guys.
Rule number one for aspiring writers is to steer clear of clichés, which makes living in Castalia, California—where every social gathering feels like it was ripped from a bad teen movie—less than ideal.
“Okay,” I say into the phone. The bench swings as I sit. “Try again.”
I hear a loud sigh on the other end of the line, followed by an exasperated and syncopated, “I said is this Har-per An-der-son?”
“Yeah.” I take a sip of my drink. “Who’s this?”
“Well, finally,” the female voice on the other end says.
“And you are . . .” I start to wipe the foam mustache residue off my upper lip. This is one persistent telemarketer.
“This is McKayla Rae from Shift magazine.”
I stop wiping. And maybe breathing.
“Harper, did you hear me? I said that this is McKayla Rae, the assistant managing editor of Shift magazine.”
Yup, definitely stopped breathing. Clearly I misidentified who was at risk of asphyxiation tonight.
Finally my brain tells my lungs to breathe and my mouth to speak.
“Sorry. Yes! This is Harper! Oh shit, I said that already, didn’t I? I mean, not shit. Forget I said ‘shit.’ I mean, yes! Yes, I heard you, McKay—er—Ms. Rae.”
Okay, so my brain didn’t specify that my mouth should speak eloquently.
“Right, McKayla. Sorry.”
“Stop saying ‘sorry.’ Women overapologize for things they have no reason to apologize for. Shift Girls are strong. Shift Girls don’t say ‘sorry.’ Ever.”
“Sor-sounds good.” I just barely catch myself. “I am no longer sorry about anything under any circumstances. Got it.”
God, I hope that didn’t sound sarcastic. I take another gulp of foam.
“This is important because, Harper, I’ve called to let you know that you are now a Shift Girl. Or, you will be if you accept our summer internship.”
I drop my cup on my sandals, spilling lukewarm beer on my toes, and don’t even care because Oh My God.
Which comes out as “OMIGOD!”
“I take that as a yes?”
To say that my night has taken an unexpected turn would
be an understatement. Up until about two minutes ago, I had resigned myself to an anticlimactic three months before my senior year of high school spending my days working behind the counter at Skinny B’s Smoothies with my best friend, Kristina, and my nights going to kickbacks so similar to one another, they start to feel like reruns, all destined to be shut down by the Castalia Police before midnight.
Granted, I had aspired to a summer that was slightly more glamorous than memorizing antioxidants and blending acai berries into drinks for aggressive water polo moms. (Think soccer moms, only taller.)
Shift was the dream.
Because even though I’m having trouble stringing words together while McKayla waits for me to say not just “yes” but “hell, yes,” I want to be a writer. Badly.
And not only is Shift the biggest teen magazine in, well, anywhere, but it’s also the only magazine (well, anywhere) that hires interns who are still in high school. Usually I find rah-rah, children-are-our-future, teary-eyed teen-empowerment mission statements kind of cheesy. But when I saw Shift’s Facebook post calling out to sixteen-to-nineteen-year-old aspiring journalists, I applied. I didn’t tell anyone I applied, but I did. Writing and rewriting an “edgy personal essay” to serve as a sample blog post for weeks. Pining after the job more than I pined after Adam Lockler, my preppy school’s one brooding hipster. And then quietly mourning its loss to an “edgier” contender, just like I mourned the loss of Adam when he started seriously dating our school’s resident beat poet, Sylvia (“like Plath”),
whom he also conveniently anointed his successor as editor in chief of the Castalia Chronicle. (“EICs have to be fearless, Harper. You’ll be much happier doing copyediting. You’re really good with punctuation. And don’t get me started on your fact checking!”)
If I get one more rejection, I’m going to . . . Wait.
“Wait,” I say, regaining the ability to speak. “Didn’t I not get this internship already?”
I definitely didn’t get this internship already. In fact, I think McKayla was the one who sent me the “I hate to inform you,” “very strong applicant pool,” “but I loved the sample blog post you included in the application,” “Keep writing!” form rejection e-mail months ago.
“Yeah,” says McKayla. “About that . . . Well, as you know, we had a very strong applicant pool—”
“I think I remember that from the e-mail.”
“But we liked your application essay—”
“I remember that, too.”
“Okay, I’m going to level with you here. No, you weren’t my first choice for dating blogger.”
Wait, dating blogger? That wasn’t listed on the application. I checked the box to intern for the Arts & Culture section. I had wanted to write about books and movies, spend my summer seeing Broadway musicals. I’m suddenly aware of how sticky my toes feel.
McKayla barrels on. “But our first choice had a little bit too much fun—how shall I put this—getting firsthand dating material this year and just informed me that she can’t do the internship because it now conflicts with her due date, which would have been
nice to know one trimester ago.” McKayla pauses. “You aren’t planning on going into labor before August, are you?”
I mean, not unless Immaculate Conception is making a comeback.
“Fantastic. Just get yourself to Manhattan by this Monday morning and it’s yours.”
“Wait, this Monday as in three days from now?”
“Is there another ‘this Monday’ that I’m not aware of?”
I can hear her drumming her fingernails. Before I can respond, she says, “Look, Harper, I get that things are moving fast, but that’s journalism. It’s after one in the morning here and I’m still putting out fires at the office because this is Shift. This place makes careers. An internship here, and colleges will be lining up to accept you.”
Her sales pitch has the advantage of being totally true. I’ve read about what past interns have done after a summer at Shift. And I could use colleges lining up. When I didn’t get editor in chief, the Castalia High college counselor told me that getting into Columbia with an application all about how I want to be a journalist was going to be challenging. (“Got any other talents?” Mr. Buchanan asked. “Can you code? Universities love girl computer coders!”)
McKayla sighs. “I’d love to have you on board, but if you’re even thinking of saying no, tell me now. I have a list of other rejects who would be on a red-eye to the city ten minutes ago.”
I don’t have to think about it.
“Yes, meaning . . .”
“Yes, I’m in. I’m a hundred percent in! I was just surprised because—”
McKayla cuts me off. “Great. Check your e-mail for details. Welcome to Shift.”
She hangs up before I can say thank you.
What. Just. Happened?
I have to tell someone.
I have to tell Kristina, who’s currently making out with a University of Michigan–bound water polo player in the middle of the pulsating Dance Floor Make-Out throng. She locked in on his chlorine-blue eyes within ten minutes of getting here.
But Kristina won’t mind being pulled away. My blond-haired bestie, whose personal mantra has been “carpe that effing diem”—which roughly translates to “seize that freaking day”—ever since she saw it cross-stitched on a pillow on Etsy last year, is never lacking in the make-out-partner department. A varsity swimmer who’s so good, she’s already getting recruited by Stanford, she’s fluent in hot jock. Boys practically throw themselves at her. I’m the one who—
Just as Sharpie Face guy’s head comes crashing down on my shoulder, my reality comes crashing in as well.
I’m now the Shift summer dating blogger.
Which would be awesome save for the teeny, tiny, infinitesimal detail that I know absolutely nothing about dating. I’m not a leper, just easily flustered. I’m the girl who has crushes on hipster
editors in chief from afar. The girl who observes rather than jumps to action. And the one time I took Kristina’s advice to go out of my comfort zone and actually get set up on a date, well, that ended in disaster.
Not that McKayla would know that I’m completely unqualified, given the “edgy” sample blog post I submitted. Shift asked intern applicants to write an “eye-catching personal essay” with a headline that “people in the Twitterverse can’t help clicking on.” Something “scintillating.” But when I paged through my black Moleskine notebook for ideas, it became clear that my life had nothing scintillating about it. But my notebook isn’t just for writing about myself. I love jotting down weird observations, funny things people say, and other people’s stories for future writing inspiration. And I was inspired. Kristina does always tell me that I’m way better at recounting her hookup horror stories than she is.
I know I should never have pretended Kristina’s scintillating life was my own—I should never have written about that story of hers for my application blog post—but in an act of writer’s-block-fueled desperation, I did.
How’s that for being a killer fact-checker, Adam Lockler?
And now, because I was an idiot, because I wrote about something I know nothing about (and debatably betrayed my best friend, who can never find out), I’m going to have to turn into some sort of dating guru. In three days.
I’m so metaphorically screwed.
Before I have the chance to descend into a full-blown freak-out, Bobby McKittrick walks over to see what’s going on with
Sharpie Face, who’s slumped on the bench next to me. This interrupts my spiral into total anxiety.
“Lookin’ good, Harper,” he slurs, giving me a once-over after he checks his comatose friend for a pulse.
While Bobby isn’t exactly a Nordic god masquerading as a graduating senior like Kristina’s Dance Floor Make-Out partner, he’s kind of cute. He’s also famous for getting super drunk and making out with a different girl (or two or three) at every party he throws. Kristina and I always laugh about it during our end-of-night debrief. But tonight, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be one of those girls. Maybe it will be easy. To throw myself into the lion’s den and get a preview of what may be in store.
I’m going to have to learn on the job.