He turned . . . on a dime. His eyes locked onto Sarah—as if finally seeing her for the very first time. Her breath caught in her throat. Her heart pounded in her chest. He opened his mouth to speak.
“Y-yes . . . Collin?” she squeaked.
Was he going to tell her at last? How he really felt about her? Was it the same way she felt about him?
She knew only one thing for sure. His next words—whatever they were—would change her life . . . forever.
“And . . . to be continued.”
My best friend, Sarah, gaped at me with bug eyes as I set my three-ring binder down next to my lunch tray and grabbed a fork, stuffing a big bite of mashed potatoes into my mouth.
“What do you mean, ‘to be continued,’ Hailey?” she demanded. “You mean, like, to be continued after you swallow that obscenely large bite of food you just shoveled into your mouth?”
I hid a smile before swallowing. “No. I mean, like, that’s all I’ve got so far.”
“What? NO!” she practically shrieked, prompting a warning look from one of the cafeteria monitors. As the star of most of our school plays, Sarah had a reputation for being the loudest girl in the room, even when not onstage, where it was actually necessary.
She scowled and lowered her voice—barely—and leaned over the table, her green eyes locked on me. “How can that be all you have?” she hissed. “How could you just leave off there like . . . that? How could you just sit there now, like everything’s all fine and cool, while your bestie’s been reduced to a slobbering mess on the cafeteria floor?”
I shrugged. “It’s called a cliff-hanger.”
“It’s called cruel and unusual punishment,” she corrected with a moan, running her hands through her long red hair, tangling them in her curls. “In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of Geneva Convention act outlawing this kind of thing—especially when done to one’s best friend.”
She grabbed the binder I’d been reading from, as if she still didn’t believe there wasn’t more somehow, hidden in the margins. Or printed with invisible ink, maybe. Her desperation made me grin.
“So, does this mean you like my story?” I asked, trying not to laugh.
She tossed the binder back at me. “I hate it,” she declared. “I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns!” She groaned loudly. “Seriously, Hailey—how can you just leave off like that? Right when Collin’s going to tell me . . . well, whatever it is he’s going to tell me. Which is clearly something awesome, obviously. It is going to be awesome, right? And romantic? Definitely something romantic!”
She gave me an expectant look. I shook my head slowly. She collapsed back onto her seat, staring up at
the ceiling. “Did you know I hate you? ’Cause I really hate you.”
I reached over to give her a comforting pat on the arm, knowing she would really hate me if she knew the truth—that I had a brand-new chapter back home on my computer, just waiting to be printed out. But I’d learned all too well that it was way more fun to dish them out in small portions . . . and keep her and my other friends in suspense.
It was funny: I’d always loved to write. Even when I was a little kid. Problem was, no one ever wanted to read what I wrote. (Except my dad, before he got too busy with work.) Then one day I got this idea to write Collin Prince fan fiction, with my three best friends—Sarah, Madison, and Kalani—as supporting characters. Now I practically had to fend my readership off with a stick. Which was more than a little awesome for any budding writer, and only encouraged me to torture them even more with each and every installment.
Collin Prince, for those of you who didn’t know—(and seriously, you’d have to be living under a rock!)—was sixteen years old and the number one YouTube star in the country, with his videos averaging ten to fifteen
million views . . . the day he put them online. He was not only super famous and super funny. He was also super cute. Like the cutest guy you’ve ever seen. We were, all four, in love with him—and had been ever since one rainy Saturday afternoon a year ago when we were stuck inside with nothing to do and followed this viral video train that led us to his page.
Since then we’d watched all his videos. Every single one. Even the kind of gross ones he made for his guy fans. (’Cause, let’s face it—guys could be gross.) Like the one time he blended up an entire McDonald’s Happy Meal and drank the whole thing from a Star Wars sippy cup—which was hilarious, but a little nauseating, to be honest. Still, we forgave him. ’Cause he was Collin Prince. And he was so cute.
We even made up a little unofficial fan club. And we had meetings every Saturday morning in Madison’s bedroom. (She had the biggest bedroom of the four of us, and her parents were usually out playing golf.) We’d cuddle up on her giant king-size canopy bed and watch Collin’s latest videos on her iPad without any adults peering over our shoulders and asking questions.
Adults never “got” Collin Prince. Which, in my
opinion, just proved the science of brain cells dying as you age. ’Cause, seriously? One look into his deep brown eyes and anyone who wasn’t a goner clearly wasn’t human, either.
I realized Sarah was still giving me a dirty look. “I’m sorry,” I said, holding up my hands in innocence. “I wanted to write more—I really did. But I had to get to my homework. Those pre-algebra equations won’t solve themselves, you know.”
Truth be told, I had actually spent more time video-gaming last night than math-homeworking. But she didn’t need to know that, seeing as I didn’t have a death wish. Instead I gave her a pitying smile. “Guess you’ll just have to find some other way to cling to life until tomorrow.”
“Oh no.” She shook her head violently. “To-night. You are writing and uploading that bad boy to Wattpad tonight,” she told me. “Or those algebra equations? They’ll be the least of your problems.”
I snorted. “You know, if you’re in that much of a hurry, you could always write the next chapter yourself.”
“Wait, what?” She looked at me, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. I had meant it as a joke, but now that I thought about it, it wasn’t actually a bad idea. “I mean, who says I have to be the only one writing this? Like, what if, from now on, we started taking turns? You write one chapter, then I’ll write the next. That way we’ll have double the story in half the time.”
I wasn’t 100 percent positive that the math added up—Madison was the math ninja in our little squad, not me—but it sounded good at any rate.
“Really? You’d let me do that?” Sarah’s eyes shone with excitement. “ ’Cause I will totally do that! If you’re serious. I mean, I’m definitely not as good of a writer as you are. But I know exactly what should happen next.”
I hid a smile. “And what is that, may I ask?” Knowing Sarah, it would definitely be something featuring over-the-top romance.
She shot me a smug look. “Sorry, Smith. No spoilers.” She reached over and grabbed the brownie off my plate, biting off half before returning it to my tray. “I guess you’ll just have to find some other way to cling to life until tomorrow,” she added, repeating my own words back to me with a smirk.
I sighed. “I’ve created a monster, haven’t I?”
“You have no idea.”
“You guys! Oh my gosh, you guys! You are literally not going to believe this!”
Sarah and I looked up from lunch just in time to see Kalani dive toward our table, her long black hair swishing from side to side as she clutched her cell phone in her hands. Technically we were supposed to keep our phones in our lockers during the day, but Kalani always seemed to find a way to skirt the stupid rule and not get caught. I, on the other hand, could have had a random stray thought about a phone and I’d probably be suspended for a month.
As Kalani plopped down into her seat—the one we saved for her every lunch period (as every lunch period she seemed to find a new and unique reason to be late)—Sarah and I leaned in, to see what it was we would “literally” not be able to believe this time around. With Kalani you never knew. It could be that someone had discovered the cure for cancer. Or that the caf was serving pizza tomorrow.
Or, in this particular case, something called Comicpalooza.
“Comic-pa-looza?” I read, scrunching up my face in question. “What’s that?”
“You don’t know?” Kalani raised an eyebrow. “Time to turn in your geek card, Smith.”
I frowned, a little offended. “Hey, I live long and prosper like a boss, and don’t you forget it.”
“If that’s true, then you should totally know about Comicpalooza,” she declared. “It’s, like, this huge international comic convention they hold every year in Houston. Kind of like Comic-Con in San Diego—but not quite as big. All these celebrities come and everyone dresses up in costumes and they have this huge floor where you can buy, like, a Harry Potter wand or a model Millennium Falcon.”
“Okay . . .” I gave her a curious look, wondering why she was so excited about this.
I mean, don’t get me wrong—it sounded super cool to me, the resident geek gamer of our group. But for Kalani to be this excited over something that was not pizza or Collin Prince (or Collin Prince eating pizza), there had to be something I was missing. “Well, that sounds great . . .”
“Though not all that unbelievable, if they hold it every year,” Sarah added helpfully.
Kalani rolled her eyes, not dignifying her remark
with a response. Instead she pushed her phone into our faces again. This time my eyes caught something new: a small photo just beneath the large headline banner.
I gasped, my eyes widening. I looked up at Kalani. She bounced in her seat, grinning like a loon. “Told you!” she said triumphantly.
Plucking the phone from her grasp, I stared down at the screen. Stared down at the smiling face of none other than Collin Prince himself, listed under “Special Guests.” I almost dropped the phone.
Collin Prince. Meeting fans.
Collin Prince. Signing autographs. Taking pictures.
Collin Prince reenacting his best magic tricks and stunts on stage in front of a live studio audience.
I swallowed hard, then looked up at my friends. For once, Kalani was right. I literally could not believe it.
“What’s with you guys?”
We looked over to see our friend Madison heading in our direction to round out our foursome, her tray piled high with food. As the total jock of our little group, she was always going back for seconds. Sometimes thirds. According to her, being the star pitcher of one’s softball team made one very hungry. Especially, it would seem
in Madison’s case, for multiple desserts. Seriously, if you looked up “sweet tooth” on Wikipedia, you’d probably find a photo of Madison’s teeth.
I handed the phone to her without a word. Her blue eyes widened. She looked up and grinned. “Whoa,” she said. “We have to go to this!”
“Exactly!” Kalani agreed. “That’s what I was saying. Houston’s only six hours away. He may never be this close to us again. And it’s the first week of summer vacation, so we don’t even have to worry about missing school.”
“We have to go,” Sarah declared, looking dreamily at my story again. “If we miss out on this, we might as well miss out on life itself.”
Madison rolled her eyes at me from behind Sarah’s back. In addition to being an actress onstage, Sarah had the reputation of being a bit of a drama queen in real life—and often her reactions could be over the top. But in this case I wasn’t entirely sure she was exaggerating. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We had to make it happen somehow.
Especially since . . .
My eyes locked onto the phone again. Under all the celebrity announcements there was also a little article
about the convention’s writers’ track. Evidently there would be real-life authors attending as well as several editors, giving workshops and doing book signings.
But what really caught my eye? The announcement of a competition for young writers, sixteen and under, complete with prizes, including a hundred dollars in cash and a scholarship to a summer writing camp.
I gave a low whistle. A writing camp. How cool would that be? To spend my summer doing nothing but writing stories—with no chores to do, no parents to interrupt. It sounded like a dream come true.
I looked up at my friends. “Okay. It’s settled,” I said. “We’re going.”
They all nodded in agreement, probably assuming I was still thinking of Collin. And I was, of course. But the idea of winning the writing contest as well? Well, that would be the cherry on top of this delicious Comicpalooza sundae.
“Ooh! And we must cosplay, too!” Kalani declared. “According to my research, everyone dresses up at Comicpalooza. It’s like Halloween times a gazillion.”
My friends nodded in agreement. The four of us had always been into cosplay. Every Halloween we’d spurn
the silly, cheap costumes-in-a-bag found at most stores and instead work to create elaborate ensembles cobbled together from things we found lying around the house or picked up at local craft stores. I’d even once created actual armor, using craft foam and metallic spray paint, to create a cosplay of my favorite character in the Fields of Fantasy video game, and I’d won first place in our town’s annual Halloween costume contest.
But this . . . this was a step beyond. We’d really need to up our game if we were going to do this.
“Dibs on Zelda,” I called out, probably unnecessarily. My friends—as much as I loved them—would probably not even recognize my favorite video game character if they ran into her on the street, never mind have the desire to dress as her in public. The armor Zelda wore would be difficult to make, but I was up for the challenge.
“Really? I thought you were going to say Rey from Star Wars,” Sarah said. “After all, you look just like her.”
“No, I’m going to do Rey,” Madison butted in. “I may have blond hair, but I’m way more kick-butt than Hailey—no offense, Hailey—which is kind of a requirement for our favorite Jedi. Not to mention I’ve always wanted my own lightsaber.”
“Maybe you can get one of those stuffed BB-8, too,” I suggested excitedly. “Have you seen them? They are so cute.”
“Not as cute as my Pinkie Pie costume is going to be!” Kalani broke in, bouncing up and down. “Just call me the party pony, ’cause I will be bringing down the house at Comicpalooza!” She reached out and high-fived the group, slamming her hand against my own with such enthusiasm she almost knocked me off my chair.
She would make a great party pony.
“What about you, Sarah?” Madison asked. “What are you going to be?”
We all turned to look at her, waiting for her answer. But Sarah just smiled, reaching into her pocket to pull out her wallet. A moment later she produced the cutout picture of Collin Prince she’d downloaded off the Web and printed out. Though we’d all seen this picture a thousand times before, we leaned in anyway, taking in his beautiful face. His deep brown eyes. His dark hair.
Sarah stroked the photo with her finger.
“If we’re really going to the ball to meet the prince,” she declared, “I will be going as a princess.”