The Bling Queen
Let me tell you the problem with a glitter belt—it’s the glitter.
I learned my lesson with glitter belts last year, but Deirdre, not so much. Which is why, one by one, piece by piece, I am picking teeny specks of glitter out of Deirdre’s thick strands of red hair. Her hair is so long that its tips sway against the edge of her belt, capturing glitter like wisps of dandelion in a windstorm.
That’s kind of poetic, actually—“wisps of dandelion in a windstorm.” If I were writing in my language arts journal right now like I’m supposed to be doing, instead of systematically pulling glitter off Deirdre’s head, I might jot that down.
“Ow!” Deirdre whisper-yells from her seat in front of me. “Do you have to pull so hard?”
“I think you meant to say ‘thank you,’ ” I whisper back to her. “I warned you not to wear that belt again.” She leans back in her seat and shakes her hair over my desk, two flakes of glitter depositing themselves on my notebook. I tap the back of her head with the tip of my green gel pen—my Thursday color, since it’s my second-favorite—like a stick on a snare drum. Tap tappity tap, tappity tap, tappity tap—
WHOOSH. Deirdre whirls around in her seat, her glittery hair flying around her, undoubtedly spraying the rest of the room. She and I face off silently, the tiny crinkles at the edges of her eyes matching the ones on the sides of my lips. We call this “glirking”—a glaring smirk. When you’re annoyed but also entertained, want to smack the other person but also want to laugh out loud, you glirk.
Deirdre and I glirk at each other quietly until she tries to swipe my pen out of my hand, and I am forced to throw my arm up into the air to escape her reach, accidentally tossing my pen onto the floor as I do. Deirdre covers her mouth with her hand, shoulders shaking as she tries not to laugh out loud, while I get up to retrieve the pen.
“Girls,” Ms. Castleby calls from her desk, dragging out the word with a lilt in her voice, so that I can tell she’s not actually angry with us.
I take my seat as Deirdre turns to face the front of the room, and then I look over to Bree’s desk. She shakes her head, laughing with no sound.
“The belt,” I mouth to her, pointing to Deirdre’s waist. “I told her.”
“I know,” Bree mouths back just as the bell rings.
“That’s all for today, people.” Ms. Castleby walks to the front of the room as we gather our things. She barely looks much older than us, though she’s been teaching at Twining Ridge Middle School since at least last year. I know because I remember seeing her in the hallways—or more specifically, I remember seeing her outfits. Ninety-nine percent of her ensemble will be normal, and then—bam!—there’s always one piece that catches your eye. Today it’s a scarf that she has tied around the front of her hair like a headband. The scarf is white with tiny yellow stars sprinkled across it, which match her hair perfectly.
I love everything about it.
“Remember, tomorrow I’m collecting your journals to read and to grade, so if all of your entries aren’t complete, I suggest you finish them up tonight.” The rest of the class lets out a collective moan, but I don’t join them. I kind of like the journal. Ms. Castleby gives us a topic to write about each day, in case we’re out of ideas, but she’s also okay if we do our own thing. So all of my
entries are about clothes, or shoes, or jewelry, or bags, or hair accessories. I almost never write in my journal in class, like we’re supposed to. Instead I do all of the work at home, so I can make each entry perfect.
This is the first time Ms. Castleby is collecting our journals for a grade. And even though I don’t usually care about my grades as much as I should (or at least, as much as my parents think I should), I really hope she gives me a high mark. Not even because I want to prove my parents’ “You need to focus more on school and less on fashion, Tess” decree wrong, but because this journal is actually fun for me.
But of course, if Ms. Castleby likes my journal as much as I do, well, that certainly wouldn’t hurt, especially if it resulted in an A+. That way I could show it to my parents and say, “See? Writing about fashion isn’t only one way to get good grades. It’s the best way to get good grades!” This is an especially important point to prove to them right now, since in a few weeks, an antique-jewelry exhibition is coming to a museum near us, and Mom and Dad said we can’t go unless I start becoming more “conscientious.” That’s their word of the year, it seems—“conscientious.” And specifically how I am not conscientious.
“Also, I’ll be assigning your business plan projects tomorrow,” Ms. Castleby continues as our class begins
to file out of her room. I wait for Deirdre to finish untying (yes, untying) her sneakers before I trail her to the classroom door.
“Deirdre, aren’t you going to trip like that?” Ms. Castleby asks.
“I tuck the laces into the sides of my unitard—see?” Deirdre explains. “The shoes are more comfortable that way.” Deirdre pulls back the side of her sneaker, revealing the hooks of her stirrup pants hidden underneath. I know she needs her unitard for gymnastics practice later, but it still seems silly for her to insist on wearing it under her clothes all day. I roll my eyes at Ms. Castleby behind Deirdre’s back, and she smiles knowingly.
“Move it along, whackadoo,” I say, nudging Deirdre toward the door. “Bree, are you coming?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bree answers, cradling her flute case in her arms like it’s a newborn.
“You know, you could leave that in your locker,” I point out. “It’s not like you play the tuba and it won’t fit.” We all wave to Ms. Castleby as we walk out the door, merging into the hall traffic.
“I’m a method musician,” Bree answers loudly over the din of the hallway.
“What does that even mean?” Deirdre calls over her shoulder.
“It’s like method actors—how they stay in character the whole time they’re shooting a movie or whatever. Something like that,” Bree explains.
“So you’re becoming one with your flute?” I ask.
“There are only a few days left before the audition for first chair. And you know they don’t usually give it to seventh graders. If I’m going to stand a chance, I need to come up with a new technique. This is it,” Bree says, lifting the end of her case into the air. Deirdre, Bree, and I all joined our elementary school band in fourth grade, but Deirdre and I were never serious about it like Bree was. We also were never very good. Which may have something to do with why the two of us quit band when we came to middle school last year.
I twist my Tess necklace around my index finger as we make our way toward our lockers. My parents gave me the necklace for my twelfth birthday, and it’s pretty much my favorite accessory ever. Which is really saying something, because I do love accessories.
I hang on to the end of Bree’s flute case as she shifts herself over to the side of the hallway where our lockers are, pulling Deirdre and me behind her like an off-the-rails train. I feel the bump of a foot under the sole of my shoe as Bree drags us through the crowd.
“Oops, sorry!” I call out to whoever I just squashed, looking around for the victim.
“Watch where your hooves are landing, Maven,” I hear in response. Kate.
Sorry—Kayte. She added the y this year. As if that would make her more interesting.
“She said ‘sorry,’ Reynolds,” Deirdre defends me.
“I really don’t think I stepped on you that hard,” I say. “But sorry if I did.” I try to keep the peace with Kate—I mean, KAYTE—Reynolds more than Deirdre does. To me, she’s not worth the aggravation. She always seems to want to argue, so why give her the satisfaction?
“Again with that necklace?” Kayte juts her chin out toward the chain around my neck. “You’ve worn that—what—three weeks in a row now? Someone’s stuck in a rut.”
“It’s a classic,” I explain.
“It went out in, like, 1997,” Kayte says.
“I love it,” I say, and shrug, trying not to let Kayte’s criticism bother me. Kayte thinks of herself as being the top fashion plate of Twining Ridge Middle School. And sometimes even I have to admit that the outfits she puts together are pretty cool. Even if they’re ugly, they’re usually weird enough to catch your eye. Today, for instance, Kayte is wearing leggings that look like crocodile skin, and her legs are so long and wiry that they seem to go on forever. She’s paired them with a loose-fitting white sweater on top, and it sweeps off her shoulder on one
side, revealing a neon-pink tank top underneath. The tank top matches her shoes, which are simple ballet flats, only they’re the color of a Barbie doll’s nail polish. I would never, ever wear this getup, but it certainly makes Kayte stand out in the hallway.
Now, of course there is one huge problem with Kayte’s ensemble, and that is that she isn’t wearing a single accessory. Not even a stud earring, because—horror of horrors—Kayte’s ears aren’t pierced. And no outfit is complete without an accessory . . . or two or three or seventeen. At least that’s what I say.
“You’re blocking my locker.” Bree’s voice drifts back into my ear, and I snap out of my Kayte Reynolds wardrobe study.
“Sorry.” I move to the side and begin twisting my own combination. Bree’s, Deirdre’s, and my lockers are all in the same wall block. By alphabetical fortune, Bree Laurence, Tess Maven, and Deirdre Noir almost always end up in the same homeroom.
And even more thankfully, Kayte Reynolds rarely does.
“Someone needs to push her off her high horse,” Deirdre calls above the rapidly quieting hallway noise. If we don’t speed it up, we’re definitely going to be late for Pre-Algebra, and Mr. Dimmer never lets us off the hook like Ms. Castleby does. There’s a reason we refer to him
as the Dimmer Switch, after all. A sense of humor isn’t really his strong suit.
“Just ignore Kayte,” I say to Deirdre. “You only encourage her.”
“Well, did you see how she was looking at my belt?” Deirdre asks. “It was as if I had a live rat tied around my waist.”
“I did warn you about that belt,” I say, slamming my locker shut and hurrying toward Mr. Dimmer’s classroom. “Hurry up, or he’s going to lock us out again.”
“Brownnoser,” Deirdre teases, but she walks in directly behind me, Bree and her flute following us. I slow down my pace as I reach my desk, because on the first day of school, Mr. Dimmer gave me the worst seating assignment of all of my classes—directly next to none other than the self-proclaimed fashion plate herself, Kayte Reynolds.