It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a teen girl on a class trip to England should be having the time of her life.
At least, that's what I thought. Instead I'm miserable. It took me two weeks to convince my mom I was responsible enough to go on this trip instead of staying with my dad for the rest of the summer, eight days to rush-order a passport, and precisely twenty-four hours to regret it. It's my first full day in London and instead of seeing Buckingham Palace or Big Ben or the Thames, I'm sitting in Belgaro's cafe inside my hotel, wishing someone, anyone, would give me the time of day.
The point of this trip was to tour all of London's historically significant sights as a precursor to European history. Sophomore year starts next month, and it's supposed to be the Year We Pad our College Applications. At least, that's what the pamphlets said.
Last year, I never would have felt this desperate. My best friend Katie and I never wanted to be one of the in-crowd zombies. In fact, we made a sport of heckling the A-list.
When the yearbooks came out last spring, we drew mustaches on the popular girls and wrote little quotes of the stupid things they'd said in class.
And then Katie moved away. Without her around, it's nearly impossible to convince myself that I'm happy on the D-list. How can I be? I'm the only one on the D-list.
It all started when I called Katie during lunch, two days after she moved. It's probably pathetic to admit it, but I had started eating my lunch in the bathroom. I was miserable, and I needed my friend's support.
So there I was, blabbing away on my cell phone in the corner stall. I had no idea Trisha Marks (cough-SNOB-cough-cough) had walked in. She overheard the whole thing — even the part where I said cheerleaders were modern day courtesans. As you can imagine, it didn't go over so well. At least, not once Trisha looked up the definition of courtesan on her handy-dandy iPhone.
Now I'm hated by pretty much every pom-pom-wielding airhead at my high school.
I look up when the door chimes, and to my horror see three of my classmates stride into the room. Angela, the lanky blonde, has no less than three bags with cute little rope handles, Chanel, Gucci, and Armani proudly emblazoned across each one. Summer, her petite best friend, walks quietly in her shadow, a Juicy bag in hand, her dark wavy hair cascading down her shoulders. Mindy walks beside them, looking like the normal American teen she is: her messy brown hair is in a bun, and she's wearing a lace-embellished pink tank top and destroyed denim jeans. The three of them laugh at something I can't hear.
Basically, they look like they're having the trip I dreamed of. The three girls might not be the A-list, but they're certainly on it. And since Angela Marks is Trisha-the-demon-cheerleader's little sister, she's sworn in blood to defend her honor. Or, you know, give me the evil eye and ditch me, even though we're assigned travel-buddies. It's her fault I can't leave the hotel without breaking Mrs. Bentley's golden rule: Safety in pairs. Never go anywhere alone. Blah, Blah, Blah.
And now they'll see me wallowing in misery like a total loser. I shrink back in the leather booth, hoping the big leafy palm next to the table is enough to obscure my face.
They cannot know I'm sitting here, two empty glasses of Coke next to me, like I've been here all day. Because the truth is, I have been here all day.
The group activities won't start until the day after tomorrow. We'll be visiting museums and palaces and going on double-decker bus tours. I can't decide if things will improve then, or just get worse. Sometimes I feel more alone when I'm surrounded by my classmates than I do when I'm actually by myself.
Why did I think this trip was going to be different?
It was supposed to be my chance to change everything. I guess I thought if we were thousands of miles from home, I'd be just as far from my old reputation. I was wrong.
For the record, I don't think it's humanly possible for me to be friends with Angela.
She definitely shares Trisha's gene pool, if you know what I mean — all the way down to the sneer she makes every time someone annoys her. But Mindy is usually in a bunch of honors classes with me, and last year sometimes we'd end up as lab partners in Chem. Maybe if I was a little more outgoing, Mindy and I would be friends by now.
She seems cool, I think, as I watch her roll her eyes at Summer when Angela's not looking. If I'd been assigned as her buddy for this trip, she wouldn't have ditched me. I just have to get Angela to begrudgingly accept my presence, and then maybe we could all hang out as a foursome. If I'm lucky, maybe we can switch buddies entirely.
The trio of girls set their shopping bags in a heap on the booth next to mine, oblivious to my presence behind the leafy palm. I can't see what they're doing, but I imagine Angela is picking up the menu and trying to decide between the spinach salad with no dressing or a glass of water. I'm pretty sure she's anorexic, which is easier to handle than the idea that she's naturally perfect. I mean, really—her collarbone could cut glass.
"So, should I wear this red one, which shows more cleavage, or my sparkly yellow tube top tonight?" Summer asks. She must be rifling through a bag, because all I can hear is crinkling plastic.
"Yellow tank. Definitely. It's more clubby," Angela says. "But what shoes can you wear with it?"
Seriously — clubby? Figures they're going to break all the rules and hit a club. I never would have the guts to do something cool like that. All I have on my schedule is an in-room movie rental, which is sounding more pitiful by the minute.
Summer sighs, this great melodramatic heave that makes it seem like she's just found out she flunked sophomore year before it even started. I picture her frowning her big pouty lips and wrinkling a perfectly groomed brow. "I dunno. I swear I packed my black Guccis, but they weren't in my bag."
"Those aren't Guccis. They're knockoffs," Angela says in a sharp voice.
Oh, snap. I look down at my Old Navy flip-flops poking out from under the table, and then slide them further underneath me.
"So?" Summer says, her voice rising an octave. "Do they look that bad?"
Mindy says, "Well, it's not like guys can tell the difference."
Angela makes a growling sound. Her minions have spoken back, so she must be trying to assert her dominance. I don't speak Angela, so I can't know for sure. I imagine right now she's flipping her platinum blonde hair over her shoulder while rolling her eyes. "Well, I can. Did you see that girl at the coffee stand this morning? She was wearing fake Pradas. I mean, seriously. Does she really think she's fooling someone?"
Yeah. Angela is seriously the most stereotypical Valley Girl I've ever met. She's a walking cliche. It doesn't stop people from worshipping her, though. With flawless skin, sparkling blue eyes, and the bounciest hair I've ever seen, I can't really blame them.
Now I imagine Mindy rolling her eyes, wishing they were having a more intelligent conversation. The kind she could have with me, for instance. We could he strolling up and down the fancy walkways and admiring English architecture while we debate the theory of evolution. Or at least how much we hate Mr. Thomason, our Honors Chemistry teacher from freshman year. During our first lab together, I almost burned off my hair with a Bunsen burner and all I got from him was a lecture in front of the entire class. The man has no sympathy.
"Fine. Let's go find a good pair of heels after lunch," Summer says. "But you have to help me with the conversion rate. I think I might have overspent already."
"Like I can figure it out either. I'm just charging everything," Angela says. Rumor has it Angela comes equipped with a black, limitless AmEx card.
"I'll help you," Mindy says. "It's pretty simple."
It is simple, but whatever. There's a reason I'll be voted "Class Brain" and Summer will get "Major Catch," and it's not because she's good at math.
"What's this place called, anyway?" Summer asks.
"I don't know. It's at the end of Sloane Street, where it deadends at Hyde Park or something. We're supposed to meet up with the guys at the backdoor at nine," Angela says.
I can't believe this. They're crashing a nightclub while I'm stuck in the room. This isn't fair. Why can't I go too?
The waitress strolls up to take their order (Angela shocks me by ordering a cheeseburger), and I develop a game plan as I nervously jiggle a spare straw between my thumb and index finger. I'll saunter slowly by, and then when I look over and see Mindy, I'll act surprised. Then I'll ask her if she's gotten any reading done on Mr. Brown's summer reading list. If at all possible, I'll segue into how boring London has been so far, and maybe they'll invite me out with them. My plan is flawless.
My stomach is already twisting and flopping around in protest, but my mind is made up. I have to get this over with. I fish my mango lip gloss out of the pocket of my Levis and smear it on, and then smooth over my slightly frizzed-out blonde hair.
No time like the present. I slide quickly out of the leather booth and am almost to my feet when someone slams into me from behind.
Oomph. I'm knocked to my knees, but I manage to catch myself before face planting.
That's when I feel a chill seeping through my shirt, spreading so my entire back is covered in icy-coldness, and goose bumps pop up all over my arms. I twist my head and see a woman holding a half empty pitcher of iced tea, a black apron tied around her waist.
"Are you okay, love? Oh blimey, you're soaked! I'm so sorry. I was just walking by and you jumped out in front of me," she says, more to herself than me. "Let me help you up."
"Uh, I'm okay, really. No biggie."
I take a deep breath and look up at the trio of girls next to me. Angela is fighting a huge grin (and losing) but Mindy is just staring, her face blank of all expression. Summer is hiding behind a menu, her face turned downward so all I can see is her highlight-streaked dark hair.
"You okay?" Mindy asks.
"Smooth move," Angela says. "Very graceful."
Summer's tiny shoulders shake with silent giggles as my face nearly bursts into flames.
"Oh. Uh, I'm fine. I'm just... soaked. I, uh, I'm fine. Thanks."
And then I bail. There's no way I can talk to them now. Like they're going to invite me to the club? Ha. Right. I've just confirmed the reason they don't hang out with me. God, I'm a walking disaster.
I bolt through the cafe's side-door and duck into the hotel lobby bathroom, the closest door to the scene of my humiliation. I go into one of the fancy pink wallpapered stalls and sit down on a toilet for a few minutes, my face buried in my hands, trying to compose myself. There's a lump in my throat, but I won't cry because it's not worth it. This kind of stuff happens to me all the time, and tomorrow it won't sting so much. I'll block it from my memory like it never happened.
My mom has always told me I have two left feet, but I think that's giving me too much credit. I'm so clumsy I deserve my own cliche. I'm sure eventually falling flat on your face will be known as "pulling a Callie Montgomery."
I get up and leave the stall, the automatic toilet flushing behind me. I shuffle to the sinks, sniffling back the last few tears that still threaten.
Once in front of the gilded mirror, I twist around to survey the damage. My white tee is totally soaked through so you can see my black bra strap. The ends of my lifeless blonde hair aren't exempt from the iced tea treatment, either. They even smell like lemon.
I sigh and grip the edges of the sink as I stare back at my reflection. It's not like I'm horrendously ugly. I'm just kind of plain. Straight, narrow nose. Average cheekbones. Dull blue eyes. Could I be anymore average?
It's no wonder I've never even been kissed. My lips are sort of thin. Not full and kissable like Angela's.
The door swings open and I look up to see Mindy stride in. I yank back from the mirror so she won't know I've been staring at myself.
She's retying the knot in her charcoal-gray shrug when she sees me, and her glossy lips part — and then freeze like that — a tiny little o of surprise.
I drop my hands to my sides and try to ignore the prickling feeling of the wet shirt glued to my back.
"Oh," she says, and then stops at the door, halfway into the bathroom and halfway out, like she might get bubonic plague from me if she gets too close.
"Hey," I say. My hands are suddenly in need of a good washing, so I stare at the soap dispenser as I pump it five times, filling my palm with pink suds. I'm overly aware of her presence in my peripheral vision, and have to force my eyes to remain on the ultraimportant task of personal hygiene. Why is she staring at me like that?
Mindy finally walks into the bathroom stall as I switch the faucet off and reach for a few paper towels. I use them slowly, one square at a time, until she comes back out.
I toss the paper towels and pretend to fix a few strands of hair as she walks toward the sinks. She stops halfway there.
"Oh, urn, Callie?"
I perk up and turn to look at her. She's smiling at me.
This is it! My ticket out of the hotel.
"Um, I just wanted to, well — " she pauses for a second.
My heart is going crazy. I knew Mindy would come through if I gave her the chance. I just know we'd click if I could stop acting like a freak for more than five minutes.
She clears her throat. "You have toilet paper stuck to your shoe."
"Huh?" I look down at my flip-flops and the giant chunk of toilet paper trailing off the toe of one of them. "Oh. Uh, thanks."
I reach down, yank off the T.P., and then rush for the door without another word.
I make it out the front of the hotel before I even know what I'm doing. I haven't had the guts to leave without a "buddy" ever since the big lecture from Mrs. Bentley yesterday when we arrived. She swore if she caught any of us out alone she'd send us home.
But if I want to get back to my room, I have to walk right through the cafe again, my flip-flops slapping against my feet to announce my arrival. I'd have to walk past Angela and her sneer and Summer and her giggles.
I can't take any more of them right now. I have to get away and clear my head and figure out how I'm going to get through this trip.
I slow down when I realize I've gone several blocks on Sloane Street without noticing. Our fancy five-star hotel is situated in the best shopping district in London, or at least that's what Angela talked about the whole flight here.
Not that she was talking to me, of course. She was sitting between Summer and Mindy, in the row in front of me. I got a window seat next to an elderly man who snored the whole flight. Even though I pretended to be reading, I eavesdropped on them the whole time. I think Angela was listing the designers in alphabetical order; I got lost after Armani, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, and Dior.
I must be on the right track, because the waif-thin girls walking past me look like models, and I think I just saw the third foreign sports car in as many minutes.