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Queen of Babble

Meg Cabot

  Queen of Babble

  Meg Cabot

  Meg Cabot

  Queen of Babble

  For Benjamin

  Many thanks to all the extremely generous people who helped with the writing of this book, including Beth Ader, Jennifer Brown, Megan Farr, Carrie Feron, Michele Jaffe, Laura Langlie, Laura McKay, Sophia Travis, and especially Benjamin Egnatz.

  Part One

  Clothing. Why do we wear it? Many people believe that we wear clothing out of modesty. In ancient civilizations, however, clothing was developed not to cover our private parts from view, but merely to keep the body warm. In other cultures, clothing was thought to protect its wearers from magic, while in still others clothing served merely ornamental or display purposes.

  In this thesis, I hope to explore the history of clothing-or fashion-starting with ancient man, who wore animal hides for warmth, to modern man, or woman, some of whom wear small strips of material between their buttocks (see: thong) for reasons no one has yet been able to adequately explain to this author.

  History of Fashion



  Our indiscretion sometime serves us well

  When our deep plots do pall

  – William Shakespeare (1564-1616), British poet and playwright

  Ican’t believe this. I can’t believe I don’t remember what he looks like! How can I not remember what he looks like? I mean, his tongue has been in my mouth. How could I forget what someone whose tongue has been in my mouth looks like? It’s not like there’ve been that many guys who’ve had their tongues in my mouth. Only, like, three.

  And one of those was in high school. And the other one turned out to be gay.

  God, that is so depressing. Okay, I’m not going to think about that right now.

  It isn’t like it’s been THAT long since I last saw him. It was just three months ago! You would think I’d remember what someone I’ve been dating for THREE MONTHS looks like.

  Even if, you know, for most of those three months we’ve been in separate countries.

  Still. I have his photo. Well, okay, you can’t really see his face in it. Actually, you can’t see his face at all, since it’s a photo of his-oh God-naked ass.

  Why would anyone send someone something like that? I didn’t ask for a photo of his naked ass. Was it supposed to be erotic? Because it so wasn’t.

  Maybe that’s just me, though. Shari’s right, I’ve got to stop being so inhibited.

  It was just so shocking to find it in my in-box, a big photo of my boyfriend’s naked ass.

  And okay, I know they were just goofing around, he and his friends. And I know Shari says it’s a cultural thing, and that the British are much less sensitive about nudity than most Americans, and that we should strive as a culture to be more open and carefree, like they are.

  Also that he probably thought, like most men do, that his ass is his best feature.

  But still.

  Okay, I’m not going to think about that right now. Stop thinking about my boyfriend’s ass. Instead, I’m going to look for him. He has to be here somewhere, he swore he’d be here to pick me up-

  Oh my God, that can’t be him, can it? No, of course it’s not. Why would he be wearing a jacket like that? Why would ANYONE be wearing a jacket like that? Unless they’re being ironic. Or Michael Jackson, of course. He is the only man I could think of who would wear red leather with epaulets. Who isn’t a professional break-dancer.

  That CAN’T be him. Oh, please God, don’t let that be him…

  Oh no, he’s looking this way…he’s looking this way! Look down, look down, don’t make eye contact with the guy in the red leather jacket with the epaulets. I’m sure he’s a very nice man; it’s a shame about his having to shop for coats from the 1980s at the Salvation Army.

  But I don’t want him to know I was looking at him, he might think I like him or something.

  And it’s not that I’m prejudiced against homeless people, I’m not, I know all about how many of us are really only a few paychecks away from being homeless ourselves. Some of us, in fact, are less than a paycheck away from being homeless. Some of us, in fact, are so broke that we still live with our parents.

  But I’m not going to think about all that right now.

  The thing is, I just don’t want Andrew to get here and find me talking to some homeless guy in a red leather break-dancing jacket. I mean, that is so not the first impression I want to give. Not that, you know, it will be his FIRST impression of me, since we’ve been dating for three months and all. But it will be the first impression he’ll have of the New Me, the me he hasn’t met yet…

  Okay. Okay, it’s safe, he’s not looking anymore.

  Oh God, this is awful, I can’t believe this is how they welcome people to their country. Herding us down this walkway with all these people LOOKING at us…I feel like I’m personally disappointing each and every one of them by not being the person they’re waiting for. This is a very unkind thing to do to people who just sat on a plane for six hours, eight in my case if you count the flight from Ann Arbor to New York. Ten if you count the two-hour layover at JFK-

  Wait. Was Red Break-dancing Jacket just checking me out?

  Oh my God, he WAS! Red leather jacket with the epaulets totally checked me out!

  Oh God, this is so embarrassing. It’s my underwear, I KNOW it. How could he tell? That I’m not wearing any, I mean? It’s true I don’t have any visible panty lines, but for all he knows, I could be wearing a thong. I SHOULD have worn a thong. Shari was right.

  But it’s so uncomfortable when they go up your-

  I KNEW I shouldn’t have picked a dress this tight to get off the plane in-even if I did personally modify it by hemming the skirt to above the knee so I’m not hobbled by it.

  But for one thing, I’m freezing-how can it be this cold in AUGUST?

  And for another, this silk is particularly clingy, so there’s the whole panty line thing.

  Still, everyone back at the shop said I look great in it…though I wouldn’t have thought a mandarin dress-even a vintage one-would actually work on me, seeing as how I’m Caucasian and all.

  But I want to look good, since he hasn’t seen me in so long, and I did lose those thirty pounds, and you wouldn’t be able to tell I’d lost all that weight if I got off the plane in sweats. Isn’t that always what celebrities are wearing when they show up on Us Weekly’s “What Were They Thinking?” page? You know, when they get off a plane in sweats and last year’s Uggs, with their hair all crazy? If you are going to be a celebrity, you need to LOOK like a celebrity, even when you’re getting off a plane.

  Not that I’m a celebrity, but I still want to look good. I went to all this trouble, I haven’t had so much as a crumb of bread for three months, and-

  Wait. What if he doesn’t recognize me? Seriously. I mean, I did lose thirty pounds, and with my new haircut and all-

  Oh God, could he be here and not recognize me? Did I already walk right by him? Should I turn around and go back down that walkway thingie and look for him? But I’ll seem like such an idiot. What do I do? Oh my God, this is so not fair, I just wanted to look good for him, not be stranded in a foreign country because I look so different my own boyfriend doesn’t recognize me! What if he thinks I haven’t shown up and just goes home? I don’t have any money-well, twelve hundred bucks, but that has to last me until my flight home at the end of the month-

  RED LEATHER JACKET IS STILL LOOKING THIS WAY!!! Oh God, what can he want from me?

  What if he’s part of some kind of airport white slavery ring? What if he hangs out here all the time looking for naive young tourists from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to kidnap and send to Saudi Arabia to be some sheikh’s seventeenth bride
? I read a book where that happened once…although I have to say the girl seemed to really enjoy it. But only because at the end the sheikh divorced all his other wives and just kept her because she was so pure and yet so good in the sack.

  Or what if he just holds girls for ransom instead of selling them? Except that I am so not rich! I know this dress looks expensive, but I got it at Vintage to Vavoom for twelve dollars (with my employee discount)!

  And my dad doesn’t have any money. He works at a cyclotron, for crying out loud!

  Don’t kidnap me, don’t kidnap me, don’t kidnap me-

  Wait, what is this booth? Meet Your Party. Oh, great! Customer service! That’s what I’ll do! I’ll have Andrew paged. And that way, if he’s here, he can come find me. And I’ll be safe from Red Leather Break-dancing Jacket; he won’t dare kidnap me and send me to Saudi Arabia in front of the pager guy-

  “Hullo, love, you look lost. What can I do for you, then?”

  Oh, the booth guy is so nice! And such a cute accent! Although that tie was an unfortunate choice.

  “Hi, I’m Lizzie Nichols,” I say. “I’m supposed to be picked up by my boyfriend, Andrew Marshall. Only he doesn’t seem to be here, and-”

  “Want me to page him for you, then?”

  “Oh! Yes, please, would you? Because there’s a guy following me, see him over there? I think he might be a kidnapper or the operator of a white slavery ring-”

  “Which one?”

  I don’t want to point, but I do feel I have a duty, you know, to report Red Leather Break-dancing Jacket to the authorities, or at least to the Meet Your Party booth attendant, because he DOES look very odd in that jacket, and he IS still staring at me, really rudely, or at least suggestively, like he still wants to kidnap me.

  “Over there,” I say, nodding my head toward Red Leather Break-dancing Jacket. “That one in the hideous jacket with the epaulets. See him? The one staring at us.”

  “Oh, right.” The Meet Your Party booth attendant nods. “Right. Very menacing. Hold on, then, I’ll have your boyfriend over here, giving that git the thrashing he so richly deserves, in a second. ANDREW MARSHALL. ANDREW MARSHALL, MISS NICHOLS IS WAITING FOR YOU AT THE MEET YOUR PARTY BOOTH. ANDREW MARSHALL, PLEASE FIND MISS NICHOLS AT THE MEET YOUR PARTY BOOTH. There? How was that?”

  “Oh, that was great,” I say encouragingly, because I feel a little sorry for him. I mean, it must be hard to sit in a booth all day, yelling over a loudspeaker. “That was really-”


  Andrew! At last!

  Only when I turn around, it’s Red Leather Break-dancing Jacket.


  Except that it WAS Andrew, all along.

  And I just didn’t recognize him, because I was distracted by the jacket-the most hideous jacket I’ve ever seen. Plus he seems to have had his hair cut. Not very flatteringly.

  Sort of menacingly, in fact.

  “Oh,” I say. It is extremely difficult to hide my confusion. And dismay. “Andrew. Hi.”

  Behind the glass of the Meet Your Party booth, the attendant bursts into very, very loud laughter.

  And I realize, with a pang, that I’ve done it.


  The first woven material was made of vegetable fibers such as bark, cotton, and hemp. Animal fibers were not employed until the Neolithic period, by cultures that-unlike their nomadic ancestors-were able to establish stable communities near which sheep could graze, and in which looms could be constructed.

  Nevertheless, the ancient Egyptian refused to wear wool until after the Alexandrian conquest, obviously citing its itchiness in warm climates.

  History of Fashion



  Gossip isn’t scandal and it’s not merely malicious.

  It’s chatter about the human race by lovers of the same.

  – Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978), U.S. poet and author

  Two Days Earlier Back in Ann Arbor (or maybe three days-wait, what time is it in America?)

  You’re compromising your feminist principles.” That’s what Shari keeps saying.

  “Stop it,” I say.

  “Seriously. It’s not like you. Ever since you met this guy-”

  “Shari, I love him. Why is it wrong that I want to be with the person I love?”

  “It’s not wrong to want to be with him,” Shari says. “It’s wrong to put your own career on hold while you wait for him to finish his degree.”

  “And what career would that be, Shar?” I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. Again.

  Also that she would station herself next to the chips and dip like this when she knows perfectly well I’m still trying to lose five more pounds.

  Oh well. At least she’s wearing the fifties black-and-white Mexican swing skirt I picked out for her at the shop, even though she claimed it made her butt look too big. It so doesn’t. Except maybe in a good way.

  “You know,” Shari says. “The career you could have, if you would just move to New York with me when you get back from England, instead of-”

  “I told you, I’m not arguing with you about this today,” I say. “It’s my graduation party, Shar. Can’t you let me enjoy it?”

  “No,” Shari says. “Because you’re being an ass, and you know it.”

  Shari’s boyfriend, Chaz, comes over to us and scoops up some onion dip with a barbecue-flavored potato chip.

  Mmm. Barbecue-flavored potato chips. Maybe if I just had one…

  “What’s Lizzie being an ass about now?” he asks, chewing.

  But you can never have just one barbecue-flavored potato chip. Never.

  Chaz is tall and lanky. I bet he’s never had to lose five more pounds before in his entire life. He even has to wear a belt to hold up his Levi’s. It’s a mesh leather weave. But on him, mesh leather works.

  What doesn’t work, of course, is the University of Michigan baseball cap. But I have never successfully managed to convince him that baseball caps, as an accessory, are wrong on everyone. Except children and actual baseball players.

  “She still plans to stay here after she gets back from England,” Shari explains, plunging a chip of her own into the dip, “instead of moving to New York with us to start her real life.”

  Shari doesn’t have to watch what she eats, either. She’s always had a naturally fast metabolism. When we were kids, her school sack lunches consisted of three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a pack of Oreo cookies, and she never gained an ounce. My lunches? A hard-boiled egg, a single orange, and a chicken leg. And I was the blimp. Oh yes.

  “Shari,” I say, “I have a real life here. I’ve got a place to stay-”

  “With your parents!”

  “-and a job I love-”

  “As an assistant manager of a vintage clothing store. That’s not a career!”

  “I told you,” I say for what has to be the nine hundredth time, “I’m going to live here and save my money. Then Andrew and I are moving to New York after he gets his master’s. It’s just one more semester.”

  “Who’s Andrew again?” Chaz wants to know. And Shari hits him in the shoulder.

  “Ow,” Chaz says.

  “You remember,” Shari says. “The R.A. at McCracken Hall. The grad student. The one Lizzie hasn’t stopped talking about all summer.”

  “Oh, right, Andy. The British guy. The one who was running the illegal poker ring on the seventh floor.”

  I burst out laughing. “That’s not Andrew! He doesn’t gamble. He’s studying to be an educator of youth so that he can preserve our most precious resource…the next generation.”

  “The guy who sent you the photo of his naked ass?”

  I gasp. “Shari, you told him about that?”

  “I wanted a guy’s perspective,” Shari says with a shrug. “You know, to see if he had any insights into what kind of individual would do something like that.”

  Coming from Shari, who’d been a psych major,
this is actually a fairly reasonable explanation. I look at Chaz questioningly. He has lots of insights into lots of things-how many times around Palmer Field make a mile (four-which I needed to know back when I was walking it every day to lose weight); what the number 33 on the inside of the Rolling Rock bottle means; why so many guys seem to think man-pris are actually flattering…

  But Chaz shrugs, too. “I was unable to be of any aid,” he says, “not ever having taken a photo of my bare ass before.”

  “Andrew didn’t take a photo of his own ass,” I say. “His friends took it.”

  “How homoerotic,” Chaz comments. “Why do you call him Andrew when everybody else calls him Andy?”

  “Because Andy is a jock name,” I say, “and Andrew isn’t a jock. He’s getting a master’s in education. Someday he’ll be teaching children to read. Could there be a more important job in the whole entire world than that? And he’s not gay. I checked this time.”

  Chaz’s eyebrows go up. “You checked? How? Wait…I don’t want to know.”

  “She just likes pretending he’s Prince Andrew,” Shari says. “Um, so where was I?”

  “Lizzie’s being an ass,” Chaz helpfully supplies. “So wait. How long’s it been since you saw this guy? Three months?”

  “About that,” I say.

  “Man,” Chaz says, shaking his head, “there is going to be some major bone-jumping when you step off that plane.”

  “Andrew isn’t like that,” I say warmly. “He’s a romantic. He’ll probably want to let me get acclimated and recover from my jet lag in his king-size bed and thousand-thread-count sheets. He’ll bring me breakfast in bed-a cute English breakfast with…Englishy stuff on it.”

  “Like stewed tomatoes?” Chaz asks with feigned innocence.

  “Nice try,” I say, “but Andrew knows I don’t like tomatoes. He asked in his last e-mail if there are any foods I dislike, and I filled him in on the tomato thing.”