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Pants on Fire

Meg Cabot


  Pants on Fire

  For Benjamin



  “Oh my God, what’s she doing here?” my best friend,…


  “The Gull ’n Gulp just so isn’t Morgan Castle’s kind of…


  Okay, why?


  Sidney turned her incredulous gaze toward me the minute the…


  I said the first thing that popped into my head.


  “Hey,” Tommy said when he finally noticed me on the…




  “Honey, are you feeling all right?” Mom wanted to know,…


  “This,” I said, sounding almost as cranky as Mr. Bird, When…


  Eastport takes its annual quahog festival and town fair very…


  Seth didn’t drop his arm away from me or anything.


  So. It had happened at last. Liam’s taunt, with which…


  Seriously. It was like I’d been struck by lightning or…


  My parents were still awake when I got home. Apparently,…


  She didn’t know. I couldn’t believe it. But she really…


  I don’t know how my parents can be so casual…


  “Hey,” Tommy said, when he came close enough to talk…


  Okay. So it wasn’t going, you know, badly. I mean,…


  “Miss Castle.” Ms. Hayes had made an elaborate display of…


  “So,” Jill said, as we sat on the railing overlooking…


  “What…what are you doing here?” I stammered, stopping dead…


  About the Author

  Other Books by Meg Cabot



  About the Publisher


  “Oh my God, what’s she doing here?” my best friend, Sidney van der Hoff, was asking, as I came up to the corner booth to hand out menus.

  Sidney wasn’t talking about me. She was glaring at someone at another table.

  But I couldn’t be bothered to look and see who Sidney was talking about, since my boyfriend, Seth, was sitting next to her, smiling up at me…that smile that’s been making girls’ insides melt since about the fifth grade, when we all started noticing Seth’s even white teeth and highly kissable lips.

  It still freaks me out that out of all the girls in school, I’m the one he picked to kiss with those lips.

  “Hey, babe,” Seth said to me, blinking his long, sexy eyelashes—the ones that I overheard my mom telling Sidney’s mom over the phone are totally wasted on a guy. He snaked an arm around my waist and gave me a squeeze.

  “Hi,” I said, a little breathlessly. Not just because of the squeeze, but because I had a twelve-top (Mrs. Hogarth’s ninety-seventh birthday party) that was running me ragged, refilling their iced tea glasses and such, so I was panting a little anyway. “How was the movie?”

  “Lame,” Sidney answered for everyone. “You didn’t miss anything. Lindsay should stick with red; blond does nothing for her. Seriously, though. What’s Morgan Castle doing here?” Sidney used the menu I’d just given her to point at a table over in Shaniqua’s section. “I mean, she’s got some nerve.”

  I started to say Sidney was wrong—no way would Morgan Castle be caught dead at the Gull ’n Gulp. Especially at the height of the summer season, when the place was so packed. Locals—like Morgan—know better than to try to set foot near this place during high season. At least, not without a reservation. If you don’t have a reservation at the Gull ’n Gulp—even on a Tuesday night, like tonight—during high season, you can expect to wait at least an hour for a table…two hours on weekends.

  Not that the tourists seem to mind. That’s because Jill, the hostess, gives them each one of those giant beepers you can’t fit into your pocket and mistakenly walk away with, and tells them she’ll beep them when a table opens up.

  You’d be surprised at how well people take this information. I guess they’re used to it, from their TGIFs and Cheesecake Factories back home, or whatever. They just take their beeper and spend their hour-long wait strolling up and down the pier. They look over the side rails at the striped bass swimming around in the clear water (“Look, Mommy!” some kid will always yell. “Sharks!”), and maybe wander over to historic Old Towne Eastport, with its cobblestone streets and quaint shops, then wander back and peer into the yachts at the Summer People watching satellite TV and sipping their gin and tonics.

  Then their beeper goes off, and they come hurrying over for their table.

  Sometimes, while Jill’s leading them to a table in my section, I’ll overhear a tourist go, “Why couldn’t we have just sat THERE?” and see them point to the big booth in the corner.

  And Jill will be all, “Oh, sorry. That’s reserved.”

  Except that this is a total lie. The booth isn’t reserved. Well, not technically. We just hold it open every night, in case of VIPs.

  Not that Eastport, Connecticut, sees that many VIPs. Or, okay, any. Sometimes between lunch and dinner, when there’s a lull, Jill and Shaniqua and I will sit around and fantasize about what we’d do if a REAL celebrity walked into the place, like Chad Michael Murray (although we’ve gone off him a bit since his divorce) or Jared Padalecki, or even Prince William (you never know. He could have gotten his yacht lost, or whatever).

  The crazy thing is, even if, by some incredible fluke, an actual VIP like that did show up at the Gull ’n Gulp, he wouldn’t get a seat at the VIP booth. Because in Eastport, Connecticut, the only true VIPs are the Quahogs.

  And that’s who the corner booth is always saved for…any Quahog who, for whatever reason, might not have made a reservation at the Gull ’n Gulp during high season and needs a table.

  Shocking but true: Every once in a while a tourist will wander into the restaurant who has never heard of a quahog. Peggy, the manager, had to take me aside my first day working at the Gulp last June when a tourist was like, “What’s a quahog?”

  Only they said it the way it’s spelled, KWAH-hog, instead of the way it’s supposed to be pronounced, which is KOH-hog.

  And I was all, “You don’t know what a QUAHOG is???” and almost died laughing.

  Peggy explained to me, very stiffly, that quahogs actually aren’t that well-known outside of the Northeast, and that people from the Midwest, for instance, have probably never even heard of them before.

  She was speaking of the bivalve, of course. Because that’s what a quahog is—a type of clam that, when mixed in a pot with a lot of potatoes, onions, leeks, heavy cream, and flour, makes for the Gull ’n Gulp’s bestselling chowder. That type of quahog is what Eastport has been known for since like the 1600s, practically.

  Now, though, our town is known for a different type of quahog entirely. Because the Quahogs is also the name of Eastport High School’s football team, which has won the state championship every year since before I was born, sixteen years ago.

  Well, except for one year. The year I was in eighth grade.

  But no one ever talks about that year.

  It’s hard to say which quahogs the town’s residents are proudest of, the clams or the team. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the football team. It’s easy to take a clam— especially one that’s been around for that long—for granted. The team’s only been on its winning streak for a decade and a half.
br />   And the memory of what it felt like NOT to have the best team in the state is still fresh in everybody’s mind, since it was only four years ago, after all, that they were forced to forfeit that single season.

  That’s why nobody in town questions the corner booth. Even if some local did, for whatever reason, show up at the Gull ’n Gulp during the summer season without a reservation, he wouldn’t expect to be seated in the empty corner booth. That booth is for Quahogs, and Quahogs only.

  And everybody knows it.

  Especially my boyfriend, Seth Turner. That’s because Seth, following in the footsteps of his big brother, two-time All-State first team defensive end Jake Turner, is this year’s varsity Quahog kicker. Seth, like his brother before him, loves the corner booth. He likes to stop by the Gull ’n Gulp when I’m working, and sit there till I’m done, drinking free Cokes and inhaling quahog fritters (deep-fried dough with bits of clam inside that you dip in a sweet ’n’ sour sauce. This is the only kind of quahog I can stand to eat, because the dough masks the quahogs’ rubbery texture, and the sauce masks their total tastelessness. I am not a fan of the quahog—the bivalve variety, I mean. Not that I’ve dared mention this to anyone. I don’t want to get run out of town).

  Anyway, then, when my shift is up, Seth puts my bike in the back of his four by four, and we make out in the cab until my curfew, which is midnight in the summertime.

  So the corner booth is a total win-win situation, if you ask me.

  Of course, lots of times Seth isn’t the only Quahog in the corner booth. Sometimes his brother, Jake—who now works for their dad’s construction company—comes along.

  Not tonight, though. Tonight Seth’s brought along Quahog defensive lineman Jamal Jarvis and his girlfriend, Martha Wu, as well as quarterback Dave Hollingsworth.

  And, of course, wherever Dave goes, my best friend, Sidney van der Hoff, has to trail along, since she and Dave have been attached at the hip all summer, ever since Sidney’s former boyfriend—last year’s Quahog quarterback, All-State Most Valuable Player Rick Stamford—graduated in the spring and sent Sidney a “Dear Sidney” text message, telling her he needed his space and wanted to see other girls when he goes to UCLA in the fall.

  Which, if you ask me, was pretty decent of him. He could have strung Sidney along all summer and then just dumped her when he got to California—or even just gone ahead and seen other girls behind her back, and not told her, and come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations expecting to pick things up where they’d left them. It’s not like, being all the way across the country, Sidney ever would have known Rick had his tongue in some Kappa Kappa Gamma’s mouth.

  Although it actually is possible—even easy—to see other people behind your significant other’s back while living in the same town without that person (or anyone else, for that matter) ever finding out. Easier, for instance, than hiding the fact that you can’t stand quahogs (the supposedly edible kind).

  I’m just saying.

  So it was nice of Rick not to string Sidney along. I told her that at the time, even though it didn’t seem to console her much. Sidney didn’t really calm down until she found out Dave had broken up with Beth Ridley, due to her cheating on him with this hottie from Australia she met while crewing on her uncle’s parasailing charter.

  So Sidney invited Dave over to her house to commiserate about their no-good exes in her Jacuzzi over Boylan’s cream soda (Sidney’s was sugar-free, of course). Dave didn’t even try to take her bikini top off, which really impressed Sidney.

  So of course she hooked up with him.

  For such a small town, a lot of stuff happens in Eastport. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

  Like right now, for instance. Because when I looked over at Morgan Castle’s table and saw who she was with, I knew EXACTLY what she was doing at the Gull ’n Gulp on a Tuesday night in high season.

  And I also knew I didn’t have time for the drama that was about to erupt. I mean, I had Mrs. Hogarth’s birthday twelve-top to deal with.

  Sidney didn’t know that, though, and even if she had, she wouldn’t have cared. I’ve been best friends with Sidney van der Hoff, the most popular girl in my class, since second grade when I let her cheat off me during a spelling quiz. Sidney had been a wreck that day, on account of her kitten having gone in to get spayed. Sidney had convinced herself Muffy wasn’t going to survive.

  So I took pity on her and let her copy my answers.

  Muffy got through her surgery just fine, and grew into a fat cat whom I got to know quite well from the frequent slumber parties I attended at Sidney’s house afterward, Sidney not being the kind of person to forget a kindness.

  That’s what I love about Sidney.

  It’s all the drama I could live without.

  “Oh my God, is that Eric Fluteley?” Sidney was totally staring at Morgan’s table. “That’s even WEIRDER. What’s HE doing here? This is hardly his kind of place. I mean, considering that no Hollywood casting scouts are likely to walk in.”

  “Hey, Katie,” Dave said, ignoring his girlfriend’s outburst. This was typical Dave behavior. He is a notorious smoother-over…one of those people who is always calm, no matter what the situation—even Morgan Castle and Eric Fluteley dining together at the Gull ’n Gulp. That’s why he and Sidney make such a good couple. She’s a disrupter, and he’s a smoother-over. Together, they’re almost like one normal person. “How you doing? Busy tonight, huh?”

  “Way busy,” I said. He had no idea. This family from, like, Ohio or something had come in earlier, and the parents had let their kids run around all over the place, bothering Jill up at the hostess stand, throwing french fries out into the water (even though the signs on the pier supports say, very clearly, DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS OR FISH), getting in the way of the busboys when they were carrying enormous trays of used plates, shrieking for no reason, that sort of thing.

  If my brothers and I had acted that way in a restaurant, my mom would have made us go sit out in the car.

  But these parents just smiled like they thought their kids were so cute, even when one of them blew milk at me from a straw.

  And then, after all that, they only left a three-dollar tip.

  Hello. Do you know what you can buy in Eastport for three dollars? Nothing.

  “I’ll make this quick, then,” Dave was saying. “I’ll have a Coke.”

  “Make it two,” Jamal said.

  “Make it three,” Seth said, with another one of his knee-melting smiles. I could tell by the way he couldn’t take his eyes off me that things were going to get steamy in the cab of his truck later on. I knew the cami I was wearing had been a good idea, even though Peggy has a thing about bra straps showing, and had almost made me go home to change until Jill had pointed out her bra straps show every single night, and if it’s okay for the hostess, why not the wait staff?

  “Diet for me, please, Katie,” Martha said.

  “Me, too,” Sidney said.

  “Two diets, three regulars, and two quahog fritter platters coming up,” I said, gathering the menus. We always throw in free quahogs for the Quahogs. Because it’s good for business to have the most popular guys in town hanging out at your establishment. “Be back in a minute, guys.”

  I winked at Seth, who winked back. Then I hurried to turn in their order and get the drinks.

  I couldn’t help glancing in Eric’s direction on my way to the soda station—and saw him staring at me over the top of Morgan’s head. He had that look on his face—the same look he got when I was taking his headshots for his college apps, and the stills of him for the Quahog Gazette during that really intense scene from The Breakfast Club, which our school put on, where Bender talks about how his dad burned him for spilling paint on the garage floor. Eric played Bender, and you could TOTALLY see how Claire, the school’s prom queen, would go for him.

  Eric really is talented. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the movies someday. Or some TV series about sensitive but fearless doctor
s, or whatever. He’s already got an agent and goes on auditions and everything. He almost got a part in a Daisy sour cream commercial, but was beat out at the last minute when the director decided to go in a different direction and use a five-year-old instead.

  Which I could understand. I mean, it’s sour cream. How intense do you want the guy to look about it? Even now, Eric was looking at me so intensely that Morgan, who was trying to talk to him, totally paused and looked around to see what he was staring at.

  Quick as a flash, I turned my back on them and leaned down to ask Mrs. Hogarth if there was anything she needed.

  “Oh, no, Katie, dear,” she said, beaming at me. “Everything is just lovely. Larry, honey, you remember Katie Ellison, don’t you? Her mother and father own Ellison Properties, the real estate firm in town.”

  Mrs. Hogarth’s son, who was in Eastport with his wife (and some of his kids and some of their kids and a few of their kids) to take his mom and her best friends from her assisted-living community out for her birthday, smiled. “Is that so?”

  “And Katie takes pictures for her school paper,” Mrs. Hogarth went on. “And for our community newsletter. She took that nice picture of the quilting club. Remember, Anne Marie?”

  “I thought I looked fat in it,” said Mrs. O’Callahan, who, by the way, is fat. Although I’d tried to Photoshop out some of the excess, knowing she’d complain later.

  “Well,” I said, super chipperly. “Is everyone ready for dessert?”

  “Oh, I think so,” Mrs. Hogarth’s son said with a wink. He’d stopped by earlier with a cake from Strong’s Bakery, which we’d stashed in the back and which I was supposed to bring out while singing “Happy Birthday.” The Hogarths had forgotten to get candles, though, so I’d run over to the card shop and picked up two shaped like the numbers nine and seven. They were kids’ candles, with clowns on them, but I knew Mrs. Hogarth wouldn’t mind.