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Project Princess

Meg Cabot

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  Thursday, March 10, the loft

  I am completely exhausted. I don’t know why, when I must already bear the burden of having been born a princess-even though I was not aware of it until recently-that I also have been cursed with such a trying family.

  I mean, it is bad enough that they waited until I was nearly fifteen before letting me in on the whole

  “oh-by-the-way-you’re-a-princess” thing. But now they can’t even agree on whether or not I can spend my Spring Break with the rest of the Albert Einstein High School Gifted and Talented class inWest Virginia , volunteering for Housing for the Hopeful.

  As if doing good works for the less fortunate was not what being a princessis all about!

  And okay, I can see how my whole Princess-Di-and-the-landmines argument didn’t work onGrandmère

  - who thinks I spend enough time in my overalls as it is- but my MOM? I just spent an hour impressing upon my mother Housing for the Hopeful’s “theology of the hammer”: how partnerships founded on common ground- for instance, a lot of people from different cultural, religious, and socioeconomic groups getting together to build a house- bridge theological differences by putting caring into action. I mentioned how everyone, no matter how uneducated, can use a hammer, turning it into an instrument that manifests peace and love.

  My pregnant mom- who was lying on her bed watching Stolen Women: Captured Hearts on the Lifetime Movie Channel with a carton ofHäagen-Dazs chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream balanced on her enormous belly (even though she is supposed to be limiting her saturated fat intake to less than twenty

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  grams daily due to her more-than-thirty-pound weight gain in the past half year) - just looked at me and asked, “Mia, are you in a cult?”

  OH, MY GOD! Only the extreme hormonal imbalance my mother is going through right now could make her believe that my working to provide affordable housing for the poor so that they can live in dignity and safety is in any way comparable to religious fanaticism.

  When I mentioned that out loud, however, my mother shrieked, “Frank! Come here, quick! Mia’s in a cult!”

  Thank God Mr.Gianini came into the bedroom- he’d been in the living room, practicing his drums- and explained to my mother in a calm, reasonable voice that Housing for the Hopeful is not a cult, that it is a nonprofit, nondenominational organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide. He also said that he himself had volunteered to escort students from Albert Einstein the past five Spring Breaks, and that the only reason he hadn’t gone this year was on account of my mom being pregnant with his unborn child, the sex of which we do not know because my mom says if she knows it’s a boy she won’t have any incentive to push, men being the reason we even need organizations like Housing for the Hopeful. Because male politicians make such bad decisions when they are elected to public office, such as starting expensive and unnecessary wars before making sure all their constituents have decent housing first, etc.

  So then I pointed out to my mom that Tina Hakim Baba, who isn’t even inGifted and Talented, and whose father owns a bunch of oilwells and is always worried about Tina getting kidnapped by some rival oil baron’s henchmen, has been given special permission to go. And that LillyMoscovitz , resident school genius and my best friend, is going. Ditto her boyfriend, BorisPelkowski , violin virtuoso and mouth breather.

  Then I added that my own boyfriend, Lilly’s older brother Michael, is going, as well. I tried not to look too eager as I stressed this last piece of information. I mean, really, there’s no reason to belabor the fact that Michael and I would be together, without parental supervision, in the wilds ofWest Virginia for five whole days. I was pretty sure my mom wouldn’t be too thrilled if she realized this was the primary reason for my wanting to go. I tried to make it sound like my primary reason for my wanting to go was my desire to help those less fortunate than me.

  Which is completely, 100 percent true.But also…well, I sort of want to make out with my boyfriend without having his parents or my mother or stepfather or grandmother barge in on us.

  I stressed to my mom that the trip is totally a school sanctioned outing, and would be fully supervised by Dr. Juan Gonzales, the director of the Northeast Division of Housing for the Hopeful; Albert Einstein High School’s principal, Principal Gupta; Mrs. Hill from my Gifted and Talented class (not that I am gifted or talented, but whatever); Mademoiselle Klein from French; and Mr.Wheeton , the track coach and Health and Safety teacher.

  Oh, and that-hello-the Appalachian Mountains are only, like, seven hours away from Manhattan by bus, and the whole trip is only for five days, so what is the BIG DEAL????

  But my mom still looked a little skeptical…

  …until I mentioned thatGrandmère had declared that my wanting to go at all was entirely Mom’s fault, for enrolling me in such a hippy-dippy school in the first place.

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  When I told Mom that, she got this look in her eye, and went, “Your grandmother said that? You know what, Mia? You can go. Now get out of the way, you’re blocking Janine Turner.”

  It’s a wonder I’m as well adjusted as I am, if you think about everything I have to put up with.

  Well, whatever. After all that arguing, I’M GOING TOWEST VIRGINIA !!!!!!!!! I must summon my last ounce of energy to tell my one true love of our impending bliss: FTLOUIE: Michael! My mom said I can go!

  LINUXRULZ: Oh, hey, that’s great.

  Oh, hey, that’s great?That’s IT? This is the full extent of Michael’s appreciation for all my hard work and whining? Oh, hey, that’s great? Maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet.

  FTLOUIE: ToWest Virginia ! Where we will be alone AT LAST!

  LINUXRULZ: Well, not really.Because everybody else in G and T is going to be there, too.

  Oh, my God. This is going to be harder than I thought. Michael is obviously not thinking along the same lines I am concerning this trip. He is probably looking forward to doing some good for the less fortunate.

  Which I am too, of course.

  But I am also looking forward to making out with my boyfriend under theWest Virginia stars….

  Must work on planting seed of romance in him, so it can come to fruition in time for major make-out session in our nation’s thirty-fifth state!!!!!!!!

  Friday, March 11, Homeroom

  Lilly is so excited about theWest Virginia trip she can’t talk about anything else. But she is excited for a

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  different reason than I am. She is bringing her video camera, and she is going to tape the trip and show it later on her public access cable television program, Lilly Tells It Like It Is. She says it is going to be a searing commentary on the inadequacies of our public housing system.

  “You should write something about it, Mia”, Lilly just said to me. “You know, something allegorical, like about how building a house compares to building an analytic framework for government policy of a small European principality likeGenovia . I bet anything they’d put it in the school paper.”

  But really Lilly was just rubbing it in that, ever since I discovered that my only talent is that I can write things in a semi-entertaining manner and joined the school paper, The Atom, all the editor has let me write is the weekly cafeteria menu, since I’m a freshman and I haven’t Paid My Dues.

  But even if I could get LeslieCho to print my story, it’s not like I actually know anything about building h
ouses. It’s not like I am going to be able to contribute anything to the Albert Einstein High School student construction team, considering what atalentless freak I am- except maybe for the whole writing thing. But what good, under circumstances such as these, is being able to write? It would be so much cooler if I were skilled at using a lathe, or something actually useful to society.

  Maybe I should just face the fact that the only thing I can do moderately well is write, and possibly order Chinese food, and that is highly unlikely that I have some kind of hidden talent for hanging drywall and that I am going to discover it while building houses for the homeless over Spring Break.

  Although- I am sorry- but if I were a poor person, I would so rather have me than BorisPelkowski build my house. Even if the alternative was no house, I would not want Boris building my house. I know Boris is the most gifted person in our whole Gifted and Talented class, but since during a school orchestra concert Boris went into the third-floor stairwell so he could practice his solo in private and he ended up locking himself out and had to bang on the steel doors for hours before anyone found him. I mean, the concert had already ended by then, and everybody had gone home. It was lucky the custodian was still on duty or Boris might have been trapped in that stairwell all weekend. Without food or water, he might have died, and on Monday when everybody came back to school, all they’d have found was this skeleton clutching a violin and wearing a sweater tucked into its pants.

  But that’s just my opinion.

  Friday, March 11, Lunch meeting of theAlbertEinsteinHigh School Housing for the Hopeful Brigade I am starting to have grave reservations aboutWest Virginia , and not just because Michael hasn’t once asked me if I am planning on bringing my cherryChapStick (his favorite flavor). I mean, I know there are poor people there and all, but it is still inAMERICA , for crying out loud.

  But Dr. Gonzales just gave us this list of things we need to bring with us, and Lilly and Michael and Boris and Tina and I are just sitting here, reading it, going,Hello , is this a joke? Like, what is a five-gallon solar shower bag? Where would you even buy one of those? And what is with the potassium-rich, non-melting

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  snack items? What are THOSE? What are we going to need potassium for? Don’t they have grocery stores inWest Virginia ? I mean, can’t we just go to the deli and buy a banana?

  Other things we are supposed to bring include:

  Tool belts or cloth nail pouch

  Hammer with claw

  Gloves for handling rough lumber, hammers, shovels, etc 25-to-30-foot tape measure

  Utility knife

  Wire cutter and/or tin snips to cut bailing and chicken wire Small nail puller or cat’s claw

  Carpenter’s pencil

  Smallsquare : combo, tri, or carpenter’s

  Small (short shank), sharp handsaw

  Plumb line (optional)

  Um, hello.I am a princess. I don’t have any of these things. Need a scepter? I’m your girl. Nail puller?

  Not so much.

  And hello, you would think they would give us some lessons on, like, gypsum board or whatever, but no. Instead, Dr. Gonzales just gave us these release forms that our parents are supposed to sign, saying that they won’t hold Housing for the Hopeful responsible in the event that we are maimed or killed on the trip!!!!

  Maimed or killed!!!!!

  Tina Hakim Baba just raised her hand and wanted to know why the handout says we need to bring a week’s supply of wet wipes with us. Dr. Gonzales says because on cloudy days our five-gallon solar shower bags might not warm up enough and so we should be prepared either to take a cold shower or use wet wipes to clean ourselves.

  Um, excuse me, but do wet wipes even work onb.o .? How am I going to make out with my boyfriend if I SMELL?????

  I really started panicking when Dr. Gonzales asked us all to turn to page 2 of the handout. That’s because page 2 said:

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  · Drink plenty of sports drinks, Gatorade, or cranberry juice the week prior to departing. Drink the Gatorade provided to you at the worksite to raise your electrolyte and potassium levels.

  · There are a great many flying insects in this climate. You will need insect repellant.

  · Don’t pet the local animals since they often carry diseases. Wash your hands immediately if you do.

  · Don’t drink the shower water or water from the local spigots.

  Don’t drink the water or pet the animals?Insect repellant?Gatorade?

  Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into????????

  Friday, March 11, princess lessons, the Plaza Hotel

  Grandmèrecan’t believe Mom is letting me go toWest Virginia . She says she doesn’t know who’s crazier, Mom for letting me go, or me for wanting to go in the first place. She read over the release forms and told me she hoped I’d have fun in boot camp.

  “It’s not boot camp,Grandmère ,” I told her. “It’s a nonprofit, nondenominational organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide.”

  “Then why,”Grandmère wanted to know, “does it say here that you need to rise every morning at six A.M?”

  “Because,” I said, snatching the forms back from her, “that’s probably when they serve breakfast.”

  Grandmèreshook her head. “The last time I got up at six A.M. was when the Germans were shelling the palace, back during the war. Nothing short of anti-aircraft fire should get a princess out of bed before eight. Anything earlier is indecent. It is not too late, Amelia, for you to join me inPalm Springs , where I am going to relax from the stress of our daily princess lessons. It isn’t easy, you know, teaching a young girl all she needs to be regent, day in, day out. Are you sure you don’t want to come with me? There’s no need to wear insect repellant in the desert. And there won’t be any wet wipes. Just the beautiful crystal waters of the hotel pool, and Belgian waffles from room service…”

  “No!” I yelled, because the waffle part sounded really tempting. I bet nobody at the spa where Grandmère is going ha to worry about their potassium level. “I am going to spend my Spring Break doing

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  something good for mankind.”And, hopefully, making out with my boyfriend. Oh, yes, and discovering that I am a skilled shingle layer. Hey, you never know. “Remember Prince William? He spent a YEAR

  after high school inChile helping the poor. I’m just going toWest Virginia , and only for five days. I think I can gold out for five days of getting up at six A.M.”

  Grandmèrejust took a sip of her sidecar and pettedRommel , her semi-bald toy poodle.

  “Suityourself ,” she said. “But I hope this doesn’t mean you are going to start going about in native wear, like those bulky Chilean sweaters Prince William started wearing. You know how wool gives you a rash.”

  I toldGrandmère they don’t wear sweaters inWest Virginia , and she asked what they do wear, then, and I had to admit I didn’t know. That’s when she stabbed a finger at me and went, “Ah ha! I’ll tell you what they wear inWest Virginia ! Gunnysacks! That’s what they wear inWest Virginia !”

  I toldGrandmère that contrary to what she might believe, the Depression is over and nobody wears gunnysacks anymore.

  But I don’t know. I mean, what about that movie Nell , starring Jodie Foster, where she played that deaf mute who lived way out in the woods and was always going on about “dancin’een theweend ”? I am pretty sure that was set inWest Virginia .Or one of theCarolinas . Close enough. And she was wearing a gunnysack.Or a housedress at the very last.

  Oh, my God, I hope they don’t expect us to dress like the natives in order to blend in! I don’t own a housedress! I don’t even think you can buy one of those inNew York !

  Friday, March 11, 11 p.m., the loft

  I was so worked up about all the
gunnysacks and Gatorade that when I got home I asked Mr.Gianini if there was something he maybe wasn’t telling me about his past trips with Housing for the Hopeful. Mr. G

  has never actually been toWest Virginia before, but he went toMexico and someTexas border towns with H for the H. He went, “Really, Mia, I can’t say enough positive things about the experience. It really taught me to appreciate all that I have.”

  Which is fine, but didn’t really answer my question about the gunnysacks.He did say I could borrow his hammer, though.

  So I went online and instant messaged Michael, because after all, he is my heart’s desire, and the only person on earth who can soothe me when my soul turns fractious as an injured pony.

  But even though he is my reason for living and all of that, Michael was totally unhelpful about the whole gunnysack thing.

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  LINUXRULZ: Mia, the people we are going to build homes for are poor, not demented. I am sure they are going to be wearing something other than bags. I mean, it’s not going to be like in Deliverance .

  I have never seen Deliverance because I don’t like movies where things jump out at people from behind trees, but I pretended like I had, because I want Michael to think I am mature for my age. After all, he is a senior and I am only a freshman. I have to do what I can to keep him from remembering I am only fourteen and three quarter years old.

  FTLOUIE: I know. But I mean, did you ever read Christy ?

  This is kind of a stupid question to ask a guy, since the only guy I know who has read Christy is my neighbor Ronnie, who is now a girl.But whatever. Michael is way well read, for a member of what my mom likes to call the cult of patriarchy.