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Can True Love Survive High School?, Page 2

Natalie Standiford

  This is Madison Markowitz, over and out.

  “She's thinking, ‘If I talk on my cell while I wander around aimlessly with nothing to do, everyone will think I have a life,’” Mads said. She and Stephen were sitting on a bench at the marina on Sunday afternoon, watching the people stroll by and playing a game Stephen made up called “What Are They Thinking?” At that moment a platinum-haired girl walked slowly past a group of boys, chattering and laughing into her cell phone. Mads was convinced that she was pretending to be talking to some very witty friend for the boys' benefit.

  “She's fake laughing,” Mads said. “Look. She's saying, ‘You want to fly me to Hawaii in your private jet? But Hunter, I already have a date tonight.’”

  “And the boys are thinking, ‘Why is that girl walking so slowly? Does she think she's hot because she has a cell phone?’” Stephen said.

  “Oh look! Now she's thinking, ‘I hope no one noticed me picking my thong strap out of my butt,’” Mads said.

  “But someone did notice,” Stephen said. “Eagle-eye Mads.”

  Mads laughed. Stephen had a way of liking everything he saw in Mads—even the things she didn't like herself. It made her feel good.

  “What about that guy?” Stephen asked, pointing at a thirty-something man with a thatch of blond hair so stiff and perfectly coifed it looked like it had hairspray in it. Mads had never seen someone walk so stiffly, with such ramrod posture.

  “He's thinking, ‘If I don't move my head, my hair will stay perfect,’” Mads said.

  “Yeah,” Stephen said. “‘But if one single strand comes loose, I'll never be able to show my face in public again!’”

  Mads leaned against Stephen and he put his arm around her. She really liked him. She wished she could spend more time with him, but he was a junior and she was a sophomore, and they had no classes together. And most days after school he helped his mother in her studio. She was a sculptor and Stephen did apprentice work for her, cutting pieces of metal and wood to her precise specifications, welding, hauling things around, stuff like that.

  A good-looking couple strolled by, hand-in-hand. At the sight of them, Mads' breath caught in her throat. The boy was lean and broad-shouldered with longish, shaggy blond hair and a handsome face made somehow handsomer by a slightly too-big nose. The girl was blond, too, with straight hair and bangs and slender legs. The two of them had a golden aura of cool around them. They stood out.

  The girl, as Mads knew, was Jane Cotham, nineteen, a part-time student at Geddison, a local college. The boy was Sean Herman Benedetto, senior at RSAGE, star swimmer, and the monster crush, if not the love, of Mads' life.

  Stephen nodded at Sean and said, “He's thinking, ‘I wonder if my glutes look good in these jeans?’”

  “Heh, yeah,” Mads said, half-laughing. She was zoned out, staring at Sean. He had that effect on her. And she couldn't help thinking that his glutes did look good in his jeans. He gave Jane's hand a little tug, pulling her closer to him so he could wrap his arm around her. He was so into her. Anyone could see it.

  And Jane is probably thinking, “I'm the luckiest girl in town,” Mads thought, but she didn't say it out loud. It was a good thing Stephen couldn't read her thoughts. She liked him a lot, but Sean … he was, like, on another level.

  They disappeared into a shop, and the spell was broken. Mads leaned happily against Stephen's thin arm. He was cool in his own way, so smart but not snobby. Mads could be flighty but Stephen saw through it. He found the sense in her nuttiness.

  “Too bad you don't have ESP like your mom,” Stephen said. “Then you could really read people's minds.”

  “Oh god, don't remind me.” Mads dropped her head on his shoulder. She knew what awaited her when she got home. That stupid play. Her mother, M.C., had been campaigning hard for Mads to audition for the part of “Teen Mariah” all week. Audrey already had all of “Little Mariah's” lines memorized.

  “Maybe it won't be so bad.” Stephen got up and pulled Mads to her feet. It was nearly dinnertime, time to go home. “It might be fun to be in a play.”

  “Stephen, you don't know what this play is like. It's not exactly Eugene O'Neill. It's not even Cats.”

  “Poor Mads, the reluctant actress.” His arm around her, he pulled her toward his car, a red Mini Cooper. “Just tell your mother you don't want to do it. Say you're too busy with school or something.”

  “I've tried!” Mads said. “I've begged and pleaded and cried. I've threatened to run away and join a cult. She doesn't care. She thinks Audrey and I will learn to get along better if we're in this play together. And it's her dream to see her daughters playing her on stage. She's on some kind of wack ego trip.”

  “Sounds like it.” They got into the car and drove through the narrow streets of Carlton Bay, a small, pretty waterfront town that stretched across a row of gentle hills to a green valley. Stephen dropped her off at her house. “See you at school tomorrow. Hope so, anyway.” She turned toward him. He pulled her close and gave her a long, slow kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Any lingering thoughts of Sean disappeared like soap bubbles. Her first real boyfriend! It was better than a daydream.

  The warm feeling Stephen gave her dissipated as soon as she opened the front door to her house. “Oh, Mama, I can't live on a farm in Minnesota forever,” Audrey recited, quoting one of her lines from the play. “I must be near the ocean. I have to see the sea before I die!”

  As a girl, M.C. had been Mary Claire Olmsted, third child of Minnesota dairy farmers. The play was about her childhood and her rebellious decision to leave the farm at seventeen to go to college at Berkeley in California and be a hippie.

  Instead of her usual Bratz Doll/Britney-on-tour wear, Audrey was dressed in her best approximation of a Minnesota farm girl's outfit: white puffy-sleeved blouse, red gingham jumper, hair in two strawberry-blond braids. On her feet were a pair of shiny red shoes. Typical Audrey to have such a Hollywood-fake vision of Minnesota.

  “Who are you supposed to be, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?” Mads said.

  “I'm trying to stay in character as much as possible before my audition,” Audrey said. “Haven't you ever heard of Stanislavsky's Method of Acting, you ignoramus?”

  “Cram it,” Mads muttered, brushing past Audrey and hoping to escape into her room. Where did she get that Stanislavsky stuff? She was usually more Powerpuff Girl than Russian intellectual.

  “Girls, dinner's ready,” M.C. called from the kitchen. Mads veered right and headed for the kitchen. Good thing she was hungry, because she couldn't think of another good reason to suffer through a meal with these people.

  Her father, Russell, pulled a tray of whole wheat biscuits out of the oven. M.C. set a hot vegetable-and-cheese casserole on the table. “Ho, Madison!” Russell cried in his jolly voice, nabbing Mads on her way to her seat and kissing the top of her head.

  “Hi, Dad.” Her father was the only sensible person in the family. Or maybe he just seemed that way because he generally kept his mouth shut while his wife and daughters expressed every thought that popped into their heads.

  Audrey sat down. M.C. poured them ice water.

  “Papa, please pass the corn and them sweet, sweet tomaters,” Audrey said in a fake hick voice. She and Mads never called their parents “Papa” or “Mama.” That came from the play.

  “You don't have to be in character all the time, you know, Audrey,” Russell said. “We're out of corn and tomaters. Have some ratatouille. It's got cheese in it.”

  “And anyway, I never talked like that,” M.C. said. “I certainly never said ‘tomaters.’”

  “I'm doing the Method!” Audrey snapped. “I have to become Little Mariah—my version of her. You people have no respect for the way an artist works.”

  “Artist?” Mads said. “You mean a big fat slice of ham! Oink oink!”

  “Mama! Papa! That young 'un is picking on me!”

  “Don't tease her, Mads,” Russell said, but the twinkle in his eye tol
d her he was on her side.

  “I appreciate your enthusiasm for my play, Audrey,” M.C. said. “I wish Madison could muster up a little more interest.”

  Mads scowled and took a bite of ratatouille. It was scalding hot. She spit it back out on her plate and reached for her water glass.

  “Mads can't act,” Audrey said.

  “I could if I wanted to,” Mads said. “I just don't want to at this time.”

  “I think you'd be wonderful,” M.C. said. “If you'd just try out for the part, I know you'd catch the acting bug. What harm could it do?”

  “It's embarrassing,” Mads said. “I don't want to do it.”

  “I wish you'd at least try,” M.C. said.


  M.C. frowned. “I don't like this new attitude of yours, Madison. You never used to be so stubborn!”

  “Honey, don't push her,” Russell said.

  “It's just—she's being so unreasonable!” M.C. cried. Her blue eyes were moist behind her red cat's-eye glasses. “It's the very first production of my very first play. I'd think she'd be proud of it! All I'm asking is that she try out. That's all.”

  Mads felt bad. She knew this play meant a lot to her mother. And she'd be happy to go to opening night and clap louder than anybody. But why did she have to act in it?

  “Don't cry, Mama,” Audrey said in a twang that was more Alabama than Minnesota. “Don't you see? The sun will rise again tomorrow, same as today, same as always …”

  “Mom, I just don't see what the big deal is,” Mads said. “Audrey will be in the play. Isn't that enough?”

  “All I'm asking you to do is try out.” It wasn't like M.C. to be this fixed on something. But the play meant so much to her, and the harder she pushed, the more Mads resisted. She couldn't help it; it was like a reflex.


  “Madison, I insist you audition for the play. If you don't get the part, fine. But you must at least try out … or I won't let you go to Stanford with Holly and Lina.”

  “What?!?” Mads was outraged. “This is blackmail!”

  “Honey, do you think that's fair?” Russell said.

  “It's just an audition,” M.C. said. “It's not that much to ask.”

  “I don't believe this!” Mads cried. “Dad! Pull your Dark Overlord thing and overrule her!”

  Russell glanced from his daughter to his wife. “It means a lot to her, Mads. It won't kill you to try out. I mean, it's not as if you've got crippling shyness or anything.”

  Mads let her fork clatter against her plate. It was so unfair! But when she weighed the two choices, M.C. won. There was no way Mads was going to miss the Crazy College Weekend. Even if she had to get on a stage and completely humiliate herself. She'd been embarrassed before and lived; she could survive it again.

  “All right,” Mads said. “You win. I'll audition. But that means I definitely get to go to Stanford, right?”

  “Yes,” M.C. said.

  “Actually, honey, I thought we were going to discuss that tonight,” Russell said.

  M.C. shot him a sharp look. Matter settled.

  “Guess not,” Russell said.

  “Mom, don't make her audition,” Audrey whined. “She'll ruin everything.”

  “That's enough, Audrey,” M.C. said. “It's a chance for you two to learn to get along. Would you rather go to couples therapy?”

  “She'll suck!” Audrey said.

  “I thought you were staying in character,” Mads said.

  Audrey pushed away from the table. “I'll be in my dressing room.” She went upstairs.

  “Audrey!” M.C. called. “Come back and finish your ratatouille!”

  “I'll go get her.” Russell wearily got up from the table.

  M.C. rubbed her frizzy yellow hair. “You girls … Why can't you get along?”

  “Can I be excused?” Mads asked. “To practice my lines?”

  M.C. nodded, but she looked pained. “Go ahead, honey.”

  I'll audition, if that's what she wants, Mads thought as she ran up to her room. But she'll regret it. I'll stink up the place so badly M.C. will cringe with embarrassment. She'll think twice before trying to blackmail me again.


  News from Dan

  To: linaonme

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY'S HOROSCOPE: CANCER: An era is ending. It's put up or shut up time. I recommend shutting up, but if you decide to put up, good luck.

  * * *


  I haven't heard from you in a while. How is India? Long flight I guess, right? I'd love to hear your impressions of it. You used to describe San Francisco so beautifully, I'm sure you could make Mumbai come alive for someone who's never been there.

  There is at last a little news in my humdrum suburban life— I've been offered a job at a private school in Portland (Oregon, not Maine). Teaching English, which, as you know, I've wanted to do for a long time. No more Interpersonal Human Development! Can't say that I'll miss it. Although I will miss a few things about good old Rosewood, and a few of the people, too….

  Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm going to accept the job. I'm off to Portland this summer! It's not India, but I'm looking forward to a change. I hope the Bollywood Film School is treating you well. Write back soon.


  I don't believe it, Lina thought. Ramona was right. The rumor is true!

  Dan is leaving RSAGE. Leaving town! Forever!

  A couple of months earlier, Lina had found a personal ad online. The screen name was “Beauregard” but the photo showed Dan Shulman, Lina's Interpersonal Human Development teacher and the love of her life. Lina wrote to “Beau” using the name “Larissa.” Knowing that Dan would never be interested in a romantic correspondence with one of his students, she pretended to be a 22-year-old graduate student. And it was fun for a while. Beau fell for Larissa a little bit and wanted to meet her. That's when the trouble began.

  Lina had set up a lunch date and had gone to the restaurant. But in the end, she couldn't go through with it. So she wrote to him explaining that she couldn't see him because she was moving to India. It nearly broke her heart to do it. But she had no choice. If Dan knew she was Larissa, he'd stop writing to her. The whole thing would be ruined.

  But now he was moving away. After the end of the year, she'd never see him again. Things were ruined anyway.

  Mads and Holly knew that Lina had a crush on Dan, but Lina's real feelings, the true depth of them, were more private. Lina was afraid her friends wouldn't understand. The one person who knew best how Lina felt—and even she didn't quite get it—was Ramona Fernandez, over-the-top Goth girl extraordinaire. Ramona's crush on Dan was almost as big as Lina's, and she showed it by wearing a skinny tie like Dan's around her neck every day, on top of her gauzy Goth clothes. Some of her friends wore the ties too. Ramona called it the Dan Shulman Cult. They even had a shrine to him in Ramona's room. Lina wasn't crazy about the ties and the cult but she put up with Ramona because she understood what Dan-love was all about.

  Lina IMed Ramona immediately.

  linaonme: huge news! U were right! He's leaving!

  Lina knew that she didn't have to tell Ramona who “he” was. Their impossible love for Dan was just about the only thing Lina and Ramona had in common.

  raven7: how do u know?

  linaonme: he wrote me. as beauregard. He's moving to portland for a new job!

  raven7: this is a nightmare! What r we going to do?

  linaonme: I don't know. But we have to do something before he leaves—or we'll regret it for the rest of our lives.


  The Rabbit-Faced Boy of Her Dreams

  To: hollygolitely

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY'S HOROSCOPE: CAPRICORN: You can try to play God, but He'll always be more authentic in the role.

  * * *

  Josh is meeting us at the party,” Rob said.

  “Good,” Holly said. “Is he wearing
something nice?” Rob stared at Holly. “How should I know?”

  Boys. Holly let it go. It didn't really matter anyway. Boys all dressed pretty much alike. Holly stopped at the door of the Fowlers' house and gave Rob a quick kiss. “Thanks for helping me set this up.”

  Holly had searched and searched for the right boy for Britta, and finally settled on a friend of Rob's named Josh Sisson. He was a senior, going to Berkeley in the fall, so he had to be pretty smart. Other than that, his main qualification was that his girlfriend had just dumped him. He was upset about it, needed cheering up, and wanted a new girlfriend to parade around in front of the old one as quickly as possible. When Holly heard that Nick Henin, a senior, was having a big party, she decided it was the perfect chance to lure Britta out of her self-imposed convent.

  “I'm not sure this is going to work out,” Rob said as Holly pressed the doorbell. “I mean, what do they have in common?”

  “Well, they both wear glasses,” Holly said. Josh wore heavy, black-framed ironic-hipster glasses. “At least there's that.” It would have to do. “Anything could happen,” Holly added. “They could fall in love at first sight. The course of true love is uncontrollable and unpredictable.”

  “Who said that?” Rob asked.

  “I did,” Holly said. “But it sounds like a real quotation, doesn't it?”

  Peggy Fowler answered the door. “Holly! Nice to see you, Rob.” She let them in, fluttering nervously to the stairs. “Britta! Holly's here!” She turned back to Holly and Rob, waiting in the foyer. “Britta tells me you're introducing her to a boy tonight? I hope he's nice.”

  “Very nice, Mrs. Fowler,” Holly said. “He's a friend of Rob's.”

  “Good. So he's not too wild or anything, right? I want Britta to have more of a social life but not so much that her studies suffer, know what I mean? Drugs and drinking can just erase your brain cells … ”