Honey Woodhouse thinks she knows everything, especially everyone’s perfect match. Ethan Knightly is her hottie next door neighbor – and he just might know a little bit more. Honey is without a doubt the most popular girl at Sunrise High School but she’s about to learn how to deal when it all goes wrong. POPULAR is a high school story, inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, that tells you everything you need to know about how to fall in love and become… (un) popular.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
POPULAR by Summer Day
Prologue by Phoebe Knightly: Former babysitter to Miss Honey Woodhouse
It is said in our street – the laneway that leads from Sunrise Drive all the way up the hill to Beverly Hills – that when Miss Honey Woodhouse was born, fairy princesses attended her every whim. Dressed in pink tulle, they ascended from the waterfalls that surrounded the infinity pool at the base of Honey’s perfectly manicured garden. These fairy princesses granted her every wish and bestowed upon her those qualities – beauty, kindness, intelligence and the comforts of wealth (in fairy dust), which wise people will assure you are rarely bestowed simultaneously and never on one person.
Of course, I’m not saying that beautiful, blonde, popular Honey did not become both slightly conceited and even a little bit annoying by the time she reached her teens, but this is her story and I should never tell the ending just because I have the advantage of knowing it.
Honey’s brother-in-law, Ethan Knightly was the much younger cousin of the equally handsome and extremely sought after Mark Knightly. Ethan was staying with us that year, the year Emily Mouche Knightly (my daughter) was born. But I’m jumping ahead of myself as usual.
I’m Phoebe Harris Knightly. I trained to be a lawyer and before that, when I was a teenager, I was Honey’s babysitter. Presently, I’m her next door neighbor. My husband’s cousin Ethan is staying with us while his parents are in Europe. Ethan is close to Honey’s age. I think they’re perfect for each other.
Other children in the wickedly expensive enclave known as Bel Air, where Honey Woodhouse and the Knightly family grew up, were attended by baby nurses but Honey had a whole team of experts as well: her tutor and babysitter (that was me during the summer I spent at home before I went to college) a nanny, a swimming instructor, a tennis coach and even a riding instructor.
Most of these people came into Honey’s world when she was just eighteen months old.
I grew up in a slightly less expensive enclave known as Sunrise a few streets and an entire social divide away. After my best friend was killed in New York and her husband and daughter stayed in New York City, I wondered what my life’s purpose was. I wanted to help people, but I was also just so over, everything. Finishing law school was more of a chore than a pleasure, and afterwards I returned to Sunrise and resumed my teenage job for a few months over summer. This time I became more of a tutor and friend, less of a babysitter to Honey.
Honey’s mother wasn’t at home very much when she was growing up. Her parents separated, then intermittently got back together, until they agreed they were happier apart. This allowed Honey to consider herself, from the age of six, in charge of her father. This was a job she enjoyed. While Honey’s mother vacationed at various clinics in Europe (treating ailments that changed every winter from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to water retention to an overdose of Botox necessitating her thrice yearly trips to Europe and Switzerland), we grew into our own family. It was often just us in the house. Honey’s older sister, Maya, who was far more retiring than the boisterous and decorative Honey was soon away at boarding school. Maya got married soon after college and we saw little of her in Sunrise given that she now resided in New York.
Honey took her role as family organizer very seriously.
After some success, she decided to organize her entire school, her neighborhood, her family and my husband’s younger cousin, Ethan Knightly – a dedicated athlete and high school student who was smart enough to have Honey’s measure since her celebrated birth. Ethan was also nine months Honey’s senior. Honey, at six, had conspired to make Ethan her pram pusher, sunglass straightener and swimming pool life guard – roles from which he had barely recovered.
Elementary school Honey was very self-sufficient; nowhere near as bossy as the fashionable and wise twelve year old she became.
Since I have lived near Honey most of my life, when I reached my teens and Honey needed a babysitter, her parents often called on me. By the time Honey was six and I was eighteen, Honey’s mother had checked into a spa in the Maldives for a two week ‘vacation’. It was decided Honey needed me to stay on as her tutor for the rest of summer. I’d just returned from a vacation in Europe and was undecided about which college I should attend or, in fact, which career path to take. I babysat Honey that fortnight and we’ve remained close ever since. When I lost my best friend in the world, Honey’s laughter got me up in the morning. So I have her to thank for showing me the way forward in order to make the best life possible.
In Honey’s mind, I was her first great triumph. You see, Honey Woodhouse, at the ripe old age of six, had identified my future husband, Mark Knightly and conjured opportunities for us to continue to meet.
All did not go smoothly between Mark and me. But that is a whole other story and belongs in a memoir somewhere between the high school story I wrote, Pride & Princesses and this. Let’s just say, without Honey’s matchmaking skills over the years, I’m not sure our marriage would ever have happened.
I was well into my twenties by the time Mark and I finally got it together in New York City. Honey had decided that after ‘practically raising her’ what I now needed was true love and romance, and I found it. Of course I’d always known Mark Knightly was ‘the one’, but we were both stubborn and took a while to make our relationship official. When I was Honey’s age I was never as sure of myself as her.
Honey started her first matchmaking enterprise between two classmates when she was in first grade at elementary school. Her new friends, Tyler and Jessica, were holding hands a week after meeting but it took a decade to progress beyond that!
Honey agreed a match made in haste could be regretted at leisure.
Wise people say your first success at something tends to make you more enthusiastic to repeat the enterprise.
Honey attracted lots of friends. I’d taught her everything I’d learned in my years of besting the Princesses (a legendary mean girl clique at my old high school) and running my own popularity show as a junior. Honey was always first to remember birthdays, gifts and cards and always ready to give ‘helpful advice,’ both asked (and sometimes unasked).
It’s the unasked part that got Honey into hot water.
By freshman year at Sunrise High School, Honey Woodhouse was already developing her lists, cliques and bossy, pretty girl ways from her bedroom ‘office’ with the full scale canopy bed decked out in princess pink.
She enlisted her computer whiz neighbor, Ethan Knightly, (who was staying with Mark and me that summer while his parents were based in Belgium on business), to develop a computer matchmaking program with her.
Ethan thought it was all a bit of a joke and went along with it, until he realized Honey was taking her game from cyberspace to reality.
I would often read a text or email from her asking me for advice about what to do in various social situations but usually she had those covered. By her sophomore year at Sunrise, she fielded at least a dozen calls every morning (including Saturdays), was constantly texting from her ‘social media platform’ as Miss Matchmaker Teen and was already bossing Ethan around, like a puppy dog.
Tall, dark haired, smart and wickedly handsome Ethan was as bemused and adoring of the precocious Honey as her father (who indulged her every whim), was. Plus, Ethan seemed to have a new girlfriend every week and according to Honey, ‘needed a lot of help to sort out his relationships.’
My husband Mark was a busy partner in his own law firm and on the boards of various companies and was admittedly, ‘not an expert in teen behavior ’ so I was left to counsel Ethan myself.
Ethan’s girlfriends bore Honey’s intrusions and questionnaires only because Ethan assured them that Honey was his best friend. They quickly realized if they weren’t ‘in’ with Honey, they weren’t in with Ethan.
Here is an example of Honey’s first questionnaire – she has definitely refined it over the years:
Terms of Agreement
I, as ‘the matchmaker’ agree to introduce you to up to six favorable matches; ones I deem ‘suitable’. In exchange for this I require feedback in the form of an anonymous questionnaire (no parties shall be named) and information shall not be disclosed to a third party.
Anonymous questionnaire as follows* (all answers must be G rated please!):
Favorite activities: (G rated please)
Do you believe in marriage, dating or just ‘hooking up?’
Ideal boyfriend / girlfriend:
As she grew up, Honey would refer ‘hesitant matches’ to her sample questionnaires.
By the time she reached her mid-teens, Honey was set in her matchmaking ways. Honey felt ‘matchmaking’ in this age of ‘busy teens’ was the way of the future. Her style was more personal than the internet and far more subtle. Honey’s father and cousins merely laughed at Honey’s suggestions.
She had tons of ‘helpful’ advice even for Mark and me – and I think the way she conjured excuses for us to ‘run into each other’ when we were both in New York definitely sped up our romance, which as I said, had its ups and downs in the beginning.
For example, I remember Honey advising me one day in Farmers Markets when she was in elementary school, “Oh Phoebe, it’s very clear Mark’s workaholic personality would not be a deal breaker if he actually liked you, which he so obviously does. I mean, I may only be a kid but I know a thing or two about both love and people,” she assured me.
“Well, we dated when we were teenagers,” I explained, “but then…real life got in the way. We went to separate colleges and… stuff happens. Perhaps we weren’t meant to be. Mark always acted snobbish and boring. He even snubbed me at our first high school dance. Mouche and I dressed up to the nines to impress Mark and his friend Jet and it all… went wrong,” I added.
“Mark insulted me. He told his friend I wasn’t pretty enough to dance with.”
“I’m sure it was a misunderstanding, c’mon,” Honey tugged my hand as we went to buy strawberries dipped in chocolate at the fruit stall.
“Oh look! There he is. I think you and Mark are both a perfect match,” she whispered.
Honey was an adorable child and could not be ignored. Mark was with Ethan and Honey started talking to him, creating an excuse to bring Mark and I together.
When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon on the Greek Island of Paros, Ethan came to stay with us and Mark became his guardian. Business interests had forced his parents to relocate to England for the year and because Ethan wanted to attend a summer program at UCLA and stay in the Bel Air school district, we were happy to have him.
He spent most of his time at Honey’s house (next door) just ‘hanging out’ as he put it. By then, Honey was a sophomore. Ethan was about to transfer to Sunrise High where Mark and I attended school, so long ago. It was kind of a coincidence because the boys, like Honey, were from one of the richest families in Bel Air, but you’d never have known it.
Neither of them were particularly interested in money, as it turned out. Mark helped out as an advocate at an environmental law firm and with my former clients who were, for the most part, ‘at risk’ teenagers. His values were one of the many things I cherished about my husband.
In fact, Mark and I were far more compatible than we realized.
It just took Honey to prove it.
The story of the matchmaker of Bel Air really did begin at the Farmers Markets… and I think, it’s probably time for Honey to tell you what happened next.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
How to be Popular by Honey Woodhouse
Finding a match
My entirely wonderful matchmaking plans were born in Beverly Hills although Phoebe is sure to tell you they were born at Farmer’s markets.
The sun shone through the stained glass windows of the Church of Beverly Hills on Phoebe’s and Mark’s wedding day, inspiring me along with their spoken vows.
It had taken ten years but I’d made it happen. I had created plenty of ‘opportunities’ for them to date and told one how highly the other person thought of them and vice versa even when they’d told me no such thing. I’d even written a list of compliments in the form of a dialogue that Ethan observed me writing over my shoulder once, but that’s a whole other story.
“Honey, what are you doing?” Ethan had asked.
“Nothing you need to know about,” I replied (quite huffily, I admit). It’s rude to read over the shoulders of others.
Ethan raised his eyebrow.
He and Wednesday (the younger half-sister of Mouche – who was Phoebe’s best friend) often came over to swim at my place when we were little kids. Then Wednesday’s career as an actress really took off. She started by doing commercials but now she spends part of the year in Wilmington filming a teen television series. She enrolls at Sunrise when she’s back home.
Without a doubt, the marriage between Ethan’s hot older cousin and my babysitter was my greatest matchmaking moment.
Phoebe and Mark were exchanging vows one week before I was due to start at Sunrise High. Wednesday was filming in Georgia so I was mentally preparing exactly how I’d establish myself in my freshman year – alone, without my best friend – and even the outfit I’d wear to my new school on my first day. I’d left The High School for Young Ladies after sixth grade. It was way snobbish there. I needed a new scene and Phoebe suggested Sunrise. Sunrise was like a breath of fresh air and I quickly became friends and part of a group of girls (generationally known as ‘the princesses’). I couldn’t wait for sophomore year to start. I had so many plans. But first of all, I had to decide what to wear.
Hair braided at the side? Too Amish? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but I am not Amish, obviously.
Sailor suit top tailored over jeans? Too Glee? Too Sound of Music? Maybe. Again, not necessarily a bad thing.
Gloss or pale lipstick? Both make a statement. Both say, I made an effort but I don’t think looks are more important than developing a personality. Sure, I know most girls don’t get rewarded for having a personality but trust me, one day it will pay to have one.
Now, shoes or boots? Shoes say “here I am, and I’m a conformist.” This is probably a good thing to be on your first day at a new school. Boots say, “I’m making a statement!” Especially my adorable just over the knee ones. They’re saying, “Here I am, a fashion diva, ready to friend but don’t mess with me.”
I was very eager to consolidate my group of BFFs with a new member or two. It takes an army to make a village… or does it take a village to make an army? Whatever it is, it takes more than one person to appear popular and without popularity, you have no influence. Influence is how the world – especially my teenage world, turns.
Now, if I can’t influence someone like Ethan – how could I possibly influence anyone else? Look at him on my group photo screensaver. Pitiful, huh? He’s cute, obviously, but he has no style. He needs my help but he won’t ask for it.
Ethan is probably a bad example of me wielding my power, eager as he is to listen intently to everything I have to say, laugh and inevitably do the opposite. Not only does he disregard both my feelings and my opinions but he ignores almost totally my fashion sense. That flaw is the hardest to accept.
For example, I put on a new skirt to show Maria (our housekeeper) the other day. Ethan just happened to be indulging in one of her chocolate cakes (he eats like a horse and maintains an athlete’s muscle tone) and he just ignores my style completely.
“Was it too far above the knee?” I asked Phoebe. Phoebe smiled and shook her head.
Ethan didn’t even glance in my direction. It’s so offensive when ignorance breeds that kind of superiority complex. Generally, if I’m being obnoxious my father sends me back to my room while Ethan just sits in the study with Daddy going over the latest stock reports or whatever, once again paying me scant attention.
Oh, there he is now.
Maria hands him an extra piece of cake.
I’m reminded… of Phoebe’s wedding…
At Phoebe’s wedding reception, I was seated alone admiring the gorgeousness of the wedding cake, the venue and the cleverness of my matchmaking handiwork – the house with the fairy lights lit up the garden as all of the guests (including Wednesday who had managed to get the day off from filming Teen Daze – the television show she’s in) were huddled together. I had encouraged my two best friends to dance with two juniors I’d invited without realizing I’d be left at the table for the first ten minutes of the evening.
That’s when Ethan, dressed from head to toe in exactly the suit I recommended he wear, came up to say hello. His dance partner (who knew he even danced?) was hanging onto his hand like her life depended on it. I always encourage women not to appear so needy, but whatever. I’m not sure what I’d encourage Ethan’s potential girlfriends to do since they had the dubious taste to set their sights on Ethan in the first place.
Ethan is barely twelve months older than me but he already thinks he knows everything. He’s seriously not the wisest of men where girls are concerned. I mean, I’m so much more mature. He just has no idea. For example, most women are not interested in the robotics and engineering elective he’s considering taking at UCLA alongside his political science major.
Tonight, he seems to barely notice the girl he’s with, so I’m sure she’ll wise up soon. He’s way too busy talking to the group of little ones surrounding him. The whole room is lit up like a fairy castle (again, my influence, the real wedding planner wanted to go tribal!)
Ethan is seated with the youngest bridesmaids who are listening rapturously to his magical story.
He’s hidden the final treasure hunt prize in his jacket and the whole room looks at him as if to say, “aww,” except me.
“Honey!” He says as he looks up.
He was pleased to see me, I could tell, but he’s already about to give me some advice about my ‘matchmaking’ activities because he clearly disapproves of them. I pretend to be extremely engrossed in my conversation with Phoebe’s former teacher Ms Dash (wearing a dress two seasons out of date), before he can catch my eye again. Ms Dash could definitely use my fashion advice but she’s far too interested in encouraging me to ‘excel’ in art class, which is admirable, but she shouldn’t neglect her manicure.
I was trapped between a rock and a hard place as Ethan introduced his new girlfriend to me.
“Honey,” he said, “I’d like to introduce you to Gigi.”
“Nice to meet you, Gigi,” I said and I meant it even though Gigi’s smile was unwelcoming, a few of her parts looked fake (isn’t sixteen too young for plastic surgery?) and her fashion sense was completely underwhelming.
Ethan whispered, ‘be nice,’ behind her shoulder.
“How could you imagine I wouldn’t be?” I asked as he touched Gigi’s arm and she dragged his uncoordinated feet onto the dance floor.
At least Phoebe, Mark and Wednesday seemed to be enjoying themselves as Wednesday, Ty and Jessica (my friends) pulled me onto the dance floor and we all started to dance in a circle around the happy couple. After the song ended, Phoebe and Wednesday were talking animatedly and admiring each other’s gowns. Wednesday had brought a yummy looking dude from the film set who at one point joined the band. Wednesday told me after, like most people he wanted to be something he wasn’t. He wanted to be a guitarist not an actor. “Acting’s not all I thought it would be but I’m making a great college fund – “Mouche would be proud,” Wednesday added. As I mentioned earlier, Mouche, Phoebe’s best friend, was Wednesday’s half-sister.
I agreed. I vaguely remembered Mouche – I was only tiny, like Wednesday, when Mouche was killed. I’ve seen photos of her though and her beauty is legendary around here. Phoebe once told me what a fun and talented person Mouche was and I see that in her photographs and in Wednesday’s smile.
As I surveyed the world, my world, I noticed in that moment, all was right with it.
I could never have known where my next social challenge would take me.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
The Boy Next Door
The night after Phoebe’s wedding, Ethan arrived at our house for dinner as usual.
I was sitting glumly at my desk, the one overlooking the swimming pool, trying to resolve a difficult match, when Ethan snuck up behind me, put his hands over my eyes and said, “Honey! What scheme are you working on now?”
“It’s very rude of you to sneak up on me, Ethan. I thought you’d be busy impressing your new girlfriend…”
“First of all, your dad said I could come up. Second of all, Gigi is not really my girlfriend… yet. And you are extremely judgmental, Honey Woodhouse. I expect better of a girl who has been given so many advantages.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Besides, you’re the one who left the door open, practically inviting me in,” he added.
“You know you always have an open invitation to raid our pantry and play repeated versions of Star Trek on the flat screen. Even so, a gentleman would knock!”
“Honey, sometimes I wonder what century you live in. I’m not trying to be ‘a gentleman’ as you put it.”
“Well, that’s good Ethan because it says here in an online etiquette manual circa 1888 that, ‘a gentleman always knocks and opens doors for a lady.’”
Ethan looked at me and smiled.
“Mmm… Since Phoebe and Mark are on their vacation… What’s for dinner?” He asked.
“Well, Daddy needs his nutrients so I was thinking of making him vegetarian lasagna but as it happens, he’s going to be working late and won’t appreciate a home cooked meal tonight. So, in Maria’s absence, I thought I’d order take out.”
Ethan often came over for dinner. His favorite food is pizza, mine is Thai but we both like Chinese; a happy compromise.
Daddy came in to collect something he’d forgotten, just as I was ordering.
“It’s good to see you, Ethan,” my Dad said as he grabbed his cell. He was still in his office suit. Daddy is quite old but he still rushes around like a much younger man. He has a strong work ethic. He owns some big financial firm and they’ve been very busy recently trying not to lose their client’s money. I don’t know a whole lot more than that. Still, I wish Daddy would take it easy. I worry about him all the time.
Ethan and I were slumped on the couch when daddy rushed out again. An old movie was playing on television: How to Marry a Millionaire. Marilyn looked so pretty in that – all the girls did then. I love old movies but Ethan likes it more when there are car chases and stuff blows up on screen.
I began working on my dating plans during the commercial breaks as we waited for the food delivery.
When the take out arrived, I snapped shut my dating journal – filled with notes I was taking to formulate my plan of action for the month.
Ethan smiled with self-satisfaction.
“I didn’t want you to dine alone for the first night in six months.”
I smiled at Ethan. He was, it has to be said, kind of cute in repose.
The dining room table had been set especially by our housekeeper Maria who always set a special place for Ethan. Now that Ethan’s cousin had married my babysitter and neighbor, I felt we were officially non-blood relatives and Ethan acted all protective and critical sometimes – just like I imagined an older brother might.
Of course, I rarely approved of the girls he chose to date but until he asked my advice (something I was hoping he might do soon) he’d just have to suffer in silence. Without a plan of action, well, Ethan was just like a swimmer in an ocean or a driver without a map. He needed me. He just didn’t know it, yet.
I served the first course: mini-vegetarian crispy spring rolls with extra soy sauce – delicious.
The whole meal was full of the best Chinese food I’d ever tasted: wantons, crispy chicken, duck pancakes and even delicious vegetables with noodles. Ethan seemed intent on watching television all through the meal. After we finished eating, I moved to the couch to plan my first day of the new semester on my tablet.
I love my fashion app and started ordering clothes online while I ate dessert (delicious fried vanilla ice cream with real caramel syrup and added berries for goodness – yum). I was onto my second last mouthful before I was due to swap for some healthy fruit salad when Ethan got up from the couch and started reading over my shoulder.
“I can’t believe you order clothes without trying them on first!”
I shut my tablet down really quickly. Ethan thinks I’m fabulously extravagant but I do earn my own money (babysitting and working at the shelter) – at least enough to make a contribution.
“It’s on sale,” I said, reluctantly deleting the image of a fluffy pink coat as a possible purchase. “And I can’t believe that along with your private school education you haven’t learned any manners. At my school, the boys would never do that.”
“Mmm…” Ethan said, “That’s good to know.”
Reading over a person’s shoulder is just plain rude. How often do I have to tell you this? No girl is going to respond to your impolite behavior.”
“Well, as it happens many girls already have.”
I pulled a face, so over Ethan’s boasting about what a chick magnet he is.
Ethan smiled and shrugged as my father’s kind voice interrupted Ethan’s harassing one. My father had arrived home earlier than expected.
“Ethan has some news for you, Honey,” my father explained as he cleared his throat.
“Oh really? Has Gigi absconded and splashed photos of him falling asleep in class with drool all over his cheek on Twitter?”
“No Honey, I’m coming to spend my junior year at Sunrise High.”
“You can’t be serious?”
I sat up straighter than usual on my couch and adjusted my designer boots.
“Excuse me? Do my ears need cleaning? Am I hearing right? Perhaps I need to check my audio…”
“Honey, don’t be rude. Ethan is going to need your friendship. You should help him fit in on his first day, too. Aren’t you heading the social committee?”
Ethan laughed out loud as if to say, it’s Honey’s help I could probably do most without!
“Why are you invading my school?” I asked, trying desperately to remain calm. It was clear, in such close proximity, Ethan would be all over my social plans like pasta sauce. He’d see right through every one of my matchmaking ideas and decide I was far more scheming than I really am. He wouldn’t understand at all how my friends have come to rely on my good opinions; recommendations about what to read, what to see at the movies and of course my fantastic dating advice.
“My physics teacher is transferring to Bel Air. Since he’s a great teacher and physics is important to my grades, I thought I’d save my parents the extra tuition and transfer along with him for junior year. Gigi is transferring from HSYL. She likes the drama program.”
“Gigi? What sort of name is that?”
“The name of a future star. Jealous?”
“Whatevvs.” Ethan knew I wasn’t totally into the drama program but it’s where I made a lot of contacts. I had no desire to actually act, of course. I was far more interested in real life.
“Are you seriously coming to Sunrise?
He put on a glum face and nodded.
“Then you should know, my group is all about socializing. You’ll be like a pariah if all you want to do is talk about boring stuff like math and science. Do you even listen to music, Ethan? Are you into fashion? Reality TV? I just don’t think you’ll fit in with my crowd.”
Ethan laughed again as he stood up, “I’m a junior. I don’t wanna ‘fit in’ with your crowd,” Ethan laughed. “Either way, I think I’ll survive.”
“Yes, but will I?” I asked under my breath.
My father was all impressed by Ethan’s dedication to study and had so many references and internships lined up for him he made me look positively under-busy.
I had the entire month of October planned down to the finest details – everything that led up to Dance Fangdango (This year the autumn dance had a vampire theme – original, I know). The dance was the highlight of the school social calendar during the first half of the year. I hadn’t anticipated the Ethan factor.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
“Now play nice, children,” Dad said jokingly as I placed some snacks on the couch for us while Ethan swapped computer games. Seriously, does he really think I’m going to sit here and clap while he gets the highest score?
“Aren’t we a little old for that Ethan?”
“You might be, I’m not.”
After he reached a high score he texted his friend Ariel.
Ariel lives close by but has headed so far down the emo road she may not ever return. I’ve barely ever seen her wear an actual color. She’s not open to a makeover even though I’ve tried to help her.
“She’s coming over,” Ethan announced.
“Great,” I added, even though it wasn’t great.
Ariel is a science geek who also likes computer games and I think she has a crush on Ethan although he seems blissfully unaware of it. They’ve known each other since grade school. It’s really quite nauseating to be around them since they practically finish off each other’s sentences.
“Oh Honey, I hope we won’t miss Phoebe too much while she’s on her vacation,” my father said as he headed up to his study. “I hope she and Mark return soon. They are far more than neighbors now since your sister married Mark’s other cousin – they are family.”
Did I mention I have a much older sister, Maya? Yes, I did. Well, she’s married and lives in New York with yet another Knightly, Mark’s older half-brother, Harris, who he didn’t grow up with and barely knows.
“Now, don’t wake me up too early in the morning. Goodnight Honey,” Daddy said as he kissed the top of my head. “Night Ethan, say hello to Ariel. Try not to spill any of Sugarplum’s food on the couch, Honey.”
Sugarplum is my French bulldog rescue dog. She was rescued just as some horrible mean ignorant person started trying to rip one of her toenails out just to watch her cry and yelp in pain. Thankfully she was saved because of the Bel Air School District Rescue Squad of which I am a founding member. It’s called We Love Dogs but now we help cats as well, so we’re changing it to: We love Animals. I’m going to brainstorm my socials once we start school. We totally need to cast our net wider – there are all sorts of endangered species that need our help.
The minute I saw Sugarplum abandoned near a garbage bin yelping in his cardboard box, paws bloodied, I just had to have him. His paws were cleaned and bandaged and eventually they healed.
He needs extra love (which he definitely gets from me) but on special occasions I get his toenails painted bright blue (with non-toxic doggy friendly nail polish) so he only has to look up at the sky to remember how special he is. Of course, Ethan had to tell me that dogs don’t see color but I choose not to believe that.
Sugarplum nuzzled into the crook of my arm as dad left the room.
“‘Night Daddy, don’t worry about me,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not you I’m worried about Honey, it’s Ethan; I fear you might eat him alive while I’m asleep.”
“Of course I won’t, Daddy. Ethan is used to my argumentative ways. At least I have an opinion. You taught me that.”
“Exactly,” Ethan said, “it’s good training for the United Nations…”
He laughed at his own joke. I bet Ethan doesn’t think I’m smart enough to get into the United Nations. Well, I could just show him.
My father leaned over and kissed me goodnight on the cheek again in his kind and warm way. He is the best father I know and I am extremely blessed to have him.
Meanwhile, Ethan decided to try out my dad’s Xbox again and ate more dessert while waiting for Ariel to text him. He totally acts like he owns this house, and I don’t really blame him. We’ve been hanging out together my whole life, even longer than him and the wonderful Ariel. He’s like the carpet, honestly.
“Ariel can’t wait to hang out – with both of us. You really have to try to stabilize those mood swings, Honey,” Ethan said, pressing the remote control. “You need to get over your sister getting married before you.”
“My sister is ancient but who ever thought your eldest brother would settle down?” I spoke as if I was thinking aloud. “Of course, I’m happy that she’s married even if I think the match is unsuitable. There is no spark between them in my opinion. But, at least they’ll be loyal to each other. After all, she’s boring and so is he. Perhaps like really does meet like but there is little comfort in having conjured up the match myself,” I snapped to Ethan.
I was annoyed I’d played cupid with Ethan and Ariel, too. After all, I’d introduced the pair of them, unwittingly, in elementary school. When Ariel and I were fighting over a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ethan interceded. That’s how they met. They were so unsuited, romantically. I think that’s why Ariel is relegated to the ‘friend zone.’ I’m going to have to speak to her about that, explain to her that Ethan just isn’t the one. It’s been obvious in recent months that Ariel thinks of Ethan as more than a friend when, he’s just not that into her.
“I would never have introduced you and Ariel had I known how wrong you’d both be for each other,” I mused.
“Boo hoo Honey. We’re just friends and Ariel’s cool with that. So am I. There’s nothing lost, but your sister and my brother? That was just a lucky guess.”
“It was not. You can’t overlook the role I played as matchmaker even if they are seriously boring as a couple. I was integral to their union.”
Ethan flicked the channel as he munched on a piece of watermelon.
“Doubt it, they were into each other from the moment they met. I caught them bumping uglies in the closet a year ago.”
“Too much information.”
Ethan laughed and switched channels.
“Well, you can’t deny I got Phoebe and Mark together. Right from the start I pointed out all of Phoebe’s perfectly lovely qualities.”
“Things Mark was no doubt aware of from the start,” Ethan said under his breath as he sipped his drink. “You made nothing more than a lucky guess, Honey.”
“Well, we shall see about that. This whole month is all about the lead up to Dance Party Fangdango – everyone gets to take someone and it’s so much better if that someone is fun and a good match. I have my eye on couples I’d like to see together already. You should know I don’t think you and Gigi are going to make it.”
“Well, maybe we already have.”
“And what would you know, Honey? You give all the good advice but you’ve never dated anyone.”
“I’m not dating until I’m sixteen. I like to keep my mind clear of distractions. Anyway, I’m waiting until I’m older to meet college boys. I want Mr Right, not Mr Right Now.”
Ethan nearly choked on his soda.
“But, I have someone in mind for the new girl…” ‘The New Girl’, I’d just heard about via text from Jessica was named Hilary and had just arrived from San Francisco. “Doesn’t one of daddy’s friends have a son who’s transferring along with you?” I hinted.
“If you’re thinking about Flynn Elton , you should be warned. He’s not what you think. His older brother was in my class. My father worked with his father in Singapore… Flynn’s younger than me but I heard he’s a player. He only dates girls with money from the right social climbing families…”
Ethan’s family had always been one of the wealthiest in Los Angeles and he’d never seen any sense in only talking to people because they had money. But he’d noticed not everyone had as good a value system as him. He really thought people like Flynn’s mom were kind of a joke. Flynn’s mom warned her son only to date girls whose father’s owned companies, according to Ethan.
“There is nothing wrong with being wealthy,” I said, “as long as you use your wealth to do good things.”
“Oh, ho hum, the voice of teen wisdom speaks.”
“At least I have values,” I argued.
“You should stay out of other people’s love lives and worry more about your own. You’ve been single your entire life, Honey. I think there’s a reason for that.”
“Yeah, ‘cos like, I’m barely sixteen. I have other matches to make before my own.”
“Whatever. My point being… you don’t know anything.”
“I’m very perceptive if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Oh, I’ve noticed. Even so, Maria met her husband when she was sixteen, she was telling me all about it yesterday. You’re getting up there,” Ethan joked.
“A single girl of good character who keeps her finances in order is always welcome at any party…”
“Mmm… Where do you get all of your awesome advice? Jane Austen?”
Ethan just smiled sarcastically.
“Perhaps it’s time you played matchmaker for yourself. You should get busy with your own dating plans or you’ll have no one to take you to Dance Fangdango.”
“As it happens I’m on the committee, so I don’t have to take anyone.”
“Well, color me in!” Ethan said sarcastically.
“No thank you. You are not on my short list.”
“Newsflash; I think you’re going to find most sixteen year old guys are more interested in finding legal ways to get wasted than being on your ‘shortlist’ Honey.”
“Not at all. I already have at least half a dozen messages in direct connection to this topic: Who is Taking Who to the winter dance?”
I flicked on my web page just to prove it.
“I cannot believe there are starving people in the world and you think this stuff is important.”
I could tell Ethan was jealous.
“Of course, that’s true Ethan, but why do you always have to be such a killjoy? You know full well I founded an animal shelter and last year the Princesses raised funds during a bachelor and bachelorette auction that went towards building a school in South East Asia for abandoned children.”
“South East Asia? I thought it was Brazil.”
“Well, that too,” I said, “I spread myself too thin.”
“Not likely,” Ethan said, helping himself to another bowl of dessert as Ariel knocked on the door.
“You should eat up. No man likes a skinny woman.”
“Oh please,” I sighed.
“Anyway, what makes you think you could find the right person for Flynn?”
“I’ve already found her,” I said as I circled Hilary’s name on my short list of new arrivals at Sunrise High. (I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, how did I get hold of that? I volunteered to help Mrs Myers organize the school office, it’s not my fault really that I was privy to some private stuff – I’d never tell anyone.)
“Honey, I’m pretty sure Flynn knows how to fend for himself in matters of romance.”
He said the word ‘romance’ like he was making fun of it.
“I think we can both be assured teenage boys know very little about finding their perfect match.”
Ethan just shrugged and said, ‘get real Honey – open your eyes. Some girls might be obsessed with relationships but guys are only interested in one thing… maybe two,” Ethan shrugged.
I wondered what the second thing was.
“You need a reality check,” Ethan added, before continuing with trying to reach his highest game score ever.
There was a buzz at the door just as I was considering the appropriate response.
It was Gigi. Ariel was with her. They had arrived for Ethan’s gaming group and to basically interrupt our discussion.
Ethan was at the door in a nano-second.
Though I have to admit Ethan Knightly comes from a lineage of extremely hot Bel Air bachelors, he clearly isn’t the least bit interested in dating anyone for longer than about a week. Poor Gigi. She smiled sweetly, I smiled in return.
In the light of the gaming screen, Ethan Knightly is seriously not bad – his looks verge from cute boy to seriously ridiculously cute boy: dark hair (it runs in the family), blue eyes, hot and muscular chest from all of his athletics training and swimming at the beach during summer and not too much gaming…
Snap out of it Honey Woodhouse, I thought. You have far more important work to do than re-imagining your neighbor is hot. The world, your world, the cul de sac of Bel Air that leads to Sunrise and the halls of Sunrise High School – they all need you.
Of course, I was slightly deluded but it is only in hindsight that this became apparent to me. I guess that’s what ‘delusion’ is.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
Breakfast, Lunch & Diner
First of all you should know that the Belly Up Diner is where we – Ethan and I – go for breakfast at least once a week.
I usually have my babysitting money by then and Ethan has his money from working at the local country club parking cars. Ethan always insists on paying, though, which is surprisingly gentlemanly of him. I love that old-fashioned stuff where boys pay. Ethan has had to withstand a ton of family pressure to help out in his dad’s legal firm instead of finding his own way. In fact, his Dad nearly went ballistic when Ethan got a job on weekends at the country club but Ethan doesn’t like to be beholden to anyone. He intends to focus on international conflict resolution at college and has a plan to ease global poverty. Ethan thinks he’s way smarter than me, though, which is probably his biggest vice. I hate it when men underestimate women, don’t you? The good part about Ethan’s superiority complex is that Ethan is teaching me to have a good work ethic. For example, before we started hanging out together, I only worked one day a week at the animal shelter but now I work two.
He doesn’t know that, in return, I’m teaching him about how to be popular, how not to be such a hopeless geek and care so little about fashion. Ethan just laughs and thinks I’m trying to be funny when I adjust his collars. He doesn’t think he cares about fashion fads. So wrong, Ethan, but I guess he’ll learn what the ladies like after he’s learned the error of his ways.
“So Honey,” he said, “What are we having?”
“The usual,” I replied. The usual was pancakes dripping with maple syrup.
We sat in our favorite window seat, overlooking the park.
I love Sunrise. It’s the next suburb along from Bel Air and a little town in its own right. Parts of it aren’t as gated as Bel Air but the sun always seems to be shining here and tons of my friends live near this very street. Sunrise High is just a few streets away from The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies. My sister, Maya, went there but she’s tres clever and a total snob. Well, I think she is – a snob about cleverness.
“I mean, I’d never describe myself as academic, but I’m an A student when I apply myself,” I explained to Ethan that morning.
“What in? The history of fashion?” he asked jokingly.
We’ve been coming here since I was nine and Ethan was ten. Back then, his grown up cousin Mark (who was a high school senior) would take us here after school with his sister.
As we wait for our food (I ordered a side of strawberries, Ethan ordered his with caramelized bananas) I start to go over my schedule for the day.
I warn Ethan as I go through my blog whilst he checks his subject notes and the news headlines – he’s very serious like that – that I intend to meet my friends at the front gate before school.
“If you haven’t brought some kind of hot jacket to cover up the decidedly uncool band on your t-shirt, I might have to pretend I don’t know you,” I said.
Ethan just smiled and rolled his nice, blue eyes. He’s so used to just getting by on his looks and charm. I’m not sure how he thinks that’s going to cut it at Sunrise.
Ethan insisted on paying because ‘I always feed him,’ which is true, of course.
I adjust my new over-the-knee new boots before we leave. Everyone thinks they’re so retro 90s but what everyone doesn’t know is that I’m bringing them back. They are in this season, now, not last. I cheerily adjust my blog on my tablet to mention this as I wait for Ethan to text either Gigi or Ariel.
“So, how’s your fashion blog going, Em?” For a moment I think Ethan’s really interested in my answer but then he adds, “I think blogging is far less counterproductive than matchmaking. I’m sure you could do less damage with bad fashion choices than bad people ones…”
“My fashion blog is pending an update and dating tips,” I told Ethan.
“Oh,” he replied, sounding very bored.
“Yes, I’ve decided to include fashion picks for the month of October.” As if to prove this I took a snap of a customer – asked if she’d be okay with me posting it – she said, “sure” and hey presto – a new post.
Ethan opens the door as we leave. I could be all, I can open my own door, but I would never be as rude as that. Besides, I’m training Ethan up. I like it when he opens a heavy door. Most men have thirty percent more upper body strength than most women. So, hello, it’s not anti-feminist. It’s polite. It’s why you should always let them carry grocery bags if they offer. And just because most boys are physically stronger than girls, doesn’t mean they are smarter.
Ethan glances over my shoulder as he checks my seat belt.
After a ten minute drive, he pulls into the student car park in his totally hot new car and makes such a spectacle of himself just by getting out that I have to quickly head over to my friends who are waiting at the gate to meet me. I turn back, thinking I should at least try to be polite even if Ethan is taking over my turf.
The first person I saw was Veronica, side braiding a little piece of her red hair. Veronica is very new wave conscious. Then Jess is waving excitedly in our direction. Most of my friends are daughters of former Princesses but some, like me, are first generation recruits.
“Isn’t she one of your little clique members?” Ethan asked.
“Maybe. We’re not just a clique – we help people.”
“Who’s she?” he asked, pointing at Hilary.
At that exact moment the ‘new girl’ who looked to be about my age, alighted from her Dad’s car. He had some kind of dog washing business stenciled on the doors of his car.
“Looks like you might have a new project since you ‘fixed’ Veronica.”
Veronica was madly waving at us now. Her skirt was one of my hand me downs (I’d only worn it once) but it looked amazing on her. I only wish she hadn’t gone so ‘fashion forward’ as getting a nose job over the summer. First of all, plaster is not hot for the first day of semester and second of all, the Princesses would never condone teen plastic surgery purely for cosmetic purposes. I’d hate to think I encouraged her to do that just because I agreed that her nose was huge (well, she asked, didn’t she?) How would anyone respect me as unofficial leader of my group if I didn’t tell the truth?
I was thinking this exact thing before Ethan rudely interrupted my train of thought. Already he’d done something seriously uncool by stopping to admire Rafe Martin’s sky planet mobile in the admin office window. Rafe is all about computer games and the universe.
On the opposite side of the road, the new girl had just dropped all of her belongings on the ground. The driver of the car she arrived in, sped off. She appeared to be lost as she gathered her things and searched the school map.
Ethan made his move to help her. He even rushed across the road to the other side.
I have to admit, I was tempted to ignore the whole situation. But, in this instance, Ethan led the way. He may have even inspired me to take my matchmaking plans to another level. If new girl was a hot teen mess and couldn’t even read a map let alone herself in a more becoming way, maybe my team could help.
It was like a light turned on inside me.
I wandered over and said “hi,” as Ethan pointed her in the direction of administration. I noticed she was wearing a colorful array of scrunchies in her hair. Very early Nineties: not cool.
“I’m Honey Woodhouse,” I said. “This is my neighbor, Ethan Knightly.”
“Hi,” she smiled sweetly. “I’m Hilary Jones.”
“I know,” I said confidently. I’d seen her profile picture.
Hilary had a great smile. I smiled back as she and Ethan walked up the hill towards the admin block.
Just then, new boy Flynn Elton drove into the car park and pulled up near me with a loud screech. He was driving some sort of ‘restored’ red Mustang. A few girls actually cheered. Flynn is hot but those girls are doing him no favors by making him feel like a rock star.
As Ethan and Hilary became dots in the distance, I contemplated my mission.
It was one thing to have helped Phoebe find happiness but Phoebe was one of the most accomplished, intelligent, amazing women I knew. Let’s face it, if I could even be half so wonderful when I’m as ancient as her, I would be doing brilliantly.
No, Ethan was right. Phoebe marrying Mark was inevitable; hardly the result of any great accomplishment on my part. Finding a true love for a girl who might otherwise be overlooked would be far more difficult. What I needed was a real challenge. What I needed was to make someone like Hilary Jones… popular.
20 Aug 2013 Leave a comment
Before we focus on Hilary Jones, you should probably know all about my best friends, Wednesday, Tyler and Veronica.
Wednesday’s an actress and spends a lot of semester on set. Tyler and Veronica are my other besties and Veronica and I hang with a group called The Princesses. We’ve been friends since middle school. Recently, Tyler started working as a secret shopper and everything else has gone out the window. He’s obsessed. It’s all, “forget about friends and the good works of others” and just fashion, fashion, fashion. Tyler is also heavily into music and dance and Veronica is more into singing and acting. Tyler is so busy at lunch, usually, that Veronica and I sit with our group, The Princesses. Veronica was not surprised to note how popular Ethan had become by midday of his first day.
Ethan was the center of attention as I chose my sandwich. He’d already put himself down for track and soccer and was instantly surrounded by other juniors eager to friend him.
He was kind of making a joke of me trying to ignore him as I adjusted my knee socks. Before I made my appearance in the cafeteria he pulled a face at me just as Gigi started rubbing his arm in the lunch queue. Some girls are so transparent.
Ethan gave me a wink as I smiled politely. Of course, I was being ridiculous by even pretending to be jealous. Let’s face it, Ethan was already a hit with the nerdy set. I’d never really doubted it. I have to admit (although I’d never tell him) Ethan, of all the boys of my generation, has some serious form. What I mean is, he has obvious ‘on paper’ potential.
Just as I finished my sandwich, Hilary appeared. I was thinking about how we’d decorate the auditorium for the autumn dance (otherwise known as Dance Fangdango) when Hilary announced her entrance by again dropping her entire tote and contents on the floor of the cafeteria. Some students stopped what they were doing and sniggered.
I took note of her obvious potential for social oblivion just as Ethan walked in with Ariel (adjusting her glasses, nose in Anna Karenina) and Gigi. Gigi was dressed for cheer try outs.
He pulled a face when he reached my table, whispering, “all alone Em? You are welcome to join us.”
Gigi smiled. I made a note of her in my blog. I didn’t like the way she was possessively pawing Ethan but it was up to Ethan to see the error of his ways. After all, he invaded my turf, not the other way around.
At that exact moment Flynn Elton entered the room. Flynn is the son of one of Daddy’s former work colleagues. His family recently moved back to Bel Air from New York City and we hung out at the pool over summer, while my own pool was getting refurbished. Flynn’s all “Hi,” so smoldering.
I’m inviting him to my pool party this Saturday. In fact just about everyone from my junior class (as well as Ethan, Ariel and Gigi) is going to be there. That’s what I was thinking about when Ethan whispered, “You need a new project,” as he left the cafeteria.
Hilary was standing very close to me by then. She just spilt the entire contents of her purse and her drink, after she paid for her lunch. Again, nobody had offered to help her. Thrice in one day was too much.
That’s where I came in.
Hilary was covered in hot chocolate and last season’s jeans. It was like she had ‘help me’ tattooed on her forehead. Strangers smirked. In the absence of other Princesses, I decided it was up to me to show some social kindness. Excitement welled in my stomach as I stood up. A lot of kids said ‘hey’ as I walked past them. Ethan had joked once that I should never neglect my, ‘social station’.
“And what is my station, Ethan? You are always so good at reminding me.”
“You are a teenage girl Honey. You don’t have all the answers. You need to get over yourself and start acting real.”
I’m sure he wanted me to say that during our days spent lounging by the infinity pool, during summer vacay, reading magazines and tending Sugarplum’s needs, in between going to and from my doggy shelter, I had developed a crush on him.
In his dreams.
But let’s not talk about Ethan for the moment, since I’m in a roomful of semi friendly strangers (strangers are just friends we’ve not yet met – a wise quotation by someone very smart) and I’m just about to make one of them my friend.
For a long time now, let’s face it, my group has had a lot of say in what’s popular, who’s hot and frankly, who is not. Because it is a terrible thing to show meanness to others (and cyber bullying is the worst) I have to help Hilary. I need to show her the social ropes and make her part of my A team.
As the newbie adjusted her scrunchie (So very 1989) I walked up to her again.
“Hi,” I said. “Would you like to come and sit with me?”
I offered her my hand to help her off the floor after we’d picked up the rest of her stuff.
Lead by example, it’s what I tell all the puppies at the shelter when I’m trying to encourage them to be on their best behavior so someone will adopt them out quickly. New owners always adopt the ones that strut their stuff and run to them. Unfortunately they don’t speak English but this girl does.
Hilly looked a little less lost as she smiled at me, “I dropped my lunch.”
“Obviously. Never mind.”
I pulled her up off the floor as she brushed her knees. Someone had already stomped on her purse and candy had fallen out. Peeps shrugged and returned to their conversations.
‘Forget the candy,’ I told Hilary, ‘Throw it in the trash. It rots your teeth even though it’s delicious. I try to have at least two candy-free days a week and guess what? One of those days is today. You can share my lunch.’
I unpacked my sushi, there was more than enough for two.
Hilary nodded, speechless. I love it when people take my advice.
Over lunch, I explained everything I knew about how school worked, socially. I even invited her to sit with us.
“There’s just one thing,” I said as the bell rang out for class.
“What?” She looked exhausted from having to take on board so much new information but I was sure she’d be glad of it in the morning, when she’d had time to process.
“I think we need to do a makeover.”
“Hipsters were over a decade ago,” Ty interrupted as he raced back into the cafeteria to collect his notes. Just in case you wondered, Ty’s an honorary member of our group, although he’d never admit it.
By now my two best friends had arrived back at our table with what was left of their lunch. Tyler and Veronica encouraged Hilary to take the leap.
Tyler smiled as if a makeover was a serious necessity (he wants to be a fashion designer) and Veronica just said, “it needs to happen… and soon. Honey has the best room for a makeover. She has an entire guest room that was converted into her personal dressing room… with stage lights around the mirrors.”
“Oh, wow,” Hilary said.
“It’s true,” I nodded.
Veronica smiled enthusiastically.
“Meet us after school,” Veronica added.
Hilary smiled in agreement.
And if I’m not just a little bit naïve or very much mistaken, did that look in her eyes spell wonderment?