Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd Page 33


Auntie Alea’s felt like home. She treated everyone like family. On my first day I was pleasantly surprised to find Danny from my AP English class working as a waiter. “The tips are really good,” he explained. “I’m saving up for college.” His black hair was thick and wavy and he had freckles trekking across his nose bridge. “Plus, Auntie Alea lets me study when it’s slow.”


Danny and I would study together during our breaks, and later on our days off. Eventually we’d just hang at the beach or visit Carl. Danny introduced me to some students at Kahanamoku who I had never noticed before. I guess I had been too busy staring at what I thought were the popular kids, when really they were the jerks.


Not too long ago, Kai and his friends came in for the luau waving their fake IDs. At first they didn’t recognize me in my grass skirt and green bikini top. It had been over a year since I had first landed on the island. I had toned down my makeup and stopped perming and dyeing my hair, letting it go back to its natural auburn color. It’s just easier, plus Danny thinks I look best with my hair straight. I had also learned to chill out, something I was incapable of doing back in Asher.


The boys hooted and whistled when I first stepped onstage, and when Kai finally figured out who I was he shouted, “Hey, BJ, wanna get lei-ed?”


I was about to tell him off when my music cued up. So instead, I glared at him and lit my batons on fire. When I heaved them into the night sky, it silenced any snide remarks that were still floating around. Instantly, Kai and his ilk turned into nothing more than faces in the crowd, with their necks turned upward and their mouths hanging open, waiting to see what I would do next. Finally, when my routine was over, they stood up and cheered with everyone else in the audience.


After the show, as I was downing a bottle of water, Kai strutted backstage. “BJ, you were great!” He swayed when he spoke. Kai reached toward me and twirled my hair as he looked deep into my eyes and whispered, “Wanna join me for a private party at my house?” He was asking me to be with him? There was a time when this would have meant the world to me.


For a moment I felt flush, until the stench of whiskey and cigarettes on his breath brought me back to reality. Then out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed Danny coming toward us with his fists clenched. I motioned for him to stop and turned to face Kai. “What’s my name?”


“BJ,” he said as he blinked slowly.


“What’s my name?” I asked again.


Kai broke into a lazy smile and winked. “It’s Felicity. You’re Felicity. That’s who you’ve always been.”


I smiled back and leaned in so that my lips were practically brushing his cheek. “You got that right, asshole,” I said. Then I emptied my water bottle over his head and pushed him aside so I could get ready for my second show.


As I walked toward Danny he held up his hand and without breaking my stride we high-fived.


My mother was able to bring Mr. Hunter and Carl to the luau one night, shortly before Mr. Hunter died. Auntie Alea gave them the best table and Danny waited on them like they were royalty. When I was onstage Mr. Hunter cheered so loud that he had a coughing fit and everyone stared. Mom tenderly calmed him down, and I could see how much they meant to each other.


Carl clutched Henry and sat mesmerized during the entire show. If you didn’t know his history, he almost seemed normal. Before he left each of my coworkers took off their leis and placed them around his neck. Barely visible under all the flowers, Carl moaned with delight and we all laughed and clapped along with him.


“You guys are great,” I said, choking up.


Jimmy hugged me and said, “Kalani, your brother is our brother, too.”


Not long after that, I went back to Asher, Ohio. I stayed with Natalie Catrine, who proudly showed me her Miss Pep trophy. Though I had a great time, it just wasn’t the same. Everyone had changed so much. Or maybe they hadn’t. Maybe it was me. I never realized how hard it had been to be so peppy and that all that pep had been weighing me down.


I saw my father while I was in town. Was it true, he wondered, that we had come into a fortune? I told him it was just a rumor. Not once did he ask about Carl.


I was so happy to return to Maui.


It was hard leaving Auntie Alea’s at the end of summer. I had been one of four Kahanamoku Academy valedictorians, the others include Samantha Tsui, a girl I had never heard speak until she gave a killer speech during graduation, Kai Risdale, whose family generously donated the new auditorium, and Danny Kaleho, my boyfriend.


Danny earned a scholarship to NYU, and even though we both knew the time would come when we’d go our own ways, it still hurt. He left first. Danny was eager to get off the island and get on with the rest of his life. I, on the other hand, was reluctant to leave.


“Felicity, you have to go,” my mother insisted. “I’m grounded here and so is Carl, but you can go places. Do this for us.”


Thanks to Mr. Hunter, my education is paid for and I attend Rogers College in Southern California. Even though they have an impressive majorette squad, I elected not to participate. Twirling had taken up so much of my life that I wanted to see what more there was. Besides, I left my lucky baton behind. It was a last-minute decision.


My mother had brought Carl to the airport to see me off. As he slumped in his wheelchair, tourists maneuvered their suitcases around us, pretending we didn’t exist. I knelt down on the sidewalk as I struggled to explain to Carl why I had to leave. But he would hear none of it. He had been increasingly agitated, having lost Henry a week earlier. As my brother began to scream and swat the invisible demons that had been hiding, the people who had been trying so hard to ignore us stopped and stared.


“Carl, Carl, look!” I had to shout to get his attention. “Look at me, Carl!”


I began to twirl my baton and Carl grew quiet. I put everything into my routine—high kicks, trick moves, even stuff I learned from Auntie Alea’s. Everything. When I was done, the crowd cheered and Carl moaned with delight. He held out both hands and reached for my baton, but I held on tight. Yet he kept motioning for it, until we were both on the verge of tears.


Finally, I gave in.


When I handed my baton to him, I knew I was never getting it back.


“It belongs to you now,” I assured my brother as I held him tight. “It’s yours.”


Then I kissed him and waved good-bye.


In high school, Lisa Yee was a member of the varsity debate team, honor society president, and the student rep of the California Scholarship Federation’s State Board. In an act of total geek rebellion, Lisa would cut class to go to the library. And once, during science, she threw her fetal pig over the balcony to see what would happen when it landed on someone. She never got caught and was later named Physiology Student of the Year.


Lisa’s been a TV writer/producer, written jingles, and penned menus for Red Lobster. The winner of the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award and Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence, her books include Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, and YA novel Absolutely Maybe. Lisa’s Web site is www.lisayee.com, and her blog is www.lisayee.livejournal.com.


Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Hope Larson.


SECRET IDENTITY


by kelly link


Dear Paul Zell.


Dear Paul Zell is exactly how far I’ve gotten at least a dozen times, and then I get a little farther, and then I give up. So this time I’m going to try something new. I’m going to pretend that I’m not writing you a letter, Paul Zell, dear Paul Zell. I’m so sorry. And I am sorry, Paul Zell, but let’s skip that part for now or else I won’t get any farther this time, either. And in any case: how much does it matter whether or not I’m sorry? What difference could it possibly make?


So. Let’s pretend that we don’t know each other. Let’s pretend we’re meeting for the first time, Paul Zell. We’re sitting down to have dinner in a restaurant in a hotel in New York City. I’ve come a long way to have dinner with you. We’ve never met face-to-face. Everything I ever told you about myself is more or less a lie. But you don’t know that yet. We think we may be in love.


We met in FarAway, online, except now here we are up close. I could reach out and touch your hand. If I was brave enough. If you were really here.


Our waiter has poured you a glass of red wine. Me? I’m drinking a Coke because I’m not old enough to drink wine. You’re thirty-four. I’m almost sixteen.


I’m so sorry, Paul Zell. I don’t think I can do this. (Except I have to do this.) I have to do this. So let’s try again. (I keep trying again and again and again.) Let’s start even farther back, before I showed up for dinner and you didn’t. Except I think you did. Am I right?


You don’t have to answer that. I owe you the real story, but you don’t owe me anything at all.


Picture the lobby of a hotel. In the lobby, a fountain with Spanish tiles in green and yellow. A tiled floor, leather armchairs, corporate art, this bank of glass-fronted elevators whizzing up and down, a bar. Daddy bar to all the mini-bars in all the rooms. Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been here before.


Now fill up the lobby with dentists and superheroes. Men and women, oral surgeons, eighth-dimensional entities, mutants, and freaks who want to save your teeth, save the world, and maybe end up with a television show, too. I’ve seen a dentist or two in my time, Paul Zell, but we don’t get many superheroes out on the plain. We get tornadoes instead. There are two conventions going on at the hotel, and they’re mingling around the fountain, tra la la, tipping back drinks.


Boards in the lobby list panels on advances in cosmetic dentistry, effective strategies for minimizing liability in cases of bystander hazard, presentations with titles like “Spandex or Bulletproof? What Look Is Right for You?” You might be interested in these if you were a dentist or a superhero. Which I’m not. As it turns out, I’m not a lot of things.


A girl is standing in front of the registration desk. That’s me. And where are you, Paul Zell?

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