Excerpt

Wednesday, September 2, 6:02 a.m.: La, la! You read that right, little poppets! Six frickin’ o’clock in the morning! What, you ask, could you possibly be doing up at such a god-awful hour, O Easton love?

There’s only one thing that could get me up this early, poppets! And, no, that’s not it! Get your minds out of the gutter! I am headed to LAX to wing my way out to the Windy City (that’s Chicago, little ones . . . really, you should get out more) to watch a movie being born!

And not just any movie, but THE movie. Or, THE movie of next year (these things take time—think an elephant’s gestation cycle, ‘kay?) . . . Freddy’s Day Off! Starring the one and only Ty McKenzie and good-girl-turned-diva Victoria Welling! (Is she really going to be the next big Hollywood starlet to melt down? I’ll tell you here first!)

This promises to be a fun movie, since it’s a takeoff on one of my personal faves, the classic teen movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was written and directed by the amazing John Hughes! Total homage to the great man, may he rest in peace. Ty’s character is a loser nerd (ha, that’ll be a stretch for him to pull off! Hey, makeup lady!) who decides to spice up his life by re-creating a day in the life of ultimate slacker Ferris Bueller.

I’m sure you’d like to know how I got an all-access pass to the set, but a girl’s got to have her secrets. More soon!

 

Chapter One
Sunday, September 6, 5:46 p.m.

“Never listen to a cat.”
–Natalie Ng

 

Even cats like Cat Girl’s Day Off! This is Pearl, from the Sandpiper Cat blog run by the lovely Rachel.

I opened the front door to my house and gagged. The smell of something burnt beyond recognition enveloped me like a toxic cloud. Meep, my cat, was sitting by the door as if she had been waiting on me, which she probably had, since no one else paid any attention to her.

Someday, she yowled, your mom is going to burn the entire house down. Like I could do anything about it. Then she took off down the hall toward my room without bothering to see if I was going to reply. That’s a cat for you—sometimes they just need to complain.

Though Meep had a point. My mom may be one of the ten smartest and Talented people on the planet, but she can’t cook. At all. Actually, she can’t do anything remotely domestic. I’ve been washing my own clothes since the time she turned my entire wardrobe pink back in the seventh grade.

I held my nose and went inside, almost running right into my older sister, Viv, as she carried out a charred, smoking pot full of something vile and vaguely orange. Our would-be dinner, I supposed. Mom had been ambitious today.

“I’ve got it, Mom! Why don’t you go work on your research paper? I’ll take care of this,” Viv yelled over her shoulder toward the kitchen. “Hey, Natalie.” She nodded at me. “I didn’t make it home in time to stop her. Can you boil some water for noodles? I’m going to throw away the risotto. And the pot.”

“Is that what that was?” I tried to avoid looking at the wreckage—it would only make me lose my appetite.

“Yeah. Pumpkin risotto. She didn’t stir it. Or cut up the pumpkin.”

I let Viv by and went into the kitchen to start a pot of water. Mom had already disappeared into her office. The only days we ever ate a decent meal were when Viv came home from Northwestern and did the cooking. Sunday was supposed to be her day, but Mom often seemed to inconveniently forget and start her own disaster, fueled by weekend ambition or a badly timed cooking show.

Dad was almost as bad a cook as Mom, but at least he had the sense to order out when it was his turn. Mom didn’t believe that there was anything she couldn’t do and she ignored all failures—at least, her own. Hence the pumpkin risotto. If there were any way to cancel only the Food Network, we could probably save ourselves a fortune in spoiled cookware.

Emmy, my younger sister, came in and opened the window and the back door to air out the house. “It doesn’t take a genius, you know,” she said with a smirk.

“Ha ha.” Not funny at all, considering Emmy has the current highest recorded IQ in the Western Hemisphere. And is twelve. And is two years ahead of me at Shermer High. She’d actually already be in college except Dad wanted to make sure she experienced “normal life.” Like there’s anything normal about being a twelve-year-old senior in high school, but whatever.

At least Emmy had only one officially recognized Talent (since supergeniusness didn’t count), unlike Viv and her trifecta of superness: truth divination, levitation, and X-ray vision. All Class A Talents. It was no wonder Viv had followed in Dad’s footsteps and was already working for the Bureau of Extrasensory Regulation and Management (or BERM) part time even though she was just a freshman in college. All Emmy could do was blend into her surroundings like a chameleon. It was Class B, but definitely a cool enough Talent that she’d probably get BERM attention as a covert-ops analyst or something someday, especially when you added in her smarts. She was a shoo-in, so long as they didn’t expect a good personality.

Though, that chameleon thing was nearly as annoying as her supergeniusness. Let’s face it: a know-it-all, bratty little sister who always won at hide-and-seek was a huge pain in the butt.

Of course, all of that completely trumped me and my Class D—as in totally dumb—Talent. I’ve even met cats that didn’t want to talk to other cats. I was ranked right down there with the rest of the idiots with “party trick” Talents. BERM wouldn’t want someone like me for anything more than hired entertainment at their annual Christmas celebration, telling the director how much his widdle Buddy-cat loved him.

Viv entered the kitchen like the super-efficient whirlwind she was, and spaghetti sauce was bubbling away in no time at all. Dad wandered in from work a few minutes before dinner was served. Weekends meant nothing to him—he usually worked Saturdays and Sundays. And given that he always came in right before dinner, no matter what time it was served, you’d think impeccable timing was his Talent, rather than hypersensitive olfactory perception with a side of chemical conductivity, which sounds really complex . . . and is. I think he was classified as an A Talent since even BERM didn’t know what to call him. He worked for them now, so apparently they’d figured out a use for whatever it was he was good at other than sniffing out the chemical components in things.

Viv finally pried Mom out of her office by levitating her laptop into the dining room.

“You could have called me,” Mom said as she kissed Dad on his bald spot on her way to her end of the table. He was still standing, but being that Mom’s family was Nordic and he was Chinese, she had him by half a head at least. Pity I’d inherited Dad’s height instead of hers.

Viv smiled sweetly and didn’t mention the three times she had called Mom. Our mother was incredibly focused, but only on “important” things such as her research and Emmy’s grades. Maybe it was her laser vision or maybe the fact that the rest of the world (other than Emmy) couldn’t keep up with her brain, I don’t know. But she simply couldn’t seem to retain “extraneous” information. You know, stuff like birthdays and grocery lists.

“Everything smells good,” said Dad. Given his olfactory prowess, he was obviously trying to be nice to Mom, since even I could still smell the lingering odor of burned pumpkin. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he always got home right before a meal—so he could miss the full brunt of Mom’s disasters. He had an olfactory inhibitor, which he had invented when he was only six (naturally), but he didn’t usually wear it at home. He said it made his nose itch. I think he didn’t want to insult Mom.

We started eating. All you could hear for a good ten minutes was the clink of silverware and Emmy slurping noodles. It doesn’t matter how smart you are when you’re twelve. You’re still twelve.

“So,” said Mom, “what’s the plan for school this week after the holiday break?” If Mom had her way, we wouldn’t even get Labor Day off. Seriously. If she ruled the world, she probably wouldn’t even give us weekends off.

That was our cue. Suck-up Emmy gave her report first, as always, then me, then Viv. Youngest to oldest. It wasn’t like I had anything in particular to report anyway, but this was the one area of our lives that Mom meddled in. Constantly. You’d think she was the overachieving Asian parent instead of Dad.

“I’ve got a trig test this week. Should be a piece of cake,” I said. That was a safe topic, since it’s my best subject. I’m no supergenius like Emmy, but I could hold my own in trig.

“How about biology?” Mom asked.

“Fine,” I said, stabbing a meatball. “Nothing to report.” She would ask. I’ve had issues with Mr. Tollfinger since I refused to dissect a cat. I wasn’t about to explain to him why, so I spent a week in detention. Mom told me to suck it up, basically. She didn’t even go to bat for me with Principal Johnson. I mean, like I could disembowel someone I could have had a conversation with the day before? I don’t think so. Personally, I think she was too ashamed to admit in public that any daughter of hers could have such a lame Talent.

“Are you sure about that?” asked Viv, all sweetness and light.

“Yes.” I glared at her. She could just keep her little lie detector Talent to herself, thank you very much.

“I liked Mr. Tollfinger,” Viv continued. “He was a great teacher. I don’t know why you have such problems with him.”

Are you having issues with your teacher, Natalie?” Mom turned her steely gaze back to me. I bet she wished she had Viv’s Talent. Laser vision was great in a lab, but it didn’t help you weasel the truth out of your kids.

“No,” I said again, ignoring Viv smirking around a mouthful of pasta. “Everything is fine. No problems at all. We’re practically best friends.”

“Hmmm. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?” she said, and then turned her focus to Viv, who had apparently decided she’d tortured me enough for now. Or maybe she’d figured out that I was about two seconds away from kicking her under the table with my combat boots. Steel toed. So much more than a fashion statement.

It was like I wasn’t even at the table anymore. You’d think being invisible was actually my Talent. Actually, that would be cool. That’s got to be a Class A or B at least. Though with my luck, I’d probably get, like, half invisibility or it would only work every other Tuesday or something and I’d just be a Class C.

“Genevieve,” continued Mom, “how is your job at the BERM treating you? Not interfering with your school work, is it?”

“Everything’s good. I heard I might be getting a promotion to field agent, and they’d like me to go full time during summer.” Viv took a dainty sip of her water. If I had a water-based Talent like one girl I knew from school, I could have made Viv choke on her drink or given her a wicked case of the burps. Maybe not useful, but definitely satisfying. “And my social psych professor asked if I would be willing to do an in-class demonstration of my lie detection.”

Well, isn’t that nice. My Talent makes my biology teacher detest me. Viv’s gets her the star treatment. I rolled my eyes as Viv shot me another smarmy grin when Mom wasn’t looking. My friends were so lucky they didn’t have any siblings, especially ones with annoying Talents.

I grabbed two breadsticks from the basket and considered holding them out from my head like antennae, but decided not to bother. No one would notice anyway. Dad was deep into a discussion with Viv about some top secret BERM stuff. They were even whispering. Mom and Emmy were talking quarks or string theory or I don’t know what.

If Emmy was Mom’s favorite, Viv was Dad’s. They spoke the same language. The only one in our family that speaks my language is Meep.

Speaking of the furry little devil in disguise, Meep sauntered into the room, licking her lips. Nice sauce, she said. A little heavy on the garlic, though. Like most cats, she was never one to let an opportunity pass. Viv must have left the lid off the pot.

“You better not have left a mess,” I whispered down to her as she jumped in my lap.

Me? she said. Of course not. She grinned a wicked cat grin up at me. I knew what that meant. She’d marked her territory. Somewhere in the pot was at least one cat hair, not to mention cat saliva. Why did cats have to do that? I made a mental note to skip the leftovers.

I stuck one breadstick upright in my spaghetti and took a big bite out of the other one as Meep settled into my lap. Did you bother telling your mom you got an A+ on your English paper? I shrugged and kept on chewing. Or that your art teacher picked your project to display in the case during Parents’ Night last week?

I swallowed my bite and hissed at Meep, “Give it a rest, would you?” She’s always on me to be more “involved,” like that’s something a cat knows anything about. I swear sometimes that she’s half dog. She’s the only cat I know who’s more interested in people (i.e., me) than in other cats.

Besides, Mom and Dad had both gone to Parents’ Night, but neither of them had noticed my artwork. They had, of course, been all over Emmy’s science project. Well, them and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. I guess isolating some kind of isotope in a high-school lab is bigger news than an interpretation of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s mathematical concepts using a vector-based fractal program. But whatever.

“Dennis,” said Mom, “did you know that the school is allowing a movie to be filmed during school hours?” Both of her eyebrows went up and she set down her fork. Bad news. “Emmaline told me that they actually moved her calculus quiz to next week because they are being forced to vacate their classroom and work in the library!”

Ooooooo, said Meep. What a crisis for poor widdle Emmy! Call the papers! Alert the police! Something must be done!

I totally snorked the sip of water I was drinking. See, Meep gets me even if no one else does. I scratched her in her favorite spot by her left ear.

“No,” said Dad, barely looking up from his tête-à-tête with Viv. “I wasn’t aware of—”

“Well, we’ll just see about it,” said Mom. “It’s absolutely scandalous that they’re even considering interfering with our child’s education for something so frivolous! Besides, couldn’t they have just filmed during Labor Day?”

Great. Mom’s on a crusade, though it was obvious that she was worried about only one of our educations. I didn’t bother mentioning to her that they already were filming this weekend, or the possibility that Melly, one of my best friends, was probably going to sign up as an extra and there was a good chance I’d be dragged along. That counted as extraneous information anyway, right?

I volunteered for dish duty so I could make a faster exit and check for any telltale Meep mess in the kitchen. Viv actually cleans as she cooks, so it’s super easy on her nights. (Have I mentioned how totally flawless she is? I swear she never even gets pimples.) And Emmy thinks she’s the smart one. Now it would be her turn when Mom cooked, and she’d be scrubbing for hours.