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Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies
Author: Laura Stampler


 


1


I’M SWAYING BY MYSELF AT Bobby McKittrick’s summer kickoff party—surrounded by couples whose Dance Floor Make-Outs are so intense, so ravenous, I’m kind of worried someone’s going to drop down dead due to suffocation—when I get what might be the most important phone call of my life.

Of course, I don’t realize the magnitude of this moment when I see the unfamiliar number flash on my phone. I don’t even recognize the area code. To be honest, I’m just excited to answer a real call instead of a fake one, the kind I usually pretend to get during awkward party lulls. So I don’t think twice when I answer it on the dance floor, loudly shouting “Hello?” over an even louder “Keg stand! Keg stand!” chant crescendoing from the corner of Bobby’s backyard. (As a graduation treat, Bobby’s older brother is giving the departing seniors a tutorial in college-party etiquette, which apparently involves kegs and then dangling people by their feet above said kegs as they chug beer upside down.)

My hello is answered by an indecipherable garble.

“Sorry, I can’t hear you!” I shout again.

(“Keg stand! KEG STAND!”)

Still gibberish.

“Wait, wait, stop! Just hold on one sec!”

I try not to spill my one-third beer, two-thirds foam–filled red party cup as I maneuver around the blindly gyrating Dance Floor Make-Outers to a less populated part of the yard and sit on the outdoor swingy-bench next to a passed-out dude whose face is decorated with a drawn-on, very accurate portrayal of male anatomy. Real classy, guys.

Rule number one for aspiring writers is to steer clear of clichés, which makes living in Castalia, California—where every social gathering feels like it was ripped from a bad teen movie—less than ideal.

“Okay,” I say into the phone. The bench swings as I sit. “Try again.”

I hear a loud sigh on the other end of the line, followed by an exasperated and syncopated, “I said is this Har-per An-der-son?”

“Yeah.” I take a sip of my drink. “Who’s this?”

“Well, finally,” the female voice on the other end says.

“And you are . . .” I start to wipe the foam mustache residue off my upper lip. This is one persistent telemarketer.

“This is McKayla Rae from Shift magazine.”

I stop wiping. And maybe breathing.

“Harper, did you hear me? I said that this is McKayla Rae, the assistant managing editor of Shift magazine.”

Yup, definitely stopped breathing. Clearly I misidentified who was at risk of asphyxiation tonight.

“Harper?”

Finally my brain tells my lungs to breathe and my mouth to speak.

“Sorry. Yes! This is Harper! Oh shit, I said that already, didn’t I? I mean, not shit. Forget I said ‘shit.’ I mean, yes! Yes, I heard you, McKay—er—Ms. Rae.”

Okay, so my brain didn’t specify that my mouth should speak eloquently.

“McKayla.”

“Right, McKayla. Sorry.”

“Stop saying ‘sorry.’ Women overapologize for things they have no reason to apologize for. Shift Girls are strong. Shift Girls don’t say ‘sorry.’ Ever.”

“Sor-sounds good.” I just barely catch myself. “I am no longer sorry about anything under any circumstances. Got it.”

God, I hope that didn’t sound sarcastic. I take another gulp of foam.

“This is important because, Harper, I’ve called to let you know that you are now a Shift Girl. Or, you will be if you accept our summer internship.”

I drop my cup on my sandals, spilling lukewarm beer on my toes, and don’t even care because Oh My God.

Which comes out as “OMIGOD!”

“I take that as a yes?”

To say that my night has taken an unexpected turn would be an understatement. Up until about two minutes ago, I had resigned myself to an anticlimactic three months before my senior year of high school spending my days working behind the counter at Skinny B’s Smoothies with my best friend, Kristina, and my nights going to kickbacks so similar to one another, they start to feel like reruns, all destined to be shut down by the Castalia Police before midnight.

Granted, I had aspired to a summer that was slightly more glamorous than memorizing antioxidants and blending acai berries into drinks for aggressive water polo moms. (Think soccer moms, only taller.)

Shift was the dream.

Because even though I’m having trouble stringing words together while McKayla waits for me to say not just “yes” but “hell, yes,” I want to be a writer. Badly.

And not only is Shift the biggest teen magazine in, well, anywhere, but it’s also the only magazine (well, anywhere) that hires interns who are still in high school. Usually I find rah-rah, children-are-our-future, teary-eyed teen-empowerment mission statements kind of cheesy. But when I saw Shift’s Facebook post calling out to sixteen-to-nineteen-year-old aspiring journalists, I applied. I didn’t tell anyone I applied, but I did. Writing and rewriting an “edgy personal essay” to serve as a sample blog post for weeks. Pining after the job more than I pined after Adam Lockler, my preppy school’s one brooding hipster. And then quietly mourning its loss to an “edgier” contender, just like I mourned the loss of Adam when he started seriously dating our school’s resident beat poet, Sylvia (“like Plath”), whom he also conveniently anointed his successor as editor in chief of the Castalia Chronicle. (“EICs have to be fearless, Harper. You’ll be much happier doing copyediting. You’re really good with punctuation. And don’t get me started on your fact checking!”)

If I get one more rejection, I’m going to . . . Wait.

“Wait,” I say, regaining the ability to speak. “Didn’t I not get this internship already?”

I definitely didn’t get this internship already. In fact, I think McKayla was the one who sent me the “I hate to inform you,” “very strong applicant pool,” “but I loved the sample blog post you included in the application,” “Keep writing!” form rejection e-mail months ago.

“Yeah,” says McKayla. “About that . . . Well, as you know, we had a very strong applicant pool—”

“I think I remember that from the e-mail.”

“But we liked your application essay—”

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