In China a red envelope meant the owner had good luck and protection from evil. At Brighton Junior Academy a red envelope meant the owner had half a brain and way too many pairs of shoes.
I never expected to be in that
group, but somehow, on the first day of seventh grade, one of those envelopes found its way to my locker.
Across the front of the envelope my name, Delilah James, flowed in fancy gold script, complete with a sparkling rhinestone dotting the i
. As a writer for the school paper, I’d seen my name dozens of times in the byline, but never printed with quite as much pizzazz. Most girls would have squealed, taken their picture with the envelope, and framed it, but I just stared.
“Come on, Delilah!” Someone jabbed me in the ribs. “School ended five minutes ago, and I’ve got
to have some real food.” My best friend, Jenner, held up the candy necklace she’d been gnawing, now just a sticky elastic string holding some sugar loops. “I’m this
close to cannibalism.”
“Well, can you stop picturing me as a giant pork chop and look at this
?” I stepped aside, revealing the envelope.
Jenner sucked in her breath, along with a partially chewed bit of candy. She coughed until I smacked her on the back. “No … way,” she finally managed.
She bent and studied my locker door, as if it had somehow produced the envelope on its own. “She would never
“She hates you!”
“I …” I frowned. “Well, I don’t think she hates
me. She just … mildly objects to my existence.” I shrugged. “And maybe we’re wrong. Maybe it’s from someone else who has a thing for red envelopes.”
“Oooh!” Jenner’s curly blond hair bounced as she leaned close and whispered, “It could be from a creepy Valentine killer who’s seven months behind. Or a creepy Christmas
killer who’s getting a head start on the season. Or
—” I glared at her and she backed away. “Or something not involving any form of creepy holiday killer.”
My best friend, queen of the macabre.
Jenner was overly fond of death, disease, and dismemberment. She’d once told me that if she couldn’t make a career out of surfing (her first passion), then she wanted to be a grave digger.
The two of us turned to face the envelope.
It was time to get serious.
I plucked the envelope free, and a supercharged whiff of Chanel No. 5 hit me. In that instant I knew we weren’t mistaken about the sender. Only one girl at Brighton Junior Academy wore that fragrance. Only one girl was allowed
to wear that fragrance—Paige Sanders, president of the Debutantes.
And Jenner was right; Paige did hate me.
Of all the cliques that girls would push one another in front of a train to get into, the Debutantes had the longest line at the tracks. To be accepted meant instant popularity, but scoring the invite took an insane amount of brownnosing. The only exceptions to the admission process were the new president and her officers, who were chosen based on the number of girls they could crush beneath their wedge sandals.
I’d written an article on the whole affair, earning the wrath of the Debutantes, who didn’t like the bad press or
the fact that I called them “Little Debbies” (like the desserts, they were flaky, artificial, and hard to stomach). But I’d won an award for the piece and
impressed the new student editor, who promoted me to lead reporter.
To be honest, that hadn’t been half as surprising as the envelope in my hands.
“Open it.” Jenner nudged me.
I ripped into the paper, and it exploded in a shower of star-shaped confetti and iridescent glitter. “Wow. This must be what happens when unicorns throw up.”
“It’s probably some decorative version of anthrax that’ll make your lungs rupture and explode.” Jenner brushed the excess off my hand. “Don’t breathe too deep.”
The card inside the envelope had “You’re Invited
!” written across the top in even more glitter, which clung to my fingertips and made the invitation sparkle. To add to all the shimmer and flair, the Little Debbies had jotted a personal note:
It is our pleasure to formally announce your consideration for the Debutantes. Please join us tomorrow during study hall in the student lounge to discuss your potentially exciting future.
Paige’s signature appeared at the bottom, followed by several names with various smiley faces and hearts dotting the i
Jenner read over my shoulder and snorted.
I scanned the note several times and felt reality slipping further and further away. “I could never
be one of them.”
Jenner nodded in agreement. “You’re smart and
you have a good personality. Where would you fit in?”
I laughed and reached into the locker for my Thought Box, filing the invitation behind a cardboard divider labeled Unexplained Phenomena
. “Congratulations, Paige. You’ve earned a coveted spot in my weirdo file.”
“Shh. Listen.” Jenner cupped her hand around her ear. “You can almost hear the cries of all the girls who couldn’t score an invite.”
In that moment of mock silence I actually did
hear something: a commanding voice growing closer and clearer, punctuated by the tap-tap-tap
of heels hitting the floor.
“And make sure the area’s secure,” said the voice, which I recognized as Paige’s. She spoke in a nasal tone, as if she were pinching her nostrils to block out the smell of commoners. “I don’t
want any rejects trying to sneak in.”
“Oh, that won’t be an issue. We’ve got Aaron and Travis
on freak patrol.” Another voice giggled, slightly out of breath.
“Good.” There was no matching joy in Paige’s voice. “And the pledge packets?”
A third voice chimed in, speaking at a rapid clip. “We’ve got pens, pins, forms, folders—”
“I didn’t ask for a complete inventory,” Paige cut in. “I just need to know if the packets are ready.”
“Yes, totally” was the rapid response.
By this point, Paige and friends were passing the locker bay, and I realized the other voices I’d heard were Friend 1 and Friend 2, speed-walking to keep up with Paige’s brisk pace.
Suddenly Paige paused mid-march and swiveled in my direction. Her blond hair swung around her shoulders like a shining silk curtain, and her eyes, one shade from violet, fixed on me.
“Delilah James.” Her tone was neutral, devoid of the invite’s glitter and confetti, and I wondered if one of her officers had sent it as a joke. But then Paige’s lips parted into a smile broad enough for me to count every one of her perfect white teeth. “I’m so glad we ran into you!”
I looked to her friends, half expecting one of them to offer me a juicy, poisoned apple. Instead, they clutched at their clipboards and mirrored Paige’s expression, toothy grins and all. “Um. Okay.”
Paige waved just her fingertips at Jenner. “And good to see you, too …” She trailed off until one of her companions whispered in her ear. “Beatrice.”
“I go by my last name, actually,” said Jenner. “Beatrice is more for prune poppers.”
Paige nodded while her companion whispered in her ear again. “Well, then, Jenner,
it’s good to see you, too, but you might want to rethink that fashion statement.” She pointed to the lone piece of blue candy still hanging around Jenner’s neck.
“Sorry. Let me get rid of it.” Jenner brought the necklace to her mouth and crunched on it until the candy disappeared.
“And … now you’re just wearing a piece of spit-soaked elastic.” Paige’s lip curled. “Even better.”
Jenner winked at her. “I aim to please.” To me, she waved and stepped back. “I’ll see you in the courtyard.”
“Strange girl … but cute,” Paige commented, watching her go. “Too bad we didn’t invite her to join the Debutantes.”
“She’s a surfer,” commented one of Paige’s friends. “And you’re allergic to seaweed.”
“Oh.” Paige wrinkled her nose. “Never mind, then.” She turned back to me. “So, you got our invitation.”
I was still trying to make sense of their bizarre reason for excluding Jenner. “Um … yeah. I did not
see that coming.”
Paige smiled and nodded at the confetti littering the ground. “Are you excited or what?” She held her arms open, as if expecting applause or a bouquet of roses.
“You made a mistake,” I said.
Paige’s arms snapped back to cross over her chest. “Interesting. I never make mistakes … but go on.”
“Don’t you remember that article I wrote last year? The one where I said less than stellar things about the Little Debbies
A flicker of annoyance crossed her face, but Paige smiled and relaxed. “Of course the Debutantes
remember. That’s exactly the reason we want you to join.”
I glanced at her friends again, but they still stood wit...