I Am Famous
My English teacher asked me for an autograph.
It was June 12, exactly two weeks before the end of the school year. The sixth-period bell had just rung and I was reaching into my bag for a notebook and a pen when a shadow fell across my corner of the grimy cafeteria table. Startled, I looked up. Then I blinked. Twice. Old Mrs. Gallagher was standing over me, stylishly dressed in one of her usual calf-length checkered dresses buttoned tightly at the neck. And she was smiling.
“Ruby, would you do me the honor?” she asked in a shockingly sugary tone.
I glanced down and saw that both of her arms were outstretched; her left hand held a black ballpoint pen, and in her right was a hardcover copy of my first novel, The Heart Stealer. It was a sobering sight, because the book had landed in stores only a few days earlier. I didn’t think anyone aside from the members of my immediate family had bought it. Yet. There had been a few ads in magazines and a mention of the book on one of the early-morning talk shows, but I wasn’t expecting instant recognition.
“Oh,” I replied. I think I even gasped. “I . . . uh . . . of course. Yes. Sure.”
“Take your time with the inscription,” she said gently. “I’m sure no one will mind if you get to your next class a little late today.”
I reached out and took the pen. I laid the book—my book, complete with a glossy cover and my name in bright block letters across the top—down on the table. I felt my cheeks blush. All around me, the cafeteria went silent. Students who would have otherwise bolted for the double doors were suddenly witnessing what had to be the freakiest incident in the history of Frasier High School: an English teacher asking a student for an autograph.
And not just any English teacher.
Mabel Marie Johnson-Gallagher was a cold, disapproving, PhD-from-Yale-toting literary snob. An elitist in every sense of the word, she preferred metaphors to music, poetry to perfume, and probably sentences to sex. She had a cat named Brontë. She wore her black hair in one of those smooth, oily, Emily Dickinson–style buns. She even scolded us in Shakespearean tongue.
Dost thou not remember / thine homework from yester eve? You gall me with hell!
In short, Mrs. Gallagher wasn’t a favorite among students because she had a tendency to make us feel brainless. I supposed it was just her style of teaching, though I had never forgiven her for writing ’Tis drivel and poop! across the bottom of one of my best essays in Comparative Litera- ture. And I never expected her to care about a commer- cial novel written by the sixteen-year-old who rarely spoke up in her classroom and would never swear in iambic pentameter.
I should have been flattered, but getting singled out by Mrs. Gallagher was a lot like winning a bowling tournament: all you had to show for it was a geeky grin and a bad pair of shoes.
Now she was staring at me with wide, expectant eyes.
I was frozen. An autograph? It wasn’t as easy as just scribbling my name across the page. People want more than that—especially when they’ve invested twenty-five bucks in a hardcover. And what kind of inscription was she expecting? She hadn’t exactly been nice to me for the past ten months. To Mrs. Gallagher, I thought, imagining my hand gliding across the page. Does this mean my writing isn’t drivel and poop? No, that wouldn’t work. Too edgy. Not even remotely Shakespearean. She still hadn’t submitted my final grade for the year, and I wasn’t taking any chances.
“I read that wonderful article on you in TeenGirl maga- zine,” she gushed. “There you were—right on page twenty-six! Oh, Ruby, I had no idea what tremendous news this book of yours is! And the fact that you’ll be making an appearance tonight at the American Literature Club—it’s just astounding.”
Her voice boomed across the cafeteria. My cheeks felt hotter. The article in TeenGirl wasn’t one of my favorites, because the picture of me had been taken before I’d lost those pesky eighteen pounds. As for the Literature Club . . . it was pretty astounding. The event I’d be attending in just a few hours was big and by invitation only. I’d be rubbing bookends with some of the greatest writers on the planet. A new inscription suddenly popped into my head: To Mrs. Gallagher, Read—don’t speak. Love, Ruby Crane.
“Was the article correct?” she continued. “Is The Heart Stealer going to be adapted into a movie next year?”
I felt the cafeteria crowds thickening behind me. It wasn’t really news to anyone—the whole school had known about my book’s being published since September—but now that it was so in their faces, I felt strange. Or maybe just a little pressured. Or completely strange and nervous and pressured. How about that? Strange. Nervous. Pressured. Yeah, that works. I hoped my insecurities weren’t showing. To Mrs. Gallagher, Have you ever been slammed in the head with a hardcover? Love, Ruby Crane. I held on to my smile and gave her a meek nod.
“Oh! How wonderful!” She did a little jump, as if a jolt of electricity had shot up from the carpet and zapped her in the butt. The bun on the back of her head bounced. “And just to think how young you are!” she continued. “You have a brilliant literary career ahead of you, Ruby. And . . . and who knows? Maybe even an acting career! Will they let you star in the movie?”
I held the smile in place. To Mrs. Gallagher, Hast thou gone totally freaking berserk?
“Oh, you would be so wonderful in the movie!” she said, clapping her hands.
Someone two tables away let out a chuckle. It was likely one of the mean, golden-haired cheerleaders who hated me for becoming famous, for burning through the dark web of sophomore-year obscurity like a forest fire.
I had experienced a lot of that in the past few months—snickers, sneers, eyes rolling whenever someone mentioned my book. I’d entered Frasier High School a nameless freshman, then risen through the socially envied crowd at breakneck speed. There were a lot of people—girls, mostly—who didn’t like it, who viewed me as an unworthy shadow intruding on their world. It took me a while to understand why they felt that way.