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I hated lunchtimes. I always missed Carl so much.
When we were in middle school we spent all our time together. We'd rush off the moment the bell rang, shovel down our school lunches in ten minutes .at, and then we'd have a whole hour just being us. We'd sneak off to one of our special favorite places. When it was sunny, we'd sprawl by the playground or sit kicking our legs on the wall near the bike sheds. We'd lurk in the library most of the winter. It didn't really matter where we were, just so long as we were together.
Some days we didn't talk much; we just read our books, chuckling or commenting every now and then. Sometimes we drew together or played silly paper games. But most days we'd invent another episode of Glassworld. We'd act it out, though we couldn't do it properly at school the way we could inside the Glass Hut. The other kids thought us weird enough as it was. If they came across us declaring undying love as King Carlo and Queen Sylviana they'd fall about laughing. We'd mutter under our breath and make minute gestures and the magic would start working and we'd be whirled off to the glitter of Glassworld.
It was always a shock when the bell rang for afternoon classes, shattering our crystal crowns and glass boots. We trudged back along the pizza- smelling corridors in our shabby sneakers, wishing we could stay in Glassworld forever.
I still kept the Glassworld Chronicles up- to- date in our huge manuscript book, and Carl occasionally added notes or an illustration, but we didn't often act it out nowadays. Carl always had so much boring homework. Sometimes he didn't come to the Glass Hut for days and I'd have to go calling for him.
It didn't always work then. He'd follow me down through the garden and sit in the hut with me, but he'd be all quiet and moody and not contribute anything, or he'd be silly and mess around and say his speeches in stupid voices, goo.ng it all up. I could generally get him to play properly eventually, but it was very hard work.
"Maybe you shouldn't keep pestering Carl to play with you," said Mom.
"But he's my best friend in all the world. We always play together," I said.
"Oh, Sylvie," said Mom. She sighed. Nowadays she often sighed when she talked to me. "You're too old for this playing lark now, making up all these secret imaginary games. It's not normal. You're fourteen, for God's sake. When are you going to start acting like a teenager?"
"You don't know anything about it," I said loftily. "They're not little kids' games. We're writing our own series of books. You wait. They'll be published one day, and Carl and I will make millions, what with all the royalties and the foreign rights and the .lm deals."
"Oh well, you can maybe pay off the mortgage then," said Mom. She sighed again. "Who do you think you are, eh? J. K. Rowling? Anyway, Carl doesn't seem quite so keen on this playing— sorry, writing stuff nowadays. You're both growing up. Maybe it's time to make a few new friends. Isn't there anyone you can make friends with at school?"
"I've got heaps of friends," I lied. "I've got Lucy. She's my friend."
That was true enough. Lucy and I had made friends that worrying .rst day in Milstead High School. I'd known her in elementary school and middle school, but I hadn't ever needed to make a proper best friend of any of the girls because I'd always had Carl.
It was hard trying to make friends now in Year Nine. Nearly everyone had been at our middle school, so they just carried on in the same twosomes or little gangs. There were several new girls in our class, but they palled up together. There was also Miranda Holbein in the other ninth grade class, but she was way out of my league.
It was a great relief when Lucy asked if I'd sit next to her and acted friendly. She was a giggly girl with very pink cheeks, as if she was permanently embarrassed. She sang in the choir and was always very good. She had pageboy hair and always had a shining white school shirt and never hitched up her knee- length skirt and wore polished brown lace- up shoes. She looked almost as babyish as I did. So we sat next to each other in every class and shared chocolates and chips at break. We chatted about ordinary humdrum things like tele vi sion shows (she liked anything to do with hospitals and wanted to be a nurse when she grew up) and pop stars (she loved several members of boy bands in a devoted little- sisterly fashion, knowing by heart their birth signs and favorite food and every single number one on their albums, in order).
Lucy was .ne for an everyday friend. I would never ever count her as my best friend, of course. She lived just around the corner from school so she went home at lunchtime. I lived too far away. Anyway, my mom was busy working at the building society, not home to cook me egg and French fries like Lucy's mom. I was stuck for company each lunchtime. We weren't allowed cell phones at school but I mentally sent Carl text messages: I MISS U. TALK 2 ME. CU INGH 2NITE?
We used to pretend we were so in tune with each other we were telepathic. Maybe our psychic brainwaves weren't wired up for new technology. Nothing went ching- ching in Carl's head. If he ever tried to send me similar messages I didn't pick them up, though I waited tensely enough, eager and alert.
I asked Carl over and over what he did during his lunchtimes at Kingsmere Grammar School but he was unusually uncommunicative. He ate. He read.
"Oh, come on, Carl. Tell me everything," I said. "Elaborate. I want detail."
"OK. You want me to describe my visit to the boys' bathroom in elaborate detail?"
"Stop being so irritating. You know what I mean. Who do you talk to? What do you do? What do you think about?"
"Maybe you'd like to follow me around with a webcam," said Carl. He suddenly grinned, and switched to manic TV- presenter mode. "Here is our unwitting suspect, Carl Johnson. Let's hone in on him. Ah! What is he up to now? He's lifting a .nger. Has he spotted us? Is he about to remonstrate? No, he's picking his nose. Let's have a close-up of the booger, guys.'
"Oh, Carl's close friend, Sylvie, is making a pithy comment. Let's focus on little Sylvie. Smile at the camera, babe," he said, sticking his squared .ngers right in front of my face.
I stuck my tongue out.
"Keep it out, keep it out, that's the girl! We're now switching to our all- time favorite Live Op Channel. Ms. Sylvie West has suffered all her childhood from Sharp Tongue Syndrome but the eminent ear, nose, and throat specialist, Dr. Carl Johnson, is about to operate. Scissors please, Nurse!"
"Yes, here are the scissors," I said, snip- snapping my .ngers. "But we've switched to the Mystery Channel now and I'm playing a scary girl driven bonkers by her crazy best friend so she decides to— stab— him—to—death!"
I made my scissor .ngers strike Carl's chest while he shrieked and staggered and fell .at at my feet, miming a bloody death. He did it so well that I could almost see a pool of scarlet blood.
I bent over him. He lay very still, eyes half open but staring past me, unblinking.
"Carl? Carl!" I said, giving his shoulder a little shake.
He didn't stir. My heart started beating faster. I crept closer, hanging my head down until my long hair tickled his cheeks. He didn't .inch. I listened. He didn't seem to be breathing.
"Stop it, Carl, you're frightening me!" I said.
He suddenly sat bolt upright so that our heads bumped together. I screamed.
"Ah, I'm glad I'm frightening you because we've switched to the Horror Channel now and I am a ghost come back to haunt you. Be very afraid, Sylvie West, because I am going to get you!"
His hands clutched my neck but I wrestled with him. I was small and skinny but I could .ght like a wildcat when I wanted. We tussled a bit but then Carl's .ngers started tickling my neck. I doubled up laughing and then tickled him in return. We lay .at on our backs for a long time, giggling feebly. Then Carl reached out and held my hand in the special best- friendship clasp we'd invented way back when we were seven. I held his hand tight and knew that we were best friends forever. More than best friends. We'd acted out weddings together when we were little. Carl used to make me rings out of candy wrappers. Maybe he'd give me a real ring one day.
How could I ever compare my bland little conversations with Lucy to the glorious fun I always had with Carl?
There weren't really any other girls to hang around with at lunchtime. I got along with nearly everyone, but I didn't want to foist myself upon them. One time, when I was sitting in the library, Miranda Holbein sauntered in and waved her .ngers at me. I was so startled I looked around, convinced she must be waving to someone behind me.
"I'm waving at you, silly!" said Miranda.
I waggled my .ngers back foolishly and then gathered up my books and rushed for the door. I didn't want to annoy Miranda. We'd only been at the school a few weeks but she already had a serious reputation. She could make mincemeat of you if she didn't like your looks.
I didn't like my looks. I was so tiny people couldn't believe I was in ninth grade in high school. I looked the youn gest of all the girls in my class. They all called me Little Titch. I didn't exactly get teased. I was considered the class mascot— quite cute, but not to be taken seriously.
Everyone was in total awe of Miranda. She looked much older than me, much older than any of us. She seemed at least sixteen, even in her bottle- green school uniform. She had bright magenta- red hair, obviously dyed, though this was strictly against school rules. She cheerily lied to Ms. Michaels, swearing that every startling strand of hair was natural. It swung down past her pointed chin but she often braided it in little rows, fastening each end with tiny beads and ribbons.
When her teacher complained about their gaudiness she came to school the next day with green beads and ribbons to match our uniform. This was preposterous, but Ms. Michaels let her get away with it!
Miranda seemed born to break every rule going. She was the girl everyone longed to look like but she wasn't really pretty and she wasn't even ultraslim. She didn't seem to mind a bit that she was a little too curvy. In fact she seemed particularly pleased with herself, often standing with her hands on her hips, showing off her .gure. The girls in her class said she never hid under her towel after showers. Apparently she stood there boldly, totally bare, not caring who stared at her.
She was clever and could be top of the class if she bothered to work hard, but she generally messed around and forgot to do her homework. She knew all sorts of stuff and apparently chatted away to the teachers about painting or opera or architecture, but no one ever teased her for being a nerd. She didn't even get teased for being posh, though she spoke in this deep fruity voice that would normally have been cruelly mimicked. It helped that she swore a great deal, not always totally out of earshot of the teachers. She told extraordinary anecdotes about the things she did with her boyfriends. She was nearly always surrounded by squealing girls going "Oh, Miranda!"
I wandered into the girls' bathroom this lunchtime and there was a huddle of girls goggling at Miranda. She was perched precariously on one of the sinks, swinging her legs, her feet in extraordinary buckled boots with long pointy toes.
She was in the middle of a very graphic description of what she had done with her boyfriend last night. I stopped, blushing furiously. The other girls giggled and nudged Miranda, who hadn't paused.
"Shut up, Miranda. Look, there's the Titch."
"Hi, Titch," said Miranda, giving me a wave again. Her .ngernails were bitten but she'd painted each sliver of nail black, and drew artistic black roses inside each wrist. Then she carried on with her detailed account.
"Miranda! Stop it! The Titch has gone scarlet."
Miranda smiled. "Perhaps it's time she learned the facts of life," she said. "OK, Titch? Shall I enlighten you?"
"I know the facts of life, thanks," I said.
I was starting to have to go to the bathroom rather badly now but I didn't want to go into a stall with them all listening to me.
"Ah, you might have a sketchy knowledge of the basic facts, but I doubt you've put them into practice," said Miranda.
"Stop teasing the Titch, Miranda!"
"As if the Titch would ever have a boyfriend," said Miranda, rolling her eyes at them.
"I do so have a boyfriend," I said, stung. "You shouldn't jump to conclusions. You don't know anything about me."
The girls tensed excitedly. People didn't usually snap back at Miranda. I was astonished I'd done it myself.
Miranda didn't seem at all annoyed. "I want to know all about you," she said. "And your boyfriend. Tell me all about him."
"His name is Carl," I said.
"And?" said Miranda. "Come on, Titch. What does he look like?"
"He's very good- looking. Everyone says so, not just me. He's fair. His hair's lovely, very blond and straight. It .ops over his forehead when it needs cutting. He's got brown eyes and he's got lovely skin, very clear— he never gets zits. He's not very tall but he's still quite a bit taller than me, obviously. He doesn't bother much with his clothes and yet he always looks just right, kind of cool and relaxed."
"Wow!" said Miranda. She was sort of making fun, and yet she seemed interested, too. "So what's he like as a person? I .nd all the really .t- looking guys are either terribly vain or they've got this total personality bypass."
"No, Carl's not a bit like that. He's ever so funny and great at making stuff up and inventing things. He's very clever, much brainier than me. He knows just about everything. He'll go on and on about some subject he's truly interested in but he's never really boring."
"So how long have you known this boy wonder?" Miranda asked. "Or do you really know him? You're the girl who reads a lot. Maybe you're making up your own story now."
"Yeah, like, as if a boy like that would want to hang out with the Titch!" said Alison, another new girl.
"She does know him," said Patty Price. "We were all in the same class in middle school."
"So he's only our age," said Miranda. "Just a little boy. I never go out with boys my own age. They're so stupid and immature."
"Carl isn't stupid," I said.
"No, he's, like, ultrabrainy," said Patty. "He goes to Kingsmere Grammar now, doesn't he, Titch? He got a special scholarship. He's great at art, too. He painted one wall back in middle school— this Venice scene with glass blowers, and it was just like a real artist had done it."
"He sounds interesting," said Miranda. "I want to meet him. Hey, Titch, bring him over to my place to night."
I stared at her. She was surely joking! All the other girls seemed equally amazed.
"Yeah, right," I said.
"No, really. We'll have a party. It'll be great," said Miranda.
"Oh, can I come, Miranda?"
"I'm coming, too!"
"Hey, hey, I'm asking the Titch, not you lot. Sylvie and her boyfriend Carl." Miranda reached out with her pointy boot and gently prodded me with it. "Will you come, Sylvie?"
No one ever called me Sylvie at school apart from the teachers. I was so surprised I didn't know what to say.
I had to say no, of course. The very idea of Carl and me going to one of Miranda's parties was preposterous. But you didn't just say No thanks to a girl like Miranda.
"Well, that would be nice," I mumbled, ready to start in on some excuse.
Miranda didn't give me a chance.
"Great," she said, jumping down from the sink. "See you around eight. It's 94 Lark Drive.'
She was off with a .ounce of her short skirt before I could say another word. The others all ran after her, still begging to come, too.
I was left with my heart thudding, wondering what on earth I was going to do now.
Excerpted from Kiss by Jacqueline Wilson.
Copyright © 2007 by Jacqueline Wilson.
Published in April 2010 by Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.