Skip to main content

Charming Girl No More Chapter 1

Charming Girl No More by Eleanor Scott is a young adult novel presented here serially.
 
Charming Girl No More
By Eleanor Scott
©2011


Part I  Chattingtrook


One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.



Chapter 1: Crying in Class
    
Charming Girl was so late to school that she was tempted to run, but she didn’t have her helmet. (How bad would that be? Headlines read: "BoS Poster Girl Breaks Core Rule in Public.") So she just walked very quickly. Usually she loved striding briskly through the pristine, geometric streets of Feteville, the capital of Chattingtrook, along with all the students and workers walking silently to their assigned jobs. The simple grays of the concrete always complemented the dashing blue of the sky. The endless tinted mirror glass on the buildings reflected the morning commuters. Today, though, the throng seemed not only bigger but much less festive. The unsmiling, closed faces surrounding her gave her a foreboding feeling. It made her want to break the rules and run dangerously without a sweaty, clunky helmet.
She had wanted to spend more time with Clint, Bessie and Kurt in her hollow tree this morning. But the LightWhite Ladies had called her for a briefing on an important office party she needed to attend after school.  The LightWhites said in their velvet, calm voices that some of the car safety department were being re-assigned, so they really needed some cheering up. She smiled and nodded politely to her mentors. But the prospect of a mid-week office party, full of adults, some of whom would be very grumpy, exhausted her.
As she rounded the corner, Charming Girl knew it was a good thing that she had not run. There, covering the second story of the main office of the Bureau of Safety was the newest safety poster of her. The ten-foot-tall image showed Charming Girl in full formal party regalia. She was running, smiling and wearing her helmet. Above her head huge block letters announced “Better Safe than Sorry!” Then under her feet: “Remember there are no ‘happy accidents’ in Chattingtrook. Trust in the Bureau of Safety.”
     The image was big and arresting. And Charming Girl also saw now that it was fake and garish. Her smile was so joyful and carefree. But nobody in Chattingtrook felt like that. No one ever smiled in public, unless they had to.
     More bad luck: a long line at the second checkpoint. Probably the scanners were down.  She heard no beeping that cleared the people through. And it looked like a new checkpoint officer was in training. So everyone’s ID and Declaration cards took twice as long to check the ancient way.  She sighed. Why was this bothering her so much? Her teachers never batted an eye when she was late. But the other students – Hedda, Melissa, Dora, Betty, even some of the boys gave her long, hard looks and turned their backs and started to whisper. The thought made her shutter.
     As the checkpoint line crawled along, Charming Girl heard more and more impatient sighs and clicking tongues. Even though there were clocks on every wall and the time was projected onto every street corner, the frustrated commuters made a big show of looking at their watches and rolling their eyes. When Charming Girl reached the window, it was just as she had suspected: a young trainee was diligently reviewing all the information on each person’s ID card. Then, she had to carefully read the Declaration card that described the person’s job or area of study (for small children there was a list of toy interests) and then visually verify that the person in front of her looked the part.
     Clearly flustered by all the dirty looks, the young woman was sweating and rifling through papers. She did not look up when Charming Girl handed over her ID and Declaration cards. At the same time, the man training her, also with his back to Charming Girl, was saying: “Officer HG, now, make sure you cross check the identity, age, height and weight with their declared job. Sometimes there can be some inconsistencies and those persons must be held for—”
     “Officer BD! Here’s one! Here’s an inconsistency! A girl who is only 14 has an adult Declaration! That can’t be right,” the trainee turned around to her superior to show him Charming Girl’s documents. The mentor officer whipped around to see Charming Girl’s bright sunny smile. Though it was unprofessional, he gave a smirk. (He knew his back was to the surveillance camera.)
     “Ah! Ah yes. Should have reviewed this with you since Miss Charming Girl lives in the neighborhood. She’s the only youth — in the whole country, actually – with an adult Declaration. And, as a matter of fact, the only declared Superhero. Did you forget to do the visual check?”
     Officer HG looked up, realized her blunder, and turned purple with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. So sorry, Miss Charming Girl. Gah, I have been staring at your poster all morning long. I’m an idiot!” She covered her face with shaking hands.
     “Please don’t worry!” Charming Girl said softly, working her magic. Then, doing something only she could get away with, she reached into the checkpoint booth and gently patted the young woman’s arm. “Is this your first day? Yikes, it looks hard. I can’t imagine keeping all of these records straight. And nevermind these surly commuters. They’ll get their coffee soon enough.” Then, the piece de resistance, Charming Girl caught the woman officer’s eye and smiled a big, cozy smile. Both checkpoint officers broke into big soppy grins and sighed with relief.
     As Charming Girl walked away she heard officer BD whisper to his trainee, “That’s why she has an adult Declaration. She can bring some brightness into the most stressful situations. No one like her. Not now anyway. Used to be… but- not now.”
     Officer HG shook her head, slack-jawed. “I’ve never… I’ve never… I really… Did you see that? She held my hand! Normally, I would have punched someone in the face who… but she… she… I really do feel like smiling.”
      Officer BD turned to scowl at the surveillance camera then crouched down and whispered. “That’s because she cheered you up. That’s the real McCoy for ya. I think it’s something to do with her eyes. Or the eyes and the smile together? I don’t know, but she has a gift,” he mused. He stood back up and took the ID and Dec cards from the next person in line.
     “Yeah, like some kind of wild…light or something… I have NEVER …,” Trainee HG trailed off when she saw Officer BD hitching his thumb back to the camera. Trainee HG cleared her throat and started scanning a Declaration card. With her back to the camera she spoke out of the side of her mouth, “Where did she come from? I mean… how…from this?” she motioned to the lifeless grid of buildings and immaculate concrete.
     The older officer nodded and shrugged. Then he looked down and muttered. “And, did you notice the others? They all calmed down. I don’t know where… but I’m glad the government found her. Smart people, our directors! Finding that girl and sending her out,” he pursed his lips.
Trainee HG covered her mouth and leaned to Officer BD. “She’s sort of like the BoS’s weapon of Massive Cheeriness.” And with her joke, BD and HG did something they hadn’t in years: they giggled. At work.
Then disaster.
“What is going on in here? What’s all this whooping and hollering, as they say?” Director Hugo Perr barked. There poking their heads into the check point booth was the Directors of the Bureau of Safety themselves, Hugo Perr and Alba Ayfray.
Trainee HG and Officer BD both stood up rigid, gasped and covered their mouths. Trainee HG even started to cover her privates because she felt naked and ashamed. Then Alba, an impossibly elegant woman in all black with a slicked back long, thick ponytail, tapped her wine-colored, manicured nail on the desk. “There is such a long line! And you are in here laughing and laughing. People will be late to work.” She spoke with a fabulously chic Italian accent.
Trainee HG tried to talk but just gaped. She had been dying to meet Alba Ayfray. She was a huge fan. Officer BD snapped out of it and came to her rescue: “We are terribly sorry for the delay, Director Ayfray. We…we…we had a bit of a rush this morning and then a slight mix up when Miss Charming Girl came through. My fault, really. I should have reviewed with Trainee HG. It won’t happen again.”
“Ah! Of course. When the famous come through the checkpoints…always a bottleneck,” Alba purred with a smile.
“Understandable. Understandable. But let’s put our nose to the grindstone and disappear this long line, as they say,” Hugo said with a smirk. “Carry on.”
The directors floated away and the checkpoint officers went into high gear checking ID and Declaration cards. They did not talk or make eye contact for the rest of the day.
* * *
     Though Charming Girl changed everyone’s mood around the checkpoint, when she got to school, she was in hell. She was late.  Every student she passed glared at her. When she read their hearts she saw daggers, knives, balls of flame and smoldering piles of her CG uniform     ot one kid said ‘hi,’ ‘good morning’ or even smiled. She had missed all the morning announcements. If any other student had been that late, they would have gotten three checks on their Safety Seminar card, no questions asked. But because of Charming Girl’s special BoS status, she was never disciplined in school. Charming Girl understood why the other kids would be frustrated . That was why she made sure that she never broke any rules. Because being forgiven in front of the other kids who were never shown leniency was worse than anything. While walking down the halls, the teachers smiled obsequiously and the students turned their backs on her. It was so awful, it made her legs wobble.
     Here was the Bureau of Safety’s darling who could save conversations in seconds and eradicate any kind of contention or sadness.
Not, however, for herself.
She had somehow managed to walk into history class and sit down. With a tight chest, she got out her books.
“Charming Girl,” Mr. Cawmin, her history teacher gave her a wooden smile. “We are just getting into partners.” Charming Girl and Mr Cawmin saw all the kids averting her their eyes, “But…since you are such an effective worker, you don’t need a partner.”
Charming Girl forced a smile. She truly despised partner work because no one ever wanted to be with her. Then she noticed Hedda heave a huge, dramatic sigh of relief to Melissa, her partner and they both giggled. Suddenly she realized she was trapped. Charming Girl could not believe it, but she was ready to cry. In fact, there were tears in her eyes. Tears that could fall down her face! And then everyone would freak out. She could not make the tears go away and her nose was starting to run. Worst of all, this was happening in public, in class! If she, Happiness Superhero for the whole country, started to weep in front of all these people… Mayhem! (And the other kids would probably laugh and sneer. She couldn’t handle that.)
“Stop it. Stop it. Stop it,” she whispered up to the ceiling in history class. She was trying to get the tears to ooze back into her eyes. And there was no way to escape. This was not okay. It was not okay for this friendless, fourteen-year-old superhero to be blubbering in the middle of class.  If the LightWhite Ladies found out, especially after her first ever argument with them last night, they would flip out(What WAS the big deal about her having dreams about dancing? Why was that brain trash?) They would use those scary, whispery, judgmental voices while being calm, beautiful and ultra-polite. Now she had a stomach ache. And, if the Bureau of Safety found out their pride and joy was weeping in front of other citizens, what would happen? It would be - Charming Girl remembered one of her vocabulary words - a calamity.
But every time she tried to stop crying or swallow the big lump in her throat, she saw the secret notation in her notebook: “SNF.” She had been writing this since she was eight years old. “Still No Friends.” She scanned the whole room, as she did every day, to see gaggles of students joking, rolling their eyes in fun, pulling on each others’ sleeves to whisper something hilarious and then cover their mouths and laugh furtively.
Their teacher, Mr. Cawmen, was droning on about the fall of the Imaginist Government and the rise of the BoS. “So, because of the kidnapping of the Imaginist King and Queen, Directors Ayfray and Perr decided to institute a new system of order, called…” He paused and looked at the class, waiting for someone to finish his sentence.
Dora, a talkative but and persistent questioner, raised her hand: “Wait, Mr. Cawmin? Did they die? Queen Rosa and King Harry? Or are they alive?”
Don’t interrupt, Dora. NO interrupting, Miss Dora Parse. You know better. You, of all people, don’t need another hatch on your safety seminar card. Interrupting is something that easily leads to CHAOS. And, as we all know, Chaos…  What, class?” Mr. Cawmin laid out the brainwashed question.
In a sing-song but bored unison, all the students intoned: “Chaos KILLS.”
“Yes! Chaos KILLS! It kills everything. EVERYTHING. It kills, maims, kidnaps. It is a destructive, horrible state of being!” Mr Cawmin was spitting a little. He lowered his voice and spoke nearly to himself: “Of course, any leaders who live so unsafely, so unwisely, as did King Harry and Queen Rosa, with their encouraging of random explorations of who knows,” he sneered, “were BOUND to meet an untimely and violent end.” Mr. Cawmin sniffed, cleared his throat and stood up straight. Charming Girl tried to focus on some spit still left on Mr. Cawmin’s coat, rather than the lump in her throat and tears about to run down her face. Mr. Cawmin, gathering steam, raised his voice: “That is why our esteemed leaders — may they be safe — established the Primary Tenants of Safety. Who can name four of the P.I.S.s? Hedda?”
Pretty, popular Hedda was trying not to smile her self-congratulatory smile. “Four of the Primary Imperatives of Safety are: know your Identity; never stray from your individual directive and Declaration; buckle up and be on time; and…” Hedda tapped her finger on the desk, “No killing.”
Mr. Cawmin raised his eyebrows. “No killing… what, Hedda?”
“OH. Yes. No killing any talking humans.”
“Very good.” Mr. Cawmin turned back to his notes on the board and continued his lecture.
Hedda sighed and Melissa, her best friend, nudged her. No one ever nudged Charming Girl. No one ever saved her a seat. She had tried everything to be invited in, to be included. She tried sitting next to every queen bee student and - copying what she saw others do - tugging on their sleeve to ask what was so funny. (She was always shrugged off: “You wouldn’t get it.”) She asked leading questions when groups were making plans to go out. The off-handed answers were given with no eye contact. She never got invited to any party, get-together or outing. In the end, the BoS always got her into everything, but it wasn’t the same.
It was not as if the other kids never talked to her. They always asked Charming Girl what to do in times of strife. Their strife. Charming Girl knew exactly how to fix mistakes with friends and reach détente in moments. And people thanked her. They did! But. They never, ever, reciprocated. No one but no one ever asked her about her secrets, her fears, her ideas. They never asked how her day was going or what she was going to wear to Monthly Meets. And that was what she always wished. On every shooting star, when she blew out birthday candles, every time she saw the sun dip down past the horizon, she wished to have some real friends.
The lump in her throat got bigger. She heard Hedda guffaw and she looked up to see Dora and Hedda cracking up at a drawing that Melissa had made. They were all looking at each other and laughing behind their hands. Two big tears escaped down her face.
Ms. Growper, the meanest teacher in school - nicknamed Ms. Grumper – was walking by the classroom and she saw Charming Girl’s tears. Quick as lightning, even with her limp, she was in the room, and lunged for the note that Hedda was trying to hide. She snatched it like a raven grabbing a jewel and torn it up: “Hedda Gables, you think your vacuous, self-absorbed scribbles are more important than the strategies employed by the Bureau of Safety to save this population from disorder and destruction?!” Everyone, even Mr. Cawmin, froze in open-mouthed terror.
“No… no,no… no, Ms. Growper,” Hedda stammered.
“And what is THIS, Melissa Sanchez? Unsafe beverages in an open container?” Melissa tried to grab her cup of water off her desk right as Ms. Growper was pointing at it. Melissa ended up spilling the water everywhere.
“Exactly! Just what I thought would happen,” Ms. Growper scowled, pulling her sad, drab cardigan around her waist. “Charming Girl! Go immediately to fetch something to clean up this horrendous mess before someone breaks their neck! How would you feel, then, Miss Sanchez? Hmmm?” Ms. Grumper’s gray fly-aways from her tight bun were particularly menacing as they pricked the air near Melissa’s face.
Charming Girl was so overwhelmed with relief to be out of the crowded room, she stopped crying. “Bless you, Ms. Growper,” Charming Girl prayed silently.  In the lavatory, she looked at herself in the mirror from head to toe. She looked at her boots. They WERE fabulous: Bone-white suede, knee-length, a bit of a bumped up rounded toe, chunky black heals; perfect for any superhero. Tights and dress? Perfect. Hair: shiny and swinging strong. Then she did the trick that the talking spoon, Clint, had taught her to do in times of strife: Take three deep breaths and imagine that your feet have roots growing down into the ground. How a talking object knew about breathing and feet was curious. But the trick always worked. When she finished, her eyes were perfectly clear.
As Charming Girl walked back into class, Dora was about to interrupt again, but instead, she raised her hand. Mr. Cawmin pointed at her and nodded.
     “I don’t know if this is a dangerous question… can I still ask it?” Dora shrugged.
     “All right. But take it slowly,” Mr. Cawmin’s eyes narrowed.
     “Well,” Dora breathed, “I mean I know they put in the ‘talking’ part in the Safety Imperative about no killing because of talking objects, right? I just wanted to know… if you knew anyone who ever SAW or, I guess HEARD a talking object…”
     Mr. Cawmin closed his eyes and licked his teeth with his mouth closed.
     “I’m sorry! That was too dangerous! I’m sorry. I just wanted to know why, if they are just legend, why does the Bureau of Safety have to be so specific in the Safety Imperative. I mean, if it’s not true, what’s the point in mentioning it?” Dora winced as Mr. Cawmin put a hand up to stop her.
“But I’ll forget about it,” Dora said, looking down. Mr. Cawmin nodded in agreement with a joyless face.
     Charming Girl knew that talking objects were real, not a legend. She also knew why talking was mentioned in the Tenant. The LightWhite Ladies had told her. It didn’t have to do with objects. If talking objects were found they were destroyed, end of story. That Safety Imperative was for people. If a person is rendered ‘speechless,’ a person is ‘no longer able to talk,’ they can’t explain what they are doing or why. According to the BoS that means that they could commit any number of dangerous, unreasonable or unjustified acts. So if someone is speechless, they are threatening the greater Safety, thus the BoS is cleared to use extreme force.
      Then Charming Girl heard Melissa whisper to Hedda: “My grandmother had some talking objects. She said they--”
     “Melissa!” Hedda hissed back, “You KNOW talking objects are not real! Anyway, where is your grandmother now?!” She smirked.
     Charming Girl’s jaw dropped. She was floored by Hedda’s cruelty. It was amazing to her how popularity made people so mean. And to her best friend! Everyone knew that Melissa’s grandmother, who had basically raised her, had disappeared three years ago. No one knew where she was. Once, just after she had disappeared, Charming Girl asked the LightWhites about Melissa’s grandmother – because they spoke to the BoS directors almost daily – but they just told Charming Girl she was late to her afternoon tea party.
 When she saw Melissa’s face start to crumple, Charming Girl clicked into superhero mode. She needed to be stealthy, accurate and as lightning fast as a viper.
     “Hedda,” Charming Girl whispered, “did you hear that Joe is actually going to the dance? He IS! Even though he says he’s not. Cory told me he is going… So that’s solid information. I KNOW. It’s huge!” The only subject that would really pull Hedda off topic was Joe. She had had a crush on him since third grade.
     When Hedda finally took her hands away from her gasping mouth, she whipped around to tell Melissa. Neither one had any idea what Charming Girl had done.

STAY TUNED FOR CHAPTER 2.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Clean Slate Parenting 1

3/2/16 We begin. The art of clean slate parenting.
The other day my son, André, who is nearly 10 years old, and I were talking about growth mindset vs fixed mindset. (Many thanks to Carol Dweck for her visionary book, “Mindset”.)  I asked if he felt like he had a fixed mindset for any of his subjects in school. Because, I told  him, I had a fixed mindset about other things (housekeeping, some yoga poses, zumba, earning money ) and I had a growth mindset about some things (parenting, sculpture, meditation, performing). 
We agreed that some parts of our life are bathed in the light of growth mindset and that  some parts that were clamped down by a fixed mindset. If you have a growth mindset, you see failures as opportunities  to learn and grow as opposed to final judgments about your character. If you have a fixed mindset, when you fail you have proved to the world that you are a sham and not worth anything.
 They are teaching the 4th and 5th graders at André’s …

Celebrate the Year of the Dragon! Commission a personalized dragon painting and story!

Celebrate the Year of the Dragon!

Commission a personalized Dragon story and dragon portrait featuring your kids as the noble dragons!
Eleanor will interview you about your children's interests and personalities and she will create a dragon story and portrait completely unique to your family. For more information and prices, contact Eleanor at elscott20@yahoo.com
(Note: for information on Grumpy Pirates Summer Camps 2012 scroll to the next post.)
Dragon story excerpt: from "Kiran meets Graham, Ash and Noel, the dragon brothers" “Kiran. Cool name,” Graham said flying closer, “How come you don’t know about greedy dragons? And burning fire and stuff?”“I don’t know. I was raised by humans…so, they didn’t know as much about…”“HUMANS?” Ash and Noel shouted together.“Those tiny, teeny creatures?” Noel said.“And they can’t even fly, right? They don’t have any wings, right?” Ash said.“And they are so, so tiny, small,” Noel said.“Hey, you guys. Stop,” Graham said, “That’s not polite.” …