by Sherwood Smith
Monday Lys lay on her bed, supposedly doing her homework. She
was actually watching fanvids on her laptop when she was
interrupted by all this car and people noise outside the window.
not, for once, another loud, crashing fight among the people
Lys’s family called the Freakenstoner Monsters, who lived across
the street. She spotted the RealTV logo on the sides of two big
vans and almost put her head through the glass to see if they
were just there for one of the neighbors, or . . . ?
with big, white, straight teeth bustled to the front door below
her, a bright green envelope in his hand, as a young woman in
jeans and an old sweater shot him with a hand cam.
No. Oh yeah!
knew what that envelope was. It was the Green
Envelope, the one that meant your family had been picked for the
Home Show, the biggest reality show on RealTV.
reacted like a typical sixteen-year-old: first she squeed. Then
she reached for her cell.
“Alyssa! Could you please come downstairs?” Mom called out in
the sugary voice that meant there was company.
Were they, like, filming right now? You were supposed to
be Totally Natural, but there was no way she was going to appear
before millions in last year’s gym shorts, a ratty t-shirt, her
hair like an old witch, and oh yeah, her side of the room?
Totally Natural did not include everyone in the Free World
seeing underwear and stuff all over the floor.
the bathroom!” she yelped, grabbing armfuls of laundry.
minutes of really hard work didn’t quite reduce her mess to the
neatness of her older sister Julia’s side of the room, but at
least it had been tamed to a Totally Natural that people, could,
you know, see.
shower, hair and face fix, her best jeans, a cute-but-casual
top--dirty clothes in the hamper--and she opened her
door. Heard unfamiliar voices, tinkly social laughter.
walked downstairs in her most casual walk--were the cameras
swinging to get her?--no. Nobody paid any attention. Her
parents sat side by side on the couch, facing Mr. Piano Teeth,
who was talking. Behind him, the female from outside held a
camera slack in one hand. Her eyes had that stare-into-space
look of boredom.
fourteen-year-old brother skulked on one of the kitchen bar
stools, drumming with his fingers on the stool next to him.
When she sat down on it, he made a face and shifted his drumming
to his knees.
“ . . .
so do you have any questions?”
looked around his own house as though secret cameras had
sprouted in the corners. “You’re really not filming?”
Piano-Teeth’s tone made it clear he’d already answered this
question at least once. “No. As I said, we can’t begin until
you sign the agreement. It’s against the law to film you
without consent. That’s the Fourth Amendment.”
snorted, leaning forward--Mom looked tense--Dad sat back.
Piano-Teeth kept smiling. “After you sign, we’ll restage the
surprise at the door, which is the only scene we do set up.
From then on you’re on your own. You--your family and friends
and neighbors--with me here only as a kind of invisible guide.”
waved a hand. “So we sign, and these cameras you install will be
in every room except the bathrooms.” He was a big man, with a
heavy face, so his frown looked like a glower.
over quickly, “You say that when the green light is on you are
filming, and when it’s red, not.” She was small and nervous, a
hummingbird woman with big eyes a lighter color than her oldest
But if you don’t want to be filmed, you say ‘Privacy Now’ and
the cams turn off automatically. But if there’s no film,
there’s no show.”
except for Jacob’s soft plappity-plap rhythms on his knees. The
family was too used to it to notice. Dad shifted--Lys knew he
was about to scoff.
him a nervous look, rushing into speech. “And we can easily see
anywhere in the room. You’ve seen the show. People obviously
get accustomed to them.”
we’ve seen shows where people were half-dressed, hair messy,
stuff on their faces, when things happen.”
who forgot to shift the cams into Privacy mode before something
happened--but they were still decent according to the privacy
restrictions, which are clearly spelled out on the contract.
This is the Homeland, after all. Television does have Family
haven’t forgotten that,” Dad said, with no smile. “I still miss
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Funny thing, it never
turned me into a--“
Mom said softly. “I’m sure no one here was responsible for
remember it when I was a kid,” Mr Piano Teeth said
unexpectedly. “It was a hoot.” He slid his gaze to Mom, his
72-ivory grin undiminished. “As to the Home Show. We’ve
modified the design so that the cams can be heard by the blind.
You’ll remember we’ve had sight-challenged people on the show.
snorted, Mom smiled, and Jacob sighed, looking at the stucco
ceiling as if his life depended on his counting the glitter dots
there. Lys gripped her fingers, willing her family to shut up
until the contract was signed.
Piano-Teeth smiled at them all. He really did look like a
Hollywood guy--his hair expertly cut, like someone had snipped a
single hair at a time, then highlighted it surfer blond. His
clothes were designer jeans and a black silk shirt.
questions? Let me get to the next portion then, and this will
include you kids--you’ll have to tell your sister when she gets
off work. That is, you not only don’t talk to us when filming,
even when our mobile cams follow you to school or work, you
don’t talk about us. And that includes on the web.”
their blogs?” Dad asked.
Piano-Teeth chuckled. “We don’t have to. Our experience is, if
your show makes it into the second week, names have gotten out
by then, and your blogs will get a few million hits a day.
Start talking about the show and we pack up. This show is real
life with real people. The only thing you share with actors on
PrimeTV, where it’s all scripts and sets and directing, is that
they never look at the camera or make any sign that they know we
are there. You have to do that, too.” He paused, and when no
one said anything, he went on in a well-rehearsed, soothing
voice, “Our roving cams are all trained to be unobtrusive. They
shoot a lot--that’s their job--but the editors decide what gets
shown. Though we shoot all day, only a portion makes it to the
muttered, “We get no say in the . . . .”
a hand on his wrist, and he turned his words into a cough.
Piano-Teeth gave them the full grand piano. “Hey. I’m on your
side. Your show does well, I do well as a director. I can move
up in my field, just as your skills move you up in your line of
snorted. Mom held her breath--but Dad did not deliver his
well-vented opinion of how “promotion” worked in the Homeland,
as opposed to Corporate America up there at the tip of the
Piano-Teeth leaned forward and assumed a serious air. “Back up
a little. Though our timeslot is rated for thirteen and up,
Standards and Practices are pretty strict. If we have problems
with language or inappropriate situations, we’ll get cancelled.
So, for instance, your sister--” He glance down at the paper.
“Julia. If she wants to snog with her boyfriend when the green
light is on, she can go ahead. We encourage it--she’s over
eighteen, and the viewers love romance, as long as ‘naughty
bits’--” (He held up his hands, crooking two fingers like quote
marks.) “--don’t appear on screen. But you--” Lys got the full
impact of the piano. Her face burned.. “You’re not sixteen yet,
so you keep your romantic life strictly to kissing and petting.”
said, with a laser-look at Lys, “She doesn’t have a romantic
life. She has school to think about.”
her face get even hotter. “Dad!”
snickered, and shifted his drumming to the counter. Bad
move--Mom heard, sent him a quelling frown, and he sighed,
drumming silently on his knees again.
Piano-Teeth said, “So, once Julia arrives, if she agrees, you
front door opened then, and Julia bustled in, looking harried
and tired, her large dark eyes flicking from her parents to the
stranger and back.
Piano-Teeth straightened up. “This must be Julia.” With
genuine enthusiasm, he went on, “Go ahead and explain. If she
agrees, we can shoot the surprise scene right now.”
tired and bedraggled from a long, crowded bus ride, Julia was
pretty, and Lys, usually so proud of her older sister, felt a
pang of jealousy as Piano Teeth watched Mom take her into the
kitchen. Until she saw Julia’s expression, which was tight with
disgust. She’d forgotten that of all the types of TV Julia
hated, reality shows were down there at the bottom.
pressed her forearms across her middle. Everyone watched Julia,
so they saw her expression suddenly clear after a long whisper
from Mom, and then her short, tight nod.
Julia, who despised television, had agreed! Piano-Teeth was
the only one who hadn’t been worried. Of course she’d agree.
they shot the scene (“Everyone look surprised! And smile as we
introduce you!”) the show people went away, and Lys pounded
upstairs, yanked open her bottom drawer, dug under the neon pink
scratchy-wool sweater her great-aunt had crocheted that she
would wear “some day” (like if her aunt ever came up from
Florida), and pulled out her diary. And so excited she was to
have an entry worth writing, for once, she didn’t even pause to
kiss the cellpic of Ty Leung, the cutest guy of the century.
She paged impatiently past glitter-ink calligraphed details of
his life and likes and dislikes that she’d managed to winnow out
by tireless spying and listening, and opened to a fresh page,
which she labeled Day One: Home Show!
wrote everything down, ending with: Okay, so Julia is older
and prettier. But what about ME, Alyssa Delonne (she still
wasn’t sure about her stage name) who WANTS to be an actor?
This show is not going to be All About Julia.
school bus the next day Lys txted her two best friends to meet
her. She was so excited she didn’t even scan the school’s
online HomeBoard (the CloneBored most schools called it, though
nicknames ranged throughout the country), which was mostly
school or government hype anyway. Only once in a while did
someone hack past the dorky gate to post something good--before
either some school honcho or one of the government monitors saw
it and took it down again, and stuck them with a semester of
Supervised Community Service. You got cool points if you
spotted a hack before it got wiped.
“Ohmigod!” her best friend Andrea squeaked as soon as Lys
entered the art building restroom, which was the meeting place
for most of the girls in their class. Because Lys was not in her
usual slouchy pants and old t-shirt--she cruised in wearing a
tight black top, a floaty blouse, and her very best jeans.
Definite guy-bait. If, that is, you were even on the guy’s
talked to you?” asked her other best friend, Kayla.
drew the girls over by the janitor’s cupboard; a couple of
fiercely whispered sentences later, All Was Clear.
“ . . .
so before I went downstairs, because, you know, I wasn’t sure if
they’d, like, burst in and start filming right away.” Lys
finished in a hissing whisper.
else in the crowded restroom paid the least attention--they were
all too busy talking, laughing, fiddling with their hair or
their cells. The air cloyed with clashing shampoos, BPals, and
always make it look like they come right in and begin filming.”
Both girls nodded. “Julia’s half is always perfect. So I
tossed all my old grammar-school trophies and kip from Gran and
Aunt Alice and anything else that would make me look Debi-Dee.”
grimaced. Kayla’s eyes narrowed. Andrea shook back her blond
been the funniest thing to make Debi-Dee jokes back in eighth
grade, when her family ran nearly two months, and poor Debi-Dee
thought she was the teen leader of the world when actually she
became famous for her clueless taste in just about everything.
Lys remembered having counted 110 Debi-Dee jokes on the web in
just one day--each one meaner than the last. The three had
watched the last Debi-Dee family ep on a Friday sleepover--the
highest rated one of that year--when she found out everyone
thought she was a loser. Lys hated that episode. That crying
had seemed really, well, real. Andrea had thought it
funny. (“So what if she was bawling? She was the
uberpose and anyway her family can buy a new house, and a new
name if they want to. Two months on that show? They are beyond
rich.”) Kayla had stated that it was all fake. Worse
than fake, like regular TV, because it pretended to be real.
And she seldom watched RealTV since.
she was excited for Lys, who she knew wanted badly to get into
the fashion expert of the three, zeroed in on what was
important. “What did you put up instead?”
in way-skit meltdown about that. But then I remembered Gran
Ellie gave me her Barbie set--“
Andrea backed away, shaking her hands as if Lys was radiating
nuclear germs. “That is soooo vapid. You didn’t. Put.
Up. A Barbie doll.”
smacked her on the backpack. “Chill. Lys showed me it once.
That Barbie and all the clothes and accessories are from a
zillion years ago. So old it’s mad.”
Lys exclaimed. “The hair, the clothes, all uber-sixties. She’s
even got white lipstick!”
“Skay-yetch,” Andrea said, and shuddered.
added, “Anime figurines gone too?”
left those on the chest of drawers. Anime is cool.” And on the
others’ nods of agreement, “I think my band posters are okay, I
mean, I checked about a million blogs last night, and they’re
girls okayed that as a smart move.
had a family meeting.” Lys giggled, and Andrea giggled too, but
there wasn’t anything funny, Kayla thought. “Mom had us make
wish lists. For what to do with the money. We’re supposed to
focus on that.”
lists,” Andrea said. “Yours of course begins with a total
everybody put down what you’d expect. Me, stuff for me and my
room, Julia her own apartment, car, boring stuff. Dad a lot of
stuff for the house and the future, Mom the same. Like college
funds--all boring. Jacob uber-vap fourteen-year-old stuff like
the drum set he keeps moaning about. As if the neighbors would
even let us. The Freakenstoners would 911 if they heard
anything louder than their fights. Anyway, she said to keep
thinking of the lists, and we have to cooperate with each other,
and be a good example of a normal family, yadda yadda.”
knew Lys’s mom would have been a child psychologist if she
could have managed to finish her degree when the economy was
doing its slow dive just before the election that never
happened--the years that Dad said the country got Bushwhacked.
That was his favorite word for any disaster or catastrophic
blunder, which worried Mom. Everybody knows the Terror Laws and
the special prisons apply only to them. Terrorists. Not
to normal people. But you couldn’t help hearing scary things.
And everybody knows the government hears you, in order to keep
girls had been familiar since grammar school with Lys’s Mom
pointing out that everyone needs to work to get along, they need
to be civilized, and she firmly believed that communication was
meant to build harmony. So you don’t say non-nice things.
“Bor-ring,” Andrea said, rolling her eyes.
know.” Lys started to bite a nail--something she hadn’t done
since fourth grade--and then yanked her hand down. “The idea
is, to get this stuff. Anyway, by the time I’m home,
supposedly they’ll have cameras all over. If Dad doesn’t blow
it, crabbing about Big Brother--“ She looked up and around, and
they all looked around as well. They’d all heard Lys’s dad
about this grue novel of the old days, called 1984--like
when their parents were kids, eew! Who’d want to read that, so
who cared if it wasn’t in the libraries any more?.
they pick you anyway?” Andrea asked suddenly. “Did they tell
scoffed, “You know how they always say it’s random.”
said, “Julia figures it’s because we’re a bi-racial family.”
pursed her lips. “Yeah, probably. What they don’t let out is
what their real parameters for choosing are, but my mom says
it’s not just demographic statistics and marketing studies--”
waved her hands. “Doesn’t matter why. What matters
is that you stay on more than a week.” She fluttered her
lashes and flicked her hair. “Which means we get to be
in on it.” She made a face. “I heard friends don’t get paid,
you have to sign a waiver, but hey! Being on TV?”
squinted around, her almond eyes wide. “Oh God. This school is
already a zoo.”
to Andrea, “Your job is to make us look good, so you have to
share your clothes.” None of their families had much money, but
Andrea was an only child, and her mother used new clothes to
bribe her to try for good grades, when all Andrea wanted was to
go to Hollywood and get into movies. Lys said to Kayla, “And
you make us sound wicked. That means we’ll plan it first.
Then rehearse. Like drama class. So it sounds natural.”
gonna be on TV.” Andrea squeed faintly, then they all turned
guiltily toward the other knots of girls crammed into the
restroom, especially around the mirrors. Andrea whispered, “You
know, when they find out, everyone’s going to want to go to your
other girls in the bathroom were still busy with their cells,
their make-up, and their hair--talking, talking, talking.
wrinkled her nose. “Why is it totally irritating when other
people yatter and crack gum, but we don’t notice when we do it?”
feeling her way as director of the show of her life, said, “No
cracking gum when you come over. And no squees. We are not
going to be Debi-Dee.”
squeed again, bouncing gently up and down until Kayla gave her a
fish eye, and Andrea clapped her hands over her mouth.
that night felt like someone had died and was buried under the
table. The linen napkins were out--the ones Lys had only seen
twice in her life. Jacob looked slouchier than ever, wearing
a t-shirt with his favorite band on it, and his oldest jeans
that Lys suspected he’d thrown around outside and stomped on to
make them extra grungy. Mom and Dad had both dressed in fresh
work clothes; they sat stiffly side by side, and the dinner was
roast lamb. Roast lamb! Mom and Dad shared cooking chores
because they both hated cooking after a long day of work, so
mostly what the family ate were fast casseroles or frozen stuff,
and Dad usually made big salads. The kids had to clean up.
kept trying not to look at that thing in the corner of the
ceiling, its green light glowing like a monster eye. Naturally
that was all they could think about--so the conversation started
dead and decomposed from there. Lys, desperate for her family to
be interesting and entertaining, kept giggling every time
someone did speak, as though there was extra comedy and style in
“Please pass the mint sauce?” and “My, the rain did come down
this afternoon, didn’t it?”
arrived late--as always--but she’d somehow managed to dress up
before getting on the bus, because she waltzed in absolutely
gorgeous in an outfit she usually wore on her rare dates.
dinner, Julia muttered to Lys as they cleared the table, “We’re
so Stepford Wives, it’s scary.”
tried to remember the reference. Oh yeah, old film. But what
was it about? “We’re not wives,” she muttered with her face
away from the camera.
went back for the glasses (the good ones, the ones the kids
never got to touch at normal dinners), Julia whispered, “We’re
zombies.” She turned away from the camera and made an
eye-bulging, tongue-lolling zombie face.
choked back a laugh so hard her sinuses burned, which caused her
eyes to water. Great. Her make-up--which took forty-five
minutes to put on--would smear and make her look like a
raccoon. “Excuse me,” she said in her most sprightly voice. “I
just need to freshen up.” And ran upstairs not only to repair
her make-up but to try to think of something to do in front
of the camera. Everyone kept hiding before they’d say
anything real! That couldn’t be good.
So . . .
what to do? That was the other thing. You couldn’t sit around
and watch the tube. That is, you could, but the camera would go
off. Nobody wanted to watch a bunch of strangers watching TV.
(Though Jacob and his two trusted buds thought the Home Show
would be coolest if you could watch yourself on TV and be filmed
watching it, so on the TV you’d see yourself watching yourself
on TV while in real life you . . . well, you get the idea.) If
you wanted to keep the cams green, you had to have Family
Activities, and they had to look natural. Sometimes on the show
people had big fights or other angst fests, which of course made
everyone laugh. Last night, after they’d made their Wish Lists
and agreed to cooperate, they’d promised Mom to be on their best
behavior, and serve as examples of civilized people.
Lys came out, wondering if she could talk them into
Charades--she’d thought up three clever ones that would show off
her acting talent--they’d already given up and the TV was on.
Sure enough, the camera eye was now red.
flopped down on the couch. Nobody talked. At least not in the
living room. Every so often someone started to say something,
froze, looking doubtfully up at that red eye, then slunk into
the pantry. Whoever they’d wanted to talk to would slink in
after them. There were a lot of squished, spice-scented quick
conversations in the pantry that night, after which everyone
crouched down in the bathroom with her diary on the toilet seat,
where she scribbled down everything that had happened that
day--she even left out where she’d seen Ty, what color his shirt
was, how many times he’d smiled in what might, maybe, possibly,
have been her direction. She was too full of ideas for the
updated her HomeSpace blog with a list of everything she’d worn
that day. It looked boring, she knew. But what else could she
say? Anyway her blog was always boring. The only people who
read it were the others in drama class and her small circle of
friends. Secrets went into her diary, and her mom would be
upset if she ever said anything mean about anybody.
didn’t update her blog. But then she hadn’t since the retail
store added on more hours, bringing her work week to four
college classes and thirty hours selling curtains, for a total
of about eighty-five hours altogether--not counting time on the
bus, or in the library.
never tried to increase his hits. He liked only being read by
his own posse. His HomeSpace blog said tersely, Invaders
arrived. Plans in place. Members of Skull Skillz: PWN! And he added some dire pix from long ago monster shows below
the Skull Skillz logo.
Skillz was the band he and his buds were going to start, as soon
as they could get instruments of their own, amps--and a place to
Piano-Teeth showed up the next morning just before breakfast.
“Just call me Brian,” he said, when Mom tried to ‘mister’ him.
“Remember, I’m on your side.”
murmured something polite, otherwise the house was silent except
for the ticking of Great-Gran’s clock on the mantle, and the
faint tinkle-ting of Jacob’s fork on his juice glass.
watched last night’s footage.” Now Brian had their complete
attention. “No--no--” He put up his hands when everyone
started to talk at once. “It’s fine. It’s absolutely normal to
be stiff the first day. Even the first couple of days.
Remember, we have a week before the show airs, and we only need
to make five shows out of all those hours. So just . . . try to
be yourselves. Try to forget that camera. Okay? Now, I’ll get
out of your hair, and come tomorrow morning, okay? And
remember: have fun!”
closed behind him. Everyone looked at one another. Lys said,
“How about after dinner we play Charades?”
morning, Brian said, flashing a modest upright piano, “Well,
folks, I hope you can loosen up a little today. You are a nice
family, but kinda tight. Tight doesn’t work on TV, you’ve
probably noticed when you watch. Give it a thought, all right?
Be yourselves--be real.”
tossed her hair back, tears stinging her eyes. She’d worked
hard at being real! She’d planned every single entrance, she
was always doing interesting things in her room--changing the
Barbie and talking about the sixties (she’d even Googled some
stuff about fashion leaders and other sixties stuff), playing
her music and being a DJ. Downstairs, every single family game
idea was hers. And she never looked at the camera, she did her
most photogenic poses--copied straight out of Homegrrlz
as the door shut behind Brian, she snuck a peek at the camera,
saw it was still red. She moaned, “That’s not fair! I try the
and you sound like an idiot,” Jacob snarled.
should talk.” Lys turned on him. “Dragging your knuckles on the
ground and making faces like you’re being tortured.”
because I am,” he shot back. “By that ‘hee-hee-hee-hee’.” He
tittered in a penetrating, shrill pitch. “Every time anyone
says the dumbest thing, I got to get a drink of water,
Where’s a towel? Gee, it’s time to take a dump--”
Mom said. “Language!”
“--there’s you, ‘Wee-hee-hee!’”
just a nervous giggle,” Mom said. “I’m sure when Lys gets used
to the cameras--when we all do--”
wrong with my laugh?” Lys cried.
patted her shoulder. “It’s, um, kinda persistent.”
Dad drank his coffee. “But it’s not your fault, kiddo. Whole
thing’s a scam, just like I told you Monday when that government
sleazebag showed up.”
“Government?” Jacob scowled. “Hollywood sleazebag, ya mean.”
scowled back. “Now that Big Brother owns Hollywood, they’re
all company stiffs--or they’re down in the ‘Homeland’ mud
with us, and no more future than we’ve got. It’s a scam, I tell
you. Another bread and circus from the good old Emergency
Committee of Homeland Safety to keep our minds off the fact that
the ‘postponed’”--He crooked his fingers to emphasize the
quotation marks, making fun of Brian. “-- election is just
going to keep on being po--“
Three kids said just ahead of Mom’s “Dear?” And all four of
them swiveled to the camera, which was still red.
hope that thing is off,” Julia muttered. “I don’t want to end
up in the Terrorist Hilton.”
Julia,” Mom said. “Nobody in the Free World really goes to
those jails. Unless you’re doing terrorist activities.
Your dad’s little joke hardly constitutes . . . .”
to me or to the camera?” Julia asked, then shut the front door
rose, smoothed his hand apologetically over Mom’s cheek.
“C’mon, hon. Off to work.” He made a sour face. “Maybe my
skills, as our friend Brian put it, will earn me that big
promotion, if our show doesn’t. Just think. All the way up to
Associate Managerial Professional of Krispy Krunchie brand
snacks--woohoo, and maybe I’ll get to use the restroom on our
floor, and have to wear a tie, and all that so I won’t notice
that my pay has not gone up a penny since--”
Mom said, sounding helpless.
voice lowered to a volcano rumble. “Spies . . . civil rights . .
. yes, every step back seems so reasonable while they step right
into the space we give up--”
slammed behind them. It would take until Dad dropped Mom off at
work for him to finish his vent and for her to calm him down.
her brother. “Come on. Get your stuff.”
that drum set.” He glowered.
shut up.” And because she was still angry at the way he’d made
fun of her, she added, “Just shut up about your stupid drums
that you’d play for two days and then get sick of. In fact, you
wouldn’t make it two days, because the Freakenstoners would lead
the lynch mob at your noise.”
ran upstairs without speaking. She heard him banging around.
She left and started to the bus stop alone. He could bang and
crash all he wanted and be late to school--she didn’t care.
But he appeared just before the bus arrived, and gave her a
didn’t speak on the long, crowded bus ride to school.
they got there, he said, “You can be as big a drama queen as you
want. But I’m gonna get those drums.” He tapped his cell
like he was dropping a sinister hint.
about drama,” she retorted, and they marched off in opposite
first noticed the change in atmosphere after lunch. Nothing
big--yet. Snickers, mostly, but when she’d turn around, as
anyone would, people would be looking up or away in that way
that shrinks your insides because you know, somehow, it’s about
spent lunch with Andrea and Kayla, rehearsing their visit after
school so that they would look and sound their best. She’d even
worked out where everyone would sit, so the camera in her room
would get their faces and not the backs of their heads.
after a class or two of the Looks, she noticed a lot more people
than usual sneaking onto their cells. You weren’t supposed to,
of course, and technically the school could monitor your ISC.
They said it was for the safety of the school, just as
monitoring everyone’s ISC in the real world was for safety, once
the Homeland Committee had gotten Congress to agree that life
would be more streamlined for everyone if the old fashioned
social security number, your on-line service code, your personal
phone number, all were combined into one easy number--Identity
Security Code, ISC-- that meant you.
sat in the back and keyed up CloneBore--and what she read on the
student news site made her entire body flash with tingling heat
and then go snow cold.
Leung’s stats. 5’9’, 128 lbs, hair black, eyes black, god i
wonder what his hair feels like . . Hates broccoli, loves
chocolate . . . favorite shoes Gremmies, wears boxes from--
skimmed down the familiar words--familiar because they were from
her diary--and no, no, there was her poem about
him--the one she’d read in English class not two weeks ago, but
she’d changed the name to Guy, so it would seem universal . . .
unable to move, the cell clenched in her sweaty hands while her
head pounded in time with her heart until the bell rang, and
people got up, scraped chairs, shuffled, whispered. Laughed!
through the last period by watching the ground and pretending
she was invisible. Until right before the dismissal bell, when
a pair of Gremmies stopped right in front of her own shoes. She
tried to step aside, and the feet stepped with her, so she
looked up into a face. His face. 5’9”, 129 pounds, black
hair and black eyes--
take a joke,” Ty said. “But if I blogged about your
underwear all over the web, I’d be expelled as a stalker.
Right?” He walked away before she could speak.
she could speak. She could only whimper, hiding in a restroom
stall until most kids were gone, sitting in as small a ball as
she could on the bus until she got home, slamming through the
saw her brother--who’d carefully taken the first bus--she
screamed, “Where is it?”
what?” Jacob asked, grinning. And on the couch two skinny,
slouchy boys sat, also grinning: Neil and Marc, the rest of
diary!” she shouted.
mean this?” Jacob held it up by two fingers.
“ARRRRGH!” She lunged at him, fingers crooked.
tossed it to Marc, who tossed it to Neil. Lys dove at him. He
fired it so fast to Jacob that the book flew past him over the
breakfast bar, pages flapping, to crash into the pots and pans
hanging on their hooks over the stove. Lys slammed into Neil.
They fell onto the couch, a tangle of arms and legs, both
yelling--they bounced off--whacked into the coffee
table--knocked it over--thumped painfully to the floor.
was awesome,” Marc added. “Do it again.”
Incandescent with rage, Lys leaped up, dashed to the kitchen,
plucked her diary from the floor, threw it down again, whirled
around and yanked the pots off the hooks.
took cover behind furniture.
pots as punctuation, Lys yelled, “I cannot BELIEVE you SNUCK
into my ROOM and took MY DIARY! WHYYYYYY?”
head popped up from behind the upended couch. He opened his
mouth, then froze. Lys froze, frying pan cocked back over her
keened like a boiling teapot, her mind paralyzed.
snapped, “You made fun of my band!”
pumped a fist into the air, and all three boys yelled, “SKULL
SKILLZ!”--just as they’d practiced.
they raced upstairs and slammed Jacob’s bedroom door.
the frying pan down. Stalked out of the kitchen, a grin-rictus
giving her a piano-face even wider than Brian’s as she headed
for the stairs.
unable to wait a second longer, opened the door, her hair
perfect, her laugh perfect, her stylin’ greeting ready--but when
she and Kayla saw the living room, they stopped short right on
the doorstep, mouths and eyes three big circles in their faces.
happened?” Kayla asked.
was my brother,” Lys said, her voice breaking on the last word.
Andrea said brightly, trying not to stare at that camera eye
over there. She fluffed her hair back instead. “We’ll help you
clean up this mess.”
parents!” Lys exclaimed, and the three went into high gear
picking up, rehanging, straightening, and squaring.
kitchen and living room had been restored, Lys picked up the
diary, her hands shaking. Andrea flicked her hair back again,
saying in the bright, cool voice she’d practiced over and over
in her mind since lunch, “So, Lys, if you could totally redesign
fashions worn by sixteen-year-olds, where would you start?”
cheery words sounded so fake, so out of the blue, Kayla just
stood there staring at the camera.
choked on a sob, then ran upstairs. They heard her door slam.
turned her back on the camera and mouthed the words Way to
go! But out loud she said in an attempt at cheer, “Hey, see
ya tomorrow, Lys!”
was going to protest--she really wanted to stay in front of that
entrancing green eye--but Kayla herded her firmly out.
day Lys wasn’t at school.
Monday the family sat in front of their TV, Lys farthest from it
(she hadn’t been back to school), Mom and Dad holding hands
tightly, Jacob slouching in an easy chair, for once not drumming
on furniture or himself.
commercials finally ending, the RealTV Logo came on, and there
was Brian charging up to the front door. Then he was inside,
and there they all sat, stupid grins on their faces as Mom and
Dad signed the papers from the Green Envelope, then Brian
joked, “When did they sneak in and make me up to look old and
Jacob muttered. “I can’t hear.”
not talking,” Dad said, chuckling, but the very next scene was
Lys--at school. People looking at her. And then,
ohgodohgodohgod, Ty Leung steps up to her and says--
out a wail that drowned out his voice, pounded upstairs. Slam!
sighed. “I didn’t think she had cramps Friday and today.”
frowned. “What’d that the boy say--something about his
scene shifted to home, and both parents sat upright when Jacob
waved the diary, followed by the Battle of Pots and Pans. He
started snickering, and couldn’t stop until the commercials came
on, just after the boys ran upstairs.
turned to him. “You’re grounded.”
“Grounded. Week. Say another word, and it’s a month.”
the commercial, the next segment was all Julia--at work, with a
lot of guys coming around the counter where she sold cheapo
window curtains, shades, and blinds. The scene switched to her
sitting in a bar, head to head with a guy her parents had never
seen before. Then the second commercial.
said, faintly, “Who’s that?”
of Brian’s,” Julia said shortly, then got up and went upstairs.
scene, before the credits, was Dad, who was his usual jokester
self at his work. He was a popular floor manager because he
kept the workers on his lines laughing. But somehow the cams
missed all his best cracks. Not a ‘Bushwhacked’ to be heard.
In fact, the editing made it seem like he loved his job, and all
his jokes were just to keep the workers happy.
clown, “ Dad observed. “A dancing bear.”
promising ratings for a first ep,” Brian said the next morning.
flicked a look Lys’s way. So did Mom, Dad, and Julia. But Lys
didn’t react. She’d woken to a txt from Andrea: u r 1 8!
(In txtalk: You are SO [1=sew/needle] the mad [8=big
eyes] but Y didn’t thA show k & me? Rip!) and another
from Kayla: 124 msg since 12. ty ok, u cool. Kayla
went to Chinese school with Ty’s sister, so her message would be
two degrees from the truth. Lys could accept two degrees,
especially from Kayla.
flashed the grand piano. “Keep up the good work.” A last flash
just Julia’s way, and he left.
questions from other kids started when Lys and Jacob got on the
bus. Each sat at opposite ends, as usual. Jacob scowled and
gave wise-guy non-answers until people left him alone. Lys kept
shaking her head, and finally just took a piece of tape out of
her backpack and put it over her lips. She couldn’t see a cam
person anywhere, but she hadn’t the Day of the Diary Incident,
everyone knew the show, they got the idea fast--and though the
questions stopped, suddenly she had a million new best friends,
all grinning, chuckling, and sneaking peeks around for cameras,
leading Kayla and Andrea
to become her de facto bodyguards.
There’s nothing like fame to erase all social errors, Lys
lunch Ty appeared out of the crowd and sat down at their bench.
Nobody spoke (though Andrea couldn’t help a faint squee); Lys
gave him a sick look that Ty had no trouble interpreting. He
leaned forward until their foreheads touched and whispered,
“Yeah, that Brian guy asked me to talk to you, and no, I’m not
mad any more.”
was only here because of the show. But he admitted it. And he
wasn’t angry at her any more. Would he have stayed angry
without the show? How much, in other words, was his being in
that seat right now the show, and how much Lys?
nine hours passed inside Lys’s head, though only about nine
seconds outside of it, then she whispered back--trying not to
get tuna sandwich breath on him-- “You have a girlfriend.
Over at the Catholic school. But she’s okay with this. I mean,
it’s supposed to help your family, and if I’m on, talking, more
than one day, they have to pay me. My family could use that.”
So. . .
. she had a fake boyfriend, then. But it was better than being
public dog poo like she was after the Diary Incident. “Okay,”
with his dazzling, dimpled laugh, “So I hope you’ll get rid of
that diary. Or least the part about my boxers.”
“Shredded and flushed it Friday,” she admitted, and they both
Tuesday’s ep still did not include the girls’ long talk about
fashion, complete with drawings they pretended to dash out, that
Kayla had actually made earlier. Instead, there was a lot about
Julia and her mystery guy. The camera never showed his face,
but his voice was low and rough and he kept saying things with
two very different meanings. The second half was Jacob and his
friends playing air guitar, while Jacob drummed on his desk, his
lamp, and his school books, using two mixing spoons. They sang
their songs, each with earphones on that played their music
mixes from a music-makers program, and they sounded incredibly
stupid, as people do when they sing and no one else can hear the
sounded incredibly stupid,” Lys said after the credits. Just in
case Jacob hadn’t noticed.
Dad didn’t say anything. They just got up and went to their
shrugged. “I don’t care. I just want drums.” He snorted, not
quite a smirk. “And everybody heard our music.”
next day his blog had two million hits--including DLs of his
lyrics. On Wednesday the drums came, gift of a new drum maker.
It took the boys about an hour to figure out how to set them
up--the logo facing the camera, according to the friendly
suggestion on the accompanying card--and well before dinner, the
enthusiastic rumble of concert-pitched drums rolled from all the
windows. Mom and Dad braced for a neighborly lynch mob led by
their house, for once, came no noise whatever. The drumming
rammled and brammled on, crash, zing! Jacob might be tired in
two days, but it was going to be a looong two days. Unless--
doorbell rang. Mom raced to it, and gulped when she recognized
the messy blond hair of Mrs. Franklyn--and right behind her the
equally messy blond hair of Ms. Stone, plus two or three of
their kids. Nobody knew how many people lived in that house,
but there were a lot, and they all seemed to talk at the top of
wanted to say,” Mrs. Franklyn hallooed genially, “we are so
delighted with your boy’s creativity!”
Ms. Stone trilled. “Musical genius!’
you’d like to come over to our place. Cake and ice
cream--a couple of our boys here play instruments--”
could all form a band!” Ms. Stone whooped, as above them the
drums thundered and a crash of cymbals sounded like a full
orchestra tumbling down a flight of stairs. Ms. Stone poked
her face forward, searching wildly inside for the camera. “Come
over!” She gave the green eye her own grand piano. “Any
you,” Mom yelled, and shut the door.
time the Freakenstoners had spoken to anyone in the family was
to threaten to have the car towed when Dad had had to park
across the street because of a fallen tree in front. Mom and
Dad looked at one another and shrugged.
the calls and e-mails started.
said at breakfast, “A guy celled me. Sounded really cool. Said
he’s an investment counselor, and--”
Dad interrupted. “Don’t talk to anyone calling to offer you
was really cool, said he invests for rock stars--”
ones don’t call. They don’t need to, everyone goes to them.
Scammers say what you want to hear, right until they’ve drained
you of cash. Why are they calling you anyway, do they think
your parents are so stupid they’ll hand over the affairs of a
minor to them?” As he said it, Dad looked puzzled. He scowled
at the TV. Then grunted.
rolled his eyes in the Talk To You Later look. Nobody cared,
they were all too busy with their own thoughts.
Jacob thumbed steadily at their cells all the way to school,
deleting what seemed to be endless e-mails and calls, most of it
spam. Both of them set up their filters to block anyone but the
numbers on their ISC-contact lists.
surrounded at school, and when Ty passed by, waving, Kayla
commented wryly, “More proof there’s rules for ordinary people,
and other rules for popular ones.”
popular? Not really,” Lys said. “The show is popular.”
Kayla said, though Lys had half hoped she wouldn’t--but she
really knew it was true. “But you’re famous. My mom says fame
makes its own rules. And she’s right.”
least you’re on every day,” Andrea grumped at Lys. “Why do they
keep cutting us?”
be uber-vap,” Kayla said.
fumed, but she couldn’t argue--after all, Kayla included her own
self. “Wonder what we have to do to be wicked?”
joined Lys again at lunch. This time she was prepared. She’d
written out and memorized questions. When he sat down she
launched an actual conversation, careful to enunciate, leave out
the you knows, and not giggle. She asked who his favorite bands
were. Ty answered, and they both forgot about being nervous
because they were talking so fast about rock, who stinks, who
rocks, who rules, who will rule, with everyone around adding in
bell rang, she said brightly, “One thing for sure. Skull Skillz
will never rule anyone but monkeys.” Take that, Jacob!
Friday ep--last of the week--stunned their parents because it
ended with Julia going up the stairs to some apartment with the
mystery guy, obviously late at night, and the door closed on
them just before the credits.
Dad turned to Julia. Dad just looked thunderous, but Mom said
somewhat tentatively, “Julia, we agreed after you turned
eighteen that your private life is your business. But we don’t
even know this young man--”
When have I not come home at my usual time?” Julia cut in.
leaned forward, thumb jerked toward the TV. “You mean that was
course it was. When do I have time for romance?” Julia added
bitterly, so bitterly that Dad’s next comment was uttered with a
lot less heat than he’d intended.
you’re letting the rest of the world think you fall into the
arms of any sleazebag who comes around--”
care what the world thinks,” Julia said, high spots of color in
her cheeks, her eyes wide. “I. Don’t. Care. Because here’s
the truth. I will do anything. Anything. To have a
real life--just college, and a car to school and back. Not to
have to work ninety hours a week, and then stand on the street
waiting until there’s a bus that’s not overcrowded. And Brian
knows it. So he’s sending these guys, who are all friends of
his, who want a break out in L.A.”
romance thing, it’s all pretend, just like me and Ty?” Lys
glanced her way and shrugged. “Brian’s been setting it all up
for me. He’s orchestrated it. You guys are doing okay on your
own, so why not?”
Dad looked at one another. Dad grimaced. “Why not?”
days later, at breakfast Dad was saying, “ . . . so this bozo is
there waiting at the lunch room soon as I come off for lunch,
and he actually starts jabbering about how much he likes snack
foods until I say, Buddy, I don’t eat the stuff, I just work in
a place that makes it, and this is my lunch minute, and he
laughs about five times what the joke is worth so I say, You
gotta be selling something, and he says pleasure--well, turns
out he sells yachts. He wants to sell us a yacht!”
yacht?” Mom exclaimed. “But we’re a thousand miles from
anywhere we’d use a yacht.”
what I said, but he starts into this ‘people of leisure’ spiel
about how a thousand miles is nothing to them--”
doorbell rang then, and Julia got up to let Brian in. Dad
clammed up and attacked his oatmeal. Brian gave them the studio
piano and a pep talk that everyone took to mean their ratings
were slipping. Julia couldn’t be the entire show, which was
muttered, “So? I’ve been grounded. What can I do but drum in
nothing. Her segments had been getting shorter. The
conversations with Ty were boring once they’d covered music,
because they had zip in common otherwise. He liked sports, and
she couldn’t tell a baseball team from a football one. Worse,
not a single one of the conversations in her room that she and
Andrea and Kayla had worked out to be interesting and meaningful
had shown, not even ten seconds. Andrea was going ballistic.
didn’t listen to the others. She sat there glaring at her
healthy, low-fat cereal and thought, They want romance from
Julia, but the rest of us are supposed to be clowns, like Dad
said. They don’t want smart, they want Debi-Dee.
that’s what they wanted, that’s what they’d get.
excused herself. No one paid any attention. As usual, their
eyes and ears were all for Brian--and his were on Julia.
slipped out the kitchen door. Her heart thumped against her
ribs as she crossed over to the Freakenstoners for the first
time. Now to test Kayla’s theory about the power of
Franklyn opened the door. Beyond was a roar of voices from
their kitchen. The woman frowned, then her face cleared into a
big grin. She even looked past Lys’s shoulder.
cameras,” Lys said. “Not until after eight a.m.”
frown came back. “Dear, it’s a tad inconvenient right now--”
wanted to ask, do you want to be on TV?”
Franklyn’s face changed from impatience to a wary sort of
interest. “What do you have in mind?” Her tone was much nicer.
want to be on TV, it has to be exciting. That’s what the guy in
charge told us today. So, I figured, what could be more
exciting than if you came over and got all mad at us about
Jacob’s drum playing? I mean, make a big mob scene. The bigger
Stone appeared at her shoulder.
go,” Lys said. “If you want to be on TV, that’s the way to do
it. Soon’s we all get home this afternoon.”
left, returned to the house through the kitchen door, and found
everyone sitting where they had been.
waiting for the bus, she said to Jacob, “I told the
Freakenstoners to come over and lynch you for your playing this
scowled. “What did you do that for?”
“Because.” Lys simpered. “Brian said we’re vap. All except
Julia, who’s the total romance madness. You and I can’t be
romance mad. You have all day to think of something for the
Skull Skillz to do about it.”
scowl cleared. Then he grinned. And flipped up his hand: high
afternoon Jacob and his buds took the first bus home. Working
in assembly line, they made up a bunch of water balloons with
green yoghurt added. Then they opened Jacob’s windows, which
like Lys’s overlooked the street. They moved his CD player just
below a window, cranked the bass, and launched a CD of
themselves playing, the volume turned to max, while they
executed Stage Two of their Evil Plan.
Freakenstoners came storming over, half the kids following,
Jacob fired a barrage of balloons through the windows at the
kids. Splop! Splat! Glurp! Jacob had excellent aim. The
Freakenstoner kids were soon covered with green guk. They
howled and shouted, shoving head-butting each other (as they
sneaked peeks for the camera), wiping the stuff on and trying to
throw it back.
other two Skull Skillz joined Jacob for the second round. When
they’d emptied their arsenal, they ran downstairs, yelling
insults interspersed with their “SKULL SKILLZ ROCK!” rebel
yells. The Freakenstoner kids, veterans at instant battles,
launched the muck back at them, and then followed with
themselves. Soon the front lawn was covered in slime-covered
kids rolling, wrestling, yelling insults while the Freakenstoner
women danced about the periphery, shrieking and punching and
kicking the air, and Lys on the opposite side.
Dad arrived home. Lys ran up to them and said, “It’s fake,”
then went back to yelling. This time she thought she spotted
two cams, one behind a tree, another in a van parked down the
threw up his hands and went inside. Mom looked from the kids to
the neighbors to the lawn, then marched up to the women. “I’m
going to report you hooligans to the police!” Her voice was a
Lys was entranced. Mom was getting into it? Mom and Dad
were definitely up to something.
dare you!” Mrs. Franklyn screeched.
gotten her hair done, a towering do that made the eighties big
hair look flat. Her hair wiggled and wobbled as she went on
yelling at Mom, who couldn’t quite yell back--too many years of
harmonic communication--but she shook her finger a lot, and Ms.
Stone shook hers right back. In fact, the two women started
fencing with their fingers, and then laughed, Mom turning away
and holding her middle. Oh no, the cam would hate that.
stopped in the doorway of her room.
Everything--bed, bureau, desk, floor--was covered in green
slime. On an upturned carton, all the yoghurt cups were built
into a tower, and on it sat a little paper skull with SKULL
SKILLZ ROCK! on it.
scream stopped everyone downstairs mid-hurl, mid-yell, and mid
ratings are through the roof,” Brian said a week later.
weeks later, “Your ratings are dropping.” He pointed at Lys and
Jacob, who had been the most active with their imaginative
vengeance on one another--but that got real tiring on top of
homework and everything else. ”You two need to update your
blogs. Talk about your feud. And get the energy level back
up!” He glanced down at his handheld. “Network says to remind
you, if you can casually work in mentions of the sponsors of the
shows, there’s another point in the pay-level.”
and Lys both turned their Dad’s way. He’d been really quiet the
past few days. They knew he would hate that suggestion of
blatant commercialistic pandering--but he said nothing.
been too busy to blog,” Lys said. What she was actually
thinking was, she hated checking her blog, which now had a
kazillion hits--but the comments were mostly spam, scam, or
insults. Some were friendly, but did they just want something?
They couldn’t know Lys because it wasn’t the real Lys on the
Jacob said. “Can we make fun of their stupid commercials?”
pursed his lips and tapped a finger to them. “At this point in
your ratings levels you might try it, as long as you don’t say
anything you can be sued for. You’ll see what I mean if you
read the contracts again.” He flashed a couple of octaves at
Lys. “You and your girlfriend, what’s her name? Kaylee?
Katie?” He glanced down at his handheld. “Kayla. Audience
response lists her as funny. That scene when the two of you put
Jacob’s furniture outside on the sidewalk in the rain and his
boxers tied to the tree branches hit as high as the Neighbor
Lawn Fight. The audience also liked the homey touch, when
you and your mom went to buy your new furniture at your sister’s
had insisted the furniture for Julia and Lys’s room had to come
from a normal, every day shop, even though they had a enough
money now to fit up a dream room. By now Brian was pretty much
directing their lives, but they were getting paid big money for
it. Weren’t they?
been uptight since the night before, and Mom quiet, Lys
were good brainstorms, but they were a week ago. We need new
energy,” Brian said, and left.
said, “Dad? Is something wrong?”
“I had a
talk yesterday with an accountant who knows the Corporate
world,” Dad said. “It took me a while to find one who didn’t
give me the runaround. Either we lose most of what we earned in
‘windfall profits’ next year, or we spend it. So fire up those
Wish Lists. Soon’s we’re thrown off this show, we shift into
can’t we invest?” Julia asked, her hands tight. “Put it to work
and let it earn something really big?”
shook his head. “Here’s the skinny. The government is not
going to let us get rich enough to break the glass window into
Corporate, where of course no one pays taxes. Homelanders pay
double if we win something or inherit or whatever. We can spend
it all, or lose it--or invest it in government stocks, which pay
a tiny percent back each year in ‘earnings.’ That’s reality.”
opened his hands wide. “So the real truth is, we are performing
clowns. All of us. As long as we dance to the puppet-masters’
tunes. Here’s what else I’ve found out. Every family that’s
been successful runs out of their money, one way or another,
within a couple years after their show is cancelled, and we all
know there is no second chance. So it’s right back to where we
flushed. “They seem to pick people who don’t think.” Her voice
quivered. “That’s how we looked on paper. Like people who go
along with the rules, and never think.” She looked out the
window, and they knew she was blaming herself and her
make-peace, don’t-make-waves harmonic communication. Dad’s arm
went round her, and Julia gripped her shoulder.
what? I don’t care what they think about us. We’re having
fun,” Jacob said. He grinned. “And I got my drums. And enough
dough to soundproof my room now that my furniture’s all gone.”
his tongue out at Lys, who stuck hers out right back. She knew
he liked his room almost empty, except for a mattress on the
floor. More room for musical equipment that way--his own
ready-made sound stage.
that night, when Julia and Lys were sitting up in their beds,
the light and camera both off, Lys whispered, “I thought Mom
and Dad were beginning to like the show, but now they seem to
well. Brian thinks we’re probably getting the axe next week, if
not this.” Moonlight painted the contours of Julia’s face,
leaving her eyes in shadow. “Dad never cared about the show, it
was the money. He thought we could earn our way out of the
Homeland. He’d be promoted due to his fame--a real
promotion, not a new job title
and dress code and no increase in pay. We'd
earn enough to
eventually break the bottom level of Corporate, that is, gain a
voice in deciding what matters. But it’s not going to happen.
The glass ceiling is way lower than any of us knew. As Dad
says, Big Brother has us firmly locked into the play pen. The
show is like throwing toys in, so nobody in the Homeland
weird--but she’d felt weird ever since Day One, when reality
became unreal, and only being fake seemed real. “You and the
other people. You just have to learn to find them. And get
together . . . and talk where there are no cameras.”
talking about . . . like, like revolution?”
Julia said quickly. “If you study real history--not the new
textbooks full of patriotic pablum--you’ll find that the cost of
neighbor fighting neighbor was far too high in the Revolutionary
War, and even worse, the Civil War. No one wants that. And Big
Brother knows it, and so keeps smiling, and reassuring us that
we have to make sacrifices in order to be the guardians of the
Free World. But what we’ve sacrificed is our rights. I’m only
beginning to see it. You kids don’t, because what we have now
is what you’ve always known. So you think it’s just Dad’s
hated this kind of talk, because what could she possibly do?
She’d decided when she was little to ignore Dad’s grump. It
just worried Mom, and didn’t change anything. But now Julia was
talking the same way.
to find a way to push back. Regain what we lost, but without
weapons in our hands.” Julia sighed. “I don’t know how yet,
but I’m going to find out. Why do you think I’m going to
college to study law?”
“So . .
. that’s what we should all do?” Lys asked tentatively.
stared out the window a long time. Lys waited.
said finally, “I’m too tired for this conversation, really.
And I’m not going to tell you what to do. You have to make up
your own mind. So I’ll say this. I’m going to push back in the
courtroom. One person, one battle, one right at a time. Maybe,
some day, you’ll choose to push back through the entertainment
industry. Make stories about people who push back one person,
one battle, one right at a time. And maybe Jacob will write
songs about people who push back one person, one battle, one
right at a time. And if enough people read, or see, or hear
about it, and think it the right idea, and choose to push, then,
well, something’s gotta give. Let it be Corporate, and not
Homeland. Maybe we can be a real republic again, who knows?
Until then, yeah, we stay in the play pen, just like Dad said.”
She snorted. “As for the show, I’d just like to pick the
time, not be told. Just because.”
fun had gone out of Lys’s fake life. By morning she was sick of
fake popularity, of her fake romance, her fake feud with her
brother, of worrying about cameras if she wanted to scratch her
nose. Even the Wish List didn’t matter any more, not if it was
all going to be taken away. And what kind of stupid last ep
would they want? Debi-Dee, that’s what they’d want!
that Friday when she arrived at lunch, and there was the usual
crowd, Andrea still sulky (she still couldn’t get over
the fact that she had been at the orthodontist the day Kayla
helped Lys put Jacob’s furniture outside), Lys mumbled to
Kayla, “It’s ending soon. I don’t care. I’m sick of being
laughed. “Lys, don’t think of it as fake. Think of it as
living in a story. Haven’t you learned anything from
Shakespeare about the power of stories?”
much power when they pull the plug,” Lys muttered, sulky and
unsettled. She threw her books and lunch down on the table.
She felt an overwhelming urge to find the hidden cam person and
yell “I quit!” But that seemed so weenie, somehow. Like she
was giving up before they could even tell her to give up.
Ty sat down with her, she thought of the power of
popularity--what Dad said--what Kayla said--what Julia said, and
it just came out, “I have to dump you.”
looked up, startled, but of course he wasn’t upset. He was just
along for the ride, after all. “Why?” he asked. “What did I
“Nothing, Ty. Nothing. But I’ve been thinking--” Yeah! Big
Brother--glass ceiling--rights--Family Standards. All the
things she couldn’t say, they’d just cut it right out. So what
could she say?
not go out in style?
just that I’m gay.”
gasps around her nearly removed every molecule of air from the
stood up. “Lesbian! That’s me! It’s such a relief to be the
real, real me!” She whirled around, laughing. “The real me!
The real me!”
Andrea marched up, jerked her around, and with the romantic
sweep of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara on the bridge with
Atlanta burning in the background, she bent Lys back and kissed
kissed her back.
outrush of breath from a couple hundred pairs of lungs sent
birds flapping to the cafeteria rooftop.
eyed Lys. “That was supposed to end up on the cutting room
floor. Callers--Programs and Practices--the Homeland Social
Secretary--you can’t imagine the calls. But. It got the
highest ratings ever.”
laughed so hard Mom had to pound him on the back. “Way to go,
Lyssie! Way to go!”
that kiss, see. The editor--she’s always been fast, stylish,
instinctive. Nobody knew she was a lesbian. Or that the
network engineer is a Quaker. Or that the CEO of our biggest
advertiser--” Brian cleared his throat. “The network wants a
new deal. With you.”
studied the faces of her family. They looked back, all of them
clearly on her side, but the next step was hers.
Popularity makes its own rules.
not a fake, you’re living a story.
leaned forward. “So what do you have to offer?”
About the Author:
Sherwood Smith began making
books out of taped paper towels when she was five years old, and
at eight began writing stories about another world full of magic
and adventure--and hasn't stopped yet.
She studied history and
languages in college, lived in Europe one year, and has worked
in jobs ranging from tending bar--to put herself through grad
school--in a harbor tavern to various jobs in Hollywood. Married
twenty-six years (two kids, two dogs, and a house full of books)
she is currently a part-time teacher as well as a
She has over twenty-five
books out, ranging from space opera to children's fantasy, many
of which have appeared overseas in Russia, Israel, and Denmark;
she has also published numerous short stories. Her latest
books are Inda from DAW and Trouble under Oz from
Story © 2006 Sherwood Smith.