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       Geekerella, p.1

           Ashley Poston
 
Geekerella


  Copyright © 2017 by Ashley Poston

  This is a work of fiction. All names, places, and characters are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people, places, or events is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. Except as authorized under U.S. copyright law, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

  Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Number: 2016946301

  ISBN 9781594749476

  Ebook ISBN 9781594749506

  Designed by Timothy O’Donnell

  Cover illustration by Dan Sipple

  Production management by John J. McGurk

  Quirk Books

  215 Church Street

  Philadelphia, PA 19106

  quirkbooks.com

  v4.1

  a

  To the Fellowship:

  Here’s to many more

  great adventures

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Part One: Look to the Stars Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Part Two: Aim Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Part Three: Ignite Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Darien

  Elle

  Elle

  Starfield Ignites The Stars

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  THE STEPMONSTER IS AT IT AGAIN.

  Raffles, discount coupons, and magazine sweepstakes lay strewn across the kitchen table. My stepmom sits straight-backed in one of the creaky wooden chairs, delicately cutting out another coupon, dyed blonde hair piled on top of her head in perfect ringlets, lipstick the color of men’s heartblood. Her white blouse is spotless, her dark pencil skirt neatly ironed. She must have a meeting with a potential client today.

  “Sweetie, a little faster this morning.” She snaps her fingers for me to hurry up.

  I shuffle over to the counter and pry open the coffee tin. The smell is strong and cheap—the only kind I was raised on. Which is all the better, seeing as we can’t afford expensive coffee, although I know that never stops the stepmonster from ordering her double-shot dirty chai soy latte no whip every morning and charging it to one of her dozens of credit cards.

  Catherine—my stepmom—picks up another magazine to cut. “No carbs this morning. I’m feeling bloated and I have a meeting with a couple this afternoon. Big wedding plans. She’s a debutante, if you could believe that!”

  In Charleston? I can believe it. Everyone’s either a debutante, a Daughter of the Confederacy, or a politician’s kid—Thornhill or Fishburne or Van Noy or Pickney or a handful of old Charlestonian names. And I couldn’t care less.

  I dump two scoops of coffee into the machine—plus an extra one for good measure. It feels like a three-scoop kind of day. Maybe adding more caffeine to their morning will get my stepmother and the twins out before nine. That’s not too much to wish for, is it?

  I glance up at the clock on the microwave. 8:24 a.m. Unless the twins start moving at warp speed, I’ll be cutting it real close. I say a silent prayer to the Lord of Light or Q or whoever is listening: Please, for once, let the stepmonster and the twins leave the house on time. Starfield history will be made today at 9 a.m. sharp on Hello, America, and I won’t miss it. I refuse. Finally, after years of delays and director changes and distribution snafus, the movie is happening—a reboot, but beggars can’t be choosers—and today they’re making the long-awaited announcement of the official film platform. The lead actors, the plot, everything. I’ve missed Starfield marathons and midnight rereleases of the final episode in theaters and convention appearances because of Catherine and the twins, but I’m not missing this.

  “They want to say their vows under the magnolia trees at Boone Hall Plantation,” Catherine goes on. “You know, ever since Ryan Reynolds and his wife got married there, that place is always booked.”

  Catherine is a wedding planner. I’ve watched her spend entire weekends hand-sewing sequins onto table toppers and hand-pressing invitations at the print shop downtown. The way she plans a venue, down to the type of cloth on the tables and the color of flowers in the vases, making every wedding look like a magical land of unicorns. You’d think she does it because of her own happily-ever-after cut short, but that’s a lie. She wants her weddings in Vogue and InStyle, the kind you Instagram and Pinterest a hundred times over. She wants the renown of it, and she’s sunk all of Dad’s life insurance payout into her business. Well, her business and everything she claims is “essential” to her “image.”

  “I want to at least look like I shop at Tiffany’s,” she says, talking more to herself than to me.

  It’s the same spiel again and again. How she used to shop at Tiffany’s. How she used to attend galas at Boone Hall Plantation. How she used to be happily married with two wonderful daughters. She never mentions me, her stepdaughter.

  Catherine finishes cutting her coupon with a sigh. “But that was all before. Before your father left me and the twins here in this dreadful little house.”

  And there it is. Like it’s my fault that she’s blown all her savings. Like it’s Dad’s fault. I take out Dad’s Starfield mug—the only thing left of his in our house—and pour myself a cup of coffee.

  Outside, the neighbor’s dog begins to bark at a passing track-suited jogger. We live on the outskirts of the famous historical district, the house not quite old enough to be a tourist attraction but not new enough to be renovated—not that we could afford it anyway. Two streets over and you run into the College of Charleston. Our house was one of the last ones left after Hurricane Hugo decimated the coast of South Carolina before I was born. The house has its leaks, but all good and old things do. I’ve lived here my whole life. I don’t know anything else.

  Catherine absolutely hates it.

  The coffee smell is rich and nutty. I take a sip, and I almost melt. It’s heaven. Catherine clears her throat, and I pour coffee into her favorite mug: white with pink flowers. Two sugars (the only sweetness she splurges on each day), lightly stirred, with three ice cubes.

  She takes it without even looking up from her magazine. And then, when the neighbor dog lets out a sharp howl, she sets down her cup. “You would think dogs would learn when to shut up. Giorgio has enough on his plate without that dog barking.”

  Catherine likes to pretend she’s on a first-name basis with everyone, but especially people she deems important. Mr. Ramirez—Giorgio—is a banker, which means he has a lot of money, which means he’s an influential part of the country club, which means he’s important.

  “If it doesn’t shut up soon,” she goes on in that cool, detached v
oice of hers, “I’ll muzzle it myself.”

  “His name’s Franco,” I remind her. “And he doesn’t like being tied up.”

  “Well, we all must get used to disappointment,” she replies, and takes another sip of coffee. Her blood-colored lips turn into a scowl and she shoves the mug back at me. “Too bitter. Try again.”

  Begrudgingly, I put in another cube of ice to water it down. She takes the coffee and tries another sip. It must be sufficiently soulless, because she sets it down beside her stack of coupons and goes back to scanning the gossip column in her magazine.

  “Well?” She prods.

  I hesitate, looking from her coffee to her, wondering if I’ve forgotten something. I’ve been doing this for seven years—I don’t think I’m missing anything.

  Outside, the dog gives a pitiful howl. Oh.

  She raises a pencil-thin eyebrow. “How am I supposed to have a calm morning with that racket?” she goes on in that overworked, all-knowing voice of hers. “If Robin was still here…”

  I glance back at her. Open my mouth. Begin to say that I miss Dad too. I want him here too—but something stops me. Or I stop myself. I blame it on the lack of coffee. One sip doesn’t give you the insta-courage a cup does. Besides, I’m not trying to make Catherine mad. I’m trying to get her caffeinated, placated, and out the door.

  She flips the page in her magazine and picks up the scissors again to cut out a coupon for a winter coat. It’s June. In South Carolina.

  But then Catherine clears her throat. “Danielle, do something to get that mutt to quiet down.”

  “But—”

  “Now,” Catherine says, flicking her hand for me to hurry up.

  “Sure, my queen,” I mutter under my breath. While Catherine puts down her coupons and picks up an article about Jessica Stone’s latest red carpet look, I slip last night’s steak tips out of the fridge and hurry through the back door.

  Poor Franco sits in the mud outside of his doghouse, thumping his tail in a puddle. He looks at me through the broken slat in the fence, a muddy brown Dachshund in a dirty red collar. It rained last night and his doghouse flooded, just like I told Mr. Ramirez—sorry, Giorgio—it would.

  Mr. Ramirez brought Franco home a few weeks after he married his second ex-wife, I guess as a dry run for having a kid. But since his divorce a few years ago, he pretty much lives at work, so Franco is this forgotten idea that never panned out, with the flooded doghouse to prove it. At least the poor Frank can float.

  I slide the container through the slat and rub the dog behind the ears, slathering my fingertips in mud. “You’re a good boy, yes you are! Once I save up enough, I’ll spring the both of us out of here. Whatcha think of that, copilot?” His tail pat-pats excitedly in the mud. “I’ll even get us matching sunglasses. The whole nine yards.”

  Franco’s tongue lolls out of the side of his mouth in agreement. Maybe they don’t even make doggy sunglasses, but for a while I’ve had this picture in my head: me and Franco crammed into a beat-up car, heading out on the only highway out of town—wearing sunglasses, of course—and headed straight for L.A.

  Ever since I can remember, my fingers have itched to make things. To write. I have filled journals, finished fanfics, escaped again and again into the pages of someone else’s life. If Dad was right—if I could do anything, be anyone—I would make a show like Starfield and tell other weird kids that they aren’t alone. And after next year—my senior year—I’m going to do it. Or start to. Study screenwriting. Write scripts. I’ve already got a portfolio, kind of. Right now I satisfy my need to write by blogging on my site Rebelgunner, where I cover the one thing I know for certain: Starfield. That and the money I’m scraping together from my job at the food truck are gonna be my ticket out of here. One day.

  “Danielle!” my stepmom screeches from the kitchen window.

  I push the steak tips under the fence and Franco dives headfirst into the bowl.

  “Maybe in another universe, boy,” I whisper. “Because for now, my home is here.”

  This place is too full of memories to leave, even if I wanted to. Dad technically left the house to me, but Catherine’s in charge of it while I’m still a minor. So until then—

  “Danielle!”

  Until then I’m here with my stepmother and her daughters.

  “All right! Coming!” With one last scratch behind Frank’s ear, I say goodbye, make a mental note to return later for the dish, and dart back to the kitchen.

  “Girls!” Catherine calls again, slinging a Gucci purse over her shoulder. “Hurry up or you’ll be late for Mr. Craig’s lesson! Girls? Girls! You better be awake or so help me I’ll…” Her footsteps thud up to their room and I glance at the clock. 8:36. There’s no way they’ll be out of here in time. Not unless I speed things along.

  Begrudgingly, I assemble kale and strawberries and almond milk to fix the twins’ morning smoothies. Catherine has, of course, left her magazine splayed on the counter, so Darien Freeman’s face is grinning up at me. My lips curl into a sneer. There were rumors that he had signed on to the new Starfield remake, but that’s about as big of a joke as saying Carmindor will be played by a pug riding a skateboard. You don’t put a soap opera star in charge of an entire galaxy.

  Ugh. I press BLEND and try not to think about it.

  Upstairs, there are muffled thumps as Catherine drags the twins out of bed. This happens every morning, like clockwork.

  My summertime morning routine goes like this: Wake up—coffee, extra scoop for Mondays. Catherine stoops over the morning papers, cutting out coupons. Lingers too long on purses and pretty dresses. Says something passive-aggressive about her old life. Orders me to fix breakfast. Instead, I feed the Frank. Catherine goes upstairs to yell at the twins for “forgetting” to set their alarms. I still don’t fix breakfast. Ten minutes later, the twins are fighting over the shower, and Catherine reminds me that she is the one with the deed to the house, Danielle, and unless I want her to cash in this place for a luxury condo—as if this house would ever get that much—I had better fix breakfast. So I blend up their Grinch vomit, the twins grab their matching tumblers, and Catherine shoves them out the door for tennis lessons.

  The rest of my day is never much better. I’ll be five minutes late to work, but my coworker Sage—the food-truck owner’s daughter—is too engrossed in her Harajuku fashion magazines to even notice. Then it’s eight hours in the Magic Pumpkin, doling out healthy food-truck fritters to bankers in tight business suits and soccer moms with babies bouncing on their hips. Then I’m elbowing my way through the supermarket armed with coupons that make the cashier roll her eyes when I get in line (everyone hates coupons). Then home again for “family dinner,” made by me. Cue the twins’ mean comments on my cooking, then their disappearance upstairs to film a beauty vlog about the perfect cat eye or best eyeshadow pairing with ruby lips or whatever. Then dishes, leftovers, one last check on Franco, and bed.

  Well, sorta. Then late-night reruns of Starfield on my Dad’s boxy TV in the corner of my room. Maybe I write a blog post about the episode, if I’m feeling inspired. Check all my Stargunner fansites for news. I fall asleep to the Federation Prince’s voice. “Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.”

  The next morning I wake up, and we do everything all over again. But this time—plot twist!—I get to work on time. Maybe Sage actually talks to me for once. Maybe the twins are nice. Maybe someone stuffs two airplane tickets to L.A. into the tip jar. Maybe I write a love-letter to episode 43 instead of criticizing the integrity of the characters as the colony blows up. Maybe I dream about Dad.

  The blender growls as though it’s in pain. I let it rest and shake the kale smoothie into two separate tumblers, nervously glancing at the microwave clock. 8:41 a.m.

  After sliding the twins’ breakfasts across the counter like the seasoned food service employee I am, I root around in the cabinet for the jar of peanut butter I tucked away last night. I protect my peanut butter like Smeagol protects the One Ring—
mine, precious—no matter what diet “we” are on as a household. Right now, Catherine’s on a paleo kick, but last month it was raw foods. Before that South Beach—or was it Atkins? Something with bacon. Next week will be low-fat or low-salt or…whatever she’s craving. Whatever food she can make me make by threatening to sell this house—Dad’s house.

  I scrape out the last bit of peanut butter from the bottom of the jar, savoring its taste on my tongue. I take my victories wherever I can get them.

  Upstairs, the shower turns off with a groaning of pipes. Finally. The twins are taking their sweet time this morning. Usually they enjoy tennis practice at the country club because their friends are always there. It’s the hangout spot if you’re popular and rich. As for me? Catherine’s always not-so-subtly insisting that the only thing I’m fit for at the club is toting someone’s golf clubs.

  I dispose of the peanut butter jar in the garbage and check my indestructible brick phone, which I “inherited” after Dad died. Another grand idea from the stepmonster, another way to save the money we barely have: the twins were allowed to buy new ones, but if I wanted a phone, I had to take what I could find in the house. It’s huge—you can practically fend off a ship full of Reavers with it—but at least it tells the time.

  8:43 a.m. Can’t they leave any sooner? Just once. Just once be out of the house by 9 a.m.

  They’re upstairs, but Chloe’s nasally voice can be heard clear as a bell. “But, Mom, Darien Freeman’s going to be on TV this morning! I will not miss that.”

  My heart sinks. If Chloe commandeers the TV, there’s no way I’ll get to watch Hello, America.

  “We can be a few minutes late,” echoes Calliope. Cal sides with Chloe on everything. They’re the same age as I am—rising seniors—but we might as well be on different planets. Chloe and Calliope are starters on the varsity tennis team. Organizers of the homecoming committee. Prom leaders. And they don’t mind using their popularity to remind everyone at school that I’m practically dirt. That without their family, I’d be an orphan.

  Thanks. Like I could forget that.

  “We can’t miss this,” Chloe says. “We have to watch it and vlog about it or everyone else will get their reactions up before us. And that would kill us, Mom. It would kill us.”

 
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