Meet Maya

U h-huh,” Maya said aloud. “I would definitely look fine in that dress.” She moved the computer mouse to the Print button and double-clicked the newest fall fashions page on the website. The printer began to whir out a full-color copy of the ivory silk dress. Downstairs, there was a clatter of drawers being yanked open and closed. Morgan, her fourteen-year-old sister, was searching for her pool pass again.

An agonized groan floated up the staircase. “Summer will be over by the time that happens!”

That child is hopeless, Maya thought. She actually thinks I’m going to set foot outside this house, make an appearance at the pool even, without a perfect face—whatever!! It was just too horrible to give it any more thought.

Instead, Maya set herself to the task of preparing her face for the day. After rinsing the raspberry mask from her cheeks and forehead, Maya inspected her pores thoroughly in the bathroom mirror. She inhaled deeply and then exhaled, feeling the tingling, healthy glow of her complexion.

“Three weeks until school starts, and you’ve never looked better,” she told her reflection in the mirror. A summer of avoiding greasy French fries and living on crunchy green plants had really paid off. She was lean and mean, and her pores were squeaky clean!

From her treasure trove of cosmetics, Maya smoothed on a mild sunscreen moisturizer with vitamins, adding a pink cream blush over the apples of her cheeks. She lined her lips with neutral pencil and then filled them in with a generous coat of burgundy gloss.

The eyes were her favorite. She lined her lids with black pencil, then traced the bottom lid with the same pencil, and smudged it with a tiny foam-sponge brush. To coordinate with her dark violet tankini, she blended a lavender shadow over her eyelids and finished with two coats of waterproof mascara.

“Maya!” Morgan yelled behind her. Maya’s hand jerked, and the mascara brush fell into the sink. She twirled around and glared at her sister.

“I could have stuck that mascara in my eyeball!” Maya shouted. “How would you like a one-eyed sister to drive you to the pool?”

Morgan threw her sister’s beach towel on the floor. “I don’t care how many eyes you have. You already act like a cyclops. I’m outta here!”

Morgan stomped downstairs and Maya heard the back door slam.

“Touchy today, aren’t we?” Maya said, turning back to the mirror for a final inspection.

Maya eased her lavender silk sarong across the hot black upholstery, turned over the ignition, and backed Mr. Beep out of the driveway. Even before she was born, the ice blue 1972 Volkswagen Beetle had been a member of her family.

Although Maya and Morgan had been born in New York City, their family moved to Edgewood where Mom grew up.

Mr. Beep had been Mom’s car when she was a teenager. Now he belonged to Maya. In the last few years, Mr. Beep had grown a fringe of rust around his bumpers. He also needed a new transmission.

Plus, the six months it took Maya to learn to drive a stick shift hadn’t done Mr. Beep’s gear box any favors. But now Maya was an expert driver, and the money she saved from working at the Gnosh Pit was going directly into the new car fund. No need to tell Mr. Beep, though. It would just make him temperamental and hard to shift.

When they arrived at the Edgewood City Pool, the surrounding grass was a sea of beach towels and sunbathers. Maya spotted Amber, Bren, and Alex in their favorite spot near the pine trees. Alex was the only one who looked up as Maya and Morgan approached the group.

“Did the fashion queen sleep in today?” Alex shouted to Morgan. Morgan rolled her eyes in agreement at Alex.

Maya ignored the jab. She spread her towel in one shake and untied her sarong, letting it fall to the ground. “Okay, what did I miss by being unavoidably detained?”

Bren Mickler lay on her back, her face completely covered with a straw hat.

“The only thing you missed is me being thoroughly depressed,” she whimpered from under the hat. “Only three more weeks and then it’s back to homework, homework, and more homework.”

Bren’s familiar back-to-school whining was now officially in full swing. For a cheerleader with a million friends, Bren could complain like a social outcast. At the close of every summer, she elevated moaning to a professional level.

“Okay, listen up,” Maya said, pulling a sheaf of paper out of her woven tote-bag. “I’ve got THE answer to your back-to- school woes. We’re going to transform ourselves into rare and beautiful creatures.”

Amber, Maya’s best friend, laughed and took a few of the print- outs Maya was passing around from her morning’s Net search.

“Not bad,” Amber said, studying the charcoal kick-pleat jumper and the powder blue pointelle cotton T-shirt.

Maya leaned over Amber’s shoulder. “Girl, that is so you!”

Bren Mickler shrieked and held up a color print. “You expect me to wear this?” The print showed a pair of turquoise velvet bell-bottoms that swirled around the model’s legs in large balloons of fabric. “This is so hippie-dippy leftover!”

Maya shot Bren a disgusted look.

“Guess again,” Maya said, crossing her arms defiantly. “I’ll have you know that those pants are the hottest thing out of Milan. You know—Italy?”

Bren grinned. “Well, they are the coldest things in all of Edgewood, Indiana. I’ll take a pass on those antiques.”

When Maya offered some print-outs to Alex, the scruffy little freshman waved them away. “Oh yeah,” Alex said. “Like wearing some goofy outfit is going to make me love school?” Alex paused and then looked at Morgan for emphasis. “Doubt it.”

Maya stuffed her pictures back into the straw tote. Alex was as clueless as Morgan. No wonder those two are best friends, Maya thought. Neither one of them care how they look!

“Morgan!” someone called out. It was Jared, Morgan’s friend since the second grade. Maya noticed he was starting to lose the extra weight he had put on in middle school. He and Morgan shared a passion for junk food . . . and long phone calls. They could spend their whole evening on the telephone, entertaining each other with silly jokes and stories about the school day.

Morgan and Alex got up from their towels and threaded their way through the lounging people to join Jared by the pool. “Explain this again,” Bren said, her face back under her hat.

“About how buying new clothes will make school less awful?” Maya shook her head. “Not buying new clothes—modeling them. We’re going to put a fashion show together. You know, to show the rest of the fashion zombies at Edgewood High School how to dress with some style.”

Bren lifted the hat from her face and peered at Maya. “And just who would come to this fashion show? Only the girls would come, wouldn’t they? Guys don’t go to fashion shows.”

“They would if we had some guys who would model their new fashions,” Maya said. “It would be way more exciting to see both girls’ and guys’ styles.”

Bren dropped her hat back over her face. “I don’t know. Everybody is getting ready to go back to school, trying to squeeze in everything they put off all summer. I don’t think that many people would take the time to go to a fashion show.”

“They might if it we put it on in the middle of the back-to- school mixer,” Amber said, jumping into the discussion. “The juniors are in charge of organizing that dance. And so far, we don’t have any special entertainment to draw people.”

As president of the junior class, Amber was always one step ahead when it came to her official duties. And the best part about Amber—other than being Maya’s best friend—was that Amber knew a good idea when she heard one.

“We can call it something cool like ‘The Fall Fashion Slam,’” Maya said, her voice dreamy with possibilities. “Everyone will be there.”

Bren laughed. “Okay, just as long as I don’t have to wear those hippie-dippy pants. Now who are we going to get to model the guys’ clothes?”

Maya’s eyes scanned the pool and came to rest near the lifeguard chair.

“Check out Brandon and Greg,” she replied. “Those two would make great models.”

Bren and Amber watched the two handsome seniors as they sauntered to the snack bar. Both guys worked out in the high school weight room, and it showed.

“It’s too bad they know how great they look,” Amber said. “If only their personalities were as nice as their looks.”

But Maya was undeterred. “Who cares about their personalities? All they have to do is show off the clothes. They won’t get a chance to say anything. We can have an announcer who will do all the talking. Come on, Bren, you know those guys. Let’s go ask them if they’ll do it.”

Bren stood up and yanked her swimsuit back into place. “Okay. Maya. Just get ready for some serious egomania. These guys are totally in love with themselves.”

Maya followed Bren to the snack bar where Brandon and Greg were busily devouring frozen Snickers bars.

“Hi Greg! Hi Brandon!” Bren called breezily. “Did you guys eat up all the Snickers yet?”

Greg laughed. “I think there’s one left for you, Bren. Are you sure you should eat one?”

Bren didn’t seem bothered at all by his teasing. “Thanks for looking out for me. But no worries. Junk is my favorite food group!”

“Yeah, we know!” Brandon added and ducked as Bren swatted at his head.

“And to think we were going to ask you to model in the back- to-school fashion show,” Bren said in a mock-wounded voice.

“Cool!” Greg said. “When is it?”

Maya stepped forward. “We’re planning on doing it during the first school mixer. We can get back to you with all the details.”

“Definitely,” Brandon said. “We’re there. Right, Greg?”

Greg smiled at Maya, and she realized she was starting to feel self-conscious. What was that about? Boys never made her feel unsure of herself. Nothing did.

“We were headed into the water to cool off,” Maya heard Bren saying. “See you later.”

Great, Maya thought. Now she HAD to get wet and completely wreck her make-up. Maya just smiled at Greg, turned and followed Bren to the pool.

Bren dipped her foot into the sparking water and sighed happily. “Ahhhh, feels great. I’m roasting.”

“Me, too,” said Maya. “That Greg is a serious hottie.”

Bren turned and studied Maya. “Look who’s got a crush!” Maya smiled and brushed the comment away with a flick of her wrist. “Don’t be silly.”

Bren dove into the pool and surfaced next to where Maya stood. “Come on, Maya! Get WET!”

Maya heard Brandon and Greg behind her, walking toward the pool. Now she really had no choice but to jump in. She leaped into the pool as delicately as a gazelle, feeling the cool water envelop her body as she sank in a profusion of bubbles and then glided effortlessly to the surface. As her head rose out of the water, she heard Greg’s voice: “What a cannon ball! There goes half the pool water!”

Maya felt something grab in her chest. Was Greg saying that about her? She hadn’t had one candy bar the entire summer!

Maya tried to act nonchalant, pushing off the side and gliding across the width of the pool in a few side strokes. But inside, she was still wounded from Greg’s remark.

How dare he say that? She wasn’t fat! Was she?