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Drop Dead Gorgeous: Part 1 – Chapter 2

Told by Julie Hart

“You know I can’t serve you alcohol. You have to be twenty-one.” The waitress was a lanky beanpole of a girl with stringy hair, watery brown eyes, and a tense, impatient frown on her face. Her name tag was pinned on upside down, but I could still read it: Jeannie. She tapped the iPad in her hand, eager to take our order.

“We’re not here to drink,” I said. “We’re here to see Zane.”

She blinked at me. “Who’s Zane?”

“Our friend,” I said. “He’s doing a stand-up routine tonight.”

“I’m laughing already,” she said. She tapped the iPad some more.

“I’ll just have fries and a Coke,” Amber said.

“Is Pepsi okay?” the waitress asked.


Does anyone ever say no to that question?

I stared at the menu. “Can I have a cheeseburger?”

“You don’t have to ask permission,” Jeannie said. She tapped on the iPad.

“You’re funny,” Amber said. “Do you do stand-up, too?”

It was a logical question. We were sitting in Chuckles, after all. That’s the only comedy club in Linden.

The waitress nodded. “Yeah. I do stand-up. I also do brain surgery. And I’m an astronaut.” She turned to leave.

“Our friends are coming,” I told her. “There will be five of us.”

“Well, that just made my night,” she said. She stepped up to another table, a table with three guys, and began tapping her iPad again.

Amber grinned at me. “I don’t think she likes her job.”

I laughed. “Is she the most sarcastic person in the world or what?”

It was a little after eight thirty and the club was filling up. I glanced around the tables, which were jammed tightly around the square room. They were filled mostly with twentysomethings. A lot of students, probably from the community college. Some couples holding hands over the small tables. Tall beer glasses at just about every table.

Amber and I were the only high school students that I could see. It was an eighteen-and-up club, and they were serious about not serving people under twenty-one.

The performers were adults, too. But Zane’s cousin, Martin Finn, owns Chuckles, and he said Zane could come to open mic night and bring some of his friends.

Amber tangled a wisp of her brown hair, spinning it on a finger, then untangling it, then tangling it again. Amber is kind of a tense person, and that’s one of her habits.

Actually, she hates her hair. Maybe that’s why she tortures it. It’s light brown and not really curly and not straight, either. She hates her hair, and she hates wearing glasses, and she thinks her nose is too long. She’s always putting herself down, and if you try to say something nice, she says you’re a liar.

“I look like an anteater next to you,” Amber said to me once when we were standing in front of a mirror together. She tugged at her nose.

“I think anteaters are cute,” I said, giving my blond hair a fluff.

“Shut up, Julie.” That’s her normal reply.

It’s probably why we’ve been friends since third grade. Only really good friends can tell each other to shut up all the time.

I wish Amber could just calm down. She bites her nails, and tortures her hair, and I guess she’s just not happy in her own skin. But she’s a good friend. We really do care about one another.

And she’s smart and serious and maybe the top student at Linden High. That has to count for something. For sure, she’s gotten me through a lot of trig and chem tests. I’m not dumb—(yeah, dumb-blond joke here, ha-ha)—but I don’t think I’d get the same grades without Amber’s help.

Amber pushed her glasses up on her nose. “What made Zane want to do this anyway?” she asked.

“He’s been writing his comedy act for weeks,” I said.

“But what made him think he’s funny? Zane isn’t funny. He’s so shy and quiet. He never cracks jokes in class.”

I shrugged. “Beats me. It’s just something he wanted to do.”

“You’re like his best friend,” she said. “Didn’t he explain it to you?”

“No. He says a lot of stand-ups are shy and quiet till they get onstage.”

Amber bit her bottom lip. “Yeah, but what if he gets onstage and he’s still shy and quiet?”

A middle-aged couple squeezed into the table next to ours. Amber and I nodded hello. The man had a big belly poking out of his Hawaiian shirt, and he had a lot of trouble fitting it behind the small table.

“Liam should be the stand-up comic,” Amber said. “Liam is funny.”

I nodded. “Liam is funny. Funny-looking.”

Amber grinned. “Do you think?”

Liam Franklin is an awesome guy. But his hair stands straight up on his head and his nose is like a bird beak. Add that to his tiny, round black eyes, he looks a lot like a rooster. Seriously.

And as we talked about him, Liam appeared. He slid through a line of people waiting for tables and dropped down across from me, beside Amber.

Despite the warm spring weather, Liam wore a heavy black leather jacket. He had a black-and-red Cleveland Indians baseball cap on backward.

“Hey, this place is crowded,” he said. “I’ll bet they all came to see Zane.”

“For sure,” I said.

“He’s going to bomb big-time, isn’t he?” Liam sighed.

Amber punched the sleeve of his jacket. “I thought you were Zane’s friend. We’re here to support him, right?”

Liam didn’t answer. He unzipped the leather jacket halfway, reached inside, and pulled out a bottle of white wine. “Some refreshment, courtesy of my parents, who don’t know about it,” he said, grinning.

“Did you bring a corkscrew, too?” I asked.

“It’s a twist-off cap.”

Amber glanced around. “We’ll get caught.”

“No one is watching,” Liam insisted.

“They card everyone here,” Amber said. “They’re very strict. If we get caught—”

“If we get caught, they’ll take it away from us.” Liam shrugged.

“Did you bring cups or anything?” I asked. I saw the waitress walking toward us. She had our food on a tray.

“Wine tastes better right from the bottle,” Liam said.

Amber squeezed his arm. “Hide it. Quick. Hide it! Here she comes.”

Liam lowered the bottle to the floor between his legs.

Jeannie set down our order on the table. She turned to Liam. “What can I get you?”

“What beer do you have on draft?” Liam asked.

She squinted at him. “For you, I’ve got root beer.”

“Sounds good,” Liam said. “I’ll have a cheeseburger, too. Can I have cheddar cheese?”

She stared at him. “Oh. You’re a gourmet.”

“Funny,” Liam said.

“And the Indians suck,” Jeannie said, squinting at his cap.

“You’re just trying for a big tip,” Liam said. We all laughed, even Jeannie. She turned and made her way back toward the kitchen.

Liam reached down to the floor and fumbled with the wine bottle. “I saw Delia and Winks outside,” he said, motioning to the door with his head. “They were having a major fight, I think.”

Delia Foreman and Winks are our other two friends. Winks’s real name is Rich Winkleman, but no one calls him Rich, not even his parents.

Amber rolled her eyes. “So what else is new?”

“Yeah. They fight a lot,” Liam agreed. He twisted off the wine-bottle cap and placed it on the table. Then he glanced around to see if anyone was looking, raised the bottle, and took a long sip.

He tried passing the bottle to Amber, but she waved no with both hands. I took it and had a quick taste. “Oh, yuck. That is awful! Are you sure that’s wine? It tastes like soap!”

“Could be colder,” Liam said. He took another drink and lowered the bottle to the floor.

“Delia is just too serious about Winks,” Amber said, shaking her head.”

“You’re definitely right,” I agreed. “I mean, how long have they been going together? A month? Maybe six weeks?”

Amber rolled a french fry between her fingers. “He is going to hurt her. I know he is.”

“Nah. Winks is a good guy,” Liam said. I could see he was checking out three very hot young women squeezed into a booth across from us.

“For sure he’s a good guy,” Amber said. “But he isn’t serious like Delia. He doesn’t have a serious bone in his body.”

“True,” Liam said, grinning. “But that’s why he’s a good guy.”

“I tried to warn Delia about Winks,” I said. “You know. Just trying to be helpful. I mean, Delia only moved here last fall. She doesn’t really know anyone.”

“Except us,” Amber said.

“She seems so . . . helpless,” I replied. “Innocent. I’ve been trying to take care of her a little.”

Amber pushed her glasses up on her nose. “That’s what I like about you, Julie. You want to take care of everyone.”

Liam’s eyes flashed. “Julie, would you like to take care of me?”

“Shut up, Liam.”

He laughed.

Amber squeezed my arm. “So when you warned her about Winks, what did Delia say?”

“She told me to mind my own business.”

Winks and Delia appeared across the club. They were holding hands, but they had these strained, phony smiles on their faces. Delia looked pale, and, even from halfway across the room, I could see that she had been crying.

Winks smiled when he saw us and came bouncing up to the table. He’s a big, red-haired teddy bear of a guy, and his whole body bounces when he walks. He’s open and friendly and loud and funny, lots of hugs and fist bumps, the kind of guy you like instantly when you see him.

They say opposites attract, and I think Delia is his opposite in many ways. She’s shy and speaks in a whispery mouse voice. She’s tiny and delicate, with pretty dark eyes and shiny black hair that falls in ringlets down to her shoulders.

“Hey, what’s up?” Winks grabbed the wine bottle from between Liam’s legs and took a long slug. He wiped some wine that ran down his chin with the back of his hand, then lowered the bottle to the floor.

Delia dropped into the chair next to me. “How’s it going? You already ordered?”

“Yes. I—”

“You talk to Zane? Is he nervous?” Winks interrupted.

“I haven’t seen him,” I said. “They have a green room. You know. For the performers to hang out. He’s back there.”

“If he bombs, I’m outta here,” Winks said. “I don’t want to face him.”

“If he bombs, we’ll just tell him it was a bad crowd,” Liam said.

We didn’t have any more time to talk. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight swept over the small stage in front of us. A young guy wearing a blue-and-red Chuckles T-shirt over baggy denim jeans stepped onto the stage carrying a hand mic.

“Hey, everyone, I’m Stanley D and it’s open mic night,” he said. “You know what that means. You’d better drink up. It’ll make these guys seem a whole lot funnier.”

That got a small laugh.

“First up, we’ve got a very young comedian from Linden High North. He’s so young, I had to burp him after his dinner! Let’s give a Chuckles welcome to Zane Finn, everybody!”

Mild applause. Most people kept right on talking.

Zane stepped onto the stage and took the mic from the emcee. He was wearing his usual faded jeans ripped at both knees and a maroon T-shirt with big white letters that read: DON’T JUDGE ME.

He saw us. Our table was just to the side of the stage. He smiled at me. He didn’t seem nervous at all. “Hello, everyone, I’m Zane,” he said, raising the mic to his face. “Zane is an old biblical name that, I think, means, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ At least that’s what my rabbi told me.”

That got a good laugh.

I turned to see my friends’ reactions. Whoa. Winks and Liam weren’t even watching. Delia and Amber gazed up at Zane onstage. But the two boys were turned away, their attention somewhere else.

I turned and followed their gaze. It was easy to see what they were staring at.

A girl. A girl sitting by herself at the table behind us.

A beautiful girl with wavy copper-colored hair and big green eyes. High cheekbones like a model and dramatic red lips. Maybe the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen. Beautiful, like from another planet.

Zane was into his routine onstage. But I was like Winks and Liam. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

And I couldn’t stop thinking, Why does she look so sad?


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