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Love and Muddy Puddles
My name is Coco Banks and the day after my 13th birthday, my life went nuts.
It was totally my dad’s fault. And I blamed him for everything. With just three sentences he managed to completely turn my whole family upside down and ruin my life forever.
One minute we were sitting around the table about to enjoy my birthday cake. The next minute my mum was gasping, my brother was whooping, my twin sister was speechless and I was crying and running upstairs and slamming the door.
The most terrible thing about it was that finally, after a whole year of trying and hoping, my life was just about to become perfect.
But when Dad came out with his crazy idea, all I could think was this: Could things get any worse?
Ha. You’d be surprised.
There was a popular group in our year at school. And I don’t mean just a little bit popular. I mean an uber-popular, super-elite, crazy-socialite-A-list type group. In fact, there were only two types of girl in our Year; the girls in the popular clique, and the girls who wanted to be in the popular clique. Nothing else mattered.
At primary school there had been a few kids who were kind of cool. I always seemed to know who was in or out, and my best friend Samantha and I had heaps of conversations about it (I would have talked to Charlie, my twin sister, but she was too busy playing handball to take any notice) but even if the princess-ish girls were a bit mean, no one was left as an outcast forever and mostly everyone just hung around together.
It wasn’t like that at high school.
Especially not at my high school. Because, you see, from the beginning of Year Seven, Charlie didn’t go to the same school as me.
People have different theories about twins. Some think you should never separate us. Others think we should be separated from kindergarten and never dressed alike or anything. And, I guess, when we got to high school, my parents must have decided that the separation theory was at least partly right. Charlie went to St Catherine’s School, down the road from our house in Randwick, and I started to catch the bus—with Sam, thankfully—to St Agnes’ School for boarders and day girls in the next suburb.
On the first day of Year Seven, the teachers put us into ‘colour’ groups to help us ‘bond’, whatever that was supposed to mean. There were about 15 girls in Purple with me and Samantha.
And one of them was Saffron.
The first time I saw her I just stood there and looked. I knew it was rude and I knew I looked stupid but I couldn’t help it.
Saffron was truly the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
Her hair was blonde and perfectly straight. It was just messy enough to look effortless but I knew it must have taken her a long time to do it. She was tall but she didn’t have that hunch that lots of tall girls have. She looked confident—almost like she was in charge of the school. Her skin was perfect and everything about her, except her nose, which, it turned out, was never, ever shiny, looked glossy and new.
She was with her friend, Tiger Lily, who was also completely beautiful but in a whole different way. Her hair was dark and she had a short, pixie haircut, white skin and pouty lips. She looked like a retro folk singer who goes on the X-Factor and wears cutesy 50s frocks with Doc Martens and bright red lipstick.
All the girls in the Purple group had to go around the circle and introduce themselves.
“Hi, I’m Susanna and I went to Bay West public school,” said the first girl, smiling and looking around hopefully. She looked like she was thinking, I really hope you like me.
The second girl was Montana and she told us that it was her birthday in a week and giggled a bit. After that everyone did pretty much the same thing. They said their name and then a little detail about themselves and then they smiled nervously, obviously thinking, Help me out here, people, I need some friends.
But when it was Saffron’s turn, she did it completely differently. First, she waited. It probably wasn’t even a second, not long enough for anyone to really notice but just long enough so that she got everybody’s attention.
“I’m Saffron,” she said. Nothing else. But she didn’t need anything else. She smiled and tilted her head and looked around at the group almost as if she was introducing herself to a bunch of little kids. Her eyes were big and her voice sounded sweet but at the end she gave her hair a perfect flick and all of a sudden I felt completely wrong and oddly weird. It was like I had huge hands or a pimple on my nose or massive swollen legs. My whole body seemed off-balance next to hers but I couldn’t look away.
Tiger Lily was right next to her. She waited as well, but she looked back at Saffron before she spoke and raised her eyebrows.
“Tiger Lily,” she said, but her voice sounded like she was making fun of us all.
The girl who was next almost couldn’t get her words out.
“I’m Milly,” she squeaked but no one was interested in her. Or the Sashas and Jessicas and Emilys who followed along. The only two people that were important were Saffron and Tiger and everyone wanted to be their friend.
Because in that moment I had a revelation. Even though I sat there feeling weird and uncomfortable, I knew that I was changed forever. It’s kind of cheesy, but words actually popped into my head. This is my destiny. This is who I want to be.
I wasn’t ready yet, but I knew I could be as cool and successful as Saffron and Tiger. I could be as beautiful. I could be as stylish. This would be the area of life I could shine in.
You see, all my life I’d been number two. The second twin. Trailing along behind. Charlie was not only two minutes older than me, but she was smarter, sportier and better than me. At everything. Without even trying. She also had greener eyes, blonder hair and naturally longer eyelashes.
And after a while, it got a little bit annoying. It wasn’t that I was jealous. I mean, she’s my twin. I love her. It’s just that it would have been nice to be number one sometimes.
The second that Saffron tossed her hair in that circle, I knew what path I was going to take in life. This would be the one thing that Charlie could never beat me at.
I was going to be popular.
Samantha had exactly the same idea.
“They are so awesome,” she said to me under her breath, looking at Saffron. “So, so cool. We have to hang with them. We just have to.”
There were two things stopping us. The first was the massive crush of other girls thinking the same thing and all trying to get Saffron and Tiger’s attention the instant the bell went for recess. The second thing was that they already had two other friends.
Lise and Isabella were not as pretty as Saffron and Tiger but they also had perfect hair, skin, teeth and nails. All four of them wore their skirts just fractionally shorter than everyone else but not so short that they got into trouble. We watched them walk around the playground together, choose the best seats, make their way to the front of the canteen queue and completely ignore anyone who got in their way. When they walked through a crowd, a path opened up in front of them and everybody’s heads turned to gaze as they went past.
But despite our best efforts and intentions, we couldn’t crack it. We couldn’t even figure out a way to crack it. Despite our best intentions, Sam and I had to be content with being part of a bigger group of normal girls, including squeaky Milly. We settled in to school and went to class and did our homework and got on with life.
But we were still scheming. There had to be a way to get in with Saffron and Tiger, even if it took us until we were in Year 12.
One of Samantha’s strategies was to not follow their trends. I don’t know if Saffron meant to deliberately start fashions but it was weird to watch it happen. One day she would wear her hat tipped back on her head slightly. The next day 30 other girls’ hats would also be tipped back. The day after that, the whole playground had their hats on a slope. When Tiger turned up at school with a new bag, 25 others had similar bags by the end of the week. When Lise got red highlights in her hair, everyone else did too.
Except for me and Samantha.
“Copying is the quickest way to be known as a nobody,” Sam told me. “You’ve got to stay ahead, but not too far. You’ve got to be an individual, but not too much.”
So we didn’t follow the trends. But we knew exactly what they were.
About halfway through the first term of Year Seven suddenly there was a change. Shannon Davies, a girl in my English class, began to hang out with them. Samantha, who finds things out from people, had the whole story.
“Apparently they don’t want an even numbered group,” she said, smudging her eye liner with her finger right up close to my mirror. “Saffron likes odd numbers in a group so they picked Shannon to be the number five.” She scanned the top of my dresser. It was one of those ones that are completely covered in mirror glass. It had taken me weeks to save up for it the year before and I could see about 20 different Sams reflected back at me. “Have you got any gold or silver?”
“Both. On the left, behind that tub of all those jars of nail polish,” I said. “Can you see it? All the eye shadows are in that basket with the silver beads on it.”
Sam chose a colour, dabbed it on and then turned around to show me her eyelids. “What do you think Shweetie?”
“Yeah, good, Pumpkin,” I said in my silly voice, but I was more interested in the Shannon thing. “Why her? I mean, she’s not prettier or smarter or anything.”
“I know, right?” said Samantha. “It’s unfair. I mean, she’s not really cool at all. Maybe she’s like a sympathy project or something. Maybe they’re going to give her a makeover like in the movies.”
“Lucky her,” I said. “I could do with a makeover.” I picked up my hand mirror and examined a new zit on my chin. “I mean, look at this. It’s gross,” I said. And then it hit me. The numbers weren’t right.
“Hang on,” I said. “You said odd numbers, right? This is a problem. This means that we can never join their group together. I mean, it’s basic maths. Four plus two equals six. Ba-bowww,” and I made a noise like on a game show when they tell people they’re out.
“Don’t even say it,” said Samantha. She pressed her hands against her ears dramatically. “I would do anything to be as cool as them. I so want to be popular.” She put down her makeup and dropped on to my bed. I threw some gold pillows out of the way and flopped down next to her.
“I know,” I said. “Me too. It’s so unfair. Hey, don’t crush my doona cover.”
Samantha turned over towards me, smoothing out the shiny purple fabric. “I can’t believe you still have purple in your room,” she said.
“I knoooow,” I said, half pouting. “It’s just I love it so much. Obviously, I don’t wear it any more. You don’t have to worry about that. But I can’t get rid of it.” I clung in a mock-sad way to a purple cushion and made big eyes at my friend.
Sam had been kind enough to point out that purple didn’t suit my skin tone after I wore a purple dress to our Year Six farewell. I had thrown out the dress the very next day, despite what Mum said, and refused to look at the photos.
“It’s your choice, I guess.” She wrinkled up her nose. “Anyway, have you heard about Tiger’s birthday party? Apparently they’re all—including Shannon—going to a day spa before the party which is, get this, on Tiger’s dad’s yacht, and there’s going to be a DJ and everything.”
“And boys too,” I said. “How slack is it that we go to an all girls school! Lucky, lucky Shannon.”
For the rest of the year we watched Shannon become popular and turn from normal girl to shiny princess. Her hair, face, nails and even her walk changed. Samantha and I sat on the sidelines and ached with envy. But we didn’t give up. We still had big plans to be popular, even though we didn’t know how it would happen.
As it turned out, it did happen. And it was all because of chocolate.
I’m lucky enough to be one of those people who doesn’t really like sweet stuff. I’d rather eat sushi than lollies and snacking on brownies has never been my idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon. Tiramisu once a year on my birthday is my cake-fix limit.
But Shannon wasn’t like that. She liked chocolate and sugar. A lot.
It wasn’t obvious at first. When they chose her to be part of the group, she was almost as skinny as me. But as the year went on, her bottom got bigger and bigger. I never actually saw her with a chocolate bar in her mouth, but Samantha said that apparently her bin at home was full of wrappers. You name it, she ate it.
Year Seven ended and the holidays came and went and when we got back to school, Shannon was looking chubby. Well, actually, I’ll be honest. She wasn’t much chubbier than most people in our Year. In fact if you met her for the first time, you would probably say she was normal sized, but in comparison to the year before, she’d put on heaps of weight.
And it was too much for Saffron, Tiger, Lise and Isabella. At the end of week five, they dropped her, and they dropped her hard. One day she was walking around the playground with them, and the next she was sitting on a bench on her own with a red face, looking like she’d been crying.
I felt sorry for her. We were back in English together and on the third day after she had been dropped she was still crying. The word had got around the school that no one was supposed to talk to her or Tiger would have something to say to them. She was on her own.
But when someone sitting opposite you is crying in class, it doesn’t really matter about all that. You want to give them a hand, right?
Besides, it was safe that day. None of the popular girls were in the same class as us and even Sam, who I knew wouldn’t have approved of me being nice to Shannon, just because it went against what Tiger had said, was away.
“Are you okay?” I whispered when the teacher turned around.
Shannon looked up, surprised. She sniffed and then looked helplessly around her so I dug in my bag for a tissue. It was a bit crumpled but it was still unused and she didn’t seem to mind.
“Thanks,” she said and gave me a weak smile but her eyes were welling up again, so I pulled the whole packet out and put it on her desk.
From that point on, whenever I saw her, I gave her a secret smile. I wasn’t quite brave enough to do it openly and go against Saffron and Tiger Lily but it seemed a bit sad that someone should have no friends in the whole world so I did what I could.
Samantha had absolutely no sympathy for her at all.
“Well it’s her own fault,” she said. “If she wasn’t so piggish, she wouldn’t have got so fat and then she wouldn’t have got dropped. I mean, it’s simple. You keep your mouth shut if you don’t want to put on weight. She must’ve known what would happen.”
I nodded. When you put it like that, of course it was true, but the part of me that loves kittens and puppies still felt sorry for Shannon and I wasn’t about to tell Samantha. She was busy obsessing about who was going to replace Shannon.
Because Saffron and Tiger were holding auditions.