Chapter One: Danielle
It’s hard not be jealous of Rachel. I mean, if you had a little sister who was nearly two years younger than you and yet better than you at everything, wouldn’t you spend most of your time feeling depressed?
I certainly do, anyway. I’m nearly fourteen and in second year at the local community school. She’s twelve and she’s also in second year. Mum sent her to school when she was barely four as she “showed so much potential”, and then the teachers moved her ahead in primary school as she was so smart. She, of course, is too intelligent for the community school. My parents sent her to this posh girls’ school three miles away. My mum gets up early to drive her there every morning.
“Danielle,” she says to me whenever I complain, “don’t you want your sister to get the best education she can?” In response I think, “Don’t you want me to get the best education I can?” I never actually say it, though. I don’t care about getting an education, it’s the principle of the thing. It’s that they worship Rachel and couldn’t be bothered about me.
Rachel, naturally, never gets into trouble. I try not to, but it’s hard when every little thing looks like murder next to her immaculate record. And the not-so-little things, too, like when my friends and I said we were going to each other’s houses to sleepover when we really went to this disco in town and had a great time there, well, for a while. Then one guy wouldn’t leave Tara alone, and another one kept on pushing Liz and Naomi to take drugs, so we left and swore we’d never go back. We got caught and I got grounded for ages. That was last year and I still don’t want to go back there. Anyway, the point is, the most trouble Rachel ever gets into is forgetting to do a tiny bit of her homework.
Rachel is also much prettier than me. She has beautiful long chestnut hair and deep green eyes and a flawless complexion. My hair is the same shade as hers, but last summer I got it cut really short and have been regretting it ever since. I hate it now. It’s not extremely short anymore, it’s long enough to tie back into a tiny ponytail, but I still absolutely despise it. One of my friends from school, Mark, says he loves my hair, though. It still doesn’t convince me. He’s always flirting with me, anyway, so he probably doesn’t mean it.
I have hazel eyes, at least that’s how Rachel describes them. We both have light little freckles on our noses, and we tend not to get spots that often, particularly her. She never seems to understand that sometimes there are times when you have to stuff your face with chocolate.
There are three more weeks until Christmas. We get our holidays on the twentieth, a Tuesday. Our Christmas exams start on the thirteenth, a week before that. No doubt Rachel is going to get all A’s. And I will probably get B’s or C’s if I’m lucky. That’s the way it always is. The lowest score I ever got was thirty-five percent. The lowest she has ever got was eighty-five. That really depresses me. I mean, she’s younger than me and yet better than me at everything. We went to the same primary school but we were in different classes, and had different friends, so at least we weren’t constantly being compared to each other. It’s not that I want to be a brain, I don’t even care about school, really, but I hate feeling inferior to people. Especially when it’s my little sister.
My friends all think she’s brilliant, of course, to be twenty months younger than me and still be in the same year as me. My friend Tara is having a slumber party tonight and she invited both of us. I’m dreading it. I didn’t think Rachel would want to go, as she never goes to parties or discos or anything – she must think they’re too frivolous or something – but she agreed to come to this one.
I am now tossing things into a black Adidas bag for the slumber party. I have my pyjamas, naturally, with pictures of the cast of Friends on the top, and my toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant, and clothes for tomorrow. I wonder what Rachel will bring. I don’t think she’s ever gone to a slumber party before, actually.
Tara is having this slumber party for Christmas. You see, she’s going to Australia for a month, starting on the 10th, a Saturday, so this is kind of like a goodbye party. I’m incredibly jealous. While we’re freezing here, she’ll be off lying on beaches and sunbathing. For a month! Tara’s family are wealthier than the average. They live in a normal house and everything, but they have four TVs – with every channel – and go on really long holidays in the summer. Tara was supposed to be going to the same posh school Rachel is at, but she begged her parents to let her go to our school.
I can’t wait until Christmas, I think. I love it so much. The excited atmosphere that comes with it. The Christmas Fair in our parish hall. Christmas shopping. I love wrapping Christmas presents up. Christmas decorations. Christmas cards. Christmas carols, Christmas films.
This year my friends and I are going to do our Christmas shopping together in the Square. We’ve bought most of our presents already, but I have to buy presents for my friends, and anyway, it’ll be fun, all of us shopping together and then going into McDonald’s or Burger King. Well, we think we will, anyway. Actually, more to the point, Grace has planned out every tiny detail and has for the last three months, and we just nod and smile because it’s easier than saying, “Hey, why don’t we forget about it?” Grace seems to spend most of her life planning out things.
Tara’s slumber party is going to be deadly. We always do fun stuff. Most of the crowd from school are going – me, Grace, Liz, Naomi, Caitlin. Nicole is in Donegal for her cousin’s wedding, and Jenny’s grounded for sneaking out to the disco last week. She wouldn’t have got caught except afterwards Naomi produced some bottles of cider and Jenny got totally drunk and came back to her house wrecked. All the adults say Naomi’s a bad influence on us, and they’re probably right, but she’s mad fun.
The phone rings, and I grab it. It’s Liz. “I got a chain letter,” she tells me in a panicky voice. “I have to send ten copies of it to people or else everyone I know is going to die.” Liz is very superstitious and believes in telekinesis, psychic powers, astrology, and all that sort of crap that none of our friends will tolerate. She’s also vegetarian, and doesn’t eat crisps or sweets, and is always on a diet. Still, she’s all right.
“Calm down, Liz,” I tell her. What would my friends do in this situation, I wonder. Naomi would probably agree wholeheartedly and get Liz all worried. Caitlin and Nicole would tell her it was just a load of junk and tell her to throw it in the bin. Jenny and Grace would tell her that it wasn’t serious but that she should probably send the letters anyway, just to make sure.
“It’s just something people send to scare you,” I tell her. “You know that. But I think you should send the letters, just to be safe, you know.”
“Thanks, Danielle, you’re the best,” she says. “See you at the slumber party, alright?”
“Yeah. See ya.”
I hang up and check my watch. Not long to go until the greatest slumber party in the world.
Chapter Two: Rachel
I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk out to the red car waiting outside my house, trying to look as if I go to slumber parties all the time. The truth is, I’ve only been to a few, and that was when I was really young and all we did was watch videos, try to stay up all night and then fail. Danielle is always raving about what fun Tara’s parties are, so things must have changed since then.
Danielle’s friend Caitlin smiles at me from the back seat and I slide in beside her. Liz and her mother are in the front. Danielle slips in beside me. She looks pretty, as always. She’s always whining about how awful she looks, but I think she must know how pretty she is, deep down.
“Are you giving anyone else a lift?” I ask Liz.
“Nope. No one else needs one. Nicole and Jenny can’t come, and Grace and Naomi live just down the road from Tara.”
I hope I’ll remember who is who among Danielle’s friends. I still can’t figure out why I was invited. I hardly know most of the girls, except Caitlin, who lives two doors down from us. Plus most of them are two years older than me, and I don’t go to the same school as them.
Danielle’s the social queen in our family, definitely. She has loads of friends and she’s always going off to discos and parties and everything. She’s really popular at school and spends most of her time on the phone. I’m always upstairs studying because, basically, I have nothing better to do. I go to a private school miles away and all my friends live ages away from me. We hardly ever talk on the phone, either.
The car stops outside Tara’s house and we all scramble out. We hurry up the driveway and ring the doorbell. Tara answers.
“Hi, everyone!” she squeals. “Grace is already here, planning out exactly what we’re going to do all night.”
“Sounds like Grace, alright,” Caitlin chuckles.
“Come on up!” Tara invites. We all thunder up the stairs and enter her room. It’s huge. There’s definitely enough room for us all to stay in here tonight. She has sleeping bags laid out already for us. I flop down on one at the edge, beside Caitlin. She stretches out luxuriously and then sits up. I smile at her.
“When did Naomi say she’d be here?” Danielle asks Tara.
“I told her 7:00, same as I told you,” she replies. “But you know Naomi, she’s never on time.”
Naomi . . . which one is she, I wonder. Always late . . . oh, she’s the one Mum says is a bad influence on Danielle. The small blonde-haired one.
I look around at the girls in the room. It’s like being in Sugar or something. They’re all so bubbly and confident and pretty. I feel completely left out. I busy myself organising the things in my bag beside my sleeping bag.
“I think we should watch Titanic,” Grace says.
“Everyone’s seen that millions of times,” Tara protests. “And it’s so long. How about Scream 2?”
They start arguing over which to watch. “What do you think, Rachel?” Caitlin asks me.
I don’t have a clue. “Well, I’ve seen Titanic ten times and I don’t really want to watch it again, and I haven’t seen Scream 2 at all.”
“You haven’t seen Scream 2?” Tara says incredulously.
“So what?” Caitlin sticks up for me, and I’m glad. She’s really nice. “I haven’t seen it either.”
“I guess we’ll be the only two actually enjoying it, then,” I murmur to Caitlin.
She nods in agreement.
Tara turns on her CD player and a song begins to blare out of the speakers. It’s killing my ears but I don’t want to say so.
Through the loud noise I hear the doorbell. It must be Naomi. Sure enough, she comes into the room a few minutes later. She shows us a packet of cigarettes and a lighter she has hidden in her bag as well as several bottles of beer. I feel alarmed.
“Oh, God, Naomi, what’d you bring those for?” Tara sounds really annoyed. “I’m still in trouble with my parents over the disco last week. If they catch us drinking in here I’m dead.”
“They won’t catch us,” Naomi replies breezily.
“Forget it, Naomi, it’s not worth it,” Caitlin says.
I am quickly learning that there actually is a way to say “no” to alcohol and at the same time still be cool. Amazing.
“Just let me have one, come on,” begs Naomi. Without waiting for an answer, she lights a cigarette and expertly begins to smoke it. Caitlin coughs pointedly. Naomi ignores her.
Tara insists that Naomi puts the drinks away, which she reluctantly does, and Caitlin turns to me and rolls her eyes. “Every time,” she smiles.
© Claire Hennessy 2001