"And now we'd love it if you all could come up to the stage six at a time—" As he speaks, the curtains pull haltingly back to reveal six desks manned by equally young staffers in XTV baseball caps. "And take a seat to answer a few questions. After that, we'll be observing you guys for a few days with our cameras as we narrow down who we're going to focus on, essentially who'll be our core cast." At the word cast, Principal Stevens's straining smile fades for the first time. "I have to head back to the city," Fletch continues, "but you'll see me again—this is my baby. In the meantime, I leave you in my associate producer, Kara's, capable hands." A pretty, apple-shaped brunette doing herself no favors in thick Elvis Costello glasses shuffles in from the wings, wearing a loose Himalayan blouse over jeans. "She'll be my eyes and ears." Kara gives an awkward wave. "I am super-psyched. And looking out, I can tell we've picked an awesome school," Fletch concludes.
Caitlyn and I swing around to face each other. "Did he just wink at Nico?!" she asks, mouth open.
"Or he has an astigmatism."
"In his pants."
"All right, students!" Stevens claps his hands. "You heard Mr. Chapman. This is a very exciting opportunity, so let's show them what an orderly student body Hampton High has! Let's start with the front row on the right. The first six, let's go! Fill in at the desks! The rest of you can consider this a study hall period. And let's remember, study halls are silent."
"Aah," I whisper, tugging out my AP Physics. "This is where it gets boring."
Caitlyn, however, whipping out her contraband nail polish to do emergency touchups, is riveted by the proceedings. I get a Maybelline pen to the ribs when Courtney Metler wriggles her ginormous bra out from under her shirt and lets the girls get some air. And again, twenty minutes later, when she bounds up to the stage and they nearly hit her in the face. Until XTV is presented in 3-D she's probably a no-go. And then again when Gary Sternberg attempts a backflip to his assigned table and Shana Masterson bursts into her glass-shattering version of Mariah Carey.
Caitlyn slumps farther and farther into her chair, finally sliding full to the floor when Tom Slatford starts playing fart music with his hands. "Is it too late to transfer?" she moans.
I slip my hand under her armpit and drag her back up. "Isn't it cruel and inhumane to put us through this when it's so obviously going to be Nico, the Show?" I ask.
"Starring Melanie, as Nico."
"And Trisha, as Nico."
"Come on," she says, straightening her gray sweater dress, her look of determination returning. "Maybe they're looking for two minimum-wage-working brunettes who love Pinkberry and think Chace Crawford is just a little bit too pretty. We have a shot." I don't disabuse her of that notion.