Epic Fail

By: Claire Lazebnik

“Do you ever stop lying?” I thrust the pack out toward her. “They were on your—”

A BMW convertible came roaring up to us too fast and then paused—just for a second, like the driver had tapped his brake.

And that was when I caught a glimpse of Derek Edwards’s face through the driver’s side window, looking stunned by what he saw. . . .

Which I realized was me, Elise Benton, standing by her parents’ huge, ugly, bright green minivan, extending an open cigarette pack to her little sister and—to all appearances—offering her a smoke for the ride.

Derek quickly drove away. Juliana called out a feeble, “See you at the restaurant,” and then she and I looked at each other with dismay.

Trust Layla to make me look bad. It was a talent of hers.

Meanwhile, she was clambering happily into the car. “What restaurant?” she asked, poking her head back out.

Juliana told her while I found a trash can to toss the cigarettes into—I didn’t want Mom or Dad to find them later—before we headed to Kaitlyn’s school.

“Who else is going?” Layla asked. When she heard the names, she bounced up excitedly in her seat. “Whoa! Do you guys know who Derek Edwards is?”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Everyone knows. I mean, he’s in Us Weekly all the time.”


“Well, not all the time. But once in a while. With his parents. And this girl I met today was telling me about all the famous kids who go to Coral Tree, and she said he’s far and away the most famous. I can’t believe you guys are already friends with him. That is so fucking cool!”

“Hey, hey!” Jules said, with a glare in the rearview mirror. “Watch your language, Layla.”

“Oh, please. You guys are such prigs. Kids here swear all the time.”

“Well, we don’t,” Jules said. “And if Dad heard you—”

“He won’t. I’m not an idiot.” She gave another bounce. “Melinda Anton’s son!”

Juliana was silent. She was frowning a little and I understood why. “You want to drop us off at home first?” I asked her in a low voice. “You could go on to the restaurant by yourself.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“It might not be.”

“It’s too late now. She’s excited. Hey, Layla?” she said, raising her voice so she could be heard in the backseat.

“What?” Layla had pulled a mini hairbrush out of her bag and was brushing her long dark hair furiously.

“Try to be normal around Derek, okay? Don’t bring up his parents or anything like that.”

“Don’t worry,” Layla said. “I know how to be cool.”

It took us a while to sign Kaitlyn out of her afterschool program, so the others were already seated at a table eating pizza by the time we got to the restaurant. Let’s just say that my idea of cool and Layla’s turned out not to be the same. Hers involved audibly whispering, “Is that him?” while pointing at Derek, and, upon confirmation, loudly announcing that his mother’s picture was on the wall and asking him, “Do they know you’re her son? Do you get free food and stuff?”

Kaitlyn proved she was more in Layla’s camp than mine when it came to “cool,” by accidentally tossing a hot, oily garlic roll across the table, where it almost landed in Derek’s lap. Then she giggled much too loudly about it even though no one else was amused, and Chelsea, who had been near the line of fire, was shooting her venomous looks.

By the end of the meal, two things were clear:

1. Chase was so crazy about Jules, he didn’t seem to notice her youngest sisters were Neanderthals, and

2. Despite Chase’s cheerfully optimistic exit line that we should all do this again soon, Derek Edwards didn’t seem likely to let himself get trapped into having a meal with the Bentons ever again.

In the car, post–pizza debacle, Kaitlyn happily informed us that she had made a friend at school already, a girl named London, whose parents owned four houses, “if you count their apartment in France.”

“Oh, let’s count it,” I said airily. “I assume they have a place in London, too?”

Kaitlyn furrowed her brow. “I don’t think so.”

Juliana and I exchanged an amused front-seat look.

“She’s an only child, so she doesn’t have to share a room in any of their houses,” Kaitlyn added.

Juliana said, “Don’t you think it would be lonely to have such a small family? I love having three sisters.”

Kaitlyn twisted her mouth, clearly not sure she agreed with that. After that meal, I wasn’t sure I did, either.

Chapter Five

By the time Dad got home, Layla was doing her homework and I was helping Kaitlyn with hers at the wooden farm table in our kitchen—which had made a lot more sense in Amherst, where we’d lived in a former nineteenth-century barn, than here in our sixties-style ranch. Dad trudged in from the garage, shoulders hunched, looking pale and worn-out and older than his fifty-one years. My mother was always trying to get him to go for a run—she seemed to think exercise was the cure for what ailed him—but he always responded in more or less the same way, with a politely impassive look that said, And why exactly would I want to do that?