LAUREN SILVER FROWNED AND ABSENTLY CHEWED the eraser on her pencil, peering down at the multiple choice test in front of her. Was the answer A or B? Or even C? She felt so unprepared. Like one of those bad dreams where you walk into class and the teacher puts a test in front of you and you realize you are totally clueless. This was so unlike her. She almost always aced tests.
She took a deep breath and cleared her mind, and circled B with confidence.
With all the questions answered, Lauren went back and carefully scored herself against the answer key. When she saw the result, she couldn’t help but smile.
She’d been right all along. She was meant to be with Charlie Anderson!
The test she took was called “Is He Your Soul Mate?” She had come to rely on the monthly tests in her Chic Chick magazine for guidance on all things related to Charlie Anderson. When this month’s issue came out and Lauren saw the title of the quiz, she hoped deep down that it was a sign. Now that she’d taken—and aced—the test, she knew it was a sign.
Was Charlie Anderson her soul mate? Yes he was.
She lay back on her bed and whispered his name out loud, slowly, dreamily—Charlie Anderson. It had such a perfect sound to it. The “ch” of Charlie, then the “-arlie,” the three-syllable last name a lilting triplet, the first and last names just right together. Like a little song. It was the perfect name for the perfect boy.
In the margin of her magazine she doodled in large loopy letters. “Lauren Anderson.” Then: “Lauren & Charlie.” “Charlie & Lauren.” They sounded like a couple. Their names just fit together so perfectly. As if it was meant to be. Because, of course, it was. Lauren & Charlie TLF. True Love Forever.
She stood up and moved to her desk and opened the drawer, then pulled out the oversize pink index card that was face down and shoved toward the back. She turned it over and studied it.
THE LOVE PLAN:
OPERATION CELL PHONE
She’d drawn a neat flowchart, just as they’d learned to do in science class last spring. Arrows pointed from one box to another: If yes, go to this box. If no, go to that box. They all ended up at the heart-shaped goal at the bottom:
Charlie + Lauren = TLF
Lauren loved plans. She loved organizing things and making lists and having everything in place just so. Her mom joked that it was because she was an only child and liked things the way she was used to them, but her dad told her that it was because she was just like him. They were both “very precise” he said. But being an only child did help. There was no one there to mess up her room or to make her parents veer off schedule. It was always calm and quiet at Lauren’s house, and she liked it that way. She’d been to friends’ houses where it was total chaos, and she didn’t know how they lived with that. Her one friend Padma had two younger brothers and a little baby sister, and there was so much yelling and noise that Lauren sometimes made excuses not to go when she was invited there.
It was Dad who taught Lauren about plans. They always had a plan in their family. For cleaning out the basement, for juggling the chores, or for their summer vacation, which was starting today with three weeks at the beach. Lauren’s dad had mapped out the plan, which he called “Operation Get out of Town,” and they’d both been packed and ready to go for days. Lauren knew that at exactly three o’clock Dad would be in the driveway with the car all packed up, waiting for her mom, who would be running around making sure that all the appliances were turned off and that the plants were watered. Mom was less of a planner and more “fly by the seat of her pants.” Or at least that’s how Dad described her.
But Lauren was just like her dad, so she was a planner for sure. And she had a plan of her own this year. It was called the Love Plan, and no one else knew about it.
Lauren’s Love Plan was foolproof. It was how she was going to get Charlie to notice her. Then talk to her. And once he did, she knew he would then realize that they were meant to be together. She’d spent months figuring out every angle and anticipating every scenario. There were times Lauren worried that the Plan wouldn’t work, or, if it did and Charlie noticed her, that he wouldn’t like her after all. Lauren knew she was nice and everything, but she wasn’t the most popular girl in the school or the class president or anything like that. She was just normal. But Mom always told her she was a “good soul” and Dad always praised her “kind heart.” And, according to Mom and Dad at least, those things were way more important than perfect looks or being the head cheerleader.
It wasn’t that Lauren didn’t have any friends; she did. She got invited to plenty of sleepover parties and she had a group to sit with at lunch. But when it came down to it Lauren was pretty shy, and since she was used to being by herself a lot, she didn’t mind it at all. She could happily read a book in her room or go for a walk by herself. Mom always praised her “independence,” but deep down Lauren sometimes worried that she should have one really close friend by now—a BFF. Most of the other girls at school seemed to have one or even two BFFs. A BFF, Lauren thought, sounded really cool. A BFF would be someone she could talk to about the Love Plan.
The first step of the Love Plan meant that Lauren would be starting out her summer vacation by making sure that Charlie had her telephone number. Operation Cell Phone would take care of that. By the end of the summer, when Charlie had fallen totally in love with Lauren and it was time to say good-bye, Charlie would grab Lauren’s hand, look deep into her eyes, and say, “Of course I’ll be keeping in touch. I’ve got your number . . . ”
She sighed, thinking about how perfect it would be.
“Lauren! Have you eaten breakfast?”
Her mother was calling her from downstairs. Lauren could hear the exasperation in her tone, even from that far away. Quickly she slid the card into the side flap of her backpack, which was sitting on her desk alongside the how-to book she’d ordered online. It was called Frisbee: Techniques and Tactics. “I’m coming!” she called down.
“Good! Finally! Come on downstairs. I have a surprise to tell you about!” Lauren was curious. Normally she did not like surprises.
Lauren stood up, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror over her dresser, and sighed. She wished she would have her growth spurt already. She was practically the smallest girl in her grade, which wasn’t such a big deal, but Lauren was pretty sure that Charlie was taller than any of the boys at her school. Focus on the positive, Lauren reminded herself. She’d read a whole article in Chic Chick about the importance of capitalizing on your assets. She looked at herself carefully and tried to identify her assets, just like the article had said. Everyone said she had a nice smile. And her new haircut made her hair swing and fall over her eyes when she moved her head just so. (Kendra, her haircutter, totally understood the way her hair worked and could practically make miracles happen with her scissors!) Lauren had been practicing tossing her hair a little and had gotten pretty good at it. And, also in the positive column, there was her cute new two-piece bathing suit that she’d spent a big chunk of her babysitting money on last week. She hoped Charlie liked the color, a sort of coral pink. She moved closer and sighed, squinting at her face in the mirror. She had nice long eyelashes, and her older cousin Brit had once told her that her eyebrows had “the perfect natural arch.” But there wasn’t much she could do about her freckles, besides try to hide them behind her huge sunglasses. Or who knew? Maybe Charlie liked freckles.
“Yep! Sorry! Coming!” she called, and hurried down to the kitchen.
The breakfast stuff was still on the table, and her mom was rummaging through a cupboard, searching for the lid to a plastic container. Two bins were on the counter, partially packed with food and kitchen stuff. “Daddy went out and got bagels this morning,” came her mother’s muffled voice from inside the cupboard. “Have a glass of milk with yours—we need to use it up before we go!”
Lauren popped a bagel half into the toaster oven. “So what’s the big surprise you want to tell me?” she asked her mom, opening the fridge and pulling out the carton of milk.
Her mother backed out of the cupboard, her dark hair tumbling from her ponytail in several strands over her face, triumphantly holding the lid she’d been searching for. She stood up and set it on the counter. Then she turned toward Lauren, her eyes shining. “Well,” she said, her voice brimming with enthusiasm. “I thought you might be pleased to know that we are bringing someone with us to the beach house this time.”
“Oh!” said Lauren, pouring herself a tall glass of milk. “Is Grampy coming to stay with us again? That’s fine. I can sleep on the cot on the screen porch.”
Her mother shook her head. “Not Grampy. A friend. A friend of yours.”
“Of mine?” Lauren set down the carton and furrowed her brow. “Who?”
“Chrissy!” said her mother. “Chrissy Porter!”
“I know!” said her mother happily. “Her mom and I wanted to surprise you guys! We’ve got it all worked out. Jean and Scott have to go back to California for a couple of weeks to take care of some business with their old house. Chrissy’s big sister, Liz, will be away at camp for the whole month, and they didn’t really want to drag Chrissy all the way back to California, so I suggested they leave her here. With us. And that we’d take her with us to the beach and the two of you could share your room and be beach buddies for the next three weeks!”
Lauren opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure of what to say. Chrissy Porter was not part of the Love Plan. Chrissy Porter was not part of any plan.
“Honey? This is okay, isn’t it? I thought you and Chrissy were good friends.” Her mom’s face was the picture of concern.
“Oh no, she is—I mean, we are friends. Chrissy is great. It’s not that,” said Lauren. Her mind was spinning. “That’s awesome. I was just—surprised is all.”
Her mother looked relieved. “I’m glad you’re glad, honey,” she said, opening the large utility drawer next to the sink and rummaging around in it for utensils to pack. “I thought you’d be pleased to have someone to spend time with at the beach. And Jean—Mrs. Porter—was so appreciative. They usually rent somewhere for this time of year too, but because of their trip, they couldn’t swing it. She was delighted that Chrissy would get a beach vacation after all.”
Lauren nodded numbly, still trying to absorb this news.
Lauren’s father’s muffled voice called from down in the basement.
“I sent your father down there to find my suitcase,” she said. “I’d better go see what’s going on.”
Her mom headed for the basement, leaving Lauren lost in thought.
Chrissy Porter was coming with them? For the whole three weeks? Lauren felt as though someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water down her back. What was she going to do now?
Leaving her bagel uneaten on the plate, she ran upstairs and into her room. She closed the door and threw herself down on the bed.
This was a flat-out, full-blown disaster.