Zoey Webber heard the glamorous thump of glossy paper meeting floorboards, and raced down the hall to the front door to get the mail. Only one thing could make that sound: the newest issue of Très Chic arriving through the mail slot.
She scooped it up along with some envelopes and interior design magazines and put everything but Très Chic on a table for her aunt. Then she scanned the cover to see what was très chic for July:
The Long (Dresses) and Short (Shorts) of Summer Style
Dots Are Hot!
25 Fresh Fashion Faces to Watch
Be Inspired . . . by BOLD Colors!
Zoey grinned at the last headline. Oh, she was inspired.
She was also lucky. She was spending her summer days at Aunt Lulu's house instead of the usual: being stuck at home with her big brother, Marcus, as her babysitter, or stuck at day camp for what felt like the hundredth year in a row. This summer was different. Her brother was busy with a part-time job and her dad finally agreed that she was getting a little old for day camp . . . at least if she didn't want to go.
Zoey discovered pretty quickly that "Aunt Lulu camp" was better than any day camp. Aunt Lulu ran her interior design business out of her home office, but even when she had to work, she made it fun for Zoey. She let Zoey suggest fabrics and color combinations for clients' inspiration boards and make collages and paper doll clothes with old wallpaper samples. And if she had to go out for a meeting or something, she actually paid Zoey to dog-sit--which basically meant watching Aunt Lulu's fourteen-year-old mutt, Draper, snore.
Plus, Zoey and her aunt loved doing a lot of the same things: getting mani-pedis, baking cookies, reading magazines, watching old movies, and indulging in reality TV shows--they both were hands-down obsessed with fashion design competitions. Too bad Dad and Marcus couldn't stand them. "Boys will be boys," Aunt Lulu always said.
Zoey walked over to the kitchen table without taking her eyes off the magazine cover for a second. She sat down on a chair and then gently let the magazine's uncracked spine fall open to a random page. It landed on a perfume sample. It was the newest in a popular line of scents by a young fashion designer. Zoey closed her eyes and took a whiff, inhaling the amber and tuberose, and letting her mind wander. . . .
What if I were a fashion designer someday? she imagined. I'd get to look at pretty clothes and read magazines all day long! Maybe I'd make my own perfume too, and it would smell like . . . um . . . gardenias? Yeah. And maybe one day I'd be in Très Chic's "Day in the Life of a Designer" section! How cool would that be if it really happened?
It might have just been a daydream, but it sounded pretty amazing to Zoey. She sighed, put the magazine down on the table, and began to flip through the pages, scanning each spread to make sure she saw every square inch of it.
Zoey quickly lifted her head. Did she hear a beeping sound?
Yep, that was definitely her phone saying a text had just come in!
"Coming!" she yelled toward the muffled ringtone. She stood up and looked around the kitchen.
She twirled in place. Where exactly was her phone? She was sure she'd left it on the table . . . but it wasn't there.
Maybe on the kitchen counter? Nope. She even checked inside the fridge.
She crawled around under the table in case it had dropped on the floor. Still no luck!
"Excuse me, Draper," she said as she gently slid her hand under his belly. Maybe he fell asleep on top of her phone? His ear twitched and his leg kicked, but his snoring never stopped. She groaned and started to get up.
Okay . . . her phone had to be somewhere . . . somewhere very close. She had spent most of the morning planted at the kitchen table drawing imaginary outfits in her newest sketchbook. It was her favorite thing to do at Camp Lulu by far.
At the beginning of summer, Aunt Lulu noticed all the fashion drawings Zoey was doing on the back of used printer paper and started hanging them on the fridge.
When there was no space left in the "art gallery," as Aunt Lulu started to call it, she surprised Zoey with a beautiful sketchbook tied with a big raffia bow. "I'm glad you're saving the Earth, but drawings like yours deserve to be on something better than scrap paper, don't you think?" she had asked. "Plus, I don't want you to lose any of them!"
And the rest, as they say, was history--soon Zoey had filled a few sketchbooks with original clothing designs. Well, some were inspired by her favorite designers, like Blake and Bauer and the amazing Daphne Shaw, especially in the beginning. But most of them were unique, and her aunt loved them all. She loved the silly ones, like the "sunny day sundress" made of sky-blue fabric dotted with puffy white clouds. And she even loved the unwearable ones, like the flapper dress made entirely of those plastic rings that hold together six-packs of soda cans. Zoey didn't show the sketchbooks to anyone else. Not even to her best friends, Priti and Kate. She just did it for fun . . . and because once she got started, she couldn't stop coming up with ideas.
It was pretty funny, actually, that she spent so much time dreaming up different outfits. During the school year, she had to wear the same exact thing every single day: five days a week of a standard-issue school uniform. Sometimes she wondered if she would be so obsessed with clothes if she actually got to wear them!
But right now she had a much more vital question on her mind: Where on earth was her phone?
Wait . . . her sketchbook was looking awfully thick.
She flipped through the pages . . . and there it was! On top of a drawing of a floor-skimming maxi dress and a scallop-edged white tank paired with geometric-print pedal pushers.
She laughed, breathed a sigh of relief, and looked down at the screen to see who was sending all those texts.
Can you believe it?! said the first text. Then there was a: Hello?? Finally came an: Um, Zoey? R u there?
The text messages were from Priti Holbrooke, one of Zoey's two very best friends.
Zoey picked up her phone and gawked at the screen as a million thoughts flew through her head.
Believe what? She had no idea!
And was it good? (She hoped!)
Or bad . . . (Uh-oh!)
Priti! Zoey loved her because she knew how to make life more exciting. But sometimes she could give you a heart attack!
Zoey thumbed back a speedy, desperate reply: Believe what?!?!
She clutched her phone and waited, staring at the screen. . . .
Still, she jumped when it beeped and blinked to life again.
No more uniforms! texted Priti.
Zoey's mouth fell open and she nearly dropped the phone. "No way!" she cried out loud, reading it over again to be sure.
Could it be that after sixty-five years, Mapleton Prep was finally waking up? Could it be that the petition Zoey started last spring had actually worked? She started it because she didn't feel like everyone else, and she didn't want to dress like everyone else, either. But she never thought it would work.
The school wasn't really that bad overall. The classrooms had big windows. Most of the teachers were nice. And except for the gelatinous meat loaf and cardboard pizza, the food was mostly edible. It was just those uniforms! All that horrible gray polyester. And those plaid ties. Every time Zoey got dressed for school in them, she could swear a part of her soul died.
R u sure? she texted back.
Yes! +!!!!!!!! came the answer right away.
Zoey did a little dance of joy and quickly pressed call instead of reply.
"Hi!" answered Priti.
"How did you find out? Are you sure?" Zoey blurted.
"Zoey, we got a letter in the mail!" Priti told her. "Haven't you seen it? It came today!"
Zoey groaned. "Ugh, I missed it! I'm at my aunt's house. What does it say?"
"Hang on." Zoey could hear Priti moving around and shuffling some papers. "It's here somewhere . . . Tara!" Priti hollered to one of her sisters as Zoey pulled the phone away from her ear. "Where's the mail? I need that letter from my school!"
While she waited, Zoey could picture the likely scene taking place in the Holbrooke home. There was always a lot going on with three girls as lively as Priti and the twins. Tara and Sashi were in high school, and each had their own niche, as their dad liked to say. Sashi played the piano . . . and the flute and the harp, and sang, too. Her primary goal in life these days was earning a scholarship to Juilliard. Tara, on the other hand, was all about biology and organic chemistry and basically anything that screamed pre-med. She was spending the summer working in a college lab.
Priti was the baby of the family and the opposite of her focused, organized older sisters. Her grades were fine and her work was never late. And yet her bedroom and her backpack might as well have been black holes. She wasn't exactly a slob . . . but maybe she was, a little bit. Whatever she lacked in organizational skills, however, she more than made up for in overall spunk and charm. Zoey could always count on Priti to cheer her up if she was feeling down. Or to make her laugh until her stomach hurt.
"Sorry about that, Zoey," Priti said. "Zoey? Are you still there?"
"Yes!" Zoey answered. "Read it to me! Hurry! Who's the letter from?"
"Our new principal," Priti told her. "Her name is Ms. Austen. Ms. Esther Austen . . . Esther? What a name, right? Anyway, ‘Dear Students and Families,' she says, ‘I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your summer' . . . blah, blah, blah, you get the idea."
"Yes!" Zoey said, tapping her fingers on the table.
"Okay . . . ‘As well as introducing myself, I'm writing to announce some exciting changes at Mapleton Preparatory. First, we will be expanding the music department--' "
"Music department!" Zoey groaned. "Priti. You're killing me. Get to the uniform part, please!"
"Patience, patience," Priti teased her. "Just kidding. Here it is . . . ‘And finally, after extensive thought and debate, we will no longer be requiring students to wear uniforms.' " She paused and waited for Zoey's reaction. "Zoey? Are you there? Did you faint or something?"
Zoey, meanwhile, had sunk like a rock into the kitchen chair. She still had the phone to her ear, but her mind had zoomed a million miles away. She immediately had visions of Mapleton's hallowed halls full of kids--dressed in colors and patterns and natural fabrics instead of industrial-strength polyester--being allowed to look like individuals for once!
"I'm here! I just can't believe it! Does it say anything else?"
"Yeah, I mean I guess there'll still be a kind of ‘dress code,' and it goes on about that . . . no short skirts, no tube tops, that kind of thing. No big logos . . . Oh well. It's a start. But you can read all that stuff at home. Right now we need to decide when we're going to go shopping and where! You know how my mom always makes me wear my sisters' hand-me-downs? Well, listen to this! She said that I can actually go shopping for first-day-of-school clothes this year! So we have to do it right away, before she changes her mind."
"Then let's go this weekend!" Zoey said quickly.
"Yay!" said Priti. "To the mall?"
"Sure," Zoey said. "And hey, have you talked to Kate yet? Oh gosh!" She suddenly had another thought. "What's her mom going to do?"
Kate's mom was, hands down, one of the nicest moms in the whole world. In fact, she'd been like a second mom to Zoey ever since her own mom passed away. Zoey had only been two when it happened, so she didn't remember her mother so well. It helped to think her mom was something like Mrs. Mackey.
Mrs. Mackey did something called "strategic planning" for the university, which Zoey gathered meant looking ahead and which always seemed a little ironic to her since Kate's mom's style was so . . . stuck in the past. And, of course, maybe she liked it that way. If there was any rule to fashion, thought Zoey, it was that it's a totally personal thing. The only problem was Mrs. Mackey's style had a serious impact on Kate. Like the dress she got Kate for the softball banquet last spring. It looked like it was meant for a six-year-old: It was made of gingham and had a sash and a Peter Pan collar and these enormous puffy sleeves. Honestly, Kate was the one person for whom school uniforms had been a good thing. Turning her mom loose on any other school wardrobe would be a very dangerous thing.
"We have to run interference," said Zoey.
"Of course!" Priti agreed. "I'll text her right now and see if she's read the letter, and I'll tell her we're taking her shopping ASAP!"
"Yippee! I can't wait!" said Zoey, jumping back up. She couldn't contain her excitement anymore and let out a joyful squeal.
"Zoey! Is everything okay?"
Zoey turned to see her aunt Lulu running in from the laundry room with a basket of freshly dried clothes. Her normally relaxed face wore a look of worried surprise.
"What's wrong?" Aunt Lulu gasped. "I heard you scream from the laundry room!"
"Nothing! Sorry!" Zoey said with a smile. "Everything's amazingly, awesomely fine! Gotta go, Priti. Call me as soon as you talk to Kate," she told Priti, hanging up. "Guess what, Aunt Lulu! My school's getting rid of uniforms!"
Her aunt looked relieved. "Phew! Well, it's about time. It's just middle school, not the army!"
"I know, right?" Zoey said. She held out her arms to grab the laundry basket. "Here, can I help you with that . . . Uh-oh, what happened?" she said, looking down.
There was something about the laundry that didn't quite look right. . . . The clothes were the same exact shade of Pepto-Bismol pink.
Aunt Lulu sighed and reached into the pocket of a newly pink shirt and pulled out a piece of red velvet the size of a handkerchief. "Um, if you could remind me not to put red fabric samples in my white shirt pockets again, I'd really appreciate it," she said.
"Oh, Aunt Lulu!" Zoey winced . . . and swallowed a laugh at the same time. "Well, look on the bright side," she said. "You look great in bright pink!"