Populazzi - By Elise Allen

Chapter One

"Don't you see, Cara? This will be the year everything changes!"

I laughed out loud.

I hated to do it. Claudia is my best friend in the universe and has been since kindergarten. Still...

"What?" Claudia asked, but I was already halfway under my bed, dragging out the giant plastic bin in which I keep all my journals, from my first grade Hello Kitty diaries through the leather-bound notebooks I use today. Some would say under my bed isn't the smartest place to hide my most private thoughts and observations. Surely my parents could find them there. What if they wanted to sneak in and read them?

The truth is my parents would never read my journals. Not because they're such saints, but because after sixteen years (twelve, technically, for my stepdad), they're 100 percent confident there's nothing juicy in them. This is part of my problem.

"'Deer Diary,'" I read from Hello Kitty, "'today I go to first grade! It will not be like kindergarten. It will be grate for Claudia and me.'" I held up the page so Claudia could appreciate not only the spelling but also the adorable stick figure drawing of the two of us holding hands, massive grins on our giant bubble heads. Claudia nodded; adorableness noted.

I tossed that diary aside and grabbed a turquoise journal with cover art featuring a plume pen spouting a rainbow of sparkles. "'Dear Diary,'" I read, "'fourth grade was the same as always. It's all about fifth grade. This is when everything will change.'" I dropped the journal and plucked up a funky striped notebook in gradations of pink, red, and orange. "'Okay, diary,'" I read, "'tomorrow starts Junior High. Junior High! It's a whole new school! Seriously—this is the year everything changes.'" I looked at Claudia. "I could go on."

"Don't," Claudia said dramatically.

Claudia says everything dramatically. Her mom read Shakespeare to her insanely early, and she took the "All the world's a stage" thing to heart. Not that she's an attention hound. Unless she's playing her cello, the very idea of being in the spotlight sends her ducking for cover. She's not fake either; it's just that her real-life emotions are maybe ten times larger than other people's.

"I know what you've always said," Claudia continued, "but this year is earth-shatteringly different. You're going to an entirely new school, where nobody knows anything about you. Nor do they know about ... The Incident."

The Incident was pretty much the inciting event in our friendship. It happened on the first day of kindergarten. Ms. Jewel lined up our class for a trek to the bathrooms—"a potty party"—first thing in the morning, but I was way too nervous to do anything but count to ten and come back out again. That meant by halfway through circle time my bladder was so full I was dying, but I was too embarrassed to raise my hand and say anything. Instead I danced in my spot on the floor, madly jouncing my crisscross-applesauced legs and squinching my face super tight. Looking back, I can't believe that Ms. Jewel didn't realize what was happening ... or what would happen if she kept ignoring me.

Heather Clinger was the first to notice. She pointed and squealed from across the circle, "EWWWW! That girl peed herself!"

Immediately, the kids on either side of me leaped away screaming, while the rest of the room laughed or sneered. I didn't want to cry, but I couldn't help it. I just felt so small and embarrassed and ashamed...

Until a grinning little girl with super-pale skin and the same two looping black braids she's worn every day of her life cried out, "Look at me! I peed my pants, too!"

The girl was Claudia, and she was sitting right next to Heather, who screamed again. The whole room erupted into chaos. Finally, Ms. Jewel called in an assistant, who took Claudia and me out of the room, cleaned us up, and shoved us into mismatched castoffs from last year's lost and found.

"Were you embarrassed to raise your hand, too?" I asked her.

"No," she said, shaking her braids. "You just seemed sad to be the only one all wet with pee. So I did it with you!"

Just like that, I'd made a best friend for life.

Unfortunately, while our origin story formed an intense bond between Claudia and me, it permanently grossed out everyone else in the class ... all the same people who would follow us through elementary school, junior high, and PennsbrookHigh School. And while it's not like they actively