by Emily Cogan

***

Jane Blackstripes settled down into her purple beanbag chair and picked up her video game controller. Today had been a totally awesome day, because Zachary Whitepaw had actually put his arm around her. Like, in front of the entire school. Like, to the point where for the rest of the day people kept coming up to her and asking her if she and Zachary were going out. No one had ever thought she was going out with anyone before, and she had to admit it made her feel pretty darn good.

Of course, the reason he had his arm around her wasn’t quite so awesome. Sadie Greeneyes was being a jerk to her again, making fun of her for not living in Subdivision Glen anymore. Sometimes Jane didn’t like being friends with Sadie. But Sadie was cool, and Jane wanted to be cool too. Especially with a sister like Iris dragging her reputation down.

But anyway, that wasn’t the point. The point was that Zachary had come to her rescue, like a knight in one of Iris’s fairy tale books she was always obsessing over. He had stood up to Sadie, telling her to knock it off and everything. And then he had escorted her over to where Helen was waiting for her on the kickball field, with his arm around her the whole way.

She shivered just thinking about how warm his arm felt around her shoulder, and his adorably crooked smile. She was definitely going to have something good to write about in her diary tonight for once, and she couldn’t wait. And even after they made it to Helen, he still kept his arm around her another minute, until he noticed Helen trying not to laugh while she stared at them both. And then he blushed and dropped his arm like he’d touched the jungle gym on a hot summer day, and muttered something about having to go before running off to his friend Andy.

Even Helen laughing about how they were such dorks couldn’t bring her down.

She and Sadie had patched things up during lunch. Mainly because Sadie wanted one of her Grasshopper cookies, and Jane was too chicken to tell her no. But afterwards, Sadie said she’d walk home with Jane, which was a huge deal. Sadie Greeneyes did not walk home with just anyone. She lived in the ritzy Historic District of Pantheraville, in a literal mansion, with her backyard butting right up against Gated Spring Reservoir. Jane had even been lucky enough to get invited to a few of Sadie’s famous beach parties.

That was one good thing about moving though. It meant that she and Sadie walked the same way home now. But Jane’s house definitely wasn’t part of the Historic District, and Sadie knew that. She knew that Jane’s family didn’t have as much money now, since Daddy had died. And Sadie wasn’t friends with anyone unless they lived in either the Historic District, or in Subdivision Glen. As if Jane didn’t have enough to worry about now, without having to worry about the status of her friendship with Sadie Greeneyes.

But the walk home had been okay, at least she thought so. Sadie didn’t say anything else mean about her, so there was that at least. She said a whole lot of mean things about other people though, including Iris. Today marked another battle in the ongoing Iris and Sadie War, ugh. But she really didn’t want to think about that right now.

So she pressed the start button on the controller, gearing herself up to kick Bowser’s butt. She had just stomped on her first Koopa Troopa when Iris came bursting in her room without knocking, so rude. Jane was just getting ready to tell her off when…

***

…Iris yelled, “Thanks a lot, Jane!”

Her backstabbing sister hadn’t done a single thing to stick up for her today with Sadie Greeneyes. And Iris had been stewing about it pretty much all afternoon. Because Jane was her sister, and Sadie was awful.

“Why are you even friends with her?” Iris asked, her paws on her hips as she ranted about everything that had happened.

But Jane? Totally didn’t care as usual. She just sat there playing one of her video games, like nothing was even going on. She even called Iris weird.

Which okay, maybe Iris was weird, but that didn’t mean Jane had to come out and say it like that. And Iris was sick of it. She was sick of having to live with her perfect sister, who acted like she never ever did anything wrong in life. I mean, who else arranged her books in ABC order? But Jane did, and Iris couldn’t help glaring at her bookshelves.

Jane was so beige. And Iris didn’t know why. How could she possibly be happy being just like everybody else? Didn’t she have any kind of personality at all? Because as far as Iris could tell, she didn’t.

Sometimes when she was little she used to think maybe her family wasn’t really her family. Like, maybe she was a lost princess, who came from this other land where all of the tigers had rainbow stripes like her. She used to wish and pray that one day, her real family would show up and wisk her away from Subdivision Glen, with its rows of overblown stone and beige houses that somehow looked exactly the same. She’d live in a purple castle, with aqua trim. And every seventh brick would be sparkly. And Sid would be a real unicorn, ruling and reigning with her over a landscape dotted with candy trees.

Instead, she was stuck with the most boring sister in the world, in the most boring town in the world, with a bunch of… a bunch of Beige People! It was more than Iris could stand, especially after everything else that had happened today. So she started reaching for Jane’s books, and everything was going just fine until…

***

…Jane heard thumps coming from behind her. She paused her game and turned around to find Iris, making a mess of all of her books. Jane prided herself on those bookshelves. It had taken her at least an hour to get them just right, with all of the books in alphabetical order. At first she hadn’t been able to make up her mind between arranging them by author or by title. She had finally decided on title, not that it mattered now. The books were scattered all over the shelves, backwards and upside down and totally in the wrong places everywhere you looked. It would take her ages to set them right again.

“You brat!” she yelled.

Maybe if Iris had looked even a little sorry for what she’d done, Jane wouldn’t have chased her out of her room. And maybe if Iris hadn’t screeched like she was getting electrocuted, Mom wouldn’t have appeared and lectured them about not screaming and running in the house, because she had a very long day at work, and she was trying to get a little bit of rest before she had to make dinner, and could they both, please, just this once, try to get along?

But at that moment Jane didn’t want to get along with Iris. Because she was wrong. Jane wasn’t a Beige Person. She was just… normal, which Iris couldn’t understand because she was so weird about everything. And Jane didn’t have a whole lot of patience for nonsense. Why couldn’t Iris be more like her?

But at that moment Iris would have rather died than be anything at all like Jane. Because she was wrong. Iris wasn’t a brat. She just… went her own way in life, and there was nothing wrong with that. It was better than being a plain old scoop of vanilla ice cream with no sprinkles or chocolate syrup or nuts or anything, like Jane was.

What’s wrong with her? both Iris and Jane thought as they glared at one another.

And neither one of them could figure out the answer.

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