Cut from the Same Cloth
Hello, readers! I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a while now, and I’ve gotten sew used to telling you guys everything! But occasionally something happens that’s too personal for me to post about. And then I feel funny not telling you, because your comments are always helpful and positive and remind me that one of the biggest perks of being a tween fashion designer is having fans who care!
What I’m trying to say is: I got some news that I want to keep a secret for now. It doesn’t even have anything to do with fashion—it just relates to me. (That’s a “punny” clue, BTW!) However, I’m planning to tell my three very best friends today, and I thought, why not make it an occasion? So we’re meeting for tea and scones, and I plan to dress the part, in a full-skirted floral dress with a vintage fedora I got at the thrift store (since I don’t have a proper hat for tea)! Wish me luck!
Zoey Webber stood outside her favorite café, Tea Time, staring through the glass door. Her older brother, Marcus, had dropped her off, promising to be back in a little more than an hour. She knew she had to go in, but once she did, she’d have to tell her secret, and she didn’t know how her friends were going to react. She still didn’t even know how she felt about the news!
Taking a deep breath, she pulled open the door and strode to the back, where her best friends, Kate Mackey, Libby Flynn, and Priti Holbrooke, were already seated at a table. Kate was in her customary postsoccer practice warm-ups, Libby looked effortlessly chic in skinny jeans and a ballet-neck top, and Priti—
Zoey stopped in her tracks. “Priti!” she shrieked. “Look at you!”
Priti stood up and did a twirl, giving all of them a chance to take in her purple, gold, and turquoise outfit, and sequined headband. It was very typical of the way Priti used to dress, before she’d gone into an all-black clothing phase after her parents’ divorce.
“Do you like it?” Priti asked, her cheeks flushed from twirling.
“No, I love it,” Zoey answered, giving her a hug. For some reason, seeing that her sunny and sparkly friend was back to wearing sunny and sparkly clothes made Zoey feel like all was right in the world again. “Priti, I love you no matter what, but I’ve missed your rainbow colors.”
“Me too,” Kate said, “and you guys know I hardly even notice clothes!”
“You always look nice, Priti,” Libby said diplomatically. “But you look more like you now.”
Priti laughed and sat down, pulling out the chair next to her for Zoey. “Thanks, guys,” Priti said. “I don’t know what happened. I just woke up this morning, and I thought, Okay, enough with the black clothes already! So I opened up one of the boxes under my bed with all of my brighter stuff, and it was like seeing old friends. Plus, I’ve tripled my wardrobe!”
Just then a waiter came by to take their orders. Soon, there were scones and personal teapots for each of the girls.
“To Priti!” Kate said, raising her teacup.
They all clinked cups. Zoey took a sip of her oolong tea. She was spreading clotted cream on a scone when she realized all three of her friends were staring at her.
“What is it? My hat?” she asked, assuming that’s what they were looking at.
“It is cute,” said Libby. “But, um, didn’t you have something huge to tell us?”
Zoey blinked. She couldn’t believe it. She’d forgotten the whole reason they’d come for tea because of Priti’s bright colors and sequins!
“Oops!” Zoey laughed. “?‘The power of distraction,’ as my dad would say.” She paused, and Kate, Priti, and Libby continued to watch her intently. Now that the moment had arrived, Zoey wasn’t sure she was ready to share the news.
“Is it about Ezra?” Priti asked breathlessly. The girls knew that Zoey and Libby’s friend Ezra had been texting and hanging out. Zoey wasn’t sure if she and Ezra were just friends or something more. “Did he kiss you?”
Flustered, Zoey stammered, “Um, n-no. Nothing like that. It’s not about my love life or lack of one. . . . It’s about someone else’s.”
“Someone else’s?” Kate asked. “Whose?”
“My dad’s,” Zoey said. Her friends’ eyes grew large, and Zoey continued, “I finally found out who he’s been secretly dating, and not letting me meet, and who wouldn’t come to Aunt Lulu’s baby shower. And you can’t tell anyone.”
“And . . .” Libby prodded her. “You’re torturing us!”
Zoey felt her ears get hot. It was still so strange to say it out loud! She leaned in to whisper, “It’s Ms. Austen.”
The jaws of her friends dropped open. Luckily, none of them had been chewing anything.
“What? You’re kidding,” Priti said. “Ms. Austen, our school principal?”
“Your dad is dating our principal,” repeated Libby. “Wow.”
Seeing the shock on her friends’ faces was incredibly helpful. Ever since she’d found out, Zoey had been in a state of semi-shock herself. After all, she had a somewhat special friendship with Esther Austen, who’d always been so supportive of Zoey’s blog and had made it possible for Zoey and her friend Sean Waschikowski to start the Fashion Fun Club, among other things. Realizing that Ms. Austen had been secretly dating Zoey’s father for a while now just made everything feel complicated.
Finally, Kate spoke up. “I guess it makes sense,” she said slowly. “I mean, your dad and Ms. Austen probably talked when you had to miss school for fashion-related stuff, and she’s so nice. . . .”
Yes, that was how Zoey’s dad had explained it. It just happened, he’d said.
“And she’s got great taste in clothes,” Libby added.
“Yes,” said Zoey. “And that’s another weird thing.”
Zoey went on to explain that lately, Ms. Austen had been showing up at the house in increasingly casual clothes. Like the past Sunday, when she’d come over early to join the Webbers for their regular Sunday pancake breakfast—the secret ingredients were bacon and blackberries—and had worn workout clothes with her hair in a messy bun and no makeup on.
“I mean I barely recognized her!” Zoey said.
“That must be so weird,” Kate said. “Like when you run into a teacher at the grocery store.”
“Hold on! Is our principal going to be your stepmom?” Priti asked.
Zoey shrugged. “I don’t know, but I think it’s getting serious.”
“It could be worse,” Kate mused. “I mean, at least you really like Ms. Austen. We all do. And you have the fashion stuff in common.”
“True,” Zoey replied, finishing her scone. “And you know, I am glad my dad’s happy again. He’s been alone for so many years since my mom passed away. But at the same time, I’m kind of annoyed to share him with her and vice versa. I know that sounds selfish.”
“It sounds normal,” Libby said. “You haven’t known for very long, right?”
Zoey shook her head. Her dad and Ms. Austen had told her and Marcus a few months ago, but Zoey didn’t want to tell anyone at first.
“It’s going to get much easier,” Priti said firmly. “And hey, you’re kind of lucky. I wish my parents would date people I liked as much as Ms. Austen!”
As always, talking to her friends made Zoey feel better, but she still needed to vent. “Sometimes I just want everything to stay the same, forever!”
Priti patted her arm. “Hey, Zo, change is good. If everything stayed the same, I wouldn’t be wearing sequins today!”
When Marcus came to get Zoey, she hugged her friends good-bye. She had to get home to work on a science fair project that was due in a few days.
“Hey, Zo! Did you guys have fun?” Marcus asked.
Zoey smiled. Even though her brother was a few years older, he paid a lot of attention to her and gave her rides. She knew some brothers wouldn’t bother to be so nice to a little sister.
“We did,” Zoey replied. “And I told them about Dad and Ms. Austen.”
“You did?” he asked. “Won’t it get around school?”
Zoey shook her head. “No way,” she said. “They won’t tell anyone. And I needed to be reminded that it’s not the worst thing ever.”
Marcus laughed. “Of course it isn’t, Zoey. It’s kind of perfect. And you know, principals are allowed to be happy, too.”
“Easy for you to say,” Zoey replied. “She’s not your principal.”
“True,” Marcus answered. “But she won’t be yours for that much longer. Anyway, I’m just glad Dad chose someone we get along with.”
He was right, of course, but Zoey also thought it was probably normal to struggle with the whole thing. She tried to distract herself by checking her phone for e-mails. She had just opened the mail app when they turned onto their street.
As they pulled into the driveway, Zoey saw a familiar name in her e-mail in-box: Rashida Clarke, from her favorite TV show, Fashion Showdown. As she read the message, all her worries faded away:
How are you? It’s been too long! I’m writing to tell you that due to a delayed start on our next season of Fashion Showdown, we’ve decided to do a last minute mini-season, just for teens! It’ll be called Fashion Showdown Junior, and we want you to be a contestant!
It starts ASAP, and the best part is that each episode will take place in a different fashion-forward city around the globe (we start in Paris, then Milan, Tokyo, and Shanghai!), culminating in a runway show in NYC! We’ll do all the filming in two trips of about six or seven days each. We hope you’ll join us! Have your dad get in touch, and we’ll fill him in on all the details.
Zoey dropped her phone into her lap. Fashion Showdown Junior? World travel?
“Uh, Zoey?” Marcus asked. “Are you coming inside?”
Zoey looked up and realized they were home and she was sitting in the parked car with her seat belt on. Marcus had already gotten out of the car and was looking at her like she was on another planet. And she was.
“Oh! We’re home! Sorry, Marcus,” she said. “I have huge news. Where’s Dad?”
Zoey and Marcus found their dad in the kitchen . . . with Ms. Austen. Zoey’s face briefly fell. She wanted to tell her dad and brother alone and hadn’t planned on Ms. Austen being there. It just felt . . . awkward.
Breathing deeply, she said, “Dad, Marcus, Ms. Austen—I have amazing news.”
When she told them about the e-mail, Ms. Austen’s face lit up immediately.
“Zoey! You’re going to be a contestant? I love that show, you know. I’ve watched it religiously ever since you were a guest judge.” Then Ms. Austen came over and hugged her, and Zoey couldn’t help feeling warmed by how enthusiastic she was.
Her dad, however, looked a bit shell-shocked. “Missing two weeks of school? Traveling all over the world? I can’t take that much time off of work. I don’t see how this could possibly—”
Ms. Austen put a hand on Mr. Webber’s shoulder, cutting him off. “Hang on. We’ll figure all that out, I promise. And I’m sure Zoey can do school assignments from the road or catch up when she returns. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Zoey felt immensely grateful to Ms. Austen. Her dad had let her take a few trips to New York with her aunt Lulu, but to get his permission to travel internationally would be nothing short of a miracle.
Her dad took a deep breath. Then he put his arm around Zoey’s shoulders. “I’m excited for you, Zoey—I am. I just needed a minute to panic. Let’s e-mail Rashida right now and set up a time to talk. And in the meantime, Essie and I are making fajitas, so someone please set the table.”
Marcus and Zoey went to get silverware and placemats. As they did, Marcus asked her, “Do you think you’ll get to meet a bunch of supermodels on the show? Put in a good word for your big bro?”
Zoey laughed. She was glad he seemed to be recovering after his breakup with Allie Lovallo.
“Will do,” she said. “But aren’t supermodels sometimes six feet tall? I’ll have to stand on a ladder to do fittings! And I don’t even know if I can go yet.”
But she couldn’t help feeling hopeful. Her dad’s answer wasn’t a firm no, so there was the possibility it could be a real yes. And it was thanks to Ms. Austen.