Geek Girl

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things... that bluebirds can’t see the colour blue, and peanuts are an ingredient of dynamite.

But she doesn’t know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when she’s offered the chance to reinvent herself, Harriet grabs it.

Cover photographs © Quavondo/Getty Images (face); John Rensten/Getty Images (glasses & eyes); PhotoAlto/Alix Minde/Getty Images (mouth); Shutterstock.com (hair) Cover typography © Mary Kate Mcdevitt Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2013.

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2. 2

Now that you know who I am, you’re going to want to know where I am and what I’m doing, right? Character, action and location: that’s what makes a story. I read it in a book called What Makes a Story, written by a man who hasn’t got any stories at the moment, but knows exactly how he’ll tell them when he eventually does.

So.

It’s currently December, I’m in bed – tucked under about fourteen covers – and I’m not doing anything at all apart from getting warmer by the second. In fact, I don’t want to alarm you or anything, but I think I might be really sick. My hands are clammy, my stomach’s churning and I’m significantly paler than I was ten minutes ago. Plus, there’s what can only be described as a sort of... rash on my face. Little red spots scattered at totally random and not at all symmetrical points on my cheeks and forehead. With a big one on my chin. And one just next to my left ear.

I take another look in the little hand-held mirror on my bedside table, and then sigh as loudly as I can. There’s no doubt about it: I’m clearly very ill. It would be wrong to risk spreading this dangerous infection to other, possibly less hardy, immune systems. I shall just have to battle through this illness alone.

All day. Without going anywhere at all.

Sniffling, I shuffle under my duvets a little further and look at my clock on the opposite wall (it’s very clever: all the numbers are painted at the bottom as if they’ve just fallen down, although this does mean that when I’m in a hurry, I have to sort of guess what the time is). Then I close my eyes and mentally count:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2...

At which point, absolutely on cue as always, the door opens and the room explodes: hair and handbag and coat and arms everywhere. Like a sort of girl bomb. And there, as if by very punctual magic, is Nat.

Nat – for the record – is my Best Friend, and we are so utterly in tune that it’s like we have one brain, divided into two pieces at birth. Or (more likely) two brains, entwined shortly afterwards. Although we didn’t meet until we were five years old, so obviously I’m speaking metaphorically or we’d both be dead.

What I’m trying to say is: we’re close. We’re harmonised. We’re one and the same. We’re like a perfect stream of consciousness, with never a cross word between us. We work with perfect, unquestioning synergy. Like two dolphins that jump at exactly the same time and pass the ball to each other at Sea World.

***

Anyway. Nat takes one step into the room, looks at me, and then stops and puts her hands on her hips.

“Good morning,” I croak from under the covers, and then I start coughing violently. Human coughs release air at roughly 60mph, and without being vain, I’d like to think that mine reaches 65mph or 70mph minimum.

“Don’t even think about it,” Nat snaps.

I stop coughing and look at her with my roundest, most confused eyes. “Hmmm?” I say innocently. And then I start coughing again.

“I mean it. Don’t even think about thinking about it.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about. The fever must be making my brain swell.

“Nat,” I say feebly, closing my eyes and pressing my hand against my head. I’m a shell of the person I used to be. A husk. “I have bad news.” I open one eye and take a peek round the room. Nat still has her hands on her hips.

“Let me guess,” she says in a dry voice. “You’re sick.”

I give a weak but courageous smile: the sort Jane gives Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice when she’s bedridden with a really bad cold, but is being very brave about it. “You know me so well,” I say affectionately. “It’s like we have one mind, Nat.”

“And you’re out of it if you think I’m not about to drag you out of bed by your feet.” Nat takes a few steps towards me. “Also, I want my lipstick back,” she adds.

I clear my throat. “Lipstick?”
“The one you’ve dotted all over your face.”
I open my mouth and then shut it again. “It’s not lipstick,” I say in a small voice. “It’s a dangerous infection.”

“Then your dangerous infection is glittery, Harriet, and just so happens to match my new shoes perfectly.”

I shift a little bit further down the bed so that only my eyes are visible. “Infections are very advanced these days,” I say with as much dignity as I can muster. “They are sometimes extremely light-reflective.”


“Featuring small flecks of gold?”


I raise my chin defiantly. “Sometimes.”


Nat’s nose twitches and she rolls her eyes. “Right.

And your face is producing white talcum powder, is it?”

I sniff quickly. Oh, sugar cookies. “It’s important to keep sick people dry,” I say as airily as I can. “Dampness can allow bacteria to develop.”

Nat sighs again. “Get out of bed, Harriet.” “But—”
“Get out of bed.”
“Nat, I...”

“Out. Now.”

I look down at the duvets in a panic. “But I’m not ready! I’m in my pyjamas!” I’m going to give it one last desperate shot. “Nat,” I say, changing tack and using my most serious, profound voice. “You don’t understand. How will you feel if you’re wrong? How will you live with yourself? I might be dying.”

“Actually, you’re right,” Nat agrees, taking another two steps towards me. “You are. I’m literally seconds away from killing you, Harriet Manners. And if that happens, I’ll live with myself just fine. Now get out of bed, you little faker.”

And, before I can protect myself, Nat lunges suddenly towards me and tugs the covers away.

There’s a long silence.
“Oh, Harriet,” Nat eventually says in a sad and simultaneously triumphant voice.


Because I’m lying in bed, fully dressed, with my shoes on. And in one hand is a box of talcum powder; in the other is a bright red lipstick.

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