As soon as Mum dropped me off, I made a dive for the ladies room, where I trashed the sandwich she'd made me and reapplied my makeup. Mum really didn't understand. I couldn't possibly get up on stage in front of everyone looking like I was dressed for afternoon tea with my grandma. Izzie is restless, and eager to be treated like an adult. So she decides it's time to make some changes. But the new Izzie comes with new problems. First there is Josh Harper, an older, cute-but-wild boy. Then there is her mother, who is opposed to every part of the "new Izzie." How can Izzie learn about herself and what it means to be grown up -- without upsetting everyone along the way?
"Sounds horrible," said Nesta, pulling a face. "What?" I asked as Lucy and I came back into her bedroom with sleepover supplies (the usual: Diet Cokes, Salt & Vinegar Pringles, and Liquorice Allsorts). T. J., Nesta, and I were staying over at Lucy's, after she'd held a girls-only party earlier in the evening. We'd finished clearing up after the other girls had left and were ready for some late night nattering before getting into our sleeping bags.
"Yeah, what sounds horrible?" asked Lucy.
T. J. pointed to a book of spells that I'd lent Lucy earlier in the summer. "Becoming blood sisters," said T. J. in a spooky voice. "Says in Izzie's book that if you want to bond with your mates for life, the best way to do it is to each prick your finger with a needle, then press the tiny point of blood on your finger against the prick on your friends' fingers. It makes you sisters for life."
"Yee-uck," said Nesta. "Can't we burn our bras instead, like those women in the sixties?"
Lucy laughed. "No, we can't, because seeing as I have no chest to speak of, I haven't got a bra to burn."
"Yes, you have," said Nesta. "I've seen it."
Lucy shook her head. "I chucked it out. No point. It was after something Lal said. He asked, if I had no feet would I still wear shoes? I said no, course not. So then he said, so why do you wear a bra?"
"What a cheek. What does he know?" I said as I put down the Pringles. "That's really mean, even for a brother."
Lucy shrugged. "Nah, he's right. I only wore one because everyone else does. For show. Trouble was, nothing did show except an empty wrinkle of lacy fabric under my T-shirt. It's much more comfortable without one."
"Oh, let's do the blood sister thing," said T. J. "It'll be a laugh, and we'll be friends for ever and ever."
I shook my head. "Nah, sounds daft. It's the sort of thing that kids do, junior school stuff...."
"And this coming from Mystic Iz, Queen of Witchiness herself," said T. J. "What's up with you?"
I shrugged. "Nothing. It just sounds childish. I've had that spell book for years. I read it when I was in Year Seven."
T. J. looked disappointed. "I think it sounds cool. And there's a nice sentiment behind it -- makes a change from all those spells you usually do for getting boys and stuff."
"Yeah, let's try it," said Lucy.
"Well, you have to sterilize the needles, you know," said Nesta.
Lucy rolled her eyes. "You're such a prissy-knickers."
"No, actually she's right," said T. J. "Best be on the safe side."
"Yes, better had, Lucy," I said. "T. J.'s parents are both doctors so if anyone should know about what's safe and what's not, it's them."
"Oh, all right," said Lucy. "I will."
"And as long as it won't hurt...," said Nesta.
"It won't," said Lucy as she began to look for needles in her sewing box. She found a sachet of them and waved them in the air. "Won't be a mo. I'll just put on my nurse's uniform and go and sterilize these."
She was back a few minutes later and handed us a needle each.
"If we're going to do this, let's do it properly," I said. "We should sit in a circle, and, Lucy, can we light a candle?"
"Ah, so Mystic Iz isn't quite dead, then?" said Nesta, grinning.
Lucy found a candle, lit it, then turned off the electric light and we sat in a circle on the floor.
Lucy, T. J., and I did it straight away. A quick jab and we were ready.
Nesta screwed her face up and put the needle close to her thumb, like she was trying to puncture the skin really slowly. "I can't," she moaned. "I really can't. I hate needles, and it's going to hurt."
"Just do it quickly," said Lucy. "It just takes a second and only feels like...like a quick prick."
"I could answer that with something very rude," laughed Nesta. "But I won't. Are you sure these needles are sterilized properly, Luce? We might get some horrible disease. I don't think it's safe to share blood."
"Chicken," I said.
"Oh, come on you big sissy," said T. J., taking the needle from her. "I'll do it for you."
"No, no," she cried, rolling over on the floor on top of her hands. "You'll stab me or hit an artery or something."
"Trust me. I'm a doctor," said T. J. "Or at least my parents are."
"No," said Nesta, getting up again. "I'll do it myself." Once again, she softly prodded her thumb with the needle. "No....It's not working. No. Sorry. Can't do it."
"Well, we can't carry on if you don't," said Lucy. "It wouldn't be right. Me, T. J., and Izzie would be bonded for life and you'd be on the outside. It might be awful bad luck."
"Yeah, come on, cowardy custard," I said, massaging my thumb. "My blood's drying up."
"I'm sorry, I can't. I just can't." Nesta leaned back and grabbed the spell book off the bed. "Isn't there some other thing we can do to bond us for life? Something that doesn't involve pain?" She reached for the Pringles. "How about we all take a bite of one of these and pass it on. Bond over a Pringle. Same sort of thing -- caring sharing, bonding schmonding."
I had to laugh. Nesta never takes anything like doing spells seriously. "Go on, then. Pass us a Pringle," I said.
Nesta selected one from the tub, then we passed it around, each taking a tiny bite of it.
"Okay, by the power vested in me by this salt and vinegar crisp," I said in my best solemn voice, "I hereby decree that these four girls gathered here tonight shall be friends for ever and ever, bound together by the magical force of the Almighty Pringle."
Lucy and Nesta started laughing. "All hail to the Pringle," said Lucy.
"All hail," T. J. and I echoed.
Then I had an idea. "Okay, then how about this? If we really want to have an experience that will bond us, how about doing something that will look good as well?"
"What do you mean?" asked T. J. "Like dressing up to do spells?"
"No. How about we get our belly buttons pierced?"
There was a stunned silence. I don't think they expected anything like that, but I'd been thinking about having it done for a while. Part of a whole new image. We were going into Year Ten at school a week on Monday and somehow I wanted to leave the old Izzie behind with the old year. I felt like I'd grown out of so many of the things I'd been into, including my clothes -- literally with some of them. I seemed to have shot up a few more inches over the last year and some of my jeans were stopping short of my ankles. Très uncool. Anyway, I'd told Mum that I was having a midteen crisis and needed some new clothes. She'd laughed and said there was no such thing as a midteen crisis, as when you're a teen, it's crisis all the way through -- mainly for her. Poo. I don't think she knows how lucky she is. If she knew what some of the girls at our school get up to behind their parents' backs, she'd have a fit. Relatively, I give her an easy time, although she doesn't think so.
"Hmm," said Nesta finally. "Having a stud put in will probably hurt as well, won't it? But...I have always wanted one." She stroked her impossibly flat tummy. "Yeah, a belly button stud would look neat."
"It won't hurt," I said. "Candice Carter had hers done. She was telling me earlier this evening at the party. She said they put stuff on your tummy that kind of freezes it so you don't feel anything."
"Well, I'm in," said Lucy. "I need all the help I can get, to get boys to notice me. A belly button stud would look really cool and might detract from the fact that I have no basoomas."
"Basoomas?" asked T. J. "What are they?"
Lucy pointed at her chest. "Boobs, you idiot. Lal calls them basoomas or jaloobis."
T. J. pulled a face. "He needs help, your brother does."
"Tell me about it," sighed Lucy.
"We could all have a different color stone on our stud," I said. "Have you got any books on astrology, Lucy?"
"Course," she said, getting up and going to her shelf. "That one you gave me last Christmas."
When she handed me the book, I had a quick flick through and found a section on which stones and colors are right for different signs. "Okay, here it is, our birthstones. It says garnet for those born in January, so that's me."
"What color is a garnet?" asked Lucy.
"Sort of deep wine red," I answered.
Lucy nodded approvingly. "That would look good on you with your dark hair."
"Nesta, you're Leo," I continued, "so it says...let me see...you were born August eighteen, so yours would be a ruby. Wow, that would look fab against your dark skin. Really exotic."
"Nah," said Nesta shaking her head. "I'd look like some belly dancer. No. I want a diamond if I'm going to have anything. Much classier."
"Fine, whatever," I said. "Lucy. Gemini, born May twenty-four....It says emerald for you."
"An emerald might look better on you, Izzie," said Nesta, "to go with your green eyes."
"Yeah. I'd rather have a sapphire," said Lucy. "You know, blue, to match my eyes."
"Yeah, and blue suits blonds," said Nesta.
"Well, we don't have to stick to this," I said. "It's just if we wanted our birthstones."
"What's mine?" asked T. J.
I flicked through the book to Sagittarius. "Okay, November to December. It says November, topaz, December, turquoise. You were born November twenty-four, so topaz. It'd be great."
"Topaz? That's yellow, isn't it?" asked T. J. "I don't think that's a good color for a belly button stud at all. You know how some of them go a bit ucky -- a yellow stone might look like a lump of solid puss or something."
"Er, T. J., g-ross," laughed Nesta. "But I think you're right. I think a turquoise would look better on a brunette like you."
I closed the book, put the back of my hand on my forehead and sighed my best tragic sigh. "I despair. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with you ignoramuses. I just thought we could be the Birthstone Belly Button Gang, that's all."
"You're mad, Izzie," laughed Lucy. "But it would be nice if we all got different colors."
T. J. was looking dubious. "I don't know. You lot have all got really flat tummies, but mine's rounded. I don't think they look as good if your stomach isn't like a washboard. Besides, won't it cost a fortune? I don't think I'll have enough, with the pocket money I get."
"Good point," said Lucy. "Cost -- what do you think?"
"I'll find out," I said. "I doubt it will be that much. I mean, it's not like we're buying real diamonds and gold or anything."
T. J. still looked anxious. "I don't think my mum and dad will like it."
"They don't need to see it," said Nesta. "We're going back to school in just over a week. Soon we'll be in winter clothes. No one will see it."
"So what's the point of having one done?" asked T. J.
"When we're out together, stupoid," said Nesta. "When we wear crop tops."
"I guess," said T. J.
"So we all in?" I asked.
The others nodded, T. J. somewhat reluctantly.
"Right then," I said. "Tomorrow morning. I've seen a place in Kentish Town near where the band plays. We'll go there."
Cathy Hopkins lives in North London with her handsome husband and three deranged cats. She has had nineteen books published. The fifth book in the Mates, Dates series, Mates, Dates, and Sole Survivors, was recently released in the U.K. Piccadilly Press has launched a new series from Hopkins, based on the classic sleepover game of Truth or Consequences.