Taming of the Shoe
MY MOTHER IS TRYING TO ruin my life. Not only did we have to move to New York City for her business, but also she aired the commercial for her latest cleaning product, the Crud Crusher™, the night before I start at Manhattan World Themes Middle School. To top it off, it’s halfway through the school year.
“Couldn’t you have waited till I’ve been there a month or two before running that ad?” I asked.
“We’re gearing up for the global launch, Araminta,” Mom said. “Of course we couldn’t wait.”
“What’s the big deal?” Dad asked. “It’s just a commercial.”
My parents are so clueless. They have no idea what it’s like to be starting at a new school in the middle of the year, while bearing the surname Robicheaux, as in “House of Robicheaux, purveyor of superior cleaning products to royalty—and to you!”
If I could have legally changed my last name before I walked in the doors of my new school this morning, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the law says I can’t till I’m eighteen. Trust me, I checked last night after Mom’s commercial aired.
It’s one of the many reasons I’m hesitating outside the doors of my first class, social studies, wondering how long it will be before I’m outed as the daughter of Robert and Ella of Robicheaux. You probably know Mom by the name my two aunties came up with to torment her when they were all younger—that would be Cinderella.
Taking a deep breath, I walk into the room and approach the teacher, who my schedule tells me is named Mr. Falcone.
“Hi, I’m Araminta”—I whisper my last name—“Robicheaux.”
“Aromatic Robot Shoe?” he says, looking very confused. I wonder if he’s hard of hearing.
The kids who are already in the classroom start to laugh. I, however, do not.
“It’s Robicheaux.” I spell it for him, sotto voce, and I see a flash of recognition appear on his face.
“Ah yes, Araminta Robicheaux,” he says. “You just moved here, correct?”
I nod. “Yes. Also, I prefer to go by Minty.”
“I’ll make a note,” Mr. Falcone says.
“Robicheaux?” a guy sitting near the front of class says. “Are you related to the hot lady in the commercial? ‘But wait, there’s more! For just an extra nineteen ninety-nine plus shipping and handling, you can get the Soot Slaughterer. But that’s not all! We’ll throw in the Dust Decimator for no extra charge!’?”
It’s the first class in the first hour of my first day at this new school and I’m already known as my mother’s daughter, thus slaughtering and decimating whatever chance I had of developing my own identity. Still, I can’t help thinking this kid must watch waaaaay too much TV if he’s got Mom’s infomercial pitch memorized. Also, is he referring to my mom as “the hot lady”? Eeeewwwwwwww!
“Yes. She’s my mother,” I’m forced to admit. Why wasn’t I born a better liar?
“I just saw an ad for the Crud Crusher last night!” a girl
says. “?‘Crush the crud that makes your castle a dud, with the Crud Crusher, from House of Robicheaux.’?”
That makes two commercials, and I haven’t even sat down yet.
“I saw your parents on Barracuda Tank!” a girl in the back says.
“I did too,” Mr. Falcone says.
From the chorus of? “me too” it sounds like most of the class did. Who knew that so many middle school students watched that show?
It was weird enough growing up seeing Mom doing infomercials. When I was little, I thought that everyone saw their parents when they turned on the TV. But things got really crazy after Mom and Dad went on Barracuda Tank last season. They emphasized the rags-to-riches (well, for Mom at least) and love-at-first-sight parts of their story. They played so well with viewers that their pitch segment got the highest ratings in Barracuda Tank history. The Barracudas totally ate up the fact that Mom took everything she learned when her stepmother and stepsisters turned her into an unpaid house servant and used her painfully acquired knowledge to create a successful line of cleaning products. The Barracudas love those pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot
straps stories. It didn’t hurt that Mom’s married to Dad, who just so happens to be a prince through accident of birth. As Barracuda Raymond Jack noted, “Royal titles are excellent marketing tools.” All the Barracudas fought to give them the funding they needed to expand, but they ended up going with Tori Fournier, aka the queen of BSC, the Big Shopping Channel.
The products did so well on the Big Shopping Channel that Tori told my parents they should move the company headquarters from Robicheaux, the tiny kingdom ruled by my grandfather, to New York City to “facilitate the planned global expansion.” At least that’s the excuse my parents gave me for why I’m stuck starting a new school in the middle of the year.
“Take a seat, Miss Robicheaux, and share a book with the person next to you,” Mr. Falcone says. “There’s an empty desk in the back. I’ll get a book for you tomorrow.”
The back sounds perfect. I just want to blend in and feel normal, which isn’t the easiest thing to do when the story of how your parents met is the subject of not just one but two romantic tales, and they’ve been on one of the highest-rated shows on television.
“You can share my book,” the guy next to me says, pushing his desk closer to mine. “I’m Dakota.” He’s
wearing a wool beanie on his dark curls, and a plaid flannel shirt with jeans. He’s cute in an I-like-to-go-hiking-in-the-forest way.
“Thanks,” I say.
Mr. Falcone starts talking about the causes of the War of 1812. I know a lot of this already because my grandfather Phillip, the king of Robicheaux, is obsessed with war strategy. He claims that learning about what causes wars, and how they were fought, is one of the keys to maintaining a peaceful kingdom. Since Robicheaux hasn’t been involved in a war for more than three hundred years, he might have a point.
Dakota passes me a note.
I moved here this year too. So shout if you need anything.
I scribble on the paper and pass it back. As long as I don’t do it in class :p
His lips twitch when he reads it. Probably a good idea , he writes back.
When the bell rings for the end of class, Dakota asks me where I’m heading next. I look at my schedule.
“Math, with Mr. Kostek.”
“I’ll walk you there,” he offers. “So you don’t get lost.”
“Thanks,” I say. “So . . . how did you find it when you moved here?”
“Hard,” he says. “I was used to living in the woods, in British Columbia. But then my dad got remarried.”
“And your stepmother is from Manhattan?” I ask.
“No. Because of . . . well, some awkward family history, my aunt Gretel insisted that we—me and my sister—move to New York to live with her. And Dad didn’t put up too much of a fight, so . . . here we are.”
Something about this sounds familiar. Living in the woods . . . a stepmother . . . the name Gretel . . .
“Wait . . . is your dad . . . ?”
Dakota sighs, and then nods slowly. “Yeah . . . Dad’s that Hansel and my aunt is that Gretel.” He rubs the back of his neck. “As soon as Dad said he was getting remarried, Aunt Gretel flew out on the next flight to meet our stepmother-to-be. She brought us back to New York with her for our own protection.”
I feel bad about having complained about my life. My parents might embarrass the heck out of me, but I can’t imagine them giving me up without a fight. Maybe their dad is like the maternal grandfather I never met. He remarried after my grandma died, and let Horrible Hortensia the evil stepmonster treat Mom like a servant.
“Wow. That’s rough,” I say.
“It’s been harder for my twin sister than it has been for me,” he says. “She still has problems sleeping through the night because of the street noise.”
“Yeah, the sirens really got to me the first night we were here,” I confess. “But I just put in earbuds and listened to music.”
A girl who looks vaguely familiar stops and says hi to Dakota.
“Hey, Aria,” he says, stopping in the middle of the hallway. “This is Araminta.”
“Please—Minty is less of a mouthful,” I say.
“Minty it is,” Dakota says. “It’s her first day,” he tells his friend.
That’s when I realize who she is.
“Wait—you were on Teen Couture!” I exclaim. “You’re Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, right? You had the dog who pooped on the runway in the first episode! It was hilarious!”
Aria’s cheeks turn rosy pink, even as she smiles. “For me, it’s a lot more hilarious in retrospect,” she says. “I wanted to sink through the runway at the time.”
“Fair enough,” I say. “Though I’d love to be on a show like Teen Couture. I love designing things. Specifically shoes.”
“That’s awesome!” Aria says. “You should come to Couture Club. Ms. Amara is great!”
“Just keep your needles away from Aria,” Dakota warns. “She’s got an unfortunate history.”
“Very funny,” Aria says. “Seriously, Minty, you should come to the meeting today after school.”
“Yeah, it’s fun,” Dakota adds.
I’m surprised to learn that Dakota goes to Couture Club too. But then I wonder why I should be. Being able to design and make things you can wear is a practical skill that’s probably even more useful in the woods of Canada.
You’d think I’d jump at the chance to go to a club that’s about designing and making fashion—especially since the cutest guy I’ve seen at MWTMS so far goes to it too. There’s a part of me that wants to go more than anything. But what Aria and Dakota don’t know is that my step-aunties are in the shoe business. As much as I love clothes—especially shoes—it’s yet another area where I feel it would be impossible to be my own person.
“I still have to finish unpacking,” I say, even though that’s not entirely true. Because of the suddenness of the move, I only got to bring one big suitcase of clothes from home. The rest of our stuff is coming at a later date.
“Oh well. Maybe next week,” Aria says.
“I’ll think about it,” I say, careful not to make any promises.
• • •
By fourth period I’ve had people quoting Mom’s infomercial at me in every single period at least once. I’m so sick of it. I get to English class early and find a seat in the back. I start sketching a cartoon about my first day at school to show Mom and Dad how bad it’s been. You know, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and all that.
I look down at the cartoon I’m drawing, which so far has four frames of people singing me Mom’s infomercials, with me getting more angry and upset in each frame until my head explodes all over the cafeteria. I’m using some artistic license, because lunch is next period.
I wonder how far away I’d have to move before I got to a place where no one had ever heard of my parents and House of Robicheaux™ cleaning products. Given that HOR is starting a global expansion, I’m starting to suspect it might be Mars.
• • •
I follow a few of the kids from my English class down to the cafeteria. After I get my food, I stand holding my tray, looking around at all the people who have their groups
and places to sit. It makes me feel lonelier than ever. If I weren’t my mother’s daughter, I would take my lunch tray into the bathroom and eat in a stall, so as to not feel like such a loser. But when you’ve been brought up by the Queen of Clean, you know more than any sane person would ever want to about the hidden world of germy filth, especially in bathrooms. So I end up just standing there, feeling like the Girl Who Doesn’t Belong.
That’s until Aria taps me on the shoulder. “Are you looking for someplace to sit? Come join us!”
“I will. Thanks!” I say. I follow her to a table where two other girls are sitting.
“Sophie and Nina, meet Minty,” Aria says. “It’s her first day.”
“Hi!” Nina says. “I was new here not so long ago. It gets easier.”
There’s something about her that looks really familiar. It takes me a second before I put two and two together.
“Are you by any chance Dakota’s twin sister?” I ask.
“It depends. Did he do something dorky and embarrassing?” she asks.
“No, not at all,” I assure her. “He was nice.”
Cute, too, I think but don’t say.
“In that case, yes, we’re related,” Nina says. “But I
reserve the right to revoke that if he’s dorky.”
“Minty—that’s an interesting name,” Sophie says. “Are you named after the herb?”
“It’s short for Araminta,” I tell her.
“That’s so pretty,” Nina says.
“I guess,” I say. “But I’ve always wished that my parents named me something less pretentious.”
A sudden shriek from a big table in the middle of the cafeteria makes me jump. A blond girl gets up and shouts, “Hunter! You got chocolate milk on my Seiyariyashi Tomaki skirt!”
The guy she’s yelling at is trying to apologize, but she’s not having any of it.
“Do you know how much this skirt cost?” the girl shouts. “Five hundred dollars!”
“She paid five hundred dollars for a single skirt?” I gasp. “Wow. Things really are different in New York.”
“Tell me about it,” Nina says. “Why do you think I’m in Couture Club? Making my own clothes means I can actually afford to be fashionable.”
“You can’t judge everyone by Eva Murgatroyd’s spending habits,” Sophie explains. “Her parents are insanely rich. She’s one of the ‘popular people.’?” Sophie uses air quotes, so I’m not sure if she means that or if she’s being sarcastic.
“Yeah, getting an invitation to sit at her table at lunch is like being invited to a royal wedding,” Nina says. Then she blushes. “But Aria, you’ve probably been to one.”
“Believe it or not, I haven’t,” she says. “Mom and Dad avoid them—too many ceremonial swords. You know what freaks they are about sharp objects.”
“I forgot,” Nina says. “But I wish someone had been. I need a brain to pick about royal wedding fashion, because I want to design a fascinator for Aunt Gretel. She’s obsessed with anything to do with royals. She practically lives on Charminglifestyles dot com. She reads every advice column Rosie Charming’s mom writes about how to find a handsome prince.”
If I weren’t trying so hard to be my own person, I’d have told her I could ask my parents, since they had a very royal wedding. Their meet-cute was facilitated by help from either a fairy godmother or a magic bird, depending on which tale you read. Every time I’ve asked Mom which version of “How I Met Your Father” is true, she just laughs and says, “There’s a little truth in both—it just goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything you read without considering the source.”
I guess finding a handsome prince would be nice,
although, to be honest, the prince part doesn’t matter to me as much as it does to my paternal grandparents. The qualifications of my ideal boy are as follows:
1. Handsome (obviously)
2. Smart (who wants to hang out with a guy who can’t keep up?)
3. Funny (it’s scientifically proven that laughter is good for you—it releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity)
4. Not a frog or any nonhuman species. I don’t believe the stuff I read in the tales that a frog can turn into a prince, even if it’s kissed or thrown against the wall. A tadpole might turn into a frog, but a frog is still slimy and gross. Did you know a frog uses its eyeballs to swallow? #ewwwww #notkissable #science
By the end of my first day at Manhattan World Themes Middle School, I’ve added a new qualification. My ideal guy will never, ever, ever, ever quote one of my mother’s infomercials to me when he learns my last name.