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I could feel everyone looking at me, but I was used to it. One thing my dad taught me early and often was to act like nothing moved me. When you're special, like we were, people were bound to notice.
It was the last month before the end of ninth grade. The substitute teacher was giving out ballots for spring dance court, something I'd normally have thought was lame.
"Hey, Kyle, your name's on this." My friend Trey Parker flicked my arm.
"No duh." When I turned Trey's way, the girl next to himâAnna, or maybe Hannahâlooked down. Huh. She'd been staring at me.
I examined the ballot. Not only was my name, Kyle Kingsbury, there for ninth-grade prince, but I was the sure winner. No one could compete with my looks and my dad's cash.
The sub was a new one who might still have been under the mistaken impression that because Tuttle was the type of school that had a salad bar in the cafeteria and offered courses in Mandarin Chineseâi.e., a school where the serious money people in New York sent their kidsâwe weren't going to bust on him like public school dregs. Big mistake. It wasn't like anything the sub said was going to be on an exam, so we were trying to figure out how to make reading the ballot and scratching in our choices take the entire fifty-minute period. At least most of us were. The rest were texting each other. I watched the ones who were filling out their ballots glancing over at me. I smiled. Someone else might have looked down, trying to act all shy and modest, like they were ashamed of having their name thereâbut it doesn't make sense to deny the obvious.
"My name's there too." Trey flicked my arm again.
"Hey, watch it!" I rubbed my arm.
"Watch it yourself. You've got this stupid grin on your face like you already won, and now you're giving the paparazzi a chance to snap your picture."
"And that's wrong?" I grinned wider, to bug him, and gave a little wave like people in parades. Someone's camera phone snapped at just that moment, like an exclamation point.
"You shouldn't be allowed to live," Trey said.
"Why, thank you." I thought about voting for Trey, just to be nice. Trey was good for comic relief, but not too gifted in the looks department. His family was nobody special eitherâhis dad was a doctor or something. They might post the vote totals in the school newspaper, and it'd be pretty embarrassing for Trey if he came in last or even didn't get any votes at all.
On the other hand, it would be cool if I got two or three times the votes of the next-closest person. And besides, Trey worshipped me. A real friend would want me to win big. That's another thing my dad always said: "Don't be a sucker, Kyle, and do things out of friendship or love. Because what you always end up finding out is the only one who really loves you is you."
I was seven or eight when he first said that, and I asked, "What about you, Dad?"
"You love . . ." Me. "Us. Your family."
He gave me a long look before saying, "That's different, Kyle."
I never asked him again if he loved me. I knew he'd told the truth the first time.
I folded my ballot over, to keep Trey from seeing I'd voted for myself. Of course, I knew he voted for himself too, but that was different.
That's when a voice came from the back of the room.
"This is disgusting!"
We all turned.
"Maybe someone left a booger under her desk," Trey whispered.
"Was it you?" I said.
"I don't do that anymore."
"Disgusting," the voice repeated. I stopped talking to Trey and looked at where the voice was coming from, this Goth freak sitting in back. She was a fat chick, dressed in the kind of flowing black clothes you usually only see on witches or terrorists (we don't have uniforms at Tuttle; it would piss off the parents not to be able to buy Dolce & Gabbana), and her hair was green. Obviously a cry for help. Weird thing was, I'd never noticed her before. Most people here I'd known my whole life.
The sub was too stupid to ignore her. "What's disgusting, Miss . . . Miss . . ."
"Hilferty," she said. "Kendra Hilferty."
"Kendra, is there something wrong with your desk?"
"There is something wrong with this world." She stood like she was making a speech. "Something very wrong when it's the twenty-first century and this type of elitist travesty is still being perpetuated." She held up her ballot. People giggled.
"It's a ninth-grade dance ballot," Trey volunteered. "To choose the royalty."
"Exactly," the girl said. "Who are these people? Why should they be treated as royalty? Based upon . . . what? The people on this ballot were chosen on one basis and one basis onlyâphysical beauty."
"Sounds like a good basis to me," I said to Trey, not too softly. I stood. "That's BS. Everyone voted, and this is who they chose. It's a democratic process."
Around me there were some thumbs-ups, some Yeah, mans, particularly from Anna or Hannah. But I noticed that a lot of people, mostly the ugly people, were silent.
The girl took a few steps toward me. "They're sheep, following the herd. They vote for the so-called popular people because it's simple. Surface beauty: blond hair, blue eyes"âshe was looking at meâ"is always easy to recognize. But if someone is braver, stronger, smarter, that's harder to see."
She pissed me off, so I jumped on her. "If someone's so smart, they'd figure out how to get better-looking. You could lose weight, get plastic surgery, even get your face scraped and your teeth bleached." I emphasized the you in the sentence, so she'd know I meant her and not just some general sort of you. "My dad's a network news guy. He says people shouldn't have to look at ugly people."Beastly. Copyright Â© by Alex Flinn . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Beastly by Alex Flinn
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