Beatrice is at the top of her class, she’s a shoo-in for a scholarship to M.I.T., and she’s got a new boyfriend she’s crazy about. The only problem: All through high school Bea and her best friends have been the targets of horrific bullying.
So Bea uses her math skills to come up with The Formula, a 100% mathematically guaranteed path to social happiness in high school.
But when her boyfriend Jesse dumps her for the quirky new girl, Bea realizes it’s time to use The Formula for herself. She’ll be reinvented as the eccentric and lovable “Trixie” to win Jesse back.
Unfortunately, being Trixie causes unexpected consequences and as The Formula begins to break down, can Bea find a way to fix everything she’s messed up?
“YOU’RE NOT LATE, Beatrice,” my mom said as she rolled the Prius to a stop in front of Spencer’s house at exactly two minutes to eight.
I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. “Only because you hit three out of seven green lights, blew through a questionable yellow, and cut off that old lady trying to make a left into her driveway.”
It had been a miracle of modern commuting that we were on time, and I wanted to make sure she understood that our punctuality was a fluke. My mom was late for pretty much everything except Mass and the hair salon, a trait that had driven my dad crazy since before he’d married her, when she was his legal secretary. She’d even shown up a half hour late to their final divorce mediation, though I was relatively sure she’d done that on purpose.
My mom let out an audible sigh. “You don’t even have class until nine.”
She was right. The first day was a delayed start, and I was only meeting my friends for bagels and coffee, so it wasn’t like I was going to be marked tardy (which would have counted on my permanent record). But that wasn’t the point.
“If I’m not five minutes early,” I said, matter-of-factly, “I’m late.”
“Beatrice . . .” Her lilting Tagalog accent always made my name sound regal. “You need to loosen up. You’re a senior now. Have some fun.”
I grabbed my wheelie bag, mentally ticking off the seconds. This conversation was eating up precious time. “I have plenty of fun, Mom.”
She sighed dramatically. “Don’t call me that, Anak.”
Whenever my mom renewed her hunt for Husband Number Two, I was no longer allowed to call her “mom.” Why? Because she thought she could pass as my older sister.
“Sorry, Flordeliza,” I said, opening the car door. “Who’s the new prospect?”
My mom sighed again, deeper this time. “Benjamin Feldberger, Esquire.”
So that explained her outfit. I eyed it with a mix of horror (65 percent) and awe (35 percent). She had chosen a red dress, sleeveless with a draped neckline and a thigh slit that effectively negated the knee-length hem. Don’t get me wrong; she looked fabulous. My mom had this sexy pinay charm about her that had been completely lost in the genetic translation when it came to me. Probably because, as my mom loved to remind me, I was only half-Filipino.
“Is that work appropriate?” I asked.
She clucked her tongue. “Maybe if you dressed with a little more pizzazz, you might make a few friends at school.” She paused. “Girlfriends.”
I smoothed down my navy blazer piped in white. “I have friends.”
Spencer and Gabe might have been nerds and outcasts, but they were my nerds and outcasts, and contrary to my mom’s belief, dressing like an extra in a Katy Perry video wasn’t going to increase my popularity at school or win me any female friends. I’d tried that freshman year after my parents’ divorce had pulled me from the safety of St. Anne’s Academy and tossed me into the shark-filled waters of Fullerton Hills High School, and it hadn’t worked.
“Quality over quantity,” I said, quoting one of my dad’s favorite sayings (which had a 95 percent chance of making my mom cringe), then I slammed the door and dragged my wheelie bag up to Spencer’s garage.
“I’m here!” I announced as I pushed open the side door.“Forty-five seconds early.” Okay, it was more like fifteen, but since Spencer was standing at his easel, brush flying across the canvas, I doubted he was paying close attention.
Spencer Preuss-Katt and I had met in Honors English freshman year. He was the epitome of a brooding, absentminded artist, which, unfortunately, went unappreciated by the jocktocracy of Fullerton Hills, where he was picked on ruthlessly for being short and skinny and quiet. Thankfully, his moms not only appreciated his artistic abilities but encouraged them. Two years ago, they’d remodeled their garage into a weatherproofed, sound-insulated, air-conditioned art studio for their son, which had become our de facto hangout space.
I left my bag by the sofa and tiptoed over to the easel. “Do I get to see this one?”
“Do you ever?” he replied without looking at me.
I frowned. Three years of friendship and, other than some doodles and sketches, he’d never let me see any of his work. I knew he was protective of it, but if he couldn’t show his art to Gabe and me, how was he ever going to share it with the world?
“No,” I said simply. “You don’t. But maybe you should start? First day of senior year. Perfect time for—”
He held up his free hand, demanding silence while he added a few finishing strokes to the canvas. I clenched my jaw. Nothing pissed me off more than being interrupted, which Spencer knew damn well. Finally, he whisked a tarp off the floor and flung it over the easel. “Now you can talk.”
“That’s a horrible way to greet a friend you haven’t seen in two months.”
Spencer dropped his brush into a jug of murky water, then wiped his hands on a rag of questionable cleanliness. “I missed you too.”
I rolled my eyes as he stood smiling down at me. He was taller than he’d been last time I saw him, and his body was broader, less boyish, a mix of angles and sharp lines. Spencer and his moms had spent most of the summer on an art tour of Western Europe, and it was as if an entirely different person had returned in his place.
“You look weird,” I blurted.
Not offended in the least, Spencer laughed. “Now who’s being horrible?”
“I mean different, not weird.” I could feel the heat mounting in my cheeks. Why was I embarrassed? I didn’t want him to see me blush, so I threw my arms around his waist instead. “I did miss you.”
Spencer stiffened. “Yeah?” he said softly.
Well, duh. I’d missed both my friends. While Spencer had been in Europe, Gabe had spent most of his free time at the comic book store. I was the only one stuck at home with nothing to do.
Except hang out with Jesse.
A nervous fluttering spread upward from my stomach. I’d told Jesse to meet me at Spencer’s, which meant he’d be here any minute. How was I going to explain him to my friends?
I felt Spencer’s arms tighten around me and caught the unmistakable scent of cologne, something rich and spicy and, in my limited imagination on the subject, utterly European. I took a deep breath, attempting to place the fruit and floral notes, and the fluttering in my stomach stopped, replaced by a sharp pain as if my intestines were being twisted in a vise. Nerves. But why should I be nervous with Spencer? It was utterly illogical. Perhaps I was having an allergic reaction to the cologne? A synaptic response to an action potential?
Before I could further examine my current physical and emotional state, the side door flew open and Gabe barged in.
“The bus broke down!” he cried. “I got stuck exiting behind a hipster with a penny-farthing bicycle that barely fit down the stairs and then there was a nun in line ahead of me at the bagel shop who I swear to God”—he made the sign of the cross—“was buying bagels for the entire convent, which seemed strange to me, but whatever. And then I had to walk ten blocks in this heat.” He paused, panting heavily. “So it’s not my fault. I would’ve been on time, I swear.”
Gabe always knew how to make an entrance.
Spencer broke away from me. “That’s okay. Bea was late too.”
I shoved him. “Was not.”
“I don’t believe it,” Gabe said with an arched brow as he dropped a brown paper bag on the coffee table. He certainly hadn’t dressed up for the first day of school: baggy cargo shorts and a T-shirt sporting a geektastic “” HTML code under a well-worn flannel shirt.
“I was exactly forty-five seconds early,” I said, and shot Spencer a withering look.
He met my gaze coolly. “Fifteen.”
“Which is exactly four minutes and forty-five seconds late, according to Beatrice Standard Time,” Gabe added.
“I know. But I’m at the mercy of Flordeliza, who spent an hour in the bathroom getting tarted up for work.” I opened the bag and began removing a spread of precut bagels and cream cheese, laying them out on napkins in a neat, orderly row. Plain bagels in the middle with the fruity ones on the left and the savory varieties on the right so they wouldn’t contaminate each other.
Gabe grabbed half a blueberry bagel and slathered it with whipped cream cheese. “You didn’t tell me your mom was on the prowl again.”
I shrugged. “You weren’t around.”
“I was here all summer!”
“Yeah,” I said. “But you spent almost all of it gaming down at Hidey Hole.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Actually, I was researching a new article for the school paper on the cultural impact of miniature tabletop warfare games on a generation of future politicians and military strategists.”
“That sounds significantly less incendiary than your last article,” Spencer said.
Gabe winced. “Tell me about it.” His exposé on the dangerous workouts Coach Summers was forcing on the football team last year had gotten the coach fired, and hadn’t exactly endeared Gabe to the jocktocracy in the process. Not that they’d loved him before: his penchant for smart-ass one-liners and class clownery had earned him plenty of ass kickings even before he’d turned his caustic journalist’s pen on Fullerton Hills’ protected class.
But as much as Gabe would love to claim that all his hours at Hidey Hole were spent pursuing a new lead, I knew better. “I’d hardly call playing Warhammer all day ‘research.’”
Gabe held up two fingers. “A of all, yes, it is. And B of all, I wasn’t playing the whole time. Kurt got me a job there.”
“Who’s Kurt?” Spencer asked.
I grabbed an onion bagel. “That doughy junior with the big head and the tiny face.”
“I like his tiny face,” Gabe muttered. “Oh, Spence. Have you seen the new video on YouTube with the kitten riding around on the back of a llama?”
“Of course,” Spencer said. He had a weird affection for home videos of pets. “Totally staged, but I appreciated the tweeness nonetheless.”
My phone buzzed in my pocket. Balancing my bagel in one hand, I fished it out.
What’s Spencer’s address? I think I’m lost.
“Is that your mom?” Gabe asked.
“No.” I typed a quick response to Jesse so I didn’t have to look them in the eyes.
“Maybe it’s Cassilyn Cairns,” Gabe said. “And Bea’s her new bestie.”
Spencer snorted. “Zero percent chance of that.”
“More like five percent.” The idea that the most popular girl in school would befriend me, Queen of the Outcasts, was ludicrous but not technically out of the realm of possibility.
Spencer smiled wickedly. “Then maybe it’s a hot new boyfriend.”
“Thad Everett?” Gabe suggested, naming one of the most loathsome members of the football team.
Spencer laughed. “No way, dude. Milo Morris. The way he calls her ‘Math Girl’ is so romantic.”
I really didn’t care that most of the Fullerton Hills student body knew me only as “Math Girl.” Our school was filled with jerks and asshats, and their dismissive nickname for me just made it easier to ignore them all.
“Hold up.” Gabe dropped his bagel onto a napkin. “Other than Spence and me, you don’t talk to other people at school. Ever. So, if that’s not your mom, who’s texting you?”
“Um…” I was working up the courage to explain when there was a soft knock at the door and we all turned to the window where Jesse stood with a dorky little smile on his lips.
Gabe turned to me, his eyes wide. “Is that Jesse Sullivan?”