Laughter is fifteen-year-old Paige Larsson’s currency in life. It takes the sting out of life’s tough stuff. It eases the pain of nasty comments, agonizing moments in gym class and awkward pauses at parties. She likes it even more when others laugh with her, so she’s become a YouTube comedy vlogger.Now Paige is about to step out of her comfort zone and compete—live and onstage—in the prestigious International Teens in Comedy festival. Winning will give her the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in comedy. It’ll also mean $10,000 for her school’s performing-arts department. But Paige has always used her humor to mask the pain of a disability, and in the world of stand-up comedy, that won’t cut it anymore.
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ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS
Copyright © 2016 Laura Langston
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Langston, Laura, 1958-, author
Stepping out / Laura Langston.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-4598-0895-9 (paperback).—ISBN 978-1-4598-0896-6 (pdf).—ISBN 978-1-4598-0897-3 (epub)
I. Title. II. Series: Orca limelights
PS8573.A5832S74 2016 jC813'.54 C2015-904484-7
First published in the United States, 2016
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015946396
Summary: Paige Larsson, YouTube comedy vlogger, has always used humor to cope with her disability—but an opportunity to compete in stand-up comedy is a big step out of her comfort zone in this novel for teens.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design by Rachel Page
Cover photography by Getty Images
ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS
19 18 17 16 • 4 3 2 1
For Zachary, because he always makes me laugh
Last Paige Friday: I am so over mushrooms. Hello, people? Mushrooms are a fungus! They breed in warm, wet, smelly places andthey spread. How do I know this? My sister started growing mushrooms in her warm, wet, smelly room last week, and this morning when I was in the bathroom I saw her newest eye shadow. It’s called Portobello Pewter. Well, I have some suggestions for my sister. How about Shiitake Spice lipstick? Or Oyster Bomb blush? She could even make her own conditioner—Cremini Crème Ultimate Control. I did, and look how well it turned out for me.
“It’s not Portobello Pewter, it’s Passionate Pewter, and you had no right to tell people what’s in my makeup bag!” my sister says when I walk into the school bathroom Friday at lunch.
My stomach sinks. Even though my latest video has already gotten twenty thousand views—twenty thousand!—I don’t need this. Not now. I’m in a hurry, and my sister, Brooke, is the last person I want to see. She’s at the counter by the window, shaping her nails with a fuchsia file and looking bored as always. Even her hair (blond, long, perfect) looks bored. Her two best friends are with her. Twin One is inspecting her eyebrows in the bathroom mirror. Twin Two is surfing on her phone. Brooke points her nail file at me. Sunlight glints off the tip. It looks like a magic witch wand. “You’ve crossed a line this time, Paige.”
As far as my sister is concerned, I’ve crossed a line with every single YouTube video I’ve uploaded in the last nine months. “I didn’t look in your makeup bag,” I say.
I didn’t have to. Brooke spreads her makeup all over the bathroom counter. It’s impossible to miss.
“What I do in my room is my business,” she says.
That’s why I didn’t film the piece in her room. I filmed it in the bathroom, balancing my new camera on the vanity shelf. Okay, so I did use her blush and lipstick to illustrate a point. With a mushroom or two. Hey, props matter.
“You shouldn’t have told people I’m growing mushrooms.” She glares at me. “You know what Mom says. Home stuff stays at home. It’s private.”
The only part of private I’m interested in right now is privacy to use the toilet. I don’t have time for yet another argument with my sister. I don’t need any hassles from Twin One or Twin Two either. Not with Carly waiting for me in the cafeteria. I can’t wait to tell her my news. In two hours, I’ve gotten the most views I’ve ever had on a single video. And last night I reached five thousand subscribers! I’m on a roll. “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t know the mushroom-growing operation for your science class was covert.”
The twins snicker. Brooke shoots them a look. Twin One smothers her giggle with a cough. Twin Two hides behind her cell phone. I walk with as much grace as I can to the stall. Should I leave without washing my hands when I’m done? The last thing I need is more grief from my sister.
I’m still considering my options when I finish and exit the stall. Brooke stares at me. “That was seriously the lamest piece of Internet I’ve seen in months,” she says. My insides turn to water. “Totally lame-o-rama,” she repeats.
My breath catches in my throat, but I don’t flinch. I don’t even blink. I gaze back at her, my face carefully blank. There is a challenge in her hazel eyes, and I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. Especially not one from my sister. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I make my way to the sink. The truth is slightly more complicated. One, I’m a bit of a germophobe. I mean, come on. We are talking school bathroom. Two, I only pretend to be brave. Fake it till you make it and all that.
“Thanks for watching.” I squirt pink soap into my palm. “I can use all the views I can get.” I’m determined to be the youngest comedy star in the history of YouTube. As big as Jenna Marbles or Grace Helbig. Why go to college when you can make people laugh for a living?
“Who said I watched it?” Brooke says.
“Obviously you watched it.” I lather up. “Otherwise, how would you know it was lame?”
She rolls her eyes. Twin One and Twin Two shake their heads. Clearly they don’t have my sister’s eye-rolling skills.
Brooke has been seriously pissed at me since this started last fall. I did a stand-up routine in drama class and was so stoked with the way it turned out that I created a YouTube channel—PrecisePaige—and recorded and uploaded the routine. Being on YouTube was such a rush, I kept going. I did a few more, focusing on comedy over special effects and using the webcam on my laptop. They were basic but rough, especially in the first few months. After a while, though, I learned about lighting and props and editing, and I decided my laptop wouldn’t cut it for shooting outside the house. So I upgraded my old camera, bought some software and began creating and uploading funny vlogs three times a week. I called them First Paige Monday, Paige Notes Wednesday and Last Paige Friday. And now, nine months later, I’m starting to get a YouTube following.
“People talk,” my sister says as I rinse my hands.
She’s right. And thank God for that. First it was the kids at school. Then, when I did one about my parents being into porcelain (mom is a dentist and dad is a plumber), my grandpa started watching. Grandpa was horrified, because I did it sitting on this old pink toilet Dad stores in the basement. I don’t know why he freaked. I kept my clothes on. I even found some pink dental molds to use as props. Anyway, he told his friends at his retirement villa, who told their friends, and, well, the views started climbing and the comments kept coming. Now I actually have fans. Me, Paige Larsson of Bellevue, Washington. And last month, one of the free Seattle entertainment papers even wrote me up for its Teens to Watch column.
Brooke hates that I’m getting all this attention. She never misses a chance to tell me how terrible I am. In fact, she sometimes texts me right after I upload, though today she has spared me that fate. Instead, she has used the word lame to describe my latest offering. That word has been off-limits since grade four, and she knows it.
She sniffs. “I don’t have to watch it to know.”
Brooke will always be ahead of me. She is ten months older than I am and a whole lot prettier. But like the rest of the human race, she is flawed. And one of her flaws is a lack of common sense.
“True.” I reach for a paper towel. “The phrase ‘the lamest piece of Internet I’ve seen in months’ could be interpreted in so many ways.”
A burst of color flares on her cheeks.
“Maybe you only imagined you saw it and imagined that I was terrible, and you were using a figure of speech.” I give her my biggest smile. “Because we both know that was a pretty awesome Last Paige Friday I did.”
Her eyes flash. “No, it wasn’t.”
“Perhaps you perceived my performance psychically or discerned it on a dust mote by osmosis. Or maybe you had a reliable friend tell you all the funky fungal details.” A teeny grin from Twin Two.
“Give it up, Paige. Nobody thinks you’re funny.” Brooke tosses her bag over her shoulder.
“Or maybe,” I say slyly, “it was the altered state you were in.”
A tiny frown puckers her brow. My sister not only lacks common sense, she’s a little slow sometimes too.
“From the mushrooms?” I prompt.
“Oh my god.” With a snort of disgust, she pushes away from the counter.
I smirk. “Eating hallucinogens will do it to you every time.”
The bathroom door flies open, banging against the wall. We all jump. Our vice-principal, Ms. Vastag, marches into the room. She’s a short, stout woman with an overbite and long gray hair she wears in a braid. “Who’s eating hallucinogens?” She studies the four of us. “You know we have zero tolerance for drugs in this school.”
Ms. Vastag is known for her potty mouth and her purple Birkenstocks. She wears them year-round, rain, snow or sun. Today she’s paired them with men’s work socks, a denim skirt that’s obscenely tight across her ample stomach and a red sweatshirt stained with whatever they were eating in her foods class last block.
“We know,” I say. I don’t need to look at Brooke to sense her fear. She’s been caught smoking a couple of times this year, and last month she and Twin Two were caught with beer out on the soccer field. One more mess-up, and she won’t be allowed to attend grad.
Ms. Vastag holds out her hand. “Hand it over—and no fooling around, because I’ll search all four of you if I have to.”
“We don’t have anything,” Brooke says in a tiny voice. “Really.” The twins exchange furtive looks. No doubt one of them has a pack of cigarettes. Not a big deal, but Lampshire Heights takes a hard line on cigarettes, alcohol and anything similar on school property.
Ms. Vastag’s eyes narrow. “How about we continue this conversation in my office then?”
“There’s no need for that.” I sigh, like this whole mess is my fault. Which it kind of is. I pull out a piece of dried-up brown mushroom left over from this morning’s YouTube video. “This is it,” I say. “Though we didn’t get around to eating it yet.”
Ms. Vastag peers at my hand. “That’s not a hallucinogen. That’s a cremini. At least, I think it is.” She looks up at me. “Are you having me on, Larsson?”
I keep my mouth shut and shrug.
She waves her hand at Brooke and the twins. “You three can go.” They scurry out the door like rats racing for cover. She turns back to me. “What’s the story here? Be serious for once in your life.”
My flaw is that I generally speak before thinking, and I usually say whatever’s on my mind too. Sometimes this leads to problems. Like now. Having already started down the hallucinogen road, I’m not sure how to get out of it unless I admit to being stupid. Since that’s the truth (and since I’m desperate to get out of the bathroom and go see Carly), I decide it’s the best choice. “I was bugging my sister,” I say. “That’s all.”
Ms. Vastag studies me for a minute. Then she sighs. “That is not the kind of thing I like to see my students joking about. Meet me in my office in five.”
She stomps out the door.
I stand on my toes, take aim and pitch my soiled paper towel directly into the garbage can.
I should be thinking about Ms. Vastag and the mess I’ve made. But I’m not. Nobody thinks you’re funny. My mind hums with the insult. Totally lame. I feel myself slip-sliding into that black pit of self-hate that started in elementary school. Refusing to go there, I quickly yank my thoughts back. Totally lame? Yeah, okay, maybe. But today—this very minute—twenty thousand people think I’m funny. I grin. Brooke is wrong.
Slam dunk two.
“I can’t believe Vastag insisted on getting a mushroom-identifying book from the bio lab to confirm that your mushroom really was a cremini,” Carly says twenty minutes later as I eat a burger and fries in the cafeteria. “And then lectured you for another five minutes about how inappropriate it is to joke about taking drugs.”
I know. She was so harsh it was like I was carrying a magic mushroom in my pocket instead of a dried-out cooking one.
“She should know never to take you seriously,” Carly adds.
A burst of laughter interrupts her rant. We’re sitting near the front of the cafeteria, just a few tables away from the order counter and one table over from a group of noisy jocks. I’m not surprised Carly picked the table. She’s crushing on one of the basketball players. If I’d gotten here first, I would have headed for a quieter spot in the corner.
“Forget that! Didn’t you hear what I said about my latest video? It’s already gotten 20,069 views, and it’s only been up two and a half hours.” I swirl a fry through my pool of ketchup. “I bet I hit 30,000 by the end of the day. It’s unreal!”
Carly spoons some peach yogurt out of her cup and says something, but I can’t make out her words. I frown and shake my head. When she leans across the table, her dark hair dangles into her yogurt. “When are you going to start monetizing?” she shouts into my ear.
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