Elle McGraw,
Teen Millionaire
I should have seen it coming when Taylor Bancroft wished me luck. My secret service agents would’ve seen it coming, and they’d have protected me from it. If I had secret service agents, which I didn’t. Yet.
Every Monday morning, Taylor arrives at school wearing something new and gorgeous from her ever-expanding designer wardrobe. This is because she spends every Saturday in La Croix department store with her mom who’s the head buyer there in charge of deciding what you see on the racks. Taylor considers it a moral imperative to have the latest of everything when it comes to fashion. More importantly, she wants you to know she can.
And every Monday morning, I stare at my closet and know that no matter what I wear, I will never look half as good as Taylor. I will never have her cover girl skin or her trend-setting wardrobe or her easy confidence that makes whatever she’s doing seem buzz-worthy. Money is tighter than ever with Mom and Aunt Mo trying to make a go of their trendy crafting shop, Crafty Chic. But even if we had cash to spare like we did when Dad was still in the picture, fashion isn’t really my thing.
So the Monday dilemma? Doesn’t usually bother me.
But this was no typical Monday.
This was Election Day at McKinley Middle School.
“Are you ready, Elle?”
I swallowed hard and looked at my notes one last time. I’d committed them to memory, of course, but there’s something soothing about the feel of note cards in your hand before a big speech.
And this was a big speech. The biggest of my life.
I nodded and followed Mr. Leonard, trying not to look at the sea of faces. Most of them couldn’t have been less interested in the election about to take place. The election that could launch my career or end it in one final blow. The latter being more likely given the last minute addition to the ballot for a position that—let’s be honest—no one in their right mind would want except me.
Spending every other Tuesday evening with a bunch of City Council members deciding whether to plant pansies or petunias on the median in front of the Dairy Wizard? Hardly a top priority for my opponent. Or anyone with a social life. Meaning anyone but me.
I took my seat next to Taylor, my arch enemy since fifth grade, when she had turned boy crazy and called me a baby for not obsessing over a popular but useless idiot named Martin Sanders. I wasn’t a baby. I just didn’t see how any girl could think a kid who blew snot bubbles in class for entertainment could possibly be worth her time and attention. Even if he was pretty cute (when his snot wasn’t showing, obviously). But seeing Martin Sanders for the moron he was didn’t mean I didn’t like all boys.
My eyes swung to the far left table along the back wall. Will Perkins flipped his notebook closed and started to sketch on the back cover.
I buried my nose in my notes.
Mr. Leonard had set up a table in front of our Social Studies classroom. Most of the class was focused on us now. I could tell by the heat prickling along my skin even though my eyes were on my cards. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Taylor gave Mr. Leonard a friendly smile as she scratched my ankle under the table with the side of her expensive leather boot. Accidentally on purpose.
Taylor Bancroft who, until three minutes and twenty-seven seconds ago, was not even running in this election.
Mr. Leonard flipped a coin. In keeping with my non-existent lucky streak in elections, Taylor got to choose whether to speak first or second. She might be self-absorbed and wear her popularity like a badge of superiority, but the girl has brains. I sent her Go first vibes with every fiber of my being, but she still did the smart thing and made me speak first.
Every good politician knows that getting the last sound bite almost always plays to your advantage. Taylor might not have political aspirations like I do, but being a social diva means you’ve got to be savvy about social politics. They’re really not that different.
I rolled my neck to ease the stress in my shoulders and tried to ignore the eye rolling of Taylor’s friends in the front row. This election didn’t mean anything to Taylor. I’m positive the only reason she was running was because she knew how much I wanted it. It meant everything to me. It was part of my master plan.
Road to the White House Master Plan
by Elle McGraw
1. 8th grade – City Council liaison from Mr. Leonard’s 8th grade Social Studies class
2. 9th grade – Student Council class representative
3. 10th grade – Sophomore class vice president
4. 11th grade – Junior class president
5. 12th grade – Student Council president
6. College – Yale, majoring in political science with minors in history and international relations while serving in Yale’s student government and working summers with a state congresswoman
I used to have everything mapped out through my jobs after college and when I’d get to the United States Senate, my final stop before running for President. But Mom said I should leave some things up to fate. I was okay with that as long as fate stuck to business and got the job done. And helped me get a scholarship to Yale because I wouldn’t even be going to Yale Community College without it. Me and my thrift store wardrobe and beginning to rust Lightning Lucy bike from when I was nine. It got me where I needed to go—the bike, not the wardrobe—but it didn’t exactly do it in style.
I had to win this election.
Mr. Leonard was giving his spiel about what a great opportunity this was to make a difference in the world around us. I know being one of the school’s City Council liaisons during the city-wide “Give McKinley a Makeover” promotion doesn’t sound very glamorous for a future presidential hopeful. That’s because it wasn’t glamorous. But it was my last hope.
I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to win a spot on Student Council since fourth grade. But every time I ran for election some popular kid—or a kid whose mom would bring in marshmallow crispy treats for the whole class—would swoop in and steal the spot out from under me. Someone who didn’t even care about getting an extra towel dispenser in the bathroom to speed things up after lunch or replacing canned green beans with frozen in the cafeteria so they’re less squishy. All they cared about was getting out of class once a week for some social time.
And the girl who did care? I was branded Miss Know-It-All just because I knew the school district spent $6.50 on a mega roll of new paper towels when they could’ve bought recycled paper towels in bulk for $0.37 less and saved some trees in the process. Or because in Social Studies, I was the girl who blew the curve. But really, what kind of future president doesn’t ace Social Studies? That’s just sad pancakes.
Future President’s Note #37: “Sad pancakes” is not a presidential thing to say.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether dumbing myself down would fix my problems. Not letting people know I understood, much less cared about, things like why the country has three branches of government. (It’s called checks and balances, people. It keeps us from electing some yahoo who decides he wants to become Supreme Being Karl, take away all our rights, and then make us wear grocery bags because he thinks it’s funny and nobody can stop him.)
But every time I get fed up enough to consider it, the quote above Aunt Mo’s desk at our store floats through my brain:
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine.”
There’s more to it, by some Marianne lady, but that’s the part that’s always stuck with me. So I decided not to dumb myself down. Besides, when I’m President someday? People will be glad they have someone really smart in office for a change.
So, after losing every election in the last three years, I’d revised my Road to the White House Master Plan one last time. I swallowed my pride and decided to set my sights a little lower. Meaning, as low as humanly possible while still being a starting point.
I took a good long look and chose an elected position that a) had good visibility and b) was something no one else would want but me. Being our class liaison to the City Council would give me a chance to show my leadership skills. I could get kids to share their ideas about things like what they wanted to see in the athletic complex renovation at Gleason Park. Once they saw I was all about “building consensus”—people want to know you care about their ideas and about them—I’d be a shoe-in for next year’s Student Council. I had to be.
But first, I had to win this election.
Mr. Leonard finished lecturing us about doing our civic duty and being a part of the community, then gestured for me to join him at the podium.
I’d failed every time I’d ever run for office. Once again, my presidential future lay firmly in the hands of my fellow classmates. They alone decided if I would crash and burn in my last hope for getting my Road to the White House Master Plan off the ground. No pressure or anything.
“We are all meant to shine.”
I took a deep breath and walked to the podium.
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