"There it is!" Jessie Miller shouts. "The Empire State Building! And it's all lit up in red and green!"
She leans over you to get her face as close to the bus's window as possible, flattening the last bit of bagel you had stashed away in the brown paper bag on your lap. "Hey! You're crushing innocent bystanders over here," you moan.
Jessie looks down at the squished paper bag. "Eek, sorry," she says, resuming her position on the seat next to you and straightening out her bouncy blond ponytail. "I'm just so excited! Can you believe we're actually here? And right before the holidays too!"
To be honest, you can't believe it. Up until you started seeing bits and pieces of the New York City skyline, you were still kind of skeptical. When your school's choir lost the final singing competition that would have sent them to Carnegie Hall to perform, everyone--including kids who weren't even in the choir--was bummed. So the choir director, Mr. Parker, rallied the administration and cooked up a plan to get you all to New York City anyway. But even though everybody in your grade has been doing fund-raisers for weeks to go on this trip (if you never hear the words "bake sale" or "car wash" again, it'll be too soon), you secretly thought your teachers would pull the old bait and switch and you'd end up at an exhibit about New York City at a local museum instead of seeing the real thing. But there was no shadiness involved at all. You're even meeting a couple of classes from a sister school in New York. (Mona won't shut up about that part. Apparently, a boy named Paul Renner, who used to live next door to her when she and her mom lived in the city, is one of the kids coming on the trip. According to Mona, he worships the ground she walks on. Just what you need--another Mona groupie.)
After what seems like forever inside a dark winding tunnel, the bus emerges back into the daylight, and you are officially in New York City. And not a moment too soon! The first hour on the bus was kind of fun, but after a while those seats start to feel a lot like concrete, and your butt could use a break. Although that will mean braving the cold outside the warm, heated bus. Brrr!
"Yeah, this is going to be awesome," you agree, as the bus rattles its way uptown through the early-morning traffic. "For one of us, anyway." You tap the top of Lena Saldano's head as you add the last part.
Lena, your other best friend, turns around and peeks over the back of the seat in front of you so that all you can see is her big brown eyes and matching hair. "Now, now, I can't help it if I have high-powered connections in New York."
"High-powered connections?" Amy Choi squeaks from across the aisle. She leans toward the three of you, her dark brown eyes brimming with curiosity. "Who? Somebody famous? Tell me, tell me!"
"Relax, Amy," you say, resisting the urge to call her Perez. (If anyone could take the gossip crown away from Perez Hilton, it would be Amy.) "Lena's just talking about her cousin Amanda. She goes to school here in the city."
"Not just any school," Lena insists, her eyes growing larger. "An Ivy League school! She's pre-law at Columbia."
"Oh," Amy says, turning around immediately. Nothing juicy about a cousin doing well in college and heading for law school. But you can tell that Lena is superproud. If she could skip ahead to college right now, she would. Amanda is a total rock star in her book.
"Anyway, I haven't seen her since she moved to New York and she felt bad about not being around for my last birthday. So she wants to spend the day with me."
"But doesn't she have classes?" you ask.
"No, she's taking her last final of the semester this morning. She did say something about having to go to her job later, though. I bet she interns at a big-time law firm and I won't even recognize her because she'll be wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase! We probably won't even get to do that much, since she'll be called away to consult on some big important case."
"Still, getting to see more of the city, even for a little while, sounds awesome." Jessie sighs wistfully. "I still can't believe Amanda got Ms. Darbeau to agree to let you leave the school trip. She must be a magician and a law student. Where is she going to take you, anyway?"
Lena shrugs. "Beats me. She said something about 'hopping a train and seeing where the day takes us.' Maybe I'll get to see her campus. And maybe a bunch of other campuses! There are so many schools here. NYU, FIT, Baruch . . ." Lena turns around slowly in her seat, visions of Barnard and Columbia dancing in her head.
"That's great for her," Jessie whispers to you, "but we're stuck. I was hoping to get in some quality celeb watching while we're here. I mean, hellooo, MTV films right in Times Square. And I read on his Facebook fan page that Nick Jonas will be there today! Plus there are loads of famous people who live in Greenwich Village. There's so much we could do if we could sneak away on our own! But just look at this itinerary we actually have to follow." Jessie unfolds a crumpled piece of paper from the back pocket of her jeans. "There's hardly anything on it. And according to this, we'll be spending half our time in a ginormous museum!"
It's true. Since the art teacher, Ms. Darbeau, had a hand in planning the trip, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the first thing on the menu--not that you could possibly have enough time to see it all. After that you'll be having lunch in the museum's cafeteria, followed by an hour and a half at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, less than an hour at the Rockefeller Center ice-skating rink, and a show at Radio City Music Hall. "Actually," you tease Jess, "we won't even get to do the few things on this list. The Metropolitan Museum of Art alone will probably take all day!"
"Oh, great," Jessie says miserably. "That makes me feel way better."
You giggle and nudge her with your shoulder.
"Just kidding. Besides, the museum might be kind of cool."
"Yeah, maybe. But here's what I had in mind!" She pulls out her purse and extracts a tiny little pink square. She unfolds it to reveal a piece of lined paper filled to the brim with Jessie's curly purple handwriting. You take it from her and begin to read.
"'See every Broadway show; Madame Tussauds wax museum; shop at Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany's; have lunch in Little Italy; tour MTV Studios and meet Nick Jonas!!!'"--this last one is underlined three times--"'go to the top of the Empire State Building; visit Dylan's Candy Bar; poetry slam in Greenwich Village; horse-and-carriage ride in Central Park . . .'" The list continues, but you run out of breath. "Jess," you say with a laugh, shaking the paper in her face. "You would need to be here for a month to do all this stuff!"
"And win the lottery," Lena's voice shoots over the bus seat. "Twice."
Jessie shrugs. "A girl can dream," she replies, refolding the piece of paper and putting it in her purse. "But the Nick Jonas thing is totally possible. Or at least some celebrity. All we have to do is keep our eyes peeled! Promise you will."
You shake your head and sigh. "I'm not sure I should support your obvious celeb addiction, but fine, I promise." Jessie smiles, satisfied. But really, you just hope New York is as glam as you picture it in your mind. You and your mom have started having classic movie nights together, and not too long ago you watched Breakfast at Tiffany's, starring Audrey Hepburn. Now, there was a woman with style! Since then, you've totally had a fantasy of gallivanting around the town in a chic black dress and pumps, a string of pearls, a slick tan trench coat, and black sunglasses that cover half your face. It seems like the right outfit to wear while shopping at pricey boutiques and fancy salons. Too bad in reality you're wearing a superthick blue parka, warm boots, and the blue and green knit cap your grandmother made for you last winter, complete with an embarrassing pom-pom on top. And you only have enough money to buy a few souvenirs, and we're talking plastic snow globes, not diamond earrings. Oh well. Like Jessie said, a girl can dream.
Excerpted from Your Life, but Sweeter by Crystal Velasquez. Copyright © 2010 by Crystal Velasquez. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.