With my foot tapping an impatient rhythm on the floor, I poke the air in the direction of the transparent screen covering the far wall of my bedroom. A clock appears in the center. It’s 12:08 a.m. Seren Locke’s birthday party has just ended, and my friends will be posting about it on their way home.
I flop back onto my bed. I’m not going to look. Only a loser would obsess over a party she missed.
For two whole minutes, I stare at the ceiling of my room. Then, with a groan, I give in and poke one of the icons on the screen. A long stream of messages covers my wall. To the left of each message is a photo of the person who posted it. Some of the messages are pictures. Others are short video clips, playing silently because I’ve disabled the sound; I don’t want to hear about all the fun my friends had without me.
My bedroom door slides open with a whisper, startling me, and I swipe my hand at the screen, closing the message stream. The e-glass fogs over, then becomes transparent again, showing the wall behind it, which is painted in subtle stripes of ivory and honey milk. Or, as my fiance describes the colors, white and a little less white.
“Knock, knock,” my father says from the doorway, though the door is open. I’ve set it to let him in but to keep my mother out. Of course, she can override the settings, but the fact that I want to keep her out is enough to make my point.
My dad doesn’t say anything, but he saw my screen. He knows I was secretly stalking my friends. “What, no camera crew today?” He glances around my room in mock disbelief as he steps inside, carrying a covered tray.
“What would be the point?” I get up, and the pink-and-white comforter smooths itself out, leaving a flawless, wrinkle-free finish. “Why would the world want to see me sitting here staring at the wall?”
He smiles as he sets the tray on my dresser. “The world wants to see everything ‘the people’s princess’ does.”
I shrug. I have fun playing princess on camera, but my father knows me like my followers and cyberstalkers never will.
“You know, we have servants to do that.” I lift my chin at the tray.
“I am aware. But when your daughter already has everything, sometimes the only thing left to give her is a personal touch.”
“That is so cheesy.” I roll my eyes, but I can’t hide my smile.
“Actually, it’s chocolaty.” He pulls the lid from the tray, revealing two steaming mugs of something divinely sweet-smelling. “Organic Swiss cocoa.”
He nods. “First shipment of the season.”
Okay, yes, it’s just hot chocolate. Except that the cocoa beans this chocolate comes from are organically harvested from a farm overseas. Grown in actual dirt and watered by hand. Harvested by hand. Dried and processed by hand. Packaged by hand.
All that specialized labor makes the cocoa insanely expensive.
My mother has a cup with breakfast every morning.
“And . . .” My father lifts a smaller dome lid from an opaque glass bowl at the back of the tray. “Hand-cut chocolate-hazelnut marshmallows.”
“Does Mom know you dug into her stash?” I take a mug and use a tiny pair of tongs to drop two large, fluffy marshmallows into it. A glance at the thermostat on the side of the mug tells me it’s set to keep the contents at perfect sipping temperature.
“We’re celebrating. Let me worry about your mother.” My dad picks up his own mug, then settles into my desk chair as I sit on the edge of my bed. “I assume you’ve seen the ratings?”
“The second they were posted.” I consider a modest shrug, but modesty isn’t really my thing. So I give him a huge grin. “Highest viewership of a reality show ever recorded. The proposal episode broke the record.”
“My daughter, the most famous person in the world.” He takes a sip. “So why aren’t you swinging from the chandelier?”
I give him a look. He knows exactly why I’m sulking. How ridiculous is it that I am the single most valuable asset on network and I’m grounded?
“Waverly, are you really going to let one missed party overshadow the good news? Why wouldn’t she let you go, anyway?”
I tuck my legs beneath me on the bed and blow into my mug. “I honestly have no idea.” My father arches one brow at me, but I talk over his skepticism. “No, really. She just said I couldn’t go. No reason. She won’t even talk about it.”
Normally, my mother is logical to a fault, but . . . “It’s like she has something against Seren. She grounded me last year on his birthday too.” I pluck a marshmallow from my cocoa and bite into it, frowning as I chew. “And she dragged us all on vacation during Sofia’s birthday party this year, remember? Maybe it’s not just Seren she doesn’t like, but the whole Locke family. . . .”
“I think you’re reading a little too much into it,” my dad says.
“Or maybe it’s Seren and Sofia’s mother. The Administrator could creep anyone out.” I take the first sip from my mug. The cocoa is decadently sweet and creamy. The kind of thing I should be enjoying on camera.
“So why is missing this party such a tragedy, anyway? There’s still a cyber-blackout at Lakeview, right?”
My silent sip tells him more than actually answering would.
“Ah. That’s it,” he says. “What happens in Lakeview stays in Lakeview, right? Because of the blackout.”
There are only two parties a year in Lakeview--Seren’s birthday party and Sofia’s birthday party--and because the Lakeview compound is a digital dark zone, you can do whatever you want without worrying about video showing up online. While you’re there, it’s like you don’t really exist, except to the other people at the party. It’s liberating, in an oddly low-tech way.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard.