In "The Carrie Diaries," author Candace Bushnell revisits her iconic character Carrie Bradshaw in the teen prequel to “Sex and the City.” An excerpt.
Chapter two: The integer crowd
“Who knows the difference between integral calculus and differential calculus?”
Andrew Zion raises his hand. “Doesn’t it have something to do with how you use the differentials?”
“That’s getting there,” Mr. Douglas, the teacher, says. “Anyone else have a theory?”
The Mouse raises her hand. “In differential calculus you take an infinitesimal small point and calculate the rate of change from one variable to another. In integral calculus you take a small differential element and you integrate it from one lower limit to another limit. So you sum up all those infinitesimal small points into one large amount.”
Jeez, I think. How the hell does The Mouse know that?
I’m never going to be able to get through this course. It will be the first time math has failed me. Ever since I was a kid, math was one of my easiest subjects. I’d do the homework and ace the tests, and hardly have to study. But I’ll have to study now, if I plan to survive.
I’m sitting there wondering how I can get out of this course, when there’s a knock on the door. Sebastian Kydd walks in, wearing an ancient navy blue polo shirt. His eyes are hazel with long lashes, and his hair is bleached dark blond from seawater and sun. His nose, slightly crooked, as if he was punched in a fight and never had it fixed, is the only thing that saves him from being too pretty.
Sebastian looks him straight in the eye, unfazed. “I had a few things I needed to take care of first.”
I sneak a glance at him from behind my hand. Here is someone who truly does come from another planet—a planet where all humans are perfectly formed and have amazing hair.
“Please. Sit down.”
Sebastian looks around the room, his glance pausing on me. He takes in my white go-go boots, slides his eyes up my light blue tartan skirt and sleeveless turtleneck, up to my face, which is now on fire. One corner of his mouth lifts in amusement, then pulls back in confusion before coming to rest on indifference. He takes a seat in the back of the room.
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“Carrie,” Mr. Douglas says. “Can you give me the basic equation for movement?”
Thank God we learned that equation last year. I rattle it off like a robot: “X to the fifth degree times Y to the tenth degree minus a random integer usually known as N.”
“Right,” Mr. Douglas says. He scribbles another equation on the board, steps back, and looks directly at Sebastian. Video: Before the cosmos (on this page)
I put my hand on my chest to keep it from thumping.
“Mr. Kydd?” he asks. “Can you tell me what this equation represents?”
I give up being coy. I turn around and stare.
Sebastian leans back in his chair and taps his pen on his calculus book. His smile is tense, as if he either doesn’t know the answer, or does know it and can’t believe anyone would be so stupid as to ask. “It represents infinity, sir. But not any old infinity. The kind of infinity you find in a black hole.”
He catches my eye and winks.
Wow. Black hole indeed.
“Sebastian Kydd is in my calculus class,” I hiss to Walt, cutting behind him in the cafeteria line.
“Christ, Carrie,” Walt says. “Not you, too. Every single girl in this school is talking about Sebastian Kydd. Including Maggie.”
The hot meal is pizza—the same pizza our school system has been serving for years, which tastes like barf and must be the result of some secret school-system recipe. I pick up a tray, then an apple and a piece of lemon meringue pie.
“But Maggie is dating you.”
“Try telling Maggie that.”
We carry our trays to our usual table. The Pod People sit at the opposite end of the cafeteria, near the vending machines. Being seniors, we should have claimed a table next to them. But Walt and I decided a long time ago that high school was disturbingly like India—a perfect example of a caste system—and we vowed not to participate by never changing our table. Unfortunately, like most protests against the overwhelming tide of human nature, ours goes largely unnoticed.
The Mouse joins us, and she and Walt start talking about Latin, a subject in which they’re both better than I am. Then Maggie comes over. Maggie and The Mouse are friendly, but The Mouse says she would never want to get too close to Maggie because she’s overly emotional. I say that excessive emotionality is interesting and distracts one from one’s own problems. Sure enough, Maggie is on the verge of tears.
“I just got called into the counselor’s office—again. She said my sweater was too revealing!”
“That’s outrageous,” I say.
“Tell me about it,” Maggie says, squeezing in between Walt and The Mouse. “She really has it out for me. I told her there was no dress code and she didn’t have the right to tell me what to wear.”
The Mouse catches my eye and snickers. She’s probably remembering the same thing I am—the time Maggie got sent home from Girl Scouts for wearing a uniform that was too short. Okay, that was about seven years ago, but when you’ve lived in the same small town forever, you remember these things.
“And what did she say?” I ask.
“She said she wouldn’t send me home this time, but if she sees me in this sweater again, she’s going to suspend me.”
Walt shrugs. “She’s a bitch.”
“How can she discriminate against a sweater?”
“Perhaps we should lodge a complaint with the school board. Have her fired,” The Mouse says.
I’m sure she doesn’t mean to sound sarcastic, but she does, a little. Maggie bursts into tears and runs in the direction of the girls’ room.
Walt looks around the table. “Which one of you bitches wants to go after her?”
“Was it something I said?” The Mouse asks innocently.
“No.” Walt sighs. “There’s a crisis every other day.”
“I’ll go.” I take a bite of my apple and hurry after her, pushing through the cafeteria doors with a bang.
I run smack into Sebastian Kydd.
“Whoa,” he exclaims. “Where’s the fire?”
“Sorry,” I mumble. I’m suddenly hurtled back in time, to when I was twelve.
“This is the cafeteria?” he asks, gesturing toward the swinging doors. He peeks in the little window. “Looks heinous. Is there any place to eat off campus?”
Off-campus? Since when did Castlebury High become a campus? And is he asking me to have lunch with him? No, not possible. Not me. But maybe he doesn’t remember that we’ve met before.
“There’s a hamburger place up the street. But you need a car to get there.”
“I’ve got a car,” he says.
And then we just stand there, staring at each other. I can feel the other kids walking by but I don’t see them.
“Okay. Thanks,” he says.
“Right.” I nod, remembering Maggie.
“See ya,” he says, and walks away.
Rule number one: Why is it that the one time a cute guy talks to you, you have a friend who’s in crisis?
I run into the girls’ room. “Maggie? You won’t believe what just happened.” I look under the stalls and spot Maggie’s shoes next to the wall. “Mags?”
“I am totally humiliated,” she wails.
Rule number two: Humiliated best friend always takes precedence over cute guy.
“Magwitch, you can’t let what other people say affect you so much.” I know this isn’t helpful, but my father says it all the time and it’s the only thing I can think of at the moment.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“By looking at everyone like they’re a big joke. Come on, Mags. You know high school is absurd. In less than a year we’ll be out of here and we’ll never have to see any of these people ever again.”
“I need a cigarette,” Maggie groans.
The door opens and the two Jens come in.
Jen S and Jen P are cheerleaders and part of the Pod clique. Jen S has straight dark hair and looks like a beautiful little dumpling. Jen P used to be my best friend in third grade. She was kind of okay, until she got to high school and took up social climbing. She spent two years taking gymnastics so she could become a cheerleader, and even dated Tommy Brewster’s best friend, who has teeth the size of a horse. I waver between feeling sorry for her and admiring her desperate determination. Last year, her efforts paid off and she was finally admitted to the Pod pack, which means she now rarely talks to me.
For some reason, she does today, because when she sees me, she exclaims, “Hi!” as if we’re still really good friends.
“Hi!” I reply, with equally false enthusiasm.
Jen S nods at me as the two Jens begin taking lipsticks and eye shadows out of their bags. I once overheard Jen S telling another girl that if you want to get guys, you have to have “a trademark”—one thing you always wore to make you memorable. For Jen S, this, apparently, is a thick stripe of navy blue eyeliner on her upper lid. Go figure. She leans in to the mirror to make sure the eyeliner is still intact as Jen P turns to me.
“Guess who’s back at Castlebury High?” she asks.
“Re-e-e-ally?” I look in the mirror and rub my eye, pretending I have something in it.
“I want to date him,” she says, with complete and utter confidence. “From what I’ve heard, he’d be a perfect boyfriend for me.”
“Why would you want to date someone you don’t know?”
“I just do, that’s all. I don’t need a reason.”
“Cutest boys in the history of Castlebury High,” Jen S says, as if leading a cheer.
Jimmy Watkins, Randy Sandler, and Bobby Martin were on the football team when we were sophomores. They all graduated at least two years ago. Who cares? I want to shout.
“Sebastian Kydd,” Jen S exclaims.
“Hall of Famer for sure. Right, Carrie?”
“Who?” I ask, just to annoy her.
“Sebastian Kydd,” Jen P says in a huff as she and Jen S exit.
“Maggie?” I ask. She hates the two Jens and won’t come out until they’ve left the bathroom. “They’re gone.”
“Thank God.” The stall door opens and Maggie heads for the mirror. She runs a comb through her hair. “I can’t believe Jen P thinks she can get Sebastian Kydd. That girl has no sense of reality. Now, what were you going to tell me?”
“Nothing,” I say, suddenly sick of Sebastian. If I hear one more person mention his name, I’m going to shoot myself.
“What was that business with Sebastian Kydd?” The Mouse asks a little later. We’re in the library, attempting to study.
“What business?” I highlight an equation in yellow, thinking about how useless it is to highlight. It makes you think you’re learning, but all you’re really learning is how to use a highlighter.
“He winked at you. In calculus class.”
“Bradley,” The Mouse says, in disbelief. “Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t notice.”
“How do I know he was winking at me? Maybe he was winking at the wall.”
“How do we know infinity exists? It’s all a theory. And I think you should go out with him,” she insists. “He’s cute and he’s smart. He’d be a good boyfriend.”
“That’s what every girl in the school thinks. Including Jen P.”
“So what? You’re cute and you’re smart, too. Why shouldn’t you date him?”
Rule number three: Best friends always think you deserve the best guy even if the best guy barely knows you exist.
“Because he probably only likes cheerleaders?”
“Faulty reasoning, Bradley. You don’t know that for a fact.” And then she gets all dreamy and rests her chin in her hand. “Guys can be full of surprises.”
This dreaminess is not like The Mouse. She has plenty of guy friends, but she’s always been too practical to get romantically involved.
“What does that mean?” I ask, curious about this new Mouse. “Have you encountered some surprising guys recently?”
“Just one,” she says.
And rule number four: Best friends can also be full of surprises.
“Bradley.” She pauses. “I have a boyfriend.”
What? I’m so shocked, I can’t speak. The Mouse has never had a boyfriend. She’s never even had a proper date.
“He’s pretty nifty,” she says.
“Nifty? Nifty?” I croak, finding my voice. “Who is he? I need to know all about this nifty character.”
The Mouse giggles, which is also very un-Mouse-like. “I met him this summer. At the camp.”
“Aha.” I’m kind of stunned and a little bit hurt that I haven’t heard about this mysterious Mouse boyfriend before, but now it makes sense. I never see The Mouse during the summer because she always goes to some special government camp in Washington, D.C.
And suddenly, I’m really happy for her. I jump up and hug her, popping up and down like a little kid on Christmas morning. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. It’s only a stupid boyfriend. But still. “What’s his name?”
“Danny.” Her eyes slide away and she smiles dazedly, as if she’s watching some secret movie inside her head. “He’s from Washington. We smoked pot together and—”
“Wait a minute.” I hold up my hands. “Pot?”
“My sister Carmen told me about it. She says it relaxes you before sex.”
Carmen is three years older than The Mouse and the most proper girl you’ve ever seen. She wears pantyhose in the summer. “What does Carmen have to do with you and Danny? Carmen smokes pot? Carmen has sex?”
“Listen, Bradley. Even smart people get to have sex.”
“Meaning we should be having sex.”
“Speak for yourself.”
Huh? I pull The Mouse’s calculus book away from her and bang it shut. “Listen, Mouse. What are you talking about? Did you have sex?”
“Yup,” she says, nodding, as if it’s no big deal.
“How can you have sex and I haven’t? You’re supposed to be a nerd. You’re supposed to be inventing the cure for cancer, not doing it in the backseat of some car filled with marijuana smoke.”
“We did it in his parents’ basement,” The Mouse says, taking her book back.
“You did?” I try to imagine The Mouse naked on some guy’s cot in a damp basement. I can’t picture it. “How was it?”
“The sex,” I nearly scream, trying to bring The Mouse back down to earth.
“Oh, that. It was good. Really fun. But it’s the kind of thing you have to work at. You don’t just start doing it. You have to experiment.”
“Really?” I narrow my eyes in suspicion. I’m not sure how to take this news. All summer, while I was writing some stupid story to get into that stupid writing program, The Mouse was losing her virginity. “How did you even figure out how to do it in the first place?”
“I read a book. My sister told me everyone should read an instructional manual before they do it so they know what to expect. Otherwise it might be a big disappointment.”
I squint, adding a sex book to my image of The Mouse and this Danny person getting it on in his parents’ basement. “Do you think you’re going to . . . continue?”
“Oh, yes,” The Mouse says. “He’s going to Yale, like me.” She smiles and goes back to her calculus book, as if it’s all settled.
“Hmph.” I fold my arms. But I suppose it makes sense. The Mouse is so organized, she would have her romantic life figured out by the time she’s eighteen.
While I have nothing figured out at all.
Excerpted from "The Carrie Diaries," by Candace Bushnell. Copyight (c) 2010. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins.
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