• There’s only one way to figure out how you’ve performed. And that’s the audience. Ah, the audience: the sacred judges of the performing arts. Singing, dancing, acting, you name it, their opinion is the one that matters the most. And like every other judge in the world, they have to rate you. You’ll know how good you’ve performed by how the audience reacts. There are four different kinds of reactions.

    1. If they start clapping politely, well, you’ll know that you stank. Enough said.
    2. If they start cheering, you’ll know that you did okay. Not awesome, but not that bad. You can live with yourself if you get this reaction, but next time, try a little harder, okay?
    3. One of the most frequent reactions is the deafening, standing ovation kind of cheer. The audience sounds like it’s about to get laryngitis from screaming, and you think your eardrums are going to burst. In the midst of it all, you feel terrific and an overwhelming sense of pride that you actually brought an audience of nearly thousands of people to its feet. This is a great reaction and many people don’t achieve much more than this.
    4. The most sacred and rare type of reaction is silence. Pure, unbroken, room-consuming silence. Not even some of the greatest performers known to mankind have achieved this level of judgment. After you’ve performed, and a silence falls over the hall, hushing the crowd completely, you know either you’ve done horribly, and sounded like nails scratching against blackboard, or that you just gave a performance that will go down in history. Usually, it’s the first one, but when you suddenly hear that slow clap building into a thunderous applause, you realize that it’s the second one.

    I want to be that girl, staring out to the audience, smiling and laughing, with the sound of thunderous cheering echoing in my ears. The spotlight would be shining on me, and only me. I would be the only person on that sacred stage, with thousands of eyes gazing at me. I know that would freak some people out, but to me, it’s my lifelong dream. I would turn my head, and grin at the famous celebrity, who is grinning straight back at me. He strides closer to me, and sweeps me up in a tight hug. At last, my dream is complete.

    Hey, I’m Divya. Probably never heard of the name, because it’s Indian. Not the Native American kind of Indian, but the pure from-the-country-called-India Indian. My parents and my whole family are from India. I was born there, too, in the midst of the heat and the dust that overwhelms India. Me, an insignificant addition to the 1,147,995,904 people who can claim they were born in India. Anyway, I moved to California when I was five, so I was raised in the USA. I don’t have an accent, trust me.
    For five years, I knew nothing but the sun, the warmth, the waves and Valley Bay Elementary School. I loved it, all of it. Going to the beach, playing in the sand, feeling the water hit you with an amazing force. Ever since I was little, water fascinated me. As an Aquarius, born on February 5th, I’m supposed to enjoy water, but I really love it. I love the way it slips through your fingers, soft as silk, yet it can be strong enough to knock you off your feet. Water is beautiful, magical, mystical, cabalistic, astounding…but I’m not going to go on about water, because it’s not that important in this story.
    Anyway, California was awesome, warm, comfortable, and the place to be. Living next to Hollywood can really hype up a person. I resided in a gigantic mansion, in Beverly Hills, surrounded by stuck-up snobs. I am proud to say that I was never stupid enough to become one of those brats, but I’m also sad to say that I was a friend with these snobs. Kayla was a great friend, but a little inconsiderate. All she really cared about was what shade of eye shadow she was going to wear tomorrow, and whether or not that shirt was cute enough or, in her case, expensive enough. The typical fashion diva; you probably know enough of those types so I’m not going to go on about her, either. But she was all I could settle for. I had Emily, too. But she was way too shy. So when I moved to New York, I was devastated to be leaving. I sounded like every other whining kid in the world, pleading to not move, and that Kayla was the best friend I would ever have. Little did I know that as soon as I got to New York, I would fall in love.
    I fell in love, all right…with the city! New York City was everything I could ever wish for. Crowded streets, music pumping out of every store around every corner, art surrounding you. You could always count on something happening in NYC. Whether it was a movie shooting, a new art exhibit at the Metropolitan, the Times Square at New Year’s, a celebrity showing somewhere, a new invention, whatever! Anything!! I could go on for hours. NYC fitted me perfectly, partly because I like being busy. In New York City, it seems like every person teeming the streets has a purpose, and a destination. I like having a purpose, or a dream, even if it’s like get a number 7 from the McDonald’s down the street! The other reason, well, is art.
    I literally love art. Not paintings, or sketches, but the performing arts. Dancing, singing, acting, or both at the same time, I can do it. Not bragging! It took me years to perfect my voice, especially without training. But, I’m never totally happy with myself because that could lead to over confidence, and I definitely don’t want to be one of those people who think they’re the best. No one is ever perfect, no matter how hard they try. I taught myself how to dance, to sing, and to act. I danced, made up moves daily, to completely random songs. I sang to every song on the radio, thanks to my amazing and weird memory. Indian, American, Miley Cyrus, or Shreya Ghoshal, I can sing it! (Okay, admitting, I am a sort of a freak. Don’t judge.) Still not bragging, remember!
    The acting was the most confusing. One day I was reading some book, can’t remember what it was anymore, and I had the weirdest thought. Why not act out the scenes? I think that actually is an acting exercise, but I didn’t know when I was ten!
    Anyway, I acted out scenes, mumbling quietly to myself, careful so my parents don’t hear. They were dead set on me becoming the family’s first doctor back then.
    So, I did angry scenes, touching scenes, romantic scenes, hectic scenes, and anything I liked, basically. I did scenes from Twilight, Harry Potter, Narnia, random books, and old books, as well. I had (have) a little of a reading obsession. I can sit for hours on end, just reading about fantasy, sci-fi, magic, adventure, love, whatever! Over the years, I became so fast that I once read 500-page book in five hours. Well, I had no homework, so what could I do? Oh, uh, did I mention I get straight A’s in the IB program, too? Yeah, I’m weird, a bookworm, who lives for music.
    When I listen to music, I listen to every aspect of the singer’s voice. I hear every breath the singer takes, how they let their voice travel, their singing style, their vocal range, and most of all, and their feeling. Okay, I’m going to get a little cheesy here, and say that the most important aspect of a singer’s voice is if they can make you feel what they’re singing. If you can hear what they’re feeling, and the expression in their voice reaches out to you, they are true singers. They are the ones who are true, pure, original, and completely pristine singers. I hate, loathe, abhor, and literally feel hatred toward those people who put together a piece of junk, made up of senseless words, and scream it out, and then label it as a song and themselves as a singer. They’re so STUPID! Ugh! They are the ones that disgrace the name of music. Music for some people is a way of life, and people who become rich by making up something random don’t deserve their name, fame or money!
    Never mind, let’s get off this subject before I blow up.
    So, as I said before, I’m from India. However, until I was ten, I was oblivious to India. I didn’t watch the movies, or listened to the songs, or practice any cultural stuff. I just visited my family there every four years or so, and called myself Indian. At Diwali, the festival of lights in India, my mom, dad and I simply lit a few candles with a cigarette lighter and called it a day. When I first went back to India from Florida, I saw my first real Diwali.
    I was captivated. I stood on that rooftop for an hour, staring up at the magic happening above me. Thousands of fireworks exploding in a burst of color, blazing against the black of the dark night sky. They were everywhere, and they let not even a small patch of the sky to be seen. As soon as one started to fade away into smoke, another one quickly whizzed into the night and replaced it. Hundreds of specially shaped candles, or diyas as Indian people call them, lining walls of rooftops and situated in every home, aglow, lighting up the room like tiny stars. I was bewitched, hypnotized and totally mesmerized. When my aunt came up to get me, she literally had to drag me off of the rooftop.
    Then I bent my neck, which had been bent back for an hour, and gasped in pain. She grimaced at me, as if to say “Serves you right!” I didn’t care though. It was worth it.
    During that same visit, I saw my aunt’s wedding. An Indian wedding is NOTHING like an American wedding. American weddings last about a couple hours, am I right? And there are all those brides complaining about their heels, and how their make-up isn’t perfect. Well, try wearing a ten pounds of heavy fabric, and having twenty pounds of solid gold jewelry hanging from your neck! AND it’s a THREE-DAY wedding!
    But the clothes… I loved the clothes.
    Everywhere you look you’ll catch a glimpse of color. Not the pale, soft colors Americans get for their weddings, but flashes of bright color all around, followed by sequins and gems glimmering and glistening. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I was sad to be leaving, but what could I do? Those were the only times I truly grasped what it felt like to be in touch with India.
    Then we moved to New York, and I found Anya and Aditya.
    Anya…what can I say about her? Well, she’s a unique, quirky, petite, and pretty. What else? Oh, yeah, how could I forget to say that she’s a true desi girl? Yep, she’s an authentic Indian girl, and completely educated about Indian culture. She knows everything possible about Indian history, music, people, clothing, etc. Despite the fact that I’m utterly clueless about all this, we’re like two peas in a pod.
    We are inseparable, especially since we live down the street from each other. You will never hear my name without hers attached to it. Anya and Divya, never Divya or Anya alone. Anya is also somewhat unusual, but that’s one of the many things I love about her. Smart, like me, she wears glasses, and often she can be seen pushing them up her slippery nose, and clutching a bundle of books. She has a great sense of humor; so don’t judge by how she looks. We’ve been friends since I was eleven.
    When I moved to my new school, Queens Middle School, in NYC, I was the freak show that pulled in from the southwest. People avoided me, recoiling when they saw my tan skin, sunny clothing, and cheerful disposition. I tried to make friends, but no one bothered. Then came that fateful day in October, that changed the course of my life forever.
    I met Anya, suddenly, by chance, and slowly we became friends. Now we’re officially inseparable, best friends, and she knows everything about me! There isn’t one detail she doesn’t know about me and vice versa.
    Aditya I only met recently, and you will discover when soon. He is very important in this unusual story, but I can’t give too much away because that would ruin the entire book. And trust me, he’s SO not my love interest.
    Anyway, so we should move on with our story. So this starts off with me being sixteen, and my seventeenth birthday coming up in about a week. I now go to Edmond B. Wilhelm High School, a private school with a great curriculum, an amazing drama program, and a well-known science lab. But you know what, they’re also filled with a bunch of snobby, ostentatious, rich kids, who only care about whatever’s happening with Prada, Jimmy Choo, or Louis Vuitton. GOD! Can you say ANNOYING?!?!?!?
    Sorry, I really get distracted. Okay, well, here goes…

    My scream echoed through the cramped apartment as I made my way down the hallway.
    “MOM!” I shouted. As usual my tiny mom was in the kitchen, possibly preparing my breakfast. My mother is short, petite, with wild, wild curls of frizzy hair. She’s a Capricorn, so she’s the practical type. She’s also the only reason why I get A’s in school.
    “What is it, Divya?” She asked exasperatedly.
    “Did you open my diary?” I asked, still yelling at such a pitch that I was afraid that Robin, from the next apartment over, would come and sue us for her going deaf (she sues A LOT of people for no apparent reason).
    “Lower your tone.” My mom ordered firmly, pausing from where she was slicing tomatoes.
    “MOM – ” I started threateningly.
    “Lower your tone!” She snapped. Geez, what a hypocrite! I thought, making a face when she turned around. I really hate hypocrites, by the way; it’s in my nature.
    “Fine,” I agreed, controlling my voice, but it was shaking just a little. But only I could notice. “But did you?” I asked, bringing back the reason about why my tone was high in the first place.
    “No, I did not.” My mother said shortly.
    “Are you sure?” I poked. “Because I saw it lying around, where I hadn’t left it.”
    “Do you honestly remember where you kept it in the first place?” My mother sighed, exasperated.
    I bit my lip…she had a very good point. I’m not the type to actually remember where I leave my things, and I lose a lot of stuff. So I could have left my diary open on my bedroom floor last night, and not recall it at all.
    “No…” I admitted, a little shamefully.
    “Okay, then.” My mother went back to the oven, and removed the veggie patty from it. That would be my lunch for today.
    “Okay,” My mother was agitated suddenly. “You are late, and you’ll have to run to Anya’s if you don’t hurry up!” She bustled me out of the kitchen, half-pushing me out, and I almost slipped on the tiles because of my slippery socks, which were half put on.
    I scrambled to put them on, dancing on one foot, and then grabbed my backpack. I started to head out the door, but a sharp chide disrupted me.
    “Where do you think you’re going?” My mother scolded.
    Utterly bewildered, I replied slowly. “School…”
    “Not without breakfast, no!” My mother looked at me incredulously.
    “Look mom, I don’t have time.” I glanced at the wall clock in the shape of a teapot, and saw it was 8:25 am. “Anya’s expecting me right now!” I started for the door, but she stopped me yet again.
    “Take you’re lunch, Cheeku!” My mother yelled, and I winced. My dreaded nickname…Ah, what can I say about it?
    I hate it.
    What kind of a nickname is Cheeku? Did you know it’s an Indian fruit, which sort of looks like a kiwi, but tastes completely different? But it sounds so stupid! What was my mother thinking?
    “Okay, mom…” I rushed to get my lunch, stuffed it into my overflowing backpack, and bolted out the door of our teeny apartment.
    It had been so hard to get even this apartment in New York. We were so lucky, compared to some others I knew, who had to live with their baby cousins, and all ten of them. It was small, yes, but it had been my home for six years now, and I had added little things in the beginning to make it look more like my house. A little painting of a sun here, a beach there, and my personal favorite, an enormous set of wind chimes, with a intricately decorated sun above the chimes themselves.
    I headed out the door, and down the corridor to the elevator. We lived on the 17th floor, and had an amazing view of the billboard advertising Herbal Essences, and the entrance to the public subway.
    “Oh, hey, Div.” Jonathan, Robin’s son, my next-door neighbor and my classmate, greeted me with his usual smile, and the sight of him made me giggle.
    “What the heck are you wearing?” I chuckled, gazing wide-eyed at the gray curly wig upon his head, and the long black covering his well-built body.
    “Oh,” He smiled widely, and chortled with me. “History project.”
    The elevator arrived, and we both stepped on. I pressed the lobby button, and waited, and chatted with Jonathan until.
    “Okay, bye.” When we reached the bottom floor, I waved to Jon, whose back was receding into a distance as I headed one way, and he headed the other. He smiled back at me, and winked.
    This was usual for Jonathan. He was a really easygoing guy, very nice, and I obviously don’t have to tell you that plenty of girls were crazy for him. I had been too, once in 9th grade, but he was a good friend now, and a really great guy. He was currently dating Katherine McShaw, and his earlier girlfriends would take too long to name.
    I headed down the street, bustling with people, and squished my way through. We lived in the extremely busy section of Brooklyn, and it was VERY hard to navigate your way through the streets, if you didn’t live here for as long as I have.
    I passed Starbucks, and picked up a cappuccino, and a mocha latte with extra foam, which was generally my usual. I knew the girl behind the counter really well, and she had my drinks ready before I even ordered them. Jaclyn was twenty-three, and married. She went against her parents’ wishes, and dropped out of college for this guy, and now they were happily married. Her parents never visit, and when they heard Jaclyn was finally having a kid, they just hung up the phone.
    Did I mention her husband is unemployed?
    Yeah, they survive on her brother’s money, because her brother is this awesome lawyer, and loves her until death. Her brother is sort of a coffee addict, so in return, she gives him all the free coffee he wants. It’s a pretty good deal if you ask me, you know, if I had an IQ that was 50 points less than my current one.
    “Hey, thanks, Jaclyn.” I grinned, and picked up the drinks swiftly.
    “Don’t mention it, hon.” Jaclyn smiled, and turned back to her customer. “Come by after school, ‘kay?”
    “Sure,” I shouted over my shoulder as I stepped back outside, into the chilly atmosphere. With my thickly gloved hands I held the slightly quivering cups as tightly as I could, and soon I came upon Anya’s house.
    Small, and quaint, it was squeezed between two gray buildings, and stood out dramatically from the rest of the block. Bright, and dramatic, its roof was covered in luminous green tiles, and the door was a vibrant red. Smiling, I bounced up the porch steps, and pressed the doorbell with my elbow.
    “Div!” Anya stood before me, changed only slightly from her ten-year-old self. Her hair was longer, and ever since she got side bangs, her face looked smaller and more petite than ever.
    “An!” I yelled back playfully, and punched her in the shoulder. “Now let me in.”
    She giggled and grabbed her drink from my right hand.
    “Hey!” I spluttered, and stumbled inside her house. “You grabbed the wrong one!”
    She looked quizzically at her cup, realized she had the wrong one, and cheerily replaced it with the other one.
    “We better get going, if we actually want to get there on time.” Anya stated, and took a delicate sip from her Styrofoam cup.
    “Hold up.” I said quickly, dashed into her kitchen, and stole a Nutrigrain bar from a cupboard. Just as I was leaving, I glimpsed Anya’s mom’s sequined shoes enter the room.
    “Stealing again, Divya?” Anya’s mom has a very pronounced Indian accent, but it fit her tall stature and dark complexion. Her hair is soft as a feather, and when juxtaposed with my mom’s, the comparison is hilariously startling.
    “No, Mrs. Sawant.” I smiled politely, and the next second we burst out laughing. For me to be that formal with her was totally unheard of. Anya’s mom and me get along like aunt and niece, and she’s amazingly cool for an Indian mom. She only has three rules for Anya, which are a) No boyfriends, b) Don’t stay out later than nine, and c) Have fun.
    Sometimes, I wish she was my mom. I know that’s really mean, but my mom has so many rules, limitations, orders, and she thinks there should be no time for fun in high school. I HAVE to be a doctor when I grow up, and not the one thing I aspire to become.
    “C’mon, Div!” Anya urged me, sticking her head in the doorway, and waving her hands vigorously.
    “Coming!” I turned around. “Bye, Mrs. Sawant!”
    “Bye, Divya.” Her voice faded as I reentered the icy wind blowing outside with Anya. I was desperately thankful it wasn’t snowing today. Snow lay on the ground in small patches, thanks to the rare sunny day we had had the day before.
    I wrapped my hands around my warm cappuccino, and shivered one time before setting off down the block to our school.

    Dark and ugly, our high school loomed above us, and Anya and I walked into its shadow warily.
    “I really don’t want to go school today.” Anya complained, as we crunched through the patches of snow, and walked past the tall metal gates. The school ground was crowded and deafening conversations could be heard all around us. Anya and me walked tightly with each other, staying separated from the crowd in our own personal bubble. I had to strain my ears to hear Anya’s complaint over the hundreds of voices talking at once.
    “Oh my god – ”
    “Did you hear about Meghan?”
    “So I totally told him that he should, like, back off – ”
    “Pass me the stinkin’ ball, dude!”
    “Oh, geez, Katherine.”
    “Hey, babe…”
    You might think of me as an eavesdropper, but I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoy listening to people’s conversations. You get to know a lot of stuff about the entire high school population. However, I would never tell Hanna that Skylar was cheating on her, or that Raven was secretly bulimic. If it was someone I truly loved and cared about, I would tell them, but I respect people’s privacy, and I’m not the type of girl to gossip.
    “Someone should seriously redo this place and maybe paint it a color other than gray.” I said, frowning at the blank walls, which I did at least twice a week. I looked over at Anya, who was mouthing what I would have continued to say.
    “Hey!” I pushed her playfully, but gently. I didn’t want her falling into the wet ground and get her butt wet and dirty. She was wearing her favorite jeans today, and they cost about fifty dollars.
    “No contact, ladies!” A shrill voice shrieked from behind us, we both jumped, and then turned around.
    “Anya, Divya?” Mrs. Morrow, the tiny gray-haired principle, was walking as fast as she could at us, which really wasn’t that fast. Anya and me waited patiently until she finally caught up with us in the crowded hallway.
    “I suggest we run.” I murmured to Anya. She giggled under her breath, and then shushed me when Mrs. Morrow came near.
    “Anya, Divya, you know about the school’s no contact policy.” She looked at us sternly. I glimpsed two seniors out of the corner of my eye shoving each other around over a football.
    “What about them?” I pointed, and her eyes followed my finger.
    “Cory!” She screamed, and both Anya and me winced. She stalked off toward them, and left us without punishment.
    “Yeah!” I high fived Anya, and then we continued walking.
    “Hey, Diva.” A girl with long blonde hair, and freckles marched up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Diva’ is one of the many nicknames I own, and I personally achieved this one after the talent show in 9th grade, in which I sang. This girl, Brittany, called me Diva ever since.
    “Hey, Brit.” I smiled, and Brittany fell into step with us, on my right side.
    “You going out for the talent show this year, Diva?” Brittany asked, and flipped her incredibly straight hair over her shoulder. Brittany was really pretty, and she wasn’t scared to flaunt it.
    My school is not very typical. We don’t have an ‘it’ girl and crew, or the amazingly handsome jock on the football team. No one picks on you in the hallway just because your outfit doesn’t match. At my school, no one really cares. Everyone just does whatever the heck they want, and no one bothers with other people apart from their own small circle of friends. I guess that’s all you can expect from a school of 4,000 kids.