Jaliyiah was in class, dreaming about her favorite breed of dog, when her teacher announced that she was requiring all of her AP government students to help out in their communities. Everyone groaned at the thought of doing more work. Jaliyiah looked around, not sure when she had zoned out during the lecture.
She refocused and jotted down some scribbles on her notepad to look like she was paying attention. The powerpoint slide that was currently on the screen was talking about supporting the community and giving back to the people and some other nonsense that her eyes skimmed. Just then, Harry Wink nudged her.
“Hey, you want to do community service together?” he asked, smiling brightly at her. “We can pass out the leftover food after my dad’s restaurant closes,” he told her.
Jaliyiah smiled back at him. “I have something planned with my girlfriends,” she explained. She didn’t, but she wasn’t about to tell a boy that. Harry nodded slightly and looked down at his paper in confusion. Granted, they had only just received the assignment a few minutes ago, but Jaliyiah knew that her friends wouldn’t want her doing anything exciting without them.
“So, I want you to complete 5 hours of community service over the next two weeks and then write a two page paper on what you’ve learned though this experience,” Mr. Perkins said, looking over the rim of his narrow glasses at his class. “Does anyone have any questions?” he asked the students.
Kayla Nickel raised her hand.
“Yes, Kayla,” Mr. Perkins said.
“Is it okay if I count my existing work at the homeless shelter?” Kayla asked, twirling a piece of her blonde hair around her finger.
“No, I want you to do something completely different,” Mr. Perkins said. “Everyone needs to really stretch themselves and discover new things. Look for ways that you can help your community by doing something that you love or taking part in an activity that you’re interested in. I want everyone to email me your ideas and I will approve them before you get started.”
Jaliyiah thought about what she loved. Fashion, of course. But she also loved animals. How could she combine the two? Jaliyiah chewed on the end of her pencil, deep in thought. She needed help with this one. She needed the YOLO Girls.
Jaliyiah joined her friends at their regular lunch table. The other girls were all talking and laughing and texting on their phones. Jaliyiah sat down with an air of seriousness. She had something so important to tell her girlfriends.
“Attention everyone,” Jaliyiah said, in her finest speaking voice.
“He just said that my hair is too cute to cut!” Kadyn shrieked in laughter.
“Tell him too bad his hair is too short to grow!” Aala told her.
“What does that even mean?” Kendele asked, furrowing her brows at her friends.
Jaliyiah cleared her throat. No one looked around at her. She cleared her throat again.
“Hey everyone, I think Jaliyiah wants to –” Denelle didn’t get a chance to finish when Jaliyiah spoke over her.
“Attention everyone!” she shouted, commandingly. “I have an important announcement to make!”
The girls stop talking and looked around at Jaliyiah. She smiled at all of them sweetly, then looked down at her notes. “I have a community service project that I have to do for government class and I want everyone to help.”
Aala groaned. “We hate doing our own homework, now you want us to do yours?” She asked.
“It’s not going to be boring,” Jaliyiah scoffed. “I thought about what I could do and I want to combine my two greatest loves; fashion and animals.”
“So you’re going to make those adorable little outfits for purse dogs?” Kadyn asked.
“You’re going to help dogs with loser owners go to more fashionable homes?” Kendele questioned.
“Don’t keep us in suspense!” Denelle implored.
“We’re going to have a pet-themed fashion show!” Jaliyiah announced.
The girls all gasped in delight then cheered at the idea. “This will be awesome!” Aala enthused.
“We haven’t had a show since…” Kadyn remembered when their last fashion show was and she stopped herself from finishing that sentence.
A lull in conversation overtook the girls as they all thought back to their recently deceased friend, Cambrie. She had been a victim of fashion, clearly. Some collateral damage that the fashion gods had demanded and she had provided. It was sad, but they all exchanged glances, knowing that they had to move on with their lives.
“I’ll take care of the music,” Denelle offered.
“Yeah, that will be awesome,” Jaliyiah said, nodding. She was glad for the distraction.
“I have a great idea!” Aala said, although Jaliyiah doubted it. “We should have a Arabian Nights themed show.”
“How would that fit in with the animals though?” Denelle asked.
“We can dress them up like Arabian characters, of course,” Aala laughed. “We can have little puppy and kitty belly dancers. We can have an Aladdin dog and a Prince of Thieves cat.”
“Isn’t the Arabian nights thing based off of a book?” Kendele asked, wrinkling her nose at the thought of reading something.
“Well, yeah, but we don’t need to read it,” Aala said, shrugging. “We can just look it up on Wikipedia if we need ideas.”
“This is such a great idea!” Kadyn said. “I definitely want to be a belly dancer. Maybe a belly dancer mermaid.” Kadyn thought for a second. “Yeah, definitely a belly dancer mermaid.”
“I’ll be the director since this is my project,” Jaliyiah said. “But I also want to be featured model.”
“Of course,” Aala nodded. “Let’s have someone else MC for us this time. We all need a chance to walk down the runway and do our full performance. There’s only five of us now, so we’ll need to be multiple costume changes if we want to make this show a decent length.”
Jaliyiah nodded, her mind already working to figure out how to manage this show. She had so many great ideas. Now she just needed some time to put all of them together.
That night, Jaliyiah sat back at her computer, typing up the ninth status update about her fashion show. Everyone on social media was buzzing about this new show. She had already emailed two shelters and told them that they could have the opportunity to be the recipient of the YOLO Girls’ amazing fashion show. She was now waiting for responses back.
Jaliyiah’s phone went off and she grabbed it, thinking that it was one of the shelters emailing her back to reserve their spot as the fashion show’s benefactor. But it wasn’t any of the shelters, it was Mr. Perkins. Jaliyiah opened the email. She figured he must be emailing to congratulate her on how amazing her idea was and talking about how unfair it was for all of the other students to have to compete with her.
Time: 6:33pm, April 24, Monday
Dear Ms. Brady,
I’ve looked over your proposal and I’m a little confused. How will this benefit the shelter? Are you going to charge admission? Are you going to help the pets that are modeling be adopted? Will you auction off the outfits?
Have you thought about how the pets are going to partake in the show? These are animals we’re talking about. Some of them are abused or abandoned. They’re not super models. How are you going to get them to strut down a runway on cue for you?
I also believe that your Arabian Nights theme sounds a little culturally insensitive. All of the women you’re portraying are belly dancers or otherwise sexualized. All of the men are criminals or ruffians. The theme itself isn’t a problem, but I think you should draw more on the complex narratives of the Arab people and less on stereotypes and Disney movies.
Please email me back with your changes to this project and we can discuss it some more.
Jaliyiah rolled her eyes at the message. What did he know? Cultural insensitivity? How will the shelter actually benefit from the show? These questions were so frivolous and silly next to the magnitude of what she was doing. She didn’t have time for this teacher bullshit.
Just then, Aala texted. She sent two picture messages of belly dance costumes for the show. One was a blue and green costume for Kadyn so she could be a belly dancing mermaid. One was a bright pink outfit that she wanted to wear. Jaliyiah texted back immediately that both looked amazing. Things were coming along nicely.
Just after she hit sent on her message to Aala, Kendele called her. “Hey girl!” Jaliyiah greeted her, happily.
“Hey, I was just thinking, we should see if Binnford’s wants to donate some accessories towards the show,” Kendele said. Binnford’s was the nicest department store in town that specialized in evening gowns, costumes, and other high-end items. Hardly anyone in town could afford to shop there, but somehow the store remained open.
“That’s a great idea!” Jaliyiah agreed.
“Have you heard from any of the shelters yet?” Kendele asked.
“Not yet,” Jaliyiah informed her friend. “But I got an email back from Mr. Perkins and he said that everything looks great and we’re all set to go, class-wise.”
“That’s jammin’,” Kendele said. “I’m about to go on an evening ride on my bike, but I will be around later if you want to talk about ideas.”
“That’s prefect, I’ll text you soon. Have fun!” she added. The girls said their goodbyes before hanging up.
Jaliyiah put her phone down and went back to the plans that she had been doodling on her desk. She wished that her parents were there to help. Unfortunately, both of them had been declared legally insane and were now in the local mental hospital.
She had tried to call them a few days previously but no one knew that she was living on her own and she didn’t want to hospital staff catching on. Besides, her mom had just talked to her the last few times about the snail that lived under her bed that told her things about the past presidents of the United States. She really didn’t want to go over that yet again.
Jaliyiah decided to email the owner of Binnford’s and ask about using some of their clothes. She wasn’t sure what they had, but she knew that just getting them involved would get the simple people of their town out to see the show. Jaliyiah leaned back and thought about all of the dogs and cats that they would help through their show. She was such an amazing person to do this, not only for animals, but for free.
“No, that’s not okay!” Jaliyiah shouted back at the dim secretary calling from Binnford’s. The woman told her that the owner of the company was interested in letting them rent costumes, but wanted to be paid upfront, in full for the rental and cleaning fees.
Jaliyiah argued passionately with the secretary that since the show is for charity that there shouldn’t be a charge. She added that their name would be featured on the programs very prominently. But that wasn’t enough. The secretary then asked how old she was in a condescending voice.
That’s when the shouting had started. Jaliyiah told the woman just how much time and money she and her friends had spent at Binnford’s while the woman shouted at her that they couldn’t just rent out costumed to pre-schoolers to put on little shows. Jaliyiah defended her fashion show with vigor, but the woman said that Binnford’s was a business and not a charity and they couldn’t waste money on all of these costumes that they would never be able to sell.
“You don’t know anything about how a business runs, young lady!” The woman thundered over the phone.
“You don’t know anything about fashion!” Jaliyiah shot back. The woman started screaming something else at her, but Jaliyiah had had enough. She hung the phone up set it down on her desk. She couldn’t believe this. Her project was going terribly.
Throughout that week none of the shelters that she had contacted wanted to benefit from the show. The first two had turned her down, stating that they would both love to have her come in and work with them, but that they wouldn’t feel comfortable putting their animals on a runway. She had then contacted two other, lower-class shelters and they had both turned her down, too.
To make matters worse, Mr. Perkins had been on her case about the entire project. He told her that she should focus more on actually helping the community and less on the glamour of a fashion show. He spoke disdainfully for her assignment and said that fashion shows are nice, but he wanted her to get her hands dirty and really experience what it was like to work hard.
Jaliyiah had tried to explain to him that he had never put on a fashion show before and that doing so was one of the most difficult and dirty jobs in the world. But Mr. Perkins was resolute. He stubbornly insisted that the project was too problematic and needed to be changed into something more appropriate for the class.
In an act of desperation, Jaliyiah had pulled out her trump card. Her friend Leighanne had died while doing community service. How could a teacher expect her to do something that one of her best friends had died doing? Didn’t they care about her psychological wellbeing?
But Mr. Perkins didn’t buy it. He said that this had nothing to do with Leighanne, whom he claimed to miss dearly, and she was not getting out of the assignment based on her death. Jaliyiah was so frustrated. How could anyone expect her to work under these conditions?
Jaliyiah picked up her phone again and texted the group text to all of girls. She told them to meet her at the coffee shop in 20 minutes. Grabbing her purse and her fashion show notebook, she shoved her things into her bag and walked out the door.
Driving to the coffee shop, Jaliyiah cranked up her new favorite pop song and sang along as she drove. She arrived at the strip mall in just a few minutes and took the girls’ regular table in the small store. They had always needed to pull chairs over before. But now, with the YOLO Girls’ dwindling numbers, they just took up the large round table by themselves.
One by one, the other girls arrived and got in line. Jaliyiah had Aala get her an ice latte. She sat back with her eyes closed and tried to de-stress. She thought about getting a body wrap after they were done here. The thought of being pampered by someone in a salon seemed overwhelmingly nice.
Jaliyiah was imagining the gentle hands of a Swedish man racing over her body in the most soothing massage possible when Aala put her ice latte down in front of her. “Hey, girl,” Aala said, nudging her friend slightly. Jaliyiah opened her eyes and saw her drink. She accepted it without thanking Aala.
“So what’s the deal?” Kadyn asked, sitting down with her steaming mug of espresso.
“Well,” Jaliyiah said, pausing as Kendele sat down with the group. “We’re having some problems with the fashion show.”
“Problems?” Aala asked, her blue eyes glazing over at the thought of something that might cause her friends to worry.
“Yeah, I’m having problems all around,” Jaliyiah admitted. “So I called everyone here so they can help me. Because this is stuff that seriously threatens the fashion show.”
Denelle made a high-pitched squeaking sound. The other girls turned and look at her in surprise. Her eyes had instantly become rimmed with red. “I’m just so upset!” She said, louder than she had intended. “I mean, we just want to put on a fashion show to help little animals. What’s so wrong about that?”
“I know, right?” Jaliyiah said, waving her hands in frustration. “We’re trying to something that’s good for everyone and no one wants to be helpful. They just want to stop us.”
“So what are the problems exactly?” Kendele asked, the wheels of her brain turning already with solutions.
“Well, first of all, Mr. Perkins doesn’t think that I should do this as my community service project,” Jaliyiah said.
“I know how to solve this problem,” Aala offered.
“How?” Jaliyiah asked, desperately.
“Mr. Perkins is a guy, right?”
The other girls exchanged glances. “Right,” Denelle said, slowly.
“He doesn’t understand fashion shows,” Aala said, pausing to take a sip from her drink. “We need to show him how fashion shows as a key element in modern culture for problem solving and exploration. If we can show him how crucial fashion shows are to our generation and to the rest of the world, we can definitely convince him that we need to put one on.”
“You’re so right,” Kadyn said, nodding in agreement.
“Since this is your class, you should write him a long email about how fashion shows have influenced culture and ancient people since the dawn of time and explain to him how this show will help not only our community, but the world,” Aala said.
“That’s perfect!” Jaliyiah agreed. “I never stopped to think that he doesn’t understand fashion and how important it is. But it’s so true. He’s a guy, how is he supposed to get it?”
“Yeah, it’s really not his fault,” Denelle offered. “He can’t help that he was born without a brain.”
“What other problems are there?” Aala asked.
“Well, next big one on the list is that no animal shelter wants to be our beneficiary for the show,” Jaliyiah said, the frown returning to her face.
“Well, that’s easy,” Kendele said. “We make one up.”
“How do we make up an animal shelter?” Kadyn asked, furrowing her brow.
“It doesn’t have to be an animal shelter, it just has to be a group that helps animals,” Kendele reasoned. “We can invent a group that’s dedication to fashion AND animals, like we are. Then we give all of the proceeds to that group and use them to buy nice pet leashes or have the pets groomed.”
“That’s perfect!” Jaliyiah said. “We don’t need some real shelter to support us if they’re going to be such bitches.”
“Exactly,” Kendele said, taking a bite from the gluten-free muffin that she had just purchased. “We can even be board directors for it and we can put it on our college applications that we run a pet charity.”
“You’re so smart,” Denelle said, looking at her friend in awe.
“Anything else we need to take care of?” Kadyn asked, getting warmed up to the image of her and her friends as the ultimate problem solvers.
“Well, we don’t have costumes for the fashion show,” Jaliyiah admitted. “We have a few things from Aala, but nothing substantial enough for an entire show. I also wanted to incorporate some male models, so we can have dates to the after party and we have nothing to put them in.”
“Clothes are not a problem,” Aala laughed. “I actually came here to tell you that I was talking to the head dancer at my belly dance studio and she said that we can use the entire closet of dance materials. We’ll have enough costumes and props to put on a four day fashion show.”
“Yay!” The other girls all cheered in excitement.
“This is perfect!” Jaliyiah said, enthusiastically. “I just knew that if we all got together, we could come up with a way to overcome all of this bullshit that’s been thrown at us.”
“Of course,” Kendele smiled. “We’re the YOLO Girls, we can handle anything!”
The other girls laughed and nodded. “This is going to be the best fashion show ever,” Kadyn said, breathlessly. “Nothing can stop us now.”
“Okay, let’s think about how we’re going to handle this,” Aala said, placing her hands on the table. “Jaliyiah, you email Mr. Perkins and get him to let us do the show. Denelle, you make up the charity that we’re going to be supporting. Get one of those template websites and a Facebook page and make it look legit.”
“Right,” Denelle said, nodding.
“I’ll take care of costuming and props since it’s my belly dance studio. Jaliyiah can help me order the show and make sure that everything flows nicely into each other,” Aala continued. “Kendele, I need you to do the running work. Book the venue, make the flyers, get people excited about it and wanting to come and donate.”
“What about the pets?” Jaliyiah asked. “The whole idea was to have pets in the show.”
“Well, we can’t get shelter pets, clearly,” Aala said. “But we can go to Newton’s Pet Store downtown and ask to borrow their pets.”
“The pet store?” Kendele asked, wrinkling her nose. Isn’t that the opposite of a pet shelter?”
“Yeah, but first of all, they’re pets and they need to be adopted, right?” Aala asked.
“Right,” the other girls agreed.
“Also, they’ll let us have access, and do I need to mention that Newton’s pets are all purebred and not mucky shelter animals with no papers?” Aala asked, nodding at the girls.
Jaliyiah realized that she had been planning a fashion show around unfashionable pets. “Oh my god, you’re so right,” Jaliyiah said instantly. “Purebred pets are much cuter.”
“Besides, if we get Newton’s involved, then they might give us some money to get our hair and makeup done for the show,” Aala said. “After all, if someone wants to adopt a pet from the show, they’ll have to buy it from Newton. So they should give us a little something in return, right? That’s what charity is all about.”
Jaliyiah nodded, vigorously. “You’re so right,” She told her friend. “We need to get on this right away. We only have one more week until the show and we have so much to do.”
“Right!” The other girls chorused, brightly. With that, the YOLO Girls were off, planning what would be the most epic pet fashion show this town had ever seen. Jaliyiah pulled out her iPad and started typing up her letter to Mr. Perkins immediately after the other girls left. She had to convince a man that was fashion-impaired just how important fashion shows were to the world. Her work was cut out for her.
The night of the show arrived faster than anyone had thought it would. The details of the show had come together perfectly after the meeting that night. Mr. Perkins agreed to let Jaliyiah put on the show as she had proven just how important it was to her. He said something about not wanting to argue the point anymore. But that didn’t matter.
The costumes were altered to fit the girls and arranged to tell a story of love, lust and theft in the Arabian nights setting. The girls arranged to borrow the pets from Newton’s and the store graciously hired professional hair and makeup artists to pretty up the girls before the show. They had given them enough pets for the entire performance, including a box of Siamese kittens that Kendele was going to carry in the big finale.
After everything had fallen into place, Jaliyiah was finally able to relax and enjoy the work that went into a fashion show. They used the local dog park as their venue. It was completely appropriate considering who they were raising money for. The girls hired a DJ and male models from their high school with the promise that they would be super popular if they helped them.
About a half hour before curtain time, Jaliyiah was fully dressed, getting her hair done by Kendra, her stylist. The girls were talking and laughing with the male models. So far, Kadyn had made a connection with the teenager that was playing Alibaba and Aala couldn’t keep her hands off of the boy playing Aladdin.
Jaliyiah thought about their future profiles on The Knot. They could both say that the met their future spouse at a fashion show that their best friend had organized. Her show would not only help animals, it would help her friends find true love.
“The crowd out there is so excited!” Denelle announced, fixing her belly dancing bra. “They just can’t wait for us to take the stage.”
“Twitter is all about our show tonight,” Kadyn said, looking over the app on her phone. #yolofashionshow had been trending in their area for hours now. Granted, there are some tweets about how someone was coming to see which one of them would die or to see a bunch of silly teenagers make fools of themselves yet again. But Kadyn knew that there would always be haters when you were this popular.
“This is so great!” Jaliyiah said, stretching her arms up and almost popping Kendra in the face. “Maybe I’ll get extra credit for this as well as an A plus.”
“I don’t see how you couldn’t,” Aala laughed. “This is the best show we’ve put on.”
“Nothing can touch us tonight,” Jaliyiah said. “We are the YOLO Girls and we can do anything,” she told her friends.
“Yeah!” The other girls agreed.
The show was going perfectly. Twenty minutes into the display, the girls were strutting their stuff like the runway pros that they were. The animals were being less than cooperative, but that didn’t matter. A dog that Denelle was leading around had gotten stage fright and refused to move. She ended up having to drag the pet on its leash through the runway and back.
Kadyn had been holding a kitten that had gotten scared by the crowd and had scratched her arm then darted backstage to the safety of its carrier when she tried to take it onto the stage. Kadyn, ever the professional, had continued the walk by herself. The crowd didn’t even seem to notice.
The girls were so proud of their efforts and their experience with fashion and fashion shows was shining through as each girl took their last turn on the catwalk. Finally, it was Kendele’s turn to take out the box of kittens. They had been put into a wood box decorated as a treasure chest. The idea was for her to get to the end of the runway with the box, then open it and all of the kittens would climb out and jump all over her in a display of cuteness unrivaled by anything on the internet.
“You ready?” Jaliyiah asked her friend, who had the box in front of her and was staying Aala as she did her final turn on the runway.
“I’m so ready,” Kendele said. “I was worried that the kittens would run off when I opened the box, so I doused myself in catnip,” she told her friend. “There’s even some in my bra.”
“That’s good thinking,” Jaliyiah said, no cat would be able to resist her now.
Aala burst through the curtains, looking completely happy and flushed. “It’s your turn,” Jaliyiah said, happily.
“Wish me luck!” Kendele called as she parted the curtain and sashayed onto the runway.
“Good luck!” Jaliyiah called over the throbbing music. She watched her friend from the wings as she wiggled and undulated her way down the runway. Finally, she reached the end of the catwalk and popped the box open. Her expression was a perfect one of surprise and delight as the kittens popped their heads out of the treasure chest.
No one was really preprepared for what happened next though. The kittens, smelling the catnip and terrified at the lights, music, and people, launched themselves onto Kendele. Their tiny claws dug into her skin. In a second, her smile of triumph vanished.
Kendele screamed in horror as the kittens scratched her. The girls stood, frozen backstage, unsure of what was going on. Suddenly, one of the smallest cats, a little grey ball, attached itself to Kendele’s face and clawed one of her eyes. Kendele continued to scream, managing to fling one of the kittens onto the stage. It laid there, not moving for several seconds.
“Uh, we should do something,” Aala said, looking onto the runway in horror.
“Yeah, we should,” Jaliyiah agreed. She waited for someone to leap into action. But no one did.
Transfixed the girls stood in the wings and watched as Kendele was slowly clawed to death by the remaining six kittens. When she finally collapsed on stage, Denelle gulped. “Should we call an ambulance?” She asked, tentatively.
Jaliyiah got out her phone and dialed the emergency number. She hadn’t even told the operator what her emergency was when she heard sirens. She bid the operator goodbye, figuring that someone must have called from the crowd. She watched as the paramedics burst their way onto the scene and pulled the remaining kittens off of Kendele.
“I hope this doesn’t effect my final grade,” Jaliyiah told her friends, biting her lower lip.
“I’m sure it won’t,” Kadyn said, comfortingly. “This isn’t your fault.”
Jaliyiah nodded half heartedly as the paramedics took her friend away on the stretcher. The crowd was murmuring angrily in the background about what had happened. Someone had already left, throwing the programs on the ground as they walked away. Jaliyiah wished that there was a way to problem solve this issue.
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