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From Twinkle, with Love
Author: Sandhya Menon


Monday, June 1


Hello, namaste, buenos dias, and bonjour, Mira Nair!

The basics.

Name: Twinkle Mehra

Age: Sixteen

Occupation: Sadly, a junior at Pikes Peak Charter in Colorado Springs. And ugh, the only one who’s still sixteen. Mummy and Papa obviously thought they’d birthed a prodigy when they stuck me in kindergarten a whole year early … ha. But that doesn’t matter. If you learn only one thing about me, it’s that I think I have a filmmaker’s soul. Like you, Mira. There are so many universes I want to explore with my camera.

BFF: Maddie Tanaka. Well, used to be, anyway. Now it’s … complicated.

Crush: Duh. Neil Roy. Since forever.

So, now that we’re acquainted, can I just say that I’m a huuuuge fan? Like, the biggest. I mean, okay, I’m not deluded. I know you’re never going to read this in a million years. But somehow, writing to you in here feels like you’re listening.

This diary was a birthday present from Dadi, by the way. She was all, “Take this, Twinkle. Put the words of your heart in the pages as you put the images of your heart in your movies.” As far as grandmothers go, she’s pretty cool (and pretty kooky, but that’s a story for another day). Anyway, it sat in my desk drawer for about nine months, but then I thought, Why not? What’s it going to hurt to try to journal? I thought writing to my fave female filmmakers would be way more fun than writing to myself. Or to one of Dadi’s “soul bearers from beyond the veil.” (Too long of a story to go into right now.)

Some might call people like me losers. I myself prefer the term “groundlings.” See, in Shakespearean times, these were the poor people who would have to stand in the front of the stage and got called out (unfairly, IMO) for being rowdy and smelly and having the mange or whatnot. And then there were the snooty people in the back, who got to sit in, like, covered areas and look down at the groundlings and feel all superior in their silk feathered hats. But Shakespeare would never have gotten famous if he hadn’t appealed to the groundlings.

Here’s a little secret, though: I wouldn’t completely mind if I were something other than a groundling. It’s not like I’m silk feathered hat material or anything, but still. To be even one social status level above the one I am right now would change my life because I’m pretty sure it would give me my best friend—who is now definitely one of the silk feathered hats—back. And bonus: It would help transform me from Invisible Twinkle to someone people recognize, maybe even someone who tells stories others want to hear.

So now I’m sitting here in homeroom and Hannah Macintosh just took off her six-hundred-dollar shoes (I know because she told the entire class that’s how much they cost in Milan) to show Victoria Lyons her pedicure. If I were a teeny bit braver, I’d go over there and ask, “Hey, Hannah, did you steal those shoes? I only ask because it seems you like taking things that don’t belong to you, like my best friend.” Maybe I’ll ask Dadi if she knows any incantations that’ll grow me a courage gland.

Oops, there’s the bell. More soon.



Still Monday, June 1

AP Bio

Hey-o, Sofia Coppola.

I’m sitting here trying not to expire of totalicus boredumus while Mrs. Mears explains the life cycle of the royal walnut moth, aka Citheronia regalis, aka kill me now. And you wanna know what Maddie’s doing?

Drawing a six-color diagram of said life cycle. With gel pens. I guess she doesn’t make mistakes? Even Mrs. Mears, the biologist, didn’t draw us a diagram. But Maddie probably wants to be thorough. Oh, and she’s written her name at the top of the page with her new markers (she gets new stationery and school supplies as often as regular people get new … Um, actually, I don’t know where I was going with that. She just gets them a lot), along with the date, and underlined everything three times.

Maddie wants to be a physician-scientist. Yeah, that’s really a thing. Being a plain old doctor or a plain old scientist isn’t challenging enough, so she decided she wants to combine them. But I’m thankful. Because if I ever get a rare disease that causes my butt to break out in fluorescent hives or something totally rando like that, I know Maddie’s the only one who could save me. She’s sort of a genius.

It must run in the family. Her dad, James Tanaka, is a world-famous artist who regularly challenges ideas of the mundane with his mixed-media pieces and has gallery showings in the United States, Tokyo, Paris, and London (literally what it says on his website in the “about” section). Plus, Maddie’s ultra-rich. She lives in one of those old neighborhoods in Broadmoor in a giant mansion.

That’s one thing that hasn’t changed even after Maddie gave up her groundling membership and became one of the silk feathered hat people. She’s still super ambitious. I haven’t been to her house in months, but I bet she still has that poster board she made of her five-year plan. It has pictures of the Johns Hopkins campus, where she wants to go to college and med school, places she wants to travel (Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Edinburgh, London), and pictures of the type of boy she wants to date (Japanese-American like her, with tattoos and not taller than 5′10″; she says she wants to meet him in the second year of medical school).

Meanwhile, I’m like, maybe I’ll waitress/travel after high school? Or go to film school at USC if I can get a scholarship? Or live in my parents’ house forever, decrying the death of the arts?

Maybe that’s why our friendship is as doomed as the Globe Theatre. Maybe I’m not ambitious enough for Maddie. Or cool enough. Or confident enough. Or, or, or.

A lot of your films were about being on the outside looking in, Sofia. I wonder what advice you’d give me. How do I step over the threshold and join my best friend again?

Oh, crap. Mrs. Mears is giving me the evilicus eyeicus. I better go.

Still later on Monday, June 1

My room

Hi again, Sofia!

You’ll never believe who I saw today at Perk (full name: Perk Me Up Before I Go Go, but who has the time to say all of that?) drinking coffee and lounging like the half-Indian, half-white god he is.

Neil. Freaking. Roy.

It’s a travesty, but the only class we share right now is AP English. He’s pretty bad at it, for someone who’s definitely headed to Harvard. He once asked Ms. Langford why Hester in The Scarlet Letter didn’t run away from her town in basically a big F U to society. He implied she was being dumb. And I was like, Neil. How do you not get that Hester wants to stay there and find out what the scarlet A means to her? She clearly wants to try to determine her own identity in an agentic manner versus accepting one that’s forced upon her by a patriarchal society. I even opened my mouth to say that. But then I closed it. Being a human belonging to the wallflower genus, I’m kinda used to swallowing my words instead of speaking them. (Dadi says it’s because my aatma is made of gauze and feathers, whatever that means.) And anyway, this was Neil.

So when I saw him at Perk, I almost walked right into the display by the door, but I stopped myself just in time. He was sitting there, his legs splayed like he owned the place. Patrick O’Cleary and some of the other guys from the swim team were with him, too, all of them talking about the upcoming season and how Neil wouldn’t be at school because he was going to some pre-Olympic training camp for the rest of the month.

I love swim season. Neil, in swim trunks. Broad male shoulders glistening with water. The smell of chlorine. Neil, in swim trunks.

Okay. Here’s something I’ve never told anyone: My crush isn’t just because of Neil’s looks or his hypnotizing athleticism or the fact that he’s a future physicist genius. It’s because if someone like Neil Roy went out with me, the other silk feathered hat people would want to hang out with me too. Like Maddie. Maybe I’d come out of my shell, bringing my camera with me, and people would finally listen to the stories I have inside me. I’ve always felt like I was meant to be more than an invisible wallflower. This could be my ticket to an alternate life, Sofia, a way to become one of the insiders.

I walked up to the counter, overly aware that Neil was behind me now. Was my back sweaty? Was my T-shirt sticking to me? Could he see my cringesome ratty beige bra through it? Curse you, eighty-degree summer days, when I have to walk everywhere and live in a house with no AC. I casually loosened my braid so my hair could cover what my T-shirt might not. Then I tossed a strand over my shoulder and hazarded a look at his table.

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