Hello Cruel Heart

Read an Exclusive Excerpt from Hello, Cruel Heart, A New Original Novel Exploring Cruella’s Teenage Years

By the D23 Team

Before she became Cruella—the iconic Disney villain we love to hate—she was Estella, a 16-year-old girl with big dreams in swinging London, 1967. Her life of petty crime turns into glitz and glamor in this original novel by author Maureen Johnson. Can Estella keep up with the fast lives of the rich and famous, or will she face the price of a lavish life? Hello, Cruel Heart is hitting shelves tomorrow, but if you must jump into the action now, check out this exclusive excerpt from the story:

Estella arrived at the Caterpillar early, by almost a full half hour, but didn’t want to be seen doing so. She knew enough about the fashionable set to know late was on time. Early was just sad. Early lost the game.

She wandered up the street and around the corner and back again, repeating the process until she was sure to be at least fifteen minutes late. One thing she noted: the plastic dress was hot. Very hot. Sweat poured down her back and legs. The bright side was no sweat marks.

When she saw Magda and Richard’s Jaguar pull down the street, she ducked behind a postbox, emerging only when a woman came to drop a letter and jumped back with a startled yelp at the sight of a girl dressed as a tin of beans—or several tins of beans—squatting nearby. Estella sprang up and strode toward the Caterpillar as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. This was Swinging London, after all. People were bound to squat behind postboxes and spring out from time to time.

She waited long enough to be sure that Magda and Richard would be seated and ready to take in her entrance. She found them sitting at the same table they had occupied two days before. Magda’s face broke into a smile as Estella entered.

“What a gas!” Magda said upon seeing her. “An absolute gas!” She nudged her brother. “Richard, do you see?”

Richard saw, of course, and nodded distractedly. He had a book of poetry in front of him.

Magda rose from her low-slung seat and walked all the way around Estella, taking in the bean dress from every angle.

“A gas,” she said again. “I love it.”

Estella allowed herself one small, unimpressed smile, as though this were praise that was heaped upon her all the time, and then sat down with them. This time, she made an effort not to stare at the clouds on the floor or the grass on the ceiling or any of the outfits or people. Look bored. She tipped up her chin the way Magda held hers. Regal. That was what it was.

Their server that day was wearing a simple and elegant white mini shift dress with tiny bells along the hem. They tinkled gently against her mid thighs as she walked. Estella did minute calculations in her mind regarding the precise length of the skirt. Five inches above the knee. Straight cut.

“Same?” the server asked.

“Same,” Magda said.

“Same,” Richard said.

Estella blanked for only a moment before saying, “Same.”

The server tinkled away and through the beaded curtain. The music played low and soft, and everyone eased back onto the cushions.

“So what did you think of last night?” Magda asked Estella.

“I liked it. A lot.”

“It was all right, wasn’t it? Not too terribly dreadful. Everyone thought you were a gas. An absolute gas.”

Estella noticed Magda was saying that word a lot that day. She had not said it the day before. What did it mean when she repeated that word? Was repetition in vogue now?

“You were talking to Peter for a while,” Magda observed.

“Oh, we just happened to meet while he was . . . making tea,” Estella replied, a bit lamely, flattered and surprised that Magda had noticed.

Magda smiled knowingly. “He’s rather something, isn’t he? You know they’re going to be massive, absolutely massive. Everyone’s saying so.”

The cups of green tea arrived, and this time Estella didn’t look the slightest bit surprised by the color. The grassy liquid would never replace her cuppa, but it wasn’t bad. She could get used to it.

Richard was in a chatty mood after he put down his poetry book. “I’m working on a new idea,” he said. “A sort of Joycean-inspired process, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Burroughs, and what I’m really aiming to do is combine those two basic processes into one process, if you see what I mean.” He had a habit of drawing out his words and pulling lightly on his chin as if he had a beard, which he did not.

“Sounds marvelous,” Magda said. Estella nodded in agreement, though she had no clue what he was talking about.

The server brought the same meal as they’d had two days earlier. Magda and Richard picked at theirs as they dissected all the people and things they’d seen the night before. Who was with whom, who was wearing what, who hadn’t shown.

“I thought today we might do a bit of clothes shopping,” Magda said as the dishes were cleared away.

The plastic dress squeaked on the seat. It was like a rain forest inside. Plastic did not breathe.

“Oh,” Estella said. “I’m not sure . . . I’ve got to be somewhere. . . .”

Magda flicked her hand as though waving away Estella’s protests. “Surely you can spare the time. We’ll only go for a moment. You’re so wonderful with clothes, I’d just love to shop with you. Don’t you want everyone to see your fabulous dress?”

Those were the words Estella needed to hear. She had no greater desire than for people to see her dresses. She didn’t really have to be home, she reasoned to herself. They could do a run anytime. Jasper and Horace could wait.

“Of course,” Estella said with a warm smile. “Some shopping.”

“Here,” Richard said, handing his sister the car keys. “I’m going to walk. I want to stop by the gallery. There’s a marvelous painting I want to buy.”

“Smashing,” Magda replied. “Come on, Stellar. Let’s go.”