Authors: Kristen Tracy
Also by Kristen Tracy
Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus
The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter
This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Kristen Tracy
Jacket photograph copyright © 2012 by Dean Turpin
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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For Ulla Frederiksen and Fred Bueltmann.
You make my life bigger and better
and horse populated.
Writing acknowledgments always reminds me that I’m a lucky, lucky girl. Because I get to reflect on all the people in my life who offer me unending encouragement in the form of baked goods, long walks, and motivational text messages. Many thanks to Joen Madonna, Stacey Kade, Dana Reinhardt, Tracy Roberts, Nina LaCour, Brandi Dougherty, Robin Wasserman, Julie Romeis, Christopher Benz, Sara Michas Martin, Maria Finn, Jennifer Laughran, Amy Stewart, Cory Grimminck, Regina Marler, Lea Beresford, Ayelet Waldman, Emily Schultz, and Brian Evenson. And thanks to all the gardeners on Alcatraz who keep me grounded; I’m looking at you, Shelagh Fritz, Dick Miner, Karolina Park, Monica Beary, and Marnie Beard. Extra-special thanks to Wyatt Richards for introducing me to the world of Roosevelt Middle School. Extra-extra-special thanks to Kristin Scheel for sharing her Wyatt, and providing such a story-filled friendship. Double thanks to my family, especially my dad, who took me on an inspiring trip to Bear World that I will never, ever forget. Triple thanks to Wendy Loggia, my brilliant editor, who helps make my books as funny and real as possible. Quadruple thanks to Heather Daugherty for creating a fantastic book cover that I want to both bite and frame. And quintuple thanks to Sara Crowe, my agent and friend. You make everything better.
THINGS TO AVOID IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Cruddy bear paws
Wars of texts
Possibly Raya Papas
had forgotten something important, and no matter how hard I tried to make myself remember it, I couldn’t. My mother and I were on the way to my best friend Sylvie’s house. Sylvie and I were going to plan her upcoming birthday party minute by minute. It needed to be crammed full of games and cake and craziness. You only turned twelve once. I tapped my temple, trying to remember the thing I’d forgotten.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Out the window, I caught glimpses of my neighborhood as it whooshed by. A house. A lawn. A house. A lawn. Hay fields. Cows. My gorgeous neighbor, Noll Beck, atop a trotting horse.
“Ooh,” I said, sticking my finger on the window, pointing to Noll and the trotter. But then they were gone.
“What?” my mother asked. She patted my knee. “Are you afraid Sylvie’s mom might snap at you because she’s under a tight doll-assembly deadline?”
I looked at my mother in surprise. “I didn’t know anything about a tight doll-assembly deadline.” Sylvie’s mom painted the eyelashes on ceramic doll heads. And even though I didn’t understand how this could be true, it appeared that demand for these dolls and their black spidery lashes kept growing and growing and growing.
My mother pulled into Sylvie’s driveway. “Mrs. Potaski mentioned it to me on the phone. She sounded stressed-out.”
“This is terrible,” I said. I’d barely made up with Sylvie and won back the right to see her. I didn’t want her mom to snap at me.
“It’s not terrible, Bessica. Just be on your best behavior.”
“I can do that.” I reached for the door handle.
“And don’t forget to ask Sylvie what she wants for her birthday,” my mom said. “The scoping phase is over. We need to track down her gift and get it.”
My mom made buying Sylvie’s birthday present sound like hunting for a moose. It bummed me out to hear that the scoping phase was over. Because that was my favorite phase. I sighed.
“Actually, Mom, that’s not the plan,” I said. Then I stopped opening my door, because it was pretty clear to me that I was going to have to explain the plan to my mom.
“What plan?” my mom asked.
I sighed again. And when I did this I noticed that my breath smelled like breakfast sausage. “I want Sylvie’s present to be a total surprise. So today I’m going to trick her into telling me the top three things that she wants.” I smiled slyly when I said this, because I was pretty proud of my plan. Then I reached in my pocket and pulled out a piece of gum and chomped on it.
“Why don’t you just ask her what she wants?” my mother said. “Be straightforward about it.”
I let out a big peppermint-sausage breath of disapproval. “Mom, birthdays are about surprising people you care about with what they most want in the world. If you don’t surprise them, then you haven’t done it right. It’s a basic birthday rule.”
It alarmed me to think that my mom didn’t know basic birthday rules. I opened the door and got out of the car.
“If you need me I’ll be down the street,” my mom said.
But I already knew this. Because it was the fourth time my mother had told me that she would be down the street.
“I might walk over when I’m finished,” I said. Alma, the new office assistant where my mom worked, had invited
her to play croquet. And though I’d only played croquet once, I remembered really enjoying swinging my mallet.
My mother frowned. “Call before you come. And walk through the field to get there. Not the road.”
I nodded. My mom started to back out of the driveway, but then she stopped, lowered her window, and hollered to me.
I ran to her door. I was hoping maybe she wanted to give me emergency money. Sometimes she did that after she dropped me off.
“Yes?” I said, holding out my hand.
“Bessica, sometimes women put too much pressure on themselves to make everything perfect. I don’t want to see you burden yourself that way.”
I kept holding my hand out, waiting for money. But she didn’t give me any. She just kept talking.
“You don’t need to trick Sylvie into telling you what she wants for her birthday. Do the easy thing and just ask her.” My mom smiled at me in a huge way. Then she slapped my hand and cheered, “Right on!”
Things felt very weird in Sylvie’s driveway. I kept my hand lifted and my mom slapped it again. “Seize the day!”
Seize the day?
In all my life my mother had never said anything that lame to me before in a driveway. My mouth fell open a little bit in disgust, and my gum toppled out and landed in the grass.
“You lost your gum,” my mom said.
“I know. I’m trying to understand
My mom’s smile grew bigger. “I’m glad we had this talk too. It’s a relief.”
“A relief?” I said. Why did saying lame things to me in Sylvie Potaski’s driveway make my mother feel relieved?
“And I want you to know that this is how we’re going to talk to each other from now on, like adults. I’m not going to treat you like a child anymore.”
This was pretty terrible news. Why would I want my mom to talk to me like I was an adult? That was how she talked to my dad, and Grandma Lefter, and Grandma’s terrible boyfriend, Willy, and bank tellers, and all the patients getting toe surgeries at the podiatrist’s office, and a bunch of other people, like our mail carrier. Bleh.
“Mom,” I said. “That’s weird. And I’m going to follow my birthday rules and trick Sylvie into telling me what she wants, because that’s the whole point of having a birthday. Getting surprised by the perfect gift.” I looked my mom right in the eye when I said that, because my birthday was in four months, and I was hoping for a surprise party with a bunch of perfect, surprising gifts. And I did not want perfect, surprising
My mother sighed and looked disappointed. “Try to have a good time.”
“Okay,” I chirped. Then I turned around and ran as fast as I could toward Sylvie’s front door.
I rang the doorbell like a very polite person. And I waited for Sylvie’s mom to answer. Sylvie’s mom did scare me a little bit. Because even when she wasn’t stressed-out, we didn’t always get along. When she banned me from seeing Sylvie, it was because she’d gotten it into her head that I was a bad influence on her daughter. And in addition to enforcing that ban, she also switched Sylvie to a different school. And that had been about a month ago. So things were still a little tense.
“Bessica!” Mrs. Potaski said. She smiled when she saw me, and this made my stomach feel dance-happy and wonderful.
“I brought you something,” I said. I set my backpack on the floor and opened it. Then I carefully pulled out a sack with a blueberry tart in it. “It’s a tart.”
Mrs. Potaski stopped smiling. “Bessica, thank you for the tart. But you shouldn’t feel like you need to bring me a tart every time you come over.”
But that was exactly how I felt. Because I worried that at any moment, Sylvie’s mom might stop liking me and ban me again.
“Bessica!” Sylvie yelled. I saw her at the top of her hallway. Then she ran full speed toward me and did some excited jumping. I hoped her mom noticed all the jumping.
Because it was pretty clear to me that Sylvie should switch middle schools and come to mine. Sixth grade would be a lot better if she did that.
“Let’s go to my room and plan the party!” she said.
“Okay!” I said. And then I forgot all about being a polite person and I ran through the Potaskis’ house with my shoes on, yelling, “Party time!”
Sylvie shut her bedroom door. “I’m going with a disco theme!”
I plopped onto the floor and didn’t get excited at all when she said this, because over the summer she’d told me she was going to go with a jungle theme, so all the ideas I had were jungle-based.
“What’s wrong?” Sylvie asked, plopping on the floor next to me.
“What happened to our great jungle idea?” I asked.