Confectionately Yours #3: Sugar and Spice (3 page)

I
have a framed photo of me and Artie on my bedside table. It’s from last year. We were at the park, and you can see that the leaves on the trees behind us are turning red and orange. Artie has her arm around my neck, and I’m laughing. Artie is looking straight at the camera with this little smile on her face, like she’s feeling kind of smug because she just said something hilarious. My mouth is wide open, and you can only see half of my face. It’s not the most flattering shot, but I love that photo.

I love it so much that I haven’t taken it down, even though I don’t really love Artie anymore.

There’s something about it — it really captures how I
was feeling at that moment. I was just … happy. It wasn’t complicated. Being with Artie was easy. The park was beautiful. The word I think of when I see that photo is
radiant
.

Marco took the photo.

He’s always been into photography. Even when we were little kids, he would wander around with an old digital camera, snapping photos of everyone on the playground. I remember in fifth grade, Marco found out about this photography camp. He was dying to go. It was run by a local photographer, and he would’ve learned all about composition and lighting, and he even would’ve gotten to develop his own film in a darkroom, old-school style. He was so excited; he talked about it for a week before he got up the nerve to ask his parents about it.

But when he did, Marco’s dad told him that he’d already signed him up for soccer camp. Soccer players can get college scholarships, his dad had said. Photography is a waste of time, he’d said. Forget about it, he’d said.

Well, Marco never mentioned the photography camp again … but I’m not sure he ever forgot about it.

It’s weird how things work out. Like, now Marco’s been kicked off the soccer team … but he’s picked up a video camera. So that might end up being a cool thing. He’s good with pictures, that’s all I know.

I can’t wait to see what he does with it.

M
eghan dashes through the door to the costume shop, her pink bangs plastered to her forehead.

Ms. Lang flares her nostrils and purses her lips into a frown. “You’re late.”

“I know.” Meghan gulps some air and perches on a stool. “Someone had a question about the elections for class rep next year, and so I started explaining —”

I make a cutting motion across my throat. Ms. Lang is not in a good mood. The first thing she said to me when I walked through the door was, “I guess you think it’s pretty hilarious to take an expensive item from the drama department and use it for your own amusement, don’t you?”

“I really don’t,” I told her.

“I’m not done speaking!” she shouted, and when Artie made a little
hmm
noise like she agreed with what Ms. Lang was saying, the drama teacher screamed at her, too.

Ms. Lang is a small person. Like, I could probably use her as a toothpick. She dresses in natural fiber, hippie-chick clothes and has these orange rectangular glasses. She wears her hair in a French twist, and she might even be pretty … if she weren’t so scary.

As Meghan continues to babble away, I notice Ms. Lang’s eyebrows creeping up so far that they’re threatening to become part of her scalp. I intensify my
Cut
motion and shake my head.

Meghan finally clues in. “And that’s why I can stop talking now,” she says. “Sorry.”

Ms. Lang narrows her eyes like a dangerous iguana. Then she sucks in a breath. “I’m not here to babysit you three. What I want you to do is to sort through the costumes. Separate anything that is torn or soiled so that it can be repaired. I want everything in top shape for the Spring Spectacular.”

“That sounds fun!” Meghan says, and Ms. Lang gives her a look that could vaporize her.

“It’s not meant to be fun,” Ms. Lang says. “When you’ve completed that task, you can get busy cleaning the floors and organizing the small props. I’ll be back to check on your progress in half an hour.” And she swoops out the door.

Meghan stares at the empty door frame for a moment. “Okay, well, that’s cool,” she says.

“Could you please just stop talking for thirty seconds?” Artie snaps. “You drive everyone nuts!”

Meghan folds her arms across her chest, and I can tell that something unpleasant is about to happen, so I jump in with, “Hey, why don’t I start on this rack of guy stuff, Artie, and maybe you can do gowns? Meg, why don’t you take a look at accessories?”

Meghan looks at me, then back at Artie, like she’s considering whether it’s worth her while to say something nasty. I guess it isn’t, because she says, “Okay, Hayley. Good plan.”

Artie huffs out a sigh. “Fine,” she says. “Everything from the fall musical is messed up, so I’ll start with those things.” She makes her way over to a rack of clothes.

The costume shop is small and narrow, a long room in the basement of the building. It’s got two doors and is crammed with clothes, boxes, props, hats, shoes, scarves, and a million other accessories. Every surface is crammed with stuff. There’s a musty, old-clothes smell, but I don’t mind it. It’s messy but cozy, almost nest-like, down here.

I start by looking over suit jackets. Most of these seem to be in good shape. I notice a pinstripe with a frayed cuff, and place it aside. Cream linen with an ink stain — to the side. Then there are a few things that just need to be cleaned. I make space for them and put them in a neat little section. This kind of work calls out to my inner organizer, and after a while, I find I’m actually enjoying it.

“Hmm,” Meghan says from across the room. When I look over, I see she’s wearing a pair of severe glasses and has draped herself in a poncho. “I suppose you think it’s amusing to organize the clothes for our Spring Spectacular?” she asks, pursing her lips into a frown. She looks freakishly like Ms. Lang.

“Cut it out,” Artie tells her.

Meghan grumbles. “If I want your opinion, Artemis Steele, believe me, I’ll ask for it.”

I can’t help giggling, and Artie shoots me a glare.

“Oh, good work, Artemis,” Meghan says in her best Ms. Lang voice. “Excellent Stare of Doom!”

Before Artie can reply, I grab a sparkly headband and pop it onto my hair. “Um, hey, Ms. Lang — I have a great idea! Is it okay if the seventh-grade class council borrows the drama department van so we can go out for ice cream? Hayley can work the brakes while I turn the steering wheel!” Then I give a crazy, goofy smile that’s
very
Meghan.

Meghan laughs.

“Would you guys knock it off?” Artie says. “We’re supposed to be organizing this stuff, not hosting a talent show.”

Meghan’s eyes light up in a way I know well. Too well. It’s that terrifying
I have an idea
look that she gets sometimes.

Ms. Lang chooses that moment to check on us. She stops in the doorway and looks Meghan up and down. “Why are you wearing a poncho?” she asks.

“Just … uh … checking the size.” Meghan bites her lip and pulls it off over her head.

Ms. Lang looks at me, and I feel my blood curdle like old milk. I yank the headband off my head.

“You girls are supposed to be organizing, not joking around,” Ms. Lang says.

“That’s what I said,” Artie puts in.

“If I want your opinion, Artemis, I’ll ask for it,” Ms. Lang says, and she sounds so much like Meghan did a minute ago that I have to pretend to sneeze in order to hide my giggle. Ms. Lang turns to me. “You and Ms. Markerson may move on to scrubbing the floor,” she says. “The cleaning supplies are in the closet. And if I hear any more noise coming from this room, believe me, I can find work for all three of you for next week, too.”

She stomps off, like a teeny tiny Godzilla.

Artie doesn’t actually say “I told you,” but she makes a little three-pitch hum, like
hmm-HMM-hmm
, that sounds exactly the same. I can read her mind, anyway, and I know that’s what she’s thinking.

Meghan sighs and pulls off her fake glasses.

“Come on,” I say, and we go get the bucket and rags from the closet. Meghan fills the bucket while I move furniture from the far corner.

“So, okay, here’s the idea,” Meghan whispers as she dips a rag into the soapy water.

“No.”

“You don’t even know what it is!”

“Shh!” This is from Artie.

Meghan rolls her eyes at Artie, then turns back to me. “Hayley — it’s awesome! We’ll hold a talent show!”

“Why?”

“Why? Because people at this school have talent, that’s why!” Meghan insists. “Like Ava, with her capoeira. And Elmo Jackson’s crazy puppets — have you seen them? And Julian Descartes — he can do, like, five hula hoops at a time! Oh, and Maria Chatzopolous’s juggling act! Seriously, why should the dramaramas be the only ones who appear onstage at Adams Middle?”

I sigh. Here is the problem with Meghan’s ideas: They
do
sound fun. That’s where all the trouble starts.

I scrub some disgusting brown crust from a baseboard. “But … we’d have to use the stage. Which means we’d have to get Ms. Lang to say yes.”

“That’s true….”

Meghan and I peek over at Artie, who doesn’t look up from the gowns she’s sorting. “Forget it,” she says. “There’s no way I’m helping you two.”

Meghan shrugs and smiles at me. It’s a conspiratorial smile, like she thinks Artie will come around. But I shake my head.

I’ve known Artie for years. I know how stubborn she can be.

When she says no way, she means it.

∗ ∗ ∗

“How was your prison term?” Gran asks as she hands me a dripping plate. “Were you forced into hard labor?”

“Kind of. We had to clean out the costume department.” I wipe the plate with a towel and place it in the cabinet. Yes, we have a dishwasher, but Gran hardly ever uses it. She hates to waste water, she says, and goes old-school with a bucket of soapy water in the sink and then a quick rinse. But I know the truth — Gran just loves washing dishes. You can tell by the way she hums old show tunes while she does it.

I don’t mind it, either. Especially since it was just the two of us for dinner tonight. Mom is out on a date with Police Officer Ramon, and Chloe is over at Rupert’s house. It’s not like there’s a huge stack of plates to deal with.

“Hah! Your mother will be glad to hear that you spent the day sorting. She’ll probably want you to clean out your closet, now that you have so much experience.”

“You mean she’ll want me to clean out
her
closet. It’s a disaster in there — someone should do an intervention.”

“I wouldn’t interfere with that, my dear, or you just may find yourself buried under twenty years’ worth of old coats.”

She has a point. Mom has never been good at getting rid of stuff. Even when we moved, she just packed it all into these huge stand-up wardrobe boxes. She said she couldn’t deal with getting rid of everything. It’s funny, because Mom is really organized … just not about clothes.

There’s a rattle in the lock, and a moment later, Mom comes through the door followed by Ramon. Her cheeks are flushed pink from the cold, and her dark curls are wild beneath her red watch cap. “Hayley!” She beams. “How was dinner?”

“Great,” I told her. “Gran made fish.”

“Not shellfish, I hope,” Ramon says with a wincing smile.

“No, my dear, I
do
try to avoid poisoning my granddaughter.” Gran gives him a wink and hands me the last platter.

“Ah, I’ll never live that day down!” Ramon jokes. “I still feel so awful about that, Hayley,” he apologizes, sticking his hands deep into his coat pockets.

This past Thanksgiving, we had two celebrations. First, Ramon came over and brought paella, which had lobster in it. I gobbled it up … not knowing that I’m allergic to lobster. A few hours later, it was Barf City meets Hivetown in full view of a country club full of elegant rich people. Luckily, we were with my dad, Annie, and her parents, and her mom is a doctor. She took me back to her office for a shot.

“That was, like,
months
ago,” I tell him. “Seriously, you don’t have to apologize every time you see me. It’s not like you did it on purpose.”

“Or
did
he?” Gran says with a playful cackle.

“Maybe you should find out if my mother is allergic to anything,” Mom suggests to Ramon, who laughs.

“Would you like tea?” Gran asks. “You two must be cold. I’ll just put a pot on.”

“I’d love some,” Mom says, and Gran fills the kettle.

Ramon shakes his head. “I’ve got to get going.”

“Well — thanks for a lovely evening.” Mom smiles up at Ramon. He takes a step forward, like he’s about to hug her, but she sticks out a hand for a shake. Then she sees her mistake and tries to give him a hug, but he’s already got
his
hand out, so they end up doing this awkward little handshake-slap-on-the-back thing.

“Okay,” Mom says brightly, and lets Ramon out the door.

“I’ll call tomorrow?” he asks.

“Sounds good.” Mom closes the door and covers her face in her hands. Then she giggles, and when she takes her fingers from her cheeks, they’re pink again. “Oh, I’m so bad at this!”

Gran looks at me and smiles. I have to admit that Mom’s pretty cute.

“He thinks you’re adorable, darling,” Gran says. “And you are.” The kettle whistles and Gran pours boiling water over the tea. “I’ll just let this steep for a few moments while I gather my laundry together.”

“I’ve got some things in the dryer,” Mom calls after her.

“I’ll take care of it!”

With a sigh, Mom pulls off her cap and her coat and hangs them on the peg by the door. Then she kicks off her heavy boots and pads over to me in thick wool socks. “How was your day, sweetie?” she asks as she gives me a hug.

“Hmm … B plus, I guess. It was pretty good, except for detention.”

“Oh, Hayley.” Mom shakes her head.

“I know, I know….” Mom isn’t happy that I got detention, but she thinks Ms. Lang overreacted a little, so at least I’m not in trouble at home. “I never thought I’d be the kind of person who gets detention.”

“You never got into trouble before you met Meghan,” Mom points out. She sits down at the kitchen table.

“I know, but it’s weird — Meghan is a straight-A student and class rep. She’s just the only nerd I know who gets into trouble.”

“Well … it’s not as if your grades are suffering,” Mom says thoughtfully.

I carefully carry her teacup over to the table. “So … how was your
date
?” I waggle my eyebrows.

Mom laughs. “Oh, Hayley, it’s so strange to have my own daughter ask me that.”

“Yeah. It’s kind of strange to be your daughter and ask you.”

We look at each other for a moment. I get the feeling that we both have more to say … but maybe neither one of us knows exactly what. Mom looks down at her teacup. Then she picks it up and takes a sip. “It’s bizarre to be dating again. I kind of hate it.”

“Really? But Ramon is so nice….”

“He’s very nice. But still — when you’re out on a date …” Mom shrugs. “I always feel like I’m auditioning for something. Like, I had to sit there and chat about my day and the café and everything … but really, I just wanted to get home and have tea and find out how you and Chloe were doing.”

“We’re fine.”

Mom presses her lips together, then takes another sip of tea. “Does Chloe seem … sad to you?”

“Yeah. I think maybe she’s missing Dad.”

Mom tilts her head, like she’s considering it. The kitchen is quiet. The clock tick-tick-ticks on the wall and I hear the water running in the washing machine down the hall. It’s nice to be here, alone with my mother. We don’t actually spend much time together, just the two of us. And I’m relieved that she’s noticed Chloe’s mood, too. It’s always
good to know your parents are paying attention. It’s comforting. “I guess we’ll see,” Mom says at last.

“She’ll tell us sooner or later.”

“Hmm.” Mom looks at me from the corner of her eye, then nods. But I know what she’s thinking: I hope it’s sooner.

I’m thinking the exact same thing.

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