Authors: Cynthia Voigt
For Merilee, who knows about loveâ
And for Emily and Morgan, too (be they good or be they bad, on any given day)â
And also for Brian, who appreciates all three of them on all given days
hey're probably going to announce who got what part.”
Mikey spoke against background cafeteria sounds of talk and laughter, clattering dishes, and scraping chairs.
“In assembly,” she said. “InÂ .Â .Â .” she looked at her watch, compared it with the clock on the wall, “twenty minutes, or maybe fifteen. Are you nervous?”
Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps claimed to have been best friends since the first day of fifth grade, which wasn't exactly true. It could have been if they had been willing to modify their claim with an
âbest friends since
the first dayâbut neither one of them wanted to be modified, or to be a modifier, either.
you try out for the play, anyway?” Mikey asked. Margalo wasn't the kind of person who tried to get people to
notice her by putting herself up on a stage, or out on a tennis court. What had gotten into her?
Margalo said, “It's Jennet Jourdemayne,” which explained nothing to anybody other than herself, but Margalo didn't intend anybody to learn her secret reason, not even Mikey. Especially since Mikey was the last person who'd sympathize.
“It's because I told you last year you were a good actress.”
Margalo welcomed the wrong guess. It was bad enough having this horrible hopeless crush on a teacher, but it would be ten times worse if anybody found out about it. And what if he found out about how she felt? Margalo's whole body blushed hot at that thought. It wasn't as if she didn't know that no healthy-minded grown-up man would want a fourteen-year-old girlfriend, even if he wasn't already married. She knew that. But she still hoped, and she couldn't believe how stupid that was. But as long as nobody knewâabsolutely nobody, not even Auroraâand Margalo trusted her mother, but she still wasn't going to tell herâbecause as long as she was the only one who knew, she was safe.
So Margalo didn't tell Mikey that her guess was way off. But neither did she say it was right on. Instead, she looked mysterious, with a little smile that almost admitted it matched by eyebrows that absolutely denied it. In fact, Margalo was enjoying herself. Even if the secret you know is about yourselfâand mostly just makes you miserableâstill, knowing something nobody else even suspects will increase your self-confidence. Secrets are like that. Besides, it isn't
every day you can use the same facial expression to irritate somebody twice.
Mikey knew this trick of Margalo's. She took a gloppy spoonful of chocolate pudding into her mouth, closed her lips firmly, and stared back at her friend while she pushed pudding out between her teeth, then sucked it back onto her tongue, then swallowed it.
Margalo counterpunched. She peeled back the skin on her banana, peeling it down carefully, strip by strip, taking each strip no more than a third of the way down at each peeling, carefully rotating the banana as she carefully, methodically, peeled it.
They played out their two-man scene to their audience of two until Mikey got bored, and broke eye contact, and groused, “Next thing, you'll be going to the dance. With a date.”
Margalo knew better. “I'm not even invited to parties.”
“Yeah, but neither am I, and I'm a good athlete.” Then Mikey wondered, “We don't
to be invited to their parties, do we? Do you? I don't. The stuff that goes onâ”
“Definitely squalid,” Margalo agreed.
Mikey and Margalo tended to agree about things. Their quarrels were mostly for style, not substance. They had them because otherwise life would be too tedious, and discouraging. From the start junior high had been bad, and this year it had only gotten worse. In eighth grade school seemed to be all about couples and love and/or sex and/or everything-in-between.
Everything-in-between covered a lot of territory. There
, for one, or a girl would
have a thing about
a boy. Boys
girls. Boys and girls
one another, or
really cared for, really cared about
one another. But was it love?
Mikey and Margalo had discussed itâof course. Their level of accomplishment in love-and-sex-and-everything-in-between was the same: Never been on a date, never been kissed. It was their attitudes that differed. Mikey was mostly outragedâ
What's the big deal? Who cares?
Whereas Margalo projected scientific detachmentâ
Aren't human beings bizarre creatures?
They had their different attitudes and they each liked having the differing attitudes they had, while at the same time they both agreed that nobody understood either sex or love. But wasn't it curious, as Margalo pointed out, that there was a sex-ed unit in gym, but no love-ed unit in any other class?
They also agreed that they didn't plan to be kept ignorant. As Mikey pointed out, ignorance isn't bliss, it's not knowing something. Not knowing something always put you at a disadvantage, in Mikey's opinion, and that was not where she cared to be.
But it wasn't easy to find out anything about sex, or love, or everything-in-between, especially if you weren't invited to parties. That meant you had to get your field information from secondary sources, and it was Margalo's opinion that people often avoided telling the truth, especially the whole truth and nothing but, about those subjects.
As far as they could tell, the parties seemed to be about slow dancing, close dancing, and long bouts of kissing in darkened
rooms. They were about almost getting caught by parents. At the parties maybe there was beer, maybe pot, probably cigarettes, so you could learn how to drink stuff and smoke stuff, things you needed to know for high school. Maybe you'd get fallen in love with at a partyâand everybody wanted a chance to get fallen in love withâor maybe you'd find someone really special. Mikey and Margalo collected stories about the parties, and rumors, and reports, and they considered them. “I don't believe her, do you?” Margalo would ask, while Mikey fulminated, “Catch
Another useful source of information was Mikey's mother, the ex-Mrs. Elsinger, once again Ms. Barcley. Margalo had elevated Ms. Barcley to an educational experience, so she kept herself current with what Mikey's mother was getting up to, at work, at play. “Did you talk to your mother this weekend?” she asked.
“I was watching the Australian Open.”
This did not interest Margalo. She'd already heard her fill on that topic from Mikey. Also, it did not answer her question. “But did you talk to her?”
“She's still crazy about this new boyfriend.”
“She's always crazy about them, isn't she?”
“It's just my father she couldn't be in love with,” Mikey observed.
“You know, all of these boyfriends have been rich and ambitious and already successful, which your dad just isn't. If you think about them, they drive late-model cars, dress in suits and polish their shoes. They take her to four-star
restaurants, they take her away for fancy weekendsâyour dad didn't do any of those things.”
“I just wish she didn't make me meet them.”
“Mudpies, Mikey. You're always talking about the places you eat at.”
“Besides, this one's much older than she is.”
Margalo stared at her friend, who was being the same person she had always been, irritable and impatient and self-confident.
about summed up Mikey, in a plaid flannel men's shirt (a new fashion low for Mikey) and her baggy cargo pants (a long-gone style, but Mikey either hadn't noticed that orâmore likelyâdidn't care). Not noticing things was a big part of Mikey, especially things having to do with people. Margalo knew this about her friend, and sometimes she was really grateful for it. Like now, in the matter of thisÂ .Â .Â .
that was such a big secret part of Margalo's life, ruining it and making it wonderful. After a minute of staring she told Mikey, “People can love people who are older than them,” adding for safety, “or younger.”
know about it?” Mikey demanded.
“More than you think,” Margalo answered.
“And what's that supposed to mean?” Mikey demanded.
Margalo wasn't about to answer that question. Instead, she said, “Your mother keeps having serious relationships. Do you think she's having sex with all of them? Do you think she's in love with all of them?”
“Dad hasn't had even one girlfriend,” Mikey said.
“I don't think you
fall in love that often,” Margalo decided.
“He's been fixed up. People saying, come for dinner to meet, come to a party to meet. But he hasn't been on a date he asked someone out on,” Mikey said. “Not a date of his own.”
“Not really in love,” Margalo said.
“Do you think there's something wrong with him?” Mikey asked.
“I think there's something wrong with
” Margalo said.
“You know, you probably won't get the part,” Mikey said. “Jennet Whoever.”
“Thank you for your kind wishes.”
“Get real, Margalo. Do you expect me to want you to? You
that if you're in the play, you'll be rehearsing all the time, from now until the performance. Which isn't until May.”
“But you're in basketball anyway, or tennis, so why should you care?”
“Because if you're rehearsing, who'll sell our Chez ME cookies?” Last year, after the success of Mikey's cookies in the seventh-grade bake sales, Mikey and Margalo had continued baking and selling cookies. They liked being in business. Margalo welcomed the income and Mikey welcomed the work. It didn't suit Mikey's plans to have Margalo be unavailable for the spring cookie business.
you won't be able to see my tennis matches,” she added. “After I make the team. Again.”
made them pause to smile at each other. After brief and unspoken mutual congratulations and admirations, they got back to their quarrel.
Margalo said, “I can do more than one thing at a time, you know.”
“And baby-sitting jobs too? That's three things.”
“I can count,” Margalo said.
“I guess you're pretty confident,” Mikey grumbled.
“You're the one who keeps telling me to think like a winner.”
“I never said
Mikey objected. “I meant