Coming Apart (9780545356152)

BOOK: Coming Apart (9780545356152)
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Map

Chapter 1 Back to School

Chapter 2 Jane Marie

Chapter 3 Boy Trouble

Chapter 4 The Self-improvement Plan

Chapter 5 A Peek in the Windows

Chapter 6 Escape

Chapter 7 Good-bye, Old Friend

Chapter 8 Mr. Barnes

Chapter 9 Ruby the Perfect

Chapter 10 Olivia the Moody

Chapter 11 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Chapter 12 Blizzard

Chapter 13 Spill the Beans

Chapter 14 A Family for Mary

Chapter 15 A Job for Flora

Chapter 16 Caught!

Chapter 17 Just Friends

Chapter 18 Bad-bye

Chapter 19 Flora Northrop, Working Girl

Chapter 20 Ruby's Reward

Chapter 21 Just Sew

Chapter 22 The Sad Farewell

Chapter 23 Springtime

Also Available

Copyright

“Are you going to eat that?”

Nikki Sherman looked up from her plate, which held a slice of unbuttered bread and part of a carrot, to the boy who was sitting across the cafeteria table from her. She assumed Jacob was referring to the bread and not the carrot tip. “No,” she replied. “Do you want it?”

Jacob held out his hand. “Thanks.”

Although Nikki liked Jacob very much, she thought privately that he was something of a human Dustbuster, although she would never have said as much to Olivia Walter, who was one of her best friends — and Jacob's girlfriend. Nikki passed Jacob the bread. “It has a little tomato sauce on it,” she said.

Jacob waved one hand in the air, his way of saying he couldn't care less, and used his other hand to stuff the bread in his mouth in one enormous bite. Nikki would have been horrified, except that she had an eighteen-year-old brother, and she was used to watching him eat. When he was Jacob's age, he could put away three or four helpings of dinner, followed by two helpings of dessert, followed by a bedtime snack of three whole English muffins with peanut butter (translation: six slices). So she wasn't surprised that Jacob wanted her bread after having finished a rather large lunch. But she still couldn't get the Dustbuster image out of her head.

Jacob swallowed the bread, and Nikki saw him looking around the cafeteria. His eyes fell on one of the food lines. Was he seriously considering buying something else to eat? He had cleaned his plate and everyone else's at the table. The lunches at Camden Falls Central High School were pretty good, but still.

Not that Nikki had anything to compare them to except the lunches at Camden Falls Elementary, where she had gone to school until this year. Now Nikki and her friends were seventh-graders at the big central school in Camden Falls, Massachusetts. Switching schools was just one of many changes they had faced lately.

Jacob scarfed up the lone carrot tip while Flora, Nikki's other best friend, twirled an apple around by its stem. She gave the apple a vigorous spin, then leaned over and whispered to Nikki, “If Tanya and Melody don't stop staring at us, their eyes are going to bug out of their sockets.”

“They're not staring at
us
, you know,” Nikki whispered back.

“Okay, at Olivia and Jacob, but it's the same thing. They keep staring over here. They're making me nervous.”

“Just ignore them. Pretend they're mosquitoes.”

“I can't. It's more like they're vultures, and it's really hard to ignore vultures.”

Nikki sneaked a look at the next table, where Tanya Rhodes and Melody Becker were sitting side by side, each burdened by several pounds of silver jewelry and each sporting a newly colored streak in her hair — pink for Tanya, green for Melody. Their eyes were trained on Jacob and Olivia.

“They
are
kind of vulturelike,” agreed Nikki, forgetting to whisper.

“What?” said Olivia from across the table.

Nikki blushed. “Nothing. I'll tell you later.”

Olivia swallowed a mouthful of pasta. “So, Nikki, when is your dad coming?”

Nikki could feel her blush deepen. She shrugged. The only problem with the fact that Jacob rarely left Olivia's side was that the three girls had almost no time to themselves anymore, especially when they were in school. Nikki was glad that Olivia had been singled out by Jacob to be his girlfriend, but there was no way Nikki was going to talk about her family in front of him. She considered Olivia and Flora her sisters. She did not consider Jacob her brother.

“Your dad hasn't decided yet?” Olivia tried again.

“You know, I'm kind of glad to be back in school,” was Nikki's answer. “Christmas was fun and everything, but it's nice to be in our old routine. Plus, I get to see you guys every day.”

Olivia frowned. “Nikki, I asked if your dad —”

Olivia levitated out of her seat then, and Nikki suspected that Flora had kicked her under the table.

“Ow,” said Olivia, reaching down to rub her shin.

It was a Friday in January and the end of the first week of school after the holiday break. Nikki truly had enjoyed her vacation, but she was also truly glad to be back at school. Of all the changes facing her and her friends, the biggest one, in Nikki's opinion, was her own parents' impending divorce and her father's return to Camden Falls to finalize things. It was all making Nikki very anxious, and she was grateful to be able to escape to school.

Her father had been gone for over a year now, one blissful year in which her fractured family had slowly been able to mend without him. It was as if her family had been a broken vase, and once the vase had been glued back together, it turned out there was an extra piece that didn't belong. Her father.

When Mr. Sherman had walked out their door the November before last, following an autumn of fights and threats and arguments, of punches ducked and kicks sidestepped, Nikki had breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't cared that despite her father's promises to send money, her mother was going to have to support Nikki and her brother and sister all by herself. She hadn't cared about living far out in the country without Mr. Sherman for protection. Tobias, her brother, would take over that role. There had been nothing at all that Nikki would miss. Not unless she planned to miss the sight of her father staggering to the bathroom in his pajamas at three o'clock in the afternoon, or the sound of the phone ringing when his current boss called to say that Mr. Sherman had missed work three days in a row, or the quiet of the house when the phone
didn't
ring because her father had spent the phone bill money at the bar over in Essex and their service had been turned off again.

Mr. Sherman had come back briefly that Christmas, but for months after he'd left the second time, Nikki had lived in blissful ignorance, thinking she would never see her father again. How could she have thought that? Of course he was going to have to return, at least temporarily. Her mother wanted a divorce from him, and her father wanted some of the things he had left behind in their house — the rest of his clothes, everything that was his that he hadn't jammed into his suitcase on that November day.

And now he was planning his trip back to Camden Falls, and Nikki, as much as she wanted to get things over with, was as nervous as the stray dogs that hung around her property, the ones that had so enraged her father. Her mother was nervous, too, she knew, even though she did a good job of hiding it. Mae, who was seven, was nervous — that was obvious — and Tobias was so nervous that he planned to take a break from his freshman year at college so he could be at home until Mr. Sherman had packed up and was gone for good. Tobias refused to leave his mother and sisters alone with his father. He wasn't sure how he would make up the coursework he'd miss, but knew he would straighten things out eventually.

Nikki let her eyes wander to the cafeteria windows and beyond, to the school lawn, brown now in a winter that so far had yielded very little snow. In her mind, she continued her journey along the tree-lined lanes that led to Main Street, to the shops and businesses that were the heart of town. This part of town, though, was not Nikki's Camden Falls. Hers lay several miles away in fields and woods, where deer outnumbered people and where at night the only light came from the moon and the windows of her own house. Main Street was Flora's Camden Falls, and Olivia's. Nikki's friends were comfortable strolling along the sidewalk, greeting shopkeepers and visiting their families' stores. Needle and Thread, the sewing store, was owned and run by Flora's and Olivia's grandmothers, and Sincerely Yours, a new gift-basket store, belonged to Olivia's parents. The girls were as at home on Main Street as they were on nearby Aiken Avenue, where Flora lived with her younger sister, Ruby, and her grandmother Min, and where Olivia lived with her little brothers and her parents.

It was funny, Nikki thought, that Flora felt so comfortable on Main Street, while Nikki sometimes still felt like an outsider there. After all, Nikki had grown up in Camden Falls, while Flora and Ruby had arrived less than two years earlier. But the sisters had been plunked into life on Main Street and Aiken Avenue, with its large cast of store owners and neighbors, while Nikki had grown up in her isolated house in the country.

BOOK: Coming Apart (9780545356152)
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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