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Authors: Annie Bryant

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BOOK: Just Kidding
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“Be True to Your School”

or a long moment it was completely quiet in the room; Maeve could actually hear her classmates breathing. Then Riley Lee, leader of the band Mustard Monkey, began to tap his pencil lightly on his desk, keeping time with the sound of the bass drum coming closer and closer down the hallway.
Rap, tap
…The faces of the other kids broke into grins. That Riley could really drum.

Henry Yurt, who was not only class clown but also, surprisingly, class president, leaped out of his seat. “What we need now is a leader for this band,” he declared. In a minute, the Yurtmeister was marching up and down the aisles between desks, high-stepping and swinging his arms hilariously like he was leading a band at halftime. Outside, the class could hear the sounds of laughter and talking as teachers stopped, one by one, at their own classrooms. Unable to resist, Riley jumped up and fell into line behind Henry. In a minute, three or four other boys followed, marching solemnly but with goofy grins up and down the aisles. A few
girls joined in and the group formed a conga line. Maeve was one of the girls. She couldn't resist being part of a dance line. Soon she had everyone adding a hip hop rhythm.

Charlotte Ramsey was astounded. Her green eyes were filled with bewilderment. She had lived all over the world with her journalist-father and had seen lots of interesting things, including a leopard chasing a herd of antelopes, but this was definitely a new and unique experience! WHAT was everybody doing?

Charlotte's friend Katani Summers noticed her total confusion. The two girls, along with Maeve, Avery Madden, and Isabel Martinez, were best friends and had formed their own club called the Beacon Street Girls after they met in Ms. R's homeroom at the beginning of the year. Katani, who always wore the hippest outfits, was wearing black dress pants, a long-sleeved purple shirt, and a gorgeous multicolored printed scarf tossed carelessly but artfully over her shoulders. It all looked just too perfect with her gold and topaz earrings and her chic, twisted-up hairstyle. Since she was always so fabulously dressed, Katani might have seemed interested only in fashion, but she was also one of the most organized and serious people Charlotte had ever met. At that moment she grinned at Charlotte's total confusion. “Pretty strange, huh?” Katani whispered.

Charlotte turned to stare at her. “What
this?” she whispered back.

Katani grabbed a notepad from her backpack and began writing furiously. Quickly she tore out the paper, which she had emblazoned with her own personal Kgirl logo, folded it, and slipped it to Charlotte.

Charlotte smiled. Only Katani would think to decorate her notepad. She opened the note and read, in Katani's hasty but distinct scrawl: “You have just landed on Planet Spirit, where you must smile nonstop for a week.”

Charlotte's eyes got even bigger. “Is that even humanly possible?” she whispered to Katani.

Katani took back the note, crossed out what she had written, and scribbled on it again. When it came back to Charlotte, it read, “Just kidding!” with a huge smiley face.

Charlotte grinned at her friend. “Very funny,” she mouthed.

Suddenly, the classroom door swung open. The student marchers dispersed in a single instant, sliding into their seats and sitting up straight as Ms. R entered the room.

Ms. R smiled as she marched in solemnly and sat down at her desk. “It's Spirit Week!” she announced, “and this is what I think of it.” She pointed to her oversized T-shirt so the class would read the quote underneath the picture of the dictionary:

The class burst into cheers and whoops. Henry Yurt pumped his fist in the air and let out a “Yeeeeehaaaaaaw!”

When the noise died down, Dillon Johnson pointed to Ms. R's T-shirt and asked, “Who said that?” Dillon was one of the best athletes in the seventh grade. He sometimes had a crush on Maeve–they had even gone on a sort-of date to a Celtics game–and was usually a pretty good guy.

Right now, though, it looked as though Riley was
going to have a heart attack. He was shaking his head back and forth. Finally, he managed to sputter, “The Beach Boys, man! It's one of their biggest hits! You never heard ‘Be True to Your School'? It's like a vintage rock classic. I mean Brian Wilson is a certified genius.”

Maeve grinned. Riley was like a one-man rock 'n' roll encyclopedia. Meanwhile, Dillon looked annoyed. He told Riley to chill. “Not everybody knows every rock 'n' roll song ever made.”

Ignoring him, Riley began to hum the tune, but Ms. R stopped him gently. “Okay, Riley. Thanks. Everybody get back in your seats. I have to read the rules for Spirit Week so everyone knows what's going to happen.”

She picked up a colorful sheet of paper lying on her desk and began to read. “All classes in all periods will be shorter every day this week.”

There was an immediate outbreak of applause, led by the twins, Josh and Billy Trentini, and Avery Madden. Avery, the smallest but most athletic of the BSG, loved everything to do with sports. She was often found playing pickup basketball or giving her two cents about the Red Sox to whoever would listen. “I just can't wait until opening day at Fenway,” Charlotte heard her telling the guys the other day at lunch. Of course that was months away. Charlotte just hoped her friend could contain herself until then.

Since there was a great deal of head spinning and whispering going on, Ms. R looked up at the class and raised her eyebrows. Even though she was a favorite teacher at Abigail Adams, kids knew that the “eyebrow
raise” meant business. The students quieted down, and the teacher read on. “Every student will be asked to sign up for either the dance committee, the sports committee, or the community service committee. We're all going to be working together to make this week special and to do our school proud. The point of Spirit Week is to think about what spirit really means to you. It could be about your feelings for your school, or your community, or your family.”

Before she could go further, there was a knock at the classroom door.

When the door opened, all eyes turned.

In walked Kevin Connors, superstar athlete, starring in almost all the school sports events, and current boyfriend of Amanda Cruz, who was the star player for Abigail Adams girls' basketball team. They were like Abigail Adams' movie stars. Even Anna and Joline, pop stars in their own minds, were in awe. Maeve was thrilled. She thought Kevin was dreamy.

“What's Mr. Hotshot doing here?” Katani whispered to Charlotte. Katani didn't have anything against Kevin Connors, but she could never understand why people (her friend Maeve for instance) made such a huge deal out of someone they didn't even know.

Charlotte also wondered why Kevin would walk into Ms. R's class in the middle of homeroom…especially with all the Spirit Week craziness going on.

Ms. R heard giggles as some of the girls whispered to each other. She pointedly ignored them. “Oh, Kevin, come on in,” she said. “There's an empty seat in the fourth row,
next to Julie.” She turned to the class. “Kevin will be joining our homeroom,” Ms. R announced with a welcoming smile.

“But Ms. Rodriguez,” Betsy Fitzgerald spoke as she raised her hand, “I thought that all homeroom assignments were final.” Betsy was one of the best students in the school, but she was kind of a know-it-all. Avery sighed. She got so annoyed with Betsy always having the right answer.

“Betsy!” Maeve clapped her hands and shook her head. She couldn't help it; Betsy was really a nice girl and meant well…but sometimes she was just so clueless. Kevin was going to be in their classroom (too fabulous for words) and she wanted Betsy to chill out with the questions already. Thankfully, Ms. R came to the rescue.

“Betsy, no questions. Sometimes exceptions are made. Welcome to the class, Kevin. We're happy to have you.” Ms. Rodriguez smiled and gestured Kevin to his seat.

Although the noise level went down, the activity level didn't: Anna and Joline, the Queens of Mean, began writing furiously in their notebooks. In a minute they were slyly exchanging folded-up slips of paper, and it didn't take a psychic to figure out what they were writing about! Katani shook her head. She was actually beginning to feel sorry for Kevin. He must feel weird to have all the girls whispering about him.

To Maeve, things were looking way up. She watched out of the corner of her eye, trying not to seem too interested, as Kevin strolled coolly down her row. When she turned her attention back to Ms. R, she could feel the back
of her neck burning and hoped it wasn't turning bright red. She couldn't help it. Kevin Connors was completely adorable!

Chase Finley, one of Kevin's buddies, was sitting in the seat across from Maeve and gave Kevin a high five as he walked by. “Hey, dude, what's up? Ready to kick it up? It's up to us, bro. We're the only ones who have what it takes to win the Spirit Trophy,” he whispered, but loud enough for everyone close to hear.

Maeve heard everything, and she couldn't help peeking over her shoulder to see Kevin's reaction. She was glad to see that he looked embarrassed. Chase could be a bit obnoxious on occasion.

Chase didn't seem to notice at all that Kevin looked uncomfortable. He glanced at the other boys in his area and pointed to Kevin. “This dude is the man.” The others didn't seem to take offense and even seemed to agree, Maeve noted, because they all gave Kevin a high five or a “What's up, buddy?” as he went by.

Maeve took one last peek over her shoulder. As she did she felt her cheeks turn bright pink. She hoped the rest of the BSG didn't notice her reaction. Her friends, even Isabel, the latest BSG member, who had moved to Boston from Detroit, sometimes thought that Maeve's crushes went a little overboard. She had to kind of agree with them. Her seventh-grade crush list kept growing: first Nick Montoya, then Dillon Johnson, then Riley Lee, and now Kevin Connors. She just couldn't help herself.

Maeve had explained to the BSG exactly why she liked Kevin a few weeks before. “Look, I know Kevin is one of
the popular athlete guys, but just because Anna and Joline like him doesn't mean he's a bad guy. He's dating Amanda Cruz. I think it was smart for him to pick a girl he can talk to about what matters most to him. And besides, it's just a crush. It's not like I'd steal him from Amanda or anything! I just think he's cute.”

“And being good buddies with Chase Finley?” Katani had challenged her. “What does that say about him?”

Maeve had been stuck. “Well—maybe that he has a lot of patience?”

They had all laughed at that, even Maeve. The truth was, none of the BSG was crazy about Chase; he was kind of the guy version of Anna and Joline. He had their habit of taking little digs at other kids to try to make himself look good. So, none of them could really figure out why Chase was Kevin's best friend.

Ms. R went on with the morning routine, taking attendance and then starting off their first-period English class. Suddenly, Chase announced loudly, “Me and my man Kev are going to shake things up here at Abigail Adams. We own Spirit Week!”

Kevin looked even more embarrassed than he had when he first walked in. Katani whispered to Charlotte, “Why does Chase think it's okay to be so obnoxious? I just don't get it.”

Charlotte shook her head and exchanged glances with Isabel, who rolled her eyes at Avery, who was bouncing up and down in her seat. Avery had way too much energy to sit still for long, and now she gave an extra bounce and shrugged her shoulders at Maeve.

Chase may be full of energy, but school spirit? No way
, Maeve thought, twirling a curl around her finger. Then, as Ms. R began to ask questions about their latest assignment, Maeve tried to focus on her work. The only problem was that all she could think of was the upcoming dance. She just had to be on the dance committee. It was her destiny!

“Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover….”

hird period was study hall, but Isabel had a permission slip to go to the art room instead. She was almost finished with her most ambitious project yet, and she was really excited about it! Her mother would be so proud–Mrs. Martinez hung her artwork all around the house. She said Isabel's cartoons were “inspirational.”

The art room was empty, just as she'd hoped. Isabel stood still for a minute, observing the huge papier-mâché bird she had worked on for the past two weeks. Her caramel-colored eyes sparkled with pleasure. The bird was fashioned in jewel tones of green, scarlet, and yellow with a wingspan of almost three feet. Its head lifted proudly so the beak was its highest point. Isabel couldn't wait to put the finishing touches on it. She smiled to herself. If someone had asked her why she liked bird art, she wouldn't be able to put it into words. All she knew was that something
inside her told her to go for it. So she followed her heart and created beautiful birds.

As she slipped into the paint-spattered smock, Isabel remembered her art teacher Mrs. Benigni's enthusiasm for the larger-than-life papier-mâché bird. “Oh, Isabel, this is really something special,” she'd declared. “You know, I get art teacher specialty magazines, and one of them encourages us to send in our students' work when it deserves special recognition. When you're finished with this, if you'll give me permission, I'll photograph it and submit it. I want everyone to see the budding artist that you are!”

A photograph of her work printed in a magazine? That would be
. Her family would be blown away, except her sister, of course, who might be a little jealous of the attention.

She was circling the sculpture now, trying to decide whether to start with the wings, which were slightly lopsided, or the head, which needed to be tilted higher, when she noticed another sculpture off in the corner. It was obviously meant to be a fish slithering through the water and was made of some shiny, iridescent material. Isabel walked closer to get a better look. She rubbed her eyes. It was
bottle caps
, of all things!

What a totally crazy cool idea
, Isabel thought.
Whoever did this is really talented
. She wanted to reach out and touch it but drew her hand back. Touching someone's artwork without permission wasn't respectful. It must have been one of the teachers who made the fish; it was just too creative and skillful to have been done by a student. But before she could find the artist's name on it, the door to
the art room burst open and Maeve ran in, slightly out of breath.

“Iz!” she cried. “You are
the person I need!”

Isabel whirled around. “Hi, Maeve. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I'm just stopping by. I have to get back to study hall to finish checking my music homework.” Isabel admired Maeve's dedication to her schoolwork. She knew school wasn't easy for Maeve because of her dyslexia, and she and the other BSG were always there to support her and offer whatever help they could. Even though she struggled with school assignments, Maeve's talents in music, dance, and acting had to be seen to be believed. She was an outstanding performer, not to mention just full of plain old fun.

“What do you need?” Isabel asked Maeve.

“It's that committee thing—you know, for Spirit Week?” Isabel could tell that Maeve was about to launch into her usual speed talking. “I am definitely joining the dance committee, and you know what? I want to head it up. I know we can have the best school dance ever, even better than the stuff we usually do. So I just
to be the one running things. And
have to help me! If you sketch my ideas for the decorating and stuff, I can show them to the committee, and it'll be easier for them to see how fantastic it'll all be. I know they'll vote for me!” Maeve finished in a burst of excitement. Her blue eyes were shining brightly as she smiled at Isabel.

Isabel felt a pang of worry. “Oh, Maeve, I don't think I'll have time to sketch anything. I'm too busy finishing my
art project right now. Just look at this thing.” She gestured at the bird. “I need this finished in the next three days so my art teacher can photograph it and send it in to a magazine for consideration, and if it's not done by then, I'll lose my chance. It would be so cool to be in a magazine, and maybe someone would see my work and want to sponsor me for an art program next summer or something. Oh, I'm sorry, Maeve. I really wish I could help.”

Maeve couldn't help looking completely crushed. She had gotten so excited about her plan for the dance committee that it hadn't even occurred to her that Isabel might not be able to help her.

Isabel felt terrible when she saw the expression on Maeve's face. Carefully, to keep the paint on her shirt from staining Maeve's pretty sweater, she leaned over and gave her a hug. “Well…maybe I can find a little time in between to help you out. Okay?”

She quickly added, “How about we work together on it for a half hour after school today. That should be enough time, right?” She just couldn't disappoint her sweet friend.

Maeve's smile burst forth. “I knew it, Isabel! I knew you wouldn't let me down!” She started to run out of the room before Isabel could say another word, but paused for just a second at the door. “Hey, love the bird!”

In a flash of bouncing red curls, she was gone.

Isabel let out a big sigh. She didn't
have time to help Maeve out with sketches for the dance committee. And knowing Maeve, when they sat down to work, she'd have a ton of enthusiasm, lots of great ideas, but would be
struggling to figure out how to pull everything off. It would take Isabel forever to figure out what Maeve wanted and then do it. Maeve spent so much time gearing up for her Hollywood breakthrough, some of her ideas were bound to be over-the-top–interesting and exciting—but extremely ambitious.
What have I gotten myself into?
Isabel wondered.
Oh, well
, she thought.
I couldn't say no to her. Maeve is just like a beautiful, talkative parrot when she gets excited. How can you not love a parrot when it's chattering away, so happy and enthusiastic about everything?

As she got out her art materials, Isabel thought more about birds and her friends. There were so many different types of birds in the world. Isabel was sure she could do a “What type of bird are you?” match-up with all her friends. The BSG had some things in common, but they each had unique personalities, just like different bird species. Katani with her tall, lean body and strong opinions would be a flamingo. Avery, because she never stopped moving, would be a blue jay, taking a million steps every minute. And Charlotte, who loved to write in her journal and study people, would be an owl, a wise bird that saw everything.

Before she knew what she was doing, Isabel had whipped out her sketchpad. Instead of working on the papier-mâché bird, she was consumed with new inspiration, drawing her friends in soft pencil as if they were birds. She whipped out a sketch of Maeve in just a few minutes. Bingo! There was the bright plumage of the parrot, the eager eye, the chattering beak. She was just about to add some dramatic touches to the bird's eyes when the door to the art room opened.

To Isabel's surprise, Kevin Connors walked in. She gave him a little wave and was completely stunned when he waved back and said, “Hey, Isabel. How's it going?”

How did Kevin Connors know
name? She knew Kevin because
knew him, but Isabel herself was fairly shy and was surprised that a hotshot like Kevin would know who she was.

Isabel dropped her pencil on the floor and watched it roll across the room. She flushed and bit her lip.
Now I know how Charlotte feels
. Charlotte was the BSG noted for her klutziness, and her friends were always gently teasing her for it.

“I'll get it.” Kevin chased the pencil, snatched it up, and jogged over to where Isabel was working. “Here ya go.”

“Thanks a lot.” Isabel smiled shyly. “Are you here to work on a project?”

“Yeah,” Kevin answered. “Hey, I've seen your work in here before. You're good. How long have you been…you know…into art?”

Isabel thought about it for a minute. “As long as I can remember, I guess,” she admitted. “I've loved painting ever since I was a little kid, and now cartoons and papier-mâché are my favorites.”

“Yeah, I've seen your cartoons in the
. I always look for them…they're really fun,” Kevin complimented her.

“Thanks.” Isabel relaxed a bit. Kevin Connors really was nice. She hadn't felt so comfortable talking to a boy since—well, she couldn't remember when!

“Hey, is that yours?” Kevin pointed to Isabel's papier-mâché bird.

Isabel felt a flush rising to her cheeks again. Unlike Maeve, too much attention made her nervous. “Yup,” she said. “It's mine.” Kevin didn't just give the bird a quick glance and move on to something else. He stood looking hard at it, his hands in his pockets, and then slowly circled it so he could see the bird from every angle.

Finally he shook his head. “This bird rocks! I can't get over your lines—they're so clean. The colors are perfectly balanced. You'd think that that scarlet red would crush the green, but you've used just enough so it doesn't. And how did you get the head to stay up like that?”

It was Isabel's turn to stare in astonishment. Kevin Connors, the school's star athlete, was talking like an art critic! She'd figured he was only interested in catching footballs or hitting baseballs, but art was obviously an interest of his.
I guess this is why they say, “Don't judge a book by its cover
,” Isabel thought.

“Hey,” she said, “you talk like you're—”

“—really interested?” Kevin suggested. “Nah, I'm not interested. I just live for this stuff. That's why I had to switch homerooms. It was the only way I could fit another art class in my schedule.” Isabel couldn't believe what she was hearing. A superstar athlete was secretly an artist in disguise.

Kevin shrugged and gave her kind of a silly grin. “Everyone around here just thinks I'm some jock who only cares about sports and nothing else. Don't get me wrong—I do like sports, but art is actually my favorite subject at
school. I even think I want to go to art school when I graduate from Brookline High. You know, to study painting, drawing, and work in charcoal, maybe do a little sculpting—get a taste of everything so I can figure out what I really like and what I'm best at.”

“You're kidding!” Isabel couldn't believe that there was anyone her age that was as passionate about art as she was. “That's what I want to do more than anything,” she confided. “I think I already know what my favorite art thing is…cartooning. I love how you get to draw and think up funny sayings too.”

“You should go for it, Isabel!” Kevin said encouragingly. “Seriously, your cartoons are awesome.”

“You think so?” Isabel asked. Now she was flushing again, but she was also smiling. She couldn't believe that Kevin Connors—the boy everyone looked up to—was sitting there on the floor of the art room talking to her about art and listening to what she had to say. And he seemed to be really enjoying it!

“You know what?” Kevin said. “I think you're going to be a really great artist, Isabel. Honestly. Not just the cartoons but this bird—” He touched it lightly with one finger and shook his head in amazement. “Do you know how hard it is to get the balance and movement right in something like this? Well, I guess you must. But you did it. I mean, I know it's not finished, but the bird already looks like he could fly right out the door and down the hall to Mrs. Fields' office. And the crazy thing is that you're doing work like this
. Can you imagine what you'll be like when you're older and you've gone to art school?”

, Isabel thought.
If I'm ever having a bad day, I'm going to go find Kevin Connors. He makes me feel like a superstar!
Isabel shifted the focus of the conversation off herself. “What about you?” she asked Kevin. “You must do some pretty cool projects too. Can I see something you've done?”

“Well, yeah.” Now it was Kevin's turn to flush. “I'm trying to finish a project right now. That's why I came here during study hall. But the truth is, I can't seem to get it right, and half the time I want to just tear it up and throw the whole stupid thing in the trash.”

“Which one is it?” Isabel looked at the projects scattered throughout the room. She wondered if Kevin had done the funny-looking robot in the corner. Even though it was kind of strange, it was pretty well-constructed, and Isabel thought it had a lot of potential.

But Kevin really surprised her. “Oh, it's the fish,” he said, waving a hand at the corner and ducking his head as though afraid of her criticism.

“The fish?” Isabel turned to look again. The only fish in the room was the one made out of bottle caps; the one she was admiring before. “
did that?” she exclaimed.

Kevin grimaced. “Look, I know it really needs a lot of work…. I just…”

“Kevin, that fish is amazing!” Isabel cried. “I was looking at it a few minutes ago—I thought one of the teachers had done it! Look at how the bottle caps make it shimmer, as though the fish is gliding through the water and the light is turning it different colors. I can't believe you did that!”

“You think it's good?” Kevin looked amazed. “Really, Isabel? You think so?”

“Yes, definitely, it's so good!”

Kevin grinned at her a little sheepishly. “Wow. I was afraid when I turned it in they'd throw me out of the art department and tell me to stick to sports.”

BOOK: Just Kidding
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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