Authors: Hillary Homzie
Nia? Ugh. My stomach dipped. I knew Maddie and Nia were both taking a watercolor class at the community center, but I never pictured Nia as friendship material. She led the
girl group, while Maddie always hung with me. I could tell Maddie that my dad, who happened to be the principal of Travis Middle Schoolâour schoolâwas getting ready to go out on his second date with Nia's mom. But I was sure it was going to be as unserious as the rest of the women he'd dated since Mom died when I was three.
“So, since when are you and Nia, like, texting?” I asked, keeping my voice light.
Maddie shrugged. “I dunno, just recently,” and continued to keep her eyes on the screen, as if she'd just received a free pass to go to Disney World. Then she smiled really big at something she was reading.
“What?” I asked as Rusty tugged the leash and barked at a squirrel scurrying across the street.
“Oh, Nia's doing crazy stuff.”
“Making random videos with Ava and McKenzie.” I didn't see how making videos was that crazy, but, then again, Nia loved to make everything she did seem crazy and superexciting. Would Maddie describe what we did together as crazy? Like going through last year's sixth-grade yearbook and color-coding everyone's photos by how nice they were? Or guzzling Slurpees, reading magazines, or watching YouTube?
I could feel my face going into meltdown mode. I began rubbing Rusty around the ears so Maddie couldn't tell I was upset.
“Nia wants me to come over,” Maddie said, as she texted something back.
Great. Nia lived only about six blocks away, over on
Cullen Court, in a ranch house with landscaping that she described as the natural look, but really just had a ton of weeds that desperately needed to be pulled.
“Does she know you're with me?” I asked as Rusty sniffed a bush.
“It's fine, Sophie,” said Maddie. “We can both go over.”
“Nah.” I picked a red berry off a bush that was probably poisonous and started juicing it between my fingers. The inside was all waxy looking. “It'd be weird,” I said. Really, I hated the idea of being Maddie's tagalong.
“Oh, c'mon. Sophie, it'll be fun.” Maddie's phone
ed as a new message came in. “Nia wants me to be in the next video!” As she excitedly grabbed my arm, the berry I'd been holding dropped from my stained finger. Rusty lunged to eat it off the sidewalk, so I yanked him away. “Leave it!” I yelled. Then I turned to Maddie. “Nia only wants you in her video because they need your techie brain.”
Maddie's lips clamped shut, and her freckled nose twinged. When she did that, she looked just like her mom, who's from Ireland, although Maddie's definitely a blend of both her Irish mom and her Japanese dad.
“Oh, I didn't mean it like that.” Searching for a way out of that blunder, I blurted, “I just get upset when Rusty tries to eat stuff that could make him sick.” Worst case scenarioâhe'd throw up dog chow all over me.
“That was evil.” Maddie held up one finger.
“Sorry,” I said, inwardly shuddering at Maddie using a Nia expression.
Maddie pushed up her lavender glasses. “You don't think it's possible for Nia and all of them to actually like me?”
“Sure, but â¦” I sighed. Actually, I didn't. Maddie tried too hard and was considered geeky by Nia's hippie-chic standards of cool. Plus, you had to have long, flowy hair. Maddie's dark brown hair was straight and chin-length.
“You're so good at computer-type stuff,” I told Maddie. “And maybe, yeah, they need editing help.” Everything I said was coming out wrong, and, at that very moment, I could feel Maddie slipping away from me. Who would tell her when assignments were due? Who would be there for post-bedtime texting discussions about what wear to school the next day? It couldn't be Nia.
I had to do something. “Look, the real reason, I don't want to go over is”âI lowered my voice and prayed for a decent ideaâ“I've got something planned.”
“It's really crazy.”
My eyes flicked over at the middle school, which was
a half-block away. “Something over there.” Nothing was coming to me yet, but I figured the school had possibilities.
Looking confused, Maddie stared blankly at the empty parking lot. “Travis?”
“Yep.” I spied one of those blind-your-eyes bright drama club posters flapping on the door to the gym and went with it. “It's open. For rehearsals of those comedy one-acts. Dad told me he was going to check to see how things were going with the plays when he went out on his run.”
“Well â¦” My hands went into my pocket. Impulsively, I pulled out the folded-up hot lists. “It involves these. And â¦” I whipped out the sparkly pen that we had used to write up the hot lists. “This! And you'll just have to find out!” I charged down the sidewalk, with Rusty at my heels, hoping that jogging would give me time to think of what I'd actually do. I wished a brilliant thought would pop into my brain like popcorn.
But no ideas popped. Rusty was pulling too hard on the leash, and Maddie was screaming after me, “Stop!”
Jogging backward, I waved the hot lists over my head. “You'll have to catch up!”
It felt good to run, even though it was boiling outside, and there was hardly any shade. Most of the trees had
been planted when our subdivision was built, about five years ago.
I'm a much faster runner than Maddie. First of all, even though Maddie's superskinny, I'm in better shape because of being on the soccer team, and my legs are way longer, so it wasn't hard to get a huge lead on her. The most exercise Maddie ever got was turning the page of a romance novel.
Maddie might have had a chance, but a lady in her minivan was pulling out of the driveway. I jogged in place as I waited for the van to finish backing out. Then I crossed the street, and raced over to the bike rack in front of the school to tie up Rusty. Dad, the principal, would kill me if I brought him inside the school.
When Maddie got to the bike rack, she bent over, catching her breath. “Hold up!” she said. “I just have to tell Nia what I'm doing.”
“You better not.”
“I mean, I'll tell her I'm busy and can't come over right now.” She smiled at me. “Doing something mysterious, inside of Travis.”
score one for me!
But then reality set in. What was I doing?
I still wasn't exactly sure myself. But I sure felt good about Maddie texting Nia that she wasn't coming over.
After I carefully opened and closed the door to the school, so it wouldn't alert anyone that we were inside, I motioned for Maddie to follow me down the hall.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
“You'll see,” I said in my most ultra wait-and-see voice. It felt good to play it up like that. Honestly, I'm the best person I know at keeping secrets. But I was keeping the answer a secret, even from myself.
As I surveyed the hallway, my heart thumped loudly. Everything looked normal. Long rolls of blue paper had been tacked up on the walls, announcing an exciting visit for next week of an author who would open the door to reading. Nobody seemed to be around. Still, I didn't like the idea of being so exposed. Right now I wanted a closed door.
That's when I heard someone or something banging down the hall. We both hid around the corner. I peeked out to see Squid Rodriquez, in his red ski hat and neon, glow-in-the-dark green soccer shoes, doing cartwheels and belting out an off-key tune to himself, at the far end of the hall. “He must be here to rehearse,” I whispered. “Wherever he is, we need to be somewhere else.”
“Uh-huh,” said Maddie, who quickly turned away from meâprobably busy texting Nia. Squid had been annoying people for as long as I could remember. Not only was
he the shortest guy in the seventh grade, he was also the noisiest and weirdest. I mean, who but he would bring chocolate-covered grasshoppers in his lunch for dessert, juggle them in the air, and eat them?
I needed to go someplace private. Where could I go? Then I thought of the perfect place. I pointed to the girls' bathroom. “In there.”
“The bathroom?” Maddie did her forehead wrinkle. “What's in here?” she asked, following me in. I could see her taking in the faucets with the usual drip, the salmon pinkâtiled walls with some faint permanent Sharpie marks. She gave me another baffled look. “Soph, I don't get it.”
I didn't get it myself, which made me upset. “Shhh!” I put my fingers to my lips. “Somebody could be inside.” I crouched down to see if there were feet in any of the stalls. I'm kind of shoe-obsessed and can recognize half our class by the shoes they wear. “Nobody. Good. We can talk.”
“Oka-ay. Will you
tell me what's going on?”
Darting around, my eyes latched on that poem about Mr. Pan, the gym teacher, that someone wrote on the wall, then, suddenlyâfaster than you can flush a note down a toiletâI had it. The great, big, fun idea I was looking for catapulted inside my head.
“This!” I waved the sparkly pen and the hot lists. I felt a little bit like a fraud to be so dramatic and importantsounding,
like I was being Nia or something, but it was working. Maddie gazed at me, as if I was the preview to the
sequel. “Watch,” I announced. “And be amazed.”
I pushed opened the end stall, which was more spacious and had an opaque window with a ledge we could lean against. “C'mon,” I said, motioning to Maddie. We crammed into the stall, closing the door and giggling. I then wrote on the back of the door, in all caps, the hot list.
“You are craaaa-zy!” sang out Maddie, putting her phone away in her back pocket.
Excitement bubbles filled my chest, a few of them popping under the weight of a little fear. “Shhh. Not so loud!”
“This is so messed-up.” Maggie giggled.
“Yup.” Thank goodness my dad was at home, getting ready for his date. If he saw me in this bathroom, writing on the back of this door, he would not be happy. I smiled. “Watch! I'm going to combine your list with mine, and create one uberlist.” I held up both lists in one hand as I wrote.
“Whoa,” said Maddie. “Your dad will kill you if he finds out.”
Yeah, I'd second that. How I wish I'd had a different
idea, like making confetti out of those hot lists and flushing them down the toilet!
But nooooooo, I had to have that one genius idea in order to get Maddie's attention. I mean, in the pit of my stomach, I knew it was bad. Like wearing-pajamas-to class-to-start-a-new-fashion-trend bad. I mean, what was I thinking?âannouncing to the world who was hot and who wasn't. That might have been texty-bloggy material for someone like Nia and her crew, but I should've known betterâthose lists were meant to be secret. Instead, I ignored my flip-floppy, squeezy-icky feeling inside and kept on writing.
“Guard the door,” I whispered to Maddie. At least I had the sense to be paranoid about someone catching me. What I should've been paying attention to was who was about to be leaving my life for good.
addie pulled on my elbow. “Let me write.”
I couldn't help smiling. Maddie was getting excited about
Hot List. Still, I couldn't risk Maddie using the pen. “Everyone knows your handwriting. Sorry. Who else in the school does calligraphy?”
She shrugged. “Probably no one, except Madame Kearns. And not very well.”
“Exactly. That's why I'm doing all caps, so no one will ever know our identities.”
“But who's going to go first? Haydenâ”
“Blue,” I corrected, reminding her once again to use our special code name for him. Blue because of his sea-blue eyes. Blue because that's how I felt when I couldn't see Hayden in English and social studies (he was ONLY in French, gym, math, and homeroom with me). Blue because he always wore blue jeans, but regular color shirts
and shoes and stuff. He pretty much epitomized cool. He didn't go around speaking a ton. Kind of like me, only he fell into the extremely cool category, and I was semicoolâthe sporty girl who wasn't part of a big group. A one-best-friend kind of person.
And Maddie was my best friend since fourth grade. We had done everything together. In fourth grade, we raked paths through the woods behind Maddie's house and pretended they were for escaping vampires. In fifth grade, we jumped on our trampoline for gazillions of hours, and made little obstacle courses for Rusty when he was a puppy. Last year, in sixth grade, we survived getting our candy snatched by a couple of punk kids while trick-or-treating, and Maddie recorded me singing my favorite song, using GarageBand. And so far, seventh grade has been much better than everyone says.
Maddie's older sister, Gwen, swore that seventh grade was the worst year in middle school because everyone changes and gets all moodyâswapping friends as easily as trading Silly Bandz. I was glad to know that because I, for one, didn't plan on changing. I liked things exactly as they were.
“You know, you really should say something to Blue,” said Maddie. “About liking him.”
“I don't think so.”
“You could drop a hint, like carrying Blue's lacrosse stick for him.” Maddie smiled. Hayden was famous for carrying his lacrosse stick everywhere he went, even now, when it wasn't lacrosse season.
“Yeah, right,” I said again, as my stomach bunched up.
“I bet he'd like you. You're so pretty.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, running my fingers through my hair, which is probably my best feature. It's long and dark brown and essentially frizz-free. My eyes are hazel, which means they're neither green nor brown, like they can't make up their mind. I guess, if I were to start wearing more makeup, I could glam myself up more, but that's not me. I'm more of a lip-gloss-and-a-touch-of-mascara kind of girl.