Authors: Meg Cabot
“What I’m going to do,” I explained to Erica on the way to school the next morning, “is just miss the very first word Mrs. Danielson gives me, and then I’ll be out, and my family will go home, and that will be the end of it.”
“But that’s cheating,” Erica said.
“It’s not cheating if you get the word wrong on purpose,” I said. “It’s only cheating if you have the word written down somewhere and you peek at it and get it right.”
Erica said, “I’m pretty sure if you spell it wrong on purpose, it’s cheating.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I just want to sit back down.”
“Well, don’t tell Caroline,” Erica said. “She doesn’t like it when girls pretend to be dumb on purpose.”
“Even when it’s an emergency?” I asked in surprise. “Like, when the meanest girl in your class is going to kill you if you mess up, or if your family is going to embarrass you in front of the whole fourth grade?”
“And the fifth grade, too,” Erica said just as we saw Sophie and Caroline crossing the street to join us.
“Don’t mention anything to them about what we were just saying,” I told Kevin, who was walking between us, holding both our hands, in a warning voice.
“I don’t understand anything that’s going on, anyway,” Kevin grumbled. “No one ever tells me anything.”
Sophie and Caroline couldn’t stop talking about the spelling bee, Sophie because she was going to have a chance to gaze at Prince Peter all morning and Caroline because she was going to have another chance at being the best speller in our grade. Which was fine for them. Neither of them had parents who were insisting on showing up and mortifying them in front of the entire school.
Or a bully who was going to kill them if they messed up again.
But I’d learned my lesson. This time, I wasn’t going to get myself into a situation where the gymnasium roof was going to reverberate with the sound of “AL-LIE! AL-LIE!” coming from Rosemary’s direction. No way. I was going to quit while I was ahead. I wasn’t, in fact, even going to try. I know what people say about how quitters never win and all of that.
But those people have never had Rosemary Dawkins threatening to put a fist in their guts. In this situation, quitting was the perfect solution!
But I took Erica’s advice and didn’t mention this to Caroline or Sophie. Or anyone at all. I sat at my desk and tried not to think about the spelling bee. During math, when Mrs. Hunter asked how many dogs there were at the ice rink if there were thirty legs on the ice including those belonging to seven humans, I correctly answered four (I always get the animal questions right. And most of the people and money ones right, too).
This made me feel good, and so did the note Erica passed me, a little drawing she’d made of Mewsette in her new sparkly collar (that I actually hadn’t gotten yet).
But then I thought, what if I didn’t get it? What if Grandma didn’t like me anymore because I hadn’t ordered fish at the restaurant, and I had to save up and buy Mewsette’s collar myself? I had eleven dollars in my koala head purse. But that’s only enough for the collar, not the cat bed. I’d have to ask for the bed for Christmas. But Christmas was
away. Mewsette was going to have to sleep in the tap-shoe box, which really wasn’t a proper box for such a beautiful kitten. At least, Mewsette would be a beautiful kitten when her fur started growing in. Right now she was a little ratty-looking. But that was because she was only a couple of weeks old, and she’d been born prematurely! Premature babies, even kittens, can’t help how they look.
It was while I was worrying about all this—like I didn’t have enough to worry about—that there was a knock on the classroom door and Mrs. Hunter called, “Come in,”
and Prince Peter opened the door and stuck his head in and said, “Mrs. Hunter, Mrs. Danielson says it’s time,” and my heart started slamming inside my chest, and Mrs. Hunter said, “Well, class, let’s go.”
So we all got up and got into our lines and filed downstairs to the gym. The whole time I was saying in my head,
Please don’t let my parents and Grandma be there. Please don’t let my parents and Grandma be there.
If you say it enough times in your head, it will come true (sometimes).
That’s a rule.
But not this time. Because when we walked into the gym, Mom and Dad and Grandma were sitting there in the last row, in the folding chairs Mr. Elkhart had put out for us kids to sit in. They were the only grown-ups in the room (besides teachers)! It was totally embarrassing.
As if that weren’t awful enough, they
at me as I went up to take my seat at the front of the room with the other championship spellers. Yes, that’s right. They waved—and called, “Uncle Jay had class and couldn’t make it!”—as I walked by.
To make matters worse, Erica, who is the world’s friend-liest person, totally waved back, and was, like, “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Finkle!” even though I was doing my best to ignore them. Like, I wasn’t waving back or anything. Erica grabbed the back of my hoodie and tugged on it and went, “Hey, Allie, your parents are here. Did you not see them? They’re waving at you.” Just in case the whole class hadn’t noticed that my parents had come to the spelling bee.
Sophie and Caroline smiled and waved at my parents, too.
“That’s so sweet of your mom and dad,” Sophie said, and Caroline said, “You must be proud to have such supportive parents, Allie.”
Oh, I was proud, all right. So proud I was hoping a meteor might hit the school and blow up just me.
When Rosemary saw what was going on—that the three adults in the gym who weren’t teachers were parents and a grandma—worse,
parents and grandma—she got an evil look on her face. Just like I’d known she would. Then she started to laugh.
“Her parents came!” Rosemary gasped. She could barely speak, she was laughing so hard. “Her g-grandma came! T-to the sp-spelling bee! Oh, it’s too funny! Somebody pinch me! I think I’m dreaming!”
One of the boys from the back row where Rosemary sits—Stuart Maxwell, I think—obliged Rosemary by pinching her, but I guess he did it too hard, because she said, “Ow!” and turned around and pinched him back even harder, making him squeal with pain.
“Class!” Mrs. Hunter gave us all the evil eye. It was amazing how such a pretty and stylish lady could look so scary when she wanted to. “Take your seats, please, and silently!”
We took our seats. I took mine at the front of the room, beside Caroline. The other champion spellers weren’t being very silent, though. They were buzzing with excitement. Especially the fifth-grade girls, some of whom I recognized as being the same girls who’d thought Kevin was so cute that first day of school. They looked at me and whispered, “Oh, my gosh, it’s her! The sister of the pirate!” and “It’s the New Girl!” and “The New Girl’s parents came to
watch her in the spelling bee! Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” and “I could die! Look at her grandma! She’s wearing a bun in her hair! She’s so adorable! Like a grandma on TV.”
I couldn’t remember ever being so embarrassed in my life. I tried to think back, but I was pretty sure this was it. The time Mark dropped his plateful of Belgian waffles in front of the whole restaurant at the Easter buffet? Nope, this was more embarrassing. The time I begged and begged to be allowed to ride the pony at the horse park outside of Chicago when we went to visit Dad’s friend, and then I fell off on my head? Totally more embarrassing than that. That other time I went down the Zoom Floom waterslide and I popped up out of the water at the end and my bikini top was gone? This was even more embarrassing.
“Caroline,” I whispered.
“Yes,” Caroline whispered back.
“Could you kill me now?”
“Because I’m so embarrassed.”
“Why are you embarrassed?”
“Because my parents are here,” I whispered. “With my grandma. They’re the only parents who came out of the
“I think it’s sweet,” Caroline whispered back. “Besides, you didn’t know any better than to tell them not to come. You’re the New Girl. Remember?”
I wanted to tell Caroline that I had told my parents not to come—also, that I was tired of being the New Girl. How long was I going to have to be the New Girl, anyway? Before I had the chance, though, the spelling bee started. And the bad thing was, I sort of got so caught up in watching the fifth-grade girls who thought I was so cute miss
words like “calendar” and “scissors” that when Mrs. Danielson got to me I forgot to misspell my word (“tongue”) and the next thing I knew Rosemary and the rest of Mrs. Hunter’s class were chanting, “AL-LIE, AL-LIE,” when it came to be my turn again!
It was just like last time! And I hadn’t wanted it to get to this! I hadn’t wanted there to be all this pressure!
I looked out into the gym and saw my parents sitting there with Grandma, looking just what Caroline had said—proud. Proud of me! Proud that I was the New Girl but so many kids knew my name (even though the main person chanting it hated me and wanted to kill me. They didn’t know that part of it).
And I knew I couldn’t miss my next word (at least, not on purpose). Because they’d be so disappointed in me! Even the fifth-grade girls were chanting it. You could hear my name all the way up to the steel rafters of the gym.
“Allie,” Mrs. Danielson said. “Your word is ‘squirrel.’ ‘Squirrel.’”
“Squirrel?” Were they kidding me? Could they give me easier words? Didn’t they know I had been reading about the life cycle of the squirrel since the first grade? The squirrel is a small or medium-size rodent of the family Sciuridae. When squirrels are born, they’re as pink and hairless as Mewsette was when she was born. Only baby squirrels are much smaller than kittens, of course.
“Squirrel,” I said. “S-Q-U-I-R-R-E-L. Squirrel.”
“That is correct,” Mrs. Danielson said.
Everyone cheered, including Rosemary. My parents looked pleased. Even Grandma smiled. I was beginning to get excited. A lot of the fourth-graders had been knocked out. It was just me, Caroline, and Peter. The rest were all fifth-graders. Maybe I’d make it all the way to the end. I didn’t think I’d be the champion speller of the school, but maybe I’d do so well I’d impress Rosemary, and she’d decide to declare a truce, and I wouldn’t have to try to psych her out or punch her in the nose. Maybe I wouldn’t have to spend every recess looking over my shoulder to see if she was following me, or checking to see if it was safe to come out of our secret hiding spot. Maybe I’d finally be able to fit in with her and not be the New Girl anymore.
But when two more fifth-graders got knocked out, and it was down to just me, Caroline, Peter, and two fifth-graders, and Mrs. Danielson called my name and said, “Allie, your word is ‘warrant.’ ‘Warrant,’” I knew my dream of finally being friends with Rosemary had been just that. A dream.
Because “warrant”? I didn’t even know what that was. That wasn’t one of the words Sophie and Caroline and Erica and I had studied. That had to be a fifth-grade word.
“Could you use that in a sentence, please?” I asked.
“Certainly,” Mrs. Danielson said. “The sheriff issued a warrant for Robin Hood’s arrest.”
That didn’t help me at all! All I knew about the word “warrant” was that it sounded like warren, which I knew from my extensive animal reading was what rabbits lived in. At least I knew how to spell “warren.”
“AL-LIE,” Rosemary and everyone else chanted. “AL-LIE!”
It wasn’t at all hard to think with all this going on. Not. Which Mrs. Hunter must have known, since she said, “Shhhh!”
When it quieted down, I said, “Warrant. W-A-R-R-E-N-T. Warrant.”
“That is incorrect,” Mrs. Danielson said. “You may go sit down with the rest of your class, Allie.”
Oh, no! I’d gotten it wrong!
My cheeks burning red, I went to sit down by Erica and Sophie, who slid over to make room for me. I couldn’t even look at my parents and Grandma, though I’m sure
were looking at
“You did so good!” Erica whispered, patting me on the back, just as Sophie whispered, “‘Warrant’ is a stupid word! That word wasn’t even on the list! It must have been a fifth-grade word.”
“Shhh,” I said. I pretended like I didn’t want us to get in trouble for chitchatting. But really, I was mortified about having missed such an easy word (Prince Peter had stood up and spelled it correctly right after me). How could I have been so dumb? And in front of Rosemary! She really was going to kill me now.
And Mom and Dad had seen me miss it, too. And Grandma. Like she didn’t hate me enough already. Could things get any worse?
The spelling bee came to a pretty quick end after that. The words got harder and harder. You could tell the fifth-grade spelling list got abandoned in favor of the sixth-grade
list, and then the seventh-grade list. Finally, after words like “bikini” and “graffiti” got tossed around, there was only one speller standing: Caroline Wu.
Afterward everyone gathered around Caroline to congratulate her, including my mom and dad and grandma.
“You did so well,” Mom said to Caroline. “It’s such a shame your father couldn’t make it! We’ll be sure to let him know what a great job you did.”
“Uh,” Caroline said as Mom pumped her hand up and down. You could tell what Caroline was thinking:
Parents don’t come to the Pine Heights Elementary School spelling bees.
But she was too polite to say so. “Thanks, Mrs. Finkle!”
I knew what Erica was thinking as she looked at me and smiled.
Finkles are funny!
She was too nice to say it out loud, though.
“Mr. and Mrs. Finkle,” Mrs. Hunter said, coming up to my parents. “How lovely of you to stop by and support your daughter. And is this Allie’s grandmother?”
“Yes,” Dad said, introducing Grandma to Mrs. Hunter.
“So nice to meet you,” Mrs. Hunter said, shaking Grandma’s hand. “Your granddaughter is a joy to have in the classroom.”
I froze when I heard that. I was? I was a joy in the classroom? Really? A joy? What did I do that was such a joy? I chitchatted with my neighbor all the time. That wasn’t particularly joyful, I knew that.