Read The New Girl Online

Authors: Meg Cabot

The New Girl (11 page)

But I did raise my hand to answer all the time in math. And I always volunteered to take notes to Mrs. Jenkins. And I was one of the best spellers in the class (which was strange, because I hadn’t been at my old school). And I drew excellent dogs.

“I think she’s a joy as well,” I heard Grandma telling Mrs. Hunter. “We’re very proud of her.”

I couldn’t believe my ears.
Grandma
was proud of me? I thought she was disappointed in me for my refusal to eat anything that had once lived in the ocean.

When she saw me standing there, Grandma let go of Mrs. Hunter’s hand and leaned down and gave me a hug.

“You were great!” she said.

“I was?” I couldn’t hide my surprise. “But…I misspelled ‘warrant.’”

“Oh, warrant,” Grandma said, straightening up. “Who needs warrant? You were close enough. I’m really proud of you. You’re one of the best spellers in your whole class—in your whole school!”

“Well,” I said modestly, “that’s true. And the best speller in school is one of my best friends.”

“I want to buy you a special present today after school,” Grandma went on, “to celebrate how well you did. I’ll take you to the mall and buy you whatever you want. How would you like that?”

This was exactly what I’d been hoping to hear since Grandma got off her airplane, but what I’d been so sure was never going to happen because of the fish incident. Now that it was really happening, I couldn’t believe it.

“Oh, Ruth,” Mom said. “That isn’t necessary. You don’t have to buy the children things—”

“I’d love it!” I cried, interrupting Mom. “There’s a cat bed I’ve been really wanting for Mewsette, it only costs
forty-nine ninety-nine, and a pink rhinestone collar, it’s only five ninety-five—”

“It would be my pleasure,” Grandma said a little stiffly, looking right at Mom. “Since your parents wouldn’t let me buy anything for the house.”

“Mother,” Dad said, but I didn’t hear anything he might have said after that, because Sophie came over and grabbed my arm and started dragging me away, going, “Oh, my gosh, didn’t Prince Peter look good in his brown sweater today? And when he came over and congratulated Caroline, wasn’t that the most princely thing you’ve ever seen? I could have
died
, it was such a nice thing to do, and so like him, don’t you think? You can tell he really respects intelligent women. I’m going to start studying really hard every night instead of watching
Hannah Montana
, I think.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” I said.

But I wasn’t really listening. Because I was watching Rosemary, who was goofing around with some of the boys from the back row of our class by grabbing them around the neck and then trying to shove their heads into the backs of some of the folding chairs. Mrs. Hunter was still talking
to my parents so she hadn’t noticed, which was unusual because normally she has eyes in the back of her head. The boys, being so much smaller than Rosemary, really couldn’t fight her, and so a lot of them were ending up with their heads stuck into the folding chairs. She had wedged Joey Fields in there up to his armpits, and it looked like a pretty tight fit. He was kind of waving his arms, trying to get himself free, like a beetle that had fallen over onto its back and couldn’t quite turn itself upright.

I saw Mr. Elkhart, the custodial arts manager, standing over in one corner of the gym waiting to put the folding chairs away and take out the the tables for lunch, watching the whole scene with a sad look on his face.

I knew how he felt. Rosemary made me feel sad, too.

But not because I wanted to put those folding chairs away and now I had to wait for those boys to figure out how to get themselves unstuck from them.

But because I knew that, one day, Rosemary was going to shove me inside one of them, too.

RULE #11
A Lady Never Raises Her Fist to Another

Grandma took me shopping at the mall that very afternoon. I wanted to go straight to the pet shop to show her the pink feathered canopy cat bed and collar I wanted to buy for Mewsette.

But Grandma wanted to stop and have a snack first. She called it “tea.”

It wasn’t really tea, though. Because neither of us was having tea. I was having an ice-cream sundae, and Grandma was having coffee. But she said it was still tea because it was teatime.

“So,” Grandma said, putting artificial sweetener in her coffee, “tell me about your new school. It’s a bit…shabbier than your old school, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes,” I said. “The gym is also the auditorium and the cafeteria.”

“I saw that,” Grandma said. “Quite unsanitary, in my opinion. Do you like it?”

“I do,” I said, surprising myself a little. I hadn’t really thought about it. “I like my friends, and I like my teacher, Mrs. Hunter. She’s so pretty. There’s just…” I paused, realizing I’d been about to say,
There’s just one girl I don’t like, Rosemary,
before remembering I couldn’t say anything to Grandma about Rosemary, because she’d be bound to tell Mom, who’d tell Mrs. Hunter, who’d say something to Rosemary, who’d pound my face in.

“There’s just what?” Grandma asked.

“Nothing,” I said quickly, taking a big bite of ice cream so my mouth would be too full to say anything more.

Grandma eyed me over her cup of coffee.

“Allie,” she said, sweetly, “whatever it is, you can tell me. Remember, I raised two boys…including your uncle Jay. I’ve heard it all.”

“Well,” I said, after I’d finally swallowed the ice cream, “do you promise you won’t tell Mom?”

“I think I can safely say,” Grandma said, “your mother and I are not on very intimate terms at the moment.”

I wasn’t particularly sure what she meant by that, but it sounded like a promise to me.

“Well,” I said, “there’s this one girl, Rosemary. She totally hates me for some reason and says she’s going to beat me up. I don’t really know what to do about it. Dad says I should punch her in the nose—”

Grandma put her coffee cup down with a clink.

“You will do no such thing,” she said. “Allie Finkle! What can you be thinking! A lady never raises her fist to another!”

“Really?” I looked guiltily at her. “But then what am I supposed to do about her? I don’t want her to stuff my head in a chair.”

“You will tell your mother about her,” Grandma said. “And if you don’t, I will.”

“You just promised you wouldn’t!” I cried. “And if you tell Mom, and Mom tells my teacher, and my teacher says something to Rosemary, or to Rosemary’s parents, Rosemary’ll just get more mad, and she’ll make my life
even more miserable than it is already. Believe me, it’s happened to me before.”

Grandma made her lips all small, which was funny, because Mom does that, too, when she’s mad.

“Very well,” Grandma said. “I won’t say anything. But I don’t approve. What can your father be thinking?”

Probably that he wished someone had taught him how to punch so he wouldn’t have gotten the crud beaten out of him when he was my age, I thought.

But I didn’t say that out loud.

Instead, I said, “Want to go pick out my present now?”

Grandma sighed and said, “All right.”

But when she saw what it was I wanted, she asked, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes,” I said, wondering what she meant. What else would I want? Couldn’t she see how fabulous the collar was? It was pink. And it had
sparkles.

“Wouldn’t you rather have a pretty dress?” Grandma asked. “I saw some lovely ones when I was in the mall the other day.”

A dress? What did I want with a dress? I could get a boring old dress
anytime.
I couldn’t get a hot pink cat bed with a velveteen cushion and a feathered canopy anytime.

“Or a new doll?” Grandma looked hopeful. “What about a lovely new Madame Alexander doll? I could get you Jo from
Little Women.
You haven’t read
Little Women
yet, but I can assure you that you’ll love Jo, she’s just like you. She wants to get into fights, too.”

I could see that Grandma didn’t understand me at all. I don’t want to get into fights. I want to
avoid
fights. Only no one seems to be able to help me figure out how to do that.

“No,” I said, showing her the cat bed. “This is what I want. This is what I really, really want.”

Grandma sighed and said, “All right. If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” I said, my heart leaping. The cat bed! Mewsette’s cat bed! And pink rhinestone collar! My kitten was going to be the most stylish, most comfortable cat in the world!

On our way to the counter, I also saw a pretty silver water dish and food bowl, and since they were
only four dollars each, Grandma agreed to buy me those, too. So now I had everything my kitten needed (except food, a litter box, litter, and her shots)! I was so happy with my present, I hugged it to my chest the whole way home (well, as much as you could hug an enormous canopy cat bed).

It was when we walked in the door that Mom delivered the bad news. Or the good news, depending on the way you looked at it.

“Mrs. Hauser called,” she said. “Lady Serena Archibald has developed an infection.”

“Yeah,” Dad said. “Mrs. Hauser finally decided she wants her Manolo Blahnik boots back.”

Mom turned around and gave Dad a dirty look before she went on.

“Lady Serena’s going to be all right, but she can’t nurse anymore. All her kittens are being fostered out to people the vet’s office has found, but Mrs. Hauser thought since you already picked the striped one, you might like to take her early—”

I gasped. Bring Mewsette home now? Tonight?

“But before you say anything,” Mom went on, “I told her it’s too much responsibility for a nine-year-old. A kitten that was already premature and isn’t even weaned is too young—”

“No, it’s not!” I yelled. “I can do it!”

“Allie,” Mom said, looking desperate. “That kitten has to be given a special formula, and it will have to be fed with a sterilized bottle every few hours. What about when you’re in school?”

“Well,” Grandma said, putting down her purse, “I can do it, while I’m here.”

Dad looked at Grandma in surprise. “Mother. Are you sure?”

“Really, Ruth,” Mom said. “That’s very nice, but—”

“It’s just a kitten, Elizabeth,” Grandma said. “Honestly. How much responsibility can it be?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling a huge burst of love for Grandma. I took back every mean thought I’d just had about her. “And I’m going to be a vet someday, Mom. I’ve read every book in the library on the care and feeding of cats. I know
exactly what to do. I know I’ll have to take care of her the way Lady Serena Archibald would have. I won’t go to any sleepovers or to the mall or anything. That’s okay. I’ll feed her before school and when I come home for lunch and as soon as I get home from school and before dinner and before bed, and in the middle of the night, and I’ll get Erica to come here and help me take care of her, and Sophie and Caroline will want to help, too—”

“I want to help,” Mark said, coming into the kitchen from the TV room. He didn’t look like he was joking, either.

“Me, too,” Kevin said, following him. “I want to help with Mewsie.”

Mom looked at all of us. Then she looked at Dad.

“Well,” he said with a shrug, “it
is
just a kitten, after all, Liz.”

Then Mom looked at the ceiling. Then she took a deep breath.

Then she let go of it.

“All right,” she said. “We can try it.”

We all started screaming. Well, me, Mark, and Kevin, which caused Marvin, who was lying on the kitchen floor, to start barking.

Mom had to shout the next part to be heard above the yelling: “But if it gets to be too much, we’re giving her to one of the foster people the vet found.”

Which was how, five hours later, I was lying in my sleeping bag inside the barrier I had made in my room, which wasn’t so much to keep Mewsette in as to keep Marvin out, in case he wandered into my room—not that I thought he’d do anything to Mewsette, but he might have germs on him that wouldn’t be good for such a little kitten until she got a bit older—looking at the tiny kitten Mom and I had picked up, along with the kitten nursing kit Mrs. Hauser had given us. I couldn’t believe I had her at last—and that she was mine! It was like a dream come true.

I had put Mom’s heating pad under the tap-shoe box so the heat wouldn’t be too much—just enough, and hopefully just like what she was used to. I’d wanted to tuck Mewsette into her pink feathered canopy cat bed, but Mrs.
Hauser said the people at the vet’s office had recommended a small box for now, saying it would make a tiny kitten feel more secure.

And I wanted Mewsette to feel very secure. I was hoping she wasn’t missing her brothers and sisters and mom too much. I felt so bad for her! Her first night away from home! I remembered what it was like the first time I came to this house, how creepy and new it had felt. I hoped she didn’t feel that way. She certainly seemed to have liked the food I’d made her. It hadn’t looked too good to me—a powdered mix that came from the vet’s office and you added water to—but Mewsette had gobbled it down like it was ice cream, maybe because she hadn’t gotten too much food back home at the Hausers’ because of having to fight all those other kittens for it, and then Lady Serena getting sick and all.

The amazing thing was, as much as she’d eaten already, she’d be hungry again in a few hours. I knew I’d be tired—it would be the middle of the night when she woke up again for her next feeding—but that was okay. When it’s your
kitten, you don’t mind being tired. Besides, she’d be ready to eat regular kitten food in a few weeks, and by that time we’d be the best friends in the whole world.

Grandma had promised to look after her when I was at school, and Mom and Dad had said they would, too. Even Uncle Jay had said he would stop by between classes after Grandma went back home and help out with what he was calling Operation Mewsette.

“Animal Activist Allie, at Work Again,” he said when he came over for dinner (Indian food delivery) that night. “Did you know veterinarians have to go to college for eight years?”

“So?” I’d asked, gnawing on some naan, which is Indian bread and is very good.

“You really want to go to college for eight years just so you can stick your hand up some horse’s behind?”

“I imagine veterinarians get paid a good deal more than poets these days,” Grandma observed.

“Touché,” Uncle Jay said, and helped himself to more tandoori chicken.

As I drifted off to sleep, I told myself how lucky I was.
I had a kitten—a brand-new kitten—of my very own! This made all of it—being the New Girl, being embarrassed in front of everyone, even being terrorized by Rosemary—completely worth it. Mewsette was the best thing that ever happened to me. I would make sure that she was safe, and warm, and well fed. I would never let anything bad happen to her.

And that, I knew, meant not letting anything bad happen to me. Tomorrow, I told myself, everything was going to be different. Tomorrow, things were going to change. Because I didn’t have just me to worry about anymore.

I had a kitten to think of, too.

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