Read The New Girl Online

Authors: Meg Cabot

The New Girl (12 page)

RULE #12
We All Make Mistakes, and We All Deserve a Second Chance

Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped. I was so tired the next day from waking up to feed Mewsette when she cried in the middle of the night, and then feeding her again in the morning, that I wasn’t ready when Erica showed up to walk to Pine Heights with me.

But Mark, who’d meant it when he said he wanted to help, told his friends on the dirt bikes that he couldn’t ride with them and walked Kevin to school with Erica.

That’s when I realized that maybe my little brothers weren’t total jerks after all.

Mom wrote a note asking that my tardiness be excused, and then Dad drove me to school on his way to work, even though Pine Heights is only two blocks away.

I hurried into school, anxious to get to class as soon as possible so as not to miss math and fall behind. Plus, I wanted to tell Sophie and Caroline about Mewsette.

Maybe it was because I was rushing that I didn’t notice the other person who’d apparently also woken up late, and been dropped off by
her
parents, and was rushing to get to class, too. We were both rushing so fast, we nearly bumped into each other at the bottom of the stairs.

“Watch where you’re going,” Rosemary started to say.

“No,” I said, the words coming out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about them. “You watch where
you’re
going.”

That’s when she saw it was me.

“You!” she cried, giving me a poke in the shoulder that sent me staggering backward a few steps.

My heart, as it always did when I found myself caught up in a one-on-one situation with Rosemary, did a funny loop de loop inside my chest and then started pounding hard. Exactly the way Rosemary was going to start pounding on my face in a second or two.

But then I remembered. I didn’t have time for this stuff anymore. I had a kitten to take care of.


What
did you just say?” Rosemary asked in her meanest voice, letting her backpack slip off her shoulders and fall to the floor.

“You heard me,” I said. My heart was still pounding. But I let my own backpack slip off as well. It was time. Time for this to end. “Why don’t you watch where YOU’RE going?”

Rosemary blinked at me, looking confused for a few seconds. “No,” she said. “YOU.”

“Both of you had better watch where you’re going,” said a man’s deep voice from down the hallway. “Because both of you had better get going to class, where you belong.”

Rosemary and I both whirled around to see Mr. Elkhart standing there with his push broom, looking at us. Rosemary let out a guilty-sounding squeak, scooped up her backpack, and ran up the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. I took a little bit longer to pick up my stuff, because my backpack had spilled when I’d dropped it, and I had to squat down to stuff all my things back into it.

I didn’t care so much about Mr. Elkhart catching me practically fighting in the hallway. After all, Rosemary started it. Still, I noticed that he hadn’t gone away. He was just standing there leaning on his push broom and staring at me. I looked up at him to see what he wanted.

“That girl,” he said, looking up the stairs to show that he was talking about Rosemary. “She’s always wanting to start something with you, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” I said. I didn’t say
Yeah
because Dad said it’s rude to say
Yeah
to adults.
You should say
Yes
or
Yes, sir
or
Yes, ma’am. That’s a rule.

“Why do you think that is?” Mr. Elkhart wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging, even though Grandma says it’s rude to shrug.

“You know why I think it is?” Mr. Elkhart said. He didn’t wait for me to say yes. “I think it’s because none of you girls ever invite her to play with you.”

I stared at him. Mr. Elkhart was nice and all. He always rescued people’s balls when they landed on the roof or in the teachers’ parking lot or whatever.

But this statement proved he had to be a little nuts. Because only a crazy person would think that the reason Rosemary Dawkins wanted to kill me was because my friends and I had never invited her to play with us.

“Well?” Mr. Elkhart stared down at me from beneath his hairy gray eyebrows. “Think about it. She’s always playing with the boys. Kick ball. Stuffing their heads into folding chairs. When do you girls ever ask her to play with you? Don’t try to deny it. You don’t. You don’t ask her to eat lunch with you. You don’t ask her to play with you at recess.”

“That’s because she says she’s going to beat me up,” I explained, thinking that even a crazy person could understand this.

“She wants to beat you up because she feels left out,” Mr. Elkhart said. “Some people don’t know how to act, you know. So they act
out.
That’s what that girl is doing. Maybe if you and the other girls tried to include her once in a while, instead of treating her like she was one of the boys, she might not be so mean.”

Then Mr. Elkhart shrugged and went back to cleaning. “But then what do I know,” he said, pushing his broom. “I just watch every single thing that goes on around here.”

I stared at Mr. Elkhart as he swept his way down the hall. I thought about what he’d said. I didn’t think it was very fair. We didn’t treat Rosemary like she was one of the boys, even though she was interested in the things the boys in our class were interested in—sitting in the back row and being bad; stuffing people’s heads through folding chairs; kick ball; making fun of other people. I mean, I am not a particularly prissy person—I can burp just as loudly as anybody else.

But Rosemary really had taken all that to a whole new level. If she wanted to be treated like a girl, well, then, stomping around and threatening to beat people up really wasn’t the way to go about it.

On the other hand, she
had
come over and asked what Caroline, Sophie, Erica, and I were doing in the bushes the other day. Maybe that had been her way of asking if she could play with us. Maybe, in spite of how it looked, Rosemary
did
want to be a little more girlie. I mean, she
had
made fun of my essay where I’d said I wanted a pink feathered canopy cat bed and a pink rhinestone cat collar for Mewsette.

Was it possible that when people make fun of other people for wanting things, it’s because deep down inside they want those things, too?

I went upstairs to Mrs. Hunter’s classroom feeling as if a blindfold had been lifted from my eyes. What Mr. Elkhart had said
might
not be true.

But it also
might
be.

And if it was, it was better than all the other advice I had gotten so far rolled into one—better than my dad’s punching lessons, or Grandma’s insistence that a lady never raises her fist to another, or Uncle Jay’s tip about psyching out your enemy.

For the rest of the morning, I watched Rosemary carefully (which was kind of hard to do because she sat behind me. But I tried to watch her as often as I could without being completely obvious).

And I started to think maybe Mr. Elkhart might be right. Rosemary
did
seem to kind of want attention from
the girls in the room, all of whom completely ignored her. I mean, Erica and I were constantly getting caught chitchatting with each other.

But no girl ever got caught chitchatting with Rosemary.

And Caroline and Sophie got caught passing notes to each other during math.

But no girl ever got caught passing notes with Rosemary.

Instead, Rosemary got caught impaling the back of McKayla Finegold’s head with a paper airplane and hissing, “
Scaredy-cat, scaredy-cat
” at me during reading. Rosemary’s only interactions with girls were totally negative ones.

Of course, this could be because Mrs. Hunter had stuck her in the back of the classroom with Stuart Maxwell, Joey Fields, and Patrick Day, the rowdiest boys in our class. So it wasn’t like Rosemary got a lot of opportunity to hang around with us girls.

But still. That didn’t mean that when she
did
get a chance to hang with us, she had to spend it saying she was going to kill us.

Maybe Mr. Elkhart was right. Maybe Rosemary didn’t know any better. Maybe she just didn’t know how to act.

Maybe she didn’t know the rules. Maybe nobody had ever bothered teaching them to her.

Or maybe she had never thought of keeping a book of them, like I had.

You couldn’t blame her, really, for acting the way she did. Fourth grade is hard. Not just the school part, but the friend stuff, too. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t had the rules.

All morning I thought about Rosemary and what Mr. Elkhart had said about her. By the time the lunch bell finally rang and we all got up to get our coats and get in line, I had thought of something. And what I’d thought of was that Mr. Elkhart was maybe right. I didn’t know totally for sure, because I was, after all, just the New Girl.

But I had become such good friends so fast with Erica, Caroline, and Sophie, I hadn’t really given any of the other girls in class a chance.

True, Rosemary had been really mean to me from my very first day of school at Pine Heights Elementary.

But
We all make mistakes, and we all deserve a second chance.

That’s a big-time rule.

So as we were splitting into our two lines—the line for the kids who go home for lunch and the line for kids who go to the cafeteria for lunch—I took a deep breath and, summoning every bit of bravery I had, I walked up to Rosemary and said, “Rosemary.”

She spun around from where she was giving a charley horse to David Brandtlinger and said, “What do
you
want?”

I could feel the gazes of Erica, Caroline, and Sophie on me. I’d heard Sophie’s dramatically indrawn breath. I knew they were listening.

I also knew I had to do this. I had to, or there would never be peace between me and Rosemary. There might never be, anyway. I might end up having to punch her in the nose—or getting my nose punched.

But I didn’t have any other choice.

“Do you want to come home for lunch with me,” I asked her, “and see my new kitten?”

Rosemary’s fist, about to land on David’s thigh, froze in
midair. David froze, too. Everyone in line, in fact, seemed to freeze. Mrs. Hunter, who’d been opening the door to let us go into the hallway, didn’t realize what had just happened and said, “It’s all right, class. You can go now.” She didn’t understand why no one was moving.

But she must have seen that everyone was looking at Rosemary and me, because I saw her look our way, too.

Rosemary hadn’t looked away from me.

“Is this a joke?” she demanded in a very suspicious voice.

“No, it’s not a joke,” I said. “I just got Mewsette last night. She’s really too young to be separated from her mother, but Lady Serena Archibald got an infection and her litter had to be fostered out, so I’m bottle-feeding her. I’ll let you hold the bottle, if you want. You just have to promise to be gentle.”

I could see that Rosemary was trying to figure out if I meant it or if my invitation was some kind of trap. Maybe she thought I was only inviting her so that I could get her alone at my house and hit her over the head with a hammer or something.

But when I said the part about the bottle and her having to promise to be gentle, I saw something happen in her eyes. It was like they lit up or something. There were too many details in my story for it to be a lie. I could tell she believed me.

I could tell she wanted to come to my house and see Mewsette. She wanted to come to my house and see Mewsette really, really badly.

But I could also tell that she wasn’t really quite ready to let go of the past.

“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “What are you having for lunch?”

I shrugged. “We don’t have a stove yet,” I said. “So probably something from the microwave, like hot dogs or macaroni and cheese or soup and cheese and crackers or something.”

“Are your stinking brothers going to be there?” she wanted to know.

“Well,” I said, “yes. But they aren’t allowed in my room unless I invite them.”

“Class.” I’d forgotten Mrs. Hunter had been standing
there this whole time. “We have to leave for lunch now. Rosemary, if you’re going over to Allie’s house for lunch, which I suggest you do, would you please step over to the home lunch line?”

Rosemary looked over at Mrs. Hunter. Then she looked at me. Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe it wasn’t. But it seemed like, for a second, the whole class held its breath.

Then Rosemary rolled her eyes and said, “I guess I’ll go see your stupid kitten,” and stepped into the home lunch line with me.

Caroline, Sophie, and Erica were absolutely dead silent the whole way down the stairs, something that had never happened before in our history of going to lunch together. They just didn’t seem to know how to handle the situation of Rosemary walking home with us. At least until we got to the door to the kindergarten, which was where Rosemary went, “What are we doing here?” in a rude voice.

That was apparently when Caroline couldn’t take it anymore, because she said, “We’re here to pick up Allie’s little
brother. Or is that not all right with you? Maybe we should just leave him here?”

Rosemary’s eyes widened, and she put her hands on her hips. “Whoa,” she said. “Sorry, Miss Priss! I didn’t know!”

“It’s okay.” Erica, who was always rushing in to settle every argument that might start among us, hurried to do so now. “Rosemary didn’t know.”

Which was when Kevin came strolling out of his classroom, and his gaze fell on Rosemary.

“Hello,” he said to her cheerfully. “Do you want to hold my hand on the way home? I’ll let you do it this one time, because you’re new. But usually Caroline and Sophie get to do it, at least as far as the stop sign.”

I saw Caroline and Sophie throw me panicky glances. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I just stared right back at them while Erica started chewing on her thumbnail. Rosemary, meanwhile, did something I’d never have expected in a million years. She started turning red.

“I’ll hold your hand,” she said to Kevin in a quiet, completely un-Rosemary-like voice, “after we leave the
playground. But not before. And you can’t tell
anyone.
Do you understand?”

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